Category: games (Page 1 of 12)

Eversink Villain #06: Clive the Barbarian Attacks!

Introduction

The first anyone saw or heard about Clive the Barbarian, he was down at the docks in Harbor Approach, picking fistfights in bars.

“Come fight me, you weaklings!” he bellowed at the longshoremen sitting at the counter trying to have a drink. “Prove to me Eversink men aren’t feeble puny cowards!”

When no one got up from their drinks (and someone in the back yelled ‘we’re not all men, you twit’), Clive grabbed random people by the shoulder, spun them around on their stools, and punched them. The bartender shouted, and the fight was on! Bottles flew in the air. A table was crushed under writhing bodies. The longshoremen piled on, and Clive went down under flying fists. The Watchmen showed up and carted a bloodied Clive away.

Clive popped up at a few more bars along the waterfront. He picked fights, and the longshoremen fought back. The Watch hauled him away every time. The dockworkers wrote Clive off as one more weird Eversink freak. Last week the threat was mind fungus, and the week before that, the threat was some Sorcerer. This week, it’s Clive.

After a period of Clive acquiescence, he popped up at bars in the Tangle. Clive now ran with a posse of barbarian thugs. He pulled the same nonsense he pulled in Harbor Approach. Clive strolled into a bar. He yelled at people for being weaklings, and he picked fistfights. This time, Clive’s gang jumped in and assisted. Fists flew, and faces were punched. One bar nearly burned down – nearly.

Clive was more successful in creating chaos and mayhem this time. It took entire Watch stations of Watchmen to get Clive under control. As the Watch dragged Clive and his goons away, he yelled back at gaping onlookers: “I will toughen Eversink up! You’ll see!”

The law was tired of Clive and his gang. The local Tangle magistrate threw Clive and his crew out of Eversink. They’re not citizens, don’t have any rights, and Eversink doesn’t need Clive to tear up local establishments, the local Magistrate said. Either be civil or go home. Go home, Clive. As the Watch dropped Clive and his gang off on a far shore, Clive shouted: “You haven’t seen the last of me, you lazy jerks!”

Then, Clive was gone for a while.

Word just reached the city. Clive returned to Eversink. This time, Clive has an army, and they want Eversink to toughen up.

Background Story

Clive comes from one of the many unknown, unnamed, forgotten towns in the rolling scrub wastes of the Border Lands. Where he came from, the men were men, the women were women, and the cows, well, they were cows. He worked on the farm growing crops and tending the animals. He learned to fight dirty with a sword from his Da and helped defend the homestead from those murderers and horse thieves.

When Clive was old enough to seek out his fortune, he took his Grandfather’s sword and headed off to the nearest town looking for wealth and adventure. Finding none in the next town, Clive kept wandering until he ended up at bigger towns. He found some adventure on the Deserted Plateau, enough adventure to hone his fighting skills and make a little cash.

That cash paid Clive’s way to Milktown. From there, he hitched up with a Mercenary crew and traveled the world. With the Blue Demons, Clive fought in random wars (sometimes on both sides). He hired out as a mercenary bodyguard for dubious wealthy nobles, killed for money more than a few times, and delved into some dungeons. He was a pretty amoral guy and formed a viewpoint about how only the strong survive on the plains.

In his travels, Clive heard about Eversink and how amazing a place it is. A golden city on a lagoon. A place everyone is rich. Blessed by the Swan. Go, and they hand you a trunk of cash on entry. Eversink is a fabulous sea-faring Empire of spices and silk full of adventurers and swashbucklers and doers of deeds.

Clive figured he’d go and check out Eversink. He left the Blue Demons and joined a trade caravan headed in that direction as a bodyguard. When Clive arrived at Eversink, he was just very disappointed in the city. He could make it better, stronger, and more confident with his fists.

Clive the Barbarian

Muscle-Bound, Ultra Confident, Kind of Annoying

Defense – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 1 (well-made leathers that cover shockingly little of his body), Health 12
Defense – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 2 (barbarian rage), Morale 8
Offense – Warfare: +1; Damage Modifier +2 (punch) or +4 (big two-handed longsword)
Abilities: Malus 15
Special Abilities: Allies (cost – 3), Bolster Morale (cost – 2), Extra Damage (cost – 3), Armor-Piercing (cost 3), Strength (cost 3)
Refresh Tokens: 5

Description: Clive is a big dumb meathead. He hates Eversink. Everyone who lives there is soft. They’re a bunch of soft, febrile merchants. No way this city is an Empire. He could do better. Clive decided – he will invade Eversink with his barbarian army, knock over the Triskedane, make himself its King, and force everyone to ‘toughen up.’ Pushups for everyone in the lagoon. Twice a day!

Clive is a ‘lead from the front’ military commander. He’s the kind of barbarian who leads the charge with the army at his back, hacking and swinging his big two-hander. He’s first to leap into the fray with his allies at his back. Taking him for granted or underestimating him is a mistake. In hand-to-hand combat, he can be deadly.

Barbarian Horde

Unimaginative, Violent

Defense – Health: Health Threshold 3, Health 6
Defense – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Morale 6
Offense – Warfare: +1; Fixed Damage 4 (choose one of: sword, spear, mace, flail)
Abilities: Malus 10
Refresh Tokens: 3

Description: These are half-dressed violent goons covered in war paint who don’t think very hard. Not very good conversationalists.

Villainous Plot Seeds

  1. Diplomacy, Barbarian-Style: So… there’s a barbarian army coming in Eversink’s direction. The Triskedane would like the PCs to “do something diplomatic” about it. Like many orders from the Triskedane, details about how to “do something diplomatic” about it are a little lacking. In fact, that’s the contents of the entire order. Added complication: the barbarian army is coming overland through the swamps. Yet Eversink designed her defenses for sea battles. And while the swamp might eat some of the barbarian army, it won’t eat the whole thing. The PCs better develop a plan before Clive gets here and figures out a way to sack the place.
  2. The Great Arm Wrestle: The intelligence says Clive wants to see Eversink strength. What better way to show strength than to ride out to Clive’s army and challenge him to a duel? And what better contest than an arm wrestle? As the Triskedane send the PCs out to, well, arm wrestle an army, they’re not alone. Word has gotten ‘round Eversink that an exciting competition is going to take place. They’re already selling tickets. Half of Eversink is going to watch. Will this be an actual test of strength? Or will this descend into an Eversink-on-Barbarian brawl?
  3. Breached the Walls!: Clive’s past adventuring experience taught him to look for secret ways into – and out of – places. An ancient tunnel, long forgotten, led Clive’s barbarian army under a lengthy stretch of the lagoon, through the underbasements, and up into the Tangle! Now the battle is on, street by street! Clive will teach Eversink strength with his fists and his entire army! Are the PCs enough to stop him! Can they rally the city to stand against this invader and keep the city from falling into Clive’s hands?

Disclaimer: These posts are unaffiliated with official canonical posts or printed materials about Sword of the Serpentine. “Swords of the Serpentine” is (TM) Pelgrane Press. For more information on Eversink, visit the Pelgrane website.

Eversink Villain #05: The Cult of Vetyx, God of Riches and Honor

Introduction

From the outside, the parish temple in Sag Harbor looks like a bog-standard Temple to Denari. The temple has all the trappings. It has reminders that nothing is free, paeans inscribed in the walls to Eversink’s glorious past, and paintings of great white birds in soaring flight over the lagoon. It’s like the Church of Denari picked a Temple layout from a catalog, ordered one up from the Temple factory (TM), and delivered it here fully formed on this quiet street corner.

If one looks closer at the walls, one will see the paintings of the great white birds aren’t swans. They’re giant egrets. The grand poems to Eversink’s glorious past make Eversink more glorious-er than it ever was. A war or two slipped into the lines that never existed. Even the lessons about gold and commerce are more about building wealth than building business. One can see the scratched-out swans underneath all the other religious literature on the walls if one looks closer.

This is not a Temple of Denari. This is a Temple of Vetyx, the Great Egret (so it claims), a glorious (small) God of Riches and Honor (so it also claims). The temple deacon is Marketpriestess Elizabeth Vasari, and the small God Vetyx lives in her head. Every morning, when the Marketpriestess rises for the day, Vetyx whispers sermons into her ear. Every day, she goes to the Temple and ministers to her flock. Every day, the believers return. Every night, she prays to Denari to get this damned thing out of her mind.

To the believers, Vetyx is an improvement. Where Denari promises great wealth from commerce and trade – work – Vetyx promises great wealth and honor from great heroic deeds. Vetyx promotes knightliness, going on an adventure, fighting for a cause, amassing piles of wealth, and tithing it back to Vetyx. The (small) God talks its believers into believing the impossible is possible. With extraordinary acts of honor, mountains of gold will spontaneously appear. Believe, and act within Vetyx’s strict code, and wealth will follow.

And, Marketpriestess Elizabeth Vasari’s sermons are much more engaging and exciting than before. They used to be the same old droll Denari this, Denari that. Now they’re full of codes of honor, war, adventure, and promises of gold, gold, so much gold, such riches! And the storytelling — wow.

The cult is gaining in popularity and growing under the Church’s nose like a weed. Marketpriestess Elizabeth Vasari (under Vetyx’s influence) convinced the other Marketpriests at her Temple and other local Temples to follow Vetyx. Soon other Temples in this corner of Sag Harbor will flip. The cult will grow, and as the cult grows, so will Vetyx.

Vetyx is invading Eversink. Vetyx’s plan is to hollow out faith in Denari from within until faith collapses. Once collapsed, Vetyx will reap all that faith and worship and grow. Once big enough, it will eat Denari and use Eversink as its burrow. A new God is in town, baby, and Vetyx will eat and eat and eat until it eats the world.

Vetyx will never be satiated because Vetyx is, in truth, a small god of starvation and the flesh. It has no other body than a hungry maw with infinite twisting teeth. It’s a glutton, and its hunger is bottomless.

