Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Arms Control in the Starfinder Setting

There is an ongoing debate on Paizo's Starfinder forums about what level of gun control is likely to exist in the Pact Worlds (the "default" setting/home system of Starfinder). Here are my own two cents on this issue:

The Pact Worlds have, within living memory, fought a number of fairly devastating wars (in particular, against the Veskarium and the Swarm), and the outbreaks of new wars are entirely possible. Thus, most governments will probably encourage citizens to be proficient with weapons and practice with them on a regular basis - this gives them a greater reserve of people they can draft once the shooting does start. That being said, not all weapons are equal and not all are equally acceptable in all circumstances. Here is my best guess:

Ranged Weapons:

Single-shot sidearms (pistols and the like): Unexceptionable under most circumstances, except in ultra-secure or ultra-formal settings or where there is a real danger of damaging highly sensitive equipment (the bulkheads of most space stations - including Absalom Station should not be easily penetrable by random shots, but the guts of the local life support systems might be another matter). Places where people regularly consume mood-altering substances that might make them more aggressive (such as drug dens) or where the clientele is exceptionally violent (such as certain bars in the criminal underground) might also restrict all weapons.

Single-shot longarms (rifles and the like): Unproblematic in "frontiers" and similar areas where attacks by monsters, bandits and the like might not be necessarily common, but are always a possibility.

Automatic weapons: Generally only acceptable in military-controlled regions or where attacks by hostile entities occur on a regular basis, since there is a lot of risk for collateral damage. Plasma weapons will be seen with suspicion for much the same reason.

Explosives: Like automatic weapons, acceptable only in areas where attacks are frequent - since those can cause a lot of collateral damage.

Melee weapons: Knifes can be classified similar to sidearms - besides using them for protection, they are also common tools (especially in frontier regions) Larger melee weapons (such as swords) generally say one of two things about their user:

- "I have put in serious work at dealing out violence up close and personal" (since it takes a lot more training to become proficient with them than simple sidearms), or
- "I am a violent thug who relishes carving up others up close".

Such melee weapons likely have a similar legal standing to single-shot longarms, but wearers will be viewed with more suspicion since they might belong into the second category (for how to avoid that perception, see the next section).

Finally, space stations or similar habitats with closed life support systems will likely place additional restrictions on plasma and similar weapons that can quickly start large-scale fires, as well as chemical or biological volatiles (gas grenades and the like) that can foul up the enclosed atmosphere - since unlike with planetary atmosphere there will be no reservoir of fresh air and no place to flee.

Player Advice

So what does this mean for player characters who want to keep using their favorite toys, no matter what the circumstances are? While avoiding all forms of arms control is probably not feasible, player characters can probably mitigate much of it by following these guidelines:

Be respectable. While the Pact Worlds don't have instantaneous interplanetary (let alone interstellar) communication, their communication systems will still be vastly better than those of Golarion in the Pathfinder area. In other words, news of the player characters' exploits will get around (especially if one of the PCs was brave or foolish enough to take the "Icon" theme). And how they acted during their exploits will determine a lot how much leeway the authorities will give them regarding their weaponry. If they consistently helped and defended other people, then they can get away with a lot. ("You carry what kinds of explosives with you? Oh, wait... didn't I see you in that video where you took down a purple worm attacking our colony with those? No, go ahead - I am sure you will use them responsibly, although I hope they won't be needed..."). On the other hand, if they harass, intimidate, or even attack other people on a regular basis they will be seen with a lot more suspicion - even if there is no outstanding warrant on them at the moment.

A corollary to this is that they should think twice about intimidating others with their weaponry ("Please hand over your weapons before entering this establishment." - "Make me!"), since this can effectively represent a declaration of war against the local authorities. You entered their turf and demand that they back down instead of following their customs, and even if they back down you will have made a new enemy since you have just reduced their authority in the eyes of the other locals. And most local authorities cannot afford to back down in front of such a challenge - whether the authorities are actual law enforcement or the local mob. Sometimes such a challenge is appropriate - especially if the local authorities are brutal tyrants - but the players should consider the implications before issuing it.

Appear respectable. Many organizations in the setting - law enforcement, armed forces, orders of knighthood, explorers' societies and so forth - have members who wear weapons as part of their duties yet are not viewed with (much) suspicion for it. This is because they wear uniforms or insignia proclaiming that they are part of a larger organization - and, presumably, they will have to answer for any misbehavior to their superiors within that organization. They can even get into many ultra-formal settings where weapons would normally not be allowed if he weapons are considered to be "part of their uniform".

And this approach can serve the PCs as well. If they cannot or will not join one of these established organizations, they could found their own. Just like the "professional adventuring parties" of bygone ages they could form their own chartered company (providing mercenary services, or exploration, or any other profession that describes what the PCs do as a group) and design a snazzy uniform that all party members wear while "on duty" (or at least "on display"). And even if this is a pure legal fiction, others will rest easier in their presence knowing that the PCs are "responsible" to some larger organization (which could, in theory, be sued for any damages the PCs cause).

Even if the PCs are not part of an "official organization", they can still attempt to dress "respectably" - as opposed to "street scum and vagabonds".

Finally, while there are methods of circumventing arms control - such as glamered weapons disguising their true nature - the PCs should not rely on them all the time. If they get caught, then most people will assume that they are still using them and search them more thoroughly or even deny them entry in the future.

Game Master Advice

So, how should GMs use weapon control in their game?

First of all, don't use weapon control to screw the PCs over! If the PCs have to hand over their weapons before being allowed into a certain facility, then restrict the weapons the bad guys have access to as well. Perhaps their attempt at smuggling weapons in can be discovered by the PCs (in which case they get to use the contraband for the fight), or they might be as limited in what they can bear as the PCs. Furthermore, if the PCs hand their weapons over, make sure that they get them back from the owners afterwards. Otherwise the PCs will constantly focus on how to smuggle their favorite toys into adventure locations, which will likely derail the adventures.

Secondly - as pointed out earlier - make past PC behavior matter! If the PCs have been acting responsibly with their weapons in their past, cut them some slack with what they are allowed to pack (although this might mean that the authorities come to them with dangerous problems. To which I say: Adventure plots!). Conversely, if they have been misbehaving take not of that - and have the local authorities quote these incidents at them as justifications for why they are treated differently.

