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Libertad!
Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!



Chapter 9: Cities of the Pantheon


These six cities are spread out on the eastern shores of the Golden Gulf. Its citizens are known as Pantheists for their reigning ideology where they recognize only five deities as being truly Enlightened. The worship of other deities within their borders is illegal, and their practice of enslaving otherwise Enlightened Caliphate citizens for pushing the envelope does not endear them to their neighbors. They still pledge loyalty to the Grand Caliph, although there are some factions who feel that the administration in Huzuz is becoming corrupted by blasphemers.

Church and state are highly intertwined, and pretty much every ruler or government official is a Moralist priest of some sort. Rulers of the cities have the title of Revered Father, or in one case Revered Mother, regardless of whether their normal title would be an emir, caliph, or likewise. Their conservative beliefs regarding suspicion of the “latecomer deities” extends to a skepticism of social change in general. Which so far works in terms of political stability: even the poorest citizens are guaranteed subsidized housing, healing, and food as part of a religious emphasis on charity, and the Pantheist League cities are much less inclined to war upon each other. I’tiraf is their unofficial capital, and other cities send representatives there to discuss issues in the League Conclave. The government is quite centralized, where bureaucracies can affect multiple settlements in determining a universal set of prices, redistribution of food in regions with grain shortages, and so forth. The League makes use of a universal army known as the Sword of the True Goods, whose members are made to serve in other Pantheist cities to encourage community bonds beyond their hometowns.

Fahhas, City of Searching: Fahhas may have fertile farmland and rivers, but its people are stand-offish and a bit depressed in no small part due to their ruling caliph, Amel al-Yuhami. The death of his former vizier and dear friend changed him, causing him to view the worst in others and becoming crueler in his dispensation of laws and punishments. Torture and executions are becoming more common than temporary slavery and exile. He banished his former court in favor of bureaucrats he can more easily control as well as kicking out all of his female family members by disbanding the palace harim. His easy-to-offend nature causes the overworked chief judge speed through trials if it means avoiding the caliph’s wrath.

Secrets: The former vizier, Jamali al-Muhib, did indeed die. But she is not truly dead, but a disembodied head of a lich due to a botched ritual which only partially completed the undead transformation. The caliph could not bring himself to destroy her, and imprisoned Jamali in a room lined with lead plates inscribed with holy scripture. Amel still visits her weekly, but her evil nature means that she poisons the caliph’s mind and makes him see threats where there are none.

Hilm, City of Kindness: Hilm is the most tolerant of the Pantheist cities, although still conservative by Zakharan standards. The reigning caliph and people of the city still believe in the superiority of their teachings, but seek a ‘lead by example’ method of evangelism where good works and ensuring Hilm’s prosperity will win over more converts than fire and brimstone threats. This is in part due to the fact that it is a popular land route for pilgrims traveling to Huzuz, many of whom are not Pantheists (although even then they know better than to preach their variant beliefs too publically). The streets are clean, crime in general is rare beyond out-of-town troublemakers, and every citizen capable of work is encouraged to devote time to farming or renovation of buildings to ensure that their neighbors have a good quality of life.

Secrets: Much like Wasat in the Cities of the Heart chapter, Hilm is intended to be a subdued Shire-like environment where adventure plots revolve around external threats that threaten the peace. Two such sample threats include the kidnapping of the caliph’s daughter which will drive the inhabitants into a vengeful frenzy against whoever they believe is responsible, and being upriver from Talib makes it susceptible to said city’s wererat plague.

Hudid, City of Humility: Hudid’s location as a port touching the shores of the southern Crowded Sea means that it gains a lot of exotic trade goods from the region’s islands and archipelagos. As a result the laws regarding Unenlightened behavior are slightly relaxed for first-time offenders. It is also home to the greatest university of the Land of Fate, teaching a variety of secular topics as well as religious ones including non-moralist philosophies! It is peculiar for the assignment of a female Caliph,* Sajah al-Munsif, who at first had many critics on account of her gender but eventually gained universal legitimacy when said critics' proclamations of societal collapse failed to bear fruit. She bore twin daughters, one of whom seeks to climb the ranks of the local church, while the other left the family upon adulthood for parts and fates unknown.

*I believe the proper grammatical term would be ‘Calipha.’

Most problems in the city are minor bouts of sectarian fighting in the docks and university between moralists and non-moralists, but a more prominent dilemma are refugees fleeing from the city of Mahabba due to violence involving worshipers of Bala. The Mahabban government believes that Hudid is giving covert support to this banned faith by accepting refugees, and their suspicions are reinforced by Sajah’s refusal so far to investigate the matter further.

Secrets: The Black Library is an open secret in the university, containing books that are too valuable to destroy yet containing heretical teachings: subject matter includes many adventure hook material, such as secret rituals of the Brotherhood of the True Flame and penned history of the Ruined Kingdoms. The Balanite worshipers are active, and their leader is romancing the caliph’s priestess daughter who is aware of her lover’s faith. The caliph’s other daughter became a prosperous merchant in the Pearl Cities; she despises the Pantheist League and may return to her hometown one day to cause chaos.

I’tiraf, City of Confessions: The League Conclave serves as the governing body of the Pantheists, and its location in I’tiraf makes the city extremely important politically speaking. The citizens' egos are similarly swelled by this, believing that Zakharans outside the League are no better than Unenlightened barbarians. Some even claim that no evil or heretical people live here. But when they come within its walls, they are quickly found and punished for their crimes, or so they claim. Its emir, Most Revered Father Rimaq al-Nimar, is the most powerful person in the League and rarely appears in public. Government officials refuse to let non-moralists in the Conclave building or within the emir’s presence, and heavy taxes are levied upon merchant caravans and vessels who cannot prove a moralist faith. Non-moralist merchants get around this by hiring ‘captains of convenience’ to conduct business and trade on their behalf.

Xenophobia has been growing in I’tiraf as of late. Every so often a rumor spreads that warships from the Pearl Cities, Afyal, or some Unenlightened place spread. Panic escalates to the point that hate crimes against foreigners increase, and the city watch and navy use this time to increase their forces and funding which persists long after the riots subside.

Secrets: The Revered Father is actually an illegitimate child. Rimaq’s true father is but a humble baker, for his mother’s husband was unable to conceive children and thus turned to other methods to ensure the line continues. There are two possible means of resolution provided: the Revered Father is dismayed but eventually comes to terms with this, stepping down and passing leadership to a worthier candidate* before becoming a wandering pilgrim. Or Rimaq steadfastly denies the charge, and in turn causes an eventual power struggle and maybe even a civil war within the League or the hometown of his biological father.

*who may not prove to be a worthier choice after all.

Finally, the ambassador from Talab is a wererat, who in truth only acts for the furtherance of his kind, his official Moralist duties are but a cover identity.



Mahabba, City of Charity:Another port city, Mahabba is much less tolerant than Hilm or Hudid in no small part to violent religious conflicts with the followers of Bala of the Tidings. Although most in public preach adherence to moralist teachings, Mahabba is more of an occupied city whose soldiers fear that Bala’s cultists may lurk within any home, waiting to strike. The caliph and his court are similarly affected: its Revered Father is a half-elf faris* who only trusts advisors that have personally seen battle firsthand, while one of his viziers is an ex-wife who mutually divorced upon realization that they were more devoted to their jobs. The chief judge, Othmar bin Jaqal, is also in charge of spies, and while he has suspected ties to the Brotherhood of the True Flame most in government are more concerned about Bala’s followers at the moment to act on this.

*Devoutly religious Fighter class kit.

The city’s major thoroughfares are lined with checkpoints, and Othmar’s spies retain a Stasi-like influence as informants and agents. Curfews occur immediately as night falls, and music in general has been all but banned for fear that Bala’s followers can enact foul magic through song, instrument, and poetry. Although Bala’s followers have lived secretive lives for the past 500 years, they conduct rebellions on and off again every few generations; this spate of martial law is a more recent one, starting two years ago in response to the assassination of Mahabba’s previous ruler seven years ago. I must admit, a half-decade of inaction seems rather slow to me.

Secrets: Bala’s worshipers have an elaborate series of gestures and code words to communicate with each other. Their own violence has increased in spite of martial law, to the point that even civilians suspected of aiding the government (such as foreign traders) have been attacked and killed. The old temple of Bala has been long since destroyed and buried, but there are some underground chambers still intact with powerful relics.

Talab, City of Questing: Bordering the Ruined Kingdoms and Haunted Lands, Talab is a common first stop for adventurers seeking to plunder the secrets of said regions. Its caliph, Kia al-Sadid, prefers the more down-to-earth title “Humble Servant of the Enlightened Gods” rather than the Revered Father moniker. This is because he is serving an interim leader on account of his predecessor’s assassination at the hands of the Storm That Which Destroys, a holy slayer fellowship which acts as the “shadow army” of the Pantheist League. Kia has a light hand on trade, but when justice is demanded his response is swift and fierce.* His primary court assistants are a priestess scribe and librarian, and a barbarian convert to Pantheism who acts as an emissary to his own kind.

*or so the book claims. See below.

Talab is far inland in an arid region, its populace relying upon wells connecting to underground streams in the nearby mountains. They’re guarded by a mamluk society known as the Parched. Talab is also home to a thriving slave trade; Kia’s predecessor was more hands on in regards to prosecuting illegal slavery (enslaving the Enlightened), which some believe may have been why he was slain in the first place. Now the authorities look the other way...which seems a bit contradictory in regards to the caliph’s swift justice above.

Many tribes from the Ruined Kingdoms pass through here, although the city-dwellers are suspicious of them as well as the desert tribes of the Haunted Lands. The local government is highly concerned about diseases and the health of its citizenry, and commanded the Parched to conduct renovation and upkeep of the wells while also charging slave-traders with increased regulations as to the health of their slaves.

Secrets: The seeming concerns of Talab’s caliph are but an act. He as well as his entire court and the Parched mamluks have been infected with lycanthropy of the wererat strain. Kia’s eventual goal is to infect the rest of the city via poisoning their water supply, which will also affect Hilm. As their numbers grow, Kia hopes to become leader of a changed Pantheon as a sort of ‘wererat king.’

Hanya al-Mufih, the barbarian ambassador, may have one of two origins: the one offered in the Adventurer’s Guide as an Unenlightened-turn-missionary, or being a secret member of the Storm Which Destroys. He helped assassinate the previous caliph, manipulated in part by Kia.

Chapter 10: Cities of the Ancients


The easternmost lands of the Zakharan peninsula are perhaps the most geographically distinct. Most of the land is covered in sweltering rainforests, with several large tropical island chains off the southeast coast. In times long past various Unenlightened empires ruled, some even as far as the Haunted Lands and modern-day Pantheist territory, but only the kingdoms of Nog and Kadar are known by name in modern times. A third civilization once ruled over the island of Afyal, and the number of kingdoms beyond is hotly debated over by historians. Nobody knows what entailed the decline of the Ruined Kingdoms, but evidence of their existence is demonstrated by their decaying structures and temples.

