A playbook for Castle Lysander

The Stolen Child

I met her in a forest glade // Where starbeams grew like trees // I did not take her for a witch // She wasn’t what she seemed // She turned the key of endlessness // And locked me in a dream // Infinity

Once upon a time you were a child, playing alone. Queen Antipathie approached you and asked you to be her knight, tempting you to shed your youth and become an adult in her Realm. Not knowing what you had given up until too late you became the protector of her Realm, loving its people as much as you hated her.

1d12 What was your first sight of the castle, and how did you enter? Gain
1 You emerged on a balcony to a skyline of minarets, spires and bell-towers under a starlit sky. +2 INT, +1 WIS, +1 CON, Skill: Astrology
2 You arrived at the Southern Gate and hammered your fist on the oak door until they allowed you in. +2 STR, +1 CON, +1 CHA, Skill: Intimidation
3 You cut your way through a mass of ivy to locate a small archway in the Eastern Wall. +2 CON, +1 DEX, +1 WIS, Skill: Spot Hidden
4 You nearly drowned wading through a mire to reach the North Gate. +2 CON, +1 STR, +1 DEX, Skill: Swimming
5 You leapt a chasm to reach the West Gate. +2 STR, +1 DEX, +1 WIS, Skill: Athletics
6 You climbed up the well in dining hall. +2 DEX, +1 INT, +1 WIS, Skill: Climbing
7 You remember falling forever, then waking in an amphitheater surrounded by weather-worn statues +2 WIS, +1 INT, +1 STR, Skill: History
8 You wandered through the arboretum until you found the Southern Gate. +2 DEX, +1 INT, +1 CON, Skill: Navigation
9 You entered a submerged bunker in the desert and followed a rough-hewn passage to the Eastern Gate. +2 INT, +1 DEX, +1 CHA, Skill: History
10 A portal in the temple by the lake carried you over a blue-starred causeway to the North Gate. +2 WIS, +1 INT, +1 CHA, Skill: Legend Lore
11 Stones around your ankles dragged you down to the sea bottom, where you found the Western Gate. +2 CON, +1 WIS, +1 DEX, Skill: Breath Control
12 You emerged from a sarcophagus in the mausoleum. +2 CHA, +1 WIS, +1 CON, Skill: Sense Death
1d8 Upon entering the castle you were told that you were now in Lysander’s domain and under his protection. What happened? Gain
1 Lysander addressed you in a booming voice from a balcony, his features obscured in shadow +2 STR, +1 INT
2 Lysander entertained you in a grand room, offering you a jet-black wine +2 WIS, +1 CHA
3 Lysander’s seneschal regretfully informed you that his master was occupied, and to enjoy the lavish meal laid in front of you +2 CON, +1 WIS
4 You chased Lysander, a cloaked figure in a white mask, through a hedge maze demanding answers — but he was always just out of reach +2 DEX, +1 STR
5 Old and kindly Lysander appeared at your bedside, asking if you had rested well and offering you bread and fruit +2 CHA, +1 CON
6 Young and androgynous Lysander escorted you through a gallery of their ancestors’ portraits +1 WIS, +1 INT, +1 CHA
7 You glimpsed Lysander, flanked by an entourage of armoured hyena warriors, as they passed through a grand colonnade +1 CON, +1 INT, +1 STR
8 You crept into Lysander’s sanctum, and witnessed them converse with a living mist billowing from a brazier +1 DEX, +1 INT, +1 WIS
1d8 Who else did you meet in the castle? Gain
1 Prome, librarian +2 INT, +1 CON
2 Fulker, mistress of owls and hawks +2 DEX, +1 INT
3 Madame Zmeice, keeper of the observatory +2 WIS, +1 CHA
4 Vain, steward +2 CHA, +1 INT
5 Constable, castle security +2 STR, +1 INT
6 Orville, fool in motley +1 INT, +1 DEX, +1 CON
7 Elle, sitting in an apple tree +1 CHA, +1 INT, +1 DEX
8 Durt, skulking pot-washer +1 CON, +1 WIS, +1 CHA

As you sit down to eat with your fellow knights you recall your past life. Your armour and weapons leave no doubt that you’re a Warrior of some skill. You have the class abilities of knacks and weapon specialisation.

