A quiet month …

Wow.  That has been an interesting month.  A cold followed by a bit of a cough (no, not coronavirus) slowed me down, and a whole series of other bits and pieces as well.  My wife is preparing to start a new job, so we have had all the up and downs of interviews and preparing to leave a long-term employer.  The government have added yet more paperwork for the training providers I work for (Part Time) and that inevitably gets pushed down to me.  However, this is just  …

There was a rant here that I took out  J  But you get the idea!

It has, on the other hand, been a quiet month on the game front.  I spent a few days thinking about building the Rules Website that I spoke about in the last post.  I even went as far as creating a game and a Wiki at RPoL so that I could think about structures and start putting some content together.  It didn’t go well, as I soon realized that I wanted to do a number of different things.

  1. I want to include the rules changes I have used (or have considered) to make my D20 games work faster, or more easily, on RPoL.  Anything that delays a player posting holds the game up.  Effects that run for more than one round, may need tracking over weeks of real time.  There are lots of little tweaks.  (Note:  I run slow games with a once-a-week post rate)
  2. I want the site to only contain ‘Core’ rules, but I also want it to be usable for both Pathfinder and 3.0/3.5e.  So whose core rules?  I suspect that this is not an insurmountable problem – but it is one that I haven’t thought about yet.
  3. I started putting my own tweaks in.  For example, Gnomes haven’t had a strong ‘persona’ across the game’s history, and every new version /publisher that comes along chops them about a bit more. Because of this, Gnomes don’t really feature in games worlds I write, and I found myself writing an article justifying why I wasn’t going to include them as a PC class on the website.  Now this is something I do want to do for my games world site –  but I don’t know that I want to mix the two up together.

So that project has been put on hold and sent back for more consideration.  One day I will learn to separate the three things – either that or I’ll just publish a whole new games system with an integral world …   Well, a man can dream :}

However, there have been some real positives this month.  We recently finished the Kingdom Round and I promised the players that I would start up a couple of pure RP threads for them to play around in.  These are ‘Fuzzy Time’ threads that run alongside the adventure threads.  The PCs are still out adventuring, slaying monsters and exploring deserted strongholds – but they are also doing social / RP things that are outside the normal timeline.  I monitor ‘Fuzzy’ threads, to make sure that they  don’t cross over with the ‘Adventure’ threads, but the players, generally, understand the concept and I don’t have to interfere all that often.  It has  worked really well as a way of letting players develop their characters, without interrupting play.

One thread took a group of  PCs into Restov, where they have been meeting up with their families, shopping and politicking.  That particular group gave been exploring their backstories and (in some cases) forging strong links and relationships between their characters.  A second group took a boat south to explore Jovvox  (Yeah!  Gnomes.  But this is Paizo’s game world, rather than mine) and Mivon.  So far we have got to Jovvox, and we are about to go and have dinner with a gnome merchant.  There are others who have been in the woods trying to catch a thylacine.   They have all been great fun to watch, and they have given me (and the players) an opportunity to understand the characters better.  And the ‘Boat Trip’ thread gave me the opportunity to wheel out one of my favourite NPCs – Helga! 

Helga first appeared in my Kingmaker table-top game, when I needed someone who knew their way about boats and Mivon.  As she was going to be a recurring NPC, she had to have a character sheet of her own, and that meant I could be a  bit more flexible within my own NPC guidelines.  Helga is a Half-Orc commoner, who grew up on the Mivon dockside and finished up working on the docks and as a sailor in The River Kingdoms.  And as everyone knows, River Kingdom sailors are not far short of Pirates ….

Helga is now L5 and has some nice gear for a commoner – including hand-me-down magic items passed on to her from her previous employers. She has a very low charisma, negative mods for Diplomacy and Bluff –  but a decent Intimidate modifier.  As a Ship’s captain she barks at her crew, threatens them –  but is always there alongside them with her Masterwork greataxe (or her Brass Knuckles) if ever they are in trouble.  Her Str and Dex  are high enough that she doesn’t get pushed around by the everyday folks of a city.

But she is great fun to play.  She is never very diplomatic in what she says to her bosses, and tends to tell things as she sees them, rather than prettying them up.  And then she shouts at her crew, and (potentially) anyone else she  is lower down the pecking order than she is.

I like playing Helga!

