Saturday 30 December 2017

Love, Silence and Rage: Three Goddesses

Listen children, with an opened heart, and know the ways
Of the darkness. How it twists the unwary soul!
Three the kinds of love: love of home and one’s own that warms
Every good heart, as a winter fire balms the footsore traveller.
The raw taming of passion, by goodness, to love and beauty.
The surrendered self, in giving, grows.
Then there is that unschooled loving, turned by torment
Into hate and twisted words, like the thorn
That rends the silken shift.
An excerpt from the “Hymn of the Three Loves”, a meditation by the philosopher-minstrel Evrahm of Mysorio, dating from some two hundred years after Shroudfall.




Today’s post introduces three rather disparate deities: the goddesses Tiavestha, Ventuphares and Yelith Bloodheart. Although they are quite disparate in their mythology and areas of concern, they are united by themes of love, beauty and the vicissitudes of the feminine in the New Kingdoms.


TIAVESTHA

Neutral Good

"Hestia" by Sandra M. Stanton

Also known as the Keeper of the Flame Most Sacred, Tiavestha is Zajepurti’s eldest and most powerful daughter, although her might is expressed in subtle ways not readily understood by devotees of the flashier powers. During the wars between the New Gods and the Wilder Gods, Tiavestha was betrayed by Drakanuska and captured by Modrus who then held her in the Great Deeps for millennia. Eventually redeemed by the cleverness of her brother Enzirien and the self-sacrifice of Nesephsoris, she returned, outwardly unharmed by her long imprisonment under the scornful gaze of the Lord Beneath. In truth, she had been much changed, her power hidden from His Burning Gaze by her indomitable will. Always quiet and gentle, she is now known as the Silent Lady and the Enduring One. She is the patron of those who must suffer alone, those who hide their power (by choice: devotees of Tiavestha never act lightly) and those who work behind the scenes. In the generally patriarchal lands of the Shrouded World this means that women are her primary devotees.


Areas of Influence: Home and Hearth, Ritual and Ceremony, Protection, Self-Control, the Sacred Flame.


Primary worshippers: in almost every human home in the settled lands there is a shrine to Tiavestha, whose worship is one of the most widespread of all deities. Married women, mothers, domestic servants and those men and women who practice ritual magic are her principal devotees. Men tend to fear her, and honour her – if somewhat diffidently – and only the most resolutely paternal and brutal men disregard the Lady of Silences. She does have male Priests, although they are seldom privy to the greater mysteries.

Priestly Templates & Spheres: Priests of Tiavestha must take the Pure Channelling template and may access the following spheres: Community, Peace, Wisdom or Fire. The latter option is available to women Priests only. In addition female Priests of Tiavestha do not suffer a penalty to Spell Casting if they are unable to speak.

Pathfinder Domains & Subdomains: Community, Fire (women only), Good, Home, Isolation, Rites (women only).



VENTUPHARES

Chaotic Good

Ventuphares is one of the most beloved and called-upon deities, for her purview is love, beauty, art and harmonious relationships (as these are expressed in coupling, the sexual act, art and nature). She values beauty and love above all, and thus sybarites and aesthetes are her most fervent devotees. But any who seek out love are her concern – save where the desire is jealous possession of the other, or a self-serving lust for mastery over others through celebrity. In those cases, she refuses aid. Only those of open heart and respectful of others receive the blessings of Ventuphares.


Areas of Influence: Love, Art, Beauty.


Primary worshippers: artists, musicians, poets, lovers, romantics and the lonely.

Priestly Templates & Spheres: Priests of Ventuphares must select the Pure Channelling template. They may access the following spheres: Arts, Crafts, Culture, Literature/Poetry, Love, Music/Dance or Peace.

Pathfinder Domains & Subdomains: Art, Charm, Friendship, Good, Love, Song.


YELITH


Chaotic Neutral


Few deities are as misunderstood as Yelith Bloodheart: hers is the power of the dark rage of the oppressed, of those spurned and misused – particularly women and children. Because her power is born in grief, pain and anger it is associated with wildness and evil, yet it is not necessarily so. It is however, apt for abuse in the wrong hands, or in the hands of those so warped by misuse or repression that they know no restraint. Yelith herself was the first mate of Zajepurti, but was cast aside for Jhurenai, a goddess so dissimilar in nature and temperament as to be almost opposite. Where Jhurenai is orderly, trustworthy and concerned with fairness and rights, Yelith is wild, passionate and untameable, driven by fey moods and violent emotion. Those who follow her are noteworthy for their vengeful, jealous nature and their insistence on complete freedom in all matters save one area: perhaps because of Yelith’s jilting by Zajepurti, she and her priesthood insist that when one voluntarily restricts oneself (as in marriage, contracts and oaths), if the sovereign autonomy of the individual is to have any value or meaning, then honouring such commitments is an absolute duty. The other defining aspect of Yelith and her worship is her femininity: Yelith considers herself a voice for women and their travails in a predominantly patriarchal world. Her followers dabble in the darker aspects ascribed to femininity: blood, emotional control, curses, blight and barrenness. This, in combination with her wildness, has led to the active suppression of her cult in many areas (which suppression has led inexorably to those who call upon Yelith becoming ever more extreme, extravagant and –some would say – evil). Needless to say, the disciples of Jhurenai are among Yelith’s most virulent opponents, considering no sanction too great to uproot and destroy her faith.



