Tuesday, 29 October 2019

A short review of "5e-ish retroclones" by Robot Goblin

Robot Goblin has posted a short review of three old school games with modern mechanics.


I am slightly peeved that 5TD gets full credit for "every class, and all core rules fit on a single spread or page" when I've sweated blood, sweat and keyboard-ink to achieve the same for ItU (if I hadn't been so slow to produce the thing, I could have claimed credit ahead of Necrotic Gnome for this!).

But mostly I am glad to see someone else recognise the effort I put into book 4. 
"But Book 4: Running the Game is worth the price of admission, even if you ditched everything else. I think it may be the cleanest, most interesting guide to running a game I’ve ever read and incorporates outside thinking like Fronts from Dungeon World. Its sections on dungeon and hex crawls are short and solid as a beer keg."
It was definitely the hardest to write of the five. In the other volumes, I had a skeleton to go off and a clear idea of what goes into it. In the GM guide, I was starting from scratch and relying a lot more on my own creativity. Simply figuring out what chapters to have (and not to have) took a very long time.
I consider that booklet my magnus opus in a way. I had set set myself the challenge of taking everything worthwhile I know about old school DMing and condensing it into a volume that is actually usable at the table and speeds up preparation. Really pleased to see it wasn't for nothing.

I've been glancing at 5TD, mostly a bit nervous that they were going to do a better job of it all than me. On the back of that review, I might pick it up and do a review myself. I think it's terrific the O5R movement is taking off in 2019!

Friday, 27 September 2019

Zak, Raggi, Drivethrurpg & Drawing Lines

Normally, I would simply not comment on these things, but as I am now publishing my stuff on DriveThruRPG, I felt compelled to write something.

Quick recap of what went before: Zak Smith wrote a blog about OSR stuff and was a pillar of that community. He also wrote some award-winning OSR products and consulted on D&D's 5th edition. He was always an asshole, but tolerated by many for his talents. Then earlier in the year, it transpired that he was also the kind of asshole who serially abuses women. Pretty much everyone in the RPG community disowned him, DriveThruRPG banned his titles and James Raggi, who owns the Lamentations of the Flame Princess publishing outfit that produced a lot of Zak's work, ended his working relationship with him in a "I'm sorry I had to do this" manner.

Then at GenCon, Raggi published an adventure called "Zak has nothing to do with this book", by not-zak. A few days ago, this was published as a pdf on DriveThruRPG. The plot is about "the hateful eight" who did something bad and are "blaming... Zachary Canterbury, who goes by the nickname, Zak, because he said unwise things making it rather easy to be made the scapegoat... ...They all know they’re accusing an innocent man, and are doing so to prevent themselves from being subject to any kind of scrutiny." So a fairly transparent commentary on how Zak was unfairly maligned.

The original print version from GenCon had a longer "word from the publisher" where Raggi overtly proclaims how he regrets ever having disowned Zak, how he will now 

and the house must be rebuilt.
And it will be rebuilt in accordance to my wishes, and mine alone. Anyone that thinks they have a say in this is very badly mistaken. The ‘community’ will have no say in the matter, because the ‘community’ is poisonous. You’ll take what you’re given, or you’ll go away.
[…]
With this book I reclaim my power and deny the policers, the censors, the puritans, the kindly inquisitors, all those that seek [to] define for other people what is ‘proper’, and those who endeavor to enforce their moral will upon the dreams and imaginations of others and dictate what other people may and may not create, purchase, or read.”

Renaissance Gamer has the full lowdown on this steaming pile of dung that I would encourage anyone interested to go read. Basically, Raggi is going to the mattresses for Zak.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The question then is. What to do with all that? DriveThruRPG's CEO made an executive call to leave up Raggi's not-zak product as a meta-commentary in the name of Free Speech. This in turn has led a lot of people, and also publishers, to also boycott DTRPG.

There are questions to be asked in all this. 

1. Should Zak be boycotted? Is Zak the Author distinct from Zak the Molester? 
The overwhelming response from the community has been, yes he should. I also happen to support that. At least as far as putting money on the table. The products I own already from him I might still use if it comes up (Vornheim, Death Frost Doom).

Raggi has now broken rank from this consensus to say they are distinct and he will not boycot him. Which raises another question:

2. Should those who support the publishing activities of molesters-as-authors also be boycotted?
This is, I think, a more difficult question to answer. It is certainly a lesser sin than actual molesting, and it could be argued that it is his philosophical convictions that demand that he distinguish between the author and the molester. Which, while I don't think I entirely agree with such a conviction, does change the picture. I don't think this is the case though. Quote Renaissance Gamer:
...in one of the most puzzling defensive maneuvers I have ever read, similar to an animal that defends from predators by punching itself in the face, Raggi tells us about the not one, but two women who are accusing him of assault and sexual abuse. You see, Dear Reader, Raggi has also felt the cruel sting of people holding him accountable for his shitty behaviour, so how could he not sympathize with Brother Zak? Let he who has not beaten, or stalked, or sexually assaulted a woman cast the first stone!
I think rather Raggi has found his sympathies for Zak easier to reconcile with his own Edgelord provocateur habits and the fact that Zak has earned him a pay check for a good while, than having arrived at any sort of philosophical purity. The obnoxious and hostile manner in which he has decided to stand with Zak likewise lends itself to my conclusion - I shalt not put money in the pockets of James Raggi in the future. I also think it would serve the common good if others followed suit.

