2nd Movement: Matter of Ammeni

2nd Movement: Matter of Ammeni

This movement centers upon the dominant northern power in Near, the Houses of Ammeni. These vicious corporations have shed all morality in their own fear of death and lust for living. The theme is slavery and colonialism, as all the wrong hands work to knit the world together.

Many peoples adjoin the Ammeni lands, and all have to suffer to some degree: the Zaru have been all but decimated as a nation, brought into utter abasement as slaves to the insatiable Ammeni. Khalean tribes wage a fatiguing war against their would-be Ammeni conquerors. Even the distant Qek is being brought to heel by colonists greedy for gems and cocoa.

The people of Ammeni stand on the brink of destiny in more ways than one, but whether that destiny spells downfall to their order or the beginnings of a new Empire nobody seems to know.

Ammeni: Flower of Hell

Fluff from Clinton's book, as is part of the crunch. Onomastics from Clinton and various Internet sources.

Ammeni is a sensual land of beauty and death, a place where human perceptions are overpowered by the strong spices, garish fabrics, power and helplessness. The land and the people answer powerfully to instincts of lust and hate, they are shaped by it all.

"Ammeni" is the land ruled by the Houses of Ammeni, seven mercantile entities of immense influence. They are the only law in the land, their traditions the only values people believe in. Theirs is a poisonous influence that marks the people to the bone. Ammeni lands reach from the Sea of Teeth to the eastern coasts, making them a linchpin of trade for all of northern Near. The original plantations are mostly scattered along the River of Vipers, their bases of power extending all over the Zaru delta. Ventures of Ammeni reach far to the south, and with the war into the lands of Khale as well.

Houses of Treachery

Ammeni, being incredibly hot and wet, is extremely fertile. The majority of the Houses' business is growing rice and fruits and farming fish and water buffalo. These staples, plus the chilies grown further in the west, provide them with an endless source of trade. Their navy is powerful and is used for shipping, not only for Ammeni, but to allied merchants in Maldor, where it makes a tidy profit on the deal. Ammeni is also home to Near's most wondrous drugs and deadliest poisons. A career in death is definitely a lucrative one here. The items Ammeni is most deficient in, yet craves, are metals and jewels. Most of their trade is for these two goods.

Power in Ammeni comes from the seven Houses, plantations which have grown into both tremendous mercantile houses and governmental entities. The "House" refers not only to the ruler of the House, or the business, but also the land that House controls. Within a House, laws are determined by the ruler of that House or his staff, and are usually capriciously enforced. Trade law is created by majority vote among the rulers of the seven Houses, the Council, which are normally embroiled in the covert sabotage and annexation of each other, forming alliances that last only weeks before backstabbing tears them apart.

Anatomy (R)
Ammeni knowledge of bodily functions is the most extensive of the nations of Near. This Ability can be used for surgery, torture and bizarre piercing arts sometimes inflicted on decorative servants. Practitioners tend to be respected and wellpaid craftsmen.
Assassination (I)
The art of silent, sudden death. The Ability is not so much concerned with martial skill as it is with a compartmentalized mind necessary for cold-blooded killing. An encyclopedic knowledge of the instruments of murder follows. Use this Ability for any exotic, pre-meditated killing, such as leaking poison into a sleeping person's mouth via a string.
Bladework (I)
This Ability is used for all sorts of intricate knife skills from tricks to fighting to crafts. It is typical to both high and low classes in Ammeni, where men display bravado with knives and women are expected to hide their protective blades intimately. The Ability may support in many sorts of social, craft and violent situations and even be the main Ability of a focused turning-point.
Sex (I)
Ammeni culture takes sex somewhat seriously as a craft and art form. Practice is not entirely egalitarian; women, especially house slaves and professional entertainers, are expected to be better at it. The Ability is useful accompaniment for CHARM (I) in seduction, and in general usable as a sort of artistic and knowledge Ability related to sexual performance, reproduction biology and sexual hygiene. Despite their purposeful sensuality, Ammeni are no smarter than others over what sex means; expression ranges all over the place, even more so than in less sensual cultures.
Dance (I)
Others may know how to dance, but the Ammeni entertainers are the best there is. The Ability is useful as an artistic thing, which, as we know, means that the player needs to make it useful by playing towards that sort of content.
Bamboo Warrior (V)
Most weapons and armor in the metal-poor Ammeni are made of bamboo, a flexible, common material in the area. This Ability is good for creating weapons and armor out of bamboo, as well as using polearms and such made of the light material effectively. Originally this was a peasant art of defense, but today independent peasants are few and bamboo is cut for professional soldiers.
Secret of Kata Nei
Kata Nei is a bamboo fighting style mostly favored by high-class Ammeni. It utilizes improvised weapons, preferentially untreated bamboo stalks, which the fighter cuts and splinters into nasty instruments during the fight. The character gains bonus dice to his BAMBOO WARRIOR (V) checks in a fight by breaking his weapons: each expended bamboo stalk gains one die, to a maximum of two (one for each hand) per check. Replacing the weapons mid-fight ranges from trivial (i.e. in a bamboo forest) to impossible; in extended conflict it requires either advance preparations or a defensive round spent in procuring replacements.
Secret of Bamboo Mercenary
Most mercenary officers in Ammeni are from Maldor, but half of the men are locals as well. Those units that cannot afford metal arms are forced to adapt to native conditions. The character with this Secret can use MELEE (V) and BAMBOO WARRIOR (V) interchangeably.
Secret of Healing
When the character is healing another with an Ability check, he can make an Effect off the result. As long as he maintains the Effect, the target character heals one Harm under the Effect level for every scene of bed rest. However, if the patient acts against the Effect's recovery instructions, he suffers the Effect level as Harm as his wounds reopen.
Secret of Ritual Dance (specify)
The character has learned a specific, complex dancing performance purported to have wondrous power. If any character declares that a Secret his character possesses would be greatly supported by the preternatural qualities of this particular dance, this will be so: not only can the dancer support the Secret in action, but he can also share his Pool points with the user of the Secret. The player should keep a list of the Secrets that have been associated with the dance under this Secret. Cost: the other character pays REASON equal to the number of Secrets aided by this particular dance before adding his.
Key of the House
The character is a member of an Ammeni House, the rulers of the land. 1xp: Serve the House. 2xp: Your own interests align with those of your House. 5xp: Show initiative or take risks for the House. Buyoff: Betray the interests of the House.
Key of the Overlord
The character enjoys his dominant position over other people. 1xp: Order somebody else to do something. 3xp: Enjoy the abasement of others. Buyoff: Free a person under your domination.
Key of the Aesthete
The character adores experiences, the more refined the better. 1xp: Partake of art or indulgence. 3xp: Experience a new sensation. Buyoff: Refuse a new experience.
Key of Treachery (specify)
The character is planning to betray his benefactor or ally. 1xp: Plan your treachery. 2xp: Your target trusts you. 5xp: Take steps to bring your treachery to fruition. Buyoff: Your treachery is revealed.
Key of the Outsider
The character is not a member of a House, or if he is, then he's a lowly assistant or a member of a marginalized House branch. 1xp: Your lack of status comes up. 2xp: You're shut out of decisionmaking. 5xp: You suffer for your lack of status. Buyoff: Leave Ammeni for good, or become an insider.
Key of Wanderlust
Ammeni often leave their land because of necessity or preference; some hate home, others need to prove themselves in foreign lands. 1xp: Talk about going. 3xp: Cut some ties or make other preparations for leaving. Buyoff: Actually leave.

Sleeping Among the Snakes

Ammenites are known outside their country for their cruelty and decadence. The appearance is misleading, however: only the richest of Ammenites have the opportunity for cruelty and the ability for decadence. The rest of them are merely opportunists, making the best deals they can in a colonial society. The upper class of Ammenites, however, are decadent to an extreme, clothing themselves in the finest silk and eating bizarre delicacies grown only in the fertile delta soil. Ammenites are the descendants of Maldor, although they do not like to be reminded of this fact. Their language is much like the language of Maldor, but is filled with pops and flecks in between words to convey connotation.

A full five percent of the population of Ammeni belongs to the hyper-wealthy House families, although many of these are not related by blood. The habitual assassination of family members means that ambitious types may rise quickly. Slavery is common in Ammeni, and at least twenty-five percent of the population is made of slaves, many of them from the former nation of Zaru. The rest of the population are either what we would know as middle management "“ low-level employees assigned to control slaves and supervise menial labor "“ or poor freemen, who try to attract as little attention as possible, and often leave Ammeni to become wanderers or traders.

Hordes in the Mouth, Fires in the Belly

The Ammenites collect art of other cultures more than they create their own: the acquisition of art is a hobby for the upper classes. Native Ammenite art is bizarre, focusing on themes of oppression and the inevitability of death. The most famous Ammenite painting is of a rice patty, red with blood, with tall stalks rising to the sky; the most famous book is the story of the last 24 hours of a rich, mad man. Zaru slaves do create art as well, although mostly ritual chants made of gibberish that manages to convey emotion. Their funeral dirges are known to bring even the strongest Ammenites to tears, which brings horrible wrath upon them.

The food of Ammeni, however, is considered a delicacy. Hot and spicy, full of cream, rice, and noodles, as well as odd ingredients such as slugs, uncooked quail eggs, and fish-eyes, it evokes either love or disgust in most people. They make a rice wine that is similar: either astounding or repulsive, depending on the taster, and they take large amounts of poiture, the pollen of a gleaming white flower that grows wild in the rice fields of Ammeni. Poiture puts people into a deep relaxed state much like slumber where the sense of time becomes elongated. The Ammenites eschew religion, worshipping only gold and riches. The Council of Houses has outlawed religious ceremonies in the land, although both the Zaru slaves and members of the Houses often participate in odd cults, especially the Revenant Cult.

Actual Play

Ammeni are the ever-popular antagonists of Near. In fact, their greatest theme in my eyes is redemption: how might this culture be justified or cured? Much of my original work on Ammeni in the following chapters revolves around this theme.

Ammeni makes a very good milieu for steamy, passionate stories of human folly, sex and violence. This sort of story, called a BLOOD OPERA, is very good as a first introduction to the game for a group that doesn't want to work with an adventuring premise. A blood opera operates on the premise that player characters are set up from the beginning to have clear, passionate goals that conflict with each other and those of other characters in the setting; this is very easy and natural in Ammeni, perhaps contributing to its popularity.

Cruelty, Lines and Veils

Ammeni characters and stories set in Ammeni can go to some very dark places. The rules on conflict propriety from the SOLAR SYSTEM are important in defining the LINES that will not be crossed in the game content, as is common sense communication among the group; there's no need to play awful events when they can be paraphrased in abstract, drawing a VEIL over the details.

I have an important message for character players here, one that I often have to teach to new roleplayers: protagonism is not a guaranteed right, it can be lost. The easiest way to do so is to have your character act without understandable human motivation. In the immoral Ammeni it is easy for your character to trivialize the suffering of others; if you trivialize it as well, the other players will come to dislike the way you play and doubt your commitment to the fiction. They'll try to play around it and take your character seriously, but if it seems that he's just committing atrocities because you want attention or don't care, it doesn't come off very well.

What the above means is: if your character does horrible things, you as the player should acknowledge it and accord the moment with the gravity it deserves. If the other players are taking the fiction seriously, they won't like it if you don't respect the endeavor equally.

Ideas

Ammeni is not, properly speaking, a nation; it is a cartel. It does not have citizens or nationals; even the individual Houses do not "“ they only have members.

A member of a House is an interesting character because he or she might be steeped in cruelty, but still be a human being. How does that work? Is there a tension?

The lower rungs of the House organizations have less and less stake in the endeavor that is Ammeni, thus making them more and more likely to have their own interests outside the House life. Or the middle-management might just be hungry and ambitious, ready to impress their masters by being even more ruthless than the next guy.

Women of the Houses are usually very equal with the men, and twice as poisonous. The contrast is stark, as women in general are treated as property by the House scions.

The Ammeni relationship with their slaves is an interesting topic, as it can range from pure victimization for gratification to uncaring practicality to a sort of internalized, natural partnership predicated on unequal rights. Pay attention to this, and you will see the Ammeni society in many different lights.

Ammeni Names

Ammenites are of Maldorite stock, so their language is Romance like Maldor's. Theirs is a land of many minorities and cultures, however, so in practice their language sounds exotic to those from Maldor, including foreign clicks and accents.

Male

Kaarlo, Philippe, Amoux, Onfroi, Cador, Edmund, Owain, Montaigu, D'anton, Jarkko, Toussaint, Duval, Quennel, Dacian, Piperel.

Female

Helene, Galatee, Shalott, Celie, Arleta, Eugenia, Sidonie, Rohais, Ruby, Eleta, Ysabel, Zuria, Marquisa, Damia, Aveline. Also use names from any lands Ammenites trade with, as women often take exotic names, or are actually brought from afar.

Families

Valier, Desmarais, Braud, Landry, Nevill, Godott, Somm, Badeh. The family names of high classes originate often from Antiquity (like the House names), or pretend to. House members use the name of the House, possibly barreled with a second name indicating their House branch. While House members are "of the House" with de/du particles, House slaves are "House's" with the -ae/-e(h) suffix. So "De Braud" for House members, "Braude" for slaves and other property.

Patronymics

People outside the Houses do not use family names, but rather patronymics or (rarely) matronymics. The father's name gets the -eau/-eh suffix to make a patronymic, like Philipeau or Cadoreh.

Places and Things

Ammeni do not usually name places; rather, they use the native names. New places and things owned by Ammeni might be named for the people owning them, in either possessive or genitive case.

Alchemy: Roots in the Mists

Fluff from Clinton's book, crunch inspired by the same.

From the fertile ground of Ammeni grows the world's largest supply of drugs of all types. Recreational drugs, poisons, and great healing herbs all sprout up wildly throughout Ammeni. The most common of these is a flower called POITURE. White poiture is a powerful recreational drug, sending the user in a hazy dream-state where consciousness becomes very third-person and the sense of time grows elongated. Red poiture, a much rarer type, causes fevered activity, occasional rage, and a loss of concentration. Black poiture is known to give a much more potent high than white poiture, and has reputed healing powers, but causes death in small quantities.

Between the cornucopia of herbs and significant studies of the inner workings of the body done by curious or disturbed Ammenites, healers are common here. Many healers find employment in Houses as personal doctors or torturers, and others become medics in the legions. Unaffiliated healers are harder to come by, and most leave Ammeni to wander, although a few stay behind to help the Zaru underground.

Freelance poisoners, on the other hand, are a dime a dozen. They might change affiliation once a week. For this reason, the hardest job interview in Ammeni is for a chef position. Chefs are known to be the best poisoners, and getting a job in a House as one means being interviewed by the ruler of that House, as well as his staff, and perhaps his torturer.

