Saturday, April 7, 2018

A History of Giants, as told by Parthemos the Mason

In the time before men and elves came north, there were four great stone giant kingdoms. These were Ulhame, Umbrinol, Rhûn, and Arhame. In all, there was worship of the great Giant gods, Solos the Self-Creating first among them, who made himself from nothing and was the Titan of Earth. Some of our old gods, you still give prayer; Dinismayl, the Winter Queen; Glyrea, He of Poisons; and, of course, there is the God of which we do not speak: who you name Mother Night.

But in our day, the Night had already been driven west beyond her Wall. It was so that in our kingdoms, there were sages and sorcerers, but also builders. All giants in those days knew the art of raising homes and manors. All giants knew how to farm the earth, and hew the stone with tools. Our race was as mighty and glorious as the peoples of the Rootwood, and where they raised up the city of Temeros, we too made many cities.

Alone among the giants we had no kings. Even the lords of Cloudhame were Titans, or what you would say "Tyrants," who ruled through their whole lives. Clydas, the First King, who brought us music and magic, was their first and greatest, but a whole line of kings dwelt in Cloudhame until they left us to bring their whole land north and northwards out of reach of the wars of men and elves.

For us, each giant family lived free. There were no nobles. There were no lords or kings. We gathered, in that Night age, when your sages say there were no light of sun nor stars, but which the dragons claim otherwise, in our city-centers to decide upon the way our lands were to be run. Thus did we cast our votes by chips of stone in great clay pots, and so were we governed. In times of war or terror, we elected a Titan, a Tyrant, to lead us; but when the time had come when he or she was no longer needed, they were cast out for ten years to wander houseless until such time as they were permitted to return. So, we never were ruled by a succession of Tyrants like the giants of Rootwood.

Arhame was the home of my people, and all the giants in the west are descended from it. The word has become corrupted, and is what you now call the bay south of where our lands lay. But in the Night Age and Dawn Age, we claimed much of the Reach and the old lands south as our own. We hewed many quarries in the Silverlode Mountains and out of Mount Sirune, and builded up great cities along the shore. In the Dawn Age there were the elves of Ylvasmetsa, who bounded us on the east, and the half-elves of Ys, who bounded us on the north.

The Aelfwater became the southernmost border of Ys, and we made many houses there within the half-elf kingdom of sorcerers. We knew the Yssans, and taught them much of our magic. Their wizards came and lived in Arhame to dwell with us, and so there are many many wizards in the Reach today - and indeed, the Yssan love of gems deposited so many of their fine stones in the Reach when Ys fell that the smallfolk still make use of them instead of coin.

But in Arhame we were peaceful. We did not make wars on other lands, for there were few for us to do battle with. By the time the men came, our race was already dying. We are a long-lived people, but the great melancholia and sickness that swept through Rhûn and Ulhame had come, too, to Arhame. Fewer and fewer giants were born year by year. The elders slowly turned to stone. Our Assemblies stood empty, the great pillared fields abandoned. So we turned over our lands to men, to elves, to dwarves.

There was one last Stone Giant sorceress who might be thought of as a Tyrant: Gothea Elf-Slayer, the maker of the Wands of High Sorcery, who stood against the Empire of Miles with her allies the Mage-Lords. But that is a tale for another time, little one.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

News of Arunia: The Year 513

The astrologers remark in the East that the year 512 has come to a close, but the Shield Age has not yet ended. From the Free Cities there come rumors of setbacks and reversals of the Great Holy Army—though Vagrysj the Lion died in his sleep, his lieutenants have made fast progress north and the Sacred Army is reduced to infighting between the goblin cities.

In the West, along the Sun Shores, rumors speak of the Swords of Stock and their string of victories over the foes of the Reach. First to fall was the giant-jarl Minos Mastigos, who many believed was posturing to be a frost giant king. The daring rescue of the Raven's Banner was conducted by the Swords in the heart of winter, when the giants were at their strongest. Now, the Banner recoups its losses in Tyreth, and contemplates taking a contract to move farther north into Hard Heath, to push the threats that trouble the Reach far beyond its borders.

