Sunday, 8 April 2018

Beyond the Waves: relics from the last war

For Beyond the Waves: ancient technology from the last war between the Haunted Empire and the Island States.

I. Ekranoplan wrecks

The airspace above the Archipelago is haunted. The Empire’s flyers would dive when they hit the Archipelago airspace, or curve in unpredicted trajectories. For decades the imperial scientists attempted to map that volume of air with its many loci and vortices and tunnels, but Sigma/Omega ratios could suddenly peak and vehicles would return decrepit, pilots bags of dust. Flying over the islands was too much of a risk even for a behemoth like the Empire who could throw steel and flesh and bone at any problem.

The ekranoplans were vast surface wing craft, much larger than any of the vehicles in service around the various island states. They were designed for carrying cargo, weapons and troops rapidly over long stretches of flat water for exploration or conquest.

Abandoned ekranoplan hulls can be found along the western shore of the land and on some islands.

1d12 Ekranoplan wreck points of interest
1 Wreck completely overgrown inside and out with several well preserved bodies inside
2 Coded military orders
3 A luxury fitted stateroom with Imperial memorabilia
4 1d4 active torpedoes of unknown payload
5 Several cubic meters of ancient computer
6 Disdended corpses and signs of bungled emergency egress
7 Maps of western ocean with expedition diaries
8 Leviathan tissue samples
9 Armoury with 1d3 lightning cannisters and other hand weapons
10 Neuronic interrogation equipment
11 Banks of cell samples, seeds and mature plants which have overwhelmed the vehicle interior
12 Human squatters who are either (1-2) inferior and afraid, (3-4) well-matched and hostile or (5-6) contaminated and infectious

II. Acoustic Mirrors

The obsolescense of aircraft that resulted in the ekranoplan in turn rendered radioetheric detection useless as the flyers were too low to resolve against the surface.

Sound mirrors were developed and many examples were installed on the shores of the eastern-most islands.

1d10 Acoustic mirror points of interest
1 Sound has attracted unusual animals or birds
2 Sheltering human settlement who have decorated the mirror
3 Mirror receives broadcast from somewhere out in the sea
4 Tribe bases religious observations, calendars and rituals around seasonal ambient sound from the mirror
5 Mirror contains a bunker underneath with telegraph room which is receiving a signal from somewhere
6 Mirror reflects leviathan song
7 Mirror has been damaged and tilts at an impractical upward angle, but is receiving transmission
8 Mirror has been broken down, moved and reconstructed to serve an unintended purpose
9 Local gravitational or spacetime distortion
10 Several imitation mirrors have been built up in the same area, and sing to one another

III. Targe hulls

Targe (“shield” or “border”) hulls are chains of either mobile floating or permanently anchored armoured platforms designed to interrupt assaults from ekranoplan vessels with poor manouverability and altitude control. Frequently installed close to sound mirrors.

1d10 Targe hull points of interest
1 Hull has been taken over by vast numbers of sea birds
2 Gigantic cannon, broken away from mounting and cannot be aimed
3 Remnants of a brutal skirmish; bones, damaged equipment, rusted firearms and cutlasses
4 Series of sophisticated signal towers line up with island mirror installations
5 Multiple stored drums of unknown chemical agent, some leaking into sea
6 Platforms severely damaged in collision, submerged ekranoplan wreck
7 Fishing settlement in former fortress with extended raft village anchored to fixed hardpoints
8 Suspended railroad connects network of artificial platforms strung between natural sea mounts and islets
9 Pirate hideout with livery
10 Bedrock collapsed under foundation revealing underwater natural structure

Image Credits and more images

Acoustic mirror by Paul Glazzard shared under CC BY-SA 2.0

Red sands forts by Russs shared under CC BY-SA 3.0

Ekranoplan art:

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Beyond the Waves: Playbooks

So the newborn has disrupted blogging for a bit. Anyway, here’s a playbook guide for Beyond the Waves, including:

  • new playbooks
  • tweaks for existing playbooks
  • miscellaneous notes

The whole document is here although it’s quite long at around 36 pages.

New playbooks

I’ve split out the new playbooks in a zip file here (Word docx format). They are:

  • The Pirate’s Protege: A swashbuckling warrior-rogue
  • The Wild Mage: A mage who walked into the heart of the island and learned the wild magic
  • The Pearl Diver: A rogue who knows all the island’s secrets
  • The Revenant: A dead soul that failed to cross the Ocean and washed up on the beach in a new body
  • The Triton Mercenary: A warrior from an ancient undersea race, who chose to walk on land and explore the human lands
  • The Itinerant Cartographer: An Elder character and a rogue, travelling across the Archipelago with the intention of mapping as much as they can — and training a pupil to carry on their work

At some point I’ll combine this content with the other blog posts… when I get 5 minutes. Yeah, right

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Beyond The Waves: Big Fish

Wallpaper_Leviathan_1280x960

Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?

God tells Job how powerless he is against the Leviathan. Is it allegory for Satan, whom only God can oppose? Or is Leviathan a force of nature or indifferent deity, for whom mankind is an irrelevance?

Let’s discuss big fish in Beyond the Waves.

Origins

Monsters

These include the Aspidochelone or Kraken. Malign creatures that exist to drag humans below the waves, and personifications of cosmic evil.

Aspidochelone2-gks1633-danish-royal-library

(source: wikipedia)

Undines

Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun references Undines, gigantic women who are the concubines of Abaia, a gigantic, eldrich underwater monster. The undines are submarine giants. Perhaps they were once human, forced to exist in water once they became too massive to live on land. Crossing from land to water could be a magical trial, where the magician must survive in water through force of will, or perish. Over time they transform, gaining webbed hands and feet, etc.

