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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pellatarrum: Broken River 2

Broken River
Part 2: NPCs
by Mike (Rhishisikk) Kochis


Disclaimer
Okay, before we start on NPCs, you should know a few things about how I design my worlds.

Point one: The PCs should feel awesome compared to the NPCs. I've played too many games where the GM's precious NPCs stride large above the PCs, while they just watch. Conversely, I've seen a player (after convincing me to run a specific module) build a social-max character just to get the NPCs to resolve their own problems.

Point two: If the adventures don't threaten the NPCs, there isn't a point for the adventure. This one seems obvious, but if there are a dozen goblins attacking a town and the sherriff is an 8th level fighter... You see where that's really not something to worry the citizenry. The sherriff rides forth with a ranger, tracks down the 200 strong goblin tribe, and wipes them out. No adventure there.

Point three: Commoners should be common. I know, seems obvious. Now, look at your average town. Paladins and monks and bards and practically drowning in experts. If you're lucky, the town's undertaker and garbage collector are commoners. Nope. I've seen a town write up where an experienced farmer is a 4th level expert.

Now, given these three points, I am a HUGE fan of articles like "Aragorn was 5th level". Go ahead and follow that link, it's a good read. Now, realizing that the legendary figures that straddle the world and induce awe in commoners are (gasp) 5th level – we need to re-think our world design. Settlements are now the bright lights surrounded by a sea of chaotic darkness. Things that go bump in the night are scary.

Just the sort of environment for bold adventurers!


Where NOT to Start
Okay, it's Pellatarum. So we start at the church and the order of paladins, right? We'll just make an exception and have a 9th level cleric so the characters can get ressurected. So, if we make the head of the paladin order his cohort, we've got a 7th level paladin. This makes an equally experienced fighter head of our city watch, and – if you don't have your ruler out to smack me now, you haven't been paying attention.

Okay, so we start with the mayor, right? The NPCs cap out at 5th level, so he must be a 5th level aristocrat, with 5thlevel experts for our town smith, bricklayer, and so on. And we can put in 5th level trainers for each class – and again, you should already know this is also not our starting point.

Ah. Gotcha. So we start with our 5th level commoners, the most experienced farmer or mudmucker... Nope.


Where to Start: Commoners
As you've probably guessed, we start at the bottom, with first level commoners.

But don't get ahead of yourself. First, as a general rule of thumb, every settlement has 1k XP per population to divide among its NPCs. The temptation, as pointed out earlier, is to stat out our shining NPC "heroes" where we want them and leave the rest to first level. While not wrong, it does create a definite feeling of "has versus has-not" in the world.

For verisimilitude (a feeling of realism), I start at the bottom, and generally have fewer 2nd level in a class than first level, and so on in a tapering pyramid effect.

But, back to the meat and potatoes. Commoners should be common. About 90% common, in my opinion. Half of these should automatically be first level commoners; we'll be adding more back into the pool later. But just face it – at least 45% of your population is just – common. (Surprisingly low when compared to the real world, but let's not go there right now.)

So we have a total of 1125 commoners. About half (the automatic level ones) are 562. This gives us our "base number."


The General Math
Okay, we're going to be using this process a lot, so pay attention. Bookmark it and come back later. Open a second window with this part centered. Whatever you have to do. This is super simple, but is the core of how I design my NPC settlements.

Our base number is the number of level ones in any particular field. In the case of commoners, we have determined this number is 562. So half that number should be next level up, and so on, right? Almost right. Our number of level 2 commoners IS half of our base number (281), divided by the XP needed to reach that level, in this case, 1k XP, for a result of 281. So, our commoner chart looks like this:


Level
Base Number
kXP each
Actual Number
kXP expended
Total kXP expended
kXP remaining
1
562
0
562
0
0
1250
2
281
1
281
281
281
969
3
140
3
43
129
410
840
4
70
6
12
72
482
768
5
35
10
3
30
512
738
6
17
15
1
15
527
723


I know what you're saying. Two possible complaints: there's an exceptional commoner in town, and almost HALF the town's XP is gone with characters the PCs will probably never meet, never care about, and certainly never treasure. So let's deal with those in order.

The legendary commoner must be very powerful and experienced, right? So they must be – the mayor! Nope, and not because the mayor is an aristocrat. In most societies, the most experienced person will be one who is central to daily living, connected to nearly everyone, and a pillar of the community. Our "legendary" commoner is probably the town baker, or owner of the general store, or warden of the docks, or (gasp) the barmaid at the town's favorite watering hole.

As for half our XP limit being gone? Live with it or die. Ninety percent of the populace got fifty percent of the XP. They're getting shafted – let's move on.


Next: Other NPC Classes
Yes, yes, I hear you weeping for your 9th level cleric – you're not going to get him, not in this town. When your PCs goof up and die, they're going to have to travel to the capitol city, into the possible clutches of Seamus Gantry, nefarious 7th level commoner and clerk, in order to get their raise dead on.