Background Story

Marketpriestess Elizabeth Vasari was a regular, unassuming, run-of-the-mill Marketpriestess of Denari. She had her little Temple on the corner and her flock. Elizabeth lit the candles, sang the songs, prayed the sermons, and tended to the souls of the locals. She was unmarried and lived with her mum in a small apartment over the local florist.

The Marketpriestess was shopping for a birthday present for her mum in the Grand Marketplace. She spotted a new tent she’d never seen before. No surprise, new tents appear in the Grand Marketplace all the time. This one sold beautifully polished seashells. The Marketpriestess, delighted, held the beautiful conch shells up to her ear one at a time so she could hear the ocean.

The third conch held Vetyx. When the Marketpriestess pressed the conch to her ear, Vetyx crawled into her ear canal. She screamed, dropped the shell on the ground, and fled.

The next few weeks were a grand battle between Vetyx and the mind of Marketpriestess Elizabeth Vasari. Slowly, Vetyx ground down her resolve and then set up shop. Then it remade the local Temple in its own image and forced the Marketpriestess to build its cult.

Marketpriestess Elizabeth Vasari (With Vetyx in Her Head)

Elizabeth: Kind, Humble, Thoughtful
Vetyx: Silver-tongued, Plotting, Hungers

Defense – Health: Hit Threshold 3, Health 6
Defense – Morale: Hit Threshold 4, Grit 2 (Vetyx’s faith), Morale 15
Offense – Sway: +2; Damage Modifier +2 (Vetyx’s convincing scripture)
Abilities: Malus 15
Special Abilities: Allies (cost – 3), Summoning (cost – 3, local worshippers), Mastermind, Persuasive (cost – 3), Warded (cost – 6)
Refresh Tokens: 3

Description: The Marketpriestess is an unassuming priest of the Church of Denari. She does not look much different than other priests of Denari — same frock, same hat, same plain look and plain speech. She is educated but middle class for Eversink.

Special Abilities come courtesy of Vetyx. It will speak through the Marketpriestess’s mouth. It will use Marketpriestess Elizabeth Vasari’s powers of persuasion to protect itself, whip up followers and hurtle them at PCs. Attacks are sway attacks, and attack morale. While Vetyx has the power to teach Marketpriestess Elizabeth Vasari Sorcery (Spheres: Hunger, Fear, Flesh), it has not yet, as it does not trust her with its power. It finds her an impure vessel, and it hungers for a better one.

Villainous Plot Seeds

  1. The Inquisitors have a Job for You: The Church has gotten wind that something’s not right at a Temple in Sag Harbor. They’re not sure what, though. The attendance at one of the Temples is through the roof — they haven’t seen attendance to services like this in years. Instead of rewarding the Marketpriestess who leads the congregation, the Church instead employs the PCs to check it out.

  2. Dark Dreams of Denari: The PCs receive disturbing dreams of swans ripped apart by massive jaws. The swans scream as the jaws close around swan bodies and wings and slowly mash the swans into a bloody pulp while the PCs watch. The dreams feature the sound of smacking lips and tongues and horrific slobbering. And then, a black blot grows to blot out the entire world. At the end of the dream, a female voice whispers, “Look for my priestess, Elizabeth.” The dream becomes more vivid each night.

  3. The Schism Riots of Sag Harbor: While many in Sag Harbor flock to Vetyx, some locals are still hard-core believers in Denari. They’re not changing their ways no matter what anyone says. Tensions build in Sag Harbor until they boil over one day in a fruit market. The PCs are caught in the fray as rioters pelt each other with fruit, flip over carts, scream religious slogans at each other, punch each other and light the place on fire. As the PCs escape, they run into a rioter who tells them, “Some new God over on seventh and silver streets,” and then dashes off again. These tensions will grow unless the PCs get to the bottom of this problem.

Possible Changes to the Story

It’s entirely possible Vetyx is the Great Egret, the God of Honor and Wealth, exactly like his claims. With such fervent belief in wealth creation into the lagoon, fishermen fish up small gods of wealth from the lagoon all the time. Denari absorbs them and the world moves on without anyone noticing.

If the story you want to tell is one of politics instead of horror, make the following minor changes to Vetyx:

  • Instead of starvation and horror, Vetyx is a god of wealth and honor.

  • Vetyx does provide Sorcery to people he inhabits with the same Corruption as any other Sorcerer. His spheres are now Gold, Crusade, and Rampart. Crusade charms anyone in range and persuades them to pick up their weapons and fight for the cause of Vetyx. Rampart is a variation on an Earth sphere — shields, summoning giant earthworks, reinforcing stone walls, and the like.

  • Otherwise, the story is still the same. Vetyx is invading Eversink, the Church (and Denari) wants it removed. It’s up to the PCs to decide what to do next – keep Vetyx around, find a middle ground, expel him from the city, destroy it completely, etc.

Disclaimer: These posts are unaffiliated with official canonical posts or printed materials about Sword of the Serpentine. “Swords of the Serpentine” is (TM) Pelgrane Press. For more information on Eversink, visit the Pelgrane website.

Eversink Villain #04: Ventura Rotunno, the Prince of Pants

Quick note: you can use the Prince of Pants in any urban setting with a political bent with minimal tweaking, especially the excellent Blades in the Dark from Evil Hat. You say you don’t have a copy of blades? Why, that link will take you to a buy now link!

Introduction

An implacable despot holds the Eversink fashion industry in his unshakable grip.

Every season, the Prince of Pants descends from his shining Spire to cast aspersion down on the new fashion trends. Flanked by lackeys, the Prince of Pants takes his seat in a place of prestige in the Glass Garden. With a wave of a hand and a toss of his flowing golden locks, he coerces Eversink’s designers to show off their newest designs. A sniff of a nostril or a raised eyebrow can end a brilliant career or start a new one. A finger here, a gesture there, he peers, he coughs, he chooses, and this season’s fashions are set.

Once Ventura Rotunno makes his choices, the fashion industry jumps to life. Mercanti ply the seas for in-fashion textiles. Weavers, glass blowers, fullers, furriers, jewelers, embroiderers, cordwainers, corsetiers, lapidaries, milliners, cobblers, perukiers – oh, even the perukiers! – leap into action. The rich must have the look of the season. Nothing less will do!

When supplies run tight, as they do every year, Eversink craftsmen get into ugly tussles while trying to dress their clients in the season’s best. Last year, a raucous fistfight broke out in the Grand Marketplace over a rare wooden button. People ended up in jail. Blood ran in the streets. Mayhem broke out. A cordwainer punched a peruskier into a fruit stall, causing a mango to sustain a bruise.

Connected tailors know to slip Ventura Rotunno’s lackeys “little gratuities in thanks” before the season begins. In return, these tailors receive a preview “of the Prince’s thinking.” They avoid the rough-and-tumble side of the Eversink fashion business. The gratuity is a combination of bribe, graft, and an extortion scheme rolled into one. Without it, the tailors cannot get their orders in on time. The Prince is rich for a good reason.

One the Prince of Pants launches the fashion season, the rich go to war on one another with their judgmental cutting-wit as their favorite weapon. They insist they all conform to the look of the season. To be out of fashion is a soft criminal act in Alderhall, as one cannot be seen on the Promenade out of style. To wear clothing unapproved by Ventura Rotunno is simply offensive.

The rich will cast fashion offenders out of their midst. Nobles rescind party invitations from under-dressed. Take that frock off. Last season’s dress will not do!

And oh, the rumor mill. Should anyone cross Ventura Rotunno or dare lift a finger against his reign of terror, the rumors will run free in Alderhall. His lackeys are everywhere, like horrible gossip moles, ready to dish on a whim. Terrible rumors fly about inbreeding or sex life or not actually being that rich. These insidious rumor bills have brought the mighty low. Be afraid — be very afraid!

Then, after the rich are finally well-dressed and the parties are over, Ventura Rotunno comes down from his Spire. He makes decisions about next season’s fashions. The whole circus begins again.

Some would say the Prince of Pants’ decisions has become more outlandish in the last few years. See-through shoes. Enormous glittering faux face spiders. Meat knee pants. Double meat knee pants. Taxidermied baby alligator handbags. But maybe he likes to be challenged.

As for the ordinary people, once the Prince of Pants makes fashion decisions, the city mystically updates all its sumptuary laws. No peasant may so much as show interest in this season’s fashion. If striped pants are in this season, peasants cannot wear striped pants. Penalties run from mockery to fines.

Peasants can wear last season’s fashions. That’s appropriate for the little people.

Background Story

Ventura Rotunno was born rich in an Alderhall Spire. Scion of a Noble Eversink family, he will die rich in that same Spire. He was raised in Eversink, educated in Eversink, and now lives in Eversink.

Ventura Rotunno was always that rich bully, so it was natural to surround himself with lackeys. Upon graduating from school, he looked upon his life and realized he could either:

  • Go to War (boring)
  • Go into Trade (boring)
  • Go into Politics (very boring)
  • Live off his family fortune like a barnacle and blow a thousand years of prestige in the Eversink underground gambling halls (also boring) .

What sounded exciting was a lifetime of messing with other wealthy people. And, he could run graft and extortion schemes to keep his bank account full. A good study of character, Ventura Rotunno found what his people cared most about was peacocking. He could work with that.

Getting into fashion was easy. All Ventura Rotunno had to do was… show up. First, he attended salons, made comments, visited prominent tailors for tips, and appeared at fashion events. Ventura let his lackeys run rumors about his fashion and etiquette expertise. Soon, the rich invited Ventura to the best fashion events, where he let his cutting wit do its work. Before long, he was the expert on Eversink fashion.

Now, he’s an Alderhall Despot. Being a ruthless despot who can crush souls in his hand is, yes, entertaining.

