Saturday, March 28, 2015

[Cold Frontier] Locations of the East - Ghosts of Jealousy, Bright Heart, Dark Heart, Grippli Villages, and Black Crystal Tree

In a remote corner of the forests north of the Dead Village, the two star-crossed lovers of the Wolverine Tribe and the Yellow Seal Village, as well as their betrayer from the latter, re-enact their drama on certain dark nights. This might provide some hints for why the massacre of the Yellow Seal Village occurred, but they do not care for spectators disturbing their drama and will attack - and the jealous murderer from the Yellow Seal Village, Green Hare, will likely attempt to possess visitors so that he can seek out members of the Wolverine Tribe (now the Silver Bird Tribe) and continue his revenge.

The First City colonists did a lot of experiments with the Mothman artifacts they discovered. Among others, they wanted to study the long-term effects of the Mothman soul manipulation technology on life forms. For this purpose, they altered two soul collectors and buried them within the swamps with many protective enchantments, one of them aspected towards Life, and the other one towards Death. These now form what the locals call the "Bright Heart" and the "Dark Heart" of the forest. The former is abundant with life and growth, while the latter has attracted death and decay. Shamans use these for some of their rituals, but so far no one has discovered the reason for the existence of these spots.

Two tribes of grippli dwell within the swamps, each numbering about 400 of their people. They and the human tribes of the area - who call them the "Frog Folk" - regard each others as enemies and will not hesitate to kill each other on sight if given the opportunity, but they are not inherently evil and might be willing to negotiate with obviously non-human looking characters.

On the island south of Shrouded Tree Village, the Mothmen constructed another Black Crystal Tree - one of their "weather stations"/listening posts. The villagers are aware of the construct, but rarely see reason to visit it.

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

[Cold Frontier] Locations of the East - Shrouded Tree Village

Let's take a look at the first of the villages in the eastern regions - Shrouded Tree Village. The player characters already visited it once during the last session, on their way to the Forest Witch. I have already established that the villagers all live in actual tree houses (to protect themselves from the various predators prowling the forest), and that about 300 people live here. Beyond that, the player characters haven't spent much time here, since they had rather urgent business elsewhere.

So what about the namesake "Shrouded Tree"? I originally picked the name because of the tree-dwelling association and because it sounded cool. But what if there is an actual "Shrouded Tree" at the spiritual heart of the village? A tree within its own pocket dimension that is only accessible to the initiated? Let's keep that in mind.

I turn once again to the Random Nations Generator at the Arcana Wiki to flesh out the village. For the form of government we get Plutocracy - where wealth translates into political power - which is an interesting concept for the barter economies of the coastal tribes. Perhaps the Shrouded Tree demands gifts in exchange for the blessings it bestows to the villagers, and those who are able to bestow it with the best gifts (i.e. the most "wealth") will get the best blessings, and thus are better able to lead the village. In Pathfinder terms, such gifts would likely represent various temporarily-bestowed templates. But what might a tree want? Rare soils? Animal skins from the furthest reaches of the forest? I'll have to think about this.

Moving on to the organizations, we get Drug Cartel. An obvious source of a drug is the Shrouded Tree itself - perhaps its sap has useful properties like toughening the skin, restoring fatigue, restoring damage and so forth. However, regular use will lead to addiction, and not using it will lead to withdrawal. This will not be a problem for the villagers, since they have a ready source - but it would be very easy to set up a devastating drug ring with this substance. As an additional organization we get Private Military Company - so maybe some of the hunters of the village are interested in hiring themselves out as mercenaries as long as they get more gifts for the Shrouded Tree.

Moving on to the "Major Personalities", one of the entries is Flagellant. Which sounds like the Shrouded Tree would value the blood of people, freely given. Maybe one of the shamans has the title "Tree Speaker", and in times of need he whips himself inside the Tree's sanctum until his blood waters the tree, granting him visions or power.

Another personality is Théodore Géricault, a French artist who, among other things, is famous for his paintings of disasters and insane people. This might represent another shaman - let's call her Cloud Walker - who carves wood into fairly disturbing statues, such as our old friend the Mothman. Others might relate to the activities of the PCs, past, present, or future. The other villages avoid her, but she insists that the statues are important.

