Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What Realm Works (and what doesn't)

So the kind folks over at Lone Wolf were gracious enough to give me access to a review copy of their Realm Works software which is, as it appears, a note-taking aid for GMs. My first hurdle is one I experience all the time: it's only for PCs, which means I had to dig up a copy of VMWare Fusion to install and run it. Ok, fair enough, I'm no stranger to emulation. Hell, I ran a boot camp copy of windows off my main computer for 3 years before I decided the hell with it.

Salient points, for those of you who don't want to read an essay:
  • I already, manually, do all the things Realm Works does.
  • If you have a deeply complicated setting already built with reams of notes, digitizing them all into the Realm Works format is a daunting task
  • It does provide very interesting ways to manipulate your data
In summarizing these points, I realize that Realm Works is like any database software anywhere; it has a massive entry cost if you haven't started your project using it, that not really compensated by its flexibility and the ease of manipulating your data. In this case, because for me most of the relationships that it can display are already firmly ingrained in my head after five years of developing the 10th Age setting. To put it another way, if I was starting a new setting, I might very well use Realm Works to help me organize everything. As it is, my own setting has been digested and redigested, thought about and re-thought about, to the point where I can almost instantly access any piece of information about it that I want, rearrange that information to make sense in a different way, and just know by muscle memory certain inter-informational or meta-informational relationships.

I make thought maps. Realm Works makes thought maps. I make relationship maps between characters, nations, etc. So does Realm Works. The problem for me is, with Realm Works, I have to plug in a LOT of information that is written down in other places.

I can see what makes Realm Works really great. I could build a setting using it. Unfortunately, my setting has a history that precludes easy integration. I'm going to continue puttering with it, slowly updating the data there, fleshing out things I hadn't thought about, etc. Perhaps someday the box full of notes that I keep will make it into Realm Works... but I strongly feel that the skills I've developed to keep my setting organized in my mind and on paper are going to override my desire to enter information into a new system.

I recommend everyone try it out to see if it suits them, because for those it suits I imagine it will take away a lot of pain. Indeed, it may encourage you to see your world in a different way. It may make you (dare I say it) a better DM as it encourages more complete note keeping and different types of note keeping. I don't want to sound pompous, but I already curate my notes the way Realm Works does—perhaps with slightly less attention to hierarchical detail (I don't think I've ever written down a chart of the Imperial Provincial Hierarchy, mostly because I understand that the level of Empire is above Province, etc.)

I want to enjoy it, I want to use it. I have some organizational issues with my notes

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Narrow Tread

I usually go through great pains, when designing dungeons, to make corridors that are at least 5' wide, and often include many that are 10' wide. The logic, of course, is purely gamist and has nothing to do with the considerations of the structure of the buildings. I want fighters to be able to fight.

All that is about to change. Moving through medieval structures in Florence has given me a better appreciation for the size of rooms and stairwells. Indeed, most medieval buildings don't have corridors at all, but rather rooms opening onto other rooms. However, I preserve them for dungeons on the grounds that most of these places are built in a substantially different style to the "modern" world of the setting. That being said, chokepoints conveniently occur at doors and stairwells in medieval buildings.

Now, stairs... I have never imagined a stairwell or a corridor of less than five feet would exist in a medieval building. I had never been inside the winding, twisting, crazy path of the Duomo stairs. They are easily 3' at their widest and continue upwards for 462 steps. The walk is grueling, and the space is suitable only for grappling and stabbing. Even a pike or spear would have a hard time being used in such confined quarters, as the stairs turn and turn and turn on themselves, leaving no room for the butt-end of the weapon to trail or be set.

So you'd better believe that narrow design is having a comeback. Roofs that are too low for standing up (like the excavated crypts and church below the Florence Baptistery, which is a great model for a dungeon), floors that are sharply canted, and all other manner of architectural nightmare should soon find its way into the 10th Age. Farewell to the spacious, simple, rectilinear dungeon design. Hello, ancient and medieval architecture.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Accents of the Empire

The Imperial domain is now large enough to require a full listing of the types of Varan accents to be found within it. From the Rhûnnish accent which gives High Varan its defining features (thanks to Colandrus the Peaceable's Grammar of the Avar Tongue) to the thickly spoken Mercantine accents of Meirenia, the imperial citizen must learn to recognize a number of different tones.