Rules

Those people who play with me soon realise that I have an obsession about the rules.   Not in the sense that I am a stickler for the published rules, or that I know all of them inside out and have every single rule book going.  Pretty much the opposite, in fact.  I like games where the rules are easy to use and fade into the background –  rules give the game structure, but the game should be dominated by role-playing and storytelling, rather than the minutiae of rules and rolls.  That is one of the reasons why D20 works for me as a rule set – it a nice straightforward mechanic (Roll a D20 and add your modifier) that allows a Player to Role Play the event – especially in an online environment.  For example …

“George ducks down behind his shield as he advances on the dragon, hoping it will provide some protection from the monster’s fiery breath.  Then, peeking around the side, he swings his longsword towards the dragon’s neck. ”  (OOC rolled D20+11 to hit –  total 13.  Whoops.)

Or

“Brianna teeters on the edge of the ledge as she tries to dodge the axe, then a loose stone dislodges under her foot and for a moment she hangs there staring at the ground thirty feet below her ….  Then, somehow, she manages to throw herself backwards, flicking herself onto the roof of the tower again.   Relief floods through her, until she turns to see the half-orc raising his axe again.”  (OOC Reflex save.  Rolled d20 +14 = 34! Yay!)

Note for people that DM me:  I wish I could remember to write like that all the time.  😛  Few people write like that every time –  but I love it when I do see a post like that.  It works particularly well when players know what they need to roll to succeed – as they often do in the later stages of a battle.

However, the rules also define the basic style and structure of the game.   Chivalry and Sorcery has a very different feel to Runequest, which feels different to GURPs or D&D.  And, much as I love both systems, I can’t imagine playing a medieval fantasy game using the rules that came with the original Marvel Superheroes or Classic Traveller.

And that is how I finished up playing Dungeons and Dragons based games, rather than other systems.  I quite liked the feel of the original rules, Tolkienesqe, mythological overtones – and the Monk thrown in for good measure!  Flexible enough you could build your own worlds and cultures with it if you wanted to.  There were lots of different settings, of course, but none of the guys I played with really invested in any of them –  so we played very much within the original rules and maintained the feel of the game.  Actually, I probably have a few hundred pounds worth of AD&D books – but they were always addition reference books, something to browse through at leisure and pick out one or two bits to help personalise a character.

Then came the 3rd ed – it took me a while to move to it –  but I did eventually, thanks to playing Neverwinter Nights of the computer.  I am still slightly uncomfortable with a character generation system that encourages complex planned builds – IMO carefully constructed builds might make for very powerful characters, but they often lead to one dimensional, one trick ponies.  I like good flexible characters who engage with my world and react to the world.  I would rather DM players who are prepared to build their characters on the experiences they get in game, rather than to a plan.

And the internet makes it worse.  With easy access to on-line rules sites every single rule that is published becomes available to everyone.  Every player can discuss builds with other like-minded players around the world. And some build discussions on the Paizo forums (I have switched to Pathfinder) are incredibly complex and convoluted.  Mining skills and feats across a range of publications and settings, skilled builders can build characters that are significantly more powerful than those that anyone else plays.  Does that matter, I hear you ask.  And the answer is yes – because as a GM I have to manage combats and scenarios that suit all the characters and let all of them play a significant role.  If the party has one Uber Character that is significantly more powerful that everyone else – it gets boring quite fast.  Well it gets boring fast for everyone else but the player of the Uber Character.

OK.  Rant over.  I have nothing against that style of play –  but it doesn’t suit my style of GMing, so not in my games  🙂  However, it does bring me to the point of this blog entry.

My ‘Stolen Lands’ game on RPoL has been running for about three years and has between 12 and 18 players at any one time.  As always there is quite a high level of attrition.  Players come along play for a while and decide the game isn’t for them (that’s cool.  I do the same thing), real-life happens, and they take a break, or move on to other things.  That is life for a long-running game on a play by post site.  But it means that I get have to keep going through the   “No, you can’t have that” process quite regularly.  Ah, and yes – there is lots of guidance about what people can, and can’t, use.  But they miss stuff, I miss stuff and then  … 

So I have been thinking about making a D20 reference website that just covers the rules I allow.  That then made me wonder how I could make the rules better for RPoL style play.  For example, initiative works differently in Online Play – combats take long enough as it is, but if everyone waited for their initiative before they posted, they would be even longer.  In a one post a week game –  effects that are calculated over a number of rounds can be a pain –  poison, disease, alchemist’s fire, and I am sure there are others.  What if we could pull those effects into one round?  That would certainly make it easier and less intrusive.  I am certain there are others as well …

I wonder ….

