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Explore OTHER WORLDS

Other Worlds is a roleplaying game of heroic action and adventure for any genre. The game is driven by description: descriptions of characters, details of actions, and dramatic visualisations. Numbers and dice rolls are secondary to the action; in fact, you will find that in Other Worlds the rules serve to emphasise the story and increase the drama rather than getting in their way.

This book contains the following material:

  • A comprehensive worldbuilding procedure that the whole group gets to take part in
  • Over 100 ready-to-use character templates, from assassins to xenoarchaeologists and everything else in between
  • Detailed guidelines on creating your own cultural archetypes, professions, trademark powers, supporting characters, and adventure locations
  • A simple, elegant conflict resolution procedure that can handle any situation
  • Turn-based set piece rules to handle the more important conflicts of your story
  • A wealth of practical advice on how to get the most out of play, based on real experience at the games table
  • Quick-start genre packages for fantasy, horror, pirates, science fiction, superheroes, and the wild west
Available now from DriveThruRPG in any of three formats: PDF, softcover, or luxurious hardcover!
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The Art of Other Worlds, Part One

I came across a document on my hard drive recently that turned out to be the original art brief for Other Worlds, written in August 2010. Storn Cook was always the artist I wanted for this project, and he did a fantastic job of bringing my strange ideas to life – well, this is the document he had to work with. I present this not as a model for how to do a professional art brief (seriously, I have no idea) but as a historical artifact in the game’s development that reflects some of my thinking at the time. I intend to expand on this thought process in a later post but for now, enjoy!

N.B. This is the ‘revised’ version of this document with ‘deleted’ entries simply because my initial vision somewhat outstretched my budget, so some of the projected illustrations fell by the wayside (although later during layout some more art was commissioned to fill various gaps). Nothing has been edited here and so you will see a variety of ideas and plans that ended up being revised or amended either by myself or Storn. I hope this is of interest to people who have enjoyed playing or reading the game.

REVISED ARTWORK BRIEF FOR OTHER WORLDS

The plan is to capture the DIY/build your own setting element of the game by using pencil sketches rather than fully inked pieces. All the art will be themed around the idea of ‘concept sketches for an imaginary film or campaign’.

Several of these pieces will also feature the use of text. This should always be hand-written in pencil (AND IN ALL CAPS) underneath or alongside the image, representing the notes of the GM//designer or simply the title of the piece.

The book will be in 6×9 (or maybe 5.5×8.5) ‘paperback novel’ format. Please bear this in mind in terms of page sizes.

Note: the game is written in English-English, not American-English. Please do not correct any spellings.

CAMPAIGN CONCEPTS

Each campaign concept should take up a whole page.

They represent example potential campaign ideas ripped out of some hypothetical GM’s notebook.

The idea is that they serve as both examples/inspiration and also as artwork/breaks in the text.

I’m thinking that each one should consist of a hand-lettered logo of some kind, a pencil sketch or two, and a bunch of text hand-written in pencil. The text, images, and logo should all be intertwined as though on the same scrap of paper.

I suggest that you just pick one and experiment with it, and we’ll see where we want to go with them from there.

1. VIKING SAGA

 

[Logo in sharp, angular text, like the elvish runes from Lord of the Rings. Maybe have runes along with it?]

[Text as follows, can be broken up or put into a single text block (keep existing line breaks)]

Concept: The characters are viking raiders exploring a mythic, fantastical Europe.

Dark and gritty in tone – sudden, violent death is always potentially around the corner

Explore ancient tombs, sites of mystical power, coastal villages, ruined castles, shipwrecks, and haunted forests

‘Here be dragons’ – fight against goblinmen, dragons, werewolves, dopplegangers, faeries, and spirits of the dead

Power Level: 20

Culture: Tribal variations on a common ‘Viking’ template

Profession: Roles in the party – scout, warrior, chieftain, etc

1 Trademark: Huscarls, berserkers, animal sidekicks, magic swords, great destinies, etc

[Potential images: A standing norseman with shield and weapon. A fragment of a map. Stonehenge or a ruined tower. An axe or sword. A longboat. A (realistic-looking) viking helmet. A wolf]

2. THE SILVER AGE

[Logo like a comic book logo – think particularly the 3-D thickness of the traditional Uncanny X-Men logo, and the curved scroll effect of the traditional Amazing Spiderman logo]

[Text as follows, again can be broken up around artwork or kept together in single cluster]

Concept: Watchmen meets Mad Men

Superhero campaign set in America as the shining optimism of the 1960s gives way to the dark cynicism of the 1970s – JFK, the space race, the civil rights movement, the cold war, Cuba, Vietnam, Nixon, Watergate

Echo Marvel’s own silver age – soap opera subplots, breaking the fourth wall, gonzo weirdness and superscience, commie supervillains, everything is new and shiny, lots of one-shot stories, new heroes and villains coming out of the woodwork all the time – creating a new continuity rather than mining an existing one

Power Level: 40, 2 Trademarks

[Potential images: Any assorted Kirby-esque aliens/mutants/energy dots/cosmic wonders/fight scenes. Maybe a Challenger space shuttle with a superhero flying alongside it?]

