5th Movement: Margin Notes
5th Movement: Margin Notes
This movement gathers together material that found no place in the other portions of the book. These are border peoples of Near, ones that have not been so important to our play so far.
There is also a series of scenarios and highly situational crunch environments for your entertainment and edification in how to make your own.
This material has only been playtested minimally or not at all as far as I know; it's wild, full of ideas and unregimented. Approach and make friends at your own risk.
Orania: Two Worlds, One Sky
This chapter is based on ideas from Clinton, Josh and Harald on the forums, and the Finnish edition of Clinton's book. Onomastics from various Internet sources.
Far to the north of Maldor the ancient, west of the untamed Qek lie the plains of Oran. Bound by mountain chains twice and edged by the Sea of Teeth, the plains open up in slowly rolling grasslands that range from the southern deserts through the trackless steppe to the lush savannah of the northern reaches.
The plains of Oran are the home to an indigenous culture of horse nomads, stargazers and falcon-wielders, people whose sparse transhumance belies their love of the sky. Amidst this Spartan existence lies Kalderon, the great urban hub of the Skironite lands, the last colony of ancient Maldor. The civilized and primitive are tangled in an impossible relationship on the plains.
Orania is an isolated land that has little to do with the rest of Near. Few foreign ships dock on the Boulder River banks today. Their overland trade with the Gorenite highlands sustains a fascinating hybrid culture that turns inward, content with its relative geographical isolation. Once there were two peoples here, now nobody knows if the Kalderonite can be separated from the Skironite.
The Lost Colony
The Oran of today is dominated by the great city-state of Kalderon, a great hub that attracts the tribes from its farthest reaches. Even the primitives from Qek and Khale come to see Kalderon the Great with its walls the like of which are all but unknown in the northern Near of today.
The myth of General Kalder and the birth of the city is a matter of great national pride to the citizens even as the city itself grows dry and vacant with the lack of trade. The patrons and free men of the city live among the signs of the past, carrying a great awareness of their Maldorian heritage. In many ways they consider themselves more of the Empire than the far Maldor itself and its feudal, lawless present.
The continuing existence of Kalderon after the Time of Shadow is predicated on the support and cooperation of the barbarian tribes of the waste. This is the wisdom of Kalder, the mythic founder of the colony: Maldor would win this land not with force of arms, but by proving itself to the tribes. The Skyfire cast the original vision aside, but Kalder is still credited with the survival of the colony where others perished: the natives proved just as instrumental to the survival of the colony as the colony became to the survival of the tribes.
As the back story suggests, Kalderonites are essentially Maldorite culturally. It's not a bad idea to assume that they have essentially similar crunch, except for the feudal social material Maldor proper has developed. For example, Kalderonite legions are definitely MILITARY UNITS in the Maldorian sense.
Note that the Servitors (as per the SECRET OF THE SERVITORS) are visible in Skironite lands at night; anybody can make a STARGAZING (R) or ASTROLOGY (R) check to have the Story Guide pick planets equal to the check result that the character manages to spot.
- Law (R)
- Kalderon is one of the last societies in Near to be truly ruled by a civil law that is punctually followed in drawing the line between right and wrong. This Ability is useful in knowing the old imperial laws and applying them to cases, although SPEAK (R) is still needed to make the case convincingly.
- Diplomacy (R)
- "The art of living with others" is a cornerstone of Oranide life. The magistrates of Kalderon put great stock to understanding their friends and enemies, and inventing means of avoiding needless strife. Life is difficult enough as it is.
- Secret of the Senator
- The character has been voted into the Kalderonite Senate, which enables him to use SPEAK (R), DIPLOMACY (R) and other appropriate Abilities to control the arms and treasury of the state. As long as he remains human, each scene during which he makes an Ability check to participate in the Senate he has to check RESIST (R) against his own check; failure compels him to lose a piece of human crunch (regaining Advances) or gain a piece of crunch from another species appropriate to the character (going into Advance debt if necessary). The gained crunch has to be the mandatory Secret of the species (changing the character's species permanently) if he already has more Advances invested into the species than his RESIST (R) check's value.
- Secret of the Magister
- The character is an officer of the Kalderonite civil service. The powers of his office are termed in a senatorial degree, which is created by a LAW (R) check made into an Effect that describes the office and is maintained however long the magister needs those powers. The character can draw bonus dice equal to a suitable office's value to issues of authority, but not against a higher-valued applicable office. He can only be prosecuted for his actions in office by stripping the office from him, which requires overcoming the Effect. In fact, casting the office in doubt would probably be necessary to get a Kalderonite to even manhandle the magister, such is their respect for the civil service and the laws protecting it. Career civil servants often hold multiple offices simultaneously, shedding and obtaining them freely; the player decides when to allow the Effects to lapse and when to seek new ones.
- Secret of the Office
- When the character's office aligns with a Servitor present in the sky, he does not need to make a check in fulfilling his duty at all: he can just use the value of his office directly. Cost: 1 Pool appropriate to the replaced Ability. Requirement: SECRET OF THE MAGISTER
- Secret of Citizen (district)
- The character knows a specific district of Kalderon very well. He can use its power for the citizen cost and gains a bonus die on any checks where knowing the district is useful. Other characters can enter the district and use it as well once at least one character in the game has this Secret, but only by paying the full cost.
- Bazaar District
- The Bazaar of Kalderon is a debilitated and lazy place, but it is large and full of old, slow merchandise. Characters can buy almost any equipment here: a BARTER (I) check establishes the quality of item the character can afford. The details of the item are established in half by the player and the Story Guide. Characters can also sell equipment: the character regains the Advance and gains a free Effect equal to equipment quality in trade. Citizen Cost: 2 REASON if buying a magical item. Full Cost: VIGOR equal to the number of Bazaar citizens in the game to enter or leave. Citizen cost and 1 INSTINCT per Imbuement on bought items.
- Knife Street District
- Life is cheap on the alleys around the Street of Knives and Knaves. Any Harm caused here is increased one level, to a maximum of MORTAL (6). Making any Ability check costs; characters who can't pay in Pool pay as Harm equal to the Pool debt. Citizen Cost: no cost. Full Cost: VIGOR equal to the number of Knife Street citizens in the game to enter or exit the district. 1 INSTINCT per check.
- Senatorial District
- Most senators of Kalderon move in to live near the Senate; it almost seems that they live in there. Characters in the district can speak to senators and use the SECRET OF THE MAGISTER. Citizen Cost: 1 INSTINCT per social check. Full Cost: VIGOR equal to the number of Senatorial citizens in the game to enter or exit the district. Citizen cost and 1 REASON per check.
- Secret of the Lictor
- The character has a bought, assigned or inherited right to carry weapons in Kalderon. He can enter or leave any district brought into the game for no extra cost.
- Key of the Senator
- The Kalderonite Senate is a world of its own, one that does not make allowances for humanity. 1xp: Participate in the political process. 2xp: Make a compromise. 5xp: The inhumanity of the Senate comes clearly to the fore. Buyoff: Resign your seat.
- Key of the Rabble-Rouser
- The character is a Tribune of the popular assembly in Kalderon, responsible for safeguarding the will of the people against excesses of the Senate. 1xp: The will of the people is discussed. 2xp: The population assembles. 5xp: Benefit from your position. Buyoff: Relinquish your position.
- Key of the Constitution
- The character genuinely believes in the Kalderonite social order. The constitution itself is not a written document, it's "Customs of Our Ancestors", a set of precedents. 1xp: Speak about a constitutional principle. 3xp: Defend the constitution against debasement. Buyoff: Betray constitutional principles.
- Key of the City
- Kalderon is, all things considered, likely to be the greatest city remaining in the world. 1xp: A scene happens in Kalderon. 2xp: A new thing in Kalderon is revealed. 5xp: A new district is brought into the game. Buyoff: Leave Kalderon
- Key of the Lictor
- The character has a duty as a peace officer in the city. 1xp: Interfere in a crime. 3xp: Fight to keep the peace. Buyoff: Look elsewhere while crime is committed.
Kalderon is ruled by a senate of elders, which votes for its own replenishment (only citizens are eligible) and imbues magisters to deal with individual matters. The power of the senate is reined in by popular assembly, which may convene at will and set binding decrees for the senate. The senators themselves are lofty figures rarely seen in broad daylight, a custom which developed during the Shadow. As the story would have it, the senate consists almost exclusively of elves, which are adored and feted by the city at large. In truth a majority starts on their way to goblinhood as soon as they are elected.
The modern Kalderon exists in a precarious balance between the tribes, displaying the majesty of old Maldor and sharing freely of the literary heritage in the hopes of pacifying the tribes and affirming its alliances time and again. The Legion of Kalderon is a superior fighting force, but it pales in numbers to the hordes that ride the plains.
Recently the Ammeni houses have opened trade enclaves in Kalderon to sell slaves and buy metals. The heirs of old Maldor have their differences, and the patricians of the city are undecided; the City has been isolationist in nature ever since the Darkness receded, satisfying itself with unifying Orania into something resembling a nation. Should this change, nobody knows how far the untested navy and oldfashioned Legion could cast their shadow.
Horse Lords and Crop Women
The tribes of Oran, although split into a multitude, share a distinct heritage, lifestyle and beliefs. Although the tribes are many and self-governing, they mostly live in peace "“ a tribal chief is more likely to bring his grievance to Kalderon, and another more likely to heed the magistrates, than either would be to flout the reverence the Horse Lords hold for the Sons of Kalder.
The greatest rift between the tribes concerns, not surprisingly, Kalderon itself. There are those who still hold the memory of the land before the Empire came, and even if the Empire has long gone, Kalderon yet remains. Tribes that detest the influence of the newcomers in the timeless life of the plains have long migrated to the far inland reaches of Oran, away from the coast and easy reach of the legion of Kalder. While these Traditional tribes are able to know peace, they do not obey the laws of Kalder: caravans from Goren are attacked, herds taken by the strong from the weak and so on.
What nearly all the tribes share is the way of life they call PURDA, the segregation. Scholars of Kalder speculate that purda originates with the Time of Darkness when the tribes secluded themselves in communal cave shelters, shelters in which they lived segregated by gender, only finally coming out to breed during the tail-end of the Darkness. The eunuchs claim that purda has always been with the tribes, making them what they are.
What the purda means is no more or less than a full separation of the spheres of male and female life. The males of the tribes are nomads, warriors and Horse Lords, ruling the plains, while the tribe's women and children live in villages or towns founded in the more fertile parts of the plains, such as at large cienega or river valleys. All other things are divided accordingly: herd animals are male issue, plants female; trade male, storage female; bright colors male, earth hues female; wind instruments male, stringed ones female and so on.
Archery (I) Tribesmen supplement their diet with hunting, in which they use short bows suitable for horseback. Archery is also the tribe's favourited discipline when they go to war; it is one of the three manly skills.
- Wrestling (V)
- Skironite tribesmen are masterful wrestlers, using submission techniques as well as close-range strikes after breaking the opponent's guard. Wrestling is the second manly skill.
- Horsemanship (I)
- The most important skill of a Skironite man is the care, training and riding of his horse. The Ability is most of the time a support for others Abilities, although the Skironites tend to synergize it with all sorts of things.
- Falconry (I)
- The Horse Lord skill of taming and training hunting birds. Despite the name, feel free to go fantastic with the large eagles some tribesmen work with. The Ability is useful for recognizing birds and interpreting their flight patterns as well as hunting with birds and such.
- Stargazing (R)
- Stars are nowhere as visible as they are on the plains through the winter night. Knowing the stories and lore of the constellations is today a Crop Woman task, while men use these skills to orient themselves on the dark plains at night.
- Cloud-reading (R)
- The Skironite Crop Women can read the sky for signs. The most important purpose for this is in predicting the weather, but other things might be seen as well: the Ability may replace PRAY (V) in SECRET OF PROPHECY.
- Female Rites (R)
- Skironite women give birth when the men are away, in rites that are severely restricted from male knowledge. The Ability is useful for knowing about reproduction, midwifery, contraception, abortion and treating women's and children's diseases.
- Secret of Initiation
- The character can initiate others to the various Blessings known to the tribes. This always requires set numbers of worshippers, testing of the initiates, a minimum number of initiates, some of which are left out, drawing lots, several tribes, specific genders, specific politics (Kalderonite or Traditionalist) and other such constraints. In the fiction these demands depend on the specific theological history of the blessing, but for our purposes the player gets to concoct whatever demands he wants, backing them with a PRAY (V) check. Another priest can override with his own offer only by beating the prior check with his own or by waiting until the next season. The actual initiation ritual is conducted with MUSIC (I). Cost: 1 REASON to establish the ritual, 2 to conduct it.
- Weather Blessing
- The character can control the weather with an appropriate Ability check: STARGAZING (R) at night, CLOUD-READING (R) at day. Larger weather events can take several days to arrive. The check result may be used as bonus or penalty dice in Ability checks as appropriate. Cost: 2 VIGOR
- Blue Light Blessing
- The character masters the blue light, a fearsome Skironite combat magic. It gathers around him when he threshes his weapons, becoming especially potent when he jumps or otherwise gets off the ground. An enemy struck by the force suffers AGGRAVATED Harm, marked as such. Release the force at an enemy from afar with ARCHERY (I) or up close with WRESTLING (V). The force is completely drained when the character goes prone. Cost: 2 VIGOR
- Blessing of Kalder
- This is the same as the BLESSING OF LOWDEN JUDGE, except use LAW (R) when nobody is lying and REACT (I) when somebody is. Cost: 2 VIGOR THE
- Hippogriff Blessing
- A hippogriff from the mountains is attracted by the character. It is commanded with FALCONRY (I) and ridden with HORSEMANSHIP (I). Keeping the hippogriff in service for longer than you need it makes it sad; release it, and it will return to you. Cost: 2 VIGOR Requirements: a prior initiation to another Blessing.
- Blessing of the Moon
- The character can change his sex, becoming a member of the other gender. This may only be attempted when the Moon is full; use BRAWLING (V) to change into a man, FEMALE RITES (R) to change into a woman. Cost: 2 VIGOR Requirements: a prior initiation to another Blessing.
- Key of the Purda
- Most Oranides come to possess this Key in their adulthood, as they come to accept their way of life. 1xp: The other gender is not present. 2xp: Avoid interacting with things pertaining to the other gender. 5xp: Interact with the other gender in the allowed way in seasonal celebration. Buyoff: Flout the Purda on purpose.
- Key of the Horse-Lord
- The character is a leading, powerfully maleidentified man of Oran. 1xp: There are animals in the scene. 2xp: Carry male symbols prominently. 5xp: Win a battle. Buyoff: Befriend a woman.
