Friday, September 2, 2016

Waystone: Layers of Secrets (Part Two)


This is the second part of my discussion of a custom setting for AMBER DRPG/Lords of Gossamer and Shadow. In this setting, new player characters are likely to slowly discover the secrets of the universe through play, as a series of nested secrets.  In the first part, we discussed the Marches (an inter-dimensional forest connecting different parallel realities) and the different ways to access it.


As the players characters explore Marches with Wayfaring, they will soon notice a gradient in the level of Essence along the paths.  In one direction, the paths become more "real" and the Realms that branch off them become larger and more stable.  In other directions, the level of reality drops.  This is because the Essence that underpins the universe flows out from its center, becoming more diffuse the farther it has traveled.  The flow of Essence is thus true north of the Marches -- closer to the Center lie the High Marches, farther away lie the Low Marches.  Wayfarers will find that there is a limit to how far they can travel in either direction.  If they travel too far into the Low Marches, even on Paths, they will begin to suffer the effects of Low Essence, gradually weakening and eventually dying.  If they travel too far into the High Marches, they will find High Essence equally discomforting and dangerous, before eventually coming to an uncross-able chasm lying across their path.

Wayfarers will also discover that the Essence is stronger along the paths than off the paths.  Those with a metaphysical bent may surmise that the paths themselves are the physical manifestation of these rivers of essence flowing through and underpinning the Marches.  The Waystones represent an even higher concentrations of Essence. The realm behind each one is a kind of a pinched-off balloon, and the universe therein depends on the higher local concentration of Essence.


The flows of Essence are not identical.  Essence comes in different "flavors," known as Aspects.  Along Paths strongly marked with one Aspect or another Realms too reflect this Aspect.  Along a Path strong in Fire, the Realms may be filled with magma, or sheets of flame, or desert realms, for example.  These Realms are not _pure_ Fire.  Other Aspects are always mixed in, and even in the most strongly aspected locations, there is always a background level of mixed Essences.

Wayfarers themselves may find that that they are attuned more strongly to one Aspect or another.  Such characters should purchase levels of Aspect.  As they experiment with their affinity, they find that they can impost their will on the environment around them, imparting Aspect to their surroundings and causing reality to change.  This is more powerful and fundamental than mere Sorcery, since it taps into the fundamental nature of the universe.

Certain Realms, for whatever reason, act as nodes in the flow of Aspect.  Characters who spend their time in these areas may, by study and attunement, improve their connection to an Aspect.  Such Realms are thus valuable real estate for Wayfarers to possess, and are sometimes known as Thrones.

The Marcher Lords

Sooner or later, novice Wayfarers will encounter others of their kind.  The most powerful such beings call themselves Marcher Lords, and possess a common society (of sorts) and code of conduct.  These are the elder Amberites of the Waystone setting.  In my playtest, I populated their number by modifying the Gossamer Lords from the main rule book, but the GM can use any collection of sufficiently potent, irascible beings.

All Marcher Lords, at a minimum, are Waywalkers, and are, almost universally, superhumanly strong, tough, and magical.  Any Marcher Lord who encounters a player character with Amber-level attributes, Waywalking, Aspect and/or Sigil-crafting recognizes them as potential peer. Most Marcher Lords take such a candidate under their wing, instructing them, and building a web of obligations and debts early. Others may attempt to destroy the character before they can become a rival.

Any being may try to claim status as a Marcher Lord.  They must declare their candidacy to any existing Marcher Lord.  That Lord is then obliged to assemble a panel of at least three Lords (usually, but not always including himself) to test the candidate.  During this probationary period he must grant the candidate hospitality and truce.

The panel of Lords then sets a series of challenges for the candidate, with each Lord usually contributing one obstacle based on their specialty.  Customarily, the candidate must Waywalk from the lower marches to a designated Realm, without using a Sigil for transport.  Along the way, they may have to cross specific obstacles or defeat summoned creatures.  These challenges almost always require Amber-level rank in one or more attributes (or considerable cleverness) to overcome.

It is considered bad form for the panel of Lords to impose an obstacle that requires a much higher or lower Rank, and if they do, they may face informal censure from their peers.  The purpose of the test is to weed out the unworthy, not assassinate young Lords.  Sometimes however, the latter takes place under cover of the former, so a wise candidate will seek a friendly Lord to assemble the panel.

A candidate who survives the journey and reaches the designated Realm is considered to have passed, and are recognized as Marcher Lord.  Candidates who never arrive are considered to have failed.  Most Marcher Lords are tetchy and dislike having their time wasted, and it is considered more than acceptable to execute failed candidates.

Marcher Lords have an informal code of conduct regarding their peers.  They must accord another Lord a minimum of courtesy due their rank.  A Marcher Lord is expected to grant hospitality in his Realm to another Lord who requests it, and in return the guest Lord should respect the peace of his host's domain. Marcher Lords are expected not to slay other Lords out of hand, but to have a declared feud or reason for doing so.  Since Marcher Lords are connected by a web of favors, alliances, and blood relationships, there is an incentive to abide by these minimal norms, as well as an incentive for other Lords to censure a peer who violates them too often.