We also get Julia Bulette among the Personalities. While prostitutes and brothels are not the best cultural fit for the Coastal Tribes, the ability to "charm men" puts me in mind of dryads - so let's say a dryad (named Shrouded Flower) has bonded with the Shrouded Tree and is its highly respected caretaker and guardian. Furthermore, the Tree Speaker of the village is chosen based on his or her ability to charm Shrouded Flower.

Among the Major Political Issues, we get "Superfund money to clean 'mouth of the beast'", an article about cleaning up the most polluted site in California (deriving from the runoff of a mine). While there are no mines in the area, I already had the notion of having a "bright heart" of the forest and a "dark heart" of the forest - the latter is a site of spiritual corruption, and one warrior - Angry Wasp - is agitating for cleaning it up. This is why he is also willing to hire himself and some like-minded warriors out as mercenaries - he hopes to get sufficient gifts for the tree to make himself powerful enough to cleanse the Dark Heart.

A further political issue is Feuding Families - perhaps some descendants of Yellow Seal Village are still feuding with the Silver Bird Tribe to the north because of their ancestral war. Finally, we get "Man petitions to marry comic book character" - while someone falling in love with one of Cloud Walker's statues is one option, let's say that a junior shaman - Sleeping Fire - is secretly obsessed with Shrouded Flower and seeks to replace the Tree Speaker.

Next we get to Major Projects, and one of them is the Trans-Global Highway. Maybe the Shrouded Tree wants to propagate, which is why it currently needs lots of "fertilizer" of all kind - exotic plant matter, feces from all sorts of animal, even blood (maybe the villagers will make a "Blood for Sap" drive?). Creating new Shrouded Trees is not a trivial matter, as it requires lots of spiritual energy, but when they do, the Shrouded Tree pocket dimensions will connect to each other, making travel between different locations possible.

A further project is "Rescuing A Potential Nuke From The Chile Quake". Perhaps the followers of Angry Wasp know or suspect that there is some kind of artifact creating the corruption in the Dark Heart, and their ultimate goal is to find it and destroy or cleanse it. But even getting there is difficult indeed...

Looking at the Economy section, we get Truffles as an export, which makes sense given their forested location. Among the forms of worship, we get Fertility Rite - presumably, those couples who wish to have children visit the Shrouded Tree and sleep with each other among its roots (with the Tree Speaker having his own "rites" with Shrouded Flower). We also get Bacchanalia, which hints at doing these rites in groups - presumably, there is lots of tree sap involved. Another is Animal Sacrifice, which ties in with what the Tree wants as gifts.

I could go on with the other sections, but this should provide me plenty of material to start with.

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

Thursday, March 26, 2015

[Cold Frontier] Locations of the East - Pool of Darkness, Forest Witch, and Dead Village

Since I filled up the starting map of the Cold Frontier last time, let's start with a new one! Since the player characters are currently planning to move east, we add locations to that area next.

In this lonely hill region, there is a cave covered by dark vapors. There is always one of the Five Sisters of the nearby Silver Bird Tribe guarding this cave, warning trespassers away from this site of death and darkness. She can animate the nearby trees to help her defend the cave entrance from those who refuse to listen, though she may be willing to let others enter the cave if their need is urgent and their cause righteous. The cave itself is covered by impenetrable, magical darkness which resists magical sources of light and effectively blocks all visual senses - even of those who can otherwise see in the dark. Inside the cave entrance, several dire bats lair. Further in, the explorers will encounter a strange hexagonal structure originally built by the mothmen in order to perfect their soul collecting process, though its purpose is hard to decipher without vision. At the very center there is a large crystal which collects energy in the form of soul fragments representing dark emotions, and the spillover creates the permanent darkness in the complex - and it will also animate skeletal monstrosities from the many bones scattered within it. It may be possible to drain energy from this crystal with the right techniques, but doing so will attract the attention of the Mothman and result in visions of it as long as contact is maintained.

On an island deep within the inland swamps is where Moranna the Forest Witch can usually be found. She lives within the corpse of a colossal bandersnatch, perhaps the biggest of its kind, which she has animated with the help of plant magics. Guests who want to visit her will have to walk into the creature's mouth and pass through its throat before reaching her quarters. Moranna herself once came from the eastern realm of Gorchov in the Old World, from where she left after a dispute with her sister. She is no longer human, if she ever was, and maintains her life by jumping into the bodies of women who made deals with her. As one of the most potent magic-users on the continent, she is sometimes sought out by the desperate - although she always exacts a heavy price, such as one's soul or first-born child, or something else the petitioner will eventually regret deeply.