- Key of the Crop-Woman
- The character is an influential, unambiguously female woman of Oran. 1xp: There are plants in the scene. 2xp: Carry female symbols prominently. 5xp: Bring in the harvest. Buyoff: Befriend a man.
- Key of the Trans-Sexual
- The character is uncertain of his gender identity. 1xp: Act contrary to your gender. 3xp: Refuse to fulfill your gender obligations. Buyoff: Initiate into the other gender.
- Key of the Eunuch
- The character belongs in the advisory class of men who wield great influence in the Purda, being able to interact with the women regularly. 1xp: Others treat you awkwardly. 2xp: Benefit from your position. 5xp: Mediate a dispute between the genders. Buyoff: Allow the Purda to be disrespected.
The Cycle of Seasons
The purda is regulated by the annual transhumance, falling on different days in different parts of the plains. In the most traditionalist tribes the genders meet only twice a year: once in the fall for the culling of herds and courtship of the most accomplished males, once in the spring for a general revelry and initiation of boys into men. Even the most radical tribesmen would blush at the thought of coming uninvited to a women's town outside the allotted times.
Summer is a time of farming for the women, while men go out and take the herds to the distant parts of the plains, to the highlands and other inhospitable places. Therein the men make war on Violators and trolls, competing for the right of courtship in fall. The herds winter in the low country, nearer to the town, wherein the women spend the off-season working on crafts. Some tribes break purda in between the fall and spring celebrations, but most don't.
Sexually the Oranides are alien to most of Near: while the romantic culture, stories and songs of both sexes celebrates heterosexual pairing, everyday practice among the herdsmen and in the towns tends towards casually homosexual. Familial relationships in most tribes are fleeting at best; responsibility between genders is communal, not personal, and there is no stigma if a man chooses to court a different woman in a different year. Tribesmen traveling to other lands often find them prude and shameless at the same time.
A distinctive part of the purda are the EUNUCHS, men riven of their genitalia and allowed to conduct trade and other coordination between the male and female communities. Another grey area in the dualism of purda are transsexuals: when children are initiated as adults, they are in principle free to choose an initiation into either gender. Such manwomen and woman-men are considered members of their adopted gender in all ways, sexual mores included. Even adults can change sex later in life, at least if they're willing to undergo the rites again, including the ritual castration that man-women undergo.
The purda separates Oranides from other peoples on a fundamental level. Even towards their allies in Kalderon it is the great unspoken issue: as little as the Kalderonites are willing to execute purda on their own are the tribesmen willing to let go of their tradition. All tribes, excepting the most traditional, have come to accept that other people have different ways: foreigners are usually classified and dealt with as children, free of the purda as they know not better.
The Skytribes Fall Free
Aside from the laws of segregation, a central identity element for the tribes of Oran is their shared reverence of the Sky as a divine element. It is said that the great mountains are seen everywhere in Oran, and the birds that fly the endless sky are more numerous than the stars of old. Even as the stars have dimmed there isn't a village without a Stargazer, or a herd without a Falconier. Unlike the Purda, this is a tradition that has been embraced whole by Kalderon: the tribal divinities have become the most popular of the cults in the secular city, and the tribal knowledge of the sky has been combined with Kalderonite astrology.
Unlike all other elements of life, the reverence for the sky crosses the purda, perhaps because the sky rites are such a large aspect of the biannual celebrations. Crop Women call to the sky for rains or warmth while Horse Lords sing of destiny; both use the same tunes. This sky ritual magic is called BLESSINGS; they are like normal Secrets, except gaining them can be a bit arduous. Blessings are gained among the Skironites in various communal rites, the most powerful and oldest of which require the participation of both genders, if not multiple prior initiations for the initiate; only the most able should be eligible, but in Kalderonite tribes it is often the most influential who are initiated.
A central tenet of the Oranide religion concerns the coming of the mythical beast, HIPPOGRIFF; it is believed that this cross-breed of eagle and horse comes from its mountain lair at the call of the true song of the Horse Lord. Flying is considered a holy act by the Oranides, flying with the winged horse doubly so. The greatest heroes are supposed to fly over the Roof, to land in the Great Steppe beyond, the ancestral homeland of all Oranides.
I've never played! When I last was in Kalderon, I didn't have all this stuff to play with. Like, for instance, Purda "“ nothing even close to that, we just had lots of classical statuary the nomads had a tendency for breaking. And insofar as I know, others have not had the full majesty of Kalderon to tool around with either, so we're breaking completely new ground here.
Kalderon is like Constantinople, a great remainder of a greater culture. I really adore it out there on the western edge of the Sea of Teeth with my settingdesign senses; the northern Near is so sparse of culture without it, and the Ammeni need a counterbalance of some sort in the area to get a good sea battle going. This way there's some place where the Qek and Khaleans and such can meet in a tavern without the tavern being in the middle of a jungle somewhere.
The political process of Kalderon is complex, dehumanizing and essentially modern. This does not mean that it is necessarily evil: not only can a politician hold onto his morality by being willing to curtail his inculcation into the system, but even were he to turn into another politician, that implies nothing about the nobility of his goals.
A Skironite character, on the other hand, faces two obvious questions: his relationship to Kalderon, whose gates are never closed, and his relationship to the Purda. The questions are related, but not entirely.
Winning Blessings is a necessary step in becoming a Skironite hero, but that might require accomplishments or political influence itself, depending on the nature of the given tribe's priests. The similarities with Kalderonite politics are not incidental.
Kalderonites use basically Maldorian names, they're just more classical in form. Feel free to add classical suffixes like -us/ius to taste. They've taken lots of influence from the Skironite nomads, of course, but you can take care of that yourself.
Adiran, Estes, Fabian, Janus, Klaud, Leonius, Macarius, Nemo, Ossian, Pacius, Quentin.
Adorna, Fabia, Faustine, Innocentia, Julia, Kalare, Laura, Marina, Narda, Octavia, Palma, Quintessa.
Kalderonite Places and Things
Herenia, Albusium, Skeretis, Lamia, Vormium, Rasis. Kalderonite names are mostly used for places inside Kalderon proper. Most places on the plains use names loaned from Skironites.
The tribes use Turkic language, I think. Definitely something from Central Asia, perhaps by the way of some other area.
Peecha, Dafa, Chora, Tark, Jamaa, Dhayr, Sahih, Mardood, Sa-Peter, Khilaaf, Khushi, Dilkap.
Matruka, Hua, Ilsa, Waseela, Zamana, An'jaam, Qadesha, Phelaa, Jagna, Kishti, Nilam, Shamaen.
Langoor, Peeth, Taeed, Peechay, Hairaan, Chaara, Baajaa, Naanbai, Baalkani, Ghubaara.
Inselburg: The Ocean Wave Republic
Adapted from the Finnish edition of Clinton's book, with original additions.
The great island fortress of Inselburg lies midway between Near and the inhospitable southern continent, built as the lock and the bar to the Southern Sea, the only mediterranean sea of Near before the Skyfire. Now ships sheltered in the large cave harbors below the island sail out with technology unknown to modern Near.
People of the scattered Vadenite archipelago are independent to a fault, bickering among themselves and suspicious of power vested on a central government. In the Inselburg fortress the islanders have a near unparalleled defense against anything mainlanders of the modern era could throw against them. In the old High Seas Fleet they have the tools to elevate or subjugate the coastlines of Near. The only issue is how and when this power might be used.
Rebels That Won
The Vadenite archipelago was colonized by the Empire early due to its important position as a supply base and military installation in the southwestern waters of Near. With time the installations on the island were enlarged; both the Hamodine wars and ocean exploration efforts initiated by the celestial bureaucracy warranted substantial improvements to the naval capacities of the Inselburg fortress, making it the largest operative nexus of imperial naval activities.
At the time of the Skyfire, however, Inselburg had already been a decade into a rebellion against the Empire. The original reasons for the rebellion are largely forgotten outside the islands; the islanders themselves cite a palace coup that closed off oceanic exploration, corruption of the imperial bureaucracy, and their unquenched thirst for freedom. The reasons for the original betrayal of the naval command, which made the rebellion possible, remain a mystery and a popular topic of stories.
When the Skyfire appeared and the world trembled at the omen, the Vadian islanders interpreted the growing glow favorably for their hard-pressed, waning rebellion. The attitude is held to this day: anything lesser than the Skyfire could not have destroyed Absolon's Empire, they say.
- Glass-blowing (R)
- The fortress of Inselburg produces glass, a rare substance elsewhere. It is one of the few native products shipped by the trade flotilla of Inselburg.
- Signaling (R)
- Vadenite islands are in many places close enough to see each other, or at least hear. An elaborate system of light, flag or sound signals is used, conditions permitting, to communicate with other ships and islands. This Ability can be used to compose and interpret these messages, to recognize who sends a particular message and to understand the various shorthand expressions used on the islands.
- Dueling (V)
- Inselburg is very peaceful in comparison to most of Near, but there is a martial tradition upheld by the few Fleet officers, some collegiums and hot-headed youngsters. The preferred weapons are knives and short swords, often dual-wielded with a coat or cloak. A Vadenite fighter is very certain of his feet, as he expects to fight in or from his boat.
- Secret of Magistery
- The character knows how to create COLLEGIUMS by investing holy vows that bind. The vows are created by one or more PRAY (V) checks made into Effects which determine the power of the vows and the consequences for breaking them. The collegium is created by choosing a Secret the character knows, renaming it appropriately, perhaps changing some Abilities it requires and reducing its Pool cost by one point per vow connected to it. (The vows can also provide bonus or penalty dice as appropriate to Secrets that do not have a Pool cost.) The magister can now teach the new Secret to his collegiates without caring for any requirements the Secret used to have. The magister can have the collegial magic strike anybody who knows the Secret with the power of the Effect to cause the consequences indicated by the vows to befell him, but only once per Effect per target. The target may RESIST (R) the magic. This does not expend the collegial Effect; it (and the discount on the Secret) remains as long as the magister continues to maintain the collegium.
- Secret of the Skyfire Cult
- The Skyfire Cult is native collegium of Inselburg. It believes that the Skyfire was a fortunate event that saved the world from tyranny; Skyfire cultists tend to argue for liberty even at pain of death in the Congress. The first degree initiates learn to shape "skyfire": the initiate's touch is sufficient to ignite things, and he may shape fire by hand, even making it cling to empty air for a while. Cost: 1 VIGOR (1 vow)
- Secret of the Star Captain Brotherhood
- The Star Captain Brotherhood is a native collegium that only initiates captains, pilots and hopefuls. Its members usually vote for increased trade and Fleet patrols. The initiate can use a compass or other divining tools to find his way towards a clearly visualized goal. Cost: 1 INSTINCT (1 vow)
- Secret of the Wind Scout Collegium
- Despite its name, this collegium is actually a cult worshipping Lady of Wind, a minor aspect of the Goddess. Only women are initiated. Members vote with the Star Captain Brotherhood in Congress. The initiate can fly on the slightest winds. Cost: 1 INSTINCT (1 vow)
- Secret of the Eclectic
- The character is skilled at predicting and avoiding bad magics. He needs a metal staff and gloves to do his trick. A successful PRAYER (V) check transfers an incoming magic's power through the staff into the earth, the sea or into another person, depending on where the eclectic roots his staff. Success levels equal to the eclectic's check are diverted from the opposing magician's check before it reaches its target. This trick suffers a circumstance penalty die against Three-Corner magic and two against any other magics, except collegial arts of Inselburg. Cost: 2 REASON
- Secret of High Seas Fleet
- The character has been taught how to sail the black ships, and he is thus capable of using his appropriate Abilities for the purpose. The ships and their equipment are a technological aberration at present time, so operating them ranges from difficult to impossible without in-depth tutelage in various applied sciences. Characters with this training may consider any High Seas Fleet equipment to have an appropriate EXPERT IMBUEMENT for free.
- Demolition (R)
- Fleet crews in Inselburg are trained to handle the black ship cannons and other explosives; specialist marines are trained as grenadiers as well.
- Explosive Imbuement
- This single-use imbuement can be used with a DEMOLITION (R) check. One equipment rating in the equipment gains a +2 to its value for this roll; however, if the check is opposed, the character suffers an additional Harm equal to the check difference (towards his actual check, not the equipment rating). The imbuement is removed after use.
- Black Sail Imbuement
- The black ship sails are superior to modern solutions, being usually the only propulsion such a ship uses. The ship with this rigging can compete or overcome galley arrangements in most winds, especially when it has room to maneuver. It has SUPERIOR LEVERAGE against galleys on open sea when it comes to maneuvers or long journeys; the black ship chooses whether to engage and how in those conditions.
- Black Hull Imbuement
- The larger black ships are much taller than most modern ones, except perhaps for the giant galleys of Ammeni. This is not entirely beneficial in shallow waters, but in close engagement it makes boarding action impossible for an unprepared enemy. The ship may also have an unlimited number of other imbuements thanks to its size.
- Cannon Imbuement
- The black ship has cannons. There is very little that lesser ships can do against them at range: when the cannons are used with DEMOLITION (R) (or COMMAND (I) if directing fire for a battery), normal Ability checks cannot be used to resist them at all. An opposing ship or coastal target needs magic or other equivalent leverage to defend or counterattack meaningfully, otherwise a simple check suffices for the cannons. Cost: 1 Vigor per shot
- Key of Liberty
- The character believes in liberty at any cost. 1xp: Enjoy your liberty. 3xp: Refute an authority. Buyoff: Compromise on your principle.
- Key of the Fleet
- The High Seas Fleet concerns the character. 1xp: Discuss the fleet. 2xp: Prevent the usage of the fleet. 5xp: Use the fleet for something. Buyoff: Allow a ship to fall in strange hands.
- Collegial Key (specify)
- The character's collegium has a solid collegial spirit. 1xp: Socialize with your colleagues. 3xp: Work together with the college. Buyoff: A betrayal between colleagues.
The Year of Shadow was not as hard on Inselburg as it was on many other peoples, thanks to the thick walls of the fortress and the war-time discipline already in place. When the Shadow receded, what had been a minor rebellion was now a self-sufficient, isolated nation.
The modern Inselburg is a poor nation scattered on a hundred islands and a thousand islets in the Vadenite archipelago. The people dress modestly in thick black felts that protect them against the cold winter storms of the southern sea. A free man is expected to own his own boat, so as to be able to join in the fishing. Others have to know useful trades or hire on as boathands.
The islands were incredibly poor after the Shadow, all but the largest being scoured clean by the cataclysm. Inselburg itself cannot hold the steadily climbing population, however, so the most adventurous families moved early to stake claim to the best islands. Typically a family would be careful to remain in contact with the fortress residents through close familial relationships with those remaining inside.