But there is a third question:

3. Should those who decide not to ban those who support the publishing activities of molesters-as-authors also be boycotted?
Here is Steve, CEO of DTRPG, and his statement about not removing the title from their shelves:
Some customers have reported this title to us as being offensive and/or asked us to remove the title from DriveThruRPG. I appreciate their taking the time to offer feedback on this title. At DriveThruRPG, I want us to provide as much space as possible for our publishers to publish books, and I want to remove books only when absolutely necessary.
Our policy is to not support the work of Zak Smith, and I have made it clear in both public and private statements that this is the case. I am aware that a legitimate reading of this book makes it a defense of Zak Smith and, in addition, can be seen as a criticism of the RPG community who moved to exclude him — including criticizing DriveThruRPG, for our decision not to carry any new works by Zak.
I have decided not to ban this book. Separated from a meta connection to Zak Smith, the content of the book itself does not cross the line into being offensive.
To the degree that the publisher’s intention is to put forth their perspective, however much I may disagree with it, on the events around Zak Smith, that is the publisher voicing their perspective. DriveThruRPG has a responsibility as the largest marketplace for makers of RPGs to tread carefully when removing content, especially when doing so would be silencing voices critical of us.
I appreciate that this decision will not be welcome to everyone. I wish that the publisher had gone a different direction and moved forward, but I won’t ban the title for expressing the publisher’s dissenting perspective.
Personally, I disagree with the decision. I think a game publisher need not give space for publishers to provide what is essentially "fuck you all rpg-community" blogpost rendered in adventure module format. I also think the premise is flawed - It is clearly authored by Zak and it is just a much a middle finger to DTRPG to have published it on their platform. I can't see it as anything but Raggi daring DTRPG to ban all LotFP products from their shelves.

But basically, Steve answers question 2 above for himself and DTRPG by arguing that those who support the publishing activities of molesters-as-authors should not necessarily be boycotted. This in turn has led to a lot of people, and even some publishers, to boycot DTRPG. 

It is at this point I find myself asking - Where does one draw the line? I will not be boycotting DTRPG as a result of their decision. I disagree with their decision. But if Steve has committed a transgression-by-association here, it is too far removed from source for me to weigh that strongly. 
I might consider buying from alternative sources though. It might also spur me to put my stuff on Lulu and recommend that people buy from there. But I will not be removing my products from DTRPG based on this either (although in considering it, I am grateful that I did not choose to be exclusive with them).

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Alternate Oerths - Mythic Greyhawk: Wizardry & the Circle of Eight

I mentioned in the introduction to Mythic Greyhawk that:
The occult workings and experiments of the eccentric scholars, alchemists and mystic savants called "wizards" can somehow tame Chaos and produce so-called "arcane magic". But how controlled is it really? And who can say how tainted they become? Godly and Law-abiding people do not meddle with such forces. Witch hunts are rare, but wizards mostly stand outside the social ladder on the fringe of society, somewhere between shunned and exiled.
A contributing factor to this is the fact that Alignment Language is a thing in Mythic Greyhawk and wizards are in the disreputable position of having to learn Chaotic and Neutral in order to cast their spells.

Archetypical member of the Circle of Eight
But a large part of the distrust of wizards is historical: It was wizards who catastrophically wiped out the two biggest empire in human history (not to mention sinking the Isles of Woe, creating the Bright desert and probably also the Rift Canyon and Land of Black Ice). And when it was time to build something new from the ashes it was mostly ordinary Oeridian men, and divine assistance, that built the foundations for the Flanaess as we know it. So who needs wizards anyway?

Which brings us to the Circle of Eight. They are not mentioned in the folio, so could easily be dropped, but I am thinking to include them anyway. Except, I've already established that there is no real Balance position in the Mythic Greyhawk cosmological alignment scheme. Neutral is more like 'unaligned' and can flip either way. So what is the Circle's Raison D'Etre? Enter Jack Vance and "Murgen's Great Edict" as found in the Lyonesse trilogy:

Murgen's Edict basically bans all wizards from getting involved in the political arena. When the wizard Twitten defies the edict, Murgen shows up and turns him into an iron post.

I like the idea, it solves a lot of issues with magic in a medieval world. So here is:

Slerotin's Stricture

"Under penalty of death, or similar finality, no wizard may act directly in, interfere with, or intervene in, worldly affairs or secular conflict."
Slerotin was the last Mage of Power who survived the Rain of Colorless Fire's destruction of the Suel Empire. After founding the Silent Ones in Keoland to uphold his Stricture in the Sheldomar Valley, he retired to act as overseer of his Stricture across the Flanaess as needed and nothing else, hoping that he might precent such disasters as Vecna, Keraptis, the sinking of the Isles of Woe and the Twin Cataclysms in the future. A short history of the Stricture:

  • From a pocketworld chamber outside space and time, Slerotin monitors Flannae wizardry for over six centuries, from the founding of Keoland till the 300s CY.
  • Zagyg then becomes the temporal ruler of the city of Greyhawk. Slerotin disappears after attacking Zagyg in Greyhawk. The Stricture is largely unenforced from here, except at local level.
  • A century later, his apprentice Iggwilv conquered and ruled Perrenland for a decade by use of demonic summonings
  • When her son Iuz began cultivating his own realm in the howling hills, he was likewise unopposed, until Zagyg imprisons him for reasons of his own.
  • Two centuries after Slerotin's disappeance, Mordenkainen founds the Circle of Eight to enforce the Stricture at a higher level again.

The Circle of Eight

Traditional wizard's manse
The Circle of Eight are the primary present enforcers and interpreters of Slerotin's Stricture. Mordenkainen founded the group out of the belief that if such a group had been around in the early years of Iggwilv and Iuz, they could have been stopped much earlier. By making it a Circle, Mordenkainen hoped to avoid the gaps that followed in the wake of Slerotin's disappearance after his battle with Zagyg and also that the consensus of a circle of eight of the most powerful wizards would make their judgements less arbitrary. He hopes for the Circle to endure for many generations to come.

Their primary foe is Iuz, who stands out as the clearest violator of the Stricture, and any wizardly apprentice and lieutenants he may have.
The wizard of the Valley of the Mage is something of a gray zone. So far his isolationalist and non-intervenist approach, and the unclear nature of his arrangement with the inhabitants of the valley, have kept the Circle from acting against him.