The new King of Hard Heath, who rumors call Geirr, has expanded his demesne to the north, and brought stretches of the Untamed Lands under his sway. However, it is rumored that a powerful clave of free elves upon the Bay of Ys are resisting him, and have sent petition to Queen Ilisia of the Ylvasmetsa to name them a Protectorate of that throne.

In that region, too, there are rumors of strange things washing up along the bay: old stones, and glittering blades, disgorged from the belly of Drowned Ys below!

North and northerly still, the vast and shadow-haunted region known as the Aedeion is the source of much turmoil: there are whispers of shadowy knights, Yssan pirates, and adventurers clashing up that way. This year last, adventurers infiltrated a pirate stronghold on the northern Bay of Ys and caused much havoc and chaos, and worse, they seem to have troubled a band of frost giants on the very border of the Untamed Lands, who were coming south.

Traders coming back from Thalasson say that there is war in the Dragonfells betwixt giant-kind and the dragons. Speaking of dragons, the Wyrms of Elnuril are restless and have been seen abroad in the untamed lands, leading their retinues of goblins, hobgoblins, and ogres. Aye, indeed, they have fair burnt a number of villages near the edges of the Princedoms. The elves have called their militias for watch upon the border, and Geirr of Hard Heath hath proclaimed all dragons "a menace and a dread, outlaw within the realm."

In southerly news, elvish armies have encamped outside Dorostchev and blocked the advance of a Golnian force crossing through Hurol. Rumors say that the Third Empire, too, is preparing for war, this against the great slaver-empire of Essad.

In Kjellos proper, the king sits uneasily upon his throne, and whispers of a conspiracy to unseat him implicate many hands: his brothers, Solyce and Vagyr, a discontented clave of nobility, and even the sorcerer Trojas Tholvar, elder brother to Greve Lasius Tholvar. King Aegus' true friends can only be counted amongst the temple and Order of the Forge Divine, and Greve Varius Holmgrinn, who has cemented his alliance with the house, notwithstanding Aegus' law stripping him of the important region of the Stockmine.

In the Reach, the lords meet in moting at Tyreth Castle, to determine how best to aid their king.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

DIALECT Backdrop: A House of Shadows

This, like yesterday's post, is a backdrop for the absolutely phenomenal language game, Dialect.

At first, when the grownups left, we thought we'd be fine on our own. The first few days were uneventful. We read in the library, or watched the lawn fringed by forest. Then, one night, the house was bigger than we remembered; throughout the next day it grew, and grew, and we could no longer find the outside rooms.

We came to the House together, as children, but the House has grown. The Wood creaks without, the wood creaks within. Now its corridors are countries, and its chambers continents. We cannot find the Front Hall, which was there only moments ago. There are people in the House, other than us; and they are strange, and mysterious, and cunning. How long can the House hold us?

Aspect Generation Questions

Children's Games. We are all children, ranging from the ages of eight to eighteen; how do we know one another? If we're family, what kind? Are we something else?

A House Not Home. This isn't where we began; something brought us all to this house. What was it? Why are we here?

Free Aspect. The choice is yours.

Community Questions
  • What other things live in the House? How many of them are there? Are they friendly?
  • What part of the House do we call our home?
  • How long have we lived here, in the House, away from the grownups?
  • Is there anything dangerous or scary about the House? If so, what is it?
  • Are the children divided by age? By gender? What makes the older children different from the younger children?
Age Transitions
Entering Age 2. An event to foreshadow the end of the Isolation. It finds its way into all conversation and is impossible to ignore.

The creaking has started again. Parts of the House, way near the edges of the known lands, have vanished; we cannot reach them. We speculate that the House may be shrinking again, losing its mystical nature. No one knows the cause, but its undeniable: something is changing. What do we do, knowing the House is shrinking again?

