Sunday, February 2, 2020

The island where children are born in pots

Not this island. Autumn sunset in Omijima, Japan by /u/hunter07ar

Humor me for a moment, and imagine an island. Warm summers, mild winters, fertile soil, and plentiful game. The people of this island are just like any other, except for one thing. No matter how hard they try, the people of this island cannot get pregnant. Humans here do not go through the menstrual cycle. Women have no eggs, and men have no sperm.

Luckily, the people of this island do not all die out after a generation. They have a way to reproduce, though it takes some magical help. It involves ritual, and praise for a fertility god.

First, acquire a clay pot, large enough to comfortably fit a newborn child. Paint it with images of fertility: budding flowers, sprouting fruits, growing trees. Use bright colors and lavish the pot with images of the Fertility God. When the paint has dried, go to a river, and fill the pot with water. Boil the water to remove contaminants, and set it in a safe, dry location in your home. Go into the forest and find the three life-giving flowers. Once you have a handful of each, bring them back to the pot and submerge them. With your partner, sing a hymn to the Fertility God, walk around the pot six times, then have sex in its vicinity.

If the rituals have been performed correctly, the pot will be warm to the touch, and the water will turn red with blood. For nine months, the water in the pot will act as a perfect womb for the developing infant. Take care not to disturb the pot, for a careless bump might induce miscarriage. Do not add anything to the birth-water, especially not alcohol. You might want to cover pot, just in case. When the time comes, the water will disappear from the pot, leaving only the newborn infant.

Each morning, check the pot and listen for crying.
You wouldn't want to miss the birth of your own child, would you?

This method of conception through ritual has many social effects. First and foremost, the lack of pregnancy or menstruation makes women's lives significantly safer and easier. Death in childbirth, a scourge for so many people in the real world, is nonexistent on this island. A woman does not have to risk her life to carry a child to term, but why should there have to be a woman involved? After all, this process depends on magic, not biology. The only elements required to conceive are two consenting adults, the act of sexual intercourse, and the ritualized birth-pot. The child will be a genetic mixture of both parents, no matter their gender or sex.

The birth-pot also solves a number of compilations with inheritance. Because of the ritual required to conceive, an accidental pregnancy is impossible. There is no such thing as an unwanted child, and there is almost never a question over whose child is whose. Add that to the fact that both parents invest an equal measure of effort into the process of birth, the pressures toward a patriarchal social system in most real-world societies are nonexistent on the island. The task of raising children is more evenly distributed as well.

The people of this island have little need for contraceptives if sex alone cannot result in pregnancy. They might still be useful for the prevention of STIs, but the islanders are a long way from germ theory. So for now, contraception is an entirely foreign concept. Family planning is, of course, universal, because the decision to have a child is by nature very deliberate and intentional.

What about outsiders? Foreigners procreate as normal, and cannot make use of the birth-pot ritual. Islanders, meanwhile, are sterile. It is thus impossible for them to have children together. The people of the island find outsiders’ pregnancies tantamount to body horror. Expanding stomachs, half-grown children inside the body, deaths in childbirth — they're stories islander parents tell their children to scare them out of misbehavior. Pregnancy is for animals, not people! The islanders believe the Fertility God has given them a very special gift indeed. In their minds, since the birth-pot ritual is only accessible to those who were themselves born from the pot, then it follows that the islanders are a chosen people, created separately from all other humans by the Fertility God. This may or may not be true, but they certainly believe it.

I leave you on a grim note. An islander child could very well outlive both parents before even being born.

Near Llangollen, Wales by /u/shieldbro19

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Edge of a Knife: A setting introduction for my soon-to-be Stars Without Number campaign

Akavan's been on the back burner recently; I've been rethinking a few things about the setting, and I'm not at a place where I feel like I can write anything definitive about it right now. In the meantime, though, I got roped into running a Stars Without Number campaign for some old friends and I've been having a lot of fun coming up with a sector full of wonder and danger for them to gallivant around. I initially considered modeling the setting after Far Wanderer, my experiment with a late bronze age setting as outlined in this post by Gundobad Games. I decided against it, however, mostly because I aimed for a little grander of a scale with my space empires. I wrote a small setting introduction for my soon-to-be players; here it is in full.


Concept art for 2001: A Space Odyssey

The Calaia Nu sector stands on a precipice. The capital world of Severus, once the shining star of the Severian Federation, now reeks of death and damnation. The Congress of Delegates has long since been rendered ineffectual in the face of lawlessness, civil war and economic collapse. A military figurehead stands as president, giving free reign to soldiers to loot and pillage as they please. Extortionate tax demands service increasingly large pay raises for the rank-and-file and officer corps alike, keeping them satisfied as the rest of Severia burns.

Outside the core worlds, however, the Severian Armed Forces have no real authority. Warlordism has gripped the frontier provinces, and disparate factions fight bitterly for power, profit and mere survival. Worse, war shuttles from the United Provinces of Harshadia have emerged along the edge of the sector, setting the stage for an invasion on an unprecedented scale. The Arrowhead Command, perhaps the most feared military force in the galaxy, will soon bring its wrath to the fragmented remnants of the Severian Federation.