The Taste of Death

The simplest way of creating poisons, drugs and cures is to engage HERBALISM (R) (or even WOODCRAFT (R) with the SECRET OF HERBAL MEDICINE) in a simple Ability check and make an Effect of the result according to the normal rules: assuming that the herbalist found the right herbs, the player gets to write the Effect as he would. Later the player gets to spend the Effect as bonus dice on appropriate checks, just like any Effects. Suitable Effects in this regard include such as "Various psychotropes from the hills" and "Fever-curing herbs" "“ give it enough detail to be interesting and make clear what the preparation actually does.

Herbalism (R)
The Poison River watershed provides a rich library of flora ready to be exploited. This Ability covers recognizing the appearance, growth habits and properties of both rare and common herbs useful for food, poisons, drugs and cures. The practitioner may even try his hand at cultivating herbs in controlled conditions. WOODCRAFT (R) is simple and shallow in comparison, the Story Guide may require Herbalism for any truly impressive endeavor.
Alchemy (R)
Ammeni alchemy is a cynical science with little in the way of preconceptions and expectations; the alchemist rarely expects anything, in good or ill. He does, however, usually believe in the immortality of the body, achievable by the enforced balance of bodily forces. This combination of passion and cold calculation has driven Ammeni alchemy to great heights among the adepts.
Cooking (I)
Ammeni are superb cooks, thanks to the rich array of spices and exotic ingredients their lands supply. While HOUSEWORK (R) may make tasty food, Cooking is a superior art. Of course, it is not a given that tasty food will be much of an issue in a given campaign. Cooking may also be used to deliver herbal and alchemical poisons orally.
Taste Poison (I)
Ammeni learn to distinguish poisons and drugs by sight, smell and taste, which is useful in a land infested by dangerous plants and animals. The Ability might be used in creating and trading drugs, but most valued it is in avoiding poisoning. Normally a character would support his ENDURANCE (V) check against poison with this Ability, to see how much he imbibed before noticing the poison.
Secret of the Still
The character knows how to create INFUSIONS, powerful alchemical concoctions. The alchemist pays a REASON cost for his infusion when it is created. Complex infusions take great skill to create: each stage past the first incurs a cumulative penalty die to the creation check. Cost: 1 REASON per stage past the first.
Secret of the Funnel
Activate this Secret to rearrange or remove the stages of a finished infusion. The player also has to reroll the Effect value of the infusion; failure ruins it. Each moved or removed stage causes a penalty die to this check. The funneling process may also be used to reverse engineer and master an infusion from another alchemist's notes, although the Story Guide may mess with the exact composition and order of the stages during the process. Cost: 1 REASON to move a stage, 2 to remove a stage, 1 to reverse engineer a stage and 1 mandatory to reroll the Effect. Requirement: SECRET OF THE STILL
Secret of Metastasis
Activate this Secret to cancel the penalty dice caused by alchemical apparati such as the STILL or the FUNNEL. The player makes the choice to activate metastasis for each roll separately. Cost: 1 REASON. Requirement: SECRET OF THE STILL
Secret of Botany
A concerned naturalist can get more out of HERBALISM (R) than just simple Effects:
  • He can cause penalty dice instead of bonus dice with his herbal Effects.
  • He can create herbal incenses and pastes to deliver the Effect in different ways.
  • The LIMITED EFFECTS variant rule does not concern his Effects.
  • He can create first-stage INFUSIONS.
Secret of Laboratory
The character owns a dedicated laboratory for his alchemical work. As long as the character has access to the lab, he can reduce the upkeep costs for his alchemical and herbal Effects by the value of a suitable Ability check whenever he refreshes Reason. Each useful Ability may be checked separately for each Refresh; suitable Abilities might include ALCHEMY (R) and HERBALISM (R), and perhaps others. Cost: 1 Reason per Ability checked.
Secret of Fire Fruit
A cook with this Secret can use COOKING (I) with such exotic skill that it resembles alchemy. He can create orally delivered first-stage infusions out of foods and spices. Such cooking infusions are impossible to recognize as drugs (which they really aren't). Often their effects are delayed by digestion unpredictably, and a victim might not even realize that they are being poisoned.
Secret of Iron Stomach
Natural inclination or deliberate acclimatization has made the character resistant to ingested poisons and other harmful substances. The player may pay Vigor to cancel out infusion stages in addition to those cancelled by the ENDURE (V) check. In addition, the player may create Effects with ENDURE (V) to represent immunities to specific poisons. Cost: 1 VIGOR per cancelled stage.
Secret of Serpent Blade
The character knows how to boil an infusion into a sticky paste suitable for treating weapons. The paste preserves well and takes effect once the weapon pierces skin. Cost: 1 VIGOR per treated weapon.
Secret of Serpent Fog
The character knows how to mix an infusion into an air-weight vapor that takes effect through the lungs. Cost: 1 INSTINCT per roomful of fog.
Alchemical Imbuement
A piece of equipment with this imbuement provides the effects of a specific INFUSION constantly at a level equal to the equipment quality; the infusion has no maintenance cost.
Secret of Addiction (specify)
The character is addicted to the specified substance and will have trouble doing well unless satisfied regularly. The addiction affects one of the character's Pools, causing normal Pool refreshment to return only one Pool point for the character. A full refill, instead, is gained by partaking of the addiction. However, this only works once per session, extra satisfaction only returns one Pool point per scene. (For multiple addictions in one Pool, all have to be satisfied for full satisfaction, but each can be satisfied independently for partial.) Addiction can be broken by long-term denial and RESIST (R) check, but the Secret remains and becomes active if the character ever indulges again; only extraordinary measures (a QUEST, say) can remove an addiction altogether.
Key of Science
The character approaches alchemy as a science, as opposed to a symbolic art. 1xp: Apply the scientific method. 2xp: Argue for the scientific method. 5xp: Discover a new secret by observing empirical evidence, forming a series of hypotheses and testing methodically to find the truth. Buyoff: Science fails you.
Key of the Revenant
The character is a member of the Revenant Cult, a conspiracy devoted to research of alchemical immortality. 1xp: Obey your Mentor or give orders to your Student. 2xp: Act to fulfill the precepts of the Revenant Cult. 5xp: Rise in the ranks of the Cult. Buyoff: Relinquish your laboratory and research.
Key of Death
A fear of death controls the actions of the character, who is morbidly fascinated with the phenomenon. 1xp: Worry about death. 3xp: Embark on a new plan to cheat death. Buyoff: Endanger your life.

ALCHEMY (R) is an alternative for this simple Effect-work: it is inferior in that it requires more expensive equipment and ingredients to get the same outcome, but for more complex work alchemy is mandatory: aside from the SECRET OF BOTANY simple natural cures cannot be leveraged much further. Alchemy can use mineral and animal materials as well as plants to work on, although Ammeni alchemy is traditionally almost exclusively based on Flora.

When a herbal Effect is used in a hostile way, the victim is of course entitled to declaring a conflict. This might be a simple ENDURANCE (V) check against the poisoner's ASSASSINATION (I) or COOKING (I), depending on how the poison is applied, with the Effect value as bonus dice for the poisoner. Normal conflict resolution in that regard.

The next step in alchemy is distilling INFUSIONS, which is possible with the SECRET OF THE STILL. An infusion (the effective pharmaceutical substance suspended in a liquid such as grain alcohol) is also an Effect, but it is not normally consumed as bonus dice: instead, it represents the potency of the special formula the alchemist produces. When infusions are created, the alchemist creates one or more STAGES of the infusion, all of which may have different mechanical effects on the target. The first stage in Ammeni alchemy is always created with HERBALISM (R), while the other stages are normally created with ALCHEMY (R); the player makes the appropriate Ability checks for each stage in a support chain. Should a stage fail, the whole concoction is ruined. The alchemist may opt to end the process at any stage, or continue to make the infusion even more powerful.

For each successful stage in the distillation process, one STAGE EFFECT from the following list is chosen; the Story Guide chooses the first stage according to dramatic coordination; afterwards the player (or players, if several are involved) and the Story Guide take turns, with the Story Guide messing or cooperating with the process as he would. Depending on the details of the process and the available resources of the alchemist, individual stages may have to be delayed to procure some special tools or materials (or even replaced by checks of TRADE ROUTES (R), WEALTH (R) or BARTER (I)); the Story Guide interprets the fictional details as necessary. The player may also freely delay the work for refreshment or do other things on the side, provided he keeps notes of the progress.

Infusion effects

  • A bonus or penalty die to one Pool. The die comes into play in all Ability checks made with Abilities tied to the Pool in question. This lasts the stage of the effect in hours or until the next scene.
  • Harm might be caused by all infusions, but with this stage effect the amount is greater: the infusion causes its full value as Harm instead of the check difference. Even when successfully resisted, the infusion causes its Effect value minus the check difference in Harm.
  • Unconsciousness causes the recipient to go into a daze or outright coma. This lasts the stage of the effect in hours or until the next scene.
  • Heighten or dull senses causes the stage of the effect in bonus or penalty dice to Ability checks based on a particular sense, or allows the character to perceive otherwise indiscernible things. The bonus dice may turn into penalty dice with unexpected stimulation, such as bright sunlight or loud noise.
  • Addiction is a common effect, often introduced by the Story Guide into appropriate drugs. The recipient of the drug makes an ENDURANCE (V) check against the Effect value; on failure he pays the stage of the effect in Reason or takes the appropriate SECRET OF ADDICTION.

The player gives a name to the completed infusion, creates an Effect (for free) out of the last Ability check in the process and writes down the stage effects in order. The overall outcome looks somewhat like the examples to the right.

When an infusion is applied (orally or injected), the target makes an ENDURANCE (V) check against the Effect: on a success last stages of the Effect equal to the check difference do not activate, while on failure all stages activate and the character suffers the check difference as Harm. On a tie, obviously, all stages take effect and no Harm is caused.

The infusion Effect is not particularly consumed by using it (unless using the FRAGILE EFFECTS variant rule, of course); the Effect represents the on-going efforts of the alchemist in creating and preserving his stock of the infusion. The Effect may be destroyed by divesting the alchemist of his stock, notes and tools, using normal rules for destroying Effects. The Effect may not be directly duplicated by another character per se, but the alchemists can of course help each other reproduce experiments.

Example Infusions

Tea of Red Poiture ?/R
A decoction made off the leaves of pure red Poiture. 1 Penalty die to Reason. 2 Bonus die to Vigor. 3 Bonus die to Vigor.
Sands of Sandir ?/R
A soluble crystal that is found occurring naturally on Vadenite islands, but can be synthesized as well. Tends to cause hallucinations, and it is a dangerously widely held belief that you cannot drown under the influence. 1 Addiction. 2 See through water like it was air. 3 Daze, hallucinations. 4 Heighten eyesight. 5 Addiction ... depending on the degree of purity.
Black Poiture Serum ?/R
A miracle cure that many claim to master, causing needless deaths to their patients. 1 Daze. 2 Harm, blood pressure. 3 Healing. 4 Addiction. 5 Harm, convulsions. 6 Healing
Frog Jump ?/R
A commoner's sex drug widely available in Ammeni. Poor alchemists often make this to varied recipes. 1 Penalty die to Reason. 2 Heighten stimulation. 3 Penalty die to Reason.
Spirit Travel Serum ?/R
The user falls into a comatose state and experiences feverish dreams that might be true. 1 Comatose. 2 Sense own past. 3 Addiction. 4 Sense other places. 5 Misleading, false dreams. 6 Dreams of the future.

When infusions are used in conflict, sometimes the issue is not whether the character can endure the horrid poison, but whether it is successfully injected in the first place. My take on this is that I don't necessarily allow the victim a conflict over the issue; a character needs to be aware of the possibility of poison, otherwise it is a simple unopposed check of ASSASSINATION (I) or some other Ability for the poisoner to slip it to him. An aware target may often use REACT (I) or a more elaborate Ability to avoid the spray, needle, or whatever implement the poisoner would use.

Pushing Alchemy

As written, alchemical infusions can mostly influence Ability checks and incapacitate recipients. As with all things SOLAR SYSTEM, the interesting high-level stuff is in reality in your hands: negotiate through play the opportunities and costs of expanding alchemy "“ what it takes to become immortal.

What I would do to implement new, strange stage effects would be something like this:

Secret of Medicine
The character has learned a new stage effect to include in his infusions: Healing infusions still may cause Harm, but they also hasten recovery from appropriate Harm. Remove one Harm of at most the Effect level of the infusion. A healing stage may only occur on stages divisible by three.

That last part is a bit frivolous, but I'm demonstrating a technique: a stage effect may be limited to appearing only at certain stages of the infusion to make life difficult for alchemists. Another thing to do with the stages is to tie the strength of the effect to the stage it appears on. This forces the alchemist to choose between an easily endured powerful effect and a more reliable, but weaker one.

Secret of Spirit Travel
The character has learned a new stage effect to include in his infusions: Travel infusions allow the recipient to visit faraway places in spirit. The effect lasts days equal to the stage of the effect, during which time the recipient lies in coma, needing neither food nor water.

I'm again demonstrating another thing here as well: sometimes it's best to think a bit on how tightly you need to couple mechanics to setting. In the case of SPIRIT TRAVEL I myself would forgo this specific stage effect and just create a drug that does the same thing by combining UNCONSCIOUSNESS and HEIGHTENING SENSES; a creative reading makes applying crunch exciting, which is good, because that's where the fun is supposed to be.

Trade: Lifeblood of Civilization

Original fluff, some crunch based on the Finnish edition of Clinton's book.

Near after the Skyfire is in a state of disintegration. No civilization has survived such a calamity intact, ever. Many individual communities are isolated, with their knowledge bases slowly eroding and value systems convulsing, knotting up like a wounded animal dying in a deep burrow.

The long southern coastline of the Sea of Teeth is sparsely populated. Vaguely Khalean marsh tribes and roving bands of hunterbandits eke out a primitive living that gets worse every year as the communities prey on each other. Villagers from neighboring valleys do not understand each other's speech; the old roads are all but gone; specialized knowledge is replaced by the common necessities of survival.

No nation of Near is able to survive alone, but neither do the borders seem surmountable. Things are even worse on the eastern coasts, and nobody really knows what savagery is happening in the interior wilderness nobody has visited for a generation.

It is a questionable hope, but the caravans and trade ships of Ammeni are the first touch of the larger world to many isolated communities that have experienced slow decline since the Skyfire. Ammeni traders are the only diplomats and explorers in a world with its sights broken.

