Tag: world building

Compendium of the Land Surrounding Blackwater Lake — Table of Contents

 

An Introduction, and Of the Barony of Blackwater

Of Blackwater Keep, and the Inhabitants Therein

Of Lakesend Village, and its Commerce

The Blackwater, its Denizens, and the Lands Surrounding

Various Peoples of Northumbria, and the Cultures

Of Elves

Of Frangians

Of Zeelanders

Of Varangians

The States and Rulers in the Western Lands


In addition to the materials in the above Gazetteer, here are some further notes and systems useful for adventuring in Northumbria:

Languages of Northumbria

The Moons of Northumbria

Rules for an Exorcism Ritual

 


Dungeon Master Michael Garcia runs two games in Northumbria. These are a few adventures featuring the Winchester family:

Screams in Store

Battle on the Beach

Brigands Rock

 

Here are some tales of the Beckett family:

Ants in the Darkness

Treasure Identification

Terror in the Tower, Part 1

Treasure Division (Still to come!)

Terror in the Tower, Part 2

The Investigation Falters

Terror in the Tower, Part 3

Trial by Combat

The Battle of Heinrich’s Horn


The Editor would like to extend his warmest thanks to Michael for sharing his setting and these play reports. We hope that many more are forthcoming! If you’re enjoying the adventures, please let us know in the comments sections!

States and Rulers of the Western Lands

One final entry in the Compendium on Lands Around Blackwater Lake.


Northumbria, Frangian Province of

His Grace, Jonathan Prestwick, Duke of Northumbria

Capital: Yarrvik (pop 6,000)
Population: 70,200
Population Density: 12-13 people per square mile
Area (in square miles): 50,000 (only ~5,460 controlled)
Hexes: 7+ (population controlled)

Hex with Yarrvik (780 x 40 = 31200)
Hex with Albanton (780 x 10 = 7800)
Hex north of Yarrvik (780 x 8 = 6,240)
Hex with Kingstown (780 x 2 = 1,560)
Hex with East Hampton (780 x 10 = 7800)
Hex with Middleton (780 x 10 = 7800)
Hex southwest of Yarrvik (780 x 5 = 3900)
Hex south of Yarrvik (780 x 5 = 3900)

Other Notable Settlements:

Albanton (3000)
Kingstown (2250)
East Hampton (1680)
Middleton (1260)

Fortifications: Yarrvik’s citadel
Resources: Lumber, furs and skins, fish, horses, rye, oats, fruit, superior building stone (basalt), syrup, and manufactured goods (ships)

This vast province, only recently claimed by the Crown, has great potential for wealth and power, but it also holds great danger. King Richard personally appointed his long-time friend, Jonathan Prestwick, to rule this sprawling frontier province. In actuality, the Duke only controls the regions around the major settlements. Read more

Blackwater Lake

This document is another piece of the Compendium of Lands Surrounding Blackwater Lake, compiled for Lord Beckett by Talvion Tulossa of Clan Cormallen. The Compendium is thus far incomplete, for the Becketts arrived at Blackwater before a full survey could be performed.


BLACKWATER LAKE

Nestled between several ranges of hills, Blackwater Lake is a narrow body of water that stretches for about 30 miles from north to south. The cold, deep waters of the lake, though only a few miles wide, allow for easy transportation of valuable goods. The lake drains northward and forms the source of the Blackrun River, which flows northward about 100 miles to the ruined capital of the old Northern Realm of the Varangians. Just south of Blackwater Lake are the headwaters to the Blackwater River, which flows southward for roughly 250 miles and leads to the chief Frangian city in Northumbria, the port of Yarrvik.

Lying directly between these two great waterways is the tiny hamlet of Lakesend. Realizing long ago that the site was perfectly suited to control the waterways, royal agents established a keep at the southern tip of the lake, not far from the hamlet.

Blackwater Gobalds

Legends say that a clan of gnomes left the forests around Blackwater Lake centuries ago, and its members have survived as waterborne scavengers ever since. Known to lake region residents as gobalds, they supposedly organize themselves into egalitarian communes in the form of armored warships. Each such “turtle ship” is a large, sail-powered, slow-moving vehicle with multiple decks, auxiliary oars, and armor plating. The ship is large by human standards, making it downright spacious for the three-foot-tall gobalds. This ship provides them with shelter, transportation, and defense—all in one.