The people of the Ruined Kingdoms were relatively isolated from the rest of Zakhara, and as such were the ones that came to Enlightenment the latest. Those from elsewhere in the Caliphate can be prejudiced in regards to this, viewing them as still being nostalgic for their supposed savage ways and gods. The Ruined Kingdoms’ inhabitants, for their part, believe that their ancestors still live beneath the ground and may one day come back to life, even if they’re more comfortable with the Enlightened faiths. Slavery in general is more common here, and the governments of Halwa and Dihliz aren’t overly concerned if they end up enslaving fellow Enlightened or not. Its leaders take the title of Khedive, a local term for rulers.

Dihliz, the GatewayCity: Located on a plateau, Dihliz is a primary trade city for those seeking to travel to and from the rest of the Ruined Kingdoms. Its government is highly involved in trade via the Ministry of Secrets which catalogs various dungeons, ruins, and similar places in the region while also granting adventuring parties claim rights to areas. Its archives are less than useful, as scrolls are frequently misfiled or stolen. The Ministry of Riches imposes a small tax on all treasure extracted from said places, and since most such goods are smuggled anyway, the Ministry devotes most of its efforts to regulating dangerous magical items.

Most of Dihliz’s buildings are stone foundations said to be fashioned from the bricks of a pre-Enlightenment temple. This bears a hint of truth, for most buildings contain anti-divination magic which blocks most scrying and “Detect Evil/Magic/etc” spells. It also has an interesting relationship with the island city of Afyal: 100 years ago Dihliz was formed by said city to regulate the adventuring and treasury industry. Although theoretically independent, its local ruler is assigned by the Grand Caliph at the recommendation of Afyal’s padishah.

Secrets: The pre-Enlightenment inhabitants of the region created a particularly powerful earth monolith to serve as a river guardian; during a war in the last days of Nog, the entity was destroyed, her body mixing with the dust of the region. The monolith’s magical ambience is responsible for the anti-divination stonework.

The Ministry of Secrets are no fools; evidence of truly valuable and dangerous sites are secreted away in a well-guarded library, its finders bribed or threatened into silence. The public archives are but a front.

Kadarasto, City Most Sinister: Located 100 miles inland on a river from Dihliz, Kadarasto has unique ancient architecture which is angular, windowless, and has a preponderance for five-sided rooms. It is believed to be built on the ruins of Kadar’s capital, and has a negative reputation. Its ruler, Khedive Aman al-Qasi abu Nari, is an amoral politician whose “mouth intones the prayers but whose heart is as black as ebony.” Other rumors include that his mother was a priestess of Shajar (local pre-Enlightenment god), and his father a member of the Brotherhood of the True Flame. He is popular among the common folk on account of being of local origin rather than a foreign appointment, and also because he and his son’s legions guard the local ruins from tomb-robbers hailing from Afyal and Dihliz. The city’s rich hate him but tolerate him as a necessary evil; the city’s economy profits off of the ruin-delving trade.

As you may have guessed, there are several pre-Enlightenment cults still worshiped in secret, and their followers use underground catacombs to conduct their rites.

Secrets: The Khedive’s evil is not supernatural in origin, nor do his parents have ties to any secret societies. He is a selfish person who realizes that a careful balance of power between the rich and poor, Enlightened and Unenlightened, is preferable than chaos. His son, on the other hand, is more ideological in regards to preserving Kadarasto’s cultural heritage and has made contacts among the cults, the Brotherhood of the True Flame, and even the Storm Which Destroys in hopes of using them to harm adventuring interlopers.

Finally, Cholk min Kado is a rich merchant who poses as a simple carpet-dealer but runs a criminal empire of antiquities and magical items.

Medina al-Afyal: “Medina” is the Arab word for “city,” and I’m unsure as to why this one’s entry differs from the standard format of “X, City of X.” The island itself is commonly known as Afyal, or the “Island of the Elephant,”* while its major city Medina al-Afyal, or “City of the Elephant.”* Afyal is a rich land of abundant natural resources, specializing in local hardwood not found elsewhere in Zakhara along with mines of precious metals. The ruling House of Alon has a close heritage to the family of the Grand Caliph, something in which the city takes pride. Sadly, its current ruler, Alad bin Alaq bin Alonka of Alon, is certifiably insane and delusional. The man is known for rather illogical decisions, ranging from appointing people to government posts based on a pleasing physique, recognizing all 22 of his at-present children as being equally worthy of simultaneously ruling the city upon his death,** and ordering new buildings commissioned then destroyed in a week, and then rebuilt again with no rhyme or reason. The padishah still acts on good intentions, his policies wrought of logic that makes sense only to him rather than for selfish or petty reasons. He is fond of traveling through the city streets on a magically floating palanquin, accompanied by pots shooting out silver and copper pieces into excited crowds.

*According to Google Translate, the Arabic word for elephant is الفيل, or “alfil.” Which seems close to Afyal, so this part may also be grammatically correct.

**He initially had the choice for an eldest heir, but that one went missing on a voyage.

The Island of Afyal is full of humid hills and jungles, with various small villages of woodcrafters and lumberjacks connected by roads. The capital city’s buildings are made of marble and hardwood, giving an aesthetically pleasing and unique look. The mosque serves as the largest center for Selan’s worshipers in the Land of Fate, and the padishah’s palace combines mundane and magical means of construction. A series of linked buildings and towers are regularly reshaped by dao genies at intervals.

Afyal is also notable for a caste system, where one’s economic and occupational role in life is believed inevitably fixed by Fate. A person may never rise above one’s station, and the lower classes are expected to defer to their betters in all things regardless of merit or circumstances. Additionally, the island’s elephants are unusually intelligent and docile, easily domesticated for all manner of tasks. Killing an elephant is a crime punishable by death.

Secrets: The padishah is insane, so the government and economy functions day to day by merchant houses. The Crown Prince, Alakbar, disappeared on a voyage into the Crowded Sea four years ago. His fate is left to the DM, but if he were to return then the Padishah would recognize him and not his 22 other children as the next-in-line.

Various elephant statues to the Lost One are being rediscovered around the island. In order to better hide from the Enlightened faiths, the god dissipated his essence into the islands’ elephants, which is why such animals are more intelligent than their kind elsewhere. When 10 or more of them gather they are capable of casting Charm spells of increasing magnitude based on their present number. The elephants only use such spells to encourage people to carve more idols of the Lost One. Beyond this, the god does not encourage the elephants to violent behavior and seems rather peaceful.



Rog’osto, City of Spires: This metropolis’ title comes from its huge metal spires with rounded tops, whose visual similarity to mushrooms also gave it the alternate title “City of Fungus.” Such towers are not found anywhere else in the Ruined Kingdoms or Land of Fate proper, and their interiors have been renovated to serve as living space for modern-day inhabitants. The towers’ construction points to evidence of a civilization neither human nor demi-human, and 3 of the 25 towers still intact have been claimed by the ruling khedive as a palace. Considered the most magical city in the Land of Fate,* the towers’ legacy attracts spellcasters of all kinds who use them as research labs and private living spaces. The majority of inhabitants live in white-washed mud-brick houses surrounding the towers’ bases, and some of the towers’ foundations have been broken off to form into a rather strong steel alloy that rusts less and melts at a lower temperature.

*Although Huzuz and Qadib are close seconds.

Rog’osto’s ruler, Khedive Samia al-Sa’id, is a powerful sha’ir whose court is made up of various factions acting as delegates for spellcasters of a certain tradition or more mundane occupations. Some of the more interesting figures include a flame mage who is open about his membership in the Brotherhood of the True Flame, but claims that most of its negative reputation is due to a few bad apples;* a Pantheist League ambassador who only stays in Rog’osto so she can pay adventurers to smuggle magical items out of the Ruined Kingdoms so they don’t end up in the hands of “Unenlightened mages;” and an ambassador from Afyal who will handsomely reward any adventurers who can unearth the truth about the race that built the towers.

*Not true.

Secrets: Rog’osto’s towers were built by locathah back when much of the land in the area was underwater. They warred against an air-breathing race who summoned a great elemental force to raise their civilization past the water level, thereby drowning all those who could not escape in time. The locathah survivors retreated to the deep ocean.

Thoughts So Far: I like both of these chapters, although with a preference towards the Ruined Kingdoms over the League of the Pantheon. One thing that has been bugging me about the moralists is the Leagues’ seeming harmony; the class description of a Moralist Priest in Arabian Adventures points to holding a single deity as superior and more prone to fighting devotees of other gods and faiths. While this makes sense from a Pantheon/non-Pantheon perspective, the League is rather united and tolerant as it concerns their five favored gods. I’d expect the moralist cities of the League to be more prone to conflict than ones in other regions, but that would erase their rising power as a unified bloc.

Another thing that strikes me as odd is of the Storm Which Destroys being more approving of a deregulated slave trade in Talab. Although we’ll cover them in Fortunes & Fates, their duties are to advance the cause of the Pantheon and settle internal disputes, and are often regarded as radical even by most of the Leagues’ members. I presume that most of the Enlightened being enslaved may be non-Pantheists, which would make sense, but the previous rulers’ crackdown on the trade to be replaced with a more crooked ruler intones that Pantheist followers were targeted as well. This is an area which it would help to more closely explain.

The Balinite and wererat conspiracies in Mahabba and Talab serve as good sources of conflict in the otherwise safe and clean League, and I do like how the other regions (such as the Pearl Cities and Ruined Kingdoms) touch upon their influence beyond their chapter proper. It serves to make the League feel like a veritable geo-political power unmatched elsewhere in the Caliphate.

Going on to the Ruined Kingdoms, I love this chapter for several reasons: first off is that it’s the most friendly to the typical Dungeons & Dragons experience. The cities’ economies are moved in large part by the dungeon-delving trade, and the mysteries of prior civilizations give fodder for the DM to come up with concepts and ruins that may be strange elsewhere in Zakhara. Al-Afyal’s intelligent elephants, Rog’osto’s alien spires, and Dihliz’s anti-divination properties help reinforce this and show that there are secret legacies far older than mortal civilization. I also like how Kadarasto deconstructs the ethical problems of dungeon-delving, with a populace that quite justifiably feels that adventurers are taking ancestral legacies far from home for the benefit of a few rich buyers.

Join us next time as we cover the Appendices of the Adventurer’s Guide and individual handouts!

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U.T. Raptor
May 11, 2010

Are you a pack of imbeciles!?



Libertad! posted:

Secrets: The seeming concerns of Talab’s caliph are but an act. He as well as his entire court and the Parched mamluks have been infected with lycanthropy of the wererat strain. Kia’s eventual goal is to infect the rest of the city via poisoning their water supply, which will also affect Hilm. As their numbers grow, Kia hopes to become leader of a changed Pantheon as a sort of ‘wererat king.’
Good to see that Verminous Skumm found work after Captain Planet:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6gbN7azsb8

Libertad!
Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!



