Friday 26 December 2014

A year in review

I started writing for half an hour a day, exactly a year ago. This blog has been my main output, with a bit less than fifty thousand words published. This is a piddling amount to most writers (I assume, not knowing many writers) but to me, it is a massive achievement.
My output throughout the year has been extremely variable, although I stayed fairly consistent with two to three articles per month. That output dropped considerably in the last few months because I was working on the Chronological Town Generator. I built it to help with the Nocte timeline but it turned into a massive project on its own. I am going to put it aside for the moment in order to focus back on the blog.

I realised recently that I have not yet written much about the really interesting (to me at least) aspects of the city. The daily lives of the poverty stricken, the labourer, the lawyer and the priest. Poverty and its effects on societies are not often mentioned in rpg settings so hopefully people will find lots of interesting details to make their games more immersive.

I had a lot of fun writing the “Isle of the Unknown” posts, so I think I will do something similar with other books. Modules converted for Nocte, inspiration from other hexcrawls etc. My personal favourite blogs of the year have been my take on the races: The Dwarves of Csarnok, The Halflings of Blonks, Some things about Orcs and The Reformation of the Orlick Goblins of Atmos so fleshing them out a bit more should be fun. I also need to do a blog on the Kobolds of the swamps.

It would also be nice to produce something more practical for people, so I am compiling and fleshing out a campaign I ran a while ago, in which the power hungry Annabella Giorando does whatever it takes to regain her families fortune, hopefully with the willing help of the PCs. It has a little combat and a lot of scandals, bribery, blackmail and politics. I am in two minds as to include stats at all and whether to do them in LotFP or 5th ed D&D format. I guess I should do both.

One year down, onto the next, I hope it will be as fun as the first.

Friday 21 November 2014

The Honourable Society of Tallow Chandlers

The Honourable Society of Tallow Chandlers, or the Lighters as they are colloquially known are amongst the most powerful in the city. Formed from a collection of merchants around the year 120, they created the guild in order to lobby the Duke of the time for public lighting in the city. Up until that point, the exteriors of buildings were not lit, nor were the streets of the city. Most people carried torches or lamps to get around and for those who didn’t, ropes were installed as guides.
Tallow Chandler
The Tallow Chandlers were successful and they split the new responsibility of lighting the public spaces of the city amongst themselves. As oil lamps became more popular and the tallow chandlers diversified, they gained the name Lighters.

Between the years 130 and 156, the Tallow Chandlers used the threat of withdrawing light many times to extort greater and greater sums of money from the city. Things came to a head in 155 when the Duchess Ketta began hiring rival lamplighters at a much lower cost. Conflict broke out and the rival lamplighters engaged in skirmishes across the city. Entire districts were left in the dark for days at a time and people began to carry personal torches again, as they did before the public lighting of 120. The Tallow Chandlers Guildmaster at the time, a halfling woman named Berrin paid a huge sum of money to assassinate Ketta, hoping her son would be more easily manipulable. She was wrong, the son Gerard was insane and ordered Berrin and the other senior Lighters to be imprisoned. The trial that followed was, experts agree, one of the most entertaining in the history of the city. Wild accusations were thrown, endless parades of witnesses questioned and three judges assassinated. Finally they were declared guilty and burned alive in their own lamp oil. The Lighters were broken, or so they thought, but Duke quickly lost interest in the issue and over the next few decades, the Chandlers were able to regain the influence they lost
Over 800 people are currently employed to keep the lamps of Nocte lit. Although it is not a highly paid position, the lamplighters are a respected profession and often receive a drink on the house at any tavern they wish to frequent.

The Guilden:

Pavian Morell - The head of the guild, a balding sycophant who has retained his position for over ten years by ingratiating himself not only with powerful Chandlers Guild figures but other Guildmasters as well. His wife, naturally, is the strategic mind of the pair. Irina is responsible for negotiating a new, lucrative contract with the city. A growing proportion of guild members are getting sick of Pavian and want Irina to take over instead. She is not opposed to the idea but he is. If it ever came to a vote, Pavian has been stockpiling cash, thugs and mercinaries to make the political conflict much more literal than usual.

