1st Movement: The Shorter Near

1st Movement: The Shorter Near

This movement begins with a general introduction to Near, but soon moves into Maldor, the ancient homeland of the Empire that ruled the world. The theme is feudalism and religion, as the children of the Moon in both human and animal shape strive to conquer what is left of the old ways.

The fate of Maldor hangs in balance between the ancient order of the Sun Lord and the Queen of Shadow, a radical symbol of anarchy and change. Through her the old and tired land can experience a rebirth, if only it can weather the change. The Sun is championed by feudal lords and their armies, while the Queen has on her side women, beastkin, terrorists, revolutionaries and the people thoroughly tired of endless war.

Amidst this Celestial struggle live people who have to choose between two impossible theologies to find any sort of succor. The endless war of Maldor may only be ended by arms, but so far none has proved up to the task.

Near: A Broken World

Mostly original, based on Clinton's book.

It has been 300 years since the SKYFIRE, a catastrophe that decimated the world. A giant asteroid ripped into the planet, forcing a part of it to separate into a large moon. Only luck and large mountain chains saved Near from the shockwave that obliterated most of the world. It still remains to be seen whether the broken world can sustain life indefinitely or whether the biosphere is doomed to perish as the atmosphere leaks into space or the continental plates realign catastrophically.

Although the lands known as Near were largely protected from the immediate impact, the Year of Shadow that immediately followed decimated the agriculture, leading to nine tenths of the population perishing. The remaining people struggle with a lost culture and changed world, surviving at a subsistence level.

Or that's the pessimistic vision, anyway. In practice Near is a huge contradiction in play "“ I for one haven't ever gone full-blown survivalist with this game, no matter how much TSoY flirts with realism mixed in with the fantasy. Just this last spring I started a new campaign, and the world certainly resembled nothing so much as the early medieval dark ages, complete with specialized service industries and money. This was simply what our group needed, we had no patience for exploring the implications of primitivism when our focus was on the clash of patriarchal society with wiccan theology.

As you come to read this book, you'll notice that it is full of contradictions like this. Near is only consistent in play, not in a book. The group is expected to pare down and creatively ignore anything that doesn't fit their campaign, as well as invent answers for any open questions they encounter.

Cradle of Earth

Near is shadowed by the ROOF OF THE WORLD, a large mountain chain to the west. Everything falls into the great Eastern Sea on the other edge of the world. In between was the Empire of Maldor, the greatest civilization Near had ever known.

As the Skyfire broke the world, many changes happened: new mountains rose, valleys fell into sea and the sky itself occluded, darkened by great clouds of dust. The Sea of Teeth ripped into the Northern part of Near, drowning much and separating the rest.

Life in Near is for most people a constant struggle. The great majority of the people live in preliterate barter economies. The difference between cultures that survived the Year of Shadow as primitive hunter-gatherers and those that stockpiled technology into elaborate shelters is striking. It is now anybody's guess as to how the world will shake out in the end.

The Moon is a terrible curse for those who cling to the values and ways of the past. For those who look to the future and change it becomes a symbol of rebirth. Often actual history has little say in where the battle-lines form: politics unanimously condemned by the Empire might be defended by invoking that very name, while ethics cherished then are being reintroduced as a new thing, with the Moon embroidered on the battle flag.

Let me introduce the players, or at least set the stage:

Maldor the Ancient

The heart of Near, wracked by war both secular and celestial. Immense in size and resources, but sick to its heart. Believers in duty, honor and obligations that would choke the world.

Perfidious Ammeni

A corporation on the brink of dominance, trading in lives and riches of everybody from the Sea of Teeth to the Southern Continent. Rebelling subject people cast light on the utter immorality of their ways.

Distant South

The callous frontier, a line between human and inhuman, if not monstrous. The last corner of Near truly free, and that only because nobody but its peoples want it.

Myths in Play

A couple of words on this whole Skyfire thing and the Near in general; why is this historical back-story material useful in practice?

Most campaigns do not concern themselves directly with the Year of Shadow or the Skyfire, or in fact any old myths I might choose to include between these covers. Your typical campaign tells the stories of individual people who sometimes rise to change their own society into something better. For most purposes you can just file this Skyfire thing in the bottom drawer and concentrate on the now: these fictional people in this fictional situation.

Regardless, the Skyfire and the coming of the Moon are a common strand that ties together the stories of Near. The world is young and raw after the catastrophe, but the shadow of the past presses down on it; there's lots of high-level thematic stuff in heroes who rebuild the world and need to choose between the past and the unknown future. The Story Guide or anybody interested in setting backstory can use this stuff to make sense of things for himself.

One thing I like to play with here is the symbolism of what the actions of player characters actually mean for the world: just like the characters are struggling to find their place in society, so is the world itself trying to find an equilibrium. It's completely arbitrary, but I like to think that should the heroes fail in their own passion (whatever it may be), perhaps that doesn't bode well for the whole world, either: as the days get longer and the Moon grows larger, this failed world goes into tidal lock and dies out of the last convulsion it was given by cruel fate.

Then again, heroic deeds go with the genre, so great successes are also narrated. The astronomy of Near is in shambles after the Moon appeared, the celestial objects themselves are still adjusting. Whenever a hero transcends (TRANSCENDENT success in an Ability check, you know) in Near, an eclipse blackens the sky for an hour, day or night. Perhaps it is a sign of hope for the people.

Maldor: Empire in Ruins

Fluff is mostly from Clinton's book. Crunch is original with ideas from the book and Josh. Onomastics from Clinton and various Internet sources.

Across the deep waters of Absolon's Way lie the ruins of Maldor, once the grandest empire Near has ever known. Before the Shadow Moon came, Maldor ruled the world, its empire spreading from the Eastern Sea to the frozen waters of the South and the Hungry River of the north. Maldor's most distinctive feature was its tremendous walled cities, giant sealed engines of industry and culture. As the empire fell and shrunk back to the center of Near, many of its cities were ruined as terror and plague eradicated their denizens. These cities, filled with secrets and danger, are a destination for especially foolish or brave adventurers.

Today the land is much different; the old ways of the Empire have given way to brazen robber barons and failed principalities that can just barely protect their Lords, leaving the peasantry and negligible citizenry to fight for the scraps.

Maldor is made up of a variety of geography, from rolling plains stretching to the ocean in the east to forest-covered hills in the west. It once was beautiful. It now looks like someone dropped a bomb on the cover of a sad-eyed-wizard fantasy novel.

A Land of Lieges

When the Sky Fire fell, Emperor Absolon passed on and Maldor passed into darkness. As people took to the land again, the country found itself shattered, with local lords claiming royal blood dividing the land up like lions on a carcass: unfair and bloody. The disparity between the wealthy and poor is immense; only those families with great stone fortresses and great stores were able to emerge as anything but destitute.

The Lords of the land press commoners into service as infantry, farmers, artisans, or whatever suits their whims. Outright war between these Lords is not uncommon as they attempt to gain dominance over each other. None have achieved their goal, however, and the country remains divided.

The Maldorites are war-weary, blindly attempting to follow their old ways of life. The people are a mix of ethnicities, although the noble lines are all Caucasoid in appearance. Nobility treasures their blood and the peasants huddle together, but families are often separated by war, hunger, and wanderlust. Filthy children run rampant; with nothing to own, people make much of their only resource.

The Remnants of Culture

Maldor is in its dark ages; the old Civil Service wilted soon after the academies closed down, with the remaining officials turning their talents of lore and wizardry to the service of the Lords in an effort of survival, becoming courtiers. The noble courts are now the primary centers of learning in Maldor. Sciences, history and the arts of wizardry are transmitted by masters to their disciples individually, as they will and care.

Art and culture take second-place to survival. Among the noble classes, art still exists in collections from before the Shadow Moon came. Tapestries, painting, and sculpture are most prized. Artists are employed by lords, but innovation is rare: the artists are called on to make knock-offs of preShadow art more than anything else. Musicians and actors do well if they can find a liege, as owning the better court entertainment is a major point of pride for these cardboard nobles playing at being kings.

Other troubadours wander the countryside, going from inn to inn to make a few pieces of gold. It is said that one enterprising merchant hired a gang of mercenaries to pillage a fallen city and is now printing books using a press they managed to liberate. From the borderlands, there are stories of commoners banding together to rebuild villages; these communes are said to sponsor community theatres of dubious quality, but high humor.

The food of Maldor is considered bland by the rest of the world, but it is hearty and filling. Potatoes are served at every meal, from a commoner's feast to a noble's snack. On the other hand, Maldor's beer is the best in the world.

Let Them Eat War

The Maldorian economy can be described as an ever hungry violent monster, constantly devouring itself to live. Farmers grow grain, corn, potatoes, and other root vegetables and raise goats, sheep, and cattle for milk and food, but it never seems to be enough, especially as the Lords take an obscene amount of crops and livestock in land taxes to pay for their wars. Beer and vodka make up a large amount of their exports, especially to the Gorenite highlands. Metal is found in the western hills, and what doesn't become an axe or breastplate gets sold to the iron-poor north. Most families have to supplement their income by taking up the sword. The nobles promise good pay in their armies, although plenty of young people end up dying on the end of a sword before payday.

Individual lords of Maldor supplement their coffers by trading priceless artifacts and antiquities to foreigners. The Ammenite Houses are the major buyers of these objects. There is good pay in Maldor for a seasoned explorer; the ruins of many great cities are filled with arms and art, as well as fierce ratkin unlikely to appreciate pillagers.