Adventurer’s Guide Appendices & Handouts


Technically speaking we still have 2 sourcebooks in this boxed set to do, but given the relative briefness of the Appendices in the Adventurer’s Guide I’m covering them as well as the individual handouts.

Appendix A: Legends and Tales of Zakhara

This is an anthology of five short stories spanning ten pages. Due to their briefness I’m going to quickly summarize them, and how they relate to the setting’s history and how things came to be in modern times.

The first tale, the Maiden of Beauty, speaks of pre-Enlightenment times. The woman who would become known as the Loregiver was born with amazing beauty in a world where humanity lived in isolated villages among the coasts. The gods and genies were the true masters of the world, foolish and cruel beings who warred upon each other over territory. When they noticed the Loregiver beauty they sailed to the city in which she lived, and fought among each other for the right to wed her. The individual genie lords and gods threatened her people should they not give her over as a bride, putting the populace in an unwinnable situation. The Loregiver despaired and fled into the far jungles, even going so far as to attempt suicide, yet the very elements conspired to keep her alive. Fate visited her in the form of a mortal lady. Together, they came up with a plan. The Loregiver, disguised as an old man, revisited the city, with Fate using her powers behind the scenes to make her appear more than a mere mortal. And so the Loregiver tricked the gods and genies into an unwinnable contest to see who can find the object of their affections first. They failed, never thinking the ‘old man’ to be anyone other than what they appeared to be, and in exchange she extracted an oath from them to leave the mortal world. Kor, along with Najm and Hajama, chose among their own mortals worthy to act in their stead, becoming the first Enlightened clerics.

The gods never retaliated upon learning of this deception, unwilling to admit they were deceived by a mortal (and clerics know better than to press the issue should they manage to speak with said gods). Fate remained with the Loregiver until her death, and so the Loregiver was inspired to make a series of scrolls which would become known as the Law before burying them beneath her house.

The second tale, the Boy and the Genies, tells of how a miserly merchant feared for his wealth getting inherited by another upon his death. His cousin would be the primary inheritor, so he hired a bandit to kidnap him and leave him in the desert to die. Through the luck of Fate, the youth managed to find a magic sword from the skeleton of an elven warrior and a cave with drinking water. The cave was also home to a jealous ghul guarding a huge ruby; presuming the youth was a thief, she attacked him, but he blinded her by slicing her eyes with the sword and took the ruby. Sadly the ruby was too large to fit through the narrow crevice, so he cut it in two and rolled one half over to trip the blind ghul.

Fleeing back to his home city, he came upon a procession of genies whose lords were gathering in hopes of winning over the Loregiver’s hand in marriage. Unable to avoid their attention he prostrated at their feet, and from them he learned that the ruby was not unlike a great treasure of the dao but later claimed by other genie clans in various wars. The youth came up with a compromise, that the genie lords would hold the ruby in their palaces for three turnings each of the moon before passing it onto another. This is why there are four seasons lasting three months each, tied to the various four elements (winter the wettest, spring the nicest breezes, etc). In thanks for this, each of the genie clans gave to him a wife when he came of age, and he learned magic from them and became the first sha’ir. He asked his wives to use their powers to track down the bandit and his employer, and also offered inquiring mortals who sought to learn about the magical art of the genies. When his uncle was discovered, he gleefully admitted to his crimes. The youth’s efreeti wife beheaded him and turned his body to ashes, where they scattered upon the winds.

The third tale, the City of Peace, tells of how the Haunted Lands came to be such a desolate place and what became of its prior civilizations. It was once a lush and verdant region, but the people living there were vengeful and warlike. The sultan of a local city despaired of these forever wars and consulted his advisors for an end. They told him of a fabled realm known as the City of Peace, whose prized mystic held the answer to the region’s woes. He led a caravan in search of it, and eventually found the mystic… in a now-ruined oasis burned by raiders. His heart filled with rage, he vowed to bring the wrongdoers to justice. A young boy, the sole survivor, had the powers of a mystic and offered to lead him to the City of Peace alone. The sultan accepted, where he was led to a city inhabited by a beautiful woman that was Fate in disguise. She asked the sultan what he sought most, and he answered that he sought to find peace in the land but also gain vengeance against those who hurt his people and the clan of the mystic.

Needless to say, he got his wish. After going through a Rip Van Winkle style time travel slumber, he awoke to find the City of Peace in ruins...and it was in fact his own city. The warring clans were scattered to the far corners of Zakhara until further generations forgot their grudges. Those who did anything to harm the sultan’s people were killed to the very last. The region was now an inhospitable desert, containing hardly anything worth fighting over.

The fourth tale, the Voice of History, is by far the shortest in that it’s mostly a brief outline of Zakhara’s history, as told by a priest of that land addressing the people of Halruaa, a magocracy on the continent of Faerûn. The Halruaans have a hard time believing the more fanciful-sounding tales in spite of living in a city that’s high-magic even by Forgotten Realms standards. The Zakharan replies that their desire for the unvarnished truth is like “boiling the flesh off a duck:” you get to the bare bones, but is unpleasant for the duck. He points to the existence of the sha’ir’s pact with genies, the rotting foundations of the Ruined Kingdoms, and the binding influence of the Law uniting an entire continent as truth to the seeming extraordinary claims of bardic tales.

The final tale, the Dragon and the Genies, explains why dragons are nearly nonexistent in the Land of Fate. Somewhere in the unenlightened North, a clan of dragons destroyed most of their food sources as a result of their destructive raids. They sought to find new fertile lands, and the mightiest red dragon among them scouted south. The dragon came upon Zakhara. Hungry from his journey, he attempted to attack seemingly-normal human peasants for sustenance three separate times. In each result he was repelled by powerful magic from said peasants. Fearing such a land whose mere humans held such power, he came upon a young boy and approached him with fearful humility. Through this he learned that the three other mortals were the boy’s family, and that they had shown him mercy by not using their powers to kill him and instead merely frighten him into fleeing. He was “unenlightened and didn’t know any better,” after all. When asked if they were exceptional individuals for their land, the boy claimed that most were much more powerful. The dragon decided that Zakhara was more trouble than it’s worth and flew back north to warn the rest of his kind. In reality the boy was a genie, but the dragon did not know of this nor did he figure to ask the origin of said powers.

Appendix B: Languages

This discusses the major languages of the Land of Fate. Midani is the “common” tongue, and has five major dialects based upon the major regions (the “Cities of X” chapters) which are mutually intelligible with a little practice and exposure. Thieves’ Cant still functions as normal, but differs slightly from city to city. The typical racial languages still exist, but they’re only spoken among members of said races who know each other well; Giantish is shared among all giant clans, while Jannti is the universal tongue of the genie clans. There are some long-dead languages found only as runes, hieroglyphics, and some ancient undead. They include Noga and Kadari of the eponymous Ruined Kingdoms, Affa of the Isle of the Elephant’s ancient civilization, Chun once possessed by the people of the Haunted Lands, and oddly enough Drow. Which makes me wonder what languages the dark elves in the mountains near the Pearl Cities speak in modern times. Although part of me wonders if this is an internal editing error, where the drow were originally meant to be extinct but were brought back cuz nerds need their dark elves.

We also get a mention of what Outlander Tongues are commonly , which predictably are the “common tongues” from the other setting sourcebooks of Abeir-Toril; Faerunian is known as Thorasta for instance.

What follows is a Zakharan Phrase Guide for common words and sayings in the Land of Fate. They sound like transliterated Arabic and are a mixture of common concepts, exclamations, and poetic phrases. For example, “Es salam alekum (ess sah LAMB ah LEH koom)” means “May peace be upon you” which is a general greeting.

Appendix C: The Zakharan Calendar

The planet of Abeir-Toril is commonly called al-Toril in Zakhara. It is Earthlike in having 365 days, but in the Zakharan calendar each of the 12 months has 30 days. The five bonus days are High Holy Days belonging to no month:



The five Holy Days all occur at the end of the sixth month, Qawafil, and are known as Ahad, Atnen, Salas, Arba, and Yasad. Yasad is known as Ascension Day and marks the founding of the Caliphate, and all new Caliphs are officially crowned on this day. Events on the Holy Days differ based on culture and region, but are typically times of fasting and self-reflection broken by feasts upon completion. The Festival of the Pearl, for example, takes place during the Holy Days.

Handouts & Maps

These are not found in any of the three books proper, but are leaflets in the Land of Fate boxed set. 14 of them are maps with descriptions and legends on their backs, detailing specific areas in Huzuz or more generic ones such as a city marketplace, an oasis, or common residential dwellings. 1 illustrates common dress for occupations and social classes, while 2 go into detail on what kinds of possessions can be found among al-Badian nomads and their tents.

I’m not going to show all of the handouts, but they are quite decorative and useful. Here’s a few below:











The Zakharan Continent


We have a full-page illustration of the Zakharan continent and the many islands off its coasts. We have two maps: the first gives a zoomed-in view of the Suq Bay and inland Sea of Caravans which touches the Cities of the Heart, Cities of the North, and shows much of the High Desert; the other focuses on the Pearl Cities and the League of the Pantheon. The latter two maps are useful, but happen to cut out quite a bit of eastern Zakhara, which includes the Haunted Lands and Ruined Kingdoms.

Thoughts So Far: I don’t have much to say at this point that I haven’t said above. I do enjoy the five tales, and they feel thematic of an Arabian Nights style setting. It does paint 3 of the 8 Major Gods as vindictive and predatory pricks, threatening to kill innocents if a woman is not married to one of them. But perhaps it’s to demonstrate that the wisdom of the Law changed them for the better? That’s my guess at least. The part on languages did not wow me, and while I do like some of the phrases I cannot see the Arabic* as being something most gaming groups will muster to remember beyond one or two favorite words or sayings. The maps aren’t anything special by modern standards, but in the early 90s I imagine they’re highly useful for getting a sense of Middle Eastern-style locations.

*Arabic-sounding, I am not fluent in the tongue.

Join us next time as we cover the DM-centric booklet, Fortunes & Fates!

Xiahou Dun
Jul 16, 2009
BUTTS





Please tell me they at least don't use the word "effendi"? That one always sticks in my craw.

Also, I'm not an Arabic scholar or even a Semiticist, but they are 100% doing the "cat walked on a keyboard let's throw in lots of 'q' in there" version of language. Like, they just kind of shove "al" in front of random things ignoring the phonology and grammar of actual Arabic. It reads very much like an elementary school social studies poster that tells you that "Gesundheit" means "God bless you".

I get not asking your players to make pharyngeal fricatives cause that's a pretty big ask, but then why are you half-assing it like this. It's just silly.

And it's ٱلسَّلَامُ عَلَيْكُمْ‎; or /as.sa.laː.mu ʕa.laj.kum/ in IPA.

poo poo I should find my old copy of 2E Oriental Adventures and angrily talk about how wrong and bad it is at all things South-Eastern Asian, shouldn't I?

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


Yes. Making fun of Oriental Adventures is always a good idea. Not least of which because it's called Oriental Adventures.