There are presently a number of wizards who are councilors to rulers, or rulers themselves of domains in the Flanaess. These have been visited by the Eight with strong edifications on the Circle's interpretations of the Stricture (basically - you may use divination to help your realm and overt magics to protect yourself and your nearest. You not use overt magics against political foes, nor charms and similarly subversive magics).

The Circle is known, and feared, by pretty much all wizards of the Flanaess. The exact members are a matter of speculation. A few, such as Mordenkainen, Tenser and Bigby, proclaim their membership as a matter of pride no matter the dangers of such public knowledge, while others are rumoured and a few members wholly unknown.

Most all of them are 'neutral' and, as is typical of powerful 'neutral' wizards, temper having a modest conscience with being a bit mad, self-absorbed, power-hungry and vain. (though Tenser is said to be burdened with a virtuous absence of these qualities and afflicted with a polite dignity and empathetic spirit in its stead. And rumored member Rary of Ket is said to be harrowed with an always calm and discerning intellect bordering on being considered 'wise')

They all have lower tiers of agents, apprentices, henchmen and even private troops to act as proxies, informants and muscle - Both to uphold the Stricture and to serve the personal ambitions of the Circle wizards.



The Present State of Wizardry

Although wizards are generally an independent and competitive bunch (if you think stage magicians on earth like to guard their trade secrets, they've got nothing on wizards on Oerth) who rarely organize into more than loose cabals of hard bargained exchanges, most agree that the Stricture is a useful safeguard, also from potential repercussions of the common people.

As a result, since wizards stand mostly outside the conventional social and political ladders, they perceive themselves as being a social class of their own (as do most common folk) with status amongst themselves granted by might, discoveries and knowledge. All this has led to a culture among wizards of the Flanaess wherein temporal power, or even overt use of magical power, is seen as boorish and vulgar. More salient signs of real power and attainment are peer recognition, and preferably peer jealousy.

Of course there are wizards who break the Strictures, believing they can get away with it. Either from flying under the radar of the Circle's attentions, or from going undiscovered altogether, or, more rarely, from being powerful enough to deter the Circle from enforcing it. A few do get away with it, but rarely for long. Most who violate it are punished in extremely public and demonstrative ways, to show the common people, and other wizards, that wizardry in the Flaness is governed by their own.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Alternate Oerths - Mythic Greyhawk: Religion & Cosmos

I find that I am enjoying chronicling Mythic Greyhawk more than I anticipated. Much of it are impressions from way back when, but some of it is also new discovery from taking a closer look. One thing I like about exploring a non-homebrew setting like this is the sense of exploring an independently existent world. The fact that others have studied the same world, albeit through a different prism than my 'Mythic' one, renders a feeling that somehow Greyhawk exists 'out there' to be explored. My interpretations don't feel like creating either. It is more of a - "when looking through this mythic prism, what is Greyhawk really like?" I study the lay of the land, observe and mull until Mythic Greyhawk reveals itself to me. And putting all this into writing is like a refinement process. Greyhawk stands out much more vididly and alive to my inner vision now than before I started. It's been fun. 

With that said, let's talk about religion, metaphysics and other higher order stuff.

Religion




Overall, I am not terribly smitten with the Greyhawk pantheon, to be honest. It's a bit of a hodge podge. I like hodge podge, but it should be blended in with something a bit more thematic that links more visibly to the human cultures. Since they are not in the folio, I could have just discarded them, but I decided to give it a go anyway.

I mapped them out along basic alignment lines: 
  • Neutral: There is the old (druidic) faith. These are predominantly neutral and as such considered heretical by both the Church of the Blinding Light and the Oeridian pantheon.
  • Lawful: The Oeridian pantheon of (which has a number of dark, or at least callous) gods that are predominantly Lawful.
  • Lawful Good: A major driver in the separation of Ferrond and Nyrond from Aerdi was the rise of the heno-/mono-theistic Church of Pholtus/Pelor/Rao (he has many names, depending on which aspects of his being are emphasised as most important) - The breakaways were in part religious wars - Splits that still define the Flanaess.
    The western Pelor/Rao factions are exponents of a new and higher kind of Law (Lawful Good) than the eastern one Pholtus faction, which claims the special relevation of the Church is that Law is unitary (non-comittal on the 'good' part).
  • Chaos: These are the howling demon princes and other lords of chaos that wish to invade Oerth and corrupt its people. But also elemental primordials and such. Basically, nothing that anyone sane would worship or strike deals with.

The Old Faith

The Old Faith was the predominant 'religion' of the Flanaess before the great migrations and still holds sway in many places today.
It is centered around the primal spirits that inhabit the Oerth and whose concerns (unlike gods, demons, devils et al) are strictly confined to Oerth. They are the Neutral (of the 'leave-us-alone' variety) buffer between the forces of law and chaos that keep gods and demons alike out of Oerth.

As "neutrals", they are not so much interested in balance for the sake of balance, but rather for the self-preserving concern of safeguarding Oerth, their dominion, from being overwhelmed by the forces of either Law and Chaos. Unlike the gods, they neither require nor ask for worship, but may nonetheless be supplicated for favors through various rites and sacrifices. All priests of the Old Faith are druids of various sorts - even the psychopomp Death Druids of Nerull and the Harvesters of Incabulos (the sane ones mostly work to keep his 'gifts' away. The others are frigging feral). The primary nature spirits of the Old Faith are:

  • Beory - the spirit of the Oerth itself; 
  • Elohnna - the Spring Lady of fertility and new life. Patron of all rangers (they all get their spells from her); 
  • Obad-hai - Summer King, The Green Man, Leader of the Wild Hunt; 
  • Incabulos - The Autumn Lord of decay, plagues, sickness, famine, nightmares, drought, and disasters. He who clears away the stale, weak and static so that nature may grow something new when the rot turns to soil. A hard god.
  • Nerull - The Winter King of Death. Even harder.

