Friday, August 19, 2016

Revising GURPS Magic, Part II - The Spells

After revising the basic rules of GURPS Magic in my previous post, let's look at the list of spells and see how we can balance them better. As before, these tweaks were initially discussed in this forum thread.

Air Spells

No-Smell: Characters in close range of the recipient of the spell who are relying exclusively on their sense of smell can still determine the target's location via a Smell-based Perception roll at a -2 penalty, by detecting eddies of other smells within the local air currents. However, even if they succeed their attack rolls will still be at a -6 penalty.

Notes: I wanted to reduce the number of automatic "I win" conditions in the spell list. This brings the effects more in line with that of invisibility (see B394) and doesn't render smell-based enemies completely helpless, though they are still at a serious disadvantage.


Concussion: Instead of doing area damage according to the rules for explosions, damage decreases by 1d for each yard of distance from the center.

Notes: The "Explosions" rule on B414 might be realistic, but by dividing the damage done by (3 x distance in yards from the center) they pretty much make all the "explosive" damage spells of GURPS Magic useless. This rules change - applied to all similar spells as well - returns the situation to the 3E rules.


Animal Spells

Spider Silk: A single strand has an effective ST of 10 plus the base energy cost paid for the spell, as well as DR 3. The caster may shoot as many strands as he has arms from a single casting of Spider Silk; calculate the total cost of the casting by adding up the total length of all strands. Resolve the attack as Rapid Fire (p. B373) with Rcl 1. The web has DR 3 and a ST of 10 plus the base energy cost paid for the spell, plus 1 ST for each additional strand.

Base Cost: Any amount up to your Magery. A base strand has a length of 5 yards, and you can extend this length by 5 yards by paying one point of energy beyond the base cost (maximum 100 yards). Half that to maintain.

Notes: The base spell is rather weak, since a normal humanoid caster with two arms can only get the web up to ST 11 even if he hits with both attacks and the target fails to dodge - which won't stop the target for long. This variant will make the spell a more attractive alternative in combat.


Partial Shapeshifting: As a clarification, unlike with Shapeshifting the continuous use of this spell does not reduce IQ unless the entire head of the caster is transformed.

Body Control Spells

Might/Grace/Vigor: The "always on" magic items for these spells are no longer permitted. Replace with "Any item; only affects the wearer." Energy cost to create is equal to that of the "staff or wand" item for these spells

Notes: Especially considering the new enchantment rules, anyone who lives in a fantasy setting where magic items can be bought and is rich will want to get the best stat-boosting items you can afford - and considering that the Wealth advantage scales geometrically, having high Wealth in order to afford stat-boosting items is a vastly better character point investment than buying up the attributes directly. With this rules change, "permanent attribute boosts" can still be modeled by combining this enchantment with the Power enchantment - but that is less problematic since Power does scale geometrically.


Enlarge/Enlarge Other: The cost increases to 10 (same to maintain). A single casting of the spell will only increase the target by +1 SM, though multiple castings stack. However, casters should note the increased costs for casting Regular spells at targets larger than SM 0 (see M11).

Notes: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers was absolutely correct in increasing the costs for this spell, but I thought that the base cost of 15 was a bit harsh. However, in order to prevent "Godzilla" incidents if someone manages to access enough energy I limited this to a stackable +1 SM per casting. This not only makes repeat casting significantly more expensive, but also creates further problems with maintaining the spell.

Communication & Empathy Spells

Sense Foes: This spell only detects plans or a desire for physical violence against the caster (which can also be directed against the group he is traveling with as a whole). Additionally, the spell is resisted by Will.

Notes: As written, this spell was absurdly powerful - especially considering that it doesn't have any prerequisites. It could be used to circumvent all sorts of courtly intrigue scenarios, simply by detecting who has "hostile intent" against the caster without allowing a resistance roll.


Sense Emotions: This spell is resisted by Will.

Notes: As with Sense Foes, permitting a resistance roll makes it somewhat more balanced.


Telepathy: Both caster and subject know the whole of each others' surface thoughts only.

Notes: The spell description states that it includes the effects of Mind Reading, which reads surface thoughts - but doesn't mention Mind Search, which allows to search for deeper memories. Even with this limitation the spell requires a lot of trust between the characters - without it, there would be no privacy left at all.


Communication: As a clarification, an audible, illusory image of the other participants in the spell appears before each participant, which can be observed and listened to by other people.

Notes: The spell description was somewhat unclear whether this was merely a projection within the minds of the participants or something that bystanders could observes, but I was swayed by the argument that both Voices and Simple Illusion were prerequisites.

Earth Spells

Seek Earth: Use the distance modifiers for Regular spells instead of long-distance modifiers. However, do not use this modifier for determining whether the success roll is a critical failure.

Notes: As written, this spells would quickly allow characters to find every significant gold, silver, mithral etc. deposit for many miles around, which would make for rather drastic changes in how prospecting and mining works in fantasy world. With Regular distance modifiers, it's still useful for detecting if there is any undiscovered gold treasure nearby, but it won't break the economy. The additional clause was needed because otherwise critical failures would occur almost constantly if no amount of the desired material is nearby.


Earth to Stone/Create Earth: As a clarification, the "Permanent" duration of these spells mean that their effects remain magical after casting - and that a "Dispel Magic" or similar effect can end them and a no-mana zone will suspend them. Additionally, if some of the magical earth or stone is broken off or otherwise removed from the bulk of the material, it loses its magical properties - transformed stone will revert into earth, and created earth will dissipate into nothing.

Notes: Create Earth is probably one of the most controversial spells in the spell list due to its ability to quickly produce metal or stoneworks and thus disrupt the economy, but I find that by thinking about the implications of its "Permanent" duration most issues can be resolved. The "no removal of the material" clause was added to further reduce their usefulness for craftsmanship.

Enchantment Spells

Talisman/Amulet: By doubling the energy cost, the provided bonus will work against all spells of an entire College.

Notes: As written, a resistance bonus against a single spell is so specific as to be almost useless, considering the sheer number of spells out there.


Penetrating Weapon: This enchantment is unavailable.

Notes: In typical fantasy campaigns, an Armor Divisor of (2) is almost always better than Puissance +1. It would be different if Hardened armor was more common, but pretty much no fantasy creatures or armor published so far has it. Rather than retrofit Hardened DR to existing creatures, it is probably best to eliminate the Penetrating Weapon enchantment.


Powerstone: Powerstones can recharge even when in close proximity to each other. However, they can only provide energy if used as "dedicated" or "exclusive" powerstones - i.e., when combined with a magic item - and never directly provide energy for the spells of a spellcaster. For an alternative, see the "Power Item" advantage at the bottom.

Notes: While the reasoning between the "powerstones cannot recharge within six feet of a larger powerstone" limitation is understandable, in the end it causes too much bookkeeping and too much keeping track of sleeping arrangements and the like. The Power Item advantage should be easier to keep track of.

Fire Spells

Resist Fire/Resist Cold: Instead of providing complete immunity to their respective element, they give the target DR 4 against that element per energy point put into the spell (half to maintain).

Notes: The core GURPS 4E rules have moved away from "complete immunity" effects, and so should spell effects.


Explosive Fireball: The damage decreases by 1d for each yard of distance from the center.

Notes: See Concussion, above.

Healing Spells

Lend Energy/Share Energy/Recover Energy: These only work for a spellcaster's Energy Reserve. A "Lend Fatigue" spell also exists (which might be limited to priest types).

Notes: It always struck me as inappropriate that mages recover Fatigue much more quickly than seasoned warriors - but then again, GURPS Magic was written before the Energy Reserve advantage was published. The way I see it, an experienced mage will primarily draw upon their Energy Reserve and use Fatigue only when the Energy Reserve is getting depleted.


Suspended Animation: Any injury will wake the character.

Notes: Considering that the spell only costs 6 energy points, there should be some mundane countermeasure.

Illusion Spells

Create Warrior: Add 1 energy to the cost to cast and maintain in order to give the warrior a full set of leather armor (DR 2) as well either a shortsword and a small shield, or a shortbow. Add 2 energy to the cost to cast and maintain in order to give the warrior a full set of scale armor (DR 4) as well as either a broadsword and a medium shield, or a longbow. The GM can permit other weapon and armor combinations for suitable energy costs.

Notes: While the basic idea of the spell is neat, needing to equip the warrior in addition to the lengthy casting time makes it almost useless in a fight.

