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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Another tale of the Beckett Family’s adventures in Northumbria.
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
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
We return to the Winchester Family’s adventures in Northumbria!
Editor’s note: According to a map that has come into our hands recently, it seems that Miles the Minstrel, who originally related this tale to us, mangled the story a bit, calling the hill where these events occurred ‘Bandits Rock.’ The correct name of the hill is ‘Brigands Rock.’ We have amended the tale appropriately, but it remains filed under its original title so as not to break the links.
Sir Garrett of House Winchester and his retinue are in the small village of Lakesend at the southern tip of Blackwater Lake. Having recently explored Wycliffe Island twice, they fought a number of desperate battles against creatures that they called goblyns, but these looked little like the creatures of myth that they were expecting. The nearby keep, under the command of Lord Balin Blackwater, is preparing for a massive goblyn assault, though the enemy army keeps vanishing in the rugged hills. For the moment, the Winchester retinue has decided to rest and refit for a number of days, and some members are also training. Ninth Moon is ending, with autumn hard on its heels. At the end of our last session, the companions were outside the Welcome Wench Inn at night, talking cheerfully when someone spotted what seemed like a human silhouette, peering at them from behind a copse of trees.
From the DM:
This was the session that almost wasn’t. Everyone has probably had a time when half the group is missing and you have to decide whether or not to play. We eventually decided to play, and it was a good time. The three players are strong role-players, which helped. Yet, I knew we needed some action (the last two sessions had been pretty cerebral). The players threw me a curve ball by deciding to investigate an area that I had not yet fleshed out. I had to come up with something quickly. We were glad to have played for another reason too. Two of our players were moving out west for college so this would be our last session with them until they return. I had to come up with a satisfying way for their characters to leave. Read more
This is RPG-ology #5: Country Roads, for April 2018.
Of course, role playing game referees almost always have maps, and many of us make most of our own maps. The fact is that you don’t really necessarily need maps, and we’ll probably eventually talk about running games without them, but for most of the kinds of games most of us play, maps are an important part. I even belong to a Facebook group dedicated entirely to game referees making and sharing their maps. Honestly some of them look more like aerial photography, but that’s useful too. Questions often arise about how to make maps, and having been a Boy Scout and having taught Cub Scouts a few Scout skills over the years, I’m pretty good at maps. So we’ll probably return to them from time to time. One of the questions I often hear, though, is how do you design the roads on your maps. If you don’t understand how roads work, you can do some pretty silly things with them.
This article is going to talk about what we’re dubbing “country roads”, with apologies to John Denver, but we’re including wilderness roads, desert roads, pretty much any road that is outside the confines of a city—the long roads that take you from one major place to another in your adventure setting, the road on which your adventurers set out when they began that took them somewhere else. Some of what we’ll talk about applies to city streets as well, but they have their own complications and issues, so maybe we’ll come back to them in another article. Read more
By far the largest house, Keen are gifted with any talents useful in the gaseous environment. Dealing with the classical element of air, they are often involved with gas mining or with the persistent monitoring of gas swells and other storms. A great number of Keen Houses are found with the Eminar living below the vapor line. Possibly the most utilitarian of the Houses, they tend to be work oriented with much to keep them busy on a normal day. Above the vapor line, the houses do have the responsibility of monitoring gas swells in most cities and maintain the alarm system.
Granted Power: Keen can sense gas swells and storms of all fashions one minute before hand per point of WISDOM. In addition, all penalties due to storms are halved.
The House of Beyan, along with the other three houses that deal with the classical elements, are numerous compared to other houses and have more mundane purposes. The House of Beyan, while associated strongly with earth, more accurate deals with all physical materials. Another way to look at it is that they have affinity and understanding of things in the solid state. They are farmers, gardeners and arborists but also stone masons, machinists and architects. Eapon is a hard planet to live on, and people seek out Beyans to build their homes, establish their orchards and quarry precious metals. Their temples and churches are found in every setting and of every manner. More often than not, they are a form of regulatory authority and labor agency, particularly if an area lacks other forms of government. On a spiritual level they tend towards family-like atmospheres, supplementing and supporting existing communities rather than forming a core. They number second only to the House of Keen.
Granted Power: Beyan’s ignore terrain penalties to movement while on foot and once per game session can double the damage dealt to anything they sunder.
Shillelagh: Cudgel or quarterstaff becomes +1 weapon and deals damage as if two sizes larger.
The House of Arocon is concerned with the preservation of knowledge from the past age and cataloguing the present age. Unsurprising their temples and building often serve as a type of library, while many who are part of the House run actual libraries or deal in information. While some may view them as purely academic,there are a significant numbers who scour all the globe in search of lost knowledge or to discover new knowledge. As would be expected a large number of Wardens belong to the House of Arocon.
Granted Power: Autodidact: Once per game session the player may substitute their levels in the House for a bonus to ANY skill roll, even if they do not have ranks in a trained skill.
The House of Holma is the branch tasked with healing. Despite what would be expected, Holma is one of the most highly criticized Houses. Naturally, their abilities are in high demand which has often made them the targets of extortion, kidnapping and bribery. Due to those realities they are secretive and mostly nomadic. Their own temples are unmarked, located in difficult to reach areas or out of sight in dark alleys. These serve as reprieves and safe houses for them. Everywhere they go they are in high demand if their GIFT is discovered. Instead, they work with the other Houses and travel to where they are needed for a few days before moving onto the next.
GM Note: Holma is intended to be a difficult House to play. If the PC’s identity is discovered they will be pursued. Sometimes the need is legitimate and sometimes it is born out of greed. The player should feel cautious any time they reveal their GIFT
Granted Power: Once per game session the character can use any talent they have without fuel or tokens.
The Editor noticed that a certain magical whip has been instrumental in several battles during Mike’s Isenwald campaign, so I asked him to give us a write-up of the whip and its origin. He couldn’t remember much of the details about the session, but he did have this character profile for Andrei Korsky, which includes a description and stats for the whip. Enjoy!
Andrei “the Scourge” Korsky, Yepiskop’s Henchman
The Yepiskop of Ariangrad has numerous agents to do his bidding, but Andrei Korsky is one of his most brutal deputies. Though the Yepiskop ultimately trusts no one, he trusted Andrei enough to bestow upon him a special gift—an enchanted knout. (A knout is a whip designed specifically for punishment.) He wields this in battle with good effect, enough to earn him the nickname “the Scourge”. He has killed more than one man with a single blow of the knout. Read more