The Oeridian Pantheon

The gods of Law, the pantheon of the Great Kingdom and beyond, are seen as the major patrons of mankind across the Flanaess. They are the standard-bearers against the forces of Chaos that would otherwise overwhelm the world and the main reason why Man has ascended to its tentatively dominant position in the Flanaess.

They reside in the Astral Dominions (being barred from Oerth itself by the aforementioned primal spirits) and rely on worship for their power - As such they have a strong vested interest in mortal affairs, which is also reflected in their themes and domains. They are almost all of them gods of human endeavors.

Notable Oeridian gods:
  • Hextor & Heironeous - These opposites are worshipped in the same temples and are considered dual aspects of the same warrior god. A fitting image for the many flip-flops the Aerdi have made on what makes the Great Kingdom Great. Clerics tend to strongly favor one aspect over the other. Currently Hextor is the dominant god of the Great Kingdom.
  • Zilchus - The priesthood of Zilchus perform an invaluable, and mostly impartial, service to the people of the Flanaess: Banking. The Holy Tellers basically maintain the economy and are the only Pan-Flannae bank in Greyhawk. Your go-to-guys for reliable service. Screw them over and you will soon find no one will do business with you. Anywhere.
  • Olidammara - The trickster god of the pantheon. Though often acting highly chaotically and mingling with Chaos, he is nevertheless aligned with Law and on the side of mankind. A less malignant Loki basically.
  • Pholtus - Though heretically seen as the One-Above-All in the Church of the Blinding Light, he is still worshipped as the Lawmaker, a major deity, in the Oeridian Pantheon. His priests often act as judges in secular courts, when the nobility for whatever reasons have disavowed that responsibility.
  • Fharlanghn - Oeridians attribute the spirit of Fharlanghn to their successful migration and eventual domination of the Flanaess. A mentality of discovery and willingness to travel far is still considered strong virtues among Oeridians as a result.
  • Bralm - the god of industriousness has played a pivotal role in building the Oeridian realms, but plays an equally important role in maintaining them. From him comes the righteousness of the classes, that society needs Those Who Toil to be governed by Those Who War. When all remain in their allotted station and perform their given duty, society prospers.
  • Erythnul - Despite his fearsome nature, this dark god has a place in Oeridian society as that which drives their enemies before them and has those who should cower in righteous fear cowering.
  • Ralishaz - Similar to Erythnul, Ralishaz has a place among Oeridians as one who brings misfortune to their enemies.

The Church of the Blinding Light

The heno-/mono-theistic Church of the Blinding Light is devoted to the worship of Pholtus/Pelor/Rao (his name differs depending on culture and theological interpretation of his most important aspects, but all agree it is the same god) as the One-Above-All.
'He' had a presence in all human pantheons but in 251 CY revealed himself to priests of Ferrond to be the one true god of Law (three years later, Furyondy would be founded in Dyvers as a result) and was further strengthened when the people of Nyrond and its satellite states saw the Light, converted and broke away from heretical Aerdy, establishing the Church as the biggest religion in the modern Flanaess.
Certain patron saints of the One-Above-All, who have become hero-deities in their own right, are also supplicated. Most notable of these is St. Cuthbert.

Other Gods & Godlings

The Suel pantheon was once the primary hegemony of Law on Oerth, but fell from power and influence after the Rain of Colorless Fire. These ancient fallen gods  are still found in places, but are mostly degenerate shadows of what they used to be, insane, embittered, turned savage or even feral, or all of the above.

A range of other gods exist who are mostly ignored by the gods of the established pantheons due to being either too insignificant or pursuing aims that do not impact the cosmic concerns of these pantheons.

This covers anything from fledgling hero-gods, highly local deities, forgotten and sleeping gods of ancient pantheons, the gods of the Flan (in addition to the old Faith nature spirits) and the mysterious Bakluni gods, but also gods such as Boccob the Uncaring, the ancient god of magic who is somehow a tangential part of every pantheon, and his recent vassal Zagyg.
Notable other gods:

  • Thor Kord, the heroic quest god of the Flan.
  • Wee-Jas, a mysterious and ancient psychopomp deity of death, magic and necromancy.
  • Boccob - the uncaring. featured in all pantheons
  • Istus - The enigmatic goddess of Fate among the Baklunish. Some argue she is a female Baklunish emanation of The-One-Above-All.

Non-Human Faiths

Religion is mostly a human thing, that's why humans see themselves as especially privileged species of Law and why they are the ones who tentatively rule the roost of the Flanaess. Halflings and dwarves are also lawful and have pantheons similar to Mankind's (with a few patron gods specific to their own kind), but this is glossed over.

Elves as neutral to chaotic children of the Oerth, have no gods and do not care for the cosmic conflict of Law and Chaos. They have a relationship of a sort with the gods of the Old Faith but do not venerate or worship them the way humans do. They see themselves as being basically of similar family stock as these beings and you wouldn't worship your grandfather, would you?

Other creatures also do not have gods. The "gods" of goblins, orcs, hobgoblins etc. are not gods at all, but the foul lords of the host of Chaos, demon princes and devil lords. That's like totally different.