Incomprehensible Wealth

The merchant princes of the Houses are exalted beings in this day and age. They wield wealth that is not only all but monetized, but greater than any one man could ever hope to consume. They have capital, a concept near unknown in great parts of Near. This is a condition that allows the princes unprecedented options in elevating and ruining themselves and others.

This wealth is not trivial to create. The SECRET OF FORTUNE is extraordinary and mechanically challenging to create. A character wanting it needs to use SECRET OF QUEST to execute a business plan of some sort or get the fortune from another character, willingly or not. My take is that I allow at most one character to take the Secret in character creation; let the rest become clients to the independently rich if they want.

Wealth (R)
The skill of handling and using wealth. This is somewhat different from BARGAIN (I) in that the character knows how to preserve, increase and spend wealth efficiently over the long term; Wealth presumes a moneyusing economy, or nearly so. It's useful for hiding wealth, trading it, turning it into money, moving it, buying things with it, tracking it in accounting and so on.
Secret of Fortune
The character has more than any one person could ever need. The form of the wealth might be specific or ever-changing, depending on the character. Any material Effects he chooses to garner by wealth come to him effortlessly, without Pool cost. Similarly, he pays a Pool point instead of an Advance to wield mundane equipment that can be bought. The only limitations to this are practical, such as time and availability; the Story Guide might consider one application per scene a good rule of thumb on this. The Ability used in the procurement of Effects and equipment is WEALTH (R), unless the task is left to a suitably skilled client. The character still pays Effect upkeep on refreshes for any Effects he chooses to maintain, and he has to invest the Advance to keep any equipment at the end of the session. Cost: 1 VIGOR to use mundane equipment. Requirements: Difficult to achieve, see main text.
Key of Corruption
The character has fallen prey to vices and entitled abasement unimaginable to the common man. 1xp: Spend wealth frivolously. 3xp: Hurt others for your amusement. Buyoff: Lose your Fortune
Secret of Client
The character is client to a powerful and rich patron who has the SECRET OF FORTUNE. He may use the patron's wealth as his own (as if he had the Secret himself), contingent on the patron's pleasure. He may also provide his Ability checks for the patron, interchangeably from the patron's own in most situations. Should the client refuse his patron and lose this Secret, the patron decides whether the client gains back the Advance expended on the Secret. Requirement: Continuing pleasure of the patron.
Slave Driving (V)
Ammeni Houses employ a considerable number of slavers and slave managers who deal with human property on daily basis. This Ability can be used to socially dominate any acclimatized slaves, and to train newly captured subject people into slavery. It is also used to direct slaves in work; normal labor is not so much a matter of the slave's competence as that of the slave driver.
Secret of Slavery
The character has a number of slaves at his disposal. The slaves are MEDIOCRE (0) when compelled to act for the master, but they can be objectified into a piece of equipment as well by training. Slaves allow the master or his representative to use SLAVE DRIVING (V) to achieve whatever goals a bunch of subjugated people could. Requirement: SECRET OF FORTUNE
Secret of House Slave
A house slave is utilized for his special skills and usually has somewhat less strenuous tasks than a field slave. The slave with this Secret can act with his own full Abilities to fulfill the master's interests. Requirement: owner has SECRET OF SLAVERY
Key of the Slave
The character is an acculturated slave in the Ammeni society. 1xp: Obey a master. 2xp: Disobey the master. 5xp: Get punished severely. Buyoff: Escape from slavery.
Secret of Contract
The character knows how to create contracts with suitable Abilities, such as WEALTH (R) or BARTER (I). The contract is an Effect that may be spent by the player freely as penalty dice against a contracting party as long as the contract stands unfulfilled. Should the contract be completed, the remaining Effect value becomes experience points for each contracting party separately.
Key of the Deal
The character strives for mutually beneficial, consensual decision-making. Or he might just think himself smarter than the next guy, and able to benefit from it. 1xp: Try to negotiate for a deal. 2xp: Close a deal. 5xp: Fulfill an important bargain. Buyoff: Renege on an agreement.
Key of Slave Trade
The character has no problem trading in ruinous and inhuman stock, such as slaves, poisons, mercenaries or worse. He might have scruples about getting his own hands dirty, however. 1xp: Further evil aims with soft power. 2xp: Refuse to participate directly in human abasement. 5xp: Profit handily from your ruthlessness. Buyoff: Save your victims.
Trade Routes (R)
Established House trade routes and speculative trading by independent merchants make for unequaled geographical knowledge base in Ammeni. The Ability can be used to know and recognize far-away places and things. It is also useful in practical travel.

Chattel by Convention

The Ammeni plantation industry is predicated on cheap human labor. They do not hesitate to enslave new peoples when opportunity arises, and they encourage their stock to breed in captivity to increase the wealth. Bred slaves are prized, and the institution certainly has its painful and uncomfortable moments: Ammeni culture as a whole does not have an over-arching legal theory for slavery, so often a person's status as a slave or a free man is a matter of opinion, resolved by the people present and how they view the claimant to freedom: deeds of ownership are usually honored by the Houses, as well as brands and other such marks, but lacking those leaves the putative slave-owner with little but his own strength to enforce his claim. Only Zaru, goblins and similar distinctive subject peoples are presumed slaves without further proof; the only issue with them is finding the legal owner.

It is important to distinguish that while slaves often have little mechanical impact to what happens in individual scenes of the game, this is not because they do not have individuality, value or purpose as human beings to us; rather, we deal with a bunch of plantation slaves exactly the way we would deal with a bunch of guardsmen or free peasants or nobility at a soiree: as extras who don't have direct impact on this particular story as long as we choose not to look closer.

Specifically, when the SECRET OF SLAVERY says that slaves always perform with MEDIOCRE (0) Ability when conflicting for their master, this is not to say that slaves in the setting are always non-remarkable in every way; rather, the relationship of the slave to his master deprotagonizes him when it comes to the master's goals. The same slave might turn around and act as a MASTER (3) in the very same scene, should he have reason to act for himself as a human being instead of as a tool for another.

Veins of Travel

Ammeni law is set by the Council of Houses first and foremost to facilitate trade. Although some other things are touched upon when the Houses act in agreement, trade is the common priority. What's more, the authority of the Council in this role is accepted with surprising sincerity by the Ammeni: free traders do not lightly renege on a fair deal between unencumbered traders, even as the cynical princes of the Houses follow the law as a convenience only.

Ammeni trade law makes clear distinction between House trade and independent speculative endeavors; the differentiation is essential, because the preferential trade clauses commonly used in treating with trade partners are only enforceable in House trade; meanwhile independent trade is free from having to defend stapling and market rights from falling to disuse. In practice this arrangement means that while internal and well-established trade routes in Ammeni are carefully allotted as House monopolies by precedent and their ability to demonstrably service the trade, the same Houses compete with the most adventurous independent merchants when it comes to speculative trade.

Ammeni trade law divides trade privileges conceptually into MARKET RIGHTS and ROUTE RIGHTS. The former concern rights connected to local control of territory: for example, the right of House trading depots to inspect and delay travel through the depot, most often situated in a waterway access of some sort. This might also involve rights of first offer or mandatory market participation by any merchants passing through the depot. In Ammeni lands only Houses hold market rights, while elsewhere Ammeni traders have to negotiate for these rights with the local rulers; typically a House trader would set up an enclave within an existing settlement or start a new trade station in the area after negotiating for exclusive rights to conducting the local market. Such rights would then be enforced against other traders with the help of the local ruler. It is entirely conceivable for an Ammeni trade master of this sort to eclipse the wealth and authority of whatever local ruler his position depends on.

Route rights are involved in a different way, as they range from trade secrets to legally enforced monopolies. A speculative trade route increases in value greatly after it has been proved feasible by successful exploration. At this point the route does not have any protection aside from obscurity. However, a House that conducts regular trade along a specific trade route and improves it with waystation arrangements may in time claim ownership over it; such ownership over an abstract trade route is not legally enforceable against foreigners, but the Houses themselves do not compete on routes claimed by other Houses in this manner. Independent Ammeni traders might or might not respect route claims; if caught, however, they lose negotiation privileges for right of passage and trade in the lands and markets of the particular House, which would often be a crippling blow for an independent trader: all Houses hold established steadings on the Poison River, which any may bar against trade at their own cut-off point.

The Ammeni trade law is in many ways orthogonal to old civil law of the Empire, and in many ways its direct opposite. This is no constraint to the Ammeni traders, who follow their own laws in their own land and no law at all anywhere else, unless forced to it by a local power.

Trade Rights

Characters may know or have rights over individual trade routes or markets as Effects, created with TRADE ROUTES (R), VAGRANCY (I) or appropriate LOCAL (R) Abilities. These might be useful in wielding influence over the area or in traveling safely, just like any Effects.

Characters may also wield actual dominant influence over a particular ROUTE or MARKET by getting the associated Secret, collectively called TRADE RIGHTS. For these purposes think of markets as geographical areas like towns or counties; routes in turn are travel arrangements between markets.

Possessing the Secret to a route or market is not exclusive, unless the possessors make it so: characters can force others to relinquish their hold on trade rights with appropriate Ability checks, provided that they are themselves established with the same trade right.

Secret of Route (specify)
The character is established on a specific trade route. He can activate any of the trade right Secrets without needing to know them. Additionally, any messages he sends along the route reach their target in time with a successful TRADE ROUTES (R) check. Cost: 1 appropriate Pool plus Secret's cost to activate each Secret.
Secret of Market (specify)
The character is established at a specific market. He can activate any of the trade right Secrets without needing to know them. Additionally, he can use any trade route going through his market with permission from the owner of the route, or he can prevent such routes from functioning with an appropriate LOCAL (R) check. Cost: 1 appropriate Pool plus Secret's cost to activate each Secret.
Secret of Travel
The character can get safely and quickly from one place to another within his trade right. A successful TRADE ROUTES (R) check allows him to arrive in his destination for his very next scene. Cost: 2 VIGOR for seemingly impossible distances. Requirement: some trade rights
Secret of Rarity
The character has access to goods or services not normally available in the environment, but available in some part of his trade right. A TRADE ROUTES (R) or LOCAL (R) check may be used to procure an appropriate item, knowledge or other thing from a distant land; they will usually appear surprisingly quickly. Cost: 2 REASON for a seemingly impossible find. Requirement: some trade rights
Secret of Spy Network
The character has informers in his market area, and is generally aware of significant events therein. A LOCAL (R) check allows him to know of the events of any scene happening locally after the scene but before the next one. This works for routes with TRADE ROUTES (R) as well, but only very narrowly along the established road or shipping line, or at waystations. Cost: 2 INSTINCT for seemingly impossible spying. Requirement: some trade rights
Secret of Smuggling
When the character's illegal trade affair falls through, the player can establish a reasonable means of escape and damage control retroactively with a THIEVERY (I), TRADE ROUTES (R) or LOCAL (R) check. An extra boat moored behind rocks, a waterproof alibi, or whatever makes sense to the group. This only works within the character's trade rights, however. Cost: 2 INSTINCT for seemingly unlikely preparations. Requirement: some trade rights

Sample markets and routes

The Story Guide is ultimately responsible for the particulars of the setting, but some examples of what I'm thinking of in geographical terms won't hurt.

Hungry Mouth
is the narrow, stormy strait that connects the Sea of Teeth with the Eastern Ocean, making it crucial to sea trade. The route is controlled by Khalean barbarians, a savage bunch of pirates.
Valiere Steading
is the original, venerable mansion of a great House. Like all Houses, it lies on the Poison River and controls all passing trade with utmost care. Poiture, bamboo and rice are produced.
Tafalla Undermarket
is the second, unofficial market of the large border city lying on the Absolon's Way. Not only illegal trade, but also local merchants too poor to pay the fares of the main market.
Southern Route
is a coastal trade route to Maldor and Goren. The "long" route ends with metals from western Maldor, while the "short" one off-loads spices in eastern Maldor, hires mercenaries and trawls the insular region for slaves to fill the holds for the return journey.

Merchants in Play

The key to using the trade material in play is to realize that there is no real and appreciable difference between economic and political power. The Ammeni trade crunch is one rename away from being a set of tools for re-establishing the Empire.

That's the socialistic narrative, anyway: merchant princes wield enormous power, which is counteracted by human decency. The alternative reading is that the soft power wielded by traders in the post-Shadow Near is by its nature cooperative and egalitarian, opposed to feudal arrangements of Maldor. It is a way for the world to find itself without conquest.

Either way, it is a good idea to tie merchant characters and their business onto issues of human identity; the character is easy to leave shallow if his only driving force is to succeed in his trade endeavor for no particular reason. The background is important: is he a member of a House, knowing that the pride of his parents ride on his success? Is his caravan backed by his community, their prosperity depending on his success? Is success in trade a way out of the gutter for him?

The ultimate tension for all this trade material is simple: is your character part of the problem, or part of the solution?

Zaru: Land of Creation

Fluff and crunch adapted from Clinton's book with original additions to crunch. Onomastics from Clinton and various Internet sources.

Zaru is a land broken and divided. Set in a delta at the eastern mouth of the Poison River, she has been conquered by Ammeni, her people enslaved. The only resistance are outcasts, people not welcome in the Zaru communities or worship halls, for they have committed the worst sin of all, the taking of human life, and discovered a dark knowledge the elders cannot bear.

Zaru was once rich. Her soil is extremely fertile and rice, swamp apples, and other crops grow bountifully. Zaru's greatest asset became her downfall, though: the language of ZU, the language of creation, spread beyond her borders and infected the world. Zu is not like other languages; it is magical, and anyone hearing it can then use it themselves. Moreover, speaking it actually wills actions, circumstances, and objects into being.

Because of zu's ability to infect others' minds, the Maldorite Emperor Absolon used it to cement his empire by making it the universal language of his people. When the knowledge of zu spread, the people of the world misused it, not understanding its power. Many people believe the use of it caused the great Sky Fire, and the subsequent destruction of the old world.

People in Chains

After the Moon rose, Zu became broken. Now the people long used to peace had no means of defending themselves. By nature, the Zaru are pacifists, finding no need for violence with their terrible gifts. As they emerged back into the world, they found themselves overpowered by the Ammenites, who had long before envied the fertility of the Zaru delta. Zaru's people were taken as slaves and made to work in the worst sort of hot, steamy, swampy conditions.

As a people, the Zaru are fairly uniform in appearance. Black hair is virtually homogenous among them, and their skin is dusky, their eyes dark. If they look like a modern-day people of Earth, those people would come straight out of Southeast Asia, complete with loose-fitting clothes and large, flat hats made to keep the burning sun off them when toiling in the fields.