Based on all accounts, gobalds are essentially pirates, but their small stature places limits on their ventures. They do not attack large or well-manned ships, choosing instead to prey on small craft or lone travelers. They ply the waters of the lake almost exclusively at night, for their night vision allows them to travel undetected, to avoid confrontations, and to ambush small craft. Gobalds do not limit themselves to the water, but they are never far from their turtle ship. Often, they will dock their ship and venture a mile or so inland, organized into small raiding parties, looking to ambush lone hunters, trappers, miners, pilgrims, and other travelers. Though they will not exclusively do so, they prefer to ambush at night, as their night vision makes their night attacks just as effective as those in the daylight, while enemies suffer significant disadvantages in battle.

In their depredations, they seldom aim to kill, for their main interest is plunder. Whether they get their loot on land or sea, they aim to sell it at bargain prices to the scattered residents around the lake. They are competent leatherworkers and blacksmiths, able to repair tools, basic armor, and basic weapons—at least enough for sale. According to guards that have patrolled the lake for years, the gobalds have also developed a symbiotic relationship with the many human pirates that operate in these waters, purchasing excess weapons, armor, and equipment that the pirates do not want for half its standard value. In return, they are often exempt from pirate hostility, the pirates seeing them as useful ‘fences’. Gobalds usually sell their wares for standard rates, and since rates for most goods in the lake region are inflated to three times the standard rates, many communities deal with the gobalds despite an inherent disapproval of their methods.

A band of travelling gnomes shared with me that gobalds live almost entirely on various forms of mushrooms that grow all about the lake. In some places, they have hidden mushroom patches in the forest, which they harvest every few weeks. They drink mainly water, and even stagnant water does not seem to bother them or make them sick. Gobalds are reportedly highly resistant to magic and poison.

Gobalds dress in rough-spun, gray-green monastic-style robes, over which they have leather bandoliers. Though all work for the enrichment of the commune, they effectively embrace personal poverty, which explains their meager dress. Quite often, their clothing is dirty and musty-smelling. Though they bathe often enough, their preference for the interiors of their dark and gloomy ships, as well as their habit of nighttime travel, means that their clothing is often fouled by mold. Yet, they seem to have developed immunity to both its smell and its effects. In fact, gobalds are known for their hardy health, despite their foul food and dank living conditions. When in a natural setting, such as woods or hills, gobalds move very quietly and blend into vegetation so well that they are nearly invisible.

Gobalds try to avoid open battle, but their ambushes do carry a degree of risk so they sometimes wear light leather armor beneath their robes. As for weapons, they favor light crossbows, javelins, and half-spears, but their primary weapon is a paralytic substance that they obtain from a rare mushroom and then concentrate. They put this substance on all of their weapons, and they presumably carry an ample supply of antidotes. It takes only one minute to take effect and then renders a human victim helpless for several minutes. This is usually long enough for the gobalds to rob or to capture the victim.

Gobalds can largely speak the language of the forest gnomes, though their own language has significant variations. They also speak Frangian, albeit with a choppy dialect that makes it almost incomprehensible. Hand signals greatly aid communication. Their speech is fast and choppy.

Gobalds seem to have lost their ancestors’ inherent mining skills, but instead they have developed inherent navigation and mariner skills. They never seem to become lost, and they seem undeterred by fog or darkness. As for seafaring skills, they can sense coming storms. Ironically, at such times they rarely dock, but rather take to the open waters of the lake, perhaps because the turtle ships are incredibly well built and buoyant. Though one may pitch and roll, it will seldom take damage at while on the lake, whereas pounding waves may smash to bit any ship near the shore.

Little is known about gobald society. Rumors indicate that most females and children dwell in underground lairs near the lake. Upon reaching adulthood, male gobalds take up service in the turtle ship. There is a legend that female shamans oversee gobald society, and that males hold all other positions of importance.

