Monday, November 28, 2016

Religion in a Space Fantasy RPG, Part 3

Continuing this line of inquiry, we can turn our attention to how concepts for their different deities help people decide how they should live their lives.


Notions of Right Conduct
Having established which types of deities are worshiped in the campaign setting, one then starts to understand just how followers of those deities are expected to act based on their individual faiths.

Those who espouse the Universal Architect, for example, promote activities involving learning and building. After all, they believe that their god understands the master plan for the entire solar system, and they try through study and exploration to discover that plan. This leads to a generally lawful mindset. Just what one does with information gained, however, and how one tries to shape the world, is open to interpretation, and thus opens the door to good or evil tendencies.

In contrast to that, proponents of the Sun God try to embody honor and righteousness along with learning. Just as their god represents the source of light and thus life in the solar system, they work to expose evil and promote justice for all. Thus they tend to be both lawful and good, with a rare exception of neutrality in one aspect or the other.

Worshipers of the World Mother encourage the practice of mercy and thus the establishment of equality among all people. After all, any given world provides plenty for its inhabitants; seeking more than what an individual needs is greedy and even wicked. This sometimes brings them into conflict with the merchant princes and others, when they work to protect newly discovered worlds from harsh exploitation and and speak out against imbalances in labor and wealth. They are good at heart, but do not have strong tendencies toward law or chaos.

For followers of the Moon Goddess, freedom is something to be maintained at all costs. They generally respect the laws of the place in which they live, but do not hesitate to criticize and even take action against laws that don't seem to promote the common good. In this way, they stand somewhat between those who revere the Sun God, the World Mother and the Void. For that reason, some view them as being flighty and noncommittal. They tend toward chaotic or neutral outlooks in regard to ethics, and neutrality or goodness when it comes to morality.

Those who believe in the ultimate power of the Void believe that the solar system faces inescapable doom; it is only a matter of time before the end of all creatures and things will come to pass. For that reason, some are absolute hedonists, taking what pleasure they can from life before it ends. Others work actively to bring about chaos and destruction. In this way, they are almost always chaotic, and few promote goodness.

Further Developments
One of the fun aspects of developing a setting and campaign for an RPG is putting together different elements and then seeing how they develop. While this is most common with Player Characters and adventures—as they say, no plot ever survives contact with the PCs—it can also happen with the background for a world. Take, for example, the deities that are introduced in a previous article. Considering some of their attributes, logical extrapolations can lead to some intriguing and dramatic situations.

  • Male and female relations have some interesting implications for interaction between clerics who worship the Sun God and the World Mother. Given that life cannot exist without the necessary interaction of the two, some members of these faiths conduct elaborate rituals that emphasize this interaction. They often take place during a planet's summer solstice. Given that they embrace fertility, clerics of the World Mother don't feel puritanical about such events, but some clerics of the Sun God regard them as scandalous.
  • There is a small subset among clerics of the Sun God who view the relationship between the system's primary star and its planets as justification for members of their order to practice polygamy. After all, since the primary star isn't limited to just one world, then why should they who worship it be so limited?
  • Although, given their belief in one god who is the Architect of the Universe, clerics of Ptah claim to look beyond such divine attributes as male and female, some view that dichotomy as necessary to the act of creation. Known as the Navigators, this group is known to participate in some of the aforementioned rites involving clerics of the Sun God and World Mother. They take as their symbol the compass and the square, which are emblematic of that union. What is more, they make much use of innuendo involving their group's activities and “the exploration of heavenly bodies.”
  • Some of the more patriarchal followers of the Sun God view worshipers of the Moon Goddess as their rivals, since she is a strong female figure who does as she pleases. So far, occasional biased sermonizing is all that has come of it.
  • Given their embrace of entropy, and the fact that this doesn't make them popular with others, worshipers of the Void must usually be secretive about their faith and activities. That is why they sometimes where their holy symbol as a tattoo, often on the chest, where it can be covered or revealed as necessary. This is accentuated because, while some cultists just see entropy as an irresistible force in the galaxy, those of evil alignment actively work to cause destruction through acts of murder, arson and the like. 
  • Because deciphering and then implementing the plan of the Universal Architect requires a clear mind, some congregations who revere that deity prohibit the consumption of alcohol and other mind-altering substances. Of course, there are others who maintain that certain concoctions can help a worshiper transcend the normal limitations of thought and invention.   