Troop Types

Posts and messages between a couple of my combat oriented characters, discussing what they could do with troops, has made me start thinking about troop types again.  While my basic troop types work  for my kingdom system, they don’t leave the PCs with a lot of ‘flavouring’  when it comes to RP posts or customizing their own troops.  So now I want to find a middle way, something that will works with the mass combat system I use – and something that allows PCs to customize and tweak things in ways that meet their RP needs.

Mind you, any rules that allow reskinning of troops will be an ‘Optional Extra’. It is important that the basic system in’t any more complicated that at present, so that less combat oriented players (or characters) aren’t disenfranchised.

My mass combat rules are based on mythological Celtic warfare models – the armies clash in the background while the heroes fight it out between themselves.  If the heroes win their particular fights, then their army gets a big psychological boost and the enemy is liable to rout.

There are reasons for this:-

  • I can use Defence Points to define the size and ability of an army and build the background combat around a D20 roll using army size as a modifier.
  • I don’t have to try to run a Minis-type wargame in an online forum.  A decent RL wargame can take hours to play out, online it would take forever.
  • The standard pathfinder Mass Combat rules are almost as complicated as a mini-figs game – and needs quite a lot of work to manage each round.  It becomes a focus to the game, rather than a background element.
  • A wargame style battle is only relevant to the one or two military character who have an army to command. Every PC can be involved in the ‘heroes’ part of the battle.
  • Not really an advantage,   but just about every ‘story’ medium uses the same model.   Most good war films concentrate of a selected group of characters, while all hell breaks loose around them. The same is true for most books set during a war.

The reason this matters is that Defence Points are one of the key values that help define a settlement, or personal estate, in my Kingdom building rules.  That means I have to understand the effects of a whole range of different troop types have within that system – and (because I like to make things a challenge for my PCs) I want to work out how I can fit that into the development side of those rules.

The system I have used so far is loosely based on the CR value of the troops involved, and uses the ‘Unit of light Foot’ as a measurement.  It makes a unit of Veteran Infantry or Light Cavalry equal to two units of Light Foot and one unit of Heavy Cavalry equals three units of light foot.  It is fairly rough and ready and doesn’t deal with any other troop types.  But how to refine it?

My basic Light Infantry NPC is Cr2, which means a unit of 10 of them, according to the encounter tables, counts as CR8 – however that feels a bit high to me.  I don’t think they would prove much of a challenge to a party of four PCs at L8  –  L5 or L6 maybe.  I can see I am going to get into ‘best judgement territory’ already …    …   and this is getting difficult!  I have played with a number of different concepts and formulae –  and I can’t find one that makes sense across a range and works consistently.  If I tweak a formula to make it fit in one place –  it makes it silly somewhere else!  There isn’t even a consistent ‘Best Judgement’.   

So a change of tack, and I found  that, at low levels, the formula [(20/CR) Rounded up] produces the same CR as ten CR2 light infantry.  And ten CR2 Light Infantry makes up one defence point.  That means that I can allow PCs to recruit any sort of troops, within the rules, in 1 Defence Point Units.

So now, one Defence Point can buy

  • A unit of Ten Light Infantry (CR2)
  • A unit of Seven Veterans  (CR3)
  • A unit of Five Light cavalry (CR4)
  • A unit of Four Heavy Cavalry (CR5)

And the unit numbers are the same for any other troop at the same CR.


House rules to support the extra flexibility.

  • Troops must be intelligent humanoids found within the civilised area, which pretty much means core races.  They will be warriors and cannot exceed L4.
  • Mounts must be Int 2, available in the area(*) and trainable.  Lower Int animals can’t learn enough tricks and higher Int mounts are too independent to serve a cavalry unit.    That doesn’t stop PCs coming to an arrangement with higher Int creatures to act as a personal mount.
  • Creatures trained for Combat Riding add +1 to their CR value (for  purposes of working out Defence Point values for troops) 

(*) You can’t just go out and order half-a-dozen trained hippogriff (for example) through a mail order catalogue, so you need to establish a breeding and training programme for them.  But before you can do that you have to gather some Hippogriff to start your programme.  Etc, etc.