This doesn't even mean you have to take their weapons away, or refuse them entry. Instead, after a long discussion about past incidents where the PCs misbehaved (make them squirm!) you can have the custom official frown at them and say the following:

"Okay, here is what I can do. I am really not all that comfortable with you walking around with all those weapons. But if you, [most-respectable-looking PC] sign this form that you take responsibility for the behavior of your... associates, I am willing to let you through. Oh, and I also need you to pay a bond of 5000 credits [scale as appropriate]. If you leave without causing any... incidents, you will get the money back. Otherwise it will be used as a down payment on any damages you have caused."

This way, the PCs need to police their own if they want their money back - which is far easier than have NPCs do it. More fun for the GM as well...

To sum it up: Yes, some form of weapon control will exist in various places, but it should be used appropriately - it can make for interesting complications, but not deprive the PCs of their toys all the time.

Monday, July 10, 2017

After Victory - How It Came To Pass

The Evil Empire has fallen!

Abraxas, called the "Dark Lord", the "Living God", "Defiler of the Earth Mother" and many other names besides, undisputed tyrant of the Empire of Owls and terror of three continents for more than two centuries... is no more. The Sirean Alliance, forged under desperate circumstances, staged a daring raid against his ancient capital of Strigium while he was distracted, and at the same time some of the world's greatest heroes invaded his inner sanctum inside of the lair of the Earth Mother and severed the link that sustained his stolen divinity. Though it cost many of them their lives, they triumphed and Abraxas fell, his works now in ruins. The forces of Good have triumphed, at a heavy price.

But the story is not over...

The victorious nations of the Sirean Alliance are united in their belief that the Empire of Owls must never rise again - but now, bereft of some of their greatest leaders, they find it increasingly difficult to agree on anything else. The Empire was huge and consisted of many people and cultures, ruled by quisling kings, sycophants, monsters, and worse. Ruling it in Abraxas' absence, administering these vast territories, and rebuilding them into a more peaceful form is a daunting task, made much more complex by the many voices in the Alliance - some of whom just want to go home, while others are trying to shape the future to their own nation's advantage.

Abraxas' end came in the fall. The winter was long and hard, but cleansing, and the last of the warlords who attempted to claim the Throne of Owls for themselves were defeated. Now at last, spring has come, and many are beginning to hope for a better future. But too many of Abraxas' plots and minions remain concealed, and may yet threaten to undo the fragile peace. Former spies and enforcers band together in crime rings. Resentful soldiers of his fallen legions turn to mercenary work or banditry. Merchant princes who lived off the plunder of many lands and sold slaves throughout the Empire now use hidden stockpiles of wealth to reinvent themselves and their houses. Chaos might yet engulf the land - and perhaps one day a new Dark Lord will arise from the chaos.

In this realm of hope and chaos, great wealth and great desperation your player characters will have to find their own path. Perhaps they are discharged veterans from either (or both) sides of the conflict. Or perhaps they have been ordered to act as administrators or troubleshooters for one small corner of the Empire by their superiors in the Alliance, trying to establish peace and order with few resources against great obstacles. Will they succeed and help restore the land to peace and prosperity? Or are they just another group of scavengers feasting upon the succulent corpse of the Empire?

So what's all this, then?

After Victory is a setting idea I've been musing for some time - indeed, you can see its beginning in this post back in 2015. It is based around the question: What happens after the Evil Overlord is overthrown? This is not addressed in The Lord of the Rings and similar epic fantasy stories - at best, you get an epilogue which addresses the fate of the primary protagonists, but there is little about the political aftereffects.

Yet as we know from real world history, defeating and occupying another nation rarely ties up neatly - history ever marches onward. Some were ultimately great successes, like the post-WWII occupations of Germany and Japan - while others were spectacular disasters, like the occupation of Iraq after 2003.

And in the setting of After Victory, the fallen Empire of Owls could go either way - and the player characters' actions should be able to make a crucial difference.

Right now, the setting is still in development, and most of what I have come up with can be found in this RPGNet thread. However, it is my eventual goal to publish this as a standalone setting, similar to my other work Doomed Slayers (buy it if you don't have it already! Review it if you have!). I have rough outlines for the various regions shown in the map above, and future blog posts will go into further details on them. But first, I'd like to state my base assumptions about this setting:

- Overthrowing and defeating Abraxas was just and necessary. He was not just some "benevolent despot" like you might see in fiction, or a "Tough Man making Tough Decisions" - he was evil and everything he did was ultimately for himself. Some people might have benefited from his actions, but that does not imply any benevolence on his part. He made the world a worse place, and would have continued to do so every year he was in power. Now, after the war's end, plenty of his followers will make excuses for him (as it was the case after the fall of the Third Reich, or the Confederacy), but they are morally in the wrong.

- Abraxas was defeated by true heroes. They might at times have squabbled and had differences of opinion, but ultimately they banded together against overwhelming evil and - with great sacrifices - they won. Many of these heroes have paid for this with their lives, and others are in retirement or are overwhelmed with their now political jobs, but their actions show that it is possible for Good to triumph - in other words, this is not intended to be a "grimdark" setting where you must commit evil to defeat a greater Evil.

- Establishing peace is in its own way just as hard as winning the war. Indeed, the task may be altogether impossible when one considers its scope - the occupiers find themselves in strange lands with strange customs, steeped in generations of corruption and evil with few legitimate figures of authority that can be trusted. Yet they must at least try, or else new warlords will rise and menace the world anew.

And if the PCs are not interested in all that, they can join the throngs of treasure hunters seeking the many caches of hidden loot, and attempt to strike their fortune. Either way, there will be plenty of opportunities for adventure!

So, what are your thoughts so far? Share them in the Comments section!

Friday, November 18, 2016

[Eberron] Campaign Idea - Ironport-Splintertown

Every good hexcrawl/wilderness exploration campaign needs a good home base - a frontier town where the player characters can rest and restock after an adventure. But for your Eberron campaign, you don't want just any home base. You want a frontier town that has steep mountains to the north, dinosaur-filled plains to the west, deep jungles and swamps with ancient ruins to the south, stormwracked oceans to the east, and the unfathomable depths of Khyber below. You want a boomtown that visibly grows every month, with new arrivals both noble and base coming in on an almost daily basis. You want a port town beset by greedy pirates and angry orc tribes. You want a border town straddling a political division a mere two years old, with one side trying their utmost to be "respectable" while the other side remains in cheerful anarchy. You want an aspiring city which, once completed as its founders intended, will reshape the politics and economies of the entire region.

In other words, you want the twin town of Ironport-Splintertown. Read on...

