Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Non-Hârnworlds: Sorcery of Wyranth

There are a number of powerful sorcerous traditions in the World of Sorrows known as Disciplines. None of them ever reached the island of Wyranth in any force. While the East has seen the development of the ancient and powerful Disciplines of the Astrologers, Kharigenoi, Rûmiloi, Atriani, and powerful Ylonnic necromancers, the West has none of these learned claves.

However, there are generic hedge mages and necromancers who developed in the absence of any formal training in the Occulted Art. These folk are normally thought of as being better than physikers and leeches; they are wise and cunning-folk of the villages and towns who sometimes live beyond the bounds as outlaws.

Starsigns (as affecting mages born under them):
Law -- -3 to necromancer spells
Growth -- +3 to hedge wizard spells, -2 necromancer
Terror -- +2 to hedge wizard spells, -1 necromancer
Might -- +1 to hedge wizard spells, 0 necromancer
Greed -- 0 to hedge wizard spells, +1 necromancer
Fire -- -1 to hedge wizard spells, +2 necromancer
Shadow -- -2 to hedge wizard spells +3 to necromancer spells
Oration -- -3 to hedge wizard spells

BOTH Necromancers and Hedge Wizards open Folklore/4
Hedge Wizards open Herblore/3, Agriculture/2, Animalcraft/1, Embalming/1, Foraging/3, Physician/2, Survival/4, Tracking/3
Necromancers open Herblore/2, Mental Conflict/5, Alchemy/3, Legerdemain/2, Foraging/1, Physician/4, Survival/1, Tracking/1

Necromancy, as it is known, is a parcel of magic that can be learned by any Discipline, just like the works of Hedge Magic. They are both founded on such universal principles that there is no need for specialized training. Necromancers are very common in the East, and almost universally Talented women. In the West, the term applies to much the same craft, but with a complete lack of Disciplines to train the young and Talented and apply the rigorous and misogynistic standard of men-only sorcery, there are both male and female necromancers. The only thing that distinguishes a Western necromancer from a hedge wizard is the field which they choose to focus their study. Because starsigns are aligned in an opposite fashion for necromantic magic, hedge wizards tend not to learn it, or to learn it in limited quantities.

Hedge Wizards
The difference between hedge magic and necromancy is that necromancy deals with the cold, otherworldy land of the dead (the World of Forms) and hedge magic deals with the vibrant, living world of the living (the World of Suffering). Hedge magic is usually focused on fields and crops, although sometimes it may also be used to cure fevers and disease.

Spell Lists
Both hedge wizards and necromancers may use the so-called grey magic from the Hârn books.

Azure Hand (Odvishe)
Breath of Dhivu (Odvishe)
Pall of Veshel (Odvishe)
Perfection of Sif (Savora)
Violet Eye (Savora)
Loth's Key (Savora)
Ordeal of Frida (Savora)
Spirit Block (Savora)
Jerila's Zone (Savora)
Carak's Ward (Savora)

Hedge Magic
Fyrvian spell-list for now

Monday, October 5, 2015

Non-Hârnworlds: Character Creation Charts, the isle of Wyranth

Here are some new charts for Hârnic character creation to be used with the Island of Wyranth, a very small portion of a vast new setting. If you remember back to my first Non-Hârn post, I've already detailed the Mascoliri a bit. There are five major regions of the Island of Wyranth: the Confessional Kingdom of Yewland, Forest Hallow (see the previous post), Caledon, Dunland, and Estimbar. There are also the nearby and related islands, the Seastones, and Aurrock Isle which is home to the five kingdoms of Spearmen and Skrael-descendents.

The West
The East
The Isle of Wyranth
As to the island itself, it is inhabited by a number of peoples.

The Vulganti, of northern Wyranth, claim descent from the ancient blue-haired and frost-bearded Rime Giants. They are a large folk, of broad strapping shoulders and their hair runs the gamut of golden corn to pale blue. Those with blue hair are often chosen to be seers or priests, said to be "close to the giants." Many Dunlanders are Vulganti.

