Midwinter celebrations, based around the time of the winter solstice, have been going on forever – well for a very long time, at least. Now midwinter is dominated by Christmas, but many old and ancient traditions still exist, incorporated into our modern celebrations. This is the time when the days are darkest, the wind is coldest, times when farmers can’t really work on their land – and people stay indoors a lot. A time when people need cheering up and reminding that things WILL get better.
These are some of the motifs that I use for Winterfest, the
midwinter feast and celebration, in my game worlds. They are fairly general, but give a feel for
the modern Holiday Season, hopefully without treading on anyone’s religious
Decorating the house with greenery goes back a long way. Holly, Ivy, Fir Trees and European Mistletoe are evergreen, and are examples of the few green plants that can be found across Europe in the deep midwinter. They were brought inside the home as a reminder that the days were getting longer, the year would be ‘reborn’ and the growing times were coming. In medieval times there are records of wealthy people using bay leaves and other ‘exotic’ greenery to decorate their houses
Gift giving in midwinter goes back to Roman times and Odin, the king of the Norse Gods, was said to ride though the sky (as part of a hunting party) distributing gifts. St Nicolas is a late-comer to the gift giving tradition. It might not be Stockings by the Fireplace, but small interpersonal gifts were (supposedly) common – and there are records of Kings and rulers handing out significant gifts. The downside is, that recipients were expected to respond with a gift fit for a king ….
New Year is a bit of a strange one. The Romans celebrated it
in the spring, others at midwinter. I can see logic in both – by spring you can
clearly see that the new year is up and running. However, in the north, you can
often see snow drops and other early flowers pushing through the cold, hard
winter ground to brighten the world. For me, the winter solstice works best –
days start to get longer, there is a bit more sun and the first plants are
coming into leaf and bloom. For me, that is the start of the New Year.
Well, not just mince pies, but just about every RL area has its own special mid-winter treats and eating rituals – many based around preserved fruits. Many fruits and vegetables are harvested in the autumn (or fall) and set aside for winter. Many veggies last well through the cold months and don’t need very much special preparation – but fruit tends to go off much more quickly. So they are dried or used to make jams and pickles – which are eaten throughout the winter. Normally, they are used slowly and sparingly, so that they last for the whole of the winter – but Winterfest is a time of feasting and celebration – so we need sweet treats to make it special. And the easy motif for me to use is a Mince Pie full of sweet rich flavours. Note: Mince pies originally had meat in them – but I tend to think of them as the more modern vegetarian version.
Basically, warmed wine mixed with spices and herbs. It works equally well with ale or cider which are the rural or ‘Country’ equivalent. Originally made by heating a poker in the fire and then using the red-hot poker to ‘scald’ the wine and heat it up. In makes a warming drink all the way through the winter season – and is particularly prevalent at parties!
So if you get invited to a Winterfest party in my games
world, you have a rough idea of what to expect.
Back to working on my pathfinder House Rules. Poisons have become relevant because a Player wants to make their own poisons for use in combat and I have just added some basic rules for crafting during down time. I have been skirting around the matter for a while, but could never really get to grips with it. Then suddenly today, everything seemed to click …
A short while ago, I had a very brief discussion about poison use in FRPGs. My position, based on years of playing traditional FRPGs was that it was evil – the other position was that poisons have been widely used though history, so they should be more acceptable than they are. That started me thinking – could I justify either of those positions? With the caveats that I run games based on the standard European Fantasy model.
My games feature Knights
in Armour, Military Orders, Kings and
Nobles – and the traditional fairy-tale view of wizards, monsters and fey. Even the religious structures in my game
world are built with (albeit modern) European church structures in mind. You
will find echoes of Norman, Celtic and Norse history, legends and stories in my
games World. So Europe become the cultural reference point –
and most RL European cultures, were warrior based, with military strength and
individual combat prowess and honour important. Even in the fairy-stories it is always the
Wicked Queen (or a similar character) with the poisoned apple.