Today Inselburg is a convoluted decentralized democracy stretching several days of good sailing from the fortress proper. The individual islands are self-governing: originally this was because a single family would live on one island, later because no agreement on common government could be established. Each island sends a representative to the annual Congress at Inselburg; the most important decisions concern voting for Prefects who maintain the fortress, allocating desirable living space inside Inselburg proper and deciding on the deployment and captaincies of the High Seas Fleet.
Trade and socializing have the archipelago bustling with activity through the summer. Disagreements are common as well, but trouble is handled very courteously; ostracism of community is a threat, and the elected Prefects of the fortress can bar entrance to trouble-makers at will. As honorable marriages and other celebrations are held exclusively at the fortress, being barred from entering is a heavy threat to honorable islanders.
Still, what most holds the people of Inselburg together and on the islands may not be mutual love and fascination with the sparse livelihood: the heritage of the rebellion weights heavily on their conscience, and as long as the High Seas Fleet remains, it defines the nation as surely as any ruler.
Black Ship Fleet
Inselburg proper arches over five closely-spaced islets. In between the cliffs lie dark entrances into the bowels of the stone fortress, entrances usable by the largest of ships. In these cave harbors the imperial High Seas Fleet wintered, safe from the savage southern winter storms. And there they yet remain, those that have not succumbed to age.
The ships of the line are large, technologically superior to anything modern Near knows. They have multiple masts and complex rigging, and no oars, for they are far too large to move about with mere muscle. The ships are too tall to board from all but the largest galleys, and what must be the most frightening, they have slots for cannons that belch smoke, fire and lead.
The ships of the High Seas Fleet are black from tar-based paints they are treated with to prevent aging of the wood. The Black Ships, as they are known to outsiders, are a matter of great fear and superstition on the Ocean. The only major engagement of the fleet a few years ago resulted in a crushing defeat for the first son of an Ammeni house; only two ships of the fleet were mobilized then, and both returned without losses.
What the High Seas Fleet has done to Inselburg cannot be underestimated: the solid fishermen and traders of the islands do not know what to do with what they have, but they are utterly committed to preserving the legacy their forebears fought for. Every family sends a son to learn the sailing skills required to crew a black ship; every woman of the islands knows how to weave the thick sails used in the salty ocean breezes. Regardless, a certain awe and superstition surrounds the ships on the otherwise indigent islands.
A major reason for the Inselburg Congress, and a primary responsibility for the Prefects, is the safeguarding of the High Seas Fleet from sabotage, larceny and coup d'Ã©tat. A congress action is required to crew and send out the ships, except for two that are kept in permanent readiness by the Prefects. So reluctant are the islanders to risk or misuse the Fleet that they actually organize a merchant flotilla out of lesser boats and newly built ships to reduce the usage of the Fleet. Even knowledge of where the black ships come from is not easy to come by in most parts of Near.
Hundred Islands, Hundred Cults
The islanders are socially very conformist and proper, to such a degree that it is not unknown for a family to oust members who bring shame to them. The only exception to this comes in the activity of so called COLLEGIUMS, cults and guilds islanders support. Absolute freedom of thought is prized in Inselburg, perhaps as a compensation for the arid and routine life they have to endure. While people are expected to follow the social code in public, in private they can do almost anything they like without censure; rather, anybody trying to blackmail another for their private choices would surely be shunned themselves.
While some of the collegiums are professional in nature, most are essentially mystery cults: prospective members joining a collegium (which often happens at various festivals at the fortress) are promised hidden lore and various concrete benefits for joining the collegium. Collegiums do not necessarily require much of their members, but revealing their secrets to outsiders is a major offense punished by cult magics, more or less effectual.
Membership in a collegium is exclusive unless the collegium MAGISTER gives permission for multiple initiation. Holding a magisterium is considered a public office due some respect, as many of the collegiums are important for the everyday life of the islands. For example, the Star Captain Brotherhood has cult magic of such importance to navigation that membership is considered practically mandatory for anybody wishing to captain a ship of the High Seas Fleet.
One of the most unfortunate crimes in Inselburg is the breaking of collegial vows an initiate takes when entering the collegium. A legendary stormcrow figure in Inselburgian lore is the collegial ECLECTIC, a magician who steals collegial secrets and avoids the retributive curses with magics of his own. While breaking collegial vows is not a civil crime in Inselburg, the eclectic is shunned: his magic turns the retribution directed against him towards others, causing storms, poisoning of the earth and worse for those associating with him.
I've yet to play a campaign with significant play in Inselburg itself. If somebody does, I'd love to hear about it. I imagine it as a cross of classical Greek city-state, Protestant Germans and Switzerland.
The real mileage I get from Inselburg is as a sort of world police. The Black Ships can show up almost everywhere, and the Inselburgians are considerably decent compared to many larger nations in Near. When it seems that a player character has burned all his bridges in the focal point of the campaign, a Black Ship might be the ticket to a new life if he's willing to cooperate at all. The beauty if it is, of course, that the Inselburgians are also pretty impotent when you get over those cannons.
If Maldor and Ammeni (and some parts of Old Goren) are considered comparatively civilized next to the various barbarian cultures of Near, then Inselburg can be counted in that group as well. It is, however, a different sort of animal in this era of warlords and empires.
Serving the Fleet is such an overbearing consideration in Inselburg that refusing to do it or being too good at it can be interesting, especially when we remember that there is probably just less than a dozen career officers in the whole country.
The political system of the fortress is in reality a secret, unacknowledged battleground for the various collegiums and their magisters, some of which wield the collegiate vows as threats against their own members. The collegiate magic will prove the undoing of the Vadenite democracy.
Names in Inselburg
Vadenites use a mix of Maldorian and Gorenite names, or that's the theory. When I play they always end up British to some degree, probably because of those sailing ships they make an appearance with. Don't let that throw you off, though.
Pere-di-Fey: The Humble Avalon
Adapted from Josh's treatise on the forums. Onomastics from various Internet sources.
Most ships sailing the seas of Near hail from Ammeni or Inselburg, or perhaps Maldor. Fearsome pirates hail from Khale and JoÅ¡land, but none are more feared and mysterious than the Feyan rebel ships slashing at the coasts of Maldor and Ammeni. They are rarely witnessed, even more seldom warded against and always lost to the mists of the high seas when pursued.
Few know where the islands of Pere-di-Fey are, for they follow the tides. Among the vagabonds of old Maldor flow a hundred stories of the blessed archipelago and its miracles. The common saying has it that neither the rich nor the powerful are welcome on the isles, which come only to those of humility and soft heart. Escaped plantation slaves of Ammeni, homeless peons from Maldor and even refugees from Tiserian purges of the far west seek their way towards the eastern coastline and the places where the islands are told to appear when the moon is full or when the sun sets in the midsummer's eve. For many this hope of Pere-di-Fey is their last, best hope.
The truth of the matter is somewhat more disappointing. The barren islands are sorely overpopulated by the burgeoning crowds of escapees, whose hospitality is being strained by every new arrival. Life on the moving islands is not an easy one even for the natives, and with fresh bitterness flooding the islands every time they happen close to the shore, there is ample support for the most cruel piracy, looting and murder of the continental masters.
Titans of the Sea
The isles of Pere-di-Fey range from large, forested main isles to smaller islets and flat rocks jutting out from the sea. In the times before the Shadow the islands were far in the Eastern Ocean, so far so that ships from Near or the Hamouadi Empire only seldom visited the archipelago. People called Kairakau had always inhabited the islands, but few cared about them. Most important trade article of the isles were the colorful, varied crustaceans and coral growths harvested by the people.
When the Skyfire came, the Feyan islands shook. When its baleful light grew, Kairakau grew worried. Some started having dreams, many left as prophets spoke of destruction that would wash over the islands. The prophets remained, however, convinced that they would be spared.
When the Skyfire disappeared and the land shook, great waves washed over the coasts of Near. Pere-di-Fey in the deep ocean fared better than most places, but when the sun dimmed and winked out, the few people left were sure to perish.
However, all was not lost: Kairakau prophets, now called LAND-SPEAKERS, spoke to the islands themselves and had them open for the people so they could shelter themselves inside. Hundreds wintered in the moist recesses of the Feyan isles through the Shadow, guided by the land-speakers. Most of the islands sank to the bottom of the Ocean to wait out the Shadow.
After the Moon rose, nothing was the same for the Feyans. The islands themselves had awakened, and were now on the move. The large islands drifted slowly, almost imperceptibly. The smaller islets would frolic in moonlight, raising foam, but keeping close to the larger ones. Some, unmoving, were left behind, like dead carcasses of mighty beasts.
Through the years the archipelago has zigzagged over the Ocean, ranging from the subtropics to the frigid reaches. Where the islands once slept now blows the Torrid Clime, and they show no signs of returning. To the contrary, the general direction of the migration has over the generations been towards the southeast, towards Near; today individual isles may sometimes be seen from the continent, and the greater ones get closer every year. Only in the Southern Sea and the Sea of Teeth are the islands never sighted.
- Hospitality (I)
- The Kairakau have built their current welfare by being willing to trust. This Ability can be used to judge intentions, give a good impression, bring strangers to your home and waste no more on precautions than necessary.
- Swim (V)
- People of Pere-di-Fey are skilled swimmers and divers, capable of retaining their breath for a long time underwater. The most skilled ones may even replenish their lungs from Talalag air-shells living under the islands. This Ability can be used to swim and dive skillfully and safely.
- Ecology (R)
- The Kairakau have a very keen sense for the struggling dual ecology of their isles. This Ability can be used to know about and understand biological processes, and to support attempts at farming plants or sealife. It's mostly a religious thing for the Kairakau, which use it with the SECRET OF PROPHECY.
- Land-Speech (I)
- The land-speakers of Kairakau learn to feel and see the subtle signs of the Halatu. This Ability can be used to get vague impressions about people and events on the same island, to orient oneself on the island and to immediately know when something threatens the island's biosphere.
- Use Symbiont (V)
- Laymen who get symbionts by accident or design aren't usually that facile in LANDSPEECH (I); instead, they learn by doing and develop this Ability. It can be used to take care of a character's symbionts and to use them facilely.
- Throwing (V)
- The Kairakau are not much of fighters, the boys learn to wrestle and brawl at young age, while all children, but especially girls, learn to throw stones with a mean accuracy, mean enough to make almost all Talalag retreat. This Ability can be used for all sorts of throwing activities, including games, spears, stones, boomerangs and the like.
- Secret of the Refugee
- The character is a relatively recent arrival in Pere-di-Fey. He can take crunch from another culture freely in addition to that of Pere-di-Fey; however, it can't be a culture another player character is from, unless the other player accedes to it. In addition, the character always regains one extra Pool point when refreshing Pools with another refugee; this point comes on top of the character's Pool size and is spent first. Requirement: only at character generation.
- Secret of Folk Magic
- The hybrid culture of Pere-di-Fey has many superstitions from all over the world, some of which are actually true to a degree. When the character decides to take a superstition seriously for the moment, the player can create an Effect out of a REACT (I) check to make note of it. The Effect can later be used as either bonus or penalty dice according to the superstition, even against the character himself; the Story Guide decides when the Effect is activated.
- Secret of Sea-step
- Sailors from Pere-di-Fey are accustomed to boat life, and rarely miss a step in their work, play and dance. When footplay is at issue in an Ability check, the player can take bonus dice equal to the character's REACT (I) Ability level.
- Boomerang Imbuement
- The item is a boomerang, used by the Kairakau now and then in hunting seabirds. This simply means that the throwing weapon returns to the character after any missing throw that was not an Ability check failure.
- Shellstone Imbuement
- Shellstone is a very, very hard mineral mined sometimes on the Feyan islands despite the resistance of land-speakers. Items made of it can only be damaged or destroyed by a LEGENDARY (5) Ability check.
- Talalag Imbuement
- The item is actually a specialized Talalag the clever islanders use as a musical instrument, digging tool or for some other specialized purpose. Whatever it is, the Talalag holds a point of ICHOR, which can be spent as a bonus die when using the item. The Ichor returns when the Talalag gets a scene of rest in a beach setting.
- Secret of the Plank
- When the character manages to Harm an opponent in a conflict at sea, the player may choose to cause a MINOR (2) Harm instead of his normal result. The opponent ends up in the water, which will probably end the conflict. Cost: 3 INSTINCT
- Key of the Refugee
- The character's past won't let him be, perhaps due to bad memories, pursuers or debts incurred getting to Pere-di-Fey. 1xp: Your unstable position comes up. 2xp: Your past comes to haunt you. 5xp: Leave for another place. Buyoff: Settle down finally.
- Key of the Pirate
- The character makes a living as a member of a pirate crew. 1xp: Sail out. 2xp: Attack another ship. 5xp: Return home with the booty. Buyoff: Quit and find a new vocation.
- Key of Superstition
- The character believes in all sorts of things that have rather minimal evidence. 1xp: Bring up a superstition. 3xp: Follow a superstition against better sense. Buyoff: Brave a superstition of yours.
- Key of the Mascot
- The character is a virgin mascot of a Feyan ship, supposed to avert misfortune and counsel sailors. He or she might or might not be a volunteer. 1xp: Advice sailors on omens. 2xp: Good or bad luck befalls the ship. 5xp: Your virginity is threatened. Buyoff: Lose your virginity.
- Key of the League
- The character has joined a Feyan League, a pirate fleet. Each such has its own rules of conduct, and they might go to war against each other when not in port. 1xp: Follow the Articles of your league. 2xp: Fight for your league. 5xp: Advance in the league. Buyoff: Get out of the league.
- Secret of the Governor
- Only one character can be the Governor. He has the SECRET OF EXPERIENCE, except the player gets to fill it with at most one check per Ability above MEDIOCRE (0) before play. He also has the SECRET OF THE PAST, except part of the story is already known.
The Kairakau were few after the Shadow, but their numbers started climbing quickly once the landspeakers figured out how the islands could be compelled to make a beeline towards Near, a direction they were keen to take anyway. The islanders needed materials and knowledge if they were to make their bare-blown home habitable once again; they were willing to provide homes to those who would bring these things with them.
Kairakau had always valued hospitality as a virtue above others, so they were only too happy to take in wretched refugees from the wars and calamity of the slowly shattering continental empire. The first legends of Pere-di-Fey date from the first generation after the Shadow. After the Feyans, now a mixed stock of natives and mixed refugees of a dozen nations, gained a few ships of their own, they could keep in regular contact with the continental world regardless of where their island homes went.