Ventura Rotunno

Smugly Self-Satisfied, Cutting Wit, Terribly Rich

Defense – Health: Hit Threshold 3, Health 14
Defense – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 2 (self-satisfied sense of own self-importance), Morale 10 per Hero
Offense – Sway: +2; Damage Modifier +2 (cutting wit)
Abilities: Malus 20, can use Malus for Laws & Traditions
Special Abilities: Allies (cost 3), Flashback (cost 5), Mastermind, Persuasive (cost 3), Summoning (cost 3 – lackeys), Warded (cost 6)
Misc: Alertness Modifier if not 0, Stealth Modifier if not 0; any unique advice needed to run the creature

Refresh Tokens: 5

Description: Ventura Rotunno is a beautiful man and very rich. He’s of old money, and he likes to tell you so. Often. He never appears out of fashion, even when that fashion makes little sense. If Ventura has blessed fishbowls ensconced in hats as the fashion of the season, he’ll wear the biggest fishbowl with the tallest hat. He appears in public as often as he must to make cutting comments about another Noble’s clothes, as everyone’s clothes are all so last week.

His main power is his political pull in the city, which is unquestioned. He’s a mover and shaker of Eversink, and drives the fashion industry. He will use Laws & Traditions to make the fashion landscape into anything he desires.

Ventura Rotunno is not a fighter. He will rely exclusively on sway attacks. His favorite weapon is Eversink wealthy society. He’ll use his clout and cutting wit to drive PC morale down to 0. He’s also followed by a flock of gossipy henchmen at all times (allies) whom he can summon at will.

Rotunno’s Fashion Lackeys

Toadying, Gossipy, Conceited

Defense – Health: Health Threshold 3, Health 1
Defense – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 3 (cringing acquiescence), Morale 8
Offense – Warfare: -1; Fixed Damage 2 (confused about this ‘fighting’ thing)
Offense – Sway: +2; Damage Modifier +2 (fashion gossip)
Abilities: Malus 8. Malus may be spent on skill spends.
Special Abilities: Booster Morale (cost varies), Invigorate (cost varies)
Refresh Tokens: 1

Description: Rotunno’s sniveling wanna-be famous toadies. All the toadies are second or third sons of various Ancient Nobility families. Their favorite hobbies are passing damaging and horrible gossip while peacocking in this season’s best fashions. Much like Ventura Rotunno, they attack with sway, and they use their power of gossip to attack PC morale. They collapse when punched and the PCs can easily defeat them with a stiff breeze.

Villainous Plot Seeds

  1. These are Not the Pants of the Season! The PCs have been caught not wearing the fashion of the season. This is a scandal. This is THE scandal. The PC’s Alderhall contacts dried up, the salons shut their doors, and the party invitations disappeared like dried leaves on the wind. If the PCs want to get back into the Alderhall salons, they’ll have to go begging the Prince of Pants himself to absolve them of their sins. But will he do so? And what horrible price will the Prince of Pants demand to allow the PCs to make amends and be re-accepted into society?
  2. The Prince of Pants vs the Princess of Hats: This season, a challenge appears on the scene: the Princess of Hats! Catalina Barozzi, scion of the Barozzi family, wants to show Ventura Rotunno up at his own game. Now, two despots fight over the fate of Alderhall’s salons! Both have their own gangs of militant gossipers! Both are fighting over the right to define what is in or out this season. With connections to both Ventura and Catalina, the PCs are caught in the middle of this gossip-laden, fashion-critique brawl. The denizens of Alderhall demand to know; Who will the PCs support? Who will fall to this infighting? And can the PCs twist the situation to their advantage to free Alderhall of these two despots once and for all?
  3. The Great Tailor of Alderhall Extortion Plot: The PC’s favorite tailor tells the PCs the Prince of Pant’s lackies are extorting her. She’s paid them in the past to get the hot tips about the next fashion season, but they jacked their prices so high, she has to take out loans to keep the shop. If this persists, she’ll drown in debt, or lose her business. And if that happens, who will stitch the PCs up in her back room when they come in all bloody? Can the PCs help her out?

Disclaimer: These posts are unaffiliated with official canonical posts or printed materials about Sword of the Serpentine. “Swords of the Serpentine” is (TM) Pelgrane Press. For more information on Eversink, visit the Pelgrane website.

Eversink Villain #03: Insanity Forrest, Mad Mage of the Sea

Quick note: With some work, a GM could turn Insanity Forrest’s story into a full Sword of the Serpentine campaign.  She’s my current choice of turning from a 1K splat into a 10K story.  But that’s an investment in building NPCs and Port Gazi.  Maybe worth it… -ekd 

Introduction

A lagoon-based, sea-faring, mercantile Empire’s greatest foe is bloodthirsty pirates. Also, so are ancient Serpentine sorcerers, murderous small gods, hungry ghosts, other nations, wars, disease, politics, general bad choices, and random acts of enormous, ship-sinking octopi. But also, pirates.

Pirates are bad. They make trade unsafe and unpredictable. Anything that disrupts Eversink’s business threatens the city’s lifeblood. Eversink wants to control everything that drives safe and predictable business – including Eversink-controlled ports of call.

Eversink and the pirates of Min have been locked in a power struggle over the far-flung galaxy of small-to-tiny island ports of call across the sea for hundreds of years. The tiny islands are worth their weight in gold to both nations. An excellent safe harbor means hundreds to thousands of miles of trading opportunity. Each country is trying to protect its own trade networks while sinking the competition with fire and grapeshot. Capitalism is literally cutthroat on the high seas as they board each other’s ships and cut each other’s throats.

The Pirates of Min aren’t so much have a country as a loose confederation of murderers held together by a Strongman autocrat. The current autocrat is the Black-Witch Queen. On the Rose Lust, the Black Witch-Queen controls the Min with threats, murder, dread, and iron-clad fist. Cross her and die. She brings all threats to their knees and then sends them to their fates among the fishes. No one has attempted to give her a run for her money and lived to tell the tale.

Until now.

Captain Insanity Forrest of the Last Dagger is giving the Black-Watch Queen a hell of a fight. She appeared with no warning. Now, the seas boil with blood. Min Captains hedge their bets, and ships flock to the Last Dagger’s banner with her show of force. Times are changing.

Usually, this wouldn’t be an Eversink matter. Eversink doesn’t care who rules the Min, as long as Min pirates die by Sinkish hands, preferably after handing over all their trade goods. Except, Captain Insanity Forrest also attacked Eversink harbors and sunk Eversink ships. She’s building a network of safe havens for her fleet.

Recently, a critical island port, Port Decine, fell to her henchmen. Her thugs brutally murdered ‘Sinkish citizens. And not just with violence. The rumors from recent trading expeditions tell tales of hideous sea sorceries and the rising tide of undead.

“She can raise the waters,” one Captain said, who barely escaped with her life. “And with it, she can bring the horrible black Leviathan…”

“My men died and then got back up and started attacking us,” another Captain said. “We could barely throw our own men overboard so we could flee.”

This is bad for Eversink. An uncontrolled Mad Mage is on the loose with a black armada. If Captain Insanity Forrest manages to wrest the Pirates of Min from the Black-Witch Queen, she could command the entire Min fleet to descend on Eversink’s lagoon. If that happens, it’s war.

Background Story

Magda “Insanity” Forrest was nobody before she found the cache of Serpentine artifacts in the sunken wreck. She grew up an orphan in Min. Her parents died at sea, like everyone’s parents. She ran with her gang and lived by cunning, brutal cruelty, and dodging violence in and around the barnacle-covered shipwrecks of the Min Cove. She procured a handful of valuable contacts doing little jobs for the pirates.

Magda and her friends had a big enough score on a heist. One day she could afford a small ship. With that ship, Magda and her friends went hunting for treasure. She murdered more than a few captains in pubs for their rumored treasure maps. They were all fakes until one day, one wasn’t.

Three of Magda’s friends died trying to reach the shipwreck in the old Lagoon of Shivers. One friend was killed when their ship ran aground of the rocks, and two more were eaten by unspeakable dreads on the land route to the ancient beached ship.

Magda and her remaining friends found the locked cask down deep in the hold of the crumbling shipwreck. Inside the cask were a serpent-shaped ring and a strange book. Magda almost left the book behind. But, when she slipped the ring on to admire it on her hand, the book sang to her. When Magda opened the book, the ring whispered into her mind all she needed to know.

Magda murdered her remaining living friends so they couldn’t murder her for the ring and the book. Then, with the ring’s urging, raised them all again. Undead crew at her fingertips, she left the Lagoon of Shivers behind. By the time she returned to Min to start raising more crew, Magda had devoured the book. Armed with Sorcery of the Serpentine, she was ready to raise an undead fleet and clear Eversink and Min alike from the Seas. A pirate captain now, Magda felt she deserved a pirate name and left her old name behind.

All on the High Seas would bend their knee to Insanity Forrest.

Captain Insanity Forrest

Arrogant, Ambitious, Quick to Anger

Defense – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 3 (uncanny resilience), Health 15 per Hero
Defense – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 3 (extreme arrogance), Morale 15 per Hero
Offense – Warfare: +2; Damage Modifier +2 (Insanity’s duel-wielded sabers)
Offense – Sorcery: +3; Damage Modifier +1 (Necromancy, the Sea)
Offense – Sway: +2; Damage Modifier +1 (terror and dread)
Abilities: Malus 40
Special Abilities: Allies (cost 3), Extra Damage (cost 3), Flashback (cost 5), Mastermind, Spellcasting (cost 3 – 2 uses), Warded (cost 6)
Misc: Insanity has access to two Sorcerous Spheres: Necromancy and the Sea. Necromancy allows her to raise undead armies, rot the flesh of the living, cause wounds and rotting, manipulate corpses, suck life from the living and causes diseases. The Sea allows Insanity to summon great waves, call forth any great creatures of the deep (if they’re nearby), change the wind, and manipulate storms for her benefit.

Refresh Tokens: 7

Description: Insanity Forrest is tallish, dark haired, and has an intense stare. She wears a huge (and amazing) black pirate captain’s coat, a red velvet vest, a white shirt, black and white striped hose, and black boots to the knee. She wields a saber in each hand.

