Thursday, January 29, 2015

Non-Hârn Hârnworld

Yeah, so I'm finally doing this. Here's some information about the Mascoliri, who dwell in Forest Hallow.

On the Mascoliri

Carigard of Crowstone

The Mascoliri Tribesmen of Forest Hallow can be divided into a number of smaller tribal groups, which do not always share pleasant relations. While some Mascolirimen live in villages and towns, most dwell in loose communities scattered throughout the Hallow. The forest is considered sacred to their priests, and extensive cutting for the clearance of land is strictly prohibited save in those few religious centers where they worship monoliths of unworked stone.

Comprehension of the Mascoliri requires one to familiarize oneself with the tribal federations that comprise their social landscape. These are the Algoloti, Feres, Varomor, Tevest, Cambriş, Turoşin, and Velorgi tribes. While they share some kinship with the Caledoni, Cuervi, and Vulganti peoples, the linguistic isolation of the Forest Hallow appears to me to resemble the Urothi tongue more than any other.

Algoloti dwell in the far west of Forest Hallow and tend to gravitate towards the coast. They are a large federation of a number of clans. They construct cairns to their dead and worship the Skyfather primarily, but also a chthonic goddess called Amer. Algoloti hold no stock in the influence of the stars, unlike the rest of their kin.

The Feres dwell in the south-west of the Forest and their tribe provide many of the young men who eventually ascend to the trans-tribal priesthood that dominates Forest Hallow. The Feres language is the least isolated of the Mascoliri tongues, having liberally mingled with that of the Caledoni and Cuervi. Those Feres who do not join the vile priesthood of the Wood generally keep to hunting or fishing in the forest’s many rivers.

The Varomor have the most holdings in the eastern stretches of Forest Hallow. Unlike many of the other tribes, Varomor are mostly well-settled and tend to dislike conflict with their neighbors. The Varomor founded the few non-priestly towns in the Forest and appear to be the only Mascoliri unafraid to cross their clerical caste.

Tevest and Cambriş tribes live in close contact with one another. There are few distinguishing features between them, save the Tevest frenzy for the use of the art of tattooing. They believe the future can be written in the tattoos given to young men and women, and so do what they can far earlier than most other Mascoliri, who only achieve their first tattoos upon the slaying of a mannish enemy.

Turoşin live deep in the wood and rarely leave it. I have never seen one in a marketing village outside the Forest, nor have I had an extended conversation with one.

The Velorgi are a trader-people of the Forest, often coming forth and traveling many miles to deal with Wyrithi. They are the most likely to be converted to the Confession and indeed, significant numbers of the Velorgi were once settled in Crowstone and converted in the 8th century YF.

Mascoliri Faith

The Mascoliri worship the same pantheon of gods as the rest of the islanders and many of the Urothi [ed. Note: and Skathi] people of the mainland. These are, of course, the ubiquitous Skyfather, Mortai, his wife, the Seamaid Comraia, the Warlord Escalath, and the other gods of that nature. However, the island-folk also have a strange veneration for the oak and rowan trees and the entire vast woodland known as Forest Hallow is considered by them to be holy ground where the gods themselves may walk. Their most beloved object of worship is the forest itself and its patron daimon, Oroslan, the Spirit of the Wood.

The Oroline Priesthood controls these people politically and religiously, often demanding human sacrifice at their cult-center of Maldáthonin or Greatstones.

The Oroline Priesthood

Mascoliri priests generally dress in hoods of any color. When performing rituals or ceremonies they are expected to wear a mask depicting one of the aspects of Oroslan the Forestfather. These are made of different materials depending on the priest’s status: progressing from bronze up through gold.

PRAYER [10%/1PP] Praying to Oroslan requires the sacrifice of an animal. Sacrifice requires approximately 1 hour to prepare and make. Prayer performed on non-consecrated ground (e.g., outside of Forest Hallow) has only a 5% chance of granting piety. The number of Piety Points awarded depends on the size of the sacrifice. A chicken or other small fowl is worth 1PP. Owls are worth 3PP. Swine of all sizes are worth 5PP. Cattle are worth 8PP. Bulls are worth 12PP. If the prayer is performed in a sanctified portion of Forest Hallow (by an altar, in a holy site), the chance for piety gain is increased to 20%.

