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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Necromancy Arcana for FAGE: My First Take

I decided I wanted to have some rules for necromancers in my game (who doesn't?!), so I worked these up. I tried for more of a witch doctor/shaman vibe as opposed to just "evil with skulls." 

Obviously, like most magic in the book, more powerful versions of the magic might be possible with things like rituals and legendary items.


You can pierce the veil between the land of the living and the realm of death.

  • Novice: You learn the spells Voices of the Dead and Death Ward. 
  • Journeyman: You gain the spell Unbinding. You also gain the focus Intelligence (Necromancy Arcana).
  • Master: You learn the spell Animate Corpse. You can also choose one spell stunt you can perform for –1 SP when casting Necromancy Arcana spells.

Requirements: Necromancy Arcana (Novice)
Spell Type: Utility
MP Cost: 4
Casting Time: 1 minute
Target Number: 13
Test: Willpower (Self-Discipline) vs. Spellpower

You can contact a dead soul and question it. The spell must be cast where the soul died or its resting place (grave). There is no language barrier, but the creature must have been sentient in life. You can ask up to three questions, but the spell fades after one minute. The soul can attempt to resist answering at any point in the process, but only once. A success means it breaks contact without answering any further questions. If you have a piece of the departed's remains (bone, hair, etc.) or know their name, your spellpower is effectively at +2. The soul can only speak to what it knew in life. Its answers may be incorrect (telling what it believes to be true) but it cannot lie. 

Requirements: Necromancy Arcana (Novice)
Spell Type: Defense
MP Cost: 4
Casting Time: Major Action
Target Number: 10
Test: Willpower (Courage) vs. Spellpower

You can create a shield of energy, centered on one person within 12 yards of the caster, that holds back the undead, corporeal or otherwise. Spectres, walking dead, and similar creatures must succeed in a Willpower (Courage) or be held back a distance of 4 yards from the target of the spell. The ward does not prevent weapons or magical attacks from getting through (e.g. a spectre's shriek). The spell lasts until the end of the encounter, but if the warded character attacks the undead (magically or otherwise), the spell ends. 

Requirements: Necromancy Arcana (Journeyman)
Spell Type: Attack
MP Cost: 8
Casting Time: Major Action
Target Number: 14
Test: Constitution (Stamina) vs. Spellpower

A sphere of disruptive energy bursts out from your location in a 10 yard radius. Any undead in the affected area (including flying or underground) take 2d6+1 penetrating damage, a successful CON test reduces the damage to 1d6+1 penetrating. 

Requirements: Necromancy Arcana (Master)
Spell Type: Utility
MP Cost: 10
Casting Time: 1 minute
Target Number: 15
Test: none

You can create a Walking Dead minion (see FAB p. 113). It becomes either a skeleton or zombie, depending on the state of the body. The spell animates one cadaver for each casting, but it can be cast multiple times. The body must be within 10 yards of the caster. The undead will obey your mental commands for 1 hour before de-animating, but you can extend the spell's duration by 1 hour per +5 MP. Regardless of the MP spent, the spell will end at the next sunrise.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Fire it up!

Tonight is "Session 0" of the new campaign. We'll spend the beginning making characters and setting up things like PC goals and PC bonds. I have some basic adventure material scribbled out as well. Here's hoping things go well.

It's equal parts exciting and dreadful to start a new campaign as a GM. The potential is tantalizing but the possibility of things fizzling (or a crash & burn) is ever present. Nothing for it but to try, though! Let's roll some dice!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Church of the Radiance

The Church of Radiance's origins predates the Empire. Legends tell of early prophets traveling among tribal clans, delivering the Word of the Light to all. Many were martyred, but the faith spread and soon it was the predominant human faith in Bryll.

At the height of the Empire, great cathedrals were built and the priesthood grew strong. At the head of the institution was the Patriarch. This spiritual leader was selected from the pontifex when the old leader died.

The faithful depended on the church as much as the throne for succor and guidance. This twin poles were not alway in perfect accord. Sometimes emperors and patriarchs would clash over the issues of the day. Sometimes violently. More than once church templars took the field against imperial troops.

