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  1. Right, so we're back on Monster Island this week, and we're going to finish off the book by going through the final chapters, beginning with Magic. The characteristics of magic on The Island are:- Workings take time and great effort. Magic is ritualised, so you can't exactly do a powerful sorcery spell of the wrist. Magic is culturally demarcated - some tribes do one type of magic, and other tribes do another type, and so on; and magical energies replenish very slowly, forcing magicians to use their spells only reluctantly, and never frivolously. Not only is magic also jealously guarded; there are only two Disciplines of magic, namely Animism and Sorcery. Animism is practiced by the lowland Savages, and I'm using the term here as a collective noun rather than as an epithet. The High Folk exclusively practice Sorcery. And Theism is kind of extinct, though temple ruins (bearing ancient blood stains) indicate that it was once practiced fairly vigorously. Until, presumably, the gods they summoned actually showed up. More about that later. Magic is actually risky and time consuming. Page 129 has a table which shows the increased risks of Something Going Bad if a working is rushed. This slows down casting. A sorcerer is unlikely to want to be in the thick of a pitched melee battle, unless they happen to have formidable natural fighting skills and all their exits blocked. There are no modifications to Animism - use the Trance Preparation Table on page 131 of Mythras. The next thing to note about magic on The Island is that Animism and Sorcery are orchestrated. Mass gatherings are common for large scale effects, and for bindings of powerful spirits into their colossal fetishes. Each participant, who must be at least at Follower rank, contributes +1% to the Invocation, Trance, or Binding skills of the kahuna. Nobody knows how to do this for Theism. The colonials of Grimsand certainly have no idea, and it's only the sleeping gods of Kapala who might have a clue. Though, seriously, it's not worth waking them up to ask. See below. Bad Things Happen The Casting Miscarriage Table on page 130 presents a list of the horrible things which could happen if a working of any sort is rushed, botched - or even works perfectly. Sources of Magic The Island has a variety of sources of magical energies. Internal Magic Points recover slowly. Characters can also commit acts of sacrifice to release Magic Points from the spilling of blood - including their own. There is the, er, "self medicating" route which involves consuming psychoactive / poisonous plants Legal Department here. Don't Try This At Home, Kids - Just Say No! and then there is the process of Veneration, which involves sacrificing Devotional Magic Points to ancestral spirits and deities in the form of ancestral tikis. Then, of course, there are the Geomantic Nodes, locations on or in the earth where these magical energies gather and pool. Here is where you are likely to encounter some of those plants mentioned above, as well as dangerous guardian spirits, magically-active plants and mutated beasts, and even a slumbering deity, all depending on the whims of your Gamesmaster. Cultural Aspects Magic is an essential part of Island culture. Members of Savage tribes belong to individual animist cults. Their kahunas venerate (and bind) their deities, conduct politics and diplomacy, and act as judges and priests. Ancestor worship is a deep vein of power among the tribes, and everyone deep down desires to become an Ancestor Spirit to the next generation and generations to come, so culturally they uphold their tribes' values in their behaviour, hoping to become a revered Kahuna and eventually Ancestor Spirit themselves. Spirit Fetishes are as jealously-hoarded as workings. Dowager-Matriarchs hold on to Fetishes, and distribute them only as needed. A character with a Fetish may only have it for as long as required to fulfil the task; then they must return the spirit and Fetish to the Dowager who gave it to them. On The Island, progression in an animist cult involves a trial by ordeal. The candidate Shaman must find their Fetch, and that requires them to gad about The Island learning what they can, until they pass out from starvation. There, they discorporate into the Spirit World and meet Aata, the Ancestor Spirit which introduced animism to the Savages. The candidate must answer three ethical questions relating to the past, present, and future - and then they must face their final foe, which turns out to be ... well, spoilers, but if you ever watched the second Star Wars movie or read Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, you may already have an inkling. There are higher ranks - High Shamans, who overlook their tribes, and the Spirit Lord - of which there can only be one at any one time on The Island. The next section covers the tribes, the beings they venerate and bind, their friendly and neutral spirits, and of course each tribe's secret Gift. The list of tribes begins on page 138. Pay attention to each tribe's totem god. See below. The last bit describes random spirit encounters. And then we move on to the sorcery of the High Folk. Politically, High Folk sorcerers are the dominant caste, hoarding their knowledge. There are over a dozen sorcery schools, each with their individual spell lists, ordeals, rank progressions, Gifts, and so on. The list of colleges begins on page 142. Fancy Names In what could be described as a deep nod to the late Jack Vance, the sorcery spells listed in this chapter have been given pompous, fancy names. "Defy Eidolon" for Spirit Resistance, Obliterate Conjury for Neutralise Magic, and so on. Page 147 covers unique new sorcery spells, as well as listing sorcery spells whose effects have been modified from the original sorcery spells listed in Mythras. Here's where there seems to be an omission. The Cache Might spell is not listed. It's Store Manna by another name, and so I can only presume that its effects are exactly as listed in the Core Rulebook, without changes. There is a Dedicate Might spell, which is a slightly modified version of Enchant - which allows the sorcerer to attach the enchantment to a Geomantic Node to draw upon the enchantment indefinitely. There are new Gifts following the sorcery spell list. These Gifts are immensely powerful - look at the example given by Horde, where a necromancer can raise an unlimited number of corpses within a given radius, effectively setting the Targets factor at infinity. Many of these Gifts require weeks of study to activate them (to claim them) and they include Aggrandize (create a monstrous illusion), Change Reality (turn an illusion into a real thing), Horde (Targets factor set to infinity within the Range of the spell), Dimensional Portal (you can imagine what Project VALHALLA would give to learn this Gift), Lichdom (does what it says on the tin), Matrix (creating another power source for an enchantment other than binding the Magic Points of the caster into the item - oh, and enchanters can learn this Gift multiple times to create different types of magic item, as well as create blueprints for their items), and many others. After the Sorcery Gifts comes the Theism of the Colonists. And here come the humans. Theism has been modified here. Most Theism is propitiation, either through the devotion of Magic Points by the faithful to keep their dark gods hungry, or offering to leave the people alone. The Extension Miracle is unknown. There is no Divine Intervention. There is no pantheon - everyone brings their own gods with them, and when they leave, so too do their gods. There then follows a list of the different deities one may encounter, or believe in. This begins on page 155. Each religion is listed along with a short epithet (e.g. Judge of dooms, bringer of catastrophe), a brief description of the deity, and then sections listing the cult's Organisation, Cult Membership, Superstitions, Taboos, Skills, Miracles, and the benefits of Propitiation. And Then There Are Those Deities Oh yeah. There are some real gods lying about in, or under, The Island. I did mention I'd come to them. You might find Ubbozathla and Tzathogghua familiar if you ever read any Mythos fiction written by Clark Ashton Smith, whose works are frequently referenced within the book on the first pages of each of the chapters. FInally, and wrapping up the Chapter, there is a list of new Theist Miracles, some of which are incredibly potent, such as a Miracle that transforms a person permanently into a glyph on a wall. Seriously, a spell which turns your target into living graffiti. So, then, moving on to Chapter 7, Items and Substances. This is all about the things. Produce, Narcotics, Perfumes, Poisons, Diseases, Weapons, Treasures, and Artefacts. You name it, it's listed here, along with costs for trade, and so on. Poisons, Diseases, Weapons, Treasures, and Artefacts are all given their own sections. Many of the poisons and diseases are horrific. Some are truly obnoxious and horrifying. Kahuna's Bane, for instance, is feared and loathed by the lowland Savages, because it is a drug which blocks access to the Spirit World. Eidolonosis is basically zombie disease - once you are bitten, this is what turns your character into a zombie. Better hope you get infected by Fire Scale first, and spontaneously combust into ashes before that happens. Weapons follow, and this is just a list of the items commonly used by the inhabitants of The Island. Treasures just lists shiny, valuable things, and allows the Gamesmaster to randomly generate desirable trinkets and baubles to be found by Adventurers who stumble across such caches while raiding tombs. There then follows Enchanted Artefacts - Fetishes, Matrices (a lot of Matrices), and a short text box explaining that iron is a cursed metal and rusts easily. I wonder if someone brought along pure iron, forged without carbon, like that imperishable iron pillar in India IRL which has stood untouched by the passage of time for centuries ... Flora and Fauna This is the thing most people come to see when they open Monster Island. Players want to see the stats of the monsters they are there to hunt; and Gamesmasters want to see what they can bedevil the Adventurers with. First is a list of new creature abilities. Next, the creatures themselves, starting with the Shark People (the Adaro) and followed by a host of insanely lethal creatures, including the Alan ... okay, are there creatures called Steve or Henry? ... and including some dinosaurs. Yes, you too can enjoy riding into battle on the back of some tamed dinosaur. Aw hells, there are Aswang here. And bouda, bunyips, wendigo ... yeah, a whole lot of creepy horrors. Giant clams to trap the ankles of unwary divers - there's a trope I haven't seen for years - and horros plants ranging from the carnivorous plant from Little Shop of Horrors - "FEED ME!" to actual triffids. Yes, triffids. Those Smoking Mirrors have been busy. Page 218 is very handy for the Gamesmaster, since it lists a bunch of different kinds of critters one would expect to attack in swarms or shoals, from bats to piranhas. Oh, there's a box text on jellyfish venom on page 219. Can you imagine the looks on the faces of waiters and customers if they catch you reading this book in a cafe? Oh, look. Girl Genius' Slaver Wasps. They're called Jempulex, but these are The Other's slaver wasps all right. This whole chapter is just chock full of all the beasties and dangerous plants which they didn't have space for in the Creatures chapter of Mythras, really. You can use these critters to plague your Adventurers in any setting you like, really. Your Luther Arkwright Agents could stumble across a parallel where dinosaurs still live; or your modern story can turn into an enactment of The Day of The Triffids. This chapter is extensive. This article cannot do it justice - it's a long list and honestly you could spend hours just browsing them. Imagine your Adventurers being tasked with bringing back a live Ankylosaurus, or looking for Yeti in the high mountains. And after that, the Appendices list generic encounters, as well as provide examples of pregenerated Lizardfolk non-player characters for your Adventurers to encounter and interact with. By the way, there are descriptions of Lizardfolk and Ophidians within the previous creatures chapter, on pages 240 and 269. Now turn to page 288 for the stars of the show. The Gods That Walk. The kaiju. This shows you the stats of the kaiju. You can play as a kaiju. You can enjoy looking at the list of these behemoths, and identify their movie counterparts. They saved Gojira for last. Godzilla's right at the end. After this, the index seems anticlimactic. But there it is, and it wraps up the book. Conclusions Practically every Gamesmaster will eventually need to get Monster Island, if only for the lists of creatures and deadly flora, diseases and exotic poisons. There really is something for everyone here - Players and Gamesmasters alike. You could delve into Monster Island for years and never run out of stories, or monsters and hazards to transplant into your own settings and adventures. At the very least, it's an expansion of Mythras Core Rulebook's Magic and Creatures Chapters. At most, it can be the setting for some of the most exciting and bizarre adventures you can find in any fantasy roleplaying game or venue. Next time, this blog wraps up its coverage of Monster Island with a look at the two main supplements - Monster Island Companion, and A Bird In The Hand.
  2. DIADOCHI WARLORDS Campaign Here you will find the continuing story of four adventurers in Hellenistic Greece https://chrisbrann.wordpress.com/role-playing-games/diadochi-warlords-campaign/ Hope you enjoy it
  3. I have to take another hiatus for this week. Catching up with The Spiral Room. Part 3 of my look at Monster Island is going to be next week.
  4. Last week, we began a look at Monster Island. Part 1 covered Chapters 1 through 4, covering the geography and geology of the island, its cultures, its hot nightclub scene, the hotel swimming pools and spas, the tourist spots, the bronze, four-armed, animated, female, Ray Harryhausen statues (you think I'm kidding? Check out page 112) and all the fun athletic activities you can get up to (climbing, running, more running, self-defence classes, Zumba, even more running ...). The Rough Guide to Monster Island does not hold back. Lots of fun for everyone. So now, this part covers the second half of the book, beginning with Campaigns, and specifically how to handle sandbox campaigns. Playing In The Sandbox Monster Island is designed for sandbox play. The chapter highlights elements of sandbox play:- Not Everything Is Meant To Be Killed - The Adventurers can engage in diplomacy, trade, espionage, and so on/ There Is No Game Balance - Not everything on The Island can be beaten, or is meant to be beaten. Your use of Wrack against Gojira will do you about as much good as a barrage of US Army artillery - IOW, it will have no effect on it at all. Take what prizes you can gather and run. Every Action Has A Consequence - It's a small island, not a continent. There is no place on The Island where the Adventurers can hide, if they have committed a crime. Some Places Are Deliberately Left Blank - They are provided for you to create your own myths and legends, your own horrors and monsters. Also, the Players won't know what's there, so you can horrifysurprise them. Yes, I just watched that episode of the new Star Trek series where they had that awful twist ending. Yes, you can put Ursula K LeGuin's City of Omelas here if you likeHi. Legal team here. You can drop this paragraph. Thanks. Provide Options and Objectives - Give the Players goals to achieve, and let them roam around until you decide to place suitable resources in their path to allow them to achieve those objectives. Until then, let them enjoy wandering around in floral print shirts and shorts, taking selfies on cliff edges, collecting souvenirs and hitting the clubs. Genre Aspects of Sword & Sorcery The book lists the elements of what makes the seords & sorcery genre what it is. Living for the Day - No grand schemes here. No long term plans. Your Adventurers are likely to be in it for the loot. In other words, just like every regular character most of them have ever played. No Black and White Morality - This was the first genre to introduce the concept of the flawed antihero. Healing is Hard - This is deliberate, to stop Players from just trying to have their characters scythe through all the opposition with impunity. Corrupting Power of Magic - Magic is viewed through an early Twentieth Century lens. Outsiders view magic as something dark, grim, corrupting and tempting. To be clear, it is the innate malice of its practitioners which drives the darkness and corruption - magic is just their servant, not their master. Horror of the Unknown - The Island just teems with cosmic horrors. Anthropocentric and Xenophobic - This book makes no bones about it: the Adventurers (and a lot of the protagonists) are meant to be drawn from Human stock. The local cultures are not meant to be playable - not without a lot of modification. Having said that, you can try to run Adventurers who are Lizard Folk and/or Ophidians, as beings who have lived apart from their High Folk or Savage families for too long and have found their own way through life. Xenophobia is another term for racism and bigotry, so this is one time when I'm inviting you to ignore the book here, tread lightly, play responsibly, and don't be a griefer. Gamesmasters - you're calling the shots here. The same notation applies to you. If aspects of the game are a bit too early Twentieth Century, too reminiscent of the hideous cultural biases of Lovecraft, Gernsback, Jack Williamson, and Robert E Howard for your liking, and if the term Savage gets your hackles up, too, feel free to go through the book with a sharpie. Remember: Healing Is Hard. Chapter Five continues with Scenario Seeds, little story hooks to get the Adventurers involved. They can range from Search and Rescue missions to mapping parties, jungle clearance, patrols, and Specimen Gathering. That last one is the theme of A Bird In The Hand, an Adventure for Mythras which will be described in a later blog post. Unique Tasks include the hunt for some warlord who's been tormenting the locals. Name begins with T, ends with Zan. Lord Greystokne wants the Adventurers to investigate. There's an adventure called ******************** Legal team here. The title is "Bridge Over The Little Piddle." Stop it. I have to point out that one of the Adventures involves a one-eyed T-Rex. Pete, you've read 2000 AD. That one came right out of Pat Mills' Flesh, by way of Judge Dredd. I see what you've done there. There are other Adventures there. Gamesmasters, check them out. They are fun. And now, pointcrawls and hexcrawls. Pages 119 through 127, the entire rest of this chapter, are devoted to various encounter types, tables, and listings of Special Events. Again, this entire section is just one rich, deep vein of adventures, thrills and fun for all the Adventurers, taking them to and through some of the most dangerous places on their world. That's Chapter Five, with enough material for Gamesmasters to set adventures on Monster Island for years. I still haven't got to the rest of this book, let alone the Companion and the Adventure. You'll have to wait to see the Magic Chapter, then. Tune in next week.