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Religion in a Space Fantasy RPG, Part 2

This post expands upon my previous one, developing some more ideas for developing a pantheon.


Many Gods, One Galaxy
The clash of cultures that occurs when clerics from different worlds begin exploring the solar system can make for many interesting situations; more importantly, this situation can make for numerous intriguing and dramatic plot implications, through which clerics can be more authentically woven into the background of a campaign setting. Here are some suggestions for a few of the possibilities.

Same Deities, Different Names
In this worldview, gods from different worlds with the same portfolio are actually just interpretations of the same power. For example, the Earth Mother Gaea on one world would be the same as the fertility deities on the other planets, based on how those worlds' inhabitants interpreted her. Essentially, all of them view the same divine truth, but interpret it differently due to their own skewed perception and local bias.

In a campaign, these differences could be resolved peacefully, or there could be conflict as one group tries to assert that its interpretation is the correct one. Either way, clerics who travel from world to world still have access to divine magic.

Influence Limited to One World
Contrasting the previous interpretation, this one holds that each deity's power is limited to its world of origin. This means that, on visiting a new planet, the cleric loses access to divine magic. While this interpretation can seem to make sense, the way it limits a character's special abilities makes it pretty unbalancing as far as game mechanics are concerned.

Competition and Conflict Between Faiths
A slight variation on the previous interpretation is one in which clerics can have access to divine magic on planets beyond their homeworld, provided they bring faith in their deity to those planets. This leads to competition between different faiths, since followers of a deity from one planet might try to convert away the faithful of a similar god on another world. This could lead at best to vitriolic preaching against other congregations, or at worst to all-out holy war between nations.

Other Deities and Domains
While the handful of interplanetary deities presented above present natural interpretations of the heavenly bodies in a space fantasy campaign, there are many more domains available in the Pathfinder RPG that would be embodied by other gods. Presented here, then, are suggestions for using those domains and gods in a space fantasy campaign.

Air, Earth, Fire and Water—These natural forces could be viewed as deities, especially in animistic cultures. What is more, some theorists believe that it is only in striking a balance between the four that life can exist on worlds; that is why the elemental obelisk incorporates all four in its pyramid-like capstone.

Charm—Love and lust are also forces of nature, existing among all cultures on every planet. As such, the deity who inspires these feelings is one who can easily move between worlds, and adherents of that faith are not likely to be divided by conflict.

Death—Those who believe that this process is necessary and solemn develop different traditions regarding how it should be conducted. Some practice the immolation of bodies, and scatter the remaining ashes among the stars, while others build elaborate tombs drifting in space for interring the dead. Whatever the case, these clerics find plenty of work performing their rituals on ships and in settlements, given the hazards of life in space.

Evil—Unfortunately for those who encounter them, followers of this god also move well between worlds. After all, their self-centered outlook means that new planets just represent more opportunity for them to achieve their wicked ends. When encountering the faithful of deities with similar outlooks, they might find fellow conspirators, or they could find enemies who ultimately betray them.

Liberation and Luck—These domains are natural ones for spacefarers, since traveling in an aethership represents tremendous freedom for those who are fortunate. Indeed, those intrepid souls who were first to venture into the void might, long after their passing, come to be venerated as the embodiment of these ideals.

Magic and Rune—Given that the process of acquiring magical power involves discovering lost lore and artifacts, the deities who represent this process also travel well between worlds. Here again there's a good likelihood for cooperation between congregations, since sharing this information is to the benefit of all.

War—The discovery and exploration of new worlds opens unlimited venues for the bloodthirsty followers of these deities. They are, of course, the most likely to lead crusades, not necessarily due to ideological differences, but because they feel driven to conquer.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Religion in a Space Fantasy RPG

Running a fantasy roleplaying campaign that takes the PCs into space presents some interesting complications when it comes to the role that divine powers play in the game. After all, a god who is worshiped on one world might be entirely unknown on another. What is more, two gods from different planets could have the same spheres of influence, even though they're supposed to be universal in the scope of their influence. With that in mind, presented below are a handful of deities who are more interplanetary in their scope and scale.