From deep within the House there comes a grumbling, grinding rumor—the true Masters are returning. Everywhere you look, you see signs of their approach: portraits weep blood, the stairs twist at your hand. Who are these Masters, and is there anything to fear?

Entering Age 3. What was foreshadowed has come to pass. The end of the Isolation is near. There is no escaping it.

Countries have disappeared overnight. Seas have been swallowed by the floor, and whole stories of House have simply evaporated like dew. It is happening: we are losing our connection with the House. Will anyone take a desperate act to preserve our new life here?

They have come. The House bends to their will. They have established a powerful court in the center of the House, and the tendrils of their control roam the long halls. They will soon bring everything under their sway. Shall we submit? Can we? Or do we stand and fight?

Entering the Legacy. The last moments or the aftermath.

It was over just like that; the snapping of fingers, the tick of a clock. The House groaned. The Wood groaned. Then it was all gone. The wide countryside beneath skylit halls, the countries and secret places of the House have all vanished. The grownups are back, and coming through the front door. But surely, our time in the House has marked something—us, or It, or both. What is left? Who will know?

All of the House is under one rule. The Masters control everything; it was theirs since the beginning. They have returned, and the mighty corridors thrum with their intention. Though our little community of outsiders has been made subject to alien laws and ways, some of us may still preserve a memory of the world outside the House. What do we do, now that the outside is gone? Who remembers? Who forgets?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

DIALECT: A New Isolation

So, my tabletop group played a single session of Dialect last week. None of us had ever played before. I'm a backer, so I printed out the booklet and the cards, and we set to work learning the rules. We chose The Outpost as our isolation, which was a good starter. Now, I was very worried about this game because it seemed like something I would love, but which required an intense amount of linguistic buy-in. My guys and gals are not good at buy-in (well, ONE of them is). But rather than be turned off by the game, everyone really loved it. We still use some of the words we invented for our doomed colony.

In case we play again soon, I want to have some homebrewed isolations ready. HERE THEY ARE:

Once, there were ways to get from the Spires to other places. They say there was enough wood to build boats, way up on their cloud-capped peaks. No one has seen a boat in a generation. Swimming between the caves is easy; swimming on the great open Sea is not.

We live together, in the caves or on the Spire peaks, beneath the sun. We fish, we laugh, we paint upon the cave walls, and use the fibers from the plants high above to weave nets, lines, and some even dream swinging bridges between the great Spires. There may have been another home, far and away beyond the sea, but we no longer remember it.

Aspect Generation Questions

We Come From the Sea. Our society is small, but tightly-woven. What impact does the Sea have on our lives?

There Is Not Plenty. Our resources are very constrained, living on the Spires, but somehow we survive. How?

Free Aspect. The choice is yours.

Community Questions

  • How do we travel between the Spires?
  • How is our society organized?
  • Do we have laws? What does justice look like to us?
  • How do we ensure that we do not deplete our resources?
  • Why did we leave our ancient homeland?
Age Transitions
Entering Age 2. An event to foreshadow the end of the Isolation. It finds its way into all conversation and is impossible to ignore.

The first one to see sails on the horizon was a child; they were not believed. But now, enough of us have seen them, out there, across the waters, to know it is true. We are not alone. What does it mean to us that there are others out there?

Disaster! Fire, or flood, and something critical, something that cannot be replaced, has vanished forever from our home. What can we do to replace it? Who will struggle against the inevitable, and why will do others disagree?

Entering Age 3. What was foreshadowed has come to pass. The end of the Isolation is near. There is no escaping it.

The ships have come within sight now. We have seen them on the decks. They are traders from far away, with salt in their hair and weatherbeaten faces. It is only a matter of time before they try to sail into our home. What do they want with us? Do we want to meet them, or are they the shadow of fear?

We needed it. We could not live without it. Our home is not the same now that it is gone, and we are dwindling. There is time yet, time to make a mark that lasts forever on this old stones. What will we do to be remembered? Is there still a chance to escape?

Entering the Legacy. The last moments or the aftermath.

