Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Character sheet

A time of legends

It was the end of everything that had been, and the beginning of everything that would be...

From the Golden Archives beneath ancient Sottli Ban to the blood soaked paving stones of the River College on eldritch Dour Island, scholars debated what name to give the new age.

Some said it should be called the Age of Law, pointing to the growing power of the Realm of Ona Tengu, which had already weathered several wars and other catastrophes in its less than thirty years of existence. Others quibbled, claiming that 'the Age of Order' had a better ring to it, and was more accurate, given the less chaotic way men seemed to be organizing their affairs all up and down the River since the death of the hated Samaqel.

Still others cast their eyes fearfully towards the eternally benighted Unholy Lands dividing the River in two and held out for 'the Age of Darkness'.

But all agreed on one thing... it was the end of an age on the River, and the dawning of a new one...

For KING KAMERON, aging monarch of the Western Reaches of Ona Tengu, the so called Kingslands, it is an Age of Iron, where military force will unite the fractious River beneath the crowned sword emblem of the Red Realm.

For QUEEN KRISTARA, ageless and beautiful monarch of Ona Tengu's eastern regions, the Queenslands, this is an Age of Magic, where occult powers and dark mysticism will bring every being, living and dead, under her gracious and eternal sway.

For the Undead Masters of the Bloodlines of the Unholy Lands such as VASHT, Minister of Darkness, it is an Age of Blood, where living men are no more than cattle to slake the lusts of their undying betters.

For the MERCHANTS' COUNCIL OF SOTTLI BAN, this is an Age of Intrigue, where clever schemes and subtle strategies may yet win back for the Golden Race the power and glory of an ancient kingdom long forgotten by all but themselves...

For KING BALDWIN of Miria, earthly leader of the Reformed Church of the One True God, it is a time of Holy Crusade, when all the River is to be brought beneath the gentle, benevolent rule of the New Faith.

For the wolflike Ulvane, it is an Age of Battle, but for the wolflike Ulvane it is always an Age of Battle...

This is a time for fools and warriors, heroes and knaves, thieves and priests, rogues and wizards. A time for the naked blade and the poisoned cup, for the brazen battle cry and the wicked whisper... for assassins and paladins, for honor and for evil, for truth and for terror. A time and a place for the lucky and the brave, where glory is everywhere, life is cheap, fame and fortune hang from every tree, and kingdoms are won and lost with a single roll of the dice.

It is a time when legends walk the earth, when men become myths, when mortals battle monsters, horrors, and even the gods themselves, and no power in heaven or hell can decree the outcome in advance. A time when destiny itself can be seized by the throat and bent to the will of the truly daring.

It is a time of adventure...

Swing wide the halls of reason

Swing wide the Halls of Reason
let learning have its say
let ignorance be treason
let myst'ry fall away
Shall wisdom have no season?
Should knowledge hold no sway?
Swing wide the Halls of Reason!
Let no man say you nay!

Release the spirit's vision
from hatred's fetters gray
lest sheer dumb superstition
o'erwhelm the dawning day
let reason be our mission
and bias our dismay
Release the spirit's vision!
Bask in the warming ray!

Bare now the sword of letters
let learning hone its blade
as we hack away fear's fetters
and stride through wisdom's glade
where dull men fear their betters
the wise shall offer aid
Bare now the sword of letters!
Its keenness cannot fade!

Swing wide the Halls of Learning!
So all who seek shall find
An end to scholar's yearning
for knowledge of all kinds
A fire ever burning
a torch to light our minds!
Swing wide the Halls of Learning!
Let none henceforth be blind!

- engraved on the support post of the main entrance to the River College, beneath a perpetually burning torch

Campaign regs

This is a standard text I used to hand out to new players in my game. I'm posting it here as it seems pertinent, but it's not meant to be a specific message to any of my current players. However, if the time should come when for some reason there's an opening again, this will be posted, so those who are interested can see right up front how I run my campaign.

* * * *

As a DM, I expect a great deal of myself, and I expect a great deal of my players. The following is an outline of the standards of behavior I require from those who play in my gaming sessions:

1.Be a good roleplayer. My campaigns are three dimensional, and I will do my best to make the world and the NPCs that inhabit it seem real, vivid, and easily believable for my players. In return, I expect my players to make their characters real, vivid, and believable as well. The characters should have their own consistent personalities, quirks, motivations, and desires. The essence of three dimensional roleplaying is giving the character an identity rooted in the campaign background, that is different and distinct from the motivations and desires of his or her player. A three dimensional character is not just a pawn to be moved around at the whim of its player, it is an individual and a being in its own right. Try to get into the world and your character. I’ll do my best to make it easy for you, with the rules, how I describe the campaign setting, and how I roleplay the NPCs.

2.Be punctual and reliable. If you’re the kind of player I want, you’ll be bringing something special to the way you roleplay your characters, and the campaign will be worse off without you. Try hard to show up for every session, and be on time. Few things are ruder, or more annoying, than a player who consistently makes everyone else wait for them to show up. If you HAVE to miss a session, call me as soon as possible to let me know. Be warned, your character will be run as an NPC in your absence, so try not to miss too many sessions.

3.Respect the authority of the DM. Roleplaying campaigns, by their nature, require someone to make the Final Judgement Calls. I use what I call the One Appeal System. I’m not invested in always being right, and have no problem admitting it when I’m wrong. If you have a problem with something I’ve decided, tell me... just do it politely. I’ll always listen, and I’ll consider everything you say. Then I’ll make my final decision. I may change the previous decision, or I may not... but either way, at that point we move on. I’ve played in too many games where hours were wasted on acrimonious disputes. Either you trust a DM or you shouldn’t play in their campaign.

4.Respect your fellow players. I won’t tolerate out of character disputes or arguments between players, they’re a waste of time. In character disputes are a valid element of in depth roleplaying, but I do not like party brawls and will not hesitate to evict players who show too little regard for their fellow players. I hate bullies and poor sports and will not tolerate one in any gaming activity I arbitrate. The party members are your comrades, and they may well be the only people in the whole of the campaign world that you can trust. You don’t need to make your fellow player characters into enemies; I’ll supply plenty of NPC opponents for you. You also don’t need to go out of your way to irritate your fellow players. We’re all here to have fun. If we’re NOT having fun because of one particular player, I’ll chuck that player out of the game so fast his or her head will spin.

5.Expect the mundane. This last is a note for all the power gamers out there. I have nothing against high fantasy roleplaying campaigns filled with astounding enchantments, amazingly tough magical creatures, gods and demons and Mighty Swords of Chaos and enormously powerful player characters. A great many campaigns are set up like this, and in general, they have many more players than my sort of campaign seems to attract. But I don’t enjoy playing in campaigns like that, and I don’t enjoy them. What I’m interested in are ‘normal’ people/characters (human or nonhuman) who operate within basic human parameters, who have to strive against difficult odds, who live in a believable world and who deal with everyday, mundane issues. My campaigns are not about saving the entire dimension from hordes of Chaos Demons, they’re about exploring unknown lands, seeking lost treasures, rescuing kidnapped princesses, overthrowing a corrupt king (or trying to keep a worthy ruler from being overthrown) or simply trying to survive in a hostile environment. My campaigns are filled with politics and intrigue, where nothing is what it seems, everyone has an agenda, and the person who thinks they can just bull through by swinging a sword at everything is only going to end up confused, aggravated... and dead. So, if you’re a power gamer who lives to collect magic weapons, enchanted Artifacts, and the heads of all three hundred different kinds of demons, you won’t enjoy my campaign and you’d most likely be better off finding another one more suited to your tastes... which shouldn’t be hard.