Cosmos & Alignment

  • Law/Neutral/Chaos axis. Alignment as factions and allegiances moreso than conviction.
    Good and evil exist, but are less important (and optional) in comparison (though adherents of Rao/Pelor might beg to differ) - People who have the good or evil descriptor always have that part of their alignment as a deep conviction.
  • I am using a variant of the 4th edition world axis cosmology. I will probably tweak the mirror realms into more of a localised Fading Lands/Demi-planes thing, but otherwise:
    Astral Dominions (also sometimes referred to as the "Overworlds", or simply "The Overworld") are the cerebral domains of Law. There are many realms besides the god ones, some more wellknown than others. Possibly even infinite in number. Basically, any kind of platonic ideation-as-reality realm you can think of probably exists here.
    Elemental Maelstrom (from whence begin "the Underworlds") is the more bodily/physical domain of Chaos. We currently live in the flawed hegemony of the gods, after the victory in the Dawn War against the Hosts of Chaos. Below that is the abyss, where entropy takes a turn towards oblivion and annihilation.
  • The over- and under-worlds, though principally otherdimensional, are also physically connected to Oerth through the principles of mythic geography. Hence, one can reach the Overworld by simply flying deep enough into space. And the Underworld basically begins below the ground you stand on. Venture deep enough (very deep) and it becomes the elemental maelstrom (this also implies a certain directionality to Law/Chaos).
  • The Homebase vs Weird dichotomy is very much a thing and runs along similar tracks as Civilization/Wilderness, Law/Chaos, Mundane/Mythic, Gods/Demons, etc. A wholly Lawful Oerth would have no mythic fabric left and consequently also no magic.
  • Exposure to Chaos plays a big part in the transformation of mundane characters into mythic (=high-level) heroes. This is the paradox of champions of Law - even as they fight Chaos, they are suffused with it and made greater by it.
    And consequently, heroes are inevitably alienated from the mundane world they started from (Frodo Syndrome).
  • The sci-fi bits are downplayed (for now) and there is a stronger focus on a mythic flavor, inspired by the (often dark) folkloric faerie tales of medieval times.
    I make heavy use of Fading Lands (below) to play up the otherwordliness of encounters with the Weird and fantastical (fx. all elven kingdoms are fading lands). Many, if not most, wilderness and dungeon forays will effectively be in these 'Weird zones'/Fading lands.
  • Alignment Language is a thing. Oeridian is the common tongue and is an offshoot of Lawful. Flan is a mixed offshoot of Lawful and Neutral. Baklunish and Suel are both lawful offshoots.

Fading Lands

Classic example of a Fading Land
When places become too dissonant with the orderliness of the Law set down by the current godly hegemonythey warp and rip out of sync with the reality of the rest of the world to a certain extent. They become more akin  to private pocket worlds or demi-planes, where space, time and other rules of reality can become distorted. Essentially, chaotic pockets and hollowings in Oerth's otherwise regular dimensional fabric of spacetime.

Fading Lands become more frequent once you pass from the corelands of civilization and into the borderlands. In the deep wilderness where Chaos is still thick and unrestrained, the boundaries between fading lands and 'normal reality' become increasingly indistinct and blurred.

Common to all Fading Lands is the sense of otherwordliness, of being in a land-out-time (or at least has its own rhythm and pulse of time), that all visitors instinctively feel after entering one. Fading Lands do not participate in the same flow of time as the rest of Oerth.
They are remnants of something lost, akin to memories of something that once was, which the Oerth can no longer hold without losing its structural integrity in time and space.

Some Fading Lands are more otherworldly than others. Some of them may connect, or be coterminous, with the Overworlds or underworld. What distinguishes them from the Over and Under Worlds is that, though connections may be faded, they still have links or origin on Oerth and are in some way or another connected to Oerth geography and/or history.

Examples of Fading Lands

  • The Elflands: Once the elves roamed and ruled the Flanaess. Though the elflands remain the most accessible of the fading lands which can be entered from many places, as time passes they too are becoming more remote from the mundane lands of Oerth.
  • Faerie - Some say the Elflands are a part of Faerie. Others that Faerie is an Overworld dimensionally coterminous with Oerth.
  • The City of Gods
  • The Isle of Dread
  • The Land Beyond The Magic Mirror
  • Dungeonland
  • Isle of the Ape
  • Most of these
  • And a lot of these

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Alternate Oerths - Mythic Greyhawk: History, Kingdoms & Cultures

History

  • In most cases, I refer to the Oerth Journal #1 timeline for details when there are gaps to fill.
  • Oerth is very ancient. Lots of eldritch races lived in the pre-history before the elves began to float to the top some 10-30k years ago.
  • There was a 4e-style Dawn War at some point, before the Gods of Law and the Elemental/Demonic Forces of Chaos (I am undecided on this), where the cosmic status quo was established and started the current Aeon. The elves began to assert themselves sometime in the aftermath of this.
  • Anything before that is unknown even to elves and is basically 'eldritch'. Leave blank to fill in with whatever zany stuff you want. Known Examples: Wind Dukes of Aqaa, The City of Gods.
  • "Prior" to all that was also a 'Mythic' Aeon - Time wasn't quite linear back then, so in many ways this is a lot closer to the present Aeon than other Aeons that exist in linear time. The Dawn War is somehow mixed into this, even though it happens in linear time just before our current Aeon. This is why the people of Oerth know a lot more about the Mythic history of gods and so forth than they do about the Aboleth Reigns, The Age of Kirbyan Magi-Science and other ultra-fantastical former events I may want to seed my adventures with from eldricht pre-history.

Cultures & Kingdoms

Although I like how all these self-governed duchies and counties tell a story of friction between kingdoms and breakaway states (a bit like how Taiwan can't/won't go fully independent from China today), some of all these are getting re-branded as kingdoms. The Flanaess needs more royalty! Tenh and Bissel are obvious candidates as having too few ties to not be their own kingdoms by now.