With the empire's decline, the church maintained its hold on the faithful, but politically it now had to juggle relations with multiple rulers instead of just the emperor. As a result, the prelates of areas like Peledan and Blackport have become more independent of the Sacerdom (the enclaved seat of the Patriarch in Rike). In the Splintered Princes, the church is strong among the people, but there is no central ruler to appeal to. Local priests have varying levels of influence with the petty lordlings that rule the various territories. Oddly, the church's political influence seems weak in Silverrun, despite the presence of the beautiful Winged Cathedral and a more stable social structure than the bulk of the region.

The core of the faith centers around the concept of illumination, or the opening of one's being to the light of the divine. The pillars of worship center on spiritual purification through piety and devotion to the church and its teachings. These include tithing as well as avoiding sinful pride, dishonesty, excess, and brutality. The faithful attend weekly services for blessings and to make regular confession. Priests perform these services as well as marriages, funerals, and the anointing of children into the fold.

There are some priestesses, but the overwhelming majority of the clergy is male. There has never been a Matriarch of the church, nor even a female prelate or pontifex. In addition to the ordained priesthood, there are also cloistered monks and nuns, as well as mendicant friars who are considered "of the radiance."

The templars are militant, chivalric orders that have cropped up from time to time in the church's history. The church does not actively support such organizations. Traditionally they have been comprised of privileged faithful, who have banded together –usually in times of crisis– giving the church a militant arm to wield. The would be templars must obtain the charter from the Patriarch to become an official order. At which point, they gain a certain status within the church hierarchy. The charter can be revoked at any time, so many orders have only lasted for one Primacy (or less). At present, there is no "active" templar order, though many nobles still claim a connection to some historical ones.

It should be noted that while the church is the official faith in the empire and Peledan, it is not the only religion. Nature worshippers, demonic cults, and other beliefs hang on in the fringes and shadows of society. The church is a distinctly human religion as well. There are no significant populations of nonhuman followers, though individuals may have adopted the faith.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Gods of Bryll

One of the interesting about the FAGE rule set is its handling of classes. There are only three: Rogue, Warrior, and Mage. Each one covers a lot of ground. Rogues might be thugs, cutpurses, scouts, burglars, and so on. Warriors could be anything from a barbarian to a chivalric knight. Mages cover all spell casters. Which means, among other things, that there isn't a separate cleric/priest class. At least not in the core rules.

This leaves me with the question of how to handle religion in the setting. Since you don't have an entire PC class required to pick a deity, one could theoretically just leave it out. It seems strange to go without religions entirely, though. Gods and goddesses are such a staple in fantasy settings, to have one without them feels incomplete.

On the other hand, this aspect of the game opens up the intriguing possibility of having religion without "gods." By that I mean the people may believe in a deity or pantheon, etc. but –unlike in a D&D game where clerics of Thor call down lightning on the wicked or raise the dead– there are no overt miracles to be seen here. The faith –or faiths– power is institutional, not magical. Like the catholic church in our world, it can be a powerful force in the world, but the power is really secular, based on wealth and influence, not spell slots.

At the same time, it may well be that there are "mystics"; be they orc shamans, elven seers, human ascetics, or what have you with "the power of miracles." They may believe that their magic comes from the gods, but does it? Or are they naturally gifted mages?

The answer, of course, is a matter of faith.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Races of Bryll

HUMANS - Are far and away the most numerous of peoples. With the exception of the dwarfs, humans rule all of the "civilized" nations of Bryll. Their appearances vary with region, but during the height of the Empire's rule, there was a great deal of intermixing between groups as the armies and merchants moved throughout the land. In general southerners are darker in coloration; olive-brown skin and darker hair and eyes being most common. To the North, humans tend to be fairer.

ORCS - The empire has long kept orcs as a soldier slave race (shock troops). The orcs in the former provinces are now free, but often treated as 2nd class citizens. There are also savage tribal orcs in the Wyldelands.

HALFLINGS - Are few in number. Nearly all of them live in a small communities within Hin Swamp: the bayou-like region of the southwestern coastline.

DWARFS - (The Kingdom of Koldarth) Make their homes in ancient halls carved inside the Wyrmspine mountains. Mining and smithing are the hallmarks of dwarven prosperity. The dwarf king is elected by the heads of the major clans when the old monarch dies. The chosen candidate becomes not only the secular ruler of the dwarfs, but their high priest as well.

