Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kingdoms of the Kithain

Ok, I know I'm three months overdue for an update (for which I apologise). The last update was supposed to be a map of the continent, but I'm having trouble getting that finished. Maybe I'll accomplish that task one day, but for now, I think it's best to move on to other topics.
So I would like some input on an issue that has bugged me in the past. I was looking through the old image files I created to develop a complete set of maps of kingdoms for Changeling: the Dreaming. And I remembered a point of contention; the four kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula.
Here's the only thing that it says in any canonical release from White Wolf Studios:
Spain and Portugal -- Sometimes the allies of Neustria, four kingdoms comprise these lands of the Iberian Peninsula: Navarre along the Pyrennees, Aragon in the east, Leone in the Northeast, and Castille in the central and southern regions. Commoners, whether in service to a noble or not, are always welcomed; eshu and boggans are an integral part of the society.
This leaves me somewhat confused. For starters, where does Portugal fit into this? It's the western and southwestern part of the peninsula, neither of which are regions mentioned in the description. Also, it's not quite accurate to describe Castille as the 'central and southern regions,' either historically or in modern terms.
For more information, I refer you to a series of maps. First, we see a map of modern Spain, in which most of the administrative divisions are named after one kingdom or another in Spain's history:
Then we go way back in history to the year 750, when the Muslims had conquered almost the entirety of the peninsula, leaving just a couple of tiny christian kingdoms remaining in the north:ínsula_ibérica_750.svg
If we jump ahead to the year 1000, we find this:ínsula_ibérica_1000.svg
Then we move to the year 1210:
And the end of the Reconquista: This is what it looked like right before the last Muslim kingdom was reconquered by the Catholic Kings in 1492:
So, what I want to know is this: Where do you think it makes most sense for the modern Kithain nations of Castille, Navarre, Aragon, and Leone to be?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Eiru: Part 5 - Setting

We're nearing the end of the Eiru series. This post will introduce the general setting of Eiru: magic and technology.

This being designed for GURPS 4th edition, it will of course describe everything in GURPS terms. Thus, the GURPS Basic Set will be useful in deciphering the gibberish below, as well as the 4th edition version of GURPS Magic. And of course, the disclaimer:

The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with the GURPS system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.

Eiru is a TL 2 world, but their technology is retarded in the areas of construction and warfare. With the exception of the Fir Bolg, who know how to create any of the items crafted by the other races but simply choose not to do so in most cases, all the people in Eiru have the same weapons, buildings, farming techniques, and so forth.

Iron is the metal most commonly used, with copper and bronze still in use for certain applications or to make cheaper versions of items normally made from iron (it is possible, though rare, to find someone making bronze swords, for example). Copper is the most common metal for personal adornments, such as arm-bands, torcs, and brooches, though gold is preferred by those who can afford it.

Cattle are used as draught animals as well as food, and horses are common for use with chariots. Bareback riding is possible, but generally seen as lower-class and reserved for those who can't afford a chariot. Dogs (specifically hounds) are extremely common, and used primarily for hunting. In addition to animal power, the races of Eiru are known to build water mills for grinding grain.

The Danu live in subterranean cities dug from the earth, and the Fir Bolg tend to build simple wooden structures (often in the branches of trees, but sometimes on the ground as well). The other races build round wooden houses with conical thatched roofs, or occasionaly they will build a house from stone.

Small sailing vessels are known, but cannot withstand the rigors of extended voyages, and are generally pulled onto the shore at night. Usually, a boat will be powered by oars.

Two-course crop rotation is the norm for those people who make common use of agriculture, although hunter-gatherer lifestyles are still popular in some places (especially with the Fir Bolg). The Danu usually have farmers who live above ground, or sometimes in domiciles very near the entrance of the sheeher. On occasion, they will have a seperate residence in a nearby hill; a sort of 'mini-sheeher' that is just large enough for a single family. Alternately, a few sheehers have harnessed the power of magic to maintain underground crops, with enchantments to provide light and water in enormous caverns of grains and vegetables.