Cythereal
Nov 8, 2009



I'll at least give DnD some credit for trying to incorporate non-European settings, and fantastical Arabia is one you don't seem to see much. The later Might & Magic games and Rise of Legends are the only modern depictions that come to mind for me. And the Aladdin movies, I guess.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

FATAL & Friends
Walls of Text
#1 Builder
2014-2018



Semi-related, the FFG version of Legend of the Five Rings just had the pdf release of its book on ronin and foreigners, complete with rules on Not The Middle East and Not India, and its reeeeally good.

Dawgstar
Jul 15, 2017





Mors Rattus posted:

Semi-related, the FFG version of Legend of the Five Rings just had the pdf release of its book on ronin and foreigners, complete with rules on Not The Middle East and Not India, and its reeeeally good.

Oh, nice. I was very let down by the original Burning Sands book, so it'd be nice to see a new take. Especially not one bound by Continuity.

Bieeanshee
Aug 21, 2000

Not keen on keening.




Grimey Drawer

I liked the Arabian Adventures material enough to pick most of it up when it was still in production. Oriental Adventures though... oof. Just thinking about that reminds me of an old DM's blithely racist character names. Nothing outright malicious, but yikes.

Gynovore
Jun 17, 2009

Forget your RoboCoX or your StickyCoX or your EvilCoX, MY CoX has Blinking Bewbs!

WHY IS THIS GAME DEAD?!

Bieeanshee posted:

I liked the Arabian Adventures material enough to pick most of it up when it was still in production. Oriental Adventures though... oof. Just thinking about that reminds me of an old DM's blithely racist character names. Nothing outright malicious, but yikes.

Yeeeeeeah, even back in the 90's I remember thinking "uhhhh this is kinda racist" and backing away.

Everyone
Sep 6, 2019


Gynovore posted:

Yeeeeeeah, even back in the 90's I remember thinking "uhhhh this is kinda racist" and backing away.

I got OA when it first came out for 1st ed AD&D back in the mid80s. I don't recall my teenage self noticing much racism ( not that I was looking for any at the time). Then again, at that point I was looking for a way to play ninjas and "real" monks. The monks still sucked a little bit but the martial arts stuff was pretty cool at the time. The book is probably stuck in a box in my garage somewhere. I don't think I've thought about it in five years or more.

Libertad!
Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Xiahou Dun posted:

poo poo I should find my old copy of 2E Oriental Adventures and angrily talk about how wrong and bad it is at all things South-Eastern Asian, shouldn't I?

Wait, OA talked about countries BESIDES Japan and a side of China?

Libertad!
Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!



Fortunes & Fates


This five-chapter Dungeon Master’s booklet is far shorter than the Adventurer’s Guide, sitting at around just 60 pages.One of those chapters, Secrets of Zakhara, we folded into the review regarding the various cities. Due to that, we’ll be mostly covering organizations and magical items in this post.

Our introduction covers movement rates for terrain to be used in conjunction with the map of Zakhara, including unique types mentioned in Chapter 1 of the Adventurer’s Guide. I’ll admit that I never really used travel times in D&D games myself, save when time was of the essence.

Chapter 1: High-Level Characters

In pre-3rd Edition D&D, attaining at least 9th level set you with various perks of temporal power. The Land of Fate is no different, although the specifics for certain classes differ a bit.

Fighters don’t need to form a stronghold or castle, but must have a regular place of contact for men-at-arms to come under his banner who can be disbanded and reformed in reasonable timeframes. The latter case is meant to help PCs of a more transitory nature, and there’s even separate tables based on terrain type (Desert, Sea, and City/Village) for this: Class kits are askar (village warrior), desert rider, or corsair depending upon the PC’s preferred area of operations.

Paladins do not gain followers, but can hold land in the name of the Grand Caliph. Rangers can attract followers from animals of both the mundane and supernatural variety in addition to human/demihuman/humanoid types.

Mages often use highly personalized titles such as “Zibaru the Wolf” as opposed to the more generic “archmage,” and can gain apprentices even without a base of operations. However, should a mage choose to set up such a domicile they often gain status as a magical advisor to a local lord in exchange for supplies for spell research.

Priests gain fighter followers who are extra-devoted with high Morale scores in addition to more normal followers of their class kit. Clerics of Order who belong to one of the three philosophies carry their own perks and responsibilities: pragmatists are encouraged to travel the land and carry their teachings to places far and wide. Ethoists gain orders from higher-ups to settle down in an existing church or build up a new one with leaves of absence allowed if the need is great. There’s no mention of any unique duties for moralist priests, but I presume they’re similar to ethoists. “Free” priests (hakimas, kahins, and mystics) can build churches, but do not have funding from a hierarchical organization and must raise the money themselves or from the local community.

Thieves can attract followers, although it is possible to recruit ones from other thief class kits, such as a holy slayer who needs some merchant-rogues to launder money for a business front. Bards of 8th level are asked to join a local ruler’s court as an entertainer and advisor, and can receive free room and board should they accept. This is rarely a permanent occupation. At 9th level, bards can attract followers of their own and can even treat a ruler’s court as a base of operations/recruitment area. Followers are still low-level, so no gaining the 12th-level sha’ir advisor as a minion! Bards can even gain special followers such as talking animals as icing on the cake.

Chapter 2: the Law


This chapter goes into a bit more detail regarding the Law of the Loregiver, and more importantly the aspects most relevant to typical PC groups. In pre-Enlightenment times, the land of Zakhara was politically divided between many warring factions. There were priests of gods, but they were selfish and withheld vital magic unless it benefited them. Monsters, plagues, and famine were widespread, and all seemed lost before a young man found the Law of the Loregiver in a cavern. The beliefs of tolerance and unity helped people set aside long-held grudges, and the gods who accepted the Law worked together to set up universal rules and mosques open to the public. The original scrolls were copied onto lacquered wood in the Golden Mosque of Huzuz, and copies of said blocks are installed in the creation of new mosques.

The Law has several well-known commonalities: the previously-discussed aspects in this and prior sections of the review, but also proper means of religious worship, veneration, and the nature of all things divine. The second part gives a “Mandate of Heaven” style rule for leaders, from the Grand Caliph down to local administrators: a leader rules by the permission of the led, and a leader who fails to perform in a wise and just manner can be replaced by a worthier candidate. Finally, the Law codifies various moral fables, rules of conduct, and existing laws and traditions into a legal codex. In regards to this last part, actions are split up into five tiers:

That Which Is Forbidden: The most heinous of crimes, which most often result in capital punishment. Eating sapient flesh,* murdering innocents,* treason, theft to the point that it’s life-ruining to the injured party, enslaving the Enlightened,** and spreading claims that no gods exist.

*Murdering slaves counts as property damage.

**as an individual; the government can enslave criminals and debtors, and mamluks are by default Enlightened slaves.

That Which Is Discouraged: Crimes which some degree of restitution can be made. Small-time theft, assault, justifiable homicide, fraud, slander, and making the jobs of government officials more difficult but not on a treasonous scale.

That Which Is Tolerated: Basic activities expected of Enlightened society. Earning a living, partaking of holidays, and free speech that isn’t pro-atheist, slandering others, or threatening government officials. Interestingly, one can take out loans and even drink alcohol unlike the real-world Islamic Caliphates, although getting drunk to an excessive degree in public is a Discouraged act.

That Which Is Encouraged: Things which mark someone as a good citizen and can get preferential treatment by the system. Said actions are not necessarily mandated. They include acts such as worshiping Enlightened gods, bringing Enlightened values to the Unenlightened, charitable works, and paying one’s taxes.

Wait, paying taxes isn’t a requirement in the Caliphate? I can see a bunch of merchants from Faerûn and Kara-Tur setting up shop in Zakhara as a tax-free haven!

That Which Is Required: These actions are mandatory for all citizens to perform; refusal to perform them is often a high crime. Required acts include obedience to the Grand Caliph, pilgrimage at least once to the city of Huzuz, and belief in a higher force, “be it a common or Enlightened god.”

The quoted part confuses me. In Chapter 5 the term ‘common god’ also covered Enlightened gods, and worshiping Enlightened gods being merely Encouraged. It makes me wonder as to the legal status of Unenlightened people in Zakhara; while there are foreign traders who can ply their trade like those priests of Gond in the aforementioned Chapter, I presume that this example is done more out of convenience for the farther-north cities. Most of the time the setting presents hostile relations with Unenlightened civilizations, not to mention the commonality of their enslavement. I suppose it’s meant to be a ‘lead by example,’ given the mention of tolerance, open mosques, and “bringing Enlightenment to the Unenlightened” presupposes honest attempts at conversion initially. Or it could be an aspect of Zakharan law which is often bent based on the convenience of local rulers.

We end this chapter with discussion of Justice and the Law when PCs run afoul of it, along with penalties for common crimes. There’s a sample table for a base chance of conviction, with modifiers based on various aspects of individuals’ social standings, the strength of pieces of evidence, and the amount and credibility of witnesses. There’s some interesting peculiarities in Zakharan law I’ll outline below:

1. The concept of a ‘diyya,’ or blood-price, is a monetary amount paid to the wronged party or their next-of-kin as part of or in addition to existing criminal penalties. It’s commonly employed in the event of death from murder or negligence. Communities with access to resurrection magic often use the proceedings from a diyya to pay for the material components of said spells.

2. Crimes committed by a slave must be covered by a master, and slaves themselves can be used as payment in the event of the penalty being a fine. This causes many slave-masters to either keep a very close eye on the day-to-day lives of their slaves.

3. Magical evidence must first be verified by an expert spellcaster to test its validity. This is done as a countermeasure against enchantment, illusion, and other such spells that present a skewed reality.

4. Genies have their own courts and legal systems which are more harsh for mortals. Genies of any clan cannot be used as a witness to a crime in mortal courts. A genie who commits a crime against Caliphate citizens must be tried in a genie court, but a mortal who commits a crime against a genie will be tried in genie court. This doesn’t explain how this affects sha’ir and other spellcasters who use a genie to commit crimes; this sounds like a big loophole. It’s also not mentioned if this is part of some deal or pact on the part of the Caliphate, given prior examples of genie soldiers, laborers and advisors in the more prosperous courts and cities.

5. Mamluks and holy slayers have their own special courts to judge wrongdoing by their own members. Mamluk military tribunals are already part of the Caliphate’s legal system, but it’s possible for a mamluk who is declared innocent in a civilian court to be tried guilty in a military court.

6. Dismemberment is a common punishment for major crimes. Regenerating lost limbs of a convicted criminal is itself punishable by an equal dismembering of the appropriate limbs.

The text does mention that being convicted of a crime worthy of capital punishment can be a real bummer and should only be done for PCs who have demonstrated particular foolishness in their actions. Otherwise, it can be used as a springboard for the other PCs to help clear their unlucky fellow’s name, or said PC escaping from prison by chance of Fate to do the same.

