Posted in Musings

X-Mage: Magic as Mutation

In some settings magic is treated as an inherited or natural ability. What if we took this idea further and called ‘magical ability’ a mutation? In X-Men: First Class, Xavier talks about Neanderthals who saw Homosapiens as mutants but were wiped out by these more evolved kin. Accurate or not, this idea intrigued me. Much like the mutants in X-Men, spellcasters and mages are often feared for their power and because they are ‘other’. Let’s look at a fantasy world where mages are not just the ‘other’ but are the next step in human evolution.

In this world magic is a mutation and it carries with it a heavy stigma. Mages usually develop their abilities, often a single supernatural trait or a related set of powers, at a young age. Unless brought up with other mages – which is uncommon, as the inheritance of these powers is not predictable – a developing mage has nothing to work with, no indication that anyone else in the world is like them.

Parents often disown children showing the mutation and sometimes young mages accidentally kill their parents while trying to come to grips with their powers. Even those with non-destructive powers often unnerve their family, friends and neighbours enough that they can never stay in the same place for long.

Mages often use their powers to make a hard living, stealing and intimidating others, leading low lives scraping to survive. In this world there are no established magic academies, magical tomes or magical weapons. There are mythic stories, but there is no true heritage or history of magic.

“Normal” humans don’t understand these powers or their wielders. Regular folk usually react with fear, anger or both when confronted with a mage’s power. Mages are ostracised and most feel very much alone. Governments and high-level organisations see mages as living weapons and incredible threats… or tools. Mages are hunted and killed, all discreetly, while useful mages that appear controllable are used to fight wars and capture and kill their own: one of the only times mages realise there are others like themselves out there.

Mages sometimes become aware of the existence of others of their kind. In some instances this leads to rivalries: short and violent or long and smouldering. In some rare cases the mages band together and rise up against the humans that fear them and have made them outcasts.

One way to begin a campaign in this world is to start on the precipice of the rise of mages. Some intelligent, charismatic individual has discovered other mages and has seen the injustice that their superior kind is relegated to a hunted second class forced into hiding. This leader speaks of an uprising, speaks of mages not as abominations but as the next step in human evolution. What happens when humans realise that evolution is leaving them behind?

Another idea, that could go hand-in-hand with the above, is the first Mage Academy. Operating in secret this school is intended to bring mages together and help them harness their power to be used for good, with the ultimate goal of coexistence with regular humans.

Can these mages struggle against the oppressive, fearful governments and people who mark them as demons. Can these heroes painted as villains save those who would see them wiped off the face of the world? Can they change the hearts and minds of humanity? And can they do it while the other faction of mages who speak of progress and evolution tarnishes their good works with their acts of terrorism and leads some of their most powerful members astray?

Can homo arcanum and homo sapiens co-exist? Or is one destined to disappear forever?

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Posted in Settings

Setting: Spark of Youth

Here’s an outline of another campaign setting I’ve been working on. Feel free to use and alter it as you wish. If you do use it or have some ideas about it, I’d love to hear them.


Inspiration: Ender’s GameLord of the FliesDark Angel, Neon Genesis Evangelion

It is said that the spark is in all of us, yet by the end of puberty it is gone. It is not known why, but children have a strong connection to the power of the spark. It flows in them in ways still not fully understood by adults.

Very young children use the spark sporadically, for play and their own simple purposes, without thought. As children grow older, they begin to understand their powers better, using them consciously and with more control. Around age 10 for girls and 12 for boys, Transition begins.

Children undergo many physical and psychological changes during this stage and it is when their spark is at is peak, very powerful and unpredictable.

Transition is a stressful and strange time for children and many lose control of their magic as the power flares and fluctuates, burning brightly before it is snuffed out entirely. Girls usually complete the Transition by ages 15-17, while boys usually complete it by ages 16-18. After this, the spark is dead forever.

Because adults are unable to harness magic, children are highly valued for their abilities. Many children do not utilise the spark effectively and are more dangerous to themselves than others, or are merely an annoyance. However, children of particular talent and power are recruited into harsh military programs to perfect their control over the spark and harden them into tools of war. Children are taught from a young age that fighting for their faction is the highest honour and the greatest deed that one could hope for. Propaganda floods the schools, homes and streets, and armies recruit children as young as 8 to train to fight their horrendous battles.