As a nation, Zaru does not exist any more. Ammeni truly has dominated it, and Zaru villages exist on Ammenite plantations, under the care of foremen. Typical construction is made of bamboo, and communities exist around "speaking halls," long buildings in which the Zaru eat, cook, converse, and often sleep. Only the elders of a community and their adult children have the privilege of living in tiny huts built around the speaking hall. Older villages, pre-Shadow, do exist in Zaru, which are basically larger versions of their slave villages: large speaking halls with family houses built around the central building. These are usually constructed of hard, baked clay around a bamboo center, and are incredibly durable. As insurgency has grown in Zaru, some radical groups have fled to the old towns and formed their bases of operations there.

Families are very important in traditional Zaru culture. They are viewed as "mini-villages," with the eldest person being the leader of that family. (Pre-Shadow Zaru houses bear this out, as they are usually built as a long room spanning the house, with small rooms for the elders built off of this.) Villages are built around the same structure, with the eldest person in village taking the role of priest and leader, as they have seen more and heard more than anyone else. The Ammenites are well aware of this, and break up families and villages by sending children inland and working the elderly to an early death. One underground movement in Zaru returns babies to their mothers in the dark night, traveling far over land to switch them back.

Thieves rule the world

The zu phrase for an Ammenite is "land-thief," an appropriate epithet for a people who have turned Zaru into their personal playground. Even more sinister are the terms "word-thief" and "blood-thief".

"Word-thief" is a term given to a non-Zaru that uses the sacred tongue of zu, especially Ammenite sorcerers. Zaru elders are torn on how to deal with the resurgence of zu and its potent virulence. The majority of them, who grew up with stories about when zu was taken away, agree that it should not be used, thereby keeping it firmly - but uselessly "“ in Zaru hands. The younger generation doesn't completely agree: there is a strong underground movement to rebel against the Ammenites using any means necessary.

Killers and especially the radical MOONMEN priesthood are called "blood-thieves". It is not just that they are willing to spill blood; the actions of the radical freedom fighters reverberate in the world and cause outsiders to bring violence to Zaru villages. Elders consider this a crime just as much as having blood on your own hands.

Serve (I)
Servitude concerns anticipating a master's needs and remaining servile while interacting with him. It is also useful in misdirecting the master and being invisible to his eyes.
Clandestinity (R)
The Ability of planning and implementing secret networks, resistance cells, cipher codes and other such subterfuge. Useful for both resistance and counter-resistance activities.
Clay-Moulding (V)
This Ability can be used to build anything from houses to pottery out of the rich clay of the Zaru delta.
Poetry (I)
Poetry is the foremost art form among the modern Zaru, who often cannot own much but their words. Zaru poetry is most often long and non-rhyming, with strict syllabic patterns for each stanza. It is emotionally powerful, and can make even an Ammeni master stay his hand.
Key of the Pacifist
The character has a personal commitment to non-violence. 1xp: Strive for a non-violent solution. 3xp: Refuse to harm another to achieve your goal. Buyoff: Purposefully harm another person.
Key of Lost Family
The character has been forced apart from his family. 1xp: Talk about your family. 2xp: Act to reunite with your family. 5xp: Get news from your family. Buyoff: Reunite with your family.
Key of Priesthood
The character is considered an elder of the Zaru. He's ascribed to one of the priesthoods that form webs of communication over the delta. 1xp: Advise another. 2xp: Push your priesthood's agenda. 5xp: Determine the fate of another person by the virtue of your position. Buyoff: Relinquish your position.
Key of Escaped Slave
The character has escaped from a plantation; he might or might not be actively pursued for it. 1xp: Hide yourself or your tracks. 2xp: Your status is questioned. 5xp: Escape from slave-catchers. Buyoff: Get caught.

Life-Shield-Hand

Non-aggression and pacifism are fundamental cornerstones of the Zaru existence. They are also what binds the people to their servitude and makes them the preferred slave stock for their Ammeni masters.

Resistance comes in a multitude of forms: for example, the priesthood of Hanish has released a martial art for the slaves, called UPTENBO or "life-shield-hand". It is non-lethal but powerful, concentrating on redirection of force and incapacitation of the opponent. Uptenbo is not just a martial art, but a philosophy that strives to teach the frustrated Zaru to turn their weakness into a non-violent strength on the face of the enslaver. It is taught secretly, disguised as dance.

A martial art such as Uptenbo consists of a number of TECHNIQUES. Techniques are just Secrets that are further referenced by other Secrets, such as the PUMSA, intensively trained fighting combinations that strive to overcome an enemy without giving him a chance to react. The opponent of a pumsa can break the sequence by preventing the character from performing the next technique, which might be done by various means, but at least a REACT (I) check to dodge whatever the opposing fighter is doing should work. Pumsa are normally used in extended conflict over several rounds, but a smart group can apply them feasibly in other mechanical contexts as well.

(Although I don't usually term fighting techniques from other cultures as such, they are still TECHNIQUES in the mechanical sense. Feel free to experiment.)

The philosophy of pacifism is rooted deep in the culture of Uptenbo, the masters of which believe in not only the moral superiority of non-violence, but its actual strategic superiority: one day they will free Zaru by demonstrating to the conqueror that the people will not, cannot be swayed to cooperate any longer. Whatever happens then, the land will once again be free.

Uptenbo (I)
Uptenbo is the underground Zaru martial art. Because of the traditional non-violence of the Zaru, Uptenbo is purely a defensive art, and can be used to drive off, humiliate, or subdue an enemy, not to kill. It consists of strong locks, throws and sweeps, using the enemy's attacks against her.
Unimpeded Flow Technique
The character has learned to move continuously, without breaking for thought. In extended conflict his UPTENBO (I) action counts for both bonus dice and Harm against the opponent, but only if the next action is made with UPTENBO (I) as well. In a normal conflict treat this as the SECRET OF SYNERGY for UPTENBO (I) with itself. Cost: 2 INSTINCT per check
Force Redirection Technique
The character has learned to redirect strength arrayed against him. He gains bonus dice to his UPTENBO (I) check equal to the opposing check result. Cost: 2 INSTINCT per check
Constant Motion Technique
The character has learned to move steadily in everything he does. He has synergy as per the SECRET OF SYNERGY between his UPTENBO (I) and all of his other Abilities. However, activating it costs Pool. Cost: 2 INSTINCT per check
Flexing Stem Technique
The character has learned to give way against greater strength and make the best of his loss. When losing an Ability check with UPTENBO (I), the character may convert the winning check into penalty dice for himself instead of suffering the default outcome. The dice are held by the opponent and allocated to further checks the character makes as long as the situation continues. A normal conflict is pre-empted by this technique as if a tie, but it may be reattempted by either side. In extended conflict the character may force the penalty die pool to disappear by taking a Defensive Action. Cost: 1 INSTINCT
Shield Meditation Technique
The character has learned to prepare his mind for the non-violent combat method. Meditation is depicted by UPTENBO (I) Effects such as "I am ready to oppose the Master", for example. Instead of spending such an Effect as bonus dice, this Technique allows the player to swap a pertinent Ability check with the Effect value during a conflict. Cost: 1 INSTINCT to swap.
Rising Pumsa (two Techniques)
When the character uses the first of the two techniques in a fight successfully, he can activate the pumsa to deduct the first technique's Pool cost from the cost of the second technique, provided that he follows up immediately. The discount is Poolspecific. Cost: 1 INSTINCT Requirement: the techniques combined
Breaking Pumsa (two Techniques)
When the first technique is used by an opponent in combat, the character can nullify its effect by successfully performing the second technique. The characters still conflict normally, it's just that the opponent doesn't benefit from his technique at this time. Cost: 1 INSTINCT Requirement: the second technique
Secret of Uptenbo Mastery
The character can use any PUMSA with his Uptenbo Techniques, and Pumsa he already knows do not cost Pool for him to perform. He may also discover individual techniques instantly in a flash of insight, if there are any he does not know. Cost: 2 REASON to invent a technique on the spot. Requirement: two Pumsa.
Secret of Breaking Chain
Nobody has this Secret yet, but this is how I would misuse Uptenbo against its own aims: the character may now expend VIGOR to activate Uptenbo techniques. When he does, instead of humbling or subduing, the attack breaks bones or organs and kills.
Key of Martial Arts
The character is committed to perfecting his art. Perhaps more committed than to using it for its original purpose. 1xp: Practice your art. 2xp: Duel with a worthy opponent. 5xp: Achieve a major revelation. Buyoff: Stop your practice.

Actual Play

An important Story Guiding principle for a solidly slavery-focused campaign is this: do not take the institution of slavery, in farming or personal servitude, as a standardized proposition to which all characters should have easy snap-shot judgments prepared. Life doesn't work that way.

The above is important for the idea I've already floated earlier: the Story Guide should engage in enabling play. Thus, when a player tells you that his character is going to steal away and go explore inside the master's villa to find that girl he took a fancy on, the correct response is not "of course all slaves are branded or memorized by face or watched by foremen all the time, that's what it means to be a slave, right?" Rather, consider the opposite reality in your judgment: for the slave economy to function at all, there must be a certain degree of participation and cooperation, however enforced, from the slave population. This in turn means that a character willing to risk punishment might very well have a considerable freedom of action on his side, at least until he is noticed as a troublemaker by the foreman.

To choose another tack, consider the Ammeni slave masters and their attitudes. It would be easy to presume that for them to uphold the institution of slavery at all, they'll all have to be remorseless monsters that will of course never care a bit about what a slave has to say. A more moderate (and again, more realistic) viewpoint is to presume that many Ammeni are not directly exposed to the more savage facets of their economy, and thus are emotionally utterly unprepared to face the reality. For this sort of character it is far from unlikely that a player character could influence them through pity, even if the player character happened to be a slave.

What those examples are trying to say is, once again, simple: do not deprotagonize and disable player characters just because of your own preconceptions about how powerless they should be. Rely on the conflict resolution system to make these judgments for you.

Ideas

Zaru can be secret agents of priesthoods striving for freedom, or they can collude with Ammeni masters to improve their own lot, perhaps for desperate and sympathetic reasons. They can also be passionate youngsters with no political aspirations, crushed by the limitations chattel slavery imposes on them.

Zaru can also escape their land to go elsewhere, but can they escape their past? An ordinary person might find peace elsewhere, but how about a hero?

Zaru Names

Zaru do not have family names anymore; they use only one name and an epithet, if necessary: "Quick Adad" or "Aruru Prim", for example. Ammeni masters refer to the birth plantation of each slave within a House, and to the House between Houses.

Male

Adad, Damuzi, Enki, Nergal, Ziusudra, Shullat, Ardumanish, Thuxra, Vindarna, Kuru, Cyrus, Hakim, Iskinder, Kaleb, Negasi.

Female

Sabit, Delondra, Aruru, Lugalbanda, Nisaba, Parmida, Yasmin, Kiana, Omid, Fiza, Houri, Aisha, Dabit, Yenee, Kassa.

Places and things

Amami, Jawara, Ikusiha, Odion, Omusupe, Urbi. The names are all literal and descriptive in the language of Zu.

Zu: The First Language

Fluff and crunch adapted from the original book. Example Zu adapted from Harald on the forums.

Zu is more than a language to the Zaru; it is also a religion. The beliefs of the Zaru people can best be described as "spiritual humanism." They believe zu is the language that was used to create the world by the First Man, and that all humans are his descendants, all divine. When the first murder occurred, zu was corrupted, as murder is destruction, the antithesis of what humans were born to do.

The Zaru have always seen themselves as the caretakers of zu, keeping it pure in the face of a fallen world. Hanish, the Zaru that traveled to King Absolon and helped stop the Sky Fire, changed the nature of zu with his final chant, altering the path of the Zaru forever.

Zaru Priesthoods

There are several priestly organizations loosely forming in Zaru, all centered on proper zu usage and Zaru unity. One group believes that all Zu should be kept firmly in the hands of Zaru, specifically elders, thereby keeping the unwise from using it, and denying their enemies a potent weapon. This group, the WATCHERS, train young rebels to work as "word-horses", adventurers who steal zu from non-Zaru, or Zaru using it unwisely, and bring those zu back to their priests. This group is committed to the Zaru way of non-violence, but some fringe sects have seen fit to use foreign mercenaries to carry words.

The SONS OF HANISH follow a more moderate path. They seek to follow Hanish and be an active force in the world, while staying true to their beliefs. This group operates in cells, which are based on the family "mini-village" structure, and attempts to change the situation of the Zaru by subtle actions, like using zu to influence a foreman to keep a family together, or causing a crop to do well or poorly.

The MOONMEN are the most radical of the Zaru priesthoods, and are the most diverse. While the Sons of Hanish are mainly young and male, and the Watchers older, the Moonmen are made up of brash youngsters, lunatic elderly, calm mothers, and even foreigners. They advocate nothing more than a full unleashing of Zaru power. Nonviolence is taken only on a personal basis among them, and they have no real structure. Instead, individual Moonmen tend to upset the cart, often putting the community in a worse situation, and spread their beliefs among those pressured enough to listen. It is said that the Moonmen count among their ranks at least one elf and several goblins. More conservative Zaru call these "blood-thieves", both for their subversion of the normal Zaru structure, and for their willingness to kill.

Zu (R)
Zu is the magical language of Zaru. The Ability itself concerns rational understanding of the syntax, grammar and vocabulary over that of the native user. It is mostly useful in supporting language-related tasks, and in uttering words of power.
Secret of Zu
The character with this Secret has unlocked the full power of Zu and may use any words of power he commands. The character also knows the special word, ZU, meaning agreement. Speaking ZU allows the character to add a bonus die to any ongoing Ability check he focuses on. Cost: 1 REASON Requirements: The character has never taken a person's life. Should he do so, he loses this Secret.
Secret of Uz
The character with this Secret has unlocked the full power of Zu and may use any words of power he commands. The character also knows the special word, UZ, meaning denial. Speaking UZ allows the character to add a penalty die to any ongoing Ability check he focuses on. Cost: 1 INSTINCT Requirements: The character has killed a person.
Secret of Grammar
The character can utter and pay for zu syllables one by one, letting the Story Guide judge on the overall effect after each syllable; thus the player always knows whether he needs to add more syllables to gain the effect he desires. The player also can negate the utterance without effect if the desired outcome is not reached. Finally, if he has time, the character may make a ZU (R) check in advance to get the Story Guide to judge on the likely outcome of a sentence of up to the check result in syllables. The player may write down such a judgment as an Effect, which makes it binding for as long as the Effect is retained.
Secret of the Quickening
If the character kills (or is present at the death of) the keeper of a Zu syllable, he can obtain it himself: make a ZU (R) check to capture syllables up to the check result in number from the dying essence. Pay Advances normally. Cost: 1 INSTINCT per captured syllable. Requirement: SECRET OF UZ
Key of the Sorcerer
The character is a SORCERER, committed to obtaining and understanding zu. 1xp: Gain intelligence about a new word. 2xp: Figure out some more Zu grammar or syntax. 5xp: Obtain a new word. Buyoff: Willingly give away a zu.
Key of the Word-Horse
The Watchers have empowered the character to seek and steal back zu that lies in the wrong hands. 1xp: Progress with the task. 2xp: Steal to do the job. 5xp: Return zu to a Watcher. Buyoff: Steal wrongfully, or kill.
Key of the Chatterbox
The character is not very patient and will use Zu with little provocation. 1xp: Use Zu. 3xp: Use Zu gratuitously. Buyoff: Refuse to solve a problem with Zu.

