Saturday, July 30, 2011

Terra Incognita -- Worldbuilding Part 1

Sorry for the lateness. 'Nuff said.

Okay -- so, the systems. The votes and my own internet research put three systems near the top for my purposes: 1) FATE (Spirit of the Century version), 2) Some d20 system game (D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder voted for, True20 often mentioned online) 3) Savage Worlds. So -- as I'm trying to make this salable, I'm going to stick (for now) with the free systems, which cuts Savage Worlds out. And then d20 -- Pathfinder and D&D 3.5 are just simply too magic-heavy and medieval for my purposes, so I'm going to have to go another way. The question now is d20 Modern, which is perfect for low-magic and has very similar rules to D&D 3.5 but is less well-known (and apparently there is a lot of argument on various forums saying it's unbalanced -- I never noticed that, but I'm no rules lawyer) -- or True20. True20 is arguably more elegant and has an interesting magic and damage system that fits Terra Incognita's themes, but has no free System Reference Document, so while I can publish under its rules system for free, anyone who's not already running True20 would have to purchase the book (as opposed to d20 Modern, which has a free SRD online). Additionally, True20 is quite a bit different from D&D/Pathfinder, potentially causing confusion in the readers/players. And once again, I don't know which one is more popular.

And for the world:
Races/Creatures: This is a campaign where most, if not all, of the PCs should be mundane humans (at least at the beginning of the story). However, for GMs who decide to be contrary, and for PCs entering later (new players, players whose characters died), we may want rules for various supernatural creatures as PC races. And certainly, a few supernatural species are likely to dominate the campaign world, becoming recurring, if not ubiquitous, allies and villains.

The most important supernaturals are, of course, the Atlanteans. Corrupt, arrogant, imperialistic and paranoid, they are unlikely to be suitable as anything but villains. Then again, that's what they said about the Drow before Drizzt Do'Urden, right?

After the Atlanteans, the most powerful species are the Fae. These are not D&D elves here -- I'm taking inspiration from the oldest myths and recent interpretations (Discworld, Changeling: The Lost) that emphasize that the Fae are alien, incapable of understanding humans or their morality. They may often also feature as antagonists -- but they are also capable of being allies, as they don't like how powerful the Atlanteans have become.

Though not powerful politically, the Cyclopes/Kyklopes are nigh-ubiquitous since the Atlanteans enslaved them all. They act as the Atlanteans' grunt troops as well as physical laborers, and those small pockets who've managed to free themselves are likely to show great kindliness to the PCs (once they definitively prove they're not Atlantean).

I feel conflicted about Satyrs, Nymphs, and Centaurs. All are interesting creatures, and it would be intriguing to explore their cultures. However, I don't want to overload the world with all-Greek mythology, as the central conceit is that all myths are true.

A few other creatures worth mentioning, mostly as enemies (most of which I used in the original campaign run):
Grendel's Children: Yes, so what if Grendel and his mother died in Beowulf? What if Grendel had, as well as a mother, a widow? What if Grendelkind have litters? By the 16th century, there could be a small population in the hundreds or thousands, hiding in the depths of Denmark, continuing to quietly massacre villages.
Fir Bolg/Tuatha de Danann: Two sides of the same coin, the Fir Bolg are, according to legend, the original inhabitants of Ireland, a savage race and, according to my take, hideously deformed mutants. The Tuatha de Danann are the interlopers, godlike "perfect humans" who were later worshiped by the Irish. Who's the hero and who's the villain in this piece is up for debate.
Jotuns: The Ice Giants of Scandinavia, the Jotuns (YO-tuns) are the traditional foes of the Norse gods (especially Thor). Unlike the Cyclopes, they are often seen to be civilized and intelligent, if rather too focused on destroying the gods and bringing about the end of the world.
Tritons: Children of Sea God Poseidon (as the Cyclopes also are), Tritons are the archetypal mermen/maids, and rule under the ocean. They are likely to fight the PCs, but could also be reasoned and bartered with...