But back to our NPC classes, of which we have four: aristocrat, adept, expert, and warrior. We have 723kXP to divide among them. So we give them half of what remains, right? Right? Okay, what you're experiencing now is called hyperventilating. You need to control your breathing.

Yes, we give them half the remaining XP. Now, now, stop crying. Actually, go ahead and let it all out now. It's okay. I can't hear you, and the words in this document can wait.

Okay, now that you've calmed down, there's two reasons for this. Firstly, and most importantly, unless the community is meant to defend itself without the adventurers (preposterous!), it shouldn't be brimming to the gills with player-classed NPCs. Secondly, as you'll see, they don't actually use all of their half.

First we divide the XP into equal parts of 20, dropping fractions. We'll see this again later, but for now, just know that our NPCs are only getting ten of these twenty shares, each of which is 34kXP. Why do this instead of just give them 362 kXP? It's easier to divide in pre-portioned shares, an idea that becomes SUPREMELY important when we get to PC classes.

So, who gets what? Well, I want aristocrats and adepts to be rare, so I only give each of them one share. We have a garrison structure in town, so I want many warriors to reflect that – five shares. This leaves three shares for experts, which also seems about right to me.

In order for our cascading math (above) to work right, we feed only half that XP into our base number. Here's where your mind is about to boggle again: to reflect how rare even these individuals are, I give them a +1EL adjustment for this calculation only. Yes, I feel that wince over the internet, and yes, it applies to PC classes also.

Anyway, this gives us a base number of 17, 17, 51, and 86, respectively. This makes our highest levels: 3, 3, 4 (or 3, if we round down), and 4. This falls within our expected power curve, and leaves us with 400kXP for our PC classes.

Erin has persuaded me to show the math (skip over these charts if you want, I'll be sticking them into an appendix on the actual design document):


Aristocrats and Adepts

Level
Base Number
kXP each
Actual Number
kXP expended
Total kXP expended
kXP remaining
1
17
1
17
17
17
706 - 689
2
9
3
3
9
26
697 - 671
3
5
6
1
6
32
691 - 659


Experts
Level
Base Number
kXP each
Actual Number
kXP expended
Total kXP expended
kXP remaining
1
51
1
51
51
51
608
2
25
3
8
24
75
584
3
12
6
2
12
87
572
4
6
10
1
10
97
562


Warriors
Level
Base Number
kXP each
Actual Number
kXP expended
Total kXP expended
kXP remaining
1
86
1
86
86
86
476
2
43
3
14
42
128
434
3
21
6
3
18
146
416
4
10
10
1
10
156
406


Finally: Adventurers
Okay, first off, half of the NPC adventurers in my worlds die off before they reach first level. Yes, that means that we cut the XP in half, burying the rest in the graveyard. What sort of animal is that howling in the background? Well, whatever. Let's move on.

I like the idea of the "big four", or core, classes: fighter, rogue, wizard, and cleric. Only – this is Pellatarum, which plays more to sorcerers than wizards* (plus I want to have an Elemental Circle in town, one sorceror tainted with each of the four elements), so I make that substitution now. Each of the "big four" gets two shares.

The rest of the main "base" classes from the rules get one share each: bard, barbarian, ranger, druid, and wizard. Note that bard and paladin, due to extreme alignment and behavior code restrictions are actually moved down one category.

Expansion classes get half a share each: alchemist, cavalier, inquisitor, magus, monk, oracle, paladin, summoner, and witch.

And three "variant" classes just get punked – they may exist in my world, but don't deserve their own class. This list is: gunslinger**, ninja (rogue), and samurai (cavalier). If gunpowder exists in Pellatarum, maybe we go back and add a single gunslinger. The others are just retooling of their template classes, and just don't merit their own class in my campaign.

But wait! We have two shares left! I divide these evenly among the "big four", giving us base numbers of: 25 (12), 10 (5), 5 (2), and 0 (yes, the classes we aren't using get zero XP). In turn, this gives us generous numbers of our "big four" classes, a second level in each of the other classes, and a veritable plethora of level ones of all classes (except those we're not using) to distribute among our town.

Now, I know you're just reaching out to that third level cleric to put him in charge of the Temple of Light, and the second level paladin to run temple security. Sit on those hands. Sit on them! One big fallacy of world building is the tendency to put the highest level person in the slot with the most authority. Remember our discussion about the 6thlevel commoner? Still applies. So – hands off (for now).

