RPG Creations and Musings.

Liminal

Liminal5

One thing which loomed large over my RPG landscape in 2018, in a good way, has been Liminal.

There are two origin stories for Liminal. Both are true. The first story is that the idea of Liminal, a fantasy game in modern Britain, making use of the landscape, history, folklore, and the varied make-up of modern society, had been on my mind for some time. I had been tinkering with the setting and rules since late 2017, in between other projects, unable to leave it alone.

The second origin story is that early in 2018, I was on strike over a pension dispute. Which meant I had lots of time suddenly, and three weeks where I wasn’t being paid. Time to finish first draft of the game text. Time to launch a Kickstarter.

I knew the look I wanted for the book, and who I wanted for art. I was absolutely delighted when Jason Behnke agreed to come on board. So I started talking about the game, and other people seemed excited by the concept. I commissioned a logo from Stephanie McAlea, and spoke to her about maps.

And boom…it exploded when the Kickstarter launched. I was taken aback. I mean, it’s only RPG famous people who get exploding RPG Kickstarters, right? But Jason’s art and Stephanie’s logo gave a great impression, and something about the project seemed to tap into the zeitgeist. Soon I was able to bring some writer friends from the UK RPG community on board, people whose work I admire. Becky Annison, Richard August, Paul Baldowski, Neil Gow, Guy Milner, Newt Newport, I wanted them and I needed them. The project was bigger than me, by a long way.

And their work being out there fed the explosion. I had the funds for some really lavish art, and not just a single book but a whole line of short supplements. I knew what I wanted from the supplements too, short books all developing the background in a compelling way that’s useful for playing the game.

And Liminal is meant to be played. While I’m talking about that, I’m incredibly pleased by how the game went at conventions- Seven Hills, Continuum, Dragonmeet. I’m even more pleased that other people are playing it, using the quickstart and the pre-release rules document even before the game is released.

It’s going to loom large over gaming in 2019 too. The release is coming soon (the PDF should arrive in late January), and I’m both excited and a little scared.

Oh, and if you’d like to pre-order, you can still do so here:
https://liminal-rpg.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders

This post is mainly for personal use (for me and my players), but it might be of more general interest. So here it is…events from our game of the One Ring, very loosely based on the Darkening of Mirkwood.

I’ve been really enjoying running this game.

The Company

  • Aeldra the Kind, of the Woodsmen. Former fiance of Ingold, son of Ingomer of the Woodsmen, who was slain by Mogdred, a former lieutenant of the necromancer.

  • Halbrog, a Ranger of the North.

  • Miriel, Warden of Mirkwood

  • Nali the Mason, a Dwarf of the Lonely Mountain

  • Hathus the Wanderer, a Woodsman (retired)
  • Rathar Broadshoulders of the Beornings (retired)

  • Eorgwyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan (retired)

Autumn 2947: The Company sets out from Dale, following King Bard’s mission of spreading the word of the Council of the North next Autumn. Crossing Mirkwood, they learn the truth about Mogdred from a mad hermit, namely that Ingold is Mogdred

The Company spend winter in the Beorning lands before travelling to the Woodsman lands in spring.

Spring 2948: The Company tells Ingomer, chieftain of the Woodsmen, the truth about Mogdred. They then travel into the forest to confront Mogdred. Aeldra the kind forces a realisation of who he was in a one on one fight.

Mogdred leads his men to fight orcs in Mirkwood, driving them out from the nearby area.

Mogdred attends the Council of the Woodsmen, and the Company convinces the sceptical Woodsmen to accept him as one of their number, and Mogdred’s fortress at Tyrant’s Hill as one of the Woodsmen holdings.

Summer 2948: Nali finds a mission from the dwarf Bofri son of Bombur. At Nali’s urging, the Company travel the old dwarf road through Mirkwood, and exorcise the Beacon Tower half-way through of its ghosts, retrieving the staff of the Roadwarden. Bofri the dwarf begins his work on restoring the dwarf road.

Autumn 2948: The Company cross Mirkwood, encountering the great spider Tauler, child of Ungoliant. They discover the East Bight is beset by Barrow Wights, and the lord of the East Bight, Ceawin the Generous, under the mental thrall of one of the Nazgul. They help him break free.

