Tuesday, January 31, 2012

[Secaelia] Player Classes and Options

As mentioned previously, this assumes the third printing of the Swords and Wizardry rules, which I believe are still available in the form of the "white box" which you can download here. In the third printing, which was dated 2009, the only classes were Cleric, Fighter, and Magic-User, and the demi-human races functioned much differently and had fewer options. With the fourth printing, elves also may become thieves, and rather than the class being something inherent about how the race functions, the fourth edition assumes that each of the demi-human races have a set of classes that are available to them and thus they "multi-class" when they are using different abilities available to them. It also removes level limits on demi-humans in favor of multiclassing limits.

The playable classes of Secaelia are Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Thief, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling. For an example on how to incorporate the Thief class into Swords and Wizardry rules, see the excellent example drawn up over at Akratic Wizardry or the "White Box" S&W rules (Refer to this page here for the Thief rules, plus much more). All subsequent material here will assume a "White Box" Thief, but the Akratic Thief is compatible as well, and indeed influenced the naming of the Thieves' Guild in this setting. Halflings can dual-class (just like Elves can alternate between Magic-User and Fighter) as Thieves; a character may also be a Gnome, in which case one still uses the Halfling template, however one may make stylistic changes for flavor. Here I will assume that, despite Halflings and Gnomes being different races, they are functionally very similar. Perhaps Gnomes may have a racial bonus on thievery over the innate abilities of Halflings, this is up to the GM.

Players should be made aware that playing as a Magic-User, Dwarf, Elf, or Halfling, or, to a lesser extent, a Thief, will present unique roleplaying opportunities due to the nature of the world of Secaelia. However, Clerics will be accepted nearly everywhere, and Fighting-Men if they seem reputable, and not like mercenaries. A party led by a Cleric, who engage in virtuous deeds, may have their reputation precede them, and open up unique and beneficial opportunities for them in more densely inhabited areas of the world. Dwarves and Elves may encounter discrimination based upon their race, while Halflings and Gnomes might originally only curry temporary disbelief. By and large, however, all Demi-Human classes are accepted within most Human society.

On the same token, Magic-Users are nearly universally held to be suspicious, and often being suspected of being a Wizard is a worse crime than being suspected of being a Thief. Nevertheless, using one's magical powers to help an individual or a village out of a bad situation might earn more renown than otherwise as the townspeople are impressed by a Wizard on the side of justice or righteousness (which many of them might have previously considered an impossibility). However, they will not overcome their prejudices rapidly, and a Wizard might have to work extra hard to distinguish him or herself as one of the "good guys."

Most Thieves belong to a secret society of thieves called the Sons of Akrasia. Membership includes knowledge of a secret language known as Cant, and an understanding of the secret symbolic code of Glyphics. Additionally, other members of the Sons of Akrasia will not rob them, nor their associates, nor those who have been designated by them to be off-limits (through verbal communication with Cant, or visual identification with Glyphics). Any Thief who is a member of the Sons of Akrasia can indicate any variety of things with Glyphics, and there are a wide number of symbols in the shared iconography; things like "keeps jewelry unprotected," "nosy neighbors," "loud pet," "leaves for extended periods of time," "corrupt constabulary," "judge," "experienced fighter," "strict penalties for thieving," etc. They are all symbols to communicate to other thieves what areas in what towns are good, or bad, for their trade. The symbols periodically change, so while it is possible for others to determine what the symbols mean, it is more difficult to keep up on the changes. The same goes for Cant, which is highly complex and constantly changing. Information is distributed through the thieves' network, and few are left in the dark for too long.

The last thing to note about thieves is that members of the Sons of Akrasia apppreciate the artistry of thievery, and do not consider themselves thugs. They attempt to avoid actual violence and harm, and conduct themselves according to their own special code of ethics. Most people who participate in robberies are not members of the Sons of Akrasia, and instead are just thugs or criminals. The Sons of Akrasia are, technically, criminals by their nature, but consider themselves to be a cut above the rest both in style and ability.