Aerdy East
The Great Kingdom is politically akin to the holy roman empire, and culturally 'Conan-land' (ie. all the decadent Hyborian cities that Conan might visit, with their eldritch sorceries, fat corrupt rulers and dark gods can be found here) - byzantian/constantinople culture closest real world analogue. At the same time, the whole area seems on the brink of a major civil war.
  • I like North Province for being basically as wicked as Rauxes, but elsewhere. It really drives home the widespread corruption of the great kingdom. And I like the idea of having a corrupt and decadent court to get embroiled in that is not necessarily the court of all courts. You could probably kill the Herzog without blowing all of Aerdi to pieces. Less so for Ivid V.
  • The various members of the Iron League are interesting. They seem like a sort of natural successor to the now failed governance model of Overkings. If a great Aerdi civil war should happen, a confederacy born out of the Iron League seems like a possible outcome. Either way, the Iron League is the place to be for freedom fighting and political maneuvering.
  • The South Province is propably the tipping point in all this. The Herzog is all-or-nothing in on breaking the Iron League. What happens when he fails? Does he go to Rauxes and gets his head cut off by Ivid? Does he join forces with the Iron League to try and save his hide? At what point will Ivid say 'fuck it, I am joining the fray' and mobilise an army to go into Ahlissa to punish the south for its failings and then break the Iron League himself? 
  • Medegia is interesting - a sort of evil theocracy that has the ear of the overking. A kind of wicked Vatican. Much of how it all plays out will probably be shaped by the views coming from the Holy Censor. Turning the brewing conflicts  religious could spice things up. We all know branding heretics and starting inquisitions is a great way to drum up some more war. It seems an apt turn to take at the sunset for Aerdi.
Old Aerdy West
  • Nyrond is basically Carolingia with longevity. Vive la France!
  • Almor is devoted to the Church of the Blinding Light and its existence is almost offensive to the Great Kingdom - Not only as the nearest breakaway realm, but also for flaunting its heterodoxy so close to its borders. A war here would be both territorial and religious. 
  • The Urnst states are middle-to-high medieval Germanics/Bohemians and much like holy roman empire, without the pretence of an empire bit.
  • The Theocracy of the Pale is basically the Children of the Light from Jordan's Wheel of Time. Yeah! This is where we are most likely to have witch and wizard hunts and inquisitions. I am  toying with them having a king who is a complete puppet to the theocracy.
  • Architecture style of Tenh at its finest
  • The Kingdom of Tenh is in fact an ancient Flan kingdom, though it lived through a few centuries of vassalage to Aerdy and Nyrond as a Duchy. I see them as a kind of highly developed Celtic culture that has had to adapt to its high medieval neighbours. Less naked painted warriors and tribal towns and more druids, saxons with celtic symbols and asking "what would celtic architecture look like with a bit more sophistication and durability while staying true to their cultural roots"?
Western Nyr Dyv (Old Ferrond)
I see Old Ferrond as a kind of mainland British Isles. The boxed set writeup on the order of the Hart tells us that Furyondy, Veluna and Highfolk are quite decentralized and have no standing army. I like that. It also suggests that they are more concerned with the Baklunish states and Perrenland than they are with the Horned Society and Iuz. Interesting. 

This, combined with the quite low urban population numbers given for both Veluna and Fuyondy tells me that Old Ferrond was, and is, a bit of a backwater region that was never as developed as its neighbours to the east and south- The furthest province of one former empire neighbouring on the furthest provinces of another former empire. It is perhaps closer to post-roman Britain than to the high medieval one. Its main claim to relevance across the Flanaess is as the birthplace of the Church of the Blinding Light (in Veluna) but otherwise these are the Borderlands of humanity that sit between the lands of Chaos (Horned Society, Iuz, Pomarj) and more civilized lands (Nyrond, Unrst, Sheldomar Valley)
  • Greyhawk was covered in the 1st article on Mythic Greyhawk.
  • Furyondy = England. Complete with Normannic-style (Aerdi descended) ruling class. 
  • Veluna = Ireland, sort of. Fierce old Flannae pagan barbarians, now the most pious converts of the western world. Still in the midst of a culture-religious revolution as ground-zero of the Church of the Blinding Light.
  • What is the deal with Dyvers? Capital of Furyondy, clearly the most developed and culturally advanced metropolis in the region, then just decided to go independent. Why was the capital relocated from Aerdi built Dyvers (pop. 53k) at the crossroads of the Flanaess to a redneck inland backwater like Chendl (pop. 13k)? We know its something to do with the restrictive policies of Veluna - Which tells us that:
    • A: Veluna is the new cultural and ideological driver of the region. This is almost certainly religiously oriented. The Church of the Blinding Light originated in Veluna and the Furyondese masses are engrossed in a puritanical wave of religious reformation.
    • B: Dyvers gentry was having none of that. In fact, most of Dyvers never even converted from the Oeridian pantheon. While the rest of the region was busy reforming and heralding a new age of religious awakening, Dyvers was (and is) having an Aerdi-inspired cultural rennaissance! 
      The King of Furyondy had to relocate because to remain in this cesspool of sin would make him look real bad in the eyes of the masses. In fact, Chendl was built from scratch as the new capital, in the virtuous image of the Church of the Blinding Light. The King thought it would make him, and Chendl, look great. It's not taken off quite as he had hoped.
    • C: The citizens of Dyvers said good riddance when the king started his virtuous new city and left Dyvers alone. Going independent was just a natural consequence of how Dyvers never got on board with the cultural wave of religious reformation and independence from Aerdi that took Veluna and Furyondy by storm. Dyvers still digs the old scene and would probably hapily rejoin the Great Kingdom if not for the sorry state of affairs in Aerdi today and the threat of war it might start. The Aerdi cultural rennaissance has nonetheless turned the city in a direction towards opulence and decadence. Whether noble or commoner, if you have anything to your name in Dyvers, you are meant to flaunt it. It's a city of arts, craftsmanship, creativity and high culture, baroque excess and refined hedonism (nothing like their uncouth neighbours in Greyhawk).
Dyvers by night
"Visit Dyvers" poster 

