sábado, 16 de junho de 2018

Set and Setting - III - Races of Man


Introduction

Flowing naturally from the character generation post, here’s something regarding the races of man and their choice as avatars for play.

In a shocking leap of logic that’ll have any reader gasping in bewilderment, I’m for promoting difference through rules structure. Nobel prize incoming. What follows is expressly UN-creative fare: If you spelunk around the OSR for weird weirdness, you may well afford this post a wide berth, for inside you’ll find the familiar reeking scent of vanilla, as familiarity befits starting points.

Against Enablism

There is an ongoing trend of dilution that began long ago, starting with the decision that any race should be eligible to belong to any class rather than representing a class all of its own. This has been spilling like crude oil ever since, puddling alongside pervasive notions of anachronistic cosmopolitism onto a warcraftist morass out to choke the very concept of fantasy and all the wonder it may once have held.

This problem is well summed up by Goblin Punch’s Arnold K. (who runs a minimalist system, but whose good posts know no boundaries), that the different races all play like they’re just humans in funny hats. The price to pay being that all of the racial paintjobs feel the same and play the same, with the question of “who’s human and who’s not” being met with a shrug of indifference: to the average player what matters is the class, because that is the dam behind which most of a character’s gameworld-affecting capabilities – and thus aesthetic signifiers – are contained.

Tackling this through system alone might seem awkward, thankless and unfruitful; but even if running a stable of trained character actors who could even agree on what a given interpretation were to sound like, the realization becomes that mechanics is all one has that’s non-debatable. If adequately encoded and stressed, what a player can or can’t do in the game world ought to loop back into some semblance of character inhabitation.

Past accepting that immersion requires incentive comes the realization that there’s only so much that can be practically systemized in order to differentiate a handful or more demihuman races, short of giving everyone a battery of psychological prescriptive behaviours, different dietary requirements, different temperature tolerances, different sleep cycles and turning it all into one bloated, unmanageable chore. I’m only half-joking with this list, if a difference between races is gameable (i.e. size) it should definitely be played up. If it is not significantly or reliably so (diet, psychology), it has to be tossed by the wayside.

“You Will Never Be One Of Us”

Such is the distillation of Essentialism.

Ponder, as applied to these constructs, on what grounds would a demihuman think or utter this to a man? Then, think that the reason ought to be preferably physical, sooner than mental or (gods forbid) psychological, as these are the facets that lean most heavily on the rules and are the least liable to be glossed over at a game table.

As a creator, one holds on to whatever images carry iconic power and actively avoids going against that flow. The demihumans’ essentialism is an important parcel of their otherness and the physical aspects that set them apart should be emphasized: you don’t count on ever encountering a fumbling Elf or a Dwarf with a glass jaw, much as the reverse is true, with dwarven long distance runners, elven weightlifters and half-orc weaklings being a mold that’s simply not up for the breaking block.

This unvarying constance, closer to archetypal than actually human, is precisely the purpose that demihumans exist to embrace: just as a dwarf’s reduced speed and height are hard-etched onto the statblock and not something a player can overcome by generating a high number, so too should its toughness. It’ part of what defines a dwarf, part of its inherent archetypal nature.

Weighing the issue further, one arrives at a junction: too few differences and it all becomes watered down, too many and the bloat becomes unmanageable. I settled for the time-proven philosophy of striking where it counts: the attributes. This implies an organically halfway solution, falling short of race-as-class, but with certain life paths being manifestly suboptimal.


Notes on Demihuman Psychology

No player I’ve ever seen has been capable of sustainedly sidestepping the reality of play as a human person to any significant or relatable degree. Even a polished roleplayer will struggle and have a challenging time at pretending to be a different gender, let alone a whole other creature. In fact, relying on the vagaries of competent roleplaying to evoke such differences would be like tossing a coin into the air and counting on it landing sideways on the floor everytime. It can happen, but no-one’s holding breath that it will.

The burden of expressing these differences should be laid squarely at the feet of the referee’s worldbuilding effort, to be sketched and highlighted through the figure of the non-player character. All player characters of the demihuman persuasion are simply expected, for whatever conceivable reason – as merchants, as outcasts, as slaves, as hostages linked to a peace treaty – to have become acclimated to life among men and being, at most, eccentrics rather than the proverbial stranger in a strange land.