And a host of other creatures abound in mythology, ready to be plopped in with a minimum of fuss, including: the Ankou (British), Baba Yaga (Russian), Banshee (Irish), Black Dog (English), Catopeblas (Ethiopian), Cerberus (Greek), Charon (Greek), Chimera (Greek), Djinn (Arabic), Dryad (Greek), Ghoul (Arabic), Drude (Germanic), Fachen (Scottish/Irish), Gorgon (Greek), Harpy (Greek)Hobgoblin (English)Hydra (Greek), Ketos the sea monster (Greek), Kraken (Nordic), Leprechaun (Irish), Leviathan (Biblical), Homonculus (Alchemical thought), Manticore (Persian/Greek), Minotaur (Greek), The Nuckelavee (Scottish/Orkney), Red Cap (Scottish/English), Roc (Persian), Scorpion Men (Babylonian/Sumerian), Selkie (Irish), Siren (Greek), Svartalf (Norse), Talos the Automaton (Greek)Tengu (Japanese)Troll (Scandinavian)Umibozu (Japanese), Werepanther (African), and Will o' Wisp (English)

So you see, there are a lot of options. Next time, I'll examine the unusual role of magical artifacts in Terra Incognita

Friday, July 22, 2011

Terra Incognita - The Plot, Part 2

Okay, so where were we last week? Ah yes, I laid out the basic history of Polyphemus the Cyclops and his magical stone Eye, which can pierce illusions and translate languages. The PCs have stumbled across Polyphemus on his mysterious island, and are fighting him.

Here I use a narrative cheat, encouraged by some RPGs and GMs and hated by others: Polyphemus won't just die. When he reaches 0 Hit Points, uses up his Stress and Consequences -- whatever -- he surrenders instead of dying. At this point, of course, he loses his plot-induced immortality, and the players are free to either finish him off or, preferably, let him talk. This is the big plot exposition scene, where the players/PCs learn all of Polyphemus's history and how evil the Atlanteans are. Whether the PCs believe him is, of course, up to them -- my original group took him at his word, while my TV characters were less trusting of a giant who had just tried to kill them, and wanted to trade with the Atlanteans. If the PCs do kill Polyphemus, then I suppose there will be an alternate way for them to get the relevant information -- a room of ancient documents, perhaps, or maybe the Atlanteans will give their take on the story when they arrive...

Did I not mention the Atlanteans arriving? In the original run of this adventure, it ended just after the fight with Polyphemus, as he died of his wounds from the fight. Of course, he gave them his eye (tearing it out of his head) and coerced a promise from them to fight against Atlantean tyranny, before he finally succumbed. It was only much later that the PCs in the original campaign would encounter actual Atlanteans, much less the evil king who leads them. For the TV pilot, however, I wanted to establish the Atlanteans as a real threat right away. Hence, I had them happening to arrive on the island just after the heroes, also after Polyphemus's Eye... and yes, I realize it's a horrible, unbelievable coincidence, that I just never got around to fixing. I suppose I'll have to explain why the Atlanteans arrive just as the PCs do.

Perhaps the timeline is that the Atlanteans were always about to go see Polyphemus, finally taking back what's theirs (the eye, that is) on order of their new King, and the PCs are sent to intercept (either by the Fae NPC or John Dee, Queen Elizabeth's magical adviser, depending on which way I decide to go). This makes sense, and adds narrative thrust to the opening -- but I like the idea that the heroes just stumble across this hidden world while trying to go elsewhere. Actually, now that I think about it, I've done a terrible job deciding between these two ideas in every version of this story: it has always been that the heroes are sent by Queen Elizabeth to "find Atlantis and gain the treasures of hidden lands," and then have no idea how to go about their goal until they happen across Polyphemus's island. That's awkward. For the new version, I should decide between a definite quest by Elizabeth that directs them at the island (its location lifted from a piece of ancient magical literature, Fae information, or somesuch), or have the PCs on an entirely different mission -- a diplomatic mission to Greece or what have you -- before they stumble across the island and have this new world opened up to them. I'm not sure which I like better (hence the awkward balancing before), but I think I need to make a definite decision.

Anyway, the alternate reason for the Atlantean arrival could be that they detect the PCs' arrival and want to know who's messing around with their island. This makes sense, and would work well to be less coincidental -- but it does necessarily lose one piece I want to include: the arrival of the Atlantean King.