Fish Riders

The mystical nature of the giant fish might also come from some associated human hero such as Paikea. The creature represents a force of nature and the rider is the spiritual force that directs it, for good or evil.

These are ideas for the GM — whatever the origin the sea creature various island religions may have different interpretations of what the Leviathan means (see the tables below).

Religion

How does each island culture regard the Leviathan?

  1. Does it feature in greetings, blessings, or curses?
  2. Do people wear amulets, charms? Do they inscribe images of the fish over their doors, in their boats, tattoos on their bodies?
  3. What does the fish mean to the islanders? Is it a demon, a wish-granter, a gateway to the other side of the ocean?

There could be more than one big fish, or there could be more than one interpretation of the big fish. See the tables.

Encounters

The Leviathan will turn up in various sea or land hexes. Treat these as Further Afield major locations. Settlements and cities will be on land, so the Leviathan should be sighted near the settlement (and no doubt will feature in that people’s religion). Ruins could be wrecks or underwater ruins. Monsters should be self-explanatory, and Otherworld or Source of Power could refer to mystical attributes of the creature itself. These can be Seen, Heard or Read About per the rules.

On Sea

  1. When the fish is seen, is it near or far?
  2. What signs are there that the fish is coming, or has been here? Wreckage, fish, strange colours in the sea?
  3. If the party encounter the fish on the water, how dangerous is it?

On Land

  1. How does the Fish influence local culture, religion, superstition?

Hooks

(No pun intended)

  1. The creature is a source of ambergris, which can make an enchanted potion. Scavengers follow in its wake, collecting marine and faecal smelling floating matter, because someone pays for that stuff.
  2. The god grants wishes to those that can catch it by the tail.
  3. A mariner escorting the party between islands has a grievance against the fish, and deviates from their course when it is sighted.
  4. Pirates hunt it for its skin, which will allow them to walk between worlds.
  5. A magical harpoon is stuck in its hide.
  6. You may ride to the underworld in the fish’s mouth, as long as you have enough rare incense to burn that it doesn’t swallow you.

Random Tables

To answer the questions, roll a dice or choose the answer that fits. Work in progress.

What does the fish mean to these islanders?

  1. The Fish is a force of nature. At times it may be cruel or benign. It exists to remind humans of their place in nature
  2. The Fish is a god of bounty, representing harvests, and appearing when the plankton blooms are plentiful.
  3. The Fish is a trickster, intent on luring sailors to their deaths.
  4. The Fish represents death, and carries dead souls across the Ocean.
  5. The Fish represents destruction, and where it appears violence will not be far behind. It can be appeased with a sacrifice.
  6. The Fish represents knowledge, which can be heard in its songs if you listen in the right way.
  7. The Fish is a transformed human, cursed to live in the sea.
  8. The Fish was once a human but is now a god with its own appetites.

Who talks about the Fish?

  1. It’s not discussed; it’s a pagan superstition at best, and frowned upon.
  2. It’s commonly referred to in a blessing of good luck, or polite greeting.
  3. It’s commonly used as a curse.
  4. It appears regularly in imagery.
  5. A hermit tries to warn people of the fish, but no-one will listen.
  6. There is a church and an organised religion.
  7. There’s a cranky magician at the edge of the island on an observation tower.
  8. A society (of assassins, magicians, or cultists) reveres the creature, and prays to it in secret. People fear talk of the Fish because they fear those that worship it. Tekeli li, etc.

What symbols do people carry of the Fish?

These can be worn as amulets to ward off its wrath, or to encourage its favour.

  1. Tribal tattoos.
  2. A charm, worn around the neck or as a bracelet, or on an earring.
  3. A plaque or carving into the hull of a boat for good fortune and strength.
  4. Paintings, murals, or tapestries depicting the Fish in the background of human events.
  5. A carving in the lintel of every front door in the village.
  6. A giant stone, laid in the centre of a stone circle, carved into the likeness of the fish and worn by the elements.

What tells you that the Fish may be near?

  1. Strange colours in the sky at night.
  2. The water turns a limpid green, as if you could see to the bottom.
  3. The water becomes opaque and reddish-black.
  4. Suddenly, a shoal of fish arrives, fleeing something.
  5. A whirlpool appears.
  6. On land, sudden and unexplained acts of violence or hot tempers.
  7. On land, mad proclamations by a seer.
  8. A terrible wind.
  9. A sudden calm and a break in the clouds.
  10. A human survivor, on a wreck, last of their crew, once swallowed and regurgitated.
  11. Ambergris, and possibly someone trying to collect it.
  12. Another ship in trouble.

Image.ashx

Monday, 28 September 2015

Beyond the Waves: Home Island

note: I forgot to post this earlier. It should come between the Introduction and the Playbooks essays when it’s compiled into one document

So, the “village” in Beyond the Waves could be located on a single island or it could be a cluster of islands nearby (maybe connected by rope ferries, bridges, or close enough to row across). If it’s a single island it could be large or small — note that the central island in Earthsea is still the size of Great Britain, so it could plausibly have all of the farming and even industry that the village in Beyond the Wall contains. However I prefer to keep the island small — perhaps unrealistically small (say, the scale of islands in Zelda: Windwaker) — and use the beaches and safe coastal waters as the “wall” in this version.

Recommend that the home island is about 3 hexes (medium).

So, let’s assume that the village is a single island — this will affect the “colour” of various moving parts:

  • The Boundary of the village will be the beach or nearby safe waters, perhaps bounded by a reef or spit, cliffs or a beach
  • Village industry will probably be pre-industrial (q.v. Earthsea) and include crafts, making use of natural resources and probably recycling, and getting a lot of food from the sea.
  • If there’s exotic materials like metals, these will have to have come from somewhere. Maybe there’s a mainland, or maybe there are caches of weapons and metallic goods somewhere. Or perhaps there’s a Dwarven volcanic island where metals are smelted, if you want to play to that stereotype.
  • Skills like Riding should be replaced with Sailing, and Farming with Fishing. Navigating and Swimming becomes important.