Now we move on to magic in Eiru. The entire setting is a high-mana area, and spells are cast using runic magic. Use the rules for Symbol Magic as detailed on pages 205 to 209 of GURPS Magic, with the following exceptions:

  • Symbol Tokens do not exist. The symbols must be inscribed every time.
  • Finger Tracing exists, but is not a case of tracing the symbols in the air with a fingertip. Instead, the symbol must be drawn on parchment or vellum, or traced in the dirt. This replaces the normal system of Parchment Symbol Casting.
  • The 'symbols' are not single runes, but words of power. Learning a symbol is not so much practising a specific 'letter,' but a set of words related to a specific subject.
  • Any use of magic requires the use of clanasolse. Finger Tracing involves using the soft metal as a sort of pencil to inscribe the words on the parchment or ground, and magic items created with Symbolic Inscriptions must have the runes inlaid with a small amount of clanasolse.

The language used for magic is, in a sense, a complete language in itself, but its words carry such power that it is never used except in casting spells or enchanting items. The Symbol Drawing skill represents knowledge of the words and grammar used in specific applications of magic thought. However, this does mean that bards, if properly trained and empowered, can use the skills of Musical Influence and Enthrallment. Note that Enthrallment is used via music rather than public speaking, and as such, has the prerequisite changed to Singing 12+, instead of Charisma 1 and Public Speaking 12+. Furthermore, the subset skill of Persuade can be used for satire, causing the victim of a bard's ridicule to suffer social stigma. In game terms, rather than using this skill to grant the bard a bonus to reaction rolls from his audience, the same amount is instead applied to the subject (only one person at a time) in the form of a penalty to reaction rolls.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Eiru: Part 4 - Fir Bolg

We conclude the series of races in Eiru with our last entry: the Fir Bolg.

Again, for safety's sake, we include the disclaimer.

The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with the GURPS system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.

The Fir Bolg are a race of humanoids, smaller than humans (around 4 feet tall), with a thin covering of fur. Although they are slightly more bestial than the other races in Eiru, they are not animals. They have a true culture and possess technology just as the other races do. They are not fully bipedal, having a stooped posture. But they speak the same languages as the other races (in fact, they have more languages than even the humans do).

Like most other cultures in Eiru, the Fir Bolg venerate nature, but they hold the plants and animals of the natural world in higher esteem than do the others. It is for this reason that they live in the forest, subsisting mostly in hunter-gatherer lifestyles. This is mostly due to their love of trees, and the difficulty in advanced agriculture in a forest environment.

Although they have a reputation for being primitive beasts, they have been able to learn the art of metalworking, and there are smiths among them capable of crafting a sword that rivals the work of the Danu. Such smiths are rare, however, as they prefer to use combustible minerals which they can only acquire through trade with other peoples. Their skill in woodworking, though, is unparalleled, and other races are always willing to give them valuable goods in exchange for their bows and arrows, furniture, cups and bowls, and other wooden items.

On occasion, a Fir Bolg leaves the forests and joins an adventuring party, or sets out on a specific quest. Normally, this is because they have a divine mission, but sometimes it is because an individual feels a wanderlust and desire for adventure.

It costs 85 points to play a Fir Bolg. They have the following modifiers:

Attribute Modifiers: ST -1 [-10]; DX +2 [40]; IQ -1 [-20]
Secondary Characteristics: HP +1 [2]; Per +2 [10]; SM -1
Advantages: Animal Empathy [5]; Brachiator [5]; Discriminatory Smell [15]; Fit [5]; Mimicry [10]; Perfect Balance [15]; Silence +2 [10]; Striking ST +2 [10]
Perk: Fur [1]
Disadvantages: Curious (12) [-5]; Impulsiveness (15) [-5]; Semi-Upright [-5]
Quirk: Careful [-1]
Skills: Survival (Forest) at Per [2]; Tracking at Per +3 [1, 4 levels free from Discriminatory Smell].