FASTING [50%/2PP] As per the Hârn fasting rules for priests only. Laymen cannot fast for piety in the Mascoliri faith.

WEEKLY CELEBRATION [40%/3PP] The Oroline priests perform a weekly lunar celebration at their local standing stones. Attendance of layfolk is rare.

FEAST OF THE NEW MOON [80%/3PP] This feast may only be attended by Mascoliri priests and involves a lavish sacrifice and the ritual consumption of the animal carcass.

THE CELEBRATION OF THE FOREST [90%/5PP] This is a yearly celebration that occurs on the 4th day of the new year. It is always followed by a secretive prayer held only for the clergy (which operates as an additional Feast of the New Moon for piety gain). This increase of piety is increased to 8PP if the celebrants perform the mass at Maldáthonin.

NINTH YEAR CELEBRATION [90%/12PP] Every nine years the Mascoliri hold a massive Celebration of the Forest at Maldáthonin. This celebration requires the sacrifice of human and horse lives as well as a bevy of owls to be effective. All participants are intoxicated during this orgy-mass.

SACRIFICE [90%/variable] Sacrifices must be performed by priests; otherwise they are exactly like prayers. The PP gained goes to the celebrant, not the priest performing the sacrifice.

PILGRIMAGE [90%/2PP] Traveling to Maldáthonin for the purposes of communion with Orosland grants 2PP but can only be done once each year. Usually, this is in conjunction with the Celebration of the Forest.


The Oroslani priests once covered the island of Wyranth and performed sacrifices at all of the major holy sites across the isle. The island itself is said to be sacred to the Forestfather and the Oroline clergy often speak of the days when men could walk from the North Sea to the Skathi Channel beneath the boughs of the Forestfather. However, with the coming of the Dominion in the south-eastern corners of the isle, Orolite worship fell back. The oncoming tide of Old Spyran Paganism recognized most faiths—but not those that performed human sacrifice. Dominion authorities suppressed the Oroline priesthood brutally, executing Oroline priests by live burial.

The coming of the Confession and the re-conquering forces of the New Dominion resulted in further outrages against the priesthood. The northern tribes of the island all developed their own native clergy in the wake of the Great Executions, which is the term used for the drowning or stoning of the entire High Circle of Priests (and, as a result, the Oroline priests now have no High Circle nor indeed any cleric that can be said to transcend the Hârnic 4th Circle).

Teachings of Oroslan
Where did the world come from?
This world was born of the Skyfather’s incest with his mother, which produced Asgir, the Great Giant. Mortai slew the giant and this became the world itself. From the giant’s bones he fashioned the earth, and from its blood the sea. Oroslan, his brother, went down into the world to people it with children and discovered the Lesser Giants there. He lived among them for many centuries before he came to Wyranth, which he called holy. There he consecrated the forests and blessed the little children of the Lesser Giants that are men.

The Covuur
Oroslan has many spirit-servants that walk Forest Hallow. The chiefest of them are the Covuur, which wear the face of ancient oaks and rowanwood trees but are also in the shape of men. There are ten of them, and their names are secrets known only to the priesthood. It is said if Forest Hallow is ever invaded by the servants of the Confession, the Covuur will rise from the barrows and hollows to confront them and drive them back.

Canon Law
All disputes of law are solved by duel. Duels between members of the same circle are until one can no longer stand. Duels between hierarchs and regular priests are to the death.

What of the other Gods and Faiths?
Tell me the Truth about…
Mortai is stained by his primal incest. Others worship him under other names. We all know him as the Skyfather. Caledoni love him, as do the Skathi. His iron-wheeled chariot rules the heavens, but he is short-sighted in his schemes.

Comraia agreed to be Mortai’s wife and her temper is tempestuous as the sea. She is respected, and all the rivers of the world are her daughters. Her followers are few on Wyranth, but secretive. We should always ally with them when we can.

