The Fjarrstrand Sagas: Pt. 1 (Goals & Intro)

In creating a Norse/Celtic myth-inspired setting for Barbarians of Lemuria, my aim is to move away from some of the default assumptions of the pulpy world of Lemuria… that was based upon Lin Carter’s world of the distant-future.  Gone are are tropes of scantly clad damsels in distress, half-naked and muscle-bound barbarian heroes, lands populated with exotic and alien species, nefarious sorcerers  who call upon dark powers from beyond the pale, and mad inventors who create technological wonders (and horrors).

Instead, I want Fjarrstrand to be have a grittier, more medieval, and more grounded feeling… while keeping elements from both Norse and Celtic myth.  Magic is still rare, and feared, but is seen as a gift from the fallen gods.  In this world, both magicians and priests use magic, while seers are able to untangled the strands of Fate in order to see into the future, and artificers craft and enchant items.  Basically, my goal is to  create a world that borrows from Beowulf, the Norse Sagas, The Mabinogion, Arthurian legends, and Tolkien… but with the action and brutality of a Joe Abercrombie  novel.

With Ragnarok and the death of the gods, the world-tree, Yggdrasil, itself perished.  With its collapse, the nine worlds were wracked with cataclysmic earthquakes, volcanoes, and hellish storms as the realms became intertwined.  Midgard, as the primary battleground between the giants and gods, was rendered uninhabitable.  Driven by desperation, sailors tried to brave ocean voyages westward… seeking new lands beyond the storm-tossed and turbulent ocean.  Of those who set out, only a handful of Viking crews that set out from the British Isles and Iceland found the new land that came to be called The Distant Shore or Fjarrstrand.  Two of those crews returned to the ruins of Midgard in order to lead their people to the shelter of this new paradise.

Humans are relatively new to theses lands, having first sailed here from dying Midgard nearly 500 years ago.  As a new homeland to humanity, Fjarrstrand is a largely unexplored realm.  Humans live in small swaths of coastal and frontier lands that they have carved out for themselves, while always seeking to expand their holdings.

Fjarrstrand’s ocean is strewn with numerous islands and rocky outcropping, and is home to various horrors that prey on the ocean’s bounty and on those who ply its waters.  In the ocean’s northeastern expanses, particularly in the area surrounding The Mistgate, thick fog blankets the water’s surface.  To the north and northwest, great mountain ranges and frozen wastelands teem with jotuns and other horrors.  The primeval forests of western Fjarrstrand are home to its native people, the alfar (elves) and other creatures of faerie who view these newcomers as unwelcome guests.

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The Fjarrstrand Sagas: A Barbarians of Lemuria campaign setting

I’ve posted a few times about my love for the elegantly simple Barbarians of Lemuria RPG.  At this point, it is my go-to game for fantasy roleplaying (sorry D&D… I still a lot of  nostalgic love for you as well).

Over the past few months, I’ve starting porting the rules over to a Norse/Celtic post-Ragnarok setting that is more grounded in myth than the pulpy default setting of Lemuria.

I’ll be posting rules, setting details, and my thoughts of designing the setting here; so please send any advice or comments you have my way.

 

 

Barbarians of Lemuria… let the pulp adventures begin!

A few weeks ago my brother started up a Barbarians of Lemuria campaign focusing on the exploits of dwarven heroes and, from what little I’ve seen of the game and rules, I’m really digging it.

CHARACTER CREATION

Barbarians of Lemuria is elegantly simple.  Character creation involves dividing 4 points and assigning them to 4 attributes:  strength, agility, mind, and appeal.  Each has a starting values of 0-3, though one ability can start at -1 which grants an extra attribute point to be assigned elsewhere.  Your starting health, called Lifeblood, is equal to 10 + your character’s strength attribute.  You also start with your racial or cultural tongue, a common tongue (Lemurian is the default trade tongue in the game), and a number of additional languages equal to your mind attribute.  My dwarven explorer, Bragi Anvilsong, for example, started with the following attributes:

  • Strength: 2 (great)
  • Agility: 1 (superior)
  • Mind: 1 (superior)
  • Appeal: 0 (average)