Sheldomar Valley

  • Keoland is a southern, mildly benign, high medieval Russia, but a bit closer to the romantic ideals of Russia that Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky et al wanted it to be.
    I imagine an ancient Suel ruling class (this is where the suel Zolites under Slerotin fled to and settled just before the Rain of Colorless Fire to try and do civilization a better way than the corrupt suel empire. Slerotin would there also found the Silent Ones of Keoland) and a mostly Oeridian middle and lower class.
  • I see the other sheldomar states like Geoff, The Gran March, Bissel and Steric as similar to the slavic states and engaged in much the same dynamic with Keoland that Russia's neighbours have traditionally been engaged in with Russia. Most of the populations are flan (with the urban population being more Oeridian) with Oeridian nobility and the odd Suel house from the time of Keoland imperialism.
  • I am unsure what to make of Yeomanry. A warrior state where warriors (and, tangenially, craftsmen) elect their leaders. Sounds Spartan. They are predominantly Flan - Perhaps some sort of Celtic/proto-Germanic kingdom that did stayed true to its tribal warrior heritage while the world around them went feudally medieval. 
  • The Ulek states are a bit of an oddball - Three independent states all named similarly and all of them demi-human. Outside of Celene (which is just across the Lortmils from Ulek) and the town of Highfolk, these are also the only demi-human states on the map. It strikes me as a kind of Tolkienesque "last stand" region for demi-humans in a world where humans have taken over. Their existence also seem more defined by the struggles with the humanoids of the Pomarj than with humans, of which a brief (and seemingly voluntary) vassalage is the only notable event, which was cast off with relative ease when it no longer suited.
    My take is that the "principality / duchy / county" thing is just a crude human attempt to classify the demi-human confederation of Ulek, which is a compact of demi-human refuges formed before the human migrations.
    I am thinking elves and dwarves fought a war way back when, and part of the peace treaty was establishing a peace territory where dwarves and elves would live co-dependent on each other as well as the human vassals who wished to live there (and of course, the gnome and halfling vassal communities). A distinctly not-human solution to a geopolitical crisis.
    The original Dwarven and elven kingdoms that helped build Ulek have since then disappeared (except for Celene), but the young Peace Territories of Ulek still stand. 
  • The sea princes (Barbary Coast) are suel and the best slavers in the flanaess. They sell a steady supply to Aerdy.
Baklunish West
The orient. The Baklunish West seems to be considered the most pressing threat to the lands of the Sheldomar Valley and Old Ferrond, given that both the Knights of the Watch and the Knights of the Hart are formed primarily as a vanguard against the west.
  • Ekbir, Zeif & Tusmit are all super exotic and in many ways more sophisticated than the east. A lot of the splendor and magic of the old bakluni empire was actually preserved here.
  • Ull is totally Dothraki. yeah!
  • I see the Paynim plains as a bit of a chaotic wasteland - Think the Seven Serpents gamebook from Fighting Fantasy.
  • Ket is an oddball. A cultural melting pot, trade center between west and east - But mostly a military menace to its neighbours in the Flanaess. I think it's meant to be Iberian, but I am not sure that's a good look for what I want. Maybe Iberia-as-imagined-by-Jack-Vance where the baroqueness is dialled up to 10 would work. By extension this also means Ket has the highest number of ostentatiously eccentric wizards per capita in the Flanaess. Yeah - Suddenly we know what Rary is like just based on him being from Ket. 
Other
  • I am making The Horned Society is considered a greater threat than Iuz to the lands of Men. The former is aggressive and seems to have no shortage of humanoids to join its banners, whilst Iuz is a less known and ill understood slumbering force.
  • I know Perrenland is meant to be fantasy Switzerland, but I don't particularly like it. You've got this somewhat isolated mountain-valleys kingdom, that has been populated by strong Flan warrior clans since before the migrations. This is, alongside Tenh, one of the few remnant Flan kingdoms left. It should be steeped in mythic fabric and pre-medieval lore.
    Not Switzerland, but  the Scottish Highlands, the version the Romans feared enough to build Hadrian's Wall. How did they beat back the migrations? I am thinking ancient pacts with the Dwarves of the Yatils and the elves of the Vesve.  Perrenland is the an artifact of pre-migration Flannaess, of barbarian clans that have been somewhat civilized by pacts of equilibrium with the demi-humans they share the continent with.
    Perrenlander mercenaries are still esteemed across the Flanaess and a popular career choice among those clanholders who wish to see what the world looks like outside the time capsule that is Perrenland.

People
  • Oeridians are so vast an ethnic group, it is akin to "European". They see themselves as a chosen people favored by the gods (the Oeridian pantheon being the major bastion of Law in this age lends some credence to this view), who followed prophecy to migrate to the Flanaess. Their overwhelming success has only validated their view as the righteously and divinely appointed rulers of the Flanaess. 
  • I am making the Snow/Frost/Ice viking barbarians Flan in origin. There is no real story to be told in them being Suel and lots in them being Flannae.
  • Elsewhere, Flan typically means Celtic or slavic style barbarian.
  • Except for the noble houses of Keoand, Suel is by now a wicked remnant of a people that should have died out but live on somehow on the outskirts of the Flanaess as exotic people of ill repute (Hold of the Sea Princes, Scarlet Brotherhood).
    This is what the Father of Obedience looks like in Mythic Greyhawk
  • Bakluni are of course super exotic orientals.

Monday, 22 July 2019

Alternate Oerths - Mythic Greyhawk: Introduction

This is the first entry in a series on Mythic Greyhawk. Upcoming entries will include Religion & Cosmos and History, Kingdoms & Cultures and what else I end up thinking of.

One of my favorite GH illustrations. A baroque wizard sitting on an owlish griffon on top a ruin with an adventurous landscape in the background - somehow the image still has an earthy naturalistic character. All very Greyhawk.
Mythic Greyhawk takes the Greyhawk Folio as its base (and looks at the boxed set more often than not) and borrows freely from other sources, whilst discarding and altering just as freely. The starting year is 576 CY, although most lands outside the great kingdom use Oeridian Record, of which the year is 1220.

Mythic Greyhawk is a world much like a medieval Europe. The following paragraphs are obvious truths to all its inhabitants:

The strange exotica of faraway lands usually more exotic than the tales told of them.