They have cruel weapons but they also have goods that we have never seen. Some of us go with them, and some of them come to stay. They set up an outpost on our Spires, and bring us the wood to make ships. When they speak of home, we know there are so many more of them than us. How many of us cling to our old ways? Who goes out into the world?

The Spires are nearly empty now. There is a hollow wind blowing through our caves. We have done our best to live out here among the waves, but someone will come upon these stones again. Who will find what we have left behind? What have we left them?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Classes in the Tai Shan Republic: Barbarian and Bard

There are many indigenous “slave race” groups that were never fully conquered and integrated into the Dragon Empire. From the swamps of the Seven Sorrows, these people are often called the “boat people” or the “river people.”
The Barbarian class represents these swamp warriors, who raid Shai Tang Republic and Red Banner troops and towns alike.
There are two types of barbarian-warrior found within these indigenous tribes, and they are represented by the paths below.

Raging Waters
For some barbarian warriors, attacking from aboard the deck of a ship is as natural as swimming or swinging an axe.

            Shrieking Leap.
            At 3rd level, you can jump twice the normal distance you otherwise would be able to in a long-jump as long as you are in a rage. The Raging Waters barbarians often use their well-developed thews to propel them onto enemy boats.

            River barbarians are also known to stand alone atop the deck of a ship and slay all and sundry, guild champion and soldier alike, that come at them, from all sides. At 6th level, whenever you rage you can also make a two melee attacks as bonus actions against two separate targets in your flanks or directly in front of you each round. When your rage ends, you suffer one level of exhaustion.
            Beginning at 11th level, if you succeed at a relentless rage check, your strength bonus is doubled for the rest of the fight.

Blazing Fire
Others among the boat people focus on the use of the best weapon there is against the craftships of Tai Shan: fire.

            At 3rd level you may whisper the secret words of fire to your weapon; tongues of flame will leap up and down it. These flames will last for one battle, but they will severely damage your weapon (it will be unusable at the end of the fight). Anyone struck by a flaming weapon takes an additional 1d4 points of damage and may catch on fire.

            Igneus Mastery.
            At 6th level, you know the secret words to keep your hands safe in fire; you can reach into, grab, touch, and manipulate burning objects, blazing coals, etc., without penalty. They deal no damage.

            Fire Ward.
            At 10th level, you have a chance of deflecting incoming bullets and fire-based magic. You may now save to take no damage from bullets (they are deflected off course), save to take half damage from large gunpowder weapons (mortars), and if you save against a fire-based magical attack, you take no damage; if you fail, you take half instead.

Musicians, writers, and propagandists under the old Empire often journeyed to An’an for training;
there, at the so-called School of the Amber Quill, they would learn some of their master’s secrets:
that is, they were taught to utilize limited applications of spellcraft from the dragon-princes
who deigned to teach there. Since the fall of the Empire, control over this training technique has
lapsed somewhat; while there are still scholars of the Amber Quill, folk techniques for
replicating the dragon’s magic have also given birth to ten thousand “chattering pens.”

Bards in Edero do not have the ability to use a musical instrument as a spellcasting focus.

Amber Quill.
Members of the Amber Quill are all trained in An’an by the remains of the School there. They
possess certain degree of hauteur, knowing they are the most elite of the writer-magicians in the

            Master Historian.
At 3rd level, Amber Quills are awarded the rank of master historian from the school. Choose
two intelligence skills to gain double your proficiency bonus on.
 Deep Lore
At 6th level, you learn two spells of your choice from any class. A spell you choose may be
from any level you could cast, if you were the appropriate class. The chosen spells count as
bard spells for you, but don’t count against the number of bard spells you know.

Mystic Defenses.
At 12th level, you are able to construct brief-lived defenses against magical attacks by using
secret words taught by the School. You may expend a bardic inspiration to add that roll to
your saving throw against any spell.