1d6 What were you doing when Queen Antipathie approached you in the forest glade? Gain
1 You were daydreaming in that magical spot. +3 WIS, skill: sense magic
2 You had enticed a doe into the glade. +3 CHA, skill: animal ken
3 You were foraging for mushrooms. +3 INT, skill: survival
4 You were swimming with your friends the Naiads in the river nearby. +3 CON, skill: swimming
5 Intent on becoming a hunter like the adults in your clan, you had cornered and were facing down a wild boar. +3 STR, skill: hunting
6 You were hiding, waiting to see who approached. +3 DEX, skill: stealth
1d6 What weapon did your Queen give you? Gain
1 A golden spear, with two scarlet ribbons twining from the spearhead. +2 CON, weapon specialisation: Spear
2 A broad sword of ancient design that she said had been held by many heroes before you. +2 STR, weapon specialisation: Sword
3 A long-hafted axe, struck with a dwarven prize-mark at the head. +2 STR, weapon specialisation: Axe
4 A slender side-sword, nimble in your hand almost as if it knew your intent. +2 DEX, weapon specialisation: Sword
5 A silver hammer, with a pommel shaped like a beetle. +2 STR, weapon specialisation: Hammer
6 A short and jagged sword that seemed to pulse with a heartbeat as you held it. +2 CON, weapon specialisation: Sword
1d6 The Queen brought you to her Realm to face an even greater evil. What was it, and where did you fight your battle? Gain
1 A demon demanded the Queen lay down her life or it would blight the Realm. You slew it in single combat in the stone circle at Nearbury. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 STR. +2 STR, knack: Great Strike
2 You uncovered a political plot against the Queen and slew her would-be assassin and the Vizier attempting the coup when their endgame played out in the Owl Spire. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 INT. +2 INT, knack: Fleet
3 You hunted the Crone to its lair in White Marsh, and made an elixir of its brain and heart to cure the disease it had spread. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 CON. +2 CON, knack: Resilience
4 You hunted for a colossal Wyrm in the Undermaze beneath the Realm. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 STR. +2 STR, knack: Great Strike
5 You confronted the Lichling in the cyclopean Temple of Aan, and resisted its offer to unite against the Queen. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 WIS. +2 WIS, knack: Resilience
6 You battled Antipathie’s twin sister in the Inverted Citadel. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 DEX. +2 DEX, knack: Defensive Fighter
1d6 When you left the Realm and plunged into the surrounding Mists, what did you take with you? Gain
1 Antipathie’s cartographer gave you a compass that might help beyond the Mists. +2 INT, a compass
2 You took a golden mask from the theatre to remind you of the players there. +2 CHA, a golden mask
3 A cobbler made you boots that would allow you to step between shadows. +2 DEX, shadow-step boots
4 An alchemist gave you what she claimed is a bag of dragon’s teeth, hinting that it may help you on the road ahead. +2 STR, a bag of dragon’s teeth
5 You took a mirrored shield from a statue of one of your predecessors in the Realm’s Hall of Heroes. +2 CON, a mirrored shield
6 You found and stole Antipathie’s phylactery containing her true name +2 WIS, Antipathie’s phylactery

Castle Lysander

This is a playset/re-skin for Beyond the Wall.

Lysander’s castle lies at the centre of a magical wasteland. Those who dwell in the castle are citizens of Lysander, having taken their lord’s offer of sanctuary. Many have fled untold horrors. Many more are unsure of how they arrived here; they remember the castle gates, and the mists, and the sounds and scents of the outside, though as soon as they crossed the threshold into Lysander’s domain these melted away like a dream. Almost as if the memory were hiding from them.

The characters are Lysander’s knights. They each came here from elsewhere; they are given title and responsibility above the other citizens, and they venture beyond the walls to do their lord’s bidding, not knowing what they will confront in the external landscape.

