Monday, April 30, 2012

And the System is...

One of the reasons I decided to start this blog was to give me an outlet to think critically about turning my imagined campaign setting into an actual campaign. One of the biggest matters I had to resolve was figuring out which system I wanted to use to play it. So I’ve been thinking about it for the past two months, and I think I’ve made up my mind.

The verdict is in: I plan to use D6 Fantasy, augmented with some narrative FATE rules. Since everyone who blogs has to make up terms and systems and stuff, I’m going to call this hybrid system of mine D6F (pretty clever, eh?).

D6 is pretty basic, but the main thing I added from the FATE system is the use of Aspects that will replace the Advantages and Disadvantages of D6, and be central to doing cool stuff and leveling up. I plan to expound on how it all will work in subsequent posts, but let me first explain why I’m keen on D6 Fantasy as my base system.

I’m familiar with it and it's easy

D6 is a super-easy, skill-based gaming system. Having played the old Star Wars D6 back in the day, I always found it to be straightforward and playable. We even recruited several non-gamers to play with us, which I attribute to both the accessibility of the system and our group’s general awesomeness (“Trust me, no one on Coruscant will be looking for a shaved Bothan!”). I also tried to adapt it to a fantasy setting a few years before West End Games published the D6 Fantasy rule set. It wasn’t nearly as good, but it also didn’t lose nearly as much money. (Sorry. Too soon?)

It’s cinematic, yet narrative

One of the great things about the D6 system is that it lends itself to quick-action, cinematic games. This is why I recently suggested it to Oddysey for her Summer ’11 Grimdark, Cyberpunk, Racing Campaign (HAWT!). While the system inherently leaves room to incorporate as much or as little narrative gaming as the group would like, I hope encourage more of this by grafting on the FATE rules.

…And flexible

Like many narrative games, there is ample space for players to develop the characters they want without being tightly bound by preset templates. Want to play a Fighter or Assassin? Sure. Want to play a Samurai Landscape Artist, a Mind-Flayer Graham Cracker Merchant, or Cthulhu’s Tech Support (so he can place that Call)? No problem! This will surely make people like Risus Monkey happy, but it also avoids the “Risus death spiral” that irks some folks I game with.

It's got plenty of dice rollin'

I like rolling dice. I like rolling eight dice at a time. I like exploding wild dice.  I like being able to cash in points to buy more exploding wild dice – even if they all only have six sides. Unlike some narrative games, there is still plenty of crunchiness in the D6 rules that means lots of dice to roll for skills and difficulty levels and stuff.

It has open-ended, skill-based rules for magic

Here’s the big one. D6 Fantasy outlines four basic magic skills that govern casting, and the players are given considerable leeway to determine how their spells manifest. However, the system is flexible enough that totally different casting skills can be used. This is important because magic in my world is a new and unknown phenomenon. It will be rare and uncertain at the beginning of the campaign, but I want to give the players enough freedom to explore and invent their own ways of tapping into the arcane. I think the simplicity and flexibility of this system will give my players considerable room for interesting and creative innovation.

D6 uses metric!

To hell with you and your 5’ squares! Who needs 25 square feet of personal space, anyhow? It’s all about meters and liters and grams, baby. It’s the only way to measure.

I’m pretty excited to give this a whirl, and I look forward to discussing how this will work in coming posts. In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions, I’m happy to hear them!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Religion & Myth III: The Church of the Giving Cow

Back when I originally wrote these, I was reading a lot of Joseph Campbell, which I think that comes across a bit in the following tale of Myamber and Kojak. By the way, my favorite myth from The Hero with a Thousand Faces is that of Water Jar Boy, who wanted to go hunting with the rest of the men of his tribe, but couldn’t… because he was a water jar.

            The Church of the Giving Cow is a community that is primarily concerned with the social well being of all.  In the relatively simple myth of the religion, a man by the name of Myamber (later Myamber the Great) had grown to old age and, in accordance with the custom of the pre-Founding barbarians, was turned out into the wilderness to die.  Myamber wandered for days until he finally collapsed under the strength of the sun. He was on the threshold of death, when the generous spirit Kojak appeared to him in a vision.  Kojak revealed to Myamber both the beauty of the world to come and the suffering of this world, and left him with the choice.  Myamber remembered his family and friends kindly, and had pity for those that turned him out to die. He wanted to stay in this world and promised to make it more like the world to come, if only he could be given the chance.  Kojak admired Myamber’s forgiveness and dedication to his people and honored his desire by reviving the old man.  When he woke, Myamber found that Kojak had also provided him with a pure white cow that gave him the milk of life.  When Myamber returned to his tribe they said, “By what means does this old man come out of the wilderness?  What miracle is this? Surely this man is blessed.”  They made Myamber king and he ruled for many peaceful years.

