Monday, January 9, 2023

Disconnected Thoughts on Running Medieval Settings

Reposting a reply to someone who asked for tips and advice running a Cthulhu Dark Ages game. These were written with the idea of a medieval mystery game in mind, but I think they apply equally to pretty much anything trying to capture a medieval vibe.

1. All institutions are persons. The level of bureaucracy and institutional inertia we're used to in the modern era could only be *dreamed* of. The rules are *never* blindly enforced, and the systems in place to argue about them are incredibly complex compared to our expectations. 

2. Labour is expensive, and preserving it is everyone's reflexive top priority. As much as the life of a peasant seems degraded to us, the entire system exists to keep people able to make food, and the margins for error for even a king are razor-thin compared to now. 

3. Points 1 and 2 mean everyone is very aware of their debts and obligations in keeping everyone around them alive, and their reliance on the fulfillment of those debts and obligations by others. If one person in a village dies, it's everyone's business.

4. The world is alive. This might seem odd, since we're not used to the idea of medieval Christianity as "animistic," but the reality is that the medieval mind treated the entire cosmos as hylozoic — they describe physics, geology, weather, everything in terms we would reserve for plants and animals. 

5. Life is mysterious, and mysterious forces surround everything. A tree grows from an acorn; a child from its mother; a corpse births the worms and flies of corruption. It is not weird to assume that a child born under a particular star-sign will have some traits, for the fixed and wandering stars scribe the cycle of the seasons themselves upon the heavens.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Space23 Table Ideas

Someone was talking about alternatives to 'rooms' for an SF-based version of the dungeon23 project, so here's a table of options when you're out of obvious ideas:

Roll 1d6:
1. technological item.
(not necessarily a new technology, but an existing technology used in a setting-specific way. example: ferengi tooth-sharpeners.)
2. ideology. (a belief, either a whole structure or a common opinion or narrative about something in the setting, with an idea of who holds it and why)
3. accident or sudden event. (industrial accident, vehicle crash, disease, toxic chemical release, or just the result of systemic negligence.)
4. minor NPC. ('person-on-the street' npcs for various common locations --- starports, colonies, underhives, ancient low berth colony ships, etc)
5. cargoes. (something carried from one place to another, i.e. *why* a spaceship exists).
6. roll again: 1-4 non-intelligent life form and it's environment adaption/niche; 5 non-generalized robot (like an automatic checkout, roomba, or car assembly robot); 6 specialist program in starship/starport/local planetary networks.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Colossi Takes (Sessions 1 - 4)

I should really be writing here more, given that I’m running two games. I somehow managed to post nothing for the entirety of 2020, but given that it was 2020, who could blame me? 

Anyway, here’s two session takes from Nightwick: Isle of Colossi, which I’ll explain at some point.

The Choir, the Llady, Sir Miquelo, Nestorios Parsimonios
Treasure: 2 gold collars (10 gp each), 2 gold armbands (30 gp each), 1 gold necklace (30 gp), 8 gold necklaces (8 gp each), 1 golden chain (60 gp), 1 jewelled golden belt buckle (80 gp), 1 ancient crown (250 gp), 1 mysterious reddish-copper circlet (magical?)
XP: 269 each.

The Choir, the Llady, Sir Miquelo (Pt I only), Nestorios Parsimonios
Treasure: None
XP: 296, except for Sir Miquelo, who receives 142.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Two Nightwick-Inspired Campaign Ideas

One of the challenges I often face when designing D&D campaigns is what I refer to as "the whole deal." Even if I'm starting a campaign with a small hexmap or a single dungeon, I get stymied when figuring out the rationale for default D&Disms like elves, orcs, and the various kinds of magic. I might post more about this later, but the TL;DR here is that, to solve this problem, I often develop campaign ideas starting from games I've played in. Here are two ideas I have that have originated with the Nightwick campaign run by Evan of In Places Deep.

