Q – Quest

Slaught, the high elf has been questing for just shy of a year in the province of Morrowind (350 in-game days; all told, only maybe three or four weeks of that consisted on full days of rest to refresh merchant inventories). In that time, she has waged prolonged war against the forces of Dagoth Ur, ended the Cammona Tong’s hold on the Fighters Guild, uniting said guild with the Thieves Guild, presiding over both as guildmaster, murdered several people for profit in the name of the Morag Tong, freed nearly a hundred slaves, became the Arch-Magister of House Telvanni before murdering the other magistrates, became Arch-mage and thus brought the Vvardenfel Mages Guild under the jurisdiction of House Telvanni, became Hortator of the Great Houses, fulfilled the Nerevarine Prophecies, killed a bunch of werewolves, established a mining colony, defeated two gods, became a third god’s pope before subjugating him, plundered nearly every tomb and tower, fought in the name of the Emperor on earth and in heaven while fighting to free the land from the Empire’s grasp, and helped a few modestly grateful mooks along the way. All in all, Slaught has had a busy and profitable year. There are places still left untouched and unpillaged, but they are few and not likely worth bothering with.

She’s level 50 now, and nothing really poses much of a threat. Dagoth Ur got a few decent blows in, but it’s her magnanimous nature that keeps her from just killing anyone who mouths off. Amazingly enough, she’s probably got another 15 to 20 levels left in her, but most of those will come out of grinding magic skills that are still in the 50s and 60s. All she’ll get is more HP and be able to eke out a few more points in the nebulous “Luck” stat.

Slaught has taken the fight to Mournhold, where she’ll inevitably be killing another god or two. So far, I’m enjoying Mournhold more than Soltheistheim, even though content-wise it’s probably a lot smaller. It’s at least denser. I like the urban adventuring, even though most of the quests so far have seemed a bit silly. Still, for its geographic size, Mournhold seems a lot smaller than Vivec. It goes back to my thoughts on negative gaming space and ‘useless’ areas. There is a LOT to Vivec, and a lot of it isn’t worth visiting (sewers with no dungeons, various apartments and living quarters of non-story NPCs, poor street vendors with little on-hand cash and nothing but garbage to sell) or holds no bearing to the plot. But it’s there, which reinforces how big it feels. Meanwhile, Mournhold seems to make the most of physical space, with the exception of the strangely empty south plaza. The Bazaar conveniently has one of each type of vendor with enough cash to unload some of that stuff that was unsellable before, the Temple district has the Temple (duh), and the residential district has a bar and a small handful of manors. I have to presume that everyone in Mournhold who doesn’t have a store and isn’t a guard somewhere, must live in this fairly small district, which, I don’t know, makes the town feel a lot smaller. Vivec had what were essentially 8 different neighborhoods with people living and working in them, plus a creepy ‘palace’ (more like a meditation chamber) for the living god.

The Imperial City in Oblivion takes a lot of its design cues from Mournhold in the Tribunal expansion, in that it’s a city with a central palace and neighborhoods divided by walls like the spokes of a wheel. Though there’s a bit more to interact with overall in the Imperial City, IC feels cramped and small because of the other problems Oblivion suffers from in terms of lacking negative urban gaming space. Like the Imperial City, Mournhold feels more like a small fortress town than an actual city. It needs some suburbs. Interestingly, in Arena’s procedurally generated game world, every city had vast suburbs, even small towns with sparse services, that served no other purpose than to make the world feel big. It was there; there was no reason to go there, but if you wanted to, it was there and you could. Eventually just knowing it was there sufficed. So, in the meantime, I’m going to just tell myself that there’s an expansive city just outside the unopenable main gate of Mournhold, and continue to quest in the dungeon-city, thankful that at least Barenziah’s castle in Morrowind is not nonsensical labyrinth that the one in Wayrest was.

And maybe I’ll fill in some of those empty levels along the way.

P – Paptimus Scirocco & the PMX-003 “The O”

There were several villains at the head of several factions in Zeta Gundam, but one of the most impressive was the dashing Paptimus Scirocco. While the Jupiter Fleet was a relatively small faction during the Gryps War and the conflict for supremacy over the Earthsphere and Space, they had a number of huge advantages which made them a deciding factor in the outcome of the various arcs that came together at the end of Zeta.

"Ladies, have I mentioned I will let you use my experimental prototype mobile armors?"

“Ladies, have I mentioned I will let you use my experimental prototype mobile armors?”