  5. This blog post takes a look at Monster Island (MI). Monster Island Companion (MIC), and A Bird In The Hand (ABITH) will be covered in a separate post. First things first. There is a beautiful, loving dedication on the title page, which sets the tone for this document, and provides the biggest reason for you to buy this much-loved supplement. There are some things you can read, but you can't really point to specific words or phrases. How can you pojnt to a turn of phrase which shows fear, or anger ... or love? In this case, MI is a labour of love, and you can see it in every word. Monster Island is a sandbox setting. You can place the island in any maritime setting in your fantasy world, though it is recommended that the Island should be located in a subtropical or tropical setting. The map is reproduced below. Monster Island is a tribute to every kind of Lost World, Kaiju, or "jungle lord" comic and movie ever made. If you want to run an adventure based on Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, or a fantasy equivalent of Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, or Edgar Rice Burroughs' (or William S Burroughs') Tarzan or similar (e..g Sheena, Queen of The Jungle), then this setting is great. If you want kaiju in your setting, this island is the place where you will find them. The Introduction makes useful suggestions. They are pretty inspirational, to be honest - Lemuria, Mu, Nehwon, Skull Island. Lost temples overrun by jungle, atavistic civilisations, non-human cultures, MI can stand in for any of these. Monster Island The main book introduces the Island: its environments, its cultures, and its dangers. MI is a huge bestiary for creatures and plants not found in the Mythras Core Rulebook. Poisons and diseases are also covered, along with expansions to the Core Rulebook's magic systems, and powerful new antagonists to pit your Adventurers against. Contents Monster Island was written by Pete Nash, with additional material supplied by Lawrence Whitaker and John Hutchinson. The art, by Pablo Castilla, Jon Hodgson, Russ Nicholson, and Outland Entertainments' Tim Hibbetts and Giovanni Valletta, is richly evocative. Each chapter of MI describes an aspect of the Island in detail: The Island (Chapter 1) describes its geography and topology, weather, mountains, coastline, jungles, ecology and hazards, from heat stroke and dehydration to diseases and poisons, not to mention the risk of being stomped into a stain. Here's what you'll find in the pages of Monster Island. Chapter 1 is titled The Island. Chapter 2 is titled History and Cultures. Chapter 3 is Settlements. Chapter 4 is about Places of Interest. Chapter 5 focuses on Campaigns. Chapter 6 is the Magic chapter. Chapter 7 looks at Items and Substances. Lastly, Chapter 8 lists Flora and Fauna. Chapter 1 strives to cram in as much geology, biology, and culture into a small island with a tiny volcanic isle just off its southern cape. As monster islands go, it has a little more intensity than Columbia Games' equally famous island of Harn - but Monster Island does have something Harn does not. Kaiju. The island rises over three kilometres between the Southern coast and the rugged Northern peaks. Black volcanic sand predominates, and the fertile volcanic soil is rich in nutrients. As a result, jungles sprawl across most of the island, only terminated by altitude and decreasing temperatures. The terrain types are coastal (black volcanic sand), cliffs, jungles, cloud forests, a plateau, and high mountains.This ia an island of steep ravines, towering peaks, and dense, primal forests and jungles, and stark contrasts between the highlands and lowlands. Chapter 2 highlights and describes the cultures and tribes present on The Island. Magic is integral to life here. Sorcery just ruled this island, and visitors can come from anywhere, stepping through the Smoking Mirrors - interdimensional portals, which VALHALLA would kill for. This is a place where histories have come and gone. By definition, since ruins abound here and ruins are the skeletons of dead empires. Reptilians: Although the default species of High Folk and Savages are Reptilians - Ophidians versus Lizard Folk - you can make the base civilisations Human, or Bestia, or Acephali, or even Monacielli if you like. However, the default beings living on Monster Island are themselves reptile folk. The hierarchy of the tribes of the lower reaches of The Island is ... complicated.There are clear demarcations of tasks. Who is in charge depends on location - whether one is inside the villages, as compared who outside or between the villages. This whole section needs to be studied. Societies on Montser Island are complicated, fluid, and often vicious. Two neighbouring villages might conduct amicable trade with one another one day, and savage warfare the next, seemingly on a whim or a change of wind direction. Chapter 3 moves on to describe the major settlements and notable personalities. Locations such as the Savage capital, Puuiki, and a High Folk citadel called Akakor - all basalt, obsidian, and brass - are described in vivid detail. The Avenue of Delights is a sculpted, landscapred garden in Akakor, where strange plants emit soporific and narcotic scents which induce various weird, druglike effects such as amnesia, euphoria, or synaesthesia. Animism rules in the Savage lowlands, but sorcery rules among the High Folk. And then there is Port Grimsand, the human enclave. It has all of the charm of a typical human fantasy settlement, but the feel is definitely Colonial. They may have much to offer the Adventurers, but they are definitely unwelcome among the lizard folk, who probably keep a wary eye out for the primates' antics. By the way ... Lord Greystone. Yes, it is one letter away from the ER Burroughs character. His son could be all grown up and swinging on vines in the jungle to this day, clad only in a loincloth and bellowing into the woods to summon his animal friends. Chapter 4 moves on to Places of Interest on The Island - locations where adventures take place. The Causeway of The Nightmarchers is a literally haunted road. Warrior ghosts decapitate the unwary and the foolish. The Cliff Face Dancers are immense bas reliefs carved into the Western cliff face in ancient times. Each of these figures is a representative of a Savage tribe, and they move. They are fetishes for gnomes (Earth elementals) and they are venerated by the lizard folk tribes. The Fane of The Black God introduces a little bit of cosmic horror, and another species dwelling on The Island - ghouls. Other locations include The Hanging VIllage, Harojama's Tower (yes, it is an evil wizard's tower), and The Heads of Anak Krakatau, and oh gods they're all Vaal from the Star Trek TOS episode "The Apple." The Obsidian Rift is next, and adventures set in this location involve stories about plundering the riches of the Earth, and how the Earth strikes back. There is a particularly insidious curse attached to the gold mined here. The Petrified Forest is reminiscent of a somewhat grim J G Ballard story, The Crystal World, which posits a world where Nature can catch a disease like humans' Hansen's Disease (leprosy), draining away the life force from a region of The Island and leaving behind a glittering, crystallised, barren, silent forest. Of course, in addition to the back story, there is also a gorgon somewhere in this region. Then there is Screeching Mountain ... and the Iqari, of course. And why not throw in harpies just for fun? No harpies. But they do have ancient battle armour ... apparently designed by Tony Stark. Next is The Sepulchre of Soleks ... and it looks like someone's created the Mythras answer to Tomb of Horrors. Straightforward dungeon delve, avoiding traps and fighting off monsters. There are more locations - Smoking Mirrors, The Temple of Yhounkehd, the Valley of Ivory Doom, and many others. This entire chapter is just chock full of them. This, then, is the first half of Monster Island. It is a whole campaign setting, a land of treachery and brutality, a land of mystery and intrigue, and a place of wonders and horrors. This whole article has focused on the who, what, and where. Next week's part will look at the rest of the sourcebook, beginning with Campaigns - ideas for Gamesmasters on how to use Monster Island.
  6. There's a holdup in tonight's blog. It'll be coming out tomorrow.
  7. Enter a fantastic world unlike any other you may have encountered before. A world of larger-than-life characters and situations. A world of pomp and beauty. A world written with love, where passions can often accomplish more than weapons. Welcome to The Elder Isles; the Ten Kingdoms. Welcome to Lyonesse. Loving Tribute The late Jack Vance (1916-08-28 - 2013-05-26) was an author of fantasy, science fiction, and mystery stories. Born John Holbrook Vance, he created numerous settings which have become well-loved among their fans, notably the Lyonesse and Dying Earth settings. Vance's Dying Earth setting was an inspiration for many of the magic systems found in tabletop fantasy roleplaying games. Spells with evocative titles such as Whimsy's Marvellous Bloviation, which expunge their formulae from the mind once cast, originated from the pen of this American author. The fantastic wonders known as IOUN Stones also originated with Vance's Dying Earth. And then there are the three books of Lyonesse - Suldrun’s Garden, The Green Pearl, and Madouc. This epic tale is a rolling story of ambition, and passion, and exploration. The unique setting is quirky, larger than life, and colourful. Pageantry and ceremony abound. Protagonists are heroic. Antagonists are narcissistic and cynical. And despite terrible trials and tribulations, ultimately the noble and heroic protagonists prevail. Roleplaying In Lyonesse The Mythras sourcebook Lyonesse, by Dominic Mooney, Dave Morris, Pete Nash, Mark Shirley and Lawrence Whitaker, with Viktor Haag, presents the setting of Lyonesse as a venue for tabletop roleplaying. Players take on the role of Adventurers in the Elder Isles, in the time period where the ambitious King Casmir is hatching his schemes. This book, which weighs in at more than 500 pages, covers the following sections: an Introduction, which goes over a basic introduction of how tabletop roleplaying games work and the basic things you need to pley (you know, dice, pen, paper, and so on); a summary of each book of The Lyonesse Saga and the main characters; a history of the archipelago known as the Elder Isles; a chapter which details the Ten Kingdoms important to the Lyonesse saga - geography, history, people, politics, and culture. The book then describes the societies & religion in more detail, illustrating peculiarities of each of the Kingdoms, their cultures and religions. The next chapter, Chapter 6, focuses on character creation, and this is the first part of the book which covers explicit game mechanics. The crunchy matter continues in Skills (Chapter 7); Passions, Oaths, & Luck (Chapter 8), and Economics. Chapter 10, Towns, Villages, and Feasts, allows the creation of unique and quirky towns and villages. This chapter also boasts one of the greatest rules sets to be found in any roleplaying game - The Vancian Meal Generator, emulating Jack Vance's passion for describing the most sumptuous feasts found in any fantasy setting, and a subgame in its own right. Seriously, you could use this Meal Generator to create descriptions for banquets fit for gods, and forget about all that mucking about with swords. The book returns to crunch with a look at the game system (Chapter 11), and combat (Chapter 12). These rules cover circumstances such as damage sustained by defenestration, jousting, and crossing swords with brigands and ogres. Next is Chapter 13, dedicated to Lyonesse's magic systems. Magic is either Faerie Magic or Sandestin Magic. These are equivalent to Folk Magic and Sorcery, and Sandestin Magic requires the intercession of extraplanar entities called sandestins. Chapter 14 is a bestiary, and Chapter 15 covers other worlds and parallels, allowing characters to visit and explore those unique realms. The last two chapters list the series' Heroes and Villains, and cover notes for the Games Master on how to create, organise, and run adventures and campaigns set in the Elder Isles. Why Should You Play This Game? Lyonesse presents a world of sweeping, epic adventures, set in a carefully-crafted, lovingly-described realm. Your characters can have bizarre origins - they can be the creations of sorcery, or have faerie blood, for instance. Adventures could range from the characters attempting to find out who their birth parents were, to seeking justice or righteous vengeance, to exploring dangerous regions and battling ogres, to overcoming familial curses, or to preparing sumptuous feasts for visiting dignitaries renowned for their many appetites. Support For The Line Lyonesse has a couple of supplements, sold separately, to allow you to enter this world of wonders. Coddifut's Stipule and In High Dudgeon serve as introductions as to how the realm (and the rules) work. Coddifut's Stipule emerged before Lyonesse, and served as a taster for the main book. In High Dudgeon is a full adventure, which involves the Adventurers being plunged into the midst of a long-standing feud between two villages, High Dudgeon and Low Dudgeon. Both adventures have mysteries to solve. Coddifut's Stipule has enough information to allow it to be played with just the Mythras Core Rulebook, and it not only serves as a good introduction to Lyonesse, but to Mythras and to roleplaying. Fantastic Adventure This setting is truly fantastical. Adventuring in Lyonesse is lighthearted, yet at the same time deadly serious. The Elder Isles encourage the Passions, taunt the senses, and stretch the Gamesmaster's descriptive vocabulary to its limit. Don't use plain language where florid, fancy language will do. Capitalise Every Word, If You Have To. Lyonesse is opera, high comedy, romance, poetry, and above all epic adventure. The setting is not a time for characters to be timid. Boldness is the key to winning the adventures. You will either succeed with a flourish, and your praises sung throughout the Ten Kingdoms; or you will fail magnificently, and your fall be the talk of generations as generals and leaders take the lessons of your hilarious failures to heart. Above all, Lyonesse rewards magnificence and magniloquence. Stand proud; stride boldly; and hold grand, sweeping visions in your mind as you enthrall people with your plans. Then sit down and feast until your belly is practically bursting. Always be graceful; never be vulgar. Act like the world of Lyonesse is yours for the taking, and you might just hear chuckling from far up above; Jack Vance looking down approvingly at your attempts to keep the spirit of his ornate, over-the-top legacy alive.
  8. Worlds United is The Design Mechanism's venture into the world of the pulp adventure genre. Imagine that the Solar System had turned out exactly the way Twentieth Century science fiction authors had imagined it. Venus as a humid jungle planet, Mars as the home of a dying civilisation, and rocket ships routinely travelling between these worlds and the Earth. Even a Moonbase or two, if you like. Now imagine a world where a cataclysmic event had caused humanity to take to the stars - something which convulsed the entire Solar System, but which forced the acceleration of every species in our system. War. Specifically, the invasion of Earth by the Martians, as chronicled by H G Wells in The War of The Worlds. Now bring the timeline forwards half a century ... or more, if you like. Welcome to Worlds United. A Sequel, Of Sorts Worlds United imagines a Solar System where humans and Martians have clashed, not once, but twice - a war which first took place on Earth, and later on Mars as well. Another sourcebook written by John Snead, Worlds United is a love letter to the pulp genre of science fiction from the turn of the century. In this era, writers such as Olaf Stapledon and Edgar Rice Burroughs imagined life on other worlds, Chesney Bonestell imagined extraterrestrial landscapes in glorious detail, and scientists imagined what life would be like on these different worlds, sometimes with scary results. History Humans and Martians have clashed twice in cataclysmic Worlds Wars - the first being during Victoria's reign on Earth, where Martians landed cylinders and deployed War Machines to annihilate human society, and to consume and enslave humans; where cannon fire was met with Heat Rays and Black Smoke. We know the outcome of that First Worlds War - the Martians fell to diseases for which they had had no immunity, which had begun attacking them the moment they landed on Earth. And so humans rebuilt their world ... and learned to use the Martians' technology, and developed flight and rocketry practically simultaneously. Gods, yes, Johnny, you can have Zeppelins in this world, if you want. So many different parallels have airships, and this world would not be complete without them either. Then in 1938, the octopoid Martians invaded again, and this time they'd had their shots, so they stuck around - but humans had had time to prepare, so they took the fight back to Mars, and this time they had nukes. Flash forward to the 1950s, now. Prop planes, jets, airships with helium rather than hydrogen, helicopters. A world where they designed big flying wings, maybe with a ballroom in one wing and a swimming pool in the other ... and skipped straight past that, to flying cars and interplanetary travel in the form of the silver locust ships of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. Earth and Mars Mars is important to the setting. In this world, the Martians somehow had human slaves with them, some of which had come to Earth. With the death of the first wave of Martians, these free slaves now turned to the Terrans, offering their knowledge of how to use Martian technology - and also, to the Terrans' surprise, working psychic powers. So then, humans took to space, and found that Venus supported life ... don't laugh, this is a parallel, not our universe. Just ask those nice VALHALLA chaps in Zero-Zero next door. They'll give you a briefing. And Venus has snake people. And jungles. And dinosaurs. And I'm sounding like an eight-year-old. So there are friendly Martian-born humans, and friendly Venusian humans, and both species reveal that people from Earth had been transplanted to these worlds aeons ago by some unknown third party (Odd Soot's Luminarians? Traveller's Yaskoydray?) and everybody could interbreed, so fun. Plus Ophidians. Riding on dinosaurs. So you can make them look like Doctor Who's Silurians and Sea Devils (love those frilly collars) or imagine them however you like. The Setting Adventures What do the Adventurers do in this world? Exploration Your characters can be explorers. You can delve into the past of Earth, Mars, and Venus, trying to find what brought humans from Earth to the other two worlds, and to what purpose, and where they went. Discovery The Adventurers' job is to seek out new life, and perhaps they find it. And perhaps they find that they need Octopoids and Ophidians at their side to face this new life, these new civilisations. Diplomacy Your characters know that the Octopoid Martians still live in their submartian bunkers, regrouping, awaiting their opportunity to reach out and conquer again. Perhaps it is time for humans to adopt a different approach, and to reach out to the Octopoids with the hand of peace, to extend their psychic thoughts past the Octopoids' xenophobia and supremacism to touch the deep-seated fear beneath, and to show them a universe where humans and Octopoids can work together to build a new and better Mars where nobody gets left behind. War Stories It is 1960, and the Martians are at it again. The war is scattered across three worlds, and the Adventurers and their ship become the key to the salvation of humanity, or its doom. Alternate Setting: Ultra-Modern The 1950s and 1960s are far back in the past. The year is 2022. Some of the old Adventurers from those days are still around, impossibly young thanks to Venusian anti-aging treatments; and they are joined by modern day humans from Earth, Mars and Venus (as well as people who can claim ancestry back to all three worlds), as well as Octopoid and Ophidian Adventurers born on Earth. This would be a world shaped by the internet, mobile phones, and a communications network which is truly interplanetary in scope. The ships and vehicles have evolved out of gleaming steel cigars into wondrous, streamlined shapes. The Solar System is open for exploration, and every world can see what the Adventurers stumble across, streaming live across the cosmos. Alternate Setting: Children Of The Lens The Gifted have become a patrol force, policing the spaces between the worlds. Organised crime has risen to become a dangerous threat to human, Venusian, and Martian societies alike. Even the Octopoids have fallen victim to criminals from among their own kind. To fight these criminals, the Gifted receive special training, and access to the Lens: a psychic device worn on the wrist or around the neck; a device which enhances their psychic powers, and also acts as a badge of authority. Alternate Setting: Quatermass World Imagine The War of The Worlds, as imagined by author Nigel Kneale. Anyone familiar with British TV will recognise that name as the brains behind The Quatermass Experiment (a British space launch goes horribly wrong, and something is brought back from space), Quatermass And The Pit (construction workers discover a Martian vessel millions of years old, buried beneath London - "We're the Martians now.") and The Stone Tape (what we think of as "ghosts" are electrical recordings of intense emotions imprinted into the crystalline structures of stones and played out like recordings when they interact with the Kirlian auras of living beings). Alternate Setting: DOOM The year is 1995. UAC have set up a base on Mars. One day, all contact with Mars is lost. Worse: Phobos has disappared. You're the only humans on the surface of Mars. You hear hideous sounds coming from within the hangar. Here's a chainsaw. Good hunting. Themes The themes of Worlds United are Heroism and Optimism. Your Adventurers can be thrust into the heart of the adventure, armed with little more than gumption and wits; often, that is enough. Elements within this setting include:- Psychic Powers - Octopoids, Venusians, and some Terran humans have psychic abilities. These are important in this setting. Advanced Tech- Well, advanced here is "pulp era". Everything is silver or silver lame. The music of the spheres is played on a Theremin. Dirigibles and flying cars. Another Earth - Look at Africa in this setting. Your Adventurers can come from there. They are building a beanstalk space elevator on Mount Kenya. This is the plot of Arthur C Clarke's The Fountains of Paradise, set in the most beautiful parts of Africa. Diplomacy - Half of exploration is discovery; the other half is learning. Your Adventurers must be more smart than strong. They can do more with words and intelligent action than with fists or guns. Talking with alien beings is often more effective than shooting at them. Strangeness - Of course there have to be threats. Those threats can come from, say, Octopoids - which can be run as presented in the book: irredeemable, cold, vicious, xenophobic, regarding the worlds of Earth and Venus with envious eyes, slowly and surely still drawing their plans against us ... Or you could bring in an outside threat which wipes the floor with the Martians, if you like. Disruptors, maybe ...? Intelligence - Your Adventurers can lead the way as scientists. To quote The Doctor:- Crossover Potential I recommend enjoying Worlds United as a base setting. This is Science Fiction at its zenith in the Twentieth Century. Get to love the setting. But Worlds United can also work with other settings, even if only as a cameo. Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across The Parallels is the most obvious answer to this, but you can have your characters stumble into Worlds United by other means - Destined heroes accidentally wandering in through a Portal power activated during a period of intense solar activity, or maybe Doctor Distorto hit them with a dimension beam; or your Seers from After The Vampire Wars could astrally project into this 'verse by accident, finding themselves occupying real bodies, using real powers, and having to chase down real enemies from their world who have taken refuge physically somehow. You can even create crossover potential with the more ephemeral world of FIoracitta, as the Avventurieri make a shocking discovery that the lifesaving herb ticho not only grows in abundance in Worlds United's Venus, but that the gods of the Ophidians and Longane all dwell in the hidden depths of that fertile world. Last, and this is a major selling point for diehard Mythras fans ... Venus, in Worlds United, is a planet-sized Monster Island. You can bring in everything from Monster Island and have them set up home here. Even the Kaiju, if you like. A New World Awaits You In The Off-World Colonies Worlds United presents you with a very optimistic science fiction setting. The "Golden Land of Opportunity and Adventure" is a glittering solarpunk universe which can offer temptations and terrors alike. Worlds United is a world where the following words from another optimistic science fiction TV series ring true. Come and play in the universe of Worlds United. You won't need any weapons more powerful than a teaspoon and an open mind.