Escalath is insane, the second product of Mortai’s incest with the Allmother. He is an elk-headed madman who revels in bloodshed and sin. Avoid him and his followers in Caledon and Dunland at all costs.

The Confession is an upstart religion newly come to Wyranth in the geological time. They believe in a nonsense-god who is not present in the world and cannot affect it. Their faith is a weak one, but their kingdom of Yewland is strong, both in itself and its far-away allies. Never trust a Confessional.

The Father of Fire is an eastern abomination. Mistrust follows in its wake.

Oroline priests may wear whatever they want. However, their classical and ceremonial garb is that of long green robes with high green hoods. The most easily identifiable feature of the priesthood is the Mask, which represents one of the aspects of Oroslan, depending on the choice of the priest. These masks are Bronze (2nd circle), Silver (3rd Circle), and Gold (4th Circle) and they must be worn during all sacred celebrations. Additionally, the favored weapon of Oroline priests is the club, which Oroslan himself is said to carry.

Mascoliri words:
Araş – red
Ahwe – white
Brellin – axe, blade
Cantos – bearer, carrier
Cantobrel – chief (lit. axe-carrier)
Covuu – rowan tree
Los – dog
Oras – large
Escal – stag
Hidat – hide, fur, skin
Malda – well, good
Mora – sky
mascas – tree, oak
Tais – father
Thon – stone

laya – small, -aya diminuative

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Civilization and the Center

Old School games necessarily tend to take place on the fringes of civilization. The center, the heart of any civilized territory, is a place that has no need for adventurers... right?

In order to address this question, we'll have to look at several subjects, starting with exactly what adventurers even are. Only once we understand what drives the need for adventurers in the generic (or this case, specific, 10th Age) fantasy setting will we be able to decide whether or not they have any business being in the so-called center or whether they should be purely relegated to the boundary lands and liminal outliers.

The Defining Attributes of Adventurers
Well, in a purely gamey sense, we can say that adventurers are anyone the players want to play, but that wouldn't be quite true, would it? If the players decide they want to play farmers with a realistic farming simulator it can be done (not with D&D, or at least not with any rules that I have on hand) and they would hardly be adventurers. So what separates adventurers out from the pack? I've talked about this a little before when I said that adventurers are rockstars. But what I really mean is that adventurers are outsiders. Of course, I've spoken of adventurers as insiders as well, but this seems to be a departure from the norm.

The defining attributes of an adventurer appear, then, to be:

Social Mobility and Swords for Hire. This two things together generally make adventurers a type or class of mercenary (and in my games they are treated as almost identical with mercenary companies and mercenary soldiers). Certainly, the second part of that equation may be dropped, but that severely limits the options for the PCs. If they aren't for hire, they are most likely working permanently for a single paymaster or patron, which means they do what he wants when he wants it. Nothing like receiving orders from an imaginary man all the time to make your players feel like they're in a straightjacket. Not that it can't be used to good effect, every once and a while. (See something like the military campaign proposed in the Fighter's Handbook, or a real military campaign in-setting where the PCs join up with some army).

What drives the need for adventurers?
In order for adventurers to serve, there must be a need for their services. In a standard fantasy world, this is most likely because there are: (1) no police forces, (2) no standing armies, and (3) no well-trained elite soldiers. Certainly you may have knights and leveemen and even, if your setting is semi-Roman or just historically inaccurate, something approaching a police force. But these things don't have anywhere near the level of institutional strength that they possess in the modern day. There will always be gaps.

This means the drive to hire adventurers comes from an inherent weakness in the pre-modern model of civilization. Someone must be on hand to troubleshoot the institutional flaws: these people are, in the fantasy setting, adventurers. They can serve as makeshift police much better than a squad of knights, fight like an expendable army, and eventually become an elite squad of murderers that can dismantle entire bandit encampments and goblin armies all on their own.