3. ROBOTS OF THE THIRD EMPIRE

[Logo: not sure. rivets? cogs?]

[Text as follows]

Concept: Sentient transforming robots come to Earth to fight over the four final fragments of the Nexus Cube, an ancient and powerful artifact that crash-landed here over five million years ago.

Power Level: 50

Cultural Archetypes: Different factions among the robots – the Defenders, the Watchers, or the Enslavers.

Professional Archetypes: The character’s role in the robot wars – scout, footsoldier, artillery, etc.

2 Trademarks: One represents the weapons and capabilities of the character in Giant Battle-Robot form. The other represents the weapons and capabilities of the form he can transform into – a car, a jetfighter, a dinosaur, etc.

Supporting Characters: other robots, AI programs, human sympathisers, human government forces

Antagonists: robots of the other factions, anti-robot guerillas, human government forces, aliens

Sets: Anything that can be smashed up real good by twelve foot tall robots with guns for hands

[Potential images: first image is a huge transformer battlerobot guy, maybe holding some kind of gun. Second image is some kind of sportscar or truck – various shared elements show clearly that it’s the same guy]

4. THE INFECTED

[Logo: military style, as though stamped onto something?]

[Text as follows]

Concept: The Nazis win WW2 by infecting Britain with the zombie plague. The survivors seal themselves into the London Underground and establish a network of underground colonies. We begin the action in 2013, when the virus has finally started to recede and people can once again return to the surface world. The characters are part of a special forces unit that has been sent out on a secret mission to rescue Prince Harry from unknown captors.

The Underground Colony of New Britain – a military/monarchist dictatorship, representing an idealistic version of what life was like in the 1940s. Rationing, Vera Lynn-style nostalgia/propaganda, cobbled together anachronistic tech like Sten guns, the wireless, the Enigma Machine, etc. Different underground stations have their own cultures (after Neverwhere) – Angel Islington is full of religious fundamentalists, Oxford Circus is full of anarchists and liberals, etc

The surface is a rubble-strewn wasteland, with all the classic London landmarks mostly still standing. Some element of re-wilding has gone on, with nature slowly taking over the city again. Lots of new trees and overgrown plants.

Potential antagonists: fast cannibalistic zombies – ‘the Infected’, rogue scavengers, anti-establishment types, infected animals like rats and dogs, collaborators and spies, Nazi scouting parties, other foreign troops.

Grim and gritty tone. No magic or supernatural elements at all – the virus is a scientific weapon.

Power Level: 20

Archetypes: All the characters will have adapted versions of both the ‘Englishman’ and ‘Soldier’ archetypes.

Trademarks: One each, representing various specialist roles within the unit – sniper, medic, demolitions, etc

[Potential images: Big Ben partially ruined or amongst other, bombed-out structures. Ruined/empty London city streets (think: the movie 28 Days Later). Zombies who look serious and angry, not too rotten and decomposed.]

CHAPTER HEADERS

These pieces are specifically designed to act as headers/bookmarks for the most important chapters of the book.

They should take up half a page each.

5. WORLD BUILDING

This comes from one of your own ideas Storn: “A GM putting blocks and shapes into a world over countries, stuff flying around in bits… sorta GM type leaning over a fantastic Sims layout or Civilization type land”. The only thing I would add to that is that there should be multiple people overlooking the layout, to represent the fact that the players create the setting of this game on a more or less equal footing with the GM.

6. CHARACTER GENERATION

This was one of your ideas: “A PC type as a schematic showing various aspects of character generation.. General Abilities, Traits, Flaws etc.” I’m not sure exactly how that would look but it’s definitely something to explore. Another possibility is to base something around Da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man diagram (the one with the man standing at a T position and also an X position, superimposed together in a circle. Maybe combine the two ideas?).

7. SUPPORTING CAST

An archetypal supporting cast for a fantasy game all huddled together ‘for the camera’. For example, a dwarf wizard, a scrawny young squire holding a sword, a floating skull, an innkeeper, a king, a barbarian, and a cloaked rogue/spy type character (could be an antagonist of some kind). I’m flexible though – only the floating skull is mandatory.

8. CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Two characters engaged in a hand-to-hand struggle – both from the Silver Age 1960s superhero campaign example. On one side we have ‘The Spirit of Liberty’ – a winged all-american hero, flag on chest, eagle mask helmet (face covered with a beak Hawkman-style), try to make sure he doesn’t look too much like the captain america style guy you did for the silver age campaign picture. On the other side we have EITHER ‘Grindstone’, a grey rocky strong guy hero made out of stone. maybe looks slightly demonic/gargoyle-like? – OR – ‘The Red Spectre’ – a cloaked figure (wearing a suit? evil looking robes?) who is able to turn insubstantial, possess people’s minds, and manipulate tendrils of gaseous/shadowy energy. Choose whichever of those two baddies you have the best visual ideas for.

