Building the Gulf of False Hope, Part 7: Field Funerals, The Sacred Undead, and Liches

While writing yesterdays post, I felt that A) the overview of the types of Dead in the Gulf was enough to stand on its own and B) the section on Liches was almost enough to stand on its own.  That being the case, I’m throwing in a few other sections in with this one to round it out.  You’ll probably want to have read yesterday’s post first.

First we have the rules for giving your buddies a proper funeral, then we have descriptions of the two sub-types of the Cursed Dead, the Sacred Undead and the Lich.

So Your Comrade Just Kicked the Bucket…

(Note, in this section I use “comrade” to mean “fellow adventurer, hireling, or other person who might view you as responsible for getting them killed and has no one else to put on a funeral for them”, you don’t necessarily have to like them, in fact, if you didn’t get along it might be an even BETTER idea to make sure you put them to rest)

Adventuring in the Gulf can be dangerous, and sometimes not everyone makes it out alive. While not every dead adventurer returns to haunt their comrades who left them to die, many Adventurers choose to give their buddies the proper last rites, just to be on the safe side. To perform last rites (and allow your fallen comrade to join the ranks of sanctified dead), you need to respectfully dispose of the body and give them a funeral. These tests can be made either in the adventure phase or Camp. The funeral ritual will not stop your comrade from rising as an undead as part of a monster’s special ability, but incinerating their corpse might, and burying might bury them so deep the thing can’t get out.

To dispose of the body, you either need to bury them or cremate them.

  • To Bury the body, you must bring them to some soft earth and make an Ob 2 laborer test (ob 1 for digging, +1 evil GM factor for digging deep enough the animals can’t get at them)
  • To Cremate the Body, you must make an Ob 3 Survivalist test to gather up enough wood. The GM should give you some bonus dice or additional factors depending on the weather and terrain. The fire should be above ground or in an area where the smoke has somewhere to go.

To give your fiend a proper funeral, it is an ob 3 theologian test, failure might prevent your comrade from moving on to the next world! Each person present may tell a story about the deceased to grant the (impromptu) priest a bonus die (counts as supplies when determining dice rolled for beginners luck).

Alternatively, you can pay a ob6 resources check in any town with a temple or shine to get the local priest to cremate and bless the body for you, its up to you to get the body back.  If you have hauled the corpse back to town, friends and mentors of your comrade in the same town will help with this expense, while Families will pay for it.  Involving these people and shoving a share/all of the bill on them is a great way to earn yourself an Enemy who blames you for their loved one’s death, however.

Hauling the Body

Assuming your comrade didn’t conveniently drop dead in a good spot to burn or bury them (or right outside the gates of town), the living will have to drag them out of there themselves. For the purposes of these rules a “corpse” assumes you have removed their backpack, satchel, quivers, metal armor, and anything in their hands, if you have not, you may be required to test/have additional factors in your test.

You can drag a corpse of your race or smaller with two hands (Humans/Elves > Dwarves > Halflings), dragging a larger corpse requires a laborer test with an ob equal to the difference in size. Lifting a corpse over obstacles might require a test or additional hands, GM’s discretion, you can generally stick them on top of an animal or funeral pyre with no test, however.

A mystic Porter can carry a corpse using 8 slots of inventory for a human or elf (7 for a dwarf, 6 for a halfling), a pack animal can carry a corpse either as a Rider or as the same number of slots of inventory as the mystic porter, use whichever is more space efficient, but you’ll likely need some rope to tie them in place either way.

Burial in Absentia

You may provide a funeral for your comrade without their body, typically burning or burying a small personal item in their place. A funeral without the body counts as an additional factor in the Theologian test. Not having a personal item is another additional factor. This should also only be done when the body was unrecoverable, due to being destroyed, eaten, or too dangerous to get to, if the GM rules that you just left your fiend’s body where it was because you didn’t want to drop your stuff (or the Player’s annoyed about it), that can be a cue for another evil GM factor. The Shrine charges the same price for a Burial in Absentia as they do a traditional cremation (a more difficult ritual but they don’t have to actually burn any body), but will not perform one without a personal item. Lastly, while performing the funeral rites properly in such a manner will lay your comrade’s spirit to rest, the body is not sanctified in any manner from being brought back as an undead by a Necromancer who DOES recover the body.