And, for those who need them, the charts:

Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Sorcerer
Level
Base Number
kXP each
Actual Number
kXP expended
Total kXP expended
kXP remaining
1
12
1
12
1
1
201 - 198
2
6
3
2
6
7
192 - 174
3
3
6
1
6
13
168 - 150


Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Ranger, Wizard
Level
Base Number
kXP each
Actual Number
kXP expended
Total kXP expended
kXP remaining
1
5
1
5
5
5
145 - 125
2
2
3
1
3
8
122 - 110


Alchemist, Cavalier, Inquisitor, Magus, Monk, Oracle, Paladin, Summoner, Witch
Level
Base Number
kXP each
Actual Number
kXP expended
Total kXP expended
kXP remaining
1
2
1
2
2
2
108 - 88
2
1
3
1
3
5
85 - 55


The Worm That Doth Corrupt
One final issue with this part of the process: notice how we have 55kXP left over? That goes to antagonists, those NPCs the PCs will hate, and want to kill, but can't. The tailor who sticks them with pins and calls them unholy sinners in front of the town council. The harlot blackmailing the town council. Those beggar-brat children who target the PCs every time they're on the "dirty side" of town.

But we'll get to those people later. Our next installment is on notable locations and NPCs -- now you finally get to touch those character-leveled NPCs.


EDIT: Due to confusion, Mike has explained his math and how the charts work here.


Editor's Notes
*I'm not sure where Mike is going with this, but he's promised me answers, so I'm content to let this play out.

** If firearms exist in Pellatarrum -- and I'm undecided if they do -- they were invented by the dwarves and are a closely-guarded state secret. Therefore, any PC gunslingers will be hunted and hounded by dwarf repo teams.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Gunday: Effin' Fall

I'm feeling a bit lackadaisical today due to rain, headache, and family-in-the-path-of-the-hurricane drama, so I'm going to be lazy and post a wonderfully made video on the history of the FN FAL battle rifle.

But before I do:

  1. I'm not the only one to pronounce it "Effin' Fall," am I? It just seems cumbersome to say "Eff En Eff Ay Ell" all the time. 
  2. The narrator doesn't make this mistake -- thankfully -- but just because something is fully automatic doesn't make it a machine gun, okay? The news makes this mistake all the goddamn time, and it really gets me bent out of shape. 
  3. There's something really soothing about hearing a British voice narrating a documentary. Not sure why this is, but it's true. 
Enjoy!





(H/T to Weer'd World for the link)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pellatarrum: Servitor and Half Races (an overview)

Again, these are just capsule reviews, More in-depth articles for each race will follow.

Humans
You already know what these are and how they act. Humans were created by the dwarves to act as ambassadors to the other races (especially elves), so they have a tendency to adapt, accept, and tolerate. However, push them too far, or get in the way of something they want, and you will see how much they are like their parent race.

Pellatarran humans live wherever they want, and while this adaptability is one of their greatest strengths, it also brings them into conflict with the more territorial races (elves, orcs, goblinoids). Sometimes this leads to greater understanding and open trade; sometimes it leads to outright war.

Humans are the only minor race which creates and lives inside cities. Although other races are welcome to live with them, humans are always the first to colonize and build.


Gnomes
Another ambassador race, the gnomes were created by elves to interface with dwarves and other races. This gives them a tendency towards the chaotic, though this manifests more as whimsy and not random violence. Usually. That said, when a gnome goes psychopathic, it's a terrible sight to behold.

Considering their origins, it's not surprising that humans and gnomes get along like siblings, or at least cousins: occasionally there is a squabble that results in mild violence but usually both races can live in harmony with each other. In some larger human cities, gnomes comprise half of the population, creating a race-based division of labor with the taller, stronger humans performing tasks which require height or muscle mass and the smaller, magically-inclined gnomes taking on duties which require scholarship or greater dexterity. Gnomes and humans are known to intermarry, but are infertile.

Gnomes are also known to cohabitate with halflings, although their similarity in size usually results in a more equal division of labor which most gnomes resent. However, if there is a practitioner of arcane magic within a halfling community, odds are excellent that it is a gnome.

Gnomes and halflings may interbreed, but their children are always the same race as their same-gender parent.


Halflings
In contrast to dwarves, halflings are always cheerful even if they're not happy. In fact, many races find halflings so annoyingly perky that it sometimes results in fisticuffs. This suits the half-folk just fine, because they find as much pleasure in a good brawl as they do in eating, drinking, singing, and dancing.

Halfings come in two distinct varieties. Pastoral halflings live in lightly wooded areas of rolling hills, where they enjoy the simple bucolic pleasures of farming, fishing, and raising livestock. Nomadic halflings have an adventuresome spirit and frequently join the wind-caravans that circumnavigate the Dayspire. It is not uncommon for halflings to switch between these two cultures at different stages of their lives, and doing so is seen as a healthy and natural act.

At the risk of perpetuating broad racial sterotypes, halflings are a fusion of  Irish, Australian, and Gypsy cultures. Eat, drink, fight, love, explore, trade, have children, die brilliantly -- that's a halfling's dream.

Halflings are the only minor race that willingly associates with kobolds.


