Friday, October 31, 2014

[German Folklore] Fränkische Schweiz

As any gamer should know, much of what we now consider "modern fantasy" has roots in German folklore, myths, and legends. The most famous collections of German folklore are, of course, the various works of the Brothers Grimm which spawned numerous derivatives by Disney and others. But, as I have learned over many years of collecting books about German regional folklore, these barely scratch the surface - German folklore is much stranger and even outright bizarre than the tame, made-for-children animated movies hint, and much of it is ready-made for gaming.
Unfortunately, while there are numerous books on regional folklore, myths and legends, few of these books are available in English. Which is where I come in - I plan to read through these books, and as I do so take notes on particularly interesting gaming material. But where to begin?

At home - or to be more precise, a region near where I grew up. This is the Fränkische Schweiz, which Wikipedia translates literally as "Franconian Switzerland" - a phrase I won't use henceforth, as it sounds rather daft in English (incidentally, the current name for the region was only established early in the 19th century, when people all over the German-speaking lands started to call local hilly areas "Schweiz", or "Switzerland", for marketing reasons in order to attract tourists).

The Fränkische Schweiz is a hill/low mountain region in Franconia (the northern half of Bavaria), roughly occupying the space between the cities of Bayreuth, Bamberg, and my hometown of Erlangen. It has an extremely high density of castles - about 200 (most of which are now in ruins or completely gone) were once scattered through this region, many of which once housed infamous families of Raubritter ("robber knights"), preying on the surrounding trade routes, especially those connecting to the nearby trade center of Nuremberg. Due to its chaotic terrain, the region was never really unified, with the surrounding cities vying for influence. To top it off, the region is dotted with innumerable caves.

In other words, the Fränkische Schweiz would be a prime ground for adventures even if you were to ignore the supernatural elements - which we won't, of course. My guide to this aspect of the region will be "Sagen Legenden und Geschichten aus der Fränkischen Schweiz" by Heinz Büttner (which you can order here, and tell them I sent you!).

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

[Campaign Idea] Eberron - Morgrave University Archaeologists

Here is a campaign idea which I want to run one of these days:

Morgrave University - situated in Sharn, the famed City of Towers - is a beacon of scholarship and research (and claims that it is funded primarily by selling ancient artifacts under the table are vile rumors started by rivals)! Its archaeologists travel the world in search of knowledge - the jungles of Q'barra, the Shadow Marches, or even myth-shrouded Xen'drik - in order to excavate the past, illuminate the dark strands of history... and be the first ones back alive in civilization to talk about it! It's a "publish or perish" world, after all...

The PCs would be a professor of archaeology and assorted flunkies, such as students (ordinary, grad or even PhD), post-Docs, bodyguards, wilderness scouts, black marketeers, and so forth. Their mutual home base unites the party and also gives a good excuse for rotating or absent players (i.e. the character had another appointment coming up).

Away from the university, the basic missions are clear: Go to distant countries and remote regions, find ancient stuff, and excavate and plunder it - not so different from what normal adventurers are doing, really, except for the veneer of academic research. Opponents can include pesky natives who seem to object digging around in their ancient burial grounds, adventurers and looters without the proper academic credentials, people with the proper academic credentials but who come from rival universities or departments, and so on.

But the stories need not end at the doorsteps of the university, as academia can be every bit as cutthroat as the outside world - just in a different way. Rival student societies, rival academics, and the day-to-day hazards of a university environment where far too many people know how to use magic. And as a special treat, there should be occasional "faculty meetings" which the player character professor is required to attend - while the other professors as well as the dean should be played by the other players, with their own personalities and agendas provided by the GM. Who can successfully blame the latest budget shortcuts on others, while spinning the problems of their own department in the most positive way? Vicious back-stabbing is strongly encouraged!

Essentially, this campaign would run like a crossover between Indian Jones-style adventuring archaeology and GURPS IOU.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

[Urbis] Help me build a Halfling Survivalist Compound!

I've decided to put some more effort into detailing the Spring Seeds Farm, especially since the party may ignore one character's prejudices against halflings and investigate the compound any day now.

To recap, this farm complex was founded by a halfling splinter sect following the God of Agriculture who believe that they are their god's "chosen people" since halflings are more fecund than other "civilized" (i.e. agriculture-practicing) races. And to make sure that they "inherit the world", it is their holy duty to have as many children as possible. However, the Evils of the Modern World are constantly tempting halflings off the right and pure path, leading to an inordinate number of youngsters running off the the Big City and whatnot.