They have a sense of self and an acute connection to a place, somewhere in their past. But their families, friends, political sides, even their names — these are less certain, and they change from day to day.

How this works

This is a playset for Beyond the Wall and the Further Afield supplement. It’s been created with Beyond the Wall’s core values in mind — namely a low-prep fantasy game about a group of characters striking out from safety into unknown danger. It uses the following concepts:

  • Playbooks
  • Major locations (from Further Afield)
  • Threat packs
  • Beyond the Wall’s specific colour including True Names, magic, etc.

It differs from Beyond the Wall as follows:

  1. Characters are adults, or at least reasonably confident in their place in the world. Their ignorance of what lies beyond the wall comes from magical trickery rather than youthful ignorance.
  2. There’s no reason this can’t use the BtW rules as written; however I plan to make this system work with StormHack, which is essentially level-less (but levels come from something else).
  3. Level advancement then is about climbing the social ladder within the Castle, currying favour with the mysterious Lysander.
  4. Playbook structure is similar but there are crucial differences. Like the core game the playbooks have three common tables, and four playbook-specific tables. See below.

Characters and their playbooks

The goal of the playbooks is to present a complete set of characters each with back-story in minutes, ready to drop into an adventure. Standard BtW does it by first talking about childhood via common tables and then moving on to a set of themed tables around the playbook’s premise.

In this version the character premise is a lone figure, an eternal champion or protagonist who has found themselves outside their own time. The first three tables are common to all playbooks and cover three things:

  1. How they entered Lysander’s Castle
  2. Their audience with Lysander
  3. Someone else they met in the castle.

The next four tables describe the character in more detail. This should be imagined as if the characters, newly arrived in the castle, are sitting down together to their first meal and talking about their past. This exposition could be in-character, or it could be inferred (e.g. by the strange attire of the character, their mannerisms and other cues the other party members pick up on) or it could simply be internal monologue.

Normally in Beyond the Wall each playbook has a climactic event which also involves the player character to the right. In this case these events have been replaced with a strong sense of a location. This location will be of primary significance to the character but may have a completely different meaning to another character — their version may be a reflection, or be far in the future or the past, represent a diverging timeline, etc.

Over the next few blog posts I’m going to write some sample playbooks — the first one is at the end of this post.

Twists

One: Within the Castle

While the action game should take place outside the castle walls when running missions at the behest of Lysander (as directed by his various mouthpieces), in downtime the PCs may explore the labyrinthine castle and its many weird denizens. Consider using these relationship rules to develop relationships with the castle’s inhabitants. What do they know? What do they want?

What places are there to find in the castle? How does one’s level affect access to these places — as you go up a level and further into Lysander’s favour, are you invited to explore new and stranger sights within the castle?

Two: The Ladder

In place of, or as well as, individual character advancement levels there is a Ladder for social advancement within the castle. Advancing means access to better equipment, spells, libraries, and so on; so it means you will get the benefits of rising through your class’s levels. But in addition it grants access to new social circles, new places in the castle, more information, and even the right to ask Lysander questions directly (within a certain scope).

Three: Naysay the Cartographer

The characters have been recruited by Lysander. At the same time they have been contacted by Naysay, the secret cartographer. Naysay questions the mystery surrounding the castle; he asks why Lysander would limit information about the outside world, and not even provide a map. Naysay has therefore struck a deal with the characters: provide information about the places they visit, and he will in turn give them access to his maps.

His red-draped workshop and filing systems are a complete mess — the “map” is distributed over many pieces of paper and parchment stuffed into drawers, hung on walls behind other maps, and even cunningly woven into the rug in his room. Absconding with a map will do the characters little good. However giving him information means he will give them advice in return — in the form of Major Locations (see Further Afield).

Sample Playbook

Veteran of the Sonic Wars

The Sonic Wars: where both sides employ sonic weapons and sonic drugs which resonate key areas of the brain to control sleep and emotion; where years-old remnants of aural detonations still resonate in unexpected patterns, making any journey outside a soundproofed Dome hazardous; where the ultimate act of intimacy is to remove one’s ear pods and listen.