Fine Art (I)
This Ability is used to produce marble statues, oil paintings and other sophisticated art typical of the Maldor of old. The work requires highly expensive tools and materials, and specialized working conditions, but the results are also breath-taking, beyond creations of mere craft.
Dueling (V)
Maldorite nobility approaches personal combat as something of a harsh art form. Masterful armsmen (themselves often military) are valued as instructors, and these skills are also expected from courtiers who interact with the nobles. The Ability can be used to fight with great flair and finesse with a variety of weapons; it is weak in chaotic situations where the character is not in control, however.
Engineering (R)
While most academies have been abandoned in Maldor, the practical skills of engineering are maintained by master craftsmen. This Ability can be used to plan and direct the building of various ambitious structures, the most important of which may be the castles and fortresses of the lords.
History (R)
Maldor is the seat of history with its ample ruins and unscathed libraries. This Ability can be used to know the truth about the Antiquity (as pre-Shadow days are known in Maldor), to operate ancient technology and to write new histories of the more recent past. Heraldry and noble genealogy are an issue of history as well.
Demolition (R)
The revolutionary elements in Maldor have re-discovered the ancient knowledge of explosives, although they haven't made the discovery of firearms yet. This ability allows one to create and detonate these implements of destruction, hopefully without losing a hand.
Scrounging (I)
While most Maldorites are very poor, their land is covered with the riches of times past. This ability can be used to evaluate ruins, recognize valuable finds, comb battlefields and so on.
Etiquette (I)
Maldorian upper classes live in a shifting social environment, with ancient, feudal and outright martial mores intermixed in their courtly life. This Ability can be used to recognize and present the appropriate cues for nobility, civil officials, ladies and other members of the court.
Secret of Counter-strike
The character can use DUELING (V) in a fight to counter a Secret with a Pool cost another character is trying to activate by paying INSTINCT equal to what the opponent is paying. If he succeeds, the opponent suffers penalty dice equal to INSTINCT spent if the fight continues. Cost: 1+ INSTINCT
Secret of Dueling Stance
As long as the character can hold to a disciplined stance with DUELING (V), he can lower any fighting Harm coming his way by paying INSTINCT on a 1:1 basis. Cost: 1+ INSTINCT
Secret of Culture
The character with this Secret has been schooled in the tradition of the old Academies, making his mind into a weapon; when a conflict concerns academic knowledge, the player may opt to not roll and use the Ability value directly as the result. Cost: 1 REASON
Secret of Scavenging Grounds (area)
The character has a certain area, such as a seminal battlefield or large ruin, which he knows particularly well. The player can make the area itself an equipment, creating it with the SCROUNGING (I) Ability. Suitable equipment ratings might concern finding certain kinds of supplies there, seeking shelter or knowing the pitfalls therein, for example. The character can also use the SECRET OF CREATION (SCROUNGING) while in the area, except that he pays INSTINCT instead of VIGOR for any equipment he finds, the equipment does not have to be mundane, and the Story Guide gets to choose all but one of the ratings and half of the imbuements in the item.
Secret of Noble Blood
The character's descent from the ancient nobility of Maldor runs true. He has an extra generic Pool point that refreshes at the end of each scene.
Secret of Lordship
Whenever the character would gain bonus dice from fealty and respect of his vassals, he may turn them into penalty dice for said vassal at his pleasure. Additionally, the character does not pay creation nor upkeep costs for one such Effect per vassal. Requirement: KEY OF NOBILITY
Secret of Ladyship
The character can use Pool and Effects for bonus dice on behalf of others she has met, even when not present. She can also use the Pools and Effects of the same people herself when they are present, spending at most points up to an ETIQUETTE (I) check (possibly RESISTED (R)). Requirement: KEY OF NOBILITY
Secret of Fealty
The character can refresh his Pool by working to fulfill his duty as a vassal. The refreshed Pool depends on the type of work as determined by the Story Guide. Vigor is most likely for commoners.
Secret of Pretender
The character can use a Secret associated with a social position he does not actually hold with a successful DECEIT (I) check. If he takes the result as an Effect, he can continue using the Secret as long as his deceit holds. Cost: 2 INSTINCT
Key of Nobility
The character considers himself one of the privileged in Maldor, justified in his rule by his nobility. 1xp: Your status comes up. 2xp: You get the respect you deserve. 5xp: Prove yourself better than commoners. Buyoff: Humble yourself in front of commoners.
Key of Manipulation
The character is situated to influence a ruler's politics while himself staying in the shadows. 1xp: Advise your ruler. 2xp: Act against your ruler's interests. 5xp: Force your ruler to follow your will. Buyoff: Accept the mantle of power for yourself.
Key of Revolution
Maldor is wracked by social unrest as unjust governments struggle to hold onto power against ideas old and new. 1xp: Speak against the ruler. 2xp: Act against the government. 5xp: The government reacts to you in fear and concern. Buyoff: Accept a favor from the government.

Actual Play

Maldor is the linchpin of TSoY in that it holds the Shadow of Yesterday: the past is everywhere in sight and its weight oppresses the land every day. A game set in Maldor will not necessarily go all revolutionary, however; characters may well end up championing the feudal obligations, transforming the shallow rule of warlords into a real social contract between the rulers and the ruled. I try to reflect this in the crunch, which provides some functional-but-not-quite means for upholding a society in an essentially lawless, feudal context.

Maldor also has a function as the point of relation between the fantasy genre and Near; this is why I start the book with it. Basically Maldor is your normal fantasy setting, so if you want to play around with thieves' guilds and such, this is the place. There are only few fantasy staples that can't be inserted here at the group's pleasure, and ADVENTURE CAMPAIGNS are more than natural, whether they only start or remain indefinitely in Maldor.

The Gender Issue

Maldorian society is traditionally chauvinistic, which means more for the upper classes and less for the lower. It's become pretty typical in fantasy roleplaying through recent years to actively ignore this facet of medievalism in favor of gender transparency, which is something you can easily do here as well for player characters (or everybody) if you want; however, I suggest considering the opposite tack as well: if you want to play a woman of Maldor, is it not an important part of her identity that she has to deal with these issues in her life?

My own first instinct would be to simply play a male character if I wanted to avoid dealing with this (admittedly well-worn, at least here in my own play environment) issue. Another important point is that at least in my experience bad play around gender has often resulted from disabling play as opposed to enabling; the Story Guide shouldn't simply use gender as a sadistic hammer for harassing some players.

In practice: if you are Story Guiding for female characters and feel like forbidding the character from leaving her home or speaking in public, consider the situation as a genuine choice for the player, not a prerequisite for play; should they choose to have her rebel, respect the character's right to try to change her circumstances or even the world.


The diminishing middle class of imperial Maldor is represented today by courtiers and craftsmen. When the common people are concerned only with survival and the Lords only with war, the cultural heritage of the land and the world is in their hands.

Freedom is at a premium in the lawless Maldor. Even the nobility is constrained in their lives by the expectations of their peers and vassals, and by the necessities of war. The game is played for the highest stakes of all, but it is far from certain whether participating in it is worth the sacrifice, morally right or even humane. Getting out might cost even more, however, because your family is just as committed as you are.

Maldorian peasants as player characters seem to usually be either vagrants, rebels or not peasants for long; the social framework of Maldor is such that it doesn't make for much of a drama to accept this lot in life. If the player character doesn't want to leave and doesn't want to change the system, the Story Guide does well to proffer him a chance at social betterment through the court or battlefield.

Rebellions discontent with the rule of particular Lords mingle freely with proper revolutions that strive to start new societies afresh. Reformation towards the society of the old Empire is far from unknown as well in the central areas that still remember. I don't hesitate to mix modernistic, utopian and high philosophical ideas into the social movements that roll through the Maldorian countryside. There is no one revolution, but many.

Maldorite Names

The basic theory is that Maldorites use Romance names (Hispanic, particularly), but for some reason my own games always tend towards Germanic when I'm not paying attention. Cities get names ending in "-burg" and so on. It's probably because fantasy empires are usually German here in Finland or something.


Carlos, Michele, Pedro, Porfirio, Victor, Francisco, Tamim, Alejo, Reinaldo, Saul, Alberto, Anibal, Herminio, Lucio, Rodrigo. Go pure Latin for wizards and other academics if you'd like, Latinizing their given names back into the old language.


Laura, Juanita, Rosamunda, Zelda, Josefina, Cristina, Beatriz, Esther, Zoe, Ana, Isadora, Doroteia, Genoveva, Natalia, Montserrat.


Villanueva, Martinez, Escudero, Cortes, Garcia, Carrion, Martinez, Botella, Pena, Vina. Also form personal compounds from multiple ancestors with the y conjunction; form family names from personal names with the -ez or -es suffix; form noble holdings with the de/del/de la preposition.

Places and Things

Aveiro, Mirandela, Murca, Redondo, Tarazona, Pena Uibino, Tafalla, Herras, Tharais, Lora, Alpera, Palmogo. Combine geographical features (such as "Bosque", forest) or other names with de for variety or specificity, like "of" in English.

Sun & Moon: Celestial Conflict

Some crunch and fluff from Clinton's book and Yesterday's Heresies.

The people of Near were traumatized and broken by the Skyfire. The original Empire of Maldor was defined by solar worship, reaching its height in the image of Absolon Sun-Emperor, the champion of Sun in Near, worthy of worship in himself. When the Moon rose for the first time and eclipsed the Sun, it became an object of veneration and fear in one stroke.

Now the Sun and the Moon struggle for domination in the lands of Near, but nowhere is the competition more bloodier than in Maldor, the broken empire.

Mandate of Heaven

The lords of Maldor are monotheistic. Their religion centers around a variation of ancient sun god worship: they have melded the figure of the sun god and Absolon, saying that the Year of Shadow was Absolon's sacrifice as he descended into the underworld, then rose again, undefeated by Shadow. Their priests prophesy his return to Near as a king that will re-unite Maldor and make it strong again. Some philosophers might debate about when Absolon will come again, but the lords do not: there's not a one of them without the hubris to think that he is Absolon-Come-again, and that all will bow down to him. This messiah complex makes their wars all the more bloody, of course.

The original empire of Maldor was defined by its worship of the sun as deity. The sun gave light and life to all things and was venerated as such. The original worship was personal and communal in nature; small invocations were given before a meal, for example. As the empire grew, worship was formalized and gave birth to a priestly class. The Emperor Absolon was designated the sun's champion on Near, and became an object of worship himself. The trappings of sun worship can still be found in Maldor, including broken churches, usually designed with no roof and a structure that was aligned with sunrise and sunset.

Monotheism trickles down to the peasants, who tend to worship the sun god in its more pagan aspect, as a giver of life and blessing. Unlike the lords, the peasants definitely argue about when Absolon will return: their dream of a better day is well-deserved, but pathetic. As Maldor was once a great multicultural cornucopia, though, religion varies widely among its lower classes, which practice animism, ancestor worship, or any variety of other religious practices in addition to sun-worship.

Sun Clergy

Many Lords of Maldor declare openly that they and nobody else are Absolon-Come-Again. This is evident in their titles, which have themes of the sun. Charles of the Zenith and Philippe the Dawn-Breaker are two examples. State worship is often enforced by blade and taxes are taken directly from the collections of these new churches. Their priests are as much political and military leaders as clergy.

The proletariat has not completely bought into these new myths and has reverted to the primitive personal rites for true worship, although they participate in the state worship. Rustic sun pastors travel across the land, poor in coin but not in spirit, ministering to those that need them, preaching of a time when the true Sun Emperor will rise again.

Eclipse of Intent

Rumors of a Shadow Cult abound, evildoers who would try to throw down the sun and replace it with their dark Queen of Shadow. It is unknown who exactly the Shadow Cult is. Earls and dukes tell their people that the Shadow Cult are the followers of other earls and dukes; advisors tell their lords that the Shadow Cult grows among their own people; commoners believe the Shadow Cult are the ratkin, or nasty elves, or their next-door neighbors, depending on what day of the week it is. Some elements have been assassinating self-proclaimed messiahs and blowing up castle walls without getting caught, but leave no clue as to whom they are.

The reality of the Shadow Cult is that it has no leaders and it revels in plurality. Whether this anarchy turns into discord as the Sun Lords weaken remains to be seen "“ for now there is well enough room for witches, ratkin, revolutionaries, reformers and even republicans in the ranks of the movement. The theology of the Shadow Cult is vague, but generally it deals with ending the rule of man, celebrating the human body and justifying acts of violence against the Sun Lords. The cult practices witchcraft, but not everybody agrees that the Queen of Shadow is actually the tri-partite Goddess of old. Regardless, the Queen responds to her witches who raise the Aspect of the Moon.

Women join the cult for protection and power. Ratkin join the Cult because it teaches that the fanged ones are children of the new Goddess. Men join the cult for the free sex. Lords join for the poisonous gifts offered against their enemies. The cult ceremonies accept all, although some new recruits might find themselves under the knives of the less compassionate priestesses of the Moon.

Moon Witches

The Shadow Cult leaders are almost all women and almost all witches (as per chapter 18). Those with a background in traditional witchcraft might follow the Moon as an Aspect of the Goddess, while the rest worship the Queen of Shadow as a one-Aspect Goddess. The Moon's Aspect Ability is ASTROLOGY (R) and the Aspect Key KEY OF THE MOON. Typical tricks involve MOONLIGHT, TIDES, GENDER, BEASTKIN, TRICKERY and TIME. Note that there is no high magic for moon witches who do not follow the covenant rites. That is, not yet.

