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.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Djinni's Tower

Building on the previous post, here are a map and area descriptions for the djinni's tower, along with suggestions for using that location and character in space fantasy campaigns.


The Tower
This structure, also made from sandstone blocks, rises above the surrounding orchards.

1. Entry
Broad double doors here (hardness 5 and 20 hit points; DC 25 to force or DC 30 to open) provide access to the ground floor, which is little more than an open space with the twenty-five-foot ceiling supported by thick stone columns. Tall, narrow windows (six inches wide) allow light into here.

2. Lightwell and Lift
In the middle of the tower is an open space through which light descends all the way from the skylight in the ceiling. There is also a lift, a wooden platform suspended by eight thick chains from a mechanism that is located on the top floor.

3. Guest Quarters
Each of these rooms is furnished with a washstand, a desk and chair, a wardrobe and a hammock. There is an additional set of hooks from which a second hammock can also be strung, above the first one.

4. Library
Three walls of this room are lined with shelves; they, in turn, are filled with all manner of books, scrolls, tablets, works of art and other items. There are also two round tables, each surrounded by four chairs, at which visitors can peruse texts. Note that this room is also a good opportunity for the GM to introduce new plot elements, such as a piece from an ancient map, a statue with a curious inscription, and the like.

5. Music Room
Numerous cushions are arranged about the floor of this room, providing places for the performers and their audience to seat themselves. If needed, servants can bring low tables for holding instruments, as well as trays with beverages and other refreshments.

6. Dining Room
A long, low table, surrounded by seating cushions, fills the majority of this room. Otherwise it is mostly open, leaving space for servants to bring around food and drinks. There are two storage areas, one on each side, in which are kept such items as linens, extra candles, more cushions and the like.

7. Servants' Quarters
Each of the four Janni employed by Khalid is quartered in one of these rooms; they are furnished in much the same manner as the guest rooms (Areas 3, above).

8. Kitchen
A large stone hearth fills one side of this room; there also two broad tables for preparing food. Various tools, pots and pans, spices and the like hang from the walls. What is more, doors lead to two storage rooms, one for dry goods and one for perishables that is kept cold through arcane magic.

9. Master Bedroom
Khalid's own sleeping quarters are furnished with a hammock, desk and chair, wardrobe and trunk—all sized, of course, for a large creature. The wardrobe contains spare clothing items, while the trunk and desk can be a source for all manner of interesting texts and items (at the GM's discretion). Note, however, that those who might wish to take things without permission must also watch out for the invisible stalker that is the djinni's bodyguard. Additionally, in the event of an attack on the tower, there is a trapdoor that can be raised to seal the lightwell and barred from within (hardness 5 and 15 hit points; DC 18 to break or 25 to open).

10. Roof
At the top of the lightwell stands the mechanism for the tower's lift. It consists of four heavy beams that form an A-shaped structure, from which the basket is suspended on its chain; there is a large crank for raising and lowering it. Four unseen servants that have been made permanent operate the device. Finally, the rooftop is surrounded by an open railing and provides an excellent view of the sky island's grounds.

Khalid the Djinni: Refer to page 139 in the Bestiary for details.

Jann: Refer to page 141 in the Bestiary for details.

Dragonnes: Refer to page 104 in Bestiary 3 for details.

Invisible Stalker: Refer to page 181 in the Bestiary for details.

Using the Djinni of Freya in an Aetherial Adventures Campaign
There are plenty of ways that could become involved in the events of a space fantasy RPG campaign; presented here are a few of the possibilities.
  • A major source of income for visitors to Frey is crystal mining on the surface of the planet. While Khalid is not involved in this business himself, he does keep an eye on those who are—including a ship crewed by hags and their servants.
  • The djinni does like to trade in fine incense and tobacco, and relishes visitors who are performers or storytellers.
  • Indeed, Khalid is most intrigued by the theoretical “music of the spheres,” a notion some scholars have that the various heavenly body is the Sol System have an inaudible tune, and that understanding it might grant power to reshape those bodies.
  • The djinni has also learned of an Efreeti plot to corrupt the faithful worshipers of Sol; it seems that an efreeti has introduced the heretical idea that fire is a manifestation of Sol's power, and a weapon that should be used against enemies of the deity. Just how much this heresy has spread among them is unclear, however.
  • Angered by the djinni's meddling, certain of the efreeti's followers seek to acquire any devices that would let them control Khalid, such as a ring of djinni calling.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Sky Islands of the Djinn on Freya