Mass Graves

If you are unfortunate enough to be laying more than one comrade to rest, increase the obstacles of all tests (including paying the shrine if you choose to go that route) by one for a party of adventurers. You need a personal item for each comrade whose body you lack if you wish to avoid the additional factor.


The Sacred Undead

Contrary to most of the Cursed Dead, the Sacred Undead is not undead because of some vile act committed.  On the contrary, the Sacred Undead is too pure, too noble of purpose.  A Sacred Undead is not merely a spirit with unfinished business, no matter how noble, such spirits fall under the Vengeful Dead category.  Sacred Undead instead are those who, having lived a noble life in service of the divine will they serve, choose to continue to serve instead of passing on to the next world.  Their charge and duty comes not from any lingering regrets, but instead a divine edict from the will that they serve.

They are considered Cursed Dead, because to exist in such a way, to exist in such a state, no longer alive, no regrets to bind you, to resist the call of the next world, and to maintain your sense of purpose, self, and nobility, is agony for a soul. It is a terrible curse, a terrible burden to bear.  Yet it is one that those who still exist in such a way bear willingly.  A Sacred Undead can not be turned by any who serve the same divine will as they do, can not be permanently destroyed, and are exceedingly difficult to banish.  They pass on to the next world when they lose their will to remain, ideally after fulfilling their purpose or finding a worthy successor.  Still, the burden on the soul is great, and some merely disappear when they can no longer endure it.

The Lich

Nearly every Lich (and their kin) would disagree about being cursed.  Such a categorization is merely a slander perpetuated by the ignorant, fearful, and jealous.  Liches differ from the standard Cursed Dead because rather than some higher entity, Liches did it to themselves.  The ritual to become a Lich is intimate and complicated, and no one can be forced to complete it, to tear out ones soul is not something that can be done with any hesitation, and even those willing but hesitant have found that their hesitation merely instead resulted in their deaths.  Thus, no matter what a Lich may tell you, they chose to become a Lich.  They believed that magical power gave them the right to violate the natural order of things and do this to themselves.  To become a Lich is an act of arrogance, of KNOWING that you will do better than all those who tried before you.  Of course being a Lich is not a curse, I would not done such a thing to myself if it was a curse!

While that arrogance is their sin, not all Liches did so for ignoble ends.  Many have undertaken the ancient rituals with the most noble of ends.  A reason why they must stop the hands of time and continue whatever great work they were undertaking.  Such Liches can even succeed, perhaps they only needed another decade, and thus, whatever good they hoped to achieve can be overseen by the next generation.  A truly good lich destroys themselves then and there.  They rarely do.

To be a Lich, you must remove your soul, store it away, hide it in a special jar, yet, in order to do anything, your mind must remain with your body.  At first, it will seem like nothing has changed.  You have your memories, your personality, even some semblance of emotion.  You even still care for the things you cared for before.  And yet… You’ve changed.  It happens slowly, those things that you cared for last no where near as long as you do, and you find yourself no longer caring about anything new.  By the time you realize, you no longer even care that you don’t.  Why should you?  You have important work to do!  You can’t get half-way through a project without thinking of the next one!  Each of them so important, each of them justifying any number of sacrifices.

It is so easy to justify going just a bit further with each new experiment, your work is so important after all.  Far more important that some suffering of some time-bound creatures.  And each time you go a bit further, their pleas mean nothing to you.  Their cries of pain, their begging for mercy, their asking for their mother, their spouse, their child, all meaningless. They will not accomplish anything greater in their shot little lives than their contribution to your great work!

…And that’s just for Liches who start with the best of intentions.  All Liches become evil, because all Liches lose the ability to feel true empathy.  They can be quite clever, and they can UNDERSTAND what another being is feeling, but their time separated from their soul costs them (among other things) their ability to be moved by it.  A Lich may, for a while, keep a mental model in their head of what a “good person” would do, and they may act on it.  Yet there is no reward for them if they do so, no warm fuzzies to motivate them to keep at it, and without a compelling self-interest reason to do so, they end up deciding not to bother.

The same arrogance that lead them to become a Lich consumes them, only they and their goals matter, and they will do anything to see them through to the end no matter who they have to crush.  The Lich becomes an unrecognizable monster, while their soul suffers trapped inside a tiny box.  That is why Liches are cursed.

But I am sure for you it’ll be different, right?