The Language of Zu

What of Zu, then? It is a language with a relatively simple structure, easy to learn even after it has become broken. However, the same simplicity breeds ambiguity, making mastering zu a task for a lifetime. Zu is made up of discrete syllables, each with a generalized meaning. These syllables are also words; complex ideas are built by combining several. Syllables each have three meanings, based on tone:

  • Nouns have mid-tone, or no tone.
  • Verbs have low tone.
  • Modifiers have high tone.

The syllables, depending on tone, mean each of these things; thus no syllable exists in zu that cannot be used as a noun, verb, and modifier. Pronouns are implied by context and body language. Some examples of syllables:

Noun Verb Modifier
knife cut sharp
tooth eat full
murder kill murderous
hunter stalk stealthy

Sentences, as modern-day speakers think of them, exist by combining syllables. The last syllable used in a sentence conveys the mode. A sentence ending in a noun is a statement of fact, meaning "this exists" or "this is so". A sentence ending in a verb is a command, even if it refers to the speaker: the speaker is stating her action and in essence, commanding herself. A sentence ending in a modifier is optative: it expresses hope or desire for change, meaning "I wish that it was like this".

As mentioned, syllables are for general terms, not specific. There is no one syllable for "tiger", for example. "Tiger" would be spoken as "knife-tooth-hunter-beast". Another example would be "sword", which is said as "killing-knife". If a zu speaker does not use multiple syllables to be specific, then the most appropriate meaning is assumed. For example, if a speaker says "beast" in a forest, he means "forest animal"; if he were to say the same syllable in a snake pit, he means snake. If he were to say "knife" to a farmer and a hunter, he would again mean different things "“ most likely a scythe and a hunting knife.

There is one syllable in zu that is not like any other: "zu". "Zu" is an affirmation, an agreement. Originally, there was no opposite, no "no" in zu. (True Zaru never speak in the negative: if there is nothing affirmative to say, they do not speak in zu.) With the first act of murder, however, that changed. The murderer, the destroyer, lost his ability to speak the syllable "zu." Instead, he spoke the syllable "uz" a word of disagreement and destruction. No person can say both "zu" and "uz".

Theft of Zu

Originally, anyone who spoke zu could use it as words of power. Stating that something was so made it so; commanding someone compelled them; wishing for different circumstances brought them into being. With Hanish's final chant, this changed. He brought all the power of zu into himself, recreating himself as the First Man. Suddenly, the Zaru lost their power, as their language became ordinary and impotent.

Hanish died that day, but the power of zu did not die with him. Instead, it changed forever. The power of a syllable could be harnessed, but only by one person at a time. Anyone who studies zu can speak it, but only those who are the master of a syllable can use it to enforce their will. Now, Zaru priests, outcasts, and foreigners vie to obtain the knowledge of these words.

The words of power are first awakened within a person when he hears them used: the SECRET OF ZU (or UZ) is learned only when the words are uttered in a character's presence. Some grasp it at once, some never, to some it comes against their will. The danger of using zu around other people is that they may steal the knowledge of a syllable. When a word is uttered, anyone who hears it can engage the speaker in a battle of wills to own the knowledge of that word. Only ZU (and again, UZ) itself may be mastered by all.

Mechanically speaking, anyone with an Advance to spend (two Advances if they lack the SECRET OF ZU) may engage an immediate conflict of ZU (R) against ZU (R) to wrest the word from its current owner when it is uttered. Should the transference succeed, the owner regains an Advance while the thief pays for the word.

Words may also be given willingly, in which case no Advances are spent or recovered. In all other ways Zu syllables are handled as Secrets.

Words of Power

When a character with the SECRET OF ZU and some mastered syllables uses the power, the mechanical effect depends on the mode of the utterance:

Declarative

A noun utterance wills things into being. The player spends a point of REASON for each syllable uttered and makes a ZU (R) check. Anybody else present reflexively RESISTS (R) the event (creating support chains if they want). Should the speaker succeed (nobody resists successfully, rather), the thing summoned appears nearby. If animate, the summoned thing is not under any particular control of the summoner.

Imperative

A verb utterance is a command, forcing the target to obey. The player spends a point of INSTINCT for each syllable uttered and makes a ZU (I) check. The target may RESIST (R) freely, and in any case the command only works if the target can hear the speaker. (Understanding the language is not an issue, words of power are always understood by all.) Impossible tasks may not be compelled, and the player of the target interprets the command. Long-lasting tasks only continue for several scenes if the character makes an Effect off the check result.

Optative

The utterance of a modifier changes circumstances of action. Modifiers may affect both people and things, both positively and negatively. The player spends a point of VIGOR for each syllable uttered and makes a ZU (V) check. The result of the check is used as either bonus or penalty dice towards any targets that are affected, or optionally turned into an Effect if the change in circumstance is lasting. The intended influence of the utterance need not be direct: a wind exhorted to blow faster may cause penalty dice to fall on the captain of a ship, for example.

Note how the associated Pool of ZU changes depending on the mode of the utterance. The Ability checks made to utter a word may suffer conditional penalties assigned by the Story Guide normally; Zu is more difficult when large-scale changes are invoked, so summoning large things (or many things), commanding many people or changing circumstances in a wide area is more difficult.

Ambiguity of utterances plays a key role in Zu "“ the players know what individual syllables roughly mean, but when words are invoked for power, the Story Guide always judges the actual outcome of the utterance based on the context, word-play and dramatic coordination. Thus the syllable "cat" serves just fine when the character just wants a feline, but if he needs a big and dangerous predator, then "fang-cat" or "big-cat" or even "big-fang-cat" is much better. Getting some actual control over the invocation is pretty much the only reason to ever pay more than one Pool point for a single Zu invocation.

As for Story Guide judgment, in actual play I'm usually not too hard-ass about zu. It is a power that is fundamentally not controlled by its invoker, and may thus turn against him, but outright adverse effects should be saved for when an alternate reading of the uttering is either really funny or more obvious than what the player intended. If the players make a point of using 2-3 syllables on important invocations instead of trying to get by too cheaply, the Story Guide is doing fine. Think of it like interpreting wish spells in DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: it's most fun when both the invoker and the Story Guide take the word-play with flair and understand that the magic the character is using is an unruly beast.

Naming words

Traditionally lists of zu don't provide the actual syllables, only the translations we use. This book doesn't use many zu syllables; UP, TEN and BO are probably the most prominent after ZU itself. This does not mean that we don't use made-up syllables in actual play; we certainly do, it's just that we establish whatever syllables we want when and if they're needed.

I've included a long list of suitable zu words here because it's something people tend to ask after when it comes to actual play. Thinking up words can be hard, but just like all other contents in this book, don't let my words constrain you: your zu can be different, or it might be that zu includes many ways of structuring the same concept. Just because I might connect <person|speak|humane> doesn't mean you can't use <person|love|passionate>, or even both words. The important thing is for you to choose the small set of syllables that you actually use in your campaign to reflect your own understanding of the primal society and culture of Zaru. Presumably the things easiest to express (individual syllables) are also those that reflect the state of creation as spoken by the First Man.

Note that while the players invent Zu words, characters are limited by the language itself. Sometimes there just is no word for something in zu, the language of creation.

Khale: Roots of the World

Fluff from Clinton's book, crunch adapted from the book with original additions. Additional material from Josh and the Random Wiki. Onomastics from Clinton and various Internet sources.

Across the Border Sea, the deep green peninsula of Khale is an echo of Qek's lushness. Once a stone's throw across the Hungry River from Qek, the earthquakes of the Time of Shadow have split it away as the river was ripped into the much larger Sea of Teeth. It is still close: the Dragon's Mouth is a small strait between Khale and Qek, and is usually much calmer than the sea. Controlling this strait, as well as a mysterious substance called moon-metal, earns Khale the enmity of its southern neighbor, Ammeni, who has attacked the country in a war of attrition for several years.

The forests of Khale are wet and thick, but move from jungle to evergreen woodlands, dappled with sunlight. They are sacred to the people of Khale who live beneath their towering boughs. Everything a tribesman could need is found under the forest-top, from fields of mushrooms and plants for medicine and food, to deer to hunt and ride, to fallen tree limbs easily sap-cured into bows and spears. Before the Time of Shadow, great webbed cities connected the forest; since then, the remnants of tribes live only off the land.

Khale is a harsh land in which to live: its many rivers flow with the blood of cousins, as the many tribes fight for control of their own land, and Ammeni pushes its troops further north. The land rumbles as many chieftains try to unite the tribes, but so far, none have been successful.

Tribe is Family

Khaleans are a hearty and strong people, Mediterranean in appearance, with generally black, brown, or red hair, and green or brown eyes. They claim ancient heritage with the people of Qek and maintain good relations with the few Qek that emerge from the jungle, although they speak different languages.

Khaleans operate in tribes of two to ten dozen people and consider all tribe members to be their family, not just blood relations. In fact, blood brothers from different tribes are not considered to be related at all, except in the way that all Khaleans are related. Upon marriage, males join the tribe of their wife, becoming part of a new family.

In addition, outsiders, or those with no family, can become part of the tribe through a naming ritual.

Within the tribe, status is very important. While family lines are matriarchal, positions of power are dominated by men. The tribe's chief is almost always male, the husband of the eldest woman in the tribe, and his advisors, usually a bard and his most accomplished warrior, are also men. When two tribes battle, it is Khalean law "“ that is, tradition as old as Khale "“ that only the tribe's men can fight. If a woman were found to be fighting for a tribe, it would be a horrible disgrace, and that tribe would more than likely surrender the fight.

We are the Forest

The forests of Khale are worshiped as ancestors. Each tree in a tribe's territory is believed to be a fallen member of the tribe, born again as part of the land. An ancient and legendary tree in the center of Khale is said to be the great King Khale, a ruler that united all of the peninsula and lands beyond, and the father of all modern Khaleans.

Religion revolves around festivals, gatherings where a tribe "“ or many friendly tribes "“ will gather for a many-day-long revelry and celebration of their past. All festivals have tellings of great tales about the ancestors, done ritually around a bonfire. These rituals are competitive as tribal priests or BARDS try to outdo each other with fantastic stories. The bards, part priest and part artist, are given a special place in Khalean culture, as they are immune to normal tribal conflicts. When two tribes clash, the bards of each tribe will meet to write down the story of the conflict, narrating it as the battle flows. Killing a bard is a criminal offense, and usually results in the death of the murderer.

Magic is fully accepted in Khale, and fascinates most people. The bards of Khale, and foreign sorcerers (called DRUIDS by the Khaleans) are highly respected and use magic freely. It is said that each bard learns three PERFECT CHORDS in his lifetime; which three seems to reflect life experience in a profound manner. The chords are normal Secrets, except that obtaining them can be somewhat arduous: SECRET OF QUEST may be used to sidestep requirements. Musical effects may, of course, be RESISTED (R) by the audience at will.

The Green World

Inside the forests of Khale, there is another world, a mystic world. This is their greatest secret, and it is forbidden to share it with those not of the tribe. Ancient trees, those with a circumference greater than two men holding hands, can be used as a gateway into the GREEN WORLD.

This Green World is a maze of pathways, some so small that one must crawl through them, and others large enough for five people to stand side-by-side. The walls of these caverns are growing wood, light and grainy, and glow with faint green light. When the Sky Fire came, many Khaleans moved into the Green World to escape, building cities inside its immense caverns. Those cities lie dead now, and are said to be haunted; gnarled trees grow throughout them, with human expressions twisted into their trunks.

The Green World covers all of Khale, and can be used as a passageway to anywhere else in the land, provided there is a guide. When one ends up is less certain: while experienced travelers have little trouble, those who get lost in the Green World may find themselves exiting into another time entirely. Bards sometime use these passages to go to earlier times and talk to ancient ancestors, although no one has ever been able to travel within one hundred years before the Time of Shadow, or one year after it.

Legends say that King Khale himself still wanders these halls, a large old man with a beard like moss, and hands like wood-knots. Supposedly, he or other great ancestors can guide you to any place and time within these halls, or grant you great boons, provided you perform a quest, usually a reenactment of a previous adventure of the ancestor. During festivals, tribes will sometimes send their greatest hero bands to perform a quest and grant them success over their enemies. As war envelopes Khale from the south, some tribes have moved completely into the Green World, leaving the land of Khale behind. Their great mistake lies in the fact that the Green World does not stand alone: it is formed of the forest of Khale, and as the forest falls, it grows dimmer and smaller.

Traveling the Green World

The Green World is difficult to traverse. My strategy is to handle it almost like the Qek jungle (chapter 14): a bard familiar with the terrain may well learn knots from the ancestors or even tie them himself, becoming a TSAFARI (known in Khale simply as questors). The pertinent Ability in the Green World is TREE-BOND (I). Typical knots would involve gateways into different places and times, important ancestors and waypoints of ancestral quests.

Characters unfamiliar with the pathways may still check TREEBOND (I) to avoid danger and encounter friendly ancestors, as their instincts lead them. Just like the Qek jungles, getting lost is an invitation for the Story Guide to complicate things, not to end the story.

The Hands of the Tribe

Within tribes, farming and hunting are both fine jobs and craftsmen and artists are well respected. The ability of Khalean craftsmen to forge sharp swords and carve strong tools and weapons from wood, curing them with sap, is legendary.

Tribes are communal entities divided internally into MOIETIES or "skin groups", sort of totemic factions named for common animals that are entangled with both means of production and procreation: while a person's moiety does not directly determine their occupation, it does indicate his responsibility of oversight over the work of others in the commune. Moieties for individuals are determined based on the moieties of their parents as well as their gender; the foremost purpose is prevention of incest, which is achieved by strict taboos in determining which moieties are allowed to marry each other.

Khale trades for metal tools with Qek, and their longships sail to southern Maldor to trade spices which do not grow in that colder climate. Many young Khalean men, bereft of family, have joined crews, even becoming pirates. The Wooden Sickle is a famous ship of pirate youth that has been the scourge of the Ammeni coastline.