The next job is for me to go away and rewrite all of my standard troops and unit types to match the new rules.  After that I will be able to tweak the buildings in Kingdom rules so that PCs can skin them for different troop types and RP scenarios.

Winterfest

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.

Greenery

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.

Poisons

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.

Pantheon I

I should be posting something about Crafting.  It is something I need to think about, because it will become important in the next ‘Kingdom Turn’ phase of my game on RPoL.  However, I have no enthusiasm for it, and it will be a while before I really need it.  So I am going to write about Gods instead.  Not the main gods in any of the games systems, but my pantheon of Demi-Gods :}


Way – CG, Goddess of Travellers (and likeable rogues)

Way is a deity whose origins go right back to a 1st ed character I played, back in the day.  He was a half-orc called Yuthric Greenteeth, who as a Cleric/Assassin follower of Ptah!  I originally wanted him to be a Cleric/Thief, but that was an illegal multi-class under 1e rules – However that is a different story.  To cut a long story very short, Yuthric founded a religious order called The Brothers of the Way that was dedicated to helping travellers.  This was based on the premise that Ptah (in the 1st ed Egyptian pantheon) was The Opener of the Ways and a wanderer.  Priests were all multi-class Clerics, who retired from travelling.

With 2nd Ed, 3.0, 3.5, Pathfinder –  The Order stayed with me, but changed deity to fit in with whichever system I was using at the time.  Eventually they became the Order of Way, which meant that I no longer had to explain that ‘Sisters are allowed’ whenever a new group of players discovered them.  However, the philosophy hasn’t changed, and The Order still runs hostels in places where travellers in need of support – be it in a town, village or right out in the wilderness.  The provision is always the same – bed-space, a simple meal and water to drink.  Funds come from donations or selling ale, richer food and essentials to their guests.

The latest version of The Order are followers of the demi-goddess Way – an endearing and charismatic Bard/Rogue, who travels across the planes visiting gods, demons and mortals alike.  She is NG, and her backstory describes her an Inter-planar Robin Hood figure on a never ending road trip – lovable, likeable, irritating but good-hearted.  Here on the prime material her hostels are generally run by low-level multi-class bards, rather than priests.  Like the original order, the priests often started out as travelling professions and then gain a level or two of bard when they settle down, and probably only have access to first level spells.


Arth – NG, Patron of hermits and heroes &
Yarma – LG, Patron of caravan guards

Arth and Yarma go back to the first ed rules as well.  However, this time they were inspired by gods that appeared in the 1e Legends and Lore, who were rewritten for a co-operative effort called Porters Bar, a game that was hosted on PlayByWeb.

Originally independent deities, they had interlinked backstories. Yarma caused great destruction when he was possessed by an evil spirit, but redeemed himself in the end.  Arth was the seer/mage who foresaw the events, realized he couldn’t stop the destruction but then spent his life working out how to minimise it. Both were touched by supernatural forces and ascended to the rank of demi-god.

Initially Yarma was intended to be a death god, but as their story grew he developed into a god of redemption and protection as well.  Arth became a symbol of hope and heroic deeds, as well as patron of hermits and seers.  In Porters Bar the two are still important independent deities, with their own temples and roles – Arth is patron of the City while Yarma acts as the local death god and oversees funeral and memorial services.

As traders and seamen from the city travelled the word, they took the pair with them, and now they have small followings in the wider world, who see them in a slightly different light..

Outside of Porters Bar, they are recognised as separate deities, but they are generally worshipped together – a prayer to Yarma nearly always includes a few words to Arth and vice-versa.  Yarma has a lot of competition and, as a tainted deity, he has found the competition for followers stiff.  He has, however, found a niche for himself as the patron of caravan guards, merchant marine guards and road wardens – especially those who also need some level of redemption.  Arth is an important deity in Porters Bar, but outside that very specific role he doesn’t have much appeal to the public, who have other (more important) things on their minds. Instead, Arth gets occasional prayers and donation from people when they could do with a helping hand.