Chattering Pen.
Members of the Chattering Pen are self-taught, and are also known as hedge mages. They may serve
the powerful guild interests, the Red Banner, or any number of bandit groups, but they are known for
their cunning.

Bonus Proficiencies.
Those who never join the School of the Amber Quill gain proficiency with medium armor, shields,
and martial weapons at level 3.

All Together Now.
At 3rd level you can help your allies in combat, whether by exploiting openings or by buoying up
their spirits. Anyone that has a Bardic Inspiration Die from you can roll that die and add it to a
damage roll made by a weapon or a spell.

Iron Pen.
At 6th level, you learn to imbue a brief enchantment to your quill tips. You can hurl these quills as
darts. They have a +1 magical bonus when thrown by you. If you spend a bardic inspiration when
throwing one, it will gain a magical bonus equivalent to 1/3rd your level (maximum of +5).

Dazzling Swordplay.
At 10th level, you can make one weapon attack on a turn you have cast a spell, as a bonus action.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Proposal: Eder'o

The Dragon-Emperors have fallen. The Imperial Wars have drained the once-proud nobles of the Heavenly Empire. Strife, strife beyond imagining has depleted their strength. Now, the cities of the Seven Sorrows must do without their emperor, without their nobility, and without the caste of sorcerer-lords that once ruled them. From the wreckage, the Heavenly Empire re-emerges onto the world stage... in a time of nation-states, absolutism, and mercantile adventurism.

This is a pitch for a 5th Edition D&D setting. It would use modified 5e rules, backgrounds, and races. Rather than a traditional pre-industrial feudal period, the Heavenly Empire posits a modern, industrializing, landscape with political formations that are much more similar to those in the modern period. States, as we now conceive of them, play a huge role, rather than the feudal model of personal loyalty.

BACKGROUND. Before the Imperial Wars, the Heavenly Empire was made and governed by the Dragon-Emperors. These lords were literally dragons, descended from the Primal Dragons who originally divided up the world. In other regions, those dragons were overthrown by the so-called slave races: men, elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, orcs. The tieflings, heirs to the demonic sorcery of the Old Ways, served as the dragon's lieutenants in the Heavenly Empire, and the royal houses in many other lands.

The world was divided between the Empire and the Barbarian States. Those Barbarian States now sit at parity with the former Empire, for the Heavenly Empire has fallen. The Imperial Wars consumed her, with dragon-lords vying for power. The great houses are all but exterminated, and only a handful of dragons remain. The mightiest servants of the Empire, the dragonborn, retain much of their rights and privileges, and make up the burgeoning burgher and merchant classes, along with some of the newly emancipated slave races.

The Imperial Wars began with the death of the Gaolong Emperor and the war of his seven children. Each child took for their base of power one of the seven great cities of the Empire, along the vast and winding river that cuts through its heart and is fed by six lesser rivers: the legendary Seven Sorrows. For that reason, the Imperial Wars are also known as the War of Seven Sorrows, and the heirs to the throne were often colloquially known as "the Sorrows."

After centuries of internecine warfare, the Sorrows were no closer to the throne; whenever a contender died, other pretenders stood up to join the fray in their place. It was, at last, the High Landmenn Council of the great financial city of T'ai Sha that overthrew them and drove out the living Sorrows. A compact between the powerful tiefling sorcerers and dragonborn merchantile class resulted in the expulsion or execution of the living dragons.

Of course, this rebellion, called alternately the T'ai Sha Rebellion or the Devil's Bargain, made liberal use of a surge of anti-draconic feeling in the slave races. The Chained, as they called themselves, formed a faction to themselves, and when the dragons were executed or gone, they threatened to swamp the great cities in violence. The Landmenn, the most powerful of urban burghers in the realm, and the sorcerers quelled the Chained Revolutions and established the Writ of Perpetual Freedom: in exchange for ending their fight, the slave races of the Empire would agree to be freed from servitude and land-bondage.

