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 soir√©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.