Monday, December 17, 2018

S&S Published Resources for BRP-type Systems?

I am moving in a couple of days to another state. Right now I was musing about what BRP/d100 resources exist for dark fantasy/sword & sorcery?

The most obvious would the Stormbringer! roleplaying game in its various incarnations. My favorite supplements for this series would be the Atlas of the Young Kingdoms v. 1, The Unknown East, and Sorcerers of Pan Tang. To that you can add the MRQ books Elric of Melnibone line (by Lawrence Whitaker, primarily) are more accurate to the world in the Moorcock stories. These include the titular book, the Companion, Cities of the Young Kingdoms: The South, Cults of the Old Kingdoms, Dream Realms, and Magic of the Young Kingdoms. The MRQ books in particular have the most developed version of the setting and systems, and are easy to adapt to Legend, OpenQuest or Mythras - with some modification - being somewhat closer to them on the BRP tree than classic Stormbringer!

Lankhmar Unleashed for MRQ has some interesting features, though given its reliance on MRQ1 GMs will probably want to abandon many of the internal mechanics for ones native to the system they're using.

BRP Magic World is very much like Stormbringer without the serial numbers, but benefits from further editing and refinement. The default setting may not be as compelling to some as the world of Elric, but can easily be substituted with the Young Kingdoms, Hyborean Earth, Xothique, etc. with some minor modification. If nothing else is magic, setting and character abilities can serve as inspiration or be adapted to anther BRP system quite easily.

BRP's Mythic Iceland is more mythology, but it happens to be a type of mythology that was very influential on writers like Poul Anderson and thus has a lot of resonance with traditional S&S settings. In a Hyborian Magic World game, for example, Mythic Iceland could serve as a resource for the Vanir and Aesir lands.

Vikings of Legend can serve a similar role. While Mythic Iceland is close to core BRP products, Vikings of Legend is just as close to MRQ2/RuneQuest6/Mythras, and may be easier to use as a resource for someone working with those systems.

Crusaders of the Amber Coast is a largely historical medieval period game involving Baltic crusaders and their environment. Its atmosphere of sinister pagans in the wild bogs and forests (think Conan's Picts) and relatively brutal military conquest in the name of a divinity could be easily adapted to dark fantasy. It is before the high medieval period, making it closer to the ancient/medieval hybrid of most sword & sorcery.

Call of Cthulhu is the most distant from any of these systems, especially in its 7th edition. However its magical systems are semi-compatible with most BRP games, and the pre/posthuman god-monsters and black sorcery of Lovecraft are very much appropriate to most S&S games. The same can be said for Raiders of R'lyeh, which has rules more appropriate to pulp characters than CoC's glass-boned scholastic types.

Clockwork & Chivalry and its later version Renaissance Deluxe are much more technologically advanced than most sword & sorcery (though there's no intrinsic reason you couldn't have dark fantasy in the high Renaissance) it does have some unusual, medieval-themed spells that may be more  suitable for a S&S game than fireballs and djinn summoning.

Finally, the Thieves' World Sanctuary Boxed Set - if you can find it - has a lot of good information on a dark fantasy urban campaign and in particular the setting's city of Sanctuary. The character statistics are converted into many different systems - including RuneQuest - which can be useful in another respect: this can help the GM to look at other dark fantasy games such as Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperboria and bring those characters, spells and abilities into a d100 system by comparison.

Surprisingly there has been no direct adaptation of Conan to any d100 system, nor of any impersonator like Thongor. There is a GURPS 3rd edition solo adventure set focusing on Conan and his world, but as complex as GURPS and d100 games can be the conversion work would be more than it would be worth.

My Approach

Incidentally, the way I would do it? I would use Mythras as the core, turning Animism into something more like Summoning with Manifestation traits; use MRQ Elric for a setting; supplemented by creatures, adventures and spells from Stormbringer (as needed); make Lakhmar and Sanctuary cities in the Young Kingdoms; make a Hyborian viking race from the Far North based on Vikings and Legend, again with spells and creatures drawn from Mythic Iceland as needed..
This would require some moderate conversion work. In magic I would favor going with Mythras magic/spells/powers when a version exists or can be adapted with existing effects. Animism, Sorcery and elements of Mysticism would make it more appropriate - note this would make the magic system more like Magic World than the various Stormbringer and Elric games. Otherwise, use the MRQ version adapted to Mythras. Only convert Stormbringer! stuff if it's especially neat or fitting to the feel of the game.