Kobolds
Kobolds are unusual in that even though they were emancipated along with the other minor races at the end of the Orc War, they chose to re-enslave themselves to the dragon race. Whether this was a conscious choice or the result of a deeply ingrained magical effect is unknown. Regardless of the reason, all kobolds are obsessed with dragons: serving them, finding them, or in rare cases, becoming them.

Those kobolds fortunate enough to have a dragon master live wherever that dragon lives, doing its bidding much as worker ants serve the queen. Those who do not are often fixated upon finding a dragon to serve. Sometimes this is as simple as investigating all rumors of nearby dragons in the hopes of joining its tribe; tracking down a recently wounded and dragon and helping it heal and rebuild its hoard, or finding a dragon egg to raise. In extreme cases, kobolds with magical ability have found a way to evolve dragon-like qualities.

Because of each dragon's particular obsessions, some especially intelligent kobolds have formed a complex network of trade and information sharing. Acting as middlemen for their tribe and the outside world, these kobolds record and keep track of the obsessions of other dragons with the specific goal of increasing their dragons' collection through trade or favor exchange. This makes them a rich source of information about locations and hoards of dragons across Pellatarrum, as well as excellent fences and fixers for esoteric or high-value items.

Many of these traders travel with halfling caravans as sages and mages, leading them to dragon strongholds and informing caravan masters of what each dragon craves and what he can offer in trade. Their real goal, however, is the collection of dragon-lore of all kinds.

Kobolds are known to kidnap sleeping infants and small children. This is because many dragons have dalliances with members of other races while polymorphed, and kobolds are able to sniff out these half-dragon crossbreeds. Sometimes these kidnapped children are brought back to their draconic parent, and sometimes they are carried off into the night, never to be seen again.

It is of interest that kobolds have never once kidnapped a halfling child.


Half-Orcs
Let us be frank here: more often than not, half-orcs are the product of rape. As such, they are rarely welcome in any community, and those that do manage a life there are often the targets of fear, derision, and prejudice. Regarded as barely a step above monsters in human villages, they are treated as weaklings within the orc tribe. It is no wonder, then, that many of them seek to make a name and a place for themselves through adventuring.

Only humans have successfully interbred with orcs (unless you count polymorphed dragons). Dwarven biology automatically aborts the fetus; elven mothers just produce more elves. Kobolds aren't even mammals, and curiously enough, not even the sages can think of an instance of a halfling mother and an orc father. Gnomes impregnated by orcs usually die around the middle of the second trimester unless abortificants are used.

A half-orc and a human produces a human with slight orcish features. A half-orc and an orc produce a slightly human-looking orc. Only when two half-orcs interbreed do they produce more half-orcs, although there are legends of half-orc parents bearing twins, with one child fully human and the other fully orc.


Half-Elves
In contrast to half-orcs, half-elves are at least tolerated within their parents' societies. Their struggles are usually internal rather than societal: they outlive their human friends and family, yet will die well before their parents. As such, though they are members of two cultures, they often feel they do not fit in with either. 

They have an odd kinship with halflings, whose lifespans roughly match theirs, and whose relentlessly cheerful outlook on life helps to dispel the frequent moodiness a half-elf feels. In return, the half-elf acts as the "token tallfolk" and often serves as village protector and spokesperson.

Elves cannot interbreed with any race other than humans (except polymorphed dragons). A half-elf and a human produces a human with slight elven feature, while a half-elf and an elf produce a slightly human-looking elf.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pellatarrum: The Elder Races (an overview)

A capsule review of the elder races of Pellatarrum. More in-depth articles for each race will follow.


Dwarves
The most important thing to know about Pellatarran dwarves is that they're happy. This doesn't mean they're cheerful and whistle all the time, or that they can't be cranky bastards (they frequently are), but they aren't the pointless, doomed race that so often crops up in fiction. They live in a paradise of their own making, an unassailable continent-sized city-state of endless crafting, filled to the brim with other dwarves who know everyone else's business. They have a purpose to their lives, and that gives them joyful hearts. If they are not mining, crafting, or building, they are exploring the depths of the Underdark, which is where most of their warriors learn the art of combat.

Fully 90% of all dwarves live in the Dayspire. Of the rest, 5% are either colonists or splinter sects who have set up a home in other places of rich mining. 4% are either traveling merchants or diplomatic representatives of some kind. The remaining 1% are criminals, exiles, adventurers, or insane (sometimes all of the above.)

The best way to imagine dwarves in Pellatarrum is to compare them to ultra-orthodox Jews of Germanic descent who are now living in Israel. Think Fiddler on the Roof, but with mining and battleaxes.

If anyone on Pellatarrum has invented gunpower, it is the dwarves, and that technology would be considered a state secret and guarded with fanatical jealousy.


Elves
"Fey" does not mean "nice". This is an important distinction, as is the fact that a chaotic society is held together not by laws or tradition, but by force; either force of arms or force of personality. For the elves, it's the latter, as their various kings and queens are able to play the political game with such skill that they are able to direct feuding houses in productive directions rather than allow the kingdom to be torn apart. However, with each new monarch, there is always a period of instability that ranges from "violent upheaval" to "savage internecine warfare."