Universal Architect
In a polytheistic culture, this faith can cause some conflict. After all, it maintains that a single entity is responsible for the grand scheme of the universe. Even so, that concept is open to interpretation. Some followers maintain that there is only one god, and that worship of any others is little more than superstition. Others contest, however, that additional deities are those who necessarily implement the Architect's plans like laborers on a construction site. Even so, that comparison is not exactly flattering for the other deities. 

This deity's symbol is either a compass and square (in many different cultures) or a set of hieroglyphics (in the desert region from which Ptah originated). Clerics of the Universal Architect wield a warhammer, which is emblematic of building the universe based on the deity's plans.

Sun God
On many worlds, the sun is an obvious symbol of a good influence. After all, it brings the light of day and the warmth of summer. For that reason, this god is the epitome of all that is good, making him a favorite patron of paladins and other such shining paragons of virtue.

The Sun God's holy symbol is a circle with a dot in the middle, often rendered in gold. Clerics and paladins who favor this deity wield the morningstar, the shape of which is suggestive a sun (and that the faithful often pair with a heavy shield emblazoned with the sun emblem).

World Mother
Similarly, depicting the earth as a female deity seems like a logical notion. After all, it is her womb that seeds germinate, eventually yielding all manner of useful herbs, crops and other plants. What is more, the influence of the sun on the warm growing season and the cold winter leads to their being connected as husband and wife. While she is considered to be good and beneficent, she is not so concerned with the balance between law and chaos. 

The followers of this goddess wear a symbol consisting of a circle with a cross through it, which represents the four cardinal directions with which the world is defined. They wield the quarterstaff, a weapon that grows out of their goddess.

Moon Goddess
In contrast to the World Mother, the Moon Goddess is an enigmatic figure. After all, she mostly appears during the night, when darkness envelops the land. What is more, her face is ever changing, implying unpredictability (at best) or duplicity (at worst) in her character. Those who've traveled the spacelanes recognize a similarity between her and the World Mother, which has led to a belief that she is that deity's sister. It is believed, however, that she is unwilling to accept the Sun God's affections, and thus remains aloof and mysterious. Finally, the connection between her phases and the ties has led to her association with Homeworld's oceans and seas, and her nocturnal character means many link her to the animals who only come out at night. 

Followers of the Moon Goddess—among whom the elves are perhaps the most devoted—usually wear a crescent-shaped symbol made of silver. Their chosen weapon is the elven curve blade, which bears similarity to the crescent moon.

The Void
Those who study the heavens at night focus mainly on the points of light, but there are others who obsess with the black that lies between them. Indeed, some become obsessed with this cold darkness, and thus come to see its embrace as the ultimate and inevitable fate of the galaxy. Thus they become obsessed with entropy and all of the harm that it can bring. Given this nature, cults of the Void tend to be secretive in nature and small in their scope. 

The cult's symbol is a black disk that represents the cold dark of space. Its clerics wield starknives, which embody the notions of chaos and destruction.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Mood Music

Since I'm in a space fantasy mood right now, I thought I'd share some Youtube links for music that sets the mood for that kind of adventure.

The Planets by Gustav Holst

Music from the Spelljammer Video Game

Songs Selected by Sable Aradia


Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Grotto

Here's another location that I drew/wrote up for the space fantasy project on which I'm working. Long-time readers of the blog will recognize that I'm once again using old maps for new purposes.

The Grotto
One of the first settlements to be established in the asteroid belt is a curious place known as the Grotto. Built inside an asteroid that was hollowed out by dwarven miners, it consists of a lake and piers for docking aetherships, along with a sprawling tavern, inn and brothel. 

 Refer to the map above for the following location descriptions.

1. Entrance
The mouth of this artificial cavern is about two hundred feet wide, broad enough to admit all but the largest of aetherships.

2. Lake
More than five hundred feet long and almost seven hundred feet wide, this body of water provides hydration for the inhabitants of the asteroid colony as well as a save place for atherships to land.

3. Piers
Each of these platforms is fifteen feet wide an 150 feet long, and provides a place for aetherships or their longboats to tie up and unload passengers and cargo.

4. The Sign of the Cup and Loaf
This large, two-story structure is the heart of activity in the Grotto; refer to the map and location descriptions below for details.