Rumors Related to the Lake

  1. Blackwater Lake is bottomless. Its waters run down deep into the earth, far below the sight of mortal man.
  2. A giant sea monster dwells in the depths of the lake. Over two-dozen witnesses have seen it at one time or another. Most describe it as a pale serpent, longer than a carrack. There the agreement between their descriptions ends. Some mention worm-like tentacles, dripping with slime, and others mention six or more heads with black beady eyes.
  3. A giant dragon—pale as a grave worm—dwells in a burrow near the lake’s edge.
  4. Barbarian legends say that a meteor strike formed this lake centuries ago. Its impact left a giant scar on the land that later filled with water. Over time, the meteor’s energies somehow changed the waters, giving them their distinctive black hue.
  5. The lake’s waters bring strange powers when enough are imbibed.
  6. The lake’s waters are poisonous.
  7. The vile goblyns that swarm the mountainsides of Northumbria have their origins in black underground waters. They are not natural creatures. They do not breed or eat or sleep. Instead, they spawn from black subterranean waters at the will of their dark god, Maglubiyet. Blackwater Lake is a rare spot where those dark subterranean waters touch the surface.
  8. Blackwater Lake contains a strange blackish metal that is worth many times its weight in gold. It is so hard that no normal fire can smelt it. It must be cold-wrought, requiring weeks to craft a single blade. Smiths must use special techniques to give such a blade an edge, but it will punch through normal iron with relative ease.
  9. The strange blackish metal found in Blackwater Lake is somehow deadly against unnatural creatures such as demons, restless spirits, and werewolves.

Points of Interest

Smaller Bodies of Water

Long Pond

Streams descending from Settlers Mountain gather in this narrow basin about a league in length. From there the water runs past Lakesend on its way to form the headwaters of the mighty Blackwater River. During heavy rains and the spring thaw, the water rises high enough to overspill its banks just upstream of the village. The overflow cascades down to the Narrows below the Keep. Occasionally the river threatens to divert entirely to this secondary channel, but the Baron pays to have the main bed dredged in order to preserve the income from tolls on the East Bridge.

Martin’s Cove

The Narrows

This narrow body of water is the extreme southern tip of Blackwater Lake, extending in a crescent from the site of Blackwater Keep southward to the Blackmoor. The waters of the Narrows are shallow, so merchants do not send large ships to dock at the Keep, instead sending smaller boats to unload cargo.

Rockteeth Cove

Silvercrest Cove

Steffan’s Spring

Stillwater Pond

Whitehart Lake

Caves and Caverns

Drucker’s Den

The Pens

Hills, Peaks and Passes

Baldface Peak

Baldwin’s Bluff

Belford’s Ridge

Black Bear Mountain

Boulder Hill

In 604 FR, Duke Leopold of Ostmark arrived in the lake region with 1000 well-armed men and countless mercenaries to drive out the goblyns. They crushed an army at Boulder Hill, though the noble Duke died of his wounds. This defeat set the goblyns back, but it was the last effort made by men. Just a few years after the battle, goblyn numbers began swelling once again.

Brigands Rock

Burke’s Hill

Craig’s Peak

Falcons Eyrie

Foster’s Ridge

Hammond’s Hill

Hanover’s Hill

Hickory Mountain

The Horns

Lonewolf Mountain

Rumor has it that a werewolf haunts this rugged mountain. At the very least, a large black wolf is often sighted prowling by itself in the forests here or baying at the moon on the mountaintop. A few dozen settlers live independently in small wooden huts on the sides of this mountain. Baronial tax collectors have had little luck getting taxes or fealty from these settlers. Most are woodsmen and hunters.

Luthor’s Leap

Mount Melias

Mount Smestad

Parisi Point

Legend says, long before the naming of the lands, a star fell from the skies and sheared off the north face of the mount now known as Parisi Point. The event created a crater at the base of the hill that filled with water and since has been known as Moon Lake. The lake’s waters are rumored to be poisonous, and periodically its heated waters bubble to super-heated levels and release noxious gases that keep the area entrenched in a sickening fog. The lowland areas between the lake and mount have become wetlands, and the small swamp is always filled with mist and fog that tends to disorient travelers through the area. People often become lost when passing through, and many have disappeared entirely, with growing rumors of a magic fog, creature, or mystical forces blamed for the disappearances.

Another feature of lore is a suspected vein of an unknown metal that was exposed, or introduced, to the landscape in the sheared face of the hill. The substance, again according to legend, has been used in the magical conjuring and religious rites of the ancient peoples of the area. It is unknown what methods were used to explore the area, or locate and collect the material. Many have searched for the ore only to end in failure and folly.