The Corpse-City of Kar Hadash
Setting: The ruined city of Kar Hadash, on the coast of the Desert Lands, far southwest of Nightwick Abbey.
Vibe: Ruined city megadungeon in a late medieval southeastern mediterranean

Centuries ago, the Lawful Empire of Man invaded the isle later known as Zenopolis and deposed the cruel dynasty which was preeminent amongst the isle’s kings. The last survivors of the dynasty fled with their secret treasures across the sea to the Desert Lands. There, they founded Kar Hadash, the ‘new city,’ and brooded over their plans for revenge and supplicated their demonic masters for foul boons. It became a pirate port and den of wickedness renowned the world over. It is no wonder, then, that it was one of the first places laid waste by the crusading Sword Brothers.

For centuries afterward, the city was a charnel house and dwelling place of naught but ghouls, but now rumours of resurgent cults, strange prophecies amongst the desert tribes, and piratical pretenders to the ancient throne have drawn a new generation of crusaders and tomb-robbers to the dead city.

Raiders of the Lost Empire
Setting: Atalia, the Desert Lands, and isles of the Starry Sea ~1400 years before the Nightwick Abbey campaign
Vibe: Sword and Sorcery Rome in the age of the Crisis of the Third Century.

The revelations of the Empress have transformed the Empire. The miracles of those initiated by Gax Ovo have transformed the world. As those who hear the holy thrumming Law and those who hew to the Old Gods (and worse) split the empire in revolt and revolution, the ancient temples and nemetons of ages forgotten are ripe for overthrow and plunder. Noble zealots and ignoble vandals seek out the treasure-vaults of the Empire’s Old Gods — Orcus Oath-binder, Apollo Far-shooter, Hermes Soul-taker — and try to stay out of the way of the clashing legions of the riven Empire.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Xothesque Adventurer Origins

The adventurers who delve into the mysterious Black Pharos come from to Yond on the continent of Gnydron from across the wide oceans. Roll 1d20 to determine where your character hails from:

Xothesque Origins (1d20)
1: Western Archipelago. Lying amidst the Black Current that flows between Zothique and Gnydron, these islands are inhabited by pirate clans, exiles from the mainlands, and hidden devotees of disreputable gods.
2: Naat, the Funereal Isle. The home of ancient orders of catacomb-dwelling monks, defending their charges against jungle-dwelling anthropophages.
3-6 Xylac. A breakaway maritime province of Cincor, whose mercantile triremes travel to all quarters of the world from the ports of Mirouane and Oroth.
7-9 Cincor. An ancient and shrinking empire centred on the tomb-girt plain city of Yethlyreom.
10-11 Ilcar. Northern Cincorcian suzerainty of rock-carven towns in mountainous plateaus.
12-13 Tasuun. Desertified remnant of the sorcerous empire of Ossaru, which once stretched to the western sea.
14-15 Yoros. Southern Cincorian suzerainty of warm, fragrant forests and wide, fertile river deltas.
16 Cyntrom. Large island of petty lowland kingdoms and fractious hill clans.
17-18 Calyz. A rich eastern kingdom ruled from the high-domed palaces of Shathair.
19 Far Isles. Fabled Uccastrog, Sotar, and other, legendary islands of the Orient Sea.
20 Stranger Lands. Gnydron is more subject to incursions of "outsideness" than any former terrene realm; and more liable to the visitation of beings from galaxies not yet visible; also, to shifting admixtures and interchanges with other dimensions or planes of entity.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Red Manse of Oumkha

Those adventurers who seek the mysteries of the Pharos strike out from the Red Manse of Oumkha, a paltry oasis of humanity within the eerie vastation of Yond. Its crumbling reddish-ochre walls date from the rule of the devil-kings of the Pharos, when it served as the dwelling-place of some unknown viceroy, warlord, or hierophant. It is only one of the ruins ringing the outer approaches of the Pharos, but gained notoriety amongst the Yondorkandi as the dwelling place of the madman Oumkha, once apprentice of the doomed Arbaz who disappeared in the shadow of the Pharos.

A few years ago, the heterodox, vermillion-robed Daughters of the Maugourah came to reside there, beginning to clear the rubble and replace ruined stone with wood and brick. The sisterhood persevered in the midst of the prowling horrors of the wastes, and since then, the Red Manse became a stopping-place for the exiles and wanderers who people the region, eventually taking on the quality of a small market village.

