Saturday, August 30, 2014

ORCS OF THE NORTH: THE SECOND DEATH

We continued our Orcs of the North Campaign this week. A couple of players couldn't make it because of the holiday weekend so it was only the following four characters:

-Enos Ozihel (my character), an Orc who worships Ozias.

-Festus, a Halfling from the Shahr Republic who has business in the North.

-Aetos, an Orc Tribesman who died, became a Ghoul and was then blessed by Ozias of service and made into a vampire.

-Mogar, Orc devotee of Ozias.

We capitalized on Aetos' new thrall, Kolgar Harch, a Gru Sertori who was a member of the Caelcori. We discovered that some members of the Caelcori dislike the Republic's laws against Sertori holding high offices and they would favor a shift to Sertori leadership. By his estimate this number was about half. Using this information we sent a messenger inviting one of these disaffected Caelcori to meet us in an inn near Neodo. This time we made ample preparation for the meeting, careful to plan to for all possible scenarios. 
Pete takes a new spell as his Divinity rises

As we traveled we also gained more followers as we spread of our message about Ozias and Aetos, the Vessel of Ozias. This made us more powerful, increasing our spell repertoire. At the meeting we spoke with the Caelcori contact and he was open to Malka leading an attack on Cael and controlling a large portion of Caelum. He also told us that the Republic was rapidly moving toward civil war and that there were generals who sensed an opportunity to take seize control as well. We brought this information to Malka and decided to use it in the coming weeks as we planned an attack on Caelum. We also asked Malka permission to go west tot he Aevia and Aeta tribes, where we would promise their chieftains the second death if they joined us against Caelum. Malka agreed but we had another request. 
Dan and Ryan preparing to cross the Sea of Gilva


An attack on Cael might anger Lorgo, the chief God of the Republic. We worried he would join the fight, so suggested involving Ranua, the goddess of the elves who despises Lorgo and blames him for Senga's death. Malka felt this was acceptable and would pursue it. 

We then planned our voyage across the Sea of Gilva. This would be a short two to three day sail by ship, but still potentially a risk as the sea is quite stormy. We arrived safety and traveled to meet the chieftains who agreed to rally their people for a public demonstration of our god's power. At the ceremony, Festus prepped the crowd, expounding on Ozias' mercy for his followers, on the ever present threat of death that our god alone could defeat. He spoke eloquently and at length. Then Enos asked the three strongest warriors to step forward and kill him. They did so, impaling him and slitting his throat, then making sure he died. Within a few minutes Enos was back on his feat and his wounds completely gone. 

This had a powerful effect on the crowd who quickly became followers of Ozias. The chieftains agreed to support us with cavalry (about 20,000) when the time came for war. 

We ended the session here. 



Friday, August 29, 2014

ORCS THAT SMELL GOOD

I love classic Orcs. I think they are a great monster for fantasy campaigns and quite enjoy playing your basic half-orc Barbarian. There is a lot to admire about Orcs: their physical strength,aggressiveness and bravery are traits I find appealing. But they are also pragmatic, restless, and prideful. Taken to the extreme these can all be bad qualities, but when we set out to make Gamandria, we sought to play out these traits in more favorable circumstances. What would a successful Orc civilization look like?

Before I get into that, we should look at the Orc entry from the Sertorius rulebook. I've pasted it here for convenience: 



Mechanically they get some nice benefits: A free rank in Wits, Specialist Skill and Command. They get an expertise in Smell (which improves their Detect roll when odor is involved) and they gain Resilient Mind (making them less susceptible to magical transformation). 

As you can see we focused on two characteristics from the beginning: restlessness and a heightened sense of smell. Our Orcs are industrious and intelligent because of this Restlessness. They also have a keen sense of smell and that is important. If you've ever known anyone with a strong olfactory system, you notice they don't usually care much for foul odor. A person who can smell well is going to have a lower threshold for things like poor hygiene than someone who smells cannot smell well. Applied to a fictional race, it made sense that our Orcs would be concerned with hygiene and cleanliness. Already we were picturing something very Roman and this just added to that overall image. So we decided our Orc civilization would take its inspiration from the late Republic/Early Empire. 

TADARIA of Caelum
from Beneath the Banshee Tree
The Orcs of Gamandria are also mentally resilient and tough. Though Restless, they are not as easily phased as humans. This is particularly important when it comes to using magic, where they can shrug off the consequences of overuse more than others. The first recorded instance of a Sertori (a spell-caster in our setting) was an Orc, so it is also possible that they've simply been exposed to magic longer than the other races and have mentally and physically adapted. 