Every year, new drugs are trialled in attempts to keep children young and keep their spark alive for as long as possible. Experiments are conducted upon children’s brains, leaving many permanently damaged or worse, in attempts to unlock the secrets of the spark. Some believe that it is the mental state of children that is the key to their power, and so they experiment on the mentally disabled as an alternative route to the answers they seek.

Schools are hotbeds of propaganda but some children catch on or have different ideas and sow the seeds of rebellion. Such children meet in secret after classes to discuss what the adults are really up to, what the war is all about, how they are developing in their talents, and what they will do to avoid being recruited. Groups of children roam adult cities and towns as rebels, vigilantes or criminals, using their powers however they see fit.

Rumour has it that there are hidden towns out in the wilderness populated entirely by children. Gangs of teenagers rule these child towns and the children live however they can free from the control of adults, but left to their own devices to learn about the radical changes they are going through.

Growing up is hard enough, but children must deal with the normal trials and tribulations of puberty – sexuality, friendship, bullying, and growing up – as well as the great unstable power that they wield, its consequences and the reality of life after the Transition: when their power fades and they find themselves as young adults in a world that considers them past their use-by-date.

Posted in Tools & Techniques

Weather in RPGs

It’s a windy and stormy day outside with clouds darkening the sky… something bad must be about to happen. Oh wait, this is real life, not an RPG. GMs often forget about the weather in their games. It’s always assumed to be a fairly average day unless otherwise mentioned. And the only time it is mentioned is for dramatic effect or as plot device. I’m guilty of this too.

Weather adds believability, increases immersion in the game, and is a good hook for roleplaying and story. In this post we’ll look at how to incorporate weather into our games, including a simple method for determining the current weather, and how this can affect the story and game world.

Whatever the Weather

Weather is a big part of the real world, and adding it to our games makes them seem more real. Usually, when lightning flashes and thunder booms across the sky, it’s because it is relevant to the plot, not because of the natural forces of the world. I know that some authors ignore weather through their novels, then go back and do an editing pass to add it into their stories. We dont’ have the ability to do that in roleplaying games, because they’re happening here and now. However, adding weather doesn’t need to be a chore, either.

Some GMs like to have huge tables of meteorological data charted for every season of every region of their worlds.  If you don’t have the time or desire to do that, there is a less realistic, but easier way. Use the following table to determine weather. It’s not a day-to-day table, but a general idea of what the weather is like around that time.

Weather Table

  1. Much hotter than average. (Much hotter than last roll)
  2. Hotter than average. (Hotter than last roll)
  3. Average for this region and season. (Same as last roll)
  4. Colder than average. (Colder than last roll)
  5. Much colder than average. (Much colder than last roll)
  6. Weather Event! (if previously rolled a Weather Event, it worsens)

So, let’s say you’re in a temperate part of the world during summer. A result of 3 would get you a nice sunny day, maybe a light cool breeze. 1 would be sweltering, uncomfortably hot. 4 could be the wind picking up and getting a little too cold. 5 could be very breezy and perhaps overcast.

6 is where it gets interesting! Weather events are the big things that people notice, like bushfires or a huge thunderstorm on the horizon after weeks of hot weather. It could be a blizzard, a raging storm that knocks trees down across trade paths, floods canals and rips roofs off houses. It could be a tsunami or a tornado. It could even be supernatural weather. Perhaps you could incorporate other natural events like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. If you want some visual resources and references for (super)natural disasters, check out this gallery.

If you’re making an adventure and roll that it is much hotter than average, then maybe it’ll be like that for the next couple of weeks, or maybe it is leading into a weather event (which you can initiate yourself, without rolling). Use the table as inspiration, don’t let it constrain you. You can use the table without the parts in brackets, to give you this sort of inspiration.

As an optional extra, though, in brackets the table refers to the previous roll. So, if day one is a 4, colder than average, then we roll 2 the next day, it’s not suddenly hotter than average, it’s back to average again. However, if we instead rolled 4 a few days in a row, it would slowly get colder and colder. Of course, remember this is all within the context of reasonable weather for that region. It still might be  warmer than other parts of your world that are generally cold all year round.

Hot weather means people wearing less and lighter clothing, cold drinks and meals would be sought after, the sun might shine off the knight’s armour, making the party more visible from afar. Heavy armour would also be stifling, uncomfortably hot and all that sweatiness could impact social interactions.