  9. The world around you is not what it seems. If you look out of the corner of your eye, you might catch a glimpse of something lurking in the shadows. Sometimes, whatever is lurking in the shadows turns its attention towards you. Good luck. The premise of John Snead's After The Vampire Wars is a world transformed by the discovery that the supernatural creatures of myth and legend, vampires in particular, have been living among you humans all this time, and you never knew. Until now. Back Page Blurb Here's the description on the back page. That says more than I can about the game. After The Vampire Wars is basically the answer to the question "What if the Masquerade from Vampire: the Masquerade or Vampire: the Requiem had been broken?" This is The Design Mechanism's foray into the urban fantasy genre. John Snead, the author and developer, spins a lavish and detailed history of an alternate Earth where all kinds of supernatural creatures have dwelt among humans for centuries, and the aftermath of a bloody war when the humans collectively saw through the veils drawn around their supernatural counterparts for the first time, early in this century (the 21st). The Setting When AtVW first came out, the year was 2017. The date of your game can remain in the modern age (2022, at the time of writing) or set in the future or distant past. Nothing prevents you from setting AtVW in 1917 if you like, with the Vampire War taking place against the background of The Great War, or even setting it in the 1980s in the dying days of The Cold War. In the sourcebook, however, the year is 2017. AtVW outlines a history of the world from 2008. In a story harking to the TV series Person of Interest, the US government began using modern street surveillance technology to identify vampires, with the ultimate agenda of exterminating the post-life species. The backlash from the vampire communities was devastating. Nukes came into play. A number of nuclear weapons were spirited away, including an entire US Navy nuclear submarine. The war dragged on for two years. The sourcebook mentions Russia and Ukraine, and the Eastern response to the outing of vampires. This is an alternate timeline, after all. The World of AtVW The modern, post-War, world of 2017 (or 2022, if you want to advance things to the present) is one where supernatural beings live more or less openly alongside people. They remain more or less separate from most people thanks to the supernatural effects of Shadowing (a phenomenon of supernaturally-imposed psychological denial imposed on people by the presence of the supernatural, similar to The Mists and Lunacy from Ony Path's Changeling and Werewolf settings). There are laws in place, and many supernaturals have limited human rights. Vampires have fewer rights than other species - something which rankles some vampire community activists. Seers Seers are humans who develop some form of supernatural powers. There are plenty of those in AtVW; shifters, vampires, the Fae and so on all have access to various powers, but only Seers can develop supernatural abilities (other than becoming a supernatural being, such as rising from the dead as a vampire). Seers are humans who regularly interact with the supernatural beings of the world. This makes them conduits to the human world, ambassadors, and go-betweens. Human seers can also be private investigators delving into the supernatural world on behalf of human clients, or working with supernatural clients to investigate human involvement in their world. Laws AtVW focuses on the conflicts - conflicts between the vampire and human communities; between vampires and other species such as half-fae, lycanthropes, shifters, and Seers; and political conflicts, when the agendas of one species, usually humans, comes up against the rights of other beings. Vampires have few rights. In some parts of the world, they have no rights whatsoever. Supernatural communities form pressure groups to fight for recognition and parity with humans. The Otherworld Sometimes, adventures take place beyond the confines of the physical world, in a place called The Otherworld; a land of "imagination, creativity, and memory" with ties to the half-fae, but also to dreamers, artists and others. And yes, sometimes The Otherworld has its own agenda, and individuals within The Otherworld have designs on the physical realm. Power Levels After The Vampire Wars introduced the concept of power levels, three tiers of character development and three levels of play. Street level, a default middle, and an epic scale where protagonists and antagonists possess incredible powers. Outlay Of The Book After The Vampire Wars is organised into chapters, beginning with Shadowing (there's a typo - it's spelled "Shawdowing" on page 7), which describes what it is, how it's triggered and its effects on human minds. It moves on to History, which outlines the development of the setting right up to current events. Chapters 3-5 are the crunch section - character generation, skills, and powers. Chapter Six moves on to cover The Otherworld, while Chapter Seven takes on Supernatural Society, and the various cultures present in the world and how they interact with humans, and with one another. Chapter Eight covers the supernatural species themselves, and Chapter Nine rounds off with Storytelling (rather than Gamesmastering), and how to run After The Vampire Wars for your players. Inspirations are listed on page 8, but there are a lot more modern inspirations, beside the obvious Anne Rice stuff - Poppy Z Brite's and Nancy Collins' books, for example. Inspirations which never made it to the list include more mundane books, shows, and TV series. Consider a modern cozy murder mystery show along the lines of Midsomer Murders where the victim is a supernatural being living uneasily with the human locals in Badger's Drift, or a grim and gritty setting such as The Bridge (Bron / Broen) with Saga Noren (Landskrim Malmo) as a Detective / Seer with autism and a very loose connection to the idea of conversational boundaries. Storytelling Please pay attention to this chapter. Page 134 outlines the major themes of AtVW. It is urban fantasy noir, which means secrets, loyalties tested, the past catching up to people, and betrayal. The lines between right and wrong are blurred, but justice is still clear, even if it does sometimes fall on the wrong side of the divide. It is about ethics, and cynicism versus idealism, and not so much about living with ethics, but with clinging on to what few ethics you have which haven't yet been eroded away by bitter experience. You can tell stories of faith tested, faith broken, and faith renewed. There is even room for romance in the shadows. AtVW does bring up the topic of romance - covered on pages 140 and 141. You have license to create such dark romances as you would find in Buffy or in Anita Blake (before the latter series went right off the rails). And yes ... if you want to, you can even create a slice of life setting like Being Human, or even What We Do In The Shadows. Final Word ... For Now After The Vampire Wars is currently just a single title, begging for product support. The setting can be tied to Luther Arkwright, Destined, or the rules and mechanics tied to any modern Mythras setting you like. AtVW can be used to support your homebrew world where the supernatural forces are present but still hidden, sucessfully concealed by very potent Shadowing; or you could run AtVW in Gemelos City, and have your half-fae characters stand alongside costumed masks such as Spiral, The Thaumaturgist, and Miss Destiny to fend off invasions of spirits from The Otherworld in a blending of the supernatural and the Godstrand. At the lowest level, AtVW can even be sneaked into an otherwise mundane setting such as Department M, and have your Seer characters help out trained superspies to ferret out some mad spy ring which has taken captive of a circle of vampires in an attempt to create supersoldiers from their blood. I recommend giving AtVW a go, if you want to run an urban fantasy which doesn't force you to trawl through volumes of back history and metaplot, and I'm looking at the World of Darkness and Chronicles of Darkness lines here.
  10. Following from the last blog post, which looked at the newest Mythras setting, Destined, we're going to take a look at another Mythras setting, Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across The Parallels. Luther Arkwright is The Design Mechanism's foray into a genre known as Steampunk. This genre of science fiction is characterised by strange, baroque steam-driven inventons, vehicles, devices and weapons. The Difference Engine by Wiliam Gibson and Bruce Sterling more or less made Steampunk mainstream, but the UK broached the genre first with the Bryan Talbot graphic novels The Adventures of Luther Arkwright and Heart of Empire. Eternal Champions Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius was one incarnation of The Eternal Champion - a mortal being who exists in some form in every universe within a vast multiverse of parallels. This may have been inspired by Joseph Campbell's non-fiction philosophical work The Hero With A Thousand Faces, which may itself have roots in older heroes such as Beowulf and Legal team here. Stop it. Anyway, there you go. Bryan Talbot's eponymous Luther Arkwright was his answer to that other guy. The multiverse of Bryan Talbot is similar to that of Moorcock, but unlike Moorcock's setting which had a different Eternal Champion in each parallel, there was only one Luther Arkwright, unique across every parallel. Luther was gifted with the ability to plane shift on his own, trvelling from parallel to parallel as easily as ordinary people would wander into an adjacent room. In the graphic novels, there is a cosmic conflict going on, as an alien force known as The Disruptors destabilise individual parallels as part of a long-running master plan. The Big Picture is described in the Luther Arkwright sourcebook. This sourcebook also describes the protagonist force set up to combat these Disruptors, Project VALHALLA and the parallel known as Zero-Zero. This is where Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across The Universe comes in, because the player characters are Agents of Project VALHALLA, taking orders from the AI W.O.T.A.N. and travelling between parallels in a steampunk dimension ship to thwart the Disruptors wherever they turn up. Sourcebook Contents Player characters are VALHALLA Agents, wanderers between parallels. If you've never encountered this kind of setting before, think of it as like the TV series Sliders. The sourcebook has all you need to run adventures in the Talbotverse, but you'll still need the Mythras Core Rulebook for the basic game engine. The Arkwright Multiverse - Background information, the Grand Metaplot, and where the characters come in. Character Creation - The basic information on how to create your characters. Traits, Passions & Dependencies - Characters have special Traits, Passions, and flaws known as Dependencies. These set them above the run of the mill people, but also tint their heroic powers with downsides and weakness which serve to humanise them. Madness & Other Colours - A hard chapter to read through, this covers Tenacity, psychological conditions and the mechanical consequences of exposure to the horrors of the Talbotverse. Mind Games - This is missing from the blurb on page 5, but it covers Psionics and Mysticism. In addition to possessing his unique multidimensional talent, Luther is a master of psionics and mysticism. Your characters may not have Luther's singular existence and there may be parallel versions of them in a bunch of 'verses, but at least you can have someone who is a master of both Mysticism and Psionics, too. Technology - Here's where the Steampunk comes in. Weapons, armour, tools, equipment, and various sundry paraphernalia, all given a modern Steampunk twist, including using tech from different parallels. Firearms & Combat - Basically, everything from Mythras Firearms began its story here. This was probably the first Mythras supplement to cover firearms combat, and this sourcebook includes science fiction weapons such as vibro beamers. Vehicles - This is about how people get around both within and between 'verses. There are airships. W.O.T.A.N & The Disruptors - Here's the dirt on W.O.T.A.N., VALHALLA, and the Disruptors. Parallels - Information on landmark parallels, and how to create your own. Games Master Resources - Advice to Gamesmasters on running Arkwright adventures and campaigns, and stats on the major characters. On Thin Ice - An ice age grips Parallel 13.16.94, and the Disruptors are planning something bad. In this adventure, your Agents must go in, find out what they are doing, and stop them. The Arkwright Saga - The Grand Metaplot was explained in the Introduction, but here is where the book summarises both of Bryan Talbot's books. No substitute for reading the originals, mind you, but if you cannot find The Adventures of Luther Arkwright or Heart of Empire, these will have to do. Steampunk The fashions, and the mores, may be more Nineteen Seventies than Eighteen Seventies, but Luther Arkwright is proudly Steampunk in the manner of Jules Verne and H G Wells. Your characters might be content with driving around the English coast in Minis and making phone calls from iconic red telephone booths, and wearing late Seventies and early Eighties styles ... a fashion nightmare ... and the tech level available to the Agents effectively allows them access to modern conveniences though with a steampunk twist. Page 22 lists the different technological eras, ranging from the pre-industrial (roughly the late 1700s / early 1800s) through to the Nanotechnology and Spacefaring. The parallels which are of interest to the Disruptors would seem to be those which have a developed industrial base of some kind, often with a distinct reliance on steam. Superspies This setting is not for the faint of heart. The multiverse is not forgiving, and the price of failure is usually a bullet in the head. With stakes as high as the fate of entire parallels, the characters have to enter each battlefield world with circumspection. Luther Arkwright is as much a game of tradecraft (espionage) and intrigue (shifting loyalties, betrayal, treachery, mysteries, string pulling, suspense) as it is a science fiction steampunk romp. A Very British Adventure Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across The Parallels is as quintessentially British as Doctor Who, fish & chips, and spelling colour with a u. Bryan's incredibly-detailed graphic novels draw an unmistakably British filter over the world. This sourcebook honours this by setting many of the adventures in some parallel or other of London, but you don't have to stick to London to set your adventures. It does, however, make for some truly bizarre imagery to see Union flags flying over Government buildings in Cleveland, Ohio, or Tokyo, and all the locals stopping at 4pm local time for tea. This is by design. A Very Different Adventure This book is available from The Design Mechanism's new store, in both PDF and hardcover. The game has been available for many years - it was originally a RuneQuest title and bore the RQ imprint - and in light of news that Luther Arkwright had been optioned in '21 for a TV series, as well as the next Luther Arkwright graphic novel set to be issued on 14 July 2022, this sourcebook - and its adventure supplement Parallel Lines - deserve to be revisited.
  11. I'm typing this from my tablet. The laptop from which I have posted all of my articles here to date went and died last Sunday. Worse, I got sold a lemon - and the replacement laptop lasted just 48 hours before it, too, was brown bread. Posts will resume as and when I can get crowdfunded for a new one. ALso, wish me luck because I have found a halfway competent tech guy who might be able to fix my old laptop. We'll meet for the first time on Tuesday.