Secondly, I like alignment as a Role Playing tool. I know many modern players dislike it as ‘restrictive’
and ‘not allowing them to play the character they envisage’ – but *shrugs*
I don’t run that type of game. I
like games that have a cultural feel to them, rather than the bland ‘anything
goes settings’ that game companies come up with to drive sales. And, realistically, if you consider the
alignments broadly – you can fit most
people into one of them.
And just as importantly, I don’t like things that make my GM life complicated. I am not going to remember to see if the PC poisoned themselves every time they put the poison on their arrow, or transferred it to another container. Nor am I going to remember to apply round on round damage – I don’t even do that for my monster’s poisons. So having to change all of my monster stats every round (or two) really isn’t very appealing.
Which leads to another thought. I tend to use published scenarios for my games and modify them to fit my needs. Currently, I have three groups in a single on-line game playing in Paizo’s Kingmaker AP. Some encounters cut out completely, others have been swapped with things from other modules, and there are extra bits added in strange places. Just to make it worse, the parties are in three different parts of the six-book AP. Nor are the parties all at the same character level or the same level of design optimization. All of which means that monsters and scenarios are regularly tweaked, in play. This helps keep everything at a challenging level for the group, but it means that I change stats and HP in the middle of an encounter to serve my needs – rather than following published material as it is written.
Players in the game come from a number of different backgrounds. I have players who think that the Pathfinder
Society GMs are harsh in their rulings (practically anything in any Paizo rule
book is good to go) to players who have to re-read the rules every time they
swing a sword. They are all a valuable
part of the game, and add different things to the overall feel of the
game. While combat is only one element
of the game, each character needs to be able to play a part, and see their
actions as worthwhile. There is,
sometimes, a very careful GM balancing act when a party is in combat!
Game Style comes next: I play campaign games on-line. The current game has been running for three and a half years and it takes over six months for a character to earn enough experience to go up a level. I don’t kill characters lightly 🙂 There have been a couple of close calls, but there is always a chance. No-one has ever been one-shotted, although there have been a few who have been knocked unconscious and have needed their ‘team’ to save them. The most recent one came to within one point of death – and that was decided on a 50/50 die roll. It added much more tension, more RP opportunities and galvanized the party. Win, Win all the way around – but it means a bit more creative rule-interpretation on the fly.
In an online game, player attrition ids a big problem, and
that is partly why I have three groups of players. The game has been running for over three
years – at this rate it could well run
for another five or six years. This way, Players who stick around will see
their character become rulers of the new land that they are building. And the new land gains a history at the same
time. Rather than new characters coming
in all the time and carrying on where
the last character died – Players and
their Characters can achieve something, build a legacy and create history (for the
game world) at the same time.
I am getting very close to talking myself into disallowing
poisons altogether here, on the basis that they don’t fit culturally, and make
GMing more difficult. But on to the poisons
Poisons are a complete game changer. They can have the same sort of effect on a
combat as some spells, but are less constrained. A poison might have a low saving throw, but
if three or four poisoned arrows are delivered in a single round, then saving throw isn’t really relevant Sooner or later the monster will fail its
throw and the effects will kick in. And
the effect is cumulative, if the arrows keep coming, the next saves are tougher
and the monster is more liable to fail again.
And so it goes on. Then there are
things like Blue Whinnis – effectively a
one-shot opportunity for 100gp – less if you make your own. My recent CR7 monster (A Chuul) had +7 for
Fort – so effectively a 75% save rate for Blue Winnis – which works out at a
6.25% chance of a one-shot. That is significantly
better than the chances of a Crit for any of the characters involved in that
combat – and a single Crit would not have won the combat
OK, I think I can feel a ‘nerfing’ coming on. I don’t want to ban poison use completely,
however, I don’t want it to make big changes to the way my game works.
Poisons are single shot. You take the prescribed damage if you fail the save – however, there are no subsequent saves and no secondary effects.
Poisons are restricted to the CRB (This is a House Rule in many areas of the game)
That said, I would be pleased to hear other people’s
thoughts on the subject.
Sometimes design takes a turn you weren’t expecting – well,
TBH, that is quite a lot of the time for me.