To prevent this, one halfing patriarch (a fairly powerful priest) convinced four extended families to come with him to this remote northern wilderness so that they could practice their faith (and agriculture) free of any distractions. They have the most productive farm in hundreds of miles around, and their closest link to "civilization" is a coastal trade outpost which is 30 miles away even over the most direct route (which goes through forested hill country). They trade with the outpost for metal tools they can't create by themselves, but otherwise keep contact at a minimum.

This region is not safe, however - there are wandering monsters and nomadic tribes who would certainly be interested in the food stores of the farm complex. Furthermore, the village elders encourage an "Us versus Them" attitude to keep the community unified against any impure outsiders - and they conduct regular drills so that they can make optimal use of their defenses in real emergencies.

So, what should this compound contain? Let's do some brainstorming! The good folks at RPGNet already had some ideas, but I am open to further suggestions.

Main Buildings

These will be immediately apparent to observers. Note that only the barn, temple, and communal hall will be large enough for humans to stand upright, and the halflings will be unwilling to let a human get into them.
  • Temple to Kortus
  • Communal burrows for the four extended families, each housing perhaps 30 halflings (including children)
  • Communal hall (for dances and non-religious celebrations)
  • Kindergarten (there will obviously be many, many kids...)
  • School (Smaller than the kindergarten, for the moment.)
  • Barns
  • Granaries


These buildings and other constructed elements are primarily defensive in nature.
  • Observation/guard towers (useful for sniping intruders with crossbows from afar)
  • Halfling-sized tunnels connecting everything. These will have the occasional doors in case anyone tries to smoke them out.
  • Underground warehouses with plenty of food and other stockpiles in case the aboveground storage sites get raided
  • Underground safehouses for the women and children.
  • Crisscrossing hedges which give cover to halflings and allow them to snipe from anywhere - but humans will frequently have to crouch to get cover. Many will have thorns.
  • A ditch surrounding the entire compound - not intended as a serious defense, but more as a demarkation of property. "This land is ours, and as long as you stay outside of it, we are going to do just fine..."
  • Ladders to the roofs and towers are just large enough to accomodate someone of halfling size or weight, but won't support larger characters
  • Dog Kennels
  • Covered pit traps for people larger and heavier than halflings


The farm is in a fairly cold climate, which should be kept in mind for figuring out which plants (crop or otherwise) the halflings grow. On the other hands, the plant magic of the priests can make a difference.
  • Potatoes
  • Rye
  • Beans
  • Herbs, in special herb gardens
  • Pumpkins

Lifestock and Animals

  • Fierce guard dogs
  • Geese (as an alarm system)
  • Cows
  • Chicken
  • Sheep
  • Pigs

Defensive Tactics

  • Most of the male population will have crossbows, with slings being a popular backup weapon (they are also common among adolescents).
  • At night: Using slings to lob magically glowing stones to the locations of the intruders so that they can be sniped with impunity.

Supernatural Defenses

I don't want to go too overboard with these - most of the defenses should be entirely mundane, and they should largely be so effective because the inhabitants drill regularly. However, the patriarch is a powerful cleric (the equivalent of a 10th level Pathfinder cleric), and he has two younger priests (3rd level) assisting him - so some minor supernatural defenses are entirely appropriate. Some kind of animated plants, maybe?

That's what I've got so far. Any other suggestions?
Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Plundering the Suppressed Transmissions Community, Part 02

Continued from Part 01.

Once again, let us plumb the depths of the archives of the Suppressed Transmissions Community, and let us see what kind of inspiration we can find - in particular, for my Urbis Campaign Setting.

April 3, 2013 by +Mikkel Liljegren: This one is a delightful story about a site in Turkey called "Pluto's Gate" - a basin that filled with noxious carbon dioxide fumes and which was as a cult site by the ancient Greeks. Birds that flew into it - or the sparrows that were thrown in as part of rituals - died almost instantly, and humans who came too close suffered from hallucinations - excepting the eunuchs of the fertility deity Cybele (which was often mentioned by +Kenneth Hite in his original columns), who presumably held their breaths.

For Urbis, the appropriate deity of Death and the Underworld would be the goddess Cryelis. The equivalent of the Mediterranean would be the Lake of Dreams region, so let's put the "Gates of Cryelis" there - let's say, somewhere in the protectorate of Ascenon, my take on Plato's Republic. This location does not only have the toxic vapors, but anyone who dies from them is guaranteed to become a ghost and directly descend into the Plane of Shadows (the "Underworld" of Cryelis) - a highly desirable situation for her followers!