The main line of Marcher Lords are descended from the Sons of Bor. The majority of them come from acknowledged offspring who are given the test once their parents feel they are ready.  A few (like players characters) sometimes appear out of the Realms, never having met their parent Lord or Lady.  Marcher Lords are not very fertile, but they live practically forever and travel widely between Realms.  So they may have unknown offspring pretty much anywhere. A few Lords, however, insist that they are completely unrelated to the others. 


The most powerful Marcher Lords are not simply powerful beings in their own right, but the owners of Thrones, where Aspect of one kind or another is concentrated.  Control of a Throne allows the Lord to develop a very high level of Aspect.  Only one being may be fully-attuned to a Throne at a time, and is considered its "occupant."

There is only one Major Throne for each Aspect, located in the High Marches at the point where essence flows across the Abyss into the moral real.  The owners of this Major Throne is considered the Prince and Lord of that aspect. Other, Minor Thrones exist here and there at nodal points.  These vary in stability and power, but can still be quite valuable real estate.

Marcher Lords feud, backstab and murder for control of Thrones major and minor.  The owners of the Major Thrones are the thirteen of the most powerful beings in existence. Almost all are heads of sprawling, related families of Marcher Lords, some of who may occupy Thrones Minor in their own right. 

 As each Throne Major has its own court, line of succession, rivals and claimants, Marcher Lord politics are almost endlessly complex, shifting, and dangerous.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

2016 Space Marines

Finished my vow for the Bolter and Chainsword's yearly E Tenebra Lux painting contest.  Lots of devastators and drop pods.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Woot! My Novel is Released

Woot!  My first novel, the Devourer of Gods is released and now on Amazon. Bagwyn Books let me know late last week.  I have yet to receive a physical copy, so it doesn't quite seem real to me yet.  Anyhoo, I started up a promotional site over at www.thedevourerofgods.com.

An axe age, a sword age, a wind age, a wolf age. Shields shall be cloven…
Cover Image
Oooh.... Spiffy cover.
                The Devourer of Gods weaves the tapestry of an alternate Viking North America soaked in blood and magic. Pagans and Christians clash with ship and shield-wall, unaware of the supernatural menace that hungers for them. When his son departs on a doomed raid against the natives, the Norse chieftain J├Ârund must confront the seeress Gudhrun Grimswidow and the sorcerous allies he once betrayed. In the city of St Brendan, the Marklander  woman Maria-Abit finds conspiracy and mystery in the court of her king. Can they uncover and defeat the Devourer of Gods?

Buy it here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

40k Formations and Codex Supplement: Angels of Death

Image result for codex supplement angels of death cover

The latest Space Marine supplement, Angels of Death, is really, really cool.  It collects some previously-released Formations and adds a few more.  Notably, it has big Formation of Formations for each several 1st Founding Codex chapters.  Combined with the Formations in the base Codex, I now feel like a Space Marine army can be organized around different playstyles, and do so in a way that is fluffy and characterful. 

Ravenguard get lots of scouts, sneaky deployments and sudden assaults. White Scars get fast bikes.  Iron Hands can field a tank-heavy force. Salamanders get some more flame stuff (yawn).  My own Chapter's lineage, the Imperial Fists, receive a Formation that allows multiple devastator, centurion, and vindicator squads.

This is the book that is making me love Formations. My first reaction to Formations was pretty negative, but that was back when the core of army building was the CAD. 

It now seems to me that GW is using Formations as a way to reflect the character of the armies.  The new Formations of Formations are, in effect, new, customized (and customize-able) Force Organization charts. Not since the old 3.5 Chaos Dex, have I felt this much freedom to build a force the way I want and to have it reflected in the rules.

Can Formations be abused?  Are they unevenly designed?  Sure.  But so is 40k as a whole. More than ever, it is imperative for players to meet and agree on the type of game they wish to play.

Here's hoping GW creates formations in this much depth for every army, not just Space Marines...

Well, That Sucked!

You may have noticed I haven't posted in a while.  I was out due to medical issues, but I'm back now.  Look for more posts.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Waystone: Layers of Secrets (Part One)

First Secrets 

I have been running a game of Amber Diceless RPG/Lords of Gossamer and Shadow for our local group, using an alternate setting. Instead of Shadow and Pattern, or the Gossamer Stair, this universe is connected by a mysterious forest called the Marches. This series of columns will describe the Marches as a new player character would experience them, as a nested series of secrets, which the GM would reveal in play.  Along the way, I'll provide some design notes, anecdotes, and generally explain the setting as a whole.

 You're a (Demi)God 

Player characters may start they game completely ignorant of the world of the Marches.  They may have been lost or abandoned in a realm, and be completely unaware that others exists.  Like Corwin at the start of the Amber Chronicles, they have to discover the nature of the universe as they go.  This is a great way to introduce new players to the setting, through experimentation and discovery.

Their first discovery then, will be about themselves.  The PCs start out as Pargon-ranked in all their attributes (unless they sell them down).  That means that they are already psychic, super-strong, super-tough, and insanely athletic and deadly. If they've been alive for very long, they also know that they are effectively immortal.  If they've spent any points on powers, then they know that magic exists, too.

