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.

Monday, January 11, 2016

[Exalted] From An-Teng With Hate - a political overview

Let's take a step back from figuring out individual locations on the hex map of An-Teng and look at the big picture. Who are the main political players in and near An-Teng, what do they want, how do they plan to reach their goals - and how are they going to react to a bunch of meddling kids Solars? This is not intended as a complete overview - but as a framework into which I can place further developments.

This is what I came up with - but I might have overlooked some wrinkle or power group. If you have more ideas, please share them - the more, the merrier!

(This also has the added benefit of motivating me to expand the Lexicon Section of the new Exalted 3E Wiki - which could use some more contributors. Hint, hint.

The Realm

The following factions from the Realm are prominent in An-Teng:

House Ledaal: The most important member of the House active in the region is Shuri the Scarlet, who is also the ranking garrison commander for An-Teng, commanding a garrison of 1,000 soldiers at Dragon's Jaws. He also has authority over the garrisons in the Middle Lands (probably at Prosperous Garden) and the High Lands (presumably at the Jade Plum Citadel) which - since they seem to be less important postings - I will peg at 400 soldiers each. Shuri communicates with their commanders once per week with magic mirrors - so if the PCs draw attention to themselves, Shuri will either hear about it from the commanders or investigate their curious silence.

He has his own agenda independent from his House - he wants to marry upwards and "is looking for a suitably malleable candidate among the young Terrestrial visitors to An-Teng, so that he can approach her parents or guardians with suitable bribes or blackmail, whichever is most appropriate." (Blood and Salt, p. 21). However, he takes his appointment by House elder Ledaal Kebok Omerger seriously and deals with native, Guild and Lintha traders in order to increase the influence of his House, although he takes little pleasure in such deals. The Ledaal Catala line also has a strong interest in the nearby shadowland of the City of Dead Flowers, so he pays well for any information about the place and hosts the occasional scholar from the House - although he will not risk any of his soldiers on the shadowland without a very good reason.

Finally, he still has old contacts in the Red-Piss Legion, which means that he might get involved in the Roseblack's bid for power. Since his garrison is already seen as "politically unreliable" by some quarters since he tends to promote based on merit instead of family connections, any attempts to remove him from his position might push both him and his garrison further towards Tepet Ejava.

House Ragara: Represented by Satrap Ragara Soras Jor, who is mainly interested in increasing his standing within the Thousand Scales, break the influence of the Lintha in the region (leading to the hilarious comic on page 111 of CoTD IV: The South), and generally increase the influence and trading deals of his house in the region, preferably at the expense of Shuri and House Ledaal. However, he also surreptitiously deals with the Lintha, in order to identify their agents. Considering that the Imperial Navy is also engaged in fighting the Lintha, he would probably love to expose any deals Shuri has with them, in order to weaken his position and have him replaced. Since House Ragar has heavy Guild connections, Soras Jor will likely plot with various Guild factors and merchant princes to squeeze Ledaal out of various markets. P. 44 of Manual of Exalted Power: The Dragon-Blooded mentions that House Ledaal frequently sends out un-Exalted members of the House as auditors to assess the current and future revenues of its satrapies - such groups could make good "random encounters" for the player characters.

So, would Soras Jor enter into some sort of secret alliance with the PCs in order to oust Shuri? Probably... not. He is unlikely to trust Anathema to keep such a deal secret (unless he is only involved through multiple layers of deniable intermediaries), and while such a deal might be able to remove Shuri, he would fear that it will be the Anathema who get to extend their influence as a result - not House Ledaal. However, once he becomes aware that Anathema are active in An-Teng he will insist that the whole might of Shuri's garrison is thrown against them. If Shuri is incapable of driving them out... well, he might know a few military commanders more suitable for the job. But if Shuri does too good a job, then Soras Jor might sabotage his efforts in some subtle manner.

The Immaculate Order: The highest-ranking abbot of the local Order, Santeris, is operating a spy network out of the City of the Steel Lotus which serves both the Immaculates and the Sidereals. Obviously, active Anathema in the region will attract their utmost attention. Their temples, which are scattered across the land, can also serve as a handy source of martial artists for a Solar-hunting posse if the nearest Wyld Hunt happens to be... delayed.