First, some background: As outlined in Forge of War (p. 17), the Mror Holds were the first region of Khorvaire to officially declare themselves independent from the Five Nations - all the way back in the year 914 (84 years before the present time). Karrnath was rather upset about this, but lacked the resources to do anything about it at the time. To take some of the sting out of this, the Iron Council (the leadership of the Mror Holds) gave Karrnath Most Favored Nation Status and wasted no time in selling them weapons, armor, and other war materials, assuring that they would "maintain close military ties". However by no means did the dwarves wish to lose out on the very profitable Southern Trade with Breland and Cyre - thus, they clandestinely hired on Lhazaarite "merchants" to smuggle their products, maintaining plausible deniability with Karrnath.

However, now that the Last War has ended the Mror Holds do no longer have to be clandestine about the Southern Trade - after all, everyone was now at peace and thus free to trade with whomever they wanted to. Naturally, this has cut into the war profiteering profits of the sea princes. However, they managed to bargain their way into the Treaty of Thronehold, and are now doing the whole "We are a verrrry respectable nation with verrrry serious businessmen and verrrry vigorous and innovative forms of taxation! Arrrr!"

In other words, their erstwhile business partners have become a major pain for the Mror Holds - any goods shipped from the north has to pass through pretty much the entirety of the Lhazaar Principalities, which means that every sea prince on the route will want either hefty bribes or plunder their goods outright. Thus, the Holds need a new trade route that will circumvent as much of the Principalities as possible. Fortunately, there is a possible route, though it will require some work.

Two years ago, the nations of Khorvaire signed the Treaty of Thronehold, which nailed down the national borders after the Last War. While the main focus of the extremely intense negotiations was on the borders of the original Five Nations with their neighbors, the newer nations had their own arguments - one of these being the boundary between the Mror Holds and its neighbors Q'barra and the Lhazaar Principalities. In the end, the Mror Holds managed to gain a small strip of coastal land that represented "a natural extension of the Ironroot Mountains" and thus clearly part of the Mror Holds (which was news to the Jhorash'tar tribes living there, but nobody invited them to Thronehold). The dwarves tried the same argument for the territory south of the Hoarfrost Mountains, but the sea prince of Cliffscrape considered the numerous fishing villages dotting the coastal plains to be part of her domain and objected most vehemently. The negotiations with Q'barra were easier, since the latter country did not have much in the way or resources to spare for this strip of no man's land this far north anyway. In the end, the current borders were worked out as a compromise in order to present a united front to the older nations.

Half a year later, the dwarves surveyed the land for a possible location for a new port (with the assistance of Lyrandar experts - the Mror Holds had excellent engineers, but little in the way of maritime expertise). It was soon determined that the very best location for a new port was at the mouth of the Crystal River - which, awkwardly enough, was the boundary line agreed upon with Q'barra in the Treaty of Thronehold. Furthermore, the site already had a small settlement named "Shardtown" by its inhabitants - a combined fishing village and hideout for smugglers who during the war specialized in lightweight/high value items - including Dragonshards.

Officially, the logic of nautical engineering won out. The dwarves arrived with a force of engineers, guards, administrators on the north side of the river mouth and announced to the startled inhabitants their intention that they intended to build a new city on the spot entitled "Ironport" (after the Ironroot Mountains). Anyone who wanted to stay under the new rulers could do so and take part in the many exiting and entirely legitimate business opportunities. Those who were unhappy about the regime change were politely but firmly pointed towards the other side of the river, where the settlement retained the name Splintertown and doubled down on the smuggling and all sorts of other dubious activities (many of which take advantage of the riches generated in Ironport).

Very privately, several Mror clan leaders see this problem as an opportunity. They would dearly like to grab more territory for the Holds (and their clans), and considering that Q'barra is weak, underpopulated, and focused on the southern parts of its territory, the country looks like a perfect victim. However, none of the other major nations are willing to allow such a blatant land grab and violation of another nation's territory so soon after the Treaty of Thronehold was signed. Thus, the Mror Holds need some sort of pretext for expanding southwards. Their strategy is as follows:

  • Tolerate the presence of Splintertown, but subtly encourage it as a den of criminality and vice that causes ongoing problems in Ironport (frankly, this isn't hard) - and then complain loudly to the government of Q'barra, the worldwide press, and anyone else who will listen about it. Q'barra of course does not have the resources to "clean up" a town so far from its core settlement, but it might send the occasional lawman north who will predictably get horribly murdered in short order (either by the crime bosses or deniable agents of the dwarves). Eventually, the dwarves might be hailed for invading the town and "cleaning it up" by world opinion...
  • Provoke some sort of attack or raid on Splintertown that is unlikely to threaten the defenses of Ironport but represents a major threat to the inhabitants of the smaller town. This can provide an excuse for the trained soldiers of Ironport to march forth and defend the town, since Q'barra is obviously unable to defend its people. And once the threat is defeated, the soldiers might stick around... and the inhabitants might cheer them for it.
(Side note: For an alternative campaign, consider making the PCs the "lawmen" sent north by King Sebastes in order to clean up Splintertown and then discover all the... complexities of their assignment once they arrive. Assuming that they won't get horribly murdered first.)

But these are far from the only issues facing Ironport-Splintertown. To the north, the Mror Holds need to establish a secure route through the southern Ironrood Mountains, which means dealing with the orc tribes one way or another. Some clans are in favor of giving the orcs a place in the Iron Council, while others are bitterly opposed and would like to see nothing more than have all the orcs wiped out - and they are perfectly willing to send agents sabotaging each others' efforts in this. There is also the question how this new region is supposed to be distributed among the clans, since it is not part of their traditional territories (see the Player's Guide to Eberron, p. 55 for a map). For Ironport and the route leading to it at least, the Iron Council has agreed on a basic profit-sharing scheme based on the amount of investments each involved clan has made. Currently the lawyers and accountants are battling over the details, and whether this agreement will survive the next round of renegotiations in a recognizable form is anyone's guess. Meanwhile, beneath the southern Ironroot Mountains things stir in the depths of Khyber, and duergar have been spotted in increasing numbers. How this will affect the new trade route is anyone's guess.

To the west, the hill country gradually gives way to the Talenta Plains, and dinosaurs are a common sight. While the halflings themselves are good neighbors, and their trade caravans become increasingly common as Ironport grows, the Valenar raiders range far and wide from their southern lands, and eventually the growing town might represent too tempting a target for them.