Current PaDC score: 19/31

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Building the Gulf of False Hope, Part 6: Dead & Undead

Even across the sea on the mainland, Undead are one of the few types of monsters the civilizations of Asila have not be able to stamp out, although not for lack of trying.  The simple fact is, even if every zombie, skeleton, ghost and their kin were to pass into the next world tomorrow, more people would die with regrets binding them to this world, and more secret cabals of vile necromancers would continue to practice and pass on their black arts.

The untamed land across the sea, the Gulf region included, provides amble opportunities for these conspiracies to operate away from prying eyes of the authorities, and if a few people in some remote town go missing while walking in the woods, well, that won’t raise the eyebrows of many people outside that village, at least not before it is too late.  Ad to that the ancient ruins and still active curses of lost tombs and the living dead are still alive and well (so to speak) in the Gulf.

The Dead

In general, the dead fall into a few categories, which speak more to the nature of the creature than what specific kind it is.  In fact, in some cases, a creatures of the same kind might fall into separate categories, a Skeleton, for example might be considered Vengeful Dead if it is animated by its spirits desire to protect its own tomb, or a Enslaved Dead if under the power of a Necromancer.

Saint-Heroes

It is actually a matter of theological debate among the Way if the some or even all of Saint-Heroes ever actually died or not.  On one extreme, some factions believe that all true Saint-Heroes ascended to the next world while still living, even those that supposedly died as martyrs actually ascended to the Heavens just before their supposed death, on the other end, there is a group that believes that Saint-Heroes are only recognized as such after their normal, human, death.  Regardless, the spirits of Saint Heroes are said to reside in the next world, and it is by their power that clerics are granted their miracles.

The Sanctified Dead

Those that have died and have been given proper funeral rites.  Many believe the spirits of the Sanctified dead are guided into the next world during the last days of winter.  A proper funeral eases the regrets of a troubled spirit, making it much less likely they will return to haunt the living.  While most corpses in the Gulf are cremated, even those that are buried in the ground will be more difficult for a Necromancer to raise.

The Unsanctified Dead

Those that have died and not been given proper funeral rites.  Without final rites to ease their bitterness and resentment, many such spirits will bear grudges against the living, and find it difficult to move on to the next world.  Even among those that do not become vengeful spirits, corpses dropped in a ditch by the side of the road are both magically and logistically easy for a Necromancer to obtain and use.

The Vengeful Dead

The vengeful dead are spirits who are either unable to find peace in the next world, or whose rest has been disturbed by the living.  The vengeful are driven by their own powerful emotions from life, and sometimes aided by some curses crafted either by them in life, or those who prepared their tomb, in fact, a tomb designed to use its willing dead to punish transgressors are one of the few times it is EASIER to raise a properly buried corpse.  Weaker Vengeful Dead such as Tomb Guardians, but stronger Vengeful Dead will merely reform if they are not properly banished or the source of their regrets is not resolved.

The Enslaved Dead

The Enslaved Dead are those given unlife by to be bound into another’s service, all of these poor creatures have had their spirits bound by their creator, leaving them in spiritual agony until freed.  For this reason, even those who seek to animate the dead for the most helpful reasons (such as to do manual labor and not terrorize villagers) are often reviled by socity at large and banned by almost every sect of The Way.

While most of these undead servants, are brought forth by living Necromancers, certain other types of Undead are capable of creating minions of their own to serve them.  Most of the enslaved dead can merely be physically destroyed, although some powerful necromancers can even call forth incorporeal spirits to serve them which must be banished purely because physical attacks have little effect.

The Hungry Dead

The Hungry Dead are driven by a compulsion, exactly what this compulsion is varies depending on the exact time, but the Hungry dead differentiate themselves from the Vengeful dead in that this compulsion is unrelated to their unresolved emotions from life.  Most often, as the name implies, the compulsion is a desire to feed on the living.  The Hungry Dead can be intelligent, such as in the case of Vampires, or mindless beings ruled by their hunger such as the case of Ghouls, but either way the compulsion is irresistible.

While a human with good enough reason and willpower could chose to starve themselves to death, but a vampire, no matter how strong of will, how ancient, or how powerful, will always give in to the craving eventually even if it requires losing their sanity and becoming a blood-starved beast in the process.  In most cases, these Undead are created by Hungry Dead feeding on the living, with the corpses of victims joining their ranks, in others, they are most often created by Necromancers seeking to bolster their forces, which then almost inevitably break free of their control.