Between the Mythic and the Tolkienesque

I’m neither out to reiterate the whole descriptive shorthands of the fantasy household names nor to warp them out of all recognizability and thus practical use. I do interfere with them in minor, mostly unsubstantial fashion (for instance: condensating the subraces, as they brought little to the table, other than dilution), the better to suit my fantasy, oftentimes preferring to read closer to the mythic sources (on which I am no authority, let it be known) than the pastiche-laden ersatz that DnD constitutes.

This and other posts of this kind are not meant to replace the whole of the handbooks, at least not in one swoop, as they contain notions and definitional shortcuts still very much of use to me and the shared vision at the table. 

Allow me to name a personal sore thumb: Halflings.

Hobbits were genially devised as personable everymen for a children’s book, with a competent reprise in the much darker followup. As playable characters they’re just… lacking. The concept of goodly disposed, bucolic, cottage-owning, orchard-growing landed gentry doesn’t really hold water, especially for darker or more primitive settings. They also lack mythic substract and blur way too easily into gnomes if you stop staring at them for a second.

Unkempt, botulitic, warren-dwelling, cannibalistic primitive savages are much more my speed. Pygmies, of greek telling, if looking for the mythic analog.

The Crunch

Each race has a size hit-die, an alignment, an age spectrum for adventuring (with each level beyond the first adding an appropriate die to age if generating a levelled character), some special abilities and, most definingly, a dyad of prime/nadir attributes.

I’ve tentatively opted in for the classic alignment scheme – Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic – reflecting the races’ essence and to act strictly as a mechanical keyword, with no gameplay-related prescriptive effects whatsoever.

Prime and Nadir attributes are, respectively, the highest and the lowest rolled scores, who must forcibly be attributed in the corresponding entries, ensuring an invariably strong score on the prime and an unfailingly dismal score on the nadir, serving as a soft take on race-as-class, shaping these characters’ set of viable life paths and perspectives.

The bonuses, more than just a simple mitigation device, are a way to push already high values past the realm of the humanly possible; whereas a man will tipically be limited to the 18th numerical gradient of any facet of being, a demihuman will not only frequently exhibit extremes that only a vanishing proportion of humans ever touch, but also flirt with the superhuman reaches of the 19th and 20th degrees.

The Races of Man


Men

Our own selves. Versatile, adaptable, capable of occupying both the loftiest perches of idealism and the lowest rungs of debasement, oftentimes within the confines of the same individual, weighed down by the leaden whole of the human condition. Fated to supplant sooner than coexist, man will not stop until every monster has been slain, every mountain has been conquered and every dark corner of the world has had a light shone upon it.

Alignment: Neutral

Age: 10 + 2d6 years

Height: 4’8” + 2d10” *

Weight: 110 lb. + (* x 2d4) lb.

Size: Medium (d8 hitpoints)

Speed: 30’

Special abilities:

- Receive one additional mulligan token at character generation.



Half-men

The most abundant of the demihumans. Half-men (also called pygmies or halflings) shoulder, if anything, as weighty a burden as mankind. Short of stature, violent by nature, they proliferate quickly and live short lives, reaching physical maturity at six years old and living only to be forty. Their preferred habitat are the hills, whose soft earth they hollow out with their communal burrows. Ferocious and carnivorous yet civilized after a fashion, their shortness in years shackling them to a legacy mired in barbarism, compensated by the fact that they never want for unproven youth brimming with hot blood to take up the mantle of tribal hero.

Alignment: Neutral

Age : 5 + d4 years

Height: 2’7” + 2d4” *

Weight: 35 lb. + (*) lb.

Size: Small (d6 hitpoints)

Speed: 25’

Ability score adjusments: +1 to Dexterity, +1 to Constitution, +1 to Charisma.

Prime attribute: Dexterity

Nadir attribute: Wisdom

Special abilities:

- Can move through the space of any larger creature.

- May attempt to hide from sight whenever obscured, even if only by a larger creature.

- As long as unengaged and not expressly drawing attention to himself, a half-man has a 50% chance of being targetted last by attack.



Dwarves

Focused, industrious and bellicose, dwarves are a relatively numerous race, held in check by the natural confines of their underground living environment and their specious reproductive capabilities. Renowned smiths, relentless bargainers and inured drinkers of spirits, they slowly and diligently carve out their mountain holdfasts one pickstroke at a time, feverishly driven by a hunger rarely sated, for gold, for gemstones, for precious metals. Their interests rarely conflicting with those of men, as they are loath to brave the open sky and even less the rollingly chaotic expanses of large bodies of water.