Khaleans have a taste for drink, and import beer from Maldor and Goren and wine from Oran in large quantities. They are also known to grow marijuana, a plant which is smoked for mild hallucinatory and relaxing effects. This drug is said to bring out epic tales in heroes and increase sexual desire.

Moon Metal

After the Year of Shadow, a group of explorers found a forest like no other in northern Khale; metal grew up from the ground, gleaming like bright silver, sprouting branches like trees. This, the only metal in Khale, is said to be a piece of the Shadow Moon fell to earth. Whatever it is, it has taken root and grows in a parody of a natural forest.

Moon-metal is easy to craft, and deadly sharp and strong. If heated over a fire, it responds to the user's wants to form itself into any metal object of superior quality. However, moon-metal severs the user's relationship with the Green World: merely touching moon-metal gains the character a circumstance penalty die for TREE-BOND (I), and routinely handling the stuff merits two. One cannot enter the Green World at all with any moon-metal upon their person.

Moon-metal has a weakness for wood, it deforms like soft clay when clashing with it. A LUNAR FORGING (R) check can be used to force the metal to retain its form, however. Failure ruins the item.

The Worst War

Near is not a very peaceful place, but nowhere does war burn as savage and bitter as it does in Khale today. The Ammeni Houses have almost all sent their mercenaries to Khale, many uniting their forces under one leadership in their hurry to subjugate the land.

Reasons for the war are two-fold: The coastline of Khale controls the Hungry Mouth, making sailing between the Eastern Ocean and the Sea of Teeth a hazardous thing when even stopping for water can bring hostile barbarians out of the woods. The other reason is moonmetal, which Ammeni princes have witnessed and which they desire for themselves.

Ammeni bamboo weapons are no match to what the Khalean warriors have, but their leadership has been tempered in the wars of Maldor, consisting of some of the most cunning and ambitious men to ever come out of that war-torn land. Ammeni troops group together, build fortifications, patrol the forest paths and guard the building of roads into the woods. They fight in closed formation, with harsh punishment to soldiers who endanger the unit by breaking discipline.

Khaleans respond with guerrilla warfare, striking and then disappearing into the forest, refusing definitive engagement. The tribes that did have died to the man, with women taken as spoils after the men reveal the tribe's location under torture. The tribes farther in the wilderness might have only heard stories of what is going on, but all Khaleans are family to a degree: they will all fight when the word reaches them.

Khaleans do not have a regular army in this war; what they do have are HERO BANDS formed of the best warriors of many tribes. These were originally based on the lodge structure of moieties that tie tribes together, but today great heroes travel from tribe to tribe, initiating any able body into the war against the Ammeni. The hero bands are highly motivated and thoroughly skilled, and they are pretty much the only cultural structure the Khaleans have for bringing the war to the Ammeni; hero bands make long treks into areas under Ammeni control to strike at the enemy where they can.

As the Ammeni supply lines grow longer and the war grinds to a halt, the princes are sure to bring in more weapons, whatever they need to pacify the land. Burning the forest and desecrating Khalean beliefs forces tribal forces into disunity or decisive confrontation. Three-Corner wizards, native Ammeni sorcerers and eclectics from Inselburg can name their price when the war reaches this point.

Regardless, it's the Ammeni mercenaries who gave this war its name, for many have died in the woods without warning. For most of the Khaleans it's still not yet a single, unified war; when this changes and Khale rises as one, who knows what will happen.

Spearfighting (V)
Spear is the favored weapon of the Khaleans, who use it with great skill not only to strike in the crowded woods, but in movement as well. The spear is supposed to be for hunting, though.
Female Rites (R)
Some things in Khale are tied strictly to gender. Violence is for men, while creating life is for women. The life rites are useful in religious acts, but also in midwifery, contraception, abortion and treating women's and children's diseases.
Carousing (V)
Khalean parties can be brutal affairs, especially as the men start competing to establish a pecking order. This Ability helps in holding the liquor, as well as holding your wits and not offending anybody.
Genealogy (R)
A necessary Ability for knowing your ancestors, determining moieties within the tribe and finding kinship relations with outsiders. The Ability also covers tribal history and mythology, which is useful in figuring out the correct greetings when interacting with ancestors and outsiders.
Guerrilla Warfare (I)
This is a similar Ability to BATTLE (R) in that it concerns planning and executing combat operations. The difference comes in the means: Khaleans have learned to deal with asymmetric force warfare, meaning that this Ability is good for ambushes, attacking soft targets, avoiding decisive combat, false flag operations, misdirecting the enemy and so on. Honorable battles between tribes are not resolved by these means, however; this is for foreign intruders.
Secret of Eight Forms
The character has concertedly taught himself to fight and kill humans. The student is supposed to learn this by observing the eight moietic animals, because other skins won't share their secrets with you; in practice HEROES teach these arts freely to anybody. A character with this Secret can use his SPEARFIGHTING (V) with any (and I mean any) weapons, and even without, although he does suffer circumstance penalties. He also has no Pool spend cap on bonus dice when disarming opponents, and can use his own bonus dice as opponent penalty dice if they are fighting with unfamiliar weapons.
Perfect Chord of Joy
A successful MUSIC (I) check causes swellings of joy in the listeners. They also gain the KEY OF JOY until the end of the scene if they can. This Key is not in the book "“ you will have to create it yourself. Cost: 1 INSTINCT. Requirements: Buy off a pertinent Motivation Key.
Perfect Chord of Sleep
A successful MUSIC (I) check causes the audience to slumber. Cost: 1 INSTINCT. Requirements: Buy off a pertinent Motivation Key.
Perfect Chord of Sorrow
A successful MUSIC (I) check causes tears of sorrow for the listeners. The check heals or causes INSTINCT Harm depending on the situation. Cost: 1 INSTINCT. Requirements: Buy off a pertinent Motivation Key.
Perfect Chord of Longing
A successful MUSIC (I) check causes a sense of yearning for the audience. The Story Guide frames a flashback scene related to the situation. Cost: 1 INSTINCT. Requirements: Buy off a pertinent Motivation Key.
Perfect Chord of Fear
A successful MUSIC (I) check causes dread and terror in the listeners. This chord has a bad reputation among most tribes. Cost: 1 INSTINCT. Requirements: Buy off a pertinent Motivation Key.
Secret of the Lyric
By combining STORYTELL (R) into his music, a bard may direct the feelings caused by his PERFECT CHORDS into specific conclusion. This allows the player to control the effects and audience of the chords in a much more exact manner, convincing them of a specific point related to the song. Cost: 1 REASON.
Secret of Full Music
Many legends are told of bards skilled enough to allure animals of the forest, force people to dance, beat King Khale himself in a contest, kill with a song and so on. Normally this sort of thing would require a TRANSCENDENT (7) Ability check, but with this Secret the character may do musical magic regardless. This only works when conducted with passion (a greater activation of a Motivation Key), and the character needs to use one or more perfect chords to channel the power of his music. Cost: VIGOR equal to 7 minus the check result. Requirements: Three PERFECT CHORDS
Tree-bond (I)
Khalean ancestor worship is closely tied to this peculiar ability. Aside from ritual use in recognizing and worshipping ancestor spirits, the Ability can be used to enter the Green World from a suitable tree.
Secret of the Questor
This is the same as the SECRET OF TSAFARI from Qek. Tying knots in the Green World is much easier in that there are no time limits or other ritual constraints. Some of the other knotwork crunch might also be available in Khale to questors.
Secret of Forest Transport
The character can bring others into the Green World with him, holding the portal for them. The ancestors will hold the character responsible for the actions of the visitors. Cost: 1 VIGOR per visitor
Secret of Bough's Bosom
While in the Green World, the character can use any of his Pools interchangeably to heal naturally. Ability checks made to heal him in the Green World gain a bonus die as well.
Key of the Tribe
The character is a member of a Khalean tribe, a communal unit with central leadership. 1xp: Help the tribe. 2xp: Obey the rightful leaders. 5xp: Defend the tribe in battle. Buyoff: Leave the tribe.
Key of Moiety
The character takes his moiety responsibilities seriously. If they are more serious to him than his tribe, he might even leave to become a lodge master or a hero. 1xp: Do work that belongs specifically to your moiety. 2xp: Monitor the activities of the other moiety yours is responsible for. 5xp: Let the moiety rules determine an affair of the heart. Buyoff: Break the moietic rules.
Key of the Worst War
The character has been touched by the war raging in southern Khale. This Key suits the Ammeni soldiers just fine, as well as noncombatants of all stripes. 1xp: The war is discussed. 2xp: Encounter the enemy. 5xp: Get into battle Buyoff: Leave Khale behind.
Woodworking (I)
Khaleans create most of their tools out of wood, often to highly exacting standards of beauty and utility. This Ability can be used to create both art and tools, such as weapons, buildings and even ships.
Wooden Imbuement
Khaleans create out of wood items that would be made of metal in other places, such as tools, weapons and armor. The equipment is light, and has the effects of one equipment mastery imbuement of the creator's choice, but it is somewhat frail: any attempts to break it use the SECRET OF SHATTERING.
Lunar Forging (R)
This Ability is used to craft moon-metal by projecting psychic force on the heated substance. It might be useful for other similar shaping tasks as well.
Moon-Metal Imbuement
An item made of moon-metal is light, gleaming, stainless, flexible and sharp as it needs be. Whenever the item would normally be destroyed or broken, its quality merely decreases by one step. A moonmetal item does not have a limit to the number of imbuements it may have, and imbuing it gains a discount of one point. However, the item suffers when striking wood, breaking like a normal item subjected to the same Ability check; this can be resisted reflexively (that is, without effort or spending actions in extended conflict) by the user's LUNAR FORGING (R).
Secret of Moon Heart
The character has consumed a quantity of moon-metal, which has bonded permanently to his flesh. He no longer needs fire to shape moon-metal, and may spend unlimited VIGOR for bonus dice in LUNAR FORGING (R). The character cannot enter the Green World, however, and Harm caused to him by wooden weapons is AGGRAVATED, marked accordingly on the Harm track. Such Harm does not shake down and cannot be healed naturally.
Key Imbuement (specify)
A HERO BAND with this imbuement has a Key that the character can use as his own. If anybody buys it off, all characters in the hero band gain experience.
Secret of Hero Band
The character can form an elite warband out of people who are united by purpose, tribal, family and moiety ties. Use GENEALOGY (R), STORY-TELL (R) or SPEAK (R) to unite the warband into a HERO BAND. Such a band is created like equipment as per the SECRET OF CREATION, with the PURPOSE IMBUEMENT automatically included. Hero Bands can also imbue Keys. A hero band can be used by any member as equipment, although they can be disarmed by separating the character from his peers. The hero band is quite difficult to destroy, as named characters are more likely to escape and regroup than get killed; attacking their sense of purpose and loyalty is much easier mechanically. Cost: as per the SECRET OF CREATION, except swap INSTINCT and VIGOR costs.
Purpose Imbuement
A HERO BAND always has this imbuement, as they have a definite purpose to which they are created. Using it for other reasons is only possible if the character convinces the heroes to take the new mission. The character might also lose the support of the band if he insists on going against its purpose. On the other hand, band members can only be suborned by overcoming the band quality, and they'll always return for the character if he's lost to them.
Initiation Imbuement
A HERO BAND with this imbuement can only be joined through initiation tests set by the hero band creator. Anybody wanting to join the band (creator included) has to pass the set check difficulties in specific Abilities. For each two levels of initiation decrease the introduction cost of the band by one point.
An Example Hero Band
This AMAZING (4) hero band was formed by Lugh Salmon-Skin to fight the Ammeni. His heroic friends Kelvin Tree-hand and WitchDeirdre are members, as are two dozen most cunning woodsmen of thirteen tribes. Ratings: +3 for fighting in water. +2 for fighting Ammeni. +1 for fighting. +1 for druidic magic. Imbuements: Purpose (defeat the Ammeni) (V) Initiation (Amazing Woodcraft, Good Guerrilla Warfare and Good Spearfighting) (I) Sidekick (Kelvin) (V) Sidekick (Deirdre) (I) Cost: 1 INSTINCT per scene.

Actual Play

The basic function for Khale and Khaleans in the larger Near is that they are fantasy barbarians. In fact, they are my go-to barbarians in the setting: if the game is set in Maldor or wherever and I need barbarians, then the Khalean woods are in Maldor, or next to it, or there's an off-shoot culture of Khaleans somewhere about there, never mind geography.

Having a barbarian culture to deal with is a fine thing when you want to compare and contrast lifestyles. Khaleans are of course by-the-book fantasy barbarians, noble and harmonious, but that sort of thing can be played around if desired: the war makes jerks of everybody after they've hidden under a rock for a couple of months while waiting for the enemy to make an appearance.

A specific challenge that certain sorts of groups might have to face is this: why play in Khale when you could be playing ORLANTHI in Glorantha? I don't know how it came to be that way, but there sure are similarities. A cunning Story Guide might draw on the rich Gloranthan sources for inspiration here, I'd say. In fact, I recommend it: that whole heroquesting thing in the Green World has already been figured out three or four times in detail there, for example.

Ideas

Khaleans are a very romantic culture, which translates to "good" in our fantasy literature sensibilities. Go along with that, it's probably more worthwhile at first than undermining it: for instance, destroying or corrupting the poor, noble savages is going to be very, very tragic, regardless of which side player characters happen to be on.

Alternatively, consider my Ammeni Wars campaign, in which the Worst War becomes regional as a hero band travels to Orania and wins the Senate of Kalderon to their side; even if victorious, the epic heroes are going to have a bitch of a time with the Ammeni reconstruction: what do you do with a nation like that?

I have the impression that the Khalean capability for time travel has largely been neglected in practical play, possibly because it takes a campaign to such radical directions. Still, one day I'm going to play an assassin from the future, his only hope to kill the man who would sell his people to eternal slavery.

Other basic directions to go here are the Celtic olden goldies, like shamed heroes cast out of their tribe, bards seeking their art in the oddest places, romantic troubles caused by the moietic taboos and so on.

Khalean Names

Khalean names are vaguely Celtic, of course. The moiety is more important than specific parentage for most purposes, so a typical name format in intertribal matters could be <position> <first name> of <moiety> in <tribe>. "Bard Nevins of Snake moiety in tribe Luthan", for example. Alternatively, "Bard Nevins Snake-skin of tribe Luthan" has a nice ring as well.

Additional bynames are added, but only for braggarts and people who actually make an appearance in bard songs, in which such are a matter of course.

Male

Pwyll, Nevins, Bowdyn, Gwawl, Aonghus, Morvyn, Dwayne, Kelvin, Keaghan, Brasil, Cathair, Hueil, Donat, Eoghann, Newlyn.

Female

Maeveen, Isolde, Elsha, Aphria, Evelina, Moyna, Deirdre, Jennifer, Wynne, Yseult, Africa, Violet, Donella, Grania, Merna.

