Monday, November 13, 2017

Ill-Gotten Gains

I've been working on a follow-up to my first adventure for The Sixth Gun RPG; here it is at last.

Here's a link to the PDF.

Ill-Gotten Gains


During the time leading up to the Civil War, on the border between Kansas and Missouri, it was not uncommon for bands of desperadoes to raid towns on both sides of the state line. An especially notorious group of such raiders was led by Arthur “Mad Dog” Madigan, a self-described “gentleman of fortune” from Charleston who vehemently opposed the abolition movement. While this band of cutthroats was eventually brought to justice, rumors have persisted for more than two decades that a cache of their stolen loot remained hidden after their deaths. Most people assume that such legends are not credible, and that there is no real evidence of the cache's existence.

That was, of course, until a recent incident aboard a steamboat on the Mississippi River.

Adventure Synopsis
This scenario introduces the heroes to the tale of Mad Dog's Raiders and there lost cache of loot, via certain undead attackers who wear the remains of distinguishing uniforms. Following that incident, the steamboat's owner—a German immigrant named Engelbert Meier, who has a strong interest in the history and legends of the American frontier—recognizes the uniforms and asks the PCs to investigate. From there they must track the zombies back to their riverside cache, and then follow cryptic clues back to an old plantation house. At the end of the trail they find the loot—along with a wraith, the spirit of Mad Dog Madigan himself—in its cellar.

For the Gun Master
During the years leading up to the Civil War, the question of slavery loomed large in American life. For one thing, new states as they sought to enter the Union had to decide if they would allow for one person to own another. That question led to such legislative decisions as the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, both of which only delayed the inevitable confrontation over the future of slavery in America. This delay also led parties on both sides of the debate to conduct raids across the border between free Kansas and slaveholding Missouri. As a result there was much bloodshed, as well as looting and destruction.

Of the many parties who participated in this violence, none was more enthusiastic than the band of Confederate raiders led by Arthur “Mad Dog” Madigan. That group quickly developed a reputation for neither asking for nor giving quarter, and legends began to grow about the vast cache of lucre that they assembled. Known as the “Crimson Company,” it is said that they fought under a flag that they called the Bloody Banner, and that they distinguished themselves by tying scarlet bandannas on their left arms.

Few people know what ultimately happened to them during the Civil War, and they might have slipped into obscurity and eventually have been forgotten—until, that is, a cunning bokor discovered their hideout and used his power to animate their bodies in an attempt at robbing a riverboat poker tournament.

Involving the Heroes
As mentioned above, this scenario is intended to be run as a sequel to “The Grand Tournament.” Following those events, Herr Meier approaches the PCs with information about the zombie attackers, and asks them to help track those undead fiends back to their place of origin. He tells them what he knows about the cache's history, and then negotiates shares of the profits as long as they are willing to assist him.

The River Maiden and the Great River Poker Tournament
Refer to the links below to find more information about Herr Engelbert Meier, his riverboat, the Great River Poker Tournament that he hosts and a group of heroes who might show up to compete.




Scene 1—What Has Come Before... and Afterward
In the aftermath of the attempted robbery—whether or not it succeeded—Herr Meier approaches the heroes. He thanks them for their efforts, and then explains what he knows about the raider band, including the details from the first two paragraphs of the For the Gun Master section. Finally, he makes his pitch, offering to split evenly any spoils found during the investigation. He just wants, after all, to immerse himself in the legend of the American frontier.

If the GM is using this as a stand-alone scenario, then introducing the PCs becomes a bit more challenging. In that case, they might come along in the aftermath of an attack, when Sheriff Wainwright and his deputies are cleaning up the mess. Because those lawmen are preoccupied, Herr Meier notices the heroes and decides to recruit them for the investigation. Whatever the case, hopefully the heroes soon find themselves in one or more of the sternwheeler's boats, following the trail of the Confederate zombies.

Scene 2—Up and Down the River
Tracing the undead raiders back to their lair requires a series of Tracking checks. From a narrative standpoint, this involves discovering subtle signs of their passage, including the following possibilities.
  • A boot print in the mud
  • A scrap of cloth that matches the raiders' rotting uniforms
  • The remains of a small animal, caught and eaten by one of the zombies
  • Etc.
This is a chance for some vivid description, too, as the heroes pick out these signs while steering their boat through tangles of reeds and trees with hanging branches, occasionally drag the boat through muddy shallows, and the like.