Finally, monsters from Raiders of R'lyeh and Call of Cthulhu would be especially appropriate adaptations if characters are sorcerers, demonologists or witch hunters.
Using the Elric/Stormbringer supplements as the core is easiest since so much of it is close to Mythras, and so much of it exists in a BRP format. While it might not get the exact 'power levels' correct doing quick, rough conversions where percentages are mapped on, characteristics are copied over, and rough ability in spellcasting are plugged into the conversion is an easy way to loot the vast hoards of BRP-type materials, much a D&D-style games are famous for. The exact distinctions in the game systems characters are built with and for can be ignored, though the result will be novel compared to the original iteration that is often more interesting than a rigorous conversion would be.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Two New Mythras Campaigns

I currently have two Mythras campaigns in the works. One is a medium-sized group adventuring in the Taskan Empire - high magic sword & sandal. The other is a single player adventuring in the Realm - sword & sorcery medievalism.
Expect updates later!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Burgundy in Flames

I accidentally deleted my blog for a couple of days there, when I ditched my G+ account!

I recently got my physical copies of Mythras, Mythic Rome and the Burning Wheel Codex. I spent some time working on The Realm (a dark ages Mythras fantasy setting from a few adventures), as well as Burning Anor (a Middle-earth Burning Wheel campaign set around the Rhun Sea).

My latest project has been a Burning Wheel campaign set in medieval Burgundy during the 100 Years War. I will have Folklore and Sorcery both in the game. It was heavily influenced by Ars Magica, Osprey military books and a general interest I have in Burgundy and the Low Countries.

The exact shape of the campaign would depend a lot on the characters and players, but the general idea was that they are associates of the Great Company - a mercenary outfit founded by Werner von Urslingen, with its roots in north Italian heavy cavalry condottieri. The company is currently employed by the Duke or Burgundy to parry the rebellions in Flanders. There is slight ahistoricity in this: the game starts in 1339, and the Great Company was founded a year or so later, but it closely reflects the practices of the time. They probably won't be line soldiers (at least primarily), and it would be a good idea to have someone possessing Faith and someone else with Sorcery. Folklore is also recommended for non-wizard/priest characters. The game will have a fair amount of magic in it, though nothing like D&D or RuneQuest where people make coffee with spells and have ghosts do their laundry.

Here are a couple of notes I have for the setting.

The Society of St. Simon Magus

The Society of St. Simon Magus is the equivalent of Ars Magica's 'Order of Hermes'. The Simonians represent NeoPlatonism, Hermeticism, alchemy, astrology, Simon Magus, Valentinus, Cathars, Bogomils, gnosticism, Paulinists and Marcionites. As opposed to actual history (where they either withered or became the pretext for a civil war in France that eliminated them) they have managed to maintain an 'esoteric church' within many influential branches of the exoteric church (i.e. the catholic hierarchy and congregations) and forced a sort of religious truce between the Petrine and illuminist sects. Sorcery itself is seen as a principle of true gnosis.

The Society includes many 'lay brothers', who are hermeticists and doctors of theology which maintain the lore an ancient manuscripts of the Society. There are further some hierarches, pastors, nobles and Universities in the Languedoc which are especially influenced by the Society.

The further, semi-secret inner council of the Society are the Gifted, who are given special esoteric education and taught the art of sorcery. Many of these Illuminated brothers adopt an ascetic view (as many gnosticizing sects in the past did), and may become hermits or monastics. There are other monastics who more follow the Cluniac pattern and have accumulated great wealth. As in Ars Magica members of the Society are not allowed to inherit noble titles, though as abbots or diocesian clergy they may in fact exercise temporal and economic authority over substantial holdings and they may, depending on the rule of their Society, also engage in some commercial management.
Finally there are the antinomians, who either believe the possession of the Divine Aeon which gives them their power and the gnosis of it unlocks their own perfection and all they do is righteous. The material world is base matter and of no importance! Alternatively, there are some who believe that the Noahic laws and human institutions do not bind them, acting as Anarchs who answer to no human authority. These individuals and covens tend to irritate the more traditional Simonians, and they are sometimes given over to the secular authorities and church hierarchs for heresy trials.

