Life, The Universe and Everything: Part 2a

You wait ages for a bus and then two come along at once … Welcome to me thinking things through.


The Structure of the Cosmos: Q

I would have called this a FAQ –  but no one has asked any questions yet 😛  But these are questions that I would want to ask.

Where do the gods live, if there aren’t any Outer Planes?

They live on great demi-planes floating somewhere in the Astral Plane.  A true god is so powerful, their power so awesome and the abilities so great, that their very presence adds a new bit to their realm each day, in much the same way as a Create Demiplane Spell.  The longer a god has existed and the more powerful they are – the larger/greater/ more sophisticated their demiplane is.

Rather than being arranged by alignment, these massive demi-planes are arranged by Pantheon –  so the whole pantheon are lodged together – rather than with others of the same alignment.  The residents of the gods are often clustered together in the oldest and most developed parts of the joint demiplane –  as you move outwards, the joint demiplane become less well-developed and less well sophisticated.  All very similar to an Outer Plane 🙂

There might even be a portal from the prima material directly into the realm of the gods.  Much as the Greek gods had Mount Olympus and the Norse Gods had Bifrost.

Yeah.  I know.  How big does a demiplane have to be a plane in its own right?  A:  As big or as small as you like.  Personally, I see the greatest of gods having almost infinite demi-planes.

Life

‘Normal life’ –Humans, Humanoids, Plants, Animals, Insects and even most Monsters are a collection of all the elements (Earth, Wind, Fire and Air bound together by ethereal glue) supported by a ‘life force’.   More intelligent things have a larger Spark of Life, while things with any sort of innate ability (bards, gnomes, magical beasts, dragons etc) have Motes of Magic, and some heroes and deities have Shards of Immortality. Anything with Int 2+ has a soul that can pass on to the afterlife.

The bodies of creatures such as Elementals, are made up of  one or two elements, although still bound together by ethereal glue. Ethereal beings might just be made of Ethereal glue and a life force.

Death

When a living being dies, the life force is separated from the  physical body, although a small amount of Ethereal glue continues to bind the life force together, for a while.  This means the  life force can’t yet leave The Miasmas that surrounds the Prime Material (Which allows speak to dead, raise dead etc) to work.  However, eventually the Ethereal glue weakens and the Spark of Life, as well as any Motes of Magic dissolve back into the astral plane.

This generally happens to non-sentient beings, those who do not believe in an afterlife and those who do not consciously follow a life philosophy.

The Afterlife

There are a number of things that bind the Life Force into a soul, and stop, or at least delay,the life force from fading away and everything being returned to their component parts.

Philosophy – some people consciously choose to follow or support a philosophy throughout their life,  and their soul may well finish up in a demi-plane created by earlier followers of those views.  For example,  Nature Priests (Druids, Rangers, Adepts etc) who have followed the Green Faith, but not dedicated themselves to a particular deity.  Oracles and some Witches fall into this category.  Note that this not an alignment thing –  there must be a  decision to follow a specific philosophical path.

Belief – a character who follows a religion and has a clear idea of their afterlife, does not fade away.  Instead, they make their way to the planes of their gods, and face judgement there.  This doesn’t happen immediately, as they need to wait until they can leave the Miasmas before they can complete their journey.  However, the soul might be hijacked on that journey (normally by something evil) and taken to a different afterlife instead.  It is much better to have a better funeral service where a priest calls on the services of a Psycopomp to act as a guide and protector.  This includes most ‘normal’ beings as well as any with a character class that gains divine spells.

Shards of Immortality –  heroes who have managed to incorporate at least one Shard of Immortality, but not enough to be truly immortal, do not fade away.  They are not strong enough to follow their own destiny – but follow lesser souls, to the afterlife as promised by their religion or philosophy – They often finish up as members of their chosen celestial (or diabolic) hierarchy.  If they don’t have a philosophy or religion, they need to find a protector quickly, or else their souls will be snapped up to feed the furnaces of hell (or its equivalent)

Immortal –There are a number of ways to achieve some form of immortality, and each have their own rules that should be followed.