At the same time, the PCs must succeed at three Tracking checks in order to keep on the trail. Of course, it's also possible that the heroes could use supernatural means to track the zombies, such as via Beast Friend (to summon an animal that can track), Boost Trait, Divination, or even Grave Speak.
At the same time, the heroes can encounter some of the swamp's dangerous denizens, including some of the following options. 
  • Alligator/Crocodile (SWDE page 135)
  • Snake, venomous (SWDE page 140)
  • Zombie, shambler (T6G RPG page 83)
  • Finally, this could also allow the GM to introduce a curious NPC under unusual circumstances, so as to provide future plot hooks.

Scene 3—The Lost Cache
Refer to the following map when the heroes reach the cache once occupied by Mad Dog's Raiders. Keep in mind that light sources are important, limiting what the characters can see while exploring. 

1. Entrance
The entrance to the hidden cache is dug into the side of the riverbank, in an area concealed by overhanging trees. What is more, depending on the height of the river, the cave is usually at least partially submerged. Spotting it requires a Notice check at a -2 penalty; even then, people wouldn't think that it's anything more than a natural cave. Characters who've been following the zombies' trail back to this location don't suffer the penalty, however.

2. Tunnel
The tunnel rises sharply up above the waterline here, until it reaches a point where it is completely dry. It is cramped in here, though, requiring characters to stoop. That could cause a -2 penalty to certain skill tests, at the GM's discretion.

3. Collapsing Floor Trap
In the upper level of the cave, a broad section of the floor has been replaced by a thatch covered with sand. Spotting it requires another Notice or Survival test at a -2 penalty, revealing irregularities in the shape of the floor or erased tracks leading around that area, respectively. Anyone who walks across the middle of the upper level plunges through it must make an Agility test to determine how many spikes they hit: critical failure = three; failure = two; success = one; success with a raise = zero. Each spike attacks as if it had a d6 fighting skill, and inflicts 2d6 damage.

4. Ladder
A ladder here leads through a hole in the floor down to the lower level.

5. Spikes
Scores of sharpened wooden stakes protrude from the ground here, underneath the false floor above. This is, of course, where interlopers end up if they don't recognize the trap that has been set for them. What is more, those who spring the trap likely draw the attention of any shamblers that managed to find their way back to the cache (see below).

6. Raider Hideout
Seven hammocks have been tied up to wooden posts in this area, six along the inside wall of the cavern and one that hangs between those others and the exit. Those belonged to, respectively, the raiders and Mad Dog; he was never a very trusting soul. There is also a broad table at which they took their meals, along with a small firepit and numerous chests and barrels. Before they can examine these items, however, the heroes must deal with the swarm of rats that inhabits this area. Once disturbed, they head for the ladder and then up and out of the cache, biting anyone who comes into their path.

Rat Swarm—Use the stats from page 242 of the Savage Worlds Deluxe rulebook.

The Loot
Among the barrels and crates one can find old sacks of biscuits and flour, now spoiled; containers of coffee in a questionable state; various kinds of meat jerky, also starting to rot; along with dried beans and casks of water that are still good. Scattered among these items are a few empty chests, along with a handful of old Morgan silver dollars half buried in the sand. All in all, this should give the impression that there was more loot here, but that the best of it has been moved.

The Journal
There is also evidence that someone has recently occupied this area. The ashes in the firepit are still warm (Notice test), some of the personal goods are relatively new (such as a coffee pot and tin cup and plate), and someone has recently slept in Mad Dog's hammock (Tracking test). Finally, wrapped up in the hammock's blanket is a journal that belonged to Jacques Lemaire. It details his investigation of stories regarding Arthur “Mad Dog” Madigan and his raiders, and includes some of the following details.
  • Lemaire provides a description of “Mad Dog” Madigan and his raiders; the exact details of this are left up to the GM, and can certainly provide links to future plots.
  • He also describes the cache as being five furlongs west-by-southwest of “the old plantation house.” He mentions that this is the place from which they sold their stolen goods, but doesn't go into much other detail about that location.
  • The occultist has also written in a timetable for the stops made by Engelbert Meier's River Maiden, which correspond with its travels during the Great River Poker Tournament.

What Has Come Before
As mentioned above, this scenario can be run as a sequel to “Reversal of Fortune.” If that is the case, and if Jacques Lemaire managed to escape from the heroes at this time, then it is entirely possible that he has come back here to rest and recover. In that case, he has the rat swarm attack the heroes (using his Beast Friend power) in order to defend himself.

Scene 4—Heading Inland
Having acquired the information in Lemaire's journal, the heroes should easily be able to find the house from which the raiders sold their goods. Depending on the desires of the players and the needs of the campaign, the GM could add more encounters with wildlife and other hazards, as detailed in Scene 2 above, or this journey could be relatively uneventful.