An Aquilonian lord, a ranger by the name of Gregorius Parisius, took up residence in the area and became intrigued by the rumors. Despite decades of searching, growing a consuming obsession, and witnessing strange happenings, Gregor didn’t locate a vein, but he was able to find a small amount of some strange ore. He used the metal to forge a small axe that is reportedly indestructible and holds magical properties that helped the ranger defeat and drive back the goblyns in the realm.

The method and means used to forge the axe blade, along with Gregor and the axe itself, have been long-lost in history. It is rumored that Gregor disappeared on or around Parisi Point, in search of more ore, possibly overrun by the goblyns he fought hard to drive away. Others claim the axe possessed the ranger and granted him an extended life, and that it is he that ambushes passers-by, hoping to keep them from his find. Several bits of terrain surrounding the hill have taken the name of this mostly unknown figure, including Parisi Point for the hill, Gregor’s Grotto to the poisoned lake and its surrounds, and Gregor’s Swamp for the surrounding wetlands.

The swamp is also known as the Walking Wood, as it propensity to disorient travelers has led some to say the trees move to change and obscure trails. Some have even said there are dangerous plants and flora that poison or attack infiltrators. Other claim to have witnessed—or been attacked by—goblyns when passing through the region.

Pilgrims’ Mountain

Over three decades ago, clerics of St. Cuthbert erected a small shrine on the top of this rocky peak, but a small earthquake caused it to collapse, and it has never been rebuilt.

Runestone Peak

An ancient black monolith, made from some unknown stone and carved with indecipherable runes, sits atop this lofty peak, one of the highest in the region. Travelers weave many strange tales about the monolith and the peak on which it sits. Some tales tell of diabolic gatherings, human sacrifices, and witches’ covens.

Russel’s Pass

Saint’s Peak

Settlers Mountain

Traders Pass

William’s Pass

Wyverns Peak

Islands

Berel’s Island

Carlon’s Prize

This small island received its name in 506 FR, after a Frangian expedition crushed the Cruthni Picts. The leader of the expedition, Count Carlon, had many enemies in the provincial court at Yarrvik, and rather than receiving a large swath of territory as a reward, he received only this tiny island.

Eric’s Island

Hunters’ Island

This small island features a safe haven of the Huntsmen. They maintain a sizable lodge there.

Sanctuary Rock

About this large rocky island near the center of the lake swirl strange currents that defy all explanation. Swimming in these strong and unpredictable currents has proven deadly on several occasions. A very rich merchant named Jehan of St.-Martin donated a large sum of coin to build several structures on the island, including a large hospital, for he had a young sister that required special care. A small but dedicated staff attends to the unfortunates here.

The island’s geography makes access extremely difficult. Aside from the strange currents, only one area is suitable for mooring, and only during a specific part of the day, when the weather is fair. The inmates never leave so there is seldom a problem. These factors led the Baron to construct a special prison there for a few noble prisoners that he spared from the axe but dared not release. The island also features a lighthouse to warn off passing ships.

A small, select Baronial garrison patrols the island constantly to keep out the curious and to keep in the condemned. All guardsmen answer to the caretaker of the Island, who attends to prisoners and lunatics alike. The guardsmen, almost all of who have committed some serious crime and received a life sentence, live well on Sanctuary Rock and have no desire to leave.

Rushes Island

Wycliffe Island

DRY DOCK FACILITY

The Guild maintains a small dry-dock facility on a sandy shore of the island. This facility is adjacent to a rather placid, deepwater bay. The facility consists of a stone wall surrounding a stone building or two, as well as a number of wooden outbuildings.
Something, believed to be a force of goblyns, recently overran this facility and slew almost all of the staff. We found their charred remains in a pit.

BATTLE RIDGE

CEMETERY RIDGE

CHAPEL HILL

This grassy hill sits on the southern edge of the island, overlooking the lake. At its crest is Wycliffe Chapel.