Knowledge Spells

Aura: A spell called "Psychometry" exists which works the same as Aura, except that it examines the psychic impressions and emotional associations of an inanimate object or place.

Notes: I found the absence of such a spell a curious oversight - while "History" comes close, it doesn't fulfill the same function. And what's the point of playing a diviner if you can't say things like: "I get baaad vibes from this place..."?

Making and Breaking Spells

Explode: The fragmentation damage of the spell is [1d] ([1d+2] for double energy cost) regardless of the number of damage dice dealt to the initial object. Furthermore, the damage dealt by the individual fragments cannot exceed half of the hit points of the destroyed object, rounded down (see the "HP and DR of Objects and Cover" table on B557). As a clarification, the maximum range of the fragments depends on the damage dice dealt to the destroyed object (compare with the fragmentation damage rules on B414) - that is, five yards times the damage dice.

Notes: In my previous campaigns we assumed that the damage dealt by the fragments was equal to the damage dealt to the object. As a result, Explode was basically the IED spell, perfect for slaughtering small armies - a favorite was to combine it with Delay on a small object and then teleport it into an enemy camp. However, after re-reading the rules for fragmentation damage I noticed that explosives that cause it generally have separate damage values for the direct hit and the fragments, and applying that principle to this spell gives much more reasonable effects - although the spell is still very useful for injuring lots of people. The damage limitation based on the exploding object's hit points was added in order to prevent the old "exploding pebble" trick.

For your convenience, I have created a table showing the correlation between the effective skill of the fragment and the average number of hits. The distances assume a SM 0 target that is not prone or behind cover.


Meta Spells

Counterspell, Great Ward, Reflect, Suspend Spell, Ward: These benefit from the "Improved Counterspelling" perk, described below.

Mind Control Spells

Wisdom: Replace the "always on" item with: "Any item. Allows the wearer to cast the spell on himself. Energy cost to create: 2,000."

Notes: See the discussion about Vigor/Grace/Might earlier.

Movement Spells

Levitation: If cast on himself, it limits the caster's Dodge as if his Speed was 3.00. A "Dodge and Drop" is possible at the caster's normal Dodge, but it cancels the Levitation spell (costing the usual 1 FP in the process, as well as possibly causing falling damage).

Notes: The spell description doesn't specify this, but it makes sense that a relatively slow and clumsy flight spell like Levitation would hamper a character's Dodge.


Wallwalker: Cost changes to "1 per 100 pounds, half that to maintain". Furthermore, the -2 penalty to combat can be bought off for individual combat skills as a Hard technique.

Notes: It wasn't clear why Wallwalker should be more expensive than Levitation, despite Levitation being more versatile - so I made Wallwalker cheaper.


Lockmaster: This spell specifically disables magical locks and does not assist with opening mundane locks.

Notes: Otherwise it would make mundane Lockpicking skills redundant, which would be boring.

Necromancy Spells

Steal Energy: This spell works on characters' Energy Reserve. A "Steal Fatigue" variant exist which drains Fatigue.


Zombie: As a clarification, despite what M10 implies, this spell does not have a "Permanent" duration and Dispel Magic doesn't destroy zombies - instead it effectively has an "Instant" duration which just happens to create a new magical creature. Corpses reanimated with this spell gain the "Brawling" skill equal to their DX, if they don't have it already. Furthermore, a "Dread Zombie" variant spell exists with a base cost of 30 which adds +3 ST, +2 HP and +2 DR to the relevant template. Such undead have their appearance altered by the stronger necromantic energies - glowing eyes, black mists surrounding their bones, and so forth.

Notes: As zombies and their ilk are undead abominations hating all life, I find it appropriate to give them some actual skill in combat for free. The "Dread Zombie" variant spell is intended if a necromancer has access to some special corpses of powerful people - say, dead adventurers - which would be wasted on an ordinary Zombie spell.


Banish: A successful roll with an appropriate Hidden Lore skill should give the caster a good idea of the approximate casting cost for this spell on a particular entity.

Plant Spells

Heal Plant: This works only on inanimate and non-sapient plants - for other types of plants the spells of the Healing College are required.

Notes: By the rules as written you could cast Plant Form Other on someone and turn them into a tree, cast Heal Plant on them, and once the former spell ends they are completely healed, no matter how badly injured or diseased they were before! Only the general reluctance of the player characters to spend any time as a tree prevented this trick from being used more often in my old campaign.

Protection & Warning Spells

Missile Shield: Instead of providing complete immunity from missiles, this spell reduces the effective skill of the attacker by -1 for each energy point put into the spell, up to a maximum of five energy points. Half to maintain.

Notes: Missile Shield, as written, is possibly the spell I hate the most - it represents the most absurd "total immunity" effect available, and combined with a Levitation or Flight spell makes the caster completely immune to any mundane reprisals from the ground. The new version is still very useful (and doesn't require the mage to be aware of the attack, as it should be), but the mage still shouldn't taunt an entire battalion of archers, or a master marksman.

Water Spells

Resist Acid: Instead of providing complete immunity, the spell provides DR 4 against acid damage for each energy point put into the spell. Half that to maintain

Weather Spells

Resist Lightning: Instead of providing complete immunity, the spell provides DR 4 against electricity damage for each energy point put into the spell. Half that to maintain.

Explosive Lightning: The damage is reduced by 1d-1 for each yard of distance from the center of the explosion.

Ball of Lightning: The damage is reduced by 1d-1 for each yard of distance from the center of the explosion.

New Advantage - Power Item

A spellcaster can dedicate one item he owns as a Power Item. This is essentially an Energy Reserve (see GURPS Powers, p. 119) with appropriate Gadget limitations (B116), as well as any other limitations the GM permits. The exact form of the Power Item depends on the style and preference of the spellcaster (a wand for a wizard, a holy symbol for a priest and so forth), but the maximum amount of energy a Power Item can hold depends on its mundane value, as outlined on p. 28 of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers. However, unlike the Dungeon Fantasy variant, this type of Power Item will recharge on its own according to the usual rules for Energy Reserves (take note of the Slow Recharge/Special Recharge on p. 119 of GURPS Powers). If the spellcaster has an "internal" Energy Reserve of his own, this internal reserve will always recharge first.

Notes: As outlined earlier, this is intended to replace classical powerstones as a reserve of energy. The Dungeon Fantasy notion of linking the maximum capacity of the item to its mundane value is a good one, but forcing the caster to return to town in order to recharge it doesn't sit quite right with me. Furthermore, adding new limitations to the Power Item can be used for some interesting concepts. Want a Power Item which has to be bathed in the blood of sacrificial victims in order to be recharged? Now you can!

New Magic Perk

Improved Counterspelling: This perk can be taken once for each College of magic, and requires that the character knows six spells from that college. A spellcaster with this perk can use Counterspell, Great Ward, Reflect, Suspend Spell and Ward for all spells of this college, whether the caster knows the spells being affected or not.

Notes: Needing to know the individual spells that need to be countered is a huge weakness of the assorted warding/counterspelling spells. This perk should make them significantly more useful without being unbalancing.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Revising GURPS Magic, Part I - The Rules

GURPS 4E has published a large number of systems for magic over the years. My own personal favorite, however, remains the standard GURPS Magic system, largely because of its huge number of spells which cover most standard fantasy magic effects.

But that doesn't mean that this system is not without its problems. In fact, the book is somewhat notorious because it was rushed out for publication without proper playtesting early in the 4E product lifecycle when Steve Jackson Games still wanted to "publish one hardcover a month", a policy they have long since given up on in preference of smaller PDF supplements. Certain spells are rather unbalancing, and it is my impression from several high-powered campaigns I have participated in (ranging up to 500 character points and involving as much as Magical Aptitude 20) that the system will break down at higher power levels.

However, it is my opinion that the system is not unsalvagable, and I have developed a number of changes (originally discussed on this forum thread) which I believe will address most of my problems. I haven't actually tested most of them yet, so any feedback is appreciated!

Let's start with the overall rules of the magic system before delving into the individual spell descriptions. All page references refer to GURPS Magic unless stated otherwise.

Principles of Magic

Casting Spells (p.7-10):

1. The "Alternate Magic Rituals" rule on p. 9 is not optional. Furthermore, using these alternate rituals requires special Magical Perks, described later.