Elves live in undeveloped areas of great wilderness, typically forests. They eschew both plains ("too open") and coastlines ("too close to the sea"), though jungles, mountains and valleys are acceptable to them. They never, ever, live underground or close to human cities. Most new elven cities are formed through mass exodus of exiled families after a political coup or failed assassination.

The best way to envision elves in Pellatarrum is to imagine the Picts and/or Celts amalgamated with the various South American cultures such as the Incas, Aztecs, and Mayans. They are highly educated and "civilized", though they are bloodthirsty and violent. (Blood sacrifice is not necessarily off the table.) They aren't whimsical; they're fickle. Consult the old, old tales of the "fair folk" for more ideas.

Instead of horses, elves ride exotic mounts such as Terror Birds.


Orcs
Orcs are the other end of the chaotic spectrum, held together through savage violence (or threat thereof) by the strongest, scariest, most violent warlord. Orcs live in what is, to them, a post-apocalyptic world: their capitol is obliterated, their civilization shattered, their people scattered. They are not stupid, however; they are simply ignorant because so much of their racial knowledge has been lost. They are a people hungry to rebuild and reunify, and if it take the slaughter of every living thing on Pellatarrum, then so be it.

Orcs live in the roughest and deadliest parts of Pellatarrum: deserts, crags, badlands, and underground. Their technology is primitive but effective: bronze armor, wickedly sharp obsidian blades, and whatever arms and armor they are able to find through raiding. Occasionally a tribe will discover a piece of lost knowledge and will attempt to use that edge in conquest of neighboring tribes; often as not, that tribe is set upon by all the others and the knowledge lost in ensuing massacre.

The closest historical allusion to orcs would be ancient civilizations, such as Pharaonic Egypt or Gilgamesh-era Babylon. Play up the antiquity and sheer amount of knowledge lost (such as the burning of the Library of Alexandria), and a thirst for knowledge that rivals thirst for conquest.

Orcs are the only race to have "domesticated" fire elementals, and maintain them without fear of dissolution.


Dragons
Reclusive, powerful, obsessive: These are the key personality traits of all dragons. Being exceedingly long-lived, slow to reproduce, and intolerant of other dragons except during mating season, there is no draconic culture to speak of. Dragons just want to be left alone to indulge their passions without interruption, interacting with others only when necessary. For everything else, they have their servants, the kobolds.

Dragons live... wherever they want, honestly, and good luck getting rid of them if you have a problem with that. Fortunately for the other races, they have extremely slow metabolisms and an intense dislike of personal interaction (unless their passion is for that kind of thing.)

There is no historical comparison to dragons, obviously. The closest cultural equivalent would be to imagine an apex predator who is also an enormous geek and a nearly unlimited source of funds. Yes, this makes the stereotypical destructive red dragon into the person who enjoys "pwning n00bs" online, calling them obscene names and teabagging them.

Dragons frequently have their kobolds steal infant children, for reasons to be detailed later.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pellatarrum: Broken River



Broken River
A Starter City for Pellatarum
by Mike (Rhishisikk) Kochis



Background
I admit it; the world of Pellatarum didn't thrill me the first time I read it. Oh, it had a sense of balance, and was a finely tuned clockwork. Plus, it got rid of all those pesky deities who muck things up. And if I didn't like any particular monster, they just didn't make it through the apocalypse. AND there's finally a link between elementalism, magic, and insanity – which also blends into the religion, if you rub at the edges hard enough with one of those gummy erasers.

But it didn't THRILL me. And I finally figured out why. There was no place for my characters. Everything that needed doing in Pellatarum was literally epic level. When I want epic level, I break out Mutants and Masterminds, or Champions, or some other superhero game.

What Pellatarum needed, I decided, was its own Sandpoint (from Pathfinder fame), a place that didn't just welcome PCs, but grabbed them by the ears and forced them to care whether THIS settlement was destroyed or not.

Erin was busy painting in the broad strokes, and just didn't have time. Everyone posting comments to the Pellatarum development thread looked more like cheerleaders than people inspired to go out and do their own thing (no offense intended, just a poorly disguised elephant-size nudge).

So when you see a problem, and nobody else is doing anything, and it's within your ability to fix, then it's your problem.


Building Broken River


Step One: Name and numbers first
Using Sandpoint as a basis, I decide that 1250 people is actually pretty good. I like river settlements, because you can always have rumors that the Dark Temple is "on the other side", and have all kinds of other fun. Also, I'm tired of towns with immaculate backgrounds, composed of well-behaved colonists. River smugglers, near but not at the river delta. Easy to get to, but not easily seen.

And now, the hardest part of any settlement. The name. Names conjure up purpose, and guide you along the rest of the process. Plus, I had a problem once where the capitol of my empire had 46 pages of background material, character sheets, and adventure seeds  but no name.