GALLOWS HILL

TOWER OF MANATHANMOCH

As it has for untold centuries, a towering column of giant basalt seems to protrude from the sides of the limestone cliffs on Wycliffe Island. Measured from its base, it rises over 1100 feet, though its rises only about 800’ above the surface of the lake. Called Manathanmoch’s Tower, the eerie structure obtained its current name from a bloodthirsty Pictish king, who ruled this island and terrorized the denizens of the lake region some three hundred years ago. It is largely believed that he lived in this strange and formidable tower, its size and grandeur reflecting his power, and its dark and foreboding architecture reflecting the fear he engendered. After his unexplained disappearance, his fierce Cruthni clansmen dominated the region for decades more, using their primitive longships to raid and plunder surrounding settlements. The only known scroll that mentions Cruthni civilization, the incomplete Chronicle of Painted Kings, written by an anonymous Varangian sage, recalls that the Cruthni fell from power because of some mysterious disaster that suddenly befell them. It is clear that not all perished, for years later, when Frangian knights first explored the lake region, they clashed repeatedly with Cruthni warriors. Yet those Picts, easily swept aside, were but shadows of their former kinsmen.

WYCLIFFE CHAPEL

This multi-denominational chapel, built in a neo-Frangian style, features buttresses, flying buttresses, and large stained-glass windows with pointed arches. Inside are four separate chapels, dedicated respectively to Pholtus of the Blinding Light, Celestian the Far Wanderer, Saint Cuthbert, and Boccob the Uncaring. There are also two separate crypts for notable servants of the Blackwater family, while a third crypt is reserved for members of the family. A force of goblyns recently overran this facility, desecrating some of the chapels.

Landings and Moorings

Belcastro’s Landing

Trappers Landing

Man-Made Structures

Ash Hollow Camp

Fort Angus

Horik’s Tower

The Moat House

Pine Ridge Camp

Shrine to Celestian

Shrine to Fhalanghan

Temple of Pholtus

Zeelander Trading Post

Peninsulas

Beacon Point

Watchtower Point

White Birch Point

Widow’s Point

Swamps

The Blackmoor

Stillwater Swamp

 

Blackwater Keep

Part two of the Compendium of Lands Around Blackwater Lake, the gazetteer for the Northumbria campaign.


Strategic Location of the Keep

The Keep is a large stone fortress—one of the largest in Northumbria. Situated on the shores of Blackwater Lake, it commands the Narrows at the southern tip of the lake, as well as the wide stream called the Norbeck, which flows down from the hills and spills northwards into the Narrows and southwards into the Blackwater River. This means that the garrison at the Keep can control river traffic flowing between former Varangian lands in the north to the Frangian port of Yarrvik. Any power that wishes to control Northumbria needs to control the river traffic and thus the keep. At present, no single known state is in a position to do so. Thus, the Baron of Blackwater remains independent and highly desirable as an ally. Read more

Village of Lakesend

Part three of the Compendium of Lands Around Blackwater Lake, the gazetteer for the Northumbria campaign. These are being published out of order because the next Beckett family adventure takes place in the village. Part two, describing the keep, is coming later this month.


Agents of the Frangian Crown supposedly founded the village of Lakesend about the same time that they laid the foundations of the nearby keep, about one century ago. From a military standpoint, the sites seem odd in that they are located over one mile apart. Considered separately though, each site makes sense. The keep sits on the shore of the Blackwater Lake to control the Narrows, a narrow body of water at the southern tip of the lake. Ships going northwards or southwards any significant distance must pass through the Narrows, and a garrison there can control the river trade. Meanwhile, the village sits astride a small river that comes down from the hills and then splits, one part running northward into the Narrows and the other part running southwards to form the headwaters of the mighty Blackwater River. Considering the distance between the two settlements, one can see a weakness in the arrangement, for an enemy can isolate both settlements rather easily.

Why is this a problem? On the outskirts of the village are fertile fields, now the site of several small farms. It seems that the village provides most of the Keep’s agricultural stores. Though the Keep sits on the shore of the lake, its garrison may have difficulty feeding itself on fish alone, especially in times of war. In addition, flocks of sheep and goats graze on the nearby hills, providing additional food stores for the Keep in times of war. Loss of the village could be catastrophic to the Keep. Baron Blackwater should remedy this strategic weakness before an enemy army attacks either settlement. Read more

RPG-ology #12:  Aphorisms

This is RPG-ology #12:  Aphorisms, for November 2018.


One of the hardest aspects of creating worlds is creating cultures.  Different cities, different countries, different peoples all have differences in everything from dress to architecture to courtesy.  The elves of Lothlorien have a different culture from those of Mirkwood.

One article is not going to serve as a complete course in creating culture, but there is one aspect of culture that struck me which I thought might be worth discussing.