The same method is used to assign 4 points to combat abilities:  initiative, melee, ranged, and defence (the author, Simon Washbourne, is British… so you get used to see British-English spellings).  Once again one of these abilities can be sub-par, with a rating of -1, granting an extra point that can be assigned to another combat ability.  Bragi started with the following combat abilities:

  • Initiative: 1 (superior)
  • Melee: 2 (great)
  • Ranged: 0 (average)
  • Defence: 1 (superior)

You then choose 4 career paths for your character.  Following the same method, your character divides and assigns 4 ranks to any 4 of the following career paths: alchemist, assassin, barbarian, beastmaster, beggar, blacksmith, dancer, executioner, farmer, gladiator, hunter, magician, merchant, mercenary, minstrel, noble, physician, priest, sailor, scribe, sky-pilot (a setting specific career path), slave, soldier, temptress, thief, and worker.

These careers can easily be altered to suit other backgrounds (town guard in place of soldier, explorer in place of hunter, and so on).  The ranks of starting careers would range from 0-3.  The beauty of this game is that each career represents your background and the skills that come with it.  You need not pick individual skills for your character… you pick the careers of your career path with a mind towards the types of skills that you’d like your character to have.  Bragi’s starting career paths are:

  • Blacksmith: 1
  • Guard (Soldier): 2
  • Healer (Physician): 0
  • Explorer (Hunter): 1

Next you choose Boons and Flaws for your character.  All characters start with 1 Boon.  They may choose additional Boons if they either take a Flaw to offset each Boon chosen OR reduce their starting Hero Points (5) by 1 point per Boon chosen.    Bragi’s starting Boons are:

  • Giant Strength:  +1 to his starting STR attribute and attribute cap (normally the cap is 5 but he can have up to a 6 STR)
  • Detect Deception:  He’s really good at knowing when he’s being lied to

Rather than reduce his starting Hero Points by 1, I chose to give Bragi the GM-created Flaw of Destitute.

Finally you choose you arms, armor, and equipment.  Wealth is abstract in this game, so you’re pretty much free to choose equipment that matches your character concept.  Armor absorbs damage rather than making you harder to hit, while shields make you slightly harder to hit.  Heavier armor types and large shields reduce your agility score, while helms reduce your initiative ability by 1.  Armor also makes spellcasting more difficult… and imposes penalties on social interaction checks in some circumstances.

Hero Points can be used to make minor changes to reality, avoid a wound or change a deadly wound into one that incapacitates your her, change a success into a critical success, shake off damage, re-roll dice, and so on.  These replenish after every adventure.  Most heroes have 5 Hero Points that can be used over the course of each adventure but, as noted above, buying additional Boons my reduce the character’s Hero Point pool.

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Lifestyle Costs & Skill Use

MARKETABLE SKILLS   

5th edition simplifies player expenses, so that games don’t become exercises in accounting.  Chapter 5 of the PHB gives the daily cost for the various lifestyles (wretched, squalid, poor, modest, comfortable, wealthy, and aristocratic) and explains each lifestyle on pages 157 & 158.  The following system would allow players to ply a trade in order to live at a given lifestyle at no cost… but with no chance of monetary gain either.  I’d use this in place of Running a Business (DMG 129) to keep things relatively simple.

Lifestyle Proficiency Check:  I’d allow players to use proficiencies to make a living over the course of one month in place of charging lifestyle expenses.  Characters would have to spend the majority of their day (8-12 hours) engaged in skill or tool use to make a living off of it.  The base DC to achieve the listed lifestyle at no cost would be:

  • Wretched:  N/A.  This is scraping the bottom of the barrel.  PCs would never fall to this level without some major setback (see Carousing below).
  • Squalid:  0
  • Poor: 5
  • Modest: 10
  • Comfortable:  20
  • Wealthy: 25
  • Aristocratic: 30

Limits based on the wealth of the local population should apply.  For example, a character performing at a grimy tavern in the seedy section of town should be limited to modest lifestyle… even if his weekly performance roll indicates that he has earned a better lifestyle.

Here’s a breakdown of how each skill or tool proficiency could be used to earn a living, including notes on the lifestyle proficiency check roll:

Strength

  • Athletics:  Performing feats of strength (i.e. acting as a porter, wrestling in a fighting pit).  Roll at disadvantage because this represents the lowest form of labor.