Alignment: Lawful

Typical adventuring age : 30 + 2d10 years

Height: 4’ + 2d4” *

Weight: 125 lb. + (* x 2d6) lb.

Size: Medium (d8 hitpoints)

Speed: 25’

Ability score adjusments: +2 to Constitution, +1 to Strength

Prime attribute: Constitution

Nadir attribute: Dexterity

Special abilities:

- Darkvision 60’

- Worn armour does not impact a dwarf's encumbrance.

- Resistant to poison damage and at Advantage on saves against being poisoned.

- Dwarven combat training: proficiency with battleaxe, handaxe, throwing axe, warhammer, light and medium armour.

- Stonecunning: mastery on all Intelligence or Wisdom checks related to mines, tunnels or stonework.



Elves

Dwindling in number, slow to mature and fiercely isolationist. The fair folk dwell in the fae-touched places, within deep woods and upon tall mountain spires, completely unsoiled by man or civilization, avoiding contact with the outside world. Their hedonistic, unknowable ways coupled with the hauteur of the gifted shaping a civilization with a siege mentality, as elven presence is encroached upon on all fronts by the multitude of lesser spawn of the gods, which has these self-styled exemplars of creation marked for doom. An ancient rift has further split their number onto two distinct lineages, the grey elves, who took for theirs the rigid demeanour of the mountains they settled, and the wild elves, fierce and unpredictable as the shooting growths of the verdant primeval forests they inhabit.

Alignment: Lawful (grey) or Chaotic (wild)

Typical adventuring age: 40 + 2d20 years

Height: 4’6” + 2d10” *

Weight: 95 lb. + (* x 2d4) lb.

Size: Medium (d8 hitpoints)

Speed: 35’

Ability score adjusments: +2 to Dexterity, +1 to Intelligence.

Prime attribute: Dexterity

Nadir attribute: Constitution

Special abilities:

- Low-light vision 60’ (dim light counts as bright)

- Keen senses: proficient in the Perception skill.

- Fey ancestry: Advantage against charm, sleep and paralysis magic.

- Elven weapon training: proficiency with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.

- May innately cast a level 0 spell once per day (randomly determined at chargen).

- Can attempt to hide when lightly obscured by foliage, heavy rain, falling snow, mist, and other natural phenomena.


Gnomes

Gnomes are the scarcest of demihumans. Possessed of a nature verging on the utterly magical, touched by but a few aspects of the human condition. They form communities in a loose sense of the word, with kiths of a handful of individuals living in symbiotic proximity with both mankind and other worldly animals. They are strongly associated with places of dwelling, abandoned or otherwise, often lairing unseen amid the beams and nooks of the homes of unwitting benefactors with whom they share living arrangements, struck in indirect and haltingly ritualized fashion, but otherwise having few dealings with its prosaic inhabitants, while being attracted to the innocent and impressionable, drawn by their sense of wonder.

Alignment: Chaotic

Age: 30 + 2d12 years

Height: 2’11” + 2d4” *

Weight: 35 lb. + (*) lb.

Size: Small (d6 hitpoints)

Speed: 25’

Ability score adjusments: +2 to Intelligence, +1 to Dexterity.

Prime attribute: Intelligence

Nadir attribute: Strength

Special abilities:

- Darkvision 30’

- Advantage on all mental saving throws against magic.

- May innately cast Minor Illusion once per day.

- Can become invisible for a few minutes once per day (Effect lasts until a "1" is rolled on the proficiency die, checked once per minute, concentration required).

- Through sounds and gestures, can communicate simple ideas with Small or smaller beasts.



sábado, 2 de junho de 2018

General Rules Revisited - Character Generation




Now comes the time for an updated take on character generation, a belaboured procedure under the more modern paradigms of the game, and that my gut feeling says should be as seamless and immediate as a game is deadly. Despite thinking of attachment to a character as something absolutely positive, the old school of “gravel for breakfast” is not about projecting expressionist fetishism onto a shell predestined for success, rather more humanly about coping with the unknown quantities fortune inflicts, starting right with the character sheet. The less choices to agonize about at the outset, the better. This means attributes, starting equipment, feats and most else is to be randomized, in a deliberate push against customizability and toward improvisational play.