You see, according to Plato, Atlantis had ten kings, each of which controlled one-tenth of the island (except Atlas, who was the "high king" and had power over the others). I posit that as Atlantis's power grew, each of these kings added other mythical lands into their holdings, and each became a dynasty. By the time Terra Incognita takes place, King Azaes the 54th is one of the most powerful kings in a constantly contentious, backstabbing royal family. Azaes is the one who made the deal with Polyphemus, and is intended as the Big Bad for the series (or at least, the first one -- like Apophis of Stargate SG-1, he may eventually be eclipsed by a larger threat).

In the original campaign, the PCs never encountered Azaes until they met him at his palace in Atlantis and overthrew him. While the players had plenty of venom for Atlantis, they didn't much care about the central villain, having never met him or heard much about him. In contrast, I ensured the PCs in my current City of Lives campaign encountered the Big Bad in their second session -- and though they never actually spoke to her, just heard her behind a door, seeing her villainous behavior so early helped them care and really want to foil her evil schemes time and again. Hence, I'd like Azaes himself to visit Polyphemus's island and encounter the PCs.

Two potential problems:
-How to keep him alive? In the TV pilot, the heroes wounded him and he got one of his magicians to heal him while the heroes ran. I can't count on the players to run -- they're much less predictable than fictional characters -- so I'll need to make him invulnerable or able to escape somehow. Eh... either one is easy enough to fudge. He'll just have Damage Resistance 30 or something absurd like that, and if the players don't figure out they're not yet powerful enough to defeat him, they deserve to die.
-Can he come across as evil enough in this short encounter to earn the players' everlasting hatred? I suppose I'll have him heartlessly murder Polyphemus, a few of the PCs' crew, and maybe even some of his own men, let him monologue for a bit, etc. Workable.

In any case, Azaes finds the PCs and they fight -- either the PCs attack him, or he derides any attempt to be friendly by saying they have nothing he needs, and he sends his men to kill them. During the escape, Polyphemus hands off his Eye to the PCs, preferably in exchange for a promise to end Atlantis's tyranny, and the PCs escape. Cue credits, and the heroes sail off to their next adventure.

I've realized, by a discussion with one of my IRL friends, that before I run off and write the adventure, I'm going to have to write up some rules hacks and world-building to prepare people, because no system is perfectly designed to handle Terra Incognita. Join me next time to build some foundations!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Hey all!

I am currently on my HONEYMOON. As such, I will not be posting today, and possibly not Friday. In any case, I'll be back soon. In the meantime, vote in my poll or leave a comment with your ideas!

See you later!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Terra Incognita - The Plot, Part 1

Okay, welcome back, folks. I’ve laid out the basic premise of Terra Incognita and taken a look at possible systems to adapt it for. We've had one person vote in the poll so far (other people! Take a few seconds! A sample size of one is terrible!), and so I think now is the time to lay out the basics of what the first Terra Incognita adventure will look like.

It began like this: the premise involves investigating the mysteries of mythical lands. So, the question in my head was: why haven't these lands been found before? This tale is set in the 16th century, when most of the globe had been locked down on maps (the American continent notwithstanding), so it would be hard to justify simply "nobody found them before." So I concluded these lands must have been hidden, cloaked in illusions and something akin to the "Somebody Else's Problem field" to make everyone ignore the fact that they've just taken a roundabout route to avoid something that they're not even aware exists. So -- how can the PCs pierce the illusions? Some form of magic, of course -- but what kind? As this point, somehow I came up with the idea of "Polyphemus's Eye." 

Polyphemus, as you surely all recall from being forced to read The Odyssey in high school, was the Cyclops that Odysseus and his men encountered. According to the tale, Polyphemus ate several of Odysseus's men, Odysseus told him his name was "No Man," and then Odysseus and his men put out the Cyclops' single eye with a sharpened stake. They then escaped by tying themselves to sheep (really! look it up!), so that Polyphemus, dependent on touch, wouldn't realize they were leaving. As Odysseus sailed away, Polyphemus shouted to his brethren "No man has hurt me!" -- and they all said "Okay, so nobody hurt you. So?"

That is the tale of Polyphemus as told in The Odyssey. I wondered what happened next -- and came to the conclusion that he became wise and the chieftain of the Cyclopes, and then the Atlanteans came and gifted him with a magical stone eye to start off trade. And then, because my Atlanteans are pure evil, they stole his entire tribe for slave labor and left him alone for the next thousand years -- and then come the PCs.