To the south, the lizardmen and dragonborn of the marshes seem mostly quiescent, though the occasional group of dragonborn pilgirms passes through town on their way to the Boneyard. But the swamps hide numerous brass-embellished ruins from the Age of Demons, and the explorers of Ironport-Splintertown might not be wise enough to stay away from their sleeping inhabitants. Indeed, perhaps agents of the Lords of Dust are already active in town in order to encourage such explorers...

To the east, the Sea Princes watch the growth of Ironport with fear and greed. The northern princes fear the inevitable loss of income - and with it, prestige and political power - that will result once the Southern Route is firmly established, while the southern princes hope for increased opportunities for bribes and plunder. Prince might turn against prince, and this issue is what might cause the young nation to splinter again in its component parts. For now, the alliance holds - but for how long?

And to the far east, the Inspired watch this new development with interest. Any new major port on the eastern end of Khorvaire represents another opportunity for infiltration from Riedra - and once they realize how explosive the political situation is, they will do their best to cause the situation degenerate further while presenting a helpful and friendly face to everyone.

It is in this maelstrom of political intrigue where the PCs will make their names. Will they just focus on plunder and profit to their own benefits? Or will they make a stand and shape this new town in accordance with their vision?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

[Exalted] Three Ponds Market

As a major city, Jade Plum Citadel is surrounded by several market towns within a day's distance of travel. The market town situated in the valley downriver from the Emergence Cave is called Three Ponds Market, named after the three circular lily ponds in the center of the town which surround the local market. All in all, it's a prosperous, quiet, orderly town - while there is some rowdiness associated with visitors, these are generally encouraged to stay in the hostels just outside the actual town limit. People in the town respect their elders and their social superiors, and are stoic in the face of adversity.

But there is more to Three Ponds Market - the town is, in fact, the center for the cult of the Seven-Stranded Vine for the High Lands. The leaders of the cult effectively run the town, which is reflected in the orderly and hierarchical atmosphere - aristocrats before artisans before common laborers (each have their own third of the town). The three ponds are in fact a reference to the Three Spheres Cataclysm, though none alive remember this. The cult headquarters are in underground chambers right below the market, with entrances/exits to all three town districts.

The PCs are unlikely to realize anything of this unless they go looking for it (and being new in this land, they probably have no reason to search for this cult). However, they might get involved with this town nonetheless when they spot burning opium fields outside town - there is currently a conflict between Generous Agun and Prosperous Fanaka over control of the local opium production. Generous Agun currently controls the fields and is somewhat more acceptable to the population despite her Guild ties, as at least she is a native Tenges. Prosperous Fanaka desires these fields and has hired assorted thugs to convince the townfolk to align with him.

Once again we turn to the Random Nations Generator to work out the details. We get Theocracy as the government, which we already knew (that is, the Seven-Stranded Vine is in charge). Among the organizations we get Deep State - appropriate for a town that is ruled from behind the scenes, but Deep State implies a bit more than that. Let's say that the cult has managed to subvert at least one of the noble families from the court of the Jade Plum Citadel, and make a note to return to them later. Another entry is Quiverfull - many religions are passed on from parents to children, and it makes sense that a secret cult of Yozi-worshipers that already has a strong theme of "obedience to family" would view things the same way. Female cult members are encouraged to have as many children as possible, and those who have had six children already are awarded a special honor - they will gain the opportunity to be impregnated by one of the surviving male descendants of the original royal family of An-Teng (such as Night Butterfly - see Blood and Salt, p. 30), and these children will become part of the lesser nobility of the realm once the Dragon-Blooded are overthrown and the true royal family restored to the throne. A third entry is Eastern Lightning, a Chinese apocalyptic cult which uses "violence, kidnapping, and brainwashing for both recruiting new members and resisting the Chinese government". So far, this branch of the Seven-Stranded Vine doesn't want to attract attention and has been very selective when it comes to kidnapping and brainwashing people - but they do use these methods from time to time.

Among the major personalities we get Eddie Chapman. A womanizer, criminal, and safecracker who turns into a double agent has potential. However, I think it's best if our "Eddie" - let's call him Quick Chanchai - is still in the "crook" phase of his career. He will hang out with the foreigners in town, spot the PCs - and, if they look like either destitute, desperate, or shifty, will try to convince them to help him rob a local villa (apart from trying to flirt with female player characters). What he asks of them is to stage a distraction at an opportune moment - as foreigners, they will draw lots of attention if they act strangely, which he can use to slip in unnoticed. He will promise them a part of his take (depending on their risk) and pay it. Alternatively, he may run afoul of the Seven-Stranded Vine - or he might abscond with some sort of important cult artifact which will come to haunt him later - or the PCs, if they end up with it.

And as it happens, another "major personality" in town is an Artifact of Doom. Looking at the assorted sub-souls of She Who Lives In Her Name, a Luminata (The Deer Who Hunt Men) seem appropriate. It is bound to a small urn covered with writhing branches and studded with three rubies. A cult member can invoke the Luminata by filling the urn with burning poppies and saying the right invocation in honor of the Living Tower. which will then hunt down an enemy of the cult when they are alone. Someone carrying the urn or sleeping nearby who does not know the proper rituals will first dream of the Luminata and being hunted by it, only to be eventually hunted by it in the waking world. When "slain", the Luminata does not return to Malfeas but to the urn, until the urn is destroyed.

A third personality is Cleon Skousen, the famous anti-Communist conspiracy theorist. Let's turn that into Venerable Ruthai, the town matriarch and local cult leader, who is writing and publishing anonymous pamphlets decrying various Dragon-Blooded crimes against Tengese virtues, Tengese family, and the "natural order" under the pseudonym of "Truth-Teller". The PCs will likely encounter various pamphlets during their time in An-Teng, and newer pamphlets might even refer to their own adventures once they get tangled up in the affairs of the Dragon-Born. Her villa has a printing press (using woodblock carving) that produces more pamphlets, and as a result the town has a significant number of skilled wood carvers.

Another entry is Isaac Newton, whom we will turn into Far-Sighted Manee, an astronomer and cult member who has her own observatory on top of a nearby hill and who has written quite a few texts about the "perfect order and hierarchy" of the heavens. She maintains extensive correspondence with Prince Kiotaran of the Middle Lands, who shares her interest in Astronomy (though he remains ignorant of her cult leanings).