Next time, we'll start discussing the world of Eiru itself.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Eiru: Part 3 - Fomors

As we continue to examine the land of Eiru, we come now to the third race: the Fomors.
Let's stay safe: here's the disclaimer again.
The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with the GURPS system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.
A Fomor is an amphibious humanoid. They generally look quite similar to humans; however, they all have black hair and black eyes, except for specific individuals who are the offspring of one Fomor parent and one Human or Danu parent, who may have blonde or brown hair, and can have brown or blue eyes. They live near coastlines and seldom venture more than a mile or so inland, unless they have good reason to, and even then, they prefer to stay near rivers or other large sources of water.
They tend to be arrogant and convinced of their right to rule. Several Fomor nations have warred with the other races in Eiru for dominance, and many of them have, at one time or another, received tribute from other nations. As with most people in Eiru, the Fomors tend to organise themselves into kingdoms, with the stability of each varying depending on many factors.
However, the thing for which they are most renowned (and most feared) is that on occasion (roughly 10%), a Fomor child will be born with hideous appearance and/or disfigurements. Any child so marked will grow to have some impressive power. These creatures, known as Arrects, usually become great warriors, and sometimes impressive generals. The most infamous of them all was Bailan, who enjoyed supernatural strength in exchange for the hideously deformed eye that took up most of the left side of his face. In addition to this, a magic spell backfired and caused that eye (but not the right eye) to project a beam of withering energy that caused any living matter to shrivel and eventually die. He covered this eye unless he wanted to use its power for his cruel ambitions. However, because of this trait, he was able to rise to become king of his nation. He conquered many surrounding areas until his grandson, a half-Fomor/half-Danu warrior named Luaid, killed him in battle and freed all the people under his rule.
Despite their cruel reputation, the Fomors are not much more harsh than the humans.
It costs 55 points to play a Fomor. They have the following modifiers:
Attribute Modifiers: ST +1 [10]; HT +2 [20]
Secondary Characteristics: HP +1 [2]; Will +1 [5]
Advantages: Amphibious [10]; Doesn't Breathe (Gills, -50%) [10]; Fit [5]; Pressure Support 1 [5]; Speak Underwater [5]
Disadvantages: Bad Temper (15) [-5]; Dependency (Water, Daily) [-15]
Quirk: Humourless [-1]
Feature: Characters can purchase the following exotic advantages in exchange for taking a disadvantage-level of appearance and/or unnatural features worth a total of at least 50% the cost of the advantage: 360º Vision, Chameleon, Clinging, Constriction Attack, Extra Arms (2 max.), Extra Attack (in conjunction with Extra Arms only), Extra Legs, Extra Mouth, Striker, or Teeth.
Skills: Fishing at Per+1 [2]; Swimming at HT+1 [2].

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Eiru: Part 2 - Danu

Continuing my description of the new fantasy world I've created, we now look at the second race, the Danu. (Danu, by the way, is both the singular and plural form).

Again, to be safe, we shall have the official disclaimer: 

The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with the GURPS system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.

So, the Danu. They are giants, standing around 9 feet tall, but otherwise, they look like muscular humans. They live underground; specifically, they live in communities called 'sheehers' which translates roughly to 'hollow hills.' They find a hill, dig a passage down to the centre of the hill, and then tunnel a massive underground city off of that first passage. In essence, they build massive underground settlements vaguely similar to anthills, but they always have a single entrance/exit, which must be bored into the side of a hill.

Their original belief is that hills are a geological result of an underground portal to a magic otherworld, which they call Tir Nell, and that by tunnelling into them, they are entering Tir Nell. Some Danu believe that their cities are actually in Tir Nell, while others believe that  they're close to the portals, but no one has yet actually found one. A few believe that there is no otherworld, and that they simply live in a labyrinth of subterranean passageways.

One thing is certain: the magical mineral known as clanasolse can only be found under hills. Zealots point to this fact as evidence of the presence of portals to Tir Nell. But the truth is, no one really knows why clanasolse is only found beneath hills.