Scene 5—The Old Plantation House
Once the characters arrive at the house, refer to the following map and area descriptions for details.

1. Entry
The houses' front door here opens into a two-story front room. A door leads into the parlor at the right, and a staircase up to the landing on the second floor. To the left, double doors provide access to the dining room.

2. Parlor
This comfortable room is furnished with a sofa, three armchairs and a handful of side tables, creating a space in which to receive visitors. All of it now, however, is covered in dust and smells faintly musty.

3. Dining Room
A broad wooden table surrounded by eight chairs dominates the center of this room. Unlike the parlor, it shows signs of recent use, with one end of the table cleared of dust.

4. Kitchen
The kitchen has recently been used, too. While the ashes in the stove are cold, the utensils, pots and pans have been cleaned recently. What is more, a trapdoor in the floor provides access to the cellar (Area (9) below.

5. Pantry
Shelves line the walls of this room, filled with boxes, jars and other containers of food. There's also a cask of freshwater on the floor, along with an empty basket. Here again, the food is relatively fresh—but it is up to the heroes to deduce that Lemaire was living here while researching “Mad Dog” Madigan and his raiders.

6. Servants' Quarters
This room, once home to the house's servants, has long since fallen into disuse. It is furnished with a bed and desk, but is otherwise empty.

7. Bedrooms
Each of these rooms is also furnished with a bed and desk, and boasts a (now empty) closet for clothing. None have been used for some time.

8. Master Bedroom
In addition to the bed and desk, this room boasts a storage trunk and two bookshelves. This was once the place from which “Mad Dog” Madigan plotted his band's raids, and where he enjoyed the spoils of victory. More recently, however, it is where Jacques Lemaire has been living, communicating with the ghoul in the cellar and plotting his attack on the River Maiden and the poker tournament it hosted.

9. Cellar
Storm doors lead down here from outside, in addition to the ladder from the kitchen. This is where the loot is kept, as well as where the ghoul that Arthur Madigan has now become. Consumed by bloodlust, the former Confederate captain has devolved into a flesh-eating, undead monster. For that reason, the middle of the cellar is filled with gnawed bones, scraps of cloth and the occasional odd personal item. Various crates, trunks and barrels are arranged against the walls.

The Loot
While the GM should feel free to tailor the following list, here are some examples of the spoils accumulated by the captain and his raiders.
  • A small strongbox containing five hundred Morgan silver dollars
  • A case of twelve bottles containing good whiskey
  • A portmanteau filled holding a dozen fancy dresses
  • A set of lockpicks in a leather pouch
  • A photograph of Madigan and his raiders, with their names written on the back
  • A Gatling gun, with the name Clementine engraved on it
Before they can claim this loot, however, the heroes must first deal with the ghoul who lives here. When they first arrive at the house, the ghoul is in the basement. Once he becomes aware of interlopers, however, he moves to stalk them. This might require slipping up the ladder to the kitchen, or out the storm doors in the back of the cellar. At that point, he makes Stealth checks opposed by the heroes' Notice efforts, waiting for changes to ambush lone characters.

Arthur “Mad Dog” Madigan—Use the stats for a ghoul from pages 76-7 of The Sixth Gun RPG.

Provided they can defeat the ghoul, the heroes have made a notable historic discovery—and, of course, claimed some valuable loot for themselves. They should also have gained some important information about current events, including details that could lead to further action.

Further Adventures
Detailed below are just a few of the possibilities for additional business in which the heroes might become entangled.
  • Among the papers in the master bedroom is a bit of paper, a cryptic note that does not match the bokor's handwriting. It simply says, “Smith's Crossing, All Hallow's Eve.” Just what that might imply, of course, is left up to the discernment of the heroes.
  • It's always possible that the loot collected by Madigan's Men includes something important, an item that can be connected to another plot. For example, there might be legal papers regarding a contested estate, a letter with important details about secret plot, a declaration of love for a romance that was never allowed to happen, or something similar.
  • As mentioned above, the bokor's journal could contain hints about lost relics, secretive cults, or other business related to arcane investigation.
  • Herr Engelbert Meier would happily purchase items from the heroes, adding them to his collection of frontier memorabilia. What is more, he might want to hire them to pursue other such acquisitions.
  • The heroes could always decide to take up residence in their newly liberated plantation, a notion that brings its own set of problems.
  • It's also possible that one or more surviving members of “Mad Dog's” Men decide to reclaim their spoils from the heroes—or from Herr Meier, if he purchased them—by any means necessary.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Ratfolk of the Grotto

Curiously, I'm posting this article a year to the day after first posting about the Grotto. (And, yes, I am shamelessly reusing maps again.) 