Moving on to political issues, we get "In Search of Death", a story about gay men intentionally seeking to infect themselves with HIV as an "erotic experience". Creation does not have a direct equivalent of AIDS, but coupling "death" with "erotic experience" we get Ghost Flower Tea, a drug that allows its user to interact with ghosts (including, yes, interact with ghosts in that way). A local plantation owner, Mournful Mongkut, has been abusing the drug in order to be reunited with his dead lover Agile Kulap, who used to be a stable boy working for him. Mongkut is a cult member - his family has been part of the cult for generations - but Venerable Ruthai had his lover killed because he neglected his duties to his family (in particular, by refusing to sire children with his wife Pleasant Suda). Needless to say, Mongkut is not happy with the current leadership of the town. He gets the Ghost Flower Tea from Wandering Wiriya, a merchant who has contacts to a smuggling network in the Jade Plum Citadel, which ultimately gets the drug from the City of Dead Flowers.

Quite possibly it's Mournful Mongkut's villa that Quick Chanchai wants to rob...

None of the "Major Projects" seem to fit for a town of this size, and neither do the entries for "Economy". Among the "Major Products/Exports" we get Pigs as well as Candles - which can be made from tallow rendered out of animal fats. Thus, we should note numerous pig farms in the area, as well as many butchers and tallow producers in the poor part of town (naturally, the inns for foreigners will be next to those).

Considering the cult presence, the "Forms of Worship" for this town are especially interesting. We get Nazirite, a form of asceticism where someone undertakes a vow to abstain from wine, cutting their hair, and not come in contact with corpses or graves for a specified time - at least 30 days. Another entry is Anchorite, a religious hermit who lives in a cell and avoids contact with the outside world. While the cultural context is different, it should be noted that Thai culture does have "temporary" (Buddhist) monks. Thus, let's say that those who have been chosen to join the Seven-Stranded Vine (or rise further in its rank) retreat from the world for a while in order to contemplate the Principle of Hierarchy (and especially favored cultists may be granted visions of demons). They sit in up to 9 small cells carved out of the mountain next to a spectacular waterfall. The town youth take turns every morning and evening to bring the monks food (rice and vegetables) and replace and light their large tallow candles (which the monks aren't allowed to touch because they are made from dead things). The path they use for this purpose leads up to Far-Sighted Manee's observatory.

Another Form of Worship is Prosperity Theology - the cult teaches that in a properly-ordered society those who are the most devout to She Who Lives In Her Name will also be richer due to their higher station, while those who are rich should join the cult to pay her the proper respect for their affluence.

This should be enough material for the time being - if needed, I can always expand the town further.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Revising GURPS Magic, Part II - The Spells

After revising the basic rules of GURPS Magic in my previous post, let's look at the list of spells and see how we can balance them better. As before, these tweaks were initially discussed in this forum thread.

Air Spells

No-Smell: Characters in close range of the recipient of the spell who are relying exclusively on their sense of smell can still determine the target's location via a Smell-based Perception roll at a -2 penalty, by detecting eddies of other smells within the local air currents. However, even if they succeed their attack rolls will still be at a -6 penalty.

Notes: I wanted to reduce the number of automatic "I win" conditions in the spell list. This brings the effects more in line with that of invisibility (see B394) and doesn't render smell-based enemies completely helpless, though they are still at a serious disadvantage.

Concussion: Instead of doing area damage according to the rules for explosions, damage decreases by 1d for each yard of distance from the center.

Notes: The "Explosions" rule on B414 might be realistic, but by dividing the damage done by (3 x distance in yards from the center) they pretty much make all the "explosive" damage spells of GURPS Magic useless. This rules change - applied to all similar spells as well - returns the situation to the 3E rules.

Animal Spells

Spider Silk: A single strand has an effective ST of 10 plus the base energy cost paid for the spell, as well as DR 3. The caster may shoot as many strands as he has arms from a single casting of Spider Silk; calculate the total cost of the casting by adding up the total length of all strands. Resolve the attack as Rapid Fire (p. B373) with Rcl 1. The web has DR 3 and a ST of 10 plus the base energy cost paid for the spell, plus 1 ST for each additional strand.

Base Cost: Any amount up to your Magery. A base strand has a length of 5 yards, and you can extend this length by 5 yards by paying one point of energy beyond the base cost (maximum 100 yards). Half that to maintain.

Notes: The base spell is rather weak, since a normal humanoid caster with two arms can only get the web up to ST 11 even if he hits with both attacks and the target fails to dodge - which won't stop the target for long. This variant will make the spell a more attractive alternative in combat.

Partial Shapeshifting: As a clarification, unlike with Shapeshifting the continuous use of this spell does not reduce IQ unless the entire head of the caster is transformed.

Body Control Spells

Might/Grace/Vigor: The "always on" magic items for these spells are no longer permitted. Replace with "Any item; only affects the wearer." Energy cost to create is equal to that of the "staff or wand" item for these spells

Notes: Especially considering the new enchantment rules, anyone who lives in a fantasy setting where magic items can be bought and is rich will want to get the best stat-boosting items you can afford - and considering that the Wealth advantage scales geometrically, having high Wealth in order to afford stat-boosting items is a vastly better character point investment than buying up the attributes directly. With this rules change, "permanent attribute boosts" can still be modeled by combining this enchantment with the Power enchantment - but that is less problematic since Power does scale geometrically.

Enlarge/Enlarge Other: The cost increases to 10 (same to maintain). A single casting of the spell will only increase the target by +1 SM, though multiple castings stack. However, casters should note the increased costs for casting Regular spells at targets larger than SM 0 (see M11).

Notes: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers was absolutely correct in increasing the costs for this spell, but I thought that the base cost of 15 was a bit harsh. However, in order to prevent "Godzilla" incidents if someone manages to access enough energy I limited this to a stackable +1 SM per casting. This not only makes repeat casting significantly more expensive, but also creates further problems with maintaining the spell.

Communication & Empathy Spells

Sense Foes: This spell only detects plans or a desire for physical violence against the caster (which can also be directed against the group he is traveling with as a whole). Additionally, the spell is resisted by Will.

Notes: As written, this spell was absurdly powerful - especially considering that it doesn't have any prerequisites. It could be used to circumvent all sorts of courtly intrigue scenarios, simply by detecting who has "hostile intent" against the caster without allowing a resistance roll.

Sense Emotions: This spell is resisted by Will.

Notes: As with Sense Foes, permitting a resistance roll makes it somewhat more balanced.

Telepathy: Both caster and subject know the whole of each others' surface thoughts only.

