Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Sunset Realm Cosmology and Religion

I'm tying the last 4 campaigns I've won into an overarching setting, because that seems the best way to build a large setting up, really. Having some pictures to break up these walls o' text is definitely necessary but I can't lie, this post is more for me to organize some stuff to a single area than for anyone else.

First Sun
The First Sun gave light and warmth, of course. It  gave form and law to the Elements, who form the world in a covenant of cycling matter that returns warmth to the Sun, with interest, warmth and soul growing from what seemed dead and dark, with a seed of light to germinate within.

But the darkness was vast, and the Sun could not illuminate all things. The world was made, but outside the world, the darkness remained. From behind what was lit, shadows were cast, and they stretched to the very edge(but no further) of true darkness and there were seized by a ruinous nostalgia for unbeing, and so the Sun was torn asunder. But the Shadows were illuminated by the light of the sundered Sun, and they became glowing Moons, and their moonlight, pale as it was, sustained the world, though much of it became shadowed and chill, and the forgotten First Sun's world grew strange indeed in the light of roaming moons.
Yg-A incited to devour his fellow moons, shed Yg, and become Second Sun
Then Yg-A the Snake Moon fell prey to a hunger within, born of stolen and diffuse light, a hunger called Fire, sometimes called the Light Degenerate. Yg-A devoured many moons and, wonder of wonders, ignited into a Sun, the Second Sun, and Yg-A became the Dragon-Sun, scaled and fiery, and Yg the Mother of Serpents came to be from the shed snake-skin of Yg-A, and the world became as it once was, but different, dominated by the hunger of flame-bellied serpents, the dragons. Very few dragons nowadays trace lineages back to the Second Sun, but those that do are terrible indeed.
Yg-A Becomes the Undersun
Yg-A's hunger was bottomless, for Fire knows not satiety, and as the fellow Moons were nearby... The Moons fled before Yg-A through air, and some still shake in the distance, watching the world from the edge of darkness fearfully lest Yg-A return. You may know the Coward Moons as Stars, and this fear of cannibalism is why Moons only rarely share a sky with each other. Yg-A turned Fire-Hunger towards the Earth, and, jaws gnashing, sank into the earth in an attempt to consume it. Yg-A knew not of the covenant violated, and the Tamed Stone took Yg-A's heat and became Magma, who worked to undo the breach of the Covenant by returning heat to the Sea and Sky too via Volcano. Yg-A was weakened and forgotten, his light no longer supporting the surface dragon-kind, sunk to the depths of the dark earth just as the fearful stars fled to the heights of the dark sky. Then on the dying, sunless surface, bipeds of great cunning collected the scattering light and heat and bound it into a forged vessel, the Sorcerer Sun, the Alf-Star, the Rune-Light, the Third Sun.
Towers from left
High Elves, Svartalves, Ningen

And the world became as it once was, but different, dominated by elves, or so the serpents of Yg let them believe. The elves spun things of light and the tamed elements, until they tired of such things and spun stranger, more dangerous things from moonlight, until they too tired of that and began to spin things from shadows... and then, a single thing spun from Darkness itself. They could not understand what they had wrought,  and the elves forgot what they were, mind, body, and soul, and the Svartalves below and the human Witch-Queens above stole the light of the Sorcerer Sun and trapped the warped fey inside the dark structure, and cut its tethers, sending it to roam as the Iron Moon.The moons and darkness closed in, but the stolen light was released once more, weakening the Witch-Queens and leaving the Svartalves to be swallowed by the darkness beneath their mountains. The released light coalesced as a mirror of men's souls, and thus was Riikhus, the Fourth Sun
Big Head Gods- Riikhus, Mokkhus
Lil gods- Lady of Gardens, Murulu, Kispiritis, Jackal then Horse god of Yuba
Also the burning remnants of high elf/witch queen society beneath the Iron Moon
Riikhus did not know what he was, so he looked to Man as example, and saw they called things greater than themselves Gods. So Riikhus called himself God-Sun, and around Riikhus clustered many things that too called themselves Gods, and so the rule of heaven was much like the realms of man, now. Many Gods there were (and had always been, by other names), vying for the heat of the living, which they called 'soul,' and many who opposed Riikhus were cast down and enslaved. But some were his ally, like Mokkhus who called himself Brother of the Sun.