2. Higher spell skill levels do not longer automatically reduce energy cost or time required to cast. Instead, a mage can accept a penalty to the effective spell skill level:

-3 for each point of energy cost reduction
-3 for each halving of the casting time (requires the "Quickened Casting" perk, below)

3. The effective spell skill level is further reduced by the number and type of spell maintained. This penalty is called the “Maintenance Penalty” and calculated as follows:

-3 for each spell that requires concentration, -1 for other spells
-1 for each point of energy cost reduction of maintained spells (up to the maximum cost reduction at the time of casting). For example, reducing the maintenance cost for a spell by 2 would add -2 to the Maintenance Penalty, and it would only be possible if the caster took a penalty of -6 or more to the initial casting roll in order to reduce the energy cost.

4. If some effect "attacks" the spell (such as Dispel Magic), then the spell "resists" with the unmodified spell skill level minus the Maintenance Penalty.


Notes: In one of the campaigns I played in, the spellcasters managed to get starting spell skill values of 30 or even 35 thanks to Magical Aptitude 20, allowing them to maintain numerous protective and boost spells for free. This variant forces mages to be more selective with the spells that they maintain, while still making high skill levels useful. Furthermore, it eliminates the "threshold skill levels" - with the default system, a spell skill value of 15 is much more useful than one of 14, a skill value of 20 is much more useful than one of 19, and so forth.


Magic Items

Magic Item enchantment generally works as described under "Quick and Dirty Enchantments" (p. 17), requiring one hour per 100 energy points. However, instead of requiring fatigue or similar energy resources, enchantment consumes "Enchantment Materials". Depending on the particular campaign, there might be "universal enchantment materials", enchantment materials for a specific college, or even materials unique to a particular enchantment. However, whatever they form they should cost approximately the same as what a professional enchanter asks for each energy point of a "Slow and Sure Enchantment" - in other words, $33 in typical TL3 fantasy worlds (see "The Economics of Enchantment", p. 21). It should be assumed that major enchanting circles/guilds can acquire such materials with significant bulk discounts that ensure their profits.

Notes: The existing "Slow and Sure Enchantment" rules basically required an enchanter to drop out of adventuring for months or years for serious projects, and thus effectively limited this to NPCs only. I wanted to make the Enchantment College to be useful for player characters as well without unbalancing it.

If someone tries to enchant an item which already has one or more enchantments on it, then the enchanter has -1 to their effective enchanting skill for each existing enchantment. Improving a "leveled" enchantment like "Puissance" does not count as an additional enchantment for this purpose.

Notes: If an enchanter has the required resources, making a "combination item" with lots of enchantments and high levels of the Power and Speed enchantments is very effective, as these will benefit all other enchantments on the item. I wanted to make this combination considerably more difficult without making it impossible.

New Magical Perks

The following new perks are available for mages.

Emphatic Casting
By being loud and emphatic with the incantations and body movements and doubling casting time, the caster gets +1 to his effective skill.

Hands-free Casting
Requires "One-Hand Casting.  Allows casting without hand movements, for a -4 penalty

One-Handed Casting
Allows casting spells with one hand, for a -2 penalty

Quickened Casting
Reduces casting time by half, for a -3 penalty. This is subject to the usual limitations on magic rituals (see p. 8).

Still Casting
Allows casting without foot movements, for a -2 penalty

Soft-Voiced Casting
Allows casting spells while speaking softly, for a -2 penalty.

Silent Casting
Requires "Soft-Voiced Casting". Allows casting without incantations, for a -2 penalty


Coming up next: The spells!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Dungeon Masters Guild is an awesome deal for would-be Forgotten Realms publishers



The big news in gaming this week is that Wizards of the Coast have finally released their updated Open Gaming License for D&D 5th Edition. Since they promised that they would do something like that, this was not totally unexpected, even though many of us had given up hope by now.

What was totally unexpected is the announcement of the Dungeon Masters Guild, an online market place for fan-created D&D material. It's basically a subsite of DriveThruRPG, and for the privilege of publishing there they (that is, DriveThruRPG and Wizards of the Coast) keep 50% of the revenue, with the other 50% going to the publisher. Here are some details on how it works.

That in itself would deserve a big "meh" from publishers, since the standard deal offered by DriveThruRPG for site-exclusive publication is that DriveThruRPG keeps 30% while the publisher gets 70% of the revenues. However, there is one important difference:

The Dungeon Masters Guild allows you to publish and sell new Forgotten Realms material.
File:New Forgotten Realms logo.png
Think about it. In the old days, if you wanted to publish Forgotten Realms material and get paid for it you would first have to make a name for yourself to get a commission from Wizards of the Coast, or submit something to Dragon or Dungeon magazine and hope you get accepted. Now you can just write about whatever Forgotten Realms-related topic you want and publish it instantly with the Dungeon Masters Guild without any kind of formal submission process where the content has to be reviewed by the under-staffed offices at Wizards of the Coast.

Yes, they reserve the right to pull products that are "offensive or pornographic", but I consider that to be a standard "anti-asshole" clause. Treat the IP with respect, and it is unlikely that they will go after you (though if your publication is nothing more than a long, graphic description of how Elminster is stabbed to death, you have no one but yourself to blame if it is pulled. Not that I believe the guy deserves that...). And again, this review is reactive, not proactive - your product will go live as soon as you publish it, and it is likely that Wizards of the Coast will only become active if they receive complaints about your work.

Given that Wizards of the Coast gives you permission to use their biggest sub-IP of the Dungeons & Dragons brand and make money from it, the added 20% of the revenue they ask for really is not very unreasonable. In fact, I consider it very generous - most freelancers working for publishers get paid significantly less.

An added wrinkle is that your work can be expanded upon by other Dungeon Masters Guild publishers, though they do encourage contributors to give proper credit to other people's work. They might also consider including your work into the Forgotten Realms "canon", though that will require a separate deal and is not automatic. The closest comparison I can come up with is how Disney, upon the acquisition of Lucasfilm, declared the Star Wars "Expanded Universe" to be "Legends" material - non-canon, though something that they can draw upon for added material and ideas at need (as it has happened quite a few times in Star Wars: Rebels). With this setup, they can observe what fan works are popular and use them as ideas for future "official" Forgotten Realms material (assuming they get the author's permission) - a good situation for both authors and Wizards of the Coast.

Don't get me wrong - if you have your own setting and your own rules material that isn't related to the Forgotten Realms, you should stick to the OGL which gives you more freedom for publications. But if you do want to write for the Forgotten Realms, then this particular deal is awesome - so go for it!

As for myself, I am also contemplating using this - I have an idea for a project which I will call "Returned Maztica". Stay tuned for further details.

Monday, January 11, 2016

[Exalted] From An-Teng With Hate - a political overview

Let's take a step back from figuring out individual locations on the hex map of An-Teng and look at the big picture. Who are the main political players in and near An-Teng, what do they want, how do they plan to reach their goals - and how are they going to react to a bunch of meddling kids Solars? This is not intended as a complete overview - but as a framework into which I can place further developments.

This is what I came up with - but I might have overlooked some wrinkle or power group. If you have more ideas, please share them - the more, the merrier!

(This also has the added benefit of motivating me to expand the Lexicon Section of the new Exalted 3E Wiki - which could use some more contributors. Hint, hint.



The Realm

The following factions from the Realm are prominent in An-Teng:

House Ledaal: The most important member of the House active in the region is Shuri the Scarlet, who is also the ranking garrison commander for An-Teng, commanding a garrison of 1,000 soldiers at Dragon's Jaws. He also has authority over the garrisons in the Middle Lands (probably at Prosperous Garden) and the High Lands (presumably at the Jade Plum Citadel) which - since they seem to be less important postings - I will peg at 400 soldiers each. Shuri communicates with their commanders once per week with magic mirrors - so if the PCs draw attention to themselves, Shuri will either hear about it from the commanders or investigate their curious silence.

He has his own agenda independent from his House - he wants to marry upwards and "is looking for a suitably malleable candidate among the young Terrestrial visitors to An-Teng, so that he can approach her parents or guardians with suitable bribes or blackmail, whichever is most appropriate." (Blood and Salt, p. 21). However, he takes his appointment by House elder Ledaal Kebok Omerger seriously and deals with native, Guild and Lintha traders in order to increase the influence of his House, although he takes little pleasure in such deals. The Ledaal Catala line also has a strong interest in the nearby shadowland of the City of Dead Flowers, so he pays well for any information about the place and hosts the occasional scholar from the House - although he will not risk any of his soldiers on the shadowland without a very good reason.

Finally, he still has old contacts in the Red-Piss Legion, which means that he might get involved in the Roseblack's bid for power. Since his garrison is already seen as "politically unreliable" by some quarters since he tends to promote based on merit instead of family connections, any attempts to remove him from his position might push both him and his garrison further towards Tepet Ejava.