Chapter 3: Power Groups

This chapter’s name is a bit of a misnomer. It does cover important organizations in Zakhara, but ones which aren’t necessarily bound to any one area, city, or tribe. They detail organizations strongly correlated to various classes and class kits: Mamluk societies, Holy Slayer fellowships, Mystic groups, and the Brotherhood of the True Flame. Each section not only details notable organizations, it contains advice for gaming groups on how to make their own, either as DM or a PC forming a new movement.

Mamluk Societies



Mamluk organizations are an omnipresent sight across Zakharan civilization. They are most numerous in the northern borders where Unenlightened raids are the most common, but can be found in appreciable numbers as far as the Ruined Kingdoms. They have the least power in the Pearl Cities, whose rich lords and ladies prefer private guards and well-funded local militias for protection. Also importantly, mamluk units are owned by the Grand Caliph and answer to him. As such they act as a political counterbalance against the ambitions of local rulers: the presence of mamluks supplies security of highly-trained soldiers, but ones who do not ultimately answer to the regional sultan or sheikh.

The duties of mamluks vary; while they can and do answer the call as soldiers of war, in times of peace they serve as guards for public facilities, bodyguards for important people, and patrolmen for trade routes. Mamluk societies are hierarchical military affairs where units are organized into typical formations (a platoon has 10 soldiers and 1 sergeant, 3 platoons make a company, etc). They all bear facial tattoos designating the society in which they serve, and barring a rare few exceptions they do not accept adults into service: Unenlightened children captured as slaves are raised into the role from a young age, and their surnames reflect their society. For example, members of the Dutiful, Wajib, add “Abd al-Wajib” meaning “slaves of the Dutiful” in front of their personal names.

We have 14 major mamluk organizations listed: the Dauntless and Faithful (guard the Grand Caliph in Huzuz); the Defenders (rule Qudra), the Devoted and Exalted (rival societies in the League of the Pantheon); the Devout (Ruined Kingdom society who replaced a detachment of Devoted when the latter pledged their allegiance to Kadarasto’s prince for protecting pre-Enlightenment ruins), the Dutiful (the most numerous and powerful mamluk society with members in all major cities), the Honored (male eunuchs and female guards of the Grand Caliph’s harim), the Parched (watch over Talab’s water supply, have been subverted by wererats), the Respected (old and respected organization in the Free City of Muluk), the Studious (Qudra-based, are skilled in communication and espionage), the Valiant (fast, mobile Qudran soldiers), the Wanderers (mostly naval soldiers in Qudra), the Wondrous (palace guards of Afyal, whose Padisha prefers to use them for aesthetic military parades to the consternation of said society’s commander).

Holy Slayer Fellowships



Holy slayers are individuals whose duties emphasize the dominion of one of the Enlightened gods, using roguish skill and martial steel to eliminate threats to the faith. They are a controversial aspect of Zakharan society, and their relationship with the orthodox faith and lay worshipers of their patron deity differs widely. In some lands they are viewed as dangerous fanatics and outlawed, making the assassins a hidden estate who accept social ostracism as the price to pay for vigilance. In some places they may be tolerated as a necessary evil, provided they keep out of sight and mind. Regardless, holy slayer organizations are known as Fellowships, and one does not go seeking them out for membership. The slayers come to you, with a dagger either for your hand or your heart.

Notable fellowships include the Everlasting, whose “Caliph of Shadows” rules from a mountain fortress and dispenses punishment to the Caliphate’s movers and shakers should their moral standards come up short; the Final Chord, Unenlightened followers of Bala who lead insurgent groups against the League of the Pantheon; the Flamedeath Fellowship, who while venerating Najm have a schism among their number who secretly wish to convert to the fire god Kossuth and thus seek an alliance with the Brotherhood of the True Flame*; the Friendly Word, Zannite devotees who ruin reputations and economies in lieu of violence and have a cool calling card of a pen-shaped dagger they leave in the beds of their targets; the Gilded Palm, worshipers of Jisan who are little better than mercenaries who act against anyone that may stymie free trade**; the Grey Fire, worshipers of Najm in the Pearl Cities who devote their talents to acting as typical adventurers and help chart maps and details of Unenlightened lands; the Moon-Spinners, an Afyal-based order whose primary mission is reducing the influence of the Lost One’s subtle magics on the island; the Soft Whisper, an all-female order who primarily recruits members from the Grand Caliph’s harim and take on missions they believe are in said rulers’ interests; the Storm Which Destroys, the League of the Pantheon’s “shadow army” who specializes in quelling internal disputes among said geo-political bloc; the Wind of Fate, an all-male order who recruits members from the desert tribes and monitors those wild lands for dangers beyond the al-Hadhar’s reach; and finally the Wrath of the Old, Kor-worshipers based primarily out of the north whose methods and motives are mostly unknown besides striking down threats with extreme prejudice and overwhelming numbers.

*Which is odd, given that based on earlier descriptions and the Brotherhood entry proper later in this chapter, the fire mages don’t seem to have any loyalty to the gods and view divine casters as rivals.

**you’d think that they’d worship Jauhar instead, given the focus on wealth.

Mystic Groups



Mystic organizations exist outside of the typical Clerics of Order hierarchy in the Caliphate. They are small sects which grow like mushrooms; short-lived, but explode onto the scene at the most opportune times. They tend to prefer the environs of the desert and rural communities; even when they coexist alongside churches in the city, a prior track record of conflicts with orthodoxy discourages habitation in large population centers. Mystics primarily honor one deity based upon their methods of enlightenment.

Notable Mystic groups include the Dancing Dwarves, dervishes who favor battleaxes when fighting in dancelike rhythms; the Dome Dancers, who help watch over the Desert Mosque, guard travelers against monsters, and believe that the nomadic way of life is far more moral and noble than that of sedentary living; the Readers, Zannite devotees who gain enlightenment from the act of reading as many sources of texts they can get their hands on; the Chant Masters, who live in the hills of the Pearl Cities and find religion in the ecstasies of music and song; the Court of Rhythm, common in the Ruined Kingdoms and island settlements who channel divine power through drums; and the Quiet Multitude, worshipers of Selan who meditate in moonlight. The Quiet Multitude was once a Caliphate-wide religious movement a century ago, but ended up fracturing into sectarian schisms which drastically reduced their power.

Elemental Brotherhoods



Although Zakharan magical traditions recognize four elements, the non-fire elemantalists are for the most part unorganized. They typically join existing noble courts, magical universities, and the like rather than forming organizations dedicated to their spellcasting style in and of themselves. This is due to the fact that the Brotherhood of the True Flame views such attempts as a dangerous threat to their power, and have been particularly vicious in crushing such potential opposition where they can. It will take the actions of a PC to build their own Air Nomad/Water Tribe/Earth Kingdom Elemental Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood of the True Flame believes in a doctrine of elemental supremacy; fire magic is the only form of magic worthy of devotion, and all other kinds must be crushed for their eventual plans of world domination. They are a hierarchical society whose existence is publically known and banned in the Caliphate, but whose members operate in secret. Their leader, Nar-Aidiya, is a 20th-level fire mage whose base of operations is a magically-guarded fortress deep in the Haunted Lands. We get a rundown on some of their other VIPs, ranging from a wanted assassin who the sultana of Hiyal wants brought back, a slaver who is notable for finding new recruits for the Brotherhood, a hot-tempered wizard who challenges others to duels at the drop of a hat, and a holy slayer leading the Flamedeath fellowship.

Chapter 4: Secrets of Zakhara

This chapter covers all of the secrets of the various cities in the Adventurer’s Guide. There are no secrets for the Nomadic Tribes, oddly enough. I suppose the writers figured gaming groups would lean more towards urban styles of campaign.

Chapter 5: Magical Items



This is by far the most detailed chapter in Fortunes & Fates. With such an innovative high-magic setting, it’s only proper that we have a bevy of new magic items to go along with it. How much are there? 17 weapons, 3 sets of armor, 4 shields, 12 potions, 11 scrolls, 7 rings, 7 rods/staves/wands, and 19 miscellaneous items, all with new d100 tables accommodating all of them! Quite a bit are renamed existing items to better fit Middle Eastern aesthetics, but most of them are brand new. For reasons of brevity I will not go over them all, but instead highlight items I find particularly interesting.

Cutlass of the Golden Gulf: You can breathe underwater as long as you hold this weapon in hand.

Dagger of the Evil Eye. A cursed weapon which bestows the evil eye upon its wielder with the first strike they make in combat.

Mamluk Sword of Obedience: A struck human, demihuman, humanoid, or giant must make a saving throw vs spells or be affected as if Charmed and immediately surrender to the sword-bear, provided that the wielder has more Hit Dice/levels than the target.

Genie Slayer Sword: This +2 sword is +4 against any genie as a basic function, but individual swords are designed to deal double damage against a certain genie clan.

Sword of the Believer: Inflicts damage only against creatures that are not Enlightened and passes right through the bodies of Enlightened targets struck. The text mentions that it is useful when cutting one’s adventuring buddy out of the stomach of a creature that swallowed them!

Armor of the Desert Evening: This lamellar armor can be worn in hot environments without ill effect.

Shield of the Holy: This +1 shield becomes +2 when in the hands of a priest dedicated to the deity inscribed upon it. They also turn or command undead as if they were 2 levels higher.

Potion of Dreaming: When you drink this potion before sleep, you’ll receive a dream providing advice on how to obtain some item or goal which you desire.

Oil of Great Devotion: When applied to a priest, their level for the purposes of to-hit bonuses, spells, and turning undead increases by 1 to 3 based on their level (lower bonus for higher-level priests) for the next 12 hours.

Oil of Obedience: When smeared against the forehead of a sleeping target, they become obedient to you for 24 minus 1d6 hours, following simple orders and tasks in a zombie-like fashion.

Oil of Romance: A love potion, but is poured across a doorway or window and the pourer utters the name of an individual, Said individual becomes subject to a powerful Charm Person and becomes romantically devoted to the oil-bearer on a failed save. This effect can only be removed via Dispel Magic or Limited Wish.

Cursed Scrolls: Interesting curses such as turning into a donkey where only a hakima (wise woman) can see your true form, being stalked and pranked by a mischievous djinni, or a blank scroll which sprinkles glitter as it’s opened:

quote:

This does nothing, but makes players very paranoid. The DM may call for additional (ignored) saving throws from the PC who opened the scroll at random moments to convince the player that something is afoot.

The curse is DM fuckery!

Grant: Is actually a nonmagical item, but has a list of various titles, deeds, and other adventure hooks for PCs. Permission to audit a local ruler’s tax records in the name of the Grand Caliph, enter said Grand Caliph’s court as an ambassador, a patch of land worth 1-12k gold when presented to a local ruler, and permission to establish a town/mosque/etc in a wild location are but a few possibilities.

Scroll of Protection from Divination: Automatically foils all divination spells targeted against the drinker and all things within 10 feet of their position.

Ring of Avian Control: Can completely dominate up to 40 Hit Dice worth of birds with Intelligence of 4 or less.

Ring of Genie Summoning: Like Aladdin’s Lamp, but in ring form. Can summon a particular genie, who must serve the summoner faithfully after which the ring no longer works. There’s a 4% chance said genie is capable of granting 3 wishes to the summoner.

