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.

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