The Ratfolk of the Grotto
A previous article introduces the Grotto, a hollow asteroid filled with water that features a tavern, inn and brothel, the Sign of the Cup and Loaf. Among the eclectic mix of travelers and regulars who inhabit the place is a pack of ratfolk who serve as custodians for the place. What most people don't know, however, is that they are also a band of thieves. Under the unseeing eyes of other, larger people, they slowly gather any and all useful items and information that others leave unprotected.

The Ratfolk Lair
With its entrance located beneath the rightmost of the piers on the asteroid's artificial lake, this series of caves allows the ratfolk to live and work in the heart of the settlement's activity, all while not attracting undue attention. Refer to the map below for the following location descriptions. 

Note: For a map of the Grotto, refer to that post for details.

1. Entrance
The mouth of this tunnel is some seven feet wide and of roughly five feet in height. It is entirely covered by the artificial lake, making it particularly difficult to notice (DC 25 Perception check). From there, a tunnel cut out of the rock leads up above the waterline. Note, too, that there is a spiked pit trap (refer to page 420 in the core rulebook) in the two squares marked with X's on the map. What is more, to make this trap more dangerous for higher-level parties, the GM might want to have the spikes be poisoned with an appropriate venom or other kind of toxin (see Table 16-2 on page 559 of the core rulebook for options). 

As a general rule, tunnels in this cave network are as tall as they are wide; other chambers have a height of roughly half their width.

2. Main Chamber
This is where the ratfolk keep all of the general goods that they “find.” Most of it is junk, little more than shiny baubles that attracted their attention. To determine the nature of a random item, simply use the “Minor” column from Table 15-2 from page 461 of the core rulebook, but have all items be mundane in nature. At the GM's discretion, there is a 1-in-20 chance of an item actually having magical properties, with only one such item being present. There are also casks of water and various foodstuffs; refer to Table 6-3 on page 140 in the core rulebook for examples.

3. Midden Pit
Ratfolk have a very narrow definition of the word “trash,” but this hole (roughly four feet wide and twenty feet deep) is where they discard old bones, broken glass, spoiled foodstuffs and whatever else they deem apprporiate. At the GM's discretion, it could be home to a swarm of vermin.

4. Females' Den
The most notable feature of this area are five beds made from pieces of cloth, straw and other such materials. Each of these is occupied by one of the five females in the pack. Most notably, any items of legitimate value—coins, gems or magical items—that they don't carry on their persons are hidden in these beds.

5. Den of Nartamus and Lyram
A single large bed dominates this room. That is because it is home to Nartamus and Lyram, the leaders of the pack. In addition to their items of value, stored beneath their bed is a book in which the two ratfolk have written tidbits of information—both things that the rogues who serve Nartamus have overheard in the course of their activities, and additional details that Lyram has been able to glean from her divination magic. 

The exact nature of that information is left up to the GM, in order to add any plot hooks as needed to meet the desires of the players and the needs of the campaign. For example, this might include something overheard by a boastful pirate while he was drunk, notes from a secret meeting of the Royal Interplanetary Company or a similar oganization, personal secrets from any number of individuals, and the like.

6. Males' Den
This location is very much the same as the den for the females (Area 4), above, except that there are six beds that are occupied by the males. Once again, any valuable items they possess but do not carry are hidden in the piles of cloth and straw.

To find statistics for the various members of the ratfolk pack, refer to pages 178-81 the Monster Codex.

Rogues: Ratfolk Tinkerers.

Nartamus: Ratfolk Troubleshooter.

Lyram: Ratfolk Sage.

Using the Ratfolk in an Aetherial Adventures Campaign
There are plenty of ways in which these rogues can become involved in the events of a space fantasy RPG campaign; presented here are a few of the possibilities.
  • First and foremost, PCs visiting the Grotto would do well to visit the ratfolk to learn more about any potential business, since very little there happens without them noticing.
  • In a similar vein, the ratfolk provide the GM with a means of complicating or otherwise steering an existing storyline. For example, if the PCs should fail to acquire a valuable piece of information, then the ratfolk might offer it in exchange for something of similar value; should they leave an important item unguarded, then he ratfolk might “find” it.
  • Keeping in mind the types of—ahem--entertainment provided at the Sign of the Cup and Loaf, this could be a good opportunity for some blackmail—with a choice NPC or even the PCs themselves as victims.
  • Should the ratfolk recover a clue to something like a lost pirate treasure cache, then an all-out battle might erupt in the Grotto as people from various factions—the PCs, scallywags and even the powers that be—try to claim it for themselves.
  • Given the ratfolk's natural aptitude when it comes to alchemy, anyone seeking to experiment in that field—perhaps someone from Wodan studying strange mutative material, or even a Cult of the Void member seeking to develop a potent plague—could come here to set up a laboratory, consulting with these diminutive discoverers.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Building Civilizations: Using Character Classes for Inspiration

