Thursday, January 31, 2013

Jonathan Tweet And Magic In Everway

Everway has simple magic rules. Magic is scaled 1-10 in terms of power level. Power level means at least two things: how frequently you see Mages of a particular power level in the world (rarity increases with power and population size), as well as the specific kinds of magical effects which are possible at each level.

Tonight I was rereading the Everway Playing Guide for guidance on creating a new magical tradition. In the midst of reading the rules, I found a great piece of advice for players and GMs, courtesy of Everway's designer, Jonathan Tweet:

"Magic is a tricky Art for players and gamemasters to use well. You must look to your gamemaster to establish the limits of what your mage's spells can accomplish. Your gamemaster is the final arbiter of what your character can do, so be sure that you make yourself clear about what you expect your character to be capable of. It may be that you will have to take a higher Magic score than you expected to at first in order for your mage to be able to do the sorts of things you want. Even if you and your gamemaster agree at the outset, problems may arise during quests when you think you mage can do something and the gamemaster disagrees. If you are not ready to concede to the gamemaster's judgment, do not create a mage in the first place.

"If your gamemaster doesn't feel up to handling the intricacies of magery, something that is likely to be true for gamemasters who are new to the game, then he or she can restrict you from creating heroes that have magical abilities."

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Free Obsidian And Blood Short Stories

Poking around on the Angry Robot Books website, which publishes the Aztec novels (the "Acatl Novels" as they are branded), I saw that you can download three of her Aztec short stories in PDF, epub, and Kindle formats here.


Art by ~DougDougmann
Credit: Breastplate representing the god of death, Mictlantecuhtli, from Tomb 7, Monte Alban, Mixtec, c.1300-1450 (gold), Pre-Columbian / Museo Regional de Oaxaca, Mexico / Giraudon / The Bridgeman Art Library

Obsidian And Blood

The Obsidian and Blood trilogy by Ailette de Bodard, the first volume of which is Servant of the Underworld is probably the novel that has come closest to me to the feel of the "Heirs to the Lost World" RPG. The first novel is a murder investigation that is carried out by a priest of Mictlantecuhtli

Servant of the Underworld is set in the Aztec capital prior to the Spanish arrival in the new world. I am about 130 pages in now. The first 20 or so were a little slow, but like Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, or almost anything by China Mieville, if you read a little further it really takes off!

The novel has supernatural elements, including gods who are imminent rather than transcendent. 

There are some genuinely creepy moments.

Author Ailette de Bodard is a woman of Vietnamese heritage who lives in Paris. De Bodard gets one detail of geography wrong - as far as I know there were no cenotes in Central Mexico - those were primarily in the Mayan Yucatan. But overall it is clear that she really did her homework and has created an immersive novel.

Everway's Fireson would feel right at home in this world - and probably depart for other spheres immediately!

Fans of Tekumel will want to check this out.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Aleph Pylons
The Aleph Pylons mark the extremities of The Rust Gate's ancient empire. These structures marked the spheres that were home to the outermost gates radiating outward from the ancient city-state. Most of these structures stand to this day. Only a few have ever fallen; they are almost impossible to pull down.

Sometimes a solitary pylon, sometimes a complex of pylons. Many of the singletons are roughly triangular golden metal shafts some fifteen or twenty hands tall. Some have diamond-shaped doorways, apparently sealed forever, since the emissaries of Aleph are long-gone. Others are conical towers of smooth adobe. These could easily shelter an entire company of warriors, but they have no windows or doors.

The Aleph Pylons sit on the site of ancient gates.  These gates preceded the empire of the Rust Gate. They stopped working when the pylons were built. In the few cases where the pylons have tumbled or been torn down, the surrounding lands have become poisoned with a strange radiance. Gates this close to the Deep Horizon often discharge such energies when they are used.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New Spells for Heirs To The Lost World

During last weekend's game of Heirs to the Lost World, a few new spells were introduced. Two were created on the spot by Bob, who played our Aztec Blood Mage. One was created by The Everwayan, who served as GM.

I decided to write these up as new spells for Heirs.

The first two spells were those of the Blood Mage, who was a priest of Ometeotl.

Touch the Ihiyotl (Power of Life and Healing): Grade 1. Duration = one scene. You can touch the Ihiyotl - the first of three souls a person has. The Ihiyotl is a person's animal, most basic human drives and deep emotions. This spell is used to calm the emotions of someone whose mind has been clouded or inflamed by alcohol or other intoxicants. The GM determines the exact effects of this spell produces on the target.