Does this need exist at the center?
Well, if your adventurers are insiders, this question is irrelevant. There are things to do other than fulfill the need for adventurers. You could be a lord, a priest, a politician, someone engaged in the tricky every day business of governing. But if your PCs are actual dyed in the wool adventurers, the answer is: Yes.

Even stable kingdoms are not monoliths. For example, someone always hates the king. There are always problems. There are bandits, outlaws, political rivals, street gangs, merchant compacts that must be investigated, foreign spies, enemy armies, and a general level of crime. No kingdom has complete control over all the territory in its borders, and it could always be more secure. Sure, those insecure places resemble the liminal outside adventurers normally inhabit, but they are deceptively close to society itself. The slums in a great capital. The forest nearby. The road between this barony and that one. All of these are "insider" places, places that are not part of the "center" but are directly adjacent to it.

And what about political intrigue? Ahh, this is the real meat and drink of the center. For all these nearby liminal places, the real damage is always done by intrigue in the heart of hearts. Nobles scheming against one another, houses locked in ancient and bitter rivalry, kings desirous of consolidating control over their independent lords. Lords who would be kings, or who would foment war.

Do adventurers belong in civilization? Well, the civilized folk may not think so, but it seems there is just as much work there as there is on the fringe. Adventurers don't need to be shunted off to some wild outside. Let them come in once and a while, and taste the danger of the city, the settled kingdom. In fact, some of the more memorable adventures are likely to happen there. While it's all very well to fight goblins and orcs, let us not forget: Man is a wolf to man.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Deincentivization of Combat

There's a reason why combat is so goddamn deadly in my games. Actually, there are many reasons. The first of these is that it makes the game more exciting. The second is that combat shouldn't be the default solution to every problem. The third is that combat should be interesting.

One by one...

I. Makes the game more exciting
The risk of death is one of the things that keeps people on their toes. It's the risk of death that makes the game interesting—increasing the chance that characters die increases the excitement of survival. Of course, this only works to a point, where diminishing returns kick in. I'll admit, I might have reached (or hell, even crossed) the line of diminishing returns already. But that's ok, because there are two other driving reasons to keep combat very deadly. And they are that...

II. Combat shouldn't be the default solution
It's not fun if there's an easy answer to every equation. You've got to think about things, you've got to make decisions that are more complex than "do I cast my spell now?" and "shall I swing my sword or defend until someone comes to my aid?" Of course, combat is always more complex than the (see section III) but if combat is complicated and yet not the obvious solution, then the added complexity of all the other possible solutions can only cause a systemic increase in the game overall. I like it when a withering buffet of options presents itself to the players. I know they don't always care for it, but the world (the real world now, not the world of the game) rarely presents itself as having a clear right answer to anything.

III. Combat should be interesting
The more deadly combat is, the more interesting it is. What? How is this not a reiteration of point I? Well, it's a sort of corollary. Because straight hacking and slashing is so deadly, it encourages non-standard answers. If standing up in a fight against an enemy remains utterly dangerous (very subject to the whims of random chance) then players will be encouraged to find alternate answers. In some cases (as point II attempts to illustrate) those alternate answers will be things like diplomacy, or collapsing a building. In other cases, those alternate answers will be tactics.

When combat isn't particularly dangerous, there's no incentive to use tactics. The more deadly combat becomes, the more tactics pay off. Minimization of the random factor of combat (that's the thing that causes one side to win or lose for no real reason, and since over their lifetimes PCs will engage in more combats than any NPCs, randomness is generally bad for PCs) relies on tactics and strategy. Hell, even tipping an otherwise unwinnable combat into the PCs direction requires this.

These are the three reasons that deadly combat continues to feature in my games. Deadlier than the combat most people play by, and certainly "unbalanced" according to the modern conception of roleplaying.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Cults and Churches and everything in-between

In between writing long briefs and reading vast treatises of law I've been delving into some classical history. Plutarch, Tacitus, and Suetonius were my most recent forays, and it occurs to me that there is an interest disparity between the way the pagan classical world worshipped and the way characters worship in D&D. I don't know if I've found a solution that will bring the 10th Age and the historical world in harmony yet (admittedly, some of the 10th Age religions do follow this standard, but it was more because I couldn't envision how a grand-scale church would function for that faith).