Moons Clockwise from left- Winter, Autumn, Spring, Skull
Gods counterclockwise from left- Dying Riikhus, Rejoicing M'shesh, appalled Lumar
Then came Sarkomand, who found the lost thing of Darkness and became all-powerful, or so it was dreamed, and the dream was maintained by Lumar, who remembers forgotten things and shivered in her mirror-realm as she played at being the one and only Moon. But the dream was a bridge between dark and light, and many gods were drawn there, and as Riikhus now sought to bring all gods beneath his yoke, he could not stay away. Upon that bridge, Proud Riikhus and Broken M'shesh contended for the second time, but a human, Townlocke, turned from Riikhus in favor of M'shesh, and she retrieved that which Sarkomand lost, and stripped Riikhus of much of his might for the sake of establishing the new coming of M'shesh. Weakened Riikhus left the dream, never knowing that Lumar's deception was a mantle of protection laid over him, and the covetous Moons descended and devoured Riikhus, and the proud Gods who contended against the ravening Moons learned that 'God' was only a word, but Moon was a thing. Of the devouring moons, five took the lion's share of Riikhus's corpse- the moons Skull, Winter, Spring, and Autumn, and Lumar, who was not a true moon, but only a dream, a reflection, an opportunist. Unable to long hold what she long cherished, the light reflected from her scalded arms and burst forth from the dream as the 5th Sun.
5th sun, assorted moons, cultist on a hill
The New Sun is a dream, a reflection. Men called it Heleos for it made its home in the sky above the ancient island academy of Heleologos, or Sol Triumphant, for the glutted moons were driven before it like wolves before a vengeful shepherd, and those more knowledgeable called it Sleepwalker, or those more heretical, False Dawn, but it did not respond to these names, whether called by men or by gods. It only crackled across the sky, swift as a chariot drawn by lightning, driving off the moons, and maintained the light of the world. It is a mindless thing, a child of Lumar's unrequited love and Riikhus's reflected glory, begat in dream, where perhaps it should have stayed. Now the edges of the world bleed sunset and the dark ice and ruins of past worlds edge closer as the False Dawn chases moons in circles round Heleologos.

Widespread Religious Understandings

If you're inside the black ring you're in the Noonlands and don't have to worry about Moons
The black ring encompassed Sarkomand's Faults a century or two ago because the 4th sun was brighter than the current one
Heleognosticism- The cult of Riikhus and the slave-pantheon is broken, but sun-worship survived. Their prayers fall upon the deaf ears of the False Dawn, but their arcane secrets are just as miraculous as faith, especially with what was wrested from the overseas colony/dream of Sarkomand's Fault. Knowledge is to be found from light, and any truth that dwells in darkness is suspect. Pyromancers collect shards of suns and embed them in their palms, pain enlightening them as they are consumed by flame. Other researchers contemplate matter, their understanding of the world composed of God-dogma and fragmentary understandings of the forgotten elemental covenant. Most spells come about via the study of the soul, the study of gods and fey and ghosts. Most noonland kings have a Heleognostic as court wizard, and most wizards of the noonlands trace their spell-lineage back to Heleologos. Heleognostics and those sharing their cultural influence are spiritually aloof, perhaps in imitation of the False Sun, and do not pay polytheistic homage to local gods, relying on their own enlightened intellect and the enlightening Sun and Flame to protect them from jealous godlings and moonspawn.
Worshipper Goals- Trust in the sun, spite the moons, shun the darkness. Knowledge is power, and what is unlit is unknown.
Death Expectations- Become one with the Sun, strengthening the light and opposing the darkness as a united, transcendent whole. Dream-realms and afterlives where souls maintain individuality are ignorant of their true potential as sparks of the divine sun.
tl;dr- Fedora-tipping nerd wizards scared of the dark