Starting ability scores: STR and CON of 10, all others at 8.

1d12 What was your first sight of the castle, and how did you enter? Gain
1 You emerged on a balcony to a skyline of minarets, spires and bell-towers under a starlit sky. +2 INT, +1 WIS, +1 CON, Skill: Astrology
2 You arrived at the Southern Gate and hammered your fist on the oak door until they allowed you in. +2 STR, +1 CON, +1 CHA, Skill: Intimidation
3 You cut your way through a mass of ivy to locate a small archway in the Eastern Wall. +2 CON, +1 DEX, +1 WIS, Skill: Spot Hidden
4 You nearly drowned wading through a mire to reach the North Gate. +2 CON, +1 STR, +1 DEX, Skill: Swimming
5 You leapt a chasm to reach the West Gate. +2 STR, +1 DEX, +1 WIS, Skill: Athletics
6 You climbed up the well in dining hall. +2 DEX, +1 INT, +1 WIS, Skill: Climbing
7 You remember falling forever, then waking in an amphitheater surrounded by weather-worn statues +2 WIS, +1 INT, +1 STR, Skill: History
8 You wandered through the arboretum until you found the Southern Gate. +2 DEX, +1 INT, +1 CON, Skill: Navigation
9 You entered a submerged bunker in the desert and followed a rough-hewn passage to the Eastern Gate. +2 INT, +1 DEX, +1 CHA, Skill: History
10 A portal in the temple by the lake carried you over a blue-starred causeway to the North Gate. +2 WIS, +1 INT, +1 CHA, Skill: Legend Lore
11 Stones around your ankles dragged you down to the sea bottom, where you found the Western Gate. +2 CON, +1 WIS, +1 DEX, Skill: Breath Control
12 You emerged from a sarcophagus in the mausoleum. +2 CHA, +1 WIS, +1 CON, Skill: Sense Death
1d8 Upon entering the castle you were told that you were now in Lysander’s domain and under his protection. What happened? Gain
1 Lysander addressed you in a booming voice from a balcony, his features obscured in shadow +2 STR, +1 INT
2 Lysander entertained you in a grand room, offering you a jet-black wine +2 WIS, +1 CHA
3 Lysander’s seneschal regretfully informed you that his master was occupied, and to enjoy the lavish meal laid in front of you +2 CON, +1 WIS
4 You chased Lysander, a cloaked figure in a white mask, through a hedge maze demanding answers — but he was always just out of reach +2 DEX, +1 STR
5 Old and kindly Lysander appeared at your bedside, asking if you had rested well and offering you bread and fruit +2 CHA, +1 CON
6 Young and androgynous Lysander escorted you through a gallery of their ancestors’ portraits +1 WIS, +1 INT, +1 CHA
7 You glimpsed Lysander, flanked by an entourage of armoured hyena warriors, as they passed through a grand colonnade +1 CON, +1 INT, +1 STR
8 You crept into Lysander’s sanctum, and witnessed them converse with a living mist billowing from a brazier +1 DEX, +1 INT, +1 WIS
1d8 Who else did you meet in the castle? Gain
1 Prome, librarian +2 INT, +1 CON
2 Fulker, mistress of owls and hawks +2 DEX, +1 INT
3 Madame Zmeice, keeper of the observatory +2 WIS, +1 CHA
4 Vain, steward +2 CHA, +1 INT
5 Constable, castle security +2 STR, +1 INT
6 Orville, fool in motley +1 INT, +1 DEX, +1 CON
7 Elle, sitting in an apple tree +1 CHA, +1 INT, +1 DEX
8 Durt, skulking pot-washer +1 CON, +1 WIS, +1 CHA

As you sit down to eat with your fellow knights you recall your past life. Your armour and weapons leave no doubt that you’re a Warrior of some skill. You have the class abilities of knacks and weapon specialisation.