Is this spell of hot weather unusually long for this time of year? People may not have been ready for this. Perhaps people are beginning to worry about the heat and water is running out. Can the heroes help them somehow? Water mages would be in great demand. Don’t forget too, that seasons greatly affect the weather, but even in a hot month you can have a cold period and vice versa.

You can see just from a few examples that the weather can greatly impact the game. You could, if you wanted to, turn it into a plot device: perhaps a pyromancer is summoning an army of fire elementals, the Volcano Goddess is being summoned by her cult, or the Red Planet is in alignment. However, maybe the weather related plot is not supernatural at all. You only have to look at the news once in a while to see the disaster that strikes during floods and droughts. You could have a whole campaign based around a community devastated by bushfires.

Not all weather should be story-related, though. It should occasionally be the focus of a story, but most of the time it should just add colour to the world and perhaps some difficulties for the PCs and NPCs. If it happens to be pouring down rain when you’re planning to travel across a now-raging river, then that will make things tricky. But it could just be raining while you’re delving into a dungeon and you can hear the rain outside, feel the cold and see tracks of mud from the goblin scouts. Perhaps there are more goblins – and other creatures – in the dungeon than expected, as they take shelter from the elements. Here, the weather isn’t the focus, but it definitely makes a difference.

Similarly, on a sunny day, it might be difficult to find an NPC, as they are out enjoying the weather. However, on a rainy or gloomy day, they could be more likely to be at their residence – and reluctant to leave! Having weather in your game also gives the PCs and NPCs something else to talk about. After all, isn’t weather the go-to topic for small talk and awkward conversations?

Wrapping Up

Next time you’re running a game, take a minute to roll a d6 and incorporate weather into your game. Your players are likely to notice and that’s a good thing. Use weather to add colour to your locations and NPCs. Use it as a plot device or for dramatic effect, but make sure it isn’t always for these purposes. Weather is one of the elements that is always present and can impact the players and world in unexpected ways. Take advantage of this and make your game world richer with weather.

 

Posted in Settings

Demonsea: Ships of the Demonsea

Avast maties! It be Talk Like a Pirate Day! To celebrate we be postin’ a piratical article about the colourful characters ye be likely to meet if ye be so bold as to venture into Haulshore: a treasure-hunter’s paradise in the Demonsea campaign settin’. We’ve even got a big campaign seed for ye, and hooks for each o’ the captains. Ye could also use this here article for some other world, but if ye arrren’t privy to the secrets o’ the Demonsea, cast ya eyes yonder to read of a world of demons, pirates and adventure on the high seas!

Haulshore is a sunny bustling seaside town in Darbrin. It has auction houses aplenty that pay good coin for all manner of exotic artefacts brought in from the sea and far away lands. Pirates, explorers and adventurers consult maps at taverns such as the Jolly Dagger and recruit crew members here for daring expeditions. Such crews often bid on items at the auction houses too, as many of these artefacts – be they engraved shields, horned skulls, battered journals or what have you – also serve as maps to even greater treasure for those who know what to look for. You won’t always find the same ships at Haulshore – they’re usually off on adventures – but it is a frequent port of pirates.

Right now, some very notable captains have docked in Haulshore and are looking for new crew members. Everyone seems interested in a secret auction in the back rooms of the Jolly Dagger – something too precious to be shown in the auction houses. It is an ornate shield known as Sarrek’s Voyage. Engravings and threads of gold depict the ancient hero Sarrek at various stages in his epic voyage: the Battle of One, the Battle of Many, Respite, the Ascendancy, the Stranded and so on.

Exact locations of the events depicted on Sarrek’s Voyage are unknown, but it is said the ancients built a temple at each point. Rumour has it that taking the shield to each temple will show the way to the next location and ultimately, the final resting place of Sarrek: a mythical holy city of treasure and wonder lost for thousands of years!

Broken Shackle

Captain Hodric ‘Red’ Bragg is a ragged portrait of a cutthroat pirate. His gut is heavy with grog, his thick black beard full of lice, his teeth yellowed or replaced with gold and his reddened skin leathery from sun. His crew is a bunch of murderous criminals with nowhere else to go and no moral compass to guide them.