Because of the unusually dense atmosphere on the planet Freya, it's possible for lightweight structures to float in the air. For this reason, certain enterprising djinn have crafted sky islands on which to live. One example of such is this location, the home of Khalid al-Nasr—known to some of the locals as “Jibal al-Nasr,” or “Mountain of the Hawk.” It consists of a large body of crystal, with three docking platforms extending off from it. In addition to a broad forested grove, which boasts various fruit trees and contains the island's elemental obelisk, there are a long, low building for stables and storage, and the djinni's tower. 

Please refer to the appropriate maps for the following location descriptions. 

Not far from the docking platforms is this two-story stone structure. The bottom half is filled with barrels, crates and other items; a row of pillars supports the ceiling, twenty feet high. The second story is laid out in a similar manner, but is filled with nests for the dragonnes that patrol the skies around the sky island. Both floors have sets of double doors on either end. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Flags Post and Compilation PDF

This post finishes up another PDF compilation, to which I link below. At the same time, it presents two flags, and provides suggestions for using flags in a ship-based RPG campaign.

Aetherial Adventures 8


An important element of interaction between vessels—be it at sea or in the aether—is how they communicate with flags that they carry. In addition to drawing up deck plans for their vessels, it behooves players to design the emblem under which they sail. What is more, here are two more flags for organizations in the Sol Space campaign setting.

The Dwarven Mining Guild
This flag includes the crossed pick and shovel, the tools of the dwarves' trade, along with
their organization's initials. The darker grey represents the stone from which they
claim valuable ore, while the lighter color represents the refined metals.

The Sol Society
Central to this ensign is, of course, the sun. It sits amdist a bright blue background,
which represents the light of hope that comes from worshiping Sol.

Using Flags in a Ship-Based RPG Campaign
The flags that ships carry can be used in all sorts of ways during a ship-based campaign; a few of the possibilities are listed below.
  • Since flags provide—ostensibly, at least—confirmation of a ship's loyalty, it should come as no surprise that ne'er-do-wells often carried flags from many different countries and organizations, in order to deceive possible foes.
  • In battle, an important objective for soldiers is to fight their way aboard an enemy vessel, strike its colors, and then hoist their own.
  • Pirates were particularly creative when it comes to designing flags; many incorporate images of death, of course, but others included elements that identified and thus threatened specific locations considered to be enemies.
  • Certain solid-color flags conveyed important messages. For example: white implies surrender, or good intentions for parley; yellow identifies a vessel that is infected with disease; red indicates that the officers and crew will neither ask for nor give quarter in battle.

Friday, August 4, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 Posts

I apologize for the cross-posting, but I'll share my answers to these questions on all three of my current blogs.

Q1: What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

A1: Right now I wish that I was playing more of the Star Wars RPGs from Fantasy Flight Games, especially Age of Rebellion. Right now I really only have time for one weekly campaign, however, and so something more familiar to my players has taken priority. We'll see how the 2016-17 school year develops, though.

Q2: What is an RPG you would like to see published?

A2: I would love to see a space fantasy setting for Pathfinder that's in the vein of the old Spelljammer setting for D&D. The new Starfinder setting is interesting, but I'd rather not add so much technology to a fantasy RPG.

Q3: How do you find out about new RPGs?

A3: I regularly visit sites such as ENWorld and for my general RPG news, as well as the message boards for Paizo Publishing and Fantasy Flight Games when I'm looking for info about their lines.

Q4: Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?