Just as the details regarding certain species of creatures can inform the nature of a society or culture that they might build, so can the different character classes from the Pathfinder RPG be used to inspire the types of government (or lack thereof) that people might form. In this way, they can give different worlds—or different nations or settlements on the same world—distinctive flavor. Take, for instance, the following possibilities.

Barbarians and Druids: Primitive and Nomadic Tribes
These two classes are emblematic of a society in which people still lead a nomadic lifestyle, moving from place to place while following the migrations of animals, the natural growth cycles of edible plants, and the like. While they may return to more permanent locations in the winter, during the rest of the are always on the move. They possess only primitive material goods—with weapons and tools for hunting and gathering food being the most prized—and that makes trade with other worlds particularly lucrative, even though they might not have minted coins with which to pay for goods. In general the people know the land, along with its flora and fauna, very well.

Fighters: Military Coup or Warrior Hierarchy
This society might be a long-established military hierarchy, such as one led by a king who shares power with his noble knights, or the product of a recent coup d'etat. In either case, power and influence can be shared based on rank and achievement—although one does not necessarily match up with the other. For example, a particularly charismatic leader could be good at convincing others to obey him, but wouldn't be able to defeat others in single combat. In such cases, however, the strength of one's entourage might outweigh individual prowess. Whatever the case, a society such as this one could feature jousts, archery tournaments and other such contests as means of proving, and thus establishing, oneself. On such worlds, monks might be the pinnacle of self-actualization, or they could be viewed as strange ascetics who are too narrow-minded to make use of armor and more effective weapons.

Paladins and Clerics: Theocracy
When the followers of a particular religion or philosophy gain power over others, the resulting society can bring order and peace or distrust and terror. That is because the dominant faith tries to eliminate all others, believing them to be misguided (at best) or heretical and dangerous (at worst). That bias can manifest in many different forms, from intolerance to outright persecution, and even a crusade. Of course, the exact nature of the society's outlook on life and morality depends on the god(s) whom they worship, along with—to put it in game terms—the domains in the respective portfolio(s). In this way the espoused values can run the gamut from good to evil, law to chaos, and everything in between them. Moreover, monks could be a part of this society, self-disciplined warriors who fight to promote the dominant doctrine, or they could be just another group of unorthodox people who dedicate themselves to the wrong tenets.

Wizards and Sorcerers?
In many ways, a society run by wizards might closely resemble one based on a particular religion. After all, each is run by a cabal of powerful spellcasters. Given the studious nature of wizards, however, they might be more likely to rule by committee. In fact, it could make sense for them to be led by a council of mages, with the most potent practitioner of each school having a seat on it. The notion of a magical aristocracy also raises the question of how sorcerers would be involved. For them, of course, it's a question of bloodline, something akin to royal dynasties of kings and queens.

Rogues: Rampant Organized Crime
A society run by thieves can take at least two different forms. One is more covert, in which they work “behind the scenes” of another type of government. In that way they could secretly promote all manner of illicit activities, perhaps aided by collusion from the powers that be, and possibly even controlling the ruling powers via extortion or some other type of coercion. The other option is for an out-and-out lawless society, one in which the criminals run roughshod and there's no power who is willing or able to stand against them. This might take the form of gangs running amok, taking what they want from other citizens who are just trying to scratch out a living. Perhaps this would occur in the aftermath of some great calamity, one that has left only the shattered remains of a previous civilization.

The solitary nature of these wilderness warriors makes them unlikely candidates for forming any type of government. They could fit nicely into some of the options mentioned previously, however. For example, they would be valued as scouts in a fighter-driven society, or as explorers in a culture driven by arcane or divine spellcasters. Those who are lawful and/or good might find themselves at odds with a society led by thieves, necromancers or evil clerics, however.