March of the Servitors

The last era of the Empire was a time of great breakthroughs. It was then that the eye of man was cast at the heavens. The royal astronomers with their telescopes discovered new stars that moved like no other. With time their secret was deciphered: like the Emperor was orbited by servants in running the empire, so was the Sun Lord himself orbited by these eight planets, Servitors of the Sun. What transformed the understanding of the sages, however, was this: Near was one of these Servitors.

Now much of this knowledge is lost, but legends still remember the names of the Servitors:

  • ABRAMOV, Judge of Fire
  • PHOLUS, Sky Navigator
  • NEAR, Royal Doctor
  • KIEV, Star General
  • MASAKO, Mighty Reeve
  • GWANGJU, Court Magician
  • SIJJIN, Renegade Repentant
  • ENCHIRIDION, Mysterious Confidant
  • FAR, Trusted Stranger

The litany of names is revered by courtiers, what remains of the Civil Service of Antiquity. The Servitors are a resonant idea, suggesting a celestial order that refutes stark monotheism. They get no worship, however, for they are only remembered by men too civilized for gods. Even where the commoners know the stories, they cannot see the stars: the sky has grown more opaque after the Year of Darkness, with only the light of the most powerful stars shining through.

Still, in a time of chaos, many courtiers rely on the litany for their dignity and role in the drab, martial courts of the present Lords. It is not a faith on the unseen gods so much as a faith on the tradition and propriety that allows the courtier courage to rise even against his Lord at times to demand and receive the proper respect. Thus the Servitors shape the life of those who care of their example; every court magician knows the banes set on their work, every reeve that they have no jurisdiction over the servants of the legal counsel.

Astrology (R)
The character is familiar with the ancient knowledge of the Servitors and celestial mechanics, as well as the movement of the Moon and how it affects the sidereal realm. The Ability is important today as a religious thing in Maldor, but the ability of predicting eclipses, orienteering and building calendars might be useful in practice as well. It may replace PRAY (V) in SECRET OF PROPHECY, except that the Story Guide never forces a prophecy on an astrologist.
Secret of Concomitance
The character has learned how to calculate backwards from patterns of solar and lunar eclipses, thus predicting with a successful ASTROLOGY (R) check where and when somebody transcends in Near. The character can also identify people born or initiated with celestial Secrets (such as the MOONMAN SECRET) with these arts. I really don't recommend this Secret to groups uncertain of their SOLAR SYSTEM skills, it can go to some intricate places!
Secret of the True King
Insofar as anybody in the campaign is, this character is Absolon Reborn. Unless the character carries the Secret unknowingly, it will be bestowed upon him by some sort of sword-in-the-stone deal when the issue is affirmed. The character ignores Pool spend caps in any checks when the stakes concern his identity, and he pays no Advances for crunch bestowed upon him by the virtue of his nature; the supernatural phenomena (blinding light, flocking birds, whatever) make this latter really obvious to on-lookers when it happens. Cost: 3 VIGOR to skip an Advance payment.
Key Imperial
The character declares that he is Absolon Reborn. In practice this requires a sovereign position as a Lord in his own right. 1xp: Use imperial regalia in public. 2xp: Use imperial power to grant privileges or set decrees. 5xp: Crush another character claiming sovereignty. Buyoff: Acknowledge another person as sovereign.
Key of Sun Worship
The character believes that the natural forces are ultimately in harmony with human aims, and that the human society reflects celestial order. 1xp: Refuse to act against your station or purpose in society. 2xp: When the weather or other natural forces support your, or somebody else's, aims. 5xp: When your faith is rewarded. Buyoff: Engage in unnatural practices.
Secret of Lunar Child
The character gains a bonus die to all Ability checks made when the Moon is visible to her. The character is visibly marked with a sign of her lunar allegiance, however; crescent-shaped birthmarks on the face and neck are common, as is silver (not grey) hair.
Secret of Moon-Armor
The character has an ephemeral blessing that acts like equipment and protects her body from harm, but only where moonlight touches her skin. The armor is magical as per the equipment rules, and manifests under the Moon. The character has to be naked to moonlight when paying the introduction cost for the armor, if any. The quality of the armor is determined by a PRAY (V) check each time it is invoked; the player tracks which ratings and imbuements the armor has displayed in the past and chooses among them according to the quality check at each introduction, creating new powers should the PRAY (V) check surpass prior efforts. Known ratings: +3 against physical harm on body parts naked to moonlight. Requirement: SECRET OF LUNAR CHILD
Key of the Moon
The character worships the Moon as the Queen of Shadow, harbinger of change and protector of the world from the destructive power of the Sun. 1xp: Refute the rule of man. 2xp: Celebrate the human body. 5xp: Kill in the name of the Moon. Buyoff: Pay obeisance to a man or the Sun.
Secret of Raising the Moon
The revolutionary may temporarily raise the Aspect of the Moon (as per Gorenite Witchcraft, chapter 18) with blood-letting rites or an orgy on the full moon. A check of ASTROLOGY (R) is made into an Effect that represents the strength of the Aspect. The rites (but not the Pool cost) need to be repeated each full moon for the Aspect to endure. A solar believer may dissolve the Aspect by overcoming it with PRAY (R). Cost: 1 from each Pool
Tricks of Moonlight
The Moon-witch understands that the Queen stands for change against stasis and new things against history. Astrology: If conception of a child happens at the character's chosen time and under moonlight, the child will have the SECRET OF LUNAR CHILD or MOONMAN SECRET for free. Astrology: The character can manipulate moonlight and moonshadow to confuse others and hide in shadows. Cost: 1 VIGOR Maiden: The character gains a bonus die for seducing an already married man. Crone: The character can capture moonlight within a mirror as an Effect, releasing it later when the time is right. Cost: 1 REASON and the cost of the Effect.
Arcana of the Queen: Face
The character can seem like another person to an onlooker. However, she must never reveal her real name to anybody, or she loses this power until that person is dead. Cost: 1 INSTINCT for a generic woman, 2 for a specific woman, 4 for a man. Requirement: Embody the Queen
Arcana of the Queen: Charm
The character can allure another to do things they never would. However, if she falls in love herself, this power stops working. Cost: 1 INSTINCT for ratkin, 2 for men, 4 for women. Requirement: Embody the Queen
Secret of the Servitors
Although the Servitors are normally not discerned by the unaided eye in modern Near, the character has studied their routes and knows when one of them is overhead, day or night. A successful ASTROLOGY (R) check allows the player to name one of the eight Servitors (apart from Near) as present in the sky during a scene; any characters acting in accordance with the Servitor's role in the celestial court gains a bonus die to their Ability check. (The player may also opt to create Effects from these checks.) Invoking Near the Royal Doctor in this manner is also possible, but would need to be done with the lost art of geomancy, not astrology. Cost: 1 REASON
Key of Civil Service
The character believes in the rule of law and meritocratic advancement, a philosophy largely on the wane in modern, feudal Maldor. 1xp: Act to fulfill your office. 2xp: Resist others to fulfill your office. 5xp: Break the law to fulfill the intent of your office, or uphold the law to break the intent. Buyoff: Relinquish your office.
Key of Not Caring
The character does not care of the religious schism so prevalent in Maldorian lands. 1xp: Trump a religious issue with something more important in conversation. 2xp: Refuse to take sides in the conflict. 5xp: Find a sensible solution to the people's problems. Buyoff: Take sides in the conflict.

Actual Play

There is huge thematic tension in the sun cult of Absolon as it relates to character identity, being how it is just about the only religious tradition in the book that doesn't offer kewl powerz up the wazoo. I find it interesting to play the humble rural sun priest as a good guy, or have the influential abbot do his best against the ravages of a corrupt Lord, all without Solar Rays of Death in his back pocket.

The Shadow Cult is the only serious ideology to resist the Lords of Maldor, but at least in my games it seems to be filled with terrorist assholes willing to go to any lengths against the Lords. This is sad, as the Shadow Cult is also the only really liberal theology in Maldor. Traditional witchcraft is weak in Maldor, but it makes for interesting sectarian disputes when it encounters its young, mad sibling faith.

The Servitors are only a faint idea, wistful for a third way but impotent in the monotheistic, monolithic present. The Nine Celestials in chapter 32 provide a sketch of an elite mystery cult revolving around them.

No Gods

This is just the first of many chapters in the book to include explicit religions that even have magic powers. What does it mean, exactly, that Near "does not include gods"?

The answer is simple: the Story Guide never considers celestial intent in the plays he makes, nothing ever happens on the initiative of gods, and gods never communicate, and especially never, ever take any stand on issues, even if their purported representatives do. As far as the Story Guide is concerned, he's running a materialistic setting where having faith gives you super-powers, whatever the characters might think. This doesn't even particularly mean that the characters are objectively wrong in their beliefs; it just means that even if they are right, that's not part of the game, and their beliefs will never be affirmed by the setting authority, even if the story itself should.

There are plenty of things the players can do with gods, even with the Story Guide thus constrained. Roll a PRAY (V) check, have your character go into stupor and afterwards claim to have spoken with the Sun Lord who told him that he's actually Absolon Reborn? Sure, as long as it's clear that we're just talking about your character's subjective experience. That sort of thing is completely in the player's purview, the Story Guide can never claim that nuhuh, the Sun Lord didn't talk to your character, because the Sun Lord wouldn't "“ he doesn't have that power, because the gods are not his to play.

If the reader is wondering why we hash these nuances, the short answer is that this anti-god agenda is just another part of the humanistic strategy in TSoY, and a sort of safety rail against bad fantasy game habits: the Story Guide cannot have gods steal the story from the player characters when gods are not in his toolbox. Whatever choices characters make, whatever the consequences, the events play out without divine interventions, at least ones not backed mechanically by characters actually present in the story.

Warcraft: Art of Lords

Original work for the most part.

The lords of Maldor run machines of war that will not, can not let the battlefields lay fallow for long: only the spoils of war will balance the constantly expanding armies most need to keep hold of their domains.

Militarily focused campaigns are an obvious choice in Maldor, the land wracked by war. This is not a war game, however, so we do not want to burden players with making the right strategic choices "“ just like always, the choices we want to engender are over how much the characters are willing to risk and to what gain. Right and wrong warcraft is judged on that basis.

First Victims of War

Most lords of Maldor maintain almost permanent armies, the bulk of which is formed of MILITIAS and GUARDS of infantry. The difference between the two is in whether the troop was formed by conscription or voluntarily. The military paradigm emphasizes disciplined troop action; foot soldiers are not expected to have initiative, but rather to use pre-learned maneuvers to move and fight in coordination. Militia sergeants are the best of the veterans, while guard sergeants are almost always mercenaries from the border marches where ancient tradition and terrain make the footman into the core of the army.

Cavalry has the pride of place in modern Maldorian warcraft, foremost because cavalrymen are professional soldiers with superior morale. The ones that own their own horses and weapons are called KNIGHTS, while the rest are ARMSMEN and receive their arms from their liege. Cavalry sergeants are valued veteran armsmen or knights.

The captains of all Maldorian military units are theoretically of noble blood, although foot units are considered much less prestigious and in practice often end up in the command of trusted veterans. There is not much formal careerism in the military of today; the land is much too chaotic and the armed forces of individual Lords in constant transition. The best a captain can do is to make himself and his unit gain in value in the eyes of the Lord "“ that is, if he doesn't decide to lead his loyal troop out east to Ammeni, where mercenaries are paid well and respected highly for their superior fighting skills.