Before combat, Insanity will rely on sway attacks with terror and dread to drive down PC morale and break their spirits. She prefers to break people mentally before breaking them physically.

In combat, Insanity will call allies (pirate thugs) to her side first before engaging PCs. Once her allies are dispatched, she’ll rely on necromancy to raise the bodies of pirate thugs to engage PCs. Once the PCs fight through the undead, or prevent Insanity from raising the bodies, she will either use the Sea to summon a Leviathan from the depths, or full press attack with her dual-wielded sabers.

On her right hand, a metal gauntlet covers the ring, making it difficult to dislodge. The ring contains an entrapped Serpentine Sorcerer mind. Upon wearing the ring, the Sorcerer invaded Insanity’s mind. Since their goal — infinite power — 100% align, Insanity and the ring get along great. Should Insanity lose the Serpentine Ring, she will lose access to her Sorcery, and the Serpentine Sorcerer in her mind will dissipate — leaving almost no discernable personality changes. She is as evil as he is.

If PCs manage to lay hands on the ring, and attempt to wear it, the PCs will be subject to the Serpentine Sorcerer’s soul in the ring invading their mind through sway attacks to drive morale to 0 and full-press invade (use Insanity’s stats.) The ring is very evil, and will use the PCs body for Sorcery.

Min Pirate Thug

Thieving, Bloodthirsty, Murderous

Defense – Health: Health Threshold 3, Health 6
Defense – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Morale 6
Offense – Warfare: +1; Fixed Damage 4 (saber)
Abilities: Malus 10

Refresh Tokens: 3

Description: The Min Pirate thugs look exactly like run-of-the-mill pirates. They will attack (Warfare) with sabers, and have no special moves or properties.

Zombie Pirate Crew

Empty, Relentless, Rotting

Defense – Health: Health Threshold 3, Health 1
Defense – Morale: Morale Threshold nil, Grit 0 (zombies are immune to Morale attacks), Morale nil
Offense – Warfare: +0; Fixed Damage 6
Offense – Sway: +1; Fixed Damage 4 (fear)
Abilities: Malus 5 S
pecial Abilities:
None. Spends Malus on Warfare Attack.
Misc: Zombies use their Sway attack at a distance, groaning and moaning in a terrifying way as they slowly advance.

A zombie typically uses all of its Malus at once and adds it to a single Warfare attack, briefly giving it a +5 attack and a 50% chance to score a Critical Hit on its target. If it scores a Critical Hit, it rips fleshy bits off the target and stuffs human bits into its maw. The target and any human observing loses Morale Fixed Damage 4 out of horror.

Refresh Tokens: 3

Description: Pirates, but undead. These Zombies are full of Insanity’s Corruption. They do monotonous, repeatable tasks as ordered. They are not fast, nor stealthy, nor disease-ridden, but they do come in large hordes. These undead will consume any living flesh, not just brains. Hit them and they go squish. These zombies do not summon more zombies, and can be destroyed normally.

Villainous Plot Seeds

  1. The Alliance: The Triskedane sends the PCs on a secret mission to broker an alliance with the Black-Witch Queen onboard the Rose Lust. They’ll need to travel to the cove city of Min, pretend to be Min Pirates, and convince or fight their way into an audience with the meanest Pirate Lord of the Pirate Lords. Also, a coterie of black sorceresses protects the Black-Witch Queen, and she has her own sorcery. Getting close to broker an alliance won’t be easy, but what’s a little diplomacy without some swashbuckling?

  2. The Spy Mission: The Triskedane needs to gather information before the Thirteen can plot Eversink’s next moves. They send the PCs on a perilous spying mission to infiltrate Insanity Forrest’s fleet and get closer to her commanders. The PCs must pose as Min Pirates and join her fleet. If they’re found out, Insanity or her hordes of murderous pirates will feed the PCs to the fish. Will the PCs find out where Insanity will strike next and report back to the Triskedane without being discovered?

  3. War! Defend Port Gazi! It’s too late! While the PCs were on a stopover at Port Gazi to refill water and food on their ship, Insanity attacked! Hordes of undead boil off her vessels and cut down the townspeople. Murderous thugs sack the towns and light them on fire. Things boil out of the seas to drag the ships in the harbor down to watery deaths. Can the PCs rally the local watch station and mercenary company and face Insanity’s hordes before Port Gazi is lost!

Disclaimer: These posts are unaffiliated with official canonical posts or printed materials about Sword of the Serpentine. “Swords of the Serpentine” is (TM) Pelgrane Press. For more information on Eversink, visit the Pelgrane website.

Eversink Villain #02: Gaspar Bruni, Lord of the Hermitage Mailroom

Introduction

Eversink’s unofficial motto is “…for Honor and Profit! But mostly Profit!” Wherever the Swan of Eversink flies, armies of merchants stand behind it armed with their accounting books and contracts. The shining city on the salty lagoon is a city of business people. The jingle of coin motivates the people of Eversink, not wars for God or Country.

The business of the businesses of Eversink flows through the Hermitage, the soaring marble Government building flanked by Court and Guild Houses on Effigy Square in Ironcross. While it is best known for housing the Triskedane, Denari’s hand-picked thirteen mysterious rulers of Eversink, the Hermitage is more commonly the home of the city’s day-to-day business. As merchants know better than to trust the word of other merchants, that business is meticulously hand-written and conducted on paper. Treaties, contracts, licenses, deeds, petitions, charters, indentures, and office memos circulate through the Hermitage. Entire forests die to fulfill Eversink’s paper trail needs.

Eversink’s business paper flows through one centralized location. In the second sub-basement, two floors down, is the mail sorting room. It’s a maelstrom of insanity-laden, paper-based chaos. Flurries of letters are sorted, stored, shoved, and squished into buckets, bins and cubbies as the paperwork makes its way through the city’s arteries from point A to point B. They say the fate of entire nations has died down in the mailroom. Wars broke out, cities were sacked, countries scourged, and the fortunes of men rose and fell because a crucial peace treaty was sorted accidentally into bin B instead of bin A.

(However, despite being in a second sub-basement and lacking windows, the enormous room is quite pleasant: cool in the Eversink hot summers, easy to heat in the frozen winters, and surprisingly dry.)

The sorting room’s master is a tall, thin, balding, dour, spectacle-wearing man who sits on a stool at the mail and package acceptance window. His name is Gaspar Bruni — not of any particular family or famous line. He just is, like he arose out of the dark blackness of the lagoon one day and ensconced himself in the mailroom to make everyone’s life miserable.

See, Gaspar Bruni is, like everyone else in Eversink, a businessman. His business is the delivery of paperwork from one side of the Hermitage’s office to the other. And Gaspar Bruni is openly corrupt. He’ll speed up some mail or slow down others on a whim. Gaspar has no politics except coinage. He accepts small, medium, large, or extra-large bribes, and he prefers hard cash in small leather bags. Gaspar will accept the bribe right at the window. He even has a pricing menu. Want 10x speed delivery of your paperwork? That will be 5 cygnets, please. Want to 10x slow down the delivery of a rival’s paperwork? Also, 5 cygnets, please.

Since Gaspar Bruni also rebuilt the entire mail sorting system when he joined the bureaucracy decades ago, he’s impossible to dislodge. No one knows how to route the mail around to the correct Hermitage rooms anymore. Only he can orchestrate the odd dance of Eversink inter-office business mail. Kill him and the entire business of Eversink halts.

Gaspar Bruni’s iron grip over the mailroom is very annoying to everyone who does business in Eversink. Villainous — maybe?

Background Story

Gaspar Bruni was born and raised in Sag Harbor in Eversink. His parents hoped he’d become clergy and sent him to the Church to be educated. But, Gaspar was mediocre in school and had little interest in the Church or ecclesiastical life. After he graduated, he wandered from job to job. He eventually picked up a low-level administrative position in the Hermitage penning and delivering inter-office mail.

Over time, Gaspar saved enough money to pay the bribe to get the promotion to the mailroom itself. One of Gaspar’s first assignments was to organize the mailroom to make it more efficient. So, Gaspar “organized the mailroom” to “make it more efficient.”

That was Gaspar’s a-ha moment. Now that he knew how the mail was routed, he could control it. A combination of bribes and carefully engineered promotions to much better roles removed his rivals. Bribes kept the other mail room clerks on his side. Over time, he became “that guy” who runs the mail office.

Gaspar found himself controlling the vital flow of Eversink’s paperwork in an iron fist. As no one really… cares… about the vital flow of Eversink’s paperwork, until they absolutely do. He set up shop and no one stopped him.

Gaspar’s biggest challenge is to never get promoted because if he gets promoted, he’ll lose his entire mail-based empire. So the mailroom under Gaspar always runs just well enough that he’ll keep his job and just poorly enough that no one wants to see Gaspar with more responsibility.

Gaspar Bruni

Corrupt, Bureaucratic, Weasley

Defense — Health: Health Threshold 3, Health 1
Defense — Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Morale 15
Offense — Sway: +2; Damage Modifier +1 (bureaucratic babble)
Abilities: Malus 10
Special Abilities: Allies (cost 3 – clerks)
Misc: Use Malus on Servility, Laws & Traditions, and City’s Secrets
Refresh Tokens: 1

Description: Gaspar Bruni is a tall, thin, balding, dour, bespeckled middle-aged man who can be taken out with a punch or a stiff breeze, and he has an incredibly punchable face. He’s annoyed by anyone (especially PCs) and doesn’t care about anyone else’s opinions or feelings. He’s sleazy, annoying, and will absolutely make things hard for PCs unless he’s paid. Then, suddenly, he’s all smiles and friendliness. He has a few clerks in the mail room who do his bidding.

Killing him is “bad” for varying definitions of “bad.”

Gaspar lives with his mum in a townhouse in Sag Harbor. He was never married, and does not have children. Gaspar likes to eat his lunch outside in the square, and he’s adamant about always going home on time.

