Thursday, May 19, 2016

Stellaris, Dark Souls, Exams

Gentilhommes et mesdames, the world has been too much in me these past few weeks. Between exams, starting my summer internship with the Public Defender in CT, and the release of Dark Souls III and Stellaris, I have not been able to bring myself to write a blog post.

Muskets and Magecraft continues to expand, and is now a quartet of works. Perhaps selfishly, I have chosen not to publish them here on the blog in the hope that they'll be picked up by a magazine and therefore reach a wider audience. There is now a high enough total wordcount that I could conceivably string them together as a sort-of novel.

There will be more posts to come, I promise.

If you like 4x games, buy Stellaris at once.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Regional Kits: The Vales

Vale Farmer
Warrior Kit

Description: Young Valeland farmers seek out adventure at a higher rate than in any other land, probably because all Valelanders have freehold farms that are beholden to no lord. Generally, these young folk are the second or third children in their family, though it is possible for a first child to leave home behind. They are uniformly young and naive, having spent their upbringings on a rural homestead.

Weapon Proficiencies: The following weapons are available to Vale Farmers at creation: short bow, long bow, quarterstaff, club, sickle, flail, knife, dagger, spear, short sword, trident, net, billhook. After level one, they may learn any weapon they like. They cannot begin play with a weapon specialization, though they may pick one the next time they have a weapon proficiency to spend.

NWPs: Farmers get animal handling, farming, and cooking for free.

Equipment: Farmers begin play with two weapons of their choice, studded leather armor, and 1d4x10 Dorlish readers or Teralian hands to spend. They also begin play with two weeks of rations, two full wineskins, a bed roll, and a tent.

Special Benefits: Farm-born characters should determine the location of their family farm in the Vales. They can always receive food and lodging there unless they do something to break their connection with the family (or the farm is destroyed). They may inherit the family farm, but it is more likely that, upon gaining level 3, they will receive an audience with the Vale governor, granting them permission to found a farm of their own within the Vale.

Further, these solid salt-of-the-earth types are automatically more well-liked by other Valelanders. They will receive, at worst, a cagey welcome, and often quite a warm one unless they have gotten themselves an evil reputation. Most Valelanders will be willing to put up a party that includes a farmer for free or very little coin if the farmer does the negotiating.

Special Hinderances: Being hostile toward the very idea of nobility, farmers of the Vales have a reaction penalty when interacting with knights or nobles of any nation.

Races: Any. Primarily humans, halflings, and gnomes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

History of Arunia: The Valelands

The region of the North known as the Vales did not exist properly as a concept until the close of the 8th Age, with the sinking of Harnholme. Prior to that date, the region formed the hinterland of the great dwarven kingdom. There, men and dwarves lived in fair companionship. The vales were administered by elected governors, the Valrátha, who served for life and received their confirmations directly from the Everking of the Dwarves.

During the chaos of the 8th Age, Ozmiandre of the Graywood grew up in the Valeland. His father was a Valrátha in the west. It was said that this wizard went to Miles to see the Pillar as a young man, but also that his contest with the awakening deity Lumä caused Harnholme to sink into the ocean, creating the White Sea and leaving the Valrátha without guidance.

For the long years of the 9th Age, the Vales remained semi-independent, though greatly depleted of population. Having never had the traditional structure of nobility, unlike most other lands, the Valelanders rejected this social structure in favor of something more egalitarian. The life-elected positions of the Valrátha became known as Governorships, and the Council of Governors met at Michel's Rock (now Michelstadt) each year to determine policy and organize collective defense.

As the Age wore on and threats from the outside began to emerge, the Valelands grew much closer to the elvish kingdom of Iiriem. During the 9th Age's defining moments, the War of Necromancy, the Vales successfully remained out of the conflict by closing their borders with elvish magic.

However, this unity was sapped by a number of contentious Governor's Councils and the death of a number of successive governors of Ferling and Northvale. With the fading of the Vales' unity, they became prey to outside influences.