The Cursed Dead

The Cursed Dead often straddle the line between all three of the other categories of Undead.  Many are, in some sense, created and bound by another, many times this is because of something that they did in life, and many have a compulsion that they can not resist as part of their curse.  These undead are the result of some vile act by the living often vile in nature, that catches the attention of a powerful entity.  A deal with a devil, a betrayal of a sacred vow, the murder of a protected innocent, are all common themes.  For this, they are punished, forever barred from the next world, their bodies and spirits bound by the weight of their act.

They often retain somewhat of a will, just enough that they can remember what got them to this place in the first place, but they are often twisted and corrupted by the weight of their sin, and are further often compelled to partake in some ironic punishment or reminder of their misdeeds.  If the entity that created them is powerful enough, often not even their destruction or banishment will release them from their hell on earth, as their judge will just reform them to continue their punishment.  Perhaps most ironically, most of the Cursed Dead DO have a way to find peace, some atonement they can perform that will release them from the curse, yet it is almost always something so deeply related to their sin and the flaw that caused it, the Cursed Dead will never find peace on their own.

There are two notable sub variants of the Cursed Dead, The Sacred Undead, and the Lich.  Both of which, along with some mechanical rules for providing funerals for your fallen comrades, will be discussed in tomorrow’s post.


Current PaDC score: 18/31

Weather in the Gulf

Personally, I have an issue where most of my adventures take place on an unremarkable partly cloudy day.  I generally don’t even think about weather often enough when I really think it is something that should ALWAYS be considered when doing things out of doors.

Luckily for me, weather tables have been a thing in RPGs for quite a while, and Torchbearer even has its own weather table in the Middarmark campaign setting.  I could honestly PROBABLY use it as is, and it would fit the Gulf well enough, but I’ve decided to personalize the tables to be a bit more in like with my descriptions of the months I described way back when on the Saint’s Calendar.

Like Middarmark, this is a 3d6 system, modified by timing of the season.  I’m using a five tier system where the first section gets a -2 modifier to the roll, next gets a -1, next gets a 0, 2nd to last gets a +1, and the last section gets a +2.  This level of detail probably isn’t really needed and I likely could get by with just having a -1/0/+1 modifier assigned to each month, but the extra detail won’t hurt.

Space saving break due to lots of tables

Building The Gulf of False Hope, Part 5: Holidays and the Moons

This is a post about the Gulf I had been meaning to do for a WHILE (since august of last year), and if nothing else, this being done will make this Post a day challenge worth it.  This builds on the Part 3 of my Gulf Posts The Saint’s Calendar and fills out those holidays that were only given names before as well as detailing the two moons.

Moons

Two moons hang in the skies of the Gulf, Laphis and Nephis.

Laphis is dark in coloration (like Jupiter’s Calisto in our universe), but it is visually larger than Nephis from the surface.  Laphis has a full cycle (Full to Full) of only 8 days, which, when combined with its large apparent size in the sky, means over the course of a night it can been seen waxing and waning.  While it is believed that the 8 day week originated from Laphis’ 8 day cycle, the modern calendar, with New Years Day not being a day of the week, has what day of the week a full Laphis moon falls on vary by year.  Laphis has the strongest effect on the tides.

Nephis, while visually smaller, has a much lighter coloration of the two, resulting in it often appearing brighter than its cousin in the night sky.  Like our own Luna, its color can vary depending on atmospheric conditions, but it tends towards a yellowish off-white.  Its cycle is about 29 days, and while it has less of an effect on the tides than Laphis, it can result in rather strong tides and currents when the two are in similar phases.

Both moons become full around the same time about every 232 days, or once or twice a year.  While the light from both full moons at once can be surprisingly usable on a clear night, it is said that vicious creatures become especially active on such nights, especially in the Gulf.   Some rituals require a particular phase of one or both moons, sometimes even under a particular star sign or season, which can result in a vary infrequent window for their completion.   There are stories of men that turn into beasts when the moons are right, but there is little consistency in whether Laphis, Nephis, or both triggers them.  Some suspect, if there is truth to these tales, it might depend on the individual or the particulars of the magic used to create them.

Holidays

New Year’s Day: Most years, New Year’s Day is a special day between the Festival of Passing, and the Day of the Revelation.  It is not considered part of any month nor any day of the week.  Every 5 years, this bonus day is skipped, and New Year’s day is celebrated on the same day as the Day of the Revelation.