Bards: Compliment or Contrast
Bards, too, seem unlikely candidates for establishing a society on their own. They make a natural addition to many of the previous options, however. As storytellers, they would be favored by warriors who seek to promote their own glory, especially through epic poetry and song. They might travel along with nomadic bands, or from stronghold to stronghold in a culture that has more permanent dwellings. Arcane spellcasters are likely to appreciate them as fonts of lore, especially when such learning could lead to new sources of magical power. In a society run by clerics, on the other hand, they might be viewed as a threat if their stories are in opposition to the established orthodoxy, and thus could be persecuted as sources of heresy. Indeed, their knowledge might extend back to the time before the reigning government gained power.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Using Earth History as a Model for Campaign Development

When developing a space fantasy campaign setting, the GM can easily use Earth's own history—namely, the Age of Sail—as a model. With that in mind, four stages in the expansion of exploration and exploitation of the galaxy are suggested below.

Stage 1: More Theory Than Practice
At this point, most people in a campaign setting don't believe that space travel is even possible. There are a few visionaries, however, who are willing to try it and discover the truth. More importantly, at least a few of them receive the patronage of a wealthy sovereign or some other backer, providing the means for testing the theory. When those intrepid explorers set out on their voyages, many dismiss any hope of ever seeing them again. Indeed, some do not return, and their disappearances become part of local legend. Others manage to complete their voyages, however, and bring with them the first evidence of wealth and culture from other worlds. Their success is cause for sensation and celebration, and others begin to consider undertaking expeditions of their own.

The voyages of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan are good examples of this stage.

Stage 2: Investigations and Investments
Once the first explorers have proven that aetherial travel is possible, governments and individuals with the wealth to do so begin plotting expeditions in more systematic ways. This includes more frequent voyages, undertaken with religious, political and/or mercantile objectives, likely accompanied by military support. Indeed, different powers are likely to compete against each other in the hope of claiming territory and resources for themselves. Of course, this is also when pirates begin their activity, since any kind of law enforcement is still remote and scattered.

The expeditions of the Spanish conquistadors, such as Cortez, Pizarro and Coronado, are good examples of this stage.

Stage 3: Companies and Colonies
As the level of interplanetary travel increases, the Old World countries gradually make their presence felt in bigger and bigger ways. This includes the creation of settlements and colonies on other worlds, as well as the creation of organizations dedicated to promoting exploration and trade. Specific routes become well established, although hazards still remain. Piracy is one such lingering danger, but can be met with a forceful reprisal. There is the possibility of insurrection in once-loyal colonies. Note, too, that cultures and societies on the Old World become increasingly blended, since travel between nations is much easier. What is more, visitors from other worlds are seen in larger cities.

In Earth history, the Golden Age of Piracy, along with the Revolutionary period that followed it, are good examples of this stage.

Stage 4: The Way of the Worlds
By this stage, travel between planets becomes commonplace. Visitors to and from other worlds are frequent sights in port. Additionally, post-colonial political situations occur; for example, an old country might have to learn to deal with one of its former settlements as a rival and an equal.

The developments during the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries on Earth are exemplary of this stage.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Truly Alien Species

One of the interesting elements of space fantasy campaigns is that they let GMs experiment with really different species—as opposed to races—and the civilizations and cultures that they might develop. With that in mind, presented here are suggestions for the ways in which creatures' biology can contribute to how they interact socially, politically and religiously, thus creating interesting backdrops for interplanetary adventures.

The Default: Various Types of Mammals
Humans are almost guaranteed, of course, with elves and dwarves a close second, probably some kind of halfling, and maybe gnomes and half-orcs. Whatever the case, the dominant races in most campaign worlds are various types of mammals. (Thus the same can be said, too, for many of the NPC races in settings, such as orcs and other humanoids, giants and the like.) They give life birth, and even larger litters—that is to say, multiple births—are relatively small in number. Offspring usually know who their mothers are, and thus most likely their fathers, too. Additionally, children remain at home for a lengthy period of time before they can provide for themselves. 

These factors taken together mean that family connections become quite important, and thus can lead to predominantly matriarchal or patriarchal systems of government, laws of inheritance, and such (such as among the Amazons or more traditionally medieval societies). As a result, characters who don't have families—orphans, foundlings, loners and the like—might find it more difficult to work their way into certain social circles, but areas that see lots of travelers won't present much of a problem.

Something a Little Different: Reptiloids
In many ways, the cultures and civilizations built by reptiloid species are similar to mammalian ones. Take, for instance, the lizard folk and troglodytes, both presented in the Bestiary, or the serpentfolk presented in Bestiary 2 along with supplements from Green Ronin's Freeport setting. For them, the concept of family can still be quite important. Because young are hatched from eggs, however, there is less certainty regarding parentage, and thus the society might take more of a communal outlook toward caring for them. Since more young are born at one time, less value is placed on each individual. What is more, since hatchlings are sometimes even expected to fend for themselves right from the start, this means that close family ties are less developed. While there can be individuals who seek to promote the well-being of the whole species, others are just as likely (if not more so) to be concerned only with their own survival and success. Taken further, this can lead to a culture in which greater strength—perhaps demonstrated through prowess in combat—becomes the means of attaining positions of leadership, rather than promotion through communal decision-making.