Of the two, Yarma probably has the largest following, although his Priests are military men who spend their time guarding gates, caravans, ships etc. They often have levels of Warrior, Fighter or Ranger as their main class supported by a level of Adept or Cleric.   Very occasionally you might come across a Paladin who has dedicated his life to Yarma, but they are few and far between. You rarely find priests of Yarma in temples.   

Priests of Arth, on the other hand, live a quiet, almost monastic, life as befits a patron of hermits. In towns or cities, you will find them living in small monastic houses working among the neediest members of the community. In the countryside they live isolated, hermit-like, lives – but support their community from afar. However, on the edges of civilization you will find them as a part of the Ecumenical Temple of Shrines, where they maintain shrines to both Arth and Yarma. They always know who needs a bit of help that they can’t pay for, and will encourage ‘heroes’ to help out for the benefit of their soul, rather than the benefit of their purse.


Takri, the Navigator – TN, Psycopomp.

Takri came from a game at RPoL, that I joined as one of a ‘family’ of characters.   A couple of friends and I had written three complimentary characters, with a long intertwining  backstory to provide a basis for relationships, decision-making, general chatter and banter.  However, the DM of the game we joined had his own small pantheon of gods, but he didn’t have a deity that would work for my Cleric/Bard – so I got permission to build one that did.  Later, I had another character in the same game (this time an adept trader) who had different religious needs. So I wrote him another demi-god, with a trade and navigation background that suited his needs. However, I soon realised that there were many similarities between the two deities, and we decided to conflate them into one Goddess, with different cults emphasizing her different aspects.

This current version of Takri uses the backstory from the ‘southern’ cult to support the role of the original deity. The original backstory was very world specific, and just wouldn’t work anywhere else – and this IMO, works better anyway.  So, Takri was a sailor, captain of a vessel that swept out to sea, and was lost for years. She promised to serve the gods for ever, if they just saved her and her crew.  The gods took her up on it.

Now  Takri serves as Chief Psycopomp, responsible for guiding dead spirits to their final resting place and her priests are experts at holding funerals and memorial services.  Oh, and she is also seen as a patron of navigators :}


You will have noticed that these deities have things in common – which probably says something about the types of characters that I play and the games that I like to run.

All three of these demi-gods are associated with travellers, trade caravans, ships, merchant ships and the like,  which makes them ideal deities for the edges of civilization and the characters who make a living there. Currently, that is the NWN world I have been working on – and the ‘new’ game setting  that I have been playing around with for years.

TBH, these are some of the ‘better’ gods that I have designed over the years – the ones that I am happiest with and that are the most developed. There are a couple of others that I like almost as much,  but there are many more that haven’t really grabbed my attention and may never see the light of day again.

However, look out for another post at some point with details of:
1) The Royal Family Ancestors, a restrictive faith that came about because I wanted a Royal Family for Porters Bar that really did have divine ancestors.
2) My version of the Green Faith  – which started with some mythological tales about the Sun, Earth and Moon and grew into a mini-pantheon that includes the Sky and the Sea.

And then there may well be a further post that looks at the deities who will round out the pantheon in my NWN world.

  • Gasgano, the Eternal Sage (LN) (M)
  • Azan, Goddess of the Market (LN) (F)
  • Bagmet, the Mysterious (TN) (?)
  • Jack, the Butterfly of Galinia (TN) (M)

They haven’t been fully written up yet, but I suspect will make it into my overall pantheon of demi-gods.

Neverwinter Nights

I have never been much of a computer gamer, but I have played a few. The first one was nearly 50 years ago – it was a co-op Star Trek simulator, that needed a few million pounds worth of mainframe to run – and provided overnight entertainment during the quiet parts of the graveyard shift. After that very little appealed to me until Age of Empires – another game that could be played cooperatively. There were a couple of others, but the next big one was Neverwinter Nights. Not so much the game itself, but the other stuff that came with it.

It was the first part of the game, that you could play cooperatively, that got me hooked. My wife and I played it together. Later, Co-op play was phased out of the official game in favour of ‘personalised immersive cut-scenes’ – and I don’t think I ever finished the official game. However, it came with a tool set that allowed you to start building your own worlds – and that fascinated me. Computing and D&D all together in one package – what more could a man want?

Within a few months I was taken on as a DM/Builder by a game called Champions of Vydor, owned by a guy called Prince Wally – OK that wasn’t his proper name, but it was the name he went by. Like all the Developers I wrote some adventure areas, and even roped in my wife and son to work with me. Together we built the graveyard/cemetery in Vydor as a cooperative project. I think my son was about 14 at the time – and I taught him the basics of scripting using the conversation editor and Aurora tool-set that comes with NWN.