Past this thought of immanent attachment only mattering insomuch as failure also can befall the character, it bears out that if shit does happen, player and referee alike will want to get back into the game post-haste. As such, tightened the procedure aiming for swiftness, as I definitely did not want to compromise the “five minutes and it’s done”-ness of the process.

Outshined

There is a reason why this is being called character generation and not character building. Lack of care for balance sits at the core of the process, the unpredictable essence of which is what makes for an entertaining generation procedure: not knowing what you as a player are going to get and adapting to what the dice give to you is vastly more interesting than buying scores, tweaking feats and the whole optimization trailer of manifest destiny, complete with bulging background saddlebags.

A liminal stat value for viability has not been traced. It is to be accepted that character building, even if pared down to inane point-buy schemes, will inevitably see characters cling to differing power curves; if not from their raw stats, then from the different classes, which is something this procedure attempts to offset both through randomness and a more “apples to oranges” remedial approach, by awarding extra feats to attribute-poor characters.

Narrativists seem to like flawed characters (as long as the flaws stay well the fuck away from interfering with the payoffs, also known as “forced down the path of what one was going to do anyway”) whereas characters marred by shortcoming, like unhappy families, tend to all rapidly gain in distinct traces of true character.

As stated before, a player that finds his character reduced by circumstance is free to retire and return him to the setting fishpond whenever he feels like.

Master of None

As written elsewhere, I’ve looked to reducing the syndrome of stat dumping or gold-star stats. Quixotic, I’ll agree, but the aim remains wanting for players to pine for competence to the extent that, unless endowed with scores of 15-plus across the board, a character ought to always feel inadequate and overextended.

This meant attaching greater value to the mental stats and strength by resorting to a variety of small details.

Like the first version, I’ve kept the inclusion of some flavouring options in the shape of feats (table to follow soon), of varying levels of power and tied down to randomness, having them be determined first to minimize deadwood by allowing the player some elbow-space to make the most of what he rolls.

The Crunch

Mulligan Tokens

A player gets 6 tokens at the beginning of character generation. Once per stat, whether attribute, hit-die or feat, a token may be expended to roll an additional die of the appropriate type and then discard one of the results (typically the lowest).

1)      Choose Character Race

2)      Buy Feats

Trade mulligan tokens for rolls on the feat table at an increasing cost of one token per roll.

3)      Generate Stats

Roll Attributes

Roll six sets of 3d6, assigning one to each of the character’s attributes.

Choose Character Class & Roll Hit-points

Roll the hit-dice: one dictated by size, for the unleveled character’s health, the other granted by class training.

4)      Is the character viable?

Total up the character’s attribute modifiers; if the sum is negative, either retire him and roll another or add back a corresponding number of bonus tokens, to be spent only on feats, and continue the generation process.

5)      Gameable Details

Some details, such as height, weight and age are gameable details and thus must be generated.

Height & Weight: the PHB’s competent take on this (pg. 121) suits me perfectly.

Age: 10+2d6 years for mankind, adding a d6 per level past first.

Starting Experience: multiply character’s age by his Intelligence modifier, minimum 0.

6)      Choose Name and finishing touches

Choose name and details – hair, eye or skin colour – that are minor or have no gameable impact.

7)      Determine starting equipment

Depending widely upon the vagaries of where and how a character joins a party, the new arrival’s starting equipment will need to be randomly determined:

Basic equipment: You’re guaranteed a simple melee weapon of choice, a basic set of clothes, boots, a belt pouch (1 slot), a small backpack (5 slots) and a roll on the armour table.

Armour Table (d10):

1. Leather
2. Studded leather
3. Chainmail
4. Scale mail
5. Ring mail
6. Half-plate
7. Splint mail
8. Full Plate
9. Buckler shield, make a second roll on this table with a d8.
10. Medium shield, make a second roll on this table with a d8.

Results with which the character has no proficiency are counted as Leather Armour instead or can be replaced by a roll on the equipment table

For equipment, you’re entitled to 5 rolls on the following table, modified by Wisdom. Any result can be replaced with either d6 rations, d6 torches or a full waterskin.