Undeath

Undead creatures have found a way to replace their Spark of Life with a Mote of Magic – and they live the unlife that they have chosen – or been given.

In some cases, the ‘gift’ of undeath is passed from undead to undead naturally (Vampires) or through spells (Create Undead) or though sophisticated ceremonies enacted before death (Lich).  In some cases it comes with the ‘price’ of being controlled by the creator while other undead are free willed.

Many undead (Skeletons, Zombies) retain a physical body – but for others such as Ghosts or Wraiths, the elemental part degrades normally and only the Ethereal glue remains to bind the unlife force together.

High level free-willed undead may have incorporated Shard of Immortality – although they are few and far between.

Life, The Universe and Everything: Part 2

This is a refinement of my views of the structure of a fantasy game universe, which should be compatible with most D&D like games. I never did much like the model that has been used, and this makes more sense to me – but it is also flexible enough that it can be used with a variety of models – but still leave enough space for the DM to play 🙂

I know it needs a bit more refinement – but that will come in time. Theses things hang around in the back of my brain for ages, getting tweked and reworked all of the time – however, I don’t think the core of the model will change much.

And yes, I probably do need a decent editor to make it read better 😛


The Structure of the Cosmos

I use a different ‘Cosmic’ structure to most D&D style game settings. My world doesn’t have inner planes and outer planes, or even separate planes for different elements or alignments – I use a simple, much more flexible model.

The Ethereal Plane

Back in the beginning there was chaos – nothing really existed, it was all just ‘Stuff’. I have no idea where the stuff came from – we just have to accept that it was there. Although it would make an interesting project for a theoretical research sage.

Then something happened. There are many different explanations for this – The great Ey-Oy swimming, the natural separation of heavy ‘stuff’ from light ‘stuff’ – probably as many as there are religious groupings. It doesn’t really matter how it happened, what is important is that it happened – because it separated ‘stuff’ out into five different things. Fire, Air, Earth, Water and Aether – the elements. We all know what Fire, Air, Earth and Water look like – but Aether has always been a source of interest for sages, because no one is really sure what it is.

Most sages think it was the original ‘stuff’ and that bits of it changed to make up the other elements – however, they all agree that it is everywhere in the whole of the physical cosmos. If you think of a giant snow-globe – with red flecks for fire, white for air, brown for earth and blue for water – shake it up and watch them all swirl around mixing up and swirling around each other. The Aether is the liquid that they swirl in – it touches all four elements, it is everywhere – and it makes it all possible. Without Aether everything would just fall to pieces.

The Elemental Planes

One thing the sages can agree on, is that the four physical elements have an affinity for themselves – and they clump together. Think of lots of little magnets sticking together, or fat forming into greasy clumps after you roasted a joint, or even starlings flocking together. Again, it doesn’t matter how or why – it just happens. And that forms the elemental planes.

The sages argue about how many there are – some say there is just one plane of each type of element, others argue that there might be many different planes of each element. The most radical argue that there could be planes where two elements come together – Fire and Earth, to make a Magma plane.  Who, in this tiny little bubble of a world, can know all of these things?

One thing the sages are sure of is that the Aether, the Ethereal Plane, touches all of those other elemental planes, and holds them together.

The Astral Plane

Is the key to life. Some sages say it is the life blood of the primal creator god Ey-Oh, who sacrificed itself to create life in the universe, others say it was released from a water droplet that fell and burst, and I am sure that there are other ideas out there as well. However, they all agree that The Astral Plane is the source of all life.

However, rather than a snow-globe, the Astral is more like a tangled ball of yarn, threads stretch everywhere and practically impossible to separate. Indeed, you can see one of those threads if every you enter the Astral Plane – all you need to do is watch your own silver cord stretch back to your material body. However, there are many other threads, and only a few of them stretch back to a living being. Worse still, the Astral is a matted mess of more than one type of thread – think of strands of spider silk, mixed with the down from a baby’s bottom and the fluff of cotton-wool – among any other type of thin fibre that comes to mind. And those treads wind right through the Ethereal and touch everything in the cosmos.