So we have a river. And we know that the town founders, when discovered, wanted to keep it low key, so names like Pirateville or Slaver's Cove are right out. Also, they didn't want the town to sound interesting. Thus: Bracken River, just a description that says no good farm land, nothing to see here. It's also too boring. I can see adventurers leaving this for the farming village of Ploxenville, just to see what a Ploxen is.

So, I take liberty with the nation (which I'm not detailing yet). Somewhere in the vast bureaucracy, the notorious clerk Seamus Gantry (7th level commoner, more on that later) got lazy. Change some letters, and you get Broken River. Curse you, Seamus Gantry, for drawing adventurers to our otherwise nondescript village! But more on that later.


Stage Two: Embellishments
In other words, what makes Broken River different than "typical" towns? Why would adventurers call Broken River home?

Start at the basics: food, water, shelter. With salty water, irrigation is out, and so is farming. Fishing can provide some food, but the rest are pastures of food animals: Pigs, goats, cows, and chickens. And maybe, if I get feisty, I'll spice up some dire rats. Yum, yum.

And now on to water. Contrary to popular fantasy, mead and beer do not support and sustain life, although they do wonders at sterilizing water and giving it flavor. We note that we want thriving tavern industry, and return to our water supply. Fortunately, this plays into a later need, fitting places for characters to fit in. Since I know I like Pathfinder, but have problems placing alchemists outside potion shops, we now resolve both problems at once. Squarely on the river – no, on an island in the middle of the river, with short bridges connecting the two shores – I place the Salt Works. Here, our best alchemist supervises a process for extracting salt and other impurities from water. He then separates these "impurities" and sells them. And it resolves our water issue.

Now to shelter. We don't (I decide) have a lot of access to wood, nor is wood (a bulk trade item) the sort of thing that smugglers chuckle in glee at moving in the moonlight. (Also – boring! Move on.) And I don't want wattle and daub, because nothing drives adventurers off faster than an air of poverty. Fortunately, river beds are a great source for clay, which (with straw, which we can produce locally) makes brick. Broken River now produces brick, tile, and pottery (as well as salt) – commodities that can be exported.

And this is what we can do just by making sure the town is able to support its population.


Step Three: Major industry
Since Pathfinder has published rules for building cities, I like doing that. Not just from a sense of OCD, but because I tend to overkill otherwise, and not have enough people left over to actually fill in the unexciting gaps. (Another reason we started with essentials of life.)

As noted, we have a thriving tavern and brewery industry – a must for most adventurers. This, in turn, supports a variety of inns.

The Salt Works, I decide, draws on the local pottery industry for jars rather than the rarer glass. So they need some manner of glaze or other sealant. This leads me to wax, and I note that I want a beekeeper as an NPC for later.

Broken river mines clay from what I decide is the "dirty side" of the river. With this, they make excellent pottery, passable brick, and brittle tile. (I like brittle tile, too many martial arts movies where the roofing is improvised into a weapon, I suppose.) I locate these industries on the dirty side also. These wares need a way across the river, and I can easily see the bridges of the Salt Works already swamped. So I add a ferry, which works well with the docks the fishermen need.

Cracking the actual rulebook now, we have 20 spaces of industry, 23 if we really press it. So:

Industry/ Building
Size
Size Remaining
Notes
Inns
1
19
Because: adventurers
Taverns
1
18
Because: adventurers
Brewery
1
17
Because: inns and taverns
Farmer's Market
1
16
Exchange fish, food animals, garden veggies, etc.
Docks
2
14
River, smugglers, and ferry
Expert Crafter
2
12
Salt Works, and associated island
Mine
2
10
For clay, is this actually a quarry?
Smithy
1
9
Again, brickworks
Expert Crafters
2
7
For pottery, glaziers, sculptors, etc.
Shrine
1
6
Shrine of the Light, detail later
Garrison
2
4
For the warriors to train in
Government Center
1
3
For intrigue, politics, trials, etc.
Dump
1
2
Oops, almost forgot people are messy
Graveyard
1
1
And that they die
Mill
1
Done
And that they like to eat, most days

Note that at no point above do I bother with statistics such as Economy and Unrest and such. Not that I don't care about these things – they just don't matter yet. Also, much as I wanted to put in a thriving Black Market, those things are just too expensive for a humble town that had to become respectable whether it wanted to or not.

But we find out what we wanted to – either we make the town into a larger town than intended, or we stop here. So I throw my need for more major structures to the wolverines (for now). Besides, we'll have fun with small structures later.


Step Four: Take a short break
Naturally, I want to jump right in, make my beekeeper and alchemists, and a whole slew of rogues. But those are NPCs, and really deserve their own article. So, even though I did leap into NPCs next, for now I take a short recess, and stick the NPCs into their own article – coming soon!