House Ragara: Represented by Satrap Ragara Soras Jor, who is mainly interested in increasing his standing within the Thousand Scales, break the influence of the Lintha in the region (leading to the hilarious comic on page 111 of CoTD IV: The South), and generally increase the influence and trading deals of his house in the region, preferably at the expense of Shuri and House Ledaal. However, he also surreptitiously deals with the Lintha, in order to identify their agents. Considering that the Imperial Navy is also engaged in fighting the Lintha, he would probably love to expose any deals Shuri has with them, in order to weaken his position and have him replaced. Since House Ragar has heavy Guild connections, Soras Jor will likely plot with various Guild factors and merchant princes to squeeze Ledaal out of various markets. P. 44 of Manual of Exalted Power: The Dragon-Blooded mentions that House Ledaal frequently sends out un-Exalted members of the House as auditors to assess the current and future revenues of its satrapies - such groups could make good "random encounters" for the player characters.

So, would Soras Jor enter into some sort of secret alliance with the PCs in order to oust Shuri? Probably... not. He is unlikely to trust Anathema to keep such a deal secret (unless he is only involved through multiple layers of deniable intermediaries), and while such a deal might be able to remove Shuri, he would fear that it will be the Anathema who get to extend their influence as a result - not House Ledaal. However, once he becomes aware that Anathema are active in An-Teng he will insist that the whole might of Shuri's garrison is thrown against them. If Shuri is incapable of driving them out... well, he might know a few military commanders more suitable for the job. But if Shuri does too good a job, then Soras Jor might sabotage his efforts in some subtle manner.

The Immaculate Order: The highest-ranking abbot of the local Order, Santeris, is operating a spy network out of the City of the Steel Lotus which serves both the Immaculates and the Sidereals. Obviously, active Anathema in the region will attract their utmost attention. Their temples, which are scattered across the land, can also serve as a handy source of martial artists for a Solar-hunting posse if the nearest Wyld Hunt happens to be... delayed.

Vacationers: Plenty of Dragon-Blooded come to An-Teng not for mercantile interests, but for some Rest & Relaxation... which does not impede plotting in any way, only that the plots will be more about embarrassing rivals than business deals. Those who look for more... venereal entertainments will stick to the Shore Lands, those who are looking to further their knowledge will explore the libraries of the Middle Lands, while those who wish to get away from all the heat and the humidity will explore the High Lands. Big Game Hunting is a likely past time for the Dragon-Blooded, and they certainly won't hesitate to go after some bandits as combat practice as long it's not too much trouble to find them (they are supposed to be on vacation, after all). Finally, some younger Dragon-Blooded will probably be eager to prove their mettle against any Anathema that dare show their heads - especially if the Dragon-Blooded in question are intoxicated or otherwise engaged in substance abuse. Both Shuri and Soras Jor will want to keep an eye on the vacationers - for one thing, keeping them safe is their job, for another it never hurts to have other Dynasts in your debt because you had to bail them out after some misadventure.

The Guild

As I have outlined in my entry for Swift Rivers Crossing, the goals of the Guild are fairly straightforward when compared to the other factions. Make a profit (of course). Maintain its drug plantations. Maintain its monopoly on bulk sale of drugs. Maintain and expand its slave trade - the Guild will likely have some interesting conflicts with its sometimes-partner, sometimes-rival House Cynis in the Shore Lands.

Obviously, its main trade interests in drugs and slaves will be abhorrent to player characters arriving from Earth, and it is likely that they will serve as an antagonist in the early arcs of the campaign. However, the Guild is nothing but pragmatic - if the PCs can build their own power base and demonstrate that it is more profitable to come to accommodations with them than to insist on trading drugs and slaves in An-Teng, then they will certainly consider the offer. Whether they accept the offer depends on how much they think this will hurt their deals with the Realm.

The Locals

Prince Laxhander of the Glorious Reign: This Dragon-Blooded fanboy is going to die, though at which occasion and on whose orders remains to be seen. His encouraging visiting Terrestrial Exalted to impregnate members of his family is skeevy as Malfeas, but it is unlikely to affect the player characters much. Thus, he should die whenever the PCs drop by to visit, and like any good murder investigation there should be far to many suspects. And it is quite possible that the PCs don't care who did the actual murder and why (since Laxhander is rather reviled by everyone) - just how they can spin the fallout to their own advantage. Of course, everyone else will be doing the same...

While Prince Kiotaran of Upward View is more interested in astrology than politics (the PCs should probably not let it known to him that they arrived in Creation during Calibration! Also, him asking them about their astrological sign could get... awkward), his wife Golden Slipper has more practical concerns - in particular, she wants to turn Prosperous Garden into a major trade up, preferably one with more independence from Realm-backed interests. This will bring her (and her husband) into conflict with both Shuri and Soras Jor, although the Guild will be willing to take up the slack for... concessions. Mercantile PCs might likewise find uses for her as a contact.

Prince Josei of Notable Genius: In general, the Prince prefers to keeps his distance form the Dragon-Blooded, and prefers to deal with any local troubles on his own (or with the assistance of his nobles). He'd especially like to keep the Dragon-Blooded distant from some of the more profitable gem mines in the High Lands. However, there are some problems he cannot solve on his own - some of the Firepeak Moutains nearby host outposts of the First and Forsaken Lion, and while they are not currently hostile, they are obviously a problem that need to be dealt with. Player characters who can help him on this account will certainly have his gratitude. The recent death of his wife Dawnlit Snow also distracts him at the moment - anything that can help him with the investigation would be helpful. It is quite possible that some necromancer has bound her ghost in order to influence the Prince one way or another...

The Golden Lord generally prefers to stay apart from the politics of the Exalted. While he is ready to give good advice to all who seek his counsel, he will not involve himself in the struggles of mortals and Exalted alike unless there is clear evidence that the enemies of Creation itself are involved. While the Deathlords, Yozis, and the Fair Folk count, the Dragon-Blooded do not. This neutrality, along with the great respect he still commands in Yu-Shan, explains why the Immaculates treat his temples and his mortal worshipers with kid gloves - while they will declare his direct worship by mortals as improper, they limit themselves to words instead of direct actions. Possibly by saying that while the Golden Lord is one of the rare gods who is not tempted into inappropriate behavior by the worship of mortals, his cult is still setting a bad example, damnit!

In my old campaign, the PCs generally thought he was a great fellow - so much that they actually offered him rulership of An-Teng! But he declined by stating that it was the Solars who had received the Mandate of Heaven, and he will not break the natural order of the world so that he can do their job.

If the situation comes up again, I can also raise the question for why the Unconquered Sun has never sought to rule mortals directly. The answer is simple - the Unconquered Sun (and to lesser extent, the Golden Lord as well) was created as a being of perfect, abstract virtue. He always must be compassionate, brave, temperate and so forth, because anything else is a contradiction of his nature. Yet humans are complex and messy, and in ruling them compromises must sometimes be made - compromises which the gods are often incapable of, or only capable when denying themselves and therefore weakening themselves. Thus, the wisest course of action is to leave ruling humans to other humans.

The Pale Mistress, on the other hand, is rather more active in bringing chaos, death, and plague across the land. Her cult behaves pretty much how you would expect a cult of demon-worshipers to behave, what with their worshipers kidnapping, murdering, and engaging in human sacrifice. And indeed, the PCs might initially believe that this is a demon-worshiping cult. But for all her vileness, she is a god of Creation, and not a demon or thing of the Underworld. There will always be dissatisfied people who will turn to dark cults in their desperation, and if her cult were to be eradicated, these same people might find themselves as followers of the Yozis or the Neverborn. Thus, while the cult of the Golden Lord will preach and act against her cult, the Golden Lord will refuse to act directly against her, nor approve of any Exalted who would try to kill her.

The Lunars

In my old campaign, I introduced the first Lunar Exalted as a stereotypical "Barbarian Warlord Lunar" who was all ready and set to invade An-Teng with his Barbarian Horde™, but was willing to wait for one year as part of a bet to see if the PCs could wrest An-Teng away from the Realm first.

Bo-ring! While that did give the PCs a motivation to stick around in An-Teng and stick it to the Realm, I think I should be able to present the Lunars better now than just "barbarian warlords". I am reminded of a line by John Mørke where he said that "Lunars weaponize cultures" in order to fight the Realm. So what should they do when a Circle of Solar Exalted shows up in An-Teng?