Vannis - A almost inhumanly thin man sporting a comically large black beard. Children say he is more hair than man. Vannis is responsible for apportioning the contracts of the guild out to its various members. This position is the most powerful in the guild because he can deny families of their income, or unusually bless them with additional contracts. To date he has been scrupulous in his fairness but that will change soon. He has accrued a large gambling debt to Iryllia Revear and she has begun to call in favours.

Kyle Arran - Descended from one of the original founders of the guild and won’t let you forget it. The Arrans are one of the most respected (or at least, oldest) families in the city and one of its most arrogant. Blond haired, blue eyed they put a lot of stock in breeding and are often heard abhorring the state of the city. In recent years this attitude is getting less and less welcome amongst the becoming affluent non-human races of the city. The Arrans are spending more and more time in the country but Kyle Arran prefers to stay in the city. He is famous for his (human only) parties that overflow with excess. Last month, one of his soirĂ©es turned into a debaucherous looting expedition after running out of pheasant pate.

Some Lamplighters:

Narell “Leggy” Martock - A seven and a half foot giant, leggy is forced to walk with a stoop most of the time. He can however, light the high lamps on the main roads without a ladder.

Semtin - Known as the clumsiest woman in the city, she is famous for setting herself on fire on no less than five occasions. People in the street give her a wide birth and laugh openly at her. Semtin has almost had enough of the abuse, for some time now she has been plotting her revenge. Not so coincidentally, supplies of oil have started to go missing from the Chandler’s Store.

Ginna - A plump and jolly woman, she delights in handing out cheap candles to the children who follow her on her route. Occasionally she manages to lure one of them back to her room but only for the company, the children are unharmed.


Havin - An sandy haired, broad chested, honest looking man that is nothing of the kind. He makes a significant income on the side by threatening to burn down peoples shops unless they pay protection money. Although he has never followed through on his threats he is quick to take credit for the occasional small fire the breaks out in the city.

Saturday 1 November 2014

Making magic magical

magical train thing
I was playtesting my chronological settlement generator and decided it needs a whole lot more variety of events and a bunch of other tweaks, hence no release yet. Instead, here is a something on the importance grounding fantasy in reality in order to heighten the fantastic elements, especially the magical.

I am firmly in the low magic school of rpgs. Sword and Sorcery is one of my favourite literary genres, I prefer the magic of Ghormengast over that of Waterdeep, the price Elric pays for his power over the gushing firehose of magic that most D&D mages are.

This is of course, a problem. Despite there being a plethora of low magic, sword and sorcery systems out there these days, my players much prefer D&D and to be honest, I can’t blame them. I have to do something though, to satisfy my low magic itch. I solve the problem partially by making the PCs the true heroes, their strength of arms, daring skulduggery and yes, even their magic, makes them the heroes. The rest of the setting has to tone down the magic to compensate because for magic to be strange and wonderful, it needs to stand out from its surroundings. This is an oft-argued position that I subscribe to. Magic as technology settings are a turn off for me. Although I don’t mind playing in them, running them gives me no joy. In order to achieve a low magic world, much must be sacrificed. The main player affecting items are things like magic item shops, mages guilds in every city and churches selling healing potions. I have no qualms about removing them. The Cleric class is restricted to adventurers in my campaigns, uniquely blessed creations that have special abilities over their church-bound brethren. Less impactful are things like magical means of transportation, flying carpets, portals, teleportation scrolls etc. but they need to go as well. Having even less game impact are things like permanent magical lighting in cities but these are just as important to remove. If the players are surrounded by no magical paraphernalia their own magic will stand out even more.
Should we then take this to the extreme? If fantasy elements portrayed as normal hurt this style of game, shouldn’t it all go? PC races such as elves, dwarves gnomes are all fantastical elements that can be removed.

Fantastical RacesWhy then, did I make the decision to fill The City in Darkness, already an obviously magical place with its rock suspended in space and its portals that lead to other worlds, with all manner of strange races? There are halflings, elves and dwarves alongside goblins, kobolds and orcs. If I really subscribe to this magical magic and fantastical fantasy schtick, the first thing that should go are all the wacky races (actually, the portals themselves are too magical already, but I will get to that).