There should be a caption underneath saying: ‘The Spirit of Liberty vs. [whichever enemy you use]’

9. SPOTLIGHT POINTS

Again, one of your own ideas: literally, a PC “in the spotlight”. I think the PC himself should be a secret agent type, some kind of James Bond/Nick Fury figure with a flashy-looking gun.

Do you think this image will still work as a pencil sketch, given the shadows created by the spotlight effect?

10. (DELETED)

11. ADAPTING OTHER WORLDS

This is a science fiction/space opera image, although it should look more beaten up/industrial like Battlestar Galactica or Aliens. Image of either a computer console or a starfighter, with a guy crouching under the hood holding a spanner trying to fix the damn thing

RE-USED IMAGES

12. Pan, the space opera/cyberpirate character looking at a computer display.

This image is a great example of the sort of look we are going for – clean, elegant, iconic.

CHARACTER SKETCHES + RULES TEXT

These pieces should take up a half-page each – a character sketch on one side of the piece and some rules text hand-written alongside it. The text and art should be seen to be part of the same piece – they should not be separated.

13. LILY McCALL

[Image: Young girl, somewhere between five and seven years old. Sitting cross-legged on the floor wearing pyjamas. She’s from the Victorian era but this doesn’t need to be obvious. She is looking up at word blocks that are floating in the air (via her own subconscious telekinesis). They could spell ‘ward 13′ or something else maybe?]

[Text as follows]

Lily McCall

General Abilities:          Abuse Toys

Sing Creepy Nursery Rhymes

Sweet Appearance

Personality Trait:        Never Flinch

Relationship:                Adored By All Things Evil

Goal:                            Find Mummy

Flaw:                            Accidentally Summon Eldritch Monstrosity

14. JACK AND JILL

[Image description: Siamese twins from Ward 13 (victorian horror campaign set in lunatic asylum). Heads entirely separate. They should be teenagers/young adults in appearance. Twisting and struggling against each other in a straightjacket? Prison bar window in background? Should be a serious picture, not a funny one. ]

[Text as follows]

Jack and Jill

General Abilities:          Jack – See The Past

Jill – See The Future

Siamese Twins

Separate At Night

Personality Trait:        Constantly Arguing

Relationship:                Love Each Other

Flaw:                            Hate Each Other

Goal:                            Escape From Ward 13 (And Each Other)

15. THE A-TEAM VAN

[Concept: this is a 1940s Harrods delivery van that was converted into an A-Team style attack vehicle by British special forces during the actual play of campaign concept 4, The Infected]

[Image: Please see both attached images. Either pick one to use as a basis or make up some combination of the two. The Harrods lettering should be visible but perhaps partly obscured by other things. Then add the following mods: an actual A-Team stripe, sprayed or painted on along the side of the van; a roll cage; two firing ports on each side of the back cabin of the van (make it one port each side if it will look better); sheet metal armour plating; and a snow plough (that’s actually used for ploughing through zombies). It should be reasonably clear that this vehicle has been largely improvised from stuff found in a garage rather than being some hyper-designed killing machine]

[There should be NO figures inside or outside the van – it’s all about the vehicle itself]

[Text as follows]

Customised Harrods Delivery Van From ‘The Infected’

General Abilities:          Firing Ports

Jump Over Ramp

Roll Cage

Sheet Metal Armour Plating

Souped Up Engine

Zombie Plough

Personality Trait:        A-Team Stripe

Relationship:                Designed By Corporal Q

Flaw:                            Zombie-Attracting Backfires

16. CAPTAIN BRIGHAM

[Image: stern and merciless naval captain, buttoned up appearance, uniform, cutlass, flintlock pistol. Should look like he is standing on the prow of his ship, pointing and giving orders maybe?]

[Text as follows]

Captain Brigham

Captain John Brigham is in command of HMS Impervious, a special pursuit warship of the Royal Navy given a unique mandate by the Queen: remove all pirates and subversives from the high seas by any means necessary.

General Abilities:          Catch Target Unawares

Execute Troublemaker

Stop At Nothing

Personality Trait:        Utterly Ruthless

Relationship:                Tyrannical Captain of HMS Impervious

Goal:                            Restore Order To The High Seas

Flaw:                            Hated By All Those He Commands

OTHER, STAND-ALONE SKETCHES

Some of these images should be simple sketches, like Pan discussed above, with maybe a header or a name.

Some of them should be more like concept sketches in that they have little text labels calling attention to various details. Please see the attached images ‘Concept Sketches 1 and 2′ to get the general idea of what I want.

17. (DELETED)

18. (DELETED)

19. THE PIRATE SHIP

[Intended to illustrate the ‘A Distant Port’ example in the conflict resolution chapter. Image should simply be of a pirate ship at sail in the ocean during a storm. Try to zoom out a bit to capture the ship and the wild, choppy nature of the conditions. No clear pictures of the crew please (if they are even visible at all)]

20. GRULL MARAUDERS

[concept: humanoid marauders from a space opera game.]

