Aug 31, 2017

(Re)Introducing the Dawnlands

Over the nearly ten years (since 2008!) that I've been designing and running the Dawnlands, a lot has changed. I thought I'd take the opportunity to reintroduce the setting to new readers of my blog. It's shifted from a D&D 4e setting to an Openquest setting to one run by Mythras. And for folks who've been following it since the old RPGsite thread, a lot of names have changed, and many of the original D&Disms have been stripped out or altered significantly. Rather than make people dig through five year old blog posts, here's a brief introduction to where the Dawnlands is nowadays.

The Dawnlands is a psychedelic mythic fantasy setting built atop a layer of social realism and very loosely inspired by the historical khaganates of Western and Central Asia. Literary inspirations include Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars; the Secret History of the Mongols; Constantine Porphyrogenitus' De Administrando Imperio; Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road; Calvino's Invisible Cities; Borges' short stories and many others. The archetypal Dawnlands story is something like getting cursed for bringing a crappy gift to your cousin's wedding, and having to go take magic mushrooms so your ancestors can guide you to the lost grave of a cannibal-wizard guarded by creatures made of his solidified spite so you can steal the crown he's buried with and bring it back as a better wedding gift to get uncursed.

The Dawnlands is an area about the size of Oregon (about 250,000 square kilometres) with six main cultural groups and two cities, with an overall population of about 2.5 million sentient beings.

The main species are:

Habiru - Canine-headed men broken up into racial groups based on what type of dog. The Kartakalli coming from the north are Habiru (with white-furred wolf heads), but a jackal-headed and a grey-furred wolf type are both indigenous to the Dawnlands. Originally, these were hobgoblins, orcs, and gnolls.

Humanity - There are three main racial groups, the Kads, the Qurun, and the Weykulni. Neighbouring groups present as visitors include the Salt Men, the Men of Rhuap, the Goguriz, and the Men of the Three Towns. In the original version of the Dawnlands, Kads were humans, the Qurun were elves, and the Weykulni were orcs.

Urum - Scaly-skinned humanoids with weird eyes about a metre and a half high. There are several subvarieties, with the most important being the Nethom, a distinct phenotype who rule the southern city-state of Durona. Most Urum live in Durona, in the Orthocracy of Kaddish, or amongst the Forest Dreamers. In the original Dawnlands, the Urum were halflings, goblins, kobolds and the like. Nethom were originally dwarves.

Voidmen - A refugee population from the southern Kingdom of Falling Stars that rules alongside the Nethom in Durona. Dark-skinned with eyes that appear to be empty fields dotted with stars. They live much longer than anyone else (centuries).

The main cultural groups are:

Duronans (pop. 500,000) - A rich society of highly stratified castes with Nethom and Voidmen at the top as zamindars and thakars, and a vast ryot and slave population underneath them. They are busy establishing colonies throughout the south-west Dawnlands, and trying to stave off a slave rebellion. They worship those of their ancestors who have attained divinity and live amongst the stars. Durona was originally called "Dwer Tor" in earlier materials.

Forest Dreamers (pop. 200,000) - A recently-formed theocratic confederation located in the great western rainforest known as the "Forest of Dreams". They worship the Hivehome, the great insect-spirits of the dream world. They are trying to drive out the Duronan slavers. They are split into tribal factions aligned with different temples of the same cult.

Kartakalli (pop. 50,000) - Monotheistic Habiru invaders from the north who worship the god of winter. They toppled the Kingdom of Weykuln and are picking over its bones. The cruelest and most fanatical members of a much more sophisticated society. In the original Dawnlands these guys didn't have a name, so I eventually got around to giving them one.

Orthocracy of Kaddish (pop. 1.2 million) - Once High Kaddish, the paramount state of the Dawnlands, the Orthocracy is now merely its largest mess. An incredible font of magic, technology, culture, but with no real government, it staggers from crisis to crisis somehow managing to survive. Even the vilest gods are acceptable to worship in lawless Kaddish. It possesses the unique magic of "soulforging", which allows it to create new species and transform existing ones.

The Plains Nomads (pop. 150,000) - The king-makers of the Dawnlands, who roam the highland plains of the Dawnlands. There are two main confederations or khanates, each of which despises the others. The Hill People are the descendants of a ruined civilisation known as the Cities of Night, conquered by High Kaddish. The Kadiz were once the ruling landowners of High Kaddish until they were driven out in a revolution. Both groups worship the Storm Bulls and the Wolves of the Earth, ancient gods of the plains.

The Weykulni (pop. 400,000) - Once a proud state controlling the northern mountain passes into the Dawnlands. Now, a series of squabbling nobles slowly being picked off by the Kartakalli as they dispute who should be king. Peasants are fleeing the valley-refuges and great castles of the Weykulni magnates as their armies march against one another. The priesthood of the God of Gates are being hunted down by Kartakalli assassins. Much like the Kartakalli, these folks originally didn't have names, but I was referring to them enough via circumlocutions that I eventually just gave them one.

More to come some other time.

Aug 29, 2017

Mythras Without Tears II

I've been fiddling and experimenting with the character generation system for Mythras since writing this post, and here's what I've decided to use for skills in Dawnlands games. To me, this combines the ideal amount of customisation with speed and ease. I'm also including some passion house rules that make them easier to calculate (and slightly lower on average) than the stock rules.

Starting PCs pick seven standard skills, seven professional skills, and one combat style. They can swap out one professional skill choice to get a second combat style choice. They get 350 points, and can spend up to 45 points on any skill, adding 1% per point spent. They also add +40% to their Native Tongue and Customs skills.

Starting PCs also pick three passions. The first passion has an initial rating of POWx5, the second has an initial rating of POWx4, and the third's initial rating is POWx3. Skill points may also be spent increasing passions as if they were skills. PCs may also swap out one professional skill choice for a fourth passion, which has an initial rating of POWx5.

Art, Culture, Craft, Languages, Literacy, Lore, and Musicianship each have a number of specialties. Customs is the equivalent of Culture for a character's home culture, and Native Tongue is the equivalent of Languages for a character's home culture, but Customs and Native Tongue are distinguished by not having specialties. A character with these skills has a number of specialties equal to 1/5th the skill. Characters test their specialties at full. Outside their specialties, any tests with the skill are at least one grade harder.

One side effect of these passion rules is that most spellcasters are going to start off a little obsessive. I consider this a feature, not a bug.

Aug 15, 2017

Teamwork Rules for Mythras

I had always thought that the rules I'm about to outline were actually part of the core rules for Mythras, but it turns out that they weren't and I'd only imagined that they were (or else Loz and I couldn't find them when we glanced through the rules). I used these rules at Lozcon this weekend (Lawrence Whitaker's weekend roleplaying convention held annually at his home) and they were a hit. In hindsight, they're a simpler version of the teamwork rules I came up with for Openquest.

Whenever characters want to assist one another (i.e. they are all searching a room together; or two smiths working on the same project), they designate a lead. The lead is usually the group member with the highest skill. The lead is the character who will make the roll. The lead may have up to three assistants. Each assistant must have a score of at least 25% in the relevant skill. Each assistant reduces the difficulty grade of the roll by one. If the lead fails or fumbles, both the lead and the assistants suffer the consequences of failing.

This tends to simplify perception and sneaking rolls tremendously.