Dexterity

  • Acrobatics:  Performing as an acrobat or juggler.
  • Sleight of Hand:  Picking pockets, stealing small objects, and confidence games.
  • Stealth:  Spying and scouting for guilds, military units, or other patrons would also require successful perception, investigation, and/or insight rolls.

Intelligence

  • Arcana, History, Investigation, Nature, and Religion:  The character could hire out as a sage or act as a consultant/researcher for a patron or group (i.e a guild or church).  Investigation could also be used by constables, reeves, church inquisitors, etc to perform their duties. Roll at disadvantage as plenty of apprentices would perform such services for free.  Roll normally if the employment has inherent risks to health or well-being.

Wisdom

  • Animal Handling:  Farmhand, animal trainer, mounted courier, or mounted mercenary. Roll at disadvantage unless the employment involves risks that allow for greater compensation.
  • Insight:  Fortune teller, con artist, local magistrate, judge, or adviser.
  • Medicine:  Veterinarian, goodwife, barber, apothecary, or physician.
  • Perception:  This would usually be used in conjunction with stealth to spy on others.  It could also be used for town watchmen or those who need to be observant (i.e. sailor in the crow’s nest or scout). Roll at disadvantage unless the employment brings the character into harm’s way.
  • Survival:  Frontiersmen, surveyors, guides, trackers.  Roll at disadvantage due to the nature and location of the employment.

Charisma

  • Deception: Fortune teller, con artist, charlatan, or beggar.  Beggars would roll at disadvantage while con artists and charlatans would not due to the higher stakes and risks involved with those endeavors.
  • Intimidation:  Gang enforcer, crooked constable, threatening beggar, highwayman.
  • Performance: Poet, actor, lay minister, musician.
  • Persuasion: Town crier, politician, adviser, orator, or lawyer.

Tools & Kits
Most tool or kit proficiency checks require the tools, supplies, and a space in which to work.  Assuming that these are available, the check is made with no modifier.

Gaming set
All gaming set proficiency checks are made with no modifier unless cheating is involved.  With a successful Sleight of Hands roll the gaming set proficiency check may be made with advantage.   A character caught cheating  will find that his fortunes change rather quickly.

Musical instrument
All instrument proficiency checks may be combined with performance checks or could be made to tutor pupils in the use of those instruments.

CAROUSING 

Characters who wish to carouse (DMG 128) live at one lifestyle rank lower than that indicated by their lifestyle skill check to account for the added expenses incurred by their wanton ways.

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Caveat Emptor… Mike Nystul’s at it yet again!

Just to warn anyone who reads this blog:

Mike Nystul, who swindled Kickstarter backers out of 10s of thousands of dollars, is trying to raise money yet again:

https://www.patreon.com/nystul?ty=h

Those who backed his Kickstarters are out of luck… as he has no intention of of making good on his previous projects.  Here’s his own words on the subject:

(H)ere is the thing. The Kickstarter thing was a disaster on many levels. One of the problems is once it failed and my personal as well as professional finances were trashed I had no resources to do much of anything to move forward. I lost everything. Not asking for sympathy here because it was the result of my bad decisions and miscalculations but i had nothing left and at one point was literally homeless. I pulled down that Indiegogo campaign you mentioned not long after it went up (I collected nothing). It would have been going down that same road, a profoundly bad idea (and in some ways in bad taste). Patreon is a different beast entirely. First, it is meant to be used to support a creator not a specific project. If you like what I’m doing – awesome! Become a Patron and we are both happy! If you don’t – don’t. The other thing is I went with the “only collect anything when I post” model rather than straight monthly. That way, if i produce nothing – nothing gets collected. There is no way for me to “fleece” anyone. The Patrons have complete control over things like monthly limits and I encourage them to use them. Going back to your original issue, yes, the Kickstarter issues were huge and horrible and I am very very sorry about them. They do not represent my entire career though and my choices were never do this kind of work again or find a way to do it as above boards as i can. People will forgive me for the failed projects and accept the arrangements I was able to make to try to make good or they will not. At this point all I ca do is do better, yes?

Please avoid giving money to this scam artist and epic-level flake.

