Tuesday, April 29, 2008 - 10:04 PM

Last game of DnD, my players encountered an oracle, who discussed with them some of the events going on that they were unaware of. Naturally, it's a bit cryptical, given that the oracle didn't know precisely what the truth was either, but the players got a fair amount out of it. In essence, there were five other 'parties' running parallel to the player group. These parties had their own agendas, but due to circumstance and coincidence, tend to follow along the same courses the players do.

Originally, to give the players something to think about, I was going to post a brief snippet of the views of these other parties, and what's happening with them. And that got me thinking about how many stories go unspoken in my campaign. Very nearly any NPC with a name has a backstory and a history. Half of them just sort of explode out of my poor head, fully created, and less than a fourth ever get their full story revealed. So, as a periodic addition here, I'll be posting some pieces of NPC information that never got (nor is likely to be) revealed. This is not only for the DnD group's benefit...I'll be including NPCs from other games too, and I'd like to think some people NOT in my games (I don't have time to run for everybody these days) will get some inspiration and enjoyment out of it.

So, here we have the Path of Hunger.

For a long time, Naello had been terrified. It had been a quiet thing at first, a vague whisper of unease, but as he grew older, his fear grew in turn. His faith hadn't given him respite against the slow inevitability of age, and as his warrior's body tired and weakened, his desperation had grown.

He knew perfectly well that what he'd done was wrong, but how could he have continued to help the world if he became some doddering old man?

Now, cast out from his home city and despised by all those who were once peers and friends, he scowled out at a tangled, thorn-riddled forest, wishing the bleak iron gray of the sky into the hearts of those four who had made a ruin of everything.

The deaths in the city hadn't been his fault. The horrors that followed would never have happened if the four hadn't interfered, but they had.

Naello still had resources, and he intended to prove to the world that he wasn't finished yet. He refused to be remembered as a monster, and refused to succumb to the underhanded treachery that fate had chosen to deal him.

Word had reached him that the dwarf Adun was slain. Martel the Gorecrow, an old foe, also slain. The four had been responsible for both, and now they were running some errand for Caradoc, the one man who never trusted Naello, even from the beginning.

Turning from the stone maw of his window, Naello looked at the black-wrapped huddles behind him, and felt a chill.

These are loyal, he reminded himself. They are loyal, and they will die to do what is right. And I will tell them what is right.

“Listen well. These are the ones you must kill...”

In the days that passed, some farmers near the edge of the wilderness would look up, feeling unease, but they would see nothing, and return to work. Rumors of shadows in the woods grew, and children weren't allowed to stay out after dark. No one knew exactly why, but their instincts told them with a shudder that something was out there.

Much later, bones would be found in the forest, hidden, and gnawed clean. The occasional lone traveler would be noted missing, but most of the bones would go unnamed.

The five moved unseen. They would listen at windows in the evening, loping silently along back roads and hidden paths, covering great stretches of ground because their hunger made them tireless. Skulking, they collected whispers and rumors, and over time built a path to take them to their quarry. The five moved like the black talons of a single hand, slipping from the dark thickets of the wilderness to the edges of country roads, and then further north and east to lurk in wide fields and scattered forests.

A month since Naello had unleashed them, they circled a township nestled in some verdant hills, and caught a scout near there. They told him what they wanted to know, and they ate him, and took his bones to leave no traces. They were not the first devourers in that area, they knew; they'd found old ghoul tracks.

When they came near the burial mound hidden in the woods, they felt the faint tingle of consecration on the area, and fanned out, pale shadows wrapped in black, flitting between pool of moonlight and streak of midnight, shifting slowly, intent on their task.

Early that morning, Caer Ondal's villagers heard a frightening ululation in the night, and they wondered if the ghoul-worshippers had not yet been wiped out.

The truth was that the neshniya had found the scent they'd been seeking for so long. By sun-up, they were already miles away, hunting for Naello's designated prey.

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Excerpt: The Hand of Bethor

Saturday, April 19, 2008 - 1:07 PM

“Most years, they stay in the wilderness. We see their witchlights and the violet flames in the distance. It is not well to enter that land, because of the work they do... some years, they come out and bring their work against us. They shout of freedom and power, but we have seen what they are. They are all mad.”
Herennya, Matriarch of the Hhanash iron druids

“The Church of Bethor is insidious beyond measure. Somehow, though they are all mad, many choose to join them. Their numbers swell when they skulk in our cities. Soon after, the battle is joined, and the Church of Bethor attempts to enslave all those who do not join their blasphemy. They hold great power, but it is power which destroys their own as well as others.”
From the roster of Blasphemous Cults, in the High Temple of Kesr.

“Bethorans aren't mad in the way most people think. They see the world differently, maybe, but they're very rational. At least, the leaders are. Look past the insane cultists, look past their zealotry, and you'll notice... they're smart. They plan, they plan far ahead, and they're good at improvising when things don't go well for them. It's easy to say they're just madmen, but the Bethorans have been in the world for over five hundred years. Clearly, they know what they're doing... whatever that is.”
From the personal journals of Wallace Rievenfeld

Viewed as insane cultists with an obsession for stealing enchanted items, the Bethorans are actually a sophisticated and ancient society who views magic as an essential form of expression. Though splinters of the organization have secretly lodged in cities far from their homeland, most still consider the Bethorans as backwards-minded fanatics who have little to no order at all.