Polyphemus's Eye has two properties -- it sees through illusions, and it translates languages, thus justifying the PCs' ability to find these lands and removing the language barrier much in the fashion of Star Trek's Universal Translator. This is kind of a narrative cheat, as it's a little hard to justify why the Atlanteans would give him something that did both of these things -- but the in-universe explanation is that otherwise he would be unable to trade with the Atlanteans, without being able to see them and speak to them. 

So -- the question is, how do the PCs get a hold of the Eye? This is the function of the first adventure -- to get them to the Island of the Cyclopes, have them encounter Polyphemus, and get his Eye. How exactly to manage this has varied in my several versions of the first adventure:
-In the first time I ran this campaign, I had the PCs' ship pursued by pirates, and gave the gypsy hedge wizard a single-use ritual spell called "Safe Harbor" designed to find a safe place to land, no matter what.
-In the first draft of the TV pilot script, I had my own gypsy hedge witch do essentially the same thing.
-In the second draft, I had a Faerie trickster (who was to replace the gypsy as the team's magic-user) divert the ship to the island, with her intention to use the human crew to get the Eye, as her Faerie blood made her allergic to the Eye's magic -- and then she would join the crew with the intention of using them to get revenge on Atlantis.
-I've been considering keeping the Faerie, either as a pregenerated PC or as an NPC, and having her actually come to Queen Elizabeth's court (probably in disguise) and propose the mission to search for Atlantis, guiding the PCs to find the island.

In any case, the PCs are to find the island, preferably in a shipwreck that will strand them there temporarily as the crew fixes the ship... and then the exploration begins. They will examine various parts of the island, discovering evidence of giants living there, and get attacked by gigantic versions of common animals. In the TV pilot, and in the original adventure, there was simply one short scene examining the Cyclopes' village, and another in which they are attacked by a giant boar -- but that adventure was designed to take a single evening to run, so as I'm planning to expand this version of the adventure, I'll have to come up with some more interesting island features for them to encounter.

Finally, the PCs find a temple to Poseidon (Greek god of the sea, and Polyphemus's father), and, bypassing a number of classic dungeoncrawl-style traps, find Polyphemus, who attacks them in a blind fury!

Join me next time as I lay out the plot to the second half of Terra Incognita's "pilot" adventure!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Terra Incognita - which system?

So, we've now looked a little at the mood and premise of Terra Incognita. Today, we'll look at it in terms of role-playing: what systems fit, what difficulties should we expect?

The mood we are trying to establish here is cinematic, swashbuckling, low fantasy. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Dresden Files, The X-Files, or Supernatural, Terra Incognita is about ordinary people discovering a world of magic hiding behind the normal world. This allows the characters to discover this new and bizarre world at the same rate as the players. Thus, most if not all Player Characters should be mundane humans, at least to start with: sailors, diplomats, scientists and soldiers. It is only after the campaign starts and they discover the supernatural world that they should start gaining magical items or abilities.

The campaign is set in the 16th century -- unlike the medieval or far future settings favored by most RPGs -- a time when firearms have rendered armor obsolete, and giant weapons with them. The favored weapons are the rapier and cutlass, the favored fighting styles emphasizing mobility over brute strength or endurance. It is a time when urban centers have just recently become the center of the world, where cosmopolitanism has just become practical and the concept of nations over city-states just taking hold. Magic and religion are losing their power to the burgeoning methodology of science.

First, unsurprisingly, is FATE. It's my favorite system, and it's under OGL (Open Gaming License), so I can publish stuff for it with no legal or financial problems. Then again -- which FATE? Spirit of the Century? It's free, and well-known, but it's got some problems that have been fixed by later system variants. The Dresden Files? Well, it's the latest work by the original FATE designers, Evil Hat, but a) it's actually not under OGL, because it's based on a licensed property, and Evil Hat hasn't worked out which parts should be OGL and which parts shouldn't, yet; and b) its ruleset is pretty married to its setting, which while also being low fantasy like Terra Incognita, is decidedly modern. Starblazer Adventures/Legends of Anglerre? Well, it's a fantasy system, so that's good -- but the magic rules are the one thing in the rulebook that's not OGL. Then there's the new kid on the block, Strands of Fate, which is elegant and versatile, but markedly different from the rest of the FATE variants and kind of hard to understand. Or I could use my own City of Lives variant -- but nobody but the handful of people who RP with me or read this blog are anywhere near familiar with it.