Ring of Message: A common fixture in the Caliphate’s bureaucracy. It is activated by a command word, acting as a magical audio recording device. When the command word is spoken again the speaker’s message is relayed as an illusory duplicate of their face utters the message three times after which it erases said message and can store another one.

Ring of the Holy Slayer: Worn by fellowship members as a magical cyanide pill equivalent. A command word pumps a deadly poison into the wearer’s hand. Those who die from said poison cannot be raised or resurrected, and their spirit will not answer the calls of Speak With Dead and similar divinations.

Rod of the Monolith: This rod allows the wielder to control entities summoned by the Elemental Monolith spell. This is based off of the Unleash Monolith spell from Arabian Adventures, which creates a barely sentient, highly destructive 30 Hit Dice elemental after 1 day of meditation and chanting. Said monolith normally enters a destructive rampage when summoned.

Banner of Renown: This flag displays a moon and trailing stars, the national symbol of the Caliphate. All Enlightened creatures within 100 feet of the banner gain bonuses to morale checks, to-hit rolls, and damage rolls.

Carpet of Fighting: This magical carpet will not take you for a ride. Rather, it will choke a target of your choice to death.

Genie Prison: Commonly taking the forms of lamps, bottles, ewers, and geodes based upon the target genie type, sha’irs make use of said items to capture genies. Imprisoned genies are often commanded by the item’s magic to perform a specific task upon release, determined randomly via d100 roll.

Qanun of Quiet: A radius of magical silence emits as long as this instrument is played. It is more akin to a barrier, as those within the radius can hear others inside normally. It also has a similar effect of protection against divination spells directed from outside.

Telescope of Fantastic Vision, and Telescope of True Vision: Both of these items are magical spyglasses who act as a Gem of Seeing to whatever is viewed through the lens. However, the Telescope of Fantastic Vision is cursed, and after 4 uses will only show near-unbelievable scenes wildly inaccurate of the truth.

Thoughts So Far: This booklet is full of highly useful material. The magic items are both practical and flavorful, while the rules for followers and the legal system can see use in a lot of campaigns set in Zakhara. The organizations are perhaps the weak point: the mamluk societies are rather brief and lack the intrigue, factionalism, and adventure hooks we’ve seen in the city chapters barring a few exceptions. A few don’t really have any particular distinguishing factor besides how they fight or where they’re located. The Mystic groups are a bit similar in this regard, who mainly differ by how they pray for spells rather than ideological reasons.

The Holy Slayer fellowships were a step up in that they can make for both interesting patrons for anti-hero PCs and serve as ready-made antagonists. They more or less have specific tasks which can tie into adventure hooks, and I do like how a few have fallen from their lofty ideals, such as a faction of Flamedeath heretics (and the leader of the group as a whole!) allying with the Brotherhood of the True Flame.

The Brotherhood of the True Flame is the only real “mage organization,” but they make up for it by serving as one of al-Qadim’s Big Bads. Their entry has thus more room in detailing their most prominent members and ways adventurers would most commonly encounter them. The Brotherhood’s mentioned several times earlier in the Adventurer’s Guide (and the Secrets Chapter in this booklet) with other NPCs, so their brief entry here is more than made up for elsewhere.

Join us as we cover the final booklet of Zakhara, showcasing its homegrown monsters in the Land of Fate!

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

FATAL & Friends
Walls of Text
#1 Builder
2014-2018



Night Horrors: Nameless and Accursed
There's A Hole In The Bucket, Dear Liza, Dear Liza



Cleodora, formerly Jamie Adams, hated doors. Her home was full of slamming doors, angry people, and huge fights. When she was young, her aunt Jane had a big fight with her mother, left the house, slammed the door and never returned. Lanie associated these slamming doors and the opportunities denied her by being black or a woman or a black woman or so on. However, she learned how to keep them from shutting entirely - or how to tear them down. Jamie studied architecture, excelling in her field as queen of the open floor plan. Her designs were award-winning, and her Awakening only expanded her ability to study and open doors. She took the Shadow Name Cleodora and joined the Free Council, specializing in the study of Verges (places where realities overlap) and Irises (portals). She befriended other mages and helped form the Riverside Cabal, several of whose members lived in the home she designed as their shared Sanctum and Demesne.

Cleodora's research made her an expert on ley lines, Hallows, Verges and Irises. Other mages would seek out her expertise, as while she might lack the comprehensive records of, say, the Mysterium, she was also far happier to just hand information out. Eventually, she began to research Scars, Irises in which reality weakens and the Lower Depths rise up. Others told her to leave them, as they were dangerous, and that it wouldn't be possible to make one deliberately anyway. Cleodora took that as a challenge, and she simply stopped telling people what she was doing. The first clue that it all went wrong was the day all the doors appeared in the cabal house. It had never had many - Cleodora hated closed doors - but now every room contained at least one. For hours, they led throughout the house, unreliably and apparently at random, with no regard for physical space. Cleodora eventually came out of her bedroom and the doors faded away. The cabal figured some weird magical surge occurred along the ley line or in the soul stone of the house, temporarily transforming it into a Verge.

They were wrong. Cleodora had been trying to open a portal to the Lower Depths in the bedroom. She very, very briefly opened a portal to a realm that devoured the concept of Space itself. After that, she stopped doing experiments in her own house and went outside. Now, she opens Irises in locations where Sleepers will inevitably wander through by accident, watching their reactions and attempts to escape. She catalogs them, using them to study the nature of portals. Sometimes she even traps them and tries to open up a Scar by using them as bait for the things that inhabit the Lower Depths. Cleodora's cabal has realized she's been Enraptured, but aren't sure what to do about it. They're loyal to her still and protective of her, and so they're just trying to ensure her work doesn't create a larger problem. They've covered it up so far, usually by rescuing the folks she traps if they can or hiding the bodies if they can't. Still, those bodies are growing in number - they can't keep this up forever.

Cleodora dresses well, as if she were still a practicing architect. She's not; she left her firm after Awakening, she just still likes dressing for work. She's practical in her outfits, favoring tailored slacks or fitted blouses, and often wears her father's old tweed jacket on top. She wears her hair in Senagelese-style twists, often in a ponytail. She maintains a good working relationship with other mages, despite her Rapture. She attends meetings, gives her thoughts, accepts their requests for help in investigating Verges...though it's always hard for her to resist experimenting when that happens. She's fully aware her work is dangerous to those around her and that she has harmed innocents. She does not care. It'll all be worth it, she's certain, when she manages to solve the mysteries of the Scars. Anyone she loses...well, they're martyrs in the fight against the Lie. She can, at least, usually keep herself together when her cabal is there - especially if her friend Swan is present, as Swan reminds her of Aunt Jane. Cleo's Immediate Nimbus is a strong awareness of one's location and what's in it. Her Signature Nimbus is the disorienting feeling that you have entered somewhere entirely unfamiliar. Her Long-Term Nimbus causes people to make wrong turns or get lost without realizing how they did it.

Aunt Jane's disappearance was never solved. By the time Cleo Awakened the trail had gone cold, of course, but using magic she was able to find evidence of an unstable Verge near the last place Jane had been spotted. However, Cleodora has never figured out the Key required to open the Iris into the Verge. She tries new theories on it every few weeks. Her targets for Scar experimentation are mostly random passers-by, but not exclusively. She has used her experiments to quietly eliminate several foes of the Riverside Cabal or the Free Council. Neither she nor the cabal have realized that the local Hierarch has realized to some degree that this is happening; fortunately, thus far, no one has been sent to investigate Cleodora. Instead, several of the Hierarch's enemies have been quietly misdirected so that they enter Cleodora's hunting zones.

Cleodora owns several acres outside town under her old name. She's been building a house on it the past few years, though the complex design has confused everyone she's shown it to. As a result, she only hires contractors to hire one room at a time, doing most of the work on the house solo. She has altered the local ley lines, and dreams of one day opening a Scar within the house. Several contractors have quit shortly after being hired, claiming they had all kinds of weird experiences. Two have vanished entirely. The cops believe they just walked off the job - incorrectly, as it happens. They're still in the house, trapped inside the mazes within the walls.

Cleodora's Lesser Tulpas, when they manifest, tend to trap people in maze-like areas of altered space. It's one of the bigger signs she's broken - there's several reports of folks being trapped in weird maze-zones and then spotting her. The Consilium's Strategos has also vanished. He came to visit Cleodora on the suggestion of the Hierarch, to get advice on ley lines. She trapped him in a Scar she'd found earlier, though whatever she expected to learn failed. This is what the Hierarch intended, as the Strategos had been asking questions about awkward things. The Consilium has grown paranoid and fearful over the vanishing. Some rumors suggest Cleodora's managed to create a Scar, too. She hasn't - yet. She's sure she can, though, and she's found several Irises that lead into Scars, some of which she's forced to stay open so she can see what happens.

Cleodora is a Mastigos Free Councillor and member of the Reality Stalker Legacy. Her Vice is Stubborn and her Fault is Space-linked: Open a Scar. Her savant power is that she can reflexively cast any spell that opens Irises or interacts with the borders and liminal spaces of other realms without Reaching. She is also Obsessed with survival in the Lower Depths and architecture from the Time Before. She's a strong-willed woman of otherwise average stats, though she's very good at making stuff, investigating, science and occult lore, and decently good at persuading people to listen to her. Her magic is focused on Space and Death, with some sidelines in Spirit, Prime and Mind. She's not especially dangerous in a fight, but facing her in any area with portals she can dump you into is going to be very tricky.

Cleodora's Greater Tulpa is the Maze, an Imp of Pandemonium. The Maze is ever-changing, folding in on itself impossibly. It is translucent and easy miss, appearing to be a blurry distortion in the air. It is attracted to confusion, especially that derived from unfamiliarity with a location. Tourists, especially, tend to draw it in. It selects victims and traps them in spatial loops, trapping them. Once the effect ends, the Quiesence sets in and they forget the experience, confused about what just happened. The Maze is as fascinated as Cleodora is by Scars, sharing her Fault, but it is not nearly as meticulous or careful. It hunts down anyone that is in Cleodora's way and traps them until she gets her work done or they die, both of which it considers acceptable. The Maze's Vice is Greedy, it's a Rank 4 Supernal Entity, and its focuses magically are Space, secondarily Mind, and following that, Death, Prime and Spirit. Its Ban is that it must release any victims it has if it sees someone trace the pattern of the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth from memory. Its Bane is a map of any of its previous configurations drawn on blueprint paper.

The Reality Stalkers are a Mastigos and Mysterium Legacy focusing on Space. They're mostly Mysterium but are quite welcoming of anyone who wants to study the fractures, interstitial places and similar locations throughout the Fallen world. They use their magic to cut passages through space, crack open portals and otherwise investigate holes in reality to find new and bizarre things. Their more practical members often make a decent living as spies or thieves, which has given the Legacy a dubious reputation. They can do magic through codebreaking or hacking, learning secrets, revealing secrets to others, or by being near doorways, secret passages or other liminal spaces. They can gain Mana by breaking and entering, exploring hidden paths or secret passages, getting lost and then finding their way back, or by brokering a trade in secrets between other people.