Behold! The mythical Cow of Kojak (compliments of Myrabella)

In keeping with the tradition of the myth, the Church of the Giving Cow is dedicated to the care of the poor and the sick, especially those near death.  Priests and priestesses of Kojak vow poverty and are practiced in the art of healing. Notably, unlike the Zooloyoyo establishment, the Church of the Giving Cow has remained silent on the issue of magic. For many in society this borders on heresy, and some circles even spread spurious rumors that the Priests of Kojak have even healed injured goblins. Perhaps this openness is because they are accustomed to dealing with outcasts and the dregs of society.

However, despite its openness, it can be a difficult religion to follow because of the service that priests and priestesses must commit to. The main temple is in Bryss, but smaller ones exist in both Markaz and Mudun.  The symbols of the Church of the Giving Cow are, of course, a pure white cow that represents the gift of Kojak, and a cluster berries topped by leaves that signify the medicines and remedies that the priests of Kojak concoct for public use. I'm pretty sure that any characters will become familiar with the healing practices of the Church sooner or later.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Religion & Myth II: Zooloyoyo

Zooloyoyo is a religion that began as an extension of the Church of Keyera many years ago and is dedicated to Keyera’s husband, Zoli.  Zoli is a spirit believed to embody order, strength, and stoicism. He is credited with having given mankind the ability to build cities after Keyera taught them civilization. Zooloyoyo began as a formal and highly ritualized version of the Keyeran rights. Its rituals are extraordinarily complex, and it is notable for having an exclusive and dedicated clergy.

The complexity and exclusivity of the rituals implies that the followers of Zooloyoyo are a rather pious crowd. As a result, it tends to attract a class of people who want to be seen as exclusive and pious: merchant elites, up-and-coming nobles, and well-respected pillars of society. The ruling Bakdunis family all purport of practice Zooloyoyo, since this enhances their public image as good, pious folk, and lends to their credibility as rulers.  In truth, neither of these pretenses holds up under even the slightest scrutiny.

Zooloyoyo is second in following to Church of Keyera, and generally appeals to those who want more structure to their religion.  Every follower of Zooloyoyo must undergo a litany of morning and evening prayers in addition to lengthy weekly services and periodic holy days and auspicious occasions.  Zooloyoyo priests, who are all men, don elaborate garb and are easily recognizable by all.  Zooloyoyo is also a highly hierarchical system, which keeps numerous aspects of its practice secret to all except the most senior elders.  As a result, the religious organization is not effective for much except advancing the faith and collecting tithes from the faithful (much of which is rumored to go to family Bakdunis).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Non-post: OA Event Charts

I'm a big fan of Jeff's Gameblog, and not just because he has coined "gameblog" as one word. That alone is awesome. But knowing the analytical effort he puts into each of his blog posts, I'm sure this was a calculated decision. This is worthy of a shout out and a cookie - so, Jeff, if we ever meet, I need to know your preference.

But today he posted something very cool that I want to rip for future use, so I'm linking to it here. It's the old Yearly and Monthly Events charts from the original Oriental Adventures.

Like all little geeks, I used to crawl through old rules books, and charts like these would inevitably capture my imagination. Having given this a quick look over, I see numerous opportunities for plot hooks, particularly in medieval urban settings.

So--even if this is a non-post, because I still have no time to myself--look for some version of these events to be introduced into Markaz and the other cities of Kimatarthi.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Religion & Myth: Church of Keyera

 In continuing the series on religion and myth in the land of Kimatarthi, I bring you the Church of Keyera.

Most people in Kimatarthi recognize Keyera to be the Mother Spirit, who gave birth to the world, bringing everything into existence. She is the one who provides, nurtures, and protects, and the worship of her is far and away the most popular throughout the land. Temples dedicated to her can be found throughout the cities, in the countryside (well, before the goblins destroyed everything), and even in private homes. She is worshiped as goddess of the harvest; she is the recipient of prayers for pregnancy and safe childbirth; she is the patron of artisans, the divine inspiration of artists, and gets credit for pretty much whatever else folks attribute to her. Generally, when some divine entity needs to be thanked, it is her, and “thank Keyera,” is just about the most common phrase in the local parlance.