A4: The clear winner here is Pathfinder, since I'm playing in a monthly campaign (the Skull & Shackles adventure path) with some college buddies an I just finished up a weekly campaign (a more traditional fantasy campaign loosely set on the Freeport setting's Continent).

Q5: Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

A5: For me, this is an easy one; the cover for The Concordance of Arcane Space has always been a favorite, capturing the essence of the Spelljammer space fantasy setting for 2nd Edition AD&D

 Q6: You can game every day for a week. Describe what you'd do!

A6: My gut reaction here is to say that I'd gather a group of players, create some OD&D characters, and finish Keep on the Borderlands once and for all. That's something we tried to do a number of times when I was younger—including an epic effort on a snow day in college—but for which we never succeeded.

A more serious answer is to say that I'd run a series using one of the rulebooks that currently sits idle on my shelf. This could include Wonderland No More using the Save Worlds rules, or perhaps Pirates of the Spanish Main using the same. 
 Q7: What was your most impactful RPG session?

A7: When it comes to sessions in which I've played, the most impactful is probably a weekend-long, epic campaign finale to a Spelljammer campaign that my brother ran. He and I, along with two buddies, had been playing in that campaign for more than a year. For the finale, my aunt took us all out to the family cabin, where Nick ran the module Under the Dark Fist. We played for much of Friday night before going to bed, and then for as much of Saturday as we could, before finishing things on Sunday. In addition to being the action-packed conclusion to that campaign, it was the first taste that I had of really epic adventuring—our characters save the Known Galaxy from the Vodyanoi threat, and then were granted demi-god status because of what we'd done. That extended session, to me, set the bar for what RPG campaign finales could, and should, be.

Q8: What is a good RPG to play for session of 2 hours or less?

A8: For me, the first answer that comes to mind is the d6-based Star Wars RPG from West End Games. Although it's been out of print for almost twenty years now, it still strikes me as an excellent rules-light system that really captures the feel of the setting that it's supposed to emulate. While other games can be run in such a way that the rules seem to be “invisible,” that one, to me, still seems like the best.

Q9: What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

A9: This, to me, seems like a good chance to try out something unusual, or something that's not so well suited to extended campaign play. (Pathfinder or D&D and Star Wars strike me as really well suited to long campaigns, by the way.) I've been wanting to use Savage Worlds for a short series inspired by Ash vs. Evil Dead, for example, or even something based on RoboCop. Those, in my mind, would make for good ten-game series: ones that have a higher possibility of PC fatality. For that reason any incarnation of Call of Cthulhu also comes to mind, even though I don't have much experience with it.

 Q10: Where do you go for RPG reviews?

A10: As mentioned above, I spend a good deal of time on ENWorld and If those don't provide what I want, then I just Google “Title of RPG Review.”

Q11: Which “dead game” would you like to see reborn?

A11: This is an easy one: the D6 version of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game.

 Q12: Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

A12: I'll give a shoutout here to the old Al-Qadim campaign setting. The art wasn't fancy, but TSR did a nice job of keeping one artist—Karl Waller—for the whole run of the product line. This established a really consistent feel, and I liked it.

Q13: Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

A13: Running sessions at conventions and for the RPGA had a big impact on how I plan for and run sessions. Much of that comes from the fact that I needed to tell a complete and satisfying story in a four-hour time period, and one in which all of the characters (and thus players) play an active part. That also pushed me to work on my organization and pacing.

Q14: Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

A14: This is a hard one. On the one hand, I think games like Pathfinder and D&D work really well because the level-based system of character advancement makes for really satisfying development. Eventually, however, characters become so powerful that it's hard to challenge them without having character death become all too common.

 Q15: Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

A15: Savage Worlds stands out for this one because of the ease of adaptability for it, and because its “Fast, Furious and Fun” nature makes it a good fit for lots of cinematic genres. I've written some supplements for using it in the Aliens universe, and have been kicking around ideas for Ash vs. Evil Dead and RoboCop, too.