The Bethorans are actually two connected groups. Bethoran purebloods are those born Bethoran, usually raised in their magic-tainted homeland. Adopted Bethorans are outsiders who have been accepted into Bethoran culture. These groups work in conjunction to further the goals of the Bethoran whole, although many adopted Bethorans are not sane enough to understand the bigger picture, and are used as a barrier to those investigating the truth of the Bethoran movement.

The Vision of Bethor

Skybending was the first magical technique known to humans. In this method, the magician becomes a funnel for raw magical power, and attempts to shape it with his will as it explodes out of him. Though this process is capable of incredible creation, it is also inherently dangerous, and prolonged skybending in a given area can create various forms of magical pollution. As such, skybending in the current age is completely forbidden in nearly all civilizations.

Humans learned the fundaments of modern magic from the High Elves. The elves presented a cleaner, more efficient wizardry, allowing a reliable technique that did not corrupt the surroundings. Most humans jumped at the chance to learn, but there are rare exceptions mentioned in history. One such name was Bethor Chainmaker.

Bethor was a very successful skybender and warrior, chieftain to a large nomadic clan in what are now the wilds of Amboq. Accounts of the day state that he refused the elven teachings, calling them subtle tyrants who were attempting to control and subjugate humanity by restricting their power. He claimed they feared human ascension, though he did say it was a justifiable fear, for he believed humans are mighty.

Bethor's philosophy was that magic is the purest expression of the human will, and therefore, any attempt to codify or constrain or restrict magic is an attempt to restrain and limit human potential. He believed that magic is for all, and should be used in all situations.

In response to the quickly spreading elven influence, Bethor's clan absorbed several other large clans in the territory, and began to teach skybending to anyone with the fortitude to use it, as a prelude to waging open war. Accounts differ wildly on the events of Bethor's war, but it is true that he drove the elves away from his people, using massive magical assaults that claimed the lives of many of his own people as well as the enemy. The arcane fallout from these magical assaults would be the the foundation for the bizarre and erratic magical influences that blanket the Amboq, influences which would increase further from generations of skybending.

It is uncertain what happened to Bethor himself. It is assumed that any further records of Bethor's life are somewhere in the Amboq, if not destroyed. After the war, his people fortified their homeland and presumably retreated to develop the foundations of modern Bethoran culture. Would-be invaders avoided the Amboq, afraid of the seething magic that had racked the land, and the Bethorans did not leave the Amboq for several generations. The true history of the Bethorans remains unknown, and few historians are willing to brave the Amboq for further records..

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Friday, April 4, 2008 - 11:33 AM

It's been a while.

I tend to be ambitious about running my games, and unfortunately, my ambition got away with me this time. Due to impending schedule changes, I have to postpone my Dark Heresy game until further notice. This gripes me a bit; I was looking forward to it, but my other two games are going really very well, so I don't feel I have much room to complain.

Speaking of which, I've been mentioning some peculiarities of pacing in one of those games. Specifically, the game is Kult, which for those not familiar, is in the 'personal horror' genre. I've run a good many Kult games up to this point. The base system is not particularly good, in my opinion, but the way the game handles sanity (itself very subjective in the game) is quite elegant, and there is a strong mechanical impact on facets of the character's personality... or vice versa. I believe that this touch is one of the keys as to why Kult games tend to go through the same stages, regardless of the player base or the story the GM is running.

In Kult, at least, stages of the game are defined by character development, and they come at particular break points. Though the break points might be spaced differently from game to game, they follow the same order, and in my current game I was able to predict them to the very session they occurred. The curious might define these stages as follows:

Exploration: Upon discovering something not in the world view, the PCs start edging out of their normal environment. This brings them closer together as a group, often regardless of differences. Their curiosity pulls them forward.

Attachment: At this point, the PCs have attached their desires and ambitions to events. This is usually where the players themselves have gotten a better feel for their characters, which I believe is a strong contribution to this breakpoint. This is the place where directions are decided upon, which invariably leads to:

Conflict: The world isn't what they thought it was. Now, the PCs are finding that THEY aren't who they thought they were, and neither are their friends. I describe this moment as me putting guns on the table, and the PCs all pointing them at each other. Part of this is certainly a deeper understanding of the characters being played, but it is also a natural reaction to something else that tends to occur by this point in a Kult game... which is, PCs lose control of themselves and their uglier sides tend to show.

Them Against Us: This is where it gets tricky. The isolation gets to the PCs. They don't have anyone to turn to except themselves... better the familiar enemy than the unknown, in the worst case. In a way, the party turns inward to try and deal better with the outside influences. It doesn't tend to be the least bit comfortable.

There are a couple other points, but my Kult players read this, and I don't want to spoil the surprise.

Each Kult game I've run (and been in), these happen, right on schedule. This doesn't come from any attempt to steer the players. They react to story lines and situations, and this pattern just ends up happening. I find it fascinating to consider why, and chatting with my players about this got me to thinking about patterns that happen in other RPGs. In My Life With Master, this sort of irrevocable progress is actually mechanically supported, which is one reason I regard the game as utter genius, but in Kult the process is far more organic. I do believe that those games which provide mechanical support for character personality elements are those which might have a stronger set of patterns (Humanity in Vampire, Mental Balance in Kult, Sanity in Call of Cthulhu, etcetera, though the CoC pattern seems to be 'investigators go mad/die').

I'll be looking at my games closely. You should, too. You might be surprised at what behavioral models you find at the table.

LARP dynamics? That's an entirely different beast. I'm not going there.

Well, not this time.