Areas of Influence: Rebellion/Freedom, Women, Vengeance against Oppressors/Unfaithful.


Primary worshippers: outsiders, ‘women scorned’, the oppressed.

Priestly Templates & Spheres: Priests of Yelith must take the Pure Channelling template, and may access the Darkness/Night, Mischief/Trickery or Justice/Vengeance spheres.

Only females may be Priests of Yelith. They gain the following bonuses: +15 to Lie Perception, +10 to Magical Ritual (for the purposes of seduction only), Magical Ritual (for the purposes of blight/barrenness rituals only) and may develop Seduction, Frenzy and Spell Trickery as Everyman skills.

Domains & Subdomains: Darkness, Deception, Ferocity, Freedom, Night, Retribution.



As a post script: the deities of the New Kingdoms have their archetypal origin in Classical and Hebrew mythology writ rather large - with some changes made here and there. I'd like to think - or at least, hope! - that they retain a certain symbolic appeal, and that my rather psychoanalytical(?) Jungian(?) perspective lends them some sense of newness, nuance or depth.

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Which Comes First: System or Setting?

The title of this post isn’t really a chicken-or-egg question: in most cases, I surmise, the system you’re using comes first, and, if you’re so inclined, you create a setting using the resources provided by the system. Until, that is, the tension between system and setting becomes too great. Then you’ve got the choice of shoehorning your setting into the rule box or opening out the ruleset with hand-waving and/or house rules. In my own games, most of the house rules that I create and apply come from my frustrations with the system. Against that, most of the house rules my players thrash out, create and apply arise from their frustrations with combat.

I’ll come out right now and own up: combat, while exciting and fun, isn’t my focus. I’ve played multiple systems and considered many more, and have found most rules for combat freighted with problems, whilst generally providing a great deal of enjoyment, regardless. Most of the combat-related issues I’ve had to consider over the years break down comfortably into two categories: the ones deemed by my players to be generally unfair, and the ones where one player thinks they’ve found an advantage only to discover that the rules can be interpreted for and against their funky idea. I’ve found this everywhere, and don’t expect it to change. Most rules simply can’t simulate everything and most are weighed down with internal contradictions, even where they seek a level of abstraction that ought reasonably to eliminate much of the problems apparent with more simulationist offerings.

So let’s get that out of the way.  As long as combat does an OK job and doesn’t perpetrate injustices that leave players grumbling for whole sessions – or longer – I’m content. My problem with systems is where they place strictures on worldbuilding. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed Rolemaster so much over the years is that the basic structure of the game is a pretty good springboard for adaptation to the requirements of the setting. Hence the question, properly phrased: which should come first, the system or the setting?

I’ve pretty much telegraphed my answer already, but I’ll make it explicit: for me as a GM, setting comes first, even if you end up with a brain-curdling mash-up/love child of ten different systems. I’ve tried to put this into practice around a Rolemaster base, but my patience is fraying a tad, primarily because I did a huge amount of work to bring what I considered the necessary flexibility to RM2 and then RMFRP, and now, I’m facing a new contraction of options as the new RM takes shape. I’m aware, of course, that new options will gradually come available, and that’s fine so far as it goes. But will the options serve my campaign world? Probably not, and for several reasons, which I’ll discuss below.

Spell Lists & Realms: I like RM’s spell list system, although I like other systems better. But as it’s presented in previous incarnations of RM (and in the playtest documents for the latest version), I’m finding it increasingly confining. Yes, I know you can adapt it: I’ve done that plenty.  However, the current system cuts down creativity for both GM and players. There’s a bit of a myth in RM that, if you have the Development Points you can do anything, but this is somewhat hyperbolic.  In the RM2 core rules – and more emphatically in the new system – you can’t learn lists from a realm that is not your own. RM2 introduced options whereby you could do so, and this was carried over to RMFRP Core Rules, but the problem has returned. But are realms the true source of the problem? Or is it, on the other hand, professions?

Professions: RM orthodoxy tells us that the development point costs obtained via professions are a reflection of aptitude and early training. Thus they are flexible, but not too flexible. If you make large sacrifices you can – rather pointlessly – master skills or magic beyond the ken of most members of your profession. I understand the reasoning, but I really don’t like it: if you are the sum of your early training and inherent aptitudes, cultures should be professions.  We should see 12th level Wood Elves and 17th level Ogres, not 12th level Wood Elf Illusionists and 17th level Ogre Fighters. But we don’t. Culture is an add-on to professions, and of profoundly limited influence, usually granting no more than a few set skill ranks and a couple of bonuses or penalties to various activities. Race has a bit more of an impact, as racial stat bonuses create difficulties in some areas (think Elven Self-Discipline penalties, for instance. Elven Warrior Monks will always struggle to utilise some core abilities). To me, professions, whilst not infinitely elastic, should have greater flexibility, particularly with regard to access to magic.