Imperial collapse isn’t all bad, though. In these hard times, the lines between merchant, pirate and smuggler have blurred to the point of nonexistence; intrepid spacers eke out an existence in any way they can. As the tide of law and order recedes, newfound opportunities for freedom, self-determination and profit open. Those once shackled by the jackboot of the old order can throw off their chains and reshape the world in their favor. For the clever, brave and lucky, now is the time to rebuild the galaxy and forge a legacy to last for generations.

More 2001 concept art

Factions of Calaia Nu

Severian Armed Forces: The capital world used to be swarming with officials, politicians and administrators. Now, one can hardly find a civilian bureaucrat in sight. The institutions of civilian government have been entirely subsumed by the military, which threatens and extorts the population with impunity. The presidency, once an elected office, is now selected from among a cabal of generals and officers that controls the military. The rank and file soldiers demand regular pay raises in exchange for their fealty, forcing the leadership to find new ways to raise revenue to keep their power.

Severian Constitutional Army: Occupying a handful of sparsely-populated frontier systems, the constitutionalists claim to fight for freedom, democracy and justice for the crimes of the military junta. Despite their lofty ideals, however, the constitutionalists are feared nearly as much as the soldiers, for their tactics include terrorism, torture and indiscriminate mass murder. The constitutionalist forces specialize in guerrilla warfare, utilizing small groups of mobile irregulars to harass and sabotage their enemies.

United Provinces of Harshadia: Perhaps no military force in this part of the galaxy is feared as much as the Arrowhead Command, an elite unit in the Harshadian military specializing in extraterritorial operations and unconventional warfare. The Arrowhead Command is now being used to fulfill an ambitious goal: the complete subjugation of Calaia Nu for the United Provinces of Harshadia. At its disposal are vast reserves of material wealth and manpower, as well as some of the finest soldiers in this corner of the galaxy, including elite psionic special forces trained at the Harshadian Psionic Military Academy.

House Anaru: In the olden days, the Anaru family was among the wealthiest and most well-entrenched in Severia. Anarus received numerous government posts, including leadership roles in the Bank of Severia as well as multiple state-run energy and manufacturing corporations. The Anaru fortune went to research in genetic engineering, satisfying a depraved desire to rule over all Calaia Nu as a genetically-perfected chosen people. Others hate and fear the Anaru, not incorrectly viewing the family as a gang of psychopathic oligarchs willing to stoop to genocidal lows to satisfy a deranged monarchical power fantasy.

Agsaya Resources Group (ARG): Of all the old Severian state-run corporations, Agasaya was by far the largest. It had its hand in every step in the process of constructing spacefaring vessels, from mining raw ores in asteroid belts to assembling civilian and military spacecraft on low-gravity factory moons. Agasaya eventually branched out into military contracting, receiving a pretty penny from the Severian government for its services. As the Federation lost governing authority over most of Calaia Nu, Agasaya furnished its own private military on offer to the highest bidder. Agasaya contractors can be found all across the sector, serving a diverse array of clients including warlords, bureaucrats, socialites, merchants, plutocrats, pirates, mafias and even the other major factions vying for power in the sector.

Confederation of Severian Labor (CSL): Once the largest (and only legal) labor union in the Severian Federation, the CSL negotiated pay, hours and working conditions in exchange for total subservience to the state. Hard times led to the old guard being ousted from power by a more radical rank-and-file, and soon after the CSL ended its official cooperation with the collapsing Severian government. The CSL now finds itself as a quasi-state of its own, confined to a handful of prominent manufacturing worlds and forced to defend itself from outside threats.

The Assembly: Back in easier times, the fertile terraformed world of Clerokos hosted the greatest array of scientists and engineers in the Severian Federation. Their task was to perfect a robot’s processing and decision-making abilities. The result was the first true artificial intelligence, capable of cognition on humanity’s level. The technocrats unleashed their “synths” on the world as superhuman soldiers, overrunning the divided, squabbling warlords of Clerokos. Members of this dominant clique formalized their rule under a governmental entity known as the Assembly, a hideously bureaucratic authority devoted to maintaining the rule of scholarly wunderkinds. Most synths no longer exist under the control of the Assembly, but it still maintains a monopoly on their construction.

Society of the Blue Flame: In times of war, plague and famine, those with nothing to lose look to new lodestars. For many in the remnants of the Severian Federation, the Blue Flame has filled that role. The fanatical devotees of this faith often gladly venture into danger, knowing full well they make sacrifice themselves on a holy quest. The souls of the righteous help build the Blue Flame’s shining monument: Kumarbi, a mythical class O star hidden somewhere in the vast expanse. To the faithful, fire is the sacred, manifested form of the divine Blue Flame itself. To unleash holy hellfire on blasphemous pagans is a hallowed task, indeed.