Editor's Note: Mike was another player in the same campaign as Alys. As such, he's seen my insanity first hand, and seems to have a good grasp on what I want from a campaign world. His assertion that I am thinking "big picture" is correct -- I'm so busy dealing with the larger details of the world that I have difficulty narrowing my focus to something small like Broken River, but this is exactly the sort of thing I both need and want for this setting. 


I'm hesitant to declare Pellatarrum "open source," but if anyone wants to create something for it like Mike has done, please do so and send it to me. You will be credited appropriately!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Gunday: Mosin Humor




One of the things I adore about my Mosin is that if the bolt is sticky, or the bullet doesn't want to feed, not only can I slap it around like a red-headed stepchild without fear of breaking it, but manhandling it is actually the proper course of action. It's a hundred year-old design built to be used by illiterate famers in the harsh Siberian winter. When the bolt would freeze to the receiver, a soldier would grab the heaviest thing he could find -- a chunk of wood, a hammer, his booted foot -- and wail on that bolt handle until it released.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's such a joy to know that if I get frustrated and force it, I won't break it. I can't break it, so I don't have to be all delicate and second-guess myself. I can just say "You're gonna WORK, ya bastard" and put all my strength into it. It's rather like having a car that's already a beater: If you have to bang it up, you won't care.

Apparently I'm not the only Mosin owner to experience "sticky bolt" syndrome, because over at 7.62x54r.net, they have a humor section entitled "AK vs. AR vs. Mosin-Nagant" filled with typical military dark/gallows humor with the following example:

You know you have an AK if... 
You consider it a badge of honor when you get your handguards to burst into flames.

You know you have an AR if...
You consider it a badge of honor when you shoot a sub-MOA 5 shot group.

You know you have a Mosin if...
You consider it a badge of honor when you cycle 5 rounds without the aid of a 2x4.

For the rest of the article, go here

Saturday, August 20, 2011

L5R Cosmology: The Kami

Let's start small -- very, very small.

In Rokugan, samurai priestesses known as Shugenja commune and interact with spirits known as kami. This very simple word has a very complex definition, because it can mean both "god" and "spirit" and has no sense of scale whatsoever; pebbles contain kami, as do rocks, boulders, and mountain ranges. The clan founders are also kami, as well as the sun goddess Amaterasu, the moon god Onnotangu, the Seven Greater Fortunes, and the many Lesser Fortunes.

 The easiest way to explain a kami is also the most vague:
[A kami is] any thing or phenomenon that produces the emotions of fear and awe, with no distinction between good and evil.
For purposes of simplicity,  the kami we are discussing today are the mikokami, a.k.a. beautiful tiny gods. These are the "eight million gods" of folklore. We'll discuss the other kinds of kami later, but right now, when I say kami, be aware that I mean "elemental spirit" or "divine force of nature".

Kami live inside all material things, and at the same time are those things. If you can't conceive of something being a thing, and yet not being that thing because it is really the force which lives inside the shell of the thing, then you're going to have severe trouble from here on out. If it helps, think of your mind/soul/sense of self as a kami; without that, your body is just a shell, but at the same time your body is such an extension of yourself that it is you.

Now here is where things get complicated. If we assume that every river is Rokugan has a kami -- which every shugenja will tell you is true -- what happens if you draw a cup of water from that river? Is the river spiritually diminished? Does a new "cup of water" kami spring into existence? What happens when you drink it? Or when the river runs into the sea?

This is a riddle which baffled the Rokugani for centuries, and there are essentially two answers to it, one philosophical and one practical. The philosophical answer, which came about in the early days of the Empire, is that all are one: You are the cup, which is also the water, which is also the riverbank. Everything, everything, is linked and interconnected to the point where it doesn't matter, all of us are also all of creation, one giant god-soul, and once you realize this, you are able to live in harmony with the world because the world is you and you are the world, and the soul always lives in harmony with itself. This is known as enlightenment, and it's also very, very hard to achieve, because humans have all these senses telling them that no, I am completely different from that tree over there. A good chunk of enlightenment is un-learning concepts such as "I am an individual" and "I can trust what my senses tell me." [1]

The practical answer is that kami are infinitely divisible. Take two ladles of water, each containing two water kami, and pour them into a teapot. How many water kami do you have? Just one. Boil some tea, and pour that tea into four cups. You now have four water kami (possibly five if there's still some left over in the pot). Dump it all back into the river, and boom, it's all one kami again. They are aggregate spirits who seek concentration, yet lose none of their power if you divide them up. The smallest drop of water contains the same amount of power as the entire ocean. [2]

Now if you combine these two answers into one thought -- "all is one" and "potency is not lost through division" -- you arrive at a frighteningly powerful conclusion: every single droplet of water in Rokugan is linked to every other droplet of water, meaning that all water everywhere is a single, massive kami. This monstrously powerful kami is what is known as the Water Dragon, and there are other Dragons for the other elements. (Please don't ask about the Void Dragon right now, it'll just break your brain.)