One possibility is to ditch all professions and use one (‘No Profession’) set of DP costs (or, if that’s too extreme, a Non-Spell user, Spell-user and Semi-spell user set of costs). One could replace professions with cultural DP costs (but allow a couple of individual skill specialisations). Or one could simply abandon the whole professions-as-inborn-aptitude notion and treat ‘professions’ as ‘classes’, with all that that entails (multi-classing rears its head here!).

I find myself oscillating constantly between different options, but these days I find myself leaning ever closer to the one size fits all approach: one set of DP costs, for everyone. Allow extra rapid skill development for folks who want to be really good at a narrow range of skills. Allow players to choose their own realm(s) and base lists (maybe 1 Background Option per extra realm) and insist on a set amount of base lists (3?4?) coming from one ‘profession’ to ensure focus whilst encouraging diversity. Grant 60 DP a level to allow for better characters at lower levels and a point buy for stats. I’d marry it to the ‘Archetypal & Cultural Builds’ system that I’ve previously mentioned here, retaining the unique abilities and skill unlocks but drop all components to do with skill costs.


I like this method of - errrm - re-mastering Rolemaster because it is comparatively ‘low magic’ and guarantees a reasonably level playing field. But most of all, by eliminating the artificial flexibility of ‘professions’ with one set of skill costs, you get a kind meta-flexibility. Everything – players, NPCs, even, conceivably, monsters – is built on one base, but you then have all of those spell lists – and individual spells for ‘special abilities’ – from which to choose. Oddly enough,  in some ways, the less that is built into a system – the more torso-like it is – the more options you have (which is why I've been enjoying re/discovering the OSR).

So here's the takeaway, for the purposes of this blog: henceforward, a reasonable portion of the fairly small amount of material for RM (see this post) I publish here will be based on the approach noted above: it sure ain't RAW, and if anyone wants to use it, it'll require adaptation for regular RM (whatever your flavour). But its a system I can carry over to the new generation RM, and its simplicity enables it to map across nicely to OSR games (and, when I'm feeling particularly complex, to Pathfinder.) 

Thursday 21 December 2017

Making More of Talents II: Getting Around Professional Limitations in RMFRP

As I've probably mentioned, I get a little disgruntled with the limitations of professions in Rolemaster. Despite assertions that any character in RM can do anything, as long they have enough development points, this simply isn't so. The system, whilst flexible, carries within it many limitations. I've used my own modified system of talents to create greater versatility for the RMFRP version. One of the possibilities I rather liked was the idea of characters taking talents to reflect early training that they later chose to abandon. Rolemaster doesn't allow for multi-classing (the conceit is that profession development costs reflect innate aptitudes, not training, so you certainly cannot multi-class), so talent packages of the type shown below are about as close as one can get.
The idea for Profession Training Talent Packages is based loosely on an optional rule from the old Arms Companion (now sadly unavailable). The following sample packages (there are lots more) give a rough outline of what they look like.

Fighter Training (cost: 32 Talent Points)

To qualify for this package, you must not be a Fighter, Swashbuckler, Barbarian or Magent.

Although you elected to follow a different path, in your early years, you dabbled in combat training. Eventually, you decided that such things were not for you, but you have not forgotten your old skills. You may nominate one weapon which you develop as if it were an Everyman skill. In addition, you gain +10 to one Weapon Group, one Armour Group, one non-Restricted Combat Maneuver and one non-Restricted Special Attack.

Illusionist Training (cost: 32 Talent Points)

To qualify for this package, you must not be an Illusionist, and must take Essence as your Realm (or be an Essence hybrid spellcaster).

Although you elected to follow a different path, in your early years, you dabbled in the magic of Illusion. Eventually, you decided that such things were not for you, but you have not forgotten your old skills, retaining some knowledge of magic and illusion spells, as well as knack for crafting fine effects when creating your illusions and phantasms. You gain 10 ranks that you may share between 2-4 spell lists. Two of these must be Illusionist Base Lists. Should you choose any other lists, they must be Open or Closed Essence lists. You also gain special +5 bonuses to the Power Awareness and Lore-Magical skill categories. Finally, you may learn your two chosen Illusionist Base Lists and the Spell Artistry skill as Everyman skills. 

Mythic Training (cost: 32 Talent Points)

To qualify for this package, you must not be a Mythic, and must take Channeling as your Realm (or be a Channeling hybrid spellcaster).

Before you settled on your current path, you explored the way of the Mythic, and gained a grounding in the skills and some of the magic needed to track down the foes of your faith. You gain 3 ranks in one Mythic Base List and 3 ranks in one Open Channeling list. To better smite your profane foes, you also gain a +10 bonus to your primary weapon. You are also trained in the arts of Influence (gaining a +10 to that skill category), and in sniffing out enemies: you gain a special +5 bonus to the Awareness-Searching skill category, and may nominate one skill from that category as an Everyman skill.