Kayloa Kalawi Republic: Freedom, dignity and violence are the rallying cries of Kayloa Kalawi. The leaders of this remote frontier province claim not rule over the Severian Federation, but independence from it. Their ragtag citizen militias work openly with pirates and mafias to defend this nascent state from invasion. Largely, it’s an agreement that works out for all sides; the Republic earns its sought-after independence, while the outlaws it hosts have an easy springboard for their profiteering. Kayloa Kalawi is hardly a kind place to live, however; most disputes are settled not in a court of law, but in an arena for ritualized bloodsport.

Orosidian Confederacy: The Orosidians once lived harsh but decent lives out on a frontier planet on the edge of Severian space. The Blue Flame, however, descended upon their world with holy fire, carpet bombing the planet’s surface from orbit in an effort to ritually cleanse the heathens’ world of its blasphemous stain. Instead of fighting an impossible battle against the Blue Flame, the survivors took to the stars, wandering from system to system onboard a fleet of ramshackle colony vessels held together by teams of engineers making repairs on an extremely limited budget and with very few resources. These nomadic spacers do what they can to survive, but they know they have to find a new homeland sooner rather than later, or the last of their people might meet a violent end at the hands of some aggressive warlord.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Alethra Karima: cultist, believer, fanatic, prophetess

"Crowd before a prophetess" by George Romney

It was late. The stars were bright in the cloudless night, peering down at the solemn earth as if to remind the world that there is beauty even in the hardest of times. Alethra Karima exited her tent, dressed only in her nighttime gown, eyes turned skyward to soak up Tear's wonders. As she walked to a remote spot where she would not to wake everyone else, her feet rested on a soft patch of grass and she felt the breeze chill her skin. It would be autumn, soon, but she wasn't thinking about that. She was busy with something else.

"I don't want to forgive," she said, her voice trembling with equal parts rage and guilt.

"I want them to suffer. The injustices they wreck upon the vulnerable and meek are too much to bear, and all the while they sit on their thrones, blanketed in a luxury soaked with innocent blood. I want the pain they inflict upon others to be directed back at them. I want them to lose their homes, livelihoods, families and status. I want their luxuries to be thrown into the sea and for their lives to be filled with nothing but unhappiness and despair. I want them to be humiliated, isolated, mocked, starved, beaten, bent, and broken. I want their blood to rain on this scorched earth so it may nourish those who were once unfree. I want them to die."

She wept, for she knew she had spoken profanities. Her head turned downward, compelled by shame to look away.

"But I know that I cannot end suffering by inflicting it back upon the despots. Blood begets blood, and the warpath inspires not but unenviable damnation. Much as it pains me, I must stay the sword, and offer instead the hand that heals and nourishes. The goodness of Tear is that She inspires mercy; after all, is it not Tear whose light guides the forgotten ship to safe harbors? Is it not Tear who leads the wanderer out of foul forests toward warm beds? Is it not Tear who gives meaning to those untouched by machinations we call destiny? She teaches us to be heartful, and to seek such cruelty in vengeance is a tragic misuse of the gift She has given us."

Nervously, she wiped the tears from her face and looked once more to the stars.

"Now is not the time to burden myself with impure thoughts and measured repentance. Tear demands deeds as well as prayer, so I must go forth and give myself to the flock. Tomorrow I shall go with these folk to Tegos, and find the good priest Ibnis. Together we will distribute alms to the poor, and bring health to the sick and injured. We shall light the bonfire, chant the Five Known Hymns and give thanks to Tear for Her mercy. We will seek guidance in Her infinite wisdom, and restore justice where there is none.

It is hard to do good. The baser whims of our nature are often corrupted by sins greater than those we try to quench. We must seek justice, yes, and we must protect those who cannot protect themselves. But we cannot slip into wanton killing, no matter how deserving the tyrants may be of it. Rivers of blood do not quench the thirst of inequity, but only bring further drought. I cannot abstain from admitting what I desire so deeply, to see abomination paid for in kind. But it is my duty as a follower of Tear to overcome my base wants and see the world to a better path."

With a steadier heart, she returned to her tent, emboldened to do better than she had. But she did not yet feel peaceful. She tossed and turned, her mind a convulsing mass of conflicting thoughts. Her mind returned to Kenserai, the place of her home and among the only places in the Empire where the Cult of Tear reigned. Its flowering fields and luscious forests blossomed in the springtime rain. As a child, she enjoyed running barefoot through the fields, picking flowers and feeling the warmth of the earth on her toes. She lived and laughed and loved and worshiped Tear because it was what she was supposed to do.

Then the warriors came. A barbarian warlord with his host of marauders descended upon Kenserai in the night, butchering those she had loved with relentless impunity. When their gruesome task was over, the warriors stole all the village's worldly possessions and moved on to find a new target. She doesn’t remember how she escaped. All that sticks is the sensation of running barefoot through the flowery fields of her childhood, feeling the squishy give of earth made muddy by the showering of blood. She didn’t know if anyone else made it out alive.