The Jupiter Fleet had been absent, on their mission to mine Jupiter gas, during the One Year War. They arrived back in Earth orbit at a time in which their strength would be sufficient to act as “kingmaker” among the battered warring factions. Scirocco uses this to pull a major coup and and become the defacto head of the Titans. Most importantly, Scirocco was a brilliant mech designer who developed ultra-high-powered custom Mobile Suits optimized for use in Jupiter’s gravity well. Needless to say, these mech are big and fast and monstrous. The PMX-000 Messala, the PMX-001 Pallas Athena, and the PMX-002 Bolinoak Sammahn were all forces to be reckoned with, but were eventually handed down to the various female pilots Scirocco had seduced to his cause. Why? Because he had The O.

"Why Hello There!"

“Why Hello There!”

The O was big and bulky looking, but the thing was fast, tough, and fought like a damn Asura with its quad beam sabres.

The O had a fusion reactor with 1840 kW output, 1.57G max thrust, 4 0.39 MW beam sabers, and a 2.6 MW rapid recharge beam rifle. It was equipped with an advanced psychommu bio-feedback control system.

Spoiler: even though the hero is able to beat this thing, it manages to fry his brain and turn him into an invalid in the process.

Shadow Over Alfheim

So, the 3.5e Gestalt campaign seems to be sputtering out, giving me the opportunity to swoop in and run some B/X dungeon crawls. In honor and maybe memorium of the stalled Shadow Over Beryl campaign, I’m calling this Shadow Over Alfheim.

I’ve pretty much just dropped a handful of OSR dungeons in a custom setting loosely based on Morgansfort, which allows me use of some of those dungeons as well as all the others. I’m trying to prepare for anything I can, since I’d like to be able to sandbox it and keep it an ‘open’ campaign, so I’ve written up rumor cards, have a location flowchart, and a nice little intro blurb:

“Alfheim lays in ruins. The humans who live there now call it the Wilds. A few coastal towns and strongholds flourish, but the shadow of bygone ages lies over the land. Those who do not live behind walls still feel the menacing presence of lingering magics and the stench of death that wafts from the old places. The Elves of Alfheim were a foul and decadent lot by the end of their history. Too much dabbling in the black arts, orgiastic debaucheries, and worship of foul unearthly powers brought a swift and unpleasant end to their dark revelries. While semi-nomadic greenskins are known to inhabit the Wilds, occassionally claiming castles, caerns and crypts as their own, the men and women who eek out their existence from the land have found that it is easier to live with their demi-human neighbors than the ghosts of the past.

Doing various odd-jobs around Portsdam may have finally paid off. Kadesh Richmond, a person of some import has caught wind of your names and contacted you via his solicitor. While his affairs keep him largely occupied in the port city at the northern edge of the Wilds, he has business interests he wishes to develop in Alfort and is seeking agents who would be willing to participate in a profitable venture. The solicitor informs you that Kadesh will cover your expenses for food and equipment as well as grant you each a retainer stipend of 100 gold per month. All you need to do is accompany a few wagons with some cargo and capital from Portsdam south to Alfort. It’s just one week, and once you reach Alfort, you’ll be given apartments, paid for by your benefactor. Once things start to solidify in Alfort, there may be more work for you.”

Here are the rumor cards:

-Some Goblins would like to set up a toll along the road between Portsdam and Alfort as it passes through their territory.
-No One has heard anything from the Village of Gernauch for a month.
-There’s enough Elf magic lying around Alfheim to destroy the world twice-over.
-It’s not the Elves you need to worry about, it’s the Gremlins.
-Alfheim is crawling with undead; they have to come from somewhere.
-The Elves of Alfheim were a completely different race of beings altogether than the “Elves”(PC elves) from across the seas.
-There are no such thing as Elves.
-There are no such thing as Vampires.
-Dozens die every year trying to explore the old fort. While the city has not outlawed attempts to explore it, they strongly recommend against it.
-If Elves could be vampires, we might all be doomed.
-Merchants would like to see Alfort build a harbor to reduce the need for using roads through Goblin territory or pass too close to Elven ruins.
-Worshipping Dark Gods may have turned Sigyfel into a Lich. True or not, Farmers around Alfort shudder when they hear his name.
-There’s a beautiful sorceress named Merilla who has a tower in the Wilds, but no one has seen her in awhile.
-There was an Elven King named Calden who once may have controlled all of Alfheim, before even Laws End Fell into decadence. His wickedness may have started Alfheim on its self-destructive decline. His tomb is somewhere deep in the wilds, but no one is sure where.
-The old Elven Town of Laws End was destroyed and cursed in some sort of Cataclysm. Its lord, an elf-mage named Nuromen, was said to be exceptionally depraved.
-Stull is an unhappy place made worse by kids who obsess over the ancient Elves.
-Milk from Zombie cows can’t be good for you.
-All of the old Elves of Alfheim are dead. Too bad they don’t stay that way.
-Too many mages in the Wilds are obsessed with old Elven magic.
-Some Punk Kid has figured out how to become a Lich.
-Some tribes of Orcs have been known to be led by women.
-Things are so bad in the Wild that there are entire plantations of undead.
-Somewhere there’s an abandoned keep where lights are seen and a strange gibbering noise fills the valley at night.
-There’s a haunted tomb just Northwest of Alfort.