Note that simply gaining 'free' ranks in spell lists doesn't mean they are necessarily any cheaper to develop (although the Illusionist training option does provide for that by making the Illusionist Base Lists chosen Everyman skills - by which is meant one gains 2 ranks for every single rank paid for). Incidentally, I used the Ranger Training Talent to create the NPC Mythic, Harotanu (coming soon...although you'll possibly only see her in her Pathfinder incarnation, due to IP concerns, unless I elect to rebuild her using some system like Labyrinth Lord or Fantasy Hero, or import the excellent RM alternative spell system Project BASiL from the Rolemaster Blog).

Wednesday 20 December 2017

Frames vs. Cages

So, I've been thinking quite a lot about gaming systems lately, and which best serves my purpose of getting the New Kingdoms 'out there' - and which provides the most impediment to translating setting into mechanics. Most of the work I've done on the setting is for Rolemaster, with Pathfinder a fairly distant second.

The problem here is that Rolemaster does not have anything resembling an Open Gaming License. This is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future (in a perfect world, there'd be some kind of RM OGL and I could just self-publish a bunch of New Kingdoms material for it...if wishes were horses, every beggar would ride). Whilst I respect this as a business decision, it does put the brakes on sharing New Kingdoms content, so it fails to jump that first hurdle. In addition, the setting itself doesn't quite match the mechanics in all particulars. The blog is, after all, about the New Kingdoms, not just Rolemaster. So, although I will continue to share RM material here (being as how I have a huge backlog of stuff!), this will be less of a focus, and with an eye to avoiding IP issues.

That brings us to Pathfinder: I love this sprawling system, and would love to produce work for it. Thanks to the OGL, there are options for just about any setting. I could, for example, dispense with a pet hate: 'fire-and-forget' spellcasting by using such a resource as the Spellpoint Companion. I could incorporate a comprehensive critical system by using TPK Games' Laying Waste, and I could dip in to the vast - if uneven in quality - sea of races and classes out there to give full expression to the setting options I want.

Buuuuut...Pathfinder, is, in many ways, a fully worked-up system. There are so many resources out there that few people have the inclination, let alone the time, to follow each and every possibility. Pathfinder is not just a frame, waiting for me to build upon it, and breathe life into it. It's a thriving metropolis, needing a SatNav and a lifetime to navigate. To use it successfully might require more tinkering - and cross-referencing - than I care to do. Pros and cons, cons and pros...Pathfinder material will continue to be provided, as I see the New Kingdoms taking shape across more than one system. As new PF material appears, I'll update the Pathfinder Resources Page so people can see the optional rules I'm using and seek them out if they're interested.

I've also considered Fantasy Hero: I love the extreme flexibility the system provides. I can truly incorporate anything into the game! However, I'm sufficiently grognardy to still love the idea of character classes. One can simulate these in Fantasy Hero, and perhaps I will, but for now, its not the framework I'm looking for.

So I've been looking over the various games that come under the rubric of the 'OSR', and liking some of what I see: with a certain amount of effort, I can create exactly the setting I want (no fire-and-forget!), without having to write in a whole bunch of exceptions and constantly referring people to multiple sources just to understand where I'm coming from or what I'm trying to achieve. It might also satisfy my love of strange and baroque subsystems!

Well, we shall see how that goes. As I proceed, I'd appreciate any input folks care to provide.

Or maybe I'll just make another heartbreaker. There clearly aren't enough out there already...

Thursday 14 December 2017

A Divine Trio

Her silver gaze painted argent upon the sea, 
her eyes alone could pierce that storm-strewn expanse,
light carrying song into the fathomless deep. He
who dwelled there was by love exposed and thus
confounded. Moon and wave, wedded by knowledge that
neither would nor ever could be tamed
by the other, but were equal in stillness and in wrath.
Her hurts he healed, his lament she took up
and made it new. He who feels all of time and weeps for
its passing knows now the pull of tides, the turning of 
all circles, the great and the small.
A translation of part of "The Birth of Kaenor", an ancient lyric.


As the first instalment on the deities of Verkh├╝n, I’m going to introduce two of the most beloved – and possibly misunderstood – first-echelon powers: Allusenne, the Moon-Goddess and Dironseptu, the Lord of the Sea, and their son, Kaenor. These deities are considered as developed for RMFRP, but I will provide a link in the near future to a document covering their RM2 incarnations. I have also included Pathfinder information regarding their domains and subdomains in the current post. Deity-specific feats, obediences, boons and traits may follow.