Q16: What RPG do you enjoy using as is?

A16: For me, Pathfinder is the one that just works well in the setting for which it is intended. While the rules become a little cumbersome and slow at really high levels, most campaigns don't run that long.

Q17: Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?

A17: That award probably goes to the Masterbook system version of The Adventures of Indiana Jones.

Q18: Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

A18: This one is a toss-up between the various incarnations of D&D and Pathfinder, or to the range of Star Wars RPGs. When it comes to Star Wars, I can recall half a dozen D6-System SW campaigns, along with a few using the d20 System (including lots of activity for the Living Force campaign), one for Saga Edition (the Dawn of Defiance series) and a couple for the new system from Fantasy Flight Games. On the other hand, it feels like I've run or played in a D&D/Pathfinder campaign just about every year for the past quarter century: four in the Freeport setting; a massive Spelljammer epic; various hodgepodges of Dungeon Magazine scenarios in junior high and high school; one based on Against the Giants using 3rd edition; two set in ancient Greece; one in Lankhmar; one that ran to 20th level and ended with the Coliseum Morpheuon super-module; and my current one, playing in the Skull & Shackles adventure path. Additionally, I've run most of those systems and editions at conventions, game days and the like. Let's call it a draw at a dozen of each.

Q19: Which RPG features the best writing?

A19: I really enjoyed reading the 1st Edition of the Star Wars RPG from West End Games because the authors included a good deal of humor in their explanations of how the rules worked.

 Q20: What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

A20: For pure efficacy, Amazon is probably the best way to find and order them. Even so, I still like to hit the used book stores to peruse the shelves; there's more of a sense of adventure to it.

Q21: What RPG does the most with the least words?

A21: For this one I'll go with the Mini-Six version of the old D6 System, updated by AntiPaladin Games using material from West End Games. The whole booklet is only some twenty pages long, but provides a complete RPG.

Q22: Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

A22: My answer for this is the same as for previous ones: either Pathfinder or the D6-System Star Wars.

Q23: Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

A23: Right now, any full-color RPG is in contention. My collection is not the most diverse, so there are probably a lot of them with really pretty aesthetics of which I'm not aware. Even so, I do recall that the One Ring RPG looked really nice.

Q24: Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

A24: While I don't buy as many PDF products as I used to, one publisher stands out here: Rite Publishing. I know that they have lots of material with normal prices, but their Pathways e-zine has consistently provided quality content for more than sixty issues.

Q25: What is the best way to thank your GM?

A25: For me, having players tell stories from sessions is the highest form of praise. While not every session is memorable—indeed, I think I have forgotten the majority of them—it's the ones that players tell again and again that make me feel like I've done good work.

Q26: Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

A26: I'll go with the various Star Wars RPGs on this one, since they've helped explore and expand that Galaxy Far, Far Away.

 Q27: What are your essential tools for good gaming?

A27: In addition to books, minis, maps and dice, I always have note cards for keeping the initiative order and paper for taking notes. Throw in some poker chips, too, if I'm running Savage Worlds.

Q28: What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?

A28: I'm not sure about this one, since people will quote from many different sources. When we're playing a Star Wars RPG it's usually the clear winner, but beyond that I don't know.

Q29: What has been the best-run Kickstarter you have backed?

A29: Far and away, the Kickstarter for the Sixth Gun RPG went the most smoothly; the book was released on time and is beautiful. Beyond that, one was late, I'm still waiting on one, and one just disappeared. I'll give a shoutout, though, for Buccaneer: Come Hell and High Water and Harlem Unbound, both of which are currently in progress.

Q30: What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

A30: I would love to see a mashup of games with various setting and rules, all linked together using a time-traveling and world-spanning plot via Army of Darkness.