The idea runs thusly: every temple-site in the classical world appears to have been an independently operating cult. That is, a temple to Apollo at Athens and, say, the temple-complex at Delphi appear to be fully independent organizations without shared hierarchy or contact. Whichever iteration of a cult has the most sway at any given time determines which is seen as the "leading" version of the faith, and they are all acknowledged to worship the same deity, but in many cases the individual cults represent different incarnations or aspects of the deity. This can most clearly be seen in the many versions of Jupiter or Mars worshipped by the Romans—Jupiter Capitolinus, for example, put up against Jupiter Fulgore. In his guise as Capitolinus (and in his temple located on the Capitoline hill) Jupiter was the patron of statesmen. In his guys as Fulgore, he was the dangerous thunderer.

It seems to me that Birthright actually got this more correct than normal D&D did, what with the regional temple-organizations that are frequently at odds (The Northern Temple of Haelyn, the Imperial Heart of Haelyn, etc.) It's an interesting dynamic, one which shakes the veil of medievalism even further, as the medieval West was dominated by an integrated church. Though various loci were semi-independent and though the power in the early middle ages resided mostly in the local level (in the hands of bishops), it was nevertheless a different beast in its essential form from any of the many cults of the ancient world.

For now, I think, the temples of the 10th Age will grow slightly more fractured. I'm wondering if I should introduce oracular sights throughout the world as they were believed to be scattered through the ancient world—my own Sibyls, as it were. I'm still on the fence.

Monday, December 15, 2014

AD&D Ritual Magic

Vancian magic is alive and well in the 10th Age, don't get me wrong. Nor do I have anything against it in any way. I love it, so let us not paint me as one of those folks who can't stand it or comprehend it. I actually think its a very sensible way to deal with a powerful force in a high fantasy setting. The question arises, what happens when you want to take that fantasy down a notch to an extremely low fantasy setting? Well, certainly you have to do something about wizards.

So here we are again. Rituals, the common ground of all those who try to "solve" the Vance question without resorting to the Hasboro Sorcerer Solution (which takes high magic into extraordinarily high magic). So what's the proposal for working ritual magic?

All rituals can be learned by any class, but they take time to learn. They are generally a list of instructions, difficult to accomplish. They can also include "magical words" in other languages (generally the languages of demons or gods) as well.

Rituals require a long time to learn, making the primary resource used up learning them the very time of your life. A ritual will generally take 3-12 months to master, but with a successful "learn spell" check, it will take 1/3rd that amount of time. This allows characters with higher intelligence to learn spells quicker.

You must have someone to learn a ritual from, generally a creepy old poisoner, sorcerer, or priest. Rituals are highly specific and few people know more than a handful.

Learning from a grimoire, tome, or papyrus takes double the normal amount of time. It also penalizes your learn spell roll by 5%.

The Charlatan Sorcerer
Thief Kit
Bonus: Start play with 1d4 rituals known. Also receive an extra ancient language for free.
Penalty: Your first hit die is only a d4 (or just 4 hp if you start level 1 with max hp). Further hit dice are d6s. You only get +30% to distribute to your thieving skills at level one. You can put all 30% in one if you like.

Pendant of the Eye
Time to learn: 3 months
This ritual creates a charm which will provide the wearer with a +1 bonus to all saving throws. The pendant must be crafted from lapis lazuli and fashioned in the shape of a Khorassus Eye of the East. The charm must be whispered the secret words for three nights and sprinkled with the blood of the caster. The magician cannot go to sleep during this entire period, requiring a constitution check to stay up. At the end of this time, a learn spell check is made. If it is successful, the amulet is created but the caster is drained and must recuperate for a week. This roll is increased by 10% if the caster crafted the amulet himself.

Taking Signs
Time to learn: 12 months
These are a class of divining ritual. Most require taking auguries from the intestines of an animal, but other types include casting of bones, etc. Complete focus and ritual purity are both required, which takes several hours. At the end of this time, the casting will display either generally favorable or unfavorable omens. At the DM's discretion, more information may be obtained.