ALLUSENNE
Chaotic Neutral

Allusenne is Goddess of the Moon and presides over all that springs from the lunar realm: emotions, the body, the deep roots of the psyche, cyclical change, ebb and flow of power, dark and fey magic. Although her followers can be – and still are in some areas – castigated as practitioners of evil, this is inaccurate: their magic is more primordial and very threatening to those who privilege the coolly rational, but it is not evil, unless the intent behind its usage is evil. Allusenne and those who worship her understand that emotion precedes and dominates reason, and that true power resides in the surrendering to one’s own emotions and controlling those of others. Often, physical pleasure is a pathway to this kind of mastery and thus many of Allusenne’s more ‘sophisticated’ worshippers are often committed sensualists, hedonists or aesthetes. Those followers of Allusenne from the lower ranks of society tend not to follow such a rarefied path, concentrating instead on the visceral roots of lunar power: birth and midwifery, and the body in its various stages. Allusenne is the wife of Dironseptu and has many offspring (not all by her husband).
Areas of Influence: the Moon, Tides/Cycles, the Body (including birth and death), Powerful Emotions/Moods/Responses, Lycanthropy, Physical and Aesthetic Pleasure.
Primary worshippers: although Allusenne is more popular amongst women, her worship is widespread across genders, races and cultures. She is most often called upon by ‘wise women’, physicians, artists, those unfortunates afflicted by lycanthropy, expectant mothers and midwives.
Priestly Templates & Spheres: Priests of Allusenne use the Moon, Fertility or Arts spheres and the Pure Channelling template. They are not required to take any training packages.  
In addition, they gain the following bonuses: +25 to Control Lycanthropy, Midwifery and Frenzy.
Pathfinder Sub/Domains: Art, Captivation, Chaos, Moon, Night, Pleasure.

DIRONSEPTU
Neutral

Dironseptu is the master of the oceans with their life-giving power, beauty and violence. He is thus also the overseer of the dark, cold depths that conceal shipwrecks and horrendous devouring beasts and of mists and fogs that befuddle the mind and conceal danger. Although many shorebound regard Dironseptu as a Wilder God, he is not: he is one of the Co-creators of the World, and a great and venerable figure. His ambiguous reputation stems from the vast and many-faceted nature of water itself. Although vital to life, it can also kill. In the form of vapour it is deceptive and dangerous. It has been said by ancient philosophers that all things arise from water: followers of Dironseptu would concur, but also add that all things also return. Ultimately, this leads thoroughgoing worshippers of Dironseptu – like those of Achabdiyos – to posit that all reality is one.
Areas of Influence: The Ocean, Dreams, Drugs/Poisons/Medicines, Meditation, Self-sacrifice, Loneliness.
Primary worshippers: sailors on the high seas, dreamers, apothecaries, hermits, renunciates, exiles, poets, martyr-types, the gloomy and the lonely.
Priestly Templates & Spheres: Priests of Dironseptu may use either the Pure Channeling, Channeling/Mentalism or the Channeling/Essence templates and may access one of the following spheres: Literature/Poetry, Mystery, Oceans, Redemption, Subterfuge or Wisdom. They are not required to take a training package.
In addition, they gain the following bonuses: +10 to the Artistic•Passive category. They also gain a +10 to Brewing, Prepare Poisons, Alchemy, Prepare Herbs, Dream Lore and Meditation.
Pathfinder Sub/Domains: Dream, Medicine, Memory, Oceans, Redemption, Solitude.

KAENOR
Chaotic Neutral

Kaenor is the master of the coastal seas. He is the son of Dironseptu and Allusenne, and partakes of the mysterious – and slightly untrustworthy – nature of both his parents, although he leans more towards the occasionally violent and emotional character of his mother. He does chafe at the rule of Zajepurti, and has been known to rebel from time to time. Although he is usually restrained by the gentle influence of his father, he is drawn to the freedom-loving Wilder Gods, and may one day join their number for good.
Areas of Influence: Coastal waters, Waves, Fishing Voyages, Shipbuilding & associated crafts, Weather (in coastal areas only). Kaenor’s rule is deemed to end out of sight of land.
Primary worshippers: all those who dwell on the coasts and depend on the coastal waters for their livelihood.
Priestly Templates & Spheres: Priests of Kaenor must use the Semi-Channelling template and may access one of the following spheres: Oceans/Rivers, Weather or Prosperity.
In addition, they gain the following bonuses: +10 to Swimming, Foraging/Fauna Lore/Flora Lore (Ocean Coasts & Banks) and Weather-watching. They also gain a +15 to Base Spell Casting rolls on the Closed Channelling list Weather Ways when in Kaenor’s domain (i.e. at sea but in sight of land). Rope Mastery; Sailing; Rowing; Boat Pilot and Crafting (Net-maker, Sail-maker, Boatwright, and Bone-carving) are all developed as Everyman skills.

Pathfinder Sub/Domains: Artifice, Chaos, Flotsam, Oceans, Storms, Weather.

Religion in the New Kingdoms: A Brief Introduction

Manifold are the gods, goddesses, demi-deities and godlings of the Shrouded World. Some are weak – denizens and masters of small localities – whilst some are mighty beyond compare with all beings save their immediate rivals, commanding millions of mortal adherents and vast magical power of their own. However, it must be noted that some small-scale deities, such as Amnur, Lord of the river of the same name, have considerable power in their own domain, and unless a greater power should intervene, their mastery may be regarded as total. However, many of the weaker deities owe their allegiance to greater powers. Amnur, for example, is a vassal of Avraki, Father of Rivers and is therefore bound to do his bidding. Avraki himself is – partially at least – obedient to the wishes of those gods he considers his allies and friends (such as Kaenor, Ovrano and Vlynn), and opposes the wishes of the deities he regards as enemies (Modrus and Yelith). And of course even so potent a being as Avraki must bow to greater powers (such as Karsatos) unless supported by some other first-echelon deity.