Today the islands are densely inhabited by the discarded wretches of all the nations of Near. Many fish, some farm, some practice crafts, but most stay on their ships and engage in everything from trade to piracy to sustain themselves. The islands provide a point of contact for the crews, an opportunity to repair ships and trade for necessities. There are even towns on the larger, semi-stabile islands far out on the Ocean.
The Feyans have an adventurous and romantic reputation in many parts of Near due to their famed hospitality and "steal from the rich, give to the poor" stylings. In other places they are feared and hated for the inhuman savagery of some pirate crews. Each crew is only responsible to their captain, and the captains answer to no-one, so the Feyans have dozens of faces out in the world.
Halatu & Talalag
The Kairakau were taught by the land-speakers through the Year of Shadow to respect the islands that sheltered them, the HALATU; land-speakers believed them to be living creatures of a distant world. The Feyans also learned of the TALALAG, the crustacean creatures long used for food, jewelry and tools on the islands. According to the priests, the Talalag were sibling creatures to the islands themselves, coming in a multitude of forms and sizes, all of which helped the islands thrive as living biospheres. The most holy of the land-speakers became bonded to the islands when they took the Talalag into themselves, becoming a part of the true ecosystem of the islands.
Today all religions and philosophies of Near are practiced in Pere-di-Fey, but the most respect is still accorded to the land-speakers and Talal-captains, people who willingly provide a home to small Talalag in their own bodies. These symbionts range in size from a finger's width to as large as a limb. They look weird, colorful and exotic, ugly by continental standards, scary to sea people who know what they mean. Talal-hosts gain many talents from their symbiosis, such as a protection from drowning.
However, they cannot leave the Ocean, as the Talalag die if they dry out completely. Often refugees are only accorded respect once they prove their commitment to the Pere-di-Fey by taking on a symbiont.
The Talalag symbionts are like Secrets, except that they can be taken on and shed with a simple LANDSPEECH (I) check made by the character or an attendant. However, symbiosis is physically painful and straining as the symbiont learns to live with the character: he suffers a Harm equal to the size of the symbiont each time one is attached or removed.
The symbiont's SIZE is a simple free Effect attached to the symbiont Secret. The Story Guide may assume that most symbionts are in the 1"“2 range, unless the character makes a point of looking for a particularly large Talalag of the appropriate type. A larger size makes for a more powerful symbiont, but it's also more distinctive and straining, and more dangerous when it is removed. The group might well assume that the character's Harm track sets a practical maximum for his number of symbionts; having more and larger symbionts than he can absorb the Harm from would mean that there's more Talalag than human in the symbiosis, and the character would die were he ever forcibly separated from his symbionts.
The Talalag are powered by the character's Pools, but most of them cannot sustain themselves directly: instead, they feed on ICHOR POOLS. The simplest symbionts help the character transform his Pools into ichor, which is stored by the symbiont. The player can track the ichor Pools just like he does with the character's own Pools, and transform one into the other at his convenience.
There are four different ichors in the Talalag ecology: the RED and YELLOW are the most common; they might be understood as roughly analogical to the difference between vegetative and animal life, were a character to examine the ecology of the isles from that viewpoint. BLACK and GREEN are more rare and specialized, at least in Pere-di-Fey. I use three types of symbionts: the base ones that provide ichors, simple ones that spend one type and big ones that require a continuous supply of one type and some of another.
The various powers characters gain from symbionts are used in conflict with appropriate Ability checks. Typically this would be LAND- SPEECH (R) when the issue is understanding Talalag and USE SYMBIONT (V) when it's an issue of being used to the new senses or whatever the character has to deal with.
The Talalag themselves can be depicted as animal-like characters by the Story Guide when appropriate; some are large enough to interact with. They'd probably have an ichor-based biology, Passive Abilities and so on, but using normal animal rules is close enough for our purposes here.
- Secret of Symbiosis
- The character has researched the Talalag and their capabilities for symbiosis; a successful LAND-SPEECH (I) check can be used to recognize different Talalags and their needs as symbionts; the character can find any size of symbiont up to his check result by trawling the islands. A check can also be used when the symbiosis is commenced or ended to guide the Talalag and reduce the Harm it causes by the check result. Cost: 1 INSTINCT to reduce Harm.
- Vigor Symbiont
- The character can breathe water. He can also transform VIGOR into any color of ICHOR. The symbiont stores a maximum of its size in ichor at once, and can store multiple colors. The symbiont dies if the character doesn't submerge in the ocean every day. Cost: 1 VIGOR plus the number to transform into one color of ichor, to a maximum of the symbiont's size.
- Instinct Symbiont
- The character needs one tenth of the amount of food and sleep others do. He can also transform INSTINCT into GREEN or RED ICHOR. The symbiont stores a maximum of its size in ichor at once, and can store either color. The symbiont dies if the character doesn't submerge in the ocean every day. Cost: 1 INSTINCT plus the number to transform into one color of ichor, to a maximum of the symbiont's size.
- Reason Symbiont
- The character ignores moderate ranges of temperature and pressure, such as those encountered in the ocean. He can also transform REASON into BLACK or YELLOW ICHOR. The symbiont stores a maximum of its size in ichor at once, and can store either color. The symbiont dies if the character doesn't submerge in the ocean every day. Cost: 1 REASON plus the number to transform into one color of ichor, to a maximum of the symbiont's size.
- Lymphic Symbiont
- This symbiont usually looks like a web of external veins growing on the character's limbs. It allows him to spend RED ICHOR for bonus dice in physical tasks. The symbiont can only handle its size in ichor per scene. Cost: 1+ RED ICHOR
- Neural Symbiont
- This symbiont usually looks like a series of pearl insets on the character's skin. It allows him to track his absolute location like a bird, and to communicate with other neural symbionts over distance; I simply use a radio wave analogy in figuring out the details, so the communication can be listened by outsiders, it gets messed up by storms and so on. The symbiont can only handle its size in ichor per scene. Cost: 1 YELLOW ICHOR for location, 1 for each communication target.
- Engram Symbiont
- This symbiont usually looks like subcutaneous inserts in the character's head and neck. It provides him with perfect memory over the period it's been with him, instant recall and considerable additional thinking speed. The character can replace any REASON-based Ability check result with the size value of the symbiont. The symbiont goes inert without a steady supply of YELLOW ICHOR, dying soon after. Cost: 1 YELLOW ICHOR per scene. BLACK ICHOR equal to half the difference (round down) between the replaced result and symbiont size.
- Regenerative Symbiont
- This symbiont usually looks like coral growth in the character's scars. It allows him to ignore any physical Harm up to the size of the symbiont, as it quickly grows alternate matter to compensate for the wound. The symbiont goes inert without a steady supply of RED ICHOR, dying soon after. Cost: 1 RED ICHOR per scene. 2 GREEN ICHOR to ignore a Harm.
- Secret of Ichor Refresh
- The character has so many symbionts that he is being influenced by the Halatu. He can refresh his Ichor Pools by immersing in the ocean and having an episode where the Talalag influence overwhelms him, for good or ill. The player can make a LAND-SPEECH (I) check to narrate the received visions, revelations and actions the character does during the refreshment himself; if the check fails or the player doesn't have a particularly swinging idea of where to take the mysterious creatures, the Story Guide gets to narrate. Cost: 1 INSTINCT Requirement: the character has more symbiont size levels than Pool levels.
- Secret of Growth
- The character has learned to control his symbiont ecosystem somewhat. A successful LAND-SPEECH (I) check allows him to either raise or lower the size of a single symbiont by a step. The process takes a day or so. Cost: 3 minus the check result in INSTINCT.
- Secret of Isle Speak
- The character has learned to guide the Pere-di-Fey islands, and can direct them in the ocean. Establish a relationship with an island as a LAND-SPEECH (I) Effect. The player can pick any size of island, but the larger ones are very slow, and only the character with the best relationship towards a given island is actually heeded. Any relationship is considered one level weaker when the character wants to turn the island towards the north, and one level stronger when going towards the south, especially south-west. Cost: 3 INSTINCT to turn an island, or 1 YELLOW ICHOR with the NEURAL SYMBIONT.
- Secret of Isle Fog
- The Pere-di-Fey isles can billow out large clouds of thick, moist fog; they do this now and then anyway, but the character has learned how to make them do it on command. The character needs to have an active relationship to an island to try this. The fog from the smaller islands doesn't get up to much, but the larger ones can hide the whole central archipelago from view. Cost: 3 INSTINCT to turn an island, or 1 YELLOW ICHOR with the NEURAL SYMBIONT. Requirement: SECRET OF ISLE SPEAK
- Key of the Halatu
- The character is a member of the landspeaker priesthood and committed to the welfare of the unique Halatu biosphere. 1xp: Help the biosphere. 2xp: Be helped in turn. 5xp: Prioritize the Halatu over human concerns, and act on it. Buyoff: Turn against the Halatu.
- Key of Symbiosis
- The character has feelings and thoughts that are not his own. 1xp: The Talalags influence your identity. 3xp: You act on your Talalag side. Buyoff: Get free of symbionts.
Order and Savagery
The social structure of Pere-di-Fey is in tumult which only increases as the islands approach Near. Much of the population have been or still are criminals of various stripes, and some do not hesitate to prey on their own, especially in the large towns of the main islands. Even worse, any restraint they show at home is shed when the pirate flag is hoisted and a crew reaches its favored hunting waters; it is not uncommon for a crew to gather around a past wrong, such as slavery in the hands of the Ammeni, which they now avenge again and again in the most savage manner. The rewards are ample, and Feyans do not ask nor care where a returning ship went or what it did out on the sea.
Respect for elders and hospitality towards the weak is a rule on the islands, however, which restrains the most antisocial elements for now. Increasing numbers of pirates gone wild have been found drowned in unspoken circumstances, however, as the land-speakers struggle to hold onto old Kairakau values. Many captains agree and make a point of welcoming the weak even while preying on the strong; others plot to increase their own influence in the townships on the expense of the Kairakau leaders.
As things stand, it is likely that Pere-di-Fey will soon go into decline as the archipelago draws closer to Near. Some ships hire new crew from the continent, taking in outright criminals and murderers; fewer and fewer ports are willing to trade with the distinctive Feyan ships, as each has felt their attacks at least once. The Black Fleet of Inselburg is already in war with the Feyans, with only the elusive nature of the islands themselves protecting the population from a merciless revenge upon a lawless nation by ships that do not fear to leave the sight of the shore.
One person sees this all and wonders; The GOVERNOR is an influential figure in Pere-di-Fey, so called for how they tamed the port of Felag, the ancient Maldorian harbor on the Heart Island. The Governor is a highly public figure, treating with captains and land-speakers with impunity, taking on and shedding symbionts as necessary. If it were up to the Governor, Pere-di-Fey would become a real nation and avoid a destruction in the hands of the world. He or she might succeed, provided that the captains could be united and the worst of the crews brought to justice.
Never played this stuff, I'm just writing it down for future use. The closest I got was a player character who claimed to come from these isles, but I hadn't even written any crunch for them then. The idea is originally Josh's, I just wrote mechanics for it and honed some fluff. Do let us know if you get around to using this.
I imagine that the isles could be useful exploratory content of the sort a Story Guide throws up when characters just want to head over the edge of the map. That doesn't happen very often in the sort of TSoY I play, but you never know.
I don't know about the reader, but my own first reaction to something like the Talalag symbionts in roleplaying games is always that the price to pay will be horrible. It's just part of the genre, scientists never get to inject alien DNA and find out that hey, lucky us, superpowers without consequences.
I'm saying this because I explicitly did not do this story here. I left it intentionally open, and even while I could have, I didn't put in rules for how gaining too many symbionts makes the character into an alien zombie. The player will explicitly have to welcome that option through suitable Secrets, and even then I'd find it pretty simplistic to just assume that the Talalag all want the atmosphere to burn or something. Or even that they want anything; insofar as I know, there is no sentience in anything the land-speakers interact with.
Just so you stop to think about it. I almost automatically wrote this bit in, it's that ingrained.
I'm intrigued by the idea of Pere-di-Fey as a refugee camp. The local culture is essentially hospitalitybased, and they can't get too hostile towards armed newcomers as a group anyway, but the isles are not infinite in resources. Something has to give; if nothing else, perhaps the earlier arrivals start refusing new people entry.
The pirates are also interesting, especially if you need a dedicated pirate mythology for your campaign. The idea that pirate crews consist of the refused minorities of Near's various social disturbances goes a long way towards justifying the piracy, at least as far as sympathy goes. The consequences will sooner or later fall on the isles, though.
I included the Governor as a sort of scenario-in-action, and to suggest that the pirate idyll on the isles is not a stable proposition that can just go on and on without the social dynamics going out of whack. Or perhaps it can "“ our own history knows of societies that successfully, continuously worked for hundreds of years on nothing but piracy and slave trade. Perhaps the original Kairakau humanism will get abased just like that.
The immigrants have names from all over the world, while the Kairakau use Polynesian-sounding names.
Ariki, Hori, Ihorangi, Kauri, Lani, Manu, Oroiti, Tane, Whetu.
Ema, Hine, Inas, Kaimi, Lani, Mahuru, Nani, Rewa, Taranga, Ulani.
Places and Things
Hikura, Aora, Ruahi, Tahuma, Tikiki, Whenua, Pokai. The names are often repeated from island to island and barreled together with the island's name for specificity when needed.
Seafaring: Ocean Adventures
Original work inspired by Josh on the forums.
TSoY has a relatively involved equipment rules-set, which makes ships and boats and such mechanically quite simple. A ship is just a piece of equipment (chapter VI) for its captain, unless the player decides to forgo mechanizing the ship entirely. When a ship has multiple interesting characters, then the equipment is simply handled and used by multiple characters at once, each doing their part for the ship. Characters co-using equipment like this can share costs of using imbuements they use cooperatively, too.
Sinking a ship most often happens as the outcome of a conflict; usually the ship's captain has something to say about the matter, as will other characters in the crew. The ship itself does not have hit points or such; it's all a matter of how far the captain is willing to go to protect his ship. Considering the consequences of a shipwreck, he will often protect his ship to the last, if not surrender.
Crew is handled mostly as extras, nameless companions to the characters with personal interests. A singular crew member can stand out with his interests, even become a sidekick for the ship or leave the ship with little effect; an issue that affects the whole crew, on the other hand, is quick to escalate and take the ship from under its captain. The Story Guide will presumably lift some names from the crew to lead the mutiny if it comes to that; it's a good idea anyway to have a couple of named secondary characters around so the player character involved with the ship has somebody to talk to. Another good idea is to keep the ship's commission in mind: as a rule of thumb, as long as the captain has the KEY OF THE COMMISSION and he does not act against it, the crew will probably stay reasonably loyal; deviating from what the crew as a whole expects of the mission will require misleading or convincing the men to go along regardless.