Traits & Passions System in D&D (Part III)

TRAITS (continued)

TRAITS & CLASSES

Rather than give in-depth trait requirements for each class,  I’d keep things general.  Martial classes should have Valor scores of 12 or higher while divine casters should have Piety score of 12 or higher.  Otherwise I’d leave trait choice to the player, keeping their class archetypes and background in mind.  For example, a paladin with the Oath of Vengeance should probably have a low Magnanimity score (12 or lower) to reflect their vengeful nature.

PASSIONS

INITIAL PASSIONS

Hate, Honor, Hospitality, Love, Loyalty

These 5 passions are generated by rolling 3d6 at the start of play, though not all characters will have cause to generate all 5 of these passions.

Hate (Group or Race):  Hate is a destructive passion that may be rolled during character generation.  If rolled, the character chooses a race or group (religious, cultural, or political) that their character has an ingrained and irrational hostility towards.  A low hate score still indicates a deep prejudice and lack of empathy  towards members of that race or group, while a high hate score indicates an all-consuming desire to attack or otherwise harm members of that race or group.

I’d give the following Greyhawk races the Hate passion at the start of play:

  • Dwarves:  Hate (Orcs), Hate (Goblinoids)
  • Elves: Hate (Orcs), Hate (Drow)
  • Gnomes: Hate (Kobolds)

Drow elf player characters, on the other hand, would not hate elves in general but would probably hate the Drow faction or family responsible for their exile.

Half-Orc characters would probably be greeted with some mistrust by elves and dwarves but, in the interest keeping the game running smoothly, would not have their Hate passion apply to half-orcs.

Honor: Honor is the passion that sets heroic character apart from ordinary people. It is a combination of personal dignity, integrity, and pride.

All characters would have a starting Honor score that would be modified as follows:

  • Lawful alignment: +2
  • Chaotic alignment: -2
  • Good alignment: +2
  • Evil alignment: -2
  • Background: +2 to -2 (a chivalrous knight would have a+2 bonus while a charlatan would have a -2 penalty)

Performing the actions listed below clearly and invariably diminishes honor:

  • Attacking a helpless foe -1
  • Cowardice –1
  • Desertion from a battle, quest, or mercenary contract  –1
  • Plundering a holy place of your faith or allied faith –1
  • Killing an helpless holy person of your religion –2
  • Kidnapping or raping –2
  • Breaking an oath –2
  • Treachery against a member of your family –3
  • Treason (against your lord) –4
  • Killing a kinsman –5

Characters with an Honor score of 14 or higher are noted for their honorable behavior while those with an Honor score of 7 or less are seen as dishonorable scoundrels.

Hospitality:  This passion measures how much your character respects the time-honored institution of hospitality. In cases of great passion (14 or higher), a proponent of this practice might feel bound to correct others’ inhospitable behavior, and perhaps even to seek out and destroy those who break the rules of hospitality. On the other hand, anyone with a disregard for hospitality (less than 7) is likely to steal without compunction.

Love (Person, Patron, or Group):  Love is an emotional bonding or attraction felt by one individual for another individual, group, or deity. A character may have many loves, but it is best if only 1 or 2 warrant this passion.

Loyalty (Lord or Order):  Characters who serve some lord or order should roll this trait at the start of play.  Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • feudal lord
  • an order of knights
  • a religious order
  • a supernatural patron
  • a guild
  • a god
  • a wealthy sponsor

A low loyalty score indicates that the character serves his own needs before those of his lord or order and, as such, draws little inspiration from service to that lord or order.

TRAIT & PASSION BENEFITS

Character who roleplay according to their character’s traits and passions should be rewarded with Inspiration (PHB 126) and, over time, will gain renown (or infamy) through their actions and ideals.  Players who consistently act in accordance with their notable traits and passions (those with score of 14 or higher, or of 7 or lower) should gain a small XP award at the end of each session.  I’d recommend 50 XP multiplied by the character’s proficiency bonus.

Invoking a Passion:  Furthermore, when a character’s passion is threatened (i.e. their honor is impugned,  their paramour is taken captive, or they combat a hated enemy) they may seek to invoke that passion by succeeding at  a DC 15 check, modified by their passion score modifier and proficiency modifier.

