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?

Friday, September 11, 2015

[Sword Coast Legends] Building Criollo, Part 1

While it will still be a two weeks or so until Sword Coast Legends is formally released, that shouldn't stop me from doing some prep work. While ultimately I want to use it for my own setting Urbis, it is at the moment unclear when the tools I would need for that will be released - or, indeed, whether such tools will be released at all.

But I enjoy the Forgotten Realms in their own right, and I suspect I will enjoy creating modules for them as well. And to start with, I need a "hub town" - a place from where the initial quests start and where the player characters can go to sell their loot. I don't want to use an established town, since that might conflict with both the single-player campaign and the modules of other DMs, so I will create an entirely new one.

The first question is where to place it on the map. Since I don't want to deviate from Realmslore too much, I want to place it in a region where adding another town would not be surprising. This rules out much of the northern Savage Frontier, since every isle of civilization is notable there (plus, I suspect that this will likely be a very popular region for modules by other DMs). Thus, I will pick a place on the other end of the map - north of the Cloud Peaks, on the Trade Way between Beregost and Amn.

What associations does "Amn" trigger? Well, way back before the Spellplague, Amn had some colonies in Maztica, a pseudo-mesoamerican continent whose concept I was rather fond of (even if the execution of the concept could have been better). Some Amnian mercenaries pulled a Cortez-style invasion in 1361 DR, and had a very profitable thing going until 1385 DR, when the whole continent was switched with Laerakond/Returned Abeir. The continents presumably returned to their original place during the Sundering, though there is no real confirmation beyond noting the presence of Maztica in the 5E Dungeon Master's Guide. I haven't been able to dig up a date for the Sundering either, although Sword Coast Legends will take place in the year 1494. So it's not yet clear how long ago Maztica has returned.

(As a side note, while I am not a fan of the 100 year time jump after the Spellplague and the 3E campaign setting remains my favorite incarnation of the Forgotten Realms, I do think an examination of the hybrid culture that may have developed on Maztica during its absence would be absolutely fascinating. A Mesoamerican-style culture that has access to Renaissance-era technological knowledge - as well as arcane magic - imported from the pseudo-Europeans but can no longer be colonized by them would certainly in interesting ways, and that doesn't even touch any interactions with the dragon overlords of Abeir. But I digress...).

Back to the immediate aftermath of the Spellplague. Suddenly, Amn has lost access to its very profitable colonies - as well as their cash crops. To compensate, they will likely attempt to plant these crops at home. Maize should grow very well in Amn, as it does in Europe of our own world. I am not sure whether potatoes were ever "alien" to Faerun the way they were alien to Europe, so I will ignore that for the time being. However, another crop is highly interesting - cocoa. As any chocoholic will know, it is a highly sought-after substance and thus very valuable to mercantile interests - which Amn has in spades.

Which brings us back to our hub town. The Amnian government might very well attempt to create a monopoly on the cocoa trade - and it is almost inevitable that some people will attempt to break that monopoly by planting cocoa outside of Amn - such as the northern foothills of the Cloud Peaks. While in our world cocoa will only grow near the equator, the Forgotten Realms certainly have access to plant magics that should compensate for the relative cold. And if wizards can create owlbears, then adjusting crops to a different climate should not be a major challenge.

This also gives me the name for my hub town - Criollo, after one of the subtypes of cocoa plants. We will assume that the town has seen its ups and downs over the years. It will likely have had repeated problems with Amn, which doesn't want the competition and will use means fair and foul to shut it down.

And of course - as it was later discovered - the town was built on top of assorted ruins and dungeons, because this is the Forgotten Realms and they all are. But I will leave detailing them to a later date.

But before I conclude this entry, let me come up with one more Maztica association for the town. One of its residents is someone who claims to be the last descendant of the ruler of Payit before Maztica was spirited away, and he asks for monetary assistance from wealthy-looking individuals (such as adventurers) so that he can mount an expedition to now-returned Maztica and reclaim the throne that is rightfully his.

Of course it's a scam, but I will need to figure out some way of making this NPC more interesting than just attempting to take the PCs' money...

Saturday, August 22, 2015

[Pathfinder] Class-based Worldbuilding

My long-time readers know that I like random generators for worldbuilding. Those who have bought and read my Doomed Slayers setting also know that I like to give "adventurers" a proper social context - why and how they exist within a fantasy society, and how the rest of society interacts with and views them.

So why not go a step further? In many games with "character classes", such as Pathfinder, the classes are often something of an abstraction which might not have a clearly defined counterpart within society. Normal people might not see much of a difference between a sorcerer, a wizard, or a witch - or a cleric, druid, or oracle. But what if that is not the case? What if particular classes have clearly defined roles in society which everyone recognizes, even if they don't understand the deeper mystery of the class?

Of course, trying to come up with a social role for each Pathfinder class and for each society within your world would represent enormous effort for possibly little gain. But by selecting a few classes for each society - let's say three - and working out what they mean within the context of their culture, we can focus on what makes a particular society distinct. And after that, if a player selects a particular class for their character, it will have some immediate associations with a particular culture which will shape other people's interaction with them.