5. Privies
Each of these small outbuildings has the expected bench with a hole cut through it, and sits over a fifteen-feet-deep pit.

6. Obelisk
Located along the edge of the artificial lake is the Grotto's elemental obelisk, which provides warmth, air and gravity in the settlement.

Inhabitants of the Grotto
In addition to the many visitors who pass through the grotto on a short-term basis, presented here are some of the regular locals.
  • Ioannis the satyr runs the Sign of the Cup and Loaf; he is assisted by a dozen faun employees. These are carefree beings who enjoy serving good food and drink to happy visitors; if a situation turns hostile, they call upon the centaurs to deal with it. Ioannis in particular is fond of outlandish stories, and has been known to by a round of drinks or meals for those who have interesting tales to tell.
  • Half a dozen centaurs, led by Sophia, act as dockhands for vessels that pass through the Grotto, and serve as law enforcement when necessary. While the Grotto has few laws, stealing from or doing significant harm to others is not permitted. Sophia is a tough customer, but respects those who prove themselves worthy of it.
  • A lunar naga, Mira, resides in the Grotto; nobody knows just how she pays for room and board. She is fascinated by watching the stars, and often swims across the artificial lake in order to gaze out from the cavern's entrance.
  • A swarm of ratfolk, led by a male named Nartamus, handle upkeep around the Grotto—and, in doing so, gather up any useful items or information that they can. Just what they do with this information is unknown, since they otherwise keep to themselves.
  • Two of the regular bar patrons are a kitsune named Yuriko and a tanuki named Hiroshi. She is an incorrigible flirt, while he is a generally jovial drunkard. They are fixtures at the end of the bar in the Sign of the Cup and Loaf's main room.
In addition to the aforementioned characters, the GM could use this location as a chance to introduce Gonzalo the mercane from Crossroads or even some of the janni from the cold red desert world. 

The Sign of the Cup and Loaf
Refer to the map above for the following area descriptions.

1. Entrances
Under normal circumstances the doors are left wide open, except in times of crisis; otherwise, the place sees business twenty-four hours a day. Two centaur bouncers are normally posted at either entrance, however, to keep out those who are looking to bring trouble into the establishment.

2. Bar and Dining Hall
This area is wide open to the ceiling twenty feet above, although four large chandeliers—elaborate sets of concentric wrought-iron hoops filled with candles—hang only fifteen feet above the floor. Each of these is connected to a heavy rope and pulley system that is anchored at the railing in the center of the balcony opposite the bar. These ropes are particularly strong, having hardness 3 and 8 hit points. While rather roughly hewn, the tables in this area are also especially stout. They can hold up to three hundred pounds without ill effect; beyond this they must make a Fortitude save with a DC equal to the excess pounds divided by ten.

The bar is stocked with beer and wine, as well as more exotic beverages at the GM's discretion. For food, the house specialty is a stew with many and varied ingredients (that is, whatever is available in port) known as salmagundi. Fawn servers make their way about the room, while Ioannis the satyr stays behind the bar.

3. Kitchen
Unlike the rest of the building, which has wooden floors, the floor here is made of cut stone. A large
oven stands against the outside wall, while a preparation table occupies the center of the room. The
cabinets are loaded with crockery, cutlery and other such supplies.

4. Pantry
All of the dry goods, bottles, barrels and tins are stored in here, along with extra candles for the
chandeliers and linens for the rooms.

5. Rooms
Each of these rooms boasts a bed, table and chairs, wardrobe and storage trunk. Although there are
thirty-eight of them in total, roughly a dozen are occupied on a continual basis by the Grotto's regulars. Rooms can be let by the hour, night, week or month, depending on a guest’s needs.

6. Balcony
The tables on this level all have a full view of the bar and dining hall below. The railing has hardness 5 and 10 hit points. In case someone feel the need to do so, the ropes attached to the chandeliers have
sufficient length to allow a person to swing anywhere on the bottom floor of the establishment. Doing
so, by the way, requires a DC 12 Acrobatics check, once the rope has been cut loose. Should one of the chandeliers be allowed to crash to the floor, everyone in the four squares underneath it must make a DC 15 Reflex save or suffer 4d6 hit points damage. Swinging from the chandeliers themselves requires a DC 15 Tumble check, although they have the same chance of breaking as do the tables in the dining hall (see above).