  12. This week, instead of looking at Mythras, we look at the latest core rulebook to emerge from The Design Mechanism. Enter a world of four colour Spandex action, where brightly-clad warriors for justice chase sneering bad guys across rooftops, and fight pitched battles in the grimy streets; where larger-than-life people stride through life like Colossi and dare to call themselves heroes. Put on your costume, take to the streets and rooftops, and stand beneath the silver light of the Moon, looking down upon the city, lord of all you survey. Welcome to Destined. Four Colour Fun Destined celebrates the four-colour comics which first appeared almost a century ago in the United States, which brought thrilling adventure and heroism to the jaded people of the United States of America. The 1930s were a time of desperation and despair. America had its Stock Market Crash, the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl driving people away from their rural environments into the increasingly-crowded cities. The Great Experiment which was Prohibition had utterly failed - and worse, it had created an underclass of organised crime which enforced its own law with fists and knives and Thompson submachine guns. America was suffering from internal intolerance and racism, and living in denial of the wounds it had inflicted upon itself since the turn of the 20th century; but in Europe, an even greater wound was still sore and bleeding, as it began to settle from the convulsions of four brutal years between 1914 and 1918, combined with a virulent strain of influenza which had killed more people than The Great War. The world had suffered insanity, and people wondered whether anything would ever go back to normal. And then people like Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and Siegel and Schuster, brought sunshine into people's lives. Sunshine, and adventure, and hope. And now, almost a hundred years on, as the successors of the original comic book authors pick up the stylus and the keyboard and script new stories of those original heroes, and actors portray them in increasingly-spectacular tentpole movies, the battles of superheroes are set to be enacted around the gaming table. Time To Be The Hero So, Destined. From the front cover, which depicts two superheroes about to join in pitched battle on some city rooftop, the book makes it plain and crystal clear what to expect. Daring fights, deeds of derring do, and daredevils duking it out against double dealing and dastardly, er, deviltry. I hope I haven't run out of Ds for the rest of this blog post. Written by Mike Larrimore and Brian Pivik, Destined is the spiritual successor to the late Steve Perrin's Superworld. Indeed, Steve Perrin had been working on a revival of Superworld when he passed. Destined first arrived on The Design Mechanism's new web store on Easter Sunday, 2022. It arrived on DriveThruRPG on 2022-04-23. The Core Rulebook is available in Print On Demand and PDF formats. The description on the TDM website asks Who are you destined to be? From the description on the site:- Saviours and Scoundrels There is plenty for Players and Gamesmasters between the covers of this book. I know everybody has their favourite section - a lot of the readers are likely to turn to the Powers and Combat sections - so here is what you can expect. First up is the Introduction, which has the sections What Makes a Superhero?, How the Game Works, Overview of the Contents, Game Conventions, and Anatomy of a Hero. All of this is just a preamble, but take a look through it - the authors and artists capture the spirit of the source material:- Therein lies the appeal of Destined - the opportunity to play someone who comes in and saves the day. The main sections of the rest of the book cover Hero Creation, Skills, Powers, Tools Of The Trade (gadgets), Combat, Spot Rules (challenges and Perils), The Life Of A Hero (what your characters do in and out of their costumes), Creating Your Comic (the Gamesmaster's section), Welcome To Gemelos City (the main setting for the book, though you are under no obligation to set your game there - it's designed to be flexible enough that you can set it anywhere on Earth, even in our real world), and finally The Righteous and The Irredeemable (the major heroes, villains, and other players in Gemelos City). How To Build A Hero Character creation goes through a sequence familiar to Mythras players - Power Level (Street, Epic, or Paragon); Hero Concept; Origin; Characteristics; Attributes; Standard Skills; Culture; Career; Bonus Skill Points; Powers; Allotments and Gear; and Final Details, such as friends and family, rivals and enemies, events pertaining to their Origin, and the things that drive your heroes. Power level determines what kinds of adventures your characters have, whether they are at the level of something like The Question, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Agent May, Fitz / Simmons, Nite Owl, or Rorschach; Epic level, such as Spider-Man, Batman, Quake, Ghost Rider, Iron Man and so on; or Paragon level, the level of Storm, Colossus, Loki, Magneto and Squirrel Girl. Your Hero Concept could be drawn from any of the comics. Or you could create one of your own. The setting assumes that the superheroes of your setting grew up with a different lot of comics, or no comics at all. You could even be the first costumed heroes of your world, or there could have been a long-standing tradition of costumed heroics dating back many decades. The Gemelos City setting mentions an early 1800s hero, The Coachman. The default Gemelos City setting assumes that the powered heroes, the Doctor Manhattans of the world (Epic and Paragon) began emerging "fifteen years ago," and although it states that Destined takes place in the modern day (meaning that the Godstrand gene began Awakening in 2007, as of 2022), there are alternative settings available paralleling the Great Ages of comics, from its Golden and Silver Ages, to its Bronze Age where the tone began to get a little darker (the eras of Zenith, Watchmen, Transmetropolitan, and The Invisibles), to its Iron Age (epitomised by The Punisher) as well as the Modern Age, which takes elements from all the previous Ages). Crunchy Bits Once you get to the Powers section, you'll see that there is a rather interesting mechanic. The biggest concern about supers games like Superworld was that heroes would run out of gas in mid flight halfway between skyscrapers, or somehow underestimate the drain on their internal energies through extensive use of their powers, and suddenly they'd find themselve as weak and helpless as the baseline mortals they had been trying to protect. In Destined, your Heroes do not need to roll to activate their powers. You do not need to spend Power Points, either. There is a section on Automatic Successes. It's more or less the same kind of section you have in Mythras but it warrants looking at. A recent book which came out at the same time, DoubleZero by Lightspress Media, pointed out that your character can go through an entire adventure without rolling a single die. Destined is a game where such things are possible, even feasible - your hero will never end up watching their power beams fizzle and sputter just because they rolled a 98 on their activation check for example. Destined powers have Boosts, which extend the range, scope, or impact of these Powers. On their own, a Blast can take out a well-armed opponent, but adding Power Points to that Blast can do more, such as a Salvo which takes down multiple opponents simultaneously. The form the Blast takes is up to you. If you want eye beams or intense cold, radiation, fire, or ultrasonic waves, the stats are the same. There are Hero Templates to help you to design your character's concept, should you want your superhero to be a genius, a bruiser, an agile weaponsmith, an intimidating detective who works at night, or a Champion who stands on rooftops with the Sun behind them to reassure the citizens that All Will Be Well ... Origins are a big feature, and Destined has plenty of options for background events, Connections, and so on. It's not just about the hero's Origin story, but those of the people around them. Who knows about their secret identity? Who needs to be kept quiet about the Hero's double life? There is a quick cheat sheet on page 50 to allow you to get through the process of Hero generation very rapidly, followed by the Skills Pyramids (which have become a common theme of Mythras character generation). Background Events Tables Destined has multiple background events tables, most of which are tied to some sort of Origin or another. These Origins include Created (your Hero is a Construct like Vision), Experimentation (Captain America, Wolverine), Inherent (Zenith, Wonder Woman), Mutation (The X-Men), Mystical (Doctor Strange, The Invisibles, John Constantine, Zatanna), Technology (Iron Man, Batman, Green Arrow, Hawkeye), Training (Iron Man, Batman, Green Arrow, Hawkeye), and one extra-large table for general background events not tied to any particular Origin. Scary People ... And Then There Are The Villains There is so much to go through in this core rulebook. A novice gamer might find it a little daunting to go through, but rest assured - Destined is easy to read, and has a nifty guide to help you to go through the process of creating a character, assigning their Allotments (the gadgets and other resources they'll need for the adventure), Connections, Passions, and other details (such as secret identities). Gamesmasters are not left short, either. Organisations allow a Gamesmaster to create groups ranging from concerned citizens against costumed vigilantism, to police units, to specialised response units developed by the likes of Gemelos City to take down masks. Gamemasters are taken through the different Ages of comics, highlighting the main features of each era (Silver Age's black and white morality, the Iron Age's unnecessary brutality and Nineties ironic edgelordiness), and Gamesmasters are given a long look at such topics as duality (what the person's life is like without the mask, versus with the mask), how to create the atmosphere of your hero comic, movie, TV show and so on, how to run games (such as moving the spotlight around, putting fun first and rules second, collaboration with the Players to build your world), and so on. Towards the back of the book, the main setting is introduced. Gemelos City, a setting I fell in love with. A fictional West Coast version of Gotham or Metropolis, this gleaming city is a kind of hybrid between LA, San Fran and a huge helping of San Diego. The Twin City is split in two by The Divide, a river which forms a boundary layer between the rich Crown to the North, and the Ossuary and Brigadier Bay to the South where all the gang crime and poverty is. The major features of both halves are listed, from City Hall to Asphodel Park. History, important people, cops, celebs ... this book has it all. Destined also has villains. There is a definite theme to the villains. It is not for nothing that they all seem to come out of the books of Greek mythology. It ties in with a metaplot theme in Destined that the old Gods and Monsters are coming back in some form or another. Back then, the mighty heroes wore togas and loin cloths. Nowadays, it's form fitting Spandex and combat vests with lots of pockets. Either way, the Heroes are cut from the same Olympian cloth as their Classical ancestors, as if the stage were being set for Gods and Mortals to fight, with the Demigods and Monsters being the pawns in a renewed Manichaean chess match. Comparisons There are so many different superhero roleplaying games out there on the market. Ascendant and Aberrant are two very bright lights - with Aberrant making a comeback after a period of absence. Not to mention Mutants & Masterminds, Superworld and City of Mists and all the others. Both Ascendant and Aberrant begin with long intros, showcasing how the heroes began. Presented in comic book style, they're really just fluff pieces. In contrast, Destined rolls up its sleeves and goes right into the process of making the game about the Players. The villains and monsters are there for the Gamesmaster to drop in if they haven't got an idea of which villain is pulling off that bank heist. As Gamesmaster, you can create all of your own Rogues' Gallery, and make them the major players in your Gemelos City, or whatever other crime-riddled conurbation you happen to set your stories in. And you don't have to play superheroes, either. Going Off Script Destined is designed to allow your characters to run heroes. It doesn't matter if they don't wear Spandex. There's enough information in the core rulebook to allow your characters to play even as normal people - cops, first responders, firefighters, journalists, ordinary vigilantes ... even "Real Life Superheroes" armed with nothing more than a video camera and 100,000 Twitter followers. The book is designed to allow your characters to be anyone and anything they like. To tell the stories you like, whether it be superagents who now work for a special Major Crimes police task force, or a time travelling alien who stole his or her time machine, which looks bigger on the inside. End Notes This has just been a first read of Destined. Mike and Brian have poured an enormous amount of detail into this book, and it is designed to be the only book you'll need to play. You can bring in the Mythras Core Rulebook, but all of the main rules are listed here in Destined so even if you only had this one book with you, you could run the game. There is enough setting material, furthermore, to ensure that you can never run out of stories to run in Gemelos City, at the very least. If you've not played a superhero game before, I recommend Destined to be your first. If you've played superhero games in the past, I'd recommend Destined to be your next. This is a game which focuses on the heroes, not the powers: on the adventure, not just the combat; and on the heroic fight for justice, not just random battle scenes. Time to take a stand. What's your catchphrase?
  13. Next week, for one week only, this blog will be celebrating the launch of Mike Larrimore's book Destined. Join us on April 23rd for some Mythras superhero roleplaying.
  14. And so your adventure leads the Characters up to a vast bank of primal trees. They look at the pitch darkness beyond their sight, take a look at you, and decide to go around the trees. And you probably can't blame them. Line of sight reduced to a few yards; light levels practically at pitch blackness; and every sound they make probably carries for kilometres as if to tell every hungry predatory beast exactly where they are. You don't need to make a forest haunted or demonic to make the environment terrifying. Mundane animals, humans, and natural features alone can pose challenges for the staunchest Adventurer, without bringing in weird magical monsters. Terrain Depending on how dense the woods are in the area (hex, if you're navigating through a woodland map hexcrawl), line of sight, visibility, light level, terrain hindrance, and cover might be affected. The only places where you are likely to encounter roads and paths, other than desire paths marked out by animals, are in Cultivated, Light, and Medium forested areas. Terrain Hazards Getting Lost - A major hazard of travelling through unfamiliar territory is getting lost and losing your way. Before GPS apps on mobile phones, before even compasses, characters who get lost in the woods are likely to be doomed unless they can make those Navigation checks. If your Adventurer spots a landmark they are familiar with, the Navigation check becomes a lot easier; otherwise, it remains Difficult. Unstable or Treacherous Terrain - Gopher holes, exposed tree roots, loose stones, and similar hazards can trip up moving Adventurers, damage the legs of steeds, and so on. The ground can be slippery, particularly after heavy rainfall. Wet clay soil provides problems with traction, reducing Speed considerably. Other Hazards Biological Hazards - Pollen may trigger allergies. Poisonous plants from nettles to poison ivy, poison oak and so on can also geerate adverse reactions (treat as an infection). Likewise, insect or other creature bites can have an adverse effect - depending on the creature, they may range from irritation to bloodloss, to more serious diseases such as malaria, or even just kill your Adventurers outright such as snake bites or black widow spider venom. Falling Hazards - Tree branches breaking and falling, or even whole trees, can injure an Adventurer unwise enough to be walking underneath them. Temperature Extremes - Temperatures in the forest can range from one extreme on the weather table to the other in the course of a single day. Use the Mythras Weather Table on page 85 as a guide. Exposure is deadly to the unprepared; and depending on the Adventurers' Locale and Survival skill checks in picking out a suitable spot to build a shelter, those Endurance checks to avoid exposure can range from Easy to Herculean. Water - It is possible to die of thirst in a forest in the middle of a rain storm, if the Adventurer is untrained and incapable of collecting the water. There is also the danger of finding water which is undrinkable due to pollution, parasites, diseases, or even poisons from plants. Fatigue - All that pushing through the undergrowth can leave an Adventurer too fatigued to push on. Infections - A disease does not have to be something like necrotising fasciitis to be a danger. One of the hazards of the Amazon Ultra Marathon is the potential loss of a runner's toes through an infection as simple as trench foot. Untreated, gangrene can kill the Adventurer. Rare Calamities - Limited visibility means that catastrophic events from fluke lightning strikes hitting trees within a few metres of the Adventurer (anything less than 10 metres is enough to stun an Adventurer, even without the risk of a burning, lightning-struck tree falling down on them), to dangerous landslides following heavy rainfalls (deadly whether you are standing on top of the ground as it gives way, and even deadlier if you are passing underneath). Other such rare events could include hail, a tornado cutting through the region or, if your forested area is close to sea level and near a beach, a tsunami. Morale - Forests can be bleak places. Adventurers may need Willpower checks just to press on of a day, ranging from Standard all the way to Formidable. Resources And Equipment Adventurers need at least the following equipment to survive a journey through a forested environment of any length. Water Food Knife Shelter/ Shelter Building Equipment First Aid Kit Weatherproof Clothing / Raincoat Signaling Device - A mirror or lantern can be a lifesaver. Some means of making fire Cordage or Rope Surviving The Wild Wood Life is hard enough for an Adventurer, without having to worry about encountering implausible magical beasts or uncivilised rural people trying to kill them with banjo music. An adventure scenario pitting the Adventurers' Locale, Navigation, Endurance, Brawn, Willpower, Survival, First Aid, and Track skills against the harsh terrain of an unfamiliar woodland area can provide a story as memorable to the party as any dungeon delve.