So, how does this work? Start by rolling (1d4-1)x10+1d10 (that is, generate a random number from 1 to 40) three times and consulting the following table:

1: Barbarian
2: Bard
3: Cleric
4: Druid
5: Fighter
6: Monk
7: Paladin
8: Ranger
9: Rogue
10: Sorcerer
11: Wizard
12: Alchemist
13: Cavalier
14: Gunslinger
15: Inquisitor
16: Magus
17: Oracle
18: Summoner
19: Witch
20: Ninja
21: Samurai
22: Arcanist
23: Bloodrager
24: Brawler
25: Hunter
26: Investigator
27: Shaman
28: Skald
29: Slayer
30: Swashbuckler
31: Warpriest
32: Kineticist
33: Medium
34: Mesmerist
35: Occultist
36: Psychic
37: Spiritualist
38-39: Roll for a random prestige class
40: Roll twice

Currently there are 86 prestige classes listed in the Pathfinder SRD. I will leave choosing randomly between then as an exercise to the reader.

Next, if the class in question has archetypes or some forms of "specialization" (such as the arcane schools of wizards), check if all members of that class have a shared status within the society or if only particular archetypes or specializations are held in prominence. Roll 1d10:

1-6: All members of the class share the same status.
7-8: One archetype/specialization is prominent.
9: Two archetypes/specializations are prominent.
10: Three archetypes/specializations are prominent.

Choose randomly between the available archetypes and/or specializations.

Finally, roll 1d4 to determine what the overall status of that class is within the culture in question:

1: Adored. The class is part of the ruling elite, "living saints", or held otherwise in great esteem.
2: Respected. The class may not be part of the elite, but they are generally at least "middle class" or otherwise well-paid professionals.
3: Disdained. Few members of "polite society" will openly admit to doing business with them, but the services of the class are too useful to be ignored.
4: Reviled. No citizen of good standing will even look at them - they might be untouchable or otherwise not protected by the law. Killing them will frequently not have any legal consequences, and might even be seen as a laudable act in extreme cases. However, the class might not be defenseless (few player character classes are), and they usually band together and take care of their own - they might not ever be able to gain respect, but their more powerful members can gain the fear of others. Perhaps they also band together as secret societies, so that nobody will know they have learned the abilities of the class in question.

There should probably be at least one class which is Respected or Adored - if all your results are 3 or 4, repeat the rolls until you get a 1 or 2.

So, let's try this out! Rolling on the table three times, we get:

  • Mesmerist, all Mesmerists, Disdained
  • Hunter, all Hunters, Reviled
  • Inquisitor, Vampire Hunter only, Adored
What have we here? Well, this particular region suffered a major plague of vampires in a frontier area. The vampires infiltrated and took over several of the hunting lodges during their reign of terror, and it took an order of vampire hunters to break their power - these vampire hunters are now hailed as the saviors of the country, and many children want to join them when they grow up. Meanwhile, the remaining hunting lodges are suspected of harboring vampires - not entirely without cause in a few cases. Those who have managed to stave off the vampires are now trying to restore their reputation and destroying the remaining vampire-infected lodges, but many survivors have just given up and moved to other lands where they face less suspicion. Meanwhile, mesmerists are now popular as "vampire detectors" - since they know very well how mind control works, they are among the first who can detect vampiric influence in others. They are still seen with a lot of suspicion from the population, but their services are too useful to be ignored.

And another example:
In this feudal land, there are none more respected than the warriors who swear fealty to a lord and live and die for him. They guard the land vigilantly against its many enemies - foremost among those are the Cloud Wizards who dwell on remote mountaintops, fly through the air, and bring bad weather and bad fortune as everyone knows. Furthermore, the warriors know that as long as they face battle and death bravely, they are assured a honored place among their ancestors. No one doubts this publicly, for to doubt is shameful. However... doubts remain. And thus, many - perhaps even most warriors - secretly consult mediums to contact their ancestors and ease their doubts. If the ancestors are pleased with the warrior, they will tell him through the medium. If they are not pleased, they will tell the warrior how to atone for their failings so that they can restore their honor before passing on to the other side. The mediums, in turn, are well paid for this service - as long as they never talk of it and do not draw attention to their presence - for if it were known that a medium was part of a lord's household, it would mean that the lord would doubt.

Your thoughts?

EDIT: On some further thought, it's probably a good idea improve the odds that a certain class is at least respected. Thus, change the die roll for determining the social status of the class to 1d6:

1: Adored
2-4: Respected
5: Disdained
6: Reviled

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

[Campaign Idea] Eberron - The Moiras Foundation

Another campaign idea for Eberron which I would like to run one day (compare with Morgrave University Archaeologists).

During the Last War, Moiras d'Cannith became very, very rich thanks to the numerous magical constructs he sold to the Five Nations - but the devastation he saw during the war made him restless. He researched the Draconic Prophecies and was plagued by dreams of doom. When, at the end of the war, the proud nation of Cyre was destroyed in a single day through a magical cataclysm, he became convinced that the end of the world was a very real possibility. He spent the last two years of his life traveling to distant countries in order to learn more about possible threats to the world - and his will established the creation of a foundation which would allow others to do the same.

The player characters have been selected by the newly-established Board of the Moiras Foundation. They receive a generous stipend, room and board in the mansion at the outskirts of Wroat (the capital of Breland) which serves as the headquarters of the Foundation, as well as free travel with all regular Orien lightning rail and caravans and Lyrandar ships (second class only). In exchange, they are obligated to research the Draconic Prophecy as well as any groups and powers that might pose a threat to the safety of the world - and, if possible, thwart their schemes (although their primary mission is to gather information). Such groups include (but are not limited to) the Cults of the Dragon Below, the Lords of Dust, the Children of Winter, as well as other groups that seem rather suspicious and secretive (like the Blood of Vol).