We also built, and ran, a Dwarves Guild as a family. All Dwarves were welcome and once every couple of weeks we would go out on a guild run. Rather than a small party of around about the same level – every player on the server was invited to bring a Dwarf character (of any level) and we would go blatt things the Dwarven way. There were lots of Dwarven Defenders, Paladins and other combat classes, backed up by the occasional cleric – but there were no real casters, and we would just swarm everything that we came across. It was brilliant fun.

But my main role was to write social systems for the server. I don’t think Prince Wally was expecting that when he took me on – but he certainly saw it as a bonus. One set of scripts changed characters alignments – steal stuff or smuggle drugs you become more chaotic, Kill innocents you move to evil etc. There were other actions that moved you towards Lawful or Good and the whole thing became an RP rules subset, where you picked up alignment changes according to your behaviour. Another set of scripts dealt with titles. You could pick up a knighthood, or various other titles, by carrying out quests and spending money. Then all the NPCs started calling you by rank and title whenever you spoke to them. There were other, less public, effects as well.

Probably the death system was the most widely used. Rather than charging a fixed amount of gold and XP to respawn, I made death into a small adventure. So long as you had made an offering to the death god, you were allowed to run back to life along the Paths of the Dead. Disembodied spirits would try to steal some of your life (xp) and coins for the boatman (gp) from you as you ran. The only problem was that there were four different areas, and they all looked exactly the same – but each had a slightly different solutions. It became a bit of a fun, and added a bit of extra challenge to the game.

Then they got rid of NWN and replaced it with NWN II – which wasn’t anywhere near as good – and the whole scene died away fairly quickly. Until recently, when Beamdog released a ‘remastered’ version of the original NWN. It runs on Win 10, and other operating systems, it only cost me £15 on steam, and I get updates automatically. Win/Win.

However, I am not particularly impressed by the persistent game worlds that are out there – but then both my wife and I are very particular about where we play. Recently we have been playing on a world called Blackstone Keep, although I think we are coming towards the end of our time there. But, we are still there looking around, and we might yet find a few more areas to keep us amused. If not, I am sure we will find somewhere else to play for a while.

But, as you might have guessed, I have started build a new Persistent World of my own. At the moment I have the basic persistence scripted, a world plan and a few dozen areas. I have almost finished a new script-set, that automates basic boss encounters, and when I add that characters will be able to progress to level five or six! Yeah, I know that isn’t very high, but gives me the base to build the rest of the world on.

The next phase will bring in my ‘alignment changing’ script set, a simple point-to-point teleportation system, and a few more encounter areas! I’m looking forward to it.


Just as an aside – if any of you play NWN, let me know and maybe we can get together on a PW at some point. Or, just as importantly, if you want to help build the world, I would be happy to hear from you. Scripters, adventure developers, story editors are all welcome.

Before long I will be hosting the world publicly on a home server, but if it gets big enough (and good enough) I will probably pay for it to be hosted professionally. That woul be nice 🙂

Warriors

So far, I have blogged on commoners and experts and now it is the turn of the Warrior!  While commoners are a fantasy world’s labourers, and experts provide specialist skills – warriors are security.  They may well turn into an army during mass combat, but most of the time you use them as city watch, scouts or mercenaries. 

While experts often get their training from family members, military training is the easy to come by.  Towns, cities, militias, armies and even mercenary units are always looking for new recruits and they will take just about anyone who can show some basic aptitude – so there are always a few around when you need them. 

Most of my warriors are built with a standard NPC template (12,12,12,12,12,12) which gives a skill modifier of +1 in all areas, they get one trait, although if I have a warrior who will play a significant role in the game, s/he has their own character sheet and is designed as a ten point build.  Like many of my other NPCs, trained warriors are generally L3 – which means a small patrol is tough enough to deal with most other NPCs and minor countryside threats.  Larger patrols get dispatched to deal with tougher threats, if they are needed.

I use three standard builds.