Halflings and Gnomes are adept at thievery, and are eligible for membership in the Sons of Akrasia, but nevertheless the organization still is overwhelmingly human. Dwarves are opposed to organized, sanctioned thieving by their nature, but nevertheless still do occasionally become desperate enough to participate in criminal activity. However, they are not eligible to become members of the Sons of Akrasia, and do not become Thieves. Elves may, with the Game Master's assent, take up thievery; in this case, players must refer to the fourth printing rules on multiclassing as opposed to the White Box rules. Thievery is something that comes naturally to elves, on account of their natural dexterity; however, other elves might disapprove of their choices, as thieving is not, to elves, an honorable profession.

A GM may optionally award the party points for notoriety and renown, in lieu of more conventional alignment, in order to keep track of how outsiders may perceive of them. In this case the points should not be intertwined; a party should be able to earn points of renown independent from notoriety, to represent a chaotic temperament over and above a lawful one, for instance. In other words, rather than characters choosing to be Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic, their deeds may be judged as being Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic, or Good, Neutral, or Evil. Regardless of the axis by which their deeds are judged, the GM can track whichever criteria they deem relevant and use these "notoriety" and "renown" points to color their social encounters as they establish themselves more as adventurers and heroes (or villains). Notoriety, for instance, might make it more difficult for them to hire Hirelings, while renown might make it easier. Renown might stimulate the local blacksmith to offer the group a special discount on his wares, while notoriety might make him shut up his shop when they are in the area. It is up to the GM as to whether characters will be able to "work off" points of notoriety, and also whether players will be aware of the actual count of notoriety or renown points at all.

The membership of a Thief in the party should not immediately cause an increase in notoriety, either, unless the party collectively agrees before the game begins that the Thief character is particularly audacious or noteworthy. However, a level one individual most likely will not have had ample opportunity to distinguish oneself in this way, so to already be notorious would be an exceptional quality. The same goes for parties which include a Magic-User character. That character's presence alone should not contribute to notoriety, unless they act in a way that is blatant, dismissive, and flaunting; in other words, unless they act in a way that is expected of wizards. Conversely, if a party contains any demi-human, they may get an "automatic" point of notoriety or renown, depending on which area of the world they are in, by the simple fact that they are travelling with that type of character.

Monday, January 30, 2012

[Secaelia] Introduction to Player Options

Last week was dedicated to developing some key aspects of the world of Secaelia, in order to establish the reasoning behind some of the fundamental assumptions about how the game world works. I began with some basic ideas, such as "wizards are dangerous," "the world is full of monsters," "magic has ramifications," "not everything in the world is natural," and "there are still some safe places." Once I had just a handful of basic statements, I just freewrote to see if I could just see where the logical extensions to those statements ended up, and I think overall the world ended up much in a place that seemed interesting and cohesive, but, more importantly, preserved a lot of the basic assumptions implicit in OD&D/Swords and Wizardry. Chief among these is that humans are "more important" than demi-humans.

As far as the human emperors are concerned, the demi-humans have been cordoned off into reservations that the emperors "allow" to exist. But from the demi-humans' perspective, things are very different. They are not interested in the affairs of the hot-headed, destructively ambitious, and short-lived humans (at least at this point in history), so they choose to just mostly keep to themselves, work (as it pleases them), and mainly just see how these humans end up. It's reminiscent of the Tolkienesque world that informs so much of D&D's past, but, I hope, is unique in some respects. I didn't want to "ruin" demi-human characters as much as make them more interesting and difficult to play. The level caps on demi-humans I guess reflect their unwillingness to excessively meddle in the affairs of the humans; once they hit their cap, that's about time to retire back to their mountains, forests, or glens and let the humans continue to do their own thing. The time of the elves and the dwarves has passed.

The whole basis of this world hinged pretty heavily on this article here, which was what gave me the idea to make wizards become corrupt by their powers, and then use more magical powers to preserve themselves. It's not a new idea, but I found this iteration, however brief, to be particularly evocative. It's a bit more sinister than the Dungeon Crawl Classics version of magical corruption in that it's reversible, but only via the suffering of another, probably innocent, person. It also, to me, makes a good prefab excuse for the reasoning behind Vancian magic. There are certain limits for magical power, and going beyond those limits has disastrous effects. At some point later this week I'll probably have an article on magical corruption as pertains to player characters.