There are the Caledoni (of central and western Wyranth), who tend to be taller than other Wyrithi and tend to have brown hair and eyes. All of Caledon is inhabited by various tribes of Caledoni, but they also live in Dunland and Estimbar as well as the northern reaches of Yewland.

Cueviri in Caledon claim to be a separate people that make up the royal house of Caledon as well as the ranks of the Caledoni priesthoods. They're said to be of mixed Skathi stock.

The Mascoliri of eastern Wyranth inhabit Forest Hallow.

The Wyrithi are the southernmost people of the island, who lived down in Southhold when the first Dominion forces arrived in Wyranth. They are now found throughout Yewland, mixed with Caledoni, Mascoliri, and Cueviri stock as well as Skathi-descendents (along the Skathi shingle) and a smaller number of Vulganti.

1-99. Human
00. Special

Special Species
1-70. Dwarf
71-90. Aelvinnfolk
91-99. Rime Giant
00. Dragon

Ancestral Stock
Yewland: 01-60 Wyrithi, 61-80 Cueviri, 81-90 Caledoni 91-95 Vulganti, 96-98 Mascoliri, 99-00 Spearman/Skathi/Skrael
Forest Hallow: 01-70 Mascoliri, 71-80 Caledoni, 81-90 Wyrithi, 91-95 Vulganti, 96-00 Cueviri
Dunland: 01-40 Vulganti, 41-60 Cueviri, 61-80 Caledoni, 81-90 Wyrithi, 91-95 Mascoliri, 96-00 Skraeling or Skathi
Estimbar: 01-60 Cueviri, 61-80 Wyrithi, 81-90 Caledoni, 91-95 Vulganti, 96-98 Mascoliri, 99 Skathi, 00 Skraeling
Caledon: 01-70 Caledoni, 71-80 Cueviri, 81-90 Wyrithi, 91-94 Vulganti, 95-98 Mascoliri, 99 Skraeling, 00 Skathi

*Ancestral stock obviously does not represent "race" or an unmixed genetic heritage. All the "peoples" of Wyranth (and, indeed, the entire setting) are commingled to a greater or lesser extent. This table merely exists for the purposes of determining dominant traits.

Birthdate (d12 and d30)
4th Tolmyr to 3rd Alcimyr à Strife; +1 axe, +1 club, +1 spear, +1 sword, +1 unarmed, +2 Survival, +1 weaponcraft
4th Alcimyr to 2nd Ymyr à Law; +2 alchemy, +1 cookery, +2 rhetoric, +2 law, +1 heraldry, +1 physician, +1 language, +1 script
3rd Ymyr to 3rd Urmyr à Growth; +1 animalcraft, +2 agriculture, +1 herblore
 4th Urmyr to 4th Malmyr à Terror; +2 oratory, +2 mental conflict, +1 awareness, +1 stealth, +1 dagger
 5th Malmyr to 6th Tathmyr à Might; +1 to all weapon SBs
 7th Tathmyr to 5th Molomyr à Greed; +1 oratory, +1 rhetoric, +1 alchemy, +1 astrology, +1 physician
6th Molomyr to 4th Toltyr à Fire; +1 climbing, +1 jumping, +1 stealth, +2 acting, +1 language, +1 axe
5th Toltyr to 3rd Vanamis à Shadow; +3 stealth, +2 acrobatics, +1 climbing
4th Vanamis to 2nd Ollust à Oration; +2 legerdemain, +1 acting, +3 oratory, +2 rhetoric, +1 language, +2 singing
3rd Ollust to 1st Sallun à Sky; +1 jumping, +1 dancing, +1 intiative, +2 riding
 3rd Sallun to 1st Corolt à Thunder; +1 axe, +1 club, +1 flail, +1 polearm, +1 spear, +1 sword, +2 metalcraft
2nd Corolt to 3rd Tolmyr à Anger; +1 axe, +2 mining, +1 tracking, +1 woodcraft