Notes: The spell description states that it includes the effects of Mind Reading, which reads surface thoughts - but doesn't mention Mind Search, which allows to search for deeper memories. Even with this limitation the spell requires a lot of trust between the characters - without it, there would be no privacy left at all.

Communication: As a clarification, an audible, illusory image of the other participants in the spell appears before each participant, which can be observed and listened to by other people.

Notes: The spell description was somewhat unclear whether this was merely a projection within the minds of the participants or something that bystanders could observes, but I was swayed by the argument that both Voices and Simple Illusion were prerequisites.

Earth Spells

Seek Earth: Use the distance modifiers for Regular spells instead of long-distance modifiers. However, do not use this modifier for determining whether the success roll is a critical failure.

Notes: As written, this spells would quickly allow characters to find every significant gold, silver, mithral etc. deposit for many miles around, which would make for rather drastic changes in how prospecting and mining works in fantasy world. With Regular distance modifiers, it's still useful for detecting if there is any undiscovered gold treasure nearby, but it won't break the economy. The additional clause was needed because otherwise critical failures would occur almost constantly if no amount of the desired material is nearby.

Earth to Stone/Create Earth: As a clarification, the "Permanent" duration of these spells mean that their effects remain magical after casting - and that a "Dispel Magic" or similar effect can end them and a no-mana zone will suspend them. Additionally, if some of the magical earth or stone is broken off or otherwise removed from the bulk of the material, it loses its magical properties - transformed stone will revert into earth, and created earth will dissipate into nothing.

Notes: Create Earth is probably one of the most controversial spells in the spell list due to its ability to quickly produce metal or stoneworks and thus disrupt the economy, but I find that by thinking about the implications of its "Permanent" duration most issues can be resolved. The "no removal of the material" clause was added to further reduce their usefulness for craftsmanship.

Enchantment Spells

Talisman/Amulet: By doubling the energy cost, the provided bonus will work against all spells of an entire College.

Notes: As written, a resistance bonus against a single spell is so specific as to be almost useless, considering the sheer number of spells out there.

Penetrating Weapon: This enchantment is unavailable.

Notes: In typical fantasy campaigns, an Armor Divisor of (2) is almost always better than Puissance +1. It would be different if Hardened armor was more common, but pretty much no fantasy creatures or armor published so far has it. Rather than retrofit Hardened DR to existing creatures, it is probably best to eliminate the Penetrating Weapon enchantment.

Powerstone: Powerstones can recharge even when in close proximity to each other. However, they can only provide energy if used as "dedicated" or "exclusive" powerstones - i.e., when combined with a magic item - and never directly provide energy for the spells of a spellcaster. For an alternative, see the "Power Item" advantage at the bottom.

Notes: While the reasoning between the "powerstones cannot recharge within six feet of a larger powerstone" limitation is understandable, in the end it causes too much bookkeeping and too much keeping track of sleeping arrangements and the like. The Power Item advantage should be easier to keep track of.

Fire Spells

Resist Fire/Resist Cold: Instead of providing complete immunity to their respective element, they give the target DR 4 against that element per energy point put into the spell (half to maintain).

Notes: The core GURPS 4E rules have moved away from "complete immunity" effects, and so should spell effects.

Explosive Fireball: The damage decreases by 1d for each yard of distance from the center.

Notes: See Concussion, above.

Healing Spells

Lend Energy/Share Energy/Recover Energy: These only work for a spellcaster's Energy Reserve. A "Lend Fatigue" spell also exists (which might be limited to priest types).

Notes: It always struck me as inappropriate that mages recover Fatigue much more quickly than seasoned warriors - but then again, GURPS Magic was written before the Energy Reserve advantage was published. The way I see it, an experienced mage will primarily draw upon their Energy Reserve and use Fatigue only when the Energy Reserve is getting depleted.

Suspended Animation: Any injury will wake the character.

Notes: Considering that the spell only costs 6 energy points, there should be some mundane countermeasure.

Illusion Spells

Create Warrior: Add 1 energy to the cost to cast and maintain in order to give the warrior a full set of leather armor (DR 2) as well either a shortsword and a small shield, or a shortbow. Add 2 energy to the cost to cast and maintain in order to give the warrior a full set of scale armor (DR 4) as well as either a broadsword and a medium shield, or a longbow. The GM can permit other weapon and armor combinations for suitable energy costs.

Notes: While the basic idea of the spell is neat, needing to equip the warrior in addition to the lengthy casting time makes it almost useless in a fight.

Knowledge Spells

Aura: A spell called "Psychometry" exists which works the same as Aura, except that it examines the psychic impressions and emotional associations of an inanimate object or place.

Notes: I found the absence of such a spell a curious oversight - while "History" comes close, it doesn't fulfill the same function. And what's the point of playing a diviner if you can't say things like: "I get baaad vibes from this place..."?

Making and Breaking Spells

Explode: The fragmentation damage of the spell is [1d] ([1d+2] for double energy cost) regardless of the number of damage dice dealt to the initial object. Furthermore, the damage dealt by the individual fragments cannot exceed half of the hit points of the destroyed object, rounded down (see the "HP and DR of Objects and Cover" table on B557). As a clarification, the maximum range of the fragments depends on the damage dice dealt to the destroyed object (compare with the fragmentation damage rules on B414) - that is, five yards times the damage dice.

Notes: In my previous campaigns we assumed that the damage dealt by the fragments was equal to the damage dealt to the object. As a result, Explode was basically the IED spell, perfect for slaughtering small armies - a favorite was to combine it with Delay on a small object and then teleport it into an enemy camp. However, after re-reading the rules for fragmentation damage I noticed that explosives that cause it generally have separate damage values for the direct hit and the fragments, and applying that principle to this spell gives much more reasonable effects - although the spell is still very useful for injuring lots of people. The damage limitation based on the exploding object's hit points was added in order to prevent the old "exploding pebble" trick.

For your convenience, I have created a table showing the correlation between the effective skill of the fragment and the average number of hits. The distances assume a SM 0 target that is not prone or behind cover.

Meta Spells

Counterspell, Great Ward, Reflect, Suspend Spell, Ward: These benefit from the "Improved Counterspelling" perk, described below.

Mind Control Spells

Wisdom: Replace the "always on" item with: "Any item. Allows the wearer to cast the spell on himself. Energy cost to create: 2,000."

Notes: See the discussion about Vigor/Grace/Might earlier.