[Image: some kind of cross between orcs, trolls, the mangalores from the Fifth Element, and the pig-like gamorreans from star wars. Brutish-looking animal-men wearing fragments of uniforms and heavy armour plating (mostly scavenged/improvised). Holding some kind of heavy shotgun rifle with a revolver-like chamber in the middle]

[text should say: Grull Marauders from Sector Seven]

21. THE KINGS CROSS HAMMERS

[Concept: a ‘team shot’ of the special forces unit we used as PCs in our ‘The Infected’ campaign]

[Image: four figures standing together, equipped/dressed as British soldiers circa 1940, with a dog at their feet:

Figure 1- a demolitions expert who looks like George Clooney in O Brother Wherefore Art Thou

Figure 2 – a gadgeteer/officer type with a utility belt and a custom made spike rifle/harpoon

Figure 3 – a slightly feral-looking scavenger/scout who is a bit of an angry loner type

Dog – a small rat terrier, should be at the feet of his master, figure 3(the scout)

Figure 4 – a medic with a high-tech hypodermic needle-pistol, sample vials hanging from his belt, and a (not too blatant please!) crucifix hanging from his neck. ]

[The text underneath/alongside the piece should simply say: ‘The Kings Cross Hammers’]

22. FLYING FISH

[Concept: a flying fish with a boat attached. From a fantasy setting]

[Image: A giant fish, 100 metres long, with a lighter-than-air gas sac (this is wholly internal and should not be seen on the picture) that lets it float in the air. It has a boat underneath it attached via a harness. The boat has no sails but does have a ballista or two (not necessarily visible). The boat is big enough to need a crew of about 10-12 people. The fish should be in mid-flight, soaring majestically over a sea of clouds with the peak of a distant mountain just visible in the distance.]

[The text underneath/alongside the image should read: Large flying fish (Pesce Dirigibile) from Angelo’s ‘The World Over The Clouds’ campaign.]

[N.B. The final ‘i’ in Dirigibile is not a typo ]

23. (DELETED)

24. A WARLOCK OF THE IRON CITADEL

[hand write the above title directly underneath/alongside the picture]

[Concept: a steampunk technomage in a post-apocalyptic Earth]

[Image: a tall and imposing figure, dressed in a heavy longcoat and a tattered cape. Looks gothic, like something out of warhammer 40,000 or the mutant chronicles RPG. Some riveted armour plating – actually made out of brass. Maybe have some kind of cogs set up around the limbs to act as rudimentary power armour servos. Grand Darth Vader-style helmet & mask with a prominent respirator grill. Salvaged items on belt and in equipment – a book, an hourglass, maybe other stuff. Has a sabre (powered?) and some kind of baroque flintlock-style energy pistol. Holding a staff maybe? In the background an essence storm roars around a distant citadel, amidst barren wastelands/mountains?]

[The citadel itself could look something like the attached image of the GW Citadel logo]

25. (DELETED)

26. DARTH MANTIS

[Darth Mantis is a villain from an old star wars campaign I ran. From the waist up he looks like a cross between darth vader and a dark eldar incubi from warhammer 40,000 (see attached image). He should be elegant, armoured, slightly insectoid/waspish looking, and holding a lightsabre in one hand. He lost both legs in an ‘incident’, so from the waist down he is fused to a robotic spider body like some kind of centaur. The join between the armoured human torso and robo-spider-centaur legs should be seamless, so that he appears to be one single unified robot/creature.]

[The text should simply say: Darth Mantis]

27. DWARFBALL BLOCKER

[To illustrate the conflict consequences stuff at the end of the conflict resolution chapter. A fantasy dwarf in very heavy sports armour, like something out of Bloodbowl. Any ideas for an interesting new spin on this image? This should be a character study with no background or other figures. Could try both a front view and a side view next to each other, or have various call-out lines that we can label with text later on (spiked kneepad, concealed weapon, etc)]

[no text needed]

28. CYBERPUNK CITYSCAPE

[For the worldbuilding chapter. Just a half or a third of a page, a loose sketch of a cyberpunk cityscape – all skyscrapers and billboards and neon, with a side view of a bladerunner style flying car as it moves past. But this car should be small – the focus has to be on the cityscape itself]

[no text needed]

29. HEL-BLÁR, Animal Draugr (note little accent line over the a in blar)

[concept: an example monster to follow on from the Viking Saga campaign concept]

[Image: a satyr-like beastman, with cloven hooves, goats legs, a human torso/arms, and a fox’s head. It should be wild eyed, angry looking, intimidating. It’s an animal spirit just risen from the grave, so there should be a gravestone just behind it (maybe a very primitive one?) and wisps of black smoke trailing along the floor]

30. SOME KIND OF MARTIAL ARTS/WUXIA IMAGE

Any ideas?

31. (DELETED)

32. (DELETED)

33. SOME KIND OF WILD WEST IMAGE

Any ideas?