The first Attainment of the Reality Stalkers is Gazing Through the Cracks, which combines Space and Larceny or Stealth to scry through spatial warps, portals or similar to see what's on the other side. This can also work to scry down a corridor, but it's not subtle, no matter what. Anyone on the other side becomes aware they're being watched, and there's a small chance that the magic will actively open the warp or corridor it's being used to spy on. With Death or Spirit, this power can be used to gaze through Avernian Gates or Loci, respectively.

Next Time: The Reborn

hyphz
Aug 5, 2003




It's time for a Polymorphic Special!



Mazes, from last year's ZineQuest event, is an updated OSR dungeon crawling game. You play as folks who go off to kill monsters and take their stuff in a world where there's lots of ruins and it's generally horrible enough that getting killed in them is still a good bet.

The Excellents, later published by the same authors, is a game of being.. um.. "an Excellent Princess in Awesome World", which is the real world but more awesome, and having the task of protecting your Realm - that is, whatever you're Princess of - and of generally fighting evil. Think Nobilis for children.

The similarity between the games is probably not clear at first. It lies in the unusual dice system, called the “Polymorph System” (or possibly "Platform" or "RPG". The books can't quite decide). The basis of the Polymorph System is that you pick one of four types of dice - d4, d6, d8, or d10 - to represent your character. You roll this dice every time you need to roll for an action. Actions are in turn divided into four categories, which have different ranges of target numbers. The different dice therefore hit the different number ranges more or less often.

The four dice types are given names for the type of character they represent. In Mazes, the d4, d6, d8, and d10 are called the “Paragon”, “Vanguard”, “Fighter”, and “Sentinel” respectively. In The Excellents, they’re called “Magical”, “Brainy”, “Charming” and “Tough”. You will notice there is a distinct lack of correspondence between these sets of names, even though they are different names for the same thing. That sounds suspicious, you might think. You would be right.

Likewise, the four roll categories are Intelligence, Dexterity, Strength, and Constitution. They’re not called that, of course. In Mazes, they’re called Books, Boots, Blades, and Bones - evidently the author thought it was cute to make them alliterative, thus making them more awkward to write down and increasing the chance of mishearings at the table, but hey. In The Excellents, they’re called Books, Shoes, Sword, and Heart. The target range for Books is 2-3, and each later range starts one higher and is one wider than the previous one. So Books is 2-3, Shoes/Boots is 3-5, Sword/Blades is 4-7, and Heart/Bones is 5-9.

The book confidently claims that each dice type is the best at rolling one of the four roll categories. That’s.. well. dubious to say the least. Here’s the actual odds for each roll and dice type.

pre:
	Books 2-3	Boots 3-5	Blades 4-7	Bones 5-9	Av        
d4	50% (23)	50% (34)	25% (4)		0% (-)	 	28.75    
d6	33% (23)	50% (345)	50% (456)	33% (56)	41.5    
d8	25% (23)	37.5% (345)	50% (4567)	50% (5678)	40.625  
d10	20% (23)	30% (345)	40% (4567)	50% (56789)	35    

Ranking d4 d6 d8 d10    d4-d6 d8 d10    d6-d8 d10 d4    d8-d10 d6 d4  

Ranking summary:
d6      2               1               1               2               1.5
d8      3               2               1               1               1.75
d4      1               1               3               3               2
d10     4               3               2               1               2.5
So, that statement about the roll categories matching the dice categories is kind of dubious. d4 is the best at rolling Books, but d6 is no better than d4 at Boots, d8 is no better than d6 at Blades, and d10 is no better than d8 at Bones. In fact, d10 is generally screwed; d8 is better than d10 at everything, and tied for Bones, which d8 is supposed to be best at. Overall, though, d6 comes first or second (after ties) at everything, which nothing else does.

Why does it turn out that way? Well, it’s because of how the ranges interact. Let’s look at the ranges and what effect each number has in terms of the four categories.

pre:
         1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  0
Books       >--<
Boots          >-----<
Blades            >--------<
Bones                >-----------<
#ranges  0  1  2  2  3  2  2  1  1  0
The numbers in the middle of the overall range are the most powerful - 5 is especially important, as it’s the only one that’s a success in three categories - and so d6 and d8 have a big advantage because of their greater chances of rolling numbers between 3 and 7.

There’s a few wrinkles, though. Namely, there’s two special cases for dice rolls. The first of these occurs if you roll a 1. If you roll a 1 in Mazes, you succeed if the task is one that your Class can accomplish. If you roll a 1 in The Excellents, it’s the same, but for if the task is one that your magical pet could help you with. There is a suggested list of Classes, but there’s no list of magical pets, and since they’re magical it’s difficult to define what they could or could not do, so it’s presumably just supposed to be a question of justifying their help.

The second special case occurs if you roll the highest number allowed on the dice - both systems call this “your Crown” - and it wouldn’t otherwise have been a success. In The Excellents, you succeed if the action is something to do with your Realm (ie, the thing you’re a princess of). In Mazes, you get the option to succeed at a cost.

So, let’s update the charts.

pre:
With Class/Pet:
	Books 2-3/1	Boots 3-5/1	Blades 4-7/1	Bones 5-9/1	Av        
d4	75% (123)	75% (134)	50% (14)	25% (1)		56.25
d6	50% (123)	66% (1345)	66% (1456)	50% (156)	58
d8	37.5% (123)	50% (1345)	62.5% (14567)	62.5% (15678)	53.125
d10	30% (123)	40% (1345)	50% (14567)	60% (156789)	45
Rank    d4 d6 d8 d10    d4 d6 d8 d10    d6 d8 d4-d10    d8 d10 d6 d4

With Crown:
	Books 2-3/x	Boots 3-5/x	Blades 4-7/x	Bones 5-9/x	Av        
d4	75% (234)	50% (34)	25% (4)		25% (4)	 	43.75    
d6	50% (236)	66% (3456)	50% (456)	33% (56)	49.75  
d8	37.5% (238)	50% (3458)	62.5% (45678)	50% (5678)	50 
d10	30% (230)	40% (3450)	50% (45670)	60% (567890)	45     
Rank    d4 d6 d8 d10    d6 d4-d8 d10    d8 d6-d10 d4    d10 d8 d6 d4


With Class/Pet and Crown:
	Books 2-3/1/x	Boots 3-5/1/x	Blades 4-7/1/x	Bones 5-9/1/x	Av        
d4	100% (1234)	75% (134)	50% (14)	50% (14)	68.75
d6	66% (1236)	83% (13456)	66% (1456)	50% (156)	66.25
d8	37.5% (1238)	62.5% (13458)	75% (145678)	62.5% (15678)	59.37
d10	40% (1230)	50% (13450)	60% (145670)	70% (1567890)	55
        d4 d6 d10 d8    d6 d4 d8 d10    d8 d6 d10 d4    d10 d8 d4-d6


Overall ranking summary:
d6      2 2 2 2         1 2 1 1         1 1 2 2         2 3 3 3         1.875
d8      3 3 3 4         2 3 2 3         1 2 1 1         1 1 2 2         2.125
d4      1 1 1 1         1 1 2 2         3 3 3 4         3 4 4 3         2.3125
d10     4 4 4 3         3 4 4 4         2 3 2 3         1 2 1 1         2.8
So. d4 is called “Paragon” or “The Magical One” on the grounds that its Class and Crown are activated more often than the other dice type. The problem is that while that’s true, it doesn’t actually help that much. On everything except Books rolls, or Boots rolls with Class, d6 is still better. Now, of course, raw comparing every roll in every circumstance and averaging the results isn’t necessarily representative of how an RPG would actually play, as players would be trying to play to their strengths, tasks would have different importance and significance, and so on. But a lot of the math the book claims - about each dice being the best at one of the stats, and so on - is just wrong, and that casts doubt over everything else as well. I don’t know if the author ever drew out those tables, or if they did but just kept the system anyway because they needed a USP.

So, time for the rest of character generation. In Mazes, it’s pretty simple. You’re an adventurer, or someone who has a good reason to go into ruins where there are monsters, kill them and take their stuff. In addition to your dice choice, you have an Aspect, a Class, and three Edges. Your aspect refers to your general method of solving problems - “Sword”, “Skill” or “Sorcery”. This determines your choice of Class, which determines what happens when you roll 1s; and your class determines your choice of 3 Edges. Edges are, essentially, FATE aspects (and yes there’s already a thing called Aspect in the system so thanks for the confusion). You can activate an Edge to gain advantage (5e style - roll your dice twice and keep the best) on any roll they relate to.

In the Excellents, however, you’re an “excellent princess”. The book emphasises that anyone can be a Princess, and that "the universe doesn't care how your express your gender", so you can go ahead and be a boy Princess if you want. This.. seems backwards. Now, ok, that's not to say you shouldn't be able to be a boy Princess if you want to be, but here's the thing: in this game, you have to be. If the universe really doesn't care, why can't you be a Prince? Or, heck, why can't a girl be a Prince? I could go with this if there was anything in the book to indicate that there was something special or unique about the title "Princess" in the game world, but there doesn't seem to be, so it's just another expression of gender - that thing that isn't supposed to matter. Humph. (Also, the sample characters have a space for "Pronoun" on their character sheets, but the provided sheet for actual players doesn't have one.)

You pick your dice type in the same way. But there’s no Aspects, and no list of Classes for Aspects. Instead, your Realm and your Magical Pet. Also, your Princess’ realm determines their name - it's literally just the name of the Realm followed by "Princess". So you don't get a real name, you're just "Spell Book Princess" or "Gadget Princess" or "Unnecessary Objectification Princess".

Princesses get Edges too, but they’re not called that, because they’re more specifically categorised. You get a Heart Word, a Sword, Shoes and a Library Book. The Heart Word can be picked from a list or chosen freely; the Sword can be any object that could vaguely be a weapon; the type of Shoes you wear is chosen from a list; and the Library Book can be any title you like. They act just like Edges do in Mazes; they give you Advantage on stuff to do with them. Unfortunately, the lists of Heart Words and Shoes.. aren’t great. Good luck resolving things when one player's Heart Word can be "Effective", and another's can be "Sleepy". Oh, and "Tough" is available as a Heart Word in spite of it being a Role. Screw you, d10! Likewise, for your Shoes, you could have "Boots" which help with doing woodsy nature stuff; "Dancing Shoes" which help with, um, dancing and generally showing off; or "flats" which help with "Getting Things Done". Assuming this doesn't mean applying the executive time management techniques published by David Allen, this seems.. a little wide.