We didn't set out to make a black and white world. Every culture has its good and its bad qualities. The Orc civilization of Caelum has many positive features. They have established a well ordered society based on clear rules of law and they are one of the more inventive cultures on the continent. In fact Caelan books on architecture and engineering are prizes all over the world. Their political system is advanced, though it faces challenges, and they have devised a clever institution for keeping the powers of Sertori in check. However they do have negative qualities as well. Like many societies in Gamandria (which is based on the ancient world) they still use slaves. They also can be terribly efficient in wartime.

However Caelum isn't the only place Orcs live. They also live North of Caelum in Atroxis, where they are divided into tribes and worship an Ice Lich named Ozias. While this is more in keeping with the traditional notion of the Orc, we tried to balance this view out as well. They may seem like an evil society from the outside but we still wanted to bring admirable qualities to them, and we wanted to try to understand what a culture built around a lich-god might actually look like. Over the course of our Orcs of the North Campaign it became clear to us that the Orcs of Atroxis worship Ozias as a kind of merciful figure and find hope in the prospect of being resurrected by the lich or brought back as a form of undead. From their point of view, Ozias a positive force. They are still more rugged and less civilized than the Caelum Orcs, but they are not mindless or heartless. We'll be including some additional information on Atroxis (beyond what exists in the rulebook) in our upcoming free module The Heart of Atroxis. 

One of my favorite sections of the book is the Legend of Cael and the Legend of Sola, which describes two major events in the History of Caelum. Both stories highlight the indomitable nature of the Orcs and shed light on their resourcefulness. The Legend of Cael is about the founding of the Caelum capital. It describes how an Orc Chief (named Cael) brought his people to the foot of Mount Lorgo (home of the god Lorgo) because he liked the hot springs and felt worthy of settling near the presence of a god. However Lorgo hated the sounds and smell of the Orcs. He asked them to leave and Cael refused. Eventually the two fought an epic battle. Keep in mind mortals can't harm gods in this setting, it is pretty much impossible except in very rare instances. After Lorgo broke his body, by sheer will Cael managed to rip out one of Lorgo's tusks and battered the the god with it. Greatly impressed by the Orc's determination and fortitude, Lorgo agreed to let the Orcs live near Mount Lorgo provided they bathed daily and treated him as their supreme deity. Local Orcs believe that centuries of effort to avoid offending Lorgo's hatred of odor led to their strong sense of smell. 

The Orcs of Gamandria are not only one of my favorite races, they are one of the most important ones. The first Sertori was an Orc. The word Sertori comes from his name: Sertorius Poro. So the game is named after an Orc word. I like our Orcs, they are intelligent, tough, a little bit finicky and extremely resourceful. 




Thursday, August 28, 2014

PDF ANNOUNCEMENT

Starting next month Bedrock Games will begin selling its own PDFs. This means all of our PDFs available through our PDF seller will be taken down September 1st and they will be re-released under the Bedrock banner. These will be the same books as before. 

As a result, all existing reviews will be eliminated, which we regret because we have so many great reviews at places like DriveThruRPG. But ultimately we think this will be worth it for future releases. It also means the current sales status of our books will reset (so while Arrows of Indra is now a Popular Silver Pick at RPGnow, it will no longer be when we release it again next month). 

Definitely feel free to contact us if you have any questions or concerns related to this change: Contact. 


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

THE HEART OF ATROXIS: DEVELOPING THE IDEA

I've been busy working on the upcoming module The Heart of Atroxis and I've also been putting the finishing touches on the first Book of the Archon, so there hasn't been as much time for blog entries as I would like (but don't worry I have a dual review of The 14 Amazons coming up). Today I am going to briefly talk about how we begin developing a module. 

Usually the idea starts at the table, with something Bill or I run. In the case of The Heart of Atroxis, it began as a campaign Bill has been running set in the far reaches of the north, where remote orc tribes are starting to rise. The Orcs in our setting are predominantly civilized, so these orcs are something of an exception. They exist on the periphery of a powerful Orc empire and until recently were of little note. About fifty years ago a local chieftain named Malka united the tribes with the support of a powerful lich god named Ozias. This religion swept over the northern Orc tribes and Malka became their king. 

I think Bill was just intrigued by a society that worships a lich and is at ease with undeath so he set the campaign there. Whatever his reason, he started the campaign off with a great adventure where the party was sent by Malka to a newly discovered island with rumors of two powerful crowns buried beneath the ice. Malka had already sent men to the island in advance of us and we were to go with his daughter there to retrieve them. When we arrived we found a land inhabited by giant tribes, trolls and other nasty things. In addition to finding the crowns, we allied with some of the local giant tribes and formed an agreement with some that our king would give them land if they came and fought against the Caelum Empire. We were not authorized to make such a promise but it seemed like something Malka would approve of. 