The New Year is celebrated with a feast (although the size can vary depending on how well supplies lasted the Winter), as well as a community celebration involving music and dancing.  Brass instruments are traditional, although some communities develop their own traditions when such instruments were unavailable.  Either way such celebrations tend to be quite noisy, as that is said to bring good luck in the New Year.

The Day of the Revelation (1st Saintsday of Revelation): The Divine Way of the Saint-Heroes teaches that their founder, known as The Guide, began his preaching on the first day of Spring.  When the Saint’s Calendar was being written, it was decided that this day should become the first day of the year.  Most sects recognize this day with a recitation of the first Sermon the Guide supposedly gave.

The accuracy of most of these is questionable, as all accounts of this sermon were written after the fact with quite a few inconsistencies between them.  Add to that variations in the most good faith of translations (to say nothing of translators with an agenda), and the exact sermon can vary even within the same sect.  When New Year’s Day falls on the Day of the Revelation the music and festivities are often integrated with the services, and tends to be even more lively than usual.

Benediction of Spring (2nd Saintsday of Highwater):  The first of the four seasonal blessings traditionally observed in The Way.  The benediction of spring is traditionally performed by the least senior member of the local clergy, representing the new birth and life associated with the season.  The blessing invokes the saints for a good planting season, as well as mild flooding and weather.

Firelight Festival (3rd Bothyna of Kingsmonth): Taking place in the middle of the planting season, the Firelight festival is a chance to unwind in the middle of the busy and stressful season.  Bonefires are set up in the village square and other outdoor meeting places, and each family generally brings a dish as able.  Traditional dances are often performed by the firelight and the night by the firelight is also a popular date night for young couples.

Benediction of Summer (2nd Saintsday of Soliscuria): The next of the four seasonal blessings, this blessing is traditionally performed outdoors, with some congregations doing so only weather permitting while others do so in anything short of an unseasonably early major storm.  The Benediction of Summer asks the Saints for summer rain, and to watch over and bless the growing crops.

Planter’s Festival (2nd Bothyna of Soliscuria): The Planter’s festival traditionally falls on the 2nd Bothyna of Soliscuria, but in practice falls on the first Bothyna after planting has actually finished.  An all day event with music, eating, drinking, and general merrymaking, it is a welcome reward to the farmers after their hard work of planting the crops and an re-energizer for the seasons of tending them to come.

Ascension Day (2nd Saintsday of Highsun): According to tradition, what is now known as the Second Saintsday of Highsun marks the day where The Guide, after his 8 years of preaching The Way, ascended to the heavens as the first True Saint-Hero.  Different sects of the Way argue over whether this or the Day of Revelation is most important, but almost all sects honor both days, and one can expect a very long (and slightly more packed) service than usual at their local church.

Riversday (3rd Bothyna of Goldgrass):  Often seen as the last day for swimming before the arrival of Autumn, how much that is observed can vary by the individual, not even including climate and location.  The festival involves music, dancing, and often the first sampling of any crops that were early to ripen.

Benediction of Autumn (1st Saintsday of First Harvest):  The autumnal seasonal blessing is one of giving thanks to the Saints for their bounty and blessings they have provided up until this point.  They also invoke the saints to encourage the spirit of cooperation as the villages often require all hands on deck to bring the crops in on time, particularly in the Gulf with its early frost.

Grand Marketsday of the Gulf (3rd Marketsday of Noxregnum): The Grand Marketsday is a Gulf Tradition, arising organically due to the Gulf’s early onset of frost, Ashford’s Folly being the primary port, and Marketsday traditional day for sales and Markets.  Traders and farmers from all over gather in Ashford’s folly in the third week of Noxregnum, lining nearly every single main street (and several of the side streets) with stalls selling either selling the fruits of their harvest, or hawking some other good or service in order to purchase said harvest.  The sale has gotten so large in recent months that even mainland merchants sometimes make the trip trying to trade mainland luxuries for rare Gulf goods.

Unity Day (3rd Bothyna of Last Harvest): Unity day is a patriotic holiday in the Salvatian League, marking the day when the treaty of brotherhood was signed by the five founding dukes of the league (with two more duchies joining later, and one duchy being split in two in an inheritance dispute after founding, bringing it up to the eight today).  On the mainland, it is widely celebrated with military parades and royal speeches and grand events.  In the Gulf, the actual amount of patriotism that can be mustered for their ancestral home across the sea on this day varies from settlement to settlement.