Quality over Quantity

Roleplayers usually have plenty of experience in running normal skirmish combats, so I won't worry my head about those. Some other situations might require advice, however:

When a character has a vague number of extras backing him in combat, he has a WARBAND. This by itself does nothing, but it allows the character to try leading from the back (rolling BATTLE (R) as primary) or boosting his personal combat prowess with tactics (rolling BATTLE (R) in support) or train his troops (creating various Effects with BATTLE (R)). Basically it's the Story Guide who decides whether a bunch of extras forms a warband; I'd let anything with armed adult men or equivalent willing to fight pass, as long as there's more than a couple of them.
One against many:
When an individual character fights against a bunch of extras without leadership, promote one of the extras into a real secondary character. Give them a real motivation, too, not just "I want to kill the player character."
Being underdog:
When a hero fights against another who has extras supporting him, assign circumstance penalties to the underdog. If both have support, don't bother unless the difference in numbers or quality is cinematic "“ just like always with circumstance penalties.
Holding the line:
If a player character is not in command of a battle, he doesn't have leverage to determine the outcome of the battle outright. The Story Guide decides the outcome in these situations, just like with any conflicts between secondary characters. A non-combatant player character or one fighting in the battle might still influence the outcome with partial stakes (see below).
Partial stakes:
This is important. When a character has insufficient leverage in any conflict to get his way, the Story Guide is responsible for downgrading the scope of the conflict stakes to match the character's capabilities. In battle this is commonly seen when a player character is just one of the troops fighting; he may well run conflicts about whether he gets injured or captured himself, or to save the lives of others or to do other heroic things on the battlefield, but he can't determine the outcome of the whole battle unless a suitable opportunity presents him with such leverage.

As can be seen, battles with many participants work exactly like normal skirmishes as far as the mechanics are concerned. The characters that actually have dramatic goals in the situation get the spotlight, and this may or may not mean that a player character gets an opportunity to influence the battle outside his immediate vicinity.

Quantity has Quality

I'll return to those partial stakes for a bit, because they are important when the whole campaign starts revolving around what characters can and can't accomplish in battle. Specifically, how does superior LEVERAGE affect the stakes of a battle? This is how:

  • There are so many enemies that the sparse defenders can only hope to delay, not to stop them. While the character's GOAL might be to stop the enemy, the Story Guide downgrades the STAKES into "delay them long enough for a successful retreat".
  • The lone hero never even stops to consider fighting the enemy, they are so many. He can't hope for stakes like "I win the battle", alone as he is, so he accepts "I escape from their hands".

There are other ways of building asymmetric, biased stakes, but the basic principle is the same: when a character doesn't have appropriate leverage to fight the forces arrayed against him properly, he has no choice but to accept lesser stakes. This is really obvious from a cinematic viewpoint; nobody ever questions it when the hero runs from superior forces. Still, sometimes roleplayers stare a bit too intently at the dicing rules of a game and start claiming that they have some sort of right to a "fair fight" against any comers.

Now, in actual play the technique of partial stakes depends a lot on the Story Guide. A given campaign might be so superheroic that partial stakes would never come up: heroic swordsmen just up and face whole armies arranged against them, and win. However, I like my TSoY with a tad grimmer take, which is why I have crunch that actually formalizes the Story Guide judgment here: the key piece of rules material in this chapter is the SOLDIER IMBUEMENT, which says this same thing: a character with a professional Maldorian MILITARY UNIT backing him is actually unassailable on the open field by a single hero, barring magic or whatnot.

MILITARY UNITS with the SOLDIER IMBUEMENT have SUPERIOR LEVERAGE in martial conflict, which means that lone heroes automatically lose against them if they try to clash directly. This is heavy stuff in the SOLAR SYSTEM context, so it's definitely up to you whether you want to allow this option in your own campaign. If you do, remember that "auto-lose" only means that characters can't contest the military unit directly on the field; they can still conflict over weaker stakes such as escaping, delaying, misdirecting and so on.

Also, the basic strategy for a lesser force (and the one I'm shooting for here; it's what they do in this sort of fiction) is to attack the unit cohesion of the military unit: units in disorder are useless as equipment. The character leading a military unit often has to choose between protecting the cohesion of his unit (by avoiding melee, for example) and actually doing anything in the battle. And of course characters can just choose other means apart from violence; a military unit is just as vulnerable to a convincing speech or major-scale magic as any other warband.

Melee (V)
Soldiers in Maldor are taught to fight with spears, swords and axes, depending on their role in the unit. This Ability can be used in directly violent conflicts, although it is not at its best in unarmed situations, ambushes, darkness or other exceptional conditions.
Cavalry (V)
Cavalry soldiers learn to maneuver and fight on horseback. This Ability can be used to ride well and for cavalry maneuvers on the battlefield, such as charges. A horseman stuck in close quarters still uses MELEE (V) to resolve those situations, however. Consequently Maldorian cavalry soldiers are generally expected to synergize their MELEE (V) and Cavalry Abilities.
Battle (R)
The Ability to plan and lead battles to achieve strategic objectives. A character needs a warband or more to execute such a plan, and Battle won't protect his own person if he is attacked. Sometimes Battle can be used to win a war without conflict, should the opponent lack a similar Ability and thus be unable to prevent a defeat in detail.
Logistics (R)
The Ability concerns knowledge of the best practices of accounting and organizing major projects, such as supplying a military force on the move. It is useful for organizing large undertakings in civil engineering as well, although logistics are mostly practiced by the military sergeants in modern Maldor.
Secret of Discipline
The character knows how to train warbands into military units, which count as equipment for their commanders. Make a BATTLE (R) check to train the unit into equipment, as per the SECRET OF CREATION. The commander of such a unit may be disarmed by breaking the unit's cohesion on the field, and the unit may be destroyed (or at least scattered from the field) by normal rules for destroying equipment. Cost: as per SECRET OF CREATION, except swap REASON and VIGOR costs.
Soldier Imbuement
A military unit with this imbuement has SUPERIOR LEVERAGE in battle against characters not backed by a warband; it wins martial encounters without conflict.
Secret of Formation
When a character with this Secret fights in closed formation with MELEE (V), he gains bonus dice equal to the warband's Effect value, if any. When imbued into a military unit, the commander gains bonus dice equal to equipment quality to BATTLE (R) checks appropriate for closed formation fighting. Cost: 1 VIGOR
Secret of Charge
When a character with this Secret charges as part of a warband with CAVALRY (V), he causes penalty dice to a resisting opponent equal to the unit's Effect value, if any. When imbued into a military unit, the commander causes penalty dice equal to equipment quality to opponents resisting the unit. Cost: 2 VIGOR
Secret of Elite
If a character with this Secret has to make a Passive Ability check when part of a warband, he gets synergy with the commander's BATTLE (R) as per the SECRET OF SYNERGY. When imbued into a military unit, the commander can protect unit cohesion and prevent it from breaking by suffering any results that would cause such as REASON-based Harm on himself.
Secret of Warfare
The character knows how to conduct major battles with multiple units attacking and supporting each other in coordination, allowing for such maneuvers as flanking, reserves and orderly retreats. Make a BATTLE (R) check to form an army out of several military units and warbands as an Effect. An opponent wanting to disrupt the army's chain of command has to attack this Effect to do so. An army has SUPERIOR LEVERAGE against individual warbands when it comes to direct encounters on the battlefield; only another army may resist its might directly. Cost: 1 REASON per trained or restructured army, plus cost of creating and maintaining any Effects. Requirement: SECRET OF DISCIPLINE
Castle Imbuement
This imbuement is placed on a dedicated defensive structure, appropriately enough. A castle might be built as equipment with the SECRET OF CREATION (ENGINEERING), or a character might come to possess one by other means. Either way, the castle imbuement provides SUPERIOR LEVERAGE to a suitable defensive force against enemy warbands, making it impossible for the opponent to attack the defenders directly. Even if the enemy has the means to try storming the castle, they will suffer penalty dice to any Ability checks to do so equal to the current quality of the castle.
Secret of Siege Warfare
The character is familiar with classical siege warfare and may thus direct circumvallation, sapping, building and moving siege machines and so on. A siege conducted with these strategies may directly attack the Effect value of opposing fortifications with ENGINEERING (R) checks. The character's war machines allow him to use ENGINEERING (R) to support in appropriate violent conflicts.
Secret of Field Surgeon
Civilian medicine in Maldor is non-invasive and mostly based on Three-Corner philosophy. A military field surgeon works with limited knowledge, but plenty of experience: when a character gets seriously injured, the field surgeon can work to stabilize him by activating this Secret. This prevents the character from bleeding to death and prepares him for long-term care with real medicinal practice. Additionally, Pool paid to activate this Secret also counts towards natural healing as if the patient had spent it. Cost: 1 REASON per Harm on the patient.
Secret of Evaluation
The character can find out the mechanical statistics of others by observing them in combat or training conditions. The player gets to ask one question per level of success on a BATTLE (R) check. Appropriate questions could involve ranking the character's Pools against each other or against other characters, finding out the exact current value of a single Pool, finding out the character's highest Ability and its level, recognizing a Secret the character used or whatever other questions the group finds reasonable; a lot depends on how the group handles this information normally. Cost: 1 REASON
Secret of Tactics
The player gets to choose and frame the turning-point of a given simple conflict, as the character influences the situation to unravel to his benefit. In practice this means that the player gets to choose the Abilities used by both sides of the conflict, as he describes the exact moment of conflict resolution in the fiction. Cost: 1 REASON for non-martial conflicts, or REASON equal to opposing BATTLE (R) check (if any) for martial ones.
An Example Unit
This GOOD (2) guard unit of 50 men or so can just walk over lone heroes without conflict; they gain two bonus dice when fighting in closed formation. Ratings: +3 for oppressing peasants +1 for fighting a battle Imbuements: Soldier (R) Formation (V) Cost: 1 REASON and 1 VIGOR per scene.
Another Example
This LEGENDARY (4) cavalry unit can use the SECRET OF SHATTERING on other warbands. It's an elite unit and can charge as well. However, the unit won't fight unless the commander leads from the front with CAVALRY (V). Ratings: +3 for fighting at night against footmen +2 for fighting at night +2 against footmen +1 for marching hard +1 for fighting a battle Imbuements: Soldier (R), Charge (V), Elite (R) Shattering (V), Expert (Cavalry) (V) Cost: 2 REASON and 3 VIGOR per scene, minus expert deduction.
Key of Martial Honor
The character values camaraderie and virtues of his military fellows and enemies alike. 1xp: Act honorably. 3xp: Scorn a civilian viewpoint or value. Buyoff: Compromise your honor.
Key of Martial Savagery
The character is a hardened killer whose values have adapted to the environment. Were I the Story Guide, I'd keep an eye on this one: players who don't reflect on their characters' actions can't handle Keys that reward monstrous behavior. 1xp: Act brutally towards another. 2xp: Attack another. 5xp: Kill for no good reason. Buyoff: Stay your hand.
Key of Martial Obedience
The character considers discipline the only thing that makes war possible or worthwhile. 1xp: Receive or give orders. 3xp: Obey orders in a crisis situation. Buyoff: Disobey an order or regulation.
Key of Martial Individuality
The character is a maverick, doing things the way he wants them done, with little regard for anybody else. 1xp: Disregard normal procedure. 2xp: Disregard orders. 5xp: Save the day by your disregard. Buyoff: Get punished for your ways.
Key of Martial Survival
The character survives incredible hazards while others die. 1xp: Get injured. 2xp: Avoid injury while others do not. 5xp: A companion dies. Buyoff: Have a breakdown.
Secret of Born Soldier
The character gains one Pool point in his current weakest Pool every time he activates a Martial Key. However, he also refreshes each Pool to one point less than his maximum for each Martial Key he has.