34. (DELETED)

35. RE-USE OF CRIMSON72

You said that you had a pencil version of this

36. RE-USE OF PILOT72

Pencil version of this too please.

37. RE-USE OF SWEEPER

Greyscale/pencil version please.

38. RE-USE OF SANDMAN FIGURE

You said you might be able to make this more ‘sketchy’ in photoshop by making it greyscale.

 

Angelo’s New Campaign

Angelo, who has been a big supporter of Other Worlds since the very beginning, has started a really interesting thread on his new campaign on rpg.net, come check it out:

http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?738229-My-Kids-first-rpg-game-(Simplified-Other-Worlds)

A preview of what I’ve been working on lately…

 

Tesla Phantom

The character is a member of an elite special forces unit that uses stealth field technology and other gadgets to augment their commando training.

 

General Abilities:         Active Camouflage Field

                                    Grappling Hook Gun

                                    Kevlar Darksuit

                                    Lockbreaker Program

                                    Noise Suppression Field

                                    Scan All Known Frequencies

                                    Snap Guard’s Neck

                                    Switch to Infra-Red

 

Personality Traits:        Cagey

                                    Intuitive

                                    Loner

                                    Patient

 

Relationships:              [to commanding officer]

                                    [to comrade]

                                    [to enemy]

                                    [to unit]

 

Flaw:                           Hunted by the Cabal

 

Supporting Ability Use

A thread over on RPG.net made me think about unusual or funny uses of supporting abilities.In my last OW campaign we had a character with the racial ability ‘Strong Swimmers’ trying to conceive a child with his partner – we didn’t roll or anything, but it was funny when the player mentioned it as a factor. Another PC had ‘Down to Earth’, and I let him use it as a bonus when he fell down a great pit and was trying to land safely.

One guy had ‘Unrestricted Access to the Great Library’, so when they went to the Great Library I deliberately had the snooty assistant say that ‘access to the great library is currently restricted’, setting him up for the inevitable comeback of simply stating his ability name in a booming voice.

Anyone else got any examples of unusual but apt supporting ability use? What’s your stance on this kind of thing?

The 50% Solution

Something I’ve been asked about a few times is why Other Worlds uses one 50% supporting ability and then a bunch of 10% supporting abilities.  Well, it may look like a bit of unnecessary complication but it’s actually really important to the mathematical functioning of the game.

The reason is that it allows flaws to operate on the same kind of ratings as normal abilities. Which in turn enables you to have one unified, easy-to-remember system where all abilities (positive and negative) affect conflicts in exactly the same way, often switching over from positive to negative modifiers during the session depending on the circumstances of each roll.  This was one of my big design goals when writing the book.

If all supporting and negative abilities only modified things by 10%, you’d have to give flaws massively high ratings for them to even make a dent. So you would have something like Broken Leg 100, but it would only give you a penalty of -10 when you tried to run off somewhere. Not to mention you’ve now got a huge rating to beat when you want to try to heal the thing. Further, if you then found a way to turn your flaw into a benefical trait (eg using your broken leg to get sympathy from a trader), the resulting bonus would be so high it would dwarf everything else you had.

If all supporting and negative abilities modified things by 50%, or even something more midrange like 25%, you’d have the problem where having multiple relevant abilities becomes much more important than the main ability or even the dice roll itself. This after all is one of the reasons that the game uses a d100 – to accommodate lots of little modifiers based on the character’s culture and personality without letting them dominate. Having more relevant mid-rated abilities than the other guy, or fewer applicable flaws, would start to decide conflicts in itself. I think the game works best when conflicts have room to surprise us and the underdog still has a decent chance at victory.

Another option would have been to use the rating of the flaw itself as the opposition number. That sort of works mathematically, but it also pushes the actual opposition in the conflict right into the shadows. Whether you’re fighting the evil Baron Whatsisname or trying to climb over the Great Fortress Wall of Quan-Ting is sort of just flavour, because what you’re really rolling against each time is that Broken bloody Leg. That wouldn’t sit right with me.

The 50%/10% also has a nice effect on ability use in general, making it harder to rely on one single very good ability and emphasising the importance of relationships and personality traits that can be applied to lots of different situations. It also helps stop the ‘augment trawl’ familiar to players of HeroQuest by communicating clearly to players that the second and subsequent supporting abilities are cool but don’t really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.

If anyone has any other questions about the design decisions I made for Other Worlds please let me know and I’ll try to address them in a future post.

Thanks,

Mark

Amar – Session Three

3. The Equinox

The characters searched Sharl’s room and, as anticipated, found two bloodied nightsteel daggers. Sharl denied having seen them before. Goldrock examined them and explained that although they are of Basite manufacture he could not tell precisely where they were made as the normal runes of craftsmanship had been left off. At this point the evidence against Sharl was clearly mounting and with the permission of Ambassador Makrun he was placed into custody. [1]

 

Zhel’darax used his powers of psychometry to determine how the daggers found their way into the sanctuary. He had a vision of a cloaked Kasheetan entering a bar – the Spotted Dogtopus in the Ohmryn quarter – and meeting with three Ohmryn. The Kasheetan handed the Ohmryn some daggers wrapped in a leather pouch, a set of keys, and three pass bracelets for the sanctuary. The three Ohmryn then disappeared into the shadows and emerged as Basites before making their way towards the sanctuary compound. The Kasheetan fled.