As in Amber, or in LoGaS, player characters may or may not know their parents.  One of these parents (at least) was probably a Marcher Lord.  If their Marcher Lord Daddy (or Mommy or Both) is present as they grow up, the parent probably vanishes from time to time.  They are almost certainly caught doing (or being) more than human or having more than one power.  Alternatively, the Marcher Lord parent may be long gone, a figure of mystery.  Either way, the child probably has questions.

 Other Worlds Exist

Either in play, or before play begins, the player character will learn that other worlds exist. The equivalent of an Amber Shadow or a Gossamer Domain is a Realm. A Realm is a self-contained universe.  It may appear infinite from inside (as ours does) or it may be as small as kingdom or even a broom-closet.  Some Realms have weird geometry; if you walk far enough you may end up back at the same point or maybe you can see distant lands hanging in the sky. The player character will likely rule their Realm, by virtue of their superhuman powers, or be raised by its ruler.

All Realms contain at least one Waystone.  Waystones appear rounded, slightly pock-marked bone-colored stone, usually ranging in size from a pebble to a car tire.  The bigger the realm, the larger the stone will likely appear.  Some Waystones are marked with mysterious runes (usually just one) or show signs of breakage or even scorch marks.  They may change slowly in size, appearance, or location over time.  Waystones have a number of different nicknames -- such as Wichstones, Milestones, Geomantic points.  The most common nickname, however, is "the bones of Ymr."

Player characters with Sorcery  can sense that these are magical objects, filled with energy.  Player characters with Aspect can tell that the stones are nexus points of essence, that they are somehow more "real" than the surrounding Realm.  Player characters with Wayfinding, of course, can sense the presence of the Marches beyond the stone, and have an innate sense of how to open a Way.

Some Realms are inhabited by creatures with Minor Wayfinding.  In these Realms traffic to and from the Marches may be common. In other Realms, they player characters will need to discover how the stones work for themselves, experimenting until they manage to open a Way.  (At which point, they must buy the power with points.)

Concentrating on a Waystone, and pouring a little energy into it, causes a Way to open.  A character with Minor Wayfinding or better need only stand near the stone and concentrate for a few minutes.  Opening a Way is slower than Sorcery,using an Icon. A disc-shaped hole appears in the air, revealing the Marches behind.  A character with Wayfinding proper soon finds that they need not make an opening at the stone itself, although its presence makes the process faster and easier.  They will also eventually find that they can make the Way larger or smaller or differently-shaped or colored or opaque, noisy or silent, glowing or subdued.

At this point, the player character will probably step through, into the Marches.  (And specifically, into the Middle Marches where most viable Realms are located.)  They will see a forest.  Depending on conditions, it may be a sparse forest, with scrubby undergrowth, or a lush forest with a canopy that blocks out the skies, or a pine taiga covered in drifting snows.  There may be clearings or burned areas, or boulders or whatever.  In some really odd places, the Marches may appear as desert or ocean or even empty space.  But for the most part the Marches are forest.

The player character will probably notice a Waystone, more or less matching the one on the others side, near the Way they just vacated.  Unless they concentrate on holding it open, or on snapping it shut, the Way will close about a minute after they exit.  Their home waystone is probably on a path, one that stretches off into the distance.  If they came from a large Realm, there may be a clearing or even some broken ruins.

The first-time traveler will feel cold, regardless of whether the sun is shining or the temperature of the air.  The attuned will realize that this is not true cold -- it is a lack of magical energy, of the essence of reality.  In their home Realm it was thick; here it is thin.  It is stronger on the path than off it.

The Marches slowly change. The same tree may not be in the same place if you look away. The type of vegetation may shift.  The sun and moon may move back and forth in the sky, or vanish suddenly.  The Marches are perilous.  Even if character do not travel far, the exposure to low Essence will begin to take a toll on them.  First they will shiver, then they will weaken, eventually they may begin to experience numbness in the extremities.  They can counteract this to some degree by staying on the paths or near Waystones.  If they leave the path, reality becomes unstable.  There may be areas of non-Euclidean geometry, where distances fold back in on themselves, or where a single stand of trees recedes forever.  The traveler may encounter strange beasts out of legend, or (perhaps more dangerous) other wanderers.

However, if the character follows the path they will eventually come upon another Waystone.  Should they concentrate, a Way will open, leading them to a new Realm.  The new Realm is a new universe, perhaps quite different than the one the player left.  Most Realms are wilderness, or inhabited by low-magic fantasy or Renaissance humans, but there are high-tech Realms or high-fantasy Realms too. 


In my current game, players had the option of beginning clueless or clued-in.  Clueless characters had no Wayfinding, and knew only their Realm.  Some of them were Sorcerers and shapeshifters, quite powerful, but confined to the Realm of their birth. A few of the characters already had Wayfinding, and knew enough to wander around the Marches.  None of the characters (except one) had ever met their father, but some of them had magical mothers.  As the game opened, all the characters began to feel a call that drew them towards the nearest Waystone, and thus into the Marches.  This compulsion, whatever it was, also enabled the characters to open a Way, provided they experimented enough...

Next up: Aspects and Marcher Lords