The actions of the player characters - and any other agents of the Foundation - are reviewed at least annually by the Board if they are making a good efforts towards these goals, and if they fail to make a satisfactory account of their actions, they might be kicked out. Apart from that, they are free to set their own priorities on how to tackle those goals, although individual members of the Board sometimes pass on hints on suggestions on what kinds of activities they would consider to be worthwhile.

Of course, while the stipend and the other perks are sweet, this job comes with quite a few enemies. All these cults, for example, will object most violently to their activities getting exposed. Furthermore, the three surviving splinter groups of House Cannith would love to get their hands on the Moiras inheritance to help rebuild their House, and will fight the Foundation in the courts, in the eyes of public opinion (especially if the PCs mess up), and possibly through more underhanded means. Finally, the members of the Board might have their own hidden agendas which are not necessarily the same as that of the Foundation - what if an agent of the Aurum sits on the Board? Or of the Chamber?

Basically, this campaign framework is my excuse for running Call of Cthulhu-esque adventures in Eberron, while also providing a framework why player characters would participate in such adventures again and again. In fact, this was based on a similar framework for 1920s Call of Cthulhu which I saw on a website somewhere (unfortunately, I lost the link), and I figure it was well worth stealing for Eberron, with some further modifications to suit the setting.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

[Exalted] Gankorou's Freehold

Ah, Gankorou - possibly my favorite NPC in my old Exalted campaign. A Fair Folk noble, he was the first major personality the PCs encountered as they ventured into Creation. He had abducted a number of villagers and dream-eaten then, and the PCs were sufficiently heroic that they demanded that they marched right into his Freehold, demanded that he handed them back and cease preying on the villagers.

Gankorou, of course, was delighted that a bunch of Solars were coming to visit him and quickly agreed to this, provided that one of them could defeat him in a duel. The Twilight accepted (they didn't have a Dawn Caste Solar at the time, and the Twilight was always the biggest twink in the group) and soundly defeated him. Then Gankorou - true to his work - handed his captives over and closed the doors of his Freehold after them. Then they discovered that the victims were dream-eaten, and what that meant.

Then, about two months later when the Night Caste was sneaking around the City of the Steel Lotus, she stumbled across Gankorou again - who was delighted to see her, and was very helpful all of a sudden. From there, he became a recurring NPC whose exploits included the following:

  • Tricking the PCs into allowing him to ravage the Temperance from every inhabitant of the Jade Plum Citadel.
  • Schemed his way into marrying Princess Midnight Pearl of the Jade Plum Citadel (who had previously been the lover of the Zenith Caste and was pregnant with his child) and becoming the new ruler of the city.
  • After being bound by lengthy Eclipse-enforced oaths into actually doing a good job in ruling the city, he committed suicide by sufficiently provoking the Night Caste during a government meeting into killing him while the Eclipse and the Twilight attempted to protect him. This subsequently pushed her into Limit Break and probably caused the biggest intra-party conflict in the entire campaign. It was the way he had wanted to go.
  • He then got his posthumous revenge on the Night Caste by naming her his successor in his will, a post she absolutely didn't wanted because she was terrified about having to rule others, but which everyone else from the Golden Lord down agreed was a good idea.
The visual design of the character, the initial personality, and of course the name of the character were inspired by the Count from Gankutuou, an anime retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo.

This guy.
Of course, the character evolved considerably from its origin throughout the campaign. And my version was not motivated out of a desire for the most fiendish revenge possible, but provoking the Solar protagonists for the Lulz - which is a rather typical stance for Fair Folk nobles. The trick, of course, is how to continue provoking Solars and living to enjoy the experience again and again - and, like the Count, Gankorou was very adept at seeming very helpful and friendly while he plotted to stab you in the back. It's a testament to his skill - and his entertainment value within the campaign - that he lasted as long as he did.

I had established that he feeds on Temperance, although I do no longer remember his original caste. Looking at the possible combinations in Graceful Wicked Masques, a Panjandrum (a Shadowed Diplomat who also feeds on Conviction) seems like the most appropriate - he was a proper little rules lawyer.

However, what he lacked in the original campaign is a proper entourage - he is the lord of a Freehold, after all - and I want to rectify that. From what I remember, his Freehold had the appearance of a crystal cave (let's make it a Level 2 Earth Demesne, which means that the cave complex is about 200 yards across). I also remember that he had blue hobgoblin hounds. But what else is in his lair? Let's consult my old favorite, the Random Nations Generator, to find out.

For government, we get Ethnocracy, meaning that one of the groups of Fair Folk living in the Freehold is lording it over the others - presumably with Gankorou's consent, who might style himself the Lord Protector of his Freehold, instead of the ruler. He might even arrange for semi-regular changes in who the current ruling faction is, for his own amusement. One of the factions are obviously the Hounds, but who are the others?

For organizations, we get the Skull and Bones society - so let's say that there is a group that serves actual skulls, claiming the skulls to be their honored ancestors. This is nonsense, of course - but the skulls say so too, and would you argue with a talking skull? We also get the Order of the Veiled Prophet, so there is another group of Fair Folk who wears veils all the time. They are not actually wearing veils in order to hide their faces - it's veils all the way down.

Among the major personalities, we get Agnes of Rome. Considering how the relics of Catholics were worshiped, the "Skull of Holy Agira" might be the center of worship for the local chapter of the Church of Balor - Agira being one of the Fair Folk who were allegedly killed during the crusade. She and some other skulls of "lesser" saints hold court in the local chapel. Another entry is Théodore Géricault - and an artist who is famous for painting pictures of human suffering and insanity is going to fit right in with a Fair Folk freehold. "Thericalt", then, is the leader of the Veiled Ones - whose purpose in life is Art, and who require a steady stream of human subjects for their Art.