Furthermore, many of the lesser cult sites of Cryelis copy these Gates on a smaller scale, and create their own toxic fumes for this purpose. This is especially popular with the Discendenti - my own take on the Sicilian Mafia who also happen to be ancestor worshipers and followers of Cryelis. One of their rituals involves binding those who have displeased them and throwing them into their Cryelian Gate - so that when they die they become slaves to their ghostly relatives.

But that's not all! Back when this was first posted, I also created an Arcana Wiki entry for this story. Then another contributor to the wiki appended the entry with a link to another wiki entry describing a portal to the Mayan underworld found in Mexico! This immediately led me to the Far Coast, my South America analogue (where all the natives have seemingly vanished and which is now being settled by along the coast by different cultures), for which I wrote up the "Ghost Gates" - ritual locations found scattered across the continent which seem disturbingly similar to the Cryelian Gates and which are haunted by angry ghosts and have extensive Underworld locations anchored to them. Was Cryelis also worshiped in this land in an alternate guise, or was a different deity responsible? In either case, quite a few priests of Cryelis have made the journey to this new land to reconsecrate those sites to their own deity...

See how this works? The Suppressed Transmissions have always about finding the right connections, and the inspiration from a single article provided several - and the Arcana Wiki is all about finding and establishing such connections. I would not have thought about the Mayan connection of my own, and thus would not have come up with a cool mystery for an entirely different continent - but the work of others at the Arcana Wiki allowed me to see the bigger picture.

So look at the Arcana Wiki and then read this article on how you can contribute to the wiki and make your own connections. Help us all see the bigger picture - and expand your own!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Soaring Eagle Village

It's time to finally detail the last village of the Coastal Tribes - Soaring Eagle Village. At only 200 inhabitants, it is the smallest but by no means the least important of the villages - as it serves as the home base for the Giant Eagle Riders, who serve as scouts for all the villages and keep an eye on the interior of the continent. As this includes warning of a new outbreak of the Great Darkness, this task is seen as being of the utmost importance for the Coastal Tribes, who all pay for these services with supplies and other support. Furthermore, they serve as one of the primary source of news.

The giant eagles don't actually live inside the village, but to the north of it at the Giant Eagle Eyrie. Still, individual giant eagles can frequently be found perching on the cliffs overlooking the village.

So, what else should we know about the village? Let us turn once again to the Random Nations Generator to fill in some details.

For government, we get Autarchy, a minimalist government whose inhabitants adhere to strong, informal codes. For this village, let's say that everyone is dedicated to the ultimate mission - everyone is either an Eagle Rider, supporting the Eagle Riders in some fashion, or a minor, and everyone who doesn't do their best to support the Eagle Riders is not-so-subtly encouraged to move to another village. The nominal chieftain is Black Falcon (male gender like all warriors, female sex), but he is out on patrol so often that there is little in the way of actual leadership, not that it is necessary. If there are any conflicts, each of the three groups (men, women, and shamans) will handle their own affairs in an informal manner.

As for organizations, we get Biker Gang - well, it should be obvious that the Eagle Riders take a lot of pride in their jobs. Some members might "mod out" their saddles, picking particularly garish colors and feathers to adorn them. Some of the giant eagles might even consent to dying some of their feathers. We also get the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, which is interesting in this context. Perhaps as part of their initiation into the higher ranks of the Eagle Lodge, the Eagle Riders must retrieve something noticeable from far inland - whether an exotic stone or even an artifact of a prior civilization. The more unusual and unique an artifact is, the more bragging rights the Eagle Rider will get, and these artifacts are proudly displayed within the local Eagle Lodge.

Among the NPCs, we get Jason And The Argonauts. Let's say that quite some time ago, a group of young Eagle Riders decided to press on inland as far as possible, and after many reached the central crater where the God Chamber is located. They even brought a minor Mothman artifact with them. Only one member of this group - one Fading Light - is still alive and very old. He would have quite a tale to tell - if he were inclined to talk to the PCs, which isn't likely.

The next NPC is Bede, the famed 8th century English monk. Let's say the village has a shaman - Deep Water - who has an unusually scholarly bent. He is deeply interested in the writing system of the Old Native culture and may be one of the few alive today who can read it. He is also interested in the writings of the Flannish Cities culture and has even managed to acquire a book all the way from Footfall. Once the colony expands, he will be very interested in acquiring print products from them, and he might not like what he reads there. Once he learns of printing presses, he might be interested in modifying one for the Old Native script and promote its use among the Coastal Tribes. Likely as a counterweight to the spread of Common - which, after all, is a memetic virus in Urbis, and he may be one of the few able to see it for what it is.