So this was the start of the module. When Bill ran it he had to decide which island on the map to use. You can see in the image above that there are quite a few options, but it was narrowed down to two. 

After we had our island and after Bill ran us through the adventure, I was able to step in and contribute. Bill's original island was meant for something less extensive than what we ended up aiming for. There were kernels of everything in that first adventure but parts of it never got explored and Bill would have only developed it if we had stayed and done so. 

First we took the history of the island that Bill had developed and reworked it to make sure it was as seamless with the rest of the setting as possible. We also populated the island based on the history we developed and how things had appeared in Bill's adventure. 

The map above uses 100 mile hexes. We needed to get something more granular so we printed out the map with 30 mile hexes and started placing things. To the right you see an early attempt. Once we had this fleshed out, we had someone make a proper hex map for us, this time switching to 5 mile hexes (which fit our goals more). 

While I can't yet show the new map, I can say it is starting to look quite nice. It is done in a traditional style and works for the exploratory nature of The Heart of Atroxis. 

I don't want to give anything away, because much of the content is GM-only kind of stuff, but we are really excited about this adventure. It explores the ancient history of the setting from a completely new point of view and is shaping up to be a marvelous venue. While Bill already ran it as an adventure in our campaign, it has evolved considerably from the original idea. It also is going to require a bit of play testing. 

I will share more details in the coming weeks. 


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

THE HEART OF ATROXIS

We are planning another free module for Sertorius called The Heart of Atroxis. This will be based on material in our Orcs of the North Campaign and will be an adventure set on a lost island filled with giants, trolls, kobolds and more. It begins with a simple quest to retrieve two ancient crowns from a ancient ruin buried in frozen wastes but turns into a potentially endless exploration of the island itself as players learn more about the local tribes, ruins and history. It is also a chance to explore the Orc cultures of the North. Whether the players are orcs or not, they can still participate in the adventure, since Malka the King of Atroxis is happy to work with any willing Sertori. 

We are still hammering out all the details so things could change after this announcement. Presently we are expanding the details of one of the Northern Islands and creating a full hex map suitable for exploration. We are tying the history of the island in with the rest of the setting but giving it its own unique place with some surprising details buried in its past. In addition to the exploration aspect there will be political elements to the module as the characters choices potentially have consequences for Atroxis itself. We don't yet know the length of the module (with PDFs we are not as committed to a specific size from the outset of a project). Most likely it will be in the 70-100 pages range with about five chapters and two appendices. 

We will reveal more as the module develops. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

WHO IS MISSY?

We finally have new Doctor Who episodes after nearly a year (and really it's been over a year since we had a regular season). I am sure everyone has their own opinions of the new Doctor and Deep Breath. I was thrilled to be watching Doctor Who again, and while I don't think we quite have a sense of what Capaldi's Doctor will be like, I found Deep Breath entertaining and a good start to the new series. It was a bit sluggish at the start, but I think that may be a good thing because overall this episode had a lot more breathing room than more recent ones (it feels like a move away from the whole condensed storytelling thing
while I've enjoyed all the Smith episodes, I do feel the pacing has been a bit too fast lately). I am curious what others think so feel free to share your love, hatred, or indifference in the comments section. 

What I really want to know is the identity of Missy. This is the woman who seemed to revive the half-face clockwork man at the end of the episode and informed him he had reached "the promised land". I am in the dark as much as anyone (in fact probably more in the dark than some of the real obsessive fans) but I have a few guesses.

The first possibility I thought was she is a future version or an alternate version of Clara. Missy did call the Doctor her boyfriend, and this is the episode where the Doctor emphatically stated "I am not your boyfriend" so there seems to be a possible connection there. Given the fact that Clara exists across the Timelord's timeline, this could be any of those versions of her. It seems likely she is the woman who gave Clara the Doctor's number, so there is that as well. She could also simply be Clara in the future, or in the future in another body or state (with Doctor Who you never know). Maybe things get very bad between Clara and the Doctor and in this is the future outcome.

The next possibility I thought of was this is Madame de Pompadour. There is clearly a connection between the clockwork men in The Girl in the Fireplace and the clockwork men in Deep Breath. But when the Doctor last saw Madame de Pompadour he had promised to show her a star and then returned after she died. Just before that she had seen into the Doctor's mind and knew what he knew. So with all that knowledge, it is entirely possible she came up with some clever way to meet him again after her death. She had quite a few years to work on a solution after the Doctor left. And it is also more than a little possible she has been changed for the worse by this process. Plus she does have valid reason for carrying some resentment towards him (though her letter in the end of The Girl in the Fireplace doesn't suggest resentment to me). 