The Undersun- Yg-A lives and writhes, far below, shrouded in magma in the bowels of the earth. The convulsing ur-wyrm fans heat into the flame degenerate and consumes souls, or heat, in his endless hunger, but his flame is too his prison. Fire is an excellent servant but a poor master, and those serving the burning below have no guidance, only flame and more flame. The Undersun is rediscovered again and again, and misunderstood again and again, and so every new cult is different. Especially in the Moonlands, where the Sun does not shine, the reliable heat and flame from below draws human adulation in lands otherwise locked in chaos and darkness. All that burns is an offering to the Undersun.
Worshipper Goals- Variable. Death cults where people get thrown into volcanoes are just as common as people who simply use a volcano for heat and light in a frosty Moonland.
Death Expectations-Variable, but the ultimate end of those who align themselves (or rather, their elemental covenant) will find themselves transformed into beings of fire that dwell in the depths, drawn towards the Undersun but unable to bypass the maze of stone and lava. "Demon" is a popular term used for these flaming chthonic souls when discovered hundreds of years later by people with different moral outlooks.
tl;dr- volcano sacrifices
The players never did find their way into the warped mirror world variant of the first level of Sarkomand's Fault's megadungeon and so Lumar was p much toppest secret even though she was 'meant' to be a fairly big deal that campaign.
But I didn't force it and it was fine. Moral of the story, don't force the story.
Lumar- A mirror-goddess, a dream goddess, doppeldeity, taking all forms save her own, for she has none. Her female nature is ascribed to her by mortals as a perceived contrast with dead Riikhus rather than any self-ascribed nature. Perhaps she and her shadowy mirror-realm existed from one second after the first sun glinted off the face of the dark waters, but perhaps it took the humanity of Riikhus to make the reflection of a sun take on a mind as well as life. She keeps secrets of past solar ages, and as she consumes secrets to replace with lies, she weaves deception so complex it has become a sort of truth of its own. This is the dream-realm, the mirror-realm, a realm that looks like light, but is not, looks true, but is not, is, but is not. Fakes have many advantages over the real thing, after all.
Lumar is everywhere there is light to reflect from things, everywhere there are souls to dream, but she does not exist within the 'real' world, a secondhand existence of perception, not reality. Her servants are less of a cult and more of a conspiracy that infects existing cults and social structures, their actions tipped towards the obfuscation of knowledge. Riikhus opposed her and knew not why, and now the knowledge-loving Heleognostics do too.
Worshipper Goals & Death Expectations- Those who serve Lumar are typically unaware they are doing so, as Lumar can imitate anything. The mirror realms and dream realms that are her domain are open to the living, so perhaps the dead souls of Lumar continue their work anonymously.

Yg- Mother of serpents. She is older than elves, older than dragons, yea, older than the word "god," and certainly wiser than them all. A snake content to watch over snakes, the one god she opposes is Lumar, for Yg seeks to know all, and perhaps one day, swallow all. But for now, she tends to her snake daughters(Snake sons are hopeless, alas) and coils in the deep dark earth and the deep dark sea and the deep dark sky, encircling this world so much tinier than she remembers, and she waits. Stars blink more often than she. Yg is not a god of mammals, and they must shed their skins to become snakelike to gain access to her venerable knowledge, though wise humans do not meddle with snakes regardless, lest they draw Yg's ire. Unlike the torchbearing Heleognostics, Yg knows that darkness holds knowledge as well.
tl;dr- osr snakepeople

Moon Cultists The moons are ancient facts of life outside the Noonlands, and bring life and light, albeit in twisted form. There are a thousand moons, each with some moonlit cult out in the darkness. The 4 greatest ones, that ventured into the very Noonlands to devour Riikhus, have the most prominent cults.
i love this image for Skull so much
one day I'll find the source
one day...

Skull- A skull of a murdered god, resting in a moon shaped like a broken and empty shell, maimed long ago by Yg-A and still fearful of the touch of flame and sunlight. Undead, created not via a soul piloting a body in violation of the elemental covenant, but stolen bodies operating with the soulless light of Skull, the elemental covenant hijacked to steal the heat, life, and souls of other creatures and offer it to Skull. The undead of Skull are always human, but certainly not people, and know only hunger and violence. Skull cults (AKA Skults) slowly take the light of skull into their body to replace their souls in a bid for immortal undeath, and do so via the slaughter of the more 'traditionally alive' and self-mutilation. The end result, a Lich, has an artificial soul composed of Skull-light that behaves very differently to warm souls which continue life in various underworlds. Heleologians claim that Liches, like all skull undead, are not the same person as the lost soul, simply an evil copy, while Skulltists are certain that the continuous consciousness ensures it is a transfiguration of themselves, not a replacement.
tl;dr- these are the necromancers and undead you CAN'T play as