The project for this week is to discuss actual mechanical aspects to this particular world as it pertains to player characters, and so these sort of issues will necessarily have to come up if I want to take my own assertions about how the world works seriously. Besides the fact that the exercise will probably be fun, of course. Another thing to mention is that I am writing most of this with the Swords and Wizardry, Third Printing (Internet Edition) in mind. Matthew Finch, the author, has recently released a Fourth Printing that makes quite a few changes in how characters work, especially in demi-human characters, and also introduces the Thief as a core class, which was absent in the previous version. One example of the demi-human differences is that in the Third Printing, elves level according to 1d6+1 for Fighter levels and 1d6-1 for Magic-User levels. In the Fourth Printing, elves level according to the average between 1d8 and 1d4. For the time being, I am going to continue to assume the "Third Printing" rules, since I am more familiar with that ruleset. At some point I may release an "errata" sheet to accommodate for the difference between the older and newer editions of the game, since I'm not sure whether it is still possible to find the Third Printing now. However, everything should still be compatible with Labyrinth Lord.

Friday, January 27, 2012

[Secaelia] Threats to Stability and Peace

Some scholars have speculated that the the extent of warfare over previous generations has built up a "negative" energy surplus, which is what is responsible for not only the commonness of undead in certain parts of the world, but also for the ubiquity and aggressiveness of other kinds of monsters in formerly inhabited areas. Others have argued that these changes are simply a result of the waning influence of humans in many remote areas, who in the past were an effective enough deterrent to these monsters from wandering too far afield from their own dominions, but now are too weak to have the same sort of effect paired with the unchecked activities of necromancers and other evil magic-users. Regardless, it is true that kobolds, goblins, orcs, and other humanoid threats, which were once nearly exclusively subterranean in their habits, have begun spending a considerable amount of time above ground, harrying caravans and impeding the rebuilding effort of many abandoned cities, trading their weakness and sensitivity to light for sheer numbers in their raids.

Encounters with insects, rats, and other scavengers, grown to enormous size, are increasingly more frequent, leading many to believe that they, too, are the result of crazed experiments by wizards. They have infested many otherwise habitable buildings, so as people move back in to the abandoned cities there is often a dangerous and time-consuming fight with the beasts in order to render the places fit for human occupation once again. Many prospective homesteaders will pool together their money to hire a group of adventurers (or mercenaries) to root them out.

Some necromancers and wizards have rendered regions all but uninhabitable, but the total number in either nation that can cause significant, potentially world-altering difficulties probably number under ten. The worst problem are the less powerful, but ambitious wizards who might be a little more overzealous and audacious in their pursuits for power. These corrupt wizards carry out strange magical experiments on usually unwilling individuals, creating monstrous abominations out of formerly human subjects, either living or dead, and occasionally both. There have been unsubstantiated reports from some remote areas of terrible beast-men having been seen hobbling around, obviously undertaking some ineffable errand for their wizard-masters. Despite the fact that many of the world's problems are probably directly attributable to wizardry, evil wizards themselves are practically never encountered. They choose to hide behind their works, holed up within their towers and freeholds, protected by their own magical wards as well as, frequently, the bureaucracy and good graces of the empires, which themselves turn a blind eye to all but the most gratuitous violations of human decency.

One of the stereotypes of evil wizards is that they traffic with beings far beyond the ken of ordinary mortals, and draw even more power from these dark dealings. Sometimes, this is even slightly true. Many wizards will have devils or demons bound to them as advisers, protectors, or even servants; their estates may even be protected by hell hounds, worgs, or blink dogs. It is beyond the capability of even the most powerful wizard to control a baalrochs, but some nevertheless fool themselves into thinking they can maintain a "mutually beneficial association." Even the lowliest of devils will not willingly serve a human master, and will readily turn on them when presented with free will, a change in conditions that is no longer beneficial to their interests, or simply a better offer from another interested party. Indeed, many devils, once summoned into the world, will simply bide their time until they can overwhelm their "master," and then kill them, escape, and live freely in the world. Some even are able to maintain a disguise or glamour and put themselves into positions of power and influence.

