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 beliefs.


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

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

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.

Mince Pies

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.

Mulled Wine

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!

In Game

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 themselves.

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.

The Religions of Hann

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 …..  :}

Universal Faiths

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.

Major Faiths

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

Pathfinder Pantheon – 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.

3rd Ed – 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.

Minor Faiths

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?

Region Primary Secondary Urban Secondary Rural Other Minor
Telida Pathfinder Third Ed Green Faith   Old Gods Temple of the Shrines
Strongholds Third Ed Pathfinder Green Faith   Old Gods Temple of the Shrines
Near Coast Third Ed Pathfinder Green Faith   Old Gods Temple of the Shrines
Far Coast (1) Third Ed Zakharan Old Gods Green Faith   Temple of the Shrines
Razadi Zakharan Third Ed Green Faith     Temple of the Shrines
New World (2) Local Faiths   Green Faith     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 here.
  • 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 of Telida – 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 Hann Empire. 

Pathfinder: Eastern 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 Branch..

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 ago.

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.