Vacationers: Plenty of Dragon-Blooded come to An-Teng not for mercantile interests, but for some Rest & Relaxation... which does not impede plotting in any way, only that the plots will be more about embarrassing rivals than business deals. Those who look for more... venereal entertainments will stick to the Shore Lands, those who are looking to further their knowledge will explore the libraries of the Middle Lands, while those who wish to get away from all the heat and the humidity will explore the High Lands. Big Game Hunting is a likely past time for the Dragon-Blooded, and they certainly won't hesitate to go after some bandits as combat practice as long it's not too much trouble to find them (they are supposed to be on vacation, after all). Finally, some younger Dragon-Blooded will probably be eager to prove their mettle against any Anathema that dare show their heads - especially if the Dragon-Blooded in question are intoxicated or otherwise engaged in substance abuse. Both Shuri and Soras Jor will want to keep an eye on the vacationers - for one thing, keeping them safe is their job, for another it never hurts to have other Dynasts in your debt because you had to bail them out after some misadventure.

The Guild

As I have outlined in my entry for Swift Rivers Crossing, the goals of the Guild are fairly straightforward when compared to the other factions. Make a profit (of course). Maintain its drug plantations. Maintain its monopoly on bulk sale of drugs. Maintain and expand its slave trade - the Guild will likely have some interesting conflicts with its sometimes-partner, sometimes-rival House Cynis in the Shore Lands.

Obviously, its main trade interests in drugs and slaves will be abhorrent to player characters arriving from Earth, and it is likely that they will serve as an antagonist in the early arcs of the campaign. However, the Guild is nothing but pragmatic - if the PCs can build their own power base and demonstrate that it is more profitable to come to accommodations with them than to insist on trading drugs and slaves in An-Teng, then they will certainly consider the offer. Whether they accept the offer depends on how much they think this will hurt their deals with the Realm.

The Locals

Prince Laxhander of the Glorious Reign: This Dragon-Blooded fanboy is going to die, though at which occasion and on whose orders remains to be seen. His encouraging visiting Terrestrial Exalted to impregnate members of his family is skeevy as Malfeas, but it is unlikely to affect the player characters much. Thus, he should die whenever the PCs drop by to visit, and like any good murder investigation there should be far to many suspects. And it is quite possible that the PCs don't care who did the actual murder and why (since Laxhander is rather reviled by everyone) - just how they can spin the fallout to their own advantage. Of course, everyone else will be doing the same...

While Prince Kiotaran of Upward View is more interested in astrology than politics (the PCs should probably not let it known to him that they arrived in Creation during Calibration! Also, him asking them about their astrological sign could get... awkward), his wife Golden Slipper has more practical concerns - in particular, she wants to turn Prosperous Garden into a major trade up, preferably one with more independence from Realm-backed interests. This will bring her (and her husband) into conflict with both Shuri and Soras Jor, although the Guild will be willing to take up the slack for... concessions. Mercantile PCs might likewise find uses for her as a contact.

Prince Josei of Notable Genius: In general, the Prince prefers to keeps his distance form the Dragon-Blooded, and prefers to deal with any local troubles on his own (or with the assistance of his nobles). He'd especially like to keep the Dragon-Blooded distant from some of the more profitable gem mines in the High Lands. However, there are some problems he cannot solve on his own - some of the Firepeak Moutains nearby host outposts of the First and Forsaken Lion, and while they are not currently hostile, they are obviously a problem that need to be dealt with. Player characters who can help him on this account will certainly have his gratitude. The recent death of his wife Dawnlit Snow also distracts him at the moment - anything that can help him with the investigation would be helpful. It is quite possible that some necromancer has bound her ghost in order to influence the Prince one way or another...

The Golden Lord generally prefers to stay apart from the politics of the Exalted. While he is ready to give good advice to all who seek his counsel, he will not involve himself in the struggles of mortals and Exalted alike unless there is clear evidence that the enemies of Creation itself are involved. While the Deathlords, Yozis, and the Fair Folk count, the Dragon-Blooded do not. This neutrality, along with the great respect he still commands in Yu-Shan, explains why the Immaculates treat his temples and his mortal worshipers with kid gloves - while they will declare his direct worship by mortals as improper, they limit themselves to words instead of direct actions. Possibly by saying that while the Golden Lord is one of the rare gods who is not tempted into inappropriate behavior by the worship of mortals, his cult is still setting a bad example, damnit!

In my old campaign, the PCs generally thought he was a great fellow - so much that they actually offered him rulership of An-Teng! But he declined by stating that it was the Solars who had received the Mandate of Heaven, and he will not break the natural order of the world so that he can do their job.

If the situation comes up again, I can also raise the question for why the Unconquered Sun has never sought to rule mortals directly. The answer is simple - the Unconquered Sun (and to lesser extent, the Golden Lord as well) was created as a being of perfect, abstract virtue. He always must be compassionate, brave, temperate and so forth, because anything else is a contradiction of his nature. Yet humans are complex and messy, and in ruling them compromises must sometimes be made - compromises which the gods are often incapable of, or only capable when denying themselves and therefore weakening themselves. Thus, the wisest course of action is to leave ruling humans to other humans.