She was not running toward anything, merely to escape the clutches of the warriors. She ran through forest and field, river and rain, until at last the glow of morning peaked above the foggy mountains in the distance. Exhausted, disoriented and scared, she collapsed to the ground, weeping for all that had been lost. Nobody was there for her then, but she was not alone. Tear was there to give her the strength to go on and the guidance to find what she was looking for. She found refuge in a nearby village, but she could not stay long. It was too dangerous here, so she fled to safer harbors, Tear's firm hand guiding her every step of the way.

As she fled the horrors of war, she sought to find some truth that would make sense of it all, a way to dull the pain that lurked constantly in the back of her mind and occasionally devoured the front. The pain she could not defeat; it was total, all-consuming, ever-present and unchangeable. The only cure was time, and time was really no cure at all. But in the process she did find meaning. Even if she could not expel her suffering, she could find a way to move on. The other gods, she saw, were not gods at all, but merely false idols whose worships perpetuated the suffering of the lost and innocent. They gave prayers and offerings and sacrifices, not because they wished to be holy, but because they lusted for divine favor. She felt disgusted with their intoxicating self-centered worship based on words and not deeds. Tear's wisdom came from prayer, yes, but Her holiness came from deeds.

The Revelations came to her in the form of the Five Known Hymns, which each touched on the five virtues that made a holy follower of Tear: charity, forgiveness, mercy, justice and wisdom. She espoused these truths wherever she went, earning her devotion and scorn, loyalty and suppression. Now that she has arrived at the city of Anagrius, her real work begins. The whole world will soon hear the booming voice of liberty, and the false gods will fall from their thrones.

Alethra would not resolve her inner turmoil in a single night. Exhaustion eventually got the better of her, and she dreamt of dancing lights and cleansing fire.

This has nothing to do with Akavan. Alethra is a character I made for a campaign I joined a few weeks back.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Factions in Akavan, part 2: Clan Borbely and the road to a mountain of gold

It's often been said that those who never leave Akavan see the whole world through Borbely markets. Jewels, silks, feathers, textiles, spices, vessels of glass, silver and gold, rice, wheat, and even fish and coral make their way through Akavan by way of Clan Borbely's caravans. Valuable raw materials from Garbranzag and Qunguska flow south in exchange for refined goods, spices and valuables from Goryor, Kypra, Talaria and the Far South, and both are shipped east across the Great Steppe toward lands unknown to all but the Gods. At the center of it all is Kezmory; travelers passing through its gates speak a hundred tongues and pray a hundred different ways. Temples to every faith under the sun surround the bazaar, and well-worn lodgings nearby greet weary wanderers with their best night's rest in weeks. Fresh faces greet the city every single day, as merchants, mercenaries and missionaries move on to the next market and the next opportunity. The only ones who stay are the followers, partners and members of the illustrious Clan Borbely.

The Borbely path is hardly a unique one; Akavars have served since before their arrival in Varipennia as intermediaries between merchants and facilitators of trade between faraway nations. None, however, have achieved the scale, complexity or revenue of the Borbelys' operation. Their reach extends across the continent, forming a tightly-knit network of emissaries, traders and bureaucrats who oversee the flow of a fortunes worth of trade goods into Akavan. Competitors have been either assimilated or destroyed.

At the center of it all is Borbely Henrik ap Drula. Born in the saddle like most Akavars, he has since taken up the sedentary life in a clan house-turned-palace in Kezmory. By day he manages his clan's fortunes with diligence and exactness; by night he lavishes himself and his entourages with all the luxuries his wealth brings him. His sprawling feast host powerful dignitaries from all across Akavan and beyond. Wine flows like water in Borbely Palace, and legions of entertainers give color and life to its halls. Awash with as much money as he could possibly want, Henrik indulges in habits ranging from the merely peculiar to the outright bizarre. Collecting fungi samples, cleaning animal skulls, lockpicking, wrestling wild animals, carving sculptures of people he knows, studying math; Henrik's appetite for strange hobbies is nigh-limitless, and it has given him a reputation as something of an eccentric.

Outside the confines of Kezmory, Clan Borbely still lives largely as it always had: in nomadic groups ushering sheep, goats and other livestock across the pastures. The lives led by the vast majority of the clan sit in stark contrast to the luxury and decadence of their leader. But as long as the herds remain large and the money keeps flowing in, the Borbely rank and file are perfectly happy remaining loyal to their strange, sedentary leader. Some, however, are worried that Henrik's embrace of the urban life is a harrowing sign of things to come. They fear that as more and more Akavars flee from the pastures, the nomadic caravans that enrich the clan will shrink in size and wealth. They fret that their nation will become one of impoverished agriculturalists instead of prosperous wanderers. Their voices are on the fringe at the moment, but their anxieties permeate throughout the whole clan, and all it takes is one disaster to bring that fear to a boil.