Toward the close of the 9th Age, in the years following IX.700, the Vales became the seat of the so-called Bandit Kings, groups of bandits that plagued Iiriem and Dorlan. These kings formed a piecemeal kingdom that lasted for nearly fifty years and encompassed most of the Vales settlements. Some Valelanders bridled under the rulership of false kings, while others relished the chance to raid and do damage to the surrounding lands.

In the year IX.706, Hrunir Fastorth came from the Arinnfal to found Pinehall in the Black Mountains of the Vales. In IX.753, the Bandit King Michel was executed at Michel's Pool. Teral and Avaria both set their sights on the Vales in the early 10th Age. Eventually, after generations of internecine conflict, Teral conquered the Vales and transformed them into an outflung province of that necromantic empire. By X.390, Dorlan and Pinehall engaged in the March War, which led to the destruction and abandonment of Pinehall in the east of the Vales, beyond the Teralian dominance.

After the fall of Teral, Dorlan once again set her sights on the Vales.

Today, most Valelanders are not aware of the august history of egalitarianism that pervaded the Vales, nor would a Valelander recognize the word Valrátha, unless they were dwarvish. The eastern Vales are ruled from Dorlan and have become a province known as Ferlia. The western Vales, while still free, occupy a treacherous position between Essad-dominated Teral in the north, the Goblins in the west, and Imperial-allied Frelonde in the south.

It seems that the old traditions of the dwarven vales are about to be extinguished.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Wizard's Staff

The use of magical wands and staves is as old as the Art itself. Most wizards wield staves because of the lack of time required to learn to use them. This, combined with a staff-wielding culture, has perpetuated their use as normal tools. Staves may also serve as a prop in old age, and many wizards remain ambulatory well into their twilight years. However, that doesn’t account for the great many magical staves and wands that have been crafted over the centuries, leaving one explanation that was posited by the Llyrian wizard Galthese the Wise:

The staff and wand are traditional implements of magic. As matter that was formerly living, wood is tied into the natural radiations of magic that flow from the center of the earth. The rod, as a shape, is naturally attuned to various outflows of magic as well. It mimics the shape of the human finger, and thus can be used to manipulate the flow of the causal tide of energy that surrounds us. In essence, one places in the staff the potency to bend and manipulate magic itself. For this purpose, various woods and metals suit our needs to lesser or greater degrees...” (Galthese the Wise, Treatise on the Staff, IX Age)

A compiled list of various materials is presented below. These are taken partially from Galthese’s treatise and partially compiled from various and sundry other sources.

Ash. Ashwood is the most holy of all trees. The barbarian Thegnar tribes revered it and it alone in the Dawn Age; they knew it instinctively. The great World-tree, Asca-Irminsul, is represented in each and every growing ash. Know that this holy tree is not to be touched in this realm!” (Agis the Unconquered, Declaration to the Skinchangers)

The ash tree has many magical applications; the most famous are the Wands of High Sorcery, which have been immortalized in legend and song. Great magical staffs have been carved from it as well; It has been known to store great reserves of magical energy and I would not hesitate to call it the king of woods for that very reason. It is rare, but possible, for natural ash growing in the wild to trap pockets of latent magical energy and develop into something more than simple vegetation. This is complicated, of course, by the burning fury of northerners when you damage or cut down an ash tree. Thegnarians, Valelans, and even some Mileans view the ash as semi-sacred.” (Galthese)

Birchwood. White like the ash, and indeed related to it through descent, the birch tree is a nice pick for a staff. Stylish! Many Dorlish wizards use birch; it’s not as presumptuous as ash nor as mundane as oak or bronzewood.” (Edeo Aspeki, Courtiers Guide to Wizards, X Age)

The white wood of the birch is often compared with that of the ash tree. However, it is in many ways unsuitable for use in magical procedures. It makes a fine dust or powder for rituals requiring substances of that nature as, once burned, it can bind with magical humors present in the air. However, in its whole form it is too dense for the tides of magic to penetrate it. It is the foolish wizard indeed who attempts to enchant a birchwood wand or rod without first preparing it with potent resins, oils, and powders.” (Jiacamo di Tyrol, Myths of Magic, X Age)