The real reason, I must admit, is me selling out and trying to make the blog more interesting and appeal to a broader group of people. My home campaigns, are usually incredibly humanocentric. If I have a nonhuman PC, they are treated as exotic creatures and gawped at openly. I sometimes run campaigns with the fantasy races, but often as not they are just different human cultures. When you make the decision to include the fantasy races, grounding demihumans and humanoids in reality can help offset their weirdness. Little details make fantasy races more believable, especially if they have could be believable in our reality.

- Did you know halflings get foot dandruff?
- Orcs are prolific nose pickers due to the dryness of their nasal membrane.
- Elves hear at a noticeably higher range than humans. A dog whistle is audible but dwarven cavern calls are not.
- Gnomes cannot smell many scents including cinnamon, sulphur, pepper or even the smell of fresh bread.

More odd racesThe above examples are fairly tedious, apologies, but in a game situation they would work to add just a little reality to the situation. We already know about things like dandruff, hearing ranges and nose picking. Very occasionally these things come up in game and can add just enough to a character to make them a real person as opposed to a fantasy caricature.
All of this said, my games are not devoid of fantasy elements, I just try to make the individual fantasy elements all the more special by having them stand out. The portals of Nocte are not simply a means of transportation, when waiting in the queues to use the portals you can hear the strange wailing coming from them, see the boiling surface of the portal as someone enters or emerges, smell the ozone in the air and feel the crackle of static electricity as you get closer. Entering a portal can be an event that can fill the players with a small sense of the wonderful that is enhanced by the lack of fantasy around them.

Still too much
So, when running low magic games, pay attention to the small details. Remove what mundane fantasy elements, especially magic in order to make it all the more special and when you introduce the fantasy elements into your campaign, make the effort to make them truly special and interesting.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Microsoft Word, rants and the future

I am a Microsoft apologist. Although I use macs and linux professionally, for gaming and writing I try to use Windows and Office. Ever since office 2007 introduced the ribbon I have found it intuitive, powerful and capable of producing beautiful documents. When it came to start writing this blog, I chose oneNote for notes, ideas and planning and Word for actual writing. There were bunch of reasons for this, other than my like of the product. It has features such as 1-click integration so I can publish my blogs with a single click, it has a built in thesaurus and dictionary and grammar checking that I find useful. Unfortunately though, I have run out of patience with its flaws. Chiefly amongst these, is the save functionality. I tend to leave whatever I am working on open from day to day and when my computer inevitably crashes, word doesn't do a great job of getting me back to where I left off. The document recovery system is abysmal, there is no diff, I get very confused about which version I need to save and frequently lose stuff. It's not that I don't save frequently. In fact, while typing this sentence I have pressed control + s at least six times but Word for some reason never uses these saves and instead picks an old version. This is a solved problem in my industry; version control, but to get proper diffs, I need plain text files, not the tortured xml that word produces. Tortured xml causes other problems, if you inspect the source of my previous blog posts you will notice it is all over the place. Word does not send clean html to blogger and it's not just about being pretentious about clean html, it also produces slightly weird alignment and spacing differences not just between blogs but also within a single document. I have other problems with Word, but too much whinging is not a good idea. Instead, let me summarise where I can go from here. There are plenty of document formats I can use, but ease of blogger integration, ease of writing are the priorities. Markdown is the obvious modern choice for writing and I am most familiar with the git version control but blogger integration is not going to be easy. For the moment, I am publishing this post via because of it's blogger integration. Hopefully I can figure out my own system though, because I don't quite trust it yet. My lack of posting recently is not actually down to frustrations with Word. I was working on a timeline for the city when I decided it would be more fun and useful to build a timeline generator for settlements. It has turned out to be quite the task, but I hope to publish it sometime in the next few weeks. Apologies for the off topic rant, but hopefully that last paragraph whet your appetite about what's to come. I am certainly excited about it.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

The Reformation of the Orlick Goblins of Atmos

So legend goes, the Goblin race was born of a contradiction. Graak forged the Goblins from fire and darkness, law and chaos, a cacophony of screams and absolute silence.  