Sages are not sure what these threads are, or where they go, but they are sure that there are at least three things involved – either as threads themselves or, as most think, caught up within them.

Sparks of Life

The first thing that any form of life needs – from the smallest simplest thing swimming in a primordial sea, right through to the greatest of the gods. Some sages argue that the bigger your Spark, the greater your life force – others argue that you can accumulate more Life Sparks. Others just say they don’t know. What they do all agree on, is that every living thing has at least one Spark of Life.

Motes of Magic

Sages believe that Motes are the source of all magic in the cosmos. Mages learn how to manipulate motes when they read their spell books, priests learn prayers s that grant them divine access to motes, while sorcerers just have an innate ability to manipulate them. Some sages even say that sorcerers and bards have motes of magic in their makeup. It doesn’t really matter, of course, so long as the magic works.

Shards of Immortality

The stuff of the gods. However not everyone who has Shards of Immortality in their makeup is a god, and they aren’t even immortal – however, they have taken the first steps along that way. However, as you incorporate more Shards, you may become immortal, and may (eventually) become

The Prime Material Plane

There isn’t just one of them, there are lots, because each world is its own self-contained plane. No one is quite sure how they came about, but a Prime Material plane is where bits of all the elements exist close to each other. The world itself is a chunk of Elemental Earth, the Sky is Elemental Air, the sea is Elemental Water and the sun Elemental Earth – and somehow they all co-exist together in the same little bit of the Ethereal Plane. Sages debate it endlessly. Most agree that there must be something special about that particular piece of the Ethereal. The Interventionists maintain that it a part of Ey-Oh that wasn’t completely destroyed, the Naturalists argue that it is a small piece of the original drop that remains, still others argue that it is a ripple in the fabric of the astral. None of them really know, but there are many different theories.

All believe that it needn’t just be one piece of each element. Moons are generally seen as an extra piece of Elemental Earth, while dual suns are each made of Elemental Fire. Some argue that that ‘extras’ will all slowly move closer together until they coalesce into one large piece. Some even argue that there is Elemental Fire inside the great ball of Elemental Earth, which would explain volcanoes and magma. But none of them really know.

The Miasma

What all the sages agree on, is the Miasma. This is a region close the the Prime Material where both the Ethereal and Astral planes act differently to normal. Some describe them as ‘thicker’ others describe them as ‘more dense’, while another group describes them as ‘closely intermingled’. The all agree, however, that something is different, and most believe that The Miasma creates a sort of border plane around the Prime Material – although it isn’t consistent. Some recognise it as a Border Ethereal, some as the Plane of Shadows, while still others call it the Paths of the Dead.

However you see it, all three seem to co-exist in the same space at the same time, like some twisted, not quite right, version of both planes, which have become twisted and interlinked.

Playing Styles

Recently, I have been thinking about playing styles and the way players approach games. While it is something I have been aware of for quite a while, game groups normally sort themselves out reasonably quickly. For example, I run a game for a table-top group who come together once a year for a weekend of gaming. For the first few years, we invited a lot of my RPG friends. Over time, it settled into a group of players who all trusted each other and who all enjoyed a bit of IC banter. Now the same people come back year after year – and we all have a good time. It was a self-selecting game group. The same sort of thing has happened in all TT groups that I have played in – sooner or later a regular group of players develops – who are right for that game, that group, the GM etc.

On RPoL, which is a text based playing environment, the same sort of thing happens. Players who don’t fit with the GM style move on, new players come in – and sooner or later a fairly homogenous group forms. It can often be a slower, but sooner or later you get a group of PCs who can live with each other and their playing styles.

However, the game I run at the moment is a bit different. Rather than being a standard small group game, I decided to run a large multi-group game. I had played in a couple of similar games, and I had enjoyed them – so I thought why not? It has been great fun – an awful lot of work, but I have enjoyed it immensely.

To make it more complicated, the game has three different aspects that I try to merge into one semi-coherent setting.