Equipment Table (d20):

1. Any item here presented or a roll on d100 trinkets.
2. 10’ pole, 3 iron spikes or whetstone
3. Small keg of beer (weighs 3 slots, 3d6 servings)
4. Simple ranged weapon of choice (10 pieces of ammunition)
5. Vial of contact poison (d4 doses), or healing potion
6. Mirror, flask or tankard (bronze)
7. Vial of acid or alchemist’s fire (50/50)
8. Climbing hammer and 10 pitons
9. Cloak and hunting horn
10. Torches (2d6) and flint
11. Melee weapon of choice or simple ranged (10 pieces of ammunition)
12. Crowbar, shovel or miner’s pick
13. Bedroll, tinderbox, wooden mug and cooking pot
14. Bag of Caltrops or Ball bearings
15. Chain (10’)
16. 2d6 rations and a full waterskin
17. Rope (50’)
18. Lanthorn, flint and 2d4 flasks of oil
19. Grappling hook
20. Large backpack or sack (10 slots) and two additional rolls on this table

Starting money: d20 silver pieces, modified by Charisma (positive modifiers add further d20s, negatives decrease the die size).


terça-feira, 22 de maio de 2018

Set and Setting - II - Gods and Mythology

Set and Setting is a series of posts intended as aid in fleshing out a world by way of setting-specific rule design and reinterpretation.



Introduction

I don’t approach game design or campaign building from an unbiased angle (and, of course, no one does). There are aesthetic underpinnings to consider, themes, tones and moods that one aspires to evoke at the table and elements that I consider integral to a fantasy setting but that most outlooks would sooner gloss over, mythology and religion being two such ones.

The Opium of the People

Having mythology be a functional though not overbearing part of a game comes with its own set of challenges. Starting from the top, the typical player tends to be obdurately skeptical, a consummate realist to a fault, most of all when it comes to religion. The character that the player conceives of then can’t really help in being any different, it’s just the way of things.

For a running to break with the humanist perspective is exceedingly hard on the modern player. Like the matter of languages, one is setting oneself up for failure, friction and disappointment the moment the light of the torch of divinity starts serving as anything more than fuel for the spells of certain character classes.

As ever, mechanics can help bridge this disconnect; little markers to signal importance and draw a player into the world, adding some gameable sensitivity to these elements rather than sweeping them into the background or out of sight entirely, while specifically conforming to not intrude on agency, with rankling issues of prescribed behaviours and tenets remaining pillars of organized religion and projections of social mores but not actual manifestations of the will of the gods, never forcing a player to engage. Whatever advantages presented as small enough that the less religiously-inclined characters can turn their backs on the whole affair if they wish to.


The Gods Are Not Dead

"The criticism of religion has been essentially completed, and the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism.”

As humanity either came to tame the natural world or else achieve understanding of its workings, fewer corners remained to shine a light upon. What is more, for my purposes, the divide of perspectives on modern religion leaves much to be desired: either there never were any gods and whatever passes for their cult is deemed something sinister or we’re saddled with a super-entity that sees all, knows all, governs all. The former a barren wasteland, the latter a profoundly unenticing prospect for a game banking on freewill.

And yet the players are to be lowered unto a world devoid of criticism, where one of the main thrusts of Illuminism, the concept of humanity having conceived of gods and not the other way around has been shattered into as many tiny pieces as there are deities which - though distant and unknowable - roam and whose capricious fact of existence is something to be weighed, the golden rule rendered only into so much burnished brass.

Mine is the One True God

Reinforcing what I’ve proponed thus far, my platonic ideal of a sandbox is defined among other things by its fragmentary nature, immediately barring monotheism at the door, not on pains of being boring, too organized or monolithic (as any of these characteristics may or may not manifest themselves), but due to the fact that omnipotent beings bring very little to the table as they, wanting for nothing, can’t be bargained with, can’t be deceived, contended with, resisted or denied. This lays out a logic of submission and reliance on God’s munificence rather than any spur for fighting for one’s own destiny and steal the fire from the heavens.

Polytheism, by comparison, is vibrant and dynamic, given by nature to a shifting status-quo as each jealous, hubristic and all-too-fallible god jostles and conspires against the next, employing humanity to further its individual designs, leaving gaps that a canny mortal can exploit, with the implication of extreme violence too, as peace ill becomes the adoration of enbattled deities to whom we are but tools. Yet, none of these entities should be thought of as outright good or evil, rather the ends to appeasing them justifying means that will doubtlessly seem righteous to the scourger and wicked to the scourged.