Spring and Autumn- The life of these moons at first appears quite similar to typical birds, plants, and bugs, but quickly become something else. Toxic, spined, perfumed. Autumn harvests the hard elements of the earth with bronze birds, iron butterflies, and steel magnolias, and Spring the cycle of life via delicious fruits, bugs, and birds as lures, and fruits bugs and birds that find you delicious. The cults of these twin moons range from experimental hippie types, to biologists-gone-wild, to ravenous maenads. The end result is all that matters- the thorn forests and flower jungles sprout up, and then the winged beings spawned from them return to the moons with all they have harvested from the world, adding themselves and all they have to the mass of the moons, which, on close inspection, appear to be scapes of petrified beings slowly consdensing into the bulk of the moon.
Worshipper Goals- Party hard. Follow the moons, whatever it takes. The drugged/poisoned fluids of the moonspawned lotus-jungles are without compare. Also you can get resurrected as a plant or bug mimic-clone in certain seedpods or cocoons, so you can party really hard.
tl;dr maenads and instant off-climate magic jungles
Winter- In the border Noonlands, winter is understood as chilly times when cold weather blows in from elsewhere. In the Moonlands, it is understood that Winter is a moon whose light is fearful enough while obscured by its frozen clouds, and should they ever part, the land below will be flash frozen into an ice age. Noonland "winter" is basically just a feeble, distant shockwave of these events. Winter is why the world out where there's not even reliable moonlight is an uninhabitable frozen wasteland of black glaciers grinding ancient forgotten civilizations to rubble and why you sometimes find animals that are 3 times bigger, hairer, and fangier than 'normal' animals.
Worshipper Goals- The worshippers of Winter are disgruntled doomsday preppers, essentially, certain that the world will, sooner or later, become a frozen wasteland where the strong eat the weak and pacts with vile spirits will have to be struck for survival as mortal civilization collapses, and after our so called "King" elected Sleeny Alazneer as Chancellor of Finance, the end of the world can't happen soon enough I tell you wot. Some of these nasty fellows even raid and pillage preemptively whenever the weather gets cold. These people, who adopt names like 'cold-eyes' or 'sons of winter' and so on, are not to be confused with 'bandits' who typically have more relatable reasons for being assholes.
tl;dr dire cave animals and instant off-climate ice age survival
LOCAL GODS-  If there is a local god in your vicinity, you are well advised to leave offerings at their shrine. This is less worship and more of a 'please don't mess up my face' fee and while it generally won't give you any divine favor, it may at least take certain angry spiritual-servitor-things, weather disasters, and so on off encounter tables and similar low-impact probability tweaking. There is no hard limit on the use of the word 'god,' here it pretty much means 'any being powerful enough that it's basically a faction all on its own.' What's a faction? Well, that's a matter of scale, innit? What might be a 'God' to a village might barely quantify as 'big monster' to an empire. 
The whole island is the corpse of the dragon-turned-god Ebeth, you see
Ebeth- Dragons know not the difference between Need and Want, but one dragon knew Pity as well, and sacrificed itself to feed a pitiable race of insects. Ebeth became a corpse island of golden dragon-flesh, and his will lives on, in the giant insects and awestruck humans alike. He is not dead so long as altruism lives on, but his church is fractured between humans who want to improve their lives by looting his corpse, and of the original insect-people who view the humans as greedy interlopers taking more than their fair share, and the original message is muddled.
Arrkohn- But the brightest lights cast the deepest shadows, and Ebeth had a shadow too. Preaching self interest, not generosity, the dragon-cults of Arrkohn the Black serve themselves and themselves alone. They believe even the altruism of Ebeth was just a self-serving act to satisfy Ebeth's golden ego, and will prove to the world that true altruism does not exist, only things that people Want and Need. It's not 100% clear if Arrkohn is an actual thing or just something that dragons co-opt to jumpstart dragon-cults as a gold-gaining scheme.

These two dragon-gods are a player-suggested contribution, not my OC.

The moonlands are more ruin than civilization. Without the order-imposing light of a sun, the chaotic forces of moonlight and darkness quickly erode the stability of mortal civilization.
Saint Bridget- Awesome nautical adventuress-saint. Outside of her local worship in the weird little village of Bridget as a protector and guide to those lost on the waves of fate, her opposition to the piratical god Kispiritis who was part of the Riikhus slave-pantheon back in the day makes her an anti-authoritarian figure in the eyes of the Mercian-descended inhabitants of the region.
Worshipper Goals- Follow your dreams, protect those you love.
Death Expectations- As a 'mere' human the afterlife she sustains is relatively small- a ship, captained by herself, and crewed by all her adherents, sailing the seas of the world.
Kispiritis-Though it was confirmed he escaped the god-devouring moons that ate Riikhus aboard a ship called Sea Serpent, property of a snakeman called Shukra, Kispiritis was never seen again, presumably having run afoul of a sea-entity greater than himself in the chaos of the Riikhite pantheon collapse. However, worship of him still persists in the form of offerings to the sea, made by pirates to find prey and by merchants to escape piracy. Some say that these offerings simply go to the Ningen, but whose to say those giant sea-people don't appreciate it, eh, eh?