King Bard’s Great Council of the North discusses affairs of the free northern kingdoms, possible threats, and renews bonds of friendship between Dale, the Lonely Mountain, the Woodsmen, the Wood Elves, and the Beornings. The dwarf Nali presents King Dain of the dwarves with the Staff of the Roadwarden to give to Bofri.

The Company send word to the wizard Radagast about the Nazgul and the Barrow Wights, and talk to the Council of the North. They are advised that to defeat the Barrow Wights, they must find the barrow of their chief, and expose it to the sun. Radagast finds the location of the barrow the Company seeks, and leaves to consult with the wizard Saruman about the Nazgul.

The chief of the elven king’s hunters, Ruithel, goes missing seeking Tauler.

Winter 2948/49: Mogdred’s forces defeat an attack by orcs on the southern flank of the Woodsmen realm. Viglunding raiders attack Beorn’s lands, capturing slaves and burning the Elfwood, taking control of the western end of the elf path through Mirkwood.

Spring 2949: The Company bargain for the release of Ruithel from dwarves exiled from the Grey Mountains. They gain forces from the Woodsmen, and 50 elven archers for the Beornings to attack the Viglundings.

Summer 2949: The Company goes to the Viglunding lands to rescue the slaves taken prisoner- including Rathar’s associate Gisalric, and Frar the Beardless, chieftain of the dwarf exiles. The Beornings then go to war. Rathar kills the Viglunding chief, Viglund, in single combat. The Viglundings will no more be a threat, their very name to be forgotten.

And Rathar retires from adventuring with a steading in the borderlands to the north of the Beorning country, a reward for his efforts.

The Company decides to travel to the East Bight in spring to deal with the Wights. Perhaps they will find a group to journey with then (which they won’t in the Autumn), and not have a tough time crossing Mirkwood again.

Winter 2949/2950: The Wise and those touched by Shadow have dark dreams. The Dark Lord Sauron, the Necromancer as he was known when in Mirkwood, has risen again in Mordor.

Spring 2950: The Company sets off across the Narrows of the Forest for the East Bight. On the way, they discover the waters of Black Tarn and one of the River Maidens is corrupted by the influence of one of the Great Spiders, Tyulquin. To free Black Tarn from the blight, they seek out Tyulquin’s rival, Tauler, who after considerable persuasion leads the Company to Tyulquin’s lair. He will, with their cooperation, slay Tyulquin.

There, Tauler and Tyulquin fight, and Tauler is slain. The Company finish off the wounded Tyulquin, and with two of the three Great Spiders of Mirkwood dead, retreat to their new sanctuary in central Mirkwood, the dwarven Beacon Tower.

Summer 2950: While in the Beacon Tower, the Company join an elven celebration held by Orophal the Harper and Ruithel the Hunter. Both are wounded but happy. They celebrate killing the Werewolf of Mirkwood, and celebrate still more when they hear of the Company’s deeds with the Great Spiders. But the Werewolf returns in another body. The Company dispatch it, and explore the werewolf’s lair. They find the remains of one of the two Great Lamps of Balthi, which once shone with a light of the ancient world. The other of these lamps shines in Woodland Hall, in a secret chamber.

The Company, pursued by the Werewolf, reformed again, and accompanying wargs. travel with the wounded elves to Marshfoot, where the elves take a boat to the Woodland Realm. The Company caution the elves not to mention the other lamp in Woodland Hall.

Autumn 2950: The Company reach East Bight, and receive cryptic warnings in dreams of a coming attack by orcs and perhaps more. Aeldra the Kind slays the Wight King, ending the wight threat to the people of East Bight.

Winter 2950/2951: One of the Nazgul, a messenger, visits Mogdred of Tyrant’s Hill to claim his alliance to the dark lord. Mogdred and his men drive off the messenger with arrow fire.

Spring 2951: War comes to East Bight…a force of orcs from the east, and orcs from the forest, attacking from the west. A Nazgul is also present, and calls the wights. East Bight should be overwhelmed.

But the Company have not been idle. The wights do not march despite the Nazgul’s call; their king was slain, and the horn aiding their summoning was not blown. The Company also journeyed over winter to the Lonely Mountain and the Woodland Realm; forces of elves and dwarves march to help the East Bight, and Thranduil gives to Miriel a war banner from the time of Gil Galad.

The war banner drives away the Nazgul despite Nali the Dwarf being grievously affected by the Black Breath. The forces of Men, Elves, and Dwarves defeat the orcs and trolls, with Nali slaying the orc leader, a Great Orc and heir to Azog and Bolg.