Places

Ofaly-nun-Luthan, Veneti-Iam, L'lun-no-Vatic and so on, in descriptive vein. I basically just string sounds together for profit and pleasure when making these up.

Qek: Land of Mystery

Fluff adapted from Clinton's book and the Finnish edition of the same. Crunch mostly original.

Qek is the northernmost known land in Near, and one of the most forbidding. Filled from coast to mountain with thick rain-forest and jungle, Qek is a place of mystery and legend. It is the borderlands of the world and the north coast of the Sea of Teeth.

This hot jungle-land might well be left alone, were it not for the copious amounts of jewels found in its caves. There are no cities, no centers of civilization, only the smallest of villages along the coastline.

The people of Qek live among the jungle in small family units. Short, thin, and brown, the Qek (as they call both themselves and their land) hunt wild birds, boars, and reptiles and gather wild fruits for their sustenance. The people of inner Qek are generally unknown to outsiders; the families along Qek's shores that live on fishing are the few that generally speak with non-Qek. The boats of these people are legendary - small one-man kayaks made of jungle wood that they use to surf on top of the waves of the Border Sea, easily outrunning any other ship.

The Family is a Breathing Thing

The only real unit of people in Qek is the family. Families live together, carving out a small bit of land to call their own, although there's no real land ownership. Three generations usually live together: a husband and wife, some of their parents, and their children. Generally, as sons and daughters grow to maturity, they leave and form new family units; as one half of a couple dies of old age, the other will live with one of their children.

Qek has no government, but each family unit is part of a larger family unit. Within the larger family unit, families defer to the family they grew up in when they meet. In distant relations, the older family is deferred to, although they often choose another to make decisions. There is no clan-type structure in Qek: there are no clumps of unrelated people at all.

All that Glitters is Trouble

The Qek do trade with the people of Khale and the nomadic tribes of Oran, exchanging wild fruits and cocoa for tools of metal, which they do not have the craft to make themselves. In addition, Qek is known for its precious gems. The people of Qek find these stones useless except for tools (they tip their own spears with diamond, which slip through armor as if it were butter, for example) and they are often traded for goods or services. Men from other countries that do not respect the sanctity of Qek often attempt to sneak into the country and smuggle out gems and cocoa pods, although few return.

Apart from outsiders, the people of Qek have to contend with the APES as well. Apes are these furry goblins that live in various places in the jungle and the more hospitable slopes of the Wound of Heaven mountains. The problem with apes is that the Qek do not understand their language, if they have any, so there is much unnecessary strife with the "jungle people", as the Qek ironically call the beasts. As a matter of fact, many of the apes do not have a language at all: the Qek goblins run the gamut from human-intelligent to completely animallike, but generally speaking they are all content to gorge themselves on fruit, intelligent or not.

Stories Without Letters

The Qek have no written language, at least not since the Year of Shadow. Because of this, their art revolves around painting and oral storytelling. A great majority of their art is utilitarian in nature: ornately carved spears and staffs; beautifully crafted clay jugs; shields painted with intricate camouflaging patterns. Without cities, traditional sculpture is almost unknown, although carved frescos in rock are relatively common, used to tell ancient stories.

The music of Qek is unearthly, and most outsiders have a hard time appreciating it. Their language is made up of a multitude of hard consonants, which lends a guttural quality to it, whether spoken or sung. In addition, the music has no traditional rhythm, instead alternating between discordant rhythms frequently. While a large part of their music "“ all based around stories "“ is sung, it is sometimes accompanied by a CHURANG, a guitar like like instrument made of dried innards strung across a hollowed-out armadillo shell.

Qek's jungles are full of succulent fruit and spices, and are used liberally to season their food. A speciality that has reached out to be eaten elsewhere in Near is wild boar glazed with mango and cocoa, a plant native only to Qek. Cocoa (in the modern day, chocolate) grows in huge pods within Qek's jungles, and is used to make a hallucinatory beverage called araka of dried cocoa pods, fermented bananas, and hot chilies.

Everything That Breathes Dies

The people of Qek do not speak of religion: they worship no single entity nor have organized worship. They do, however, have a strong belief in the idea of spirits.

Spirits have three forms, the ROHO, the SASHA, and the ZAMANI. The roho are the spirits of the living, the animus that gives them individuality and vitality. These are bound within the bodies of people, animals, and plants. People and animals have the strongest roho, while plants have the oldest roho.

The sasha are the "living dead". Those who have died that are personally remembered by those still alive are sasha. Memories from stories do not count: someone who met the person while alive must still live. These spirits have a will of their own and remember their name, and they are said to hover close to earth, watching those who knew them. Their will can be bent by changing the memories of their human tethers.

The zamani are the true dead, those long dead and forgotten. They do not remember their name and their own will is the longing for final rest, in the oblivion above the earth.

Nobody's Been to Every Valley

The jungles of Qek are basically impenetrable and largely unknown even to their inhabitants. The native Qek may however increase his chances in the wilds by listening to his parents and to the spirit of the terrain itself. Geographical knowledge is not codified in maps in the featureless jungle; instead, the people memorize and share long path-songs that list distinctive landmarks and other important knowledge about the lay of the land.

The earth spirits are considered similar but distinct to spirits of living things. The two are connected, however: a person can sometimes perceive the land correctly, and by doing so, name it. The end-result is called a KNOT, or simply a "place".

Knots make up the geography of Qek, which is otherwise indistinct and homogenous to human eyes. Knots are connected by PATHS, which in turn limit AREAS; in this way the jungle gains a topography people can understand and perceive.

Jungle Landscape

The Story Guide of a campaign is of course responsible for the geography, but some suggestions might be helpful, being how most Story Guides are used to having a wide variety of environments to work with. In the Qek jungles new places are sort of a big deal, but also simple to introduce.

Death River:
A sinuous river traveling crosswise across the jungle. Useful for fishing and travel: many paths leave from the river for other knots.
Birdrock:
So called because the height affords a great view of the jungle. Useful for seeing over the jungle canopy; also easy to find when lost in the jungle.
Honey Trees:
The traditional usufruct of a respected local family, a clearing surrounded by special trees favored by honey-bearing bees. Not many know of the path here, if any do anymore.
Moot Caves:
A number of caves suitable for temporary habitation. Well-connected by paths to local family homesteads, as the place is favored for meetings of various purposes.
Lost Ziggurat:
A bloody cult gathers here in remembrance of a civilization that once was. It is one of many such ruins scattered through the jungle.
Runti Homestead:
The home of the family of Runti, a Qek hunter. Her family lives in the transition between the coastal and interior livelihoods in many ways. She's well-connected to other local and not so local families, thanks to Itzelher-father who made many children.
Gumbay:
An ideal natural harbor area used by Ammeni traders, who have built a permanent outpost here.
Grey Bull Path:
A worn, long animal path that connects many water-holes and leads one from the western savannah to the mountains. Excellent hunting.
Absolon's Tomb:
A low-rising yet deep-rooted, stony building almost lost to the jungle. There is an insane myth concerning a forsworn knightly fellowship and a lost testament that'd purportedly prove conclusively the nature of this place; for our purposes this is just a good example of a principle: everything and anything might be found in the jungle.

All of the above places and more can be connected by paths, some of which might not be known to all jungle people. Having a functional, sufficient knowledge of the resources in the jungle is mandatory for long-term survival.

The Coastline

There are some landmarks that are so major as to constitute entry points into the web of knots I draw. The coastline is probably the most important if your campaign is going to deal with people coming from the rest of Near.

Knots near the coast can be found pretty easily over the water, assuming that they have any visible characteristics. This means that the Qek do not create paths or knots out on the atolls they visit to collect bird eggs and whatnot. After finding the right place a stranger might or might not notice the paths developed by the jungle residents.

Panther-style (I)
PANTHER-STYLE is what the Qek call spearhunting. The Qek do not have a separate conception of human-to-human combat; either they brawl with no serious intent or kill their enemy in cold blood like prey, attacking from hiding, disappearing into the jungle after striking at their enemy. Thus their hunting Ability is also what they use in war.
Secret of Sudden Strike
When the character surprises his opponent in a physical conflict, the opponent is forced to use a Passive Ability in response. This can be used in extended conflict as well, provided that the character can obscure himself to to begin with. Cost: 1 INSTINCT
Spider-style (R)
This Ability is under-used among the coastal families, but interior women often excel: the Ability concerns traditional trap hunting and planning secure homesteads with steady supplies of clean water, defensible positions, paths for retreat and other necessities.
Secret of Trap Vigil
As long as the character has a prepared trap or escape route at hand in a conflict, he can swap his own check result with the Effect value of such a trap by leading his enemy into it. Cost: 1 REASON
Seal-style (V)
Families on the coasts of the Sea of Teeth gain a signification part of their livelihood from hunting the creatures of the sea with their long spears and nets, used from oneman kayaks. This Ability is used to operate the kayaks in travel and hunt, and to swim.
Secret of Water-Lung
The character can hold his breath for as long as necessary in the scene with no Ability checks, but not indefinitely. (Remember: we're not in the business of outright drowning important characters, so presumably you had some plan for how the underwater sequence is going to end.) If the scene ends with the character losing his consciousness and washing up somewhere or other such hi-jinks, the character may take a MINOR (1) Harm to get right up with no appreciable difficulty. Cost: 1 VIGOR
Psychonaut (V)
The jungles of Qek are home to a fortune of mind-altering substances alongside other herbs and plants. A character with this Ability has experience in finding, preparing and using these riches to support selfreflection and shamanism. The Ability can also be used to amplify or control the influence of drugs on a person, and to recognize and treat different mental states resulting from drug use.
Gem-Cutting (R)
This Ability is used to recognize and work the many precious gems that can be found in the jungle. It is necessary for cutting gems into pleasing shape without causing flaws.
Gem Imbuement
A piece of equipment made with gems gains its quality in bonus dice to any attempts at bartering it away. Also, if the gems are used for their hardness, as in Qek spears, the item has the SECRET OF SHATTERING.
Key of Astral Travel
The character is dedicated to the world of Terma and Akasha, seeking new perceptions by shamanistic means. 1xp: See things in an unusual light. 3xp: Take a drug purported to change your perspective. Buyoff: Shirk away from an opportunity to see a situation from an altered perspective.
Key of the Family
The character's family are almost the only people he knows. 1xp: Interact with your family. 2xp: Obey an elder. 5xp: Save a family member from death. Buyoff: Abandon your family.
Key of Colonialism
The character has come to Qek to exploit the land, or perhaps to move in permanently. 1xp: The jungle is present in the scene. 2xp: Have trouble with the locals. 5xp: Get into difficulties with the different environment of Qek. Buyoff: Go home.
Key of Precious Gems
The gems are desired by everybody. 1xp: There are gems in the scene. 2xp: The gems are fought over. 5xp: The gems change ownership. Buyoff: Abandon the gems out of your own will.
Key of Travel (destination)
The character is going to a specific place. 1xp: Talk about your destination. 2xp: Proceed towards your destination. 5xp: Get off course and visit some other place. Buyoff: Abandon your journey.

Actual Play

The way I play it, Qek is all about the HEART OF DARKNESS. Even the natives are scared shitless by the jungle, which is quite foreboding, considering that Near does not know serious inhuman threats. Still, animals make believable antagonists, and the jungle can be difficult for other reasons, as we'll see in the next chapter.

The most difficult part of Qek play is getting a handle on minimalism, as far as the Story Guide is concerned. You need to accept that your story will tell about these seven or so people variously related to each other, and about the jungle, and about these crazy, lily-white (metaphorically speaking, although the highest class Ammeni are white) colonist/explorer/Ammenites who've set up a trading post on the coast.

That trading post is important, because that's how you get cultural interaction going. Qek has always been the most marginal of the lands of Near due to how a character from Qek is always the outsider. It's even true to a degree in their land.

Qek Names

Qek names are short, Aztec-sounding, or perhaps South American aboriginal. I haven't divided them by gender, although the Qek themselves do; I recommend picking a name that sounds good to you.

Personal names

Ahexotl, Camaxtli, Cocoza, Ecatzin, Guacra, Hobnil,Huemac, Itzcoatl, Maxtla, Mutex, Ocelopan, Rimac, Pusca, Tangaxoan, Tlaloc, Yaotl, Zoltan, Atzi, Centehua, Chantica, Cusi, Itzel, Ixchell, Malinche, Metztli, Nhutalu, Ocllo, Quispe, Runti, Tlaco, Xoco, Ysalane, Zafrina.

Places and things

Qek name things and places very simply, using descriptive language. It's best if we do the same. They also have a tendency towards using the name of a person prominently for anything that person owns, lives in, uses or makes. So somebody might have "Chantica pottery", or live in "Rimac place".

Knotwork: Terma of Earth

Adapted from the Finnish edition of Clinton's book.

Some Qek need to leave their families and travel long distances for fare or necessity. Should they share their knowledge of the dangers and opportunities within the jungle, they become known as knotbinders, TSAFARI. Such travelers are highly respected even among strangers for their knowledge of the jungle and distant events.

Game-wise I handle the jungles of Qek a bit differently from other places in Near: the jungle has no defined geography for my purposes, and I draw no traditional maps even for adventure-oriented play. Instead, the jungle geography consists of familiar places called KNOTS, connected by known paths into a web-like topology.

Using Knots

Knots are the ROHO of the land itself given form. A knot is a place in the jungle, wherein "place" comes into being by the perception and naming done by a person, the tsafari. Without tsafari there would be no knots, and the Qek would be as lost in their jungle as outsiders are when they try to penetrate it.

Knots are connected to each other by PATHS, naturally enough; knowledge of these is essential as well. Paths limit different AREAS of the geography, which concept may also be used by knotwork Secrets.

Knots themselves are simply Effects that describe the place they tie to: "Knot of Birdrock 3/R" might be a knot, as well as "Knot of the Death River 4/R". A character can learn about a knot from another just by listening to their stories. The teacher's STORYTELLING (R) check determines the Effect level for the pupil's knot Effect "“ however, the pupil's Effect can only get higher than the teacher's if the two are on location at the knot. A character that already knows a knot may renew his knowledge by visiting the place and making a LOCAL (R) check.

For knotting purposes we sometimes need to distinguish between "terrain" and ephemeral elements of a location. The Qek say that anything that has not left the knot since its creation is part of the terrain "“ even the people.

Knots are created by tsafari "“ indeed, being able to knot a place is what makes a tsafari. A once knotted place cannot be reknotted without dissolving the existing knot, which of course destroys the Effect from any characters that've learned it. Knots dissolve naturally when the sasha of the knotting tsafari is forgotten.