20 miles east of the Ghost Crab Village, a small Coastal Tribe village has lain abandoned for more than 50 winters. This was the result of warfare between the village - then called the Yellow Seal Village - and the Wolverine Tribe. The village was massacred, and the few survivors joined the nearby villages, while the Wolverine Tribe suffered heavy losses, and later reformed as the Silver Bird tribe. Ghosts of those slain on that day still linger. Recently, a puckwudgie has decided to make the village its lair, and started to control the ghosts. It has also begun to animate local animals to serve as zombie and skeleton minions. It eventually plans to unleash its creatures against one of the local villages for its own sadistic pleasures, but it knows that the villages are still too powerfully protected for the time being.

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

Index of Cold Frontier-related posts

The Cold Frontier started out as an intellectual exercise on how to build a hexcrawl sandbox exploration / nation building campaign in the style of the Kingmaker Adventure Path for Pathfinder, but it morphed into an actual campaign set on the remote northern continent of Nardhome, in the world of Urbis.

There is also a series of posts detailing specific locations in the area. The following are for the starting map - the region the PCs are initially exploring.
The following detail map locations in the area to the east of the starting region:

Finally, the following posts deal with the ongoing campaign itself:

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Cold Road, Old Native Tombs, and First City Mansion

Winding up from the Canyon of Faces there is a small road bounded by irregular stone markers moving towards the East. While traveling along the road the air always seems colder than in the surrounding area, and after a while travelers will start to feel hungry. During the Old Native civilization, this road was dedicated to protective spirits, but the worshipers of Wendigo have worked to pervert their blessings, and this road - as well as several others like it across the continent - is now dedicated to that entity. When a group of Wendigo worshipers stands on one of these "Cold Roads" during the dark of night while the moon is below the horizon and make a properly dedicated human sacrifice, Wendigo will transport the entire group through the air and to any other Cold Road of their choosing. This can transport an entire tribe to a distant location, and the Elk Tribe occasionally makes use of this.

West of the Spire City Ruins, the Old Natives carved tombs of their most honored chieftains into the cliffside and buried them with some of their greatest treasures. However, the Great Darkness warped their lingering spirits and turned them into animate mummies who will attack any trespassers.

On the southern side of one of the hills overlooking the swamps to the south, ruins of a large mansion and several smaller outlying buildings can be found. This used to be one of the retreats of the First City governor of Nardhome, and later became a meeting ground for shamans of the Old Native civilization. When the Great Darkness arrived, several of them were caught by surprise here, and their ghosts still stalk these halls at night. Even during the day, the mansion is dangerous, as a multitude of giant centipedes of all sizes lurk in the corners.

And with this, the first map is complete!

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

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Seed Repository, Underground Gardens, and Morlock Shrine

In the hills north of the Fungal Gardens, the explorers may come across a carefully-hidden First City complex. Once they figure out how to open the carefully-sealed entrance, they will be challenged by two orichalcum-inlaid stone golems in the language of the First City. They will attack if they do not present the right password and attempt to bypass the second seal. Inside, they will find a vast warehouse filled with small, sealed containers where seeds from every single variety of plant the First City civilization knew are preserved for eternity. This will be an invaluable find for those with an interest in biology.

In the higher reaches of the cliffs, a series of caves caved out of the western side of the canyon. While protected from the elements, these caves have large openings to the south and are decorated with a large number of yellow crystals. When sunlight shines on these crystals, the crystals start to shine with the same yellow light as the sun, and continue to do so for a time even after the sun has passed on. In this way, the Old Natives maintained a series of underground gardens in the canyon. Even now, the caves are abundant with vegetation, some of it edible - but a number of dangerous predators also lair here.

On a bare hill, the Old Native civilization erected a stone statue to one of their spirits, although it has badly weathered down and actively damaged in the centuries since it was brought here. The ground surrounding it has been trampled bare by innumerable naked footprints, and is littered with cracked bones and feces. On dark nights, the Morlok emerge from hidden tunnels and cavort around the statue in worship. Frequently, they tear one of their own apart in cannibalistic frenzy, although they will happily devour any trespassers instead.