More recently, a soubashi of the far city of Aburuz has arrived with a troop of guards, dispatched to assert the authority of that city over the settlement of the Manse. He wisely does not press the issue with the locals, and spends most of his time in some (relatively) palatial tents outside the Manse.

The Manse itself is built around two courtyards. The southern, fountain courtyard is where newcomers water their animals, and is overlooked by the apartments converted into the House of the Magourah. This section, except the old shacks clustering around the south side of the House, is closed to outsiders. The northern market atrium, once a tiled garden, is now filled with the tents and shacks of scavengers and craftsmen.

The manse is bisected by a large passageway, connecting the fountain courtyard to the market atrium and the road north, and a smaller passageway east to west, dividing the market atrium from the house of the Magourah and fountain courtyard.

A berm of rammed earth stretches to the west, remnant of some fortification from past ages of Yond. The Soubashi’s tents are northeast of the market atrium, along with the ruder dwellings of the cactus-gatherers, hunters, and smiths.

Most of the population of the Manse is temporary — beggars, exiles, heretics, escaped slaves, refugees of war, criminals fleeing the law, muck-farmers, mushroom-gatherers, hunters, scavengers, dust-sifters, dew-collectors — but a few personages stand out as more constant dwellers in the Manse’s walls.

  • Sister Ouahaub is the public face of the Daughters of the Magourah, and assumed by most outsiders to be their leader. She is the one who handles the money, goods, or services the sisters charge for stays in their simple shacks.
  • Sister Amuathah is a cheery, punctilious old woman who dispenses poultices and other medicinal remedies to locals and visitors. She is frequently seen in Vosseion’s company, presumably because of the overlap in their professional interests.
  • The Soubashi is a flighty, paunchy man who was dispatched from the far city of Aburuz to ensure the dwellers of the Manse pays the Vizier their due, he has so far failed to make strong headway in the taxation department. He seems more interested in purchasing artefacts dug up by from the surrounding area.
  • Youb the wine-seller is a sun-shrivelled old man clad in faded and threadbare finery, who imports wine and other liquors from New Yondorkand, Aburuz, the nearer coasts of Cisyondic Gnydron and beyond. His product being universally popular, he often accepts payment in goods and services from the nomadic wastelanders.
  • Vosseion the apothecary, shisha-monger and tea-seller is Youb’s counterpart as another purchaser of exotic flora gathered by the wanderers of the wastes. He wears only plain black silks, and entirely depilates his pallid skin.
  • Nabrarzha the smith is a grizzled, scarred, one-eyed, seven-fingered woman who works with metals and gems. It is an open secret that she fled from the torture chambers of New Yondorkand, where she was imprisoned at the Hierarch’s pleasure over an aesthetic disagreement regarding her sculptures.
  • Among the muttering priests, fakirs and holy women who sell charms and prophecy in the market are the handful of shrine-keepers of Yugla, the ugly, laughing beetle-god. Colourful sacred beetles are fed with choice cuts of meat to gain Yugla’s favour, and their divinatory movements amongst the scattered offerings of petitioners are interpreted by the shrine-keepers in response to petitioners’ questions.

Rumours (1d20)