  • On a failed roll the character suffers disadvantage on all attack rolls, saves, and ability checks for the length of the encounter.  Their passion score is automatically lowered by 1 point.
  • On a successful roll the character gains advantage on all attack rolls, saves, and ability checks for the length of the encounter.
  • On a fumble (a roll of a natural “1”) the character’s passion score is automatically lowered by 2 points and the character gains long-term Madness as per page 258-259 of the DMG.
  • On a critical (a roll of a natural “20”) the character’s passion score is automatically raised by 1 point and the character gains advantage on all attack rolls, saves, and ability checks for the length of the encounter.

Because invoking a passion is arduous, it may only be attempted once per long rest.

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Traits & Passions System in D&D (Part II)

This is a continuation of my last blog post.

ORDINARY TRAITS

Traits between 8 and 13 represent the average range of traits.  When faced with tests tied to these, the player may forego the trait check and use free will to determine a course of action.

Characters who consistently act a certain way will eventually have the appropriate trait raised due to the rules below.

FAMOUS TRAITS AND PASSIONS

Only famous traits (i.e., those with a value of 14 or higher, or of 7 or lower) are noteworthy, and such traits must be checked with a die roll whenever character behavior is challenged in a crisis.  This does not mean that trait rolls must be used whenever the character makes any decision in the game. And even characters with famous characteristics are allowed free choice of behavior except when the plot demands otherwise. The DM should request trait rolls only when a trait is tested in an important situation. In general, trait rolls simulate situations in which a crisis forces the character to act unconsciously.

TRAITS CHECKS

When characters face moral dilemmas and/or are tempted to act in a particular manner, the DM may call for a trait check.

Since traits define character personality, they must be consulted whenever the DM feels them necessary. In crises, it is assumed, individuals act according to their character, not spontaneous and ambiguous choices. Custom and training triumph over instinct. Players may not want their characters to do something dictated by a die roll, but free choice is not always possible.

Trait checks are handled much like ability checks (PHB 172).  When a test of a particular trait is called for, the DM determines the difficulty of that check.  The player then rolls a d20, adding the modifier for the relevant trait score and their proficiency modifier…  as experience tempers judgement.

Typical Difficulty Classes
Task Difficulty                          DC
Very easy                                 5
Easy                                          10
Medium                                   15
Hard                                         20
Very hard                                 25
Nearly impossible                  30

If the total equals or exceeds the DC, the trait check is a success – the character overcomes the challenge at hand and acts in accordance with that trait. Otherwise, it’s a failure, which means the character may give into their vices.  A natural “20” indicates a critical success while a natural “1” indicates a fumble. See the table below for the effects of success and failure at a trait check.

Roll Result and Effect

Critical Success: The trait increases by one, and the character must act strongly in accordance with the trait unless he succeeds at a Wisdom saving throw with the same DC.  If this save succeeds, the character may act freely but reduces the trait by 1 point if he fails to act in accordance with it.

Success:  The character may act in accordance with the trait but is not required to. The player may decide precisely what action ensues within that limitation.

Failure:  Failure indicates the player fails to act in accordance with the checked trait unless he succeeds at a Wisdom saving throw with the same DC.  If this save succeeds, the character may act freely.

Fumble:  The trait is immediately reduced by one 1 point and the character immediately acts against that trait unless he succeeds at a Wisdom saving throw with the same DC.  If this save succeeds, the character may act freely and doesn’t suffer a loss to the checked trait.

Example:  Hromund Hammerhand, a level  3 dwarven paladin renowned for his purity has a Chastity score of 16 and  encounters a succubus in the form of a beautiful dwarven maiden. The DM asks the  player to make a Chasity roll with a DC of 15.   His bonus to this roll is +5 but he rolls a “4” on his trait check.  Unless he rolls a successful Wisdom save Hromund will give in to the succubus’ charms.

The following chart shows the effects of passed and failed trait rolls.  The character acts accordingly:

Trait Checked Failed Check (Vice Exhibited) Successful Check (Virtue Exhibited)
Chastity Lustful Chaste
Constancy Arbitrary Just
Diligence Slothful Energetic
Generosity Selfish Generous
Honesty Deceitful Honest
Magnanimity Vengeful Forgiving
Mercy Cruel Merciful
Modesty Proud Modest
Piety Worldly Pious
Prudence Reckless Prudent
Temperance Indulgent Temperate
Trust Suspicious Trusting
Valor Cowardly Valorous

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