1d6 How were you recruited? Gain
1 Citizenship demands enlistment — you signed up thinking it was a way to climb the social ladder. +3 CHA, knack: Fleet
2 You were conscripted along with the rest of your Dome. +3 STR, knack: Great Strike
3 Your parents were career military, so you followed their example. +3 CON, knack: Weapon Specialisation
4 You were abducted from a border village and illegally pressed into service. +3 CON, knack: Resilient
5 You were idealistic and believed the recruiter’s propaganda. +3 STR, knack: Defensive Fighter
6 The enemy hit your Dome and killed everyone you knew. You enlisted bent on revenge. +3 STR, knack: Great Strike
1d6 What was your first taste of war? Gain
1 You were patrolling a village, and without warning your whole squad was hit with a sonic weapon. You remember shooting desperately as your sergeant sounded the retreat. +2 WIS, Weapon specialisation: carbine
2 You were waiting in a trench for the big push. Someone thrust a sword into your hand and pushed you over the top. +2 STR, Weapon specialisation: sword
3 Your unit received a cavalry charge, and in the chaos you picked up a lance from a fallen cavalier and defended yourself. +2 CON, Weapon specialisation: lance
4 In the middle of battle you fenced with an enemy lieutenant. +2 STR, Weapon specialisation: sword
5 You and an equally green enemy soldier found yourselves fleeing into a maze of tiny passages under a ruined bunker, where you stalked each other in the dark. +2 DEX, Weapon specialisation: pistol
6 You were forced to defend an undersupplied fort over several weeks. When the enemy finally broke in you had to grab whatever was to hand to defend yourself. +2 STR, Weapon specialisation: club
1d6 Deep in the wasteland you found a place of peace. What was it? Gain
1 An abandoned ballroom filled with holographic ghosts of party-goers. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 DEX. +2 DEX, skill: Dancing
2 A ruined theatre full of abandoned set pieces and costumes, posters and flyers of past performances. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 CHA. +2 CHA, skill: Acting
3 A dusty museum full of enormous displays depicting life in earlier times. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 INT +2 INT, skill: History
4 A greenhouse of thriving and overgrown vegetation, fruits and vegetables. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 WIS +2 WIS, skill: Plant lore
5 A gallery of white walls, wide open spaces and huge canvases of vibrant paintings. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 CHA +2 CHA, skill: Art
6 A library of maze-like stacks with books on every imaginable subject. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 INT +2 INT, skill: Trivia
1d6 What did you take from the battlefield? Gain
1 A grenade. +2 STR, grenade
2 A collection of letters from a fallen comrade. +2 WIS, Letters
3 A pair of decent boots from an officer. +2 DEX, Fine boots
4 Identity papers from an enemy combatant. +2 CHA, Identity papers
5 A small white flower growing in the mud, which you pressed in a book. +2 CON, a flower
6 An officer’s sight-glass. +2 INT, Sight-glass

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

One of the reasons I started this blog was to keep my hand in writing something, anything. It helps, because for some reason I can have ideas and be really lazy about writing them down. I have bad habits.

Anyway, this is my game. It’s called Black Mantle.

Fluff, Colour, Tone, Setting, Yadda Yadda

This is a game about a dystopian City where Citizens are born into “Work Philes” or vocational tribes. That will be their life unless they can ascend the PRIV ladder and become higher-tier citizens. But while the propaganda is that anyone can achieve a higher tier through hard work, the economic realities work against anyone even trying to make it out of zero level.

The exception is for Mantle pilots who plug themselves into the Mantle exo-suits and venture outside the City, at the behest of one of the City’s Corporations. No-one knows what exists Outside, and pilots contracted to the Corps are forbidden from talking about their missions within The Interior. But if you have the neural aptitude to sync with a Mantle, the Corps will want you. These are the Player Characters. They are young and inexperienced, and the only thing they know about the Outside is rumour.

Mantle pilots are rewarded handsomely with PRIVs. Previous zero-level workers can suddenly find them ascending the citizenship tiers (levels 1 through 10) and mixing with higher level citizens, including the movers and shakers in the Corps and Government. They’ll be instant celebrities. The PRIV system also allows them to take their family with them to the upper tiers; some do, others leave their old Work Phile far behind.