Rhûnnish—the clipped, high, pinched-ending accent that causes the barony of Valbois to be pronounced "Val-bwas," Rhûnnish is the high style of the age. Ancient Milean accents are more accurately to be found amongst the street folk of Miles, but the nobles all speak with the Rhûnnish tone.

Thyrnessen—the accent closest to Old Varan, Thyrnessen is spoken by most of the peasants of the Heartland, Noranor County, and the Duchy of Auruxol as well as the merchant classes there. Every letter of every word is pronounced, "e" makes an "eh" sound, and nothing is swallowed. Considered somewhat passé.

Mermarchine—While Mermarche is pronounced "Meer-marsh" in the Rhûnnish accent, "Mairmarcheh" in the Thyrnessen accent, in the Mermarchine itself it is "Mermark," reflecting the Duchy's long affiliation with Stonemark and Middlemarker trade. Ch's are always hard in Mermarchine, as are c's.

Serpentine—Named for the Serpentis River, not the accent, the Serpent Baronies, the Lonely Lands, and the north-eastern fringes of the Empire speak an accent descended from the old Bataille accent of the Second Empire. It's close to Rhûnnish, but bears a more pronounced rolling r.

Westren—The accent of Westreth, Lomere, and Clayland, Westren is spoken like a mix between Rhûnnish and Thyrnessen.

Colonan and Meirenian—Double L's and J's are pronounced as i's in Colona and the Coast of Scythes.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Playing Servants, Part the First: the Groom

For the first part of this little experiment, I've written up a number of kits that would be useful for playing different kinds of household servants. Note that this takes much more prep work from the DM just as it does for the players—it's impossible for the PCs to be servants in a game where the DM hasn't worked out the power structure of a kingdom, for example.

Warrior kit
Description: The groom is a cross between a military and household servant, something above a stableboy but below a squire. They can be common or noble and care of their master's horses is their primary charge. Many grooms eventually find themselves knighted or even given lordships (much as in history, see John Marshall for one such example). Grooms duties may extend as they prove themselves to that of Marshal of the house, which commonly bears the security of the lord and his people as an additional burden.

Grooms may be outfitted to fight when war arrives, and are expected to be at least somewhat knowledgeable about riding. If sent to foster from a noble family, the groom is likely to have had training in a number of mounted weapons.

Weapon Proficiencies: For a common groom, the following list—horseman's mace, knife, dagger, short bow, hand axe, club, quarterstaff, and pitchfork. Common grooms would be unlikely to start play with specialization. After level one they can learn any weapon they like, and specialize as well. Noble grooms—arming sword, horseman's mace, horseman's pick, spear or lance (depending on period), horseman's flail, knife, dagger, hand axe. Noble grooms are commonly specialized in one weapon, generally a spear or other horseman's tool.

NWPs: Grooms must take the animal handling, animal training (horses), and heraldry proficiencies. Noble grooms must buy etiquette. Any others (if they have additional slots) are up to them. All grooms receive riding for free.

Equipment: Common grooms begin play with whatever equipment their lord sees fit to provide. This often, but does not always, include a tabard and cloak, and weapons of some sort. To simulate the general reliance of a common groom upon his lord, return any money not spent over the amount of 3 gold pieces once equipment purchasing is complete. Noble grooms may begin play with whatever they want and can afford, as the money comes from their parents holdings. They may (15% chance) also receive the benefit of a small rent income from their family, generally 2d20 gold pieces a month.

Special Benefits: After displaying some great prowess in battle, grooms are commonly made into knights or even promoted to be Marshal of the House. All grooms receive free food and board (like most servants) for as long as they continue to serve their lord. Additionally, when wearing the arms of their lord they are granted a +2 reaction bonus when interacting with those who also like their lord (though they may be penalized if the subject does not like their lord). If they are to go into formal battle, their livery and armor will be purchased by their lord—a shirt of mail, shield, and weapon of choice. Upon being knighted they are presented with an arming sword and a suit of mail. If they have not been knighted by level 5, they are knighted then. If they have not been granted titles and lands by level 9, they receive them then as per a normal fighter.

Grooms are much more likely to attract horsemen and knights to their cause than other types of followers.

Special Hinderances: To receive any of their benefits, the groom must remain faithful to his lord. Common grooms have no further hinderances. Noble grooms must spur themselves onwards to ever more dangerous tasks in hope of recognition—they live for promotion to knight or Marshal, something common grooms generally do not take into account.

Wealth Options: As per a warrior.