THE DEITIES

In the Shrouded World it is possible to list the gods and goddesses in hierarchical form: First-Echelon Powers (usually representative of some powerful, all-embracing concept such as war, love or time), Second-Echelon Powers (some widely-beloved saints of the greater powers, gods and goddesses representing particular nations, races, or subsidiary concepts such as strategy, fertility or prophetic dreams) and Minor/Local Powers (ranging in potency from gods such as Amnur, noted above, to most ‘local’ saints down to very weak godlings of a particular hill or small tribe). Often these ‘powers’ are actually just medium-level fey or demons, unable to grant spells in the form of learnable spells. Their power is either directly expressed or a particular spell is channelled to their devotees.
Alongside this hierarchy of powers are the spiritual forces that are the domain of the Shaman, the elemental lords beloved of the Elemental spell-user, the greatest demons and the higher lords of the fey. All of these are potent enough to channel power in the form of learnable spells and power points to their most favoured adherents.


In addition, there is the power of ‘nature’ that is worshipped, focused and channelled by Druids, Animists and other similar casters. This too is a deific force –the ‘spirit’ of nature, so to speak – although it is not personified in quite the same way as the gods (there are nature gods and goddesses who provide spells and power points but these are not identical with the ‘spirit of nature’ and generally have a more limited reach and scope. Druids and Animists do not, except in rare cases, worship these deities).

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Menace Felt But Not Seen

In a field a quarter-mile to the east of the Chaos Well, where the corn grows tall and sways in the gentle wind that always comes down off the hills this time of year, a clawed hand cautiously pulls aside a thick green stem. Dark eyes peer at the observer Harotanu as she makes her way along the low stone fence that borders the valley of the Well. She stops as she draws parallel to the eyes, prompted by some inner urging or sensitivity nagging at her conscious mind. The eyes are hooded immediately, and the impossibly slender figure withdraws, disappearing in the corn. Harotanu’s worried grey eyes clear to a cheerful green, and she smiles wryly at her own follies, tossing her purple hair. The hand that had strayed towards the sword scabbarded at her side does not move, however, and she finishes her rounds in an even more cautious manner than usual. The thin creature waits for her to disappear from view, every moment a torment. Eventually, however, she is gone. Time for a drink, the thin thing growls inwardly and resumes its slow progress through the corn towards the wall, pausing only to whistle its new friend out of cover. It comes slowly, ears lowered in eternal, undying weariness, tail dragging behind it on the ground, red fur matted and in some places gone altogether, revealing the corrupted skin beneath. Pity the hunter that chases this fox, the emaciated creature thinks to itself with a sardonic chuckle.

As noted earlier, the Chaos Well’s arcane energies pulse throughout the land, sending out subliminal summons to various creatures whose very nature renders them susceptible. Two such creatures have found themselves drawn to Chelmsey’s hinterland in recent times. None of the ‘observers’ are as yet aware of their presence, but it is only a matter of time before they make themselves known in one way or another.

The first of these is a Thin Man, a fey creature generally found in warmer climes. This particular monster stowed away on a boat carrying sugar cane from plantations in the sub-tropical north over a year ago, and, after disembarking unnoticed in the port city of Pareja – six week’s travel to the east – made its way across the sparsely populated north until, three weeks later, it felt a sudden urge to travel south and west, until it came to Chelmsey and found what it had, all unknowing, been seeking: the Chaos Well. Evading the attentions of the observers it made its way to the Well and began drinking regularly of the corrupted water there. The water swiftly affected the Thin Man, undermining its native resilience, but quickening its reactions and hardening its already tough skin.

MUTANT THIN MAN (Pathfinder)                                                  CR5
NEUTRAL MEDIUM ABERRATION
Init +9; Senses low-light vision, darkvision 60' Perception +12
XP 1,600
DEFENSE
AC 21, touch 16, flat-footed 15,(+5 Dex, +5 Natural, +1 Dodge)
HP 31 (7d6 + 7)
Fort +3, Ref +10, Will +9
Immune poison
OFFENSE
Speed 30 ft., burrowing 20 ft.
Melee
bite +6 (1d6 + 3)
2 claws +7 (1d4 + 3 plus 1d4 bleeding)
STATISTICS
Str 16, Dex 20, Con 13, Int 8, Wis 15, Cha 9
Base Atk +3; CMB +6; CMD +21
Feats Dodge, Improved Initiative, Iron Will, Weapon Focus (claw)
Skills Climb 13, Escape Artist 19, Perception 12, Stealth 15 (27 in cane fields, 21 in corn/wheat fields), Survival 9
Racial Modifiers +4 Escape Artist, +12 Stealth in cane fields (+6 in corn/wheat fields)
Languages Aklo
SQ concealment, vanish, celerity, armored, fragile
SPECIAL ABILITIES
Vanish (Su)
Once per day as a move action while benefiting from concealment, a thin man can simply vanish from sight. This gives it a +20 bonus on Stealth checks and the ability to hide in plain sight for 1 round per Hit Die even when there is no cover, concealment, or shadow nearby. If it makes an attack, the thin man is no longer in its vanished state. It usually uses this ability when attempting to elude pursuit.
Armored (Ex)
The mutant’s natural armor bonus to AC increases by 2. 
Celerity (Ex)
As a swift action, the mutant gains the benefits of haste for 1 round. This ability can be used once every 1d4 rounds. The mutant has a +2 bonus on Initiative checks.
Fragile (Ex)
When the mutant fails a Fortitude save, it is staggered for 1 round.