Thus, the Veiled Ones are the "official" leaders of the Freehold (as opposed to the true leader, which is Gankorou). They oppress the other Commoner Rakshas, who find solace with Agira and the Church of Balor, and send out the Hounds in order to retrieve more art subjects. Both Agira and Thericalt are Commoners as well - albeit Heroic ones with more self-awareness than the others.

While a human settlement would deserve further details from the Random Nations Generator, this is probably enough for our purposes - after all, this is not a real settlement, just an facsimile of one that exists for Gankorou's entertainment. So all that remains to do is to place the cave on the map. Since I want it to be fairly close to the Emergence Cave and in the "natural" traveling direction of the PCs (that is, towards the Jade Plum Citadel), I will place it at <5,9>.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Expanding the Random Nations Generator

I've mentioned both the Arcana Wiki and its Random Nations Generator before - in fact, I have used the latter fairly frequently for building anything from small villages to entire planets.

The Random Nations Generator is still a work in progress, however - and it always will be, since it uses Arcana Wiki entries as "feed" for its random entries. And it is easy to expand the feed by writing new Arcana Wiki entries and giving them the appropriate tags. That being said, it's probably a good idea to take stock of the current situation and see what is in the most need of expansion. This is also intended as a guide to other volunteers who wish to contribute to the wiki.

Government: Currently at 19 entries, which isn't bad - but looking at the page with the list of governments, there are lots of very iconic government types still missing. Could use some work.

Powerful Organizations: Currently only 39, which is too few since there tend to be a lot more of those than there are types of government in a single nation. The potential variety of organizations is staggering - what should be added next here?

Major Personalities: Currently at 60, which provides more variety than for organizations. Still, if you use the generator often enough the entries will get repetitive.

Major Political Issues: With 142 entries, this category is not an immediate concern - although more entries are always appreciated.

Major Projects: On the other hand, this category has only 40 entries, which is not nearly enough.

Type of Economy: And this has only 10 entries, which is far too few. Unfortunately, I am also unqualified to expand much on this.

Trade goods: Here the picture is mixed.

So while pre-industrial, modern, and science fiction trade goods are doing okay, fantasy trade goods and especially raw resources could use some major expansion.

Forms of Worship: 32 entries - not too bad, but there are so many different forms of worship out there that there is lots of room for expansion.

Worshiped Entities: 43 entries - and considering all the deities and entities that were worshiped throughout history, this definitely needs expansion.

Major Races/Species: 23 is far too few for such a vast topic, considering all the depictions of sapient creatures throughout history.

Significant Creatures: With 118 entries, we are on much firmer ground here.

Cultural Influences: While we are on safe ground with 92 entries, the problem is that most of these entries are merely "stubs" - largely empty pages for individual countries without any background information.

Historic Events: While 45 entries isn't bad, it could be better.

Dominant Terrain: While 27 entries is not a large number, I don't think this is much of a problem since this is one category where it is okay that entries come up frequently.

Famous Locations: With 177 entries, we have a very nice selection already. Still, the more the merrier...

To sum it up, the main categories that need expansion in my opinion are Powerful Organizations, Major Projects, Raw Resources, Type of Economy, and Major Races/Species. Less urgent, but also in need of expansion are Government, Major Personalities, Forms of Worship, Worshiped Entities, and Historic Events.

I will probably tackle Powerful Organizations and Major Projects by going through the archives of the Suppressed Transmissions Community. Is anyone willing to tackle the other categories?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

GURPS Numenera - some conversion notes

I like the setting of Monte Cook's Numenera - it's science-fantasy atmosphere in an impossible distant future built on the ruins of many prior civilizations scratches a lot of itches for me. However, I am not particularly fond of the Cypher system it makes use of. Going into my full list of issues with the system is beyond the scope of this blog post, so let me just focus on one aspect: I find the system for character creation and growth too limiting.

Yes, I am aware that the descriptor/type/focus split allows for a lot of possible combination, but in the end it still locks you into a fairly rigid level and advancement system - but if any setting should allow for totally wild character archetypes, it's Numenera! What if you want to specialize in stuff that's covered by a focus? Or a particular set of skills? Or want to combine powers of two foci? Or want to play a visitant (non-human) who also has a focus?

Which is where GURPS, my favorite system comes in - providing these options becomes ridiculously easy.

The Powers

The base for our Numenera conversion becomes the "Powers" system from GURPS Powers, which provides "ready-made" packages of advantages which can be taken individually and modified further with enhancements and limitations. For example, the "Cold/Ice" and the "Heat/Fire" powers both have the "Innate Attack" advantage listed, but the form these attacks take will obviously be different for both powers - with the "Cold/Ice" power, you might throw around icicles or just cool down the body temperature of your opponent, causing internal damage, while with the "Heat/Fire" power you could project a jet of flame or be wreathed in an aura of fire - all these and many more can be specified in GURPS, and this kind of variety is also true for many other advantages in the system.