In my first novel, I was expressing the viewpoint of one of the characters toward minor injuries he had received, and wrote

Even a small wound infected could be trouble, and an ounce of prevention… he chided himself for relying on aphorisms for wisdom.

My editor had no idea what that meant.  He was an excellent editor, but he was Australian, and therein lies the rub.  The expression is An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and is one of the many witticisms published by Benjamin Franklin writing in Poor Richard’s Almanac.  Americans generally recognize dozens of his sayings, from Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise to his advice to the other members of the Continental Congress as they signed the Declaration of Independence, We must all hang together, or surely we will all hang separately.  Those sayings are considerably less known outside their native country.  All cultures have these.  The British expression A penny’s worth of mirth is worth a pound of sorrow is not even well understood by those who do not recognize that a pound is a unit of currency, not in this case specifically weight.  And so it is evident that each culture will have some expressions unique to itself.

On the other hand, many of the older expressions will cross cultural lines, and the people who know the expression won’t realize it.  Nikita Khrushchev reportedly said in a public speech, “Let me quote an old Russian proverb:  Whatsoever a man sows, that will he also reap.”  He was completely unaware that this was from the Bible until the international press started calling him a “Bible-quoting clown”.  So we see that some expressions cross cultural lines and are adopted by people who don’t know the origin of the aphorism.

So, how do you do this in a game?

Since you’re creating the world, and thus most of the cultures of the world, you’re going to have to invent some of these yourself.  You might want to write half a dozen for each culture in advance, and consider times when non-player characters can use them—or even feed them to players playing characters drawn from those cultures.

Bear in mind that those sayings which become common do so because they relate to things within the culture.  A people for whom most of life is spent digging underground is not going to have sayings about grass on the other side of a fence or when to make hay; a tribe of nomadic herdsmen won’t talk much about places like home; a land-locked nation probably won’t have much to say about oceans or beach sand.  The value of a proverb lies in its ability to use something familiar to its people to make a practical or moral point.  Your diggers will know that gold isn’t the only thing that glitters, your herdsmen will know that the grass only looks greener elsewhere.

Also recognize that witticisms are often contradictory, even in the same culture—too many cooks spoil the broth but two heads are better than one; haste makes waste but a stitch in time saves nine.  There is no reason why your cultures cannot have contradictory aphorisms, and even quote them at each other in discussions.  After all, the digger goes farther following the softer path, but the hardest rocks hold the most precious gems.

That’s a good example, because of course someone from that tribe of herdsmen would have no clue what either of those mean, just as the diggers would be completely baffled by the saying When the mare is in season the stallion can’t be calmed.

Once you have outlined the culture, enlist the aid of your players, at least in connection with their characters’ own cultures.  If you have an elf, or a Bothan, or a Frangian, discuss with them what kinds of things would make good “old sayings” in their culture, and invite them to include some of their own devising.

And don’t be afraid to be absurd.  In the movie America’s Sweethearts, the “Wellness Guide” (played by Alan Arkin) says, as I recall it, “In my country we have an old saying, Mecka lecka halava, beem sala beem.”  Eddie (John Cusack) responds, “Oh.  What’s that mean?”  The answer?  “No one knows.  It’s a very old saying.”

So create a few very old sayings that sound like they contain wisdom, and release them into your game through peoples that would understand them, and see how that helps define your cultures a bit better.


Previous article:  Scared.
Next article:  Cities.

Compendium of the Lands Surrounding Blackwater Lake

Compiled for Lord Beckett

by Talvion Tulossa

of Clan Cormallen

in the Year 614

by Frangian Reckoning


Preface

The enclosed notes are for the use of Lord Winchester and his kin. The author hopes that they may provide some aid in his quest to locate his family’s ancestral lands, to reestablish the Winchester family, and to restore it to prosperity.

Introduction

Blackwater Lake and its environs lie within a vast region that most people simply call Northumbria. This region, which stretches for hundreds of miles, is comprised mainly of forested hills and mountains, brimming with mineral resources, towering trees, and wildlife. The primary inhabitants of this rugged land seem to be either primitive human savages that dominate the lowlands, or wicked goblyn tribes that swarm over and under the hills and mountains. However, just over a century ago, explorers and adventurers arrived from the Kingdom of Frangia, perhaps the most powerful kingdom across the Great Sea. The Crown first established an agricultural colony called Southumbria, and, a few years later, it explored and claimed the vast tract of virgin wilderness to the north.