Bleakwood. A rare find indeed! Bleakwood has to be harvested in a particular manner and only grows in the swamps of Tyrolin. Dorlish mages generally eschew it due to its brutal nature and ties to bloodlust and madness in folklore. I do believe the Archmage General Enzeo Petrucci carried a staff of this nature!” (Reynarius di Llun, Staves and Things, X Age)

Cut from the swamps of Tyrolin, Bleakwood has many uses commensurate with its rarity. Amulets and rings cut from it can protect the vital anima or essence of the wearer from outside attack. Tea brewed from the root of the bleakwood tree has been known to be extremely toxic; it may cause blindness and lameness as well as sapping the vital strength of the imbiber. However, when served to those on death’s door, it will either kill them within three hours or revive them.” (Solon Everwind, Lectures at the Polis, X Age)

Bronzewood. Stone and bronzewood are the most commonly used materials for wizard’s staves. The reason for this is simple: they can withstand a great deal of stress, and there are mages who use their staves as offensive weapons. They can be found with relative ease (though not everywhere in the north). This is the same material used by shipwrights for the central mast of great cogs and carracks.

"It is widely believed that bronzewood and ironwood have no magical applications. This is generally false. Bronzewood was prized for its ability to contain the squirming and often volatile effects of alteration spells; Ironwood, in contrast, has a grain perfect for grasping the potent strands of high sorcery of all kinds. Ironwood bark may also be used as a cheap alternative base for scrolls as opposed to the much more expensive parchment or vellum. The same preparations must be applied, and the ink must be thickened by a factor of two to three times.” (Galthese)

Bone and Ivory. Most sorcerers, wizards, mages, and magic workers fear using the living or formerly living matter of intelligent beings for their spells. They are squeamish, and allow the petty concerns of morality and the morés of Arunëian society to constrain their Art. ‘The bodies must be burned!’ the priests will shout, ‘destroy all the remains!’ Yet, there is potency in bone, for it remembers the essentia, the pattern, of the life that was lived within it. Necromancy worked with bone is particularly powerful, as one might imagine. Yet feel bone in your hand! It is cold, almost lifeless. The pattern is faint. Now hold ivory in that selfsame hand and it will warm to your touch. Ivory is the queen of all necromantic material save for bone from the undead themselves. It contains within it a perfect duplication of the essere, the essentia, of the living being. It responds to life with warmth and eagerness for it recalls what it means to live.” (Cesiderus the Necromancer, On the Marrow, IX Age)

 Cedar. O hardy cedar! You provide for us the fire of ascension, whereby the spirit may be carried into the West. Do your wonders there cease? Nay, for even the magician has said ‘cedar, thou art fine.’ For with the branch of cedar can-not one see into the future? Is it not perfect for divinatory auguries and rituals of all kinds? Yes! For the priests of the Weaver know its potency, and the Crippled God weaves not with an ashen loom, nor one of pine, but of cedar.” (High Oracle Jacynth, Devotions, VI Age)

Firwood. Fir and pine are sacred to Eleia, and often associated with growth, virility, and health. Many cult-idols are made from firwood in the East, particularly in Llyris and former Llynder. Stonemark also has a special place for the fir, and sacred buildings are often braced and built with firwood.” (Ceylan the Thoughtful, Symbolism of the Sacred, X Age)

Hickory. Hickory wood is similar to bronze or iron wood in that it has a heavy resistance to shock, is pliable, and is very strong. However, it grows in a narrower environment and is thought of with less prestige. There is a family of hickory trees known as the Wyrmwood Tree which grows where, long ago, draconic tombs and ruins stood. This tree is favored by those sages that study Wyrmlore for use in their rods, wands, and staves; whether or not it is actually attuned to wyrms or their shades is a matter of debate.” (Galthese)

Larch.Larch is prized by builders for its sturdiness, durability, and waterproof nature. It’s resin is particularly thick and the wood is resistant to rot. This makes it a valuable asset to wizards, for it can withstand a great deal of essential pressure. Lesser materials might crack or shatter while channeling the energies required for potent summonings or invocations, but larch will bear up under the strain quite admirably. I have found that banding it with silver will reduce the effort in enchanting it and lessen the strain on the caster...” (Turin the Master, Letters to his Apprentice, IIX Age)