Summer 2951: Radagast the Brown returns from a visit to the necromancer’s old fortress of Dol Guldor and hence to Saruman the White in Isengard. Radagast reports to the Company that forces are moving to reoccupy the Necromancer’s old fortress, including at least one of the Nazgul. And there is a traitor among the Wood Elves. Further, the Necromancer’s torturer, the Gibbet King, has returned to make mischief somewhere north of the Misty Mountains.

Miriel tells King Thranduil about the Lamp of Balthi. Unknown to Miriel, he sends a group, led by Ruithel, to steal it from Woodland Hall.

Autumn 2951: The Company travel to the old kingdom of Éotheod chasing rumours of the Gibbet King. Miriel has a vision alerting her to what the elven king has done. She tells the Company; Nali in particular is unhappy and sends a raven to alert the Woodsmen.

They find some of the Hillmen to be the Gibbet King’s followers, and orcs strike to kidnap the children of those who don’t follow him. The Company pursue the orcs all the way to Angmar, and catch them almost within sight of Carn Dûm. They take the children back to Rivendell. On the way they meet a group of elves and rangers, including Ruthiel who abandoned her mission and learned where the Company went.

Spring/Summer 2952: The Company, hearing rumours of conflicts between the Wood Elves and Woodsmen cross the Misty Mountains from Rivendell. The High Pass is blocked, but the Redhorn Gate is passable, and they come into the Dimrill Dale. They find a dwarven tower at the edge of the dale, Durin’s Watch, occupied by wraiths.

In the Woodsmen lands, the heroes negotiate with the Woodsmen and Elves, and learn that Ormal the Lampmaker, the greatest practitioner of wood elf magic, believes he can rekindle the broken lamp of Balthi given access to the still functioning lamp that still hangs in Woodland Hall.

A compromise is struck; the wood elves will not take the lamp, but rather Ormal will study it in Woodland Hall, watched.

The heroes also learn that the Nazgul and a group of orcs are nearby. With the aid of Ragagast, they rout three of the Nazgul, destroying their material forms for now.

Summer/Autumn 2952: The heroes journey south, to see Saruman to ask his advice on dealing with the Werewolf of Mirkwood and the Gibbet King. It’s a long journey, and on the way they clear a notable hazard on Hag Island on the river, and lay the wraiths of Dimrill Watch to rest. Halbrog declines to take a cursed sword from the treasure there.

They stop off in Gondor before heading across Rohan to Isengard. Saruman, after some persuasion, agrees to advise them. Halbrog agrees to become Saruman’s emissary, and the white wizard gifts him a ring he made. Miriel stays with Saruman for the winter to learn from him, and the other companions go home for the winter.

Saruman is able to tell the companions that he believes the Werewolf can be dispersed if the lamp of Balti is shone onto it immediately after its material form is slain, as long as no other wolves are nearby for the spirit to jump into. More research is needed on the Gibbet King, though Saraman does mention a sword in a wight’s horde on the Barrow Downs which might be of aid.

Winter 2952/2953: Halbrog meets Gandalf briefly in Bree. Gandalf seeks the Company’s aid on matters of importance, and will see them in Rivendell that Autumn. Until then, he has urgent business of his own. Wights have been seen outside the Barrow Downs!

Spring/Summer 2953: It is time for the Company to deal with the Werewolf of Mirkwood, who is running rampage around the eaves of Mirkwood, leading a pack of hundreds of wargs. The Comapany persuade the Woodsmen and Radagast to go along with their plan, taking the lamp of Balthi, and attacking the pack, while Radagast uses his magic to separate them.

The Company take on the Werewolf, defeat it, and Miriel shines the lamp of Balthi in its face. It begs the elf for mercy, but Miriel rather mocks it, refusing, seeing the spirit needs punishment. At which point the spirit of the werewolf jumps into Miriel! The wood elf is able to trap it for now within herself.

The group travel to see Beorn for help with Miriel’s problem. Beorn takes them into the misty mountains, where they see a mysterious hunter who takes away the werewolf spirit…and Beorn as well. The Company travel back to break the news to the Beornings and deal with the delicate issue of leadership.

On the way they sense one of the Nazgul in the distance and see a large force of orcs and trolls coming down from the Misty Mountains into Beorning lands. They bury most of the force with a carefully crafted landslide, and intend to fight the vanguard of the force who were ahead of the slide, but are forced to flee.