The Pale Mistress, on the other hand, is rather more active in bringing chaos, death, and plague across the land. Her cult behaves pretty much how you would expect a cult of demon-worshipers to behave, what with their worshipers kidnapping, murdering, and engaging in human sacrifice. And indeed, the PCs might initially believe that this is a demon-worshiping cult. But for all her vileness, she is a god of Creation, and not a demon or thing of the Underworld. There will always be dissatisfied people who will turn to dark cults in their desperation, and if her cult were to be eradicated, these same people might find themselves as followers of the Yozis or the Neverborn. Thus, while the cult of the Golden Lord will preach and act against her cult, the Golden Lord will refuse to act directly against her, nor approve of any Exalted who would try to kill her.

The Lunars

In my old campaign, I introduced the first Lunar Exalted as a stereotypical "Barbarian Warlord Lunar" who was all ready and set to invade An-Teng with his Barbarian Horde™, but was willing to wait for one year as part of a bet to see if the PCs could wrest An-Teng away from the Realm first.

Bo-ring! While that did give the PCs a motivation to stick around in An-Teng and stick it to the Realm, I think I should be able to present the Lunars better now than just "barbarian warlords". I am reminded of a line by John Mørke where he said that "Lunars weaponize cultures" in order to fight the Realm. So what should they do when a Circle of Solar Exalted shows up in An-Teng?

Why, weaponize them, of course.

Encourage them to stand and fight against whatever it is that they consider bad about the Realm (and frankly, it shouldn't be hard to create a lengthy list on that account). Meanwhile, manipulate the Realm to send more and more Dragon-Blooded into the meat grinder, and ensure that both sides only hear the worst about each other, preferably with additional... embellishments. All this should be done from behind the scenes so that neither side suspects that Lunars are active in the region - which, thanks to their potent shapeshifting abilities, shouldn't be too hard (at least for the time required to get a decent war started). The Serpents Who Walk As Men beastmen in the Middle Lands seem to be useful for Lunar takeover - under Lunar direction, they will likely stay "neutral" during the struggles while secretly arming up and getting ready to swoop in once the conflict has been exhausted.

An interesting wildcard is Khadarys Shadow-Dancer, a First Age Lunar who has hidden at the bottom of the Lake of Thousand Dragons to this very day and has no one for company other than her clan of freshwater shark-men descendants (Blood and Salt, p. 33). She remains unaware of the events of the last century or so, and whoever talks to her will greatly shape her outlook on things.

Scroll of Fallen Races, p. 14 mentions a Lunar Exalt who controls large stretches of the Firepeak Mountains "between the City of the Steel Lotus and the Lap", which sounds like it would be directly to the east of the High Lands. who is very loosely allied with Shining Kren, a Mountain Folk domain directly beneath those mountains. It's probably that Lunar who watches events in An-Teng - in particular, the High Lands - the most closely.

The Mountain Folk

Speaking of which, the Mountain Folk of Shining Kren will likely largely want to maintain their neutrality - Scroll of Fallen Races mentions that in addition to their loose alliance with the Lunar of the Firepeaks they also hire themselves out as mercenaries to the "Dragon-Blooded administrators of An-Teng" - sometimes for anti-bandit activities, but more frequently as marines for anti-Lintha naval actions, which they particularly relish. Given the currently... complicated relationship between the Realm military commander and the administrator of An-Teng, it is very likely that Mountain Folk mercenaries will be drawn into the schemes of Shuri and Soras Jor. They also won't hesitate to use them against Solar player characters and their followers.

A Mountain Folk settlement directly behind the Jade Plum Citadel in the High Lands is also mentioned on p. 35 of Blood and Salt - I am going to assume that this is a colony of Shining Kren and the usual contact point for Dragon-Blooded wishing to contact the Mountain Folk, since they could hardly be expected to visit a Lunar domain unmolested. Lengthy tunnels between that settlement and Shining Kren are likely. Travel is made easier by the fact that Shining Kren has "made tentative peace treaties with several breeds of local Darkbrood, as well as the green-eyed Southern underpeople". Of course, if their numbers are not kept in check by the Mountain Folk, they might start expanding to the surface and go out at night and kidnap or murder people in remote villages - another problem the PCs could come across.

The Underworld

Unfortunately, the Compass of Celestial Directions IV - The Underworld completely neglects to mention An-Teng, so we will have to co with other sources instead. Page 19 and 20 of Blood and Salt mention the deep reverence the Tengese have for their ancestors, as well as its exorcists who use their own ancestors to deal with malignant ghosts. Interestingly, in desperate cases the Pale Mother herself is called to destroy hostile ghosts (her Hungry Dancer followers will also attack any priests of the Golden Lord present, as well as children and pregnant women) - though in that case she will attack all ghosts present, including peaceful ones! Perhaps it is her presence that have kept the First and Forsaken Lion from keeping the Underworld of An-Teng - another reason why it would be a bad idea for the PCs to kill her!