Surprisingly, dragons, even great dragons, are a far rarer sight than ever before. While in the distant past there are countless stories of the devastation dragons could wreak upon towns and cities, nobody can now remember an instance in recent history where a dragon was even seen, let alone attacked any place. Some speculate that the dragons have entered into pacts with the leaders of the empires, and are being plied with victims and treasure in exchange for stability and protection, while others even go so far as to believe that the emperors have subjected even the dragons to their rule. It is up to the game master to describe what has actually become of the dragons; perhaps they are as more common as ever but dragon attacks are carefully concealed by government propaganda, or maybe they have entered into tenuous agreements with the corrupt and bloated governments and, for the time being at least, are sated by the frequent offerings of prisoners and gold. Regardless, dragon encounters should be exceedingly rare, and perhaps scaled up in difficulty even from where they are already to reinforce that they are incredibly powerful creatures, even in youth.

Finally, all manner of foul things, from slimes to jellies to toxic mold await adventurers in long-forgotten ruins or within underground caverns. These things very rarely are seen above ground, since the sun causes them to burn and evaporate very quickly, but as long as they are not exposed to that, they can be surprisingly hardy. They are seldom seen in association with other monsters, such as orcs or goblins, as they tend to want to clear the slimes out for their own safety when they take up residence in a new place. However, due to the special nature of undead (especially skeletons), slimes are much more commonly found in proximity to them, since they do not view each other as either a threat or as food.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

[Secaelia] Wizards

Perhaps the biggest fear which the average person has on a day to day basis is of wizards. Wizards are immensely powerful beings, known for their corruption, wickedness, and hideous appearances, and who committed great atrocities on behalf of the empires in the latter days of the wars. There is a common belief that there are no lawful wizards, the entire lot of them being motivated only by greed, envy, and their own inherent depravity. Powerful magic bears a corrupting touch to all who would wield it, and only the most powerful wizards are able to do away with its most deleterious effects. These wizards are able to pass those corruptions off by polymorphing their wheals and scars and strange afflictions onto unsuspecting victims or prisoners, or by simply transferring their consciousness wholly into another body, leaving their former, broken bodies behind. Wizards can therefore appear to be any person, any age. People are especially wary of the infirm or deformed, since natural deformation can greatly resemble magical corruption.

Since the end of the wars, many wizards have built towers amidst the wastes, and travellers who know better steer far clear of these accursed dominions. While wizards are not technically subjects to the nations within which they dwell (being granted special autonomy for "services to the empire"), many are paid off by the respective domains to attack, spy on, or harry the other. Most simply take the money as bribery and don't waste their time on such trivial matters, but others have proven to be very dangerous lapdogs for their patrons, leaving mayhem and havoc in their wakes. Oftentimes armed mobs will attempt to remove the magical threat from their areas, though these are seldom successful and usually just result in more subjects to experiment upon; since wizards often are celebrated by the powers that be as heroes of the empire, these mobs are considered criminals, despite the fact that they are just trying to protect themselves. Most troublingly, some wizards have even infiltrated remote villages, slowly manipulating the inhabitants until they are all under the wizard's control, and function as no better than thralls or herd animals to the wizard's whim. This is not even to mention those especially dark wizards who practice necromancy. While some of these stereotypes about wizards' wickedness might be exaggerations, it is clear that there is ample evidence to give wizardry a bad reputation. Any traveller suspected of being a magic-user, therefore, even a dabbler, is usually detained, questioned, tortured, and often banished or put to death.

Despite all of the negativity surrounding magic-users, there are many who practice their art in secret, or use it for good. One who can conjure a fire from thin air despite driving wind or rain, or can entangle a powerful beast with invisible threads, can be of great assistance to adventurers and scavengers. Some who have "proven themselves" again and again can even be accepted by their community; it is uncommon, but not excessively rare, to come across a town with a "village witch" or "wise man." It is representative of the state of the world that such wielders of power can be seen with such great ambivalence.