I’m also using Zenopus Archives’ Adventurer/class packs (or at least a variation on them) to help quickstart everyone’s characters.

N – Necromancy

Necromancy is one of the greatest failings as a system of magic and a systematic explanation for things in the world in Dungeons & Dragons. One of the general rules of world creation is that the world must follow a set of rules which, while not necessarily realistic, must be at least internally consistent. And this goes for systems of magic. Indeed, one of the biggest complaints about the Harry Potter setting is lackadaisical way that magic works: it is apparently science enough that it may be taught in schools, but it adheres to no actual consistent system that might explain the various hows and whys. Contrast that with Earthsea, in which magic, while powerful and mysterious, in its own way adheres to Newtonian physics: matter, while transmutable, can neither be created or destroyed, for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and, as the world is all interconnected, magic must be used judiciously because using it affects the flow of matter and energy in nature and the world.

What does this have to do with Necromancy in Dungeons & Dragons? Necromancy, except, so I hear, in various splatbooks, is one of the least practical and slowest to develop schools of magic. It takes a tremendous amount of power (and levels) to begin creating even small amounts of basic undead. The problem is that Dungeons & Dragons takes place in a world where low-level undead are as plentiful as anything else, as though Necromancy resembled its Diablo II representation rather than the hard and fast rules presented in the assorted rule books.

Necromancy in D&D is largely non-functional for Player Characters, and NPCs often do not get justification for their powers. Not their character sheet or stat-block powers, but their powers in terms of strength, resources and undead man-power. A clerical necromancer could take control of a small army of existing undead, but the problem remains of how they got there in the first place. It’s just that the necromantic powers spelled out in the book just simply cannot explain or account for the necromancy within the setting. And that’s a problem. If D&D were a more flexible system, it would be easier to hand-wave, but it IS a concrete set of rules and the world should be able to conform to those rules or be explainable in some terms by them.

I think that one of the reasons why Liches in B/X (BECMI, actually) are so terribly out of sorts is because Mentzer made them powerful enough to mechanically justify the vast armies of undead they surely control. But let’s face it, individuals of levels that high simply don’t exist in most game worlds. Campaign Mastery at one point did a breakdown of how many individuals of various levels would exist within certain populations. I’d link it, but my web filter at work blocks them. But suffice to say that you’d meet very few individuals in the world with the power to actually create enough undead to account for their population in game worlds, never-mind their distribution.

One game system where Necromancy also works strangely is the Elder Scrolls games. Sure there are ‘necromancers’ but necromancy isn’t really a proper school of magic. And undead are not created, but rather ‘gated’ in via conjuration. This has to do more with gameplay and story separation. In Morrowind, the undead tend to be animated constructs rather than true undead. The only true undead in Morrowind are aethereal in nature (ancestral ghosts, dwarven spectres, etc.). Aside from the fact that there are no in-game ways to follow the proscriptions for the creation of animate dead, it’s still relatively consistent with the story descriptions of how necromancy works. There are even instructions on what NOT to do when preparing corpses for animation. Why the comparison with D&D? Because Necromancy is just a flavor of magic, rather than an actual school. Yet in the game system where there is an actual school, it feels more like just a flavor of magic. The difference is, in Morrowind, you know that there are individuals with those powers described, you simply don’t have/use/have the ability to acquire them; it’s simply a case of a disconnect between story and gameplay that has plenty of plausible, if not specifically spelled out, justification as to why that separation exists. In Dungeons & Dragons, the powers are just not there in the rules period. It requires assumptions to be made that things occur outside of the scope of the rules. Which is fine and well, but the important part is that YOU MUST MAKE IT CONSISTENT FOR YOUR WORLD.