6. Be good. It’s a personal prejudice of mine, but I simply don’t like either amoral or out and out evil player characters. It’s easy to have no sense of morals at all (what D&D calls Neutral characters); and good roleplaying shouldn’t be easy. Your character should have to make difficult decisions and do hard things; heroes don’t have an easy lot. The amoral character will always take the easiest path (or the one that his/her player finds most gratifying at that particular moment in time) and I find that sort of roleplaying extremely disappointing and boring. You don’t have to be a goodie goodie all the time, but try to play your character with some sort of consistent beliefs or personal code that he or she is willing to live by. If your character doesn’t have any personality traits that I can respect or admire, I’ll get tired of them awfully quickly. As for out and out evil characters, I find it to be a waste of my time and degrading. If you want to run slavers, rapists, and/or psychotic killers, find another campaign. Try it in mine and a phalanx of Serra Angels will drop on you like a rain of sword weilding meteors.

If any of the above seems unacceptable to you, in any way out of line, wrongheaded, unfairly restrictive, or just plain stupid, then it’s most likely that you wouldn’t enjoy playing in a gaming activity arbitrated by me, and it will save us both a lot of trouble if you simply don’t start playing. If someone does start playing who cannot behave in a manner consistent with the standards I’ve outlined above, I won’t hesitate to evict him or her from my gaming sessions... but nobody enjoys that. So if you don’t think you’ll like playing in the sort of session outlined above, it's best if we simply don't waste each other's time.

The Curse of Zor

In the Dawn Times, before the First City of Men was built, before the first alliance of Than and Kanqu and Dusha, before Men knew the gift of writing, but after the The Great Rheesh Conflict, and after the Wars Between the Gods, there was a canny Jhareesh named Yrrssialzzorrian, which in the True Speech means Mighty Hands In The Unliving World. Yrrssialzzorrian's special talent was for the manipulation of the base, unliving parts of the Great World. Yrrssialzzorrian longed to expand its small territory in the Jhareesh Realm, and it plotted ways to bring great numbers of the coveted Men under its dominion. It decided to create powerful, beautiful Pretty Things to use as bribes for great Leader Men, so that these Leader Men would cause their Men Herds to worship Yrrssialzzorrian, instead of the hated Arreesh, and thus, Yrrssialzzorrian's Realm would expand and It would have many Men for itself. So it was that Yrrssialzzorrian, after expending much kzzan, came to know how to create the Nameless Stuff, from which would be extracted the element which Men would call Godmetal. And it came to Yrrssialzzorrian's knowledge that in all of the Great World and the Chaos Beyond, in all of Probability itself, there was only enough quaos to create a very very small amount of the Nameless Stuff... enough, perhaps, to make only a very small number of Pretty Things. And Yrrssialzzorrian knew that, although It, and perhaps only It, in all of the Great World, was equal to the task of creating the Godmetal, It knew too little of the ways of Men to forge the Godmetal into pleasing Pretty Things to bribe them with. And Yrrssialzzorrian could not trust any other Jhareesh, of course.

So it was that Yrrssialzzorrian approached the Eldest, the Primal One, the Great Samaqel (which means merely I Alone), and bargained with it for a Creation. Yrrssialzzorrian needed a Creation that could forge the Godmetal into Things pretty enough to cause Leader Men to pledge their loyalty in exchange for them. Yet no mortal creation could forge Godmetal; the sheer chaos inherent in the molten state of the Nameless Stuff would Undo any that approached it save perhaps a Jhareesh or Arreesh itself. Yrrssialzzorrian required a Creation whose specialty would be the manipulation of Chaos. And of all the Jhareesh, only the Samaqel might devise such a being. Through cunning flattery and the pledging of an amount of kzzan that very nearly bankrupted Yrrssialzzorrian, It accomplished its goal. The Samaqel set about the task and in due time (less than a hundred lifetimes of men; still well before the founding of the First City of Men by the Three Great Tribes, still in the Early Times, but by now the hardy Dusha had discovered Cultivation, the mighty Kanqu had discovered Metalworking, and the clever Than had discovered Writing) It created the Chaos Worker, a Great Creation whose inbuilt powers were the manipulation of probability itself. Yrrssialzzorrian was most pleased with the Chaos Worker, and gave it a True Name in the True Speech which few men in these days remember, but most simply call Zor.

Yrrssialzzorrian then set about the creation of the Godmetal. Yrrssialzzorrian had expended nearly all of its kzzan in the purchase of Zor from the Samaqel. To create the Nameless Stuff from the fabric of probability, it needed much more kzzan than remained to It. So Yrrssialzzorrian went to the Jhareesh known as Urrzikotokas (which means King of All Water), and Shaitana (which means Mighty in Life And Death) , and Eyavirillianias (which means Owner Of Large Herds), and Vendrikus Zarn Tllrrrknnnggolt (which means Do Not Try To Figure Us Out) and Aqalatazzarlitiniariusoranthi anorlen (which means I Am Always Triumphant Because I Do Not Make Mistakes). And from them Yrrssialzzorrian borrowed much kzzan, with the understanding that if it could not be paid back, Yrrssialzzorrian would lapse back into Primal Chaos and accept the Final Death of the Other Ones. Thus Yrrssialzzorrian gambled Its existence on a bold plan. If the Pretty Things brought a thousand Men to worship Yrrssialzzorrian, then It could pay back the kzzan and still have enough left to be a mighty mighty Jhareesh with a Great Realm, for these were the Early Times and even Eyavirillianias (which means Owner of Large Herds) had barely eight hundreds of Men in Its herd. Yet if the forging of the Pretty Things failed or the Leader Men would not worship Yrrssialzzorrian for them, then the cunning Jhareesh would forfeit the loans and must accept Final Death.

So it was that Yrrssialzzorrian poured Its borrowed kzann into the quantum rearrangement that brought the only Godmetal that could ever be into existence. And in its molten form so chaotic was the Godmetal that Yrrssialzzorrian was nearly destroyed simply holding it in one place/time. And then Zor, the Chaos Worker, went to perform the task it had been charged with by its owner. (Now it should be understood at this point that Zor was created by the Samaqel somewhat of the stock of Men but greatly changed and imposed upon. Still the random and infuriating spirit of that Race, the Race of Men, which are all Children of the Rheesh, did live in Zor. Yrrssialzzorrian had understood that many lifetimes of man would pass while It borrowed kzann and finally created the Godmetal and for that reason commissioned the Samaqel to create the Chaos Worker as a long lived mortal Creation. So Zor was very long lived for a mortal Creation with the trickster spirit of the Rheesh in it. And the Chaos Worker was a wondrous creation, and many other Jhareesh longed for one, and so over the many lifetimes of Men between the creation of Zor and the final creation of the Godmetal, Yrrssialzzorrian had raised some small amounts of kzann by allowing other Jhareesh to make copies of Zor to breed. So by the time the Godmetal was created, several score of Jhareesh had small numbers of Zor of their own, although, as long lived mortal creatures, they were not fecund and did not breed prolifically. But this is the origin of the race of the Zor, the Chaos Masters, the most powerful of all Creations, the Enemies of All that Live.)