Making it work for you

Running combat for the sake of combat is not very interesting, so I don't particularly recommend using this war material just because it's there. Some players might gravitate towards power-tripping with the mechanically cheap power provided here, which is of course fine, but not the actual point; the Story Guide should know where to go from there, as simply running combat after combat doesn't do much in this game.

I'm myself pretty fond of military science fiction after having had too much time in my hands earlier this decade and reading a bit too many paperback books by Lois McMaster Bujold, David Feintuch, David Weber and such. This literary genre has been on my mind a lot when playing TSoY in Maldor, as the military themes are similar: honor between fighting men, responsibility for the welfare of the men and the cause they fight for, obedience and contempt towards civilian authorities... Maldor is a great place for war stories of adventurous bend.

A key issue here is that soldier characters need to be challenged morally just the same as everybody else. If their war happens to be just, then there might be division in the ranks or corrupt officers; if the troop thinks with one mind, perhaps the resources might not be enough to achieve all goals, necessitating gruesome triage; if everything can be achieved, perhaps the consequences of victory are where the actual issue resides; if all else is well, perhaps the problem is with the mind or family of the soldier himself? It is not acceptable to reduce military fiction into a straightforward calculus of won and lost battles.

I'll write more on this issue in the Chapter 12 wherein I consider the worst war Near knows today. Surprisingly enough, Lords of Maldor are not behind those atrocities. Not directly.

Three-Corner: Magical Philosophy

Crunch adapted from Clinton's book with original additions, some original fluff.

When Maldor reigned supreme, a great magical working was attempted by wizards of utmost skill. Magical sight was utilized to reveal the underlying structure of the world. This new mysticism that partook of other magics of the age was called Three-Corner, for it unified mind to body with spirit.

Emperor Absolon sponsored a great academy of magic for the research and teaching of this superior art. A great three-cornered fortress was erected in a secret place on the western hills to house the Three-Corner Academy. Cultural Inspection units were sent to trawl the world for secrets.

At its zenith the Three-Corner Academy taught a clarified magical philosophy based on the dual triangles of Night and Day. Many highest officers of the court were drawn from the Academy, and ThreeCorner magic spread to far reaches of Near.

Today the Academy is lost, but the magic itself survives in the courts of Maldor. Knowledge of the Three-Corner arts is feared and respected among the commoners and foreign peoples who know little difference between hucksters, witches and magical philosophers. Many wizards have taken to the roads in the hope of improving their lot in various ways.

The Three-Corner Foci

Students of the Three-Corner way learn magical FOCI, methods for unlocking the mind and seeing the world-that-is. There are six foci divided into two triangles, the Day and the Night. Like so:

  Day Triangle Night Triangle
Vigor Creation Destruction
Instinct Enhancement Transformation
Reason Divination Enthrallment

Of the two triangles the Day triangle was considered the more benign in the Academy, and the Night triangle was only taught to Day adepts who could handle the responsibility. Now, with the school scattered and third-generation knowledge being passed around, much of the structure has been lost. The Night foci are today the more common arts, even as they are considered evil magic (as opposed to just dangerous) in a manner that was unknown in the past.

The Focus Abilities

Each of the Three-Corner foci is an Ability that is learned separately. They hardly come naturally to humans, so a player can only write a focus on the character sheet if the character has had schooling in the art. This is surprisingly common in Maldor among all social classes, as many arcanists were reduced into village wise men after the Year of Shadow. Elsewhere it's mostly learned sages who know of the foci, as well as the occasional traveler.

As a rule of thumb, if the players decide to give a character access to Three-Corner based on his background, he would usually know one or both of the triangles, not just one or two Abilities at random "“ understanding comes at once for each triangle.

Creation (V)
CREATION is to bring matter into being. The character can create a small amount "“ a handful or so "“ of a basic element (fire, earth, water, air) out of nothing.
Destruction (V)
DESTRUCTION is to make matter disperse. The character can erode materials he touches. How this looks like depends on the player, but it is obviously supernatural.
Enhancement (I)
ENHANCEMENT is to make things more like themselves, increasing order. The character can improve and strengthen items and people. The Ability can be used to support most anything else, but does not do anything by itself.
Transformation (I)
TRANSFORMATION is to change things into something else, decreasing order. The character can force naturally pliable things to take on a new shape without tools or containers.
Divination (R)
DIVINATION is to reveal purpose. The character can sense magical auras in things and people, as well as see invisible things and the disposition of animals and people.
Enthrallment (R)
ENTHRALLMENT is to control purpose. The character can force another being to bend to his will. The target is well aware of the magical compulsion.

Using Three-Corner Magic

The Three-Corner foci are normal Abilities in most respects. As pure Abilities they are pretty limited, however, and more powerful magical workings often require the wizard to combine magical Secrets in their workings. Furthermore, all Three-Corner magic has certain rules and limitations that hold true unless lifted somehow:

Laws of Three-Corner Magic

  • The wizard needs to touch the target of his magical working.
  • Only one target may be affected by one working.
  • A magical effect is either instantaneous or lasts one hour; in the latter case the player has to make the working into an Effect to uphold the magic for longer than the one scene.
  • All Three-Corner magic may be resisted by the target with RESIST (R).

Complex magical effects

In actual play a magical working is often created by combining the powers of several foci and Secrets that modify their limitations. For example, a wizard who wanted to use any of the foci at distance would need to modify the basic function with the SECRET OF MAGICAL HAND.

When a wizard makes a working that requires the use of several foci, the focus Abilities are tested normally as a support chain, starting with the best Ability. All checks need to succeed for a working to be successful.

Complex Three-Corner magic usually requires the character to spend Pool points to power the magic. Discretionary costs are assigned by the player to any Pool associated with the foci used by the working.

In play we often need to figure out which foci and Secrets a character needs to activate to achieve a certain magical effect. The sensibilities of the group, often expressed by the Story Guide, are a fine guide in this. The example spells later on will provide a fine guide to the degree of fanciful freedom we've found optimal for fun play.


A wizard who wants to reuse the same magical working again and again will do well to consider creating a SPELL of it. Spells are cheaper and quicker to cast than free workings, but less flexible as well. For example, a wizard could make a working that dropped a big rock on his enemy; this would require the CREATION (V) focus, SECRET OF INVISIBLE HAND and the SECRET OF CREATE VOLUME. As a spell it would look like this:

Spell of Rockfall
The caster points at a spot and a large rock drops on it from nowhere. The rock disappears after an hour. Requires a CREATION (V) check. Cost: CREATE VOLUME: 3 VIGOR MAGICAL HAND: 1 VIGOR Total: 3+1-1= 3 VIGOR

As can be seen, a spell gains the wizard a one Pool discount in casting cost. However, it is less flexible: the caster cannot choose the size of the rock, drop something other than a rock or otherwise modify the working when casting it as a spell.

Spells cost an Advance to learn, just like Secrets. A character can further improve the spell's cost by spending several Advances on it, even making the spell free. In traditional academy magic the cost of a spell after discounts and assigning discretionary costs turns out as balanced as possible between the involved Pools.

Another benefit of spells is that, depending on the group's aesthetics, they might be simpler and quicker to cast than freeform magical workings. In my games, for example, a spell is much more feasible than any other working in time-constraint situations, as the wizard has practiced this particular working many times before.

A final benefit of a spell is that a character can learn one even if he doesn't know the different Secrets that were used in creating it. This is useful for Three-Corner dabblers or characters that want to specialize.

Expanding Three-Corner magic

Three-Corner is supposed to be one of the most flexible and comprehensive magical theories in Near "“ to a degree of arrogance, in fact. Thus we might well presume that the Three-Corner Secrets depicted here are only a small part of the whole magical tradition. The group should definitely create new Secrets to give Three-Corner magicians the tools to do almost anything they want. Magicians can research new solutions, too, arduous as that might be.

This is not to say that all feats of magic should be equally easy. Perhaps there are some blind spots to the comprehensively bland, scientific approach Three-Corner takes to magic. The Story Guide is unlikely to allow improvisation with a system this regimented. There is no poetic mystery to Three-Corner "“ whether this is a flaw could be a major theme in play.

Ivory Tower Broken

The Three-Corner Academy was never as influential on the religious and otherworldly life of Maldor as when it came to an end, scattering the masters and students alike all over the world. Now every court of any note boasts a court magician of supposedly vast power and knowledge; every village has a physician or craftsman with some small shard of the thrice-wound philosophy. Even outside Maldor proper it is rare to encounter a sage who'd fail to list the dual triangles.

Academy magic was atheistic, mystical and alchemical, convinced of its universal character and superiority of the message, which was nevertheless considered too elevated and complex for the common man. In their own mind academy tricornerists formed a secret elite of the Empire, one that was spiritually ascendant simply by the virtue of their practice. It was said that Three-Corner philosophy was the true secret, with the magic an afterthought.

Today the understanding of the thought behind the magic is considerably less certain and unified; two practitioners of the magic do not necessarily see eye to eye on even what the dual balance achieved by the Three-Corner practitioner is supposed to mean. Many tricornerists are members of the Celestial cults, unsatisfied or unknowing of the cosmology behind their own practice. When the magic is practiced by little more than hucksters and hedge magicians, it is no wonder if they mix in RITUAL MAGIC (R) practices and other ideas; everybody swears that theirs is the pure lineage of the Lost Academy, but sometimes their ideas are total opposites of each other. Maldor is a xenophobic, traumatized land. When rumors of the Shadow Cult rise, a wandering Three-Corner wizard may find himself being burnt as a witch. It is a horrible death.

Paradigm Keys

Key of Mystic Paradigm
The character considers Three-Corner magic a vessel for personal betterment, one that leads to happiness through a Balanced lifestyle. 1xp: Desist from action. 2xp: Advice another successfully. 5xp: Using your magic has happy consequences. Buyoff: Use your magic recklessly.
Key of Scientific Paradigm
The character considers Three-Corner magic a science to be explored and used to master nature, as the practitioner learns to control and understand the six Forces that compose the world. 1xp: Learn new things. 2xp: Use foreign magic or a new spell. 5xp: Master a situation completely. Buyoff: Witness the unexplainable.
Key of Alchemical Paradigm
The character considers Three-Corner magic a set of rituals intended for aligning the internal and external worlds, providing the practitioner an elevated position in the Totality. 1xp: Practice magic of any sort. 2xp: Understand your life from a new viewpoint. 5xp: Improve your social status. Buyoff: Abandon your position.