  15. A personal note before I begin this week's post. Last week's hiatus could not have been more timely. I ended up going through a week from hell. I am not entirely convinced it isn't going to turn out to be a fortnight from Hell, but at least the crises I faced this last week have been resolved. Can't speak for tomorrow's crises, but then again tomorrow doesn't exist yet. Ruination What do you think of, when you think of ruins? There are many types of ruins, but they all have the same ending: places which are no longer being used, for whatever reason. A ruin might have been abandoned due to economic reasons, or due to the death of the person who kept the community together. A place can be brought to ruin by enemy conquest, or by natural disaster. However it happened, a ruin is a place where dreams died, and the past can only serve as a warning to the present. Types of Ruin Here are some ideas as to what sort of ruin the Adventurers can find themselves in. Roll on 1d20 or choose. Age of Ruins Next, look at the age of the ruins. Roll 1d10 or choose. Claim To Fame Some ruins have a claim to fame; a place in the history books. Think of the ruins of Troy and Pompeii, of Sutton Hoo and Derinkuyu. Imagine the Great Library of Alexandria at its height and its nickname, "The Place of The Cure of The Soul." Imagine the now-vanished workshop od Tapputi, the world's first recorded scientist, chemist, perfumer, and the inventor of the distillery. Or your world's oldest amphitheatre, where the most famous historical playwright of your fantasy world once trod the sand and delivered her impassioned monologues, and entertained the crowds with philosophically-charged plays and parables? An abandoned hospital, thousands of years old, on the site of your world's first university, will be charged with a different kind of energy than the wreckage of a deserted psychiatric hospital abandoned due to an outbreak of plague ten years ago. How / Why Did The Ruin Form? Most ruins form from either economically-motivated abandonment, warfare, a natural disaster, disease, famine, conquest, invasion, ideological imposition, or the cessation of some form of resource on which the ruins depended. Economically-motivated abandonment: That's simply money. People stopped coming to the place, perhaps because the location was no longer central to the city and a new place had opened up in the centre of a new, expanded community. Consider a temple sited on a hill. The supporting city builds a new temple in the centre, and people stop coming to the old temple, eventually trigge3ring its abandonment as the priesthood move to the new temple. Warfare: The city of Troy was thought of as a Greek myth, until it was discovered (and then blown to smithereens by explosives. Go figure). Also, the capital of Ancient Corinth deserves a mention here. Corinth is the place where the Corinthians lived, accorsing to the Biblical Letters of Saint Paul. They were also mentioned in the Acts of The Apostles in the same bible. You can thank the Romans for destroying the place, and the sea for claiming the rest of it. Natural disaster: Consider Pompeii, smothered for more than a millennium by Vesuvius. Your ruins could be buried in several hundred feet of volcanic ashes, washed away by a tsunami, or even (in your fantasy world) partly obliterated by a falling rock. A very small falling rock, which made a big mess, like Chelyabinsk in 2013. Disease: A horrific way to go, diseases such as the plague, smallpox and so on can ravage entire regions of the countrydside. In the Harnworld setting, The Red Death (smallpox) claimed millions across Northwestern Lythia, including the island of Harn. The nation of Thonia (which has its own geographic module, published by Kelestia Publications) was all but rendered a barren wasteland. Thonia's thriving, yet isolated, civilisations were all but eradicated by the Red Death. Famine: Famine can also lay waste entire regions. Famine can be caused by a number of factors: war, disease, drought, natural disaster - but also stupidity. Cultivation requires effort, planning, and resources: a crop which fails can turn a paradise island into a Summerisle. Conquest / Invasion: Going back to the ancient city of Troy, and to Alexandria. In both cases, imagine what they would have looked like today, if they had not been scrubbed down to the foundations by some ugly brute invaders. The same goes for ideological imposition: look at all those Abbeys and Monasteries which were ordered shut down by Henry VIII. Cessation: Not exactly famine, as such, or even economic abandonment. Sometimes, a natural resource which drew people to a civic centre just dries up. Water from a natural spring (perhaps blessed by the Gods), or a herb which becomes extinct, or even some technology on which the rest of the region depends, but which becomes obsolete with the advent of a new technology (such as iron in the Bronze Age, or the mouldboard plough, or irrigation). Why Explore These Ruins? What would bring the Adventurers to an abandoned site? As Gamesmaster, you could think of a few reasons, but here are half a dozen ideas to set you off. Rescue: Someone has gone wandering away from the community, off into the wilderness, and they've become stuck somehow amid the ruins on the hill. Perhaps they fell through a sinkhole to an undiscovered complex beneath; or perhaps they might have fallen foul of some bandits who have taken refuge there. Either way, time is of the essence before the missing person is killed or dies of exposure. Reclamation: The ruins have now been bought up by a landowner, who wishes to develop the property. The Adventurers can be tasked with going there to clear out the monsters which have taken residence there, and which occasionally have been making forays into the town during times of famine. They could also venture there in order to find out some reason why they should not build there - perhaps it is credibly haunted, or there is still a trace of lingering plague there, and so on. Shelter: - The Adventurers are passing by, when a storm hits, or snow, or they spot an oncoming invasion, and the ruins provide shelter and concealment. Exploration: - There are rumours of a lost treasure of some kind hidden in the ruins. Don't knock this one: you never know when your clumsy excavations in the floor of an ancient Abbey may reveal a hidden copy of The Qur'an from the 13th Century. Diplomacy: - Circumstances might require a neutral meeting point for meetings intended to bring a war to an end, or to conduct some state of affairs between cultures or nations. What better place than a ruin which nobody can lay claim to, or even a ruin which has cultural significance to both parties (e.g. a ruined Abbey where a treaty had been signed between two warring nations six hundred years before, the first time both nations had gone to war with one another). Trade: - Your Adventurers have someone or something. The other side has someone or something. What better place to arrange the exchange than a place which has excellent sight lines for one or both teams' snipers? Or maybe they could go there with a genuine intent to swap ... Last Word In the end, a ruin can be more than just a place to store random monsters to chop into little pieces. If you think that the abandoned places of the world can be more interesting to explore without bands of wandering monsters, feel free to use the above guidelines to work out some adventures to throw at your Adventurers. Who knows; they could uncover a Derinkuyu in some unexplored part of the world, and build up a population in the tens of thousands livin underground, with themselves as the leaders of an entire community and the complex as their base of operations - or they could content themselves with building an underground home, and building a regional power base with trade coming to them. Just watch out for those ancient ghosts ...
  16. This week's blog post will be delayed one week. I'm unable to finish it, due to a family emergency. I apologise for any inconvenience.
  17. Rural environments lie between the cities and the wilderness. They are a broad liminal area, and as such they attract many kinds of encounters in between one state and the other. This article will look at ways to make rural encounters interesting to the Adventurers. Keeping The Players Motivated Okay, so the Adventurers have just left the city limits behind them, and before they get to the wild part of the world they have to get through all this farmland. This is probably the most boring part of any adventure, and most Games Masters would be all too happy to gloss over this bit to get to the good stuff and the weird encounters out in the wilderness. This part of any trip can actually be the stage for a load of unusual encounters which will keep the Adventurers on their toes. Liminal States The rural environment is a liminal state, and a petri dish for the cultivation of liminal states. The Adventurers are between one state (urban) and another (wilderness), so they are neither here nor there themselves. In this part of the world, they are likely to encounter places and circumstances which are "in between," so these are perfect points at which to place encounters. Liminal Places Places of transition are meeting places for all manner of beings, both mundane and otherworldly. Crossroads - So many cultures mark crossroads as places where the supernatural and the mundane meet. The Adventurers may meet witches conducting their workings here; and at some crossroads, it is said that if you wait until midnight, you may encounter a Dark Lord, or even Death. And sometimes, you may even catch them in a good mood and be able to strike a deal with them ... Bends - Bends and curves in the road, whether horizontal or vertical, are notorious for accidents or encounters with other kinds of otherworldly beings, more interested in abduction than in making deals. Strange lights in the sky are common, as are the occasional arrivals rather than departures ... Borders - Pre-modern worlds generally do not have miles of barbed wire and checkpoints in the roads. Sometimes, the only indication that one has crossed over from one county to the next, or from one country to the next, is a half-buried, moss-covered marker placed there by mutual onsent between long-forgotten nations centuries ago. Gates - Stiles, gates and similar portals can either mark the transition between one part of the land, or one realm, and the next. A natural enclosed arch formed by two trees either side of a road, where the crowns of both trees connect high above, can serve as a natural portal to some otherworld, whether it be a realm of spirits or the Fae Realm. Cliffs - Depending on whether the cliff is approached from the top or the bottom, cliffs mark a form of edge. Cliffs and quarries may have fissures, caves, or other portals leading to Underworlds, even Hells. Shorelines - Lake shores, river banks, and seashores mark the limits of land and water. Encounters here can be with amphibious animals, birds, shapeshifting creatures such as selkies or Longane, water elementals, earth elementals, and even air elementals. Liminal Times Just as there are places which exist between one realm and another, so too are there times which intersect. The Adventurers may encounter these in those quiet moments between one state and the next. Dusk and Dawn - It is generally only modern timekeepers which mark midnight as the start of a new day. Before our societies became mechanised and governed by a craving for punctuality, people measured the day beginning with the dawn or, depending on the culture, sunset. Seasons - The solstices and equinoxes mark the points where the sun is at its highest (Litha) or at its lowest (Yule), and the points where the day and night are the same length (Ostara and Mabon). These are times marked by ritual and ceremony. Similarly, there are traditional times where the new seasons are marked - Imbolc, the beginning of Spring; Beltane, the beginning of Summer; Lughnasadh, the start of Autumn; and Samhain, the commencement of Winter. Eclipses - Both solar and lunar eclipses are times of great import. The Sun seems to disappear from the daytime sky, and night briefly rules the waking world, or the Full Moon vanishes, replaced by a red circle like a baleful eye peering down upon a terrified world. The Quarters - Both the Waxing and Waning Quarters, the Half Moons, are moments of transition, too; temporal portals to take stock. Harvests - In general, rural societies mark three harvests: the harvest of grain, at Lughnasadh; the fruit and vegetable harvest marked by Mabon; and lastly the meat harvest, celebrated at Samhain, where the livestock which will not make it through the coming winter is brought in for its final rest and processing into food, leather and so on. Samhain also marks the point where the loved ones who have passed during the year, and years past, can roam the world one last time, and be celebrated and mourned before they depart for the next world in the morning. Liminal People The people you may encounter in urban areas may also be in some liminal state or other. Fugitives, Outlaws and Parolees - All are involved in some form of criminal activity. Fugitives are fleeing judgment, and are between clear guilt and innocence. Outlaws are marked, and have no home or status; they do not belong. Parolees are between a state of conviction and innocence, where they are in a state of transition between being marked criminals and bring truly free. Dreamers - At night, under the stars, the Adventurers themselves can become liminal characters, as their minds hover on the verge of sleep, or on the verge of dream. In certain circumstances, they may hover between the living realms and the realms of Dream, Spirit, Fae, or Death. Dare they open the portals to those realms in their minds? Stateless People - Any number of people could be encountered on the road, who have no state for themselves. They may be refugees fleeing a war, persecution, or some natural disaster; or they may be immigrants, coming to civilisation to make their way in the world or make a name for themselves. Nomadic People - Distinct from the Stateless are those people whose entire culture is mobile and nomadic. From migratory peoples following the herds they are tending to people from Nomadic tribal cultures, these are a people distinct to themselves, bringing with them experiences of places, lands, times, and peoples from beyond the lived experiences of the locals. Shifters - Some people cannot live in the town and flee into the night to protect their loved ones. Caught between human and beast, these poor souls are a danger to themselves and the people around them when the time is right and the Moon is full. Ghosts and Revenants - Also caught between realms, wandering phantoms see life and death from both sides. From phantom travellers who hitch rides in carriages, only to vanish at dawn, to revenants who claw their way out of shallow graves, bent on avenging their deaths upon their killers, these ghosts, wraiths and shamblers are not to be trifled with. On A Knife Edge The situations encountered by the Adventurers in rural areas can be mundane, quaint, parochial, bucolic, or wild, hallucinogenic, dreamy, even terrifying or horrifying. But if you, as Gamesmaster, treat these encounters as liminal situations, and see the transition points, you can make rural encounters both emotive and memorable - certainly, powerful.
  18. So you and the Players are moving fast. They're on their way to investigate some ruin, or explore some place, and on the road they meet ... someone. Something. Only, the moment you announce the encounter, the Players decide to sidestep the whole thing or to hide until it passes. How do you involve the Adventurers in the encounter without shoehorning them in or railroading them? Bring in elements, such as hooks and shoves, which draw them in or shove them in the direction you want them to go. Roping In The Adventurers The point of presenting an event on the road is to give the Adventurers something to do on the way to, or sometimes from, an adventure. Random encounters which simply present a bunch of monsters for the Adventurers to fight is simply not good enough. Modern gaming requires that encounters should have a point, which is of relevance to the adventure, or to the Adventurers. Note: This article is not about creating tables describing who or what the Adventurers encounter, whether it be a pack of 1d4 kobolds or a bunch of bandits. This is about why the Adventurers should get involved with these beings. Hooks A hook is something which draws in the Adventurers and involves them in the action. The point of a hook is to engage the Adventurers and give them some sort of reward for participating in the scene - which could be an allegory for the Adventurers' real adventure, or foreshadowing, or simply a chance for them to restock on supplies and find out some kind of relevant information. Shoves A shove, on the other hand, gives the Adventurers something to avoid doing, or sends them off in a direction of the Games Master's choosing - which could either be a brief diversion, or the real point of the adventure. The Adventurers must do something to avoid something bad happening - for instance, to avoid being spotted by a band of marauders, or to avoid being struck down by lightning during a heavy storm. Constructing Tables for Encounters Who Is Involved Roll separately on each column on the following table, or choose. Hooks and Shoves The key to any hook or shove is motivation. Something is behind the encounter, which either draws the Adventurers in to become involved, or which drives them to seek a different direction, approach, or even a whole different adventure. Roll on the table below, or just choose. Example: The Adventurers encounter a minor character in the current adventure. They are trading with a third party. The motivation table indicates secrets. Whose secrets are being traded? Canny Adventurers would want to know, particularly if the third party was a Rival of theirs who might use the information traded to beat them to the punch. Example: The Adventurers encounter an Ally, perhaps one they haven't seen for several adventures. The roll indicates that they are trying to rescue a stuck comrade. The Adventurers pitch in to help - but the comrade is one of their Enemies! Worse, the Enemy has vital information about the place they are travelling to! The Twist Table The Twist Table is used to determine whether or not a particular encounter is as it seems. Games Master, only use this table if you want things to be truly random, or if you can't make up your mind whether or not to throw in the unexpected into what might seem to be an ordinary encounter. Note that this is the only time that an encounter could lead to a combat scene. Note how different dice rolled can alter the probability of a given outcome. It is so much harder for something unexpected to occur if you roll on a 1d100, for instance, than on a d4. So choose the die you want to roll, and roll it, and see what result occurs on the Twist Table below. Or just choose the result. Something unexpected The Adventurers are engrossed in some activity, perhaps helping out, when something happens to disrupt the scene and change it completely. Examples: A volcano erupts, threatening to spill a vast pyroclastic cloud upon everyone's heads; an earthquake shakes the ground; the bad weather worsens, and hailstones the size of peaches begin to fall; or a rock falls from the sky and impacts a short distance from the encounter, knocking everybody off their feet from the force of the impact. Even just something as simple as the weather turning is enough to send the adventure spinning off in a completely different direction, as they might be forced to take shelter with a sworn Enemy against a harsh blizzard which would kill them if they tried to venture through it. Nothing is as it seems The Adventurers discover something which turns the encounter on its head. Perhaps they are helping refugees who turn out to be from an enemy nation or worshipping an evil deity. Perhaps they are not refugees at all, but something else. Or maybe it is a trap, and armed bandits are lying in wait nearby, hoping someone would take the bait. Everything is as it seems No surprises. This turns out to be a "what you see is what you get" scene. Variety Always keep referring to tables like these for variety. No two encounters should ever be exactly the same. even if the encounter table indicated "1d4 priests" or "2d6 soldiers" each time. With experience, you could start creating your own, designed for different environments, different settings, and even different circumstances in the same places. Keep them varied. Keep them memorable. Keep the Players guessing.
  19. An integral part of enjoying any roleplaying game is encountering other beings. Since the Adventurers will all be together, every single encounter will be with a non-player character. This entire blog post is dedicated to the Games Master. There are no secrets to be kept from the Players - but if you want to learn the Games Master's art, you can listen in and learn. The Art of The Encounter Encounters are what Games Masters do. And like everything else, it is an art form which Games Masters need to learn to get good at. Mere repetition is not enough. You can get just as bored by yet another orc raiding party, whether they are equipped with orcish falchions or spears, nets or flails. If all you know of encounters is their numbers, their stats, their weapons, and battle till their Hit Points reach zero, then you are missing out on what is possibly one of the most spectacular Games Master arts. Old Skool Encounters Initially, encounter tables were random lists of wandering monsters. They turn up, the characters slaughter them, the adventure moves on to the next encounter. However, hack'n'slash is not really the default in roleplaying games any more. Games Masters can now create far richer kinds of encounters - ones which are part of the story, or part of the characters' growth and development, or which somehow showcase the setting. Here are some considerations for the encounters you can set up. Who Most encounters are going to be with people, rather than combat with some random mindless, slavering monsters. Once the characters are out on the road, they will be meeting other people - other adventurers, their own Rivals or Allies, patrols, pilgrims ... there is a variety of these different kinds of parties. The nature of these groups typically determines the likeliest thing they are going to do when the characters heave into view of them. What This is generally asking what these wanderers want - their motive. And whether or not it involves the characers in any way. A band of pilgrims might want to stop at the characters' campfire and share food and talk about their pilgrimage, and a hunting party might show off their catches. Traders might sell or exchange, or provide information about the road they have just come down, and so on. It depends on what they want - whether it is to just go home, or to warn the characters of a hazard. Or indeed to ambush the characters, leading to a combat. Yes, there is always that possibility - but it is not the only outcome any more. Sometimes, what refers to animal encounters. Traveller excelled at animal encounters, presenting a broad list of animal encounter types such as Pouncers (such as big cats, which strike at their targets with a leap), Trackers (such as wolves, which pursue their prey by scent) or Gatherers (omnivores like humans, who forage for food). The kinds of animals encountered can determine what kind of encounter it will be, whether it is fending off hungry wolves or sitting on top of a rocky outcrop to wait out the vast herd of migratory aurochs which is cutting across the road. Where The location fo the encounter is important, as in the local terrain. Are the characters encountering a hazard such as an encroaching landslide? If they are, what is the terrain behind them like? Are the directions of movement restricted? In the case of a landslide, they might only be able to go forwards or backwards, and the option to go forwards might only be time sensitive until the rocks or the avalanche cuts off the way ahead. When What time the encounter takes place is hugely important. A party which encounters wanderers coming up to their campfire in the middle of the night is bound to be a lot more wary than two groups of wanderers running into one another in the road at midday. How How an encounter happens can be as simple a matter as how much warning the characters have to prepare for it. A stealthy predatory animal stalking the characters will try to ambush them and take them by surprise. In contrast, a band of pilgrims might give away their position half an hour before they turn up, announcing their presence with loud hymnals and music as they approach. Why This is probably the most important question. Why these people, here, now? Why have they targeted the characters? Why is this more significant than a "ships passing in the night" encounter where the adventurers just breeze past the beings encountered on the road, without interaction? Some example reasons follow below. Abduction - the beings encountered abduct travellers and take them elsewhere for some unknown purpose Ambush - the beings have set up a roadblock or ambush for some reason, which might not necessarily mean robbery. Challenge - a puzzle, riddle, or test: the characters are being tested for worthiness by an agent of the person they are seeking, or perhaps an Avatar of a deity testing the party member who believes in that deity and follows their religion. Connections - the encountered beings are known to the characters, either as Allies, Contacts, Rivals, Enemies, family, and so on. Event - something unexpected and interesting happens along the way. Guardian - a sentinel is placed in the characters' way, not to test them but to halt their progress. Hazard - some environmental hazard, whether it is terrain, wildlife, or weather. Hunt - the beings encountered are after someone or something that is not the characters. They are either on an actual hunt (tracking some beast for its flesh or pelt), or they are a posse sent after a miscreant. Labourers - the encountered beings are workers from a local settlement, on their way to or from work. Location - the characters stumble upon a notable location or terrain feature. Lost - the beings have become separaed from their unit. They could be young Nomads, or a child from a nearby settlement. See Rescue. Nomads - the beings are a wandering, self-sufficient group of people, and they are following their traditional route. Patrol - the encountered beings are patrolling the periphery of a nearby settlement. They have the right to challenge strangers, acting as they are in defence of the settlement. Pilgrimage - the beings are on some sort of quest or pilgrimage, either to some destination to confirm their faith, or on a journey to test their faith. Rescue - the beings are tracking someone who has gone missing: a search or rescue party. The missing person should be nearby. Road Gang - the beings are prisoners being escorted by guards, or on site labour maintaining the road under supervision of the guards. Runaways - the beings are running from someone or something - or they are running to someone or something. Settlement - the characters stumble across a settlement of some beings. They are just people, trying to live their lives; or they could be hostile in some way. Shadow - the beings could be being shadowed by an elusive being or group of beings, who are following the characters for some unknown purpose. Trade - the beings could be traders en route to a market. They can share food, exchange gossip and information, and so on. They could also be robbers, who might choose the characters as their next victims. We have not come to the end of the discussion of encounters. There will be more next time, including suggestions for tables you can use in a game.