All of One (Hive) Mind: Insectoids
Along with lots of other creatures, Bestiary 4 presents the formians. These sentient insects have a society dominated by a central figure, the queen. From an individual perspective, all that matters is following her orders; she, then, provides the materials needed for life to her loyal followers. There is virtually no sense of self-determination; indeed, those who think to follow their own paths are deemed to be deviants at best and at worst, threats to peace and stability. Because large numbers of creatures are born from clutches of eggs, they are not seen as being of individual importance. Instead, all that matters is what they can do to serve the queen. They work together to generate foodstuffs and accumulate other goods, all of which remain under the queen's control, for her to distribute as she deems appropriate. In theory she should have no favorites among her loyal followers, but in practice that is not always the case.

Unhindered by Bonds of Blood: Arborlings
An eponymously titled PDF supplement from Clockwork Gnome Publishing presents an interesting variant species, the intelligent and mobile tree creatures known as arborlings. As sentient plants, they are born through the spreading of seeds or pollen; this is a relatively anonymous process when compared to live birth or even hatching from eggs. For this reason, while a given creature might feel some sense of kinship for its offspring, a much greater emphasis is put on individuality. That is, one cannot be expected to heed a parent's wishes when it is almost impossible to prove parentage. What is more, since the earth, water and sunlight provide the materials necessary for survival, and those are commonly available to all creatures, then there is little cause for competition in acquiring them. This tend to makes for a peaceful society, and one in which decisions are made through discussion of the common good rather than any sense of obedience to any authority. 

An exception, can arise, however, when outsiders threaten the territory in which these creatures live. At such times, when they are forced to band together in mutual self-defense, then a charismatic and crafty leader might arise to rally them in battle.

Beyond the Pale: The Undead
Taking the strangeness even a step further, one can consider a society made up of the undead. They don't need to reproduce through any natural means; rather they can be created in a number of ways. Some, like skeletons and zombies, are simply the animated remains of living creatures; they lack any real drive of their own, but simply follow orders. Others, such as ghosts, wraiths and spectres, come into being when a mortal dies and—for one reason or another—is unable to attain any peaceful kind of afterlife. Finally there are those who enter into undeath knowingly: the lich, a wizard who seeks a kind of immortality; and the vampire, who willingly or unwillingly participate in the blood ritual.
An interesting aspect of life (for lack of a better term) in a predominantly undead society is the strict hierarchy that exists among these types of creatures. As mentioned above, skeletons and zombies are clearly of the lowest stature. Above them are some of those like ghouls, ghasts, wights and wraiths, who possess greater power but who cannot to rise above their given positions. It is only among the ghosts, vampires and liches that can aspire to any real power. In this way they tend to build up their own centers of influence, commanding those beneath them while working toward their individual ends. While they may work together toward common purposes, they are just as likely to betray each other, since there is no love lost among their kind. Their main weakness is a reliance on living creatures for food, be that in the form of blood, brains or flesh. They do have the benefit of time, however, since they can plot action over the course of decades, centuries and even millenia.

Lifespan and Outlook on Life
When considering the outlooks of different cultures and societies, it is important to keep in mind how long each of them lives. Humans, for example, are considered by others to be impetuous and grasping, in part because they typically live for less than a century. While halflings and half-orcs are pretty similar in nature, dwarves, gnomes and elves tend to view them as short-sighted. In this way, the formians are much more like humans in nature, while arborlings and lizard folk tend to see things in the same way as the older races. Only among the undead does time truly lose its relevance.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Using Those Traditions

This post tacks a few more details onto the previous one.


Using those Traditions
The diabolical efforts to corrupt the Church of Sol are led by a pit fiend, an underling to the Dukes of Hell, named Urobach. In this he is aided by a trio of erinyes—Alekto, Megaera and Tisiphone—who act as false angels, spreading their heretical message among the gullible. The pit fiend especially seeks out groups of people who revere Sol but who feel that they have suffered some kind of tremendous wrong, or who generally are unhappy with their lot in life, since they are more like to accept the notion that others are committing misdeeds. He then sends his erinyes—each one equipped with a ring of mind shielding—to spread the teachings of their wrathful interpretation of Sol. In truth, however, they leader their followers in worship of the fiery archdevil known as Xaphan.

Pit Fiend: Refer to page 80 in the Bestiary for details.