Nine Celestials: An Imperial Conspiracy
Fluff from Yesterday's Heresies, crunch adapted from the same.
The reign of Absolon did more for astronomy than any other science. As his royal astronomers divined the existence of eight stars that moved unlike any other, he tasked them to find the meaning of these. One was assigned to each star and they consulted with their findings until they came up with a radical idea.
This idea: these were not stars at all. They were the servants of the Sun Lord, marching in his heavenly court, each tasked to oversee part of his kingdom. Even more radical, they believed that Near was a servant like these, spinning in an endless celestial dance. The royal geomancer was enlisted as one of these eight, and they formed a society dedicated to the heavenly reign of the Sun and the terrestrial reign of Absolon, one and the same. When Absolon took too much power and brought the foreign sorcerer Hanish to his side, the Nine struck with all their might to end his reign. They were hung for their treachery and fed to pigs.
Three hundred years later, their knowledge lives on in the Secret Society of the Celestial Nine. The Nine are dedicated to the restoration of a Sun King over Maldor and will stop at nothing to achieve that. The leader of the Society of the Nine is always called NEAR. He fills the ancient spot of the royal geomancer, which was also the royal doctor, as the life of the Emperor was considered to be tied to the life of the world. His role is to chair the Nine in their Orbit, as they call the eternal plan of the world. Below him are the eight other Celestials. The name and roles of the Nine are as follows:
- ABRAMOV. Fire and judgment are the domains of Abramov. The person picked for this role is always an older person, an ember of life who looks destruction in the face daily.
- PHOLUS. The sky and waters are the domains of Pholus. The person picked for this role is always fluid and agile. Pholus may have been a woman at least once over the years.
- NEAR. Life is the domain of Near. The chair of the Nine, he is responsible for both human and animal life. The person picked for this role is always a man and always has knowledge of the land and of the body.
- KIEV. Battle and warfare are the domains of Kiev. A point of theological debate is whether Kiev made the Sky Fire to smite Near when it was found that Absolon was insane. The person picked for this role is always well trained in battle and has killed a man.
- MASAKO. Physical and social power are the domains of Masako. The person picked for this role is always immense in stature and a leader of men, often a lord of the land.
- GWANGJU. Magic is the domain of Gwangju. The person picked for this role is always knowledgeable in Three-Corner Magic, and sometimes knows other traditions.
- SIJJIN. Penance and absolution are the domains of Sijjin. The counselor of the Nine, the person picked for this role has always committed a crime against mankind.
- ENCHIRIDION. Mystery is the domain of Enchiridion. The person picked for this role never reveals his true identity to the Nine. FAR. Night and darkness are the domains of Far. The person picked for this role is always a foreigner.
Each of these roles is filled by one person at a time. This person is taught secret lores and given potent weapons to fulfill his role. In the case that a member of the Nine passes, two of the Nine are tasked to find a replacement and initiate him. This person can come from any strata of society. This person is almost always a man, and almost always from Maldor.
The Nine believe that the new Emperor, the new Sun King, has not been found. In each generation, there is one man fit to fill this role in their theology. Their goal is to seek him and guide him to rise to power. The cult has never succeeded in this goal, perhaps because they all have different ideas about who the true king is. They all believe the following things about the Sun King:
- The Sun King will be a man.
- The Sun King will be from Maldor.
- The Sun King will be strong in arm and fierce in battle.
- The Sun King will be strong in mind and wise in court.
- The Sun King's heart will be hard enough to make the decision to kill a thousand men.
- The Sun King's heart will be soft enough to make the decision to save one man.
- All Nine will agree on the true Sun King.
Their secondary goal derives from the above: no man unworthy shall lead Maldor. The Nine have toppled rulers that have come close to uniting Maldor before and will do so again.
The Nine Celestials usually have access to immense power. At least one of them at any time is very wealthy, and at least one of them is a highranking member of Maldorite society. In addition, their physical weapons and armor, crafted over the years, are very powerful. They are not sworn to secrecy in their role, but are assumed to exercise discretion. Revealing part of their secrets to one person is one thing; revealing the cult to a crowd is another.
The sign of the Nine is a telescope. Each of them carries one. As the secret of optics is lost to all but perhaps some craftsmen of Inselburg, this is a rare and valuable gift and denotes that the person with one is one of the Nine or has taken it from one of them.
Knowledge of the Nine
The Nine Celestials hold various rare, esoteric knowledges they use in their theology and practical work. Not all is known to each of them, for rarely they trust each other completely; rather, it may be assumed that each of the Nine has 1-3 pieces of nice crunchy crunch that is not common knowledge in the world (and especially Maldor) and that may or may not overlap with that of others.
When a new member is initiated into the Nine, the two initiators share their secret knowledge with the new member they are sponsoring. This proves their trust in the new comrade and provides him with the means to do the work of the Nine.
Artifacts of the Nine
Each of the Nine have one or more powerful items that help them fill their roles. The origin of these items is mostly shrouded in mystery, but at least some are of recent origin, potentially replacing lost artifacts, while others are definitely from the antiquity, from several bounties of the Empire. All are of supreme quality and possess fabulous powers. The intent is that once the Sun King is crowned, the Artifacts will be relinquished into his regalia.
When using the artifacts in play, determine their quality as equipment normally, adding or removing equipment ratings and imbuements as appropriate. An artifact may come into play already broken, too. The Story Guide should also remember that these are legendary artifacts; it's no crime to reveal new powers lost to time. I would allow a player to check HISTORY (R) to renew the quality of an artifact, for example, potentially determining new powers.
- Geomancy (R)
- This mostly lost art involves knowledge of the movements of earth power that influence Near in subtle ways. It is part of the secret knowledge held by the Nine and shared with some initiates, especially Near. The Ability is useful for finding sleeping giants, supporting engineering projects, messing with Qek knots and doing other slow, subtle magic.
- Secret of the Orbit
- The character can locate members of the Nine and their chosen tools based on the locations of their Servitors. This requires an ASTROLOGY (R) check and only provides a general direction if the character doesn't have maps or exact geographical knowledge of the area. Cost: 1 REASON Requirement: SECRET OF THE SERVITORS
- Key of the Mentor (specify)
- The character has found a prospect for a member of the Nine, or even the Sun King. 1xp: Interact with your candidate. 2xp: Test the candidate. 5xp: Put some trust on the candidate. Buyoff: Abandon the candidate.
- A Great (3) Telescope
- It doesn't have to be equipment, but it certainly can. Equipment ratings: +3 to seeing astronomical targets. +2 to looking at unmoving targets. +1 to seeing far.
The Nine Celestials make a great slot-in solution for a campaign in Maldor in that they're very simple to bring in: one or more of the group just need to get involved with a player character. This can happen when a character stumbles upon one of their artifacts they are trying to regain, or when they want to initiate a player character into the Nine, or simply when a familiar secondary character is revealed to be a member.
A player character can also be a member of the Nine himself, no problem. The big issue for them in that case is genuineness: do they really believe in the Sun King theology, or are they just in it because the conspiracy can help them wield power themselves? If the latter, how do they react to co-conspirators who genuinely believe, not only in the Sun King, but in him? If the former, what about co-conspirators who obviously have other interests?
Also, let's say that Gwangju has witnessed a player character do something that makes him think that we have a Sun King here. Do you really think that the next thing to happen isn't a series of murders, as either the prospective Sun King and his supporters, his opponents or ingenuine conspirators, or everybody for that matter, get killed? They have done it before, and they will do it again.
The Notion of Scenario
The important lesson to take away from the Nine (and the reason for why I included them, aside from my wanting to stress-test my new equipment rules) is how Story Guides prepare for playing TSoY. They do not prepare plots; they prepare material. The Nine Celestials are essentially an adventure module, it just replaces a plot with possibilities.
A good SOLAR SYSTEM scenario gives some mechanical possibilities and suggests how to introduce them, but leaves the part the players play quite open: player characters might decide that the Celestial Nine are assholes, that they are the only hope for Maldor, or anything in between. This then becomes story, and the Story Guide need do nothing but keep introducing more members of the conspiracy (each and every one of them exceptional individuals, I'm sure; think of the LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN) while cackling at the players trying to figure out how to build a complete picture out of disparate individuals.
- Gyroscope of Gwangju
- The gyroscope is a metal orb surrounded by interlocking rings that spin at high speed when used. During the day it gives a bonus die to any use of Three-Corner Day foci. At night this changes to an ability to activate equipment ratings for penalty dice. If sent spinning and commanded to find a person, place or thing, the gyroscope moves towards the right direction for about five minutes before winding down; this costs 2 Reason. It also provides the SECRET OF WALOZI. The gyroscope is very complex, and can be safely used only with DIVINATION (R). Known ratings: +2 for DESTRUCTION (V) at night. +1 using Night foci at night. +1 for finding people Imbuements: Split (R) Specialty (Day foci in daytime) Weapon Mastery Star Captain Brotherhood (R) Walozi (R), Expert (Divination) (R) Cost: 4 REASON per scene, minus deduction.
- Staff of Abramov
- The staff is made of hard and heavy wood that appears to be hardened in fire. It cannot be broken by any known means. Furthermore, the wielder may spend 1 VIGOR to make the staff leave a distinctive burn-mark on anything it strikes. Known ratings: +2 to beat a person to submission. +2 to damage flammable objects. +1 to aid travel Imbuements: Unbreakable (V) Mark (V) Cost: 2 VIGOR per scene.
- Shield of Pholus
- The large metal shield is polished to a mirror finish, with nine star jewels embossed around its edge. Its equipment ratings may be activated to provide either free Pool or penalty dice to an opponent. It also floats on any liquid and can carry a man's weight on its surface, going wherever the traveler wills. Furthermore, the shield reflects light perfectly and may be turned around to focus it into dark areas or to blind targets. Known ratings: +3 to focus light on a spot +2 to defend in melee +2 to defend against missile fire Imbuements: Weapon Mastery (I) Tool Mastery (I) Floating (R) Cost: 2 INSTINCT and 1 REASON per scene.
- Scimitar of Sijjin
- The wicked weapon seems to reflect purple when light hits its blade. The scimitar cannot hurt a person with no remorse, but it can sever spirits and provides the SECRET OF COUNSEL, usable with a martial Ability by cutting away harmful things. Anyone holding the scimitar and confessing their greatest secret can fly until the sun sets again. Known ratings: +2 for fighting spirits +2 for chirurgy +1 for fighting Imbuements: Spirit Weapon (I) Counsel (V) Sijjin Flight (I) Cost: 2 INSTINCT and 1 VIGOR per scene.
- Mask of Enchiridon
- The plain mask is made of white gold and covers the wearer's upper face. The wearer can change his form in four ways: Turn his face into that of an unimportant person for 1 INSTINCT for one scene. Turn his face into that of an important person for 1 REASON for one scene. Take the shape of a viewer's most desired person for 1 INSTINCT and 2 REASON, lasting until next sunset. Take the shape of a viewer's least desired person for 2 INSTINCT and 1 REASON, lasting until next sunrise. Additionally, the wearer can end an extended conflict inconclusively by dropping any of these illusions. Known ratings: +2 for staying anonymous +1 for duplicity Imbuements: Various identity spells, (I) (R) Knockback (I) Cost: 2 INSTINCT and 1 REASON per scene.
- Ring of Far
- The black ring looks like a trinket. The wearer can cast a space akin to a large room into darkness for 2 VIGOR, and into silence for 2 INSTINCT. He also gains a bonus die for hiding in shadows and can teleport between shadows in sight range for 1 VIGOR. Known ratings: +2 for enduring cold +1 for acting in darkness +1 for endurance +1 for stealth Imbuements: Darkness Spell (V) Silence Spell (I) Shadow Teleport (V) Specialty (hiding in shadows) (I) Cost: 2 INSTINCT and 2 VIGOR per scene.
- Helm of Masako
- The reddish metal helmet is lined with wolf fur on the inside and bear skin on the outside. It provides a bonus die when commanding others, and allows one to use the SECRET OF EVALUATE and the ThreeCorner ENHANCEMENT: BURST OF POWER. The final power is the ability to turn into a Twilight Beast, a ravening wolf-bear monster. The beast's Reason is reduced to 1 level, with the excess split between the other Pools. The Twilight Beast's best Ability is flipped with BESTIALITY (V) and the second-best with ENDURE (V), and he gains the SECRET OF NATURAL WEAPONS for his claws and form. Becoming the Twilight Beast costs 3 INSTINCT and 3 VIGOR, and it lasts until the same payment is made again or the bearer of the helm dies. Known ratings: The ratings of the helm are not known. Imbuements: Specialty (command) (R), Evaluate (R) Enhancement: Burst of Power (I) Twilight Beast Spell (I) Cost: 2 INSTINCT and 2 REASON per scene.
- Mace of Kiev
- The black steel mace is too large to use for all but the strongest of men, but Kiev manages it with ease. The focus of the equipment ratings may be changed by swearing an oath against a new target; a given rating cannot be changed again before the oath has been fulfilled. Anybody wielding the mace is targeted first in combat, unless the opposition succeeds in a RESIST (R) check. Known ratings: +3 against a specific person +2 against a specific group of people +1 in combat +1 when used by Kiev +1 for intimidating others Imbuements: Expert (Hard Work) (V), Oath (R) Shattering (V), Mighty Presence (V) Cost: 3V and 1R per scene, minus deduction.
- Coat of Near
- The brown-and-green coat is made of thousands almost indiscernibly small links, forming a mail coat unlike any other. Its equipment ratings can be activated to reduce incoming Harm. It provides a bonus die to hiding in a natural setting. The wearer can use the SECRET OF ANIMAL SPEECH. Lastly, the wearer can feel the pulse of the land he calls his own while his feet touch the ground; his mood is affected by how the land is doing, but if anybody dies touching his land, he knows when and where it happens. (Use GEOMANCY (R) if Ability checks are needed.) Known ratings: +2 against attempts to kill the wearer +1 for knowing about the land Imbuements: Armor Mastery (I) Specialty (hiding in nature) (I) Animal Speech (I), Fisher King (R) Cost: 3 INSTINCT and 1 REASON per scene.
The Horned God: A Perversion of Witchcraft
Original work based on forum discussions with Josh.
One thing that I like, but which has not been emphasized much in writing, is the idea of regionally important culture. It really is just a convenient simplification to say that "Sky God is only known in Goren" or "alchemy is not practiced outside Ammeni"; rather, it's obvious that there are plenty of grey areas, and more of them as Near knits back together and the lives of all cultures are enriched by trade and other exchanges.