Social Class (divided by state/kingdom)
(Forest Hallow)  01-10 Slave, 11-99 Unguilded, 00 Noble [Tribal Occupations]
(Dunland)   01-05 Slave, 06-70 Serf, 71-98 Unguilded, 99 Guilded, 00 Noble [Viking Occupations]
(Estimbar) 01-60 Serf, 61-97 Unguilded, 98-99 Guilded, 00 Noble [Viking Occupations]
(Caledon) 01-08 Slave, 09-80 Serf, 81-93 Unguilded, 94-95 Guilded, 99-00 Noble [Feudal Occupations]
(Yewland)  01-70 Serf, 71-93 Unguilded, 94-98 Guilded, 99-00 Noble [Feudal Occupations]

A note on Guilded occupations: Guilds, as commonly referred to in the Harn books, do not exist in Wyranth. There are no overarching guilds of any occupation, but rather small and extremely local formations. Merchants' guilds may be kingdom-wide, but all other forms of craftguild exist only in the urban area where they were formed. Guilds of these types do not exist at all in pagan regions (except Estimbar). "Guilded" characters in those areas are simply lone craftsmen.

Craftguilds in the Kingdom of Yewland are known by elaborate names based in the ancient Kyrian Confession.

AURA is now TALENT. At least 16 Talent is required to be eligible for training in the Art.

Friday, October 2, 2015


I've probably talked about this before, but I wanted to address it again. I'm not sure where the folk-terms for armor and weapons that pervade dungeons and dragons (and some fantasy stories from the early 20th century) arose from. But they are flat out wrong, and make a general muddle of a topic that could be much simpler.

Further, the great swathes of armor listed in the AD&D 2e PHB were never historically used alongside one another, making it strange to imagine acquiring a chain byrnie alongside a fellow wearing a full suit of plate armor.

Anyway, here are two of my least favorite misnomers:

There is no such thing as a greatsword. The word longsword probably emerged from the 17th century German lang schwert which referred to two-handed blades like Renaissance Zweihanders. The thing that fantasy and Dungeons and Dragons insists on calling a longsword is an arming blade. This is the one-handed, generally cruciform, sword used by your average knight.

Chain Mail
Plate Mail
Banded Mail
Splint Mail
X Mail
Mail means chain armor. There are a lot of alternative ways to refer to chain armor: a hauberk (short shirt of mail), haubergon (long tunic of mail), byrnie (long tunic of mail), etc. There are mail chausses (the leggings), mail gloves, and the aventail (mail hood). But there is no such thing as plate mail. There is, however, plate armor. Plate armor was universally worn with mail beneath or interstitially, leading to the term plate-and-mail, which is perhaps where the confusing origin of all these different types of "mail" spring from.

But if you're talking about mail, you're talking about chain links. Saying chain mail is redundant. It is either chain armor or simply mail.

So there.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Fantastic Medieval Economy

Economics is one of the bugbears of fantasy writing and gaming. There has been a general lack of attention to the differences in market-construction between the medieval economies of Europe and the burgeoning economies of pre-modern, modern, and post-modern Europe. This article will attempt to address a number of misconceptions about the medieval world which can (and should) trickle down into fantastic representations of that world. Of course, the closer to the Renaissance you go, the more different this will be, but if your society strongly resembles medieval Europe, you might want to think about this with some depth.

Misconception #1: Everything is for sale
This, being the very foundational thesis of our modern consumer society, is often the hardest misconception to shake. In the postmodern world, it is very much true. Literally everything is for sale if you can come up with an obscene enough price to buy it. The very structure of society is predicated on that fact. Purchasing power is equated, in many cases, with moral rectitude.