I’m back!

For a while I’d been spending most of my time on social media rather than here. But with the demise of Google+, I’ll be back, seeing this blog as a more stable platform for my RPG musings.

So what do I have planned?

  • Some posts about my new RPG, Liminal. It did rather well in Kickstarter, launching not just the main book in full colour, but a whole line of short supplements. I’ll talk about the process and the game here as well as on the Liminal webpage.
  • Thoughts and resources for longer term games I’m GMing. The big one here is The One Ring and an epic campaign inspired by the Darkening of Mirkwood.
  • An update of the list of other games I’ve been involved in writing, and a short post about each. There have been a few since I was last here.
  • Lots of links to friends and contacts with blogs of interest to me.
  • Other random thoughts…on being on podcasts, on conventions, on specific RPGs, on books.

I’m looking forward to it.

So… 2017

So it’s 2017. A while since my last post. I wonder if anyone is still reading?

This isn’t going to be a profound restart post, but I do want to tell you about a few things I’ve been working on. It’s been long enough since last time that there may well be things I’ve forgotten, and which fell into the gap.

My big late 2015 projects were Hunters of Alexandria (urban fantasy set in Roman Alexandria, powered by a light custom version of Fate,released by d101 games), and Starfall (a Wordplay games release, involving an alien invasion in the early 1950s). Also a nod to Evil Gaz of Smart Party fame; together we wrote Out of the Furnace to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Furnace RPG convention.

The big release of 2016 was more work with Graham Spearing, namely Far Havens for Mindjammer. I can’t wait to see my print copy!

And soon there will be much goodness. My Saxons book for the Mythic Britain line, and the Kickstarter for a brand new game, Age of Anarchy.

All the more reason to keep this blog updated better!

Introducing Ninth Legion

Early in the first century AD, a Roman legion vanished from the records. This legion, the Legio IX Hispana, took part in the invasion of Britain. Later in its history, it suffered a serious defeat when Boudicea revolted against Roman rule, and was reinforced by troops from the German frontier. Its last recorded presence in the historical records was in 108AD in Eboracum (modern day York). It was not present in the complete list of active legions recorded by Marcus Aurelius in 180AD.

In the popular version of history, the legion vanished when it went north to put down an uprising of Picts in Scotland. Many modern day historians believe the legion was simply reposted or disbanded, but for a historical fantasy RPG setting, there are much more fun things we can do!

In the Ninth Legion setting, the entire legion found itself transported to another world, which they called Arcadia. In Arcadia, magic and monsters are real, geography is sometimes fluid, and cursing an enemy is a dangerous thing to do. The Romans were not the first group to cross over- some Celtic tribes had already settled there.

There was no way back, so the Romans also settled, and did their best both to continue their lives and impose their values in this strange place.

A hundred years have passed since the Romans first arrived, and the city of New Rome rules a province of the Empire on another world. The player characters are Agents of the Ninth– imperial intelligence operatives with the duty of dealing with threats to New Rome that the army can’t deal with. Some of these threats are open, some covert, some external, some internal. Agents of the Ninth include people from throughout Arcadia, not just the Roman parts; New Rome and the people of Arcadia share enemies, though relations are often strained or hostile.

The following is an extract from the book’s introduction, detailing the people of Arcadia.

People of Arcadia

There are several human groups who make their home in Arcadia. These groups resemble certain peoples of the old world, but have no memory of it- they have been on Arcadia for centuries longer than the Romans, at least. In any case, the New Romans consider them to be natives of Arcadia, and refer to them as the Arcadian Tribes.

Broadly speaking, these people come in three tribal groups. They consist of the Belgae, the Iverni and the Picts. The Belgae are nomadic warriors with shapechanging powers. The Iverni are the most settled of the Arcadian groups, and many of them are either allied to New Rome or under its rule. Finally there are the Picts, who have both differences and similarities to the Picts of the old world. On Arcadia, they worship and gain power from the Fae.

There are signs of older vanished civilisations on Arcadia. The stone circles and monoliths which dot parts of the land are zones of stability, and as mysterious to the Arcadian tribes as they are to the New Romans. Pyramids as magnificent as those of Egypt are present in the southern plains. Even in New Roman territory, the Library of Athena was not created by them- it was discovered.