GNOMES - are a subjugated race within the dwarf kingdom. Gnomes are considered tied to their keeper clan, similar to a land-bound serf. Some do manage to get away and leave the dwarf lands for freedom in the wider world. Such gnomes are nearly always looked down upon by any dwarfs that encounter them. Rare indeed is a free gnome that would risk returning to dwarf lands.

ELVES - There are two known populations of elves. The first are a woodland people that live in the taigas of the northeast, they live an arboreal, reclusive life there. The second are a seafaring, piratical breed. They crew wicked corsair ships and attack merchant vessels, fishermen, and coastal settlements. No one knows where they make port, but they are most frequently spotted in southern waters.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Lands of Bryll

Check out Herr Altbauer's site if you want to commission an AMAZING map like this!

When working up the ideas for the physical setting, I let my imagination run a little loose. Instead of trying for "realistic" pseudo-historical names and places, I tried to take the more evocative route and give names that had an almost fairy-tale feel to them. I haven't written more than a few lines about each of the major locations. The idea is to fill those in as the campaign rolls forward. Here are a few examples:

The Lin Magocracy: Less of a nation, and more of a scattering of wizards' towers across a gloomy land. They say the region is crisscrossed with powerful ley lines, making it idea for arcane study. It is also said to be infested with enchanted beasts and monsters.

The Splintered Princes: After the Havron Empire began to break apart, petty lords began to fight for territory. The region is still volatile to this day; with little wars breaking out all the time. The only thing that unites the lordlings is their resistance to the return of imperial rule.

Dragonsreef: Shoals, treacherous currents, and jagged reefs make this stretch of coastline perilous to ships and even smaller craft. Few sail this way, excepting bold explorers or outlaws.

There is a lot of blank space here, literally and figuratively. I don't want a setting where every village and stream is named and detailed. We'll get to that as we go.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A new AGE begins

Over the last few weeks, for those of you that aren't aware, Wil Wheaton's "Tabletop" web series has been running a pencil and paper RPG campaign that was a promised stretch goal from their Season 2 Indiegogo fundraising. The name of the campaign is Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana and airs weekly.

Now whether you enjoy watching other people play an RPG or not why I mention this. Rather, I wanted to talk about the game system they are using. It is called Fantasy AGE (which stands for Adventure Game Engine) or FAGE (as some have begun to call it), and is new from Chris Pramas and Green Ronin Publishing. Pramas and GR hold a special place in my gaming heart because it was they who revived and (IMO) improved my beloved Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay with its 2nd edition (The "Black Industries" version). WFRP 2e is one of those games that I squeezed a TON of fun out of and would play again at the drop of a small but vicious dog.

The AGE system is not exactly new. GR had used it before in their Dragon AGE RPG. However, like WFRP and the Old World, DA is tied to a particular setting. In this case, the one from the Bioware video game by the same name. FAGE gives you the mechanics divorced from any default setting.

After watching an episode or two of Titansgrave, I was intrigued enough to grab a copy of the pdf when it was released just before GenCon. After reading it though a few times, I like what I see.

The book isn't perfect, mind you. It's almost more of an SRD. The bestiary is far too small, there are a few typos and obvious copy/paste errors from where they lifted some rules from Dragon AGE but didn't update some of the language to reflect minor changes to the rules. Still, it is far from unusable as is, and the system itself is light, flexible, and easy to learn. Furthermore, it's FUN. A friend who went to GenCon grabbed a hard copy from GR's booth for me.

I am currently taking the opportunity of a brand new system to inflict a brand new setting and campaign on my group. Rather than designing the whole arc and filling the world with details for them to uncover, I am taking a different route.

There is a map. A gorgeous one I paid to have professionally drawn (which I will share when I have the final version and have paid the artist the rest of his fee). I have outlined a few paragraphs about the world and the races, and seeded a few hooks based on players' input. Beyond that, it is an open page. I am trying to keep my footprint light on the world, allowing a slightly more collaborative process with the players. Now, that isn't to say it's all diceless storytelling! But if a player has a good idea that makes sense, why not incorporate it somehow? It's an experiment for me, and I'll be moving in slightly less familiar waters, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.