  20. Don't gloss over Survival skill. Part of every wilderness travel phase of an adventure should be to test the Adventurers' mettle. Scenes of travel through an uncivilised environment should be about gauging the protagonists' reactions to crises, and their creativity and ingenuity in coming up with solutions to problems brought about by the environment. This article looks at the fine art of making it from start to finish, without your Adventurers getting dead at any point along the way. Hiking versus Surviving There is a gulf of difference between a "wilderness survival" scenario and a "hike scenario" where the adventure takes place at the end of the hike (or perhaps the middle - you do have to go back home, don't you?) The following steps are taken from real world wilderness survival situations, adapted to a roleplaying situation. This does involve simplifying decisions made to die rolls and their results, and skill checks, and fatigue. However, this is a necessary step to including survival challenges in a roleplaying game - specifically, Mythras. Surviving - First Steps Communicate: Adventurers could just up sticks and head off to the Great Unknown. Chances are, those are the Adventurers who enter the annals of legend for disappearing, never to be heard of again. In game terms, this means Oratory. The team leader's greatest responsibility is to ensure that everybody gets out of the wilderness alive. That means boosting morale, fostering a sense of optimism, and ensuring that survival is a shared burden where the most capable do their best to help the least, and hopefully to teach them to catch up so the burden can be lessened. Oratory may be applied, furthermore, to calm the team. When you are thrust into a survival situation, the last thing on your mind should be to panic. The first action of every team member is to become calm, or to remain calm. The team leader should perform an Oratory check to allow the team members, if necessary, to make an immediate Easy Willpower check. If the Oratory fails or fumbles, it is a Standard check because even if the team leader botches the pep talk, their intent to calm the gang and get their heads on straight is still clear. And other team members whose heads are on straight can augment all of the rest of the team members with their Oratory and/or Influence skills. Assess Situation: The Combat Action Assess Situation is the most vital first proactive step to survival. The team needs to focus on assessing their situation immediately. This includes assessment of the terrain for shelter; assesment of possible sources of fuel for the fire; assessment of the team's provisions, medical supplies, tools and equipment; assessment of possible local sources of food, herbal medicines, and clean water; and finally, orientation - an attempt to establish where they are and what direction to travel to the nearest civilisation, wherever that may be. Inventory: The next step is to inventory what everybody has on their person. Food, water, medicines, bedrolls, tents, tools, other kits. If someone brought along a wood axe and a saw, they can cut branches off to make shelter structures and erect makeshift tents. Wax can proof clothes and tarpaulins against the rain, and so on. The team leader should receive everybody's inventories. Plan: Once assessments are made, the team leader can work with the team to create a plan for survival. These include:- Terrain: The best place to set up camp. Survival, Perception, and Locale are the key skills here - Survival to assess the prevailing winds and temperatures, Perception to take stock of possible hazards such as setting up camp too close to a cliff, or underneath a cliff which could be prone to landslides; and Locale, to establish any natural hazards in the area such as ants' nests, beehives, poisonous plants, nettles, thistles, or thorny / spiny plants, not to mention native fauna which could be problematical such as bears, wolves, honey badgers, wolverines, warthogs, and so on. Shelter: Knowing how to set up windbreaks against the prevailing winds, either using the team's resources or assembling them from natural materials. Survival, Engineering, and Locale are the key skills. These skills are now used proactively rather than passively, to build the structures rather than to assess and plan. By this stage, the team should be certain about what to do, and ready to help the inexperienced. Fire: The next stage is to gather that fuel and build that fire. The charatcers' firelighting kits could be as basic as a leather bag with a bit of flint and a mass of down and human hair. Human hair is a highly effective form of kindling. Survival skill includes methods used to light fires and to keep them going, not to mention extinguishing them safely. Water: Adventurers can only go three days without water. Survival and Locale are the key skills here: if they are surrounded by plant life, there must be water somewhere (Locale), so they need to find it and extract it in a usable form (Survival). That fire is important here, because you'll need it to boil that water. Survival skill also includes techniques to create other water-collecting tools such as solar stills, and so on. Food: The Adventurers will need a rationing plan for the food they have with them. The team leader can designate one of the team as being the team's larder and carry all of their food supplies, or distribute the rations to ensure that those who brought the least food with them be given as much of a chance to survive as the one who brought along a feast. Then there is Nature's larder: and the team's greatest asset here is the Adventurer with the highest Locale and Track skills, not to mention Survival to set game traps. Save the alcohol for treating injuries and disinfecting wounds. Setting Up Watches: The team leader can set up watches; who can sleep, who can keep watch. Half the team sleeps from about sunset, relieving the other half which beds down at midnight. Everyone gets up at sunrise to rekindle the fire and see what they can do to get a good breakfast going. Pressing Ahead The first steps are to establish a camp and form a plan of action. The next step is to execute that action. Orientation: Local landmarks need to be surveyed, and the cardinal directions established. Navigation is the key skill here - even if the team has an accurate map, it is useless unless somebody knows what direction north is, which means navigating by the stars. Locale can provide some aid during the day - some plants, such as compass plants, flourish more on the south side, where the sunlight is strongest; and certain species of termites build their nests as odd ridgelike structures in parallel rows along a north-south direction, for heat regulation of their nests: the ridges are fins, capturing the maximum warmth of the sun in the morning and evening, and providing a minimal surface ares to the sun at midday to prevent the nest from overheating. As Games Master, you can place such compass plants and animals within your setting to give Adventurers something to look for. Signalling: If the Adventurers are stranded, rather than trekking (making their way somewhere, or returning home from a place), they may need some means of signalling others to show that they are alive and seeking help. Survival helps here; fires can be made smoky with damp grass to provide smoke signals, and shiny metal can be used to reflect light as far as the horizon, which can be used to signal people at a distance. Survival skill can also provide other methods to signal rescuers or to lay down a trail for them to follow. Movement: Look for a road or a trail. Not an animal trail, but something laid down by people. Once you are on a road, you will know that it leads somewhere - even if that somewhere is an abandoned place, it can provide shelter and a direction from which to go (back down the road). Keeping Up Spirits: It is essential to keep the team's spirits positive. Sing while marching. Stop along the way to forage, if the opportunity arises. Send a scout ahead, but not too far, to see what's around the bend. Keep encouraging the less experienced. Show them basic survival techniques such as firelighting and knot tying. Games Masters, you would do well to look for books on survival and scouting. They know their stuff. Do Your Best, and all that. Oratory is possibly the best survival skill of all in this situation, because it keeps the team together, gives them something to do to stave off despair, and most of all it trains the team members to stop thinking of themselves as individuals but rather part of a team. Reassess: Never stop assessing the situation. The most essential part of surviving is adaptation. And adaptation requires current knowledge. Survival requires that the team always knows where they are, where they are going, and what new hazards present themselves. Example: Rain on the distant horizon may not mean much, but if the characters are in a dry gulch they may need to get to high ground, because the gulch is there for a reason - it is a channel for flash floods. Perception or Lore (geology) can look for the signs that the gulch is prone to frequent flash floods (water-rounded rocks, erosion marks on the sides of the gulch, signs of recent activity as far back as the last rainy season, and so on). Journal: In-game, an Adventurer can keep busy by keeping a journal going, if they have Literacy skill. This will help the team leader to keep track of where they have been and where they are, and to plan for where they are going. It is also good for morale. If the Player (and/or Games Master) can draw or sketch their imaginations, this too can be added to the record, as well as serving as aide memoire and inspiration for later game sessions. Augmentation: Every team member should augment another's efforts at least once during this scenario. No team member should ever go it alone, or be left alone. Group Luck Points: If all else fails, there are always Luck Points. In this case, never use Luck Points to "reverse the die roll," changing a 62 into a 26 or something. That's just weak/ You're holding back on the true potential of Luck Points. Luck Points should always be spent on allowing the team members to automatically avoid hazards and get out with their skins intact. All of them. Together. Back Home The aim of wilderness survival is to get back home, safe and sound. Assuming they have managed to do so, the last stage of every survival adventure is to learn. Games Masters, it would be entirely appropriate to ensure that, at the very least, everybody gets a free Experience Roll to place on any of the following skills: Endurance, Locale, Navigation, Oratory, Perception, Track, or Survival. It's okay to ive them all an automatic Experience Roll in Survival anyway. They will have earned it, particularly if they helped others on the trail. The team's Players must be allowed to look back on this experience. A survival experience should never be taken lightly, or forgotten easily. If the team Players can see the beneficial effects of collaboration, cooperation and sharing - in the form of augmentation of one another's skill checks, for example - then this can be as much a learning experience in forging a group's identity to the Players as to their Adventurers. Wilderness scenes need not be a boring string of random monster encounters fought to the death on the way to the dungeon. That is an obsolete mode of gaming, whose legacy lives on in the form of video games. You are playing Mythras. You can do so much more with this game than try to run it like D&D.
  21. Apologies for the last minute notice. Tonight's blog will be delayed somewhat. I got called away to an important online conference. I'm going to put the scheduled release back till Monday, about 23:00.
  22. The locations where encounters occur are as important as the encounters themselves. Wilderness encounters present memorable moments for the Adventurers, as much as the sites of the adventures themselves. Hans Christian Andersen's fable The Snow Queen was as much about the tests facing the hero, Gerda, as it was about the main action - the rescue of her beloved, Kay, from the clutches of the cold Snow Queen of the children's fable. Gerda's wilderness encounters were all obstacles and temptations facing her in her path, aimed at deterring her from her rescue mission. Wilderness travel can be a far more interesting challenge for the Players and Games Master than a set of random combat encounters. Encounters can be about perils, strangeness, dramas, and journeys of discovery - including self-discovery. Most of all, they can be about tests of courage, of stamina, of cool, and of resolve. Wilderness Types Anywhere can be the site of an encounter. Cities, the road out to one of the outlying towns or villages, and the lands beyond. Beyond the tiny settlements, the outlying villas and holdings, past the coppicers and straggling hunters, the true wilderness begins at the point where the signs of human activity such as cultivation run out, and the truly untamed land begins. There are many kinds of lands where encounters can occur. Rural: The outlying cultivated spaces. The breadbasket of the city. River: The surging waters of the young river near its source, the slow flowing majesty of the mature river, and the marshy, quicksand-strewn littoral realms of deltas, swamps, bogs and fens. Plains: Wide open, empty spaces, flood plains and open steppes, tundras and savannahs. Hills and Mountains: The only difference is height. Elevated realms overlooking the flat lands below, and the valleys in between. Woodlands, Deep Forests, Jungles: Fertile lands where life flourishes, and where the oldest inhabitants were already full-grown before the first humans ever set foot in the area. Extreme Environments: Deserts, frozen wastes. The coldest and the hottest locations in the world, testing the living equally harshly. Seas and Oceans: The primal emptiness and unfathomable depths. Encounters Much of the events of travel tend to be encounters - which do not automatically mean slavering monsters and wild beasts looking for a fight to the death. Encounters can be about meeting people - lost wanderers, pilgrims, traders, nomads, patrols, and so on. Encounters with people can be as much about sharing the camp fire and food, swapping stories, singing songs and music, and forging friendships and alliances. Encounters can become recurring encounters. Travellers once met on the road can turn up under other circumstances. Lasting friendships, or conversely simmering enmity, can lead to dramas and complications later on down the line in the Adventurers' campaign. Hazards The land itself can bedevil the Adventurers' footsteps. Exposure, starvation, thirst, extremes of heat and cold, diseases, and terrain hazards can threaten the Adventurers, or at least can slow them down long enough to overcome the challenges faced by the terrain or the elements. Tests The road to the destination might not be entirely smooth. The Adventurers can face many diversions along the way. They can be abducted (rather than attacked in a battle to the death ... have you ever thought that maybe not all battles should be lethal in these games?) and hauled off to some miserable situation such as imprisonment, pressganging into service, servitude and so on. The story would revolve around their escape, and retrieval of their most precious tackle and gear, in order to return to their adventure. Another kind of test is temptation. In the course of their journeys, the Adventurers can be met with temptations. They can meet the most beautiful people they have ever seen and be tempted to settle there rather than continue their journeys - this is a popular theme in Odyssey-style stories, where the Adventurers have been stranded on some distant shore and must find their way home. The land of the Lotus Eaters is a place where every need and desire is satiated, both subtle and gross, all but one: the need to get home. Types of Journey The Quest: The Adventurers must quest to some distant place to obtain some desired thing. On the way, they meet challenges and temptations, but steel their nerve and fight the evil being at the end of the journey, whose ownership of The Thing is unjust. The quest is about returning the Thing back to where it belongs. Sounds familiar. The Pilgrimage: The Adventurers are travelling on a long journey to some place of holiness. They are either trying to be cured, healed, or forgiven of some sin which burdens them. On the way, they and their fellow pilgrims exchange stories, and thereby learn that the journey to Faith is as much a part of the salvation as the final blessing at the end. The Initiation: The plot of The Hero's and Heroine's Journeys. The protagonist sets forth on a journey, knowing that the journey itself is transformational. On the way, they discover manifestations of their faults and flaws and, by overcoming them, develop or acquire a Great Gift by which they can heal the people once they get home. The Hunt: A great crime has been committed. The Culprit has fled the community. The protagonists must follow, track down the miscreant, and bring them back to face justice. The Rescue: Someone cherished by the community, or the protagonists, has gone missing in the wilderness. The characters must go forth to find them, ascertain their health or their fate, and bring them - or their body - back. If they were murdered, the story becomes a Hunt, as they track down the killer. The Search: Not quite like the Quest story, this involves a long trek into the wilderness, encountering many of its wonders and hazards as the land shows off its beauty and its danger, until the protagonists - tested and tempted by the land itself - reach the site where a vital treasure can be found, such as a healing herb, a rare mineral, or a magical healing pool. The Exploration: The basic hexcrawl story, where each new hex brings along a new and uinknown danger, treasure, wonder, or temptation. The Adventurers are travelling across terrain which is unknown to them, and everything is about the next surprise around the next corner. The Odyssey: The protagonists are stranded a long way from home, and they must find their way back. Forging The Blade Wandering encounters as presented are just meaningless random combats. They whet no appetites, they consume the Adventurers' resources, and they could even lead to injury and death of the party members before they even reach their goal, the actual adventure. A Games Master can take the opportunity to turn the wilderness wandering adventure into something else: a chance to forge the blade. By pitting the Adventurers against challenges designed to be solved by playing each character to their greatest strengths and forcing them to work together, the Games Master can take the wilderness adventure and turn it into an opportunity to turn a disparate bunch of Adventurers into a unified fighting unit blessed with a single purpose.
  23. Taking another hiatus for one week, to catch up on working commitments. I'll be back next week, with a look at various encounter environments.