Why, weaponize them, of course.

Encourage them to stand and fight against whatever it is that they consider bad about the Realm (and frankly, it shouldn't be hard to create a lengthy list on that account). Meanwhile, manipulate the Realm to send more and more Dragon-Blooded into the meat grinder, and ensure that both sides only hear the worst about each other, preferably with additional... embellishments. All this should be done from behind the scenes so that neither side suspects that Lunars are active in the region - which, thanks to their potent shapeshifting abilities, shouldn't be too hard (at least for the time required to get a decent war started). The Serpents Who Walk As Men beastmen in the Middle Lands seem to be useful for Lunar takeover - under Lunar direction, they will likely stay "neutral" during the struggles while secretly arming up and getting ready to swoop in once the conflict has been exhausted.

An interesting wildcard is Khadarys Shadow-Dancer, a First Age Lunar who has hidden at the bottom of the Lake of Thousand Dragons to this very day and has no one for company other than her clan of freshwater shark-men descendants (Blood and Salt, p. 33). She remains unaware of the events of the last century or so, and whoever talks to her will greatly shape her outlook on things.

Scroll of Fallen Races, p. 14 mentions a Lunar Exalt who controls large stretches of the Firepeak Mountains "between the City of the Steel Lotus and the Lap", which sounds like it would be directly to the east of the High Lands. who is very loosely allied with Shining Kren, a Mountain Folk domain directly beneath those mountains. It's probably that Lunar who watches events in An-Teng - in particular, the High Lands - the most closely.

The Mountain Folk

Speaking of which, the Mountain Folk of Shining Kren will likely largely want to maintain their neutrality - Scroll of Fallen Races mentions that in addition to their loose alliance with the Lunar of the Firepeaks they also hire themselves out as mercenaries to the "Dragon-Blooded administrators of An-Teng" - sometimes for anti-bandit activities, but more frequently as marines for anti-Lintha naval actions, which they particularly relish. Given the currently... complicated relationship between the Realm military commander and the administrator of An-Teng, it is very likely that Mountain Folk mercenaries will be drawn into the schemes of Shuri and Soras Jor. They also won't hesitate to use them against Solar player characters and their followers.

A Mountain Folk settlement directly behind the Jade Plum Citadel in the High Lands is also mentioned on p. 35 of Blood and Salt - I am going to assume that this is a colony of Shining Kren and the usual contact point for Dragon-Blooded wishing to contact the Mountain Folk, since they could hardly be expected to visit a Lunar domain unmolested. Lengthy tunnels between that settlement and Shining Kren are likely. Travel is made easier by the fact that Shining Kren has "made tentative peace treaties with several breeds of local Darkbrood, as well as the green-eyed Southern underpeople". Of course, if their numbers are not kept in check by the Mountain Folk, they might start expanding to the surface and go out at night and kidnap or murder people in remote villages - another problem the PCs could come across.

The Underworld

Unfortunately, the Compass of Celestial Directions IV - The Underworld completely neglects to mention An-Teng, so we will have to co with other sources instead. Page 19 and 20 of Blood and Salt mention the deep reverence the Tengese have for their ancestors, as well as its exorcists who use their own ancestors to deal with malignant ghosts. Interestingly, in desperate cases the Pale Mother herself is called to destroy hostile ghosts (her Hungry Dancer followers will also attack any priests of the Golden Lord present, as well as children and pregnant women) - though in that case she will attack all ghosts present, including peaceful ones! Perhaps it is her presence that have kept the First and Forsaken Lion from keeping the Underworld of An-Teng - another reason why it would be a bad idea for the PCs to kill her!

Speaking of which, the First and Forsaken Lion will almost certainly want to conquer this region of the Underworld - and subsequently, the Lands Above. And indeed, his mountain outposts in the High Lands indicate that his preparations are well underway. But to have his way, he has to deal with certain obstacles first. He also has one of his deathknights in An-Teng - Shatterer of the Way, a Moonshadow Caste Abyssal who used to be an Immaculate monk (note to self: Tie his backstory into one of the local Immaculate temples).

The First and Forsaken Lion is said not to trust Abyssals of the Moonshadow Caste, so his orders to Shatterer of the Way were probably on the lines of: "Make yourself useful - turn the City of Dead Flowers into a vassal state. But don't ask for any backup or resources until you actually deliver some results!" My expectation is that the Abyssal is probably using the threat of invasion from the First and Forsaken Lion's forces to cement a deeper alliance between the ancestral ghosts of An-Teng, starting with the teeming masses of the City of Dead Flowers. However, he is also using his Abyssal magics to secretly control that ghostly alliance from behind the scenes. When the First and Forsaken Lion does invade, the alliance will be ready... to surrender. And once he holds the Ancestral Ghosts of An-Teng in his thrall, he will have a much easier time influencing the living.

Another obstacle is the Yozi Cult of the Seven-Stranded Vine, which the First and Forsaken Lion does not wish a conflict with... yet. But he probably has no problem with someone else eradicating the cult, and exposing them to larger scrutiny and the attentions of either the PCs or the Realm sounds like a likely mission for one of his Day Caste Abyssals.

The Yozis

Many of the Yozis are, at the moment, working towards the Reclamation. With this I don't mean "the Yozis will be freed" as the end goal, as the developers have stated that this is impossible in the 3rd Edition, but the Infernal Exalted ruling and punishing Creation in their name. The major Yozi players in An-Teng are:

She Who Lives In Her Name, represented by the Seven-Stranded Vine. As she is the "Principle of Hierarchy", her cult is mainly obsessed with "restoring the proper order of An-Teng" - which means kicking all the dirty foreigners out and putting the (now demon-tainted) original royal family back on the throne. At first glance this makes them look just like another "Concerned Citizen" hate group, but considering that the major foreign groups active in An-Teng are the Guild and the Realm, they rather have a point - a lot of them, in fact. And given the politeness of the Tengese, the PCs will probably have some awkward conversations with secret cult members on the lines of: "No, I am sure you are not like all those other foreigners who pillage our land and rape our women! I am sure your intentions are honorable!" This might motivate the PCs to do something about these other foreigners... only to realize at some point that they have cleared the path for a Yozi Cult to take over the land!

Kimbery, represented by the Lintha pirates. The Lintha spend a lot of time in the Shore Lands posing as "honorable businessmen", and their various double-dealings with Shuri and Soras Jor have already been mentioned. However, thanks to the Reclamation they are now smuggling weapons and supplies to the Seven-Stranded Vine - in particular, relic weapons provided by Bitter Copal, the iconic Defiler Caste Green Sun Prince who is of the Tengese royal family himself and has shacked up with the Lintha in Bluehaven. The PCs stumbling across a relic weapon in an unexpected place could motivate them to investigate the Lintha connection.

The Sidereals

Since the Sidereal Exalted have a lot on their plate, they won't immediately investigate the player characters. The Gold Faction will of course try to recruit them into the Cult of the Illuminated, but as I have established earlier, the local Cult chapter is currently out of communication with the larger network. The Bronze Faction likewise won't notice the PCs until they begin to make a big ruckus... which, given the nature of the typical Solar Exalted, admittedly could happen fairly quickly.

However, they do have an interest in the An-Teng region, since that is where one Sidereal went missing one year ago - and his fate is of very high interest to the Bureau of Destiny. Once they become aware that the PCs are connected to him, a Bronze Faction Sidereal might even pose as a Gold Faction member in order to question the PCs. Once they learn about the cross-world portal, they will... immediately form a special committee to investigate this. Which means celestial politics with fangs. And plenty of gibbering, once they realize that the portals represent a Primordial who has gone missing since the Primordial War itself! What happens then is hard to predict as it will depend a lot on the decisions of both the player characters and the Celestial Bureaucracy - but it will certainly be dramatic.


That's what I've got for now. Any ideas for expanding on this?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

[Exalted] Swift Rivers Crossing

While the path from the Emergence Cave to the Jade Plum Citadel is one of the most important initial areas to detail - since that's where the PCs will likely travel first - I also have some ideas for location <7,6> which I want to write down before I forget them. This area is part of a long river valley that leads to points east, which means that it is a good location for a trade route out of An-Teng towards the eastern deserts. Therefore it is very suitable for a local Guild outpost - it sits at the threshold of the High Lands while still being useful as a base so that the Guild can keep track of major developments there and elsewhere in An-Teng. The Guild has won a concession of Prince Josei of the High Lands to run this outpost independent of High Lands jurisdiction in exchange for significant bribes. This has the added advantage that the Guild is very motivated to keep bandits out of the region, which keeps down the need for additional expenses and patrols from the government of the High Lands.