I was happily writing up the Green Faith, when I got caught up in the cosmology
of it all (Actually there are Powers, Gods and Immortals) but that that led onto a series of questions
about how religion works across the Hann Empire – which is another name for my
games world. Then this happened ….. :}
Representatives and followers of these faiths are spread all
across the Empire. They might not be the
most influential, but they underpin the whole alliance.
The Green Faith
– binds Hann together – there are druids
and rangers everywhere an every other faith has come to an accommodation with
them. Indeed it is a Druid, Oliver
Green-Barrel who is Raven King of Heralds and master of the Hann Senate – and
Chief Adjudicator of the Empire. His has
an even handed way of maintain the balance.
The Green faith is found in the rural and wilderness areas of the
Empire, and other religions have had to come to terms with it. This is a customised version of Green Faith
from the PF rule, with some philosophy and cosmology behind it.
The Old Gods –My early campaigns used RL deities – from the Celtic, Norse and Finnish pantheons – as interpreted by the early versions of legends and lore. For various reasons they have been replaced with this home-brewed hybrid pantheon that gives the same feel as those early deity. They came about because I needed some ‘Traditional’ peoples in the area around Berhof – who have now used (in that same role) across Hann. They have few major areas of influence – but still have a presence all across the region. Their strongest area of influence is on the Far Coast, although there are pockets of strong support in other places as well. Think of this as an amalgam of all the 1st and 2nd ed campaigns that I ran. They are associated with the old Clan system, which is currently represented by the Pagini, Treverii and Marisi clans.
These are the primary religions of different parts of the
Empire – based on the published game
systems that were in use when those areas were prominent (Ie
when I was running games there)
The only real change has been The Strongholds – but that was so long ago
that their gods have been superseded and sucked up into The Old Gods). There are enough overlaps, that they can get
on together (even the trimmed down
version of the Zakharan pantheon). This
is how those
– The core Pathfinder Gods rule in Telida.
Abadar, Iomedae and Pharasma lead the west Telida pantheon leading to a
trade focusses, Pharasma and Kurgess are strongest in the East. In Berhof –
Pharasma, Iomedae, Erastil and Desna are all significant. Erastil is fairly strong strong in the rural
areas across the region.
– the gods from the 3.0 PHB. Simple and
straightforward. Pelor (as always)
leads the pantheon but Saint Cuthbert, Heironeous and Elhona all have strong
followings, as they were deities worshiped by the adventurers who ‘conquered’
it. (The Strongholds was based on the stronghold rules from the 1st
ed rules). That was the start of the end
for the Old Gods, and it has spread down the near coast and into the far coast.
Zakharan Pantheon – Once the Zakharan pantheon were dominant along the far cost, at their followers conquered the lands there on behalf of their Caliph. When the Conquerors were driven out (That was an interesting game) some of their influence remained. Strongest in the Razardi Islands they also still have an influence in the far Coast states.. Jisan and Haku are most prominent among the Zakharan deities active in the Empire, although Kor and Zan are significant as well.
This pantheons represent specific groups of people, rather
than whole cultures – people who are outside of the mainstream …
The Temple of the
Shrines – An eclectic collection of demi-gods and philosophies that are
associated with Travel and Trading. Based
on a number of minor deities that I have written for different settings over
the years – I like them, they all fit together well, and it seems a shame to
leave them out :}
The Royal Ancestors
– a closed religion for those people who are direct descendants of the Founders
of Porters Bar. Porters Bar has a great
beginning story, which involves a Dragon and a half-water-spirit as
founders. The Royal House are their direct
descendants – and appear to be able to draw divine power from them and others
ancestors of that line.
Dwarves – I have discovered a lot of mining settlements (of one sort or another) spread around my world – and I have decided to amalgamate them all as Dwarven Mining towns. Back in the early days Gnomes, and even some Halfling sub-races, had a lot of overlap with dwarves – but those races have now developed and moved on – so Dwarves it is. I will probably use Moradin and his 3rd ed pantheon as the primary faith in Dwarven settlements.
Others – there will certainly be other racial pantheons – and probably a couple of others as well.
Where are they significant?