Three-Corner Secrets

Magical Hand
Normally, a character must touch a target to affect it with magic. With this Secret, they can affect any target they can see or have the effects of their magic occur anywhere they can see. Cost: 1 point from the associated pool.
Magical Contagion
Normally, a character's Three-Corner magic affects one target. With this Secret they can spread their magic over a group of targets by spending points from the associated pool. Cost: Per magnitude: 1 A team (~5) 3 A group (~25) 6 A crowd or herd (~100) 10 All targets in the scene
Magical Persistence
Normally, a character's magic can last for a maximum of one hour. With this Secret they can extend the duration by spending from the associated pool. Cost: Per magnitude: 1 Until the next sundown (or sunrise) 3 Until next moon phase (weekly) 6 Until next eclipse (monthly) 10 Until next solstice (biannually)
Magical Cunning
Normally, Three-Corner magic is always primarily opposed by RESIST (R) when directed at an unwilling target. With this Secret the character can choose another Passive Ability to be used against his working. Cost: 1 point from the associated Pool.
Magical Ritual
Normally, Three-Corner magical workings have to be executed and paid for in Pool all at once, without rest. With this Secret the character can stop a magical working in the middle to resume it later: pay a part of the working's Pool cost and make at least one focus Ability check before making the latest Ability check into an Effect. The ritual can be finished later as long as the character preserves the Effect, which may then be used normally as bonus dice for the rest of the ritual. Cost: the cost of creating the Effect.
Spells are cheaper to cast for the character: for every Advance invested into the spell, he may halve the Pool cost of the spell (round down) instead of reducing it by one point. Cost: 1 point from the associated Pool per halving.
Law of Effort
If the character does not have enough Pool for a Three-Corner working, the player can activate this Secret to roll penalty dice into the check (distributed freely to multiple checks if there are multiple foci) to reduce the Pool cost on a 1:1 basis. If a check fails, however, the character suffers a MAJOR (4) Harm from the backlash. Cost: 1 point from the associated Pool

Creation Secrets

Create Anything
The character can create any pure material he wants. "Pure" materials are simple natural or crafted, homogenous materials "“ not modern base elements so much as things like wood or steel or tar. Only one material may be created with one activation. Cost: 1 VIGOR
Create Energy
The character can create "energy", a massless, semi-opaque substance that releases light when disturbed. Energy does not occur in pure form naturally and cannot be mistaken for any natural substance. It is considered the ideal matter by many wizards. Cost: 2 VIGOR Requirement: CREATE ANYTHING
Energy Imbuement
The user of an item made of Energy can pay VIGOR to reduce any harm to the item on a 1:1 basis, forcing it to keep its form against attempts at breaking it. The light (or heat, when adjusted) released by Energy on impact causes any opponent in violent conflict to suffer a penalty die to their checks. Remember that Energy created by Three-Corner magic is not permanent.
Create Volume
The character can create large amounts of material. The material comes to existence in a simple geometric shape such as a sphere, wall or cube. Cost: 1 VIGOR + extra per magnitude: 1 A knapsack's worth 3 Enough to fill a pit 6 A ship's hold 10 A city wall
Overlay Creation
Normally Three-Corner Creation does not work to overlay substantial resistances, only to gently displace them. This Secret allows the character's creation to share the space with other matter. Depending on the nature and shape of the creation, this might result in impalement, explosive displacement or instant and uniform mixtures of matter. Cost: 1+ the target's RESIST (R) check in VIGOR.

Destruction Secrets

Inner Damage
The character can damage a target's Pools instead of causing physical Harm. Pool points of your choice equal to the success level of a DESTRUCTION (V) check are lost. Cost: 1 VIGOR
Massive Damage
Harm caused by a DESTRUCTION (V) check is multiplied by the VIGOR spent, but only to the maximum level of MORTAL (6). Cost: 2+ VIGOR
Crippling Damage
Harm caused by the character is AGGRAVATED, marked accordingly on the Harm track. Such Harm does not shake down and cannot be healed naturally. The target also suffers an additional penalty die when the aggravated Harm causes penalties. Cost: 1 VIGOR
Destroy Magic
The character can damage immaterial magical phenomena, such as Three-Corner workings of other wizards and spirits. Cost: 1 VIGOR

Enhancement Secrets

When using (or having an ally use) the SECRET OF CREATION, the character may assign magical traits and imbuements to the equipment. Treat the appropriate craft Ability as a necessary additional focus for the working. The character can only imbue spells and Three-Corner Secrets he knows or creates for the purpose. Unlike normal Three-Corner magic, these items are permanent, made so by the craftwork. Cost: an additional 2 INSTINCT per magical function (which may be presented by several ratings, note).
Burst of Power
Another character's activity is blessed with a blatantly supernatural power. For every blank "˜ ' result in the Ability check overflow, roll a bonus die into the check. This goes for blanks rolled from the bonus dice as well. Cost: 1 INSTINCT and 1 point from the Pool associated with the other character's action.
Empower Others
The character can spend his Pool points on the target's stead, following his own Pool spend caps. This works in activating Secrets, too.
Healing Touch
The character can use ENHANCEMENT (I) to heal Harm and resist diseases by quickening the natural healing process. Cost: 2 INSTINCT
Empower Magic
Pool spend caps do not concern the character in this working. Cost: 1 INSTINCT
Use Equipment
A piece of equipment the character is using is activated using any equipment mastery Secret. Cost: 1 INSTINCT

Transformation Secrets

Beast Morph
The character can mold the target life form into an animalistic creature (see chapter 27), moving their Pool scores around freely in the process. This costs two INSTINCT. In addition, each of the following costs one extra point: Double or half the target's size Flip two Ability scores Add an animal Secret Add an Advance of BESTIALITY (V) Cost: 2+ INSTINCT
The character can create craft products instantly, provided that he has the skill and the raw materials. Treat the appropriate craft Ability as a necessary additional focus for the working. Cost: 1 INSTINCT per craft
The character can negate gravity for one man-sized target for 2 INSTINCT. In addition, each of the following costs one extra point: Affect a twice as massive target. Cause extra pull equal to the target's weight in one direction. Cost: 2+ INSTINCT
Pool Shift
The character can translate the check result's worth of the target's Pools into another type, even taking him over his normal Pool limit. Cost: 1 INSTINCT

Divination Secrets

Know Truth
The character can divine the answer to any question phrased as such. The Story Guide determines the clarity of the knowledge based on the DIVINATION (R) check. Cost: 1 REASON
See Far
The character can see far-away places, things and people as long as he has something to go on, such as a memory of the sight, or a sufficiently specific name. Cost: REASON per magnitude: 1 Beyond a wall or other obstacle 3 Beyond several obstacles 6 This side of the horizon 10 On the same continent Or, when appropriate to your campaign: 6 Same cultural region 10 Anywhere in Near
Know Capabilities
You learn game statistics about the target, such as their best Ability, a specific Ability, details of a spell or a current Pool size. One bit of information per REASON spent. Cost: 1+ REASON
Mundane Interface
The character can replace one focus from this Three-Corner working with another Ability from the same Pool. Cost: 2 REASON for a Passive Ability, 3 for any other.

Enthrallment Secrets

Gentle Touch
The character can use ENTHRALLMENT (R) without the target realizing that they are being manipulated. Cost: 1 REASON
Alter Senses
The character can manipulate the senses of the target, making them experience illusions. Cost: 1 REASON per sense
Alter Memories
The character can manipulate the memories of the target, creating new ones (potentially played out as flashback scenes) or clouding the old. Cost: 2 REASON per memory. Requirement: ALTER SENSES
Sympathetic Magic
If the character has at hand property or body parts that uniquely identify a given person, they will find his magic much more difficult to resist: the player can expend any bonus dice to his check as opponent penalty dice, instead. Cost: 1 REASON per sense

Three-Corner in Play

The Story Guide should remember that Three-Corner magic still benefits and is limited by all the normal rules that concern all Abilities and Secrets. For example, the following points have sometimes proven elusive:

Resisting Three-Corner

When magic is used indirectly against a target, such as by destroying the floor below him or dropping something heavy on him, he is still allowed to resist the outcome (and resulting Harm) normally, provided that he has any leverage at all. Casting the magic takes time and it is not always overwhelming, so a simple REACT (I) check to jump out of the way or even ENDURE (V) to withstand the magic's effects is quite appropriate. Giving the wizard a gut full of steel before he finishes the spell also works.

Imaginary detail

Speaking of finishing spells, different groups imagine the practical craft of Three-Corner in different ways. The text is intentionally vague. My imagination often involves chanting, gestures and magical ingredients that are mostly glossed over as mechanical issues. Still, I've been known to issue penalty dice or deny usage of Three-Corner due to leverage issues when a character would have had to whip some exotic and unlikely magic up in an eye blink. My rule of thumb is that a one-focus spell takes a couple of seconds to set up, but anything more complex takes up more time, to a degree where I don't usually allow multi-focus workings (except as spells) in split-second action sequences.

The important part is to follow the group's expectations in this matter. If there are none, then explore what the magic feels and tastes like! Ask the player to make the calls to find out what your magic looks like.

One particular approach is to make the academic paradigms described in Keys lift their weight: what the wizard believes and strives for in his magic could influence his methods in working the magic, answering these questions.

Measuring Magnitudes

Most SOLAR SYSTEM mechanics eschew fictional measurements. Typically we only care of dramatic measure, which is much easier to ascertain without busting out the fictional rulers to ascertain distances, volumes and such. Three-Corner magic, however, uses plenty of fictional measures, just as one would expect of a scientific magical discipline. How does one judge these matters?

My own rule of thumb is always that the Story Guide is the final arbiter of fictional measurements. When a character tries to block a cave entrance with a big magical rock, say, the Story Guide decides according to setting fidelity and dramatic coordination whether the entrance is small enough for a third magnitude CREATE VOLUME or what. Similarly, when a wizard cloaks himself with magical invisibility, it's the Story Guide who decides when the one-hour duration of magic runs out and the spell needs to be recast.

Three-Corner in Conflict

A basic question for any Secrets that cost a lot of Pool to make something happen: what if another character conflicts the event and takes it into extended conflict? After all, the other character has a right to resist, but it also sucks to spend 10 Pool on a spell and have it do nothing.

The simple answer is that while the conflict is still on-going, the wizard's spell has not resolved yet: the character can continue casting his spell in extended conflict, making appropriate Ability checks or even doing something else while the magic percolates (or whatever; it's magic). The spell will only ultimately fail if the character stops casting it in the fiction or he loses the conflict (which was over the success of that spell in the first place).

If spells are cast during on-going extended conflict, the opponent might have to take a Defensive Action to cope with the new situation and change their goals to include preventing the spell, but they still get to declare opposition against the magic. It depends on the effects of the spell whether this is worthwhile for the opponent, of course.

Examples & Advice

These large magic systems are easy to use if you remember that I'm including so much material for the people who've played TSoY for years. The beginner tricorner wizard will get by just fine with very simple fare:

The Two-Part Principle

Almost any sensible magics a proper wizard would hope for can usually be created just by combining one of the focus Abilities and one Secret. For example:

Burning your foe to ash
would be accomplished with DESTRUCTION (V) + MAGICAL HAND. This would cost just one VIGOR point for doing it at a distance. If you had several enemies to burn, adding MAGICAL CONTAGION would take care of them all.
can be done with smart creation, but I added a GRAVITY Secret specifically because I wanted an easy and cheap way of flying about. So Transformation (I) + GRAVITY do the trick.
Charming people
is done with ENTHRALLMENT (R) + GENTLE TOUCH. The latter is important, as most don't take it very well when they are magically controlled.

As you can see, most things the wizard wants to do can be done with just one Ability and Secret, even if the bulk of the text is concerned with multi-focus workings, spells and such. There are fault-lines to this, explored by the example spells on the facing page; sometimes a wizard might create a new Secret to take care of a weakness, but when he can't, all sorts of roundabout methods are devised by powermad sorcerers.

The players should also remember that the rules on what a given working can accomplish and what it can't are basically as flexible as the group wants them to be. The example spells can be read with this in mind: the system is followed to the letter only where constraint and fine detail work are fun, not where they become a chore.

Magic is Expensive

The Three-Corner wizard would do anything and everything he wants were it not for the prohibitive expenses in Pool. Some things are almost insanely expensive for him: these are usually the ones with magnitudes listed in the corresponding Secret.