MUTANT THIN MAN (RMFRP)
Level: 8
Base Rate: 50' (30' when burrowing)
Max Pace/MN bonus: FSpt/30
Speed MS/AQ: MD/FA
Size/Crit: M/-
Hits: 57
At (DB): 5(20)
Attacks: Small Bite 70 √ Medium Claw (x2)  40
Special Notes
Stalking/Hiding 65 (125 in cane fields; 95 in wheat/corn fields); Contortions 85; Climbing 70; Perception 50; Darkvsion 60'; +100 RRs vs. Poison; Can use Haste at no PP cost once every 4 rounds; gains the effect of Shrink Self when making a successful Contortions roll. If partially concealed, may automatically gain +100 on Stalking rolls even if under observation. If failing a RR vs Poison/Disease, or taking hit damage equal to 1/2 or more of their hit total, they are stunned for 1 round. 

The Thin Man was joined, just two weeks ago by another creature that felt itself drawn to Chelmsey: an Undead Fox stricken with demon-plague. This small horror and the Thin Man have since taken to hunting together and, with a gathering sense of ownership, defending the Well against other interlopers. Two wandering Goblins and a lone Sprite have fallen to them thus far, and they are now considering ambushing one of the observers, although the unknown consequences have restrained them for the moment. The Thin Man and the Plague-Fox share burrows in several locations around Chelmsey and move from one to another regularly to avoid discovery. However, it is only a matter of time before some farmer or shepherd falls afoul of them.

PLAGUE-FOX (Pathfinder)                                                              CR1
NEUTRAL EVIL TINY UNDEAD (AUGMENTED ANIMAL)
Init +3; Senses Perception +8; Senses Low-light vision, scent, darkvsion 60 ft.
DEFENSE
AC  17, touch 17, flat-footed 14 (+3 Dex, +2 Natural, +2 Size)
HP 9(1d8 + 5)
Fort +4, Ref +5, Will +1
Defensive Abilities channel resistance +2, DR 5/slashing
Immune cold, undead traits
OFFENSE
Speed 40 ft.
Melee
bite +3 (1d4 + 1, plus disease)
Special Attacks disease
STATISTICS
Str 13, Dex 17, Con -, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 15
Base Atk +0; CMB 0; CMD 12 (16 vs trip)
Feats Skill Focus (Perception), Toughness
Skills Acrobatics +3 (+11 when jumping), Perception +8, Stealth +11, Survival +1 (+5 scent tracking)
Racial Modifiers +4 Acrobatics when jumping, +4 Survival when tracking by scent
Special Abilities
Disease (Ex) Demon Plague: Bite—injury; save Fortitude DC 13; onset 1 day; frequency 1/day; effect 1d3 Constitution damage and 1d6 Wisdom damage, victim is fatigued if it takes any ability damage from the disease, and certain creatures slain by demon plague rise as plagued beasts; cure 3 consecutive saves.

PLAGUE-FOX (RMFRP)
Level: 1
Base Rate: 65'
Max Pace/MN bonus: Dash/35
Speed MS/AQ: MF/MD
Size/Crit: S/II (slash only), #, @
Hits: 25
At (DB): 3(45)
Attacks: Medium Bite 25
Special Notes
Type I Undead. Bite carries demon-plague (RR vs. Disease 5th level, drain 1 CO/10 failure and 1 SD/5 failure. Target loses 50 Exhaustion Points and regains them at 1 pt./day).  Darkvision 60'. Add +10 to RR's vs. spells from the Repulsions and Exorcism lists. Immune to Cold-based attacks, type 'm' spells.



Thursday 7 December 2017

Diversity vs. Playability: Skills in Rolemaster

Today I'm pontificating on the problem of skills in RM: more particularly, the issue of consolidated skills (of which RMFRP is the paradigmatic version, and which appears to be a certainty in the new version, although with far less skills) or individual skills, each with their own development cost, as was the case in RM2. Again, let me nail my flag to the mast: I am in favour of individual skill costs, primarily for the tremendous variety and granularity they offer. You simply can’t get that under the skill category system (although the RMFRP rules do allow a certain amount of tweaking, and my rather freewheeling interpretation of the talent rules enabled more).

Further to this is the issue of the dreaded skill bloat. It seems that many folks object – quite reasonably, I feel – to the tremendous explosion in increasingly fine-grained skills introduced by the RM2 companions (and carried over to RMFRP, although restrained and managed by the category system). I understand the objections: if you have, say, 300 skills and 50 professions, that’s a lot of trawling through tables in order to generate a character, and a lot of skills to study up on, in order to decide whether your Burglar is better off taking Defensive Manuever, Feinting or Tumbling Attack, or just ignoring it all and retiring to a farm after buying ranks in Horticulture, Herding, Animal Handling, Animal Healing and Weather-watching.