Villainous Plot Seeds

  1. Gaspar’s Murder! Gaspar Bruni’s body was found in an Ironcross park. Strangled! Who did it? Was it Ancient Nobility Gaspar pissed off when he ‘lost” the deed to their Spire? A Mercanti who missed the fall sailing season because he couldn’t get his license to build a new fleet on time? Angry Outlanders who blamed Gaspar for the fall of their city due to a mislaid treaty? Or was it his loyal Lieutenant and fellow Mail Clerk, Tina Avino, who eyed the mail sorting bribe business for herself! And now, the city is in chaos and business is grinding to a halt, since no one knows where anything is at! CHAOS!
  2. Gaspar Gets Promoted: The worst has happened. Gaspar finally got promoted. Someone up high in the Hermitage noticed Gaspar hit his 25 years with the Government and the promotion automatically triggered! He’s been promoted to oversee the Courts! Now Gaspar is fighting to get demoted and return to his mailroom! He’s ordering the courts to refuse to see any cases unless they pay Gaspar a direct bribe. The inter-office mail system in the Hermitage is in chaos and the Courts have stopped hearing cases. Will Eversink screetch to a complete halt before Gaspar Bruni is demoted? And what about that pirate army waiting to invade? Wait, what?
  3. The Rival Mailroom: Frustrated with the slow mail and the expensive bribes, Aniello Diano, Mercanti in Harbor Approach, sets up a rival mail office. For a nominal printed and fixed fee, Aniello Diano’s mail service lets anyone in Eversink send messages and inter-office business mail. It’s fast! It’s reliable! The rival mail service is instantly an Eversink sensation. Gaspar Bruni will not let this business rivalry stand. Gaspar, alone, controls the flow of office memos in Eversink! He arms his Mail Clerks and sends them into the streets to clash with Aniello Diano’s army of well-armed thugs. Rival gangs of mail clerks break out into violence in the Hermitage! It’s all out mail-based gang war! Who will control the fate of Eversink’s inter office mail? Will the office memo about expensing lunch ever be delivered?

Disclaimer: These posts are unaffiliated with official canonical posts or printed materials about Sword of the Serpentine. “Swords of the Serpentine” is (TM) Pelgrane Press. For more information on Eversink, visit the Pelgrane website.

Eversink Villain #01: Silvio Langella, Enemy of Stephanos Everywhere

Introduction

Last week, the Streets of Eversink teamed with people named Stefano. Everywhere you went, you bumped into a guy named Stefano. The baker down the street. The local cobbler. The friendly neighborhood pickpocket.

Then, they began to disappear. One by one, the Stefanos of Eversink… vanished. Most were renamed less Stefano-like names and carried on as if nothing happened. Others blipped out of existence, and existence knit itself back together over the hole they left behind.

Other than being obviously weird, this really messed with the people of Eversink, especially the Stephanos. Some went into hiding. Some wept. Some begged the City Watch to “do something” (they did not). Highly placed Stephanos fled the City, terrified they were next, and no amount of cash could protect them from this terrible scourge.

Soon, no one named Stephano would be left in Eversink. And when that happened, what next?

Background Story

Silvio Langella wasn’t thinking about becoming a Sorcerer when he picked the ornate box open. He was thinking about becoming fabulously wealthy and blowing gold on hot girls and rivers of alcohol. Getting to this box was no simple feat, and whoever hid it didn’t want it stolen. Whatever was inside was worth bank.

But Silvio Langella became a Sorcerer when the wrought gold lid of the box popped open under his cajoling and his expertise with lockpicks. Granted, it took Silvio all night to scale the outside of the Old Perla Family Spire in Alderhall, slip past 5 death traps, avoid the house guards, slay the house pet giant spider, find the secret locked door, and pop the complex set of locks. He also willfully ignored the letters that spelled out “DO NOT OPEN THE BOX VERY BAD” in old Eversink on the lid.

As Silvio peered into the box and saw a strange hyper-condensed ball of black light, a tiny alarm went off in his head. But then, he was consumed by blackness. A moment later, the world was back to normal. Silvio blinked and peered back into the box. Then, he heard someone yawn, stretch, and then say: “Hiya.”

After the initial hilarious misunderstandings between newly-created-Sorcerer and Demon, the Demon Maguuk offered Silvio power over his enemies and endless terrible advice that Silvio instantly followed to the letter. All Silvio had to do is draw on the Demon’s power, and great power would be his. Well, hell, mystical power was almost a great as mad riches! Not quite, but almost.

Silvio knew something something from Church when he was a kid, something bad about Demons, but he couldn’t quite remember. And Maguuk seemed like his kind of Demon. Silvio uttered his first, last, and main desire: to “get rid of that bastard Stephano who cheated me at cards last week.”

One bastard Stephano gone, so many more to go. It was all downhill from there.

Silvio Langella

Hungry, Foolhardy, Sarcastic, Loathes Stephanos Everywhere

Defense – Health: Hit Threshold 3, Health 8
Defense – Morale: Hit Threshold 4, Grit 1 (sarcastic wit), Morale 10
Offense – Warfare: +2; Damage Modifier +1 (razor-sharp dagger)
Offense – Sorcery: +1; Damage Modifier +1 (Memory, Shadow Teleportation)
Abilities: Malus 18
Special Abilities: Dodge (cost varies), Spellcasting (cost 3 – Memory, cost – 3, Shadow Teleportation), Warded (cost 6)
Misc: Stealth Modifier +2; Use Malus on Burglary, Skullduggery and Athletics. Shadow teleportation allows transit through Maguuk’s realm and imprisonment there.

Refresh Tokens: 3

Description: Silvio Langella was your run-of-the-mill thin, tweedy, slightly sleazy second-story man, the kind that are 3 to a copper eel in Sag Harbor. Now, he has the Demon Maguuk living in his head, merrily pointing out people named Stephano and helping Silvio wipe them from existence. Silvio, being Silvio, is not very good at controlling Corruption. He’s internalized a fair amount of Corruption every time he has used Memory or Shadow Teleportation magic. It twisted his body horribly – redding skin, horn stubs protruding from his forehead, gnarled fingers and toes – slowing turning him into the likeness of the Demon. Now he bundles himself in clothes and hides in the shadows, hoping no one sees him for what he’s turned into.

Villainous Plot Seeds

  1. Plot Seed #1 – Running Out of Stephanos: Silvio wants to remove everyone named Stephano from Eversink, never to return. He’s declared war on Stephanos, wherever they may hide. While most of Eversink might shrug its collective shoulders and change its name to Marcos, the Corruption crawling around the City is a real problem. And it’s only a matter of time before Eversink runs out of Stephanos! Silvio might go after some other name. And another, and another, until Eversink is a city of the nameless! Orders coming down from the Church of Denari itself: something must be done to stop the Sorcerer before it’s too late!
  2. Plot Seed #2 – The Demon Children of Sag Harbor: Silvio is internalizing much of the Corruption he’s generating every time he casts a spell, but not all of it. Some of the Corruption is splashing around his kip in Sag Harbor, causing buildings to fall, pregnant women to miscarry, and the local children to start growing small stubbing horns, stubby wings, and forked tails. Something in the neighborhood is turning the children into actual demons, and that must be stopped.
  3. Plot Seed #3 – The Demon Maguuk’s Extradimensional Lair: Not all those afflicted by Silvio’s magic suffer a sudden change of name. Some blip out of existence entirely… and end up the Demon Maguuk’s lair out of space and time. The Demon Maguuk feasts on the souls sent to him by Silvio’s magic, and consumes them for power. As Silvio wreaks his revenge, Maguuk feeds and grows stronger. It’s not just Silvio who must be stopped. It’s Maguuk, who may one day once again soon grow so powerful it rips out of its dimensional prison and menaces Eversink directly.

Disclaimer: These posts are unaffiliated with official canonical posts or printed materials about Sword of the Serpentine. “Swords of the Serpentine” is (TM) Pelgrane Press. For more information on Eversink, visit the Pelgrane website.

Villains! Villains? Why not. Villains!

So.

My brain turned off during the coronavirus lockdown. My interest in writing (except for long, ranty blog posts) took a major plunge, and my creativity was at an all-time low. I had no interest in writing and even less interest in returning to the world of Eversink. I had no desire to walk along the canals at night sniffing the fishy air. I did not want to haggle over a slightly broken plate (still good! still plates!) in the Grand Marketplace. I certainly did not want to be accosted by a specter who wants vengeance on its friends for costing it its life on a foolish bet involving giant lagoon eels.

I wasn’t interested in the concept of words. I quit reading. Writing was right out.

When my brain turned back on a month and change ago, I wanted to write entire one-shot quicky adventures. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Then, I realized my brain was on, but not actually on, and writing adventures was pushing my luck. My pre-pandemic output of 2K words in a shot when I sat to write Dungeonomics was a non-starter. This might be a longish-term effect of the 15 months of lockdown — my interest in anything “not watching tv” is shockingly low. I’m positive it will drift away in time, but not for a while yet.

Exasperated, I gave up on the whole idea of writing adventures and wandered off to work on other projects for a while.

But then, I had this idea. Instead of writing complete adventures, I’d write up the fragments of adventures I thought up and focus all my energy on the penultimate villain behind the adventure. Every good story needs a good villain. Villains are the percussive force behind adventures! Without a villain, why, Eversink becomes nothing but a rom-com!

Honestly, a good GM can spin a good adventure from a good villain. No canned adventure is needed. It’s a thought experiment. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t, and I’ll write building descriptions until I feel the need to break D&D again in terrible ways.

I’ll post a few, and we’ll see if this works. I’ll also be using the adversary builder to roll stat blocks because automation is my friend.

(Total aside: I love the idea of Eversink romcoms. She’s a half-fungus, half-mammal creature from out of time who boiled up from the horrors of the underbasements. He has an unspeakable God living in his head who urges him to kill when the moon is waning crescent. Together, they make a great pair! Comedy ensues when they try to date!)

Disclaimer: These posts are unaffiliated with official canonical posts or printed materials about Sword of the Serpentine. “Swords of the Serpentine” is (TM) Pelgrane Press. For more information on Eversink, visit the Pelgrane website.