While all kami may technically be called "gods", these Dragons are what humans think of when they hear the word god: powerful, alien, and distant. The Dragons are as far removed from humanity as humans are from bacteria, and understand them about as well. Therefore, every Dragon has an Oracle: a human whose soul is linked to that Dragon, and therefore shares a fraction of its power (and a fraction of nigh-infinite power is still a lot). These Oracles serve as eyes and ears for the Dragons, enabling them to understand from a human perspective all that happens on Rokugan and subtly influence events. [3]

What is interesting about Dragons is that they are dichotomous and somewhat contradictory. On one hand, what separates the Dragons from the Fortunes (other gods which will be explained later) is that they embody concepts that don't require human agency to exist. Objectively speaking, air always has been air and always will be air, and no amount of worship (or lack thereof) is going to change that. But on the other hand, air is more than just literal gas; it also represents connection and empathy. Fire is flame but is also burning passion; earth is determination and resistance in addition to being rock and soil; water is liquid as well as the strength that erodes rocks. It is entirely possible that this embodiment of abstract concepts is the result of the Dragons seeing themselves through human eyes.

Therefore: in Rokugan, there are lots of tiny spirits which are actually big spirits which are actually Dragons who then take human avatars who try to understand the humans who are trying to understand the tiny elemental kami spirits, and in so doing, influence the Dragons which influences the elements which influences the people.

All are one.



Footnotes:
[1] This will be discussed in greater detail under the "Shintao" entry.

[2]  The only difference is how well they apply that power, which is a combination of perception (smaller spirits don't notice as much) and leverage (smaller spirits don't know where best to focus that power). This is typically how shugenja achieve spell effects, by telling the spirits "You can achieve an awful lot if you do X thing at Y time and Z place for me."

[3] As a brief aside for fans of the card game: this "Dark Oracle" business is nonsense. Just because something resides in Tengoku doesn't make it virtuous, as Lord Moon aptly demonstrates. The Elemental Dragons find morality to be a strange, alien concept. Fire is neither good nor evil: it simply is. The waters that flood also irrigate. Air gives breath but also creates storms. Earth shelters, but also quakes.

Also, I pretty much ignore everything that happens after the Clan Wars anyway.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Towards a coherent L5R cosmology

As much as I love the Legend of the Five Rings RPG, I have to confess that its mythology makes no sense to me. And I'm not even talking about how the creation story is basically that of Zeus vs. Cronus, but with the names changed to Japanese, I'm talking about the deeply weird and contradictory stuff that you notice only after digging through some the history.

Now, normally I am a fan of the weird and contradictory, but I have a deep-seated need for things to make sense within my games, even if none of the players ever see it. Perhaps this is why I prefer to GM rather than play, because that way I can make sure things make sense to me. And frankly, L5R's mythology makes me so crazy that I actually mailed a letter to John Wick (one of its original designers) wherein I asked, essentially, What the fuck, dude?

Mr. Wick, I hope you'll forgive me for messaging you, but I am a longtime fan of L5R and there is something that's always puzzled me about its theology.

Specifically, how can Togashi be both a kami-who-fell-to-earth-and-thus-lost-his-divinity and a (literal) dragon? The same question applied to Shinjo and ki-rin.

Osano-wo is the Fortune of Thunder, but there is also a Thunder Dragon. I read somewhere they are both aspects of something greater. What would that something greater be?

It's almost like being a dragon or a ki-rin or whatever is more of a spiritual evolution than being a physical thing.... so perhaps Shinsei was the first Thunder Dragon?

Is Amaterasu a dragon? Is she something else? Both? Neither? Cheeseburger?

I love this setting but I can't figure out some of the theology. I get that, in the broadest sense, Fortunism = Shinto and Shinseism = Buddhism, but after that I get very lost. What are the differences between fortunes, kami, and dragons?

Again, I apologize for pestering you with questions about a game you made over 10 years ago. If you'd rather not answer, I understand, and will quietly go away.

To his great credit, Mr. Wick wrote me back:
Hi Erin,
Although I don't get paid to answer these questions anymore, I'll give you a quick one that should solve everything.

Rokugani theology *doesn't make sense*. Much like Japan, who tried to combine various religious traditions, there is overlap, redundancy and outright contradiction. That's why it is so confusing.

Hope that helps!

Well, then. On the one hand, this is great, because now I know I haven't missed something critical. On the other, telling myself "It's not supposed to make sense" doesn't work with me, because of my knee-jerk and admittedly non-Discordian desire to organize things coherently. So what this did was, in essence, tell me "If you think you can make it make sense, go for it."

And I did. Amazingly, my crazed gibbering is hardly noticeable these days.

At any rate, I think I've worked it out, and now I'm going to inflict it upon you, because A), this is my blog, and 2) I like giving back to the RPG community. I hope you like this sort of thing, because it's what you're going to get from me for the next few days.

Kanpai!

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