Three-Corner magic works like this in my play, and for others: one can't really say conclusively that Three-Corner is a "Maldorite phenomenon", simply because it really is the universal magic, sort of like the magical Latin of Near's dark ages. It might be most common in Maldor and originate there, but all societies of Near have to handle it to some degree.
Gorenite witchcraft is similar, it's been in the world for a long time and spread and gotten extinguished multiple times, if witches are to be believed. Its hold seems to be the strongest in patriarchal societies, which is seen in Maldor today, where the derived witchcraft of the Queen of Shadow is very much in play.
All this means that it would hardly be fair to characterize witchcraft as a monolithic phenomenon. Rather, it's more of a method that can be turned towards different purposes, as we can see now.
First of Her Husbands
The Vadenite islands have been colonized several times from the mainland. The latest wave happened when the Empire of Maldor brought in their navy and support staff in the early years of Absolon's reign. The local culture of the time was prominently Gorenite, as the Jarls of both Gorens had been banishing people there for generations.
Today the fortress of Inselburg is home to a hundred Collegiums of more or less shining repute. Some magisters are highly public figures, others desire privacy or even religious secrecy, while the rumored elven magister of the Skyfire Cult is only ever met at initiation ceremonies. However, there is one collegium that is not only secretive, but actually illegal on the free islands. The HORNED CONSORTIUM flouts the values and personal freedoms of the Vadenites to such a degree that it has long been forbidden. Still, the cult endures.
The HORNED GOD is a figure of Gorenite myth, one of HER HUSBANDS, the male pantheon of the Gorenites. Among the old Vadenite population their worship never flagged, and some of it still remains. The Horned God is considered the greatest of the bunch by the CONSORTS, his worshippers, who form the illegal cult. They believe that the Horned God was not only the first of Her Husbands, but yet remains the only lawful one despite her many indiscretions.
Members of the cult are quite secretive, but the Vadenite islands are isolated and insular, so there are some they rule handily. A few respected public personages of Inselburg are also members (including at least one Fleet officer), making for a strict separation between their public and private life. The cult is also popular among certain parts of the Ammeni princedom, although clearly illegal there as well for different reasons.
The worst excesses of the cultists involve wholesale degradation of Vadenite women, whom they consider little better than beasts and less worthy of respect. It is not expected of the lower ranks of initiate, but the higher ones routinely capture, rape and murder women they find offensive, or sell them to Ammenite slavers. The mystical potency harnessed by these activities is used in magic that helps the initiates succeed in all of their endeavors.
- Man-Will (V)
- Knowledge of and confidence in male supremacy. Useful in keeping women in line, making other men like and respect you, and in giving orders.
- Key of the Horned God
- The character emulates the Horned God, the ancient Gorenite deity made into a cult idol of success at any cost. 1xp: Act macho. 2xp: Use your strength to resolve a problem. 5xp: Improve your social station. Buyoff: Give up a public office.
- Tricks of Conspiracy
- The character knows how to avoid detection and use force in a meaningful manner. The tricks are bound by a collegial oath, providing a discount. Man: A successful MAN-WILL (V) check intimidates another into signing any document. Cost: (1 vow) Man: A successful MAN-WILL (V) check allows the character to lie without blinking an eye. Cost: 1 INSTINCT (1 vow)
- Arcana of Horn: Renew
- The character can heal one thing by sacrificing another. This allows him to move levels of Harm between characters, or even channel them into objects. He must not heal himself, however, or he loses the power for the week. Cost: 2 VIGOR per shift (1 vow). Requirement: Embody the Horned God
- Secret of Vengeful Blow
- This is actually a sophisticated ThreeCorner spell. The target of the spell is pierced by powerful pain where they were stricken by the caster, causing double the Harm indicated by the check result; if caused Harm is MAJOR or worse, a dark horn impales the stricken spot, nailing the target to the ground. The spell is resisted by ENDURE (V). The cost is reduced in half for each invested Advance, instead of deducted by one. The spell requires checks of CREATION (V) and DESTRUCTION (V). Cost: OVERLAY CREATION: 1+ check in VIGOR MASSIVE DAMAGE: 2 VIGOR MAGICAL CUNNING: 1 POOL SPELLCRAFT: 1 POOL per Advance CONDITIONAL MAGIC: -3 POOL Total: Half the target's ENDURE (V) check in VIGOR. (1 vow)
- Secret of Raising the Horn
- A Horned Consort can raise the Aspect of the Horned God with a ritual hunt, feast and blood-letting. These may be done in any order, with a MAN-WILL check for each, with the Ability associated with each of the three Pools in turn. The highest single result becomes the strength of the Aspect, which will last until the next solstice. The Aspect may be dissolved by a woman who beats it with a Passive Ability check. Cost: 1 VIGOR, INSTINCT and REASON. (3 vows)
- Arcana of Horn: Strength
- The character is supernaturally strong. He has no Pool spend cap on checks that benefit from strength, and he can use the SECRET OF MIGHTY BLOW. The character must never ask anybody else for help, or he loses the strength until he may help the other in turn. Cost: the first spend per check is free (3 vows). Requirement: Embody the Horned God
- Arcana of Horn: Hunt
- The character can evade his hunter or trail his quarry over any terrain as long as they actually leave a trail. Any checks needed to find the target or avoid the hunter (not just tracking) and not spent otherwise are pooled into a cumulative pool the character can use as Pool points or free bonus dice in any check against the target as long as the hunt lasts. If the character ever disrespects the hunt, he loses this power until being hunted himself. Cost: free (3 vows) Requirement: Embody the Horned God
- Secret of Conditional Magic
- The character can try to work with a fine touch in his Three-Corner working by declaring a minimum level of success higher than MARGINAL (1). Any success below this level becomes Harm for the character in a backlash, while reaching the minimum makes the magic work normally. Cost: Pool discount equal to the declared level of success, minus three. (3 vows)
- Hunting Spell
- The target of the spell is marked so that the caster knows their location at all times. Furthermore, the caster may compel the target to return to him as long as the spell lasts. The spell runs out if the target gets more than a day's journey away, or at next sunrise. The spell uses the DIVINATION (R) focus, and ENTHRALLMENT (R) if the second part is activated. Cost: SEE FAR: 3 REASON MAGICAL HAND: 1 POOL MAGICAL PERSISTENCE: 1 POOL Total: 1 REASON (3 vows)
- Collection Spell
- A woman touched by the character is forced to obey him until the next sunrise, unless she RESISTS (R) successfully at some point before then. The character has no Pool spend caps on this spell. The spell uses ENTHRALLMENT (R) and ENHANCEMENT (I). The character gains a bonus die to either check. Cost: EMPOWER MAGIC: 1 INSTINCT MAGICAL PERSISTENCE: 1 POOL Total: free (3 vows)
- Secret of the Rite Magnificent
- This is like the SECRET OF COVENANT RITES, except that the Horned God cannot grant Workings or Arcana; instead, after invoking Him, the participants can share their Pools freely and sacrifice by the Covenant Rite rules in performing Three-Corner magic, and they can include Arcana into their workings as Three-Corner Secrets; sacrifices of blood from involuntary women are only worth one Pool point per woman, however, no matter the degree of sacrifice. The magic done within the ritual is limited by both the Three-Corner laws and the laws of High witchcraft, and any spells formed with Arcana only work for characters embodying the proper Aspect. The participants gain two extra bonus dice to be used at any point in the rite. Cost: (3 vows)
- Secret Gift of Hamond
- The character can invoke Hamond the Craftsman in a witchcraft ritual to invest wellbuilt items with magical powers. The resulting equipment's quality cannot surpass its original quality (or the simple crafting Ability check) before the ritual, but it may get worse, depending on the check made. Hamond himself supplies any magic that involves the item performing its purpose; other magics might require other invocations. Cost: 1 VIGOR per magical rating, 1 REASON per magical Imbuement, 2 INSTINCT to avoid messing the item's quality. No discount for Consorts; they pay extra to force Hamond. (3 vows)
- Theurgy (R)
- This is the sort of "heroic" exceptional Ability that comes up now and then in specific scenarios. It's not generally known in Near anywhere; it might have been concertedly practiced in ancient Hamouad, the Land of Cynics. The Ability allows the character to rearrange divine mythology by introspection, by mastering symbolic logic and universal aesthetic laws; this is mostly useful for poetry, but combined with magic, it can be used to mess with existing magical systems to create new ones. Elaborate theologies such as the Gorenite pantheon and the Khalean Green World are especially vulnerable, while something like Three-Corner magic could only be affected in exceptional circumstances.
- Key of the Fanatic
- The character is willing to do anything it takes to achieve his noble aims. 1xp: Act on your convictions. 3xp: Cast aside other values to follow your beliefs. Buyoff: Compromise on your beliefs.
- Key of Conscience
- The character has compunctions about his deeds. 1xp: Hesitate for moral reasons. 2xp: Refuse to commit an evil act. 5xp: Make restitution for your deeds. Buyoff: Damn yourself beyond redemption.
- Key of Machismo
- The character compensates for insecurity by shows of force. 1xp: Boast or preen. 2xp: Disdain a woman. 5xp: Make your point by force. Buyoff: Discuss your feelings honestly and directly.
The Thrice-Bound Oaths
The Consort Magister of the Horned Consortium wields numerous vows that are each formalized and taken very seriously by the cult. Furthermore, breaking some of the vows, causing certain disfigurations of the body as well as horrible nightmares, is necessary for the members to ascend to the highest ranks in the Consortium.
Members bound by the Oath of Secrecy are taught the TRICKS OF CONSPIRACY, used by the cult in their work. They are expected to participate in the cult's illegal activities. (Other typical tricks of the Horned God involve STRENGTH, WOMEN, ANIMALS, NIGHT and HUNT.)
The Oath of Fealty is only required of members that profess religious interest in the worship of the Horned God. It provides the ARCANA OF HORN: RENEW, which is useless for a cultist without the KEY OF THE HORNED GOD.
Finally, the Oath of Revenge is for desperate members who join the cult for passionate reasons. They are taught the SECRET OF VENGEFUL BLOW and the magical foci needed to use it, as well as other things they need to exact their revenge. The cult does not expect much of these initiates unless and until blackmailing them with their association provides some tangible reward.
However, these are just the three lower orders of the cult. The real core of the cult commits to the "Thrice-Bound Oath" of the Horned God, gaining the SECRET OF RAISING THE HORN in return. The ThriceBound Oath may only be fulfilled by breaking at least one of the earlier Oaths, which all a character has to have sworn to get this far. Each Oath has a symbolical punishment: breaking the Oath of Secrecy causes nightmares that impart sacred knowledge, breaking the Oath of Fealty withers a finger off the character's hand and breaking the Oath of Revenge causes terrible sores to his lower parts while he sleeps.
The three lower orders are routinely granted by any Thrice-Bound cultist, while the Thrice-Bound Oath itself is only administered by the Consort Magister Thomas Conne himself. While the lesser vows are only associated with minimal crunch, all further witchery and Three-Corner spellcraft known to the cult associates with the Thrice-Bound Oath, providing a substantial discount in Pool costs. Breaking this last oath in part or full has drastic consequences; the Oaths held by Conne are LEGENDARY (5) and promise torture, death and a torturous afterlife.
The Thrice-Bound circle of the cult convenes twice each year for a great hunt, preferably conducted on mainland in either JoÅ¡land or Maldor. The hunt is assisted by favored lower order associates and conducted for the purpose of RAISING THE HORN and any major Three-Corner spellcraft the cult needs done. The hunt concerns animals and women encountered, with targets released from cages if necessary.
The Horned Consortium possesses a limited form of High witchcraft in the RITE MAGNIFICENT, as they do not benefit from the Covenant rites: invoking the Horned God does not allow ritual Workings or drawing forth Arcana. However, the Consorts have preserved knowledge of the GIFT OF HAMOND, eponymous for Her Husband the Craftsman. The ritual procedure itself is essentially similar to Gorenite witchcraft, the Consorts just need to invoke the Horned God instead of the Goddess. (If you're wondering, like I did: the reason for why they don't have to invoke Hamond to use his Secret is that their theology allows the Horned God to force the matter upon Hamond. Probably not many cult members who could uphold the Aspect of Hamond, anyway. Hamond's Aspect Ability is probably CRAFTWORK (I), by the way.)
If some of the Consortium crunch seems overly expensive to you without the magistery discounts, keep in mind that the Consortium is very young in its current form; it was the father of Thomas, Ezkil Conne, who transformed the collegium's traditional practices, included Three-Corner knowledge garnered from refugee Maldorites and displaced the old men who used to control the much less disruptive old collegium. Only active theurgy made the current theology of the cult possible at all; presumably the practice would become more efficient with time, were the cult to become established and comfortable in their craft.
Thomas Conne is an unassuming merchant, but some of the members of his Thrice-Bound are influential in Inselburg politics. At least one has been coerced into the inner circle.
Conne wants to use the Black Ships to actively impose order on the Southern Sea, curbing piracy and opening the doors to full development of the area; he already has a man in place to become the Admiral of the undertaking. He is convinced that this will make Inselburg, the Gate of the Sea, an equal partner with Ammeni traders, especially as they would be forced to agree to any guarantees or tolls required by the Vadenites after the full unleashing of the Fleet. Conne keeps quiet about his ambition in public, and is not known to champion any causes.
The Consort Magister finances a small cabal of Three-Corner wizards, one of which is Thrice-Bound and aware of the cult's involvement. Their goal is the redevelopment of the SECRET OF DIVINATION: SEE FAR; this Secret would open the world to the cult's ritual magic, limited so far to empowering agents and decking them with itemized magic.
Conne has a keen interest in witchblooded men, and will induct any he can into his cult.
The Horned Consortium is an example of the sort of stuff I'd expect in my own play; I haven't playtested it "“ I've been playing with the new basic crunch in this book, haven't had time. Still, when you get a game going with a group experienced in TSoY, turn the knobs south and let it rip.
The elements typical of actual play (as opposed to general treatise) here are the highly specific crunch that might only be possessed by one person in the world at its extreme, the free mention of individual characters and the situation in action; like the last chapter, this one is also a SCENARIO waiting to happen.
Also typical is the amount of synergy and influences that jump from one cultural sphere to another. It's easy to forget when reading the neatly apportioned chapters of this book, but not only is Near on the brink of a new global era, but player characters and other exceptional, dramatic individuals are expected to do stuff like inventing a religion on a flimsy basis, combining two diametrically opposed magic systems into a cult empowered by a third one, and trying to jump start a maritime empire.