Fairly obvious, really. But none of this should affect the core activity of the game, which is the young protagonists striking out on their own and exploring the places beyond the village.

During character roll-up, make a map as you would normally do and insert the features that come from the playbooks into that map, bearing in mind it’s an island. If it’s an island cluster stick some features on islets (good place for hermits and witches). Etcetera.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Beyond the Waves: Island Generator

The Further Afield sandbox (or in this case, saltbox) is collaboratively (and if you like randomly) developed between all players at the table. One really important factor is the way the Village is at the centre of the map, and the location of other features is relative to the Village (distance and direction). Even when far away, home should always be present on the map.

Of course you don’t need to make the village (or island) central to the map; it could be at one end. This works if there is one big destination in mind (e.g. travelling from the Shire to Mount Doom, or Analand to Mampang). That makes your campaign a bit more of an epic journey than a free-roaming sandbox, but the principle is the same — the characters should always be thinking of home.

If you stick your archipelago next to a land mass it becomes bounded between the land and the ocean, so your archipelago could be long and thin as it follows the coastline of the mainland. At the same time archipelagos can contain thousands of islands and be located away from a land mass. In the early stages of the campaign you could only be looking at one small portion of the island chain, and concepts like Land and Ocean will be so distant that they may as well be myth.

Practical considerations:

  1. Because the islands can vary in size you may want to use smaller hexes or a bigger range between the “near” to “far” bands given in the Further Afield map sheet, or you’ll run out of space when packing islands in or you’ll only have a few islands on the map. Part of the feel of the saltbox should be that there are a lot of islands to explore, something that could take a lifetime. And there should be sea in between to cross.
  2. If the party plan to sail long distances, they should uncover new islands as they progress. This means your map needs breathing room, but also you won’t know what direction the map is going to expand in. The paper answer to this is to get another hex sheet and tape it to the original one, when you know what direction it’s going to expand in. There may be electronic tools that let you do the same thing (but I like paper)

OK, here’s how to grow the archipelago:

  1. Use the Further Afield rules for creating a location in turn, including direction, distance, and type. Do as many rounds as you have enthusiasm (or space on the hex map) for.
  2. Islands are small, medium or large.
  3. Stretches of sea between the islands can be any size; the distance between islands may determine what size of boat can sail those different channels.
  4. Each island has a Safety Slider. This affects the overall danger of the island itself, and extends to the surrounding waters. The Home Island (Village) is always +3 on this scale, i.e. safe.
  5. Each island is usually considered a “dungeon”, i.e. a single area to be explored. If there’s danger, the party should be in danger as long as they’re on the island. Safety rating applies to the whole area.

1. Where is your island?

Use the Further Afield rules for direction on the map, and distance (close/far). Also use the rules as you see fit for what kind of Major Location exists and whether the island is Heard, Seen or Learned and how accurate that information is (FA p.8).

2. How big is your island?

Choose a scale for your hexes. FA p.12 gives us a default distance of 1 hex = 10 miles; this means that small islands will be a 1-5 miles across (the size of Oxford), and big ones will be maybe 30 miles across (the size of London). That sounds OK to me. If there’s a settlement on the island it could be a mile across, and if there’s a major city it may be 5 miles.

Roll a d8:

1: 1 hex small island (entirely contained within 1 hex)
2: 2 hex small island
3-4: 3 hex medium island (usually one vertex of each hex entirely on land)
5-6: 4 hex medium island
7: Medium-large island, 5 or 6 hexes but all hexes contain beach/sea
8: Large island (at least 1 hex does not touch the sea on any side)

Each player draws their island within the above guidelines.

I’d suggest modifying the roll by +3 if the location is a Major City, and +1 if the place is a Settlement (see Further Afield).

3. Set the Safety Slider

Each island has a safety rating, set from +3 (very safe and welcoming) to -6 (really dangerous). This rating should apply to reaction rolls, rolls on random tables where there’s a mix of good and bad outcomes (with the bad outcomes low), etc.

This rating applies at sea, too. For every hex away from the island, move the safety slider 1 towards neutral (0). Use this rating to apply to chances of wandering monsters/pirates, dangerous weather events, etc.

Sometimes the danger is known, sometimes it’s secret. Sometimes the party have the wrong information (use the Further Afield rules for whether the information is accurate).

Big islands that are commercial hubs (where a lot of people of different cultures pass through) probably won’t range more than +/- 1. There’s a limit on how safe and friendly they can be due to size (they just become impersonal) and there’s a limit on how bad they can be, because if they’re dangerous to a lot of people then no-one will go near them to trade.

For islands (usually big islands) with a controlling the Safety should determine (or be determined by) how hostile that faction is to the PCs. (note: Faction rules to come later)

4. What’s on the Island?

Here are a few tables to start off.

Seashore

Roll 1d20 for each hex of island with seashore. Alternatively roll once for a small island, twice for medium and three times for large.