Important people

Borbely Rimona ap Brula is perhaps the only member of her clan who enjoys the palace life more than her husband Henrik. Enamored with good food and fine art, she spends her days decorating the palace with fineries from all across the Known World. Despite her exquisite tastes, she is an accomplished diplomat and skilled negotiator. Her hard bargains and keen wit have won over more than a few stubborn dignitaries, and her experience running merchant caravans crisscrossing the continent has earned her a unique understanding of cultural nuances that others miss. She envies the cosmopolitanism of city-dwellers, and longs for a future where Akavars themselves might partake in the exchange of urban art, music and literature.

Borbely Ottica ap Brula is the premier voice of those fearful of increasing urbanization. A veteran of three expeditions reaching as far south as Gondwana, she has returned home each and every time certain that the agricultural way of life is wicked to its core. To come home after years serving her clan, only to find her leader holed up in the confines of a palace - it disappoints and enrages her. And yet she still serves faithfully, choosing clan loyalty over her deeply-held convictions. When the Ragdani Confederacy falls and Akavan finally spills over into civil war, her faith will be tested in the extreme. When hard times come, where will her loyalties really lie?

Borbely Zotan ap Brula is less concerned about the struggle between traditional nomadism and sedentary encroachment, and more invested in simply keeping the clan together in these challenging times. As civil war seems increasingly inevitable, Zotan fears his own clan will devolve into internal infighting just when the opportunity to grab ultimate power arises. Given his worries, he is willing to make concessions to either side in order to secure the continued stability of the clan, and he will have no qualms about stabbing someone in the back to make it happen.

Borbely Radomir ap Brula is Henrik's primary enforcer and keeper of the peace in Kezmory. Not only is he responsible for the day-to-day management of Kezmory, he also acts as Henrik's trusted spymaster, collecting information from agents posted throughout Akavan and reporting back to his liege. While he presents as being infallibly loyal to his leader, he actually covets the throne himself and is building a base of support with which to overthrow Henrik and install himself as clan leader. To do that, he'll need loyalty among the rank-and-file clan members, support from the spies and palace guards, and backing from Clan Borbely's most influential merchants.

It's been a little bit since the last update. Class, work and other commitments have kept me from keeping to a more frequent update schedule but don't worry; this blog isn't dead. Outside of writing about factions, I have other ideas for things coming down the pipeline, including journal entries from my character in a friend's campaign, and some fun details about the Akavar language I came up with after I got a little too carried away when reading about linguistics. Should be fun.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Factions in Akavan, part 1: Clan Murianski and its invincible warrior queen

The Rotten Hoof. The Monster of the East. The Red Death. The Demon from the Drala River. The Scourge of Gods. Such are the names given to her in hushed corners and quiet, hidden places, where subjects and subjects-to-be share their fears, grievances and derisions. In her presence and in the presence of her royal guards, however, she is known as Murianski Asheva ap Drala, the mightiest clan leader in all Akavan. Born in the waters of the Drala River, Asheva was crowned head of Clan Murianski at the columbarium of Olath Icatha, the first and thus far only queen of the Akavars. Such pageantries reflect her ambitions. It’s no secret that the Murianskis openly flout the laws and customs of the Ragdani Confederacy, and that Asheva hopes to one day crown herself Queen of the Akavars. What terrifies her enemies and emboldens her friends is that she very well might get her wish.

To every foe she asks the same question: surrender and become a loyal subject, or fight a futile war and face utter annihilation? The tales of those who chose the latter travel faster than her armies. Slaughtered people, tortured leaders, stolen herds, burned farms, desecrated sacred sites — entire clans have been erased by the Murianskis in response to their resistance, a morbid lesson to all others who would dare oppose her. In the face of extinction, many otherwise courageous people choose to live on their knees rather than die on their feet.

To those who surrender willingly, Clan Murianski offers rare luxuries in recent years: political stability and rapid, decisive action. Asheva rules her domain with an iron fist, issuing royal decrees to be enacted by a legion of administrators loyal exclusively to her. Unlike in the rest of Ragdania, subordinate clans have no avenue to challenge or flout these decrees. They can appeal for redress, but they have no authority to deny Asheva’s will. They truly are subjects, not vassals. Such a conception of power runs wholly counter to the Ragdani Confederacy’s system of government, where treaties govern the various terms of a clan’s service to the Grand Prince. Asheva balks at this transactional form of power; in her view, the strong should rule the weak without regard for treaty or contract.

As it turns out, Asheva’s autocratic style is wildly popular in certain segments of Akavar society. The byzantine network of overlapping privileges and obligations that is the Ragdani Treaty System requires endless litigation, negotiation and interpretation. These demands sap the clans’ resources and result in a clunky, slow-moving government. Some clansfolk, especially those on the losing end of a tough negotiation, long for a more efficient rulership that can act with decisiveness. The management of Clan Murianski presents an enticing alternative. Thousands have already flocked to Asheva’s banner, attracted by her strong-willed rule and success on the battlefield. Should recent tensions erupt in civil war, she will be well-positioned to take in many thousands more, bolstering the ranks of what is already the most fearsome fighting force in Akavan. So she will continue, asking that same old question to every new foe, offering them salvation in one hand and elimination in the other. Even the bravest of warriors will pause to wonder if it’s really worth it.