So Zor, the First of the Chaos Masters, filled with trickster spirit that is the legacy of all Children of the Rheesh, and the arrogance of the very first of the Enemies of All That Live, went to the pool of molten Godmetal to make it into Great Gifts for the Leaders of the Tribes of Men that were coveted by Yrrssialzzorrian. Zor understood that the Gifts should take the form of weapons, for these were the Early Times, and the Tribes of Men that lived outside the Jhareesh Realm lived in a state of constant battle with each other. So Zor the Chaos Master sent its will into the molten Godmetal and forth from that pool of incandescent chaos came a number of mighty weapons (all versions of this tale tell a number but those numbers vary depending on the Holy Number of the race telling the story, and in truth, none but Zor any longer know the true number, so call it 17 or 35 or 9, or whatever else most pleases you), forged of the Nameless Stuff, that once set and forged into one shape can never again be reset or remade or in any way reshaped, until the very End of the Great World itself. And these were the mightiest weapons that would ever be known to the race of Men, for the Godmetal never tarnishes or dulls, and the edges of the weapons made from it cannot be resisted, and the weilder of those weapons cannot be in any way affected by any known power be it Psionic or Magical or Divine or Demonic.

But the random spirit of arrogance and mischief came upon Zor as its will went forth into the Godmetal, and Zor became jealous that these, the greatest of all artifacts, should ever be wielded by any but Zor himself. And so the weapons were shaped and forged to fit the hand of Zor and Zor alone, and in the blade of each weapon, in the letters that Men used to write in the Herds of the Jhareesh that approximated the True Speech, Zor inscribed its True Name. And so they were useless as bribes to the Leaders of Men.

In his arrogance and conceit, Zor told this to Its master, Yrrssialzzorian. And Yrrssialzzorrian, understanding that Zor had caused all Its schemes and plans to fail and had in fact caused Its True Death, used the very last amount of its power and kzann to lay a great curse on the Chaos Master. In the True Speech was this curse pronounced, but in the languages of Men which this story must be told in, this is what was said -- "As you have caused my immortal life to end, so I shall cause your mortal life to never end. As you have made my greatest Creation into that which only your hand may weild, so your hand will weild them forever, but that is all in the Great World that your hands will ever weild or touch again, until the Final End. And these weapons you shall weild, but only at the bidding of others, never to your own will. I charge you, Zor, that whenever any of these weapons shall come into the lawful possession of any of your spiritkin, that they shall be able to command you by your name and their possession of your weapon to weild that weapon on their behalf, and you shall never be free of that command while that spiritkin continues to possess the weapon by which they command you. And you may do no harm to that spiritkin once they have commanded you. And as there are many weapons, so will you be removed outside the boundaries of placetime, so that you may serve wherever you may be called and so that you will never age and never die until the Final End Of All That Is." And the voice that the angered Jhareesh said this in spoke in the Earth and the Air and in all Unliving parts of the Great World, for that of course was part of Yrrssialzzorrian's Power, and so the Curse of Zor was known to all Jhareesh and all their herds.

And so it is that any mortal who comes into lawful possession of a weapon of Zor and who has the learning to read the letters of the True Speech may command Zor to wield that weapon on his behalf and Zor must obey that command for as long as that mortal has possession of the weapon, and may not in any way harm that mortal for as long as that mortal possesses the weapon. But few these days can speak the True Speech, and fewer remember the True Name of Zor, and most mortals, on finding one of the Weapons, cast it away or sell it, for only one mortal hand in a thousand can weild the weapon well. And when a Weapon of Zor, weilded by a mortal who has not commanded Zor, first tastes blood, Zor will come as quickly as he might from whatever task he might be doing, to destroy that mortal weilder before a lawful command can be issued. For Zor hates all those who would wield his weapons. So it is that some of the wiser scholars of men, learned in the ancient lore, know that to give a Weapon of Zor to an enemy who will use it to draw blood is a sure way to destroy that enemy, provided that enemy cannot read the True Speech or does not know the tale I am telling you now, or both.

And in the many many lifetimes of men that have come and gone since the True Death of Yrrssialzzorrian and the forging of the Weapons of Zor, those Weapons have been scattered the length and breadth of the Great World. Much has been forgotten by Men from the Early Days and now most of the Jhareesh are Gone On. Few there are who can read the True Speech or who remember the True Name of Zor, and even those who have some fragment of knowledge merely regard the Weapons of Zor as cursed. But those who know even that much are few and far between. And so it is that occasionally men hear of a warrior who has found a strange weapon made of a wondrous incorruptible metal whose edge can cut through the hardest metal like mere wax... but who only days after first using the weapon in combat is killed horribly by unseen forces; slashed to ribbons. Or more rarely men hear legends of a dancing blade bound to guard some treasure horde, or some passageway, or some priceless object, or some beautiful woman or royal child, and this dancing blade is indestructible and invincible, with an irresistable edge, weilded by an invisible, untouchable spirit that cannot be bribed, that never sleeps, that will not die...

And now my tale is told.

The Drowned Scroll


It is sometimes unwise to trust overmuch in the words of wizards, this is true. But only a fool disregards them entirely.
- Gavedor, Court Recorder, reign of King Jerrane of Aquilia

* * *

Somewhere it sits, loosely rolled, all but forgotten within a dry and dusty drawer in some nameless scholar’s cluttered study. He found it in an odd little shop, full of shadows and cobwebs, gloomy corners rustling with dingy relics of half forgotten yesteryears, casually thrown down on a table full of brick-a-brack, like everything else there priced at a coin or two. Liking the way the parchment felt between fingers and thumb as he unrolled it, and enjoying the neat pen strokes that delineated the details of some sunken, secretive valley holding an unknown, exotic city nestled at its narrow end, an intricate network of winding narrow streets and scrabbling alleyways, lavishly illustrated with wonderfully sketched miniature buildings, fountains, walls and gateways, and the beautifully drawn compass rose superimposed over a strangely serpentine, triple sailed ship, and the deft copperplate of the hand lettered labels – “Street of the Seafloor Grotto”, “Temple of Drowned Skulls”, “Sea Urchin’s Venom Fountain”, and “Looted Hulk Tavern”, among many others – he purchased it, took it home, showed it to a few friends, who nodded and agreed that it was indeed a beautifully drawn thing, and a lovely curio, and a fine work of art.

And, eventually, he tossed it absently into a desk drawer already three quarters full of other oddments and curios, and gave it not a further thought in the world.

And there it has rested, ever since…

Someday something he reads, or that someone else says to him, may remind him of the scroll’s existence, and he may go seeking it again, and after a few minutes or few hour’s rummaging, if he doesn’t give up first, or become distracted, he may unearth it from the depths of its drawer and unroll it once more, holding it up to the light of a flickering lamp, and the scroll with its finely etched depiction of a distant, danger-filled, perhaps imaginary metropolis may once more feel the movement of air and avid eyes across its finely crafted vellum. But for now, it simply sits there, loosely rolled, within a dry and dusty drawer in a nameless scholar’s cluttered study…

* * *

The heat was like a gut-punch hitting every square inch of the human body all at once – not one impact and over, no, but something constant, unending, smothering a person like a wet blanket on a cook fire, sucking the very breath from the lungs, even in the deep gloom beneath the hellish poison green of the overhead foliage. The air was sodden as a steam room towel; the effort of moving it in and out of one’s chest was all but exhausting.