There's not much to be done about how expensive Three-Corner magic is in terms of experience and Pool costs. Looking at it from the player's viewpoint, the idea is not that this is a way to amazing power; rather, it's interesting to play with the limitations and self-perception of the wizard, and the expectations others place upon him. Often the wizard will find that he is trusted to do much greater things than anyone but the Sun Lord himself could accomplish.

Example Spells

Instant Sword
A sword made of solid steel appears in the character's hand. Requires SMITHING (V), CREATION (V) and TRANSFORMATION (I) checks. Cost: CREATE ANYTHING: 1 VIGOR CREATE VOLUME: 2 VIGOR CRAFT: 1 INSTINCT Total: 3V+1I-1= 2 VIGOR, 1 INSTINCT
Be Unseen
The target becomes invisible to the eye. Technically, the spell works by confusing the sight of anybody looking in the caster's direction, so it can be circumvented by using other senses than sight or overloaded by having several dozen people look for the character. Anybody looking for the character is considered a target and entitled to a RESIST (R) check. Requires an ENTHRALLMENT (R) check. Cost: MAGICAL CONTAGION: 3 POOL (a group) GENTLE TOUCH: 1 REASON ALTER SENSES: 1 REASON (sight) Total: 3+1+1-1= 4 REASON
Fall to the Sky
A character the caster points at has his personal gravity reversed and starts falling upwards. The spell ends in one hour as normal. Requires a TRANSFORMATION (I) check. Cost: MAGICAL HAND: 1 POOL GRAVITY: 3 INSTINCT (fall up) Total: 1+3-1= 3 INSTINCT
Werewolf Curse
The target becomes a scary, wolf-like monster until the next eclipse. Reason is reduced to one point, with the points split between Instinct and Vigor. The target's best Ability is flipped with BESTIALITY (V), and the second-best with ENDURE (V). The target's build and claws provide him with the SECRET OF NATURAL WEAPONS. Requires a TRANSFORMATION (I) check. Cost: BEAST MORPH: 2 INSTINCT + 2 for Ability flips + 1 for the Secret MAGICAL PERSISTENCE: 6 POOL Total: 5+6-1= 10 INSTINCT
Wizard Tower
The caster creates a large keep out of local countryside and conjured matter. The keep remains for three days before crumbling. Several casters who know the spell may cooperate in casting it, sharing Pool and focal responsibilities. The keep may be defined as equipment to be utilized militarily. Requires ENGINEERING (R), (V), ENHANCEMENT (I) and CREATION TRANSFORMATION (I) checks. Cost: CREATE VOLUME: 10 VIGOR CREATE ANYTHING: 3 VIGOR (granite, iron and wood) CRAFT: 1 INSTINCT MAGICAL HAND: 1 POOL MAGICAL PERSISTENCE: 3 POOL EMPOWER OTHERS: - POOL Total: 13V+1I+4-1= 12 VIGOR, 5 INSTINCT
Word of Gwangju
All who hear the word (speaker included, unless protected) forget what happened during the current scene, and do not realize that they forgot. The memory might return after a week or so, provided something reminds the victim. The word doesn't work on large crowds; only the closest group of people hears it. Requires a SPEAK (R) check. The cost is halved for each additional committed Advance instead of being reduced by one. Cost: ALTER MEMORIES: 2 REASON GENTLE TOUCH: 1 REASON MUNDANE INTERFACE: 3 REASON (DIVINATION to SPEAK) MUNDANE INTERFACE: 3 REASON (ENTHRALLMENT to SPEAK) MAGICAL CONTAGION: 3 POOL (a group) MAGICAL PERSISTENCE: 3 POOL (a week) SPELLCRAFT: 1 POOL per Advance Total: 16R/2= 8 REASON
Force Crush
A target the size of a house is first enveloped by a field of energy, then crushed by the slowly shrinking field. Characters in the field can break free with ENDURE (V). The caster has to stand on the edge of the target area when casting. Requires CREATION (V) and TRANSFORMATION (I) checks. Cost: CREATE ENERGY: 2 VIGOR CREATE VOLUME: 6 VIGOR MAGICAL CUNNING: 1 POOL Total: 8V+1-1= 7 VIGOR, 1 INSTINCT

Example Magic Items

Singing Sword
A Singing Sword starts to hum when drawn, and may ultimately voice anything from horrid battlecries to beautiful ballads, depending on the skills of the wielder. It is not sentient, the voices are long-gone echoes of the past, cleverly recombined. Ratings: +3 for performing sword-dances +2 for demoralizing enemies in battle +1 for musical performances Creation: Each of the three ratings is a variation of the idea of a singing sword, so the wizard-smith would have spent 2 INSTINCT on his ARTIFICE.
A Spell-Crystal
In Antiquity this sort of magic was common: the crystal holds one spell, which may be cast forth by the wielder with a Passive Ability check. In this case it is FALL TO THE SKY, cast with a REACT (I) check. Imbuements: Mundane Spellcraft Fall to the Sky (I) Null-Rating (I) Cost: 1 INSTINCT per scene. 4 INSTINCT to cast the spell. Creation: The crystal really has just one magical function, so the wizard-smith would spend only 2 INSTINCT on his ARTIFICE.
The Triangle Manteau
The Triangle Manteau is a wondrous cloak of legend purportedly gifted to general Kalder by Absolon himself. The cloak has several key powers, each activated with Passive Ability checks: For 2 REASON it turns the user invisible. For 2 INSTINCT it flies, spread out, carrying up to three people. For 2 VIGOR it protects the wearer from any physical harm. Imbuements: 2 x Mundane Spellcraft Invisibility Spell (R) 2 x Mundane Spellcraft Flight Spell (I) 2 x Mundane Spellcraft Protection Spell (V) Null-rating (I) Cost: 1 VIGOR, INSTINCT and REASON per scene. Creation: There are three distinct magics in the cloak, so the wizard-smith would have spent 6 INSTINCT on his ARTIFICE.

Ratkin: Tooth and Teat

Fluff mostly from Clinton's book. Crunch partly from the Finnish edition of the same, partly original.

The ratkin are a new thing in Near, unknown to histories of Antiquity. They are intelligent like humans, but remain savage and primal like their rodent forebears. Ratkin are generally distrusted by humans who consider them filthy thieves "“ neither descriptor is completely misleading.

Chaotic collectives of ratkin make their nests in ruins of Maldor, doing their best to understand the civilization humans left behind. They can be fiercely avaricious, all the more so for the fact that they do not understand ownership; as far as the ratkin are concerned, you own only what you can defend. Players who choose to play ratkin will do well to read the Beastkin material (chapter 27). All ratkin take the mandatory SECRET OF RATKIN as their first Secret.

Rodent Kin

Ratkin basically look like anthropomorphized rats, complete with tails and whiskers. The shared heritage is obvious to both the ratkin themselves and any outside observer: ratkin speak gutturally, sometimes run on all fours and in general act like overgrown, intelligent rats. About three to four feet tall, they have pointed button noses, whiskers, and are covered in either grey, brown, or black fur, with the occasional albino all-white ratkin.

Perhaps even more striking is the LITTER, the basic social group among ratkin, completely instinctual. A given litter consists of three or four ratkin and ten to twenty normal rats; the young ratkin are only distinguishable by their thumbs and size, being half again as large as their rat kin.

The young ratkin learn from an early age to fight vigorously for everything, starting with their mother's teat that the rest of the litter would gladly hog if given a chance. The ratkin instinctively know to restrain themselves in their constant scrapping, avoiding serious injury. These instincts carry over to adulthood: ratkin generally own only what they can carry and do not hesitate to fight a bit for whatever they desire.

Even without intelligence acting into it, the litter is fiercely loyal to each other and quite able to engage in real violence against outside threats. A predator attacking a member of the litter is often an offense that is taken more seriously than threats against the individual ratkin himself.

This social structure remains the same for the HORDE, the larger community the litter is born into. The horde might consist of hundreds of ratkin and thousands of rats as long as it remains successful as a community.

Infested Cities

Ratkin are most common in Maldor and usually only appear in the environs of the old empire. A partial reason for this is that Maldor is a fertile environment for the bestial creatures: the ancient walled cities that have long fallen into ruin provide an ideal environment for these new beings that thrive among the remains of the ancient culture that came before them. This might make such places dangerous to other people, as in the ruins the ratkin horde truly is at the top of the food chain.

Ratkin are social and curious creatures capable of modeling their life on human culture. Ownership is something they have a great difficulty understanding, however, so it is not uncommon for human societies to ostracize and marginalize ratkin, treating individuals as pests, pets, criminals or worse. This is not true of all human societies, certainly: the people of Khale accept ratkin as natural, and allow them to form tribes that interact with humans on equal footing.

While most ratkin belong in litter communities that have various relationships with humanity, some ratkin end up loners due to ill fate befalling their litter or simply because they like the new, civilized lifestyle promised by going after humans. Such ratkin prove adaptive, working actively to form bonds with any company they meet; a ratkin without a litter is often depressed and moody.

Bestial Hysteria

Wild rumors fly in Maldor of ratkin living in the old cities. Some stories elevate albino ratkin above their peers in respect and mysterious powers. It is even said by some adventurers that the Three-Corner Academy of old has fallen to the same sort of ruin, being a nest of pallid ratkin hostile to humans.

Ratkin are considered harbingers of disease by many. One particular disease at least is real, although the ratkin himself would probably not know of it: the SECRET OF TOXOPLASM is contracted by close relations with ratkin, such as drinking from a well they use. Most people of Near would not be equipped to even notice the parasite, but it is known that people who associate with ratkin sometimes turn... strange. Player characters in danger of contracting the toxoplasm might avoid it with an ENDURE (V) check, like any disease.

Should a Maldorite human get over his preconceptions and win the trust of a horde to his side, there are many things the beings breeding in the body of Old Maldor might be able to provide: nobody else knows the old cities as well as the ratkin living in them do "“ ratkin who gather, compulsively sort and even worship treasures of a civilization that is at this point starting to be as foreign to the modern Maldor as it is to the ratkin themselves.