The problem with all the FATE variants is that I don't know which version most people are playing. I want TI to be accessible to the greatest number of people, but I'm not sure what system that means.

Originally, Terra Incognita was run with d20 Modern, a variant on the d20 system used for D&D 3rd Edition, with the d20 Past supplement. This worked remarkably well -- all characters in d20 Modern have to be at least 3rd level in basic classes before they can start gaining levels in classes with supernatural abilities. This allowed me to start off all the PCs as mundanes before exposure to Atlantis showed them the existence of magic, and they started gathering magic items and levels in 'Mage' and 'Acolyte' (basically, Wizard and Cleric). The problem is, d20 Modern was at best a modest hit, and hasn't been supported at all in five years or so -- so I don't know if anyone is still playing the darned thing. Besides that, there's not much of a problem -- the rules are flexible enough to easily accommodate the Elizabethan setting and inclusion of magic.

This brings us to D&D 3rd Edition, and its 3rd-party successor Pathfinder, both of which are OGL. I need to find out whether more people are playing Pathfinder or just running with their old D&D books, but for now we'll discuss these two systems as one, since they're so similar. Well -- D&D is designed for a faux-medieval, high fantasy setting. It is ridiculously difficult creating mundane heroes -- Barbarian, Fighter, Monk, Rogue, and Ranger are the only options, and the Monk is decidedly Eastern in style, Barbarians have little place in 16th century Europe (okay, maybe some African or Native American characters, if you want to characterize them as "barbarians"). And rogue excepted, they're all fighter variants. You can't create a balanced, let alone interesting, party out of just those classes, so players (and me, for pregenerated PCs I plan to include) will have to either a) feel ridiculously restricted, b) make half the party supernatural creatures, which kind of ruins the mood, or c) venture into obscure supplements to find character classes that kind of work.

Still, a workaround might be possible -- a simple restriction that human characters can only take non-spellcasting classes until after the first Terra Incognita adventure (which I envision taking place at 3rd or 4th level) -- and perhaps impose a limit on non-humans to one or two per party. Restrictive, but perhaps workable. After all, the world of Terra Incognita isn't actually low-magic, it's just that the PCs grew up in the non-magical portion of it.

Similar problems occur with D&D 4th Edition (which is not OGL, which causes problems). On the one hand, I like the idea of a "Captain" character, able to lead his sailors and give bonuses in combat -- and the Warlord class is perfect for that, much better than anything in D&D 3e or Pathfinder, but practically every other class is filled with magic, even more so than 3rd edition. And multiclassing is much more difficult in 4e, making my proposed 3e workaround... not work.

Then there are the systems I'm not familiar with. There's another d20 variant, True20, that folks say is much more flexible and capable of running low-magic campaigns -- but I know absolutely nothing about it, nor how many people play it. GURPS, of course, can run anything -- but I'm intimidated by the massive rulebook and have never even looked at it. A new generic system, Savage Worlds, is supposed to be flexible and easy, but I've never looked at it. Burning Wheel is perhaps a good bet, as the little I know about it indicates that it's character-focused in a way that would fit Terra Incognita well, but it's also reputed to be ridiculously complicated.

So -- what do you think? What systems should I translate Terra Incognita into? Is it worth learning a new system to transplant it to, or are the chances anyone would care too slim? Is it practical to adapt it to D&D, or is the high/low fantasy dichotomy too far? What games do you play, that you would want to see it in?

Sound off in the comments, and visit the homepage to vote in my poll!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Terra Incognita - An Introduction

As promised, we now enter a new and hopefully diverting chapter of this blog. There is a campaign I ran several years, ago, one that I adapted into a television pilot script during my stint at film school, that I still think is really cool and worth revisiting. The problem, the reason this blog wasn't about this campaign from the start, is that it's not a complex and dense world filled with mysteries and infinite possibilities -- it's an episodic concept, a series of adventures and explorations with a logical endpoint.

And then I had a thought, not too long ago -- why not publish it that way? As a series of adventures, capable of being run independently but designed to go together in sequence and have a metaplot. So I'm going to give it a shot -- you will watch as I attempt to flesh out the first adventure I ran in this arc into something someone could play without my input. What happens then, I'm not sure -- maybe it stays on this blog, maybe I publish it somewhere else online for free, maybe I try to do some desktop publishing and try to sell it for a couple bucks per pdf. We'll see.