Had Markior’s mother’s mother not been a decadent southerner (a source of shame Markior’s family disliked speaking of) he would have died of the heat long ago. As it was, as long as he kept mainly to the shady areas, he survived, but he suffered.

“Ye’re a decoration, y’know,” the old lady sweeping out the street gutter gnashed at Markior through toothless gums, cackling with obscure delight at the pronouncement. “A gold button, a bit o’ fancy braid. ‘e don’t need no bodyguard; everyone in Yat-Latan is so a’feared o’ ‘is spells they’d never dare draw steel on ‘im.” She paused to draw breath; Markior earnestly, but unfortunately vainly, hoped she would choke on it. “Not ‘is spells so much,” she nattered on, after a second, “but that map o’ ‘is.”

Markior had heard this all before from many different sources, but it was displeasing to have the wrinkled old thrall who swept out the gutters on Seafloor Grotto Street – no doubt in exchange for a few coppers every ten-day from the shop owners there, and the right to sleep in one or another of their basement entryways after nightfall – state it so plainly.

“You never know,” Markior said, his young, well favored face flushing. “There could be a danger his spells won’t cope with. Pirates, or zuthang, or perhaps another wizard… something not afraid of this famous map of his.”

The old woman spat in the dust at Markior’s feet. “Fleh,” she retorted. “Pirates come here to sell, not steal; wizards have better things to do than haunt the Isthmus… well, all the wizards besides ‘imself, I mean… and as to the zuthang, well, if a race o’ magic resistant lizards that walks on they hind legs and carries odd curved blades and spits poison as far as a street thief can throws a knife really exists, they certainly don’t waste they time ‘ere at the bottom o’th’ world.” She fixed Markior with her one eye that seemed to have grown to three times normal size, perhaps to compensate for the ruined socket where her other had once sat. “And it’s not ‘s’if the likes of ye could deal with any o’em if they did appear in quest o’ y’r master’s head. Pretty northern sword or no pretty northern sword. Ye’d shit y’r trews and run off screamin’, if ye didn’t die instantly o’ a heart seizure.” She nodded wisely and spat again, this time with the edges of her gob sprattling Markior’s fur and leather boots.

Markior took his anger in hand; there was nothing to be gained from arguing with this harping hag, and while he doubted anyone would miss her much if he ran her through, the Seafloor Grotto Street merchants would complain to his master and demand compensation, and then master would most likely take it out of his hide. He couldn’t take it out of Markior’s wages, because Markior had none. Food and lodging for the next three cycles were Markior’s due… that, and the ‘pretty northern sword’ Markior wore at his side, that had been the price of his hire to this southern dirt hole.

Two seasons and another cycle – then Markior’s bond debt would be paid, and he and his fine Aquilian steel sword could get on a serpent ship and sail north. A ten-day or so sleeping on deck and working the rigging or, if necessary, the oars, for his passage, and he would be in Lesser Ra Tanis. Caravans left Lesser Ra Tanis going northward every cursed day of the thrice accursed southern cycle. He would hire on as a guard and, eventually, one fine season not too far forward of that, he would be back in Aquilia, a seasoned warrior armed with a sword finer than any that most knights or lords could boast. Branelle might well be married by then, or at least, sworn to someone else, but that was for the gods to say. And even if it were so, well, she’d had younger sisters…

Markior was snapped forcibly out of his pleasant daydream by a small but weighty leather bag bouncing off his sleeveless fur vest, causing the two finger-length wide brass buttons set on either side of its chest thongs to jangle discordantly.

“Pick that up and come along,” Markior’s master, the mage Aphaltholios said flatly. “And at least try to look like you’re paying attention.”

Flushing again, Markior bent and snatched up the fist-sized wash leather bag. It would contain material components for whatever spells Aphaltholios had been commissioned to cast over the last ten days or so; today was Kemtos Noi, “Sacrifice Day”, the one day out of each ten when metaphysical powers were strongest in the world. In Aquilia people would gather in family shrines and pass the day praying together for protection from roaming shades and malefic spirits; in the decadent south, though, folks made a single sacrifice at whichever temple they favored, or that they passed first when out and about their business… and here in the far southernmost pest hole that was the Isthmus, in its only city of Yat-Latan, they did no more than wear an extra protective amulet or two. Only Aphaltholios cared much for Kemtos Noi at all.

He did all his spell casting on this day, which made it a day Markior generally looked forward to. After the morning market run, they would return to Aphaltholios’ richly appointed manor – a three room dwelling built of expensive imported stone with a thatched roof that an Aquilian serf would have sneered at, but, well, there you were – and Aphaltholios would lock himself inside and Markior would have the whole day to idle away in the courtyard without. He could practice with his sword, or train in footwork, or, if a vendor happened to wander by, purchase a few honeyed dates, assuming the overweight wife of the merchant who lived down the street was willing to give him a few coppers, which she usually was…

“I realize this isn’t at all what you expected when you accepted my offer in Lesser Ra Tanis,” Aphaltholios said as he began to walk towards Dragonscale Circle. “It isn’t what I expected, either. But you chose to accompany me here, and you’ve chosen to remain in my service, and I expect you to at least make an effort to pay some attention to your surroundings.”

Markior knew better than to respond. Certainly, this wasn’t what he’d expected – in Lesser Ra Tanis, he’d been one of two dozen applicants for the position of Aphaltholios’ bodyguard, and had felt honored when Aphaltholios had chosen him. And he’d been more gratified than otherwise when he’d learned that the station was all for show; Aphaltholios had been wooing a highborn lady, and a highborn gentleman simply was not seen in society, or even in public, without an armed retainer. Markior had looked forward to an easy three cycles of being an ornament to his master’s social status, although he had found Lesser Ra Tanis terribly hot and humid compared with his native north.

But then things had gone spectacularly pear shaped – Markior was still dim on the actual details, all he really knew was, Aphaltholios had fallen out of favor with astonishing swiftness, and if the mage hadn’t been able to cast a fast teleport spell, the two of them would most likely have ended up burnt at a common stake by the howling mob that had condensed like dew outside Aphaltholios’ lovely mansion.

As Aphaltholios had explained, there must have been more than just a mob at work, as a powerful spell to block teleportation had been put in place all around his mansion as well. But one place any mage could always teleport to was the place of his birth, and so, Aphaltholios had returned here… and when Markior had been forced to quickly choose between accompanying his master or returning the sword he’d already invested nearly a season of his life in, well, he’d found himself here, as well.

He’d never in his life imagined there could be any place on the mortal plane hotter and more humid than Lesser Ra Tanis, and now, he didn’t have to.

“And there you are, daydreaming again,” Aphaltholios commented dryly as Markior tripped on a low curbstone and nearly went sprawling in the muck. “I should trade you to Zarthane for his draft mule, I really should. I’d get more use out of the draft mule, and you’d get to learn to do something useful.”

Markior paled at that. Zarthane was a boy lover, the sort of loathsome deviant that would be hounded out of any Aquilian village by a stone throwing mob, but whose perversions were tolerated or, often, even encouraged in the decadent south. And he’d seen how Zarthane looked at him, even though, at the age of sixteen, Markior was a man grown by any civilized standard. Zarthane made his living training prettyboys to serve in brothels, or as concubines to rich masters in Lesser Ra Tanis, and he enjoyed his work enormously. If Markior somehow wound up as Zarthane’s bond servant, Markior would have to kill the worthless wretch… which would inevitably end with Markior tied to a millstone and tossed from Executioner’s Rock into the deeps of the Gulf of Tanis… perhaps with a judicious slash or two across the back of his legs, to attract the kreelok.