Nine sheehers are known as 'ardeers,' and are the seats of the nine kings of the Danu. All other sheehers owe allegiance to one of the ardeers, but contact between a sheeher and its ruling ardeer is infrequent at best. There is one important point to be mentioned concerning the Danu kings: regardless of what nation they rule, they have an ancient law that says no Danu king can be imperfect in mind or in body. Thus, if a king suffers a serious injury in battle, he is required to abdicate his throne. The most famous of this is Duanu, the king of Midir, who lost his arm in a war against the Fomors. Although his wizards crafted a replacement of silver, he was still considered 'imperfect,' and was thus forced to abdicate. 

Danu do like to travel, and are fond of adventure, combat, and tales of glory. Thus, a Danu may be encountered anywhere, but they will always return to their sheeher after a time. All Danu speak a language called Milish. Dialects exist, but any Danu can understand any other Danu speaking Milish.

It costs 85 points to play a Danu. They have the following modifiers:

Attribute Modifiers: ST +4 (Size: -10%) [36]; DX +1 [20]
Secondary Characteristics: Will +2 [10]; FP +1 [3]; SM +1
Advantages: Charisma +2 [10]; Damage Resistance +1 (Tough Skin: -40%) [3]; Night Vision +5 [5]; Fit [5]; Magery 0 [5]; 
Disadvantage: Code of Honour (Danu) [-10]
Quirks: Congenial [-1]; Proud [-1].

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Eiru: Part 1 - Humans

As mentioned in the last post, I will start detailing the fantasy setting I've created. I could use this setting for a book, but I think it would be more fun and more rewarding it to make it freely available for anyone to use. Tell stories in this world, and if you like, tell me about them!

This setting is designed for use with GURPS, 4th Edition. If you know GURPS well enough, you should be able to easily convert to most other systems. Even if you don't, you should get a general idea of how it works. Obviously, I can't post the actual rules here, but you can get GURPS Lite for free from the SJ Games Website. This also means that I'm required to post the following disclaimer:

The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with the GURPS system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.

Ok. That's out of the way. Now, to start with, I will detail the first race: the Humans.

The setting takes place on Eiru, a large continent completely surrounded by water. It's roughly 1300 miles across from east to west, and about 1200 miles across from north to south. I will post the map once I've finished it. It has a mostly temperate climate, warmer in the south than the north, but with minor exceptions, there are no tropical, sub-arctic, arid, or other climates in the region. There are a few mountain ranges, lots of rivers, a few lakes, and loads of forests, plains, and hills. You can find some swamps, deserts, &c., but they are very rare.

Humans live in the plains. Wherever there is grassland, you can find humans living there. They are TL 2, although they are retarded in construction and transportation. Generally, they live in small cities and villages, each ruled by a mayor. Most cities belong to a kingdom, and offer fealty to a specific king. There are many kingdoms, generally governing between ten and one hundred cities and towns.

There are six closely-related human languages: Belgae, Wodish, Mannish, Dorish, Laegel, and Borin. Belgae is the most common, and many people (both human and non-human) choose to learn it as a lingua-franca, so in many ways, it can be treated as a 'common' tongue, but not everyone knows it, so it's not a guarantee. Balgae, Wodish, and Mannish are especially similar; anyone who speaks one of the three at Native level can understand someone speaking one of the other two at Native as if they were speaking it at Broken level. 

It costs 0 points to play a human. They have no modifiers.

That more or less sums up the humans. Next time, we'll introduce the Danu.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

New Fantasy Setting

Perhaps I should have mentioned this a while ago, but I'm finally gaming again. I've joined a co-worker's D20 Star Wars campaign. I'm playing a Kel Dor Jedi. Not an ideal situation, but better than not gaming, right?

I tried to get the group to give GURPS a shot, but one of the players was adamantly opposed to learning a new system. So instead, I've begun a short game for the other two players, just as a brief intro/taster to GURPS. We settled on a fantasy/supers crossover; one of them is playing a flying elf who shoots bolts of flaming spirit energy from his hands, and the other is playing a super-speed human. Much hilarity has occurred.

But this has given me the motivation to start reading my gaming books again. I recently started reading the 4th Edition version of GURPS Fantasy. Thus, I have developed two new ideas for fantasy settings.