So, to begin, let's introduce you a bit to the basic premise of Terra Incognita.

The year is 1575, in the reign of Elizabeth I. All of Europe is eager to find new lands, new sources of fame and wealth, and belief in myth and legend is still alive. TERRA INCOGNITA will tell the story of Her Majesty's Ship Veritas, Captain Terence Blake, and a crew gathered from the furthest reaches of known geography. Their travels take them to lands that no-one has ever recorded: islands made of living rock; the country of the mythical Amazons; the Cyclopes' caves; and even sailing down the river Styx.

The mood of Terra Incognita is one of high adventure and exploration, a fusion of classical mythology, swashbuckling action, and Star Trek on the high seas. However, along with the explorations come dangers, primarily in conflict with the tyrannical kings of Atlantis, who have ruled over many hidden mythological lands for millennia. The ship itself is not free from conflict, as religions, cultures, and sexes clash onboard at the rise of the modern age. 

Elizabeth I was a monarch of a nation hobbled by political infighting and the sad state of the Royal Treasury. In an age of exploration and expansion, she was able to do little to expand her Empire. And this is where Doctor John Dee and Lord Francis Walsingham enter. Dee was the Queen’s Astrologer and Mystical Advisor; Walsingham, her Spymaster. Together, they conceived of a hidden mission to explore the lands of myth and legend and claim them for the crown—a plan which, if successful, would bring England untold riches, and if a failure, never officially existed. Terra Incognita is about their venture.

Terra Incognita is a series about the truth. Even the name of Captain Blake’s ship, Veritas, is Latin for Truth. Its purpose is to uncover the secrets hidden by the Kings of Atlantis, who are, in essence, the ultimate liars. They are both reminiscent and diametrically opposite to our own parents—where Mom would tell stories about Santa Claus, cloaking ordinary things in the extraordinary, the Atlanteans do the exact opposite. They cloak the extraordinary in the mundane. Like The X-Files, Terra Incognita seeks to find the truth. However, in contrast, Terra Incognita will also deal with the dangers of the truth, the question of whether humanity would be harmed by knowledge of the supernatural creatures in their midst—and whether the supernatural can survive contact with humanity.

Terra Incognita is swashbuckling with a brain, fantasy with a grounding point in reality. Every adventure should keep a sense of fun for the players, a new amazing world to discover, but it is all deadly serious for the crew of the Veritas. This is not to say that there will be no humor, but the tone of Terra Incognita is closer to Battlestar Galactica than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The visual style is lavish and fantastical, but grounded in the dirty, grime-filled reality that was the real 16th century.

Next time, we'll explore in brief the premise of the first adventure and what kind of game system(s) this is appropriate for.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Factions: Triocheans

You head down the street, paycheque in hand, headed to the market. Knowing you need to cash out your cheque, you look for a moneylender. There's one -- but the rates for changing are ridiculous. Another -- also overcharging. A third... and fourth... Eventually, you realize that you aren't going to find a better price, because the Triocheans control all the lenders. Maybe if you join, too, you can get a fair price... The Triocheans control the City's money, running their world according to the principles of laissez-faire and social Darwinism. And, of course, they want to help the Elder Trio expand the City of Lives' power to become the greatest mercantile power in all the Realms.

Archetype: The merchant is usually a side character in heroic fantasy. For Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and others of the Sword & Sorcery genre, they exist on the periphery, simply for the heroes to sell their loot to. In Tolkienian heroic fantasy, merchants and moneylenders have even less prominence, seldom appearing at all. Even in modern, darker fantasy like A Song of Ice and Fire, those with the money are usually the villains -- more important, but less flattering. The Triocheans are an attempt to reorient the focus -- they may not always be the heroes (nobody is in the City of Lives), but money is important. Those that have it are movers and shakers in the City, as important as the nobility, if not more so. And, more importantly, money does not need to corrupt. It may, but among the Lex Luthors and Mr. Potters, there are also a few Tony Starks and Bruce Waynes (not to imply that one has to be a superhero to make a difference in the City).

Real-Life Inspiration: The people who care about money, obviously. Those who have it, those who want it, those who spend their lives in pursuit of it. Businessmen. Oil Barons. Social Darwinists. Anyone who believes problems can be solved by throwing money at them is a Triochean at heart. And let's be honest: a lot of problems can be solved with money. Triocheans are not inherently selfish people -- in fact, they have great goals for the betterment of their society, from charity through expansion of trade rights.