Why is this a fantastic medieval misconception? Well, the grounds that invalidate this precept can be found below in section #2. In many fantastic depictions of a medieval-style setting, money (gold, generally) can be used to overcome hurdles in much the same way as it is in the postmodern marketplace. It can be used for bribes, it will guarantee a place to sleep, hell, it can even ensure you get the best medical treatment.

This is a FLATLY WRONGHEADED approach to the medieval marketplace. Money, since it is not the root of power, is not seen as a panacea. There are things that people simply will not sell. Interpersonal relationships are much more important in this calculus. Whether or not the local baron likes you or the local populace like you is much more likely to weigh on the factor of whether you can get a place to sleep. What your relationship is with the local churches or temples will weigh on whether or not you receive care.

Essentially, the mode of transaction is personal and not mercantile. Because...

Misconception #2: Money is the root of power
In the medieval marketplace, money is not the all-powerful icon of status and might that it has become in our every day existence, mostly because of an almost tautological reliance on #1, namely: Money can't purchase the really important things.

MANPOWER is the root of all medieval power. The right and ability to command others is the root of power. People don't work for you because you pay them. They work for you because you are the lord. You protect them. The social contract means that you have a duty to your laborers, and they a duty to you in return.

Monetized economies with merchant classes may have a burgeoning market in mercantile exchange methods. Mercenaries, for example, may be hired. This puts the land/right system on notice that a new power is emerging. Mercenaries are a way to translate money directly into power, much like land ownership is a way of translating social position into power by calling up levies.

That being said, lords have no need of money in the medieval period, or very little need. They rely primarily on their powerful legal rights and the payment of taxation-in-kind.

Misconception #3: Merchants are political players
As a result of sections #1 & #2, merchants have much less to say in politics than they do today. Its absurd to imagine a merchant "buying" a lord or a king. If the lord or king needed that merchant's money they could simply seize it. They have the legal right to do so, or can justify it in times of war anyway.

Merchants have very little political power. Until the advent of the credit economy and the spread of merchant-dynasties (in the Renaissance), merchants are a very small and maligned class. They supply the real powers with luxuries, but accomplish little else.

Misconception #4: There is an advanced corpus of contract law
The Roman corpus of contract law continued uninterrupted in the Byzantine East. Likewise, in my own setting, there is a thick and heady contract law available in most places that are descended from the First Milean Empire. But, in general, contract law was a pastiche enacted by merchants from different lands and jurisdictions and arbitrated in the sort of pilgrim-courts I described last week.

When approaching the issue of money in the medieval milieux, it should be (MUST be) done very differently from a modern tale. It behooves one to take the pains to realize that we don't live under the same type of regime as the medievals did, in any sense of the word.

Money mattered much less because there was less of it, less trade in general, and because the marketplace was not an assured stable one, but rather one subject to the whims of powerful princes and battling warlords.

The middle ages were a tough time.

Monday, September 28, 2015


Hey folks! I've been working with an independent publishing house (Kennebec Press) for a few months. They've purchased the right to distribute one of my books, originally called Haven, now tentatively A Darkness Long and Lasting.

I'm looking for people out in the blogosphere who are interested (or simply willing) in writing a review in exchange for a free copy of the book (in pdf format). Obviously, it would be for non-distribution and not for release or general sharing.

If you're interested, let me know here or email me over at kestar at

Friday, September 25, 2015

Whither the Merchant? Mercantile Enterprise in the 10th Age

This article comes directly as a request from my players, who want to know more about the involvement and influences of merchant interests in Arunia and the Third Empire of Miles in specific.

The first thing that must be stated: there is enough commerce to support a merchant class! This is a deviation from my standard medievalism, particularly the early middle ages, when a unified merchant class really didn't exist in any discreet way. However, Arunia has enough functioning social structures to provide the constant source of income-by-trade that merchants require to exist as a threshold matter. Particularly, the advances of elvish and dwarven sailing-craft have made the entire Trade Sea pliable, and the ancient but still functioning society of High Aellon (notably the city-state of Chimeron) which inherited its sailing and shipbuilding techniques from the Giants, has helped bolster the intercontinental trade networks that make up Arunia's economy.