I know I've posted about this before (apparently twice), so I'll just say: these settings are different. The first was inspired by Celtic mythology. At first, I wasn't sure how to make new fantasy races based on the creatures in the stories of Irish Tuatha de Danann, but I've since devised a way. 

The second was inspired by a section in GURPS Fantasy about mana levels. Normally, the mana level determines who can use magic, and how easily, and governs the entire campaign. But it's possible to have areas of a different mana level to the norm. And I started thinking, Why does it have to be different places? What if the mana level changes depending on the time? This reminded me of how the Aztecs thought that specific days could be lucky or unlucky. So I found myself thinking, what if the days aren't lucky or unlucky, but have higher or lower levels of mana than normal?

So the second setting is based on Aztec mythology, and takes place in a world in which the mana levels rise and fall throughout the year.

I won't bore you with the details of the Aztec-inspired setting (unless I get a good response). But for the next few installments, I think I'm going to share with you what I develop for the Celtic-inspired setting. So look for that. Coming soon to a Gaming Corner near you!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Survey of Roleplaying Games

Ok, let's get this thing started again. We'll start with an idea inspired by this article on The idea was this: if you had to teach somewhere between five and ten roleplaying game systems with the goal of giving your 'students' an idea of the basic ideas involved in gaming, what systems would be best suited for this 'class?'

I started thinking about this, and here's what I've come up with. I think the best way for what I have in mind is to have three groups of three: the first to cover different rules systems, the next to cover rules/setting integration, and the last to cover artwork/production. There will be some overlap.

With that in mind, we start with group one: rules systems. The three games I've chosen for this set are Dungeons and Dragons, GURPS, and the original Storyteller System.

  • Dungeons and Dragons: An example of level-based systems. Really, any edition would work equally well for this, although I think 3.5 is probably the easiest for new players to learn. Alternately, you could use almost any d20 system game, like the Farscape RPG or the d20 Star Wars. Another advantages of 3.5 is that it is a good example of the 'attribute+dice' style of game system.
  • GURPS: An example of points-based system. It also demonstrates the possiblity of creating a 'realistic' game system, rather than the epic style represented by D&D. Also, of course, a perfect example of a universal system. A perfect example of the 'attribute vs. dice' style of game system.
  • Original Storyteller System: An example of a non-points skill-based system. Also an example of how rules can encourage players to focus on character and plot, rather than combat. Good demonstration of how a core system can be modified slightly to accomodate different settings without requiring a universal system, but still allowing crossover between different games. Finally, an example of the 'attributes=dice' style of game system.

Set 2: Rules/setting integration. The Storyteller system would be revisited for this one, with examples such as the Humanity rating and the Virtues. Then we'd add Blue Planet, 7th Sea, and Call of Cthulhu.

  • Blue Planet: The damage system in this game is a great example of using scientific knowledge to influence gaming. This meshes excellently with the great levels of hard science evident in the design of the game world, from plausible slower-than-light space travel to a believable alien planet.
  • 7th Sea: This game sets out to enable players to experience epic swashbuckling adventure, likening the stories told with this system to the greatest adventure films. To this end, they use an innovative mechanic: there are varieties of antagonists. It's been years since I've played, and I don't remember the system very well, but I do remember that most of the enemies you fight only had one 'hit point.' If you do them any damage at all, they fall unconscious. This emulated the reidiculous ease with which cinematic heroes would easily defeat hordes of foes.
  • Call of Cthulhu: This game was based on H. P. Lovecraft's tales of things man was not meant to know. As such, it introduced the Sanity Points. Certain events, including casting magic spells, caused you to lose Sanity Points. An early example of creating a rules system to replicate an important part of the setting.

This leads us finally to the artwork/production category. For this, we can look at GURPS again, especially in comparing the third edition rulebook to the fourth edition. A special mention must be made here of the original Vampire: The Masquerade, as this was basically the rulebook that started the 'gaming books must be visually appealing' trend. But then we add Toon, Hol, and Exalted. By looking at these various production levels, we analyse the question: Does the visual format affect the quality of the game itself?