Movement Spells

Levitation: If cast on himself, it limits the caster's Dodge as if his Speed was 3.00. A "Dodge and Drop" is possible at the caster's normal Dodge, but it cancels the Levitation spell (costing the usual 1 FP in the process, as well as possibly causing falling damage).

Notes: The spell description doesn't specify this, but it makes sense that a relatively slow and clumsy flight spell like Levitation would hamper a character's Dodge.

Wallwalker: Cost changes to "1 per 100 pounds, half that to maintain". Furthermore, the -2 penalty to combat can be bought off for individual combat skills as a Hard technique.

Notes: It wasn't clear why Wallwalker should be more expensive than Levitation, despite Levitation being more versatile - so I made Wallwalker cheaper.

Lockmaster: This spell specifically disables magical locks and does not assist with opening mundane locks.

Notes: Otherwise it would make mundane Lockpicking skills redundant, which would be boring.

Necromancy Spells

Steal Energy: This spell works on characters' Energy Reserve. A "Steal Fatigue" variant exist which drains Fatigue.

Zombie: As a clarification, despite what M10 implies, this spell does not have a "Permanent" duration and Dispel Magic doesn't destroy zombies - instead it effectively has an "Instant" duration which just happens to create a new magical creature. Corpses reanimated with this spell gain the "Brawling" skill equal to their DX, if they don't have it already. Furthermore, a "Dread Zombie" variant spell exists with a base cost of 30 which adds +3 ST, +2 HP and +2 DR to the relevant template. Such undead have their appearance altered by the stronger necromantic energies - glowing eyes, black mists surrounding their bones, and so forth.

Notes: As zombies and their ilk are undead abominations hating all life, I find it appropriate to give them some actual skill in combat for free. The "Dread Zombie" variant spell is intended if a necromancer has access to some special corpses of powerful people - say, dead adventurers - which would be wasted on an ordinary Zombie spell.

Banish: A successful roll with an appropriate Hidden Lore skill should give the caster a good idea of the approximate casting cost for this spell on a particular entity.

Plant Spells

Heal Plant: This works only on inanimate and non-sapient plants - for other types of plants the spells of the Healing College are required.

Notes: By the rules as written you could cast Plant Form Other on someone and turn them into a tree, cast Heal Plant on them, and once the former spell ends they are completely healed, no matter how badly injured or diseased they were before! Only the general reluctance of the player characters to spend any time as a tree prevented this trick from being used more often in my old campaign.

Protection & Warning Spells

Missile Shield: Instead of providing complete immunity from missiles, this spell reduces the effective skill of the attacker by -1 for each energy point put into the spell, up to a maximum of five energy points. Half to maintain.

Notes: Missile Shield, as written, is possibly the spell I hate the most - it represents the most absurd "total immunity" effect available, and combined with a Levitation or Flight spell makes the caster completely immune to any mundane reprisals from the ground. The new version is still very useful (and doesn't require the mage to be aware of the attack, as it should be), but the mage still shouldn't taunt an entire battalion of archers, or a master marksman.

Water Spells

Resist Acid: Instead of providing complete immunity, the spell provides DR 4 against acid damage for each energy point put into the spell. Half that to maintain

Weather Spells

Resist Lightning: Instead of providing complete immunity, the spell provides DR 4 against electricity damage for each energy point put into the spell. Half that to maintain.

Explosive Lightning: The damage is reduced by 1d-1 for each yard of distance from the center of the explosion.

Ball of Lightning: The damage is reduced by 1d-1 for each yard of distance from the center of the explosion.

New Advantage - Power Item

A spellcaster can dedicate one item he owns as a Power Item. This is essentially an Energy Reserve (see GURPS Powers, p. 119) with appropriate Gadget limitations (B116), as well as any other limitations the GM permits. The exact form of the Power Item depends on the style and preference of the spellcaster (a wand for a wizard, a holy symbol for a priest and so forth), but the maximum amount of energy a Power Item can hold depends on its mundane value, as outlined on p. 28 of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers. However, unlike the Dungeon Fantasy variant, this type of Power Item will recharge on its own according to the usual rules for Energy Reserves (take note of the Slow Recharge/Special Recharge on p. 119 of GURPS Powers). If the spellcaster has an "internal" Energy Reserve of his own, this internal reserve will always recharge first.

Notes: As outlined earlier, this is intended to replace classical powerstones as a reserve of energy. The Dungeon Fantasy notion of linking the maximum capacity of the item to its mundane value is a good one, but forcing the caster to return to town in order to recharge it doesn't sit quite right with me. Furthermore, adding new limitations to the Power Item can be used for some interesting concepts. Want a Power Item which has to be bathed in the blood of sacrificial victims in order to be recharged? Now you can!

New Magic Perk

Improved Counterspelling: This perk can be taken once for each College of magic, and requires that the character knows six spells from that college. A spellcaster with this perk can use Counterspell, Great Ward, Reflect, Suspend Spell and Ward for all spells of this college, whether the caster knows the spells being affected or not.

Notes: Needing to know the individual spells that need to be countered is a huge weakness of the assorted warding/counterspelling spells. This perk should make them significantly more useful without being unbalancing.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Revising GURPS Magic, Part I - The Rules

GURPS 4E has published a large number of systems for magic over the years. My own personal favorite, however, remains the standard GURPS Magic system, largely because of its huge number of spells which cover most standard fantasy magic effects.

But that doesn't mean that this system is not without its problems. In fact, the book is somewhat notorious because it was rushed out for publication without proper playtesting early in the 4E product lifecycle when Steve Jackson Games still wanted to "publish one hardcover a month", a policy they have long since given up on in preference of smaller PDF supplements. Certain spells are rather unbalancing, and it is my impression from several high-powered campaigns I have participated in (ranging up to 500 character points and involving as much as Magical Aptitude 20) that the system will break down at higher power levels.

However, it is my opinion that the system is not unsalvagable, and I have developed a number of changes (originally discussed on this forum thread) which I believe will address most of my problems. I haven't actually tested most of them yet, so any feedback is appreciated!

Let's start with the overall rules of the magic system before delving into the individual spell descriptions. All page references refer to GURPS Magic unless stated otherwise.

Principles of Magic

Casting Spells (p.7-10):

1. The "Alternate Magic Rituals" rule on p. 9 is not optional. Furthermore, using these alternate rituals requires special Magical Perks, described later.