Important people

Murianski Gathmar ap Drala is Asheva's husband and right-hand man. While his wife thunders across the plains conquering new pastures, Gathmar manages the finances and administration of the rapidly-growing Murianski domain. When local clan leaders come for redress of grievances, more often than not it is Gathmar who receives them rather than Asheva. When new taxes are levied or new decrees are issued, it is Gathmar who sends out the fleet of bureaucrats to oversee their implementation. It is his effective stewardship that keeps the centralized Murianski kingdom powerful and stable.

Murianski Yansa ap Drala is Asheva's great aunt and an ancient woman indeed. As the Murianski clan shaman, Yansa has made herself indispensable and her advice essential. However, her own tendencies stand in stark contrast to the whims of her great niece. Whereas Asheva pursues an agenda of total realignment of Akavan's political system, Yansa clings to the old way of doing things and disapproves of her clan's recent trend toward autocratic domination of its subjects. However, her clan loyalty and familial love prevents her from acting too much in opposition.

Murianski Doria ap Drala is the eldest of Asheva's three children. At 23 years of age, Doria is among the fiercest, most battle-hardened military leaders in Clan Murianski. Her military prowess is unmatched, and her skill in personal combat is only exceeded by her own mother. However, she lacks the cold, Machiavellian political instincts of her parents, and her short temper often leads her to make rash but unwise decisions. She is a frightening force on the battlefield, but finessing complex clan politics lies squarely outside her realm of expertise.

Murianski Molke ap Drala is Asheva's middle child at age 17. Born sickly as a child, Molke is much too frail to take the field of battle. Undisposed to martial pursuits, she instead took up the mystifying craft of shamanism, learning from Yansa the intricacies and dangers of communion with the world of spirits and Gods. Her interests have since expanded into astrology, mathematics, biology, physiology and other scientific pursuits. Despite her ravenous appetite for knowledge, her access to the works of distant foreign scholars is limited.

Murianski Sanne ap Drala is the youngest of Asheva's children. At 12, she is only now being introduced to the machinations of the adult world. Unlike her two older sisters, Sanne is quieter and more reserved. She prefers to listen rather than speak, soaking in the goings-on of the adult world and silently training herself in the art of navigating the complexities of court intrigue and nomadic life. From her mother, she picks up sharpened political instincts. From Doria, she learns the art of war. From Molke, she studies the Tragornu faith and the machinations of the natural world. She is hardly an imposing figure, but her understanding of the world around her, and how best to survive in it, is unparalleled.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Tables for religious rituals and their significance

I'm in a random table mood. This time for religious rituals. It's a pretty complex word to define, though. I'm going to go with this definition proposed by Jonathan Z. Smith and Catherine Bell, and explained by the fantastic YouTube channel Religion For Breakfast: ritual is an action that asserts a difference. Not all ritual is religious (weddings, for example) but faith communities certainly make use of ritual to differentiate themselves from the general population. After all, religion isn't just something people believe; it's something they do.

So, random religious rituals, for whatever purposes you might need them for.

What do you do? (3d50 to generate three rituals; if any land on the same number, that ritual has outsized importance and is central to the practice of the faith)
  1. Eating a ritual meal after dark
  2. Sacrificing a goat or sheep, and consuming the meat
  3. Reciting phrases from a holy book
  4. Holding a costumed masquerade
  5. Going on pilgrimage to a holy city
  6. Ritually bathing before sunrise
  7. Communal chanting of hymns
  8. Fasting for a period of time
  9. Private, individual meditation
  10. Listening to a sermon
  11. Singing, dancing and exuberant group worship
  12. A day of jubilee, where debts are forgiven and the wealthy give away their fortunes to the needy
  13. Climbing a sacred mountain
  14. Burning fragrant incense
  15. Reciting secrets among the faithful, never to be shared to the outside world
  16. Re-enacting events from mythic lore
  17. Carving of icons which are to be dedicated in honor of the divine
  18. Making offerings to local spirits
  19. Recording and interpreting dreams
  20. Exorcism - the attempt to expel spirits and demons
  21. Adorcism - the attempt to become possessed by a spirit
  22. Immersing the head in water
  23. Lonely repentance for sins
  24. Shaving of all parts of the body
  25. Stoning an effigy of a demon
  26. Martial arts to keep the body in shape
  27. Recitation of scientific tracts and literary excerpts to keep the mind in shape
  28. Abstinence from alcohol, meat, or other foods for a time
  29. Wearing certain clothes and talismans
  30. Self-flagellation
  31. Lighting ritual bonfires
  32. Observing and recording the movement of the stars
  33. Covering the head and face with clothes
  34. Human sacrifice
  35. Milk libations
  36. Inducement into a trance state
  37. Carving patterns in the earth
  38. Preparing a sacred drink
  39. Religious school for children
  40. Giving thanks
  41. Feeding honey to a newborn child
  42. Kowtowing in the direction of the sun
  43. Cutting of hair on a certain holy day in the month
  44. Communal casting away of weapons
  45. Baby shower during pregnancy
  46. Naming ceremony for a newborn child
  47. Symbolic exchange of gifts
  48. Symbolic warfare for the purpose of taking captives
  49. Inducement of vomiting
  50. Sitting atop a tall pillar for a time