Travel between knots

A character with a knot Effect can find their way to a nearby known knot with a simple LOCAL (R) check, even when lost. They can also use any paths between two known knots to travel without having to make an Ability check at all.

Characters can also create new paths between known knots with LOCAL (R) checks. Keep track of known paths under the pertinent knots to remember how the knots connect together. Creating a new path is more difficult for knots that already have many paths and knots that seem like they should be far away from each other. A new path may not be created at all if the character's known paths for the knot already number more than his knot rating for the knots in question.

Knots outside the jungle

Tsafari can create knots outside Qek as well, but doing so requires gaining LOCAL (R) knowledge for the new area. For knotwork encompassing several areas, check all pertinent LOCAL (R) Abilities. It's largely up to the tsafari how he parses the non-jungle roho; a single house might be a knot, or a single town might be one. This needs to be discovered in play.

Getting Lost

A pretty big part of this whole knot thing is what happens when characters get lost in the jungle. This happens when they fail their LOCAL (R) Ability checks; characters without pertinent knot knowledge get lost pretty much automatically when they leave the coast or other landmarks behind.

Getting lost is like having a refresh scene in that it opens the door for the Story Guide to control where the game goes next. The character has only two choices: to WAIT or GO ON.

A waiting character will encounter an interesting secondary character introduced by the Story Guide, probably by happenstance (dramatic coordination, that is): an animal, stranger, enemy, friend... a chance meeting that opens up new directions for the story.

A character that continues wandering ends up at the most interesting knot currently available. Again, dramatic coordination "“ the jungle is featureless and nigh-endless, the Story Guide does not worry about where the character would "likely" end up.

In a word: getting lost is losing control of story direction. It might also mean trouble: I typically have the lost character check WOODCRAFT (R) to see if the fatigue, disease or other fun things get to him while lost, causing some Harm and thus raising the tension for the next scene with people.

Local (Qek) (R)
Knowledge of the jungle is a living, crucial thing for the Qek. This Ability can be used to know things about distant families, remember legends about wonders hidden in the jungle and be aware of the common dangers.
Secret of Knot Lore (area)
The character has lived in an area for a while and has collected knowledge of several knots therein. Collect all known knots from the area into a list under this Secret. These knots do not require upkeep as Effects. Cost: 1 REASON to bypass upkeep
Secret of Tsafari
The character can create knots. A PRAY (V) check tells the character whether a given place is already or can be knotted. A new knot is created by staying in the place until the end of the month and making a LOCAL (R) check. An existing knot can be unmade with a similar ritual and a successful PRAY (V) check. Creating knots challenges the spirit of the place: the Story Guide introduces a mortal hazard to the character during his stay in the place. The character buys the SECRET OF KNOT for his new knot when he finishes the creation.
Secret of Knot (knot)
The character has a special relationship with a particular knot, which becomes a free Effect for him. He has no Pool spend cap for Ability checks when utilizing the terrain of the knot to his advantage. When using the terrain against an opponent, he may spend the Pool to give penalty dice to the opponent as well. This does not work against an opponent with a better knot rating. Requirements: the best current knot rating for this knot in the campaign.
Secret of the Hermit
The character may refresh his Vigor and Reason Pools by spending a day alone in a knot he masters. Cost: 2 INSTINCT. Requirements: SECRET OF KNOT
Secret of Area (area)
The character has all the benefits of the SECRET OF KNOT and it's associated Secrets anywhere within the defined area. He also cannot get lost within it. Cost: 2 INSTINCT. Requirements: SECRET OF KNOT for all the knots that define the area.
Secret of Jungle Travel
The character may make a WOODCRAFT (R) or LOCAL (R) check when lost to skip an encounter the Story Guide is trying to frame for him: the character avoids the encounter or simply never comes upon it. Then the Story Guide reframes with something else. The player has the right of refusal on scene ideas equal to the check result before he has to accept the next scene. This may allow a character to get where he was going in the first place, depending on what the Story Guide decides to offer. Should the Story Guide run out of ideas, the player gets to choose the scene himself. Cost: 2 INSTINCT
Key of Knot-Master
The character can't settle in one place for long, and wants to learn the essence of everything. 1xp: Visit a new place. 2xp: Learn a new knot. 5xp: Bind a knot. Buyoff: Unbind a knot.

Spiritwork: Akashic Tradition

Fluff from Clinton's book. Crunch adapted from the same.

Some Qek, through birth or training, find themselves walking the path of the WALOZI, or sorcerer. These people can speak to the dead, get rid of evil spirits, and even bind sasha and zamani to new bodies. The Qek are no strangers to magic, and do not fear it, but walozi cannot be part of any family once they contact their first spirit. They are ejected to live on their own.

Walozi magic is worked through complex rituals that last anywhere from ten minutes to a full day and night. The rites gain much power from sympathetic magic, symbolism and other such considerations. The RITUALS themselves are normal Secrets, but they are only usable by awakened walozi.

Conversing with roho and sasha is considered fine magic to use, and families will often consult walozi to contact their loved dead. Consorting with zamani, however, is dark magic, indeed, and any walozi known to do so is shunned. These necromancers will live deep within the jungle, performing their dark rites.

Roho

A living person's roho can be CONTACTED by the walozi, although this requires cooperation or restraining the target. The roho does not know anything the person wouldn't know, but in cases of inner conflict, amnesia or other disturbance the roho might diverge from the person's viewpoint. The player of the character plays the roho as well.

Roho can also be SEVERED from the body to float in the air like a sasha. This leaves the body without will, barely alive. As long as the roho lives, the body will be sustained as well, but it will only act on the command of the sorcerer who severed the spirit. Obviously enough, this is considered a black art by the Qek.

A severed roho may be CONTACTED, GIVEN FORM or BOUND back into his own body, just like a sasha.

Sasha

The living dead can be CONTACTED by the walozi. Much of the ritual concerns attracting the right person. The sasha decides freely what it wants to say.

Sasha are normally invisible, but the walozi may GIVE IT FORM to allow it a spectral shape in the world. The sasha may still not directly interact with the material, but they may be seen and heard, which allows some Ability use. The appearance resembles the person when he was still alive.

A sasha may be BOUND into its original body, returning it from the dead. The body needs to be either in good health or ritually prepared. A bound or spectral sasha may be SEVERED from the world, returning it to the aether.

Zamani

Zamani are best considered as a sort of ambient negative life force. A walozi working with them is not dealing with individuals so much as just nameless spirit matter he attracts from the upper atmosphere to give it form. While the sorcerer might believe in a specific spirit, for our purposes we might be discussing pouring wine into a decanter just as well.

In their GIVEN FORM Zamani appear as withered, gaunt ghosts. They are faceless and nearly mindless. A zamani might claim a specific ancestry in between its wails of pain, but should you believe it?

Zamani may be BOUND to a dead body, either fresh or ritually prepared. Any body will do, even an animal one.

Zamani are naturally bitter and need to be CONTROLLED by the walozi; they wish nothing but to slay the sorcerer and return to death. A controlled zamani is forced to obey the sorcerer, however.

Finally, a zamani may be SEVERED to return it back to whence it came.

Summoning spirits

A sasha given form or bound to their body will be a shade of their former self, mechanically speaking: the Pools are halved and the Ability ranks are capped to the walozi's contact ritual result, minus one. The number of Secrets and Keys combined is limited to the Ability check. However, an ULTIMATE (6) Ability check grants full restoration. A bound sasha acts like a living being, except that they will be automatically severed should they ever suffer MORTAL (6) Harm or worse.

To make it explicit: player characters can be freely resurrected by these rules. I imagine that legends of the amazing skills of the walozi are known far to the south as well; all good fodder for epic storytelling.

Zamani are much simpler to create: a normal zamani will have Advances equal to triple the success level of the Ability used to summon them, distributed in half by the player of the walozi and half by the Story Guide. Zamani cannot have Keys, and they may only have crunch allowed to animals (chapter 27). A zamani bound to a body is immediately severed when they suffer a MAJOR (4-5) Harm or worse.

Roho, when returned to their body, do not suffer of these limitations. They are as good as new despite all their travails.

Secret of Walozi
Some Qek are born weird, others gain the power by training: a walozi can contact spirits with the correct rites and a PRAY (V) check. The rite probably takes about fifteen minutes, unless the spirit is already present. Cost: 1 VIGOR
Ritual of Spectral Form
The walozi gives form to a sasha or zamani with a successful CRAFTWORK (I) check. The rite probably takes about half an hour, depending on how much effort the walozi wants to put into it. The spectral form becomes an Effect and lasts as long as the Effect is maintained. Cost: 1 VIGOR and 1 INSTINCT for the Effect. Requirement: SECRET OF WALOZI
Ritual of Binding
The walozi binds a spirit to a suitable body. This does not require an Ability check, but a resistant spirit may make a RESIST (R) check to make it more difficult. The rite probably takes about a half hour per paid Vigor point. Rejoining your own body is free and immediate. Cost: 1 VIGOR plus VIGOR equal to the resistance. Requirement: SECRET OF WALOZI
Ritual of Severance
The walozi severs a spirit from a body or spectral form with a successful BRAWL (V) check. This has no cost, but the walozi has a condition penalty unless he is himself severed, which can be done with this ritual as well. The severance may be resisted by this same ritual or the RITUAL OF BINDING. The ritual takes about a minute when corporate, while a spirit fight is instantaneous. Requirement: SECRET OF WALOZI
Ritual of Zamani Control
The walozi can control zamani with a successful CHARM (I) check, needing little but a special intonation and a hand signal. Zamani are otherwise consumed by their need for destruction, normal communication does not work. Requirement: SECRET OF WALOZI
Ritual of Vessel Preparation
The walozi can prepare a body to accept a spirit with a successful HOUSEWORK (I) check. The ritual takes all day, as organs are removed and the body packed with herbs, powders and wax. The resulting body is unnaturally durable: MAJOR Harm is considered MINOR for all purposes. The body is also now considered equipment, which can be further enhanced accordingly. Requirement: SECRET OF WALOZI
Secret of Eccentric Practice (Ability, Ability)
The Abilities used by walozi ritual craft are to some degree arbitrary. A walozi with this Secret has learned an eccentric form of the rites: the player may choose one ritual Ability and swap it with another Ability for all ritual purposes.
Key of Death-Hunter
The character has dedicated himself to putting zamani to rest. 1xp: Talk about spiritwork. 2xp: Destroy zamani. 5xp: Stop a necromancer. Buyoff: Summon a zamani.
Key of the Walozi
The character lives apart from families, but belongs in the Qek society all the same. 1xp: Work with sasha. 2xp: Use sorcery for somebody else. 5xp: Resolve a problem with sorcery. Buyoff: Relinquish your practice.
Key of the Necromancer
The character desires power or some other thing enough to seek it by enslaving the restless dead. 1xp: Work with zamani. 2xp: Recognize an identity in a particular zamani. 5xp: Use sorcery to achieve your desire. Buyoff: Destroy your zamani.

The Idea of Ammeni

The most evil man to ever walk in Near created a nation. His name has been lost to history, the Ammeni call him simply "Father". As the legend has it, Father lived in the age before the Skyfire; he was a patrician of Maldor, a man of influence and discretion.

When the Skyfire first appeared in the sky, people were concerned. When the fire grew larger, Father ordered action. His clients labored to raise walls. His factors brought foodstuffs from all over the Empire. His extended family gathered from all corners to stand by him. When Skyfire grew large as sun, Father closed himself off from the chaos outside, withdrawing to his estates.

The land shook and clouds of ash blackened everything as the Darkness came. This mattered not within Father's estates: the thick stone walls of the low buildings were like a secure womb that shielded the people within. Even as the weeks turned to months and months to years, as ice crept in long spikes down the eaves, Father's foresight held strong.

When the sun rose again, Father was distrustful at first. His sons insisted, however: Father was the first to greet the Moon's gentle rays over the river Lamia, turned serpentine by the wracked torture of the land.

The lands were deserted and in chaos, pitiful people covered from the Moon and the rainbow sunsets. Father had stores and men in his service, and tools of steel. His sons were quick to act, the first plantations were cut out of the wilderness to bring new prosperity to the broken world.

Father himself quickly faded to background as his sons took over. The estate houses were reinforced and thralls accepted on the plantations "“ people outside the Houses through the Darkness were wretched, and happy to suborn themselves to the Ammeni.

Soon the seven Houses were established as great plantations that fed the whole river valley. The influence of the Houses reached towards the sea, through the delta. Therein lived former subject people of the Empire, weak and destitute, unable to govern themselves now that world had broken.

With time Ammeni came to rule the lowlands and the coasts, even encroaching to the barbaric west all the way to the mighty Absolon's Way. The Houses grew rich and mighty, but they never forgot Father who sheltered them through the Darkness.

The story does not end there, however. While the Houses outlaw all forms of religion, preferring to worship wealth alone, in truth every real Ammeni knows it: Father yet lives and guides the fate of Ammeni from the shadows.

The concrete form of this belief is the Revenant Cult, a secret society of alchemists and House nobility who strive to uncover Father's secret "“ eternal life. They believe that Father leads the cult and will reveal his secret to those who prove worthy of it by extended study and faithful service.

The Revenant Cult is arranged into a strict tree of mentor"“student relationships, with higher-ranking members being allowed to recruit more students than lower ranks. The cult prefers Ammeni nobility, is open only to humans, and hates elves and their supposed immortality fiercely.

Glancing at the highest echelons of the Revenant Cult, we find Saul Lenoir, a man who claims to speak for the House Father himself. Some in fact think that they are one and the same. Saul is impossibly old and has found an immortality of sorts in an alchemical mixture of araka and poiture. He does not age, even if his body would like to decay. This is not allowed, and Saul consumes a few pounds of human flesh every day to keep his ageless mien. One of his ultimate goals is to shed even this limitation and truly embrace eternity.

Even while the Council sets trade law and the Houses each rule as they please in their own domains, the Revenant Cult works its will among the Ammeni. Saul fears nothing so much as contenders to his plans, so he works relentlessly to keep others from uncovering his secret. Even with the aid of the Revenant Cult this is a ceaseless work in a land obsessed with the pleasures of life and death.

Meanwhile, the Ammeni have grown into their role as rulers. They are known outside their country for their cruelty and decadence. Even if only the rich five percent share of these vices, the rest as well have grown heartless and opportunist in a country built on poison. The upper class has no excuses for their excesses, finest silks and bizarre delicacies of the fertile delta when the chattel slaves are worked to death or killed for sport.

Ammeni is a country predicated on expansive colonialism and exploitation of the weak. Its national myths are cruel lies. The budding maritime empire reaches to embrace the whole of the Sea of Teeth. If any one place in Near is in need of heroism, it is found on the banks of the Poison River.