“I’m sorry, Master,” Markior said, quite sincerely. “I’ll pay more attention, I swear it.”

Aphaltholios merely grunted. They had reached his house. “Stay out here, useless,” Aphaltholios said flatly. “Turn all visitors away until the morrow.”

“Aye, master,” Markior said, bobbing his head. He knew the Kemtos Noi routine very well.

* * *

Inside, Belrok the Black was stuffing a leather sack with gold and jewels. Belrok knew well that all wizards were rich; for some reason he neither knew nor much cared about, wizards preferred gold above all other metals (well, who didn’t?) and always kept a large supply of well cut gems about, too. Of course, few thieves were brave enough to beard a sorcerer in his own lair, and Belrok was no exception. But he’d carefully scrutinized his chosen target the last four days, and knew the mage’s routine well. Up with the dawn, a few hours chanting muffled by the stone walls of his keep, then off to the Looted Hulk to drink for the rest of the day while studying some volume of lore he’d have his tame Aquilian prettyboy tote along for him. Not much of a life for a wizard, but he seemed to have the local populace thoroughly cowed, judging from the ridiculous stories they all told of the mage’s prowess…

Belrok froze as he heard a key in the lock of the front door, which was at the foot of a flight of stone stairs he himself was barely five feet down an upstairs hall from. Today of all days the gods-damned magus chose to come back from the inn early…

Well, in Belrok’s native Votaria there was a saying about wizards – their sorcerous powers diminished in proportion to the size of the blade you sank through their black hearts. Belrok hadn’t intended to test that this day, but the gods sent men trials, and a warrior could only do his best with them. Belrok reached for the much used, well honed shortsword hanging at his belt…

Aphaltholios sniffed as he stepped into his front hall. Grand for the Raised City, certainly, but little enough compared to the manse he had owned in Ra-Tanis, and nothing compared to what he had aspired to… well, those embers were well burnt down. Still, give the fools a hundred years or so and they’d forget him, as they always had. He could alter his appearance slightly, change his name, and start in again. He'd yet rule all his hated brothers' lands...

He sniffed again. Was that… sweat? Votarian sweat? Like most mages, Aphaltholios spent an hour each morning meditating, attuning his own metabolism to its peak. His senses were not superhuman, merely the best any human’s could be. His brain, though, was nearly two thousand years old and perfectly organized; he could sort one scent out of ten thousand, and this one was definitely the distinctive odor of Votarian perspiration. Something about trace chemicals in the soil of that particularly volcanic valley; it got into the bones in childhood and never fully departed.

Now an unfamiliar creak – Aphaltholios knew every peg in every board, beam and joist within the stone shell of his ancient home; he had overseen the original carpentry there, 1900 years agone, and made a point of dwelling here for a few years at a time at least once in every generation since, to keep the locals appropriately in awe of him. There was someone at the top of his stairs… a Votarian, attempting to be still. Not a bad attempt; the intruder had some skill at stealth, and would most likely have avoided notice from anyone other than Aphaltholios.

Aphaltholios extended his perceptions into the upper hall, seeking an appropriate surrogate… there. A small trapper-spider had spun a web in the upper corner of the main hallway. That would be fine; the arachnoid form was well adapted to sudden changes in mass, unlike most endoskeletal mammals. Aphaltholios fixed his attention there and muttered a quick spell under his breath, of a sort few mages would ever have heard of, and perhaps only two others in existence could have successfully cast.

Above, Belrok heard a sudden thumping in the hallway behind him, and then, a horrendous clacking. He turned, and felt the blood run cold in his arteries. A spider the size of a timber wolf was scuttling down the stones of the inner wall at the end of the hallway, its glittering ring of eyes fixed malevolently on Belrok –

Another thief might have died of fright on the spot, or stood there frozen in terror with piss dribbling into his boots, or screamed and bolted down the stairs, and any of those reactions would have led almost instantly to death, as two human legs are little match in a sprint for 8 arachnid ones. But Belrok had robbed the halls of wizards before and had faced their hellish guardians on two other occasions. Once a vaporous air elemental, which would have undone him entirely if not for the protective amulet he’d had the forethought to bring with him. Another time, a giant scorpion… which had taught him that protective amulets were useless against more solid, if still unearthly, minions. No, against oversized vermin, only cold steel would suffice. Belrok drew his sword and shifted his weight to his left foot. He would get one good stroke as the spider scuttled towards him. He would aim for the eyes –

Too late, Belrok’s own senses, undulled by civilized influence, detected soft footfalls behind him. Borados curse him, he’d known the wizard was in the house and had let the spider distract him regardless. He deserved –

An explosion of pain at the back of his head, just behind his ear.


Belrok awoke. His head ached, and his arms felt heavy. He cracked an eye open and saw why… he was chained, wrists and ankles, with heavy iron fetters, running through a black iron ring set in a flagstone floor. Flickering torchlight fell on him, and the air was cool and musty. The wizard’s basement, then…

There was a grating sound of something heavy being set down nearby, and a grunt of relief. Belrok turned his head. The wizard’s Aquilian prettyboy had just put a large anvil down on the stone floor a few paces from where Belrok was chained. He had a deal of strength to carry that. Belrok might have managed it, but wouldn’t have wanted to try unless his life depended on it.

“Is he going to sacrifice me?” Belrok croaked, through a dry throat.

The Aquilian shrugged. “I suppose,” he said, his voice deeper than Belrok had expected. “I don’t know wizard stuff.” He looked petulant. “This is supposed to be the day I rest; he usually spends all day inside, casting spells.”

“Sorry,” Belrok rasped. “I don’t suppose you could…” He raised his arms a few inches – all the slack he had – and rattled the chains suggestively.

Markior shook his head. “You’re stupid enough to try and steal from a wizard, that’s on you,” he said.

“He’s more powerful than I expected,” Belrok admitted.

Markior laughed, a short, almost humorless bark. “Didn’t you ask around?” he said. “Don’t you know who he is?”

Belrok looked down. “Everybody says things about wizards,” he said. “Everybody is scared of them.”

“Except you,” Markior jeered. “You’re fearless. See where that got you.”

“He’s more powerful than I expected,” Belrok admitted again. “But even you have to admit most of what the people here say about him is nonsense. I mean, it must be. People don’t live two thousand years. And all this about how this whole isthmus was once undersea, and 1500 years ago a wizard cast a powerful spell to raise it from the ocean depths, and should that wizard ever die, the isthmus will sink once more…”

“Heh,” came a voice from behind Belrok. “Well, it’s not that simple.”

Aphaltholios came into view, walking slowly, drawing kid skin gloves on, wriggling his fingers to seat them more fully on his hands. “For one thing, it was nearer 2000 years ago, not 1500 years,” he said, his tone reminiscent. “I was my father’s fourth son. My three older brothers got all the choice lands… what you would call now Mandaria, Votaria, and Lesser Ra-Tanis. I got a small chain of islands… rocks, really, fit only for goats and gulls… stretching out into the southern sea.” He smiled coldly. “How they laughed at that. They called me The Island Prince, when they were feeling mellow. The King of the Seagulls, other times.”