The following powers from GURPS Powers are suitable for Numenera:

Air, Animal Control, Anti-Psi*, Astral Projection, Bioenergy, Body Alteration, Body Control, Cold/Ice, Darkness, Death, Dimension Travel, Earth, Electricity, Electrokinesis, ESP, Force Constructs, Gravity, Healing, Heat/Fire, Illusion, Kinetic Energy, Life, Light, Machine Telepathy, Magnetism, Matter Control, Plant Control, Probability Alteration, Psychokinesis, Radiation, Sound/Vibration, Spirit Control**, Telepathy, Teleportation, Vampirism, Water, Weather Control

*There should also be an equivalent "Anti-Dimensional" power which blocks entities from and access to other dimensions.
** "Spirit Control" here means the "spirits" of the Datasphere, the global information network that spans the planet.

The Time Mastery power would also be genre-appropriate for Numenera, but the GM might not be willing to open that particular can of worms.

The "Phasing" and "Speed" powers from GURPS Supers are also available.

The Power Modifiers

Each Power in GURPS also has a so-called "Power Modifier", which specifies the source of the power in question - which also usually specifies the weaknesses this power has.

The following Power Modifiers from GURPS Powers are appropriate:

Biological, Chi, Psionic, Spirit

Again, "Spirit" means beseeching or manipulating the entities of the Datasphere.

The following Power Modifiers from GURPS Supers are also available:

Electronic, Mechanical, Mutant, Nanotech, Savant

Finally, I would also introduce a "Dimensional" Power Modifier for powers which work by accessing other dimensions, which can be blocked via both special advantages and skills (like a "Anti-Dimensional" power) and special technology, form a total modifier of -10%.

Putting it together

Let's say a character wants to grow some claws for close combat. Is it some kind of inborn biological process? Then he uses the Body Alteration power with the Biological modifier, or possibly Mutant. Do nanites emerge from his body and reshape his hand? Also Body Alteration, but this time with Nanotech. Has he just trained so extensively with that secret order of monks that he can use his life energies to make his hands work like claws? Then it's Bioenergy or Body Control with the Chi limitation. Each starts with the same base effect - Claws - but each approach is different with its own strengths and weaknesses, and each suggests different themes for further powers of the character.

The GM might initially limit PCs to one power source, or two. Learning how to access new power types and power sources can be the focus of entire adventures or campaign arcs - but it's possible in GURPS, unlike in the Cypher system where your focus will never change.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

[Exalted] Emergence Cave

Let's begin with our exploration of An-Teng's High Lands! The obvious starting point is the cave where the player characters emerge into Creation.

This "cave" is actually the hidden place of one of the five component souls of Yaldabaoth - the one Primordial that "went missing" after the Primordial War and didn't reveal itself during the First Age (unlike the one that triggered the Aftershock War, as described in Dreams of the First Age). Each of the component souls is half in Creation and half on Earth - the Primordial couldn't transfer its entire Essence to Earth, since it would starve there, but this arrangement ensured it still received sufficient energy from the machine that is Creation while minimizing its actual presence there - thus protecting it from the searching eyes of the Solar host. Each of the component souls was "buried" in a different direction of Creation, and this is the Southern location.

And it would still be completely hidden, if not for the work of the Dowager of the Irreverent Vulgate in Unrent Veils - who discovered the Eastern component when it became part of a Shadowland and started meddling with it (turning it into the Well of Udr). This has poisoned Yaldabaoth, and now the component souls can be detected during the five days of Calibration - in this case, the tunnel has a vaguely "techno-organic" look to it. Naturally, the PCs will emerge on the very last day of Calibration, and only if they return during the next Calibration will they be able to learn anything of this place - if they think of it.

I suppose this is as good a place as any to discuss how the "laws of physics" of both Creation and Earth interact. The Exalted developers have stated that they are strongly different in their vision of the setting, which is why you can't just develop Earth technology in Creation. However, I want to take a different approach for this campaign, for consistency's sake - while Creation is an artificial construct within the Wyld, its laws are largely patterned after that of the physical universe - since that's where the Primordials originally came from. So yes, you probably could reinvent Earth technology in Creation - or bring such technology through a gate. Straightforward mechanical devices will fare better than complex electronics though, since everything inanimate that comes to Creation will attract a Small God in fairly short order - and that might have... interesting consequences for things like smart phones and the like. Creation-based artifacts, on the other hand, take the Small Gods into account.

On Earth, on the other hand, artifacts brought from Creation will work, since they bring their Small Gods with them - but creating them on Earth is more difficult, since there aren't any Small Gods around. Thus, you will need to substitute something for them - the Dowager uses human souls, of course, and she has been busy infiltrating the American military-industrial complex...

An added problem is that it is harder to respire Essence - after all, getting access to more Essence was the main reason why the Primordials shaped Creation in the first place! For the time being, I will assume that any beings which can respire Essence in Creation will recover it on Earth at half the normal rate. Heartstones will work normally, though - bring a few before heading there!

But back to the Emergence Cave. I was fairly vague about the location in my old campaign, but looking at the map I've decided to put it at <6,9>.

That's a fairly remote location, away from major settlements and the trade route to the Lap (which follows the river to the north that flows through <7,6>. It also has a clear path for the PCs to follow - they can just walk downriver until they reach the Jade Plum Citadel at <1,8>, where they will likely head so that they can learn more about this world. And on the way, I can place some showcase locations and encounters to emphasize how this world differs from Earth...

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

[Exalted] Hexes over An-Teng

After establishing the basic premise of the Exalted campaign in the last post, let's get started on the actual sandbox! For this, we need to generate a hex map of the area that interests us. Which, for the purpose of this campaign, means An-Teng and its surrounding areas. There are many ways of doing this, but I will walk you through my approach.