Lord of Calamities- Titanic half-buried half-alive demon-god who grants mutations as a sign of favor and natural disasters and plague as a sign of disfavor, with some overlap. Lives out in the Wurderlands around a dark city best described as "permanently Halloween." This calamitous lord is actually the Goddess Murulu, once a slave of Riikhus and one who found beauty in all things, even things like deformities, scars, and so on.
Worshipper Goals-Find the beauty in all things. And in yourself, awwww. Honestly there's no great ideology going on here, Murulu offers freaky mutations and acceptance for the weird of the world, smites people who spurn her blessings, and slowly shapes the world to be more to her unusual aesthetic preferences.
Death Goals- Reincarnate as a freaky monster. Or at least as yourself +1 mutation if you're a square.
Campaign #2, Wolf Moons
Lady of Gardens- Endemic to Queen's Coast, Kings' Point, and Prince's Spit. Once a slave of the Riikhite Pantheon, now back to fussing over the management of good breeding of people, domesticated animals, and crops, and demanding the extermination of chaotic monsters. It would be a simplification to write off the region as a low-key religious war between her orderly human societies and the freaky hybrid wackiness of the Lord of Calamities in the nearby Wurderlands, but it would not be an inaccurate simplification, at least.
Worshipper Goals- Live orderly lives where everything is in its place, functioning smoothly. Social mobility is not encouraged, and her realms are heavily feudal.
Death Goals- Carry on with social niceties, but in a properly tended necropolis-afterlife mirroring the real world.
Isfrix has only one facial expression
Isfrix- God(Often called Demon-Lord due to low bad public relations) of Hate. Hatred is powerful and common, and it coalesces into Isfrix. Isfrix is both totally unrelatable as whole (only a God of Hate could hate everything) but is totally relatable in small doses. If you hate something, Isfrix got you, it doesn't matter why or how. Isfrix is too mercurial to ever really be considered a permanent ally to anyone, but is easily called upon for the sake of cursing and bedeviling people, and occasionally you get a frankly cartoonish villain who seeks to unmake reality that Isfrix will totally get behind.
Worshipper Goals- stick it to (hated person, group, or thing).
Death Expectations- Suffer in the hell of Isfrix until you get kicked out(Isfrix hates company more than being alone, usually, because there's more to hate about something than there is to hate about nothing). As far as Hells go, by all accounts Isfrix's isn't so bad. As he hates everything, there's not much there save for a few dickish spirits (collectively known as Hatecubi due to an absolute bastardization of linguistics) and maybe some extremely inoffensive terrain that has nonetheless been blasted with hate-lasers and reduced to a cratered waste. Yeah, while Isfrix does subtle curses like Dead Man's Pennies, which trash your saves and attract disease spirits and can't be gotten rid of except by slipping them to someone you hate, Isfrix also just tries to hate things to death directly via eye-lasers.
A somewhat more indirect player contribution, this one. Pretty much everything but the name was me, but all the same.

Ibn Haur- Headless head-swapping god of Saresare. Treated as weird combination of folk hero and celebrity more than a being of worship because Saresare is a place more concerned about The Law, but Ibn Haur is a sort of antiquated animal-man hybrid-trickster figure that used to be a big deal back before Saresare had their agricultural revolution. That was like, 3rd sun times. It's a miracle the old boy is still kicking.

The Law, an offshoot of Heliognosticism endemic to Saresare, longtime rival of Mercia and joint plunderer of Yuba, that focuses more on the order of the world (and society) than the Heliognostic sun exaltation. Go read The Nightmares Underneath for the sort of implied overview of this, I ain't getting into it here.

Janus- Two-faced god of blood and gold and transmutation between the two via secret sacrifices, svartalf(dwarf) origins and human adoption as the undermen vanished into the deep dark of the earth.  Currently an autocratic industrial prison-complex in Oroboro, but falling from favor due to player efforts. They started in this post and a player fleshed them out some in the current campaign into something more concrete. Their priests are Incarceratrix, or Incarcerii, and they battle criminals with intent to capture, not kill, favoring nets, mancatchers, blunt bar maces, bolas, and nets.
Worshipper Goals- Get super rich via sacrificing blood to gold and super tough by sacrificing gold for blood, use your physical and financial power to get even MORE rich before it's time to build your tomb in the Golden Sepulchre (a mighty tomb-complex), have a palace stocked with slaves waiting for you in the Hell of Janus
Death Goals- Enjoy your opulent slave palace in the Hell of Janus, don't end up a slave yourself in post-death power struggles with already established hell-lords, something that conveniently went  unmentioned in church teachings.
Another player contribution, this guy.
Ebeth is off to the right, and that area to the left is Lungfungus' Fassulia that I stuck on there to playtest. It's a good intermediate zone between Oroboro and Saresare.
Oroboro- Rather than trust in the fickle gods, the people of Oroboro, once a colony of Mercia but now an independent city-state, decided their afterlife would be a reflection of the city, a netherworld necropolis sustained by the collective will of the living and the dead who called themselves citizens. As in life, so in death, such is the dead city of ororborO. Of course, some people (rich nobles who don't want to mingle with the hoi polloi of the citizens, mostly) build themselves family tombs, whose netherworld equivalents are then sustained by their bloodline and funerary arrangements. Again, that's why there's so many opulent tomb-dungeons filled with angry dead- the dead want their afterlives to be as they built them, and when a tomb is defiled, so too is the afterlife equivalent.