Very few women ever join his crew and those that do have to be tough as nails to survive, and even then the Broken Shackle is not an inviting place for females – or for civilised males. Below deck, the three-masted black and brown galleon smells like grog, piss, blood and sweat. It has a large filthy brig for any foe who survives an onslaught from the ship. On deck there perches a black cannon that has obliterated more than a few enemy ships.

Bragg’s crew has some good divers who quickly loot their sinking foes. The crew also contains one incongruous man named Lorne. He is well-dressed, well-spoken and seems very out of place here. Whispers say that he may have once sailed with the Fierce Sharai, but there is bad blood between them now and Lorne is the recruiting officer for the Broken Shackle.

The Broken Shackle’s crew pillage and plunder. Their average missions include raiding unfortified towns, scuttling or capturing courier and merchant ships and generally causing havoc that reaps rewards of gold, grog or women. Lately, though, Bragg has been sending his crew on more and more raids against smugglers. What do they have that he wants so badly? The Red Captain has been getting redder recently, it seems – some say it’s not the sun at all, but that Bragg has been hiding an addiction to Ambrosia – the red liquid rumoured to be made of demon blood – and has fallen off the wagon. Perhaps now is the perfect time for mutiny?

Seventh Chance

Captain Jenny ‘Fishnet’ Shemmer is a strikingly beautiful woman. Her lustrous red hair, long legs and good looks are the talk of the town whenever she comes ashore. However, she is as dangerous as she is pretty. It is said that Fishnet got her nickname when she strangled to death the former lascivious male captain of the Seventh Chance with her stockings.

It is well known that Shemmer sails both ways and seems to only recruit attractive and alluring people. Because of this, her entire crew consists of beautiful men and women who are also deadly in combat – if they weren’t before joining the crew, they quickly learn to be under Shemmer’s harsh and domineering rule.

Shemmer likes control and hates being showed up. She holds a grudge like no other and will commit considerable resources towards vengeance. She loves her ship, the Seventh Chance, and since winning it from the previous captain she has made the two-masted galleon into a work of beauty. Polishing and painting the ship are common chores for the crew and the vessel is flawless, save for one massive scar down the side of the ship that reaches so high it mars the railing on the bow itself. Shemmer sometimes sits and strokes the splintered wound on the railing, thoughts of revenge dancing behind her eyes.

The Seventh Chance favours bounties of jewellery, artwork and other beautiful things. Whenever they can, these are the prizes they seek. Beautiful new crew members are also sought out and any ships or even towns that strike Fishnet’s fancy will often become the target of ruthless and relentless attacks until she has what she wants. Most of the rest of the crew’s time is spent tending to the ship and tracking down those who have wronged the crew and captain.

Freerunner

Captain Seth ‘Breezer’ Tallow is a lanky young man, spry and full of wit and good humour. He is incredibly laid back for a pirate captain and other crews sometimes call the Freerunner the ‘Party Ship’. His people are relaxed and spontaneous, making them unpredictable in combat and allowing them to excel in unexpected situations. However, their attitude means that they don’t plan ahead a whole lot and just ‘breeze’ through life taking advantage of opportunities that come their way.

Breezer’s crew could probably achieve great things if they put their minds to it, but few of them ever bother. Most are highly intelligent, but bored with lives of discipline. Breezer offers a life with hammocks on deck and tropical drinks and card games most of the day. Because of Breezer’s lax policies, his ship is a haphazard vessel patched together and barely staying afloat. It is one of the fastest ships on the waves due to it’s design, but after even a short skirmish there is a chance of sinking.

Being an opportunistic captain, Breezer has made a lot of enemies. He’s avoided many more thanks to the quick thinking and glib tongues of his crew during short cons. Breezer’s even pulled one over on Shemmer a few times – he doesn’t think she’s on to him, but he can’t be sure. Whether Shemmer is involved or not, one particular mark Breezer struck at long ago has teamed up with a more recent mark, tracked him down and is about to start some trouble. Meanwhile, the ship is in desperate need of repairs.

Fierce Sharai

Captain Dasharah ‘Ransom’ Kalkaran is a fit, bald Kalrashi man in his mid-thirties, lean, tall and looming. Dasharah is a serious but friendly and reasonable man who understands the importance of structure and discipline, but also knows that people need to cut loose every now and then – especially when hunting demons. The Fierce Sharai – meaning Fierce Queen in Kalarashi – is dedicated to protecting the world by hunting down demons, cultists and artefacts that could be used to strike back against the demons in the Burning War back in Kalarash – or securing those that could be used by demons.