The only true natives of Arcadia are the Fae. The Fae are magical beings, and include the nature spirits and genii loci acknowledged by the Romans, even in the old world, great savage beasts who are all the more frightening because of the signs of intelligence they sometimes show, goblins and ogres, and the cruel Fomori who rule over the lesser Fae. As a rule, the Romans fear and hate the Fae, who are capricious creatures and fiercely oppose civilisation. Worse, they hold an entire race of people in inhuman servitude, exacting bloody sacrifices from them.

The Fae see the Romans as invaders and despoilers of Arcadia, who need to be wiped out. After all, the Romans have already forced the Iverni to follow their ways. The human allies of the Fae, chiefly the Picts, feel the same way about the Romans. For its part, the New Roman state needs to impose its virtues, and above all else order and stability, not just on the people of Arcadia, but the very land. Otherwise it will be swept away as the older civilisations were.

For some the price is to high. Even those who see order as desirable will not happily submit to Roman conquest- freedom is more important. Those closest to the Fae do not value order. The Fae themselves hate stability, and only value the temporary order they can impose themselves.

* * * *

Some of the worst threats the Agents of the Ninth can face are powerful hostile Fae who set themselves up as gods, taking human sacrifices from human followers who are as much victims as allies. How can one deal with such a situation when New Roman interests are at stake, and pure brute force is not going to provide a solution?

Historical Fantasy Patreon

As anyone who follows me on social media is probably aware by now, I’ve just started a Patreon to fund me writing historic fantasy RPG settings. The best way to think of it is as a “subscription” service for some of my writing in that field. The first setting will be a fantastic version of Alexandria, early in the Roman Empire.

Later on I intend to post my reflections on the Patreon, but for now I’m a bit shocked. Shocked in a good way- it reached the base goal of $100 per setting in less than 24 hours, and with a bit of luck will reach the $200 goal, where I add in Fate RPG mechanics for the settings.

I don’t know why the Patreon worked, but I’m very happy it has.

Here it is!

Things to come

Gosh, it’s been an age since my last blog entry. It’s time to rectify that with a quick post and a hope for more. I have many coming projects this year I want to write about.

Some of these are:

  • Time of the wolves. Time of the Wolves is a scenario supplement for Age of Arthur, the dark ages fantasy game I wrote with Graham Spearing. It involves the battles with the Angles in the Kingdom of Ebrauc.
  • Ninth Legion. A new campaign setting for Reign that features a lost imperial Roman Legion a hundred years after it vanished into a sprawling, fantastical Otherworld. Generations of their descendants have been born and died in New Rome, the colony that they forged. To the heirs of the Ninth Legion, Arcadia is the only world they know. Coming soon from Arc Dream.
  • Starfall. Starfall is a 1950s alien invasion setting with a hard rather than pulp science fiction gloss. It’s a setting for the Wordplay RPG, coming soon complete with a light version of the rules.
  • Non semper erit aestas. A scenario involving Roman legionaries by the Rhine, and supernatural goings on for the OpenQuest RPG. It is part of OpenQuest Adventures, coming soon from d101 games.
  • Empire of Ys. My standalone world-hopping vaguely old school fantasy game. Writing here is about 90% complete, and I will be saying more soon.

Then there’s work in progress that I’m not yet ready to talk about, but it’s pretty exciting!

So I’ve been writing even if I’ve not been writing here. I intend to change that soon!

In my last entry I commented on four pieces of fantasy literature which still excite me. Time for some more!

  • The Dark Tower Series (Stephen King)

Really, at its heart, the Dark Tower Series is about a questing band of knights. Only with a Wild West ethos on top of that, and guns rather than swords. And with lots of crossovers from our world. Really, I just find this really cool. Sure, it has it’s problems (Stephen King himself as a guest character being the main one, and the impression that the author was bored with it all by the end of the last book being another one) but the wonder, and number of really cool scenes and ideas more than makes up for it. It may soon be time for a reread.

  • Various Fantasy Works of Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock was absolutely hugely prolific, and key to my take on fantasy (and many others) with the concepts of Law and Chaos, and the infinite planes of the multiverse. And the books are fast exciting reads. Key reads from my youth- the series based on Elric, Hawkmoon, Corum, and the Dancers at the End of Time- all breezy fast exciting reads, and ones which capture what I want from swords and sorcery. And my goodness, was he prolific- how many novels did he put out in the 70s? I almost don’t want to know. It’s a pity I don’t like his more recent works (from the 1980s onwards really) nearly as much.