Note that the theism word is used here in its broader sense, under which it is conceivable even for believers of a singular god whose claim includes the entirety of existence to still aknowledge other gods as peers to be contended with and toppled through conquest or assimilation, without ever denying the others’ divine nature or power.



Pantheons and Paintjobs

Religious affiliation is something that crosses other cultural boundaries, though deities may locally be worshipped in distinct fashion or a particular aspect may be preeminent among a demihuman race, divinity is something that trancends the racial divide.

I found the PHB’s take on the Cleric class adequate, already partly embracing pantheon-driven play by dint of having its features associated to a number of aseptic aspects of divinity that you’d find in pretty near all polytheistic religions, rather than enforcing a spread of names that at the end of the day would be chosen on the merits of mechanic bonuses rather than any character-building sentiment.

For now the efforts contained herein flow in that vein, by making a show of coopting divinity on one hand and then keeping it as generic as possible with the other, something that might seem a bit like cheating the premise but, alas, such heavy lifting is not the purpose of this post. Naturally, the whole system that follows, all of its methods and possibilities, are yet as near to working titles as can be, that may and ought to be better defined in the future. If the concept gains traction at the table, progress can then be made from generalist to specific archetypes of divinity and individual deities as time and inspiration allows.


The Crunch

Rather obviously – and doubtlessly an idea that I’m shackled to return to – the chaos inherent to the roll of the polyhedron has to be to the DnD player what the inscrutable wiles of divinity would have been to premodern man.

The raw basis for this sprung from a reconceptualization of the Inspiration mechanic from the latest edition (which the GM dispenses in very much the same fashion a god would), which I found inadequate and don’t ever plan to use, thinking this up in its stead.


Divine Blessing

As quantifiable interventions of the divine go, blessings come as the most minor protection or guidance, the character becoming aware of only the slightest hint of a presence. True miracles, in the guise of spells, are the preserve of the conduits of divinity known as Clerics.

Divine blessing, if granted, allows a re-roll of the dice associated to a discrete event. Note that the call for divine aid must be made in-game before the initial roll result is known and that the reroll, though optional, must stand if used even if worse.

Calling upon divine aid

- Once per game session, immediately prior to any roll (whether an action, a save or a damage roll), a character may expend his minor action or a reaction voicing a call to invoke the aid of one among the gods (Charisma check, variable DC).

It is singularly important to underline that an action of some sort is expended by the character, as it mechanically associates the act to the game world, lending it substance rather than it being a “boardgame bonus”, waiting in the wings to be expended at the whim and necessity of the player. This means that if the character is gagged, silenced or suffering from a bad case of slit throat, favour cannot be called upon.

Petitioning the lord with prayer

As a matter of course deities are fickle and unpredictable, their plans inscrutable, their attention difficult to hold for long and their aid best not relied upon in any but the direst of circumstances.

- A character may only safely call upon a given god for aid once per game session, additional calls being made at Disadvantage, with any natural ‘1’ results interpreted as per 2).

- Ritual observance at a temple or prayer at a shrine will grant Advantage on the next appeal made by the character.


1) Characters calling upon a deity they’re favoured by (DC 10):

- On a 1: call unanswered; character fallen out of favour with deity.

- On success, a blessing is granted, otherwise call goes unanswered.

- On a 20: blessing granted and an additional blessing may be called upon, with no need for a roll.


2) Character is desperate enough to adress a deity to whom he has no bond (DC 20):

- On a 1: enraged deity lashes out: roll on the death & dismemberment table as the character is met with divine punishment, interpreting the result into something appropriate to the beseeched god (hit by lightning, ravaged by plague, struck blind, drained of strength by poisonous miasma, withered at the limbs, etc.)

- On success, a blessing is granted, otherwise call goes unanswered.

- On a 20: character’s pleas strike a chord and find favour with the god: Roll is granted divine blessing and the character henceforth becomes favoured by the petitioned deity.


3) A character adresses a deity whom he has wronged in the past (DC 30):

- Any result but a success will mean the deity mercilessly smites the supplicant.