The Horned God was not evil, originally. Redemption attempts are encouraged, and perhaps there are some people with the old knowledge still around.
It might be that only an Eclectic could successfully subvert and reveal the inner cult; those Thrice-Bound Oaths are a pretty good guarantee of loyalty. Where to get one when you need him?
Even if the Consortium is evil (I sort of hope that you agree with me that it is, although the game works swimmingly either way), Thomas Conne might be just intellectually lazy and/or fanatical. What if his goals are a good idea?
An original motivation for including this chapter was that I didn't have room for the witchcraft magic item creation rules in chapter 18. Do reintegrate if you want, or steal the Secret in play and return it where it belongs.
Sireap Valley: The Folly of Casnic
Derived and abridged from Nick Pagnucco on the forums.
I got this one almost verbatim from Nick, who released it to the wilds a couple of weeks ago. I figured that I might as well put it in the book, considering how I was on the roll, liked the material and got permission. I think this is a good example of the sort of localized, scenario-type material that we have in this movement. What's more, it has Dragoons!
The Night of Sireap
A valley lies between Maldor and Ammeni, yet no caravans go there and no lord desires it. It is a cursed place, punished to this day for the callous atrocities committed during the Year of Night by Esau Neverfull, Count of Casnic. The valley's curse is simple, direct, and blunt: Beast shall not serve man.
As the story has it, Esau, a Companion of Absolon, looked to save his county from the Shadow Night by wizardry. Sapa the Assartist created for him SIJJIN'S FARRO: a grain that needed no light nor warmth to grow, but required blood and carrion in addition to water and soil. The peasantry initially accepted this was necessary for survival, but their support waned when animals "“ livestock, pets, and working animals of all forms "“ began to fall ill and die. The uprising began in earnest, however, when word spread that the Count's men attempted to nourish the farro with human sacrifice.
The Curse of the Farro
The peasantry survived until the sun rose again, but they discovered the further costs of Sijjin's farro. Sapa created a grain that sent animals wild with its bloom, when the hazy grey pollen of the grain was sent into the air. A little of the pollen makes tame animals wild and wild ones hostile; a lot sends them all careening into an irrecoverable madness.
Centuries after the world began anew, this curse of the farro is still in effect. Farmers in Sireap no longer plant Sijjin's farro, but it grows as a weed around all graveyards and cemeteries, marking the area with its black-red chaff and stalks.
- Sijjin's Farro 4/R
- The Farro is an unnatural grain created by alchemy and empowered by sorcery. Everybody in the valley gets contaminated several times per year as the populations at different heights bloom; the Story Guide may as well assume that everybody is under the influence all the time, except during winter. 1 Animal hostility. 2 Animal bonus die to Vigor. 3 Animal addiction. 4 Bonus die to Vigor. 5 Penalty die to Reason. 6 Bonus die to Vigor. 7 People get angry and impulsive.
- Secret of Sireap
- The character has lived for a long time in Sireap. The Farro no longer influences him.
- Footwork (V)
- Sirepani, and especially ushers, train constantly to be quicker, stronger and more exact in their footwork. This Ability can be used to run fast, to run long, to jump high or far and to maneuver with great dexterity in general.
- Secret of the Usher
- Ushers train each other to fight with their incredible physical skills. The character can take a Defensive Action with FOOTWORK (V) and use any bonus dice derived from it in combat as opponent penalty dice, instead.
- Feat of Flying Leap
- The character can leap unnaturally high, long jumps. Cost: 1 VIGOR for jumping at human peak effortlessly, 3 for jumping ridiculously high, such us up a tree. Requirement: SECRET OF THE USHER
- Feat of Endless Run
- The character can run (or otherwise exercise) an unnaturally long time. Cost: 1 VIGOR for running at human peak effortlessly, 3 for ridiculous terms, such as a week without stopping. Requirement: SECRET OF THE USHER
- Feat of Fast Feet
- The character can sprint at surprising speeds. Cost: 1 VIGOR for sprinting at human speed, 3 for ridiculous speeds, such as outracing a flying bird. Requirement: SECRET OF THE USHER
- Secret of Usher Skirmish
- When the character spends any Pool on the Usher feats in the scene, the points go into a separate usher pool that can be spent in a fight as bonus dice or opponent penalty dice by the character under his normal Pool spend cap. The pool empties at the end of combat or when the character reorients. Requirement: SECRET OF THE USHER
- Secret of Jump Attack
- The character can make the powerful jump attack: all Pool caps are removed as the character jumps high and comes down hard. Cost: 1 point from the usher pool.
- Secret of the Bull
- The character can do the work of a single bull, when it comes to strength and stamina. He can use his FOOTWORK (V) to support any feats of strength.
- Key of Usher
- The character serves the Sirepani as a peace officer and general civil servant of sorts. 1xp: Serve the Vechil. 2xp: Help people. 5xp: Fight a serious battle. Buyoff: Leave Sireap Valley.
The Sirepani live in a primarily agricultural society with a decentralized political structure based around village life. They have a rich diet almost completely devoid of meat. Some choose to abstain from necessity, others due to conviction.
Over the past few centuries the Sirepani have compensated for their lack of animals by training themselves to the point of making mounts irrelevant. The Sirepani are famous for both their prowess at running and their ability to carry loads over long distances. At least one Ammeni noble is quite proud of his Sirepani porters.
The villages are each ruled by a VECHIL, who originally was the count's overseer but now rules as a hereditary servant of the people. The customs are strict on how much the Vechil can own, and how new Vechils may not live in the home villages of their parents.
Villages send men and women to work for the Vechil as part of their taxes. They are called the USHERS, and generally serve terms of 2"“4 years, depending on what arrangements the Vechil has in that particular village. They are the official representatives of the Vechil's authority, and keep the peace, bring messages to Elders, and so on.
The ushers wear light brigantine armor, and their traditional weapons are the sling and a curved, edged polearm they call an Usher's bill "“ what most Maldorite infantrymen would call a glaive, though with a slightly shorter and more curved blade than normal. In combat, the Ushers are extremely competent skirmishers, known for their incredible maneuverability and closing speed. More than once, the Ushers have defended the valley from reckless heavy infantry or overconfident horsemen. Their Secrets are called FEATS.
This is the sort of simple, straightforward material that characterizes solid TSoY scenario preparation: some history, some crunch, social principles upon which to build people, a player character concept. Just add a mix of characters and go.
In the heart of the Valley lies Casnic, now an abandoned nest of ratkin. The beasts are addicted to the farro, which they eat or burn in water pipes scavenged from the ruins.
An elf lives in Casnic, one going by the name of Slusch Bash. She wields Three-Corner magic and alchemical powers akin to those of the Assartist, but none know for what purpose. Other elves visit her out of curiosity, but none stay long.
It is possible to bring animals to Sireap, it's just that the farro is so unexpected. Enter after or during rains, and you might have a week. Come in winter and you could have a month. But sooner or later you'll find the horses dead and the dogs at your throat, or nowhere to be seen.
First City: An Adventuring Exercise
Based on a discussion with Frank Tarcikowski.
This is a very humble chapter, I'll just recount an adventure scenario I wrote a couple of years ago for TSoY on the forums. Frank was asking for ideas for his campaign, and I got carried away.
I don't usually play such adventurous scenarios in TSoY, but I like the sword & sorcery thing, so I tried to make this work with lots of excitement, but also sympathy. Hopefully this'll be useful for those readers who want an in-depth example of how Story Guides prepare material for TSoY.
This whole scenario is written with a completely character-based paradigm: I the Story Guide look at the Keys and other important facets that characters have, and then produce content that resonates with those elements. This is a particular method for creating adventures, and not the only possibility; it's a good one, however, and educative to present here.
When working with this sort of Story Guiding philosophy, there's an useful word: a FLAG is any clearly signaled plan or wish a player has for the game, especially one that is written down and presented clearly to the Story Guide. The Keys are, of course, all flags, and other crunch might be as well.
As it says on the box, this sort of adventure is tailored to the specific characters to some degree. It'll be hit and miss whether it'll suit a different set of protagonists. They often do (people aren't that different), but it's not guaranteed.
Here are the flags that I had to work with when developing the content. As can be seen, I don't actually care how many characters there are or which characters go with which flags; the idea is not to tailor the content to the characters, but just to make sure there exists content that is pertinent to them. The players take care of orienteering their characters towards content that interests them.
One of the characters was an elf, one was goblin. One had an intelligent blood-drinking sword. Two had the Key of Glittering Gold, and then there were the Keys of Magician, Impostor, Masochist, Community, Renown and Bloodlust.
Looking at the list, the sword and bloodlust are the same thing for our purposes; I've removed the Key of the Masochist from this book, I didn't understand then and don't understand now what was interesting about it; the other flags all factored into my scenario design.
It's notable that the player characters are explicitly a group of adventurers out looking for the ancient Zaru capital. This goes a long way in explaining why their motivations are relatively superficial; it's not a problem, the Story Guide just needs to prepare for simple and cinematic scenes, not for understated drama.
Note that relying on flags is ultimately about trusting the players to actually know what they are interested in. This is not a given; less experienced players will actually choose Keys they will not enjoy or care of due to all sorts of confusion. So don't stare blindly at what the players have written down, even if by rights they shouldn't have written things they don't mean.
The ancient Zaru capital was the First City, built when farming was invented long ago in the Zaru heartland. The language of Zu had started spreading outside the Zaru lands, and as it spread, it weakened; the people could no longer be supported in the city, and thus they followed their language and spread over the land, farming it. The First City itself, once heavily populated, was left to decline.
I imagine the citizens of that time as lithe, tall people with big oval heads and loose robes. That's what the peoples of lost civilizations look like in CONAN comics.
The slow, leisurely decline of the Zaru city was interrupted by a Maldorian CULTURAL INSPECTION unit. These were hero bands sent by the Three-Corner Academy into the wide world to do adventure anthropology during the latter half of Absolon's reign: go into communities of the various subject peoples, interview them and live with them, spy or trade or intimidate their secrets out of them and report back to the Academy to enrich the academic knowledge base. The Three-Corner magic was created out of this basic work.
The mission of this particular CI unit was to pillage the First City for any secrets of Zu yet to be released to the public, and bring back enough experts to help fill out the still lacking understanding of Zu in the academic circles. According to reports that came back, the CI unit was welcomed in the city with open arms. However, something went wrong, and the CI unit never came back.
- Key Elements
- These are, by definition, all the fictional stuff I've preplanned for the scenario. Thus: Places: (1xp for experiencing) Ruined City Crystal Building Zaru Gold Building Underground People: (2xp for meeting) The leader of the goblins The underground elf Nether A gullible Zaru ghost The giant lizard The fellow adventurer Situations: (3xp for experiencing) These are plentiful, see the main text.
- Secret of the Crystal
- The character integrates with a crystal from the First City with a successful ADAPTATION (V) check. Failure causes a MAJOR (4) Harm, success only a MINOR (2) one. The crystal is plainly visible on the character's skin, collecting sunlight. The crystal allows the character to receive/steal and store a Zu syllable, and use it without the ZU (R) Ability: the crystal sounds the syllable when pressed correctly (by the internal muscles of the character, or by somebody else manipulating it). Use MUSIC (R) checks instead of ZU (R) when working through a crystal. This character pays the Pool costs, no matter who manipulates the crystal. The same character can have many crystals, but the required success level for the integration rises by one for each. Requirement: Be a goblin.
- Formulae Trianguli Zuonis
- This Secret, learned from a book by the same name, represents the collective knowledge of the Three-Corner Academy on the Zu syllables and their use. A character with this Secret can use Zu syllables as part of Three-Corner magical workings: CREATION (V) is used for the Declarative mode, ENTHRALLMENT (R) for the Imperative; Optative cannot be currently handled by Three-Corner. Syllables can be used in Spells, in which case the Syllable does not have to be mastered by the user of the new Spell; however, should the syllable be in use elsewhere while such a spell is in effect, it ends immediately.
- Key of the Prophet
- The character has met with the ghosts of Zaru elders, who have given him a new purpose. 1xp: Speak of the elders. 2xp: Act on their will. 5xp: Achieve goals set to you by the elders. Buyoff: Stop serving the elder spirits.
- Nether's Key
- The character has befriended the elf Nether, a traumatized but wise wizard from a more arrogant age. 1xp: Nether teaches you. 2xp: Nether is clearly out of touch with his racist, sexist, colonialist, academic or otherwise inappropriate attitudes and understanding. 5xp: Help Nether learn about and cope to the current world. Buyoff: Judge Nether.
- Character Notes
- Some mechanical notes, the way I would prepare them. Goblins: The best are EXPERT (2) savages, Pool around 2-4. Typical goblin crunch, plus each has at least the crystal, and possibly a Zu word for it. Nether: A MASTER (3) wizard from the antiquity, Pool at 5. Knows all Three-Corner and significant other traditions at my whim. Ghosts: Most are MASTERS (3), with Pool from 3 to as high as 7 if a personality and agenda gets to develop. Zu crunch, wide knowledges, some walozi stuff. Giant Lizard: A GRANDMASTER (4) beast, Pool 3; it's high on the fluff alone, but I didn't mention there that I see this as a basically unbeatable relic of a former age; approach at your own risk. Adventurer: EXPERT (2), Pool set in play.
The City itself is just your run of the mill ruined fantasy city; the Story Guide can improvise the narrative details of something like that easily enough. What makes the scenario are its specific elements:
The Community and Goblin flags are pinged by a goblin tribe living in the city. They're really primitive, and pathetically grateful to any civilized being who treats them with kindness. However, they want any benefactors to join their Tribe of the Crystal by swallowing a sharp, fist-sized crystal chunk broken off a mysterious building. They're quite insistent. The thing is, a non-goblin would surely die from swallowing the sharp stone. Goblin anatomy on the other hand adapts, ousting the crystal halfway, leaving it stuck on the goblin's tummy as a tribal symbol. Being that humans usually die when they try to join the tribe, the goblins tend to be skeptical about them.
The Glittering Gold flag is pinged by the crystal itself: pieces are really valuable, but they're also sacred to the goblins, and dangerous to get (a giant lizard lives in the building with the crystal, for example), and you have to be a master artisan to polish them, unless you harvest directly from live goblins, whose stomach juices polish the crystal into an ethereal shine.
The Magician and Elf flags are pinged by the elf Nether, who was trapped under the City in the calamity that ruined the place. Nether was a member of the CI unit and has been stuck under the city ever since; either he's afraid to die, or he gets reincarnated in the same place due to a Zaru curse, or he's just too stubborn and committed to die and leave FORMULAE TRIANGULI ZUONIS CONDITA, the incomplete book of integrating Zu into Three-Corner magic. Whichever the case, Nether would promise almost anything to anybody who freed him. Nether is a MAGUS of the Academy, meaning that he's mastered multiple arts; one of those is spirit shamanism, which he uses to walk in the city in spirit and seek help, desperate for human contact.