1: Rocks and cliffs, calm
2: Rocks and cliffs, dangerous currents or whirlpools
3: A cove with a rocky beach that floods at high tide; rip currents
4: A wide sandy beach with dunes
5: A lagoon separated by a barrier island or reef
6: A natural harbour, big enough for a boat
7: Rocky headland with a cove
8: A steep shingle beach with rough waters and seaweed
9: A spit, with or without a structure at its end
10: Small caves in a cliff-face (covered at high tide?)
11: Vanishing island (headland with vegetation — possibly seaweed — vanishes at high tide)
12: Beach with mud flats/quicksands
13: Shallows with rocks
14: Rocky beach with rock pools
15: Sandy beach with many small or large shells
16: Rocky headland with many narrow and tall rocks, rising like fingers from the sea
17: Cliffs with many ledges
18: A series of terraces
19: Headland and causeway, submerged with tide
20: Natural piers or sandbanks

Where to land your boat

Roll 1d8 and modify by +3 if it’s a City and +1 if it’s a Settlement. If it’s Ruins you have two options: either don’t modify the roll (so if there should be a pier and there isn’t, it’s in disrepair and can’t be used) or adjust is as you see fit but make every structure unreliable.

1-2: Nothing; you need to use natural features to moor your boat, drag it onto the beach, or anchor the boat and go ashore on a skiff
3-4: A small jetty for mooring fishing boats etc. Possibly with boat-building nearby. Could be owned by one family if there’s no settlement.
5-6: A natural or artificial pier
7-8: A harbour with a small quay, suitable for small-medium merchant vessels
9-10: A harbour with a large wharf, multiple piers, etc.

The Weather

Roll 1d6:

1: Changeable (sunny, windy, stormy)
2: Always warm and clement
3: Windy with rough seas
4: Stormy with lighting and rough seas
5: Frequently raining and cloudy
6: Meteorological enclave (makes its own weather, separate from surroundings)

Terrain

1d12:

1: Hills
2: Forest
3: Mountains
4: Caldera
5: Lagoon (or Atoll)
6: Freshwater brook or lake
7: Plains, fertile
8: Plains, infertile/desert
9: Salt marsh
10: Mesa/tableland
11: Rocky spires
12: Glacier

5. Interesting Things

Here are some interesting things about the island (may be a bit of colour, may be adventure)

  1. The island is surrounded by things that colour the water (seaweed, algae, jellyfish). What is the consequence of sailing or swimming in these waters?
  2. The island has many tall thin rocks on its coast, which sing when the wind blows. What does the song do?
  3. The coast includes geometric (e.g. hexagonal) rock formations.
  4. The water is unusually clear, and there’s something on the bottom of the bay. What is it?
  5. The Veil is thin here (see Beyond the Veil).
  6. A network of caves penetrates the entire island. What made them? What uses them?
  7. Several lava tubes can be found on the island. What lives in them?
  8. Many tall trees connected by rope bridges.
  9. A plain with a thin, brittle crust. What’s underneath?
  10. A ship, about a mile inland. How did it get there? Is there anyone on board?

6. Interacting With Minor Locations

When the Major Locations have been fleshed out, the GM writes the Minor Locations. The party then interacts with these on the way to Major Locations. For a Saltbox there are a few good reasons why they would need to interact with the islands on the way:

  1. They have limited water or food to stay on the water.
  2. They’re forced to land in bad weather.
  3. Winds or currents send them off-course.

OK, that’s it for this one. Now we have to fill it with people or nonhumans or monsters… TTFN.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Beyond the Waves: Playbook Tweaks

So, the first rule of the Beyond the Waves campaign is to maximise the use of the existing materials in BtW/FA. This is a list of minor tweaks for the playbooks for re-interpreting in an Island adventures game.

Notes on Skills, etc.:

  • Suggest that most instances of Riding should be replaced with Sailing
  • Swimming may default to Athletics.

Notes on Woods:

  • There are a few references to “the woods” in the playbooks. The role of the woods is to be a mysterious place just outside civilisation where characters can explore and find interesting things. In general substitute “woods” for “another island” or “the shore” or somewhere else that fits the maritime theme better.

Notes on the Core Playbooks

  • Self-Taught Mage: this character meets “a real sorcerer” from the South. What island do they come from, and what faction do they belong to?
  • Untested Thief: the character’s mentor may be a traveller from another island who was passing through. The farm they may have cheated someone out of could be an uninhabited island.
  • Witch’s Prentice: Stick the Witch’s Hut on a separate islet, maybe connected by a rope bridge
  • Would be Knight: The class skill of Riding may be less useful. Could substitute Sailing; alternatively keep Riding skill as an archaic skill from mainland culture.
  • Young Woodsman: Less woods, more sea. Replace instances of “wilderness” with “sea”, and skills like “tanning” and “hunting” with something more appropriate to marine life. If the character patrols the roads away from the settlement, make them a sailor, or maybe even a lighthouse keeper. Rather than them finding something in the woods, stick their cache on a nearby islet that’s difficult to land on and generally unexplored (maybe the rope bridge has rotted away).

Notes on The Villagers

  • Assistant Beast-Keeper: See the Witch’s Prentice above for the location of her cottage. Also, if they witnessed something relocate that scene from the Woods to the Shore and change accordingly (e.g. change the “horned rider” to someone mysterious sailing by on a small boat)
  • Devout Acolyte: References to burial mounds, abandoned sanctuaries, etc. could take place on nearby islands. Brigands could be pirates.
  • Fae Foundling: Rather than being found near the woods under a standing stone, perhaps this character was found in a cave near the shore at low tide.
  • Local Performer: The source of the Local Performer’s stories may well be travellers from other islands.