  1. The Red Manse is not the only ruined villa nearby. Some are nearly intact.
  2. The Pharos mutates those who linger under its mauve glow; everyone in the the Red Manse will be beast-men ere long.
  3. All the expeditions to the Pharos are cursed; those who ‘return’ from the Pharos are demons in stolen faces.
  4. The thearchs of Ong plan to conquer Yond; their spies infiltrate the Manse and New Yondorkand.
  5. Soon, the Hierarch of New Yondorkand will march on the Manse and kill them all.
  6. The food harvested from the mushroom forest to the northwest turns men to beasts.
  7. No natural beasts reside in the wastes; all are accursed former humans.
  8. The Hierarch of New Yondorkand is a demon in human guise.
  9. There is a great city of beast-men to the north. They are preparing to march on the Manse.
  10. The ancient Crown of Yond resides in some hidden tomb, still worn by the true ruler of this land.
  11. To the west is a crack in the earth which falls away into the starry sky.
  12. The Daughters of the Magourah abduct people in the night to be their lovers and slaves within hidden chambers of the Manse.
  13. The Daughters of the Magourah are the disguised handmaidens of a princess of Bel-Nahath, fled from the thearchs of Ong.
  14. Great bats fly out of the Pharos to feast on the psychical essence of humans.
  15. The Magourah is in fact a lamia, driven out of the Pharos by the inquisitors of Ong. The daughters are her mesmerized cohorts.
  16. The Pharos marks the place where the gods had wrought the world, the axis mundi, and birthing-place of Veragammata Phanes, mother of the cosmic egg.
  17. The Pharos is the tomb of Thasaii, dark god of Old Yondorkand. His devotees still hide among the peoples of Yond.
  18. The Pharos is the tomb of Thasaii, euhemerized king of primordial Yond, slayer of the dragon Thaumogorgon.
  19. The Pharos is the wick of a strange living flame that resides deep within the earth.
  20. The light of the Pharos is the lantern-light which projects the shadow-puppets of mundane reality.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Autopsy Report on an Equine Cadaver

On my last post, someone asks:

I'm curious, as I wasn't around back then- what happened in 2013 that makes you consider that about the time that the OSR died?

I peg it at 2013 because of a number of trends, most of which intersect with the mass movement to G+ space (and the forced integration of G+ and blogger) by OSR participants. 

1. Blogs.
The rate of blogging was falling dramatically in favour of G+ posting. And, by this time, many core OSR blogs and their associated communities, and blogs as a means of communicating between bloggers, had either stopped (a la Grognardia in 2012) or disappeared (a la Eiglophean Press in the late Triassic). The ones that kept posting tended to degenerate into clickbaity content-grinding (like endless d100 tables du jour or Zak’s Fiend Folio bullshit). This is partially driven by…

2. Monetization. While other people (cough Evan cough) have strong feelings on the aesthetics of the monetization of OSR blog material, I don’t really have a problem with it, but the move from posting, discussion and criticism to aggregating, publishing, and promoting dramatically changed the tone and quality of OSR discourse. Around 2013 "OSR" became a promotional term to stick on your PDF or KS to sell to the preexisting audience of blog-readers.

For one thing, tons of people seemed to shift into Consumer Mode at the drop of a hat, even when it was at odds to the very point of the shit they were reading up to that point. The central event here is everyone getting their jimmies rustled for a Dwimmermount book, despite Maliszewski specifically saying that a published megadungeons are bound to disappoint. And then when real life intruded on the (too optimistic) KS schedule, some people started flipping out and shitting on Maliszewski personally. Then someone started bitching about round numbers of coins in rooms, proving Maliszewski right… 

You can call someone’s blog post crap (and explain why) and still be friends or respected colleagues; but doing a bad review of their product (and explaining why it is) takes money (theoretically) out of their hands, hanging a sword of Damocles over presenting anyone’s real thoughts about anything publicly. And the OSR was never And people care about this more because…

3. Socialization. The faster pace of G+ commenting and the face-to-face communication of ConstantCon exposed much of the community to much more intimate scrutiny of itself than before, stripping away the emotional distance of blogging and replacing it with the awkwardness of actual speech. By 2013, what previously had been a community linked primarily by blogrolls had become more discrete sub-communities based around playing in weekly games with mostly consistent player-bases, which sorted themselves according to subsets of interests, personalities, and politics. Ideas which previously were written up in blog posts become bullshit you said at 2am to 1d6 randos across the globe. 

4. Politics. (All kinds).
With exposure to more people in more frequent and intimate ways, things about each participant in the community that never really came up in (most) blogs started to become obvious to the other participants, and around this point most people started dissociating themselves with large sections of the community based around political views — both ‘regular’ politics and internal scene politics. (I had a list of examples here, but it infuriates me still to recount them, so I will leave them mouldering in G+'s grave.) A year later, the intersection of external politics, internal politics, and another scene's internal politics gave rise to greater actual stakes for all of it. 

Disconnected Thoughts on Running Medieval Settings

Reposting a reply to someone who asked for tips and advice running a Cthulhu Dark Ages game. These were written with the idea of a medieval ...