Finally, we have an Artifact of Doom - as a distinct character. Maybe the "artifact" brought back from the God Chamber by Fading Light actually contains a small fragment of the Immortal Ichor that still lives there. For now, it is safely sealed away - but if something were to crack its container, it would try to dominate a nearby human and use them as a minion to restore the God Chamber.

Among political issues, we get "More than 230,000 Japanese centenarians 'missing'" - a report that there may be rather less old Japanese people than commonly reported. And indeed, somehow Soaring Eagle village seems to have rather fewer old people than the other Coastal Villages. Where have they all gone? Well, once they feel they can no longer contribute to the Village and its Cause, they are led to a nearby hidden cave that is strongly protected by spirits. There they are put into suspended animation by magic - inactive, but still alive, and their souls represent a vast reservoir of power as well as a ritual circle of sorts that the local shamans can tap into when the need is the most dire (as well as for enchanting powerful magic items). More than 2,000 old people have now been put into hibernation here - ten times the living population of the village!

The "Major Projects" section at the Random Nations Generator reinforces these themes. The Bible Retranslation Project represents the efforts of Deep Water to translate works in Common into the native language. The Global Consciousness Project represents the souls of the old people gradually forming a gestalt mind, which is also very sensitive to all sorts of psychic disturbances - such as increased Mothman activities, or whatever else the PCs get involved with. Finally, Scientists Make Teleportation Breakthrough could represent Deep Water's use of the Circle of the Elders to teleport to the ends of the continent - including to Footfall (where he got those books), but potentially also to other interesting locations (such as the Crater).

Among "Religious Practices", one stands out - Glossolalia. This might represent the Circle of Elders taking temporary possession of someone when they have an urgent message. The "unknown language" spoken in such a case is simply the result of so many minds speaking through one tongue - but still, it requires magic to understand. Magic which, of course, the local shamans have access to.

Among the historic events, Chilean Blob and  "Huge blob of Arctic goo floats past Slope communities" stand out - which remind me of the aquatic abominations that come to the nearby Mating Beach to the west. It probably wouldn't be too surprising if sometimes the... secretions of these creatures drift further along the coast, and some of the shamans might as well collect some of the substances for their own purposes. The normal villagers, on the other hand, are encouraged to stay clear of the oceans at such times. We also have "Portal to mythical Mayan underworld found in Mexico" - which here, once again, refers to the Cave of the Elders, which has probably all sorts of warning symbols to keep outsiders away (you know, the kind of symbols that seems to attract daft graverobbers and adventurers).

Among the "Famous Locations", we get Ys, a city sunk for its sinful ways (also, by the Devil opening the floodgates). Perhaps there was a nearby village which also consorted with the abominations from the depths and which gave rise to many mutated children, just like the marsh giants. But the shamans of Soaring Eagle Village destroyed it with a mighty magical earthquake and sunk it beneath the waves.

La Isla De Las Munecas - the Island of the Dolls - also conjures an interesting image. What if the dolls are animated? What if, in fact, they are some variant of tupilaqs, a construct that fits into the general mythology of the region. What if they can be powered by the Circle of Elders? What if one form of tribute Soaring Eagle Village receives from the rest of the region is whalebone, and they have built a Strategic Tupilaq Reserve? If so, intruders had better step very lightly in these parts...

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

[Urbis] Maps of the Cold Frontier, Part III

I had a rather lengthy train trip today, which gave me plenty of time to draw some quick map sketches for my Cold Frontier campaign.

First, a map of the Spire City Ruins, which I have mentioned here - basically, this used to be a major trade town at a location where two large canyons merged into one. Each direction had its own cliff side settlement - now fallen into ruin - and these settlements are connected by vast bridges (still maintained to this day by spirits bound into them) which meet at a central fortress carved out of a tall spire.

The next map is of the heart of the continent - the central crater where the God Chamber is located, and thus the location of the center and finale for the whole campaign! Obviously, the PCs won't get there for a long, long time - but it doesn't hurt to plan ahead, does it?

Note that the individual sublocations are not necessarily to scale. I am currently doing a lot of brainstorming for this location elsewhere - so stay tuned!

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.