Setting Notes Burgundy, 1339

The setting is strongly influenced by Ars Magica, as a portrayal of Europe in the 14th century with the fantasy element that the self-perceptions of Europeans, their fairy tales and religious beliefs are objectively true, at least for those who have the right talents and know where to look.
It takes the actual history mostly for granted up to the starting point of the campaign. There are important implicit differences, such as the fact that there is 600-odd year old and generally sanctioned tradition of sorcerers. 
For reasons of campaign location, Burning Wheel rule simplicity and time the question of how Egypt and China might be affected itself by magicians, or whether Turkic steppe tribes can pray to Allah or Tengri for miracles. Virtually everyone in the campaign will be confessing Catholics and some sort of European of a 14th century feudal culture
  • North France and Burgundy. Lots of rich towns, high nobility, important members of the church hierarchy, and elite military found in these areas. Naturally the Order of Hermes would have some representatives and influence in such an important region.
  • This location allows for any of the backgrounds in BWG to be plausibly available, from peasants to landlords, petty craftsmen to guild masters, mercenaries to plate armored princes.
  • Technologically speaking everything in BWG would be available, and extended to elves creates an interesting bump in Norwegian real estate values (all of a sudden that frozen wasteland is useful to someone beside reindeer)
  • Jousting Tournaments in France, Burgundy; bringing in knights from all around.
  • Fairs in nearby of Champagne
  • Trading and production cities of Burgundy
  • (Black Plague struck Constantinople in 1347, will spread to Sicily by the end of the year.)
  • Technology in use by the 14th century in Europe:
    • Wine press invented about 2 centuries ago, now used across Europe. Burgundy and Champagne have an immense wine trade.
    • True chimneys and fireplaces now common in good houses; Segmented arch bridges; Treadwheel crane, stationary harbor crane, floating crane; wheelbarrow (12th c.), ; Oil painting; Hourglass (new invention); Mechanical clocks; Blast furnaces; water hammer, vertical windmills, astronomical compass, paper, rotating bookmark, spectacles, watermarks; arabic numerals, university, buttons (on clothing), spinning wheel
  • Northern France is currently transitioning from ancient French into middle French.
  • Apogee of the armored knight, fighting on horseback and foot.
  • Widespread use of professional archers and mercenary infantry.
  • 100 Years War has been ongoing since 1337.
  • Some mercenaries are tried and executed for their activities.
  • House of Plantagenet in England has claimed the throne of France (against the House of Valois, who holds the French throne.
  • French king going insane (part of the time); when he is sane he favors the faction of the Duke of Burgundy; when insane he favors the faction around the Duke of Orleans
  • Folklore magic is sanctioned by the church and the Society (when used responsibly).
  • Magic' in play: alchemy, apothecary, astrology, folklore, (standard) sorcery, faith (Christian)
  • Sorcerers to have some leeway in which to operate in most Christian countries; they are constrained by their orders, local legal regulations and ordinary criminal treatments (murder and theft are still illegal even if they are accomplished by sorcery).
  • There are also religious regulations which can apply. As with everyone else in their society the sorcerers are expected to be Christians, and the church has its own views on how magic is to be used. In general sorcery that affects the will of others is frowned upon except in special cases to prevent an ongoing murder. Using fire magic in town is also not appreciated. Necromancy (that is, communicating with the spirits of the dead) is explicitly forbidden. Anyone convicted of necromancy can be put to death by the Inquisition, or local rulers acting in their stead (but it must be a canon trial conducted by inquisitors).
  • The Society of St. Simon Magus represents a strain of church esoterica that has always existed. In this history it was never suppressed. The disciples of Simon Magus are not a holy order, though they all claim to be Catholic. Simon Magus is seen as a Saint, and some esoteric lore holds that Simon Magus was Paul. The Cathars, Bogomils, Valentinians. Marcionites, Hermeticists, alchemists, NeoPlatonists and gnostics were all members of this tradition. They managed to maintain a presence in many churches and gained major influence in southern France.
    • The Society is not a religious brotherhood, though it teaches theosophy and its members take ordinary religious services. Their distinct religious teachings are often propagated by priests in diocese where they are influential, much to the horror of the Celcites, those who call for the excommunication of the Simonians and those who hold to their philosophies. Some princes are Celcites themselves, and practice the prosecution of Simonian brothers. The Church of England burns men and women for the practice of sorcery, and the SSSM is banned there, as are their ideas.
    • Would-be brothers of the Society must first spend time being apprenticed in the arcane arts - folklore, alchemy, astrology. Those who are Gifted will be discerned and taken into further courses where they will be examined for faults and trained for sorcery.
      Those who pass through the apprenticeship, learn the tenets of  become Lay Brothers, gaining access to its members and libraries in exchange for some service or donation to the Society. Alchemy, apocathery, medical and scientific lore can be found through these connections, just as with the colleges of law and religion operated by church members.
    • Because of its specific regulations the Catholic hierarchy has forbidden priests from becoming any more than Lay Brothers. If a priest discovers he has the Gift he must resign his position to join the Society. Many priests are involved with the Society nonetheless, and influenced by its u