Erinyes: Refer to page 75 in the Bestiary for details.

Using the Xaphanus Heresy in an Aetherial Adventures Campaign
There are plenty of ways that these fiends could become involved in the events of a space fantasy RPG campaign; presented here are a few of the possibilities.
  • As part of their proselytizing, the fiends recruit a zealous cleric to lead his followers in the creation of a colony on a remote planet or moon.
  • One of the erinyes even volunteers to carry and give birth to one or more half-fiend offspring in order to swell the ranks.
  • Finally, if successful, they could provoke a holy warrior between the followers of Sol and adherents of another faith, especially a group like the Navigators (who often work with the Royal Interplanetary Company), dwarves who revere Gaea or the elven worshipers of Luna. 
  • In this plot the fiends are known to work with efreet and fire giants.

Using the Retraining Rules in a Space Fantasy Campaign
An interesting element of the Ultimate Campaign rulebook is the notion that PCs can use training to exchange existing abilities for new, more preferable ones. Given the long periods of time that travelers of the void spend in the spacelanes, this can be a good way for characters—especially groundlings who are heading into the aether for the first time—to adapt themselves and thus become better suited to space fantasy adventures and campaigns.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

More Faith Traditions from Homeworld

Thinking more and more about how religious beliefs might develop, I've written up a few new faith traditions for Homeworld.


More Faith Traditions from Homeworld
Sometimes, during the span of a religion's history, individuals or groups react to certain existing tenets or practices, or to the outstanding deeds of others, by generating new interpretations that add to or break from previous tradition. The deities and other figures described below are examples of such, each the focus of a new belief system that provides clerics, paladins and other characters with alternate avenues of devotion. 

These developments can happen in a number of different ways. One example is when an especially pious member of the clergy, because of right living and exemplary deeds, is elevated into a position of reverence by succeeding generations; this is the case with Imhotep the Traveler. Another possibility is when a new faith is invented to fill what people perceive as a gap in existing beliefs, such as with Eros. Finally, worshipers sometimes begin to focus on one aspect of a deity's portfolio to the extent that they form a sub-cult, even one that seems notably different in outlook to the original understanding of that deity.

Favored Weapon
Imhotep the Traveler
The first explorer of the Void
Liberation, Protection, Travel
Eros, Deity of Love
The One who prompts coupling and creation
Charm, Community, Trickery
Sol Xaphanus
The aspect of Sol that judges and passes sentence
Fire, Law, Sun 
Dire flail

Imhotep the Traveler
When the magical items necessary for building aetherships were first discovered, there was rampant speculation about what might lie beyond the heavens of Homeworld. Some insisted that nothing good could lie outside of this world, and that death or worse was all that awaited explorers. Even those who argued against such claims were slow to embrace exploration of the Void, given the difficulty it presented. Thus it was an expedition led by the leading cleric of Ptah, Imhotep, that was the first to venture into the aether. Imhotep abdicated his position of leadership, but left a communication scroll with his replacement so as to report what he discovered. For many years, that item was slowly filled with myriad details regarding the Sol System—until, one day, the writing stopped. Although nobody ever heard from that Imhotep again, he became renowned as “The Traveler,” and people began offering prayers in his name for safe travel when undertaking journeys. 

Imhotep the Traveler is, needless to say, popular with ships' crews, caravan members, pilgrims and the like. Facilities run by the Royal Interplanetary Company are known to maintain smile shrines with statuettes of him, too. 

Eros, Deity of Love
Some individuals who explain the creation of the Universe as the result of interaction between male and female principles—personified by Sol and Gaea—argue that there is a primeval force that prompts such coupling, and that this force, when appealed to properly, can even help those who seek help with their own romantic opportunities. The deity is not depicted with any kind of concrete image, since adherents assert that love can take many different forms. In addition to being popular with hopeful lovers, Eros is especially revered by members of the organization known as the Navigators.

Sol Xaphanus
For many, the god Sol represents a guiding light and the proponent of all that is good in the Universe. Others, however, claim that the Sun God can become angry with mortal beings, and even seeks at times to root out all that is evil among them. Indeed, they personify the deity as Sol Xaphanus, who is both righteous and wrathful. They claim that fire is an embodiment of the god's anger, and that it should be used as a weapon by the faithful to purify the world. These beliefs have led to inter-congregational conflict, and even at times to outright crusading violence. 

What most people on either side of the conflict don't know is that this sub-cult was actually founded by a cabal of efreet nobles, elementalist wizards and others. Their goals is to weaken the church of Sol by corrupting its purity and then leading it into conflict with other churches.