The Jackal God of Yuba-Once a slave of Riikhus, now empowered by faithful for the second coming of the Sorcerer Kingdom of Yuba. Yuba eats the hearts of her enemies and the blood of invaders warms the feet of the Yubans, and the Unchained Jackal howls at the moon for the loss of their friendly rival the Horse God. Yuban priests are polytheistic and pay tribute to a lot of lesser local gods (slandered as 'demons' by the foreign nations of Mercia and Saresare), but the Jackal God is their goodest boy and they give him priority.
Worshipper Goals- Be nice to dogs. Teach dogs to be nice to you. Eat the hearts of your enemies so they are reincarnated as dogs to assist you in your next life. Also, #freeyuba
Death Expectations- Dogs that are good get reincarnated as people, and vice versa.
tl;dr-anubis but as the sole survivor of his pantheon. The other member was

The Horse God of Yuba- Once a slave of Riikhus, devoured along with him. A god of friendship and peace, now a hole in Yuba's pantheon that the Jackal God is at a loss to fill.
tl;dr- they dead. But as an aside I found amusing, a player of mine who adopted aspects of my campaign for their own had a player who took the Horse God as their deity of choice to hang their bronyism upon. In retrospect, the horse+friendship should've been obvious, but still that's a funny interpretation and if players have a misunderstanding about a god I think you should encourage rather than correct it, and just have there be offshoot branches and so on.

T'liki- Trickster chaos gambling god, sealed away in Lumar's dream-realm that cloaks Sarkomand's Fault, stand-in for the RNG of the game itself, mentioned before here and here (but those posts kinda suck so whatever)
But one night I was working on prep in the roll20 game room and his image showed up somehow, but overlaying the horizontal scrollbar!
Just look at that smug bastard in the bottom left, overlapping the scrollbar and not even being a part of the image
how the heck even
That was when I decided he was trying to escape the confines of Sarkomand's Fault and make it into Crownless Lands via depletion of the deck of many things. So far, unsuccessful, and yet sealed within the dream.

Mokkhus-Once Riikhus's cold brother, of death but not undeath, an accountant in aspect and a taskmaster to the enslaved gods. Mokkhus was thought lost in the War In The Sky, and current Mokkhites are now a clammy, aging cult with ghost-powered clockwork golems seeking to recover the sundered pieces of Riikhus from the Moonlands so that a ressurrected Riikhus can heal/find Mokkhus and re-enslave all these upstart godlings into a unified pantheon again.
tl;dr- emo steampunk
Worshipper Goals- Reignite the good old days with the good old sun
Demand obeisance and servitude from any so called 'god'
Death Expectations- Wander the earth as spirits until they can get a new body since the afterlife of Mokkhus and Riikhus collapsed 100 years ago.  Alternately build a nice tomb to spend their afterlife in.
They do not know that their clockwork contraptions are but an idle experiment by an imposter older than this 5-sun drama and Mokkhus himself is long slain, his skull adorning an ancient Moon.
M'shesh- Mother of the undead, seeking to undo Death itself, to end pain and suffering forever. She does not understand the Elemental Covenant (though lets be fair, no one has really understood it since Second Sun) and is preoccupied by trying to minimize suffering as she shoves her faithful souls into unsuitable, damaged bodies. She is unwittingly sequestered away in Lumar's Dream where her second attempt at an undead-society can operate unbothered by the real world, but her whispering black wind slips through to other dreams in other lands and so M'shesh worship exists in isolated pockets. As she still has a bad rap from the bad portrayal pushed by the Riikhus-crusades a century or two ago and association with Skull makes people leery of undead, peaceful M'sheshan undead keep to themselves.
Worshipper Goals- Kill nothing, cause no pain to any creature, shamelessly abandon vows of pacifism in self-defense of your life because those who deal death are welcome to it
Death Goals- Re-inhabit bodies to continue a blameless life. If no bodies are available, one will be dragged around in M'shesh's arms like so many rag dollies as she treads the grey nether realm between worlds.
tl;dr- these are necromancers and undead you CAN play as.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Hexcrawling In Fassulia And Beyond

So I'm playtesting Lungfungus's Fassulia and it's going well so far, but I'd like to talk about some things I do with hexcrawls (or rather that I do NOW after dissatisfaction with the vast, barren expanse of simultaneously boring and dangerous wilderness that passed for a hexcrawl in Sarkomand's Fault).
Some of this is reinventing wheels other people have invented, mind you.