Races: Most commonly humans. Halflings and gnomes cannot ride and so make poor grooms of this kit, though they may still serve in the stables.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Servile Duties and Servants

Having spoken at some length previously on the playing of characters in non-adventurer roles, and having my own example in the Knights of Miles and the Imperial Schola, I think it is safe to say that most non-adventurer style positions that still manage to participate in the sort of activities common to adventurers tend, at least in a truly medieval setting, to have the requirements of obedience and the following of strict rules. We can discount, for the purposes of this post, normal servants found in urban households as well as artisans, as these do not generally make good player characters without DM intervention (ie, manipulation of the story on a meta-level agreed to by all present players in order to extricate those characters from their social setting, at which point what even is the purpose?)

SO, the thing we really need to look at, then, is the profusion of servants in the Middle Ages that might well provide players with an idea for a PC. Additionally, those PCs who are socially integrated (whether at the beginning of the game or, as is much more normal, once they reach name level) should avail themselves of many of these types of servants.

Servitude is a major part of Medieval life. Even the nobility must be servants in their youth, albeit to those of greater rank, saving only those at the very top of the chain. Even counts and dukes served as cupbearers to the king. Simply knowing the vast number of servile types (and which were appropriate for promotion to more adventuresome careers) would go a long way to making an AD&D game richer and more interesting—and, as a side-effect, more strongly medieval.

There are any number of duties that we do for ourselves throughout the day that would be taken up by the activities of servants, particularly in a noble household.

Pages & Military Servants
As a category, these are very likely to entail some kind of adventure-related activity. Many of these servant types could also be the children of nobility, making the option to play a noble more viable since one would have to go through a period of servitude first, thereby "earning" increased status and "balancing" increased income against the social services one is bound to provide. They include:

The Page. Noble boys, beginning at age 8, would leave their parents and serve as a page (an apprentice squire) in a household. Pages served a more general role than squires—running around, bearing messages, cleaning armor, etc. Around 13-14, a page would be expected to become a full-fledged squire, having learned how to ride, hawk, hunt, etc. A knight or lord might have any number of pages apprenticed to him. These servants make great all-purpose hirelings.

The Squire. Older than a page, beginning around 14, squires serve as apprentice knights. Squires generally bore armor and weapons (a particular type of page or squire would be the sword-bearer, who carries his lord's weapon in its ceremonial sheath), banners, and other such things for their lords. They also fought alongside their masters in battle. Once again, a perfect hireling type OR a perfect starter for a noble character. Squires usually come in groups, serving a single knight, who could be an NPC.

Knights. Knights generally served a lord and thus would make up the elite fighting force of lordly PCs. PCs probably shouldn't start play as full fledged knights, as this grants too many resources at the beginning of the game, however I suppose it could be done—they'd have a small cluster of squires and a flock of pages of their own, which could serve as a mighty retinue of hirelings.

It's important to note that pages and squires don't get an income beyond their clothing, food, and board (which can tally to a pretty penny). Regardless of what the AD&D 2e DMG says, most feudal servants do not receive pay as long as they have been asked to serve for longer than their 40-day summons.

Fighting Men or Men-at-Arms. Though the term man-at-arms refers almost exclusively to Renaissance knights, this term has come to be applied (at least somewhat casually) to the peasantry who were drafted for temporary military service at local castles. They may also include mercenary garrisons at heavily defended and garrisoned castles (which would indeed have to be paid). These fighting men perform a generally servile role in that they would be commanded by a castellan, gateward, or other such fellow, but might serve as a good beginning for a whole group of PCs.

Household Servants
While the great majority of servants in a medieval household were of a military function, there were some who did other things as well. These are almost universally unsuitable to be player characters due to their lack of involvement with or skill in combat. IF, however, players are looking for a particularly difficult level 0 challenge OR are willing to play such characters as thieves or fighters of low level, there COULD be a great deal of non-traditional roleplaying opportunities to be garnered from so doing.

Kitchen Servants. The chief cook, undercooks, butler (head of the buttery, ie. larder and wine room), scullery maids, and kitchen boys constitute a whole rank of servants in themselves. These would best be represented by level 0 folks or thieves.

Hawkers, Hunters, and Gamekeepers. Hawkers and Falconers are dedicated to training and maintaining a lord's falcons; hunters and gamewards/keepers assist the lords in their hunts by managing hounds, beating the brush to flush out game, and to keep certain forests stocked with huntable animals like stag and boar. These servants would be interesting fighter-classed people (even if they started at level 0, though there's not necessarily a reason why they would).