Q31: What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

A31: At the risk of being self-serving, I'm excited to run a couple of scenarios at Con of the North in February, 2018, using the Aetherial Adventures material that I've been writing for this blog. I think it's going to be a lot of fun.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Strange Meteorites from Beyond the Sol System

It's relatively common knowledge that the surface of the planet Wodan is pockmarked with creaters caused by meteorite impacts. What not so many know is that some of those meteorites come from beyond the Sol System, and in fact originate in the depths of space between distant stars. What is more, some of those meteorites contain an unusual greenish, liquid metal, one that is known to cause deformities and mutations among those who are exposed to it.

To determine a random deformity, roll 1d12 and consult the following list; refer to pages 180-1 of Bestiary 5 for details.

1. Blind
2. Deaf
3. Fragile
4. Fractured Mind
5. Lame
6. Light Blindness
7. Mindless
8. Misshapen
9. Poor Ability
10. Spasms
11. Useless Arm
12. Vulnerability

To determine a random deformity, roll 1d20 and consult the following list; refer to page 181 of Bestiary 5 for details.

1. Armored
2. Bulbous Eyes
3. Celerity
4. Echolocation
5. Extra Arm
6. Fast Healing
7. Feral
8. Gills
9. Increased Speed
10. Leaping
11. Mental Armor
12. Rage
13. Resistance
14. Rugged
15. Sealed Mind
16. Slam
17. Spell-Like Ability
18. Stench
19. Telepathy
20. Wings

Little is known about the origin of these meteorites. Some claim that they are crafted by unknown but bizarre entities—possibly the goddess Lamashtu, the Void itself, or even some unholy union of those two powers—and then sent drifting toward Sol and its planets. According to that theory, the rocks are a means of corrupting and perverting those worlds and their inhabitants. Others postulate that there must be some area of powerful, weird energy in which they originate, but do not know just what sets them into motion through the aether. Finally, at least one scholar has theorized that they might be produced by a sentient nebula, one that somehow became subject to madness.

Using the Strange Meteorites in an Aetherial Adventures Campaign
There are plenty of ways that a GM can work these unusual objects into a space fantasy RPG campaign; presented here are a few of the possibilities.
  • As mentioned previously, the fire giants of Wodan are known to seek out craters on that world in which these have impacted and then mine them for their ore; they then use them for magical experiments, the purpose of which is not entirely clear.
  • When a meteorite lands in the water near a coastal village, creatures and even people begin to develop mutations; local authorities look for adventures to investigate.
  • One mutant that develops the Telepathy mutation becomes highly valuable as a spy, and its ally or master could use it to steal information from unsuspecting victims. Just what those secrets are, of course, and how one can exploit them, provides nearly limitless opportunities for intrigue and adventure.
  • A ruthless military leader might try to harness the power of mutation for improving soldiers' combat abilities. While some, such as the Disciples of the Destroyer, might embrace such an ordeal, most others would resent it.
  • Indeed, the subjects of those experiments might even turn on their commanders and look for a crew with an aethership who can help them escape.
  • The PCs could encounter a ship that collided with one of these asteroids and must deal with the crew and passengers who have been exposed to its weird mutations.
  • In the aftermath of such an incident, the powers that be might call on the PCs to help find a cure for the mutations; that could entail a visit to the fire giants of Wodan, or even an expedition to the region of space from which they come.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Fire Giants of Wodan, Part 2

Here's the lower level of the fire giants' stronghold.


 14. Watchtower
From the stronghold's ground level, the spiral staircase leads up through the natural rock and into a tower that rises fifty feet above the surrounding cliff face. At the top it is open to the sky overhead, except for a waist-high (for fire giants) railing along the outside. From here, the two giants normally stationed here watch the surrounding terrain for potential enemies and other developments. What is more, four ballistae are located here in the event that the giants need to stage a defense.

15. Hallway
A broad hallway leads from the base of the staircase to the other rooms on the stronghold's lower level.

16. Troll Warren
The door to this chamber is barred by a locked iron gate (hardness 10 and 60 hit pints; DC 25 to force or DC 30 to open). It is here that the trolls who serve the fire giants in mining activities and other labor. There are piles of straw for their beds, among which one can find odds and ends that they've kept as trophies or tools.