First, you will need Inkscape, a free Open Source vector-based graphics program. Vector-based graphics software has the advantage that its images can be very easily scaled, which we will need. For further processing you will also need some bitmap-based graphics software. I generally use GIMP, since that's what I am used to, but these days I am also eyeing Krita, which has a better collection of virtual brushes. Both are also free Open Source products.

Next we need to decide on the map scale - the size of each individual hex. After some deliberation I've decided to go with 25 miles hexes (side to side) - a fairly large scale (I used 10 miles hexes in the Cold Frontier campaign), but as we will see later, that still gives us plenty of hexes to cover - and it fits the "Fives" theme of Exalted, too. And while I do want to encourage a sandbox approach in this campaign, the goal of an Exalted campaign cannot be to explore every last space on the map, so we should pick a map scale that makes each location at least moderately important.

Now we need both pre-existing setting maps and a hex grid that we can put on top of them. First, I started with the Exalted 3E map of Creation that is floating around the Internet - this is the best version I could find. Then I opened up the Layer menu in Inkscape ("Layer->Layers...") and created a new layer, giving the layer the name "Creation Map". I then loaded the map of Creation into this layer via "File->Import" and locked the layer (by clicking on the "lock" symbol) - this makes sure that the image doesn't get moved around or altered when I work on other stuff.

Then I copied the map of An-Teng from Compass of Terrestrial Directions IV: The South and imported it into a new layer (entitled "An-Teng Map"). Then, using the "Select and transform objects tool" (the black arrow thingie at the top of the tool menu) I moved this map around and scaled it until its coastline roughly matched up with the larger map of Creation (tip: press on "Ctrl" while scaling this image so that the ratio of the sides will remain the same). This way, we can use the scale and surrounding areas of the larger Creation map while still using the details from the smaller An-Teng map.

Next, we need a suitable hex grid which we can lay over the map. There are a number of different free hex grid generators available online - sadly, my favorite is currently offline, but I will just recycle the hex grid I used for my Cold Frontier campaign. It's in the SVG format, which is what Inkscape uses natively, and has 11x8 hexes on a single "page", which I found useful in my old campaign.

Now we need to scale it to a suitable size. The Creation map has a scale in the middle of the ocean, which allows us to determine what a distance of 500 miles represents - which is equal to 20 hexes in the hexgrid.

Thus, we import the hex grid into our Inkscape file - again using a new layer (entitled "Hex Scale"). Since the map scale is shown horizontally but the hex grid is aligned vertically, we first need to rotate the grid by 90 degrees (via "Object->Rotate 90° CW"). Then, since a single grid only has a length of 11 hexes, we copy and paste the grid and place the second one next to it, so that the two grids fit into each other precisely. Then we select both of the grid and scale and move them so that the 500 mile map scale is covered by exactly 20 hexes. The end result should look something like this:

Now the hex grid has the correct scale, and all we need to do is rotate it back (via "Object->Rotate 90° CCW") - then we can copy and paste it over all the places we are interested in (do that on a new layer, though - and lock the old layer to make sure you don't lose the scale). The end result could look something like this:

If you prefer drawing maps on paper, you could just print this out and draw the map anew on empty hex paper. However, personally I prefer to draw maps digitally - a halfway decent graphics program (and GIMP is entirely sufficient for this purpose) and a graphics tablet make this process a lot more fun in my opinion. While I use my Wacom Cintiq these days, a vastly cheaper Wacom Baboo tablet (which you can get for less than a hundred bucks) works as well.

For this process, select the single hex grid of the area you want to start with. Then go on "File->Export Bitmap...", and make sure that the "Selection" option is chosen. Pick a bitmap size you are comfortable with (I generally choose a height of 1000-1200 pixels for this purpose) and export it (it might be helpful later on if you also note the resolution - that is, the dpi value - as well).

Then open up the image with GIMP. This gives you a base background image you can paint over - but before we start painting, there is one important further step. Go on "File->Open as Layer" - and import the empty hex grid in SVG format. If you choose the same height for the hex grid as you have for your background image, then the new grid should appear exactly on top of the background grid.

Lock this new layer in the Layer menu of GIMP. From now on, no matter what you paint over the background image, the grid itself will remain.

How to draw maps is beyond the scope of this post - there are plenty of tutorials online you can look up - but the end result should be a hex map with the basic terrain features which you then can use for your further work.

And as a final note, you can even re-import this into your original Inkscape map and align it with its grid - this way, you can slowly piece a large map together by adding the regional maps you created.

But that's enough for map-making for the time being - now we need to fill it up with locations!

Monday, August 3, 2015

[Exalted] There and Back Again - An Origin Story

A long time ago, in a city far away, I ran a long-running Exalted campaign that straddled the first and second edition of that game. It was a great campaign that taught me a lot about GMing, but it was not without its weaknesses. One problem were issues with the rule systems, which hopefully the 3rd Edition will fix. Another was that I was not always as prepared as I should have - and preparation is rather important for a game like Exalted, where the player characters are extraordinarily powerful and can do lots of unexpected things. Of course, "preparation" should not mean "creating railroad plots", since the PCs are likely to take the railroad, tie it to an arrow, and shoot it into the sun with their bow (and Exalted is one of the few games where this could happen literally). But a good sandbox-style preparation, with lots of things to do in many directions like I have done for my Cold Frontier campaign, would probably work very well.