  • What did you see Outside? Why does it Haunt you?
  • What did you take back from Outside? Why do the Corps want it?
  • Where is your family? Do you need them?
  • Where and what is the City?

Crunchy Bits

This is a consciously “heterogeneous” i.e. not unified design. It is also “asymmetric”. The Interior system which represents the characters as Citizens is fairly freeform and designed to cover the relationships between the characters. Not sure about this system; maybe borrowing something from Dramasystem.

The Exterior system is (at the moment) all OSR, with some tweaks (e.g. some of the Death Comes To Wyverley extra rules to change survival, and add scaling mechanics). Exterior missions should function very much like dungeon adventures including exploration, combat, and mission reward. Rewards specifically are experience points but these are an in-game property; do better in your mission and get PRIVs, rise up the ranks, and get access to better gear.

Other OSR-like bits include considering what is “player facing” such as charts and tables; and how to efficiently support the GM in managing factions and their motivations.

There is a feedback mechanism between the Exterior missions and the Interior setting, but I don’t feel confident in talking about that just yet. There’s also a collaborative element to starting the city, something that’s evolved since I thought of the “city accelerator” tool.

There should be a discussion about what happens when the meta-game Wall breaks down, and the Exterior OSR procedural-style games bleeds into the Interior drama-style game.

There will be Mecha and/or Werewolves. There will be Relationships. There may be Dice Clocks. TBD

Influences

Mainly influenced by two manga/anime which are surprisingly similar: Attack on Titan, and Knights of Sidonia. Both feature young protagonists with limited knowledge of the space outside the wall. In addition there are internal hierarchies and political struggles within the human community. Oh yeah, and giant robots / three-dimensional movement gear / titans.

Most important feature of these two series is their asymmetry. The protagonists work by a different set of rules inside and outside the “City”; this is particularly apparent in Knights of Sidonia where the interior scenes are all about exploring Sidonia and the relationships between Nagate, Izana and Yahuta, and these characters can be strong inside and weak outside, or vice-versa.

(it’s colour/fluff, but Izana’s non-binary gender also influcences gender in Black Mantle)

Mechanically influenced by Flatland Games’ Beyond the Wall. Various discussions of the transition between the interior (village) and exterior (beyond the wall) are elsewhere in my blog. Also influenced by various Sine Nomine OSR games.

Secondary influences:

  • consciously derivitive of YA dystopian fiction e.g. The Hunger Games and Divergent
  • but also inspired by much older YA (before YA was a thing) such as H.M. Hoover’s Children of Morrow
  • Christopher Priest’s Inverted World
  • China Mieville’s City and the City

The GM, and Secret Knowledge

I have strong views on settings, in that when I buy a game I don’t want to be spoon-fed someone else’s setting or worse, metaplot. One of the strengths of some OSR games is how they provide a framework for creation of the sandbox and the GM’s own setting, so I’m bearing this in mind.

Another issue is the Big Secret, which IIRC was a problem with the Engel RPG. It goes like this: there’s a big mystery to do with the world which the players are ignorant of, and which forms the central piece of interest in the GM’s section, and often the whole motivation for the core activity of the PCs. Once you know that, the central interest is lost. This is also a feature of some of the fiction above (notably the millenial YA genre) so while genre appropriate it limits the lifespan of the game.

This is a non-trivial problem to solve, and at this stage I don’t have a good answer. But something to be very mindful of. Having enjoyment as player limited by having previously GMed is something to avoid.

Other Systems

Other systems I considered:

  • FATE, no way. Sterile, unified, boring. I don’t get on with it
  • PbtA is a much stronger candidate, and the proposal above could almost be a hack of Night Witches (I guess; I don’t own it). However I know how much effort it is to design for that system, and it hasn’t clicked with me yet
  • I love WaRP / Over The Edge. This might not be the game, but it’s always in the back of my mind as an option

Last, I stand by my previous comments on heterogeneous design which have come from ideas on the internal/external game and internal relationships in Beyond the Wall, e.g. here

To be continued

Reworking a thing I did a couple of years ago. Originally it was inspired by The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions, but considering society as a vehicle for magic.