The goblins grew quickly, not only numerically but technologically. The human tribes that occupied the coastal regions of the island of Atmos co-existed peacefully with the goblins initially, until the expansion of both cultures began to cause tension. Both cultures traded with the orcs that sailed the great oceans. The Orlick Empire, as the goblins styled their disparate holdings, grew rich and decadent based on the commands Graak issued his spawn: Build empires, accumulate wealth and power, enslave and exploit the weak.

Despite calling themselves an empire, the Orlick goblins were anything but. With no central government, ruler or bureaucracy even calling it a kingdom would be a stretch. This changed as conflict erupted with the humans downriver. On the island, huge amounts of rain fall on the western mountains, but very little on the side of the island that is habitable. Both the goblins and humans depended on the rivers and lakes that flow from the western mountains to the ocean so when the goblins began to dam the rivers, war erupted soon after. This created a problem for the Orlick goblins as their human foes were vastly more organised despite being technologically inferior. An accord was reached whereby each landed goblin would provide troops and supplies to the newly formed army. Until the Reformation, this military structure was as much government and bureaucracy as the goblins would need at a national level.   

A decade after contact with Nocte, an aristocrat named Klaas took the typical cruelty of the Atmos goblins a step too far. His slaves which numbered in the thousands by and large worked in despicable conditions in the coal mines of Gildenof. Goblin and human slaves permanently shackled together worked 18 hour days without break, slaves were expected to eat, drink and crap on the go. If a slave collapsed or died they weren't removed until sleep time. This changed when a friend of Klass visited the mines and was horrified by what he saw. The friend, Unger, did own slaves and no one could have accused him of kindness toward them, but it is certainly true that something changed in him when Unger visited the Gildenof mines.

Since almost the beginning of time, there had been 'defective' goblins who rejected Graak and his cruelty, small cells of resistance occasionally sprung up but amounted to nothing. Unger became one of these defectives when he visited the mine and saw the atrocities his friend committed upon his slaves. Returning home, Unger sold his slaves and assets. With the proceeds he began a campaign with the stated aim of freeing the goblins from the hatred and cruelty that bound them. Unger's earliest attempts were met with ridicule, then mounting derision as people realised he was serious. Despite several early assassination attempts Unger's movement spread openly. Goblin society, despite its political and social machinations, did not really know what to do with a movement so ideologically different from mainstream society and lacked the governmental structures to deal with it. In a society with few laws but a massive bureaucracy, a strong military but one entirely engaged in the constant warring with the Arant humans downriver, the Goblin Temperance League (as they became to be known) was able to grow relatively unchecked. Early growth was driven mainly by Edda, a rich merchant who had quietly been building her own network of goblins that sympathized with Unger’s cause. She built her business as a trader in seeds and dyes her fortune came from her second concern, the largest network of messengers in Orlick. These messengers allowed her to deliver the revolutionary message across the empire and also hinder the communications of her rivals such as the priesthood.

The Priests of Graak, did see the threat of the Goblin Temperance League but the many factions were too fragmented and unwilling to join forces. Their communications and attempts at organisation had previously not come to much and with Edda’s runner network able to disrupt their attempts at organisation, each faction was simply too small to pose a threat to the League. Still, many key figures were assassinated by the priesthood. Unger survived many attempts however, and his followers built his image to that of a saviour of the entire goblin race.

In the end, it was Klass, Ungers' friend who made the movements victory assured. He made a martyr of Ungers by personally striking him down while Ungers was giving a speech on morality to over ten thousand goblins. The news spread like lightning. Assassination was not uncommon in goblin society but Unger was different. His death sparked a violent uprising of millions of slaves and free goblins that gradually overthrew the priests of Graak, powerful opposing goblins and what little there was of the military left in the empire. The buildup of mostly non-violent speeches, influence building and moralising happened quickly, over the space of five years the goblin society transitioned from one that had no comprehension of morality, to one where such a discussion was possible. The violence triggered by Unger’s death would last for over a decade. During this period tens of thousands of goblins fled through the portal to the world beyond and many even settled in Nocte. The Reformation, bloody though it was remained committed to basic freedoms and rights for all goblins, basing many of their new ideas on the orcs they traded with and the humans they met through the portal. The orcs democratically elected a captain and leader of their ships so the goblins modelled their own new government after the orcish custom.