Because the captain is Kalarashi and the ship’s cause is close to his people’s hearts, many other Kalarashi are drawn to this multicultural crew. Dabrish are the minority aboard the ship, but not by much. Generally, the crew is very accepting and there is little racial tension as everyone has much greater threats to contend with, in the form of demons. Criminals find their way onto the Broken Shackle, but many outcasts have a home on the Fierce Sharai, as the captain has a soft spot for these people, being an outcast himself.

Dasharah’s nickname, ‘Ransom’, comes from the fact that he is more likely to ransom prisoners back than kill them. Some say, however, that the true origins of his nickname are much more intriguing. The Fierece Sharai, golden in colour, was originally a royal Kalarashi treasure ship and rumour has it that Dasharah stole the large swift vessel – laden with a sharai’s ransom in valuables – and fled his homeland. It is unclear what drove Dasharah to this course of action.

Perhaps he was banished for committing some horrible crime or maybe he discovered a dark secret during his time as a royal guard and could no longer bear to serve his sharai. Whatever happened, everyone – especially rival captains – have their own opinions of the event and scandal surrounds his departure. Regarding nicknames, it is said that Shemmer finds Dasharah quite appealing and has given him a second nickname: ‘Handsome Ransom’.

The Fierce Sharai’s missions are much more dangerous and exotic than some of the other crews, due to their frequent encounters with the demonic. In Darbrish waters, they are more likely to come across cultists or demonic artefacts than true demons, but they have sighted a hellship or two in their time.

One member of the crew, a waif of a woman named Esmala is demon-touched and receives prophetic visions, though some say the demons can see through her eyes. Sarrek’s Voyage supposedly leads to a place that holds a mighty weapon that could be used for or against demons. Dasharah wants to get there first to use the weapon to fight against the demons, but he knows the other captains have their eyes on Sarrek’s Voyage too.

Bloodwave

Captain ‘Bloody’ Bertha Harding is a hardbitten fearsome woman who makes Shemmer look like a kitten. Bloody Bertha is burly, battleworn and stout. She is not short, but not towering. She is middle-aged at least, but her exact age is hard to determine and anyone who has dared ask is now dead. Bertha is widely known to be heartless and ruthless. Her crew are crazy, bloodthirsty monsters too, and she is the only one who can control them. Nobody messes with Bloody Bertha.

Her ship is a massive cannon-laden heavily-armoured vessel, painted red – rumours say that the paint is the blood of her enemies and “Bertha will paint the ship with you!” is a common warning to fellow crew mates or a threat to enemies. The Bloodwave is so well armed and armoured that ramming other ships is definitely an option and the scars on its hull are testament to the battles it has won.

Nobody knows how new recruits are chosen for the Bloodwave, but what is common knowledge is that the ship’s recruiter is also an infamous and effective torturer, possibly an outlaw inquisitor wanted for treason. Rumours told by men now dead at Bertha’s hand proposed that one of her rival captains was actually her child. Dasharah is out of the question, but could Bragg, Shemmer or Breezer really be related to Bloody Bertha? If so, nobody is letting the secret out and they all seem just as terrified of her as anyone else. Or is that just a show? Could one of them be working with her? Or is their relationship even more fuel for the fires of rivalry?

Bloody Bertha is a woman obsessed, it seems. Her ship, the Bloodwave is the toughest ruddy ship on the sea, but she isn’t satisfied. Word has it that Bloody Bertha is looking to capture herself a Hellship. Only she would be crazy and ballsy enough to try to board and take a hellship: these ships sailed straight out of Hell, lashed together from flesh and bone, leaving a trail of sulphur-smelling steam in their wakes.

Some believe the hellships are colossal demons themselves, and more than one half-drunk half-insane sailor has told tales of catching a fleeting glimpse of a hellship through a thick blanket of steam and swearing that a huge yellow eye peered back from the bow. How much of this is true is unclear, but it’s all damn scary and Bloody Bertha doesn’t seem phased in the least.