  • The Broken Sword (Paul Anderson)

Now this is the business- a gloomy saga involving the hidden war between the elves and trolls amidst dark ages Europe, and a doomed changeling hero. It’s a really good take on a slice of mostly Norse mythology in the form of a novel. One of my favourite books in fact, for all its doomy angst. Okay, I like doomy angst sometimes when it’s done well. This is one of those times.

  • The Warlord Chronicles (Bernard Cornwell)

This is closer to historic fiction than fantasy, but I’d definitely put it in the fantasy camp. It’s Bernard Cornwell doing King Arthur, complete with subtle magic which is not necessarily magic, and as much taken from the Welsh myths as is taken from any historic sources. And it’s a King Arthur in the Dark Ages rather than faux-Medieval romance. Heck, Cornwell’s King Arthur isn’t a king, but a warleader, and a compelling fictional character.

It’s also the main fictional inspiration for the Age of Arthur roleplaying game.

  • The Discworld Novels (Terry Pratchett)

This is the last for now of my great fantasy loves, unless I move onto talking about urban fantasy at a future date (which tempts me). I’ve read all the Discworld books, and at their best, they manage to be both funny and moving, as well as both parodying modern society and saying things about human nature. Not to mention introducing some fine fictional characters. Reading a Discworld book gives me the same sort of warm glow as eating a fine meal accompanied by a couple of glasses of wine, with a cigar at the end of the meal.

 

And that’s me done with this for now. Though at some point in the future I might write about urban fantasy, the Mabinogion, or Homer.

Focus on the Fantastic

Earlier in the year I was I thinking a lot about science fiction roleplaying. Now I find myself thinking a lot about fantasy, an old love I keep returning to. I’m running fantasy, in the form of the 13th Age roleplaying game in the Planescape setting.

I’ve deeply conflicted thoughts about both fantasy literature and fantasy roleplaying. For this post, I’ll focus on the literature. Fantasy literature was one of the earliest sources for my imagination. On another level, I find much fantasy a bit boring these days, and find many invented worlds hard to invest in. Rather than being negative, I thought I’d call out a few things that give me pleasure these days.

  • Middle Earth (J.R.R. Tolkien)

You saw this one coming, right? Over the last couple of years, after a long break, I’ve fallen in love again with J.R.R. Tolkien’s works. The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion are all great for me in different ways. I’m awed by the depth and detail of the invented history and mythology, of course the languages, even the geography in Lord of the Rings where every hill and wood has a tale.  There’s nothing else like it.

  • Guy Gavriel Kay’s not quite historic novels

I’ve not read much Guy Gavriel Kay yet- he’s a recent find for me, and the novels I’m talking take place somewhere very close to the real historic world, with both a dose of invention and a very very small dose of fantasy- magic is present, but an extremely minor feature of his works. He sometimes deals with big sweeping events, and being fantasy rather than historic fiction frees the books from having to follow history. They evoke a time a place beautifully, as well as being human and genuinely moving stories. Sailing to Sarentium and Lord of Emperors (the two “Byzantium” books) got me hooked, and The Lions of al-Rassan (in  an analogue of Islamic Spain) was just as good.

  • The Saga of the Exiles (Julian May)

This is not so much fantasy as science fiction with lots of fantasy trappings- based around those who volountarily exile themselves from the world of 2110 to prehistoric Earth, six million years ago- and find it under the rule of two warring alien races who are rather close to beings out of Celtic legend- right down to their names being slight variations of the Celtic gods. I won’t go into detail here- or the details of the magical “metapsychic” powers which are the main element of the setting. I can’t really say why I like it so much- maybe because it’s just sheer fun.

  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell (Susannah Clarke)

Just one novel this time, though it’s rather meaty. It involves the return of magic and the Fae to early 19th century England, after a long exile from the world, where at the start magicians exist, but merely study the history and theory of magic, not being capable of actually putting it into practice. There are numerous (often big) footnotes referring to history and the real fairy tales of the world of the novel. It’s slow moving, and sometimes written in the language and spelling of the era. Yet I love it. One reason is that it’s one of the most terrifying depictions of faeries I’ve come across in fiction, even with (and to an extent because of) all of the whimsy.