City Guards

City guards are a visual deterrent to bad behaviour, some walk the streets, others guard the gates and more patrol the walls.  However, they should be visible enough that PC (and the NPCs)  know they are around.  My guards are able to trip people up, if it helps to take offenders into custody however, they will use force if need be and aren’t averse to taking a PC into negative hit-points should it be required.

  • Warrior L3
  • Initiative: +1 Perception +6, Sense Motive +6
  • AC: 15 HP: 30 (3d+9)
  • Fort +4: Ref 1: Will +3
  • Melee: Halberd +4 (d10+1 x3) Brace; Trip| Dagger +4 (d4+1 19-20 x2)
  • Ranged: LXB +4 (d8 19-20 x2) Range 20 | Dagger +4 (d4+1 19-20 x2) Range 10
  •  
  • Str:12, Dex:12, Con:12, Wis:12, Int:12, Cha:12 (+1 bonus all abilities)
  • Feats: L1: Toughness (+3hp) , Race: Iron Will (Will save +2), L3 Additional Traits (Suspicious, Eyes & ears of the City)
  • Skills: Climb +3 (+5), Diplomacy +4, Intimidate +5, Perception +7, Profession(Soldier) +5, Sense Motive +7, Swim +3 (+5) | (in brackets – without AC Penalty),
  • Favoured Class: HPx3
  •  
  • Gear: Chain Shirt, Halberd, LXB, Dagger, Signal Whistle.

Scouts

Scouts patrol roads, villages, and  keep an eye any wilderness and are configured for that role.  While they aren’t rangers, they work well in the countryside and can survive, fairly easily, away from home. While they deal with small incursions, their main role is to keep their area safe and make sure that any incursion or risks are reported back. They are set up as missile troops, have survival and stealth skills, but aren’t particularly diplomatic.

  • Warrior L3
  • Initiative: +1 Perception: +6
  • AC: 14 HP: 30 (3d+9)
  • Fort +4: Ref 1: Will +3
  • Melee: Machete +4 (d6+1 19-20 x2) | Dagger +3 (d4+1 19-20 x2)
  • Ranged: Shortbow +4 (d8 20 x3) Range 60 | Dagger +3 (d4+1 19-20 x2) Range 10
  •  
  • Str:12, Dex:12, Con:12, Wis:12, Int:12, Cha:12 (+1 bonus all abilities)
  • Feats: L1: Toughness (+3hp) , Race: Iron Will (Will save +2), L3 Additional Traits (Militia veteran (Survival), Eyes & ears of the City)
  • Skills: Climb +5 (+6), Intimidate +5, Perception +7, Profession(Soldier) +5, Ride +5 (+6), Survival +7, Swim +5 (+6) | (in brackets – without AC Penalty),
  • Favoured Class: HPx3
  •  
  • Gear: Studded Leather, Short Bow, Machete, Dagger

Mercenaries

Mercenaries fit in just about everywhere else, rather than working for the state (city, kingdom etc) they work for individuals.  You might find then riding with a caravan, accompanying a noble, or even guarding a shop somewhere, some will be in regular employment, others take short contracts.  They are the generalists and can turn their hand to anything.

  • Warrior L3
  • Initiative: +1 Perception:
  • AC: 15 HP: 30 (3d10+9)
  • Fort +4: Ref 1: Will +3
  • Melee: Short Sword +5 (d6+1 19-20/x2) | Dagger +4 (d4+1 19-20 x2)
  • Ranged: LXB +4 (d8 19-20 x2) Range 80 | Dagger +4 (d4+1 19-20 x2) Range 10
  •  
  • Str:12, Dex:12, Con:12, Wis:12, Int:12, Cha:12 (+1 bonus all abilities)
  • Feats: L1: Toughness (+3hp) , Race: Iron Will (Will save +2), L3 Weapon Focus (Short Sword)
  • Skills: Profession(Soldier) +6, Intimidate +6, Climb+6, Swim +6, Ride +6, Diplomacy +2, Sense Motive +2
  • Favoured Class: HPx3
  • Gear: Studded leather, Light Shield (wooden) Short Sword, Dagger, Light Crossbow.

Experts

A few weeks ago, I blogged on commoners, where I said that Commoners were the class that provide the unskilled and, I suppose, semi-skilled labour in my game world. The other NPC classes provide the skilled labour, management and administrative skills that hold the tapestry of civilization together. Warriors, Adepts and Aristocrats cover Defence, Religion and Leadership respectively – the Expert covers everything else.