So long as you can come up with a consistent explanation for why necromancy works the way it does in your setting despite the rules saying otherwise, you can make it work.

Personally, I like idea of accursed undead: places where a) really bad things happened and b) powerful magic items have remained for a long period of time would tend to be places where undead would ‘naturally’ occur. Of course this has another interesting implication: undead might be well likely to have powerful magic items. I like the idea that magic items have some intelligence to them. They might want to be protected or test worthy owners. Hence the undead act to guard and serve as a test for those who might want to acquire those items. Or the magic of the weapons simply runs of and mixes with the feelings and sufferings and anger of the inhabitants, and they are driven to rise and roam in that familiar place. Whatever. Run with what you like. Just make it make sense!

 

I might note that traffic has been down somewhat despite an inflated post count.  I could attribute this to everyone being so busy with writing their own A-to-Z blogs that no one has time to read very many others, or there’s just a general drop-off of interest in Cirsova in general.  Are there any topics anyone would be interested in this May?  Any topics that might be driving traffic away?  

M – Microscope: Crystal Ships of Elloran

Microscope is a world-building storytelling game which, while it stands alone just fine, is also excellent for quick setting-creation on the fly. All you need is a group of creative people and a LOT of post-it notes or index cards. The game begins with everyone going around the table and defining the parameters of the world. This is done by adding concepts or banning concepts. For instance, an added concept would be “This world has sentient talking animals”. A banned concept would be “This world has not advanced beyond the Iron Age.” After the parameters of the world are established, each player takes a turn being the “Lens” the Lens defines an era, an event or a scene that occurs within the world. The players then go around the table adding to that concept to flesh it out until it gets back to the Lens who does sort of close-out on concept. Then everyone goes around again, adding a “legacy” of how that period ties into other periods and aspects of the world, its history and its future. Rinse and repeat until everyone has had a chance to be the “lens”. You can go as long as you want, but with a big group, once around the table gets you a pretty good world.

Now, as mentioned, the game stands alone, and the idea is to just make unique and interesting fantasy worlds. But it’s excellent, as the following session’s results hopefully illustrate, in conjunction with a role-playing game because you get a unique gaming setting in a fairly short amount of time (3 hours yielded us the subsequent setting) that everyone at the table is already familiar with and invested in. The rest of this post is a description of the world we came up with the other night (by the time this gets posted, a few weeks ago) as an excercise to help someone who wanted to run a game come up with some ideas for his world. Personally, I’m super excited at the idea of playing a game in this world.

So, without further ado, here is a summary (to the best of my memory, there may be a few points I forgot to include) of the world of Elloran:

Elloran is:
-a predominantly water-covered world with several small islands and sea-faring cultures.
-two moons with opposite orbits
-ships made of volcanic glass
-mythology of man being born from the volcanoes
-talking animals
-fish people
-small but powerful and potentially dangerous mage-race
-The first known mage was a young man named Golgaronak on one of the volcanic islands. During a ritual of sacrifice, he was the first to return from the depths of the volcano (it becomes later tradition that all true mages must complete a ritual ‘baptism by fire’ of descending into a volcano and returning, though some frauds will lie about this and other cultures will bowdlerize it, such as simply walking on coals). The people fear him and make him their king. He constructs a fabulous palace filled with all manners of wealth astounding contraptions powered by magic and the geothermal energy of the island. However Golgaronak fears that his heirs may supplant him if they have powers as well. His first children, twins, are sent to the volcano to die. One dies, the other returns, placing a hex upon him that he may kill no more children. From then on, Golgaronak sends his children into exile across the seas, accompanied by a guardian, rather than killing them. This is how magic spreads throughout the world, with almost all mages able to trace their lineage back to Golgaronak. Some of these mages follow in their father’s footsteps, but most become helpful and sage advisors devoted to making their new homelands better and happier places. After Golgaronak’s death, his kingdom is left without magic and sinks into decadent ruin. Here, magic is feared and despised.

-A hermit teaches animals to speak. These animals eventually learn to teach other animals to speak, and some animals become civilized. It becomes against the law in most kingdoms to kill and eat a talking animal. Talking animals establish their own unique cultures with their own laws & prejudices. Some who are able to take up maritime trade.