As a result, the surrounding town - which I will call Swift Rivers Crossing - is fairly cosmopolitan for such a remote place, thanks to assorted Guild traders and hangers-on. And that has made it a good location for a small cell of the Cult of the Illuminated. The cell was founded by a traveling priest named Traveling Wirat, who after establishing the cell went on to Prosperous Garden in the Middle Lands of An-Teng to spread the word. However, the cell hasn't heard of him for a while, and they fear the worst - but without him, they don't know who else to contact once they have found some Shining Ones (i.e. the PCs). Meanwhile, a peddler named Slow Kamon is traveling on a regular circuit between Swift Rivers Crossing and the Jade Plum Citadel in order to catch news from around the region. It might be a while until he hears news of the PCs as well, though if the PCs do something to draw attention he will likely hear it first and move to intercept them.

Swift Rivers Crossing, with a population of 12,000 people, barely counts as a hub city by Guild Standards - but it is maintained as one nonetheless, since An-Teng proper is too beholden to the Realm yet represents too important a market to ignore. It thus has its own Guild Factor (named Proud Shomari, originally from Harborhead), who is fully aware of the opportunities of this region and wishes to greatly expand Guild operations here. PCs who do not object to the slave and drug trading practices of the Guild will find him a useful partner, though he is wary of offending the Realm too much. PCs who strive to curtail slavery or the drug trade will turn him into a ruthless and devious enemy who will conceal his animosity behind a smile.

Now let us turn once again to the Random Nations Generator for further details. While officially the Guild and its factor are in charge of the own, the Guild is focused more on trade and less on running the day-to-day affairs of the town. Among the results for Government, I get Exilarchy, which has potential - let's say that Proud Shomari's clan (of the Izhalvi people - see Houses of the Bull God, p. 11) did badly in one of the many wars of the Harborhead region and thus they sought their fortunes elsewhere. Thanks to Proud Shomari's position and influence, Swift Rivers Crossing looked like a good place to start anew, and Shomari was happy to see an influx of laborers and artisans who probably wouldn't stab him in the back. That being said, Shomari is uninterested in involving himself in Harborhead clan politics and won't give the clan more support than a safe harbor. The clan matriarch Eldest Hasana, however, is quite determined to see her clan's triumphant return to her homeland before she dies, and as she is feeling her age she is willing to engage in increasingly desperate schemes to that end. As an added wrinkle, the Izhalvi worship both Luna and the Unconquered Sun - if the PCs could convince them that they are indeed Chosen by the latter, they might acquire quite a few allies.

The first of the Organizations listed by the generator is the Technisches Hilfswerk, a German government-funded organization dedicated to disaster relief. Let's translate that into the Good Neighbors Association, a group of people volunteering to help others in both their community and without. Led by Joyful Issa (a male immigrant from Harborhead), this group is essentially a front for the Cult of the Illuminated - they do take helping their neighbors seriously, but they have also recruited many cult members this way. In the absence of Traveling Wirat, Issa serves as the local cult priest - although he is not very firm on his theology.

Results like Triads and Mafia remind me that the existing books describing An-Teng don't elaborate on organized crime in the region. Sure, there are Lintha operating nearby - but as pirates they will stay near the coasts instead of operating this far inland. Googling for organized crime in Thailand I find a Wikipedia entry about the Chao Pho, or "Godfathers" - but using that name is likely to cause Marlon Brando jokes. But how about the "Godchildren"? The "God" in question being, of course, the Pale Mistress of An-Teng, who does have "crime" in her portfolio - along with chaos, selfishness, darkness and all that other good stuff. As a result, the Godchildren will have cells and independent splinter groups everywhere in An-Teng (as opposed to one big, organized group which would be anathema to the Pale Mistress). The leader of the Swift Rivers Crossing chapter, Bright Kanchana (female Tengese), is likely in conflict with the Good Neighbors Association - which might draw the PCs in.

We already have a bunch of NPCs, but let's nevertheless look at some Major Personalities the Generator provides. Among these, Alexis Carrel sounds interesting - a surgeon and biologist who received the Nobel Prize but also became infamous for his advocacy of Eugenics. Let's translate that as Nisai Daruth, a Wood-aspected Dragon-Blooded Outcaste sorcerer who works as the senior surgeon of the Outpost - and who has additional business revenue from his breeding projects. Breeding humans, that is - he has a fair degree of success (thanks to his Medicine charms and related Sorcerous Workings) with "improving" the offspring of couples (of whatever genders). He can and does summon neomahs for this purpose, although he also has other methods. Another service he offers are surrogate mothers, usually slaves purchased for this purpose. The Guild pays him well for these services, although they keep the bigger parts of the shares to themselves. Nisai does not particularly care, however - as long as his research is funded and he has a steady supply for his experiments, he is content. His ultimate goal is to increase the Breeding of the Dragon-Blooded (and he is willing to pay high prices for anyone able to snatch the "Lost Eggs" of An-Teng away from Tender Rose - see Blood and Salt, p. 17), but in the meantime he has all sorts of other projects. Among these, he has become aware that there is a demon taint in certain Tengese families and wishes to learn more - which will bring him into conflict with the Seven-Stranded Vine.

Another character is Allan Pinkerton, Let's translate that into the persona of a Guild Warden named Slow Hom (at least, that's her cover name) who is in town to investigate misconduct within the Guild or anything else that threatens local Guild monopolies. The political machinations of the Izhalvi Exiles certainly have her attention, but so far she hasn't found any evidence that the Factor is diverting Guild resources to help them. If the PCs are doing anything sneaky around town, they will draw her attention as well.

Among Major Political Issues we get Detroit - Too broke to bury their dead. Let's translate that as the local dedicated Guild priest/undertaker, Cheery Kilinda (female Izhalvi), skimping on the funeral materials for the slaves that are dying at the outpost and just dumping their bodies in the forest somewhere so that she can pay for her boozing and partying. So far this has not drawn anyone's attention, but this is slowly giving rise to a number of hungry ghosts.

Another issue is Eurabia, the conspiracy theory that Europe will allegedly soon be subsumed into the Arab World because of immigration and high birth rates of immigrants. Let's say that some Tengese "Concerned Citizens" are likewise worried about all these immigrants from Harborhead, which has led to some assaults in the nights by hotheaded youths (their elders are much more carefully about offending foreigners of course, for historic reasons). So far, no one important has been harmed, although foreign-looking PCs might become targets as well.

A third political issue is Sex, Lies, and Subprime Mortgages, a story about the corruption in the American housing market in the leadup to the Financial Crisis. For a suitably lurid counterpart, let's say that there are a number of rich merchants and Guild drug lords which vie for control of the various poppy fields and other drug plantations in An-Teng. Each of the provinces has different factions vying for control. In the High Lands, the primary drug lords are Generous Agun (female Tengese), Daring Klahan (male Tengese), and Prosperous Fanaka (male god-blooded scion of a minor fertility deity in Harborhead) - beyond the Factor himself, of course. All of them scheme against each other to win influence and will use any means fair or foul to make plantation villages work for them. Village headmen who are compliant are often invited to weeks of debauchery at Swift Rivers Crossing, while those who are more stubborn will get threats, beatings, and worse. This squabbling has started to annoy Prince Josei himself, and is one of the things Slow Hom is currently investigating.

Among the Major Projects, only "Moscow Mayor Promises a Winter Without Snow" stands out. An-Teng is unlikely to receive much snow even in the winter - except possibly the high mountain passes to the east. And even in the other years, harsh weather might make the progress of caravans difficult. For this reason, Sweet Rivers Crossing maintains its own priest, Well-Spoken Rochana (female Tengese) to appease/bribe the weather gods - but some of the drug lords have started to offer her bribes for bringing bad weather to their rivals' plantations. Rochana is very leery of accepting those bribes, but does not exactly wish to offend the drug lords either.