17. Hell Hound Pen
This room is laid out in much the same way as the troll warren, except that it is slightly cleaner. The hell hounds are kept here.

18. Torture Chamber
Two broad tables, with shackles mounted in their corners, occupy the middle of this room. There are shelves on the inside walls, too, filled with various unpleasant implements. On the inside wall there are four cells, each built for three prisoners and sealed with doors similar to those in the troll warren and hell hound pen. A single fire giant can usually be found here, preparing for the next session.

19. Workshop
One corner of this room is filled by a large furnace, used for heating liquids as well as metal items. There are barrels of fuel to one side of it, and a cask of water to the other. In the middle sits a broad work table, and shelves containing esoteric ingredients, tools and the like line two of the walls. The fire giant oracle and/or an assistant can often be found here, along with the tophet that serves as an unsleeping guardian.

20. King and Queen's Bedroom
A huge bed dominates the center of this room; large wardrobes and storage trunks stand against the walls to either side of it. This is, of course, where the fire giant oracle and magmablade take their rest. As such, the wardrobes and trunks contain many of their personal items, including extra sets of clothing along with any treasure items that the giants don't generally carry on their persons. Note, however that the trunks are sealed with good-quality locks (DC 30 to open and DC 25 to break).

21. Meditation Chamber
This rather Spartan room contains only a low table with an incense burner and writing materials, and a seating cushion. It is here that the oracle performs her rituals and other activities.

22. Trophy Room
Tapestries depicting the glories of the magmablade's deeds hang along the walls of this chamber. Additionally, four suits of armor taken from fallen foes are arranged on stands. At the GM's discretion, one or more of these could even be magical—something that is too small for the magmablade to wear, but suitable for the PCs. Additionally, a DC 25 Perception check reveals the secret door that provides access to the escape tunnel (below).

23. Escape Tunnel
This narrow passage, some ten feet wide and fifteen feet tall, provides a means of escape in the event of trouble that's too much for the fire giants to handle. It leads to an exit in the surrounding hillside.

Stronghold Inhabitants
Detailed here are references for those who inhabit the stronghold.

Fire Giants: Refer to page 148 in the Bestiary for details.

Fire Giant Strongarms: Refer to page 58 in the Monster Codex for details.

Ettins: Refer to page 130 in the Bestiary for details.

Hell Hounds: Refer to page 173 in the Bestiary for details.

Trolls: Refer to page 268 in the Bestiary for details. Note, too, that some of these trolls have suffered deformities and mutations as per pages 180-1 in Bestiary 5.

Fire Giant Doombringer: Refer to page 61 in the Monster Codex for details.

Fire Giant Magmablade: Refer to page 60 in the Monster Codex for details.

Tophet: Refer to page 271 in Bestiary 3 for details.

Using the Fire Giants of Wodan in an Aetherial Adventures Campaign
There are plenty of ways that the PCs could interact with these fire giants during a space fantasy RPG campaign; presented here are a few of the possibilities.
  • Given the inherent power of the fire giants, it goes almost without saying that those who deal with them should rely on diplomacy and skulduggery rather than outright use of force.
  • The lack of natural resources on Wodan means that PCs can find a market for foodstuffs and similar goods here, in exchange for precious ores, worked metal goods and the like.
  • The PCs might be recruited to rescue a prisoner who is being held by the fire giants; whether or not that imprisonment is deserved, of course, is open to debate.
  • It is rumored that the fire giants receive regular efreeti visitors; although the exact nature of their mutual business is unknown, some claim that they've had discussions about the church of Sol on Homeworld.
  • Some of the meteorites that strike the surface of Wodan are ones that originate beyond the Sol System; the fire giants use their trolls to mine those impact craters. Because of the deformities and mutations caused by exposure to that metal, it's possible that one or more of the trolls could approach the PCs seeking to escape from that dangerous job.
  • Finally, other organizations could be interested in studying and even exploiting those mutative properties—especially if and when they are faced with a major threat of some kind.