Winter’s Eve (4th Bothyna of Last Harvest): Previously called Festival for the Slaughtered, Winter’s Eve is the more common name.  Traced back to ancient times, this festival is to honor the animals that were slaughtered in preparation for the coming Winter.  Tradition mandates that each animal that was slaughtered be fed a symbolic last helping (which is commonly eaten by any remaining animals), the creation of a large, communal bonfire, and a traditional stew.  The stew should contain a small amount of meat if the family has any, and to have any leftovers is considered disrespectful to the animal(s) used to make it.

Benediction of Winter (1st Saintsday of Snowfall): Traditionally performed by the most senior member of the clergy, often even including elderly practitioners of the Way who have otherwise retired.  The Benediction of Winter asks the Saints for health, warmth, and safety over the coming long winter, as well as for an early thaw and arrival of spring.

Oath of Kinship (2nd Bothyna of Snowfall): The Oath of Kinship is a new festival, unique to the Gulf, not all towns celebrate it, and those that do have wildly different traditions.  It originates from the first few years of Ashford’s Folly.  The first few winters of that settlement were particularly harsh, and there was constant, sometimes bloody, fighting over the limited provisions.  As their 4th Snowfall arrived, Timothy Ashford saw that supplies would again run thin.  He proposed that every member of the settlement swear an oath to treat one another has family, and consider their needs like they would their own kin.  It seemed to work, as members tightened their belts and generally did a better job looking out for each other.

This was repeated over the next couple of years, and things generally improved, although much of that can also be attributed to the colony infrastructure improving and the farmers getting a better feel for the land.  Still, it became a valued, and uniquely Gulf Tradition, and the 2nd Bothyna of Snowfall became a day for which communities could renew that oath, and travelers and hosts swear it to each other.  Breaking the oath before the spring thaw is one of the most serious breaches of hospitality that a person can commit among the communities of the Gulf.  Many such oathbreakers have found themselves literally left out in the cold the following winter.

Midwinter (3rd Bothyna of Noxapicem):  The middle of winter can be a cause for optimism for some, knowing that they have made it half way through the bitter cold season, or a source of anxiety for others knowing that they have ONLY  made it half way through the winter.  In more milder climes, Midwinter will be a full on festival in its own right, but in the harsh winter of the Gulf, Midwinter is a time that to take stock of your supplies. It is often marked in the Gulf by a meeting among the towns people, with those who have extra supplies giving to those who do not.  In general, there is a view that this all evens out long term, but bad blood can brew between those who are generally well prepared for winter, and those who generally are not.

Festival of Passing (5th Bothyna of Year’s End): The last day of the year on the Saint’s Calendar, and the start of the multi-day New Years Celebration.  The Festival of Passing is both a celebration, honoring both the Saints for all the blessings they have given over the past year, and those that have passed on the year before.  It is believed that the Festival of Passing is the day that souls are able to move onto the next world.  If proper respects are not paid to the dead, they may remain for another year to haunt the living!
In most traditions of The Way, this involves a priest reading their name and invoking the Saint-Heroes to take care of the lost in the next world, and often burning an offering in the dead person’s name, often something they enjoyed in life.  The Gulf has also adopted a particular tradition of having friends and family of the departed recalling humorous anecdotes at their expense, in hopes that the deceased will be too embarrassed to remain in this world.


Current PaDC score: 11/31

Inspiration from Xenoblade 2 Partners and Love Stories

I was fortunate enough to get the week between Christmas and New Years off of work, and, naturally, I ended up spending almost all my time playing video games.  In particular I got Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for Christmas put nearly 100 hours into it before I had to go back to work on Tuesday the 2nd. Just based on that alone, I think it is safe to say I had a good time with it.  It has some frustrating points, particularly with some stuff being RNG dependent and grindy if you are going for 100% completion, but honestly I think it is worth a pick up if you are into anime-inspired story heavy JRPGs.

I could go on further about the actual gameplay and parts I would fix vs parts I liked, but this isn’t really a video game review blog.  Instead I want to talk about what inspirations I draw from this game for tabletop roleplaying.   Hopefully the themes I am trying to put into words make sense even to people who haven’t played the game. We are going to touch on some high level themes and some of the basic premises of the game, but not really any plot twists or details beyond the first few hours where they ease you into some of the basic assumptions of the world and the key players. If you are fine with that, or are not really interested in playing the game, click to read on

Building The Gulf of False Hope, Part 4: Adventurers

My Gulf holiday post is still coming along, slowly, but it is coming along (hopefully I can finish them before my players get to them), but it seems like there was another post to get out in the meantime!