All the faerie tales are terrifyingly true.

Law vs Chaos is a self-evident cosmic struggle that Oerth and mankind are embroiled in.

Magic, The Weird, Chaos, the Supernatural is an obvious tangible truth that imperils all mankind and the fate of the Oerth itself.

The Gods of Law (aka the Oeridian Pantheon, or The One-Above-All, if you follow the Church of the Blinding Light) are what keeps the forces of Chaos at bay and holds the lands of Mankind safe. For now.

The Weird forces of Chaos lurk at the corners of civilization and grow real fangs in the Borderlands (and more terrible things in the Deep Wilds beyond the Borderlands).

The polytheistic gods of the old world order may have given some way, but are far from vanquished, in the face of a mono-/heno-theistic church.

The occult workings and experiments of the eccentric scholars, alchemists and mystic savants called "wizards" can somehow tame Chaos and produce so-called "arcane magic". But how controlled is it really? And who can say how tainted they become? Godly and Law-abiding people do not meddle with such forces. Witch hunts are rare, but wizards mostly stand outside the social ladder on the fringe of society, somewhere between shunned and exiled.
The aesthetic is a grimey fairytale medieval Europe, mixed with the fantasy Sword & Sorcery aesthetic of Leiber, Howard and Jack Vance blended in, with a dash of generic D&D adventurer fantasy in the vein of Quag Keep. So yes, you can play a redhaired Flannae Battlemaid amazon or be a were-shifting berserker, even though people usually look like this:

 

I rationalize this intrusion of pulpy S&S vibes upon a classically medieval world by telling myself that if the same forces of Chaos that are present in Greyhawk intruded upon a fairytale Europe, such a Europe would also have a good deal of fantasy Mad Max vibes happening in the borderlands.

One thought about Greyhawk is its monsters to mankind ratio. I assume that within civilized areas the ratio is somewhat low, at least at a level where it is a low enough concern that the human states can find the time to raise their gaze and make war on each other, instead of knocking back monsters.
Are the threats of a more hidden, perhaps even subversive, nature, a la Warhammer? Something to ponder for later.

The Mythic part of Greyhawk comes from a tangible distinction between Law and Chaos and, by extension, mythic geography. There are the settled lands of Law, where the normality of medievalist life is most prevalent. And the Deep Wilds, where Chaos reigns - Here the laws of naturalism give way to narrative physics, time and space can distort and looks and feel are strongly colored by the sentience of the locale. It is in many ways a journey into the Otherworld, albeit one made on foot.

In between are the Borderlands that put the grey in hawk, where Law and Chaos mingle, creating a surface semblance of normality among the people living there, which is always cast in the shadow of Chaos lurking on its edges. Non-humans threats are never far away. Regular folk know never to step off the trodden path, because the woods are always wild and monstrously dangerous if you go too far. Conversely, the mythic mold conceal many lost riches that Chaos has since grown over - There for the foolhardy to plunder if they can survive it.

As a little preview of the kingdoms and cultures entry, I am doing the City of Greyhawk as a last bit here, since it is such a seminal location, and I believe will say a lot about the world at large:

The City of Greyhawk - I take my main queues here from Quag Keep here:

The eternal war between Law and Chaos flared often in Greyhawk. It was in a manner of speaking a “free city”-since it had no one overlord to hold it firmly to his will. For that reason it had become a city of masterless men, a point from which many expeditions, privately conceived and planned for the despoiling of ancient treasures, would set out, having recruited the members from just such masterless men as Milo himself, or perhaps the berserker only an arm’s length away. But if those on the side of Law recruited here, so did the followers of Chaos. There were neutrals also, willing to join with either side for the sake of payment. But they were never to be wholly depended upon by any man who had intelligence, for they might betray one at the flip of a coin or the change of the wind itself.


As a swordsman Milo was vowed to Law. The berserker had more choice in such matters. But this place, under its odors of fresh and stale food, stank to Milo of Chaos.
I love this description - It frames the city as a proper seedy place, one whose 'free city' part makes it altogether dangerous (the city watch's main duty is to stop riots. They will do little to break up a fight - there is little of the protections one might expect from the rule of Law).

Its neutrality has little to do with any kind of balance, but simply being willing to take cash from both sides. It's Law mixed in with Chaos, an unstable melting pot that may spill over in ay which way, rather than a point in between the two (note also that Chaos is tangible enough to have a stench). Greyhawk is the urban epitome of the 'neutral' Borderlands where Law and Chaos live side by side, where danger is everywhere and opportunities for men of the sword likewise flourish.

Greyhawk is a city of ill repute to regular folks, where orcs can be found in the marketplace. I see it as a less fantastical, but a bit seedier, prime version of Sigil (of Planescape fame). It is 'governed' by whatever makeshift peace various factions can come to and the fact that the status quo serves everyone well enough. And is a place where people of all sorts, good and bad, find themselves passing through and doing business. The "gem of the Flanaess" bit might have held up during the time of Zagyg, but is mostly used with wry irony these days.

Finally, a pic dump to set the flavor and atmosphere.

At the edge of the Gnarley Forest
Life in the Bandit Kingdoms
The Gem of the Flanaess

Shield Lands

Leaving Perrenland by river

The Wild Coast

The Lortmil Mountains

Furyondy

Tenha stronghold

Flan holysite

Picnic spot somewhere in Ulek

A fading Land glimpsed in the Bandit Kingdoms?

A visual representation of Nyrondese self-understanding


In the Pomarj

Classic Wild Coast encounter


Gnarley ranger

Wild Coast

Too deep into the Cold Marshes

Life in the Kron Hills

The architecture says we've entered Celene

The Cairn Hills

Stylings of the Borderlands


Exploring a new demi-plane

Veluna Highlands

exploring the Abbor-Alz

In the Vesve Forest

The Howling Hills

Exemplary Flannae stronghold in Tenh