Warding the Cup
Time to learn: 3 months
This ritual is a simple one to perform and requires the magician to carve a secret sign known from ancient days in Cedarland onto a drinking vessel. After this is done, the magician at once loses a temporary d4 points of CON (returning at the rate of one per hour). The vessel will shatter if poison is ever placed within it.

Holding the Door
Time to learn: 3 months
Similar to warding the cup—the same types of activity (carving a secret sign) and penalty (loss of d4 CON) except the target must be a door of wood. Once that door is shut and barred, it will hold fast and no key will open it until the next sunrise.

Powder of Slumber
Time to learn: 6 months
This is actually a potent poison that can knock out a man-sized target when applied in the proper doses. It must be prepared from juice of the poppy and powdered hops. The correct preparation will create a powder which can be used to dose food or drink or a liquid which can be administered. In a half dosage, the target must make a save vs. death or fall asleep for 1d4+1 hours. In a regular dosage, the target must make a system shock check or die; if they succeed, they will be knocked out for 1d6+1 hours. In any dosage larger than this, the target must make a save vs. death or die.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Simple System for Servile Rumors

What? This is my simple and easy way to determine how the Ironbreakers (and any other party like it that has a home staffed with servants) hear rumors. Of course, there's always the normal rumor mill: going to a tavern and chatting with locals hardly ever fails. However, since the Ironbreakers have a staff now and a house, it is likely that they can get rumors from many places at once. Indeed, even the smallest household begins to resemble a ring of spies.

Determine City Sections and/or Jobs
In a huge city like Miles, servants are likely to go and visit the same sections over and over; there will be one in charge of purchasing all the wine, for example, and another in charge of going to the fishmarket each morning to see what the catch is.

The next step is to determine what kind of things gets talked about in each area and how likely it is that a servant will hear a juicy new bit of gossip there.

Flesh out News Type
Grainmarket -- 1 in 4 chance/week
The grainmarket receives shipments from Khewed and Colona, making it a hotbed of news from overseas. This includes updates from Ninfa, the East, Chimeron and High Aellon, as well as places in the south like Ralashar. It is the city's primary international marketplace.

Then I list 10 rumors current for the month, and viola! Any servants attending the grainmarket have a chance to hear one of them.

EDIT: This is, of course to be complimented with the Greyhawk Grognard's lovely Rumor Epidemiology chart.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Taking the Magic out of Birthright

I've been gone for a while. I don't know if I'll be back any time soon. Law school has encompassed my entire life, essentially swallowing everything that's not law up. I've had time to run games, but barely. Absolutely no time for posting blogs.

Birthright is already a low-magic setting, so what the hell could I be talking about? I'm discussing lifting the rules for realm governance up out of Birthright, stripping them of their magical-feudalism, and making them useable

Major Changes to the Bloodline Rules

Bloodline now represents legitimacy. Rather than the mysterious purity of a divine bloodline, this score is now known as Legitimacy. This represents the perceived right of the regent to his position. Legitimacy can be degraded by alienation of territories, major losses in war, etc.

Regency points now represent political capital. Instead of a magic bond to the land, RP is a mechanic to represent the accruing of legitimacy and the various little enterprises that give a lord favors to call in, authority to flex, and power to exercise.

Loss of Territory. Loss of territory in war directly affects legitimacy; a lord's legitimacy degrades by 1 point for every rank of the province lost.

War. Regency points are gained or lost in large battles. Massive defeats may affect a character's permanent legitimacy.

Proclaiming a Successor. When a lord proclaims an adult successor, he grants that successor 1/2 of all his banked regency points.

Passing the Torch. When a lord no longer wishes to rule and passes his power on to his chosen heir, he loses 2/3rds of his permanent Legitimacy, which is gained by his heir. This must be accompanied by a public ceremony of investiture.

Alienation from territories. Each month that a regent has none of his basic holdings (provinces or law for fighters, temples for priests, etc.) their Legitimacy score is degraded by 10%.