Additionally, those who are able to work miracles, such as divine clerics, are nearly universally held in high esteem. Despite most clerics being peaceful, studious types who seldom venture out beyond the walls of their monasteries and places of study, there is a whole class of stouter folk, dedicated to casting out evil with great prejudice wherever it crops up in the world. These battle-clerics accept exacting strictures, such as never wielding a sharpened weapon, and frequently tithe a large portion of their spoils back to the monasteries in which they were raised. Since it is believed that their powers to repel darkness and evil come as blessings directly from their gods, they are careful to remain faithful to their beliefs. The common belief is that clerics are by their nature solemn, prayerful, and stern, but in reality they come in as wide of temperament as anyone else, as long as they are strong in their faith. Some very skilled wizards even disguise themselves as clerics, working hard to mask their arcane energies as divine miracles, in order to practice more publicly.

Despite there being many different "kinds" of magic users, most are just simply referred to as wizards. "Wizard" is also used as a sort of insult; referring to someone as a wizard is like saying they are heartless, cruel, or insane. The most dreaded of all wizards, however, are necromancers. These are the worst, most insane, most corrupt, and most dangerous of all wielders of magic. Despite these being, often, the most powerful magic-users around, they are shunned and reviled, and hunted down by agents of the empire. For this reason, many necromancers create hidden lairs underground, or deep within caves, or even in disguised mausolea within graveyards. Some tales are even told of necromancers who have created hidden fortresses on coastal islands and reefs, or on alluvial islands in rivers, keeping their activities invisible under a magical veil.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

[Secaelia] The Demi-Human Races

While there are tales of great nations of dwarves and elves in the distant past, these are merely legends now. The demi-human races have mostly faded away. The elves dwell deep within the most ancient and primordial forests, and are reputed to have worked their own magic to ensure that none survive the trek to find them. The dwarves remain holed up in their own subterranean lairs, hidden amidst never-ending labyrinths of tunnels and traps, seldom being seen above the ground. The halflings and the gnomes are hardly seen at all, leading many to believe that they have become extinct; that is, until one or several wander into a town to trade, and then disappear once again. None of the demi-human races are common anywhere in the world, though it is most common to find them within Eflart, as often as servants or bondsmen as traders, travellers, or adventurers. Elves, because of their natural talents with wizardry, are often treated with a combination of disgust, disdain, and suspicion; dwarves, because of their reputation for deceitful, violent, and troublesome tendencies, are also often shut out of many establishments; halflings and gnomes, due to their preternatural ability to get in and out of unlikely places and situations (which lends itself readily to thievery), are also often watched very closely whenever they enter a town or city.

There are very few demi-humans who dwell permanently within human cities. Many who do have indentured themselves into service for some reason or another. Some appear, for all intents and purposes, to just be simple shopkeepers and artisans, who have an honest living and who endure the occasional jeers from those who have negative opinions of their race. Even fewer eke out a dishonest living as thieves, scoundrels, and highwaymen, as the penalties for those of their race found guilty of such crimes are much steeper than their human counterparts; this does not deter many, however, who hold that the most important policy for a criminal is to never get caught. The vast majority of demi-humans found within the human world, however, are itinerants, adventurers, and factotums. Very few attempts are made to create alliances with demi-human nations, wherever they may be. But neither have there been many attempts to entirely subdue them and tie them to the yoke of human sovereignty. There is a story of one of the princes of Ruvirion once ordering a forest where elves were reputed to live be burned to the ground. The forest burned, and shortly afterwards he himself was found burnt to ashes in his own bed. Ever since, there has been a policy of non-intervention in place; elvish and dwarvish enclaves are considered sovereign territory within the two empires, given to this right by sworn imperial edict, and required to abide by all imperial laws and customs (and to agree to surrender to imperial authorities upon noncompliance to these laws) as soon as they set foot out of their designated habitation areas and into imperial territory.