But let us first discuss the "origin story" of the campaign. I was rather impressed by the anime series The Twelve Kingdoms, where - like in many other stories - a Japanese school girl is brought to a strange and fantastic world and slowly discovers that she has an important destiny there. However, unlike in many other such stories by the end of the first arc she decides against returning to her own world (which would have killed her in the long run anyway, though to her credit that is not a major consideration in her decision) and instead remain as the queen of a major kingdom. Much of the rest of the story is about how she tries to deal with her new role.

Thus, I decided that the PCs should likewise start out as people from modern-day Earth - who are then exalted as Solars and transported to Creation (the province of An-Teng, to be precise). And, at least initially, they are stuck there. But now they can explore a world full of injustices that will offend the sensibilities of the average member of a modern-day democratic society - and they also have the powers to actually do something about them. Which will, of course, get them into no end of trouble - but since "PCs getting into trouble" is what most role-playing game campaigns are all about, I don't see a downside.

Of course, I needed to come up with an explanation for how Creation and modern-day Earth could exist in the same setting. And this was the result:

The Origin Story

"In the beginning, there was light.

The universe came into being. Energy congealed into matter, matter congealed into stars, and stars congealed into galaxies. Life flourished on countless worlds and winked out again. Civilizations flourished, only to be destroyed and forgotten.

And unseen from the physical universe there was another dimension that connected to every place at once. It had many names. Chaos. Hyperspace. Wyld. Many thinking beings accessed it and made use of its vast energies to travel to distant stars or create great works of magic. Yet this was never without risk, for the Wyld was populated by strange, chaotic beings both small and vast beyond comprehension – and woe to the astromancer who encountered one of the Great Unshaped in his journeys...

On one world, civilization reached such heights that its people attained immortality by transcending their formerly mortal bodies. Instead they formed new bodies, made equally out of physical and spiritual matter, and slowly the millions of individual souls congealed into vast mass minds with distinct personalities, taking on names such as Cecelyne, Authochton, or Ebon Dragon. In time, these beings would become known as the “Primordials”. They soon discovered that their new dual existence meant that they were constantly present in the Wyld, and constantly had to battle its entities – the beings eventually known as the Fair Folk, or Raksha – who regarded them as an irritant in their perfect Chaos. While the Fair Folk were no match for the Primordials, the latter soon grew weary of the constant fighting, and so set out to create a refuge – a place where the Fair Folk would not be able to go and fight them.

They thus created a vast realm of stability in the rolling Chaos of the Wyld. They formed five Elemental Poles – of Fire, Water, Air, Wood, and Earth – and set up the Laws of Nature that governed this new realm. Thus, Creation was born.

But they soon discovered that the Fair Folk, while unable to get far into Creation itself, would nonetheless continue to nibble at the edges and gradually erode this world’s stability. This was unacceptable. They thus created a large number of independent servitor spirits – entities later known as “gods” – and charged them with defending Creation. To provide them with an incentive to perform this task beyond mere survival, they made the gods dependent on the worship of mortal beings. The reasoning was sound – if the gods defended Creation well, then the mortals would prosper and multiply, and the gods would increase in power (though the Primordials put in safeguards to make sure the gods would never be able to attack them directly). Conversely, if the Fair Folk would be successful in their attempts to erode Creation, the amount of worship would decrease. This, the Primordials reasoned, would be sufficient incentive for the gods to do their job well.

Now the only thing missing was the mortal worshipers. The Primordials abducted thinking beings from a number of worlds, but the best candidates were a race of barely sapient hairless apes from a world that would eventually be called “Earth” by its inhabitants. They were a weak and feeble race, and obviously unable to pose much of a threat to anyone, least of all the Primordials. At the same time, they had a high fecundity and a strong disposition towards religious worship even on a world where there was no one to answer their prayers. So groups of humans were introduced to Creation (as well as a myriad of plants and animals to provide a suitable environment for them), and everything went as planned – under the tutelage of the gods, they expanded rapidly, and the borders of Creation even expanded somewhat as the gods raided into Fair Folk territory to provide more room for their followers! Highly satisfied with this state of affairs, the Primordials retreated to the celestial city of Yu-Shan and concentrated on refining arts and games incomprehensible to mortal beings to stave off boredom.

Of how the gods eventually grew jealous of their creators and created mortal champions to fight them, much has been said elsewhere, and it shall not be repeated here. But it shall be mentioned that while most of the Primordials either allied with the gods, were killed, or banished to the infernal realm of Malfeas, not all shared one of these fates. The Primordial known as Yaldabaoth was the one responsible for discovering the planet Earth and abducting many of its inhabitants to Creation – and in desperation, he set out to flee there. He faked his own death while in combat with the Exalted, and then split himself up into five component souls which tunnelled through the very fabric of Creation to Earth. The tunnel entrances were concealed with its mightiest magics to hide them from its Exalted pursuers.