Ladies in Waiting. These are for the reigning lady of the house and her children, particularly the girls. They have almost no input in the day to day life of a medieval household. They might be interesting as sorceresses or thieves. They're mostly maidens who spend their days reading, sewing, and philosophizing.

Miscellaneous Servants. These are what we think of when we think of "servants." Even so-called middle class households would have at least one servant to fetch water, start fires, etc. Good hireling material. Difficult as hell to conceive of as material for a PC.

Administrative Servants. These are things like Seneschals, Chamberlains, Stewards, Maior Domos, etc. Being mostly jobs concerned with resource management, tax collection, etc. These are not very well suited to PC positions, but for the ease of managing vast estates and many servants they make great hirelings and henchmen.

Stay tuned for ideas on PLAYING servants and people who begin in a servile role.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Playing Non-Adventurers

There may come a time when your players (or you, if you are a player, or even if you aren't) decide that you don't want the game to begin with social outcasts and advance into powerful lords. This time may come, depending on your group, instantly or, like mine, some five years down the road. The question embodied by this tendency can be stated simply and easily: 1 - "Can we begin play tied into the social order?" if the answer is yes, this leads to a question in two parts— "How can we accomplish this (a) in terms of roleplaying and player-load and (b) in terms of rules?"

The question is divisible, like all questions, into a number of parts.

A) What does it mean to be integrated into the medieval social order?

To be integrated into a medieval social order it is necessary to be given an occupation (the assumed occupations of most D&D characters being simply peasant, merchant, or outlaw), to be trained to perform that occupation, and then to assume its mantle. Additionally, one must be tied into social responsibilities surrounding one's station or occupation.

Concrete examples that are normally not available in AD&D include:

Knighthood—normally a reward for valor (and level gain) in D&D, being a knight was the normal course of affairs for nobility of all kinds. This, really, is a subset of the noble class.

Artisanship—artisans have a master, they study with their master, and then they open shops of their own. They generally belong to a craft-guild (if such things have formed yet) and have civic obligations wherever they open shop (universally an urban environment).

Membership in a Wizards Clave–something that can happen at higher levels normally, it is more than possible for an apprentice to begin the game as a member of one of these organizations.

Priests as well can begin play as integrated into the structure of their temples rather than the semi-autonomous units wandering the countryside.

B) How may we give player characters occupations?

The answer to this is fairly easy: through kits. I've already posted a few kits of knightly orders on the blog, which have worked fairly well ingame. Thus, it is not difficult to mold player characters into knights or artisans given that you include certain aspects to give the kit verisimilitude.

C) How may we deal with the vast amount of knowledge players must have to be "integrated" socially?

Our answers here are twofold and simple: 1) wait until the players have played in your campaign setting for a while or 2) give them a great deal of setting information when they want to play a character who doesn't start as some kind of social outcast.

Corollary: This may be the most important part, and it has to do with servitude. Everyone in medieval society had a mixture of obligations. The reason we generally make characters who are social outcasts is because it can be a pain to model those obligations. There is, however, some benefit to be gleaned from working to properly craft medieval obligations and lines of force, which is the only reason to pursue them.

The primary form of obligation comes in the form of a social obligation, which all members of all classes will feel if they are part of good society. This encompasses travel restrictions (I own a shop, I serve this lord) as well as obligations of obedience (I must go and fight because my lord is going to war). The second form of obligation is a personal or servile obligation—I am a squire, I am an apprentice, etc.

The second form of obligation has been presented in many different ways by many different games, but usually is left to the vaguery of the DM in AD&D. While Space 1889 cleverly makes the masters of servant characters into brain-dead morons that the servants can manipulate (with hilarious results), it is possible to grant a character a master, intrusive patron, or other such figure without making them ciphers for the will of the character/player.

This was really meant to be a post on playing in servile positions and then the kinds of servants one could expect to have, especially as a noble or a knight, but I think I'll save that for tomorrow or another day. I'm in Florence right now, so weird things are coming to me at odd hours.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Imperial Wizards

This writeup of the Schola Imperium is for Steve, who wants to play a bureaucrat mage.
Steve's illustration

Kit: Imperial Wizard

Description: At the end of the First Empire, a number of extremely powerful wizards of the Nine Schools pledged their support directly to the emperor. They abandoned their respective Scholae (members of the Golden Path, the Occulted Order, and the Star and Hammer made up the majority of this new school) and founded the Schola Imperium which would grow to become the most powerful of the Schools and outlast every one of its contemporaries. The Imperial Schola still exists, upon Wizard's Hill, and still lodges in their ancient quarters, doing their utmost to serve the empire and emperor.