The Frangian Crown’s claim to ownership of Northumbria seemed ludicrous at first—and still does—given the sheer size of the region and the scarcity of royal settlers here. Settlement has been steady, but it will take decades before any semblance of control is established. Perhaps because of this uncertainty, daring Frangian settlers and freebooters have flocked northward, seeking opportunity and adventure. Read more

RPG-ology #10: Labyrinths

This is RPG-ology #10:  Labyrinths, for September 2018.


In game terms, a labyrinth is a geometric puzzle, a system of passable and impassible spaces solved by the discovery of a consecutive path of passable spaces connecting some number of points, commonly the entrance and the exit.  A maze, usually, refers to a type of labyrinth for which there is a unique solution, only one path that connects two points; a labyrinth might instead have many solutions, or no solution.  The distinction is significant in several ways; they are related puzzles, but both the ways in which they are created and the techniques for solving them are different.

Engraved and designed by Toni Pecoraro 2007. http://www.tonipecoraro.it/labyrinth28.html CC BY 3.0

Labyrinths can occur naturally, when geologic forces crack rocks in seemingly random patterns.  Even mazes can be naturally occurring—if a tunnel system was carved by water which has since mostly evaporated or drained away, it commonly carves one exit point, and then the current follows that path and ignores the others.  Mazes are more commonly created by intelligent action, although sometimes an intelligence will create a labyrinth for any of several reasons.

Labyrinthine road patterns sometimes develop from the process of acretion, as new residents add new housing and thus new streets attached to old ones.  Suburban developments are often labyrinthine by design so that residents familiar with the roads can exit in any of several directions but others will not consider the connected roads a viable short cut between two points outside the development.

The Minotaur was kept in a labyrinth because a maze would have been too easy to solve.

A maze in two dimensions is easier to solve from above than from within; the eye can trace patterns and look for the connecting path, spotting and avoiding dead ends early.  Still, from within a two-dimensional maze you are guaranteed to find the way through if you pick one wall and follow it.  This will take you into many dead ends, but it will take you out ultimately.  A labyrinth with more than one solution cannot necessarily be solved this way, as there is a high probability that you will be caught in a loop.

Three-dimensional mazes are considerably more difficult to solve, because we are not generally accustomed to considering them three-dimensionally.  These are most easily created as multi-level constructions with stairways, ramps, or chutes and ladders connecting them in specific points, often connecting some levels but not accessing intervening levels.

Five level three-dimensional maze, top level to the left, crossbars mark ladders, with markers for up and down. Entrances are on the middle level, center of left and right sides.

One mistake often made in maze design is designing inward only—that is, many mazes are easily solved by working backwards, the tricks and turns and deceptive paths all designed to mislead the one coming in from the front.  This is not as much of a problem in a role playing game maze, because these can often be placed in locations in which the characters will initially approach them from one side.  On the other hand, the designer can take advantage of this by creating the maze backwards, such that characters will easily find their way in but will be confronted by the confusion on the way out.  However, many tabletop gamers become very good at mapping, so the scenario designer might need some particularly complicated tricks to stymie his players.

Fortunately, fantasy and science fiction give us such tricks.  In Dr. Who:  The Horns of Nimon, the space in which the Nimon lived was a giant logic circuit, the walls switches which seemingly randomly switched from “A” to “B” positions making it impossible to have an accurate map created from passing through it.  I have recommended using teleport points, in either fantasy or science fiction settings, by which any character crossing a specific spot on the map in a specific direction is moved to a specific other spot on the map not necessarily facing the same direction, but is not moved back on the return journey, passing the arrival point unaware that it was there.  There are many ways to use this—creating recursive occlusion, as in Dr. Who:  Castrovalva, a section of the map in which there are many entries, but only one exit, all the other exits delivering you to the entry point on the opposite side of the isolated area; creating maze-like labyrinths in which the characters are moved to parallel paths but the occupants know how to use their teleport points to get where they want to be; creating duplicate rooms in which characters who enter one room always leave from the other.  I have used all of these techniques, and have had players trying to resolve their situation for several play sessions.

I have also confused players by using maps with repeating patterns, causing them to believe they had returned to a place they had already been when they were instead in a different place exactly like it.  Nothing is quite the same as watching a player attempt to erase and correct a map that was already right.