He shook his head, going over to a workbench, picking up various tools, holding them up to the torch light, putting them down again with muted clicks of metal on wood. “But I was the only one of our family born with the gift,” he said. “I went to the Mages’ Academy and spent years there studying. And then I returned to my rocks, and I cast a mighty spell.” He looked back over at Belrok and raised an eyebrow. “Well, several spells, really.”

Aphaltholios picked up a large copper knife with several odd runes inscribed in its triangular blade. “First I needed to scan the floor of the ocean beneath and around my island chain. I needed to know exactly what was there. Once I did, I drew a map, showing the ocean floor around my islands. I infused that map with my will… my life force, if you will… and wrought a mighty working, lifting the ocean floor several hundred feet, until it was above sea level. Which created the Isthmus, a new land rich in precious ores and extremely fertile soil, stretching several hundred miles out into the Bay.”

The sorcerer smiled nostalgically to himself as he began to move around Belrok, etching runes on the cellar flagstones. “My brothers were considerably less amused when I suddenly became Prince of the Isthmus. But there were three of them, and none wanted the other to have the Isthmus, either. They knew if they allied against me, then they would only have to go to war against each other once I was removed. And they couldn’t have me assassinated, because, of course, the map I had drawn was now a living thing.”

Belrok the Black frowned. “Aye,” he said, “so they all say in this city. That this map changes with each change to the Isthmus, and to the Raised City of Yat-Latan itself, to reflect those changes, like a looking glass made of vellum. And that if anything should happen to the wizard who created the map, then the spells keeping the Isthmus and Yat-Latan above the water would vanish, and it would all sink back into the deeps again.” He laughed contemptuously. “Ah, you’ve sold them a bill of goods and no mistake,” he said. “But you can’t fool me. You’re a powerful wizard, but you’re not two thousand years old, and this map? Hmph. Show it to me.”

Aphaltholios scowled. “The map was lost long ago,” he said. “A demon summoning got away from me… the pentacle holding the creature was fraying; I had to banish it from this dimension in a hurry, and a brief vortex came into being. The map, and all the other papers and tools that were not well secured, was sucked in… I have no idea where it wound up, in this world or some other. But I can feel it; it’s still out there somewhere. And should I die, then the forces that keep this land above the ocean waves will die with me, and the Isthmus will indeed once more return to the depths from which I raised it.”

“That’s a great pity,” Belrok the Black said, grinning evilly. “Or would be, if I believed a word of it.” He held up his chained hands. “You should have chained me so I couldn’t get at my belt, wizard.”

Aphaltholios squinted. What was the barbarian holding…? Something small, carved of wood, with a metal tip… no, there was a hole in the end of it, surrounded by metal, projecting out of the wood --

Belrok gripped the small device and squeezed, his knuckles going white. Aphaltholios saw a small flicker of flame bloom, heard a sound like a thick branch breaking, felt an invisible fist punch him in the center of his chest.

Lying flat on his back on the hard cobblestones, the wizard felt his two thousand year old heart laboring heavily in his chest. There was an acrid smell in his nostrils… odd, he thought, that’s salt peter, and the black dust Mandarians put in their firecrackers. Did he shoot a firecracker at me…?

Aphaltholios closed his eyes, attempted to sink into a healing trance. He was damaged, badly damaged, but if he could slow his respiration, calm his thundering pulse, he could locate the wound and rejuven –

The last of his heart’s blood rushed out through the gaping hole in his chest and began to spread sluggishly on the cellar cobbles, cooling as it flowed. Two thousand years of life, and still, when the Pale Rider beckoned to him, he found he did not wish to go. He yet had hopes unrealized, schemes half-finished, much yet to do…

Markior stared in horror as the wound on his master’s chest… his former master’s chest… stopped spouting blood. He heard a long, dragging gurgle rattle up out of Aphaltholios' chest, a chest which then settled, and was still. Shocked, disbelieving, but beginning to feel the first ratlike gnawing of absolute terror in the depths of his stomach, he gasped, through numb lips: “You… you killed him!” He stared at the strange nurled knob of wood and metal in Belrok’s hands. A small wisp of acrid smelling smoke was curling up from the hole in the end. “What is that thing?”

“It’s Imperial,” Belrok grunted. “From the Empire of Man, across the Finger Sea… they call it a pistoloon. One shot only, but it hits like a thunderclap.” He grinned, showing yellow, jagged stumps of teeth. “I never rob a wizard without it, these days.”

“But he… but…” Markior looked around the room frantically. “Gods, the entire Isthmus is going to sink beneath the sea –“

“Don’t be a fool,” Belrok said gruffly. “That’s a tall tale to end all tall tales. Find the keys to these chains and I’ll split the wizard’s swag with y –“

The flagstones trembled beneath both of their boots. There was an ominous rumbling, and dust sifted down from the ceiling. The heavy beams supporting the house across the cellar visibly shifted, then sagged. The earth began to shake beneath their boots…

* * *

“Dutch? DUTCH!!”

The imperative voice coming up the stairs brought Edgar Howard “Dutch” Phillips out of his creative fog. He looked up from his typewriter, momentarily confused. Belrok the Black had just fatally shot Aphaltholios the mage with the small pistoloon he had hidden beneath his belt buckle, and the Aquilian kid was nerving himself up to search the wizard’s body for a key. And there had been some other detail nagging at him –

“DUTCH!” his wife screamed again. “There’s WATER coming down the STAIRS, what are you DOING, is the tub overflowing, it’s a MESS --!”

Water? Dutch looked around in bewilderment. Yes, that was the sound of running water but nobody was in the bathtub and –

His eyes widened. Water was pouring in sheets and rivers down the left side of his other desk, the antique rolltop writing desk he never used for typing, running across the floor of his study in a wide, swiftly flowing sheet. Erasers, pencils, pens, pages of various letters and manuscripts were bobbing along merrily in the bizarre floodtide. He noticed for the first time that water was pooling around his feet; his slippers were soaking through and his socks were wet… Where in the name of everything holy could it be coming from –

The desk drawer. The top drawer on the left. Water was just pouring out of it, through the keyhole and the cracks on either side and along the top of it. It was as if someone had bored a hole in the back of the desk, hooked up a hose, and was currently pumping hundreds of gallons of water into the drawer, and it was all flowing out onto his floor and out of his study and down the stairs –

Dutch rushed across his study, fumbling in his pockets. He pulled out his keychain, ticked through the keys on it quickly, found and fitted a small shiny key into the keyhole, forcing it in against the steady flow of water gushing through it. He turned the key and yanked the drawer open. It was heavy, full of water. The keyring jangled as it hung from the hole in the sodden wooden drawer.

Various papers and scraps immediately floated out the top of the drawer as a fresh volume spilled onto the floor. Dutch squinted, then turned on a gooseneck lamp clamped to the top of the writing desk and pulled it over to shine down into the water overflowing the drawer.

There, pinned to the bottom by water pressure – what was that? A map?

Right, right… it was the map he’d bought at that second hand bookstore the previous summer and tossed in the drawer. Hmmm… come to think of it, the streets and inn names depicted on that map must have lodged in his subconscious, as he now realized he’d been using them as he typed the story he was working on. What the hell –

Afterwards, Dutch could never adequately explain the impulse that seized him. Without conscious thought, he reached in, grabbed the map – water seemed to be flowing out of it at a pretty good, constant clip, he had to use nearly his full strength to force his hand to the bottom against the strong current flowing upward off the scroll’s surface. The whole thing was physically impossible, but Dutch didn’t think about it, simply held the map up in his left hand, grabbed up a four inch letter opener with his right, and with a savage grunt, thrust it through the vellum of the map itself, impaling it like one of his 17th century musketeer heroes might impale an evil cardinal’s minion.