-At the bottom of the ocean, an intelligent race of fish people see the glass boats, and think them to be vessels of the gods. The surface world is seen to them as a sort of heaven, and therefore the surface dwellers must be gods. The fish people develop suits from shark-leather and metals (worked with great difficulty in the forges of volcanic vents) to visit the surface and bring gifts, largely in the form of metal ores, to the gods seeking favor. Most of humanity warily accept the gifts, but are unable to successfully communicate with the fish-folk. Goblins, however, establish significant trade with the fish-folk, taking the ores, smelting and refining them, and exchanging finished metal goods to the fish-folk for ores. Subsequently, Goblins end up with a technological and material advantage over the other races. Additionally, the fish-folk know a certain secret of magic, which becomes a dark legend among those who would listen: while magic is typically passed at birth from parent to child, it also may be transferred by the consumption of mage-flesh. This leads to the practice of symbolic rituals among ‘good’ mages and diablerie among ‘bad’ mages. Mages who are not descended from Golgaronak may have, or their forebears may have, acquired their powers by the consumption of mage-flesh. Predatory talking animals who have heard this legend sometimes seek out and devour mages: those who do become were-creatures with magic powers.

-Rivalries between human and animal traders escalate into full-scale trade wars. Competition for shipping lanes sometimes becomes violent. An arms race ensues, and the goblins are ready to profit from the development of more powerful sea vessels. The sight of crystal ships shattering against the prows of enemy warships becomes something of terrifying legend. The fish-folk become disillusioned with the surface world and doubt the divinity of the surface dwellers. They largely restrict their trade to the goblin-folk.

-King Steven’s country, one of the larger islands, has been out of touch with the rest of the world after a long age of isolation during which no transoceanic ship voyages take place, as the island was self sufficient. During the trade wars, the kingdom becomes ‘rediscovered’ by the rest of the world, and King Steven proclaims an age of exploration, sending out the call for shipwrights to build new ships and for adventurers to man them. During this time, talking messenger birds become in vogue in the kingdom. This, however, creates something of a schism among birds, and many would like to see the fall of man. An edict of warning meant for the king’s enemies is taken by a treacherous messenger bird to the Red Wizard; the bird tells the wizard it is from his rival, the Blue Wizard. The Red Wizard is obsessed with the legend of Golgaronak, and wishes to resurrect the magic kingdom with himself at the head. He seeks to make alliance with the goblins, who have the raw materials to realize the physical technology needed, and the fish-folk, whose lore may be useful. He kidnaps the Blue Wizard’s apprentice and has his crows eat the mage’s eyes. The crows can now spy on the Blue Wizard, having the power of mage-flesh and the sight of the apprentice. The Blue Wizard sends out a plea for aid to heroes throughout the world, because he foresees a great Wizard War brewing.

It should be noted that the original concept for the world was going to be something fairly whimsical, with fun, magic and talking animals. Before the darker elements were added, the rivalry of the Red and Blue wizard started out as simply as fighting (in a bidding war) over who would purchase the whole stock of imported apples. Then the ‘wizard war’ really kicked things up a notch when the Red Wizard murders the Blue Wizard’s apprentice. Also of note, the shorthand used for the maritime talking animal traders was ‘Furnecian’.

Now, here are a few warnings about Microscope: this is NOT a game you’d want to play with just anyone. If you have a good group of creative friends who are dedicated to coming up with beautiful and truly unique fantasy worlds to play around it, this game can be great fun. But if you are playing with people who just want to make up something as crazy and outrageous as possible, you can end up with some pretty awful and uncomfortable experiences. This was my first game, so I had a really good experience with it, but I’ve heard tales of sessions of candyland nazis with dog-people concubines. There is someone in my town’s gaming community who I could totally hear saying “The world is made entirely of dicks!” Do yourself a huge favor and don’t play this game with dude-bros. Unless you are a dude-bro who is comfortable in your bromosexuality, in which case, dude-bro away.

Microscope on Amazon.

Microscope Home.

L – Lulwy

Lulwy is the goddess of wind, air and archery in the free roguelike game ELONA (Eternal League of Nefia).  The wind is a harsh mistress.  Literally.  She’s kind of an evil dom, but that’s to be expected in a world where the wind is a bringer of death, disease, and horrid mutation brought on by the Ether of the Vindale Forests.  Worshiping her has its advantages, particularly since her domain is speed.  There are a lot of things in Elona that you will want to run away very quickly from.

Chara_393-426_lulwy