Improv & Connections Here's some (rewritten) hex keys

1-Plains- Road from Kabuli to Phavea
Blocked by floral maw and 1hd sproutspawn

4-Plains-Kabuli Village, Near the desert there is a cave hiding a crashed ship with a magic scimitar
Feuding Family of Gharib and Jasim, gharib the taxmen, Jasim the singers, rebels, contest for singing

7- Hills-Pillar monastery. Isolated and bored nuns. One has 18cha in terms of singing voice

3-Swamp-A vast tar pit bubbles before you, it's stench  unmistakable

As the players investigated, I turned things into a blood feud where Gharib blamed Jasim for a missing son and slew one of Jasim's sons, causing the outraged Jasim family to in turn slay one of Gharib's sons. Jasim claims Gharib's first missing son got drunk and wandered into the nearby tarpit at night, Gharib's son claims Jasim slew the son rather than hand over a goat for tax purposes. In truth, the Floral Maw was the responsible culprit because a player guessed that was the case and that seemed reasonable to me. The players decided to reconcile the familes via marriage because a wizard character claimed to have read at the academy that was the best way to resolve such things (again, reasonable enough sounding and so declared canonical) and so the hunt for an eligible pair from the families was on. Since Kabuli has singing contests and the nearby nunnery had a nun with a good singer, it seemed reasonable that she could be the daughter of the rich (and suspected corrupt by the players on account of the rest of the village being poor as dirt) Gharib, so the plan was to retrieve her and convince her and a son of Jasim to marry to end the blood feud. The Floral Maw was in the way and had to be destroyed, revealing the ring of the devoured missing son and providing further incentive to end things peacefully, and things wrapped up handily, with the reason the daughter being sent away that she fancied a brother of Jasim anyway but Gharib didn't care for his daughter to marry into a family of lower economic status. But now love finds a way, blah blah, blood feud ended and tiny podunk village saved from both themselves and nearby monsters.

So big whoop, a GM used improv and player input to spin together a session, what's my point?

Well! On the one hand, it is important for hex crawl features to have connections to each other. So the players are encouraged to walk back and forth through the hex-crawl and discover context that makes the layout meaningful. If hex fillings are totally self-contained and not actively grinding against each other, well, it's a sterile and noninteractive land the players have found, isn't it? That would be the dungeon equivalent of a delve where monsters stayed in their rooms and had no knowledge of anything outside their 20x20 boxing ring and every room was spaced in a predictable grid where you could go in any direction whenever you wanted and backtracking to old rooms was never necessary because they could all be handled and written off after the first time entering.

But on the other hand, when you're designing/running a hex-crawl, you have to realize you're not designing/running an adventure module, either. The goal is not to guide the players along particular paths and events, its to let them bumble about exploring and to have something emerge from play. So while I spun the above plot from a few minimalist hex fills and it worked well, it would not necessarily be an "improvement" for a hex crawl to write out that pseudo-romeo-and-juliet blood feud drama word for word as a hex fill, because then a hex crawl becomes like 5 different interconnected modules that you won't be able to remember anyway. Hex crawls are meant to work well on the fly, and that means improv and random content, not heavily prepped super-dense pre-made content. Which brings me to the next point.