Notes on Dwarves, Elves and Halflings:

  • These demi-humans may come from more distant island nations, or even from the Land or from the other side of the Ocean (with no way to return to their homeland).
  • Dwarves are stereotypically miners, mechanically inclined, etc. There are probably remote islands that can be mined for minerals. Their boats will probably be uncommonly strong and functional, maybe inscribed with runes.
  • Elves are stereotypically tree-dwellers. Their homelands are probably forested. Their vessels could be slender longboats, maybe woven rather than constructed.
  • Dwarven Adventurer and Rune-Caster should probably remove references to fear of water
  • Halfling Outrider’s pony will probably be limited. Consider a dingy (perhaps it’s a magical, semi-aware boat) or maybe a porpoise (no good as a mount, but it always shows up when the character is on the water).
  • Halfling Vagabond passes through a lot of places — substitute “island” for “town”

Notes on The Nobility:

  • Perhaps the court is located on a larger, central island that is a hub for island commerce.
  • If the characters are a mix of nobles and villagers they still need to start off in close proximity to one another — consider the more rural outlying areas to be either coastal (for a large island) or separate islets, linked by bridges, rope ferries, etc.
  • Future Warlord: The barbarian horde should be seafaring, obviously.
  • Gifted Dilletante: This character tends to go out hunting on their estate. Consider making them more of a sailing type. For the various things they’ve collected over the years, consider their connection to travellers passing through.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Beyond the Waves: An Introduction

This is a brief series of posts on how you might re-imagine a Beyond the Wall game in an archipelago, with the characters’ starting village on one fairly central island (or small island cluster).

I’m considering both Beyond the Wall and Further Afield for constructing this “saltbox”. Changes should be minimal — I only want to add the extra rules that I feel are needed for this kind of game. No change to the core activity. Minimal changes to playbooks (I don’t really have time to redesign a set of playbooks anyway). I have some ideas for maritime combat but rules already exist for such in LotFP and (I believe) Labyrinth Lord, so maybe just use those. Also I will import some rules from my Death Comes To Wyverley hack.

At the end I’ll probably tidy this into a pdf or something. For now, hope you like it and please comment, if you like.

Characters

The aim is to re-skin the playbooks with minimal fuss. A few basic (and obvious) things:

  • Riding skills will be devalued in favour of Sailing; that will change the Would-Be Knight among others
  • Navigation, Sailing, Swimming all become important
  • Where NPCs are mentioned in playbooks, consider sticking them on their own little island (or sandbank, spit, etc.). The Witch’s Hut lies on the Witch’s Island, right? Or maybe it crosses shallow waters on stilts.

Islands

There will be a random island tool that accounts for island features including

  • Size (how long it takes to cross)
  • Natural Features
  • Weather
  • Signs of habitation
  • Safety slider (this affects encounters both on the island and in the waters around)
  • Also consider “virtual islands” i.e. floating communities of travellers, pirates, etc. plus areas of sea that are significant.

If the whole “saltbox” is the “wilderness”, individual islands will be the “dungeon” or “adventure” (in the manner of Zelda: Windwaker).

Crossing Water

Crossing water can be done by bridge, rope ferry, small boats, large boats, by sailing or rowing, etc. Some rules for size of boats, how they can respond to storms, navigate (and go off course), and deal with damage (bail out!).

Water itself may be safe or dangerous, depending on the proximity to different islands.

Ocean, Land and Big Fish

The Ocean is the open water that no-one has been able to cross and return. It represents either a greater boundary to the whole sandbox (it’s too big for the island craft to cross; it’s full of dangerous storms and giant creatures; possibly there were once Ships of Legend that took settlers here from across the Ocean) or something at the very edge of the Archipelago, like the edge of the world itself. There could even be a world beneath the Ocean (the Hyrule of Zelda:WW, or Rebma in the Chronicles of Amber).

The Land can be a vast unbroken land mass near the Archipelago. Unlike the other features this one should be optional (no such Land appears in Earthsea). There must be a reason that the folk of the Archipelago are not part of the Land. Wild and dangerous, weird and spooky, home to a decaying Empire from whom the denizens of the Archipelago have fled generations ago, etc.

The Ocean and the Land should represent Big Ideas in the world; the Ocean could symbolise an otherworld (whose “far shores” are the Elven homeland — or so the Elven PC says) and the Land a decadent, even hellish place.

Oh, and Big Fish: what does the Leviathan symbolise? Is it a threat or symbol of hope? What myths surround it?

Inspiration

These are some fiction things I like that inspired this re-skin:

Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea is already an influence on Beyond the Wall. It’s a “vast archipelago of hundreds of islands surrounded by mostly uncharted ocean” (wikipedia).

Christopher Priest’s Dream Archipelago and The Islanders are collections of short stories set in the titular Dream Archipelago (also featured in his novel The Affirmation). Although it’s not fantasy, it does give a strong sense of the variety of different cultures that run through the islands, and at the same time the common threads that bind the islanders together.

The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker on the Nintendo Gamecube (and later remastered in HD for the Wii U). Probably my favourite in the series, and for a 10 year old game it manages to not look dated thanks to the cel-shaded style. It involves travelling to different islands and doing the usual Zelda quests for the Triforce. Also Zelda is generally a nice example of how to re-skin the established tropes (dungeons, creatures, antagonists, format) to fit the premise.

Sinbad was a TV series on Sky in the UK; it lasted one season. Pretty rubbish acting and plotting but I quite liked the atmosphere, and the idea that Sinbad could only set foot on each island for one day and then had to return to sea was a nice premise. Filmed in Malta.

Worlds Apart is a reimagining of classic Traveller for islands instead of stellar maps.

Monday, 23 July 2018

StormHack characters part 2: spontaneous archipelago

Part 1 was an overview of the Human and Demon sides of StormHack characters. In this post I’ll make an example of character generation for the human half of the characters.

I’m going to combine with an idea I had for the Beyond the Waves setting, and use this to also generate the archipelago around the character’s home island.