I will skip over the Religion sections of the generator - beyond the deities mentioned, the Guild will worship the usual divinities of trade and travel, with no unusual forms of worship. There are no dangerous creatures in the immediate area either (beyond humans, that is... plus the hungry ghosts mentioned above). The next relevant section is about the History of the region, with one of the results being "Portal to mythical Mayan underworld found in Mexico", which sounds promising - let's say that the town was built on the ruins of an old Tengese ancestor cult which eventually created a small Shadowland deep beneath the town. While the ruins themselves are well known, nobody knows of their true extent and purpose - and Cheery Kilinda is using the ruins to dump the bodies of slaves, which threatens to awaken some truly ancient dead, with potentially disastrous consequences for the town. A further Historic Event, "The Torture Colony" (referring to Colonia Dignidad in Chile) gives hints to how this old ancestor cult was run, and the "Peshtigo Fire" indicates that the old settlement was consumed in one big conflagration.

Finally, "An Epidemic of Laughing in the Bukoba District of Tanganyika" indicates that the Seven-Stranded Vine released a demonic presence in this town a few years ago, which caused everyone who was "infected" to laugh uncontrollably (I must remember to come up with an appropriate First Circle demon for this). Obviously, if they have released this Laughing Plague before they can do so again, and the Guild has their special ire as outsiders who disrupt the "proper hierarchy" of An-Teng. This means that they might have some connection to the "Concerned Citizens" mentioned above - a low-ranking cult member, Observant Tansanee (female Tengese) runs a pub and inn ("Peaceful Rest") for local Tengese laborers and tries to subtly agitate her customers against the foreigners.

I think this is plenty of detail for Swift Rivers Crossing for the time being - though I should probably return at a later date once I have figured out more about the factions of the High Lands and how they interact.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

[Exalted] Hundred Dreams Village

It's been a while - real world events have kept me occupied, and there has been the Exalted 3E release to digest in the meantime. But now I am back - so let's continue in our quest to put the High Lands of An-Teng on the map!

After detailing Gankorou's Fair Folk freehold in my previous post, I should probably detail the village the Fair Folk are preying on. In my old campaign I didn't spend much time there - the villagers first ascertained that the PCs meant them no harm, then told them of their plight, and then the PCs went and fetched their dream-eaten kin, dumped them, and left the village and never returned.

That seems something of a waste, in particular since this village will be their first encounter with the local culture.

Once again using the Random Nations Generator, we get Magocracy as the government - rule by mages. Or a mage - and while a remote village like this probably doesn't have a full-fledged Exalted sorcerer (who could probably deal with Gankorou on their own), the new edition does have some rather nifty rules for mortal sorcerers. Looking at the list of sorcerous origins from the Core Rules, let's pick "Pact with an Ifrit Lord" (Core Rules, p. 467) - we will assume that the sorcerer wandered in the vast deserts to the East to attain initiation into the Terrestrial Circle. Among other things, that means that the sorcerer will always want to have a large fire nearby, and observant PCs will note that the village seems to have a rather large stockpile of firewood for being in a tropical climate (well, maybe subtropical - these are the High Lands of An-Teng).

Next, let's pick the gender. Looking back at my previous campaign, I suspect I too often went with a subconscious assumption of "most significant NPCs are male, with the exception of love interests". To prevent that from happening in the future, I will from now on determine the gender of NPCs randomly unless there is a good reason otherwise. For humans, this will be a 1d100 roll: 1-48 male, 49-96 female, and 97-100 "other" (this is Exalted, after all). For nonhumans, (non-ghost spirits, Fair Folk and the like), this will be a 1d6 roll: 1-2 male, 3-4 female, 5-6 other. For my sorcerer, I get a "37", which means he is male.

Now let's pick the name. In my old campaign, I frequently used Thai names which seemed authentic for the region. However, this had the disadvantage that none of my (German) players could remember them, and I too had frequently problems with them. On the other hand, the overly flowery names common in Exalted ("Midnight Pearl", "Ivory Cup") sound a bit silly to German ears. Thus, a compromise: I will use a flowery descriptor and a Thai name to create the full name of an NPC. For the sorcerer, let's name him "Fire-Salved Somsak" (the last part apparently means "Power of Worth" in Thai, which seems appropriate). Obviously, he is very concerned with the Fair Folk of the nearby freehold.

The village is hardly big enough for any significant organizations, but among the results provided by the Generator Rosicrucianism has potential. Let's say the sorcerer is - or at least claims to be - a member of a larger secret society which provides its initiates with "mystic knowledge" and makes them feel superior to all the uninitiated. Analogous to the Rose Cross, let's pick a flower theme for this group - the Red Orchid Society (not related to the Red Lotus Society - why do you ask?), with "red"="fire" being an appropriate association for the sorcerer's initiation. He is the ranking leader of the local society, of course, with various influential villagers being lower-ranking members. He might even have picked an apprentice among their children.

Among the "major personalities" we get Agnes of Rome, who was a Christian martyr who was executed because she refused to marry rich and powerful suitors (at the age of 12 or 13, mind you) and was denounced as a Christian as punishment. Before her execution, she was supposed to be raped by multiple men, but thanks to assorted miracles the rape was prevented (though the execution was not). Translating this into an Exalted story, let's say that a young child (a girl, as the random roll indicates) was the victim of an unspeakable crime, but her vengeful ghost killed her murder in turn. Now she lingers on as a protector of the village children, who remember her in garbled stories and call on her from time to time in a form of prayer, providing her with the equivalent of an Ancestor Cult. Her name is Pale Kanya, and the adults never speak of her - although the PCs might feel her passing, in particular if they look like they might be a danger to the children.

For "political issues" we get "Police 'can't cope' as Vietnamese flood drugs trade". We will interpret this as "this village produces drugs" - and considering the region, they will have some large opium poppy fields, However, in a twist this is perfectly legal and accepted and a major source of business with the Guild. Another result is "Man petitions to marry comic book character". Since comic books are inappropriate for this region (unless the PCs introduce them, which is not beyond the realms of possibility. In my old campaign, one of the PCs started a chain of sushi restaurants!), I am interpreting this as "villager wants to marry a nonhuman". Since the village grows opium, let's make the nonhuman the field guardian (Core Rules, p. 512). We get a human female on the roll ("Impetuous Malai"), which means that the field guardian ("Green Papaver") is male - while the Tengese are fairly relaxed about who might take whom as a lover, they have very strict ideas about who should be partners in a marriage. Let's further assume that she managed to get pregnant and refuses to induce an abortion via maiden tea (which the villagers are worried might anger the spirit anyway) and also refuses to marry anyone else to "keep appearances" - she wants to marry Green Papaver and no one else. Green Papaver, meanwhile, viewed this as nothing else than an enjoyable diversion or possibly even a fertility rite - "sowing his seeds", and all that. If the PCs make friends among the villagers, they might be asked to help with sorting this mess out.

This being Exalted, forms of religious worship are very important to a community since the gods often live very closely. The most appropriate result from the generator is Animal Sacrifice - each of the village gods will get a small animal (such as cocks for Green Papaver) on their special days (which are a bit more frequent than the Immaculate Faith allows, but the monks only come rarely into this remote region). For a gruesome twist, children might even sacrifice mice and other small rodents to Pale Kanya, which join her as ghostly apparitions when she is angry!

While I could go on with the other categories of the Random Nations Generator, this should be enough for the time being - this is only one small village among many after all and only distinguished because it will be the first local settlement the PCs come across after they get out of the Emergence Cave. But it is worth considering how the villagers will react. Unless the PCs come from Southeast Asia, they won't be able to pass as natives - and to make matters worse, none of them will initially speak Flametongue! (Nobody took the charm "Strange Tongue Understanding"? That's too bad! However, if they are willing to spend the two weeks of training time in the village to purchase Flametongue as a one-dot merit, they have no problems learning it - this can be justified as "they knew it in a previous life, and they are Solars, anyway!") So the villagers will assume that they are weird foreigners at best, and likely Fair Folk infiltrators. They will threaten them with spears and arrows, but observant PCs should quickly realize that the villagers are more scared of them than vice versa - and since they have no clue what is going on, they should probably go with them until they can figure this place out. Once brought to the village, Fire-Salved Somsak will test them with a small splinter of cold iron to see if they are Fair Folk, and once they prove to be human everyone will relax considerably. The general attitude will be: "Okay, you are probably not inhuman monsters out to suck our blood, but you are still weird so we will be keeping an eye on you." The villagers won't treat them as prisoners as such - and provide them food and shelter - but there will always be one of the villagers around to keep an eye on them.

If the PCs start displaying obvious Anathema powers, things will get... complicated. The villagers will be even more scared, but Fire-Salved Somsak urges calm and possibly sends someone downriver to the Jade Plum Citadel to warn the Immaculates if they seem dangerous to the village. On the other hand, if the PCs seem more helpful than scary, he will consider how to best point them at the Fair Folk. Afterwards, he might even give them some pointers about how the Realm will see them - given that Fire-Salved Somsak has seen all sorts of strange stuff during his travels he is not necessarily inclined to take Immaculate propaganda at face value, although he will not take any unnecessary risks to either himself or the village.