  24. Personal note: Before writing this blog, I thought I'd try and Google the word "horror" to see if I could come up with a suitable graphic for this post. The search engine just gave me a bunch of faces, close up, staring full screen at the viewer, leering, gurning, screaming, gaping open-mouthed like simpletons faced with their first conjuring trick. That's not scary. That's just marketing people capitalising on the Uncanny Valley, and presenting the world with a bunch of actors in heavy makeup to make their faces look disfigured - because the fear of disabled people and ugliness is the last refuge of plain old bigotry left in the world. Creating Scary Stories So this is about creating gaming scenarios intended to terrify the Players. Note - not the Adventurers. It is as hard to create a horror scenario as it is to create a mystery. How can you create a terrifying scenario to a party of Adventurers who go in to the haunted house fully armoured top to toe, and carrying huge, unwieldy, devastating weapons of war? When the Players' first impulse is to yell "I roll initiative and ready my weapons" when they meet a zombie in a room; when their reaction to confronting a shifting werewolf is to dig through their bags for silver weapons because the Players know that silver is deadly to them; how can you get through a jaded, blasé mindset and scare them? Safety Tools Safety tools are probably more important in the horror genre than in any other genre of gaming. The themes of horror roleplaying include topics which cause discomfort, and while players might know exactly what they are getting into, still some events and topics might crop up which could cause distress to individuals. A player might agree to play in a story where spiders feature strongly because they have no fear of spiders - but they may draw the line at the depiction of fire, for instance. Or they might have no problem with investigating a haunted house and have no fear of ghosts, but vampires could terrify them. Safety tools include safety cards - the "O" card for "okay" (it's the player acting in character, for instance, rather than being terrified for real), the "pause" card to allow the player to take a breather, and the "X" card to signal that the player doesn't want to explore the scene any further. Gestures such as "cut" (hands in an X across the chest, palms down) and "brake" (hands in front of chest, palms out) serve the same function as the "pause" and "X" cards. Games Masters can exercise options such as veils, which draw a veil over the scene and close it down so the characters can move on, and script changes which can rewind a scene to an earlier point or even go to a previous scene. And with that now said, let's look deep into the nature of fear. The Nature Of Fear People watch horror movies and read horror stories to feel an enjoyable frisson of fear. Humans must be the only species that indulges in risky activities in this way. Human couples often watch horror movies together because it deepens emotional bonds. Around the gaming table, Players enjoy horror scenarios for the same reason - the sharing of the emotions of fear increases team camaraderie. Fear is an emotional reaction to the perception of a threat. Fear only arises where there is a threat, either real or implied. In a horror game, the threat can come from the predations of a monster or monsters. Fear comes in four main flavours. Unease - Your gut instinct is telling you that something is wrong. You can't see anything wrong, and everything feels normal, but all the same ... Dread - Your gut instinct is correct. Something is wrong. You know when something feels normal, and things are definitely not normal, though you don't know the cause. Terror - You know something is wrong, and you know what it is - but you've not encountered it yet. Horror - You encounter the cause of whatever is wrong. Genres and Subgenres Horror categories include:- - body horror, where the character is facing a terrible fate as they physically transform into something monstrous IThe Fly); - monster horror, where the characters are the prey of some terrifying monster (vampire / werewolf / demon / zombies); - psychological horror, where the protagonists begin to doubt their own sanity, or have to face their own fears (Vertigo, Marnie); - gothic horror, where the protagonists are plunged into a macabre world of dark symbolism (Masque of The Red Death, The Fall of The House of Usher); - cosmic horror, where the protagonists confront the realisation that the world of normality and sanity is a fragile shell over an infinite abyss of darkness (The Shadow Out Of Time); - and folk horror, where the protagonists face fear and terror in some isolated part of the world (The Wicker Man, Candyman). Intrusion Of The Other In every element of horror, the protagonists must face the intrusion of The Other - the antagonistic element whose presence in the story is intended to threaten the protagonist, and thereby generate fear. As the Games Master, you are the person in charge of this Other, whether it be a vampire, a mutant giant crocodile inhabiting a lake, a village full of ritualistic cannibals, a global zombie outbreak, or an alien invasion. In a game of cosmic horror, you get to play Cthulhu. Let that sink in. How do you generate these feelings of horror, terror, dread, and unease among the Players? Start With Normality Always begin with the everyday; the routine; the ordinary. The protagonists are on their way to a remote village to start new lives, or they are heading for some old mansion to spend the night there before claiming an inheritance. Life should revolve around such petty pursuits as looking for work, or going to a party, or a similar event. Inciting Incident Something out of place happens not long into the adventure. Dead birds fall from the sky; a local comes up to the protagonists and says "This place is not for you. Get out now, while you still can!"; the pub that the characters wander into suddenly falls silent, and the landlord and every single patron stop what they're doing and stare at them. Build Things Up Slowly In order to build things up slowly, you need to set the scene and show the protagonists what the normal environment looks like. Then, once they get used to it, not long after the inciting incident, add layers of unease and dread. This is done in three ways. Additions - Something new and unfamiliar appears. Strange writing on the wall; an odd shadow; strange lights in the sky at night. Deletions - Something the protagonists take for granted disappear. A friendly face vanishes; the sounds of barking dogs at night cease, and there is no sign of any dogs around. Changes - Something looks, sounds, or feels different: more menacing. The wind's nightly howl sounds almost bestial; the trees around the village seem to be closer, somehow. Keep adding and layering these changes, until the protagonists look around and wonder where they are. Suspense Mystery is a situation which has taken place in the past. Suspense is anticipation of a future event. The protagonists should be aware that something is happening; something is coming, some event or the arrival of the presence with which they must struggle. As much as all the weirdness is building up slowly, the protagonists must become aware that these additions, deletions, and edits are building up towards something horrendous - and they can neither escape it, nor can they turn away or find a safe place to hide. Surprises Long before the confrontation, you can shock and terrify the protagonists with surprises and moments of terror. A demon manifests as strange clouds of light and hideous odours, advancing along a road towards the character in the dead of night; or the evil occultist sends vile dreams into the sleeping protagonists' minds. Nobody Is Safe The antagonist, the Horror, now takes away non-player characters who have become close to the protagonists. For example, a friendly priest and police officer who'd expressed sympathy for the protagonists and an interest in joining them in the hunt suddenly go quiet - only to turn up where the protagonists least expect them, dead, to show the protagonists that they are now on their own. With permission from individual Players, worked out in advance before the game begins, the Horror can even take away one or more of the protagonists to show the rest that it means business. Give Them Hope Fear is unsustainable. There have to be moments of respite to allow the Players time to breathe and rally around, before reintroducing the fear. Give the protagonists some element which can drive away the dark forces of the antagonist. A shelter; an amulet; a weapon. Whatever that element is, it drives away the antagonist for a little while, allowing the protagonists to settle down and feel a momentary sense of relief. Then Take It Away Don't let them enjoy that momentary sense of relief for too long. Jumpscares are your best weapon. Remember that jumpscare moments are supposed to be unexpected. The best time to scare the protagonists is to combine the jumpscare moment with the sense that Nobody Is Safe, above. Have the protagonist take away a non-player character in mid-sentence. Punctuate the moment by randomly dropping a heavy book on the table, for example. Then, when the collaborating Player starts to say something, slam that book down again. Just because you and the Player have agreed that the antagonist can take their character away, it doesn't mean that the Player should not be scared too. You can both agree to have their character killed off by the end of Scene 3, but nothing says you have to honour that - you can take them off the table midway through Scene 2, for example. When To Escalate From Terror To Horror Terror and horror are peak emotions. Neither is sustainable. In the 2000 AD strip The Out, protagonist Cyd Finlea is a human exploring distant space; virtually the only human. The worlds she visits are full of strangeness and wonders, but there is also a dread force known as The Tankinar, which is a kind of technological disease which springs up now and then, every few millennia. Sadly for Cyd, she gets to meet them twice in her lifetime. The first time around, she is ground up into mincemeat, but advanced alien science gives her new life in a clone body. But the second encounter is a textbook exercise in horror. Cyd hears that the Tankinar are on the loose again, and boards a ship heading for some alien world, only to find that the Tankinar have beaten her to it. With their last avenue of escape (a spaceship) destroyed, Cyd and the stranded aliens are chased down by hyperfast Tankinar, or cut down by the planet's natural predators, before Cyd finds herself alone on a barren planet, watching the last city in flames. Consumed by terror, Cyd finds herself believing that there is nothing worse to come ... until she hears the lightest of sounds, like a gentle footstep, right behind her. And that's when she comes face to face with the Tankinar. ALL of the Tankinar. But they do not kill her. In a truly masterful twist, Cyd Finlea experiences the greatest horror of all: the realisation that her body itself has already been contaminated by a seed of the Tankinar ... which becomes active, consuming her from within and transforming her into one of them, body and soul. The best time to introduce the horror is at the moment of peak terror. This requires mastery of suspense and timing, and as Games Master you must wait until the Players' attention is as fully focused as possible on the game before dropping the hammer of horror on them. Yes. I went there. The Final Girl Is A Myth In many hororr movies of the slasher genre, there is usually some sole survivor - typically a blonde cheerleader or similar. The concept of the Final Girl comes from these slasher movies. As Games Master, you are not beholden to keep any of the protagonists alive to see the end of the scenario. This isn't a matter of giving the characters the consequences of critical successes or fumbles at the wrong moment. Protagonists who do risky things such as leaping between buildings can be allowed to succeed in their Athletics rolls, even if everything indicates that by rights, they should be plummeting to their deaths. Their fate to die at the hands of the antagonist should as clear as crystal to the Players. the only way they are going to exit is at the hands of the bad guys, and even if the Players deliberately sit their protagonists down in the middle of a blazing house fire in an attempt to let the flames taken them, it won't be the fire that does them in - it will be the antagonist, pouncing on them from behind when the they least expect it. One Last Twist Many horror stories leave one final revelation to drive the protagonists to insanity (lo and behold, they too are becoming Deep Ones), or straight into the arms of the monster they thought they had killed. The best twist is always withheld until the last possible minute of the session, when the survivors think that they got away from the horrors, and they are back home, supposedly safe and sound, returning slowly to their lives of normality and sanity. Until their dread enemy appears in a crowd for a fleeting moment, or takes over a monitor at work, or the Players hear a tune which had played during the scenario ("We've Only Just Begun" by The Carpenters still evokes shudders among diehard horror fans who ever watched In The Mouth of Madness, to the point where they can't even stand hearing it being played as an advertising jingle) ... or they visit a friend's grave, only to have a hand thrust up out of the dirt and grab theirs in an unbreakable grip ... or they board a taxi, and the driver leans over to look at the passengers - and it's their antagonist!
  25. The Meetings It was the third year since Cerdic declared himself Westseaxacyning. Aelle had been the Cantacyning for eighteen years and it was eighth year since he had named himself Brytenwealda. Guercha One-eye the Angelcyning was still disputing Aelle's claim to be Brytenwealda for the past three years. It had been a hard, cold winter and food was short. Hretha had the land in her grip for longer than even the oldest people could remember. The Tamyse was often frozen and people huddled round fires telling stories of the summer. Sol-monath was late because the snows fell after Yule and stayed until The Festival of Hretha. Wulfhere led the sacrifices at the festival to placate the Winter goddess of Death but people said she rejected the offerings. Winter was hard on the animals and despite picking the best possible sacrifices the goddess did not seem satisfied. She took many of the older and weaker people too. Offa was pleased with his new batch of ale which at Dunstan’s prompting he had called Anvil Ale and he thought he should serve it at the Yule festival to help cheer the people up. The Hrothgarsons had managed to travel to Wincen Cæster for Cerdic’s Yule festival. Cerdic was in fine form. He had spent the year consolidating his lands and allocating land to new settlers. Westsæxe was the only kingdom that was not at war and Cerdic’s lands had benefited from the peace. There had been the usual border skirmishes with Dumnonia but other than some burnt farms there had been no change in the borders. Stuf advocated strongly for a war with Dumnonia this coming year. He said that his spies had reported the Britons had been fighting amongst themselves and they had weakened each other. He thought it was time to strike for the Sæfern sea and split the British kingdoms in two. Cerdic disagreed and said that although he acknowledged that there had been fighting in the far west, his spies had also reported that the Bear had been victorious and he had been elected Brytenwealda by the other British tribes. Therefore, it would be likely that an attempt to reach the Sæfern Sea would mean fighting just not Dumnonia but other British kingdoms who would come to the defence of the Brytenwealda. He said that he intended to try and split the tribes and conclude peace treaties with Gwent and possibly send another embassy to Kernow. Cissa had been fighting in the north advancing against the Chilternsæte and Wæclingas and the repercussions of Wæcla’s poisoning and Wlencig’s gruesome death were yet to be seen. There had been skirmishes between the joint forces of the Chilternsæte and Wæclingas and Cissa of Aeglesburgh over the blame for Wlencig’s death and the poisoning of Wæcla but no outright battles. War would be expected after the crops are planted. Gwent had moved spearmen into Spinæ and Brige and had built Burghs on the west side of the Tamyse to protect their lands from Cissa and the Miercians. It was reported that Aelle intended to raise his army and go north. Cerdic had already given Wulfhere instructions to aid Wæcla covertly but not enough to provoke Aelle into breaking the peace treaty. He was clear he was not ready for another war. There was not really any surprise when the news reached Wincen Cæster that Wæcla had divorced Brithwen and had married Ealhwyn Hrofsdotter. The news from the Angles was more comforting. Guercha One-eye had tried to capture Colnacæster but had been defeated by Sæberht Ingwaldson, the Upplingascyning in a battle near Colnacæster. Sæberht had mobilised the East Saxon tribes of the Hæmele, Vange, Denge and Ginges and the Angles had been routed. On the way back north, the Hrothgarsons stopped at Taddenlæge to talk with Tadda about the affairs in the area. Uthric went to talk to Orin and to see his children. Wulfhere also saw his children but they were unsure who he was, which upset him as he still was annoyed that Bronwyn had not chosen him. He spoke at length to Tadda and Rowena about the situation. Rowena said that he should get remarried and said that her widowed daughter would make an excellent wife and the children already spent a lot of time with her. Wulfhere said that he had a lot of things to do this year and marriage was not one of the things he had considered but he said that he would give some thought to Rowena’s suggestion after midsummer. On the return home, Wulfhere summoned the people for the first Moot of the year. He said that since there had been peace for a while that taxes would be returned to normal. There was some grumbling but most accepted that if the harvest was good they should have plenty of food to feed the people with more to spare. Cwen had asked Wulfhere to agree to hold a weekly market in Pontes. She thought that because it was at the crossroads of the Tamyse and they would benefit if trade came through. Wulfhere said that he thought it might lower the tax burden on the people over time and gave her money to set up what was needed. Beorthric wanted to know if Wulfhere would expand his lands to bring in more sheep. He thought that there might be a greater need as more people came north to settle and the market would help create more demand. Wulfhere agreed that he would give him a further three hydes of land that were too poor for farming. Cwen had already discussed building larger brewing houses with Offa and they agreed that setting up a Merchant’s Inn would help to create a bigger attraction. Offa had been pleased that his Anvil Ale had been enjoyed at Yule and had other ideas for different flavours using seasonal herbs. Cwen agreed that she would supervise the building of Wulfhere’s Hall as she said even she was frustrated about his tardiness in getting it finished. Wulfhere was keen that the Hall would be the administrative centre for his lands and a focal point for the people. After the Spring festival when the people lit bonfires and drew water from the wells and springs to help with healing the sick, Aelle came to find Wulfhere. He arrived at dusk with fifty mounted warriors. He was keen to hear from witnesses who had been present at his son’s death. Wulfhere thought Aelle looked older and more worn by his recent troubles. He rarely smiled when talking and seemed short tempered with his men. He was polite with the Hrothgarsons and did not offer any offence or hostility. Wulfhere said that he had been present when Wlencig had come to Wæcla’s Hall looking for his imprisoned wife Ealhwyn, who Wæcla had accused of poisoning him. Wæcla had been badly injured by his chief Huscarl, Sceirhead, and was possibly dying at the time and was not present in the Hall when Wlencig arrived. Wlencig had intimidated Iænbeorht, Wæcla’s Boldweard, and had tried to force his way into Ealhwyn’s rooms but he and his bodyguards were forced back into the main hall by the guard on Ealhwyn’s door. It was then Wlencig was attacked by the leæch, Dunric. Aelle was keen to know if this was the same leæch that had been responsible for so many deaths in Cædering and had set a Déaþscufa loose on the people of the region. Wulfhere confirmed that it was and said he thought that Dunric might have wanted the power that killing Wlencig would have released for appeasing spirits. Uthric told the story of how Sceirhead had tried to kill Wæcla and how it had been said that he had been paid by Cissa. Aelle wanted to know if Sceirhead could also have been in league with Dunric but Uthric said he did not believe this was possible because the leæches had healed Wæcla. Aelle asked how Ealhwyn was involved in events and what had been her part in the death of his son. Uthric said that he did not think she was involved in the killing and she had prepared Wlencig’s body to return to his father. He did not think it wise to mention she had not been over concerned by Wlencig’s death or her admission to him that she was Wæcla’s