Merchants in the Empire
Merchants in the Third Empire have a special protected status. Most are outsiders, from beyond the Empire's borders. Since Miles has always needed a steady trade in grain from Khewed and Hadash, there are ancient laws governing merchants and their trade that have existed since the First Empire. These are known as the lex mercantorum, and they provide for private merchant-courts to be assembled from the natives of whatever land the merchants hail from. In Miles, this is no problem: there are communities of people from as far away as Mugharia and Arunia-Sudus, so even if a Zeshimite merchant is involved in some kind of lawsuit, any given day in Miles can find between 5-12 other Zeshimites to staff a court.

Outside of Miles, however, merchants are not required for the functioning of the Empire and its peoples. Most regions are self-sufficient, and those that are not engage in intra-Imperial trade. This is managed by much smaller merchant concerns which are themselves not subject to the lex mercantorum because they are generally imperial citizens.

Far-trading foreigners have less reason and opportunity to form merchant-compacts as they generally rely only on themselves and their own ship (or ships, as the case may be). Thus, it is rare to find compacts formed from Zeshimites, Mugharians, Khewedi, etc. However, the same cannot be said for dwarves, gnomes, and elves, all of whom have powerful merchant concerns in their own lands. Elves in particular form merchanting compacts, such as the Silver Tree, and other trading companies. So, too, do local inter-regional merchants and even some intra-imperial merchant concerns.

What is a trading compact?
It's not a company. There are no corporate charters. Trading compacts are general partnerships in which each partner is fully liable for the debts of the entire business. For this reason, trading compacts are hesitant to take on or add partners that they don't know very well. Loss and risk are pooled amongst several trade routes and may be shared between many different types of goods.

For example: the Noranian Traders are a group of wealthy merchants who run caravans from Noranos to Miles, Bataille, and the Serpent Baronies. They pay (jointly) to organize and supervise caravans unloading goods at Noranos. These caravans wind their way across the countryside and sell their goods when they reach the cities of their destination. The merchants generally accompany these caravans and sell the goods themselves, contract to deliver the goods to a merchant in the destination city, or are the merchant at the destination. The Noranian Traders have a huge partner pool, and thus have been required by circumstance to organize themselves into a ruling council and lesser partners.

How does trade influence politics?
Elves, dwarves, and gnomes are very open about their commitments to trade. Men, not so much. In the empire, merchants are frowned upon as a class of profiteers. The noble pursuit (earning money by owning land) is the only "legitimate" one (though adventuring is also, ironically, seen as semi-legitimate in the Empire). Merchants have very little formal say in politics (outside of a few aberrant territories like the Free Cities or Seagard, which are mercantile governments), though they may command vast mercenary resources, huge numbers of ships, and be able to embargo nearly any luxury.

What are the great merchant powers in the Empire?
There are several large compacts that play a role in the Empire. These are the elvish compacts, the dwarven clan that trades in weapons (the Harnmr Smiths), and the League of Seareach. Though the Seagard House of Trade has some influence in the Serpent Baronies and the Lonely Lands, it lacks the overarching power of these compacts. Smaller companies, such as the Noranian Traders and the Heartland Traders, or even the Red Branch (which operates a trading route that goes all the way up the Saltgate Road to the Vales) have almost no power in the imperial administration.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Endless Reveal and the Iceberg Effect

I'm apparently on the other side of an invisible divide that runs through the OSR and, perhaps, the gaming community in general. Most of the old school renaissance strays to the Picaresque when it comes to worldbuilding, a fact highlighted by the enormously enlightening Tom Fitzgerald at Middenmurk. If there is one blogger I aspire to be, it is Mr. Fitzgerald, who routinely posts extremely well-researched and enlightening topics and allows filler to clog his writing as, unfortunately, I sometimes do here.