  • I normally have about fifteen players split into three adventuring groups – at the moment we have two groups (to cope with lock-down related absences) although we have, occasionally, had four adventuring groups in the past.
  • The game also uses a home-brew set of kingdom building and campaign rules, which have grown and developed as the game has progressed.
  • Fuzzy Threads are ‘out of time’ role-playing adventures. They aren’t there for combat, and rarely require any dice rolls, but they are a place for players to Role Play their characters, and to interact beyond their adventuring groups. Characters can be in these RP thread at the same time they are out slaying monsters (etc) with their adventuring party.

Now you can see why I say it is a lot of work. However, there is no requirement for any player, or character, to take part in any aspect of the game. We even have a couple of characters who don’t go adventuring, but hang around in bars looking for RP opportunities.

It has really highlighted the different ‘styles’ of the players. Some are writers, some are gamers, some are rules people – although, in reality, they all have some element of each aspect in their playing style. Before I look at it further, I want to say that I value all of my players – they all bring something different to (what I think) is a brilliant game, and they represent the tapestry of life really well. Without them, and their different styles, my game would not work 🙂

Writers

Everyone who plays on RPoL is a writer, those who aren’t drop off of the platform fairly quickly – and while I get a few non-writers, they tend to leave the game quite quickly. However, there are some players who are serious writers, who could probably be writing good fiction, and I have been privileged to play with quite a few over the twenty years, or so, that I have been playing on RPoL and PBW. They tend to develop a strong backstory for their character, and then keep building and exploring the character throughout the game. They spend a lot of time role-playing with other characters and invest a lot of time in their characters and their writing. Each of their characters has their own story, and it is a major focus is a writer’s playing style. I am in awe of them, and thoroughly enjoy their interaction – but I can’t maintain the intensity and effort they put into their RP. And I say that as a published author (of text books), someone who has written poetry for pleasure – and someone who writes stuff like this for the hell of it.

For a world build, like me, it is great. I get to build and work on the parts of my game world that the character needs for their story, and my game world has benefited immensely from the co-operative work that I have done to help flesh out Character backgrounds, and help lay future plans.

In game management terms, it can be an issue when characterization and story building clashes with key parts of the game’s story line – but that can normally be managed OK.  Another occasional issue is when long RP posts dominate more general threads, but I tend to deal with that problem by adding extra threads for people to play in.

Gamers

Again, everyone is a gamer of some sort, if they weren’t they wouldn’t be playing in an RPG game at all, however, there are some players who play the adventure threads more innovatively than others. And that is how it should be – a party where every player tries to set group tactics, solve puzzles or coming up with inventive ways to use their abilities, can kill a game very quickly. There has to be concerted and group action for a party to succeed in adventure threads, it just plays straight into the DM’s hands – and then I have to be careful not to set up a Total Party Kill.

That said, gamers are important and it would be boring if everything went according to plan and everything was easy for the players. Games like that tend to die off very quickly and, personally, I enjoy it when a group comes up with something I haven’t planned for. Sometimes, it means the party get a quick win, other times it means that I have to rework parts of the adventure, other times it means that a party member might die (or get very close to it) –the game becomes a less predictable and more fun.

As a player, I have always felt that the best encounters are the ones that a party just ‘wins’. As a DM, the best encounter I can run is one where the party just wins, and comes out depleted and surprised. In table-top games, I like to leave a party on single figure hit points (between them!) with next to no spells (etc) left. On RPoL and similar sites that is more difficult to achieve, but it is good to leave a character or two in negative HP, when they weren’t expecting it. It adds to the jeopardy of the whole game, makes it interesting for everyone, and justifies the ‘loot’ that help the characters grow. It doesn’t need to happen all the time – but that risk has to be there to keep adventures enjoyable and ‘adventurous’.