Casting Off

PCs starting off in Haulshore have plenty of opportunities for adventure. Which crew will they join? Do they admire the ship’s captain or share his or her goals and desires, are they just there for the riches, or are they joining as spies or so they can mutiny? Do they have any ties with the other ships’ crews? What trouble and advantages will this lead to? How interested are they in Sarrek’s Voyage? Do any of them have connections to demons? Maybe one has seen a hellship before or perhaps they are inquisitors or demon-touched.

You should make sure to let PCs make knowledge checks and talk to the ships’ recruiters, because whichever ship they end up on, it will make quite a difference – even if all the captains are after Sarrek’s Voyage. Pirate ships are great, because they are mobile adventure locations. Don’t think of them just as a means of transport from one adventure to another. Lots of exciting things can happen in the middle of the ocean, thanks to the variety of interesting NPCs stuck together in a relatively small area.

The descriptions above talk about the crews in general, but there are always crew members who break the mould – there might be some nice people, like Lorne, aboard the Broken Shackle, surely Shemmer can’t be a task master all the time (right?), maybe there are a few really dedicated long con grifters on the Freerunner, there are definitely some nasty people on the Fierce Sharai amongst all the other accepting crew, and who knows what really goes on behind the fortified hull of the Bloodwave?

Remember, too, that pirate crews are large and the PCs might not meet everyone straight away. That allows you to introduce new NPCs later, even in the middle of a voyage. Pirates die too – especially in Savage Worlds – and recruiters will need to gather more crew, meaning new NPCs – good and bad – will be joining the established crew from time to time. Connections with other ships also make for interesting hooks when you inevitably run into a rival pirate crew.

Whatever you do, make it fun and exciting! That’s the spirit of adventures on the Demonsea!

Posted in Settings

Victorianasaurus

I don’t know how it happened, but I got this idea for a campaign setting in my head recently that wouldn’t go away.  The basic premise was Pride and Prejudice meets Jurassic Park. I just had this image of a parasaurolophus pulling a slightly steampunk carriage through Victorian London. This is a London where regular animals have died out and genetically resurrected dinosaurs have taken their place, both as pets and in the wild.

I envision prim and proper ladies drinking tea with “fancy dinosaurs” on their laps, and gentlemen having a flutter at the gallimimus track. I imagine a tyrannosaurus rex or spinosaurus or some huge predator stalking an English wood nearby the upscale mansions.

I don’t know how much traction the concept has, but I wrote a few snippets of conversations overheard in this world. If this inspires you to run a Victorianasaurus game I’d love to hear about it.

“Did you hear the news regarding, Mr. Jameson’s cousin, Mr. Boothridge? Terrible news, just terrible. Word is that Mr. Boothridge is involved with some rather unsavoury business. It turns out that he has a most loathsome taste for deinonychus pit fights. Reprehensible! Some say he even organises the wretched events!”

“Petunia has won best in show for the last two years running. She is quite the specimen. New breeders often believe that the crest is the key to success. Now, while Petunia has a magnificent crest, I must say that it takes more than that to make a champion parasaurolophus. Grooming is important and training must begin straight out of the shell if one is to be truly successful. But colour, colour is the real secret. It takes years of careful selective breeding to get just the right texture and a dignified yet striking complexion of greens and browns punctuated with brighter spots of orange. Petunia’s pink stripe is particularly special and there are more than a few competitors of mine who would pay dearly for one of her eggs”.

“I spent my childhood on a farm, you know? It was quite a different life, but a good one. Crisp air and rolling hills. I remember feeding the compsagnathus flocks each morning. Dozens of the little things would gather around the edge of their run, leaping and slashing at the wire fence. I would throw scraps of meat from the feed bucket and laugh as they scrabbled amongst themselves eagerly eating up their breakfast. Sometimes after a storm the run would be tipped over and they would escape into the triceratops paddocks. We lost more than one calf from the herd to starved flocks of escaped compsagnathus. Still, it was a good life and I do miss those times.”

Velociraptor hunting is the quintessential coming-of-age activity for any young man of note. It allows one to bond with other men, for one thing. But the thrill of racing off after the deinonychus as they pick up the scent of the quarry, leaping fallen trees and pounding through the forest astride your own utahraptor – nothing matches that. It is exhilarating!”