Keyera is the central figure of Kimatarthi’s creation myth. In the beginning, she gave birth to the world and populated it with plants, animals, and people. Modern society believes that people wandered the land aimlessly until Keyera—in her wisdom and mercy—taught them how to plant crops and grow their own food.  With farming came civilization, knowledge, and learning, leaving all mankind forever in her debt. The centrality of “civilization” in this creation myth plays a large role in the mistrust and disdain of most people toward the nomadic peoples known as Wanderers.

Priests and priestesses of Keyera are very common, and can be readily identified by their distinctive green or brown robes. There is no hierarchy to the Church of Keyera, and junior clergy learn the rites much as an apprentice would learn any trade. They generally live a simple life, tending to one particular temple or making rounds, offering sacrifices at any number of locations. Keyeran clerics oversee various ceremonies, such as coming of age celebrations, weddings, deaths, and of course the harvest of crops each season. In return, they live off of the donations they receive. For this reason, many people become priests or priestesses of Keyara as an escape from abject poverty. 

Actually, it’s a pretty boring, but functional religion.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Religion and Myth

Since I’m still struggling to make time for most things that are not my kid, I’ve decided to go back through my old notes and publish some of what I’ve already written about Kimatarthi as posts. I’m going to start by doing a short series on myth and religion in my campaign setting.

Religion in Kimatarthi is based on the worship of spirits exist everywhere and inhabit all things. They are thought to bring good fortune and ill, and must be kept happy. While there are many common practices, such as leaving small offerings of food, there are just as many unique and bizarre practices that can be observed. Many people worship house gods, which are often ancestors or other deceased figures that people would like call to for blessings. Families, tribes, and cities often have totem spirits. Spirit shrines small and large are set up at places of business, public areas, auspicious locations, and anywhere else – like that oddly twisted log alongside the road.

What a good place for the superstitious to build a shrine!

But on top of this spirit worship, there are three figures that draw sizable organized followings, spirits named Keyera, Zoli, and Kojak. Keyera is believed to be the Mother Spirit, Creator of the world. The followers of the Church of Keyera are by far the most numerous throughout the land.

While Keyera birthed the world, her spouse Zoli gave it order. Worship of Zoli, the practice of Zooloyoyo, is highly formalized and usually particular to the elite classes.

Myths about Kojak vary—some say he is the son of Keyara and Zoli, others that he is their father, still others that he is their servant—but he is always seen as a great and beneficent figure. The Church of the Giving Cow places him at the center of their practices.

I’ve always enjoyed myth, and creating myths is one of my favorite parts of creating new worlds. The sort of myths that you create for the world says as much about your campaign as anything else, and if played right they can bring a lot of flavor and plot to the games. I’ve got several pages of notes about each of these practices, and (rather than write something completely from scratch) I’m going to use that as fodder for my next several posts. Stay tuned…

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


More than likely, the campaign will center on the city of Markaz, the bustling urban heart of Kimatarthi. Centuries ago, the city burgeoned into an important trading hub, since it straddles a gap in Great Rift. As the easiest intersection between the east and west, Markaz served as the departure and arrival point for caravans making the long trek between Bryss and the cities and towns of the east. This central location turned it into a wealthy and populous metropolis where anything and everything was available for the right price.

The city’s position makes it naturally defensible, but over the years, the gap was further fortified – in order to dominate the trade routes as much as to defend the city. The road up from the eastern lowlands climbs from the Black River to the city walls. To the north, the old fortress of Markaz sits atop looming cliffs, looking down over the busy markets of the valley. The city sprawls south, rising into wealthier neighborhoods before descending once again into poor, dilapidated slums and the Empty Quarters.

Markaz was the stronghold that withstood the goblin onslaught. As the invading horde rolled across the land, the survivors poured north, seeking shelter beyond the gap. Refugees arrived by the thousands. Though the goblins did briefly breach the city walls, human kind rallied and drove them back. Today, many years after that fateful battle, Markaz remains a melting pot of all the families, tribes, and peoples of old Kimatarthi.

Although the general population of the city is a motley mix of humanity, the old elite of Markaz still runs the show. The city is governed by the Bakdunis family, who dominate the politics, trade, and many other aspects of life in Markaz. Obviously, not everyone is happy with the current arrangement, yet the Bakdunis are able to maintain control with through savvy politics, dirty tricks, and occasional brute force.

Also, I recently picked up the Vornheim kit by Zak S. and I really dig a lot of his ideas. His book offers a ton of tricks and tables and whatnot that I’ll probably use to facilitate adventures in Markaz. While my city has a totally different feel—it’s much more ‘brown mud walls’ than ‘towering grey stone,’ among other things—his approach is universally applicable and everything is easily tweaked. It also offers plenty of material to riff off of. I’m looking forward to taking it for a drive someday.