My ‘standard’ experts are all built with a standard build template of – 12,12,12,12,12,12 – which gives a skill modifier of +1 in all areas. It makes it nice and easy to wing an expert when I need to. If I have an Expert who will play a significant role in the game, s/he has their own character sheet and is designed as a ten point build.

Experts are specialists, they are significantly better at what they do than characters from other classes, even PCs, at equivalent levels, as their whole life is spent working in their ‘chosen’ field. Chosen is a bit of a misnomer, of course, it is the skill that their family passed down to them. That skill is their family heritage – and not to be treated lightly. At first level they use a feat to for Skill Focus and gain the Family Background Trait from my house rules – which gives them big skill bonuses right from the start.

Heads of the ‘Business’ tend to be level three, while lower level experts are considered to be Apprentices or Journeymen. Most Skill Masters are L3, but they can develop to L5 (or even higher) as they get older – however, use those sparingly, as they probably deserve their own character sheet.

If, for example, if a PC walks into a carpentry workshop, they might find :-

  • The Master Cabinetmaker (L3 expert – Skills Craft:Wood 14, Craft:Bows 12, Profession:Merchant 7, Appraise 7 etc) In this case, the main ‘Family Skill’ is work working,  however this cabinet maker has used his L3 Feat to take Craft (Bows) which brings his skills in the second field up to Master Craftsman status. Masterwork tools add another +2 to his skills.
  • Apprentice Cabinetmakers – perhaps 1xL2 & 1xL1 experts with lower skill in the same thing as the master Craftsman. The apprentices do the basic working and shaping under supervision of their master while they, in turn, oversee the labourers. Their skills don’t really matter, as everything is calculated on the Master Craftsman’s skill.
  • Labourers. 3 or 4 commoners all with Craft:Wood skills between 4 and 6 – to carry out the most basic work.

For me, a master craftsman has at least 10 ranks in the appropriate craft skill – that way the NPC can ‘take 10’ and successfully craft the masterwork elements every time. I.e. They can regularly, and reliably, create masterwork items.

As an aside – most of the work in the Craft Workshop is done by the apprentices and labourers.  In this example, the Master Carpenter will choose the wood, specify basic shapes and probably even grain patterns. He might even scribe outlines on the material. Rough blanks are cut out by the labourers, then handed to the apprentices before being turned over to the master craftsman for finishing touches.

The same model works in other areas, in this case – the Legal Profession. If it suits your purposes, you could decide to give them access to a Law library, and increase their Profession:Lawyer skills by an extra +2. These guys probably all have Profession:Scribe (or something similar) as a secondary skill

  • Lawyer (L3 Expert, Profession:Lawyer 12)
  • 2x Legal Assistants (Expert, Profession:Lawyer 8/9) This score only counts if the PC is cheap and decides to have one of the assistants advise him.
  • 4x Clerks (Commoner Profession:Lawyer 1-3) These guys might be available to represent the common people of the town or the city.

In this example I have made the Expert a bit older and a bit more experienced.  Imagine a wheezy old sage working in a small building somewhere in city – he has spent his whole life learning about things … people in particular. Old age = +2 (Wis, Int, Cha), -3 (Str, Dex, Con) – so wheezy and getting infirm. However, enough time has passed that he is a L5 expert and has collected a decent selection of books (which I rule gives a +2 – but takes longer to get an answer).

  • Sage – L5 expert (Knowledge:Geography 17, Knowledge:People 15, Knowledge:Nobility 12, Linguistics 12, Librarian 10, Scribe 10)
  • 1x Apprentice – L2 expert – skills don’t really matter as their job is mainly to keep the library in order, fetch books as needed and listen to their master – this is one of the reason most sages are skilled librarians :}
  • 2x Servants. L2 commoners used to running errands on the sage’s behalf – they have Knowledge:Nobility 1 and Librarian 1, picked up as they have served ‘The master’.

TBH, though, a guy like this probably deserves his own character sheet as an PC worth their salt is liable to be back a few times. He has clearly spent a lifetime researching people of one type or another – he is the person the PCs go to when they want to know about the Humanoid Tribes in a given region, or custom and practice in the local town. He can detail the local Nobility along with whom the PCs need to speak to and then, almost as a side line, translate all those weird runes they found – and all without using magic!