I was thinking of something I told the group on our first session: “Adventurers are like lawyers, no one really likes them until they need some themselves.”  My Dad, although not a lawyer, does work in the legal profession, so I have a fair amount of respect for those who do, but I think the cliche got the point across.  Still, I was kicking it around and trying to further crystallize how the average Joe in the Gulf would feel about adventurers in general.

To some extent, the settlers of Pericolosa are more sympathetic than the people of Asila.  After all, either they or their parents or grandparents had to have some sort of adventurous spirit to leave the safety of their old life and start again from scratch in a land full of dangerous creatures.  On the other hand, when adventurers set out from Asila, they go far away, while in the Gulf, their going into ruins practically in your backyard.  There is also a sense among most people in the Gulf that the amount of risk they took is fine and reasonable, but much more than that is just crazy.

While each group has its own perspectives on adventurers, there are a few commonalities that go across cultures.  Adventurers, typically, are smelly, dirty homeless people.  They make their living through robbing the dead, stealing things from terrible monsters, or worse, turning to actual banditry.  They often have no (or minimal) ties to the community, and are liable to skip town at a moment’s notice.  When they pay at all, it’s almost always in strange ancient coins, or in barter for objects that are probably cursed, or the monster they stole it from wants it back.

Still, there is money to be made in dealing with them, and most adventurers are desperate enough that they just have to put up with some price gouging here and there, or carrying enough ancient treasure back with them that they don’t care.  As a result, most communities will put up with them as long as their coin holds out, but not much longer.  Still, in times of crisis, many communities are more than happy to leave the dangerous thing that needs doing in the hands of slightly deranged outsiders.  Expertly resolving these crises can sometimes lead to the individual adventurers involved being welcomed as an honorary member of the community, although they are just as often given a curt “Thanks” and sent on their way.

While, naturally, perspectives on Adventurers vary from individual to individual on the micro level, when looked at as a whole, there are some prevailing trends that generally hold true for most of the races of the Gulf:

Humans

When compared to the other, longer lived races, the idea of risking it all for the one big score is a very human mindset.  Every stock is capable of producing people foolish/desperate enough to take up the life, but humans seem to understand the mentality the best.  As a result, most adventurers are human.  Still, the fact that humans who don’t take up the life are likely to UNDERSTAND, doesn’t mean they LIKE adventurers.  At the very least most normal folks wish those smelly, dangerous hobos would go practice their “trade” somewhere else.

Even among humans that don’t have the temperament for adventuring, the propensity for risk-taking and expansion that is most common among the stock results in most villages on the edge and fringes of civilization being human.  Since adventures tend to operate just beyond those fringes, those human villages tend to be the same ones that bear the brunt of the damage when some reckless adventurers piss off, but don’t actually bother to kill a dangerous beast or tribe of goblins.  The fact that human villages actually interact with Adventurers the most, and thus see the most of their poor behavior (if such behavior is the exception or the rule can be debated), doesn’t help either.

Halflings

While Halflings communities can be found in most decent sized human towns (and visa-versa), Halfling culture can vary from Human culture in several ways.  The most relevant being that, unlike humans, most Halflings just don’t get it.  Going on adventures is just not something a respectable Halfling would do!  A Halfling that has fallen on hard times should have an extended family that can take them in until they get back on their feet.  Even if said Halfling is an orphan and somehow has no family friends that will take them in (a rare case among the general population, but not uncommon among adventurers), wealthy members of their home community would often take them on as a servant, even if they had little need of one.  Honest work like that would surely be more preferable to life on the Road in dark and dangerous places.

Any Halfling that is forced to take up the life must have something WRONG with them if they have no “honest” way to make a living and no one to take them in.  Any Halfling that CHOOSES the life of an adventurer must be even worse!  The other stocks are (to a Halfling) all kind of strange anyway, but Halflings tend to mistrust their own Adventurers even more.  Still, while none would admit it in polite company, many Halflings LOVE to hear stories of grand adventures, especially those that star their own kind.

