How Do You Present a Setting?

How do you write about a setting? In this post I talk about the brief overview that allows you to understand a bit about the setting before diving into the details. How to you present a new setting to your players?

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Jar Burial in the Land Beneath the Winds

In human cultures, it is common for the dead to be buried in large jars. The preferred method of burial (and the most expensive) separates the bones from the flesh. The bones are then placed in a large ceramic jar decorated with various writings. This jar is sealed with a wax and clay mixture that makes it watertight. The flesh is liquified and placed in a second sealed container. The second container is marked with a single glyph that represents the wheel of rebirth.

The bell of the bone jar is approximately four feet tall and about five feet in diameter at its widest point. It stands on four feet that are curious bound by chains near the feet. The feet are four different sizes, one extends into a three-foot diameter disk. The entire jar stands about five to five-and-a-half feet tall. The other jar, with the liquified entrails, sits on the large disk of the "odd" foot, placed upside-down.

This elaborate burial ceremony is intended to prevent the body from being animated by wizards or demons. Both wizards and demons seek to reanimate the whole body in an effect to gain the knowledge, spells and/or skills the deceased had when they were alive. Without both the bones and the flesh, wizards and demons cannot create the magical stones that would contain the deceased memories, knowledge and skills. (The truth is that these elaborate measures do little to deter wizards and demons.)

More importantly, it is intended to prevent ghosts to re-integrate with their bodies in an attempt to prevent their reincarnation. It is believed that if the ghost somehow manages to re-enter the bones, the shaking caused by its attempts to escape the bone jar will spill the contents of the second jar. It is believed that without the flesh, it is impossible for a ghost to re-enter their former bodies. This turns out to be true. There is such a great fear of a spirit re-entering its former body that the widespread reach of this custom has relegated the existence of a re-integrated body into myth and fairytale.

For those that cannot afford ceramic jars, clay jars are used instead. If the family of the deceased cannot afford jars with feet, the bone jar is made to sit flat on the ground. The liquified entrails are placed in a sealed metal box and buried in cement under the bone jar. Cement is very inexpensive, but cannot be made very thick. For this reason, to prevent a ghost from opening the second jar, it is buried at least three feet into the ground. Theoretically, it would be easier for a ghost to re-integrate into the body if the burial is done this way, however, the poor usually have little reason to avoid the wheel of rebirth.

Psionicists and a Trip to Half Price Books

Work on the ACKS Psionicist is on task for the end of May. Last night I managed to get the Proficiencies written thanks to a ninth evening of insomnia. The Wild Talents and Stronghold rules are next. It's all coming together.

The proficiencies may change, but here are the ones I have so far. These are all in ACKS already:

Acrobatics, Battle Magic, Beast Friendship, Command, Contemplation, Craft, Diplomacy, Healing, Illusion Resistance, Leadership, Magical Music, Mystic Aura, Performance, Quiet Magic, Sensing Power, Unflappable Casting, Weapon Focus

The others so far are reworked feats from the SRDs:

Delay Power, Psionic Armor, Psionic Body, Psionic Fist, Psionic Shot, Psionic Weapon, Speed of Thought, Up the Walls.

Yes, I will be changing the names. I don't like everything having the word psionic in it. A few more proficiencies are on the way as well.

Adventures in Book Buying

Today I was at Half-Price books pondering another RPG purchase. I don't get a bit of allowance often, but I was eager to see what deals I could get. Last time I found a TORG book for about four dollars. That was a few months ago, so I figured the stock had changed...

Someone at this branch of Half Price apparently checks eBay for price comparisons. The Birthright box set without War Cards was $30. The 2nd Edition Tome of Magic was way high as well. About the best deal I found was a Metabarrons hardback for $15. I wasn't able to get it.

What I did find, however, was a book about Southeast Asian history. Specifically, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce 1450 - 1680 by Anthony Reid for about $6. Tanah-Con-Rahn is inspired by Southeast Asia and this is the perfect sourcebook. Not only does it detail daily life, but warfare, urban culture and pastimes. One of the aspects I liked is the discussion about mass conflict. The prevailing mood in conflict was that land was forever, but human capital was limited. Apparently, battles weren't fought to the last man or anything like that. In fact, cities didn't have walls. An army would invade, and the citizens would wait in the woods until the invaders left.

The goal of mass conflict was to actually capture people. The measure of power was in the number of slaves and people under a ruler's control. People were a limited resource, so you didn't waste them in war. In fact, if you completely wiped out your opposition, you lost the opportunity to capture their forces. Not only did you want to avoid losing lots of your troops, but avoiding lots of theirs.

How was mass combat handled? Many times it was either handled through one-on-one combat (champion to champion) or through scaring the other force. The reason a ruler would amass a huge army was to lower the morale of his opponent. One way of lowering morale was to prove that your force had superior magic, defensive or offensive. In fact, when firearms arrived in the area, shots were more often fired into the air rather than at the enemy.

From a game standpoint, mass combat is basically a reaction roll. Before the reaction roll, though, each side could wheel out their crossbreed or extraplanar champion to fight it out. As the fight progresses, each side makes reaction rolls based on how the fight is going. When one fails, the battle is over. If the champion route doesn't work, it could be a mega-powerful weapon, or mutant elephants. One of the more powerful effects could even be the sudden transformation of the front line into rakshasas.

As an aside, this also addresses another issue, why are the endless forests filled with weird monsters? It's filled with the losers (or permanently transformed troops) from the many wars and skirmishes throughout the land.

As far as diversions, it seems that gambling on animal fights was quite popular. However, it doesn't have to be magical creations. It can be roosters (for the lower classes), tigers, even elephants. The big battle might be the weird and bizarre, but it doesn't have to be.

By the way, stronghold rules would be the same for every class...

Okay, okay, okay. What does this have to do with the ACKS Psionicist?

The Tanah-Con-Rahn setting features variations of the ACKS Psionicist. I want to make certain that the ideas I have for Tanah-Con-Rahn are possible in the rules I present. For that matter, there are a class of people in the space fantasy setting based on the Psionicist. (They are called the Pythagoreans.)

More to come. I hope to finish more tonight and enjoy a good book tomorrow.