lover. Aelle had heard that she had since married Wæcla and said that he considered her to be somehow involved with Wlencig’s death. He said that he would give 20,000 silver for Dunric’s head. He said he considered Wæcla and Ealhwyn as his enemies. Aelle asked if he could stay the night and Wulfhere said that he would be honoured although he was concerned that the King’s men would eat much of his winter stores. Wulfhere was using Dunstan’s Hall to host Aelle because his own was still being constructed and could not host anyone while it remained unfinished. Dunstan’s Hall was also still unfinished and was still lacking ornamentation and decorations that people expected from a Þegn. However, the Hall was serviceable and the biggest building in Pontes but could not hold all Aelle’s men and some stayed in Hambladensted or Farnhamble. Aelle drank a considerable amount of Offa’s ale but instead of becoming more morose, he cheered up and spoke at length with Offa about brewing. Nevertheless, the Hrothgarsons were relieved when he left to cross the Tamyse in the morning and travelled toward Aeglesburgh. Aelle had only left a few days before the guards told Wulfhere that a noble woman and her guards had come across the bridge from the north side of the Tamyse. Wulfhere and Cwen had been trying to estimate how much food they would need to redistribute to ensure the people did not go hungry. He was not happy that another noble had come to Pontes which would require use of more precious resources. He went to seek the news and to find out what had prompted a visit. He was surprised to see Brithwen, the former Wæclingascyninge, in Dunstan’s Hall. He greeted her and gave her the title of Cyninge but she reproved him and said that he might not have heard the news but that she was no longer a Queen. Wulfhere offered her hospitality but she declined any feast. She said she would only stay one night and leave early in the morning to travel to Wincen Cæster as she desired to speak with Cerdic. Brithwen asked for a private room as she did not think it was appropriate nor did she feel capable of a public appearance. Wulfhere was surprised but did not say anything. He said that Cwen would come and see to her needs. In the morning Brithwen left with her five guards and pack horses. Cwen told Wulfhere that Brithwen had not spoken much. She had not said why she sought out Cerdic and Cwen could not get any of her guards to talk. Wulfhere thought that she would seek Cerdic’s protection. She could not have gone to Aelle as he would have used her presence for his own purposes against Wæcla. Seeking protection from Guercha One-eye would have been equally dangerous as he had not forgiven the Miercians for taking the land that he considered his. On the day that Brithwen left, Tathere the fisherman came to Uthric with another man, called Oscytel, to say that the fishermen were upset with some recent events and had come to ask his advice. Tathere showed him two bodies. One was one of the fishermen and the other was a white body of what looked like a man. Tathere said that the dead fisherman and Oscytel had been clearing the fish traps earlier that morning. There had been a heavy river mist, which was not unusual for the time of year, when a war boat had suddenly come out of the mist and hit the stationary fishing boat. Oscytel had been knocked into the river but Byrnheard had been able to hold on to the sides of the boat which had proved to be his death. One of the warriors in the war boat had speared him. Uthric looked at the body and there was an obvious spear thrust to his throat which had likely killed the fisherman. Uthric asked where the war boats had gone but Oscytel said that he was unsure as he was trying not to be seen because he had not been keen to suffer the same fate as Byrnheard. However, from their direction of travel, he believed they may have gone up the Cœln. He had seen five boats crammed with warriors with white bulls on their shields. Uthric looked at the other body but did not touch it. It was a white man. He had no apparent colour. His hair, skin and staring eyes were white. Uthric asked Tathere if anyone had seen such a creature before. He was hesitant to call the creature a man. Tathere said that this was the first such creature he had seen and he hoped that he would not see another. Uthric ordered them to burn both it and the net that it was entangled in away from the settlements. He said he would give them money to replace the net. Uthric asked the fishermen to keep an eye on the river and he would give them more instructions later when he talked to Wulfhere. Uthric went to find Wulfhere and was surprised to find him talking with the Ealdorman Hrof. Hrof greeted Uthric and asked for the news. Uthric was reluctant to tell him what the fishermen had said and showed him but was happy to tell Hrof how he had found his wife. Hrof said that he was glad that their search had ended and Meire had returned. Hrof said that he was travelling north to support Aelle at Aeglesburgh but had stopped in his journey to discuss his daughter, Ealhwyn. He had heard some concerning reports of events in Verulamacæster and was keen to hear the Hrothgarsons’ opinions. He said that in truth Aelle would question him about Ealhwyn and he needed to be certain about the answers. Hrof told them that they should not spare his feelings or hold back information for fear of offending him. He said that he thought that Ealhwyn was endangering the peace by her actions and he did not have a good feeling about what was going to happen. Dunstan said that from their observation, Wæcla and the Miercians were creating a defensive confederation to protect themselves against Aelle, Guercha and Cerdic. He thought also that if the Miercians and Angles were going to fight each other then they would not be fighting south of the Tamyse. Wulfhere said that Wæcla had stressed that the confederation was defensive and would not be offensive unless provoked. He said that Ealhwyn had told him that she had been convinced by her cousin, Sæberht, the Upplingascyning, that she should be part of the confederation. She had met with Wæcla and they seemed to have formed a closer pact by becoming lovers. Hrof said that he had heard that this was so. He said he regretted that he had insisted that she had married Wlencig as it was a political, but also a particularly joyless, union. The two were opposite in personality and Ealhwyn had despised Wlencig. Hrof asked about Iænbeorht and Brithwen and how they had been involved in the unfolding events. Uthric said that it was likely that Iænbeorht was Cissa’s spy and agent. He had left suddenly when Wlencig had been killed by the leæches so they had not had a chance to question him. Wulfhere said that there was no evidence that Brithwen had been involved in the deaths or attempted murders. He did not think it was wise to mention that Brithwen had gone to Cerdic. Hrof thanked them for their insights and said that he had to try and think how he would deal with Aelle and his anger. He said his other problem would be what to do with Ealhwyn when she was captured. Hrof went off to see to his men and horses and Uthric took the opportunity to tell Wulfhere what the fishermen had told him. Dunstan and Wulfhere were dubious about the story of war boats on the river. No-one else had seen them and Dunstan said that the fishermen were not truthful. He thought it likely that it was an internal feud about fishing rights and they were only trying to cover up a murder. Uthric said that he thought that could be the case. He said that they might remember the white bull shield was Cœlfrith’s which was a strange thing because they had heard that he had been killed by Aelle. Wulfhere said that they should not take chances and told Uthric to raise the Fyrd. He thought that they should find out if there were five boatloads of hostile warriors on the Tamyse and be prepared. Dunstan said he would talk to Tathere and put the fear of the gods into him to make him tell the truth. Uthric gathered 50 men and took them as far as Duromagus but could not find anyone who could tell him of war boats on the Tamyse. He took a boat and visited his friend Eadweald at Cescwin but Eadweald said that he had not had reports of hostile warriors. When he returned to Pontes, Hrof had left and gone north. Hrof had discussed the building of Wulfhere’s Hall with Cwen and Wulfhere. He had given advice on what Wulfhere should include and promised that he would send two tapestries from Friesland to put on the walls. The Hrothgarsons were discussing what they should do next when news arrived that Cerdic was coming to talk to Wulfhere. Wulfhere said that he was surprised that suddenly Pontes had come to be the centre of the world. In a short space all the Kings and Hrof had visited him. He wondered if Guercha One-eye might be next. Cerdic greeted them and asked them for the news. Cerdic said that he was interested in seeing how they had been getting on with building the fortifications. Cwen had told him that they had struggled to get Stonemasons and people capable of building and he had been pleased to help out. He said he thought he might offer his advice as he had recently finished the fortifications in Wincen Cæster and had become quite an expert in building. Cerdic looked at the bridge and asked if they might have thought about pulling down the towers on the far side in case there are hostile forces on the opposite bank and therefore deny anyone a strong position to attack south Pontes. He said they should be careful about destroying the bridge when taking the towers down as no-one was capable of building such an impressive bridge since the Romans left. When Wulfhere looked confused about Cerdic’s talk of building, he said that he was really interested that Hrof and Aelle had spent time in Pontes and asked their opinion of events. Wulfhere told Cerdic that Aelle had been asking about the death of his son which he wanted to blame on the Wæclingas. Cerdic was interested in the motives of Wæcla and his usefulness as an ally against Aelle. Wulfhere said that in both conversation and observation of Wæcla, he held true to his principle of being part of a defensive coalition rather than expansionist but he agreed with Cerdic that Ealhwyn Hrofsdotter was a conundrum. Cerdic had already asked Wulfhere to covertly support Wæcla and he repeated his views that they should support, advise and trade with the Wæclingas but ensure that any active co-operation was deniable. Wulfhere said that he would do his best. Cerdic said that a fisherman had asked him for an audience and had spoken about his concern about five warships on the Tamyse. Cerdic asked if Wulfhere had heard this news. Dunstan said that the fishermen were not always truthful and they seemed to be working to their own agenda. He said they had spent days and considerable resources looking for boats but there had been no evidence they actually existed. There had been a body of a dead fisherman but no-one other than one fisherman had seen the boats. He said both he and Uthric had concluded that the fishermen were lying again. He proceeded to tell Cerdic of the previous incident that nearly broke the truce with Aelle. Cerdic acknowledged that the Hrothgarsons had done well. Cerdic stayed the night and although he spoke little at the feast, Wulfhere noted that Cerdic took in everything that went on and often asked pointed questions about events. In the morning Cerdic asked about the people living between the Wey and the Æmon and who they owed allegiance to. Wulfhere said that the land was mostly marsh and the peoples living there were living between Hrof’s lands and their own. Cerdic asked Wulfhere to talk to the people and get them to swear fealty to him. He thought the land would be useful in the future should it come to a war with Aelle. Wulfhere was glad that he left in the morning to go South as he did not believe they would have enough food until the harvest if he had to continue to host Kings. Wulfhere was still grumbling about the food he had to use for the Kings but both Dunstan and Uthric began planning to visit the lands from the Wey to the Æmon. Uthric thought that they should take 50 men as a show of force to the inhabitants but Dunstan had the view that force was not necessary because they needed to persuade people rather than threaten them. Wulfhere, when he finally paid attention to the conversation, agreed with Dunstan and they agreed 25 warriors would be sufficient. Wulfhere said that he had been thinking about a design for his shield. He thought that he had been remiss in not deciding this earlier because as an Ealdorman he had the right to have his own design but it also showed others of his power. Dunstan suggested that he should use a squirrel design because there seemed an overabundance of the curious creatures in their lands. Wulfhere said that he had been thinking of something more frightening such as fýrdraca1 or a heoruwearh2and that few people would consider a squirrel to be a creature that provoked fear in his enemies. He thought that a black wolf would be an appropriate symbol for his men. Uthric said the difficulty might be actually drawing it on the shield but if he also had a black background then the drawing would not matter. Wulfhere ignored his suggestion and decided that he would have a black raven on a red shield. In the end Wulfhere decided only to take 15 warriors with him in his trip to the Æmon. He was concerned that while they did not trust the truth of what the fishermen had said, there needed to be men to respond to any threat and he thought it was better to leave warriors under the command of Halig, his youngest brother. Wulfhere insisted that his brothers put on their best clothes and that the warriors had their new shields ready and weapons honed as if for war. He also brought some gifts for the local leaders of the marsh people to impress them with his generosity. He said to his brothers that an Ealdorman should be a bēáhġifa3 for it denoted generosity and respect for others. His brothers wondered if Wulfhere was not getting carried away with his power. Wulfhere asked all those in the district that could come to meeting for he had some important news. There were many families who lived in the area but they were widely separated by marshes and bogs and it took several days to get the meeting organised. Wulfhere had brought some of Offa’s ale and gave it to the folk who gathered before he spoke. He told the people of the changing nature of the north and the recent troubles when Cissa had ravaged the north side of the Tamyse and then the lands between the Wey and the Lodden. He reminded them that they had no Lord to protect them should Aelle begin to covet their lands and invited them to consider what they might do should war break out between the Kings. He said from experience that it was best to be under the protection of one King because there was now no option to be neutral as the people who used to live on the north of the Tamyse found out. The chief people of the district were impressed by Wulfhere’s speech and even more impressed when he gave them thick silver bracelets. They said they would consider his words carefully and would give him an answer in a few days. They thought that their deliberations might be improved if they were able to drink more of Offa’s fine ale. Dunstan said that he would ensure some was sent as he did not want them to be thirsty if they needed to talk so much. Uthric thought that they could come to the market every midweek and Offa’s ale was always available for those that were thirsty. Several days later, Wulfhere received a delegation from the people of the marshes and all their leading people swore allegiance to Wulfhere. Uthric thought that Offa’s intervention might have been significant in their decision but Dunstan said it was the weekly market that was the main factor. Wulfhere did not offer a view on the matter. The Hrothgarsons decided that they should seek out Wæcla and tell him of Cerdic’s support. Cwen said it might be a good idea to take him a wedding present but Wulfhere grumbled about the cost of buying a king a present. However, he accepted that it would be a good reason to meet Wæcla. Both Cwen and Æthlind asked for cloth for new dresses if they were travelling through Lundenwic because the market there had expensive cloth from Frankia and Frisia. Æthlind had seen a new style of dress when she was in Wincen Cæster and was keen that she looked her best for when Dunstan’s Hall was finished. Cwen thought they should get some cloth for Ealhwyn too but Uthric thought that she would probably prefer a sword too. Æthlind, who had never met Ealhwyn, said that she thought Uthric’s opinion was unbelievable. Cwen said that Æthlind was maybe right but for the wrong reason. She found a sword difficult after a long period of fighting because of the weight and much preferred a spear. She recommended that Æthlind should join her when next she practiced with the warriors. At Veralamacæster, they found that Wæcla was not there. He was with the Warband and King Wulfgeat of the Chilternsæte raiding Aelle’s lands. Wulfhere thought they could talk with Ealhwyn, but the Cyninge had also gone to war with Wæcla. Wulfhere asked for a guide to take him to Wæcla because no one could tell him when the King would return and he was not prepared to wait in Verulamacæster. Wæcla welcomed the Hrothgarsons and introduced them to Wulfgeat, the Chilternsætecyning. Wulfhere told Wæcla that he brought greetings from Cerdic on his hopes for his swift recovery from his injury, congratulations on his recent wedding and that he had brought him a gift for his wedding to Ealhwyn. Wulfhere presented the sword and jewelled scabbard along with a fine gold embroidered blue cloak for Ealhwyn. Wæcla thanked them for the gifts but wanted to know why the Hrothgarsons had really made the journey. He thought that the greetings, well wishes and presents could have waited and yet here they were sitting in a cold camp in the Chiltern Hills. He thought that Wulfhere might have come to tell him something else. Wulfhere conceded that Wæcla was indeed perceptive and the real reason was to tell him that Cerdic would offer discreet support, should the need arise, and to pass on Hrof’s greetings to his daughter Ealhwyn. Ealhwyn was angry at her father’s message because she had heard that he had come to join Aelle in the north and they were likely to be on opposing sides. Wæcla said he was more amused by Cerdic’s message and wanted to know what Cerdic’s discreet help really meant and importantly what Cerdic wanted from the Wæclingas in return. Wulfhere addressed Ealhwyn’s anger first and told her that in his opinion her father wanted to know that she was safe. Uthric said that Hrof held her in high regard and that his coming north was because that he was Aelle’s liegeman and Aelle was infuriated by the death of Wlencig. Dunstan said that they had been very clear that Wlencig’s death was due to Dunric and Wlencig’s arrogance rather than the Wæclingas. Wæcla said that he thought these were fine words but the truth was that Aelle was here to destroy the Wæclingas and the Chilternsæte and must be stopped. He was keen to know how many spearmen Wulfhere would give as that is what he most needed at present. Wulfhere said that he would send twenty of his best Warriors north on his return to help with the defence for which Wæcla expressed his gratitude. Wæcla pressed Wulfhere for Cerdic’s real reason for helping the Mierce for he presumed that Cerdic was not keen for open war with Aelle at present. Wulfhere said that Cerdic was keen for alliances and trade. Uthric reminded everyone that there was a new market in south Pontes and that Mierce merchants would find it a useful way to sell their goods. Wæcla said he was not sure about Cerdic’s real intensions but would take it at face value if Wulfhere swore on what he had said. Wulfhere agreed and they parted in friendship. As they were leaving, Wæcla took Wulfhere aside and asked him if he had heard any news of Brithwen. Wulfhere chose not to tell him that she had passed through Pontes a moon ago and Wæcla said that he was keen to find out where she was. He told Wulfhere that she had left with the royal treasury and he was keen to find out what had happened. Wulfhere said that he would send a message if she had been found. When they were traveling Dunstan wondered what they would do if Wæcla asked for more warriors. Uthric said he wasn’t that worried about sending more men as there were always young men looking for fame, glory and war loot. His main concern would be that Aelle would discover their duplicity and he thought this might not go well for them. Wulfhere said he believed they might be in real trouble then. Dunstan said that they should talk to Hrof about what would happen if Aelle should die or be killed in the fighting. He thought the whole political situation would change rapidly and he still harboured a grudge against Cerdic for not protecting their families. Wulfhere said that speculation was difficult but they should keep their relationship with Hrof cordial. When they returned to Pontes, the news was that Dunric, Nægel and Snyring had visited Hereweard and all had gone into the forest together. The word was that they were performing a ritual that no doubt involved lots of blood sacrifices to dark powers. (1) Fýrdraca is a fire dragon (2) Heoruwearh is a savage, bloody wolf (3) Bēáhġifa is a Ring-giver, a Lord
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