2. Higher spell skill levels do not longer automatically reduce energy cost or time required to cast. Instead, a mage can accept a penalty to the effective spell skill level:

-3 for each point of energy cost reduction
-3 for each halving of the casting time (requires the "Quickened Casting" perk, below)

3. The effective spell skill level is further reduced by the number and type of spell maintained. This penalty is called the “Maintenance Penalty” and calculated as follows:

-3 for each spell that requires concentration, -1 for other spells
-1 for each point of energy cost reduction of maintained spells (up to the maximum cost reduction at the time of casting). For example, reducing the maintenance cost for a spell by 2 would add -2 to the Maintenance Penalty, and it would only be possible if the caster took a penalty of -6 or more to the initial casting roll in order to reduce the energy cost.

4. If some effect "attacks" the spell (such as Dispel Magic), then the spell "resists" with the unmodified spell skill level minus the Maintenance Penalty.

Notes: In one of the campaigns I played in, the spellcasters managed to get starting spell skill values of 30 or even 35 thanks to Magical Aptitude 20, allowing them to maintain numerous protective and boost spells for free. This variant forces mages to be more selective with the spells that they maintain, while still making high skill levels useful. Furthermore, it eliminates the "threshold skill levels" - with the default system, a spell skill value of 15 is much more useful than one of 14, a skill value of 20 is much more useful than one of 19, and so forth.

Magic Items

Magic Item enchantment generally works as described under "Quick and Dirty Enchantments" (p. 17), requiring one hour per 100 energy points. However, instead of requiring fatigue or similar energy resources, enchantment consumes "Enchantment Materials". Depending on the particular campaign, there might be "universal enchantment materials", enchantment materials for a specific college, or even materials unique to a particular enchantment. However, whatever they form they should cost approximately the same as what a professional enchanter asks for each energy point of a "Slow and Sure Enchantment" - in other words, $33 in typical TL3 fantasy worlds (see "The Economics of Enchantment", p. 21). It should be assumed that major enchanting circles/guilds can acquire such materials with significant bulk discounts that ensure their profits.

Notes: The existing "Slow and Sure Enchantment" rules basically required an enchanter to drop out of adventuring for months or years for serious projects, and thus effectively limited this to NPCs only. I wanted to make the Enchantment College to be useful for player characters as well without unbalancing it.

If someone tries to enchant an item which already has one or more enchantments on it, then the enchanter has -1 to their effective enchanting skill for each existing enchantment. Improving a "leveled" enchantment like "Puissance" does not count as an additional enchantment for this purpose.

Notes: If an enchanter has the required resources, making a "combination item" with lots of enchantments and high levels of the Power and Speed enchantments is very effective, as these will benefit all other enchantments on the item. I wanted to make this combination considerably more difficult without making it impossible.

New Magical Perks

The following new perks are available for mages.

Emphatic Casting
By being loud and emphatic with the incantations and body movements and doubling casting time, the caster gets +1 to his effective skill.

Hands-free Casting
Requires "One-Hand Casting.  Allows casting without hand movements, for a -4 penalty

One-Handed Casting
Allows casting spells with one hand, for a -2 penalty

Quickened Casting
Reduces casting time by half, for a -3 penalty. This is subject to the usual limitations on magic rituals (see p. 8).

Still Casting
Allows casting without foot movements, for a -2 penalty

Soft-Voiced Casting
Allows casting spells while speaking softly, for a -2 penalty.

Silent Casting
Requires "Soft-Voiced Casting". Allows casting without incantations, for a -2 penalty

Coming up next: The spells!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Dungeon Masters Guild is an awesome deal for would-be Forgotten Realms publishers

The big news in gaming this week is that Wizards of the Coast have finally released their updated Open Gaming License for D&D 5th Edition. Since they promised that they would do something like that, this was not totally unexpected, even though many of us had given up hope by now.

What was totally unexpected is the announcement of the Dungeon Masters Guild, an online market place for fan-created D&D material. It's basically a subsite of DriveThruRPG, and for the privilege of publishing there they (that is, DriveThruRPG and Wizards of the Coast) keep 50% of the revenue, with the other 50% going to the publisher. Here are some details on how it works.

That in itself would deserve a big "meh" from publishers, since the standard deal offered by DriveThruRPG for site-exclusive publication is that DriveThruRPG keeps 30% while the publisher gets 70% of the revenues. However, there is one important difference:

The Dungeon Masters Guild allows you to publish and sell new Forgotten Realms material.
File:New Forgotten Realms logo.png
Think about it. In the old days, if you wanted to publish Forgotten Realms material and get paid for it you would first have to make a name for yourself to get a commission from Wizards of the Coast, or submit something to Dragon or Dungeon magazine and hope you get accepted. Now you can just write about whatever Forgotten Realms-related topic you want and publish it instantly with the Dungeon Masters Guild without any kind of formal submission process where the content has to be reviewed by the under-staffed offices at Wizards of the Coast.

Yes, they reserve the right to pull products that are "offensive or pornographic", but I consider that to be a standard "anti-asshole" clause. Treat the IP with respect, and it is unlikely that they will go after you (though if your publication is nothing more than a long, graphic description of how Elminster is stabbed to death, you have no one but yourself to blame if it is pulled. Not that I believe the guy deserves that...). And again, this review is reactive, not proactive - your product will go live as soon as you publish it, and it is likely that Wizards of the Coast will only become active if they receive complaints about your work.

Given that Wizards of the Coast gives you permission to use their biggest sub-IP of the Dungeons & Dragons brand and make money from it, the added 20% of the revenue they ask for really is not very unreasonable. In fact, I consider it very generous - most freelancers working for publishers get paid significantly less.

An added wrinkle is that your work can be expanded upon by other Dungeon Masters Guild publishers, though they do encourage contributors to give proper credit to other people's work. They might also consider including your work into the Forgotten Realms "canon", though that will require a separate deal and is not automatic. The closest comparison I can come up with is how Disney, upon the acquisition of Lucasfilm, declared the Star Wars "Expanded Universe" to be "Legends" material - non-canon, though something that they can draw upon for added material and ideas at need (as it has happened quite a few times in Star Wars: Rebels). With this setup, they can observe what fan works are popular and use them as ideas for future "official" Forgotten Realms material (assuming they get the author's permission) - a good situation for both authors and Wizards of the Coast.

Don't get me wrong - if you have your own setting and your own rules material that isn't related to the Forgotten Realms, you should stick to the OGL which gives you more freedom for publications. But if you do want to write for the Forgotten Realms, then this particular deal is awesome - so go for it!

As for myself, I am also contemplating using this - I have an idea for a project which I will call "Returned Maztica". Stay tuned for further details.