In game management terms, I try to split the gamers between groups. I try to put a leader, a puzzle solver and a maverick into each group – and hope that it helps keep the group working together. It has worked so far 🙂

Rules People

Again, we all need a basic grasp of the rules to be able to play the game, but some people love to delve into the rules. In the past they might have been called min-maxers, now the favoured term seems to be optimizers, it doesn’t matter – we have all done it at some point of our game life. If you haven’t done it yet, you almost certainly will do at some stage in your playing life 🙂

I can remember constructing tables to see how I could get the greatest weapon damage for a druid under the 1st ed D&D rules – and then expanding it to show that, at low levels, a druid could do more damage that a paladin. Even now, I have been known to go hunting through the skills and feats lists to find something that will let my character do what I want them to. It is all part of the same thing.

And it is important, because it keeps the game growing. I have learned a lot about the pathfinder rules in the last few years, just because people have asked to take skills, feats or combinations that I wasn’t aware of.  I have certainly incorporated some things I have learned into my NPCs and game structures. My game world is better for that.  It also keeps other players on their toes … ‘How did she do that?’ or ‘How can I learn to do something like that’. It encourages players to think and to look at the rules in a bit more depth.

As for my in-house Campaign Rules, they have grown (and improved) significantly. Those rules have been tested and used to the limit, and every time that has happened, they have evolved. In some cases it has come from general questions such as, ‘can I run a magic shop’ or ‘how can my shop expand’. Both of those questions led to an expansion of the business types offered within the rules, and eventually to a simplification of the system used to manage businesses. At other times, players have found ways of using the rules that I never realized were possible. Sometimes that has led to a rewrite (although never to the disadvantage of the player who found the loop-hole) other times it has led to additions or expansions.

I manage that, in game, by disallowing classes, races and feats – there are two reasons for this. The first is a bit selfish, my game world (even though it is based on material published by Paizo) reflects my ideas of a fantasy world.  It is those ideas that underpinned the game environment that I fashioned, and form part of my ‘world vision’. I want to keep enjoying my game and its world – so I tweak it to my tastes.

The second reason has to do with game-play balance. Not every player is a rules’ guru, some even have a limited understanding of the basic rules and occasionally need help with which die they are supposed to roll – but they still add to the game. So I disallow feats that I think would allow a character to dominate and adventuring party and hog all the action.  There is nothing worse, as a player, than having to sit back and watch the action because you know your character isn’t in the same power league. A well optimized character will work out as significantly more powerful than an unoptimised character (that is the whole point)  but when the party also includes poorly designed characters, the difference is immense. And every character needs to feel that they can be involved in the adventure situation – or else what is the point of going adventuring?

Conclusion

My game benefits from all three of those attributes and most players have all three of them – but in different ratios. My job is to try and balance them, so that no one group of players dominates the whole game at the expense of the other players. So far it has worked out quite well. I have seen some brilliant writing and Role Play. I have been pleasantly surprised by the way parties use tactics – and am often kept on my toes – and I have also learned a lot about the rules, both Paizo’s and my own house rules.

As I said, for me, it is a brilliant game – well worth the angst that comes with managing some on the (minor) excesses. And, let’s face it, while players and their enjoyment is important, we are all a bit selfish. If I didn’t enjoy the playing the game, it wouldn’t exist.

Now, to be fair, I suppose I should tell you where I fit in those categories 🙂

I would love to be a really good writer – but I am not. I am not bad, I get quite a bit of RP in and I write some decent posts.  I rate me as average. It is the same on the gamer scale. I come up with a few good ideas and manage to surprise DMs occasionally – but again, I rate me as fairly average. Rules? I love rules. I came to this game back in the very early 80s when a flat mate left the PHB and DMG (AD&D I) out on the settee when he went to bed. I read both of them from cover to cover in one hit (Yes, I am a quick reader), and never did get to sleep that night. BUT, I can never quite see the right ways to take advantage of them. So again average.

That doesn’t worry me in the slightest, and in real life I am a jack-of-all trades. I even had fairly successful careers in both teaching and IT by having lots of ‘average’ skills. Lots of people could do things better than me – but I did a better job, overall. The moral of this story is – take what skills you have, and use them well. 🙂