Sun's Scream (Power of the Sun): Grade 2: Toughness + Willpower. Duration = instantaneous. A Blood Mage smears his or her blood on the exposed skin of the target, typically a war captive who has been bound. When exposed to the sun under the influence of the spell, the Blood Mage's blood becomes an extremely sticky substance, which causes deep, incredibly painful burns on the target. If cast successfully, this spell causes one Wound. It is often cast to extract intelligence from war captives of the Aztecs; its use is considered to be honorable.

The third spell was used by the alchemist Master of Winds on the Dutch slaver ship Oudwater. The alchemist used it to effect an escape the PCs during a slave revolt on the Dutch ship.

Air Barnacle (Power of Air): Grade 2. Duration = Sustained.  This spell creates an air bubble about 6" in diameter as an underwater refuge for the caster. The Air Barnacle will form around the caster, and then attach itself to the lowest point on the nearest ship or boat. Within this refuge, the caster may use words and gestures to cast spells as normally, and will have breathable air as long as the spell is Sustained. The spell may be disrupted mechanically by the typical mechanical means used to remove barnacles, such as chains or barbed poles, as well as by scraping the Air Barnacle against a sandbar or shallow harbor or river bottom.

The names and descriptions for the Touch the Ihiyotl, Sun's Scream, and Air Barnacle spells are copyright 2013 by Obsidian Serpent Games.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Skull & Shackles Cardboard Minis

There is a pawn very much like this in the collection.
Image used for review purposes, only.

Paizo calls them pawns; I call them minis. I used the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path Pawn Collection as cardboard minis for our Heirs to the Lost World RPG adventure last weekend.

These minis are great for pirate scenarios!

My players and I also appreciated the effort that Paizo took to produce a range of male and female cardboard minis representing different racial/cultural groups.

The only downside in using them is that both sides of the fig have the same image. So, you have two "fronts" and no "back" with these cardboard minis. If you are using them for the system for which they were intended (i.e., Pathfinder) that is no big deal; Pathfinder doesn't have facing rules, as far as I know.

Heirs, however, does have facing rules. I am thinking that the solution for future runs using these figs is to paint a dot of color on one side of the plastic bases that the cardboard minis slot into. The side of the base with the dot will be the "front" of the character or NPC, and the side without the dot will be the back.

Now all we need is the NPC Codex Box of pawns! Those should be out in March 2013.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mayan, Aztec, and Privateer Mayhem in Xicalango

Cover art by Gustvo Lira
Image copyright. 2007-2010
by Obsidian Serpent Games
A few posts ago, I provided a brief description of Chad Davidson's Heirs to the Lost World  RPG, an alternative history 17th Century RPG set in the Caribbean and Mesoamerica. With Aztecs, Mayans, pirates and Conquistadors, it is definitely a setting that hits my sweet spot! It is also one of the few fairly gamist RPGs whose mechanics I feel comfortable playing and running.

This past weekend, I had a chance to run a new Heirs scenario for some good friends. One was game designer Chad Davidson, and two others were Heirs veterans. One player was new to the game and setting.

Since this was my first chance to run the game in several years, I did a fair amount of prep work during the week: reading the core rules chapter, the combat chapter, and the rules for magic. All the rules came back to me rather smoothly. That is probably no accident, since I ran a longish episodic campaign of Heirs from roughly 2008 until 2010, when my Dad passed away.

After work on Friday, I went to The Source to pick up a set of red d6's (5 per player for Effort dice), and another pack of black d6's (5 per player for skill dice, although you can get by with a shared set in the center of the table). I already had some cardboard minis I thought would be suitable for the game (more on that in tomorrow's post), so I also spent some time looking though those. Finally, I asked Chad Davidson to provide some sample PC sheets and some Heirs cardboard minis.

Friday night I re-read the Magic rules in Heirs, and then poured over several books on Mayan and Aztec archaeology.

Saturday AM, I got up and statted up a bunch of NPCs. None of them were used, as the PCs took another direction once the game began. This always happens.

In fact, I'd say that is a hallmark of fun!

The Heirs rulebook has many sample NPCs, so I was able to adjust to the change in direction quite readily.

The PCs choose to focus on investigating the circumstances surrounding two Dutch ships in the harbor of Xicalango, the Mayan port city which is a sample setting for Heirs. One of the ships was a pirate ship. The other - the Oudwater -  was a slave taker/native antiquities raider harassing coastal Mayan communities in the Yucatan. "The bottom of the barrel" as one PC put it.