(recap of relevant posts: Beyond the Waves, home island, island generator. There are other less relevant posts as well)

I. Backgrounds/Roots

Each character has 3 backgrounds or roots:

  • Growing up is about experience, skills and family connection
  • Tradition is about inherited knowledge, customs and connections from the family’s past
  • Legend is about the family’s secrets and ancient hQistory from long in the past

In general these are written on the character sheet as this sort of thing:

My family are reef-fishers. I was taught by my mother who came here from the island of Aenesi to the north.

This establishes a couple of anchors (the island of Aenesi, the character’s mother), and their trade (reef-fishing). We’ll generally use this format for each character.

II. Mapping the Archipelago

We’re going to establish the play group’s home island and then trace each character’s family past and the roots in other parts of the archipelago.

We’re going to generate three layers of surrounding islands based on migrating families. The first immediate layer will be the people who settled the home island (0-2 generations ago), the second layer will be ancestors 3-6 generations removed, and the last will be earlier generations. As you might expect, each layer affects inherited skills, knowledge, culture and/or legends — which will be expressed as roots (q.v.).

I’m drawing the map on a dot grid using a scale of 5 miles to 1 cm. Note that the viewing distance to the horizon from sea level on our planet is about 3 miles, and from 30m up this extends to 12 miles. Sailing craft probably travel between 5-8 miles per hour and rowboats around 3 miles per hour.

I prefer the home island to be small (by the definition of the Island Generator, 1-5 miles across), small enough that the PCs will have explored nearly all of it as children and the coastline forms the effective “wall” of the village. By contrast any other island — even one which is settled and apparently friendly — is beyond the wall.

i) home island and settlers

First, draw the home island roughly in the middle of the paper, bearing in mind the proportions of 1 cm = 5 miles.

The character’s family migrated here from a nearby island. How long ago? Roll 1d6: on a 1-2 it’s 0 generations (i.e. the PC came to this island as a child), on a 3-4 it’s 1 generation (parents), and on 5-6, 2 generations (grandparents).

Where did they come from? Roll a d8 to pick a compass point (e.g. with a 1 meaning North, and counting clockwise). Then roll 2d6-2 for the distance in cm on the paper. Treat a result of zero as \<3 miles, i.e. close enough to see from the beach of the home island. The maximum distance is therefore 50 miles.

It’s up to you how big the island is or what shape. You can use use the island generator although a note of caution — I tried using those tables and they all tended towards much larger islands than the home island, so I intend to revise the tables in the near future. Still, it could give you some ideas.

Whatever method you choose, draw an appropriately sized island on the map.

Name the island.

Since this island is both near and has recent family on it, unless there’s a good reason the PC has probably visited it more than once. Pick at least 3 of the questions below to answer:

  1. What trade, skill or knowledge did your family bring from this island to your current community? (you could use the growing up tables in the Beyond the Wall playbooks for this one)
  2. How did children play on this island?
  3. Where did children play on this island?
  4. What well known food or drink is found on this island?
  5. What is the biggest natural hazard or enemy found here?
  6. What is the biggest human threat found here?
  7. What does it mean to be wealthy on this island? (clothes, trappings, housing, social position, etc.)
  8. Tell us about someone you know who’s about your age on the island. Who are they to you — a friend, an enemy, a rival, a sweetheart?
  9. Tell us about someone who’s considered old on this island. How does the community treat them? Are they wise, powerful, mysterious, dangerous?
  10. Tell us about something unresolved that your family left behind when they left this island. Who is involved? What is the focus of the problem — love, money, land, a birthright, an old injury or feud?
  11. An object from the island hangs in your family home. What is it?
  12. Tell us about a magical experience you or someone close to you had on the island.

Additionally answer these questions about how your family fits into the home island:

  • What is their trade? (if you answered question 1 above, the answer will be the same)
  • Who are their neighbours? (describe up to 2 other families)
  • Besides the other PCs, who did you grow up and play with? (name and describe one other NPC)

At the end of this, write your character’s Growing Up root like this:

My family’s trade is… We/my parents/my grandparents came here from the island of… (any other details)

ii) ancestors and traditions

The second island is placed like this:

  1. Pick a direction by rolling 1d4-1d4, which will give you a result of -3 to +3. Take the original direction from the home island to the previous one, and use this number to move that many compass points away from that direction. For example if the original heading was north west and you rolled -2, the new heading will be south west from the new island.
  2. Roll 2d6-2 for the distance as before.
  3. Choose (randomly or otherwise) the island’s size and shape as before.

This island differs from the last in that the PC will have no living relatives, but they’ll have ancestors, roots and traditions. Answer 2 of the following questions:

  1. Your ancestor’s tomb sits on this island. What does it look like? What are the burial customs?
  2. Your ancestor is known for a particularly heroic, impressive or egregious deed. What was it?
  3. Your parents have a habit of a small social gesture, phrase or mannerism at the dinner table, that you’ve not seen anyone else in your community make. What does it mean, and what connection does it have to this island?
  4. Your ancestors are known for a particular talent. What is it?
  5. The island has a distinctive natural feature that you’ve never seen elsewhere. What is it?
  6. The island has a unique human-made feature. What is it?

(Naturally these can be expanded into lists or tables if/when one has time or inclination)

Once you’ve done that, answer the following questions:

  • Your ancestor was part of an organisation, fraternity, guild, bloodline or other group. What were they?
  • What skill, knowledge or art did your ancestor practice?
  • How did this information come to you? An object, a scroll, word of mouth?
  • Did anyone hide it from you? Did anyone go out of their way to give it to you?

iii) legends

Place the third and last island as you did the second one.

Here’s the twist. Your PC has never been here; this is only where you think the island is. It’s up to the GM to decide how close the island is to the spot.

(Note to self: write GM advice for when it’s ok to lie to players and when it isn’t)

This is a place your PC has only heard of in fragments of diaries, the cryptic allusions of elders, whispers at the cradle. You have an inexorable connection to this place. It may represent your destiny.