Elves

To the Elves, there is nothing strange about leaving your home to wander the world for a few decades.   There really is nothing strange about “living in harmony with nature” (read: being homeless) while you do it either.  The issue arises with what adventurers DO while wandering.  Elves, with their long lifespan, are naturally one of the more risk averse stocks, and generally take the long view of things.  They tend to prefer the known, safe way of doing things than to take the risk to innovate.  To take the small, guaranteed, gain than to risk it all on a big score.   This is further compounded by the fact that, while a “big score” might last a human and their children a lifetime, money that will last 100 years is not enough for an elf to retire on.

Further, even among the civilized races, elves have a strong taboo against violating the sanctity of the dead.   Merely touching a corpse is only done by their mystics, with intense purification rituals before and after.  Not only is robbing the dead forbidden, but simply entering their spaces, the very same abandoned ruins that Adventurers often raid, a terrible sin.  To the Elves, this is not without good reason.  With their long memories they often know that there is, more often than not, a good reason that lost and abandoned places came to be that way.  They know that the world is much better off if things buried in many of those ruins stay buried.   Violating these places is not only a strain on the spirit of those who do so, but a danger to all involved.

The elven risk averse mentality is antithetical to the one that produces most adventurers, and their social taboos label such things immoral and dangerous.  As a result, few Elves take up the life, and those that do are typically even further removed from their community than Adventurers from other stocks.

Dwarves

The Dwarven word for “Adventurer” more is also their word for “Unemployed”, and both are held in a particularly low regard.   Adventurers don’t craft great works of beauty and they don’t contribute to the good of the hold or their Clan.   The only thing they seem to be good for is that sometimes they manage to bring back rare materials that real dwarves can use to enhance their works, but those times seem few and far between.  Dwarves who don’t contribute are only barely better than Oathbreakers and Cowards (if they aren’t those as well), and Adventuring is not seen as a a profession, let alone an honorable one.

There is a major exception to this in Dwarven culture, and that is the “Grand Venture”.  The actual process of a Grand Venture is not really that much different from what Adventurers do (go to a place, kill/sneak by/outwit the inhabitants, and then loot it), however the key difference is in the (official) justification.  A Grand Venture is one where a group of Dwarves seek out to avenge a great wrong.  This wrong must have been perpetuated against the entire hold or an entire clan, not a personal matter (unless a clever Dwarf can frame the personal matter as an insult to his entire clan), and it must be suitably grand in scope.  Claiming an ancestral hold, recovering a stolen clan masterpiece, even making war are typical examples.   Dwarf grudges being what they are though, what is seen as an honorable Grand Venture for one clan, can be seen as an unprovoked attack by those they perpetrate it against, and can spark feuds that last for generations.

In such cases when the Grand Venture is seen as justified to a Dwarven society, it is not only socially acceptable, but even honorable to abandon your work and strike out when the opportunity presents itself, although they are expected to return to it when their task is complete.  Dwarves on a Grand Venture typically avoid the semi-slur of the Adventurer title, typically taking on a term equivalent to  “Avenger” or something similar.  Some Dwarven adventurers often try to pass themselves off as being on a Grand Venture to avoid the social stigma, how successful this is depends on the Dwarf, and how good their story is.

Why does anyone do this?

In spite, or perhaps because of most seeing them as outsiders, Adventurers are arguably the most free of anyone who lives in the gulf.  Their livelihood is not tied to a specific location or community.   They are not bound by the roles and rule of the caste of their birth. The treasure found in lost ruins can make most wealthier than a lifetime of work in the professions of their parents.  They owe their allegiance to no one save their comrades and patron Saint-Hero (although some authority figures would disagree with that one).  They get to see and experience more than many in their lifetimes.

The life is hard, and many turn to it because they lack the opportunity to do anything else. The majority of adventurers don’t even make it to their first score.  Even those that do survive and make a living off of it, the grind eventually wears them down to the point where they are not physically and/or emotionally capable of continuing it any more.  Still, many wouldn’t trade the life for anything else.

Building The Gulf of False Hope, Part 3: The Saint’s Calendar

YOU CANNOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.

– Gary Gygax, Dungeon Master’s Guide

Considering the nature of the type of game I want to run in The Gulf I feel that this line from Gygax rings true for this particular game, even if it might not hold for some more narrative type games. For this purpose, and because I think it is neat, I’d like to have a formal calendar that is used by the People of Asila, and, Therefore, the Settlers of the Gulf. While I will mess with the length of a year/months/weeks, I am going to keep an approximate 24 hour day, with normal earth like time-keeping, just to keep things simple. Continue reading