Imperial wizards, like all wizardly claves, are forbidden from teaching the spells unique to their school to anyone else. Unlike many elvish circles, they may sell their services as teachers of commonly known magic.

The school is refreshed by the magistri scholistici, who ride through the heartland and investigate the talents and wisdoms of young children, no older than eight. These masters pay a sum that is generally 200ƒ to the parents of such children, returning them to the schola. Those trained there begin with a foundation of philosophy, history, and religion.

At age twelve they become official apprentices, capable of comprehending (but not casting) basic spells. At age fourteen they are promoted to the rank of invocate and must perform a philosophical defense before two masters. At age sixteen they are granted the rank of invarch and expected to perform a spell of their own creation to add to the library.

Other ranks follow:

The Senior Schola
Exarch - granted upon achieving the power of lesser sorcereries, the wizard is granted his purple and golden robes.

Hierarch - granted upon achieving the power of greater sorcery, the wizard is permitted to take pupils of his own.

Magearch - granted at last upon achieving what we normally call "name rank." Magearchs form the governing body of the School.

Magister - Master. Ranking wizards of power. There are never more than five or six Masters at any given time.

Esteemed Master - the leader of the Imperial School. The Esteemed Master has never appeared in public within living memory and his name is unknown.

Preferred Schools: Imperial Wizards may specialize in any school, though many are drawn (through its sheer destructive force) to the school of invocation/evocation.

Barred Schools: No school is barred to wizards of the Imperial Schola.

Role: Imperial wizards have their names recorded in the Codex from the time they enter the school so the imperial administration can keep track of them, the same as any wizard who reaches level 5 within the borders of the empire. They serve as spies, the eyes and ears of the emperor, permanent figures on the imperial payroll, and even as clerks in some cases. They are given appointments and assignments, sent to lead imperial armies, and essentially used as a final resort by their emperor.

Secondary Skills: We don't use these~

Weapon Proficiencies: Imperial wizards must start with either the staff or dagger proficiency.

Nonweapon Proficiencies: Wizards of the schola must purchase the reading/writing proficiency for High Varan. They must also purchase the Religion (imperial) proficiency. They learn to speak/read/write Archaic Varan for free, as well as receiving the Spellcraft proficiency for free. Their Language of Power is Maidic.

Equipment: Imperial wizards are provided with fancy robes, sandals, a cloak, a weapon, and an extra traveling spellbook from the vast treasury of the Schola.

Starting Spells: As a tower-trained wizard.

Special Benefits: The Imperial Wizards receive the following benefits:

1. Free room and board at the schola. They never need to pay for a place to stay or food to eat as long as they are in the imperial city. All other imperial wizards will generally go out of their way to assist a fellow (unless they have compelling reasons not to).

2. Free access to the imperial library, dating back to the foundation of the Second Empire. This library grants a +5% research bonus.

3. Free access to the masters of the school, for use of learning new spells (if they have time).

4. Access to the otherwise forbidden Imperial spell list.

Special Hinderances:

1. May not teach other wizards Imperial spells.

2. Must obey senior members of the Schola. May be sent on missions without recompense. Tool of the emperor.

3. Considered, until they reach the rank of Magearch, to be the personal property of their own master, the Magearch who trained them. This means they are required to support their master in all things.

Wealth Options: Normal starting wealth.

Races: No elf or gnome would willingly submit themselves to the rules of the Schola, leaving it comprised entirely of humans.

Spell List: Absorption, Acid Bolt, Alamanthar's Return, Alustriel's Mantle and Greater Mantle, Analyze Dweomer, Army, Arrow of Bone, Barrier, Battering Ram, Bewilder, Chastise, Chromatic Blade

Level One
Arcanin's Reply
Range: 0
Duration: 5 rds./level
Area of Effect: Caster
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1
Saving Throw: None

Arcanin's reply is a simple abjuration that serves one purpose: to reflect magic missiles. The spell protects the caster from magic missile spells, causing any cast at him during the duration to be reflected back onto whoever flung it originally.