Although the early democratic experiments of the goblins were wildly inequitable, despotic at times and at best chaotic, it had its own influence on the city. The refugees that settled in the city quickly became foundational members of the blossoming guilds of the city. Many of the rituals and organizational structures of today’s guilds have their origin in these early Orlicken experiments in democracy.

A goblin today will speak of a new age of goblin enlightenment. The goblin race has transcended its origins as the spawn of an evil deity. Of course, centuries of cultural conditioning are difficult to overcome, many underground cults still exist that worship Graak and his servants. The city its self is not a utopia. Massive cruelty, inequality and poverty exist, but at least the goblins believe that all is not right and strive to improve the world around them.

Wednesday 6 August 2014



I am late in blogging this week (I am to publish on a tuesday) but due to a lack of organisation on my part, I am halfway through a bunch of longer posts, none of which are in a fit state to publish.

Next week is going to be a problem as well because I am going to Gencon for the first time.

I hope to see you there!

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Small Gods

As the meeting point for numerous cultures and even worlds, the religions present in the city are as numerous as the rats that infest it. Ancient religions mix with spontaneously erupting cults and everything in between. 

Irati - A swamp deity of fertility, she has over a thousand mortal sons and daughters who make up her clergy. By her word, she protects her family from harm and spurns outsiders. Irati's protection is real and powerful, as such, her children are in huge demand for marriage or even casual couplings as the Irati’s protection would be extended over any progeny of the relationship.

Urugu - Lives amongst reed beds, he is the maker of papyrus for the book of records and although he doesn't have direct worshippers, Urugu is venerated along with the Keeper of the Book of Records as the provider of materials.

Keeper of the Book of Records – Has never had a proper name, and her small cult claims that it would be unwise to try to name her. Oddly enough the Keeper and Urugu are originally from different pantheons, Urugu being a Kobold swamp deity and the Keeper, a Dwarven ancestor spirit.

Castor - A deity unique to the city, Castor is principally a repeller of mould and fungi. No construction is done in the city without a prayer to Castor. He only has one priest however, a dwarven woman named Gloran. Oddly enough, for a cleric of a fungicidal deity, she grows mushrooms in a set of rooms she keeps moist for the purpose. When asked about this dichotomy she merely smiled and says "know your enemy".

Arxan - A demon god that was originally subservient to Graak but since the reformation has been mostly worshipped in secret in his own right. Several different cults of Arxan exist in the city with wildly differing beliefs, here is a selection of some:

1.       When a believer dies, they must be boiled and consumed. Everything but the spleen must be eaten.
2.       Power is born in the suffering of others. If you can make another suffer without consequence to yourself, that is power and those with power are most respected by Arxan
3.       To bring wealth to your children, insert coins under the skin. Old, rich goblins can get quite chunky.
4.       Those with power have a duty to exploit those without.
5.       Power is useless if not used, own slaves, demonstrate your dominance of them publicly.
6.       Power can be transferred from one to another by means of the former inflicting pain on the latter.

Chrisa - About 300 people follow Chrisa, a goddess of infinite kindness and wisdom. She promises those who follow and serve in her interests will be taken from this world to a better place of light, clean air and abundance. Indeed, under the leadership of Groot (a charismatic young elvish woman), a number of people have managed to leave the world behind and transcend. At least, that's what Groot claims and no one can prove her wrong.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Some things about Orcs