The seven ages are:

  1. Age of Reclusive Sorcerer
  2. Age of Itinerant Sorcerer
  3. Age of Folk Magic
  4. Age of Regulation
  5. Age of Revolution and Innovation
  6. Age of Incorporation and Ignorance
  7. Age of Mistrust and Decline

The graphic.

7 Magical Ages

1. Age of the Reclusive Sorcerer

Magic is feared/forbidden/evil. Magicians are separate from human civilisation. The Divine is separate from Earth. Humans pay dearly for venturing outside.

Thematic Elements: hidden horror, secrecy, things humanity was not meant to know

Games: Wraith, Kult, Call of Cthulhu

2. Age of the Itinerant Sorcerer

The magician walks into the Earth to connect with human communities, seeking disciples. Magicians as Gods/Divine Spark on Earth.

Thematic Elements: magicians as deities, ages of myth

Games: Exalted, Stormbringer, Barbarians of Lemuria, Everway

3. Age of Folk Magic

Human communities in balance between their civilisation and liminal elements of their community (fair folk, ghosts, myths). Wise women and cunning men.

Thematic elements: village magic, fairies and ghosts, walking legends, small communities

Games: Beyond the Wall, Runequest (Spirit Magic/Primitive cultures), Everway

4. Age of Regulation

Human civilisation realises a taxonomy of magical and Divine elements; seeks to categorise, gain control over. Humanity divided between minority of powerful sorcerers and majority of peons. Humans, not the Divine, decide who is worthy of Magic.

Thematic elements: secret societies, initiation rites, religion, vampires

Games: Ars Magica, Vampire, Runequest

5. Age of Revolution and Innovation

The human majority take back power from minority gatekeepers. Individuals find new ways to do magic outside prescribed methods. Freedom to conjure. 

Thematic Elements: personal empowerment, meritocracy, superheroes identified as ordinary humans

Games: Wild Talents, Unknown Armies, Mage, D&D, Ghostbusters, Spirit of the Century

6. Age of Incorporation and Ignorance

Magic becomes commodity, weaponised, mass manufactured, disposable

Thematic Elements: technology and science, greed, separation from the Divine, spiritual listlessness

Games: Cyberpunk, the Bret Easton Ellis RPG, Changeling

7. Age of Mistrust and Decline

Humanity mistrusts magic. Earth is purged of self-serving magic. Magicians withdraw wholly to the realm of the Divine.

Thematic Elements: the Apocalypse

Games: Apocalypse World, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Werewolf

398 pages, man.

Last year I listed some things I like in 5e that I would adapt to Beyond the Wall. Very nice to see the D&D 5th edition SRD released under the OGL. But 398 pages… of those these are my highlights:

  • Unified advancement with a single Proficiency Bonus
  • Saving throws rolled into Attributes
  • Advantage/Disadvantage in the dice rolls
  • Monsters statted with 6 attributes

With the new SRD is that now D&D 5e is another OSR resource. I don’t think I’d ever go for the whole thing, it’s still way too crunchy for me… but it’s even easier to pick out the bits I like and blend them with Beyond the Wall and Whitehack.

But… 398 pages

(less keen on the level based spells, and I’d prefer just d6 for Hit Dice — using Dice Clocks, natch. Also I don’t see any roll-under mechanics for Attribute checks.)

Is this the same business move as the 3e OGL? At that time WotC wanted to grow the market with 3rd party supporting material and build the d20 brand. That’s got to be part of it… but the difference now is we have the OSR. People who want the official, corporate D&D will buy it. But this means there’s a lot of scope to claim that “old school” products are now “5e compatible”, which can only help build the 5e brand. Whatever the strategy, this is really nice to have.

But still… 398 pages.

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

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.

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.

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.