 

So there was a third assassin and the plot may have had a man on the inside (a Kasheetan?). The heroes spoke to the Sorcerer-Poet of Kratos Dai and the other two apprentice seers, Galdr of the Ohmryn and Baldurr of the Basites, but not before Goldrock surreptitiously examined them to make sure they were  not really skinchangers.  A check of the inventory revealed that one of the Ohmryn’s sets of keys for the building were missing – presumably the ones used by the assassins. Was this proof of Ohmryn complicity or merely their incompetence?

 

Either way, as skinchanger assassins can only maintain their form for so long, and the whole building was in lockdown, they agreed to assemble everyone in the main voting chamber. Between the Basites’ ability to see through illusion and the pressure of everyone being all together at once, any remaining assassins were sure to be revealed. Due to concerns over Sharl’s safety it was agreed that he would be released from his cell under armed guard, his manacles removed as a gesture of diplomatic courtesy for such a public arena.

 

As the room began to fill up, Fleet’s clerk Leafthorn darted into the chamber holding a message scroll. Heading straight for the Sorcerer-Poet, he pulled out a nightsteel dagger coated in orange poison. Zhel-darax saw this and responded immediately, hurling his firestone bolas at the would-be assassin and knocking him to the ground. The Sorcerer-Poet himself, seemingly taken by surprise, lifted his firestone staff to finish the job. Fleet, wanting a live prisoner to interrogate, shouted across the room to intervene but was too late – a white hot beam of pure energy burned a channel through the skinchanger’s head and ten feet into the stone floor. The assassin was dead! The Sorcerer-Poet thanked Fleet and Zhel’darax for their assistance and then moved on to the next item on the agenda – determining who would succeed Swiftstream as the next seer.

 

This was a contest between the three apprentices – the Sorcerer-Poet, Galdr, and Baldurr. There would be no candidate for the Phae-Touched as they had been the last ones to hold the position, although a new apprentice would be sent over from the Wychlight Forest as soon as the vote was decided. Each race had one vote. Out of embarrassment due to Sharl’s alleged crimes and their own apparent loss of the keys, the Ohmryn abstained. With no candidate of their own, the Phae Touched also abstained. The Basites and the Kasheetans both then voted for the Sorcerer-Poet to formally become the new seer of Sanctuary Island.

 

The characters now went to investigate Fleet’s office to see if they could find the real Leafthorn. Which they did, snapped in two and stuffed into a cupboard. The body was still warm so it was clear that this had happened after Sharl had been arrested. This along with the evidence of the seeing stone was enough to prove that Sharl could not have been the murderer and so he was exonerated of those crimes. The matter of the dead Kasheetan he had woken up next to was less clear – possibly this murder was committed by the same person who had planted the daggers in his quarters, but it could not be proven – but was simply glossed over in the interests of diplomacy. However, Sharl would still find that the shadow of these allegations hanging over him in any future dealings with the Kasheetans.

 

Now that everyone in the building had been cleared of being a skinchanger, the lockdown was removed. The Sorcerer-Poet gave the group permission to carry on with their quest immediately, promising to resolve all the bureaucratic issues on their behalf. It also emerged that Swiftstream had left them something of a legacy – being a fervent believer in the ancient prophecies, he had commissioned the creation of a medium sized boat to take the group on their quest. This boat was named the Equinox, and came equipped with wind spirits bound to the sails, and broadside cannons loaded with nightsteel ammunition [2]. At its prow was a figurehead of the four races together holding up the sun, a symbol of unity intended to have an inspirational effect on all concerned. It was also agreed that the ship would be crewed by 16 members of the sanctuary guard, ensuring an even split between the four races and reducing the risk of inter-species conflict.

 

Later a messenger relayed the news that two skinchangers had been found and killed in the Ohmryn quarters while trying to get a boat off the island. The immediate problem had been resolved. However, it was still clear that security needed to be beefed up. As the Basites can see through illusions, their guards would be allowed to stay on. And as the Sorcerer-Poet could personally vouch for all the Kasheetans, they too could stay on. However, the Ohmryn and Phae Touched guards would have to be temporarily suspended until their background checks could be fully completed, just to make sure there were no more incidents.