That’s all for now. It’s not all I want to talk about (there’s Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, Michael Moorcock and Pratchett to name but three), but it will do for a first post on fantasy novels.

13th Age Planescape

The last time I posted about how much I was enjoying a game I was running, things went kerplooey with it. But I’m not a superstitious man, so I think I’ll write about another game I’m enjoying running at the moment. The game is 13th Age, and I’m running it in the Planescape setting.

So what is 13th Age? It’s a variant of D&D. Of any of the D&D editions it feels closest to D&D 4e. The major part of the abilities of the various character classes is what they can do in combat, and combat is unashamedly itself a game. The funny thing about this description is that it really makes it sound like 13th Age is not my thing.

But it works. Combat is quick (I don’t think any fight has lasted longer than 20 or so minutes, and some have been faster yet), and feels dangerous. The funky abilities mean that characters don’t just do the same thing every round. And there’s more to the game than that.

Outside of combat, there’s a light narrative game. A Player Character has One Unique Thing which places them in the world- it’s something about them, big or small, that is true of literally nobody else. The other big deal is Icons- Icons are the movers and shakers of the setting and characters have a connection with them. At the start of a session, players roll dice related to the Icons, to see how they come into play in the scenario, granting advantages and complications.

The other nice thing about the player character abilities, is that they’re in the player’s hands- as one running the game, I don’t need to know them. Monster special abilities are much easier. It’s an easy game to run.

When I read 13th Age I realised I wanted to try it. To make this happen, I ran it. And this led to me dusting off my all-time favourite setting, namely Planescape.

Planescape is world-hopping metaphysical fantasy, revolving around the Outer Planes of the Great Wheel Cosmology of 3e and earlier editions of D&D. These Outer Planes are based around a combination of alignment and metaphysical concepts. It’s not just my favourite D&D setting, it’s my favourite fantasy setting of them all. It’s got the right sort of magic and strangeness and variety for me. It even blends in bits of real world mythology, mangled through a D&D lens.

One thing I needed in the setting was Icons- what are the movers and shakers of the setting? Well, there were two ways to go- big players in the Outer Planes, and the Factions. Factions are groups of people with sharing a philosophy, based in the city of Sigil, a city in the “centre” of the Planes. So I went for a mixture.

For reference, here’s the handout I gave to the players.

Planescape 13th Age: Setting Primer

Concepts

The Planes

A plane is an infinite expanse of space with its own physical laws. There are three real categories of plane.

  • Prime World

A Prime World is an “ordinary” fantasy world, where mortals dwell. Think Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, etc.

  • Elemental Plane

On the elemental planes, one particular element, such as earth, air, fire, water is dominant, as are creatures made of or comfortable in that element.

  • Outer Plane

When people in the Planescape setting talk about the Planes they really mean the Outer Planes. These are the domains of the gods and the dead, featuring geography impossible under Prime World laws. They are the native domain of creatures embodying philosophical concepts such as law (the robotic Modrons), chaos (various), good (the Celestials) and evil (the Fiends). Ordinary mortals also dwell in the Planes, doing their best to get by somewhere they’re not really, one suspects, meant to be.

Some Outer Planes are further seperated into infinitely large layers, each embodying a different philosophy. If the elemental planes are made of particular elements, the Outer Planes are made out of beliefs and philosophies, and layers or even entire planes can shift under their influence.

Power

A Power is another word for god, used by Planars when conveying healthy respect, but not worship. It is possible to visit the domain of a Power in the planes. Once there, the Power is nearly omnipotent. It is not possible to make them do anything, even appear if they don’t want to be seen. Do not mess with the Powers.

Petitioners

The souls of the dead from Prime Worlds make their way to the Outer Planes where they are reformed as Petitioners, gravitating to the domains of the gods they served in life, or the plane which best reflects their belief. Petitioners cannot remember their old lives, and do not age or learn, unless a Power transforms them into something else, such as a Celestial or Fiend.

Portals and Keys

Travel from Plane to Plane (or even layer to layer) is through a Portal– a magical doorway linking different places. Most Portals need to be activated with a Key, otherwise they act as ordinary doorways. A key is usually carrying a particular object, but is sometimes a particular action or phrase. Keys tend to be unusual enough that accidentally activating a Portal is rare (though not unheard of), but not uniquely valuable items.