Obviously River Song is another possibility but if it were her, I'd expect she'd call the Doctor her husband, not her boyfriend. She could also be Tasha Lem, but I think she is actually River Song, so again, I would expect her to call him her husband. Though I could always be wrong about Lem's identity. 

I've heard some folks say maybe it is the Master or even the TARDIS. I have to admit, neither of these occurred to me while watching, but some have pointed out that Missy, could be a shortened version of Mistress, which is a female Master. That seems pretty tight in terms of the name. I could also see the Master calling the Doctor his (I suppose in this case her) boyfriend for any number of reasons (most likely because he finds the idea amusing now that he is a woman---if Missy is in fact the Master). Something tells me though it isn't the Master. I suppose it could be the TARDIS. That feels a little strange. When the TARDIS did take human form she was certainly a bit off, but Missy seems a lot more sinister. 

It is also possible Missy is an older character from the original series. 

What are your theories on the identity of Missy?  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

WHAT IS A ROLE-PLAYING GAME

Illustration by Jackie Musto
for The Guide to Aegyptus
We haven't included a 'What is a Role-playing Game' section in any of of our products since Terror Network and Crime Network. There are several reasons for this. Mainly it is because we assume folks buying our products are already seasoned gamers who have little to no interest in our definition of roleplaying. The other reason is I am not overly fond of defining roleplaying for other people. I don't mind describing it to those who have never gamed before, but I am not interested in establishing a definition that tells others how they should play. So we have simply avoided the issue by not including a definition in our rulebooks. I think this has been a mistake and in future we will resume with a standard 'What is a Role-playing Game' entry. 

It occurred to me while I was discussing one of our games with someone who hasn't played an RPG that every rulebook needs explain what roleplaying means. Now, role-playing and its definition is actually something of a hot topic and there are plenty of arguments and flamewars over how it ought to be defined. I really have no interest in that. Personally I don't want to limit my gaming experience or the experience of others because of partisans on either side. Those are discussions people can have down the road as they learn more about the hobby. I am just interested in giving people a small launching point to start play, some indication of what it actually means to play an RPG so those who haven't know how to proceed. 

In that spirit, I went back and reviewed our 'What is a Role-playing Game' entry from Terror Network. Here is what is said: 
Terror Network is a pen and paper role-playing game—a form of interactive story telling equipped with a rules system to resolve conflict. A role playing game is played by a group of players and a Game Master (GM). If you are a player, you create and control a character called a player character (PCs). If you are a Game Master, you create and control the plot and setting. The plot is the scenario that the GM presents to the players. Think of the plot as a story from a book, movie, or television program, except as a player, you control one of the main characters (your PC). The setting is the world your PCs inhabit. Like the real world, the setting is governed by laws (game mechanics) and filled with other people called non-player characters (NPCs). The GM controls all the NPCs in the setting. The Game Master also functions like a referee, deciding which rules apply to a given situation. When players decide what actions their PCs take, the GM tells them what kind of rolls to make to determine their success.
We wrote this before we were even aware that online "story" and "plot" were regarded asloaded terms and part of an ongoing debate over the purpose of roleplaying. I still have no interest in that debate, I do understand why some may see those words as misleading if readers take them too literally, but I also think they help make the concept immediately understandable. We would certainly alter how we define RPGs in any upcoming book, because I think we are at a different place now. Still I don't think we will be offering a definition meant for those who are invested in internet debates about RPGs. Instead it will be meant for those who may not know what an RPG is yet and just need something to grab onto in order to understand it. Saying an RPG is like being a character in a movie, is a fairly easy way to convey the idea (though there is always the danger folks get too hung up on the analogy). 

To me a Roleplaying game gives you a chance to be someone else and exist in virtually anyplace. You can inhabit the figures of history and fend off plots of intrigue against great emperors, you can chase drug lords through the streets of New York as a modern day cop, you can ride a dragon into war and fend off the hordes who follow the Ice Lich in a world that only exists in your collective imagination. There is drama there, there is story and there is a world you go to that feels real. Now folks can debate what that all means and how you achieve it, but that really isn't what interests me. I'm not worried about the role of the GM, or what mechanics should be employed or ignored and to what end. I'm interested in playing a character and feeling like I am someplace else really exciting and new. 

That is what roleplaying means to me. I still don't know what our next "What is a role-playing game" section will look like. Will be contemplating it further. 

What does role-playing mean to you?