Oak. Oakwood is a sturdy choice for a staff, and sees heavy use (along with bronze- and stonewood) with wizards from Atva-Arunë. This is probably because of its association with strength and sturdiness. The oak tree is also sacred to Haeron, and thus staves of oakwood are preferred by priests, travelers, and the devout.” (Ceylan)

Banishments and abjurations are made simpler with oaken implements. The reason for this is complex, but in essence the strength of the oak and the depth of its roots provides a perfect metaphysical pattern or anima for spells of turning back, protecting, and cancellation. Does the lightning strike the mighty oak tree and fell it?” (Galthese)

Shieldwood. “The ubiquitous grey pine of the North, shieldwood is stout but must be dried over a long period and then treated to be worthwhile. It has no magical properties inherent in it, though again, ease of locating a shieldwood pine makes it quite cheap and easy to come by.” (Ceylan)

Stonewood. “The hearty Stonewood tree provides a sound foundation for staves and wands of all types. However, the expense of felling Stonewood when such trees are reserved for use as masts of large ships, makes it a difficult thing to obtain. Some wizards thus cultivate Stonewood trees of their own, and its presence in wizard’s gardens is a well-known attribute of Llyria.” (Galthese)

Willow. Willow-wood is a fine choice for wands; it’s lack of firmness disguises a youthful and vital core that is perfect for weaving potent magic to it, but not for engaging in battle.” (Lydur of Soloth, The Heart of the Wand, VII Age)
Willow wood is itself magical. The willow grows not only where the land is right, but also where the tide of magic breathes from the earth in abundance. The ancient willow groves of Sylvasil were once host to great gatherings of nouriso enchanters, for there the magics of enchantment and staying were strongest. Songs of slaying are not its potency, but those spells which forge the bonds between. During the Draconic Wars, the great Oronnos of Sylvasil added their strength to the embattled armies hundreds of rods to the south by means of these circles and groves...” (Aranaderyn the Wizard, The Elf-Dragon Wars, VII Age)

Xoantha. The olive-wood called xoantha was a classical choice for staffs; Aellonian wizards primarily utilize this light colored wood. It feels somewhat warm to the touch when held much like ivory; this is because the animating spirit of the wood is reluctant to flee and will be held in the staff. Much preferred by Ishtrian and Aellonian wizards as well as the goblin-mages beyond the Straits.” (Galthese)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Goblin Steel and Black Iron

Goblins of Arunia learned the art of smithing from the Giants and the Trolls. During the long dark ages of Trollish dominance, goblins were set to work in the great trollish foundries of the north. The eras of warfare between the fire giant kingdoms (most prominent of which was Pernag) led to a number of goblin slaves being taken by that people, and taught techniques deep in the earth. While goblin mastery of metal never reached the same heights as their gigantine masters, it was certainly transmitted with the former slaves after the fall of Pernag and the goblin revolts that led to the foundation of the old goblin kingdoms of Tsaphon and Negev.

As a result, goblin steel-making has its roots in those traditions. Goblin steel has much in common with the more potent sfyralto mavro, the gigantine pit iron or black iron. They share a number of forging techniques, though fire-giant iron is far more highly regarded.

Goblin Steel
Goblin steel has a smoky charcoal color to it, lending hobgoblin knights who wear it fearsome on the battlefield. Most large goblin settlements have a few master smiths (generally bugbears or hobgoblins) who know how to smelt and forge the special metal. Though goblins can forge regular steel, they much prefer this special variant.

Weapons forged from goblin steel tend to be slightly heavier (generally a half pound or so). Armor made from goblin steel is no different than most other armor, save for its menacing appearance. Goblin steel is more brittle than normal steel, and thus weapons are more likely to break on a natural 20 and armor is more likely to be damaged by critical hits.

Goblin Steel Items
Mace -- weighs 1 pound more, is 1 speed count slower, adds +2 to any severity rolls for critical hit determination -- if the C&T critical hit tables are not used, instead adds +2 damage on a critical hit.