Day 90: My Game Design Theory of Fun

It’s my birthday!  Happy birthday to me!

Also, I have blogged something every day for 90 days through this crazy pandemic.  I’m not certain I’ll be able to keep up that performance for the next 90 days.  I’ll likely keep blogging regularly since I’ve now spiffed the place up, fixed the popped nails, and cleaned up the detritus around here.  But it may go to either weekdays (M-F) since I have little to say on the weekends or a three day a week schedule (M-W-F) so I will have more to talk about.  We’ll see.

Back in the day when we were working on Elder Scrolls Online, we had Friday afternoon playtests.  The entire studio would stop and everyone would patch up to that week’s build and play the current weekly build on the internal prod server (which was not, in fact, prod) for several hours.  Then, we were required to give feedback.

This entire process made me squirrelly and it was because, at the time, the game was not fun.  It was a game, and it played, and you could cast spells and swing a sword and hit things and do damage but as a whole, it was not fun. And that led me to run around talking with game people about “what is fun?”  The result of those conversations led to conversations when making SotS with me saying, “Always do the fun thing and make the fun choice.”

One thing I believe in strongly when designing a game is that it must be fun and, fun is the #1 priority when making design considerations.  Creating fun is a selfless act — it’s the act of making design choices, based on listening to feedback, that might not be in your wheelhouse but will bring joy to N other people.  Your job is to make N other people happy.

What do I mean by fun?  When I’m talking about fun in RPGs, I’m thinking about:

  1. Is the game easy to understand and written in a clear, concise manner?  Do I have to expend a ton of effort to work through your rules?  Clarity helps get to fun.
  2. Are the game rules confusing? I call the time between reading rules, understanding rules, and applying rules friction.  The more friction the game has, the less fun it is.  By the way, that doesn’t mean that game cannot be complex or loaded with content.  Take D&D5, a low-friction system.  It has a zillion rules but it’s core mechanic of “roll a d20 and add to it for skill, attack, and saving throws” is shockingly simple to understand.  Friction is the killer.
  3. Are the rules engaging? What I mean here are they appealing and interesting enough that they make you want to learn more.
  4. Are the game rules flexible enough to apply to fun and creative situations?  Can the players bend, break, abuse, or misuse rules in creative ways and the game rules respond well?  We did horrible things to Blades in the Dark, but the roll your d6s and let’s see what happens worked well. The Dungeon World “succeed, succeed with consequences, or fail hilariously” mechanic also lent itself well to player abuse.
  5. Do the rules inspire storytelling or support storytelling?
  6. Do the rules support each other?  This one is not obvious.  The magic system must work with the combat system and must work with the skill system.  Back in Shadowrun 2nd Ed days — published gloriously in 1992 — the only thing the decking system had in common with everyone else is that it used d6s and use the power of 6 rule.  Decking might as well been its own game.
  7. Are the rules overly jargon?  Having actually written on White Wolf titles, I still can’t tell you those damn rules.
  8. Is the setting cool?  Is it engaging?  Does it even need a setting/ You cannot have Shadowrun without its goofy cyberpunk setting.  You can do Blades without Duskvol, but you’d need to run it in, say, Eversink.  Most games that are not a generic toolkit like FATE have some sort of setting or at least bring in an overlay on the real world.  Trails of Cthulhu is setting (real world) with Cthulhu overlay, while Nights Black Agents is setting (real world, future) with Vampires.
  9. Does the setting support the rules and vice versa?  Do they resonate with one another?
  10. And, the most important rule, do the playtesters enjoy playing the game and engage with the game during the playtest?  Are they having actual fun? Because, at the end of the day, the game is written by you, the game designer, but the only way to make it fun is through collecting as much feedback as possible and iterating your way to fun.

I’m going to give you an example which Kevin has mentioned in public a few times: the rewrite of the trap rules in Swords of the Serpentine right at the end.  I, myself, tripped over the original version of the trap rules.  You know what is rarely exercised in running a playtest?  Trap rules.  You know what you run over backward with a car, repeatedly, when trying to figure out how to make a dungeon encounter dangerous?  Trap rules.

The trap rules were really stodgy.  I’m not a super big fan of D&D5’s trap rules, either, because they reflect a 70s mentality and have to carry some ancient assumptions, and these were even less flexible.  Basically poison traps, magic, things that explode, that sort of thing.  I sort of wanted something, like, someone to touch a lock and then a ghost trapped in the lock oozed out and started chewing on someone’s face, but I could not figure out how to make that work.  And I had made an offhand, not particularly useful, playtest comment of:

“The trap rules are garbage.”

Because I am a terrible playtester and despite have a ton of playtest credits I’m really no help sometimes. If you ever playtest someone’s rules, don’t just write “X rule is garbage” because it’s not actionable.

The trap rules broke several of my rules above: Not engaging, not flexible, didn’t support storytelling.  My only clarification was: “Here we should do the fun thing.”  Luckily, Kevin had better playtester than me, and right before the manuscript was shipped, the rules were fixed and the traps are much better now.

I have read and do have a copy of Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun.  It’s a large essay in bound form.  I recommend people buy it and read it.  He wrote it way back in the day and it got spiffed a few years ago.  It’s useful to read.  But really, the way to understand fun is to design something, put it in front of people, and try to gauge their confusion.  You’re looking for:

  • Low confusion (friction)
  • High engagement
  • Flexibility
  • Supports storytelling

This doesn’t matter if the game is story-heavy, rules-heavy, rules-free.  It makes no difference.  It’s on you, the game designer, to hit those high notes and bring joy to someone else’s life.

Go make fun.

Stats:

  • 21,933,301 completed tests.
  • 2,046,806 tested positive.
  • 115,104 confirmed dead.
  • 60,826 positive cases and  2,940 dead in MD.  (Looks like we’re finding them)
  • 1 out of every 140 people have it in Howard County

rt.live shows the virus spreading in 15 states.  Stay safe out there.

Day 88: Food, Setting Design, and You

“WOAH,” you say.  “YOU CHANGED THE TITLE OF THE BLOG ENTRY TO THE ACTUAL CONTENTS.”

“I know, I know,” I say. “I’m trying to shake it up a little here.”

To honor the Swords of the Serpentine Thread on rpg.net, I am going to write about… food.

Annoyingly, I kept writing about food when writing Eversink.  I expended fountains of precious words on meat-onna-stick.  Why?  Was I hungry?  Well yes, but…

  1. Food defines a people, an environment, and a biodome.  People living on mountains eat a diet rich in goat, while people living on the coasts eat a diet rich in oysters.
  2. Food helps define a people.  People who farm and herd cattle are a very different people than those who primarily fish, or hunter-gatherers.  Are people sedentary with huge feudal plantations?  Do they live on lashed together boats?  Do they farm smoky terraces of rice paddies?
  3. Food defines status.  People with a higher status eat much differently than people of a lower status.  Rich people can indulge in delicacies while the poor eat, well, meat-onna-stick.
  4. Food defines a sense of place.  Food markets, food carts, farm plots, grazing plots, fishing ponds, oceans, seas… These are the sounds and sights of a city come to life.  A city with no food is just archeology.
  5. And because of A Better Tomorrow II.

If you haven’t seen A Better Tomorrow II, first, you need to go get educated in classic Gun Fu and the Heroic Bloodshed genre of movies.  Go away and watch it.  I’ll wait.

Here’s the scene I really care about:

This scene has everything.  Chow Yun Fat.  Hong Kong Restaurant Wok Cooking.  Violence. Guns. White guys getting their comeuppance.  And, most importantly, a dissertation on man’s relationship to rice.

It’s the deepest shallow thing ever.

I have this image in my head of PCs parkouring down through Eversink underbasements pursued by some nasty summoned by a Sorcerer and then bursting up through a bathroom and stumbling out, all covered in gore, into a huge, ridiculous, ritzy gala and there, in the center of the gala, is this spread of oysters.   And me, being a curious sort who is in love with travel food shows, goes “ooh? where do the oysters come from?”  Nevermind the underbasements, the nasty, the Sorcerer, or even the benefit gala for poor Tangle Orphans.  What do I care about?  “Where’s the fish market?”

This unspools in a creative weave into building a fish market, and fisheries, and the smell of the docks, and the Tangle itself because the fishermen need to live somewhere and they do not live next to ritzy galas that serve oysters.

I can unweave anything if I start with food.  If, for some reason, the restaurant in Ironcross serves, of all the strange things, steak, and Eversink is on series of islands connected by bridges, where the hell does the steak come from?  And how fresh could it possibly be in a world without refrigeration?  Is there a Sorcerer who specializes in cold enslaved to some horrific Demonic Master and forced to freeze warehouses full of meat sides until the Sorcerer implodes in a giant bloody poof of Corruption?  Or does the Corruption go in the meat?!  How does the Demon smuggle the meat to the warehouse?  Does he also run a Thieves Guild?  Holy jumping jacks, that restaurant is a front for Smuggled in Illegal Demon Meat Loaded with Sorcerous Corruption.  And what happens if you, I dunno, eat it?

Dear God, do not get the special!

Things like this are why my friends think I need help.

I’m fascinated by man’s relationship with food and how it defines their place, their cities, their governments, and their entire ways of life.  Everything about man, space, life, and man’s relationship with food.

I once read this book, a Taste of Conquest.  It’s honestly not the greatest book of all time but I found the section on Venice deeply amusing.  Not for the food!  The food is abhorrent in that book — except these, Venetian Peverini, they look pretty good.

The book inspired me for two reasons:

  1. It lays out the machinations and machinery of how, in the 16th and 17th centuries, various spices start on one side of the world and traveled to the other side of the world, often in musty holds.
  2. The early mania for printing cookbooks.