Most interaction between humans and demi-humans is cordial, and without incident. As one goes nearer to the capitals, anti-demi-human propaganda is more prominent, and hostility towards demi-humans is more commonplace, but throughout most of the known world, whether Estia or Ruvirion, there is no bad blood. Many humans within the empires may consider demi-humans to be inherently "inferior" to them, and certainly might question the demi-humans' seemingly immediate decisions to surrender to the human empires, but actual anti-demi-human violence is uncommon. Humans of larger cities might deface shops owned or operated by demi-humans, or shout negative slogans at them in public, but these types are usually punished when caught in the act. Still, demi-humans are, according to imperial law, second-class citizens, and do not have the same rights and privileges as humans wherever imperial law is being upheld. This is not to say that many towns actually observe these laws when not directly being observed or governed by imperial forces, and many have very strongly pro-demi-human beliefs. Nevertheless, those who are not accustomed to the presence of demi-humans might display fear, hostility, suspicion, or confusion when required to make contact with them.

Monday, January 23, 2012

[Secaelia] The State of the Nations

Besides a smattering of previously existing border towns, and impromptu villages which sprung up around permanent military outposts positioned to guard the border, the borderlands between the two great nations are surprisingly empty. One can travel for days from town to town and find only ruins or wasteland. For this reason, most who travel do so in large caravans, to protect against not only the wild beasts who inhabit the wastes, but also marauders and as protection against exhaustion, starvation, or dehydration while passing through the inhospitable lands. Surviving cities, towns, and villages are a welcome sight, and many along the new travel routes have rapidly grown in size.

However, due to the disarray that rapid population growth can bring, crime is a major concern for these small towns, which may not have the ability or resources to protect themselves adequately against that element. They may send a messenger to the capital to request intervention, but it could be months or years before they receive a response, if they even get one at all. Worse, many who frequent these towns pass themselves off as "adventurers" actually are no better than thugs, preying on the weak and unprotected and helping themselves to whatever they can steal. There is a great deal of mistrust of groups of well-equipped and armored travellers, as they could just as easily be mercenaries or marauders than adventurers on legitimate business. Nevertheless, there are others who uphold the law and decency and make a name for themselves protecting the innocent, recovering the lost, and "liberating" artifacts lost amidst the flames of war. These types can be mercenaries as well, but can just as likely be genuine heroes.

Much of the land covered by either of the empires is nearly entirely unprotected. A great deal of arable land was destroyed by battles, leaving only wasteland behind. The empires are larger than they can possibly directly manage, so while much of the populated world is supposedly carved up between one of the two great empires, many who live within will never feel the direct effect of imperial influence. Occasionally parades of "peacekeeping" forces can be found, but most military personnel are garrisoned either on the border, or within larger cities. The cost of the wars in time, resources, and human life was nearly incalculable, and where the humans no longer dwell, the monsters have reclaimed the land. Ghost towns may be filled with literal ghosts, but could just as easily have been taken over by goblins, ghouls, scavenging pests, or any number of other creepy-crawlies. A predominance of undead in an area can strongly indicate the presence of a necromancer, or worse, a necromancer who has become undead themselves (i.e. become a lich).

Many of the surviving towns have constructed walls if they did not have them before, and they will nearly exclusively not allow travellers entry at night. Despite the capital cities of the two empires being massive, lavish, magnificent examples of engineering, artistry, and urban planning, the subjects of both empires live the lives of serfs, servants, and supplicants. Typically towns are in the vicinity of arable farmland, and usually they will have military or militia patrols to protect against monsters. Human activity outside of villages is usually a good indicator of the health and security of the local society and economy, but is by no means always true. Despite frequent raids by the imperial guards of the two empires, shantytowns composed entirely of slavers, highwaymen, or the like, do still manage to occasionally crop up. Some even maintain the outward appearance of an ordinary farming or fishing village in order to avoid suspicion and undue imperial interest.

Certainly there are areas of the world more secure than others. In places less fiercely affected by the centuries of warfare, such as as one gets closer and closer to the capital cities of each empire, there are fewer monsters and bandits, and people do not have to be as cautious. Even in the more wild regions around the borderlands, where monster attacks are frequent, people do not live in fear; security is usually good enough within the city walls, and a high amount of trust is placed in local constabularies and militias to "keep the bad out." Most will do all they can to avoid travel at night, or being trapped outside of the city walls, not because they expect monster attack, but because they would prefer not to have to take the chance.