Fantasy Elements
  • The woods and mountains are deeper, wilder and occasional 'mythical' beasts dwell within them.
  • Beowulf is historical

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Historical Faketion

Most historical fiction is a young adult novel featuring a modern Euro-American (complete with their ideology) disguised in togas. Most popular history (those 200 page books claiming to be History of Rome, anything on the History Channel) is little better. Using classical sources and outdated rehashes of these (such as Mommsen in the case of Rome) they produce nothing of value, but instead fill thousands of books from cover to cover with ancient myths, physical impossibilities, misunderstandings, etc. Some of these errors are original to their sources - Plutarch, Polybius and Livy are propagandists and moralizers first, story-tellers second and historians a distant third. Many of their anecdotes and claims on various persons and events have been shown to be physically impossible, inconsistent with far more prosaic source documents (and thus less likely to be altered for political reasons), and can be shown to be common morality plays and stereotypes projected onto historical characters, like the stock character traits present in the dreary garbage produced on television today. When they are not directly contradicted by better sources, anachronistic or errors they are often of dubious factuality.

The reality is that we know very little about ancient history, though what we do know confounds many of the writings and interpretations from Plutarch and Mommsen. There has been centuries of comparative historical analysis, new texts, archeological findings, and detailed analysis based on climate, geography, logistics, etc. by modern historians. This is, generally, totally ignored by the pop historians. Much of the data you see on a History Channel show is entirely exploded as ancient propaganda and medieval misunderstandings, but even if it weren't it's plagiarized from authors who are hundreds or thousands of years out of date who simply did not have access to modern findings or comparisons from the records of neighboring regions, etc. Virgil's histories are no more history than the Bible, any relationship to actual events is accidental to his main purpose of projecting Augustus as the heir of Romulus.

These doggerel bards of fake history either are not aware of or simply do not care about the variant findings, assessments, and controversies in history that you will find in any competent academic treatment. Their compilation of exploded theories, their reliance on authors who did not even understand the context of their subjects, etc. shows and could easily be remedied by bothering to pick up an Oxford or Cambridge companion to the appropriate subject. As it is what they are writing is fiction, not history.

For an excellent blog post dealing with obsolete historians and classical sources, see Lazy historians and their ancient sources over at Vridar.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Mythic Nova Roma: The 1500 Year Gap in Role-playing History

The Mythras supplements Mythic Rome and Mythic Constantinople give us a view of Rome until the end of the Republic and short years before the destruction of its last remaining political heir, the city-state 'empire' of Constantinople.

In between are about 1500 years left uncovered! Now it's no fault of these settings, as a 'general view' of the Roman empire would be simply incoherent, as the empire changed fundamentally in almost every way between Caesar and Constantine XI. AD&D2e's Glory of Rome tried to give some nod to everything from the Etruscan monarchy on the Tiber to the patrician/plebian Republic to the mercenary-infested later empire. As a consequence it is a useful starting point for deciding which period interests you most, but if you want more historical detail/fidelity you will need to look to other sources.

The Roman Imperial period (mainly, the Principate and Dominate) are covered fairly well in some other Roleplaying supplements, specifically GURPS 3rd edition's Imperial Rome and Rolemaster Rome. These focus on pagan Rome during the Principate or Dominate eras.