When the printing press first spread through Europe, one of its first stops was Venice.  While at first, the bookbinders cranked out Bibles, they quickly churned out a more popular seller: cookbooks. (Then after that, you know, porn.)  Bibles people bought once.  Cookbooks people bought every time a new one was released.  Oh rapturous joy, early 16th-century cookbooks.   There are few things more bizarre, confusing, and glorious than a 16th-century cookbook.  They rarely have the ingredients, let alone full recipes!  And mostly they said: “Take a rabbit and roll it in pepper and cinnamon and roast and eat and don’t die.”

It’s glory because it talks about people, and things, and people eating things.  And it is a story of a city, and how the city worked.  And how it wrapped itself around that spice trade so people could eat rabbit rolled in pepper.

Eversink is loaded with food carts because I have a passionate love for street food.  And it’s loaded with food because it’s a place of people, and culture, and where people come together to share in culture.  And also, where the meat might be, just slightly, haunted.

Stats:

  • 21,467,820 tested
  • 2,003,107 positive cases.  Yikes!  2M cases!
  • 113,349 dead.  I note we are back up to 1K dead/day.
  • 59,550 cases in MD, 2,885 dead
  • 1 in 147 people have it in Howard County

A Guide to Food, Farming, and Conflict in Worldbuilding

Introduction

This is another worldbuilding guide.  We’re going to talk about what looks like from the outside the most boring subject in world-building: food.

Food is exciting! People eat. Even the Gods eat. Maybe, like elves, they less than humans. Or, like Vampires, they live on humans. Or they eat more than humans.

We don’t think much about food, food production, calories, and eating when we create worlds. However, for intelligent creatures who eat, ensuring a constant stream of meals is a motivating factor in everything from inventing new technologies to state formation.

This article treats food and food production, as underlying core mechanics in world-building. We can ask ourselves interesting questions:

  • What do the local people eat?
  • Where do they get their food?
  • How does food get to where the people are?
  • How is food grown and harvested?
  • What happens when the population grows and consumes all the food?
  • How many non-food-makers can society support?
  • How does the availability of food impact conflict and war?
  • How does the availability of food help organize the state?

Food production is an incredibly dense subject. A copy of “History of Food” on my shelf is 1000 pages long. Consider this blog post a very light introduction to the subject, and we’re assuming our “standard person template” is human.

The easiest way to teach concepts is in using an example. We’re going to explore a standard, low-level (1st-3rd) D&D adventure through this lens:

The village of Redwick needs adventurers immediately. Goblins moved into the nearby hills. They’ve eaten the livestock and started on the local fields. 50gp reward for the removal of these goblins!

Food and Calories

Imagine a peasant.

Suppose a peasant works his or her fields for 10 hours a day, every day. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that peasant requires 2500 calories/day with the heavy labor. That comes to about 912K calories/year. There are 1538 calories in a modern lb of whole-grain wheat flour. Assuming all things equal, a peasant must produce 600lbs of wheat flour to feed only himself per year — if the peasant only lives on bread.

Wheat produces (today) about 6.4 million calories/acre with all modern equipment, gear, technology, genetic modifications, and soil amendments. Let’s assume that peasants have access to 12th-century technology (horseshoes, the iron plow, irrigation, basic crop rotation, etc.) to lift yields. We’ll also assume a peaceful peasant produces 1/5th (20%) of a modern yield. With a horse, acre supports 3/4ths of a peasant. A family of four peasants must work about 3 acres to eat bread reliably without fear of starvation in good, non-drought weather.

Lots of things going on here: technology levels, food consumption, calorie intake, and the rest. Consider this the floor for world-building: the lowest requirements for a farmer in a fantasy world.

A peasant cannot subsist on only wheat. Wheat lacks the proteins and amino acids the human body needs. So, a peasant adds a much more calorie-dense source of food: meat.

Meat is a trade-off. Cows, sheep, and goats are worth more alive than digesting in a human’s belly. They produce valuable goods (wool, cheese, butter). They do work. Eating a cow now may mean starving next week. And cows, sheep, and goats are all ruminants: they eat grass. They don’t compete with human sources of food.

Since the cows are inedible, peasants keep chickens. Chickens are highly useful sources of protein: produce eggs, reproduce fast, eat grain. They’re small and economical.

Pigs, though, are the best of the best. Pigs are the best source of meat per food consumed of any domesticated animal (20lbs meat/100lbs food consumed). And they have a job! Pigs are scavengers! Garbage cans of the domesticated animal world.

Except, pigs eat human food. They compete with humans in the food chain when pigs don’t have access to the delicious truffles of a forest or a swamp. No forest, no swamp, no pigs. So — pigs are cheap when pigs can feed themselves. Pigs are expensive where they cannot.

We’ve Established: At a base level, with manual labor and ancient-to-medieval technology, organized people can feed themselves from the land if they have agriculture and animal husbandry. The peasant needs a combination of plant food product and protein to fulfill his or her calorie requirements. The peasant subsists on chickens, eggs, wheat, and whatever vegetables they grow in their local gardens. With plenty of land, good weather, a water supply, and no population pressures, they eat well, and they can feed non-food producers.

The goblins moved caves under Nordbury Hills south of Redwick Village several months ago. It’s a warband of four dozen individual goblins. A hunter-gatherer goblin is half human-sized. We can assume ~50 goblins eat about the equivalent of 25 humans. They’ve added 25 human-sized calorie requirements to the local ecology overnight.

This is not good.

Producers vs. Non-Food Producers

We’ve thought about growing the food. What about eating food?

There are two classes of eaters: food producers and non-food producers.

Peasants working the land are food producers. Everyone else is a non-food producer.

To support non-food producers, peasants must produce enough food to feed themselves plus additional mouths. Scribes, priests, nobles, military, artisans, local townies, the guy who runs the Inn — these are all non-food producing specialists who survive on the success of food producers.

Every non-food producer is a burden on the producers. They are an additional mouth peasants must feed through the product of their labor. Except for the military, non-food producers eat say, a standard 2000 calories/day. They cost about 750K calories a year. The village must produce ~450lbs of wheat — or equivalent calories in meat, eggs, milk, butter, oil, orchard-grown fruits, vegetables, and cheese — for each non-food producer it supports.

The feudalism pyramid works on food.

If the peasants want a priest, a local wizard, a blacksmith, or a cash-producing local industry, it must also produce enough calories/year to support these non-food producers. The higher the yield, the more specialists the community supports. The more specialists, the more goods and services.

Nobility is extremely expensive. Nobles pay their way by trading something of global community value: redistribution of global resources across their demesne. Those resources could be religious, trade, food, or military goods. The nobles also pay for the establishment of towns and cities. Nobles then encourage towns and villages to flourish because trade in a finished good makes much more money than trade in sacks of flour.

Peasants cannot redistribute wheat themselves. They are local and land-bound. Nobles are more global. They extract taxes from the peasants (in the form of food), sell it, and use money to pay for the non-food producers the nobles find valuable.

If there’s no food, nobles will extract from peasants anyway to pay for non-food producers. In a noble’s mind, non-food producers are more valuable to noble aims.

In good times, feudalism works. In bad times, peasants live on the bottom of the pyramid and subsist on the edge of malnourishment and death.

Adventurers are non-food producers. They’re an expensive luxury on a society that invests heavily in producing food, and they take their prize in gold and magic items. When society needs adventurers, peasants starve. When peasants starve, society needs adventurers.

We’ve established: Peasants must exceed their yields in product to feed those who don’t farm. The number of specialists a society supports comfortably is equal to the overage in calories from the food producers. Lower the yields, fewer specialists society can maintain. This fact is as true in an Early Medieval society as it is in, say, a Post-Apocalyptic one.

_The people of Redwick village are almost food producers: peasants living a peaceful peasant lifestyle. They also have a village priest, a village headman, and a village blacksmith. They have a local inn for visitors at the crossroads. The village supports a handful of crafts: tanning, weaving, and shoemaking.

Above the village rules a Baron and his three soldiers who “protect” the town, collect taxes, and enforce the King’s laws.

_The local peasants must produce enough calories in agriculture and protein for themselves + about 20 non-food producers. But wait: they also pay taxes in wheat-form up to the Baron. No one has coin money. Peasants pay their taxes in grain.

The peasants also pay taxes regardless of the harvest’s bounties. In a bad year, peasants don’t eat. The local pyramid is the Baron, the Baron’s men, the local non-food producers, and finally, the peasants.

The Baron give the taxes to the Baron’s boss, the Duke. The Duke takes enough from all aggregated villages to pay for himself, his household, invest heavily in his holdings, including cities, towns, colleges, monasteries, and other developments, and pay the King. The peasants must produce enough for themselves + many.

Population Density and Ecology

As the population rises, the village needs more calories to sustain itself. The more calories, the more land, and animals. The more land cultivated for food, the more humans cut down and rearrange the ecology to fit their needs. Humans dam rivers. They divert water for irrigation. They cut down forests, drain swamps, and turn grazing land into plowed land. This activity causes erosion, long term soil damage, and drainage issues. It depopulates the land of wild animals, causes overfishing, etc.

Once humans — or anything eating food — over-populates, they put pressure on the amount of land available to cultivate for calories. Once people run out of land, they starve. Once they die, populations either shrink to fit the size of the ecological niche (as in most populations worldwide until ~13th century) or the population overgrows and overruns niches.

Without population stability, the end result is massive ecological damage. If the population is stable and land use is stable, humans hold the damage to a minimum. If another group moves into the niche, or the population undergoes an explosion, people will exert ecological pressure on the system.

Ecological damage means people do not eat.

For example, slash and burn will produce fruitful harvests for a short period. Over a long period of time, as the plants grow back slower and slower, the harvests get smaller. Eventually, the land is ruined and produces no harvest.

Another example. Ancient Sumerians dammed up the Tigris to irrigate their fields of wheat. Except, the Tigris’s water contains silt. Salt doesn’t bother the plants but, over time, salt sank into the water table. The land was destroyed. Ur was abandoned. The entire Sumerian Empire collapsed. Today, the land around Ur is still uninhabitable.