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Terror in the Tower, part 1

Another tale of the Beckett Family’s adventures in Northumbria.


Background

The session began with the PCs in the small village of Lakesend, where they have been helping the local Lord Balin in finding a missing provost.

Cast of Characters:

Most party members are part of one large extended family—the noble Beckett family. A few are retainers.

Granny Beckett: Witch, eccentric matriarch of the family
Jade Cormallen: Half-elf ranger, distant relative to most
Lord Roger Beckett: Ranger, new family head
Acolyte Denston Beckett: Cleric of Pholtus, grumpy and dour
Daniel Beckett: Assassin, passionate and protective
Sir Callum Beckett: Cavalier, burly and jovial
Sir William Beckett: Cavalier, sarcastic and brave
Brother Lewie: Cleric of St. Cuthbert, erratic but insightful
Sven Ragnarsson: Barbarian, bastard of Granny, Bjorn’s twin
Bjorn Ragnarsson: Barbarian, bastard of Granny, Sven’s twin
Brother Liam: Cleric of St. Cuthbert, comrade of Brother Lewie
Sir Raynard: Cavalier, handsome and witty
Raymond: NPC (Fighter 1), stoic and responsible
Owen: NPC (Ranger 1), introverted and self-sufficient
Kieran: NPC (Magic User 1), gentle and intelligent
Sergeant Blaine: NPC Fighter, porter to the Beckett family
Dagis: NPC (Fighter 0), new squire to Sir Callum

Narrative:

Day 22, Eighth Moon 

The night passed without incident.  The family was now residing in the two abandoned shepherds’ cottages and that of the missing provost.  Most were up and about, eating breakfast outside Jehan’s cottage.  Roger had started a small cooking fire, and the smell of roasted trout and charred wood filled morning the air.  The peaceful scene vanished when Elwood, disheveled and clutching his gnarled wooden staff, came running down from the hillside.  Excited and gasping for breath, he eventually yelled something about a dead man.  Several family members grabbed their weapons and followed him back to the hillside at a brisk pace.  Along the way, Elwood, flustered and still short of breath, provided the others with more information.

“I was gathering worms for my fishing chores later on,” the young druid gasped, “when I heard the sound of something big crashing through the brush, coming toward me.  The sheep started to scurry away, and I picked up my staff, unsure of what was coming.  Then I heard it stop.  I couldn’t see anything, for whatever it was still lay inside the treeline.  I crept up and saw a man lying in the weeds, groaning in pain.  He was wounded, though I could not see exactly how.  It became obvious that he was no threat so I tried to help him, but he only moaned two words and then stopped breathing.  He said, ‘Pholtus’ and ‘Kieran.'” Read more

Cultures of Northumbria: Elves

In this series of articles, Michael Garcia shares various custom rules and handouts related to his worldbuilding for his ongoing Northumbria campaign. 


The Elves are undoubtedly the oldest known race in the world. Their culture is ancient and largely unchanged, despite the millennia that have passed.

Typical Appearance

Elves are generally slender and graceful people, with long straight blonde or dirty-blonde hair. Eye color tends to be amber and bluish-green though violet is not uncommon. They do not grow facial hair.

Concerning fashion, elves favor elegant displays of great workmanship. Colors are usually rich, while patterns tend to be both intricate and subtle. Nature motifs are very common.

Elves favor tight-fitting hosen or breeches, along with tight-fitting tunics. They also prefer loose-fitting, ornate robes, made of very light material. Narrow shoes and boots are typical. Their cloaks, though lightweight, are usually long and flowing.

Language

It is common in many cultures for people to call themselves ‘the people’ or ‘the speakers’, but elves recognize that humans, elves, dwarves, and gnomes are all sentient beings that fit such a bill. Therefore, they call all these races ‘the singers’ (laulajia). Their specific words for elf/elves are keijukainen/keijut.

The elven base word for any language is the same as for ‘song’ (laulu/laulut). As the elves are the eldest race, they call their own language the ‘ancient song’ (vanha laulu).

The elves use a sound-based system of runes, which later became the inspiration for other runic systems, such as that of the dwarves and that of the Varangians (a northern group of humans). They actually have two sets of runes, one used for common writing (sanat, meaning ‘words’) and another (voimat, meaning ‘powers’) used for important concepts like magic and law.  All elves know the former, and all elders know the latter as well. Read more