Temple of the Shrines
Temple of the Shrines
Temple of the Shrines
Far Coast (1)
Temple of the Shrines
Temple of the Shrines
New World (2)
Temple of the Shrines
Note 1: The Far Coast is unusual – in that the four main
faiths have almost equal influence, across the region. It is still a stronghold for the Clan Leaders (Pagini, Treverii and Marisi)
who follow the old gods, and has a large
Al Quadim presence left over from a previous occupation.
Note 2: The New World
represents a number of newly incorporated, places –
Finaroka – A very eclectic mix of Green Faith
(Wen), Razadi, 3e, Temple of the Shrines
Porters Bar (Exotic City State) with an Eastern
feel. Green Faith (Wen), Royal
Ancestors, Arth&Yarma, Temple of the Shrines
Paria (Dwarf mining town) A very mixed race trade village – surrounding
a Dwarf Minehold. Dwarven + Green faith – with a bit of everything else thrown in for
good measure. The dwarven pantheon are
strong underground, but on the surface –
there is no dominant faith. The Temple of the Shrines can also be found
Port Elizabeth (Exotic trading town) halfway
between Telida and Zakhara on a jungle island.
Some Zakharan, some Path Finder and some
minor local gods. Religion isn’t
particularly important here. The Temple of the Shrines can also be found here.
Relationships between Religions
The Green Faith –
is everywhere. And probably has as more
followers than any god in any of the pantheons, except (maybe) Pelor.
And they have allies in every other faith. Gozerah and Erastil from the Telida
pantheons, Elona and Obad-Hai from the Strongholds Pantheon, while both Pingal
and Koke of the Old Gods share many traits with the green faith.
Pathfinder: Church ofTelida – The is no specific lead
deity in the pathfinder pantheon, but, in Western Telida, Abadar takes
responsibility for ‘external relations’ and it is in his interests
(Trade and civilisation) to build working relationships with the neighbours.
This is the main branch of this faith and the one that has spread across the
Telida – In eastern Telida, Pharasma
and Kurgess are the most respected
deities – although other deities from the pantheon also play a prominent role –
however there are three separate, but very similar, groups It is the lesser branch of this faith and not
very well organised and, in general terms, follows the lead of the Telida
3e: Church of The Strongholds:- Pelor leads
the pantheon, and (as an NG deity) he really doesn’t like conflict. Therefore his clerics (and many others in the pantheon) work to retain cordial relations with their
neighbours – encouraging trade and cultural exchanges. This is the only real branch of this faith,
and has worked its way all the way down the coast as far as The Razardi isles.
Zakharan: The Church
of Razad – Jisan, goddess of plenty and beloved of Merchants is the primary
deity in The Razardi Isles and the Far Coast states, ably supported by Haku
(god of freedom) , Zan (god of learning) and Kor the god of wisdom. The other core deities are respected, but Trade,
Freedom, Learning and Wisdom are the core
philosophies of this branch of the religion. Any aggressive deities were chased out when
the occupation was broken – followers of
the deities of left behind could accept
their new situation.
The Old Gods: This
is a faith in decline. They were once
the primary religion of the mainland areas, but their their influence has
declined slowly over the years and are now not considered a threat. There are still pockets of followers,
particularly on the edges of civilisation.
The Clans (Pagini, Treverii and Marisi)
of the Far Coast, themselves a hangover from days gone by, are probably
their biggest supporters, however there are pockets of people following the old
ways all across the mainland. They tend
to mind their own business and gave up fighting the other faiths many years
The Temple of the
Shrines: A very minor pantheon serving a very niche congregation of
travellers and traders, spread mainly by the FFTC. They do not have any ambition to expand
beyond that following and are not seen
as a risk to any of the other religious groups.
The Royal Ancestors: Has a very
limited following. Have no interest in recruiting outside of the family
and are never going to be a threat to any other religion. Nor do they mind who anyone else worships, so
long as it doesn’t bring hardship to their city.
The Dwarven Faith: Similarly, has a limited following. Have no interest in recruiting no-dwarves – and are a threat to human religions. Nor do they mind who anyone else worships, so long as it doesn’t bring affect their underground towns/cities.
All of which goes to show that I really like to understand how my world works 🙂 And probably also means that I am a bit sad and OTT.