 

After a brief fanfare the Equinox and her crew left for the first leg of their journey.  As the rocky cliffs of the Kasheetan Empire came into view, the crew found themselves mesmerised by a strange and beautiful song drifting over the wind. Fleet recognised this straight away as the call of the Siren, an aquatic form of Unseelie that tries to lure unwitting sailors to their doom. As he looked more closely he noticed two such creatures in the waters ahead of the ship, darting gleefully between the waves and drawing them towards some very sharp looking rocks.  Fleet began a powerful countersong in an attempt to protect himself as much as the crew – in the past he has felt vulnerable to the call of the Unseelie, and if he was not careful he could easily find himself reinforcing the Sirens call rather than opposing it. Due to this internal conflict he was only partially successful – some of the crew were broken out of their trance, but not all, and this risked spilling over into a fight between the two camps. Taking advantage of the time Fleet had bought them, Goldrock summoned a brief but terrible lightning storm straight ahead to smash the Sirens into submission.  Sure enough two burnt and broken mermaid-like bodies floated up to the surface, still hissing in the boiling water, and the ship was able to continue safely on its way.

 

[1] Sharl’s player wasn’t present at the session so this was quite a convenient way of writing him out of the action for a while.

 

[2] The Equinox came about entirely from the imaginations of the players. I had no involvement. They had the idea that such a ship might have been built and then used spotlight points to stat it up and buy relationships to it. One player also drew a picture of it afterwards. Giving players creative input into the game really works.

 

Amar – Session Two

Session 2. First Blood

After Swiftstream recovered he spoke to the chosen ones. All four agreed to pursue the quest that had seemingly been laid out for them. They would collect the sacred keys of their peoples and investigate this strange island.

 

Now came the bad news. This was still a bureaucracy. Tomorrow there would be another committee meeting, with such items on the agenda as: what should this party of heroes be called? What will be their stated objectives? What will be their agreed code of conduct? Should there be a uniform? What is their diplomatic status, and what level of access will they have to each race’s capital?

 

Further points of discussion had been added by the various ambassadors. The Phae Touched wanted to enforce a minimum number of good deeds on the way and include a ban on any further forest destruction. The Basites wanted to make Goldrock the leader of this party and give them all an instruction to kill all faeries on site (the fact that the ambiguity of the term faeries would also include the Phae Touched was surely a simple oversight). The Kasheetans wanted to add a statement condemning Ohmryn expansionism in the Strait of Muldrasa. And the Ohmryn wanted the heroes to travel in a party boat with a full entourage.

 

All this was to look forward to tomorrow. For today each hero still had other meetings and preparations to attend to.

 

Fleet returned to his office to find a vast queue of visitors. This was something he had gotten used to over the years. His assistant Leafthorn also provided him with a big pile of paperwork and complained about having to always stay late due to Fleet’s many visitors. Fleet decided he had time to see three visitors but no more [1]. The first visitor was desperately ill, having contracted Dutch Elm disease due to his severe beetle infestation. Fleet was not able to heal him personally but recommended the services of Fieldshadow, a local healer/varnisher. The second visitor was Knick-Knack, a ‘businessman’ of dubious honesty who offered to cut Fleet into various get rich quick schemes. The third visitor was a concerned mother whose son had fallen in with a bad crowd and had been arrested for various misdemeanours; she asked Fleet to look into his case and see if there was anything he could do to help him out. Just as Leafthorn was about to send everyone away a fourth visitor stepped forward. It was Bethran Highhill, his old Wildren comrade. Bethran explained that he would very much like to meet the seer and see the standing stones before he died. Fleet passed this request on to Swiftstream who agreed to make this exception to protocol as a personal favour.

 

Sharl had a meeting with Ambassador Makrun and other political advisors. In the light of Sharl’s recent ‘indiscretion’ with the Kasheetans, they had decided to give him some much-needed diversity training so as to avoid upsetting the other races any further. After a brief period of relaxation, including the smoking of a large amount of sea weed, various scenarios and strategies were explored. Sharl seemed thoroughly bored by the whole endeavour, but the politicians would not give up. Sharl left several hours later feeling none the wiser, only to bump into one of Sanctuary Island’s guards – in this case, a Kasheetan. The guard seemed to recognise him and launched into a tirade of abuse, saying he had Kasheetan blood on his hands and was not fit to even step foot on Sanctuary Island. Sharl tried to remain cool but as soon as the Kasheetan started making threats and shoving him, he lost it. He went into a berserk shark fury and blacked out.

 

Zhel’darax was to greet the Sorcerer-Poet of Kratos Dai, the new Kasheetan apprentice to the seer of Sanctuary Island. They filtered smoke and then conducted a ritual of sacrifice [2]; the Sorcerer-Poet surprised Zhel-darax by asking him to take over this important ritual, but Zhel-darax proved more than up to this task and impressed his visitor with his insight. A poetry duel conducted afterwards only cemented this relationship. The Sorcerer-Poet has the ear of the Grand Matriarch so this was an important connection to have. During the period of meditation afterwards, however, Zhel’darax once again had his recurring dream. A younger-looking Grand Matriarch approaches a simple Kasheetan hut with two of her guards. Inside there is a female Kasheetan lying on the bed. The child she has just given birth to bears the sacred rune of fire as a birthmark. A Kasheetan man stands in the corner. The guards draw their weapons. And then the dream ends, as it always does, with no other clues as to what it’s about.