All I wanted to do was play Rolemaster!

But, and here’s the thing, I love having that range of options – ridiculous though that may seem – simply because of the ways in which, as a GM, I can fine-tune races, cultures, professions and NPCs. I can understand how you might justify having a Prepare Herbs, Herb Lore and Using Prepared Herbs skill, or a Using/Removing Poison, Poison Perception and Poison Lore skill. I can imagine a rough-and-ready soldier who knows nothing of herbs, but has grown used to applying unguents to wounds. I can equally imagine a scholarly-type who has learned a bit about poison but has never handled it – or even considered using it! That argument makes sense to me, although there is, conceivably, a limit beyond which realism need go.

There are ways of managing skill bloat without consolidating or eliminating skills. The last RM2 campaign I ran I divided skills into Core, Professional and Extra-Professional skills. Everyone, regardless of profession, race or whatever had instant and permanent access to the Core skills. Then, each profession had 25 professional skills to which they had access. All skills outside that group of Core + Professional were restricted, requiring the expenditure of Character Points (which accumulated as the character reached Prime Levels, of which more on another occasion).

I’ve included a table below showing an example of what I did in my attempts to manage skill bloat whilst maintaining breadth and diversity. This is the RM2 Hunter from the Arms Companion. I’ve not included the development point costs for copyright reasons, but the table is hopefully sufficient to demonstrate the idea. The listed skills show those available to the Hunter at level 1. They can’t consider new skills until reaching their next Prime Level (i.e. level 3). At each Prime Level, a character gains Character Points equivalent to 3 + the modifier derived from their Prime Statistic (the first appearing of their Prime Requisites, in this case Quickness), as if it were a Power Point stat, rounded down. (For example, if Bhorg the Hunter has a Qu stat of 95, he’d gain an extra 2 Character Points, giving him 5 in total. Bhorg could then spend his Character Points unlocking access to an Extra-Professional skill, or buying talents, or saving them for later).


I thought it a reasonably elegant solution, although like all my solutions, it generated a fair amount of work to get it up and running.

Now Where'd I Put That Chaos Well?

In this post we return to Chelmsey, site of a mystical struggle to close a dreaded Chaos Well. You may have noted in the post describing the village, that I neglected to locate the Chaos Well itself. The reason is simple: the Well itself is placed beyond the village itself, in a fold in the hills to the north. It is reached by following the road that passes beneath Zajepurti's monument. When it is reached, however, one might be struck by how...tranquil...it at first appears. All that can be seen is a shallow valley with a quiet lake - scarce more than a pond, really - at its northern end. At the centre of the pool is a tiny island, no more than 40' across, with a black crypt-like structure standing on it, ringed by poplars, willows and maples.

A little more scrutiny will reveal some unsettling details: the lovely verdure of the lawns rolling down to the pool is somehow too green, and it is not quite the colour of healthy grass. The slightly sickening emerald hue communicates an almost desperate urge to grow, as if the grass itself is trying to flee the soil in which it is rooted. In addition, the water of the pool surges sluggishly, and not with the wind. The trees that fringe the black vault on the island lean away from that water, and in the shadows between them, small indeterminate shapes of grey and red dart from branch to branch.

When those tasked with capping the Well came here, there was no lake, simply a deep cavity in the ground with one narrow pinnacle rising up from the floor of the pit - or what was assumed to be the floor of the pit, for it was lost in the frenzied swirling of a heavy, varicoloured mist. Occasional fountains of chromatic energy would leap into the sky, rainbow shouts of Chaos scathing the open air. By means of a mighty ritual, the mist was sealed behind walls of essential force. The pit was then filled with blessed water and the vault built atop the pinnacle to protect the magical artifact (whose nature is unknown, even to the observers in Chelmsey) that maintains the force-walls. Finally, acolytes of Kamizadros planted eldritch trees around the vault to shield it from any interlopers.

Yet, looking at the Well, it is obvious to the experienced eye that the power of Chaos still pulses powerfully here, afflicting earth, water and tree. That it is still contained - at least partially - is evident, otherwise the Chaotic energies would run free, just as they did a century earlier. But that the defences are slowly being corrupted seems beyond doubt.

Goblin by Armandeo64 - Own work (http://armandeo64.deviantart.com/), CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45974364

Unfortunately, the observers have been unable to interest their superiors - so far - in the slow erosion of the force wards. And the leakage of Chaotic power has had other results, too: it is calling to those whose hearts and souls resonate to the rhythms of Chaos. In the hills to the north, as yet unnoticed, Goblins and other, more dangerous creatures are gathering, though they know not why. All they know is that this place - in the heart of one of the most stable and powerful human realms - feels right to them, and is summoning more of their kind with strange, dark dreams of power unmatched, waiting for a strong hand to wield it...

Wolves of War: The Ulfarga for Blood & Treasure (& RMFRP)

  Ulfarga (Lupine Beastkin) Wild-hearted but honourable wolf-like humanoids, Ulfarga represent one of the largest populations of any Beastki...