All that's left to decide is the name of the village. In honor of its major product, I will call it Hundred Dreams Village.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Campaign Idea - Through The Gates

"You are a group of polar researchers and Danish soldiers currently stationed at Station Nord at the northern tip of Greenland. One day, there is an earthquake with some rather strange seismic readings that originates from somewhere nearby - and there are reports of similar earthquakes from around the world. You should probably check the location of epicenter out."

And what our bold explorers - which is to say, the player characters - discover at the epicenter is one of 36 magical gates that have opened up around the world. These lead to another world - a fantastic world, with magic and monsters and nonhuman beings. Or rather, as they will eventually discover, a fantasy Earth, for while society, culture, and technology are vastly different, the geography will have some strange similarities:


So what is going on here? Well, this world used to be a fairly normal (at least in terms of geography) "parallel Earth" from the GURPS Infinite Worlds multiverse. However, about 12,000 years ago the fabled continent of Atlantis destroyed itself in a magical cataclysm, which (a) turned the world into a magic-rich "High Mana" zone and (b) flipped the poles, which means that the ruins of Atlantis can be found at the new North Pole (where 40°W, 35°N used to be).

This caused the expected mass extinction and severe flooding, as the ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica melted (Australia, now located near the new South Pole and being much smaller than Antarctica, can only hold half the ice that Antarctica could, so the water level is still about 30 meters higher). However, in the long run it also had its beneficial side effects - staple crops like Middle Eastern grains and American corn and potatoes had a much easier time spreading around the entire globe than in our world, and the Americas are much less isolated than they were in our world. The former Polar Sea is now one of the world's premier trade regions, with its connections between Europe, Asia, and West America, and the Bering Strait is among the best prime real estate on the planet. Furthermore, magical mutations from mana storms helped repopulate the ecosystem after the pole shift, although this is little consolation to the settlers facing mutant penguins and seals which dominate the vast interior of newly-fertile Antarctica.

The technology has only reached a "medieval" level (TL3 in GURPS terms). However, the practice of magic is fairly common. Simple spells (those without prerequisites) are in widespread use and can be learned by anyone who bothers to learn them. More advanced spells are mostly taught within magical guilds and other organizations who are very secretive about their knowledge and seriously frown on anyone trying to muscle in on their monopoly. This knowledge is usually taught in the form of a Magical Style - but few will get the opportunity to learn spells from more than one of them.

This was the status quo. Meanwhile, one Albert Garner Kavanagh III - one of the Grand Masters of that notorious transdimensional society of mages and monsters, the Cabal - decides he wants to see what high-tech research and technology can do when they come across magic (traditional Cabal magic research is so hidebound). For this reason Kavanagh moves major parts of his operations to a low-mana "modern-day Earth" and carefully stages secret takeovers of companies and research institutions most likely to start dabbling in magical research when they come across clear evidence of it (corporate takeovers are so much easier when you are the only one with access to Mind Control spells...)

Then he arranges for 36 Gates - one for each Decan of Cabal lore - to open across this world, connecting it to the pole-shifted Earth. This has a few repercussions beyond opening access to a fantastic world where magic is demonstrably real.

The Modern-Day Earth starts out as a "Low Mana" world, which means that only people with the Magical Aptitude advantage (i.e. "mages") can cast spells, and even these will have considerable difficulty in doing so. Most people in this world with a scientific education believed that magic was in fact impossible. After learning that this is not the case they might wonder whether the world was raised to "Low Mana" through the opening of the Gates... or whether casting spells was actually possible before that date and was kept secret by its practitioners.

The Pole Shift Earth starts out as "High Mana", which means everyone can cast basic spells with no undue difficulty, and magical energy regenerates fairly quickly.

However, after the opening of the Gates, the mana starts flowing out of the Pole Shift Earth and into the Modern-Day Earth. This means that there are widening zones of "Normal Mana" around the Gates on both worlds. This is a fairly slow process, and will likely take more than 75 years to complete for the entire world. In fact, the total area that gets added to the Normal Mana zone around each Gate each day is constant, which means that the radius of the zone initially increases rapidly - but then its expansion slows down quickly:

Time: Radius
1d: 12.72 km
2d: 17.99 km
5d: 28.45 km
10d: 40.23 km
30d: 69.69 km
60d: 98.55 km
90d: 120.70 km
1y: 243.07 km
2y: 343.75 km
3y: 421.01 km
5y: 543.52 km
10y: 768.65 km

Thus, on Modern-Day Earth the zones around the Gates will see a lot of economic growth by those who wish to make use of magic - while the disruption the rest of the world will be relatively small for the time being, as it will remain difficult to cast spells. Meanwhile, on Pole Shift Earth lots of ordinary people living close to the Gates will loose access to simple, everyday magic - but the inflow of modern technology might compensate for that.

So where do the Gates appear? I actually made this as random as possible, by creating a list of all countries (plus Antactica) by their surface area and turning this list into a random table (and rolling d1000000000 36 times...). Here is what I came up with for each Decan (I will also list the magical associations here, as defined in GURPS Thaumatology, p. 248):

Decan (College/ Path): Location
Agchoniôn (Sound/ –): Russia
Akhouiy (–/ Luck): Lybia
Akton (–/ Spirit* (dealings with demons)): Antarctica
Alath (–/ –): Antarctica
Alleborith (Meta-Spells/ Spirit* (general- purpose wards, etc.)): Ukraine
Anatreth (Movement/ –): Mozambique
Anostêr (–/ –): India
Arôtosael (Making and Breaking/ –): China
Atrax  (Food/ –): Antarctica
Axiôphêth (–/ –): India
Barsafael (–/ Spirit* (dealings with enigmatic powers)): Greenland (Denmark)
Belbel (–/ Spirit* (dealings with ghosts)): Saudi Arabia
Bianakith (Body Control/ –): United States
Buldumêch (–/ –): Brazil
Charchnoumis (Animal/ Form): Antarctica
Eneuth (Fire/ Elements (fire effects)): Russia
Harpax (Plant/ –): Russia
Hephesimereth (–/ –): Antarctica
Ieropaêl (Earth/ Elements (earth effects)): China
Isrö (Air/ Elements (air/wind effects)): India
Iudal (Gate/ –): Algeria
Kumeatêl (Enchantment/ Spirit* (dealings with “worldly” entities)): Sudan (North)
Kurtaêl (Necromantic/ Health (harmful effects)): Tanzania
Marderô (–/ –): Egypt
Methiax (Illusion and Creation/ Cunning): Russia
Naôth  (Communication and Empathy/ –): Peru
Nefthada (–/ –): Kazakhstan
Ouare (Technological/ Gadgets): Canada
Phoubêl (Light and Darkness/ –): China
Phthenoth (Healing/ Health (healing effects)): Canada
Roêlêd (Protection and Warning/ Protection): Brazil
Ruax (Mind Control/ Dreams): Philippines
Sahu (Weather/ Nature): Greenland (Denmark)
Saphathoraél (Water/ Elements (water effects)): United States
Sphandôr (Knowledge/ Knowledge): Peru
Tepsisem (–/ –): Antarctica

Why determine the locations randomly, as opposed to just where I think it would be cool?

Because this forces me to think "outside the box" instead of just following my own biases. In many forms of fantastic fiction set on Earth, the most interesting things happen in the writer's home country - consider how many Hollywood movies with fantastic or science fiction elements play out in the United States. By making the Gates open up all over the world randomly, I can avoid empowering the culturally dominant nations more than they already are, and this will also force me to research regions of the world I am not familiar with. While the campaign will start in a Europe-dominated region (i.e. Greenland), the Gates belong to the whole world, and hopefully the campaign will reflect that.

And speaking of "culturally dominant", I think I will try to avoid pandering to the stereotypes of Western Tolkienesque fantasy too much. While there will be fantastic races and creatures that might resemble elves, dwarves, and similar such elements if you squint a bit, they should fit elements from other myth complexes just as much if you squint in a different way. The Pole Shift Earth has had 12,000 years to distinguish itself from our world, after all - and its differences from Western cultural norms (fantastic ones or not) should reflect that.

These are some of my initial ideas before I start looking at the individual Gates and their surrounding regions in detail. What are your thoughts?