The map seemed to shudder and flap in his hand, almost like a living thing going through its death throes – and then it went limp, no more than a scrap of vellum with a hole punched in it, hanging from his clenched fingers.

Dutch prodded it with his other finger. It wasn’t even wet.

“Dutch, what in the world?”

Dutch turned, and saw his wife, looking rather irate, standing in his doorway. The water on the floor was still gurgling between her feet, running down the stairs.

Dutch brandished the map and grinned. “Not in this world, Martha,” he said, enigmatically. “Not in this world, at all…”


the Power of the Will Over The Flesh

Shapechanging: Difficulty 4
Rating: Levels 1-3: Acumen + (2x level)
Level 4 -6: Acumen + (3x level)
Level 7+ : Acumen + (4x level)

Base difficulty to halt or induce Shapechange: 15

Base time to fully Shapechange: 10 minutes / 60 rounds

The ability to change from one physical shape to another is buried deeply within most biological creatures, especially those possessed of strong volition. However, only those whose basic cellular structure is somewhat unstable will manifest this ability to any significant degree. Among these types of natural shapeshifters there are two different sorts -- those considered to be ‘undifferentiated shapeshifters’, born with somewhat flexible genetic structures that have no specific alternate pattern set within them, and ‘dedicated shapeshifters’, whose cells, through whatever means, have two or more complete genetic patterns contained within them from birth onward and who, under certain forms of stimulation, will shift from one of those genetic patterns to another.

The most typical stimuli for shape shifting is the full moon. For unknown reasons, those with more flexible cellular structures will find themselves involuntarily undergoing physical transformations from one form to another when the moon is full.

For an undifferentiated shapeshifter, with only one actual genetic pattern within their cells, these physical transformations are subtle, involving the release of various chemical compounds and other glandular secretions into the bloodstream that greatly heighten aggression and that significantly lower the capacity for higher judgment. Undifferentiated shapeshifters under the influence of the full moon tend to lose most if not all of their normal behavioral inhibitions and can become hyper aggressive to the point of violence, often without having any capacity to control their own more bestial urges. These emotional changes are often accompanied by slight but noticeable increases in physical strength, endurance, and tolerance for pain. If the stimulation source is removed, undifferentiated shapeshifters will generally find themselves extremely fatigued and will immediately lapse into a deep, restful sleep. If for some reason they are not allowed to sleep, they will generally be in extreme discomfort until they can.

Those shape shifters who, for whatever reason, possess more than one complete genetic pattern within their cells, will find themselves shifting from their more normal physical shape to their alternate genetic pattern when a change is stimulated.

Shapeshifters can learn to control the change, to the point where they can either choose not to shapeshift when a change would normally occur, or, they can voluntarily induce a shift in their shape when the natural stimulus for such a change is not present.

There are several forms of shape shifter that have been documented. Probably the most well documented type known is the serpentine race known as the Vrang, who seem to be somewhat anomalous, as they can apparently voluntarily assume nearly any shape they may desire. If the Vrang ever involuntarily shape shift, it has never been reliably observed or reported as to what form they take when they do so. It is possible that the normal serpentine form we are most familiar with is, in fact, an artificial form, and that no one has ever seen a ‘true’ Vrang.

There are several supernatural forms of shape shifters whose existence is at least rumored. A race, or group, of possibly necromantic origin known as the Sharps are mentioned in several documents in the Archives of the River College. Like most evil creatures of a necromantic nature, Sharps are said to be unable to withstand exposure to sunlight.

In addition to Sharps and Vrang, there are the Malkane, a mysterious and sinister race of inhumans, possibly of demonic origin, who reportedly have the ability to shift from a human like appearance to that of large predatory cats… lions, tigers, panthers, leopards, cheetahs, and various other forms.

Beyond these, accounts become extremely sketchy. Some scholars have seen very old documents from the Golden Archives of Sottli Ban referring to chaos demons known as feravelka, a phrase from the ancient Panthean tongue whose closest translation seems to ‘child of darkness’. And there are completely undocumented rumors, emanating from the preliterate Ulvane and Jeopard tribes regarding a supernatural race of ratlike creatures who under certain stimuli can shapeshift into more humanoid forms.

In addition, both the races known as ogresses and some variants of Daemon are reputed to be of monstrous, unnatural appearance, but reportedly can project illusory facades much more pleasing to the perceptions of their natural victims. More experienced Undead are supposedly capable of casting this kind of ‘glamour’ as well. This is not true shape shifting, although it should be noted at this point that truly ancient Undead, such as Nom Wayish of Sottli Ban, have demonstrated a capacity for true shape shifting into various forms such as wolves, bats, and predatory birds.

Involuntary shape changing generally occurs under the full moon, and can be triggered by other stimuli, as well, if the moon is in the sky at all, even if only as a crescent. Normally, if a natural, involuntary shape change is stimulated, it will take the full 10 minutes for transformation from one form to another to be complete. Some forms of stimulation, however, can hasten the transformation, as follows :

If a trauma causes the shapeshifter to lapse into unconsciousness under the influence of any moon phase, transformation to their alternate state will begin. Subtract twice the number of minuses from 60 to determine the number of rounds it will take the K.O.ed shapeshifter to transform.

If a moon influenced shapeshifter with the Attributes Bad Temper or Berserk fails any Willpower roll generated by these attributes, transformation will begin. Subtract [d4 + the level of the Attribute taken] in minutes from 10 to determine the number of minutes the transformation will take.

If a moon influenced shapeshifter sees or smells the blood of a hated enemy or a beloved comrade, their transformation will begin. Subtract [d6 + 3] from 10 to determine the number of minutes until transformation is complete.

Under a full moon, transformation will automatically begin as soon as the moon is above the horizon.

Once per minute after a transformation has begun, a shape shifter may roll off their Shapeshift rating vs. 15 to halt the process. If the roll is successful, the process will be halted for a number of minutes equal to [the amount the roll succeeded by] x 2. If this roll is made by 10 or more, ‘minutes’ becomes ‘hours’ in this formula. If the stimulus that began the transformation is still present after this time has elapsed, the transformation will begin again.

Shapeshifting can also be voluntarily induced when there is no natural stimulus present. Shapeshifter should roll off their Shapeshift rating vs. 15 to induce a change from one form (usually their ‘natural‘ or conventional form) to another.

To lower the amount of time required to complete a shape change, add 2 to the difficulty of the Shapeshift roll off per minute subtracted. Shapechange time cannot be reduced below one round/six seconds; the difficulty to reduce this duration to one round is 35.

Some races of shapechangers have developed various self hypnotic rituals to harness their concentration and make the initial Shapeshift roll off easier. These rituals take 5 minutes to complete and cannot be hastened. If a shapeshifter knows how to perform such a ritual, they may roll off their Precision vs. 4 to do so. If this roll succeeds, they may then reduce the difficulty to induce a natural transformation from one state to another by 10.

If a Shapeshift roll is failed, the desired effect does not occur. If a Shapeshift roll is failed by 10 or more, the Shapeshifter will suffer in addition a d4+1 in Esssential minuses.