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Basalt Pillars, Adlet Lair, Musk Creeper Vale, Dragon Fossils

The small rivulets pouring down the northern flanks of the volcano have exposed numerous basalt pillars which now rest in odd angles against the ground - forming a veritable labyrinth that is hard to traverse. Swarms of giant fire beetles will crawl around the area, though they will normally be non-agressive towards visitors. The same cannot be said for the giant funnelweb spiders which lair here, and it is all too easy for a visitor to stumble across one of their cunningly camouflaged webs.

Among the cragged peaks of the Northwestern mountain range, the Adlets have chosen a single bare mountaintop as the center of their tribe's culture. Here, the cold winds blow almost constantly, and they have hauled a number of large boulders to this peak and painted it with the symbols of the various spirits they worship - Wendigo among them. At certain nights, the Adlets come here to dance and how in the wind. There are a number of caves halfway down the mountains which serve as their lair - as they are immune to the cold they don't need it to shelter from the elements, but they do keep their young here to protect them.

A small valley which has warmer climate than the surrounding areas has been infested by Yellow Musk Creepers, numbering 11 individual colonies. They primarily have local animals as servants, but a number of morlocks from the nearby Canyon of Faces have also been infected.

Those who travel along the canyon might spot a large fossilized bone sticking out of the canyon walls. Careful excavation - which is tricky, since it would have to dig deep into the walls of the canyon - will reveal two nearly complete (approximately 25 yards long each) skeletons of dragon-like creatures of an unknown species, apparently locked in a titanic struggle when they died. This would be the crowning exhibit of any museum of natural history, although selling the bones as magical ingredients would likely be more profitable - if the sellers can prove the provenance of the bones to the satisfaction of the customers, as scams revolving around selling dragon bones are rather common.

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cashing Out in GURPS Cyberpunk games

Note: While the following was written with the Cyberpunk genre in mind, these musings might work equally well with similarly mercenary genres, such as GURPS Dungeon Fantasy.

Cash and CPs

Cyberpunk settings (and a few other genres) tend to feature a lot of augmentations - cyberware, bioware, etc. - which boost a character and can be purchased by cash. While the GM could demand that characters also pay character points for these augmentations, that never quite sat right with me - the genre often is all about getting the latest tech and best upgrades, and charging CPs would serve as a brake for that.

Yet Cyberpunk games should also support non-augmented character types - so there needs to be something they can spend their hard-won money on as well. Here is my suggestion on how to deal with this:

1. The "Wealth" advantage is not used for Cyberpunk games. Instead, all characters start with zero money. Any starting equipment or cyberware must be purchased with character points. As per the "Trading Points for Money" rules, each CP spent on money at the start of the campaign results in 10% of the average campaign starting wealth. Considering the generally depressed economy of Cyberpunk settings, I'd set this "average starting wealth" at the TL8 level, or $20,000 - which means that:

1 CP = $2,000

2. Social Status cannot be purchased with CPs directly. Instead, effective Social Status is dependent on whatever "Cost of Living" a character has paid for during any given month. So in order to maintain a "Social Status 0", a character has to pay $600 each month - if he pays only $300, he falls down to Social Status -1, with the corresponding reaction roll penalties. Conversely, someone who pays more is obviously successful, and gets better reactions.
3. Finally, cash can be converted into CPs at the same ratio (that is, $2,000 turn into 1 CP). This can only be done during "downtime" - between jobs or missions. These can not be spent freely, but are limited to the following:
  • Social advantages - Reputation, Contacts, Allies and so forth. By spreading your money around, you make new friends and allies.
  • "Impulse buys" (as outlined in GURPS Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys) which grand a temporary, one-time advantage. By spreading your money around, you get some good karma, which can save your skin at a future date.
 This will ensure that characters who are less focused on gear will still have plenty of stuff to spend on which provides them real, tangible benefits.

The Retirement Option

Even with moderate character point awards, characters can eventually become very, very powerful - but that isn't necessarily appropriate for all games and genres. Cyberpunk, in particular, tends to focus on the "underdogs" of the world. Thus, more experienced characters need to be taken "out of the action" eventually to maintain that focus. In a long-term campaign, the "team" might exist for a long time, but older members frequently drop out while new ones join.

One way of weeding out existing characters is, of course, by death. But some characters - whether because they are luckier, tougher, or simply cowards - will live longer than others, and thus become more powerful. Thus, there needs to be an incentive for these characters to retire instead of doing one job after another.