Mail -- weighs 5 pounds more, affords slightly better protection against fire (+1 save bonus vs. fire-based attacks).

Plate armor -- weighs 5 pounds more, affords slightly better protection against fire (+2 save bonus vs. fire-based attacks).

Sfyralto Mavro
Pit or black iron is forged solely by Fire Giants. All objects made of black iron are 50% heavier than any normal counterpart due to its immense density. It takes easily to various enchanting processes and advanced smithing techniques. The material itself also bears an innate enchantment due to the process by which it is forged: it is resistant to damage and fire, and remains cool even at temperatures of 100-150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Weapons made of sfyralto mavro deal an additional point of damage, add +2 severity to critical hits, and have +2 speed.

The Sworn Princes

Before the collapse of Old Teral, there was a great and powerful elf-city called Gwydarliu, which men called Cathadria, within its borders. Though the Cathadrians resisted their conquest for many years, eventually they yielded to the Teralian general Archetor the Strider. These were the days before Teral's obsession with their mortuary cult reached its peak, and the elves were content to serve their distant master at Thalon.

In the years after Alanus the Fat's accession to the Imperial Throne of Teral, worship of the Necromancer began to spread. This was the time of the first Sworn Prince, Tywyn Lorianal of Gwydarliu. He pledged his service to Alanus, though the emperor was a reckless worshipper of the Necromancer Tharus. This began the long and awful decline of Cathadria, leading to its eventual depopulation when the Social War destroyed most of Teralian civil society.

Lorianal was succeeded by Oberys and Dorolien. Together, they have become known as the Sworn Princes. Their names are accursed for their complicity in the sins of Teral, never to be forgotten by the elves of Iiriem and the other nearby kingdoms for their crimes.

The Sworn Princes also ruled territory beyond the West Wall: a vassal-kingdom of elves called Seinaria, which means "beyond the wall" in Elvish. This kingdom was the retreat of the Sworn Princes. Though Lorianal is entombed beneath Cathadria itself, both Oberys and Dorolien were built great crypts in Seinaria, which now stands as a goblin-haunted ruin.

Myth and legend still surrounds the Sworn Princes as figures of great darkness: elves who sold the souls of their people for peace, security, and prosperity.

Friday, April 29, 2016

News of Arunia: Smoke and Fire

Lo! It is the end of the year 510, and the civil war in the Empire rages on. Mercenaries have been summoned from the Goblin Lands, and chests of silver and gold go to the dark Overking to pay for his troops. Hob knights and goblin archers filter down into the Serpent Baronies and make war on the rebellious lords of the Empire, all at the behest of the emperor's paymasters. The war has dragged on, with the rebels under the Lord of Amvor gaining ground in Colona and the Coast of Scythes.

The Black Wolf, Lucanus of Martel, has been named the Grandmaster of the Order of Miles following the death of Haerus at the Battle of Tabor Bridge. The Knights have followed the Black Wolf for the past six months, and word of his dark blade, Smoke, has run through the lines of the rebel foe. He has been seen on the frontlines with Smoke in hand, hewing through the banners of the rebellion.

At the same time, the Young Serpent, Hydrophis Schoolman, has gathered his clan of exiles and cast-outs, the slaves freed by silver paid to the Overking. He has named them the Schola renewed, and taken up residence in the ruin of the old school. As of last week, the Young Serpent has issued the promise of a lordship and land for any who slays one of the fled Magearchs and returns a stolen fragment of the Schola's library.

Quintis, the Beauclerc, has not been seen in Miles for four years. The healers have refused to follow the army of the emperor, though they have been working day and night to heal those who returned to the city.

The Imperial Tagmata has been battered and torn by the war and now stands badly depleted. Likewise the Escurae Varani, who have fallen in many battles. There are those who wonder at the emperor's power to keep the empire together. Indeed, there are many in the kingdoms surrounding the empire who are beginning to make plans against the hour when its final shattering is at hand. There are even nobles in the capital who believe the Overking is waiting for his moment to strike and destroy the empire, as soon as its weaknesses are made clear.