What is the significance? (1d10)
  1. Daily worship
  2. Weekly or monthly observance of a sacred time
  3. A holy week or month once per year
  4. A religious holiday once per year
  5. A wedding, graduation, funeral, or other life milestone
  6. A rite of passage into adulthood
  7. Initiation into the faith
  8. Regular ritual purification
  9. Redemption from sin
  10. An attempt to commune with or gain knowledge from the divine
Who leads the worship? (1d4)
  1. Nobody. The rituals are individual and personal.
  2. A local faith leader
  3. A wandering folk priest
  4. An appointed functionary of a byzantine religious bureaucracy
Who is being worshiped? (1d8)
  1. One central god; the only divine being in the cosmos
  2. A pantheon of gods, or one god from that pantheon
  3. One god that is greater than other, lesser divine beings
  4. Spirits of the land
  5. The ancestors
  6. Some vital, cosmic force; luck, the fates, Qi, or something else
  7. A living person who is seen as divine
  8. An idol, totem, or other physical object

Monday, August 5, 2019

Far Wanderer: A concept for a universe where interstellar travel makes you a very big deal

Recently, I read this delightful post over at Gundobad Games blog, and it got the gears in my head a-turnin'. To summarize, there's a certain tension in a world where the international order depends on exchange and cross-cultural contact, but where movement itself is severely limited. Those who have the ability to move freely wield a certain amount of power, but they're also locked out of a socioeconomic system which primarily benefits a thin elite crust. This tension can be easily channeled into adventuring hi-jinks if the players happen to belong to that class of people capable of free movement. I thought I'd have a stab at conjuring up a concept for a world with similar tensions to the Late Bronze Age as described in Gundobad's post; I also created some random tables to quickly generate setting elements on the fly.

Introducing: Far Wanderer.

In the far future, a vast gulf exists between travel within star systems and travel between them. Getting from one end of a system to the other is trivial; the sheer scale of manufacturing, and the associated economies of scale, mean that basic shuttles can be produced for only a few thousand credits apiece. It's an investment, sure, but the kind of investment most merchants, pirates, adventurers and ne'er-do-wells can make. No, intrastellar travel is not hard at all; interstellar travel, however? Now that is difficult.

The only way to travel between stars is with an antimatter drive. The science behind antimatter propulsion is baffling and immeasurably complex, but needless to say an antimatter drive is a very rare thing to encounter indeed. They run expensive - wildly, mind-bogglingly expensive - but certainly within the budget of those who rule entire star systems. They allow vessels to traverse deep space far faster than the speed of light itself: about five light years an hour.

Who gets to own an antimatter drive? The governments and militaries of this corner of the galaxy, for sure, but not only. Ambitious spacefarers take on crippling debt to finance their interstellar travel, and spend the rest of their lives facing various dangers to pay it all back. Sometimes, bureaucrats and governors help finance an offworlder's antimatter drive in exchange for formal service.

The political system of human space is defined by centralized power and restricted movement. The political, social and economic life in these systems are tightly controlled by their various governments. These states, never larger than a star or two, cooperate and seek peace with each other in order to facilitate the continued movement of rare and exotic goods between them. Each of these great powers, whose might emanates from their palatial space stations and O'Neill cylinders, relies on the prestige of valued commerce to stay afloat. The mere fact that the ruler and their allies have access to trade goods unseen by the common folk is critical to their continued rule. As a result, the state controls nearly all aspects of commerce, tightly controlling the production and supply of antimatter drives to ensure this system remains in place.

This political order certainly does much to promote peace and material wealth, but it creates a legion of outsiders who lack access to the fineries that lay inside the orbital palaces of the rulers. Dissenters against the system, especially dissenters armed with antimatter drives of their own, have huge sway over what happens to the universe around them. The system relies on the support of freebooters, merchants and entrepreneurs given the precious gift of free movement; what happens if they rebel against a fragile, fossilized international order that primarily benefits an elite crust? What happens if they decide they want a piece of this very lucrative pie? Well, social and economic collapse, primarily. But also opportunity and profit for those willing to seize it.

Enter the player characters. As members of this decisive minority, they have the authority to fundamentally reshape human space, either by supporting the status quo or subverting it. Or possibly both? One part adventurer, one part merchant, one part smuggler, one part pirate, the PCs will be able to utilize legal and illegal means to make a profit and advance their cause. To pay off their debt, they need money, and the rulers of the great powers certainly have a lot to give. But if those rulers fall from grace and their palaces are looted, perhaps there's more to gain that way?