Sigil

Then there is Sigil, the City of Doors. It’s a vast closed ring (think of the inner surface of a rotating space station), and the only way to enter or leave is through a Portal. Fortunately, Sigil has thousands of Portals, some under control of various groups, some not. Sometimes temporary Portals appear, and sometimes Portals appear and disappear on a cycle.

Sigil has no ruler, but its emblem is the Lady of Pain. Nobody talks to her, but she can flay with a touch, can banish those who threaten the city as a whole, and prevents any Power from exerting direct influence in Sigil, or entering the city.

Icons

Factions of Sigil

The Factions have headquarters both in the city of Sigil and elsewhere in the planes, and the purpose of furthering a particular philosophical belief, as well as a role to play in the “rule” of the city of Sigil.

There are other Factions not described here, but in the game only these Factions will be represented as Icons.

The Athar

The Powers are frauds, not gods. They need mortal worship; mortals don’t need them. Indeed, the Powers and their worshippers are responsible for much wrong. We study religions and the Powers and would-be Powers, combat their lies, and help their victims.

The Dustmen

There is no purpose or structure to the multiverse, just misery and pain. Why? Because there’s no life- not just the petitioners, but all of us, both on the Planes and on the Prime, are dead, and we dwell in the shadow of another existence. The one release from the wheel of suffering and reincarnation, and gateway to actual life is the True Death, but that’s hard. To understand and hope to attain it, we study and respect death in all forms.

The Fated

The multiverse belongs to those who can take and hold it. Those who work for it get what they deserve, and there’s no use blaming others or whining about bad luck. There’s no point in feeling sorry for those who don’t make it- that’s just making excuses for weakness. Respect and compassion have to be earned and deserved, and debts must be repaid.

The Harmonium

Sigil and much of the multiverse is a place of war, chaos and misery. For the good of all, it is our duty to impose law and order. With order comes peace and harmony, the wrongdoer can be punished, and all can live better lives. We’ve taken charge of this process, in Sigil and elsewhere. Someone has to do it.

The Mind’s Eye

Existence for me is a series of challenges, and everything I encounter is part of these tests. I seek to pass these challenges, gaining enlightenment, ascending to a higher state of being, in this life or the next. This quest is unique to me, but others have similar quests, and all beings who want to prove their worth can try. We are there as an organisation to help each-other, and to see what can be done with our enlightened wills.

The Society of Sensation

What is real? What your senses tell you, what you experience- and life is the sum of experiences. To truly live life is to seek out new experiences, both “good” and “bad”, relishing and learning from each one.

Other Icons

The Dark Prince

Graz’zt, the Dark Prince, is the most powerful ruler of the chaotic demons- the Tanar’ri. He rules over three entire layers of the infinite Abyss, but he wants more. He has worshippers, and is close to being a Power, but Graz’zt seeks actual godhood. Graz’zt has several half-mortal children in positions of influence, both in his realm and elsewhere.

The Desderain

Few, even amongst the Celestials, are willing to take the fight to the Fiends. But we, the Desderain, made up of both mortals and Celestials, believe in taking direct action, not just in defending our own territory.

The Luminiferous Aether

The Luminiferous Aether is a group of powerful wizards and sorcerers who share information and resources. Individual members work towards their individual goals. The cost of joining the Aether is extortionate, but the prestige is immense, and members of the Aether willing to work as mercenaries command extraordinarily high fees.

The Nine

The Nine are the rulers of the Nine Hells of Baator, and some are close to being Powers in their own right. All Baatezu- the lawful devils- serve them. The Nine have many goals, but are most dedicated to increasing their personal power in Baator and prosecuting the eternal Blood War against the Tanar’ri- the chaotic demons of the Abyss.

Primus

Primus, the One and the Prime, is the supreme Modron, and embodies order and logic. As well as Modrons, Primus has mortals who follow the philosophy he embodies, the Fraternity of Order. The Fraternity of Order are a Sigil-based Faction who know there are laws of nature as well as society, which hold throughout the multiverse, and those who know these laws have power.

Sung Chiang

Most Powers don’t involve themselves with the affairs of the Outer Planes, having more to do with their believers on various Prime Worlds. The thief god, Sung Chiang, is different. His Teardrop Palace in Gehenna- made up, it is said, from territories stolen from other Powers- is the centre of a multiversal network of thieves, thugs, assassins and informants. He even has allies amongst the Yugoloths.