Aside: destiny

Some thoughts on how to write destinies:

  1. They should be about something the character might do, not just something they might see, acquire etc.
  2. They should have a cause and effect as in when PC does X, Y will happen
  3. X should be cryptic
  4. Y should be ambiguous

Writing character destinies will probably be fun, but unless you’re planning a long campaign they may be a waste of time.

Of course, if you want to drive the action towards a character’s destiny, then you could do worse than signpost it like crazy so the Pcs come into contact with it. Destinies may be obscure and uncertain but they should also be kind of obvious.

This brings us to legends.

Legends

Associated with this third and final island is a family legend. Choose one or write your own:

  1. Hidden treasure.
  2. A powerful weapon.
  3. A gate to somewhere else.
  4. A sleeping god or monster.
  5. A temple or place of power.
  6. A secret society.

Once this choice is made, the player should answer a couple of questions:

  • how did you find out about this place? Was it written down, told to you, do you dream about it?
  • what’s the connection with your family? Did they discover it, did it cross their path, did they steal it?
  • who else is involved or interested? An individual seeking power, an organisation with a prophecy, the original owner?

The GM should consider a things as well (in secret, natch):

  • how far is the island from where everyone thinks it is?
  • how is the island different today from the description in the legend? What one feature still stands out?
  • what powerful, independent NPC or group is really interested in this legend? How might they get entangled in the PC’s business?
  • The legend the PC knows is only half the story. What’s the other half?

III. An example

The home island is called Beq. It’s a small island with numerous cliffs and beaches. Its partner Ourd sits to its north across a trecherous strait, and is accessible by rope bridges and cable cart.

Kayl is our first PC. Their stats are STR 12, CON 9, DEX 13, INT 11, WIS 15 and CHA 10. They’re physically capable but also uncommonly wise and insightful for their age.

We roll the dice for Kayl’s Growing Up root: 3 for number of generations, 8 for direction and 7 for distance in cm. They’re second generation migrants from an island 25 miles to the north-west of Beq called Three Knives, and Kayl has visited there many times to see their cousins. Kayl’s player answers a few questions:

  • We know that iimpa is brewed on the island and each island family guards its own recipe
  • Kayl’s family are brewers and horticulturalists, and have successfully cultivated iimpa floss of high quality on Beq
  • It’s an open secret that the family settled on Beq after a falling out between their father and his sister, who disapproves of the family trade being taken outside Three Knives
  • All the families move in merchant circles and adults display lip-rings specific to their bloodline

We roll the dice a second time for the second island, concerning Kayl’s ancestors. Aelfa is located south-west of Three Knives. Kayl’s player answers a couple more questions:

  • Aelfa is perpetually surrounded in mist and the surrounding waters are rocky; the folk on the island maintain a beacon to warn nearby boats.
  • Kayl visited the place once when they were very young, to inter the bones of a matriarch from the families of Three Knives. It was a weird ceremony and they were warned not to make any noise or draw attention to themselves. They were made to wait outside with the other youngsters when the adults went into the tomb.
  • Kayl’s mother told them that Aelfa means “cradle of the witch”, and that the power of natural magic runs in their blood. Aelfa was once the seat of a coven of magicians called The Fane, and Kayl is named after one of their order.

Finally we roll the dice a third time and we learn about Kurst, a land to the west of Aelfa beyond a turbid stretch of water called The Shoal.

Kayl found out about it when the family was unexpectedly visited by a mysterious relative. Most of the time they sat with Kayl’s parents and made small-talk as they partook of their hospitality, but when they were alone the stranger turned to Kayl and told them in a cracking voice that it was time to return to Aelfa and seek The Fane, who would open the way to the Eye at Kurst.

Summary

Write the character like this:

Kayl, apprentice brewer and latent magician

STR 12, CON 9, DEX 13, INT 11, WIS 15, CHA 10

Growing up: mercantile family of brewers and horticulturalists (trade), father (anchor), lip ring (motif) Ancestry: latent magician (skill), ancient magical society The Fane (connection), family tomb at Aelfa (place) Legend: opening the Eye of the Fane at Kurst (prophecy)

IV. Last words

This is the map in progress. With a group of four characters you’ll generate 12 islands already; expect the GM to fill in the map with a few others, including major antagonists like island city-states, etc.

One thing I didn’t cover was how individual histories interact. If you draw a path tracing back each character’s history through the archipelago, there’s a chance that some of the paths will intersect.

What happens when two PCs’ histories cross? How do you create the shared history in the group? I’d suggest to go back to the questions — maybe pick a couple that the player didn’t answer, and invite the other player to answer.

One other remark: the typical adventurer templates are covered well by the D&D standards — fighter, mage, thief, etc. These are the archetypes of competence we think of for heroic fantasy.

However, the skills implied by the character history will frequently be domestic, rarely heroic (e.g. Kayl is a brewer). This makes sense because the village is a settlement at peace, and most inhabitants are defined by domestic careers such as farming. These work for villagers, but aren’t very sexy or useful for adventurers.

Note how Dungeon Crawl Classics starts off characters with a non-adventuring profession and sees who survives the funnel; at the end of that ordeal, the one survivor may pick an adventuring class.

Characters are started off in this way to underline their mundane nature, and thereby draw attention to the threshold they cross when they go off adventuring. It should be the same case here; the skills implied by personal history are only marginally useful a lot of the time, and the real “adventuring persona” emerges with the character’s demon, their ambition. This is what I’ll cover in the next post.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

StormHack characters, part 1

Ages ago I had the idea for a “community phase” for Beyond the Wall. Here are a couple of posts:

TL;DR these are an idea for a two-part character. One half of the character is the adventurer and exists “beyond the wall” i.e. when they’re off adventuring. The other half exists “in the village”, or when they’re at home and interacting with friends and family. I still like the idea and it fits certain genres (anime comes to mind, where characters who are brave adventurers risking their lives still get into domestic capers when back at home).