The so-called "full build" stands in stark contrast to the Vancian partial build. I love the work of many pulp authors who create a universe only large enough to support the story and the characters in it. The successful ones manage to hint at a world beyond the borders without actually fleshing it out. But that's not the kind of man (or DM) I am. Having taken Tolkien into my lifesblood so early, my work in both roleplaying games and in writing has been to overprepare. The world itself is not easily reducible to its appearances, so (my logic dictates) I am required by the law of verisimilitude to know as much as I need to in order to sufficiently prepare all eventualities. This means I do not fly blind into design, but rather prepare things in layered stages so that the final work is really only a surface encrustation of all the work that's come before.

This strikes at the root of arbitrariness. It requires a superhuman amount of preparation, as well, which is not always for the good. For example, my games would never need to halt for lack of notes on a region if I were content with creating the regional details on the fly. Returning to the Tolkiensien task of building from some deep subterranean level upwards, this has not been my style since I was very young. I must know not only the terrain I'm dealing with, but its deep history as well.

What does this mean for my games and my settings? How does the full build stand apart from the Picaresque approach to worldbuilding? I must first set aside the thoughts that my games are "high" fantasy in any sense, or that epic stories concerning the fate of the world are the norm. No, indeed. The gameplay is much more picaresque than the building. Tales grow organically as various eventualities emerge. The story of the players is much less the narrative construct of a grand novel and much more the collation of various shorts and slices-of-life.

But the building... what benefit can there be for a single group of players (more or less) to a statically developed setting? Here, then, are the benefits as I see them. In contrast to the vast audience posited by Tom at Middenmurk, my own full build setting has rarely been used by DMs other than myself. True, there are times when others have taken the setting in hand and run games... but those times are rare, the exception and not the rule.

Secrecy. The first power of the full build is that of secrets. This, of course, requires the DM and designer to maintain a firm grip on his own tendency (or her own, as the case may be) to run his mouth and reveal things. Secrets are encrusted into the very heart of the setting when it is built up in layers. Their effects can be seen, but not necessarily predicted, by characters (and players) observing the surface layer. These secrets move things, motivate them, and push them for years of game time when used properly. In many cases, things you don't even think or intend to be secret serve as motivating secrets. Many are simply pieces of history that are lost to time or where not otherwise recorded.

The presence of buried carbuncles of secrecy like this can provide a similar (though not the same) drive toward endless newness experienced in the picaresque view.

Consistency. Consistency is the bigger of the two benefits. Under consistency, the same group of players will find that their character's actions have long-term and game-to-game effects on the setting. Retiring a slew of characters introduces a slew of new NPCs into the political life of the setting. Destroying kingdoms, founding empires, and slaying important folks all has a direct effect on the games of the future. This, I find, is one of the greatest rewards for the full build. Consistency of setting means that you and your players build together a future-history that they have a vested interest in, and delight in returning to.

Dealing with the Problem of "growing used to" the setting. The biggest problem with this, of course, is the end of the reveal. The cysts of secrecy that inhabit the deepest layers of the setting cannot provide the endless newness of a fresh Vance-style reveal. New cities don't generally exist just beyond the horizon. Players know that using acid on trolls kills them. What do to with this?

The way I deal with it is thusly: metaknowledge of that nature incorporates itself into the general knowledge-base available to all communities in the game. Most folks in the 10th Age know, for example, that acid kills trolls. Why? Because every player knows that. It would be asking an unrealistic feat of mental gymnastics for them to pretend they don't. This makes sense in a setting like this, where adventuring is a recognized phenomenon.

In conclusion: I fall outside the OSR's normative model. I knew that already as a proponent of 2e. I have my own model, and it has served me well. Perhaps it will serve others, though there is a requirement of intense dedication to the craft of writing notes that will literally never be seen. Maybe that's a waste. Maybe not.