Theme: "Enlightened self-interest" is the Triochean credo. They believe that every person can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and succeed in this world, by working within or exploiting the system. In fact, they believe that if everyone were always out for themselves and only themselves, but without the desire to one-up their neighbors, everyone would end up rich and happy. Similar to Ayn Rand's objectivism, Triochean philosophy believes in self-determination and laissez-faire.

Twist: The Triocheans follow the almighty solu (the unit of currency in the City, if you've forgotten), but they also follow the Elder Trio, the reclusive, mystical beings who rule the City. Their beliefs are founded on the idea that they are following the Trio's example by not interfering in the lives of citizens and businessmen. What would happen if the Trio reversed their policies and got involved? Would the Triocheans follow their newly-active rulers, or would they believe that the Trio had betrayed their own standards and fight against them? Perhaps a whole other faction would arise, the Triocheans splitting in two like religious sects. An interesting thought...

Well, thank you for following me through this rather extended trip through the various Factions of the City. For the next while, we're going to try a little something different, as I show you another of my projects -- an adventure I'd like to try publishing (for free? for cheap?), and we'll muddle through turning it from scattered notes and notions into something people can follow and play. Join me next time as we begin to examine Terra Incognita!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Factions: Thief-Binders

Returning from work, you choose to cut through a back alley. A bad move, it turns out, as a group of Kipman toughs surround you and demand your purse. Just as you are reluctantly handing it over, a shouted "Stop!" comes from the alley entrance, and you look over to see a squad of Iversdotters, armed with swords and crossbows and wearing a distinctive uniform. The Kipmen try to resist, but a few crossbow shots later, and the muggers, injured but alive, are escorted away in chains. Breathing heavily, you thank the Light that the local noble Houses employ the Thief-Binders as their private watchmen. The Thief-Binders are believers in justice and act as an unofficial and/or private police force for much of the City.

Archetype: The “city watch” or “city guards” have a strong history in fantasy fiction. However, they are usually portrayed as either incompetent, leaving the heroism to the main characters, or actively obstructive, as the heroes need to act outside of the law for the greater good. Additionally, city guardsmen are seldom shown as investigators, trying merely to “keep the peace” rather than actively solving crimes like modern police. The Thief-Binders may be either obstructive or helpful to the Player Characters, depending on their actions, but they are most definitely investigators as well as defenders.

Real-Life Inspiration: Obviously, the Thief-Binders are inspired mostly by cops. They are the “thin blue line” that stands between the citizens of the City and total anarchy (or at least, that’s what they believe). They believe in justice, and the system, and order. However, unlike the cops in our world, the Thief-Binders are a strange mix of private security force and vigilante. Most Thief-Binders are hired by various noble Houses or other Factions to provide security. For their clients, they act pretty much like a city police force, but they both have to bow to the wishes (and variant laws) of their employer, and their jurisdiction is sharply curtailed, perhaps only stretching a few blocks or governing specific individuals. Additionally, questions of jurisdiction and Other Thief-Binders, especially in the low-income sections of the City, operate without any official sanction, purely because they feel that they have a responsibility to their fellow citizens. Unlike in the real world, these vigilantes are seldom stigmatized, as they are often the only police available in those areas of the City.

Theme: The Thief-Binders are all about rules. Their world is ordered and -- every possible action has a proscribed response. Breaking the rules -- any rules -- is anathema to the Thief-Binders. These are not Dirty Harry justice-at-any-cost rogue cops. They have a rules and procedures, their only defense against the chaos of the City. These rules simplify their lives -- but they are stymied when something new and unexpected arises. The Thief-Binders also want to impose their rules on the rest of reality. They live their rule-filled existence, and believe others will appreciate it as well -- by force, if necessary.

Twist: For a community so based on rules, the Thief-Binders have a surprising amount of discord among their ranks. They disagree on the interpretation of their rules, and Thief-Binders working for different Houses may have entirely different sets of laws to enforce. In short, arguments, fights, and even small wars can arise between different groups of Thief-Binders, despite their shared love of law and order.

Next time, we’ll examine our last faction, with the mercantile Triocheans!