The Bloodlust flags get pinged by the aforementioned large lizard. It was a pet of a CI unit member who died here, and it's been living and growing here ever since, solitary and forlorn. It's huge and nasty and quite able to follow adventurers out of the city, should it be necessary; it still remembers Nether and while not humanintelligent, it is faithful and patient.
More Glittering Gold is found in the city as ancient Zaru coinage; the gold was used to buy off barbarians and trade. The trick with the gold is that it's being guarded by a number of ghostly sasha, ancient Zaru elders (those forehead guys in flowing robes). They've trapped the elf under the city ruins, which keeps their sashas intact through the ages, waiting for a worthy hero who'd take the gold and use it for Zaru liberation.
The Impostor flag is amply serviced by the elements above: the goblins would be happy to be misled, the elf is desperate for sweet promises and the ancient Zaru ghosts are as gullible as only three centuries old pacifists in bathrobes can be.
Finally, Renown comes into play in the form of an outsider: a cocky Khalean or wily Ammenite adventurer has followed the player characters into the city. He's eager to help, faithful in action, and a total glory-hound after the fact, willing to lie about his actions. If he's allowed to stick around, he's going to steal the glory from the character who'd be gaining the sweet xp otherwise.
As can be seen, this stuff is totally purposeful; I don't dwell on fictional detail or poetics at this stage, I just pull out concepts that have significant interaction with what and who the player characters are. The same method would work no matter what the flags, as long as the premise of the game is to have player characters arrive and explore a new environment, learning as they go.
Note that even while this is a Zaru city, I do no more than hint at the Zaru signature magic, Zu. The goblins, the elf and the ghosts all hold Zu, add it liberally.
Also note that I'm listing these advance preparations as KEY ELEMENTS in the crunch. I rarely use Key Elements myself in play, but that's just because I don't often do these preparations on paper; if I had more than some scattered thoughts in my head, I might well use Key Elements as well.
I don't always prepare more than one or two compelling SITUATIONS (called BANGS in many games) explicitly, but it's a good practice if you find yourself searching for content to proceed with in the middle of a game.
For this material, there are many obvious interactions that can be brought to the fore whenever the action is lagging and the Story Guide needs to propose something. Like so:
- Meeting the goblins.
- The goblins use their crystal Zu.
- The goblins offer a character tribe membership and initiation.
- A support character suggests that the goblins could be gutted for a rich harvest in crystals.
- A support character suggests that the lizard could be distracted to loot crystals from their origin.
- The elf appears to somebody, asking for help.
- The elf is a wreck after spending 300 years in captivity; needs major emotional support.
- The giant lizard approaches an amiable character, seeking friendship.
- The gold is found.
- The Zaru ghosts are encountered.
- The ghosts show the gold to a character and ask him to dispose of it honorably in aid of Zaru people.
- The ghosts ask things of the world, making it obvious that they really are very gullible.
- The glory-hound adventurer is spotted and encountered.
- The glory-hound shows his colors by trying to steal credit, or take it rightfully.
- The lizard follows the group and seeks revenge.
Note that the situations are not in any order and do not represent a plot plan; they are just obvious imperatives, based on what the different characters in the scenario want.
Situations are useful to list in that they might help to remind you in the middle of the game about the different issues in the story. You can cross them over as you introduce them into the game, and when everything's been both introduced and dealt with, the adventure is over. This is a very general model of Story Guiding work: prepare material, throw out material for the players to deal with, close the books and send everybody home after getting through your material. Simple.
Writing Your Own
As you can see, it's easy to write this sort of scenario; Story Guiding it in practice is slightly more difficult, mainly because the players can make it easier or more difficult for you. To ease your work, keep the AUTHORSHIP VEIL that develops for the Story Guide as low as possible: make sure the players are continuously aware not only of their vast rights under the SOLAR SYSTEM, but also of their responsibility towards you as a co-player. Do not walk into the trap of pretending immunity; show it when the other players confuse you or play in ways you don't appreciate.
Still, assuming that the group communicates well and the Story Guide has actually understood what he's supposed to do with the prepared elements, this method can be a powerful tool for you. To repeat, here are the technical steps in a nutshell:
- Look at the characters and recognize their flags. List them out. Don't forget to be critical and remove false flags, and add things you know the players will like but which they didn't write out.
- Choose your fictional milieu and populate it with secondary characters that "ping" or resonate with those flags you listed. They should resonate because their own, understandable interests are somehow relevant to the flags, not because you've preplanned actions they'll take or the player characters take.
- Refine a list of situations from your list of people and places: remember that situations should be both interesting and open, as per the SOLAR SYSTEM.
- Create new crunch to taste.
- When playing, feed appropriate situations to the players, see how they react, play the consequences objectively and hard. Let the story emerge.
- Once you have all of your scenario elements on the table and well introduced, start driving towards conclusion of any storylines that have not resolved yet. Once they do, you've finished the story. In my experience this method works nearly always. To put it simply, this'll fail only if the players do not engage with your prepared material for some reason.
Going Out: Advice and Hints
Draws on many forum discussions and almost all publications.
I'll quote Clinton here, because he said it best: "I really want you and your group to take this world and run with it. Whatever you decide is up is great."
That's pretty much what we've done through the last couple of years, developing the ideas you've seen in this book. Using the entire Near in one grand, holistic campaign was difficult and pointless before; now it's all but impossible, as the game has fractured into many different directions as inspiration has taken it. This plurality engendered by free communication and the Internet is a new thing insofar as roleplaying game settings go; we have something that is at the same time flexible, concrete and shared.
While putting this book together I've been thinking about this same thing from a different angle, thinking about what roleplayers expect roleplaying game settings to be. My ultimate conclusion is that while we think of a setting as a pre-existing world we utilize in different manners, this can never really be in actual, real play at the table. When we play, the books are always there as reference material only, as something to read from when, moment-to-moment, it is more rewarding or useful to look for answers in the book.
Still, looking at my own play, the book has never been our primary source when we've played THE SHADOW OF YESTERDAY. That source was always the PLAY ITSELF. This might be difficult to understand, but when you play and the game really breathes for you, it is obvious: you are the one who sees the setting, and you know how things need to be to fulfill the needs of this campaign, this session right here. The book can only ever be a starting point for this process. There might be different methods for using settings in adventure roleplaying games like SOLAR SYSTEM, but I've yet to master them; this style I know, and I know that the best kind of setting book for it is one that only provides the interesting inspiration, leaving the details for us to see with our own eyes in play.
To round off this overview of Near, here are some notes about what lies beyond. Insofar as I know, nobody has played with these ideas; many of them have hardly been discussed. For those who enjoy breaking completely new ground in their play and Story Guiding, there is much yet to discover. Whatever I could write could not be as authoritative as the facts you reveal by actually going there and seeing for yourself.
- Exploration (I)
- While most peoples of Near are still wrapped in their own problems, some choice individuals look beyond the hills and see those that come from the clash of whole cultures. Many are from Ammeni, which is sort of grim. Still, this Ability can be taken by anybody with the heart of an adventurer. It can be used to know stories about faraway places, write concise accounts of the same and, in the highest scale, conduct successful expeditions.
- Secret of the Unknown
- The character can use EXPLORATION (I) or STORYTELLING (R) to establish KEY ELEMENTS (as per the SOLAR SYSTEM) with total experience value equal to the check result. These are always things about which the character knows nothing certain, such as the lost valley of Sireap or the Gharialin Templar. Cost: 1 REASON per check.
- Key of Exploration
- The character yearns for the unknown. 1xp: Hear of an unknown place. 2xp: Discover things you've never seen before. 5xp: Discover something that isn't in this book. Buyoff: Settle down.
Is "Near" the planet or the continent? Sources disagree. Regardless, I like the notion that outside Near the design precepts start to tear up in ways challenging for the group that chooses to explore them: "no gods, no monsters, just people" and other basic themes may give way in unexpected manner beyond where Hanish could see.
I am always careful of the tone in Near, but beyond those borders (wherever they are, geographically speaking) all bets are off. In fact, I might consider this as the real definition of Near.
Beyond the Mountains
I know only one thing for sure about what lies beyond the mountains: if you thought that Near was broken by the Skyfire incident, life is probably about a thousand times worse on the side not protected from the impact.
I imagine coasts mired into a muddy morass by giant waves for hundreds of miles inland. I imagine plains of glass caused by celestial heat. I imagine sandy deserts scoured of all life.
The Great Plain
I have this impression that to the west, beyond the Roof of the World, lies a Great Plain. Perhaps people still survive there in some manner, grouped along rivers and divided by the enormous distances.
The Hamouadi Empire
Josh has been telling me about an empire to the north; I don't know if I believe that anybody could have survived the Skyfire beyond the Aegis of Absolon, but who knows.
When the Hamouadi ruled in the past and the Wound of Heaven was yet to be, their influence was mighty; only the jungles of Qek separated them from the Empire of Maldor in the age of the empires. The city of Kalderon was built to curb their influence in the Oranide plains, which at that time extended far to the north and around the Roof of the World.
A land of the Hamouadi empire where titans walk the earth, alien to the world and monstrous. They are powered by geomantic energies, while the people of the land are cursed to never touch the land or the sky in fear of their anger. I suspect that the answers to the mystery of Pere-di-Fey are to be found here.
The Torrid Clime
Go far enough north and you encounter an all but impenetrable weather barrier; beyond lies what was taken from Near to make up the Moon. That could also be where the Skyfire resides now, or parts of it.
Beyond the Eastern Sea
Interestingly enough, I haven't heard even rumors about what might be found by the Black Ships, were they again turned towards the Ocean. I find this quite peculiar.
The Planetary Romance
I've been playing THE SHADOW OF YESTERDAY a lot lately, while writing and editing this book. I probably will take a break afterwards. But once I return to gaming in Near, I know what the name of my next campaign is going to be:
FAR: A PLANETARY ROMANCE
Actually, that might be the name of a book, although I've told everybody to not encourage me about that. Anyway, as the careful reader has noticed, Near has certain celestial connections. I'm seeing the potential for some unholy cross of BARSOOM, NINE WORLDS and SPELLJAMMER here.
A Love Letter to a Storygamer
An acquaintance spent last spring playing TSoY. I think that he might have overheated, for afterwards he could recount me the whole length of the history of Near, beginning several years before the Skyfire and ending with the Glorious Reascent of Yelm "“ that is, Absolon "“ no, Absolonda, I mean.
A certain irreverence and willingness to take on a narrative challenge even at the risk of failure is something we share in our tastes, so I can appreciate how he laughingly steals inspiration and makes it his own, using the wildest sources and refusing to follow conventions blindly. It's a sort of narrative maturity, a refusal to hide behind the veil of authorship: we all know the pieces that stories are made of, so there's no point in pretending to originality or a suspension of disbelief when you just want to tell and experience stories. Everybody at the table saw what you just did, but you don't care, because you're all in on the joke. I've found that in roleplaying I can at the same time be totally cynical and superficial in my sources, but also committed to taking the resulting story seriously; this is a lot like the way an author feels. There is no man behind the curtain, there is just us.
I was told that there was no Absolon, to begin with. She was called Absolonda, the grandmother. Ridiculous, of course, but there was proof: she had left a set of diaries (in true Jane Austen style) for safekeeping with a clan of dwarves concerned with history.
Furthermore, there was a boon that would change the shape of the world: a doorway to another world. As she would have it, one day a band of heroes would arrive through the doorway, make a mess of things and then set everything right. Now it stands abandoned somewhere in Sireap Valley, long forgotten by everybody.
Then there was also serious trouble in Qek: bodies of long-dead behemoths, brought up from tar pits by abusive spirit-talkers, were being fought to a standstill by the largest of apes: because of ancient jungle law there is always a larger ape, and thus the latter could ultimately crush the former, but not before causing great destruction. At this point the story got somewhat crazy, but I was assured that it was not only completely serious, but also going somewhere.
You see, it did not matter that setting canon and expected style was being broken, as long as the characters in the story believed in their roles, the Story Guide believed in the consequences of any actions taken, and the players believed in the story more than mere setting facts. Whatever the story would be in genre and message, that would be revealed after the fact, not before.
People have been dying in Maldor a lot. Forcing a Qek necromancer to travel there to do a resurrection job was not the smartest of moves. Now the dead are rising en masse, and nobody knows what to do.
The only real man's way of having a sword duel is with light sabers, as everybody knows. You can make one out of semi-common ingredients, such as Three-Corner wizards properly motivated, or by proving your talents to a Highland Saint.
Trollbabes are something that's been very current for me lately. These lovely lasses are all goblin and all woman. Meeting one is fun, because she's not actually a part of this story, but she's going to meddle in it anyway, just like a player character.
I was, of course, not believing a word of it. Especially not when Agarim got involved, and he was just a big wolf.
I think that part of it is a relaxed knowledge that you can write yourself up the tree and down the tree and around the tree if you want; there's no hard need to get everything right and perfect anymore like there was when we were teenagers emulating Lord of the Rings; we've done the genre fantasy thing already, now we can just enjoy the elements and mix them anew.
Everybody who knew Absolonda had been long dead, of course. Fortunately, there is the so-called "SchrÃ¶dinger Gambit": travel back in time via the Green World, meet with Absolonda and then return, which would retroactively bring back her sasha, the spirit of memory. Don't try it at home without proper guidance.
Elves make for mean assassins when they want to. There's no point, though: no matter how many Prefects she suicide-bombs by surprise, they just elect more of them. It's an eternal war, and thinking up a new way of sneaking into the fortress sort of gets old after a while.
Three-Corner wizardry is considered weak, but that's just because the third trinity is not known on Near. The space goblins don't have it much better, frankly, as they lack the Day trinity in turn. But combine those knowledges and you're on the verge of discovering the Tenth Focus.
Opening a door to another world is easy when you know how. Aside from Soft Places, you can always use Wondersmithing, if you can get the dwarves to do it. There is no point, though: the heroes were us all along.
Thus, great adventures were had, and verily Story Guides took every possible opportunity to draw in multitudes of intertextual references and pop-culture shoutouts. The wildest of ideas, once brought afoot, were grabbed completely seriously and compelled to do the work of a thousand men.
And despite all this, still characters were made to do as their hearts bid them, and still great feats were attempted and recorded in sincerity, themes were realized and art was created, which made it all worthwhile.