The Orcs of the great oceans of Atmos:
  • are a seafaring race, they ply the seas in great generation ships, touching land less than once a year.
  • have skin like seals (although green), it is slightly oily to the touch and covered in a fine layer of hair.
  • do not experience curglaff (the shock felt on plunging into cold water).
  • smell of brine and fermented fish.
  • diet consists mostly of fish and seaweed, although orcish fish sauce is highly prized in Nocte.
  • most never set foot on land and only a tiny percentage venture farther than a few miles from the sea.
  • will always have upon their person a small phial of salt water.
  • give birth to live young. A mother can control the length of the pregnancy from four to eleven months. A four month orc baby is very immature but an eleven month old will be crawling within a week or two.
  • dissolve quickly in their own acids juices upon death, leaving behind a lot less bones than expected and a small brownish pearl that, when ground, forms a heady intoxicant.
  • have personal gods. Each family has a god that protects them, must be sacrificed to etc. Some of the gods have become popular since the families came to the city and are worshiped by thousands. Public shrines are not unusual, even if no one outside the family worships the god, they still want everyone to know about them.
  • never anthropomorphize things, they would never say the "the ocean is a cruel mistress" or even "that cloud looks like your mother".
  • have no ocean, land or animal gods as the orcs believe themselves to have souls and no one else. Animals are free to be slaughtered and fish to be caught. The ocean is not personified either. It is just the world, random, capricious, sometimes calm, sometimes angry (although an orc would never ascribe orcish emotions to the ocean, they would use kalmeren and bous respectively).
  • never speak their own language on land, it being sacred of the sea.
  • always refer to themselves as aboard a ship, even when on land.
  • when on land, visit a bathhouse daily at a minimum.
  • cherish fresh water. Although not sacred, wasting fresh water is a moderate crime.
  • that live in cities are lonely folk, usually apart from their families, that like to join communities of like-minded individuals such as guilds.

Monday 14 July 2014

Luck, depression, inspiration, planning

I am an incredibly lucky person (not that I believe in luck) really. I just rode home from my well paid job along a beautiful industrial canal (all the people riding the opposite way looking at me strangely because of the stupid grin I always have plastered over my face when riding along the canal). Of course, hard work got me some of the way to where I am, but I don’t work harder than many others in much worse circumstances than I. Something to consider certainly, but that is not why I am writing today. I am writing because I am feeling good for the first time in a week. All the things that were piling up at work suddenly got done, seemingly without having expended any effort on my part (despite me trying for weeks to get it all done). Most importantly, I feel like writing for the first time in a week. I haven’t mentioned on this blog before, but I actually write something every day. For at least 30 minutes a day I write, some of that material ends up on this blog. In the year to date, I missed only a single week of writing  in February when I was on holiday, not a single other day was missed. Now however, I have a massive hole for the last few days because I have been unable to write a single coherent sentence. Oh sure, there have been many days before where my output is better measured in characters than words, but never have I felt so blocked. 

What solved my problem? I have no idea. I am not even risking writing anything useful in the blog today (hence this banal entry) but it is enough for me. I resist writing anything Nocte related (curses! I still need to change that name) but I shall attempt to share a few things that I have been thinking about lately. 

I do not read many roleplaying forums anymore, I found they are just not worth the effort of sorting through the flame wars and useless edition warring in order to get to the good stuff (of which I admit there is plenty), but not even I have missed the controversy of the past few weeks regarding the allegedly sexist D&D consultants. I do not wish to weigh into the debate in particular, but one thing did strike me. Although I consider myself non-sexist and take action to regress the sometimes mysoginistic problems in my industry I could not boycott or even decry the employment of such people (even if they were found to be “guilty”). I listen to Wagner, I still watch Mad Max, I enjoyed Ender’s Game. For me, Art surpasses the disgressions of their creators and so D&D transcends its creators, consultants and even bloggers. 

The second thing I wish to share is a brilliant post on how to be creative over at Goblin Punch.

Lastly, I wanted to outline what should be coming up on this blog over the next few weeks. These are topics I have a few paragraphs or a bunch of ideas for, that I will be writing about in no particular order:

  • Small (and Medium) Gods – More information on various gods and religions of the city
  • A timeline outlining a basic history of the nobles and guilds of Nocte
  • Trade goods
  • The seafaring orcs
  •  The Great Goblin empire
  •  The Guild of Engineers 
  •  The various merchant guilds

Hopefully there is something in that it that piques your interest. Unfortunately you will have to wait until next week for the next entry.