Friday, January 20, 2012

[Secaelia] The Two Empires, and the Free City

The world of Secaelia is one that bears the deep scars of years of conflict, but now presently exists in an uneasy peace. Two great empires have arisen, after devouring or destroying all others that lay in their paths. In their wake many small nations, states, and principalities simply ceased to exist; their entire bloodlines wiped out, their symbols of authority destroyed. Those who survived the destruction of their houses have been branded traitors to the new empire, fugitives from justice, war criminals, and dangerously insane individuals; or else have simply been forgotten and living as commoners somewhere within the bounds of their former kingdoms or further abroad. The only remainders are Estia, which rules the south and east, and Ruvirion, who rules the west. On a northern shore, packed between these two behemoths, is the highly contested former capital of the fallen Anstarian empire, the free city of Eflart.

In ages past, Anstaria was the jewel of civilization, but became more and more fractured and insecure as time went by. By the time of the Great Wars, Anstaria was only a pale shadow of its former self, the small nations that splintered away from it broke easily under the military might of Estia and Ruvirion. The wars, which lasted hundreds of years and cost untold numbers of lives, have finally been at an end for nearly 150 years now. The borders between the nations have been more or less stable for this time, maintaining a delicate truce. Both nations finally had to acknowledge that the wars could simply no longer continue. However, a great degree of mistrust still exists between them.

For this reason Eflart was spared. Here neither nation can lay claim, and it is here where both nations carry out their diplomatic business, as well as trade, without fear of treachery or backstabbing. Its symbolic nature as the former capital of Anstaria still carries significant weight, and rather than be the prize which either nation could claim, it became the neutral grounds upon which they might actually open up reasonable dialogue. Indeed, emissaries from either nation wear bright white tunics emblazoned with the symbol of their nation; the color and style are forbidden to all other residents of the city. Both nations have agreed to donate an equal amount of money to Eflart to maintain an internal police force, as well as for basic amenities and upkeep. As a center of trade, its relative freedom from regulation and oversight from either empire has made it even more prosperous. However, despite being free from rule by either of the empires, this does not mean that it is an easy place to live.

Due to its "official" function as the diplomatic neutral-territory between Estia and Ruvirion, laws for conduct within Eflart's walls are draconian and inflexible. All acts of violence within its bounds against emissaries are punishable by death. All other acts of violence are punished almost as severely, be it willful murder or simple brawling, with punishments ranging from public beheading for major offenses, to lashing for minor ones, with the most severe crimes resulting in being hung in cages from the city's towers and gates, and then simply left to die, be feasted upon by birds, and slowly rot away. Most weapons and armor are confiscated by authorities upon entry to the city; special dispensation to do otherwise must be displayed prominently, or risk severe punishment or expulsion. All items can be retrieved by handing in a chit as one exits the city again; losing the chit means you're out of luck. Mix-ups inevitably occur, but are surprisingly rare. Any reputation for disorganization would severely damage the city's status.

Because of Eflart's prosperity and political significance, there is almost as much city that has sprung up outside of its walls than exist inside. Outer Eflart has a much less shining reputation. Despite the main road into and out of the inner city being kept mostly clear, delving too deeply into the newer construction to the west, southwest, southeast, and east of the walled city can be a dangerous experience. There are regular raids by the city constabulary, and even sanctioned military sweeps from either of the two empires, but nevertheless the criminal element is thick. All manner of illicit goods are available, from the dangerous, to the illegal, to the downright counterfeited and useless. Prices, as one might expect, vary widely, and one may occasionally get a great deal on a piece of legitimate merchandise. Additionally, those accoutrements "lost" from the armory occasionally turn up for trade in the bazaars of the outer city, sometimes even for a steal, though being seen in their armor by the original owner might lead to some complicated questions.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

[Secaelia] A Swords and Wizardry homebrew world, Introduction

Recently, I have been becoming more interested in retroclones, and the OSR mentality more broadly. I can't say that it really provides a compelling alternative to modern games, Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition included (since I think that many of the changes that have occurred over the years as gaming has evolved have been good ones), but retroclones do provide what I believe is a valuable insight as to where fantasy gaming has gone over the years, and more importantly, what modern players of "old-school" games continue to value about those previous incarnations. Thanks to the "open" nature of the OSR overall, very many of these retroclones are available, free of charge, for download off of their websites. Usually there is a paid version as well if you'd prefer a "dead tree" version, which also includes art that has been removed from the free versions. Of the ones I've read, I would have to say that my favorites are Labyrinth Lord and Swords and Wizardry, which are both styled after the 0e/Basic "strain" of Dungeons and Dragons.