Friday, June 12, 2009

River Rogue

River Rogue

Exotic Background if Outlawed and Branded, or, Branded on Face
Very Exotic Background if only Outlawed or Branded
Ex Exotic Background if neither Outlawed nor Branded
Cannot be Baptized
May not be a member of any other organization
All stats must be 13 or higher

The River Rogue is old school unreconstructed River Scum. Despising all affiliations, living by their wits, going their own way, spitting in the face of any authority that tries to manipulate or control them, River Rogues will cut their own legs off to escape any trap, although they’d prefer to just cut the throat of whoever is trying to trap them.

For character generation only, River Rogues are considered to have Fast Learner at the following skills:

Weapon 4 (2)
Thrown Weapon 3 (x)
Punch 3
Kick 3
Close Combat 3
Combat Position 3 (3)
Quick draw 2 (1)
Weapon master 4 (2)
Acrobat 2 (2)
Sprint 4
Recognize Value 2 (2)
Attentiveness (no level limit) 4 (2)
Climbing 2
Familiar With Underground 3 (6)
Lying 3 (3)
Pick Locks 3 (3)
Pick Pockets 3 (0)
Scrounging 3 (1)
Escape from Bonds 3 (4)
Stealth 3
Strike from Behind 4 (4)
Strike from Surprise 4 (3)

River Rogues get no special starting equipment (the world don’t give you nothin’ free).

They are, however, Extremely Resistant to Manipulation or Dominance - They may add 6 to their WP for resisting Leadership, Sex Appeal, Persuasion, or Presence Attacks.

(Things like Exotic Background, Blooded, Outlawed, Branded, and Gifted At Skill are Attributes in the WOE system; you can read more about them at

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tengish Ranger

Tengish Ranger

If born in Ona Tengu, Exotic Background / If not, Extremely Exotic Background
Extreme Good Tutor (Attentiveness, Hunter‘s Mind, Self Command, Spot Weakness)
Baptized to God of Nature

While the Knighthood of Ona Tengu was originally conceived to carry the Realm of Ona Tengu into the wild areas of the kingdom and beyond the borders of Ona Tengu itself, the past decades of rampant militarization by King Kameron have bent the Knighthood to a much more combative role. As the Red Realm is vast in size and contains large tracts of wilderness, much of it of an eldritch nature and evil repute (such as the Great Swamp, the Twilight Zone on the border of the Unholy Lands, the so called Hinterlands lying along the border of the Giant Mountains, the desolate Badlands that fringe the dense, impenetrable jungles of Northarka, and the sinister Howling Moors that stretch like an ancient, open mass grave across the eastern expanses between Riva Zand and the Dawnpeaks), the Order of Tengish Rangers has been created by the Realm of Ona Tengu in close collaboration with the Temple of Nature to patrol these occult, foreboding regions where few honest men would ever wish to venture. The mandate of the Tengish Ranger is to keep watch over the brooding, ancient ruins that dot these arcane areas of Ona Tengu like festering sores, while keeping the outlaws, exiles, and other unnatural creatures and Enemies of Man that skulk through these numinous nether regions well in hand.

Tengish Rangers receive the following skill package at Level 0 +1 for 65 points:

Bow (3)

Sword (4)

Sword Parry (3)
A skill created for the Tengish Rangers, this allows a swordsman to add 1 per level to his combat defense for no extra cost. If the user employs the combat option Parry, they may add their level again to their Defense, plus the normal Parry modifier. Weapon Parry cannot be used in combination with a shield, must be used with a sword, and cannot be a higher level than your main Sword skill.

Horsemanship (3)

Combat Position (3)

Leadership (3)

Attentiveness (4)

Survival - Rain Forest (3)*

Animal Handler (3)

Hunting (3)*

Marathon (3)

Mountain Climbing (3)

Naturalist (3)*

Navigation (3)*

Tracking (2)

Wilderness Stealth (4)*

Engineer (3)

(Skills marked with * must be level 4 or higher before play begins.)

Hunter’s Mind (4) base cost 4: [ACU + 2x level] Requires 10 rounds of meditation prior to making roll off, which under normal conditions is against a difficulty 16. If this roll off is successful, Hunter’s Mind level may be added directly any one skill rating, or to Attack, Defense, or Initiative, for a number of minutes equal to Hunter’s Mind level.

Self Command (3) no base cost: [WP/2 + 2x level] roll vs. 16 to increase or decrease your Presence by up to the amount you make the roll by for that same number of rounds. May be done at will.

Spot Weakness (4) base cost 5: [Insight + 2x level] Allows the practitioner to find a weak spot or a key area where minimum pressure will produce maximum desired results in structures, natural barriers, or an opponent’s fighting style. When used on structures, Spot Weakness level cannot exceed Engineering level, when used on natural barricades, Spot Weakness level cannot exceed Naturalist level, and when used on an opponent, Spot Weakness level cannot exceed Combat Position level.

Tengish Rangers may begin play with one of the following items:

Waterskin of Blessed Water (20 doses) - Confers a Blessing of Good Health on the drinker. This will cure most diseases and acts as a wonderful disinfectant when used to clean wounds. This water does not stagnate and cannot be poisoned or drugged. It has incendiary effects on Undead, especially sentient Undead.

Blessed Torches (3, 1 hr of light each) - When lit with the proper invocation, these torches burn with Holy Flame. Undead will not even willingly enter the circle of light cast by these torches, and necromantic illusions are dispelled in this firelight.

Blessed Thread (one spool, enough to suture 15 wound minuses) - Chirurgeons add 5 levels of skill when using this thread. Wounds sutured with this thread heal at a vastly increased rate.

Blessed Knife - a camping knife with a 5 inch blade. Upon invocation, this blade will be able to cleave through any physical object for six seconds, after which it will crumble to dust.

Helpful Hook - A grappling hook blessed by the Temple of Silver and Gold to be ‘lucky’, this hook will always catch on the first throw.

As Tengish Rangers gain experience and perform valorous feats for the Crown, they may be further rewarded by the various Temples for their continued service. Items that can be awarded to Tengish Rangers for meritorious service after a lengthy period of service:

Eternal Rope - 100’ of fine silk rope, blessed by the Temple of Time so that only the Ranger that owns it can cut it, and after it is cut, it can be rejoined again to make one seamless whole. Knots tied in this rope by its Ranger can only be undone by that Ranger.

Beltpouch of Holding - This belt pouch can hold any number of relatively small items blessed by any of the Tengish temples.

Cloak of Hiding - When worn normally, this cloak helps the wearer blend in against a forested wilderness background. When thrown completely around an object or objects and the laces are tied from within, this cloak provides almost complete concealment from outside eyes in any environment.

Boots of Surefootedness - These boots allow the Ranger wearing them to move silently across any surface or terrain, give their owner Extremely Good Balance and Extremely Deft for any Fumbles incurred while moving on foot, and guarantee that when the wearer falls they will always land on their feet.

Sunglass - Any light reflected from this blessed mirror will be converted to natural sunlight.

Spiritbeast Horse - a mount worthy of a truly heroic Tengish Ranger.

(Level 0 + 1, read as 'level zero plus one', is a concept that gives starting player characters a package of skills for a certain cost, which pays for the skills' base cost, which can sometimes be quite high. After the character is fully generated, the package skills are then increased by 1.)