We’ve established: In good times, the population grows. A growing population means cultivating more land aggressively. Cultivating too much land leads to ecological damage. Ecological damage leads to lower yields.

The four dozen goblins moved in and directly competed with the peasants. They stripped the local forests for the edible game. Then they were hungry and went after the readiest source of protein around — the cows.

A single cow is more valuable than the life of a peasant. The cows pull plows, gives milk, makes more cows, and provides protein. Losing a cow is anger making.

Worse, the peasants live on the edge of a knife to fulfill their own food and tax responsibilities. The loss of a few cows and a field is devastating to their yearly tax bills. The peasants — and the Baron — are frantic to stop the goblins from eating their crops.

Conflict and War

When two groups move into the same ecological niche in the same proximity, the second group impacts the population of the first. Once impacted, people’s ability to produce food decreases. Then, people cannot pay their taxes.

This is a quick way to a hot conflict. If no one can persuade the impacting group to leave the ecological niche, then everyone is going to fight over it. Tax collectors are going to get their due. Rent extractors will pay for adventurers.

Conflicts over ecological niches are constant throughout history. You enter my niche, my friends and I are going to kill you for it. You compete with my land and my food, and we’re going to kill you and your family. Don’t move here.

No man’s zones are common in pre-industrial societies of all sorts. Even if the land in the no man’s zone is habitable and farmable, entering the zone means death. The fallow land between one society and another helped mitigate conflict.

Here’s an example:

Your people are living on a bad, unfarmable finger of land. They’re starving and need food. You decide the hell with it and gamble. Maybe you’ll win, or maybe you’ll die.

You arm everyone. You send your warbands to annex land from your neighbors. You get lucky. You’re stronger. You slaughter your neighbors. You enslave survivors to work your brand new farms. You produce extra non-food producers who can raid the next land over.

Rinse, repeat. You build yourself a small kingdom. Then you, too, can be a non-food tax collecting extractor as you force all your people back to lands — now with bonus slave labor! Until you run into a Kingdom pulling the same trick.

What are the goblin’s motivations?

We’ve established: People moving into each other’s lands and consuming resources raises the chances of violent conflict.

The peasants fight back against the goblins, but they’re not permitted by King’s Law to own weapons. After several deaths and the yearly taxes at risk, the Baron makes the economic calculation to rid himself of these goblins. He sends in his soldiers and loses one to the hill-infesting menace. After this, the Baron appeals to the Duke.

Only the Duke has resources to pay non-food producing and expensive adventurers. Paying in money instead of food is a fabulous show of largesse. Typically, the Duke would ignore this goblin menace, but the Baron lost a man. Military men are expensive to train. The Duke ponies up.

Later on, during the adventure, the adventurers learn that the goblins were infesting the hills because they, too, were pushed out of their ecological niche. Something nasty has moved in and eaten all their food. The goblins couldn’t kill it, whatever it is.

No where to hunt or grow == fleeing to this village == eating the cows. The adventurers can kill these goblins today, but if the root cause isn’t lanced, more goblins will arrive tomorrow. Unless the adventurers hunt the goblins to extinction, always an option at a handful of XP a pop.

Is this adventure worth 50gp? And the goodwill of the powerful Duke?

Magic, Technology and Escape from Subsistence Farming

There are three escape hatches from subsistence farming. You can combine them in a world-building exercise to explain why people live in cities, hang out, and do cool things:

  • A massive die-off that decimates populations and resets equilibriums. (See: the Black Death)
  • Technology
  • Magic

In the 14th century, the Black Death was an effective solution to an overpopulated Europe. However, the Black Death led to a full century of political and economic instability. Working a massive “dying off” it into the background of a world could mark a turning point for any civilization. Huge ecological niches + upgraded farm capacity + freed capacity == movement forward.

Technology is a way out, but technology requires the freed up capacity of non-food producing specialists to research, create, and mass produce. Non-food producing specialists need either highly extractive taxes to support them or a leap forward in technology to increase yields. At first, few non-producers can spend time on research. Should some invent something that increases yields or reduces dependencies on humans, non-food producers can spend more time researching. So it goes. The trick is to raise the number of calories produced/acre while decreasing the number of people required to farm those calories and making even more non-producing specialists.

Magic’s limits are the realm of imagination. Someone can magic up food. Get a wizard, and no one needs to farm except the poor dude doing the magicking-up. The whole town is free to do non-food-producing things. Everyone can specialize or research without worrying about their next meal. The single omnipotent, all-powerful wizard solution feels fragile: dependent on humans or singular specialized devices and difficult to mass-produce.

The trick is to establish magic that works like technology. Magic that doesn’t require a caster to maintain, or magic that works autonomously. Magic that is distributable, easy for anyone to use, and reproducible.

We’ve established: Worlds can escape the producer/non-producer trap with technology or suitable magic that works like technology. The more we crank up the automation, to fewer people need to grow calories, and more people can do more things.

A single wizard with the right weather spells could conceivably raise the density of the calories produced/acre and free up peasants to specialize into non-food manufacturing roles. Specialization will both increase the quality of life and bring a much more valuable trade good into the village. This creates a dependency on calories on the wizard.

The problem with wizards, though, is that spell-casting is still human labor. Either the peasants must pay the wizard enormous sacks of cash, imprison the wizard, strap him to a pole, and force him to cast his weather spells daily forever in some hellish torment, or the wizard must automate himself out of the picture.

Escape is through machines: reliable magical contraptions that vastly increase the calories produced per single laborer. This frees people up to specialize. The most fabulous magic item an adventurer can find in a dragon’s horde is an orb the conjures constant beautiful summer rainstorms on-demand or casts Mass Mage Hand. Or, a single, magical, fully autonomous combine harvester.

Goblin Aftermath

In the end, the adventures kill the goblins in the hills. They return to the Duke and receive their 50gp reward. Then, they are off to the next adventure. Eventually, either that strain of goblins starves completely, or other adventurers come along and hunt them to extinction.

Then, whatever nastiness pushed the goblins out of their ecological niche appears, and it’s hungry. It decides the villagers of Redwick are an acceptable source of protein. 100gp reward?

Why use all this stuff?

As we’ll see in the Wandering City example, not even highly magic-advanced or technologically-advanced societies escape the need to eat. Food governs how a society organizes itself. Societies are fragile, and disruptions bring about adventure, mayhem, or even the end.

It’s not necessary to build food production and calorie consumption into a world (although some RPGs like Blades in the Dark make it pretty explicit), but understanding food helps to understand some deeper motivations of people, trade and the state.

An Example: Wandering Cities:

Let’s answer these same questions for a more abstract example. Here’s the slug from the previous post on the Wandering Cities:

RPG Summary: Cities of pure magic float at cloud height miles in the air. A thousand years ago, wizards discovered how to harness magic into grand engineering civil works. Along with damming the great rivers, shifting forests, and clearing deserts, the wizards lifted the cities from the trappings of geography and climate and allowed them to wander. Since the Great Lifting, people have prospered. However, nothing in this world is free: the great magical engines powering the cities requires a continuous source of Xadril, a rare metal found under mountains.

From a geographical disposition, the Cities exist on floating discs. The discos are about 10 miles wide in diameter. Technologically, the world feels like the first two decades of the 20th century. The world has ubiquitous magic (pervasive ubiquity.)

Let’s make these presumptions about the world:

With a low population, ten miles in diameter is enough to feed the entire population of a small, rural, floating town built around the local wizard shop. The disc has plenty of farming and grazing land. It gets plenty of rain and sun. With magic combines and high-yield feed, humans can subsist on the discs for decades if not centuries.

Over time, these settlements blossomed from tiny villages into metropolises. Towns grew and multiplied. They transformed into cities. For economic reasons, living on the discs offered more opportunity than living on the ground (TBD — placeholder as to why here).

With the growth of populations comes building. Over time, buildings encroach on the farming and pasture land. Today, the grazing pastures are gone. The sweeping farms disappeared. Real estate on the discs is worth vastly more than real estate on the ground.

On the discs, hardly anything grows that isn’t a weed or carefully manicured city-trees. People keep neither chickens nor cows. No one cultivates vast tracts of cloud corn. Except for private vegetable and community gardens, food must come either from farming-dedicated floating discos or from the ground.

As we’re thinking only in the context of food, let’s add some random color to this magic world:

  • Magic-assisted mass farming and harvesting. Perhaps a kind of golem-like magic/robotic harvesters.
  • Since the vibe is early 20th century we lean into the Grapes of Wrath. Barns full of broken robot junk. Farmers in weatherbeaten overalls fixing the combine golem with a wrench and sweat. Shotguns.
  • Assume people in the floating cities eat typical Midwestern human food.
  • Cities must get their food from the ground or client discs, as city real estate consumed all land.
  • Airlift moves food from the ground to the sky on regularly scheduled shipments.
  • The cities have massive food warehouses and food distribution centers to shift food from delivery to hungry mouths.
  • The cities have a centralized market and distribution network to smaller markets in various city locales.
  • The city is reliant on their system of food delivery never breaking down because if it does, people will starve.
  • Cities could go to war over possession of the land on the ground or distribution networks in the sky.
  • Are the airlifts planes? Blimps? Balloons?

We’ve now established:

  • High population density in the city.
  • Residential neighborhoods and industrial neighborhoods.
  • A societal split between disc-people and ground-people.
  • Competition for on-land resources between multiple cities.
  • City is 100% dependent on their ground-based possessions.

We haven’t established:

  • Castes between the ground and the air;
  • Why people live on discs;
  • The magic that propels the discs and the machines;
  • What mode of transport lifts food into the sky.

If we wanted to, we could start coloring in the lines. We could say that the cities all have their possessions and they fight each other over the best land. We already know the magic to keep cities aloft are from rare resources. We could add in blimps and balloons as the “trucks of the sky.” And make the warehouse districts the “bad” neighborhoods.

Everything in this world is a little fragile — and purposefully so. If everything worked perfectly all the time, there’d be no need for adventurers.

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