Finding favour with the gods – terms of appeasement

Before a bond can be formed with a deity, appeasement must be willingly procured by the character. Yet, as the unfathomable designs of gods are not readily decipherable, once the character has vocally declared his allegiance to a god, the referee proceeds to make an occluded roll on the table below and note the result that comes up, the bond only taking place once the character has accomplished the demand dictated by the roll.

Currying favour with multiple deities of the same pantheon offers a way to hedge one’s chances of having aid to call upon in times of trouble though, deities being jealous and conniving masters, it comes as implied that any developed pantheon will carry some mutual exclusion.

A mundane priest, being but dimly aware of the needs and appetites of his god, has only a low (~10%) percentile chance of grasping the demand, yet will endeavour to assist a character on his path, insomuch as it might benefit his temple. Only by securing the services of an haruspex, oracle, prophet or soothsayer will the chance to interpret and unshroud the exact nature of the appeasing demand be improved (~65%), although at a price.

d12
Appeasing Demand
1
Human sacrifice
2
Animal sacrifice
3
Votive Offers (d1000 sp)
4
Food sacrifice (d100 days)
5
Fasting (2d4 days)
6
Destroy rival temple
7
Desecrate rival shrine
8
Slay worshippers of rival god (d8)
9
Erect new temple
10
Consecrate new shrine
11
Convert followers to patron’s worship (d8)
12
Destroy abomination (CR = Level +/- d4)

Closing Thoughts – Theogonies in the Sandbox

Origin stories are always ‘shallow end of the pool’ affairs, bloated as our contemporary fiction is with them. I’m more interested in the kinetic facet of mythology, such that cohesion, consistency and sole narratives become reduced to matters of no import. Through the ages, historical religions rubbed shoulders with plenty of bizarre mythologies, sects, pseudocults and heresies, many so thoroughly alien or else distorted through the lenses of time that a modern person couldn’t have made them up if wanting to.
As theogonies go, I can be sated with the derivative conceit that a seeding supra-entity (or entities), who or whatever it may have been, has long since departed beyond the pale, leaving in place a bevy of demiurges to reign in perpetuity. These descendants of the primordial entities, akin in methods to the demons that historical monotheism did eventually reduce them to, exist and are real enough to want for things, yet too distanced from the mortal coil to make their passions manifest for more than fleeting instants, requiring belief and adoration to sustain their very existence. Whatever paltry bounties they can grant their charges always a disproportionally small shard of the belief vested in them.
Even the eldest among these who, persisting in the madness of signalling through smoke to colonies of termites, managed to impose their will to man, found their message distorted, obscured or simply thwarted through ages of unrelentingly ritualized devotion. Far from moral beings, their survival operated by brutish, mean and predatory – nigh-biological – precepts: amass followers, gain strength from displays of devotion, grant back as little as possible, slaughter or convert the faithful of competing deities.

The polytheistic memeverse of godhood then, despite the muddying of the waters between creation and created and the literal qualification of divinity, is still to be chained to a lifecycle of birth, ascension, decline and death, as it carries within it an implicit hierarchy that fractured and isolated worship lacks to sustain: if a hill tribe constitutes the whole foundation of belief keeping an idol potent, the godling is done for once its home is invaded by raiders from the plains and all of its followers killed or scattered, divine intervention then but a mere celestial stalemate, for the others, they brought along their own gods too.

Finally, even granting that gods do exist, the reasoning that proves rational past the fact becomes that man can turn to one against another. You can topple their idols, cut open their priests’ throats and trample their vestments under feet and hoof, tear down their altars and torch their places of worship. The one thing you cannot deny them is their very existence. For as you’re doing all this, you’re doing it, knowing or unknowingly, at the behest of some other entity, one that intercedes on your behalf, keeping you from being struck dead where you stand.

Yes, there are spurious gods, formless voids masquerading as matter, deceiving the pure.

Yes, there are charlatans and false prophets, herding the gullible.

Yes, there are clay-footed impotent idols, plying the ragged and desperate.

Yes, there are tainted and debased cults of adversarial forces, feeding from the wicked.

Yes, there are a million things that will break and founder and fail, and most of it at the whim of some immortal child to prevent or bask in detached amusement. You can bargain with some, plead to others or damn them to places where immortals fear to tread. But you cannot apease them all. And so the existence of supernal ones tilts the plates of the balance ever back and forth between imperiling humanity by making it a tool of their collected whims and preserves it from the rigours of the natural sphere, which they may fracturedly influence but never wholly control.