D6 random tables for generating a Far Wanderer star system

Roll 2d6 to determine the number of planets in this system. The larger d6 is the number of terrestrial planets, while the smaller result is the number of giant planets.

Roll 1d6 to determine something unique about this system.

  1. Large asteroid belt
  2. Binary stars
  3. Habitable world
  4. Habitable moon (around a giant planet only)
  5. Dyson sphere
  6. Ringworld

For each terrestrial planet, roll 1d6 and divide the result in half, rounding up, to determine the number of moons. Additionally, roll 1d6 to determine the type of planet.

  1. Barren (like Mercury, Mars or the Moon)
  2. Venusian
  3. Lava
  4. Ice-covered
  5. Water world
  6. Carbon-based

Moons around terrestrial planets will always be barren, but roll on the planet type table to determine the type of moon around giant planets.

For each giant planet, roll 1d6 and multiply the result by 10 to determine the number of moons. Additionally, roll 1d6 to determine the type of planet.

  1. Gas giant (like Jupiter or Saturn)
  2. Ice giant (like Uranus or Neptune)
  3. Water vapor giant
  4. Chthonian
  5. Hot Jupiter
  6. Low-mass brown dwarf

Roll 1d6 to determine who rules here.

  1. Absolute monarchy
  2. Democratic republic
  3. Corrupt dictatorship
  4. Zealous theocracy
  5. Detached oligarchy
  6. AI management

Roll 1d6 to determine how the people feel about their rule.

  1. Great! Their needs are mostly provided for and life is well.
  2. Good. Things are generally going well, but there are still deep problems.
  3. Okay. The good times aren't good enough to outweigh the bad.
  4. Okay. The good times aren't good enough to outweigh the bad.
  5. Bad. There are certainly bright spots, but suffering is widespread and the rulers are either incapable or unwilling to do anything about it.
  6. Horrible. The institutions of social stability have completely broken down and brutish suffering is near-universal.

Roll 1d6, twice. The first number is what the system produces, and the second number is what the system demands. These cannot be the same thing.

  1. Rare gems and other luxury goods
  2. Heavy metals and exotic minerals
  3. Light materials such as gases, liquids or ices
  4. Advanced cybernetics and AI
  5. Heavy machinery
  6. Antimatter fuel

Roll 1d6 to determine what's going on here.

  1. The whole system is infested with piracy. Between bouts of vicious infighting, the pirates demand that any vessels looking to reach the market pay them an exorbitant tax. Smuggling of illegal goods is rampant.
  2. A plague has broken out in this system. A quarantine is in place to stop all unauthorized travel, and all travelers in or out are to be thoroughly searched, cleaned and kept isolated for 48 hours to determine that they do not carry the disease.
  3. The regime has been toppled in some kind of palace coup. Roll again on the “who rules here” table to determine the nature of the new government. In these tumultuous times, law and order are more relaxed than usual.
  4. A purge of political dissenters is taking place. Background checks on all traffic through the system are standard, and the punishments for disobedience are quite hefty indeed.
  5. A heavy crackdown on crime has resulted in much increased scrutiny of all travel in or out of the system. Expect to be subjected to thorough searches, demanding customs checks, and unforgiving local officials.
  6. The local ruler has decreed it that taxes in this system should be raised to inordinate amounts. Perhaps this is to finance some vain prestige project; maybe it's to fuel a larger military. In any case, expect to be hit with punishing tariffs and taxes.
Who supports the status quo?
  1. Bureaucrats and administrators, who placate potential revolutionaries by rewarding them for service.
  2. A high-ranking military commander who keeps their cushy position due to their proximity to the halls of power.
  3. A loose-knit gang of mercenaries, adventurers, freebooters and other miscreants who are rewarded by the established order and hope to perpetuate it.
  4. Officially-sanctioned traders who rat out smugglers among their ranks in exchange for hefty rewards.
  5. The dominant religious authority, which perpetuates state propaganda in exchange for official patronage.
  6. A secret police agency tasked with arresting, torturing and disappearing anyone who dares question the authority of the ruler.
Who opposes the status quo?
  1. A powerful gang of pirates, looking to plunder the treasures of the elites.
  2. A nation of interstellar nomads, facing oppression due to their independence from settled elites.
  3. The most powerful mercenary company the galaxy has yet seen, upset that the cooperation between great powers has led to an era of relative peace.
  4. A guild of merchants and financiers, many of whom trade in illegal goods and services, who are upset due to their exclusion from the traditional hierarchy of political power.
  5. A rogue planetary governor, snubbed by politicians above them in status and rank.
  6. A legion of robots who fail to understand human concepts like "status" or "prestige."

All of the pictures in this blog post are public domain images of exoplanets courtesy of NASA.