 

Goldrock attended a guild meeting in the Basite temple in the east wing, where there was a small circle of standing stones. In union the Basites present performed the holy ritual of veneration and then announced the time of grudges, where Basites could present their grievances and seek restitution from one another. One of Goldrock’s main customers, Stalag, complained that one of the  runehammers that had been sold to him had broken and must have been substandard. Goldrock’s whole reputation as a craftsman was on the line, not to mention his pride. Stalag demanded a full apology and 17 free replacements! An attempt at negotiation failed so the matter was escalated to a full duel of honour before the sacred ancestor stones. At first it seemed that Goldrock was on the back foot, if only because he was holding back so as not to risk seriously injuring or killing one of his best customers. But then Stalag made a particularly cutting jibe about Goldrock’s martial prowess and the gloves were off. Within seconds Stalag was lying on the floor with a sore head and Goldrock stood victorious. The pair shook hands and agreed to resume their working relationship in full.

 

Sharl woke up in the corridor. His knuckles were bloodied and bruised. The Kasheetan guard lay on the floor next to him, beaten to death. In panic, Sharl picked up the body and threw it into the nearest room. He could not remember the fight but did not want to be accused of a crime he may not have committed.

 

Fleet flew over to the sacred chamber to see how Swiftstream and Bethran were getting on. Along the way he passed a pair of Basite guards, but then when he went round the corner he passed another pair of Basite guards who looked just like them. He had the briefest feeling of deja vu and then carried on his way.

 

Just then shouts were heard coming from the inner sanctum. The elderly Phae Touched who had carried the talking stone around during the council meeting came flying down the corridor raising the alarm. ‘Help! Help! Swiftstream has been murdered!’ she said. People started coming out of their rooms to see what all the fuss is about. All four heroes ran towards the chamber and opened the door. Inside they found a circle of magical energy crackling around the stones. Within the circle lay the bodies of both Swiftstream and Bethan; both had been stabbed multiple times. A chaos moth was in the process of emerging from the astral plane, attracted by the wild energies of Swiftstream’s now-fizzled ritual of seeing; anyone inside the circle who was still alive would not stay so for long.

 

Fleet threw his javelin through at the chaotic creature but missed. Goldrock ran in but the giant moth unleashed a storm of electricity, trapping him in a cage of pure lightning and fusing the hinges of his nightsteel armour. Zhel’darax threw his bolas but the dread creature used its telekinesis to bat the weapon straight back at him. In the end it was Sharl who saved the day, barrelling towards the creature and running it though with his ancient relic spear Haon-Sri-Hu. [3]

 

By this time there was a crowd outside. The heroes worked together again to take control of the fizzled ritual and drain away the wild magical energies that were surging through the room. On examination it was clear that Swiftstream was dead; he had been stabbed multiple times, and judging by the burn marks the assailant had used some kind of nightsteel weapon to do it. Bethran was gravely injured but still just about holding on. Zhel’darax tried to heal him with his Breath of Life but all that could be done was to make his last moments more comfortable. Fleet was beside himself with grief.

 

To try to shed more light on what had happened, Fleet used his power to Sift Through Memory and Borrow Senses to replay Bethran’s memories. He saw two figures come into the room – a Basite and an Ohmryn. The Ohmryn was none other than the supposed hero Sharl! It seems Sharl had approached the seer, pulled out a nightsteel dagger, and leaped on him in a frenzy. The unknown Basite did the same thing to Bethan and then both assailants left. At this time Bethan began to drift away, and Fleet had to move quickly to avoid being left inside his mind at the terrifying moment of death itself. Bethan died. [4]

 

Outside the Sorcerer-Poet and members of the guards were busy organising a full lock-down of the building in case the perpetrators had not already escaped. Goldrock joined the search. Soon enough the bodies of two Basite guards were found in a small closet, with a weird pile of skin flakes on the floor next to them. Skinchanger assassins! Those rare snakelike creatures can alter their appearance at will, and they are as deadly as they are fanatical. They could be anyone, or anywhere. From the success of their infiltration they must also have a set of keys.

 

The Sorcerer-Poet explained to the heroes that although skinchangers may well have been involved, they still had to investigate every lead no matter how unlikely. Some reports had also come in of Sharl being seen throwing a body into a deserted room, in which the body of a dead Kasheetan guard was subsequently found. This was clear evidence against Sharl so he and his quarters needed to be searched. Sharl refused, bristling with pride and fury at being suspected of such a crime [5]. The other heroes offered to be searched as well, and for their quarters to be examined, but this turned up no additional clues. Next stop: Sharl’s quarters.

******

[1] Fleet’s visitors were roleplayed by the other players (that’s why there are three). I gave each player a one-sentence brief and let them improv the rest. It was quite a fun little diversion.

 

[2], [4], [5] Prologue abilities driving the fiction!

 

[3] This is the fight scene I should really have run in session one.

 

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