By the end of the adventure, the PCs had assisted with a slave revolt, and the Oudwater was at the bottom of "the drink" in the lagoon near Xicalango. And the PCs had aired the idea of following the Oudwater's occult and commercial trail all the way back north to New Amsterdam (present day New York City) - in a future adventure!

Heirs has great stunting mechanics, and ALL the players took turns trying some cool stunts. It was a great game, and I hope we'll have the opportunity to play some more Heirs in the near future!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Rust Gate's Fortunes
The city-state of Rust Gate, also known as Aleph is introduced impressionistically here, and  its rise and near fall were described yesterday, here. Today's post share's the city-state's Fortunes.

The Realm of Rust Gate
  • Virtue: The Dragon - Cunning. The city-state has survived as long as it has by hook and by crook, and with a great deal of magical cunning, including necromancy.
  • Fault: Law, Reversed - Treachery. The Emperor and Court are divided against each other, which makes it very difficult to control the remaining peasants and the city folk, not to mention outside adversaries such as the Trolls.
  • Fate: The Cockatrice - Corruption vs. Recovery. Can the Emperor and Court turn back from the abyss and reform themselves in some manner, possibly adopting some of the democratic and self-renewing traditions of the Trolls? Or will Aleph succumb to a decline so deep and old that it finally self-destructs, or provokes the Trolls to destroy it?

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Rust Gate's Rise and Near Fall

Photo by Ying Feng Johannsson
The realm of Rust Gate lies perilously close to the Deep Horizon. Its people, who call themselves The Aleph, once made their realm the capital of a multi-world empire. That was thousands of years ago, and the Empire is now long gone.

The Empire's furthest reaches were demarcated by The Aleph Pylons. Most of these were pulled down centuries ago during the Prairie Fire Rebellions, which initiated the so-called Headlong Tumble and the Empire's decline. The Aleph lost hundreds of worlds during the Tumble, but still managed to hold on to dozens by diplomacy, bribes, seduction, treachery, necromancy and elementalism, and in a few cases, brute force.

The invasion of the Trolls did the rest. The Trolls came from Beyond the Deep Horizon, and liberated numerous Aleph worlds. Finally, the Trolls reached the center-world of Aleph's wicked Empire. They  surrounded that corrupt, dying Empire with Good Government.

The Trolls reduced the Aleph Empire to a single ancient shambolic walled city-state, a virtual Tower Realm all but surrounded by the Troll-state. Many peasants in the immediate vicinity of Rust Gate have fled to the Troll Republic. Only the most docile stayed behind to work the land for the city. Still others have declared themselves rebels and freeholders, and have sought alliances with the Troll Republic to maintain their autonomy. The city responds with terrorism and necromancy. As a result, most of the land required to feed the city has now gone fallow.

Within the city, Rust Gate's half-starved populace and nobility are subject to the unceasing intrigues and whims of the city-state's decadent Emperor and Court. The city's elites have recently hit upon intermarriage with the Troll Republic's ministers, emissaries, and high merchant families as a way of buying some security against outright invasion.

These Troll Marriages are welcomed by the Troll families, because through these arrangements, the Troll Republic gains access to some of the well-fortified and closely guarded Tower Gates within the city-state. The gates offer the Trolls new prospects for trade and conquest - new avenues down which to spread their republican ideals.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Realm of Rust Gate
Tonight, my friends and I again played what we call "the elf memory game", Lost Days of Memories & Madness. It is an indie tabletop PVP RPG, with quite evocative PC creation rules that involve scripting one sentence memories that begin with the phrase "I remember."

From tonight's game, I see a realm taking shape: The Rust Gate.

Some of the things that came up in the memories were:
  • A city-state that has diplomatic relations with an apparently quite civilized Troll-state which has a President, a Minister of Rhetoric, and a Minister of Defense
  • The city-state is ruled by an unscrupulous King and a treacherous court 
  • Relations between the court of the city-state and the Troll-state include intermarriage
  • The city-state is infamous for its deadly fanged Rust Portcullis, which has at least once been used by the realm to kill peasant refugees fleeing disorder in the countryside
  • Peasants who have been terrorized by a plague of zombies
  • A King with a Necromancer-Concubine
  • A King with a set of keys to most locked places and spaces within the city-state (e.g., the dry and deafening House of the Stolen Waterfalls)  
  • A strange form of elemental magic which uses "metallic air"
  • Courtiers and lovers who have been murdered by being trapped within coagulated metallic air
All-in-all, this has the makings of a rather treacherous, grim place and is very consistent with our Janus-Faced prophesy for 2013. 

Next time, we'll put these memory fragments together with some Fortune Cards and give the realm more shape.