Secret of Ratkin
The character gains a bonus die to any ANIMAL HANDLING (I) checks involving rats. He is also able to communicate with rodents in their own language. His thick fur and claws mean that he takes no circumstance penalties for BRAWLING (V) against an armed opponent.
Litter Bond (I)
All ratkin are highly empathetic towards their litter. This Ability is useful for predicting the actions of the litter and for acting seamlessly to cooperate with it. It may also be used as a social or communicative Ability towards litter-mates.
Secret of Rat Companions
Ratkin often carry a few friendly rats with them, perhaps members of their litter. The rats in toto are a secondary character EXPERT (2) with stealthy rat-type things. They have one Pool-point, or three if the player has named individual rats or otherwise focused play on them. The rats usually follow instructions, but they scatter immediately under violent attack and only return in the next scene.
Secret of Sibling Rivalry
Fighting with a member of his litter refreshes the character's INSTINCT Pool. Any Harm caused by the litter-mates to each other is reduced by the value of the attacker's LITTER BOND (I).
Secret of Curiosity
The character can use tools and equipment he found with SCROUNGING (I) instead of the proper Ability, but only as long as he hasn't figured out the proper use of the tool. Cost: 1 REASON, cumulative per tool.
Secret of Resistance
The character is highly resistant to toxins and disease. When succumbing to such is at issue, the player may opt to pay VIGOR to turn a failed ENDURE (V) check inconclusive; the character has a slight fever and does not develop a resistance to the disease, but does not suffer any ill effects, either. Cost: VIGOR equal to check difference for opposed checks, 1 VIGOR otherwise.
Secret of Rat-Stealth
The character has learned to avoid human attention. As long as he stays in hiding and does nothing to attract attention, he has SUPERIOR LEVERAGE against humans in skulking. Doesn't work against dogs and other creatures more aware of their environs. Cost: 1 INSTINCT per human present.
Secret of Bond-Speech
The character can communicate with members of his litter with a successful LITTER BOND (I) check (made by both for twoway communication). The communication is incomprehensible or even invisible to outsiders, consisting of small signals. The player may spend Instinct to allow the character to communicate over distance and through obstacles, using a means mysterious to non-ratkin. Cost: 1 INSTINCT per obstacle and 3 for a long distance.
Secret of Mind-Speech
The character can use BOND-SPEECH with other ratkin and rodents aside from his own litter. Doing so at distance pretty much requires knowing the scent of the target. Requirement: SECRET OF BOND-SPEECH. Cost: 1 REASON per target.
Secret of Rule-Speech
The character can try to force a target of BOND-SPEECH to act against its will. Requirement: SECRET OF BOND-SPEECH. Cost: 1 VIGOR per target.
Secret of Toxoplasm
The toxoplasm is a parasite living inside a host brain, most likely a human. A character with the toxoplasm is considered ratkin for the purposes of BOND-SPEECH. In addition, the character suffers a penalty die against ratkin in social conflicts. The character might be able to use LITTER BOND (I) after living among ratkin for a long while. Requirement: The character is human.
Secret of Albino Weird (Secret)
The character is an albino, with white fur and red eyes. He suffers a penalty die for everything he does in direct daylight, due to his sensitiveness. The character also has a weird: in times of stress the character manifests a culture-appropriate magical Secret of the player's choice; if the Secret requires the use of an Ability, the Ability can be substituted by BESTIALITY (V). If the character learns the Secret in question, swap the weird to a different Secret. The Secret may also be swapped prematurely in a life-threatening situation. Cost: 1 REASON to use, 3 INSTINCT to force the Secret to swap to another one.
Key of the Litter (specify)
The character has a litter, and a litter-bond. 1xp: Disagree with your litter. 3xp: Defend your litter-mate from harm. Buyoff: Leave your litter.
Key of the Precious
The character is jealous of his possessions, afraid that others will take them at first opportunity. 1xp: Gain a new thing by your skills. 2xp: Fight to gain a new possession. 5xp: Defend your property against theft successfully. Buyoff: Give your possessions away.
Key of the Rat King
The character's litter has a very close relationship, to such a degree that they rarely disagree or do anything alone. Their combined force of will makes them natural leaders of the horde. 1xp: Act together with your litter. 3xp: Force others to obey your litter. Buyoff: Break up the rat king. Requirement: KEY OF THE LITTER
Key of the Cargo Cult
The character lives in a puzzle of a world, trying to figure out what it all means. 1xp: Handle cultural remains. 2xp: Offer a theory for who the people that came before you were. 5xp: Institute a practice emulating the civilization you perceive. Buyoff: Have humans explain it all to you.
Key of Cheese
The character is something of a comical interlude in the campaign, with considerably less drama to his content than other characters. 1xp: Obsess over or gobble cheese. 2xp: Have funny antics. 5xp: Impress the rest of the group with the poignancy of your comedy. Buyoff: Choose to act humanely.

Ratkin in Play

My experience playing with ratkin was for the longest time that they are a problem, not a solution: it always seems that when you start playing TSoY with a new group, there is inevitably one player who gravitates towards a ratkin (or goblin for that matter) player character over any other option "“ this always seems to be because that player wants to avoid PROTAGONISM: his ratkin character is a hanger-on with no discernible issues of his own and seemingly no other function in the campaign than to attack squealing vigorously against whoever happens to threaten the real main characters. The ratkin with its humorous appearance and inhuman immunity to human issues is the perfect hanger-on character for the player who couldn't care less about making a real effort in the game.

This all changed when I figured out that I should not be moaning the fact that some of my friends wanted to play sidekicks; I should embrace it. When you have something like four players in the game, where's the problem in allowing one or even two to play unabashed sidekicks? Removing ratkin wouldn't remove this need, and why would we need more than a couple of heroic leads, anyway? Looking at it this way, ratkin are perfect: they're comedic and sympathetic, can be completely inefficient in messing up the game, and suitably compact to fit in the hero's backpack. The KEY OF CHEESE is an example of this shift in my strategy: I can support the comedic role actively, and I should.

This is not to say that ratkin can't be used seriously; they do certainly have many fascinating and serious aspects. I am personally especially fond of their nature as genuinely non-human people in Near, outside the Human Equation and one of the beastkin. I consider it a fully valid thematic challenge to ask a ratkin character to prove that he is actually people and not just an animal, in whatever manner a given campaign would consider such an issue.

Ratkin in Maldor

I personally like to think that ratkin have spread out from Maldor and mostly appear in there and the surrounding lands, such as Ammeni and Khale. They are a versatile lot, of course, and breed fast, so no place is inconceivable.

However, Maldor and ratkin go together like bread and butter for me simply because the ratkin are such a perfect foil for a campaign situated in Maldor. Players of WARHAMMER of course know what I'm about here: in the world of that game the human Empire (quite reminiscent of Maldor) is being besieged by evil ratkin called Skaven, monsters that come at night from under the floorboards. The ratkin in TSoY are not such a clear-cut evil, but the principle is the same: rigid civilization is being challenged by unbridled savagery that breeds under the very noses of the Lords of Maldor.

A Story Guide can get quite a lot of mileage out of ratkin in Maldor even if no player character initially has anything to do with them: ratkin can feature as members of a revolutionary movement, as barbarians at the gates, as inhuman pests carrying pestilence, as assassins or spies and many other things besides. If nothing else, Maldorian Lords have been known to pay an extermination fee for the pesky critters, which is sure to make for passionate inter-species relations.

Elsewhere in the world

I've never gotten much out of ratkin in Ammeni; the thing with seemingly sub-human creatures in Ammeni is that they can be enslaved and exploited, but goblins are so much better for that that ratkin are mostly left as pests to be exterminated. This of course makes them natural allies to the slave class of the society, but that's true of goblins as well. I've been told that ratkin with their litter bond make for a reliable slave species naturally inclined to be vulnerable to threats towards their litter-mates, so who knows.

Khaleans, on the other hand, have some resonance with ratkin, as their communal, ancestry focused culture harmonizes with ratkin nature. A whole Khalean tribe made of ratkin makes perfect sense, insofar as they can adapt to living in the wilderness.

Gorenite highlands, the eastern archipelago and the whole southern continent are relatively inhospitable to the natural strengths of the ratkin. I might have some appear anywhere humans live, but they could hardly be numerous.

Ratkin Names

The TSoY theory is that non-humans are just as likely to share the mainstream culture as they are to develop their own, depending on conditions. Consequently we get ratkin adopting human names, which might seem funny to humans. A civilized ratkin might well use the second name of their human best friend, for example.

In practice I often find myself using the sort of animal-sounding guttural, punchy names we've all learned from Disney and whatnot. Or purely descriptive primitivist names, "Black Paw" and such. Not an issue as far as I'm considered. Sometimes low-Reason ratkin of mine don't even have a spoken name, as they don't strictly speaking need it with their litter.

Myth of the Skyfire

In days long gone by, Maldor was an empire, stretching from ocean to mountain, uniting the people of the world under one rule. Empowered by a common language and efficient trade, this cornucopia of cultures melded into an economic powerhouse where few were hungry and most were happy.

This empire fell, not to opposing armies, but doom from the heavens. A fiery dot appeared in the sky, bright enough to be seen in midday. The people, well-off but superstitious, grew restless, worried at what this apparition might bring. Absolon, Emperor-General of Maldor, gathered his astronomers and they examined the fire on the edge of existence.

Their counsel was dark. This dot seemed to grow larger by day, as if the sky itself was beginning to burn away. Within three months, this dot grew as large as the sun, and shone bright by night, causing fear and panic in Absolon's kingdom. Mothers held their crying children to their breasts, trying to block the fell rays of this celestial fire from their babies' eyes; peasants grew fearful as their beasts moaned in confusion at night; priests proclaimed the end of the world was coming. And all looked to their Emperor, Absolon, for guidance, but Absolon had none.

A foreign magician, Hanish, came before Absolon, hundreds of miles of dirt caked on his body from running. He swore that the rituals conducted by Absolon's sorcerers had unleashed this terror, and it must be revoked, else the world would be destroyed.

The court sorcerers heard this and were none too pleased. They had Hanish imprisoned and tried to turn Absolon's ear away from his ravings. The words bothered Absolon greatly, though, and he went to Hanish's cell on a dark night, when the clouds obscured the burning among the stars.

Absolon threatened Hanish with death if this curse was not removed from the world. Hanish laid himself before Absolon's sword. Moved by Hanish's bravery and defiance, Absolon took him to his side as his highest advisor and they spent many hours talking alone. Rumors and rebellions ripped Maldor apart. The people said their Emperor spent all his days privately conversing with the man who would destroy the world. Within another three months, this fiery orb illuminated everything in burnt red. The sun could not even be seen.

In the midst of open revolt, chaos, madness, prophets proclaiming the death of all life, assassinations, and depravity, Absolon and Hanish emerged from the Emperor's quarters. The Sky Fire had grown no bigger than half the sky, but its heat was now intolerable and the entire sky was painted in eternal sunset as the globe burned away the air.

Absolon and Hanish stood on the steps of the Emperors Palace, hand in hand, and began a weird chant, intoning ancient syllables which spread throughout the angry crowds outside, calming them. This chant lasted for three days, and it is said that by the end of those three days, the entire Empire had taken up its rhythmic syllables. The Fire moved slowly across the sky, though, and at the end of the three days, crossed the western horizon and night fell again. Absolon and Hanish collapsed on the stairs where they chanted, their spirits gone and bodies broken.

Then, the world halted.

In the midst of night, the world shook with such a rumble that buildings fell, cracks opened spewing lava, and mountains formed out of plains-land. Men wept and tore their clothes, animals stampeded, and the elderly died of shock. A red glow came from every horizon, with black smoky clouds billowing. The clouds grew and grew as the earth continued to shake for days on end, the sun barely visible, and finally even blotted out that orb of life-giving light.

For a year, the earth quivered and the sun rose no more, with only black clouds looking down on humanity. The earth froze. For one year, through the harshest of winters, people died of plague, starvation, and madness. By the end of that year, the population of the known world was a tenth of what it had been.

One year after its disappearance, the sun rose weakly in the sky, barely shining through the breaking clouds. People driven to primitivism stuck their heads out of their caves, hovels, and homes to see the beloved sun as it rose to the middle of the sky and the foul darkness broke around it. When it set, though, living persons everywhere shook with horror.

A moon rose in the sky. Never had a moon been seen in the world. The only object ever seen in the night sky was the dread Sky Fire, which this bore too much a resemblance to. Its pale light threw dark shadows onto the land. Worse, when the sun rose the next day, this moon "“ three times larger "“ eclipsed the sun, a black Shadow Moon rimmed in fire.

Three hundred years have passed. Every night, the moon still rises, a terrible eye over the world. Some people quiver in abject fear. And some heroes fight the Shadow, in the darkest caves, the most decayed of civilizations, and the blackest hearts.