The ruse worked. While some Exalted wondered that the fight against Yaldabaoth was easier against those against his fellows, the giddiness of victory overwhelmed all doubts – and since no one had heard about the Primordial ever since, any doubts about him eventually vanished entirely and the matter was forgotten. In the meantime, Yaldabaoth had been busy – remembering the betrayal of the gods and the humans, it wanted to make sure that no one on his new hideout was capable of defeating him again. To do this, he attacked and destroyed the most powerful centers of magical learning, which later gave rise to legends about the Wrath of the Gods and sunken continents such as Atlantis and Lemuria. He then merged with the planet itself, and reduced his Wyld presence as much as possible, leaving only a strong barrier between the Wyld and the physical world surrounding Earth – including him. While this effort protected him from the Fair Folk this imbalance also cost him most of his awareness – now he was only be able to exist in a half-slumbering state, barely aware of events elsewhere. But given that his enemies might have been able to track a fully aware and potent Primordial, he considered that to be a price he had to pay. This barrier also prevented most humans from accessing Wyld energies at all – only those who had learned to fully channel their essence were able to practice magic, and Yaldabaoth sent some of his component souls after those who did so too often. As a result, the true Arts and Sciences of magic all but died out on Earth or were relegated to the realm of superstition, and Yaldabaoth – who eventually only became known as the Demiurge by those few who were aware of him at all – slept and dreamed secure in the knowledge that he was finally safe from harm.

Millenia passed. In Creation, the Solar Exalted were betrayed and slaughtered. Creation suffered under the Great Contagion and dwindled under the onslaught of the Fair Folk. While their assault was stopped for some time by the intervention of the Scarlet Empress, the rise of the Deathlords meant that even worse was to come.

One of these Deathlords was the Dowager of the Irreverent Vulgate in Unrent Veils. When she created a Shadowland far in the East of Creation, she discovered one of the escape tunnels created long ago by Yaldabaoth, possibly because the concealment powers were weakened now that the tunnel entrance was out of synch with Creation. Naming it the Well of Udr, she studied its secrets, and eventually divined its purpose. Her early forays into Creation through the Well were short, since she was attacked by Yaldabaoth’s component souls whenever she used Essence (and she was unable to regenerate Essense on Earth), but she had some early successes – there were plagues rampant on Earth to which the inhabitants of Creation had never been exposed before, and after magically enhancing them she was able to create the Great Contagion to ravage Creation. Her Neverborn masters were pleased.

Her careful and systematic studies eventually allowed her to gain access to parts of the sleeping Primordial’s mind, and she gradually wrested his secrets from his mind, gaining vast knowledge of primordial sorceries. Recently she has learned how to protect her and her servants from the component souls, and currently she is infiltrating some of the nations of Earth with her servants. The astonishing technologies developed on Earth without the use of magic will give her a huge power base and enormous advantage over her fellow deathlords, and once she is able to control the planet entirely, she might even be able to usurp the power of the Primordial, thus breaking the bonds put on her by her Neverborn masters.

Her meddling has had some unforeseen side effects, however – the concealment of the other escape tunnels, or Wells, weakened and eventually vanished entirely. Still, there was and is so much Chaos among the powers of Creation that their appearance in remote regions was only noticed by few, and their nature became known to none – until recently.

One of the Wells was located in the jungles of the Southwest, and a circle of young Solars – freshly exalted after the Scarlet Empress vanished – discovered it and went off to explore it. However, they were ambushed and killed by an experienced Wyld Hunt group while within the well. This was duly reported in the Celestial Hierarchy and got no further comment from anyone except a few expressions of relief from members of the Sidereal Bronze Faction. However, when a member of the Gold Faction named Yabok reviewed the paperwork, he noticed something very disturbing: The Solar shards of the killed Solars had not reappeared in Lytek’s office for reassignment, and indeed seemed to have vanished entirely.

Worried, Yabok travelled to the known location of the Solars’ demise, and was astonished by the Well he found. After some examination and experimentation, he discovered that with a certain Celestial Circle spell allowed him to travel through the Well – and to a world different from anything he has known before...

He soon figured out that he should keep Essense expenditure to a minimum to avoid attracting strange spiritual entities – the component souls of Yaldabaoth. And though it took him some time to adjust to this new world with its strange cultures and languages, he eventually pierced the truth together – the Solar shards had been sucked through the Well and appeared on Earth! With no divine guidance, they had attached themselves to random people during a moment of personal greatness. He attempted to find those new Solars before they were killed by the component souls. The first few times he came too late, but eventually, he succeeded and either convinced them to come with him “to a place of safety” or overwhelmed them through force, for they were still very inexperienced and he was a master of the Martial Arts. He gathered them at the Earthside entrance of the Well and prepared the spell to send them through.

But thanks to her connection to Yaldabaoth, the Dowager had now learned of these intruders – and now she sent her own servants after Yekob as well. He finished the spell just in time, sent the Solars through, and turned to hold off their pursuers for long enough, intending to follow after them – but just before he left, he was killed by a surprise attack, and the spell ended. And now the new Solars are stranded in a strange new world with strange people and customs, with only their status as accidental Chosen of the Unconquered Sun and age-old memories not their own to help them.

For the first time ever there is a circle of Solars on the loose in Creation which is ungoverned by Fate. Will they use their knowledge of Earth to reshape Creation in a new image, or will their ignorance of the ways of Creation kill them? Will they forge new nations in Creation or will they desire to go home again – and if they do go home to Earth, what will they find there as the plans of the Dowager ripen?

What legends will be told of their deeds – on both Creation and Earth?"

And now...

I don't know if I will run Exalted 3E at any time in the next few years. But I didn't know I would be running my Cold Frontier campaign either when I started preparing it - but when the decision came, I was very glad indeed for all the prep work I had already done, since it helped me set up the campaign quickly. Therefore, I will give my old Exalted campaign a "do-over" and prepare it in the vein of a sandbox campaign. As long as I am not committed to running it, I won't be in a hurry to fill out all the blank spots on the map, since later publications for the new line (such as the new varieties of Exalted) could give me new ideas for stuff to put there. But it won't hurt to have lots of details already before I get to that point.