This worked in most places, except for the city of T'ai Sha. The Chained there had a strong backbone of support from young burghers and students at the University of Celestial Knowledge, where the sorcerers were trained. They seized the city in the name of what they called "Universal Brotherhood", executed every priest within the walls, set her junks on fire, and proceeded to take control of all land and goods for the Universal Revolt.

They were eventually put down by powerful dragonic forces, recruited from amongst the ranks of the former restorationists. The Dragon-General Tunwen attacked T'ai Sha with his iron steamships and flying wizards, and put an end to the Universal Brotherhood -- or so he thought.

Tunwen was named the Grand Marshal of the new Republic of T'ai Sha, but before three years were out, escaped members of the Universal Brotherhood could be found preaching rebellion in the provinces. They warned that the so-called "free wage labor" of the new Republic was little different from the chains of the Empire. "One is made of iron, one of gold, but both bind," Sister-Scholar Lema warned.

The Brotherhood could not stand against the uniting armies of the new Republic, and were driven into the Red Mountains, far to the west, where they raised their banner of rebellion. To this day, the Revolutionary Red State holds the richest iron, copper, tungsten, coal, and oil lands in the former Empire. The Republic of T'ai Sha considers the Red State to be a carbuncle within its borders, an existential danger. The other nations of the world agree: so long as the Red State continues to exist inside of the Republic like a tumor, it gives the lower classes of the world a rallying cry and a red banner to wave.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Spells of Arunia: Blistering Boulder and Dry Matter

These spells were created in the year 512 by the wizard Arneth the Cautious in the town of Stock.

Blistering Boulder
Level 3
Range: 0
Components: V, S, M
Duration: 1d4+1 rounds per caster level
Casting Time: 1 round
Area of Effect: 20-ft radius
Saving Throw: ½

This spell destabilizes a large stone object, laying an enchantment within it that waits, latently, for the duration of the spell. If the stone is hurled (by any means: magical, mechanical, or by giant), the enchantment will be triggered. When let loose, it causes the boulder or other masonry to rip itself to pieces, flinging dangerous shrapnel and stone dust in a twenty foot radius from wherever the missile impacts. This means the stone does not do regular damage as a siege weapon.

In order to cast this spell, the wizard must pace around the stone, tracing runes in glowing liquid fire with his fingertips. This process lasts for one full minute before the enchantment is complete, and if the wizard is interrupted during this time, the potency of the spell is lost. The runes vanish almost as soon as they are written, laying the magic into the stone.

The shattering, violently splintering stone, sends jagged pieces flying in all directions, doing 1d10 (to a max of 8d10) points of damage for every level of experience of the caster, meaning a wizard with six levels of experience would roll 6d10 for their damage. A save vs. breath weapon is made by anyone within the radius of the blast. A successful save lowers the damage by half. Even those who save will be temporarily stunned if they are caught within the blast, unable to act on their next action.

The material component is the boulder itself, which must generally be of a size equivalent to the ammunition used for a catapult, trebuchet, or giant-thrown stone.

Dry Matter
Level 2
Range: Touch
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous
Casting Time: 2
Area of Effect: One object or creature
Saving Throw: Special

The spell Dry Matter removes the liquid content from a physical body. Typically, wizards would use this for tomes, scrolls or clothing. It could also be used to empty a glass or vial, potentially, if it were stoppered with cork. Something completely sealed, so as to not be porous, would not be effected by the spell, i.e. a bottle stopped with wax, a chitinous shell, etc.

The virtue of the spell is such that anything damaged by water within a certain amount of time (1 hour per level of the caster) can be successfully recovered; this includes ruined books, scrolls, etc. Inks are dehydrated into dust that can be later re-used. The spell can only affect matter up to one cubic foot per level of the caster.

Leather can be cured with the use of this spell, and its power is such that organic ingredients can be prepared instantly, drying them instead of pickling them, for later use by the wizard as components.

The spell effects living things as well, dehydrating them for 1d4 points of damage per caster level. Alcohol exacerbates the effect of this spell on the living, giving a +1 to damage.

Dry Matter does not remove smells.