There is, as far as I know, no good source for the Eastern Roman Empire/Constantinople during the period of late antiquity and the dark ages - aside from some brief discussions in GURPS 4e Constantinople, which is a book for a location and not a setting. For RPGs set in the 5th century C.E. the Arthurian (Mythic Britain and King Arthur Pendragon) are the only ones that come to mind. The early and later middle ages are covered in many RPG supplements, such as Vampire Dark Ages, Call of Cthulhu Dark Ages, Charlemagne's Paladins for AD&D2e, Crusaders of the Amber Coast for BRP, Stupor Mundi for MRQ, Ars Magica, and many more. The middle ages are one of the most 'covered' topics in role-playing, and many fantasy settings can be gleaned for plausibly medieval materials as they are in large part based on it. Very few of these devote much attention to the near east or the Eastern Roman Empire, though, if anything it is an exotic city full of strange people where anything can happen - and it's probably decadent and corrupt (as though any human institution could possibly be more decadent and corrupt than the courts of English kings).
Artist's Depiction of Kataphrakoi with the Emperor
The period of late antiquity and the near east in the early middle ages, then, is one of the most neglected historical periods I can think of. One reason I care is that I really like cataphracts and horse archers, and being in a Byzantine territory c. 800 is an excellent reason to encounter both. Horse archery has to be the most neglected combat style in RPG history.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Hail Caesar: Qin-Da Qin Relations

Eastern Hemisphere in 50 BC, Before Caesar's Parthian Campaigns

In actual history there was little direct contact between the Romans and various Chinese empires contemporary to them. Some Greek historians may have had an inkling of a great eastern empire as early as the third century BC. The Chinese gathered information from the 1st-3rd c. AD from various travelers so that one geographer was able to give vague directions on how to get to Rome, and describe (at random and inaccurately) some of its customs. From the sixth century to the Mongol Yuan dynasty the Byzantines (whom the Chinese, unlike some Europeans, still equated with Rome, Da Qin) had occasional correspondence with the courts of the Chinese empires.

In the Hail Caesar scenario Imperator Iulias Caesar (he took Imperator as his first name in place of Gaius) has subdued Scythia, Sogdiana, Parthia and Hellenistic Bactria. This puts him not far from the borders of some of the kingdoms bordering Han client states, controlling the major Black Sea, Mediterranean, Red Sea and Persian ports and astride the overland routes for trade.

Some Chinese geographers implied one reason the Romans were not able to make contact with the Chinese was because the Parthians fiercely guarded their trade monopoly through the region. If so, the Roman practice of allowing relatively free trade through their empire (while granting powerful and exploitative state monopoly contracts to important Romans) would presumably greatly increase the contact between merchants from to and from the Han state.

The Han empire was founded during the civil wars after the Qing period, and lasted from about 202 BC to 220 AD, which is about as long as the period from the end of the Second Punic War to the decline and crisis of the Principate system in Rome; thus the Han Empire was about as old as the Roman Empire in terms of being an expansive geographic entity, and the revolution of the end of the 3rd century in Rome occurs somewhat later than the breakdown of the Han and the gradual decentralization of the Chinese Empire for the rest of the century.

In ~20 BC, the period of Hail Caesar, the Western Han is in decline and recent rulers (la Wik) are Wang Zhengjun (71 BC–13 AD) was first empress, then empress dowager, and finally grand empress dowager during the reigns of the Emperors Yuan (r. 49–33 BC), Cheng (r. 33–7 BC). Perhaps the growing weakness of the dynasty will tempt the Romans to move against China's eastern provinces! Perhaps Caesar will agree to assist the Western Han's elite maintain power in exchange for their assistance against India! A cold war between these two 'superpowers' would also be interesting. Would Greeks be banned from China?

It is extremely unlikely that Caesar or even several generations of Imperator Princeps Caesars could subdue China. It is enormous, resourceful, and more than capable of producing men, armies and generals on a scale that matches Romes performance in the Punic Wars. Even if Rome had and retained the advantage a multi-century period of border skirmishes punctured by big set-piece battles and sieges is more likely to me than a repeat of the Mongol blitzkrieg.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Mythic Rome Campaign Update

I have nailed down a fair amount of what I want to do with the game initially. Depending on exactly how the players handle it I want to start out focusing on political and religious elements. A bit of travel will be involved, too. I intend to integrate a couple of scenarios for BRP Rome and Cthulhu Invictus with the campaign.

It will start in late 205 or early 204 B.C. and the player characters are all clients of Marcus Valerius Falto (a wealthy commander of cavalry under Fabius Cuncatator, now retired). The game will start in Asia (that is, Turkey) with the PCs going along with M. Valerius Falto on an expedition to King Attalus.

I still need to get my hard copies in the mail and refresh myself on the Mythras rules, but assuming I can get a handful of players (at least 3) I will be starting within a couple months.

As the game continues I would like to involve some 'Ships & Shield Walls' stuff, perhaps with the players joining the campaign in Africa. But I need to get a good handle on the basics of Mythras in play, and then look into that aspect.