Speaking of which, the First and Forsaken Lion will almost certainly want to conquer this region of the Underworld - and subsequently, the Lands Above. And indeed, his mountain outposts in the High Lands indicate that his preparations are well underway. But to have his way, he has to deal with certain obstacles first. He also has one of his deathknights in An-Teng - Shatterer of the Way, a Moonshadow Caste Abyssal who used to be an Immaculate monk (note to self: Tie his backstory into one of the local Immaculate temples).

The First and Forsaken Lion is said not to trust Abyssals of the Moonshadow Caste, so his orders to Shatterer of the Way were probably on the lines of: "Make yourself useful - turn the City of Dead Flowers into a vassal state. But don't ask for any backup or resources until you actually deliver some results!" My expectation is that the Abyssal is probably using the threat of invasion from the First and Forsaken Lion's forces to cement a deeper alliance between the ancestral ghosts of An-Teng, starting with the teeming masses of the City of Dead Flowers. However, he is also using his Abyssal magics to secretly control that ghostly alliance from behind the scenes. When the First and Forsaken Lion does invade, the alliance will be ready... to surrender. And once he holds the Ancestral Ghosts of An-Teng in his thrall, he will have a much easier time influencing the living.

Another obstacle is the Yozi Cult of the Seven-Stranded Vine, which the First and Forsaken Lion does not wish a conflict with... yet. But he probably has no problem with someone else eradicating the cult, and exposing them to larger scrutiny and the attentions of either the PCs or the Realm sounds like a likely mission for one of his Day Caste Abyssals.

The Yozis

Many of the Yozis are, at the moment, working towards the Reclamation. With this I don't mean "the Yozis will be freed" as the end goal, as the developers have stated that this is impossible in the 3rd Edition, but the Infernal Exalted ruling and punishing Creation in their name. The major Yozi players in An-Teng are:

She Who Lives In Her Name, represented by the Seven-Stranded Vine. As she is the "Principle of Hierarchy", her cult is mainly obsessed with "restoring the proper order of An-Teng" - which means kicking all the dirty foreigners out and putting the (now demon-tainted) original royal family back on the throne. At first glance this makes them look just like another "Concerned Citizen" hate group, but considering that the major foreign groups active in An-Teng are the Guild and the Realm, they rather have a point - a lot of them, in fact. And given the politeness of the Tengese, the PCs will probably have some awkward conversations with secret cult members on the lines of: "No, I am sure you are not like all those other foreigners who pillage our land and rape our women! I am sure your intentions are honorable!" This might motivate the PCs to do something about these other foreigners... only to realize at some point that they have cleared the path for a Yozi Cult to take over the land!

Kimbery, represented by the Lintha pirates. The Lintha spend a lot of time in the Shore Lands posing as "honorable businessmen", and their various double-dealings with Shuri and Soras Jor have already been mentioned. However, thanks to the Reclamation they are now smuggling weapons and supplies to the Seven-Stranded Vine - in particular, relic weapons provided by Bitter Copal, the iconic Defiler Caste Green Sun Prince who is of the Tengese royal family himself and has shacked up with the Lintha in Bluehaven. The PCs stumbling across a relic weapon in an unexpected place could motivate them to investigate the Lintha connection.

The Sidereals

Since the Sidereal Exalted have a lot on their plate, they won't immediately investigate the player characters. The Gold Faction will of course try to recruit them into the Cult of the Illuminated, but as I have established earlier, the local Cult chapter is currently out of communication with the larger network. The Bronze Faction likewise won't notice the PCs until they begin to make a big ruckus... which, given the nature of the typical Solar Exalted, admittedly could happen fairly quickly.

However, they do have an interest in the An-Teng region, since that is where one Sidereal went missing one year ago - and his fate is of very high interest to the Bureau of Destiny. Once they become aware that the PCs are connected to him, a Bronze Faction Sidereal might even pose as a Gold Faction member in order to question the PCs. Once they learn about the cross-world portal, they will... immediately form a special committee to investigate this. Which means celestial politics with fangs. And plenty of gibbering, once they realize that the portals represent a Primordial who has gone missing since the Primordial War itself! What happens then is hard to predict as it will depend a lot on the decisions of both the player characters and the Celestial Bureaucracy - but it will certainly be dramatic.

That's what I've got for now. Any ideas for expanding on this?