Gameable Content
Each hex is often 6 miles across which is a lot of space. If a hex has only one content fill, it better be something both cool and easy to stumble across. Something the players want to interact with, will inform their decision making, something they'll return to again and again with different ideas, or otherwise the content is quite likely to fade from memory and relevance and you'll have an 'empty' hex on your hands.
Here are some things that I think are good fills, and how to make them better still.
  1. Civilized Settlements- This is an easy player attraction- a place to rest a resupply without having to fight off like a random encounter per day. It's also easy to improv for- you know on an intuitive level(probably) what people are like and what conflicts may mar otherwise enjoyable stays at a settlement. The easiest thing to do is probably just settlement+random encounter menacing settlement, and you can also just introduce any NPC you like in a settlement without raising too many eyebrows too. They're a good combination of stable but flexible in what hooks for adventure can emerge from them.
  2. Monster Lairs- This is different from a dungeon, in that it's not a kooky collection of tricks, traps, terrors, and treasures, it's just where some local wandering monsters hang out. A bandit camp or dragon lair or bear cave. It's more of a way for players to 'hunt down' particular menaces and strike them from the wandering encounter tables for that hex, and maybe get some loot/accolades than a true adventure site. I don't think it's at all unreasonable to have a monster lair of every wandering monster in the region hidden away in hexes- 6 mile hexes are big and this allows a sort of metric for 'how much work does it take to slaughter everything in a hex so I can build a castle/hire miners to dig up the crystal mountains unmolested'
  3. Dungeon- Minidungeons are fun to scatter throughout the land, but are also a fair bit of work and their contents tend to be somewhat aloof and separate from my earlier advice to keep things connected. Overreliance on dungeon as hex contents turns hexcrawls into pointcrawls, where the points are dungeons that are interesting and travel is largely an annoying wandering monster tax between dungeons (at least that's how my Sarkomand's Fault was). To differentiate them from monster lairs though, you should have them repopulate with wandering monsters or specialized dungeon monsters very quickly. Dungeons are constant features that should reward return visits to a certain extent, especially if they have weird features like statues that shrink you or other fun tricks. What you don't want to have a dungeon be is a one shot visit, clear, and never return because that hex is now boring thing. It's fine if the players decide not to ever return, but that should be because they have other things on their plate, not 'the dungeon has been cleared.' Dungeons aren't mastered until you've deconstructed the walls and built a fortress out of them. One of my favorite things a player did back in Sarkomand's Fault was use their flying ship to loot the stone of The Gelatinous Dome and another minidungeon of my own construction to build their temple a over a third ancient ruin. In returning to the dungeons, they made extra use out of those places and managed to find things they missed the first time.
  4. Terrain- Mountains and swamps, the roughest things to cross, can get glossed over pretty easily according to a lot of wilderness procedures. They just cut down travel time by x1/3 or something. If you've ever been in mountains, and not even fantasy-sized everest mountains, that's a vast understatement of how totally confusing and impassable harsh terrain can be. Those places should have extra chances to get lost, chances to have to turn back due to impassable mires/cliff faces blocking the way, multiple paths 'through' the hex that well send you east instead of north because there's no known route north, and extra secret hex content fills that, if you stick to the known mountain passes/dry land through the swamp, you won't ever see.
    An opposite issue comes from roads- you find a road, you follow it, it goes somewhere, hooray. But there's reasons roads are where they are, and so there should be off-road hex contents that, again, you won't find unless you look for them (though if a road was built to avoid them, you may wish you hadn't after all).
    The short version of this is to have obvious hex contents, and hidden hex contents, and to make terrain relevant in finding and reaching those contents. Harsh terrain where it's hard to see and unwise to linger leans more towards lots of hidden hex contents, while nice, flat, well-populated farmlands lean towards obvious hex contents. Think mountaintop temples and hidden valleys and secret caves and forbidden groves for hex fills that won't be stumbled across when travel is the only goal- they might be found when the players are lost, fleeing in a blind panic, or following instructions via guide or treasure map.
  5. Treasures, Tricks, and Traps- Lungfungus and I talked about hexcrawling having a parallel to dungeon rooms. If all a dungeon has is monsters, exploration is punished severely. Similarly, for exploring to be valuable in a hex crawl, there has to be nice things to find, not just different encounter tables by terrain. Healing springs, unmined gem deposits, friendly dryads. But for exploring to be interesting, there needs to be ambiguous things too, where weal or woe comes more from player decision than anything. Mysterious mystical merchants, glowing runed monoliths, localized weather conditions, sketchy mushrooms. And then there can be explicitly dangerous things, like sagging snow on mountainsides, quicksand, crumbling sandstone ravines. It's up to players to really exploit these features, but unless they exist, the wilderness might find itself shunned as a purely negative experience.
  6. Weird Shit- This arguably falls into the above category, but having some truly outrageous, fantastical stuff can really pique the player's interests and give you blank checks to expand on later. Things I've done in this category are portals that spew out sand in a water(sand)fall 100' feet up in thin air, a mountain made of water, rifts in the sky that are always night, deserts of glass shards, tree stumps 6 miles across, shattered mountains with the shards hanging mid-air, and so on. Naturally you don't want to overuse these things (unless your game is like Adventure Time in which case please invite me to your games) but they add some serious fantasy and mystery to fantasy games, which I think have a tendency to slump into stale genre conventions if you go 'no that'd be too crazy' too often.