What I prefer about Labyrinth Lord are the multiple saves against different kinds of effects; this makes sense to me. What I don't prefer about it is that all weapons deal 1d6 damage, and that it has descending AC. I feel like we've moved beyond THAC0, as a gaming culture, and one less table to look at is always a good thing. Swords and Wizardry gives the GM the choice: all stats are marked for ascending and descending AC. S&W also has more supplemental material, at least that I've been able to find, that makes it easier to customize a game. The single save against effects seems overly simplistic to me, compared to Labyrinth Lord, but it would certainly speed things up at the table. I can't imagine it would be too difficult to translate any material for LL over to S&W, or vice versa. I still can't decide, were I to actually run a game, which of the systems I would utilize. But from a purely academic standpoint, S&W seems a slight bit easier to develop from.

What I find most compelling about the "older" editions of D&D is the ambiguity of encounters. Just because it is possible to encounter a certain kind of monster, does not at all mean that you'll actually be able to kill it, or even harm it (in the case of creatures that can only be damaged by +1 weapons, silver, etc). You might find yourself totally out of your league and have to resort to quick thinking (or even quicker feet). This is a sharp contrast to 4e, where it is a pretty safe assumption that if you encounter a creature, or group of creatures at all, chances are the encounter will be "balanced" and there will be a very high likelihood of success. Additionally, given that Hit Points are rolled up for each creature based on their Hit Dice, you may end up cleaving one creature down with one swipe, but then hammer away at another one for several turns and it doesn't appear to be worse for the wear. Further, it's highly possible that that ultra-tough kobold might not even be a kobold, but some sort of shape-shifting extradimensional predator that has been slowly feeding upon the kobolds over the past few weeks and disguising itself as one of their own to avoid suspicion. And it would take only a couple minutes to completely write up and stat out such a creature, should the PCs decide later to hunt it down and try to kill it.

Additionally, many bonuses are not awarded for inherent abilities or selected feats or class powers, but simply good gaming. You might get a flat roll against an orc if you were to just walk up to it and hit it with a club, or you might get a bonus to your hit if you spend your previous turn climbing to the top of a statue, and then jumping down on top of it with your club swinging. This is not something that is impossible in 4e, but it is something which the system seems to inherently discourage. My feelings while playing 4e have always been such that a round without taking a damage-causing action is a wasted round. Plus, errata over the past four years seems to have been in a neverending cold war with itself, ramping up both monster strength and character damage, creating what is to me a total mess, if you insist on playing by the DDI rules instead of out of the books. I do like how experience is awarded in a much more free format; the big XP bonuses are for completing an adventure or achieving a major milestone, not stomping knee-deep through the dead and becoming a one-person full service slaughterhouse. I've frequently found the 4e solution of "kill everything first and look for clues later" to be troubling, and not exactly entirely encouraging of rock-solid roleplay.

Lastly, I find that the genericity of retroclones leads, at least to me, to it being a lot easier to create a custom world. For this last reason, I will be publishing, mostly as an exercise in design, my own game world, intended to take place within the Swords and Wizardry milieu. Anything with statistics I will endeavor to present in the S&W style, with both ascending and descending AC, to preserve the modularity that that method provides.

I suppose all of this is probably a direct response to the fervor (and ire) surrounding the announcement of the as-yet-officially-unnamed 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, and forcing me as well to think about what I like or don't like about game mechanics and design. To me, simpler is usually better; I was never on board with AD&D, and 4th edition was a welcome alternative to the (in my opinion overly laden) 3rd and 3rd-and-a-half.