To retire, a character must have accumulated savings. The savings must be equal to one hundred times the monthly cost of living of the Social Status they wish to retire to. Thus, someone who wishes to retire at Social Status 0 must pay $600 x 100 = $60,000, while someone wishing to retire at a luxurious Social Status 3 must pay $1,200,000 - but someone "retiring" to the street only has to pay $10,000. Retiring has the following benefits:

1. The "starting character points" for all new player characters in the campaign increases, depending on the Social Status the former character retires to: 1 CP for Social Status -2, 2 CP for Social Status -1, 5 CP for Social Status 0, and +5 CP for each further +1 to Social Status.

Example: The "default" starting CPs for characters in a street-level Cyberpunk campaign is 150 CP. After three characters have retired - one at Social Status -2, one at Social Status 0, and one at Social Status 2, the starting CPs for new player characters becomes 150+1+5+15=171 CPs.

This way, the overall power level of the campaign still increases, but at a lower, more manageable rate.

2. The player should make a note of the total character points (including all "earned" character points but not those gained via cash) of his old character, and the character points of his new character. The difference goes into a special "pool" of character points.

Example: An experienced character who retires with 205 CPs is replaced by a new character with 171 CPs. 34 CPs go into the pool.

These CPs are transferable between characters and can be spent on the following:

  • Social advantages revolving around retired player characters - in other words, you can use retired PCs as Allies, Contacts, Patrons, etc..
  • Impulse buys representing short-term, one-time advantage as outlined in the previous section.
That way, the CPs of the old character are not completely lost. However, if a character dies during the campaign, the difference in character points between the old and the new character aren't added to the pool. Thus, retirement is something that player characters can and should work towards throughout the campaign.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

[Urbis] Expanding the Cold Frontier Map

In my ongoing Cold Frontier campaign, the player characters have established their colonial outpost in the remote northern wilderness of the continent of Nardhome. As this is a hexcrawl/kingdom building campaign, I've spent a lot of time detailing the initial campaign area - a hex grid of 8 hexes wide and 11 hexes deep, with each hex having a diameter (side to side) of 10 miles. The following map shows the continent as well as where the colonial outpost of the PCs is located (at the red #5).

In the last session, the PCs have decided to lay a claim to all land within 100 miles of their outpost (they have neglected to tell the local natives about this, but they don't use the same legal system so their opinions don't matter...).

Which meant that they also want to take a closer look at the regions to the west and to the east of their initial hex map, so that they can figure out what kind of land they actually lay a claim to. This was a bit sudden, but I decided to prepare and drew a basic map for these areas. You can see the result below - also including the map of the "home area" (click on it to enlarge).

The whole continent has a Pacific Northwest/Canada/Alaska atmosphere. The "western" submap is intended to have steep coastal mountains casting a large rain shadow over a largely dry interior, while the "eastern" submap only has low hills but vast, neverending forests.

But what I need to come up with now are some interesting places and locations the PCs can interact with. As a reminder, the continent generally has the following inhabitants:

- On the coasts, there are the villages of the "Coastal Tribes" loosely inspired by Native American cultures. They have strong cultural taboos against going too far into the interior of the continent, but their villages are fairly wealthy and stable, and while they do not have a unified government they do stay in touch with each other.

- Away from the coast there are the "Inland Tribes", the barbarian descendants of earlier settlements from the local equivalent of Western and Northern Europe.

- For creatures and other nonhuman inhabitants, I want to limit myself to Pathfinder creatures - but avoid beings that are too tightly linked to "European fantasy". So elves, cyclopes, goblins and so forth are out, but adlets and araneas are better suited. Anything from Native American mythology is especially appropriate.

- The continent also has ruins from three earlier cultures that suffered extinction events. The first one (roughly 30,000 years ago) was an outpost by an interstellar mothman civilization, which fought a total war against a rival civilization of xill. The second one was the "First City" culture (think "Atlantis", with a strong focus on magical biotechnology - they were responsible for many of the bizarre "hybrid" creatures as well as many of the humanoid races). The third one was the "Old Native" culture - the ancestors of the modern Coastal Tribes who build their own cities (including equivalents of the Mound Cities and the Pueblos).

So... any suggestions on what to put on these maps?

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