  • Toon: A low-budget, not-very-high-production scale game. The layout is simple, the artwork bland and sparse, done in black-and-white line drawings.
  • Hol: Moderate budget. The drawings are still black-and-white line, but they're a much higher quality. Also, the text is completely handwritten, and changes style depending on what the authors are saying (at one point, for example, the authors get angry, and the text becomes large and irregular).
  • Exalted: Very high budget. Lavish colour illustrations, high-quality paper, hardback covers, the works.

Anyway, that's what I'd include in this 'class.' What do you think? If it was your course to design, what would you use?

Friday, June 25, 2010

A point of interest...

I thought this was awesome. It's mildly NSFW though, so be aware. It's a very pretty picture.

Also, what does it say about me that after staring at the photo for a few seconds, I shouted to myself, 'Hey! That's a Changeling: The Dreaming GM Screen!'

Also also, has it really been four months since I last posted anything? I'm a bad blogger.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Success and Failure

Thanks to the glory of the Order of the Stick, I have just learned of the existence of the Edition Wars. If you, like me, are one of the few people in the gaming world that doesn't play D&D, then you won't know that apparently there are heated debates raging across the internet about which edition of D&D is better. Personally, I don't care; if I'm going to play a fantasy game, I'd rather play GURPS.

Anyway. In googling the Edition Wars to find out more about it, I encountered an argument between two players. A minor point of the argument was one debator was saying that he feels that in 'modern' gaming (as he calls it), there is too much of an assumption that the players will succeed. He feels that at no point is there consideration that the players will fail. This is a problem primarily because the players, under the belief that the GM will not allow them to be unsuccessful, enter situations that are too risky for them to handle.

This is an interesting viewpoint. I don't know if it says more about me that I've never made that assumption, or if it's just proof that I'm an 'old-school' gamer. But either way, it seems like a silly assumption to make.

There should always be a chance of failure. As a friend of mine once put it, 'I don't like to kill a PC unless the player is doing something really stupid.' Which reminds me of the time (I think I've mentioned it before) that I tried to lure an opponent into casting a spell that would kill him, but was unsuccessful in dodging that spell. The GM tried to bring my character back from the dead, which only irritated me; I'd put my character in harm's way, I should face the consequences of that action.

However, failing at a task shouldn't preclude the overall success of a campaign. A perfect example of this is in the description of Set Piece adventure design from Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering. In this method, the story is planned as a series of encounters, with a rough idea of how the players can transition from one to the next. It is recommended that the GM consider at least two possible ways to get from one scene to the next. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to prepare one method as the result of success, and the next as the result of failure.

For example, if you were running a spy-thriller campaign designed in the Set-Piece style, you might have a scene in which the players have an intense battle on a boat that was drifting out of control towards a waterfall, and you need a way to transition to the next major scene, in which they fight their way into the enemy's secret hideout. The success option is simple: they beat up the bad guys on the boat, get clear of the dangerous river, and interrogate their prisoners. But what about failure? What if the bad guys win the combat, or the boat goes over the waterfall? Obviously, you don't want to kill the PCs outright (but don't go overboard in trying to keep them alive either). Perhaps you could just leave the PCs unconcious on the river bank while the antagonists escape. Then they can ask around and find some witnesses who saw the NPCs running into a certain valley a few miles away...

The point is, failure doesn't end the story. It just makes it more difficult to get to the next stage. Ease of transition is the reward for success in the last scene, not the guaranteed right of the PCs just for being PCs.

On the flipside, I was once playing in a game in which the successful resolution of the story depended on my character making a Wyrm Lore roll. Imagine the GM's consternation when I botched that roll! The PCs ended up fighting on the wrong side, and the servants of the Wyrm desecrated Central Park. Because of a single failed die roll, the entire campaign ended in failure. This is also not a valid approach to success and failure in a roleplaying game.

But the important thing to remember here is that success should not be a foregone conclusion. Otherwise, what's the point of playing, really?