Posted in Pantheon

Rhoga Jezeda – Goddess of the Eleventh Hour

Rhoga Jezeda

Goddess of the Eleventh Hour, Queen of Witches, the Crone
Goddess of witchcraft, revenge, disease, death
Alignment: NE
Domains: Death, Evil, Knowledge, Magic, Repose
Favoured Weapon: Magic or sickle

From a young age children are taught to fear Rhoga Jezeda, lest she come in the night and eat them. But as the children grow into adults their fear does not fade. It is said that Rhoga Jezeda knows the time and circumstances of the death of every living thing. She is also called the Goddess of the Eleventh Hour, as it is believed that she can hold back and divert death or bring it swiftly down upon her victims before their proper time.

Rhoga Jezeda is the most powerful of all witches and her sway over death does not end at preventing or hastening it. If the whispers are to be believed, followers of the Queen of Witches can beseech their goddess to raise the dead, imbuing a body with a mindless spirit, enslaving the walking dead to the witch’s will. Some believe that Rhoga Jezeda lays claim to the souls of the wicked, those who are not given proper burial rites, and those who die of disease, as a victim of vengeance, or with a desire for revenge in their hearts.

Rhoga Jezeda is the mistress of disease and those witches who take up the mantle of plaguebearer are said to bring living ruin to their bodies and devastation to all they meet, spreading infection and pestilence wherever they go. However, as she spreads disease, so can Rhoga Jezeda stave it off.

Poppets are the tools of the goddess and carers of the sick who are out of hope may fill one with spices, flowers and some small portion of the person they wish to heal – blood, nails or hair – and hang it above the bed of the stricken, offering prayers to the Witch Queen, begging her to draw the sickness away. Rumours say that if such prayers are successful the disease does not disappear but is sent down on the head of another. Others say that a prayer answered by the Goddess of the Eleventh Hour draws death closer to the one who called upon her, shaving years off their lives. Despite this, many who fear Rhoga Jezeda still turn to her in times of desperation.

Revenge is another tool of the Queen of Witches and she hears the dark desires of those who seek vengeance. Some even say that thoughts of vengeance are the whispers of Rhoga Jezeda and that each act of revenge makes her stronger. Those seeking revenge craft a poppet to represent a specific person and fill it with a portion of themselves and of the person who they wish to harm. Afterwards, they inflict on the doll the harm they wish to see befall their foe. If the desired fate cannot be depicted this way, strong thoughts are said to suffice.

Many pursue this path as a method of private revenge, not believing that their acts of violence on the poppet would actually manifest on their victim. Most often, the poppet is filled only with straw, eschewing the supposedly vital elements. However, when ill fortune befalls those who are known to have wronged someone, whispers of poppets and witchcraft are usually quick to follow. Some say that the Witch Queen revels in revenge and asks no payment for it. However, like with the casting out of disease, other rumours persist that the Witch Queen cuts short the lifelines of those who call upon her for revenge.

For those who pray to Rhoga Jezeda not to placate the Crone, but in true worship of her, the spreading of disease and practice of witchcraft appear to be the common means of veneration. Rhoga Jezeda sees and manipulates the threads of the future and her followers often seem to have a strange assurance of what is to come. Some say that her followers spend much of their time ensuring that the future Rhoga Jezeda favours comes to pass. Witches who reside near other settlements often also craft poppets, charms, tonics, powders, cure-alls and elixirs to offer to those in need, furthering the influence of witchcraft by preying on desperate souls.

Rhoga Jezeda is depicted as an ancient wrinkled crone, often holding a poppet and an hourglass and peering into a black cauldron.  The Goddess of the Eleventh Hour is also commonly shown brandishing a gleaming pair of silver scissors and contemplating an intricate web of threads of lives and fate. She is always depicted with a clouded right eye which is blind to the present but with which she sees the future.

The Queen of Witches features in many children’s stories and is usually shown living in a deep dark forest, the crowded shelves of her hovel lined with books of witchcraft and vile recipes as well as jars and bottles of horrid ingredients. Rhoga Jezeda has no true symbol by which her servants recognise each other, but the blinding of the right eye and wearing a poppet or a pair of scissors around the neck or waist is a common sign of a devoted witch.

Posted in Tools & Techniques

Fantasy Playing Cards for Your Game

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In fantasy games, taverns are often full of patrons drinking and playing cards. It strains our suspension of disbelief when we hear them draw the King of Hearts or play a game of Spades or Blackjack.