7. Master Bedroom
These are Ioannis’ private quarters, a fact that can be noted from the high-quality lock on the
door (DC 30 check to open). Inside there is a large, four-poster bed complete with curtains, along witha table and chairs and a carved wooden stand for the satyr's lute. All of these are carved from matching dark mahogany, and are very valuable because of it (1000 gp for the set).

Underneath the aforementioned rug there is a loose board in the floor; it is protected by a very
small crossbow trap that fires poison bolts (DC 25 to find; DC 25 to disable; +6 attack; damage 1d4
plus poison; DC 18 Fortitude save to resist 1d6 Strength damage). Concealed herein are a pouch
containing 10,000 sp.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Spelljammer Reviews

Back in August, when I posted my recap of this year's Gen Con, I mentioned that I'm working on a series of space fantasy adventures—actually, an adventure path. I don't know if I've mentioned before that I like to coordinate my reading with my writing. Looking for space fantasy novels to go with this project is what brought me to The Daedalus Incident, The Enceladus Crisis and The Venusian Gambit, books that I reviewed back in July. I've also tracked down a printed copy of The Sail Weaver by Muffy Morrigan. To fill in the gaps, however, I've also been rereading some of my old Spelljammer books, and I figured I'd share some of my thoughts. Please note that I'm reviewing the first novel here, and I'll add to this post as I finish the other ones. 

Beyond the Moons by David “Zeb” Cook
This is an unusual series because it has six novels by five different authors. The first book, then, needs to launch the whole thing, and does a good job of it. Detailed below are what I see as the pros and cons of the novel.

  • I like the main character, Teldin Moore. He's a pretty average guy, a farmer from Krynn, who's put into an unusual situation after a Spelljammer vessel crashes on his land.
  • I really like Gomja, the Giff warrior who survives the crash. He is easily my favorite character in the whole book.
  • The action moves at a good pace, with a good balance between combat and plot development.
  • David “Zeb” Cook does a good job of making the evil neogi seem really different from other characters and monsters.

  • I don't love the main character. Sometimes it seems that Teldin is not as important as the cloak that he wears, which may have been the author's intention. Even so, I like Gomja more than Teldin.
  • This is really a Dragonlance novel, since the whole thing is an extended chase scene across large parts of that setting and only reaches Wildspace at the very end. (Again, however, I understand why the novel is written that way.)
Additional Notes
  • I find it interesting to note that this series of six novels matches the number of modules typically found in a Pathfinder Adventure Path. It has me wondering what level Teldin is during each book. (I assume that, since he's a veteran from the War of the Lance, he has gained some XP before the start of this book.)
  • It's always interesting to see how much fiction based on AD&D campaign settings reflects the rules of the game. The spells depicted in this book seem quite similar, but combat in a story never quite feels like how it works in the game.

Into the Void by Nigel Findley
In this second novel of the series, much of the action takes place in Wildspace, although it concludes in and above the Forgotten Realms. Once again, here are some highs, lows and other notes.

  • I like that this novel presents more of life on a spelljamming vessel, something that wasn't present in the previous book.
  • While the creation of suspicion seems a little heavy-handed at times, it still works; the betrayal at the end still makes for intriguing drama.
  • Once again, there's a good mix of action sequences and scenes that develop the overall story of the series.

  • There's a feeling in this novel that the author was only allowed to do so much; it seems like there were prescribed start- and endpoints for novels in this series, and authors were forced to work inside them. Because of that, it feels a little less than epic in scope and scale.
  • Description in this novel seems overly inclined to use hyperbole, with many situations being really painful, frightening, etc.

Additional Notes
  • I know that romance adds interest to novels, but it seems to happen really easily for Teldin Moore. In this novel he develops it first with a gnome (?!) and then a human, which seems like a lot since he already experienced that with an elf in the preceding book.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

I know that popular response to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies has declined with each successive installment, but I think I would be amiss for not mentioning the upcoming film. The first entry has been described as a perfect example of inspiration for the Skull & Bones campaign setting for which this blog was created, even though it was released after that book.

Here's the teaser for Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Teaser Trailer