Later I wrote this into StormHack: see here (note that I re-wrote the A6 booklet here, but that later version doesn’t mention the Drama Game). But truth be told something’s always bugged me about this approach. The two sides are more or less entirely separate, which creates a kind of cognitive dissonance as players switch from one phase to the other. What I really wanted was for the PCs to have those relationships but for those to tie back into the adventure and for their emotional components to have an effect on (or at least be present in) the adventure game.

StormHack characters do have a dual nature. The human is all about human experience, family, history and emotions, whereas the demon is about power, ambition, expertise and magic. The premise has always been that the human side has no levels, does not gain experience or power; but demons on the other hand have levels and it’s entirely up to the player how high those go. A higher level demon will give a lot of power but when it transgresses, it will really screw up the character’s life.

And that turned out to be the solution. The human side has all the connections to family and place. These give the character some capability (skills and experience) which can be used directly in the adventure game. However, it’s these connections — Roots — which get attacked, tainted, corrupted by the demon when its power finally comes back to bite its master. Thus there’s this cycle:

This integrates the human side and the demon side. I’ll go into the mechanics of how this works some other time, but for the rest of this post I want to discuss the two sides to each character.

I. Being human

The human side of the character is all about their past and ancestry, the life they had growing up, and the influence of friends and family.

The standard 6 ability scores (STR, CON, DEX, INT, WIS, CHA) belong to this side of the character, and you can generate these any way you like — as a point-buy, rolling randomly, using playbooks as in Beyond the Wall, etc.

The accompanying roots are influenced by Whitehack’s groups. They’re sort of broad statements about vocation and cultural experience, and you can leverage these in-game for an advantage on a d20 roll (i.e. roll twice and pick the result you like).

Each character has three roots:

  1. The first and most recent is growing up. It’s all about the skills and experiences you got from your family and friends. If the family business was fishing, or milling, or brewing, that’s something you know how to do. It manifests in parents or other people of the same age who have been an influence as you grew up.
  2. The second root is tradition. This is something cultural about your family; it indicates belonging to an ethnic group, a race, or a tribe.
  3. The third and oldest root is legend. This is something like a rumour, family story, or connection to something very old that began long before you were born.

All roots have an anchor-point. This is the person or place strongly associated with the root, and this is something the character will keep coming back to. Parents or friends will often be an anchor for growing up, grandparents or the community for tradition, and places or heroic stories for legends. These roots extend back in time. Often you might want

Roots don’t have to be beneficial all the time. A tradition (which could be a religion, ethnicity, etc.) might be useful but at the same time bring the attention of bigots. A legend could be exciting and inspiring, or it could be a dark doom that follows the character around.

II. Being a demon

“Demon” can be anything from strange otherworldly creatures summoned and bound to the conjurer’s will, to psychic self-actualisation and manifestation of latent talents. The definition of “demon” can be very literal (as in Chaosium’s Stormbringer) or allegorical/metaphorical (Ron Edwards’ Sorcerer) depending on your game. The key points about demons are:

  1. Their apparent power that they exercise on behalf of their master has a real in-game effect: destroying things, enabling the character to fly or walk through walls, conjuring stuff out of thin air, seeing into the future, controlling other people’s minds. All of these effects go beyond what normal people can do.
  2. If the PC gives the demon permission to act, they risk the demon transgressing. That transgression also has a real in-game effect: destroying relationships, tainting reputations, attracting enemies.
  3. The act of transgression gives the demon power, and causes it to grow. This is a metamorphosis.
  4. When the demon is stronger it can tempt the PC with more powerful effects, but its transgressions will be similarly worse.

And there you have it. Demons could be a metaphor for pursuit of power, ambition or dedication to something at the expense of humanity and human relationships; or they could be really, really evil beings which latch onto humans and tempt them to use too much power and wreck their relationships and leave them as an emotionless, hollowed-out husk. Your choice.

Demons have an associated drive. This is an expression of what sets the character apart from their peers. For example a character’s drive might be to be a great warrior or knight. That drive directs the demon’s power (in this case, in combat). In general Drives look a lot like careers or vocations; and in a lot of cases they function just like roots do as skills and experience. Thus if the character called themselves “Knight of Leopards” they might get an advantage when fighting, when conversing at court, when ordering commoners about, etc.

Whether or not the world believes that demons exist, they definitely talk to their master. They tempt their master to use their power, and then introduce thoughts of how they might transgress. In-game you might want to give the job of roleplaying a character’s demon to the player on the left of the player in question. That player might have fun ideas on how the demon will next transgress if it gets enough wriggle room.

Next

Coming up: I’ll provide an example of generating the human characters in the Beyond the Waves archipelago setting. Shortly after, we’ll do an example of the demonic side of a character.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Downloads

Beyond the Waves

This is a set of playbooks for Beyond the Waves, a Beyond the Wall setting on an archipelago.

All playbooks (PDF) Individual playbooks (zip file)

Death Comes to Wyverley

A Beyond the Wall supplement for playing games in Garth Nix’ Old Kingdom.

Death Comes To Wyverley (PDF)

Elric of R’lyeh

An alternate-Earth 1920s setting that combines the Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer rpgs from Chaosium

The Revised Elric of R’lyeh (PDF)

Fugue Hacking

The first published supplement for James Wallis’ Fugue system as used in the forthcoming game Alas Vegas.

Fugue Hacking (PDF)

Grunting by Jen Spencer

A free RPG by Jen Spencer.

Grunting