While it would be nice to have a fully developed deck quite different than our standard 52-card deck, it would not be compatible with most of the games we know, so we would also have to come up with new games. Some have the time (or money) for that, but most of us don’t.

Instead, a simple re-skinning let us draw the Empress of Arrows or play a game of Shields or Black Knight, adding a little bit of fantasy flair while still keeping the real-world cards and allowing us to play the games we know.

The inspiration for doing this came when the player in my current campaign started running card games where patrons had to guess the suit. It was a little jarring to me when real world cards were drawn and announced by this character who is clearly from a fantasy – not pseudo-historical – world. So, I’ve made some simply changes to the 52-card deck, basically just changing the face cards, the ace, the joker and the suits. I hope you enjoy them.

Face Cards

If you want to personalise the card deck and use it as a plot device, then in your world, like in the real world, you could have the face cards of different suits represent figures from in-game myth or history.

Empress replaces the King. I liked the idea of female royalty being the highest card. I think it lends a little history to the deck, especially if there are no empires in your game. It alludes to a former Empire ruled – openly or in secret truth – by women. Empress cards would be strong and powerful looking women atop a throne in royal attire with a sceptre.

Priest replaces the Queen. Religion is often at the forefront of fantasy games, whether there is one god or hundreds. Including a priest as a face card indicates the importance of religion in the society that uses the deck or the one that invented it. Priest cards would be men (and/or women, depending what you want to go for in your world) dressed in robes and holding holy symbols matching their suits or perhaps even matching those of deities in your world.

Knight replaces the Jack. Knight is an actual French Tarot playing card with a picture of a young man riding a horse, with a value between Jack and Queen. Knights are usually an important part of Medieval-style fantasy worlds. If your game world skews more towards Renaissance than Medieval, perhaps the Knight could be called the cavalier or chevalier instead. Depending on the importance of horses in your world, this card could have a man (or woman, if women are or formerly were knights in your world) on a horse, or more a swashbuckling sort of figure for the chevalier.

Fool replaces the Joker. It is a common trope that the fool or court jester is actually extremely intelligent. Replacing the Joker with the Fool was an obvious choice and the card being variously low, high, wild or simply ignored speaks to the Fool’s adaptability and the way they are perceived by others. Fools would look a lot like the Jokers we use now, though some areas might depict them with a donkey’s head or some similar bizarre and foolish representation or even depict them in the colours or clothing of a rival nation.

Dog replaces the Ace. Not really a face card, but I like it because it adds another little change to things, rather than just sticking with a large single representation of the suit. Dogs can be seen as useless strays and dangerous mongrels or as loyal guards and man’s best friends. Because of these varying perceptions, I though it would be interesting to replace the Ace with the Dog, seeing as Ace can be high or low (or both) depending on the game you’re playing. Dog cards would have a simple picture of a dog coloured either black or red, depending on suit. Perhaps various regions depict the dogs differently – scruffy where dogs are disliked and strong and noble where they are favoured companions. If you’re using the goddess Tarsis, this card could be linked with her faith.

Suits

I wanted the suits to seem appropriate to fantasy worlds, but not covered in dragons and wizard hats. I ended up deciding that the black suits would be defensive representations and the red suits would be offensive representations.

For the Black suits, Shields replace Spades and Helms replace Clubs.

For the Red suits, Maces replace diamonds and Arrows replace Hearts.

I thought about using Swords instead of Maces, but the latter is a little non-standard and again adds a bit of flair to the deck (perhaps Maces were a common weapon in the ancient Empire where Dogs were also common). Mainly though, Mace heads are a lot easier to draw than Swords and still keep them around the same size as the other suits.

As mentioned, the deck is usable for any 52-card game you know, but the offensive/defensive dichotomy also presents hints of other games. Maybe there’s a rock-paper-scissors sort of card game where:

  • Shields beat Arrows
  • Arrows beat Helms
  • Helms beat Maces
  • Maces beat Shields

Not sure about the other combinations, like Shields vs. Helms and Arrows vs. Maces. Maybe suits of the same colours can’t hurt each other? I haven’t thought it out thoroughly, but I think there’s something there.

Full House

So, to wrap up, here’s our real-world card annotation compared to this new fantasy deck from lowest to highest, without Jokers/Fools:

A 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 J Q K

D 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 K P E