Next step. Obviously our princesses need magical sparkly hearts and stars... hang on.. wait.. ok, sorry, it’s Mazes that has those. Hearts are hit points, and Stars are narrative bennies. You get Hearts equal to the max of your dice type, and 4, 3, 2, or 1 star according to the dice type you chose. There’s no hard definitions about what a Star can do, other than that it allows introductions of stuff to the game world, or success at actions - although the GM can refuse a Star spend, you do get the Star back if that happens. In addition, if you roll a success at a cost, a Star will pay any cost.

Instead of Stars, Princesses get Lessons. They get one whenever they fail, and they can spend one to succeed at something, or trigger a Montage or a Flashback. These terms are never defined in The Excellents; the book says "see page 39", but what page 39 actually describes is that the group can spend any number of lessons, once per session, to replace a roll with a music video. Yes, the Excellents break out into a musical number and it either resolves an action successfully without a roll or has a larger effect depending on the number of lessons spent. (I should mention that the blurb on the back of the book says that the Princesses "are in a band", but this is the only rule that's anything to do with music in the entire game.)

There are also no Hearts for Princess characters, but that's because.. that's all there is. Yes, I have just described all the rules of The Excellents apart from one. The PCs get disadvantage on rolls against an adventure’s Big Bad until they learn their secret. There. Done. Everything else is the sample tables for those character generation aspects and some guidelines on structuring an adventure, and a couple of sample characters complete with those unappealing names (Laser Princess, Hair Metal Princess, Library Book Princess, Maple Syrup Princess, Tomato Princess). They're not too remarkable. None of them are d10 based. (Oh, and for "Sword", Maple Syrup Princess gets “a giant Swiss Army Knife with all the accessories”, which presumably requires imagining a cute Princess just straight up pulling out a SwissChamp XLS and shanking someone with it) There are no Hearts or any HP equivalent because there are no damage rules. I mean, OK if they didn't want to have PCs getting killed in a children's game, but in this system literally anything that happens to a Princess happens by fiat. You just kind of do stuff, and win when you win, and you don't lose. Huh.

Needless to say, Mazes adventurers get a bit more opposition. First of all, and strangest of all, you lose a Heart whenever you do anything violent. The argument is that you don’t get into a fight without a bruise or two, or at least tiring yourself out. You also lose hearts by failing rolls against dangerous hazards - both monsters and traps and other similar things - in which case you lose Hearts equal to their Danger level. If you run out of Hearts, you have to take a Condition, which refills both your Hearts and your Stars (and you can take a condition voluntarily to refill your Stars any time if you want to).

There are four Standard Conditions which are taken in order. Stressed gives you Disadvantage on Books and locks out the Crown bonus, and only heals if you “rest in a safe place, bond with another character, or indulge in a vice”. Tired gives you Disadvantage on Boots, as well, and is only cleared by a rest in a safe place. Hurt gives you disadvantages on Blades and Bones and can’t be cleared except by “an extended rest, which will seldom happen during a standard adventure session”. And Down leaves you knocked out, which means you can’t do anything until someone tries to help you, whereupon you roll a couple of d8’s to see what happens. I won’t copy the tables here. I’ll just tell you the odds:

pre:
1/64   You die.
16/64  You wake up with Stressed, Tired, and Hurt, 1 Heart and 1 Star.
2/64   You wake up with Stressed, Tired, Hurt, 1 Heart, 1 Star, and a negative Edge called “Scarred”.
35/64  You wake up with Stressed or Tired (your choice), full hearts and 1 Star.
1/64   You wake up with no conditions, 1 Heart and 1 Star.
9/64   You wake up with no conditions, full Hearts and 1 Star.
Since this is an OSR game, I’m allowed to take the mick out of dissociated mechanics, so I will point out the irony that if your buddy is Hurt then rather than rushing him to hospital it’s a much better idea to punch him unconscious, take him Down, and then have a 35/64 chance of him being unhurt when he wakes up.

After all those statistics, I'm calling Part 1 here. In the next part, we'll look at the remaining rules of Mazes (as I mentioned, there are no remaining rules of The Excellents), which are the GM side rules. Which are actually much better than some of these.

Libertad!
Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!



Land of Fate (Bestiary Booklet)

The smallest of the three, the oddly-named Land of Fate booklet gives us 11 new monsters (5 if you don’t count subtypes) of setting-specific monsters.



Yak-Men (Yikaria) are inhabitants of the World Pillar Mountains. Their civilization is advanced and they are naturally gifted in the ways of magic, but they are a tyrannical society powered by the labor of slaves of other races. They do not interact much with the outside world save among spies and agents, which gives them a sort of fearful fabled status in the Caliphate as wicked and powerful savages.

Yikaria society centers around the cities in their mountain homes. Slaves outnumber them 5 to 1, and yak-men of all social classes have at least one servant. Dao servants are used to shape terrain and structures with exotic imported stone from the Elemental Plane of Earth, and military outposts guard key roads and vales traversing the mountain range. Their cities are a centralized empire, and their patron deity’s name is forgotten among all but the yak-men who do not speak his title in the presence of outsiders. This Forgotten God is their leader and demands daily sacrifices of slaves, culled from those who are incompetent and disobedient first and killed one of four elemental ways (pyres for fire, thrown off a mountaintop for air, buried alive for earth, and drowning for water).

Yak-men encountered outside of the World Pillar Mountains are typically scouts who have been exiled and can only have their crimes forgiven should they bring some valuable object or piece of intelligence back to their home city. They often make use of the Magic Jar spell to inhabit the bodies of other races to better blend in among Zakharan society.

Statwise the Yikaria are 5 Hit Die creatures who specialize in magical abilities: they can use any magic item without restriction, can command a dao genie 1/day to perform any task asked of them for 48 hours, have a touch range magic jar spell that only affects demihumans, humans, and humanoids but also grants the memories of the host body in addition to control over its motor functions. The yak-man’s presence cannot be detected by divination spells in such bodies, but can be dispelled normally.



Zakharan Rocs are more varied than the ones found in other lands. They typically live in the lusher regions of the Land of Fate, favoriting the Ruined Kingdoms region. Their plumage is a beautiful multi-colored hue, and a rare few have pure white, black, or red feathers. Beyond the common roc there is a two-headed variety, and a great roc which is the largest specimen of all.

Two-headed and great rocs are sapient, unlike the common variety, although the two-headed ones are Chaotic Evil and sadistically hunt beyond what is necessary for subsistence. Both they and great rocs are large enough to pick up and fling boulders and boulder-sized objects as ranged attacks.

Statwise there’s not much to say about the new roc varieties that separates them from the normal kind beyond larger dice numbers (and a bonus bite attack for the two-headed one). They’re big, tough flying animals with natural weapons and a ton of Hit Dice.



Island Giants are huge (13 feet tall), evil, horned beings who have varying physical features based upon their local ecosystem. Some have reptilian scales, others one or more horns, and some have features of other races such as a cyclopean single eye or the hindquarters of satyrs. They are hostile to other giants and enlightened civilization, and the feeling is mutual. Island giants speak a dialect of Midani peppered with Giantish phrases, and prefer to live by themselves save when they must come together to mate. The women of their species have the ability to polymorph into other human and humanoid (but not demihuman) forms and use this to lead travelers astray. Island giant children are able to breathe underwater to take advantage of fleeing into safe areas in coves, but lose this ability upon reaching adulthood.

Statwise they are tough 13 Hit Dice giants with the ability to throw boulders. They have some slight Magic Resistance at 10%.



Ogre Giants are even larger specimens of normal ogres, averaging around 20 feet tall with a single eye and fur covering their bodies. They keep cool by flapping their huge ears, and the males can grow tusks. They can speak Ogre, and some closer to civilization learn Midani, although most of their number is Unenlightened and are given a wide berth by others. A notable few converted to the Law of the Loregiver, becoming missionaries to the rest of their kind.

Ogre giant society is organized into small family units led by a male leader who has several wives. Some often serve as minions to ogre magi, spellcasters, and other powerful individuals in exchange for food, territory, and protection. Interestingly they demonstrate a level of honor towards their foes; any slain by an ogre giant will be buried in rock cairns, which they bury their own race in as well. The cairns are built upon with successive generations, a few becoming building and even palace-sized tombs.

Note: Each of the genie entries has 2 pictures instead of one, portraying a male and female of their clan. I’m only choosing 1 for each entry for brevity’s sake.



Zakharan Marid Genies are considered by many in the Caliphate to be the most powerful of geniekind, and the marid’s impressive egos bask in this. Marids wear little or nothing in aquatic environs, but when they come upon land bound mortal society they dress in the most expensive and flashy garments they can find. Every marid claims to bear some noble blood, and titles of authority are practically part of their naming structure. Their family units are extended households of 2 to 20 members, with twice as many servants or slaves of other races who are given magical boons and water-breathing ability as part of this service. The marid take great pains to gain possession of the finest things in life, be they magical items, irreplaceable works of art, or anything that speaks to the individual marid’s hobby. Their capital is the Citadel of the Ten Thousand Pearls, a beautiful city in the center of the Elemental Plane of Water.

Statwise they are physically powerful 13 Hit Dice genies with lots of spell-like abilities. They are immune to water-based spells and are resistant to cold-based attacks. They, and all other non-Janni genies, can travel freely to any of the elemental planes and the Material Plane, although they avoid the territories of other genies save in times of need. Once per year they may cast Alter Reality.



Zakharan Janni Genies are the only subrace native to the Material Plane. They are servants of the other genie races and watch over the Land of Fate’s great deserts. They appear as human or half-elves with aesthetically pleasing features, capable of walking among mortalkind in disguise. Janni prefer to live as part of their own nomadic tribes away from others, although their leaders are allies of the Grand Caliph. They maintain a few permanent settlements, and they follow similar leadership structures as Zakharan mortals: sheikhs rule over smaller tribes, while amirs lead the larger ones and maintain a council of viziers. The janni are friendly to the djinn, but barely tolerate dao and efreet. They hardly ever deal with marid, but give them the proper amount of “royal treatment” during their stays.

Statwise janni are 6-9 Hit Die (more for sheikhs, viziers, and amirs) creatures who gain 20% magic resistance while in a desert environment. They can Speak with Animals at will to aid in their role as guardians of nature, and have a minor variety of spell-like abilities such as turning invisible, ethereal, and creating food and water along with permanent flight and water-breathing.



Zakharan Efreeti Genies are evil social Darwinists who react to others based on their perceived power in relation to themselves. Most live in the Elemental Plane of Fire, and the few that do show up in the Material Plane are on some mission or service for a sha’ir or higher-ranking efreeti. They are prone to hold grudges and their society is highly militarized. The City of Brass is the efreeti capital, its soldiers making frequent raids into other planes for riches and slaves. There is a cruel irony that many efreet are not fond of their own society’s restrictive nature, and are eager to visit other planes when permitted for the relative freedom this brings. The efreeti’s relative willingness to grant wishes to mortals has led to the subject of many tales, and there’s an entire bureaucracy overseeing the wish trade in order to maintain their races’ power and reputation. Although the system favors the efreet, it is difficult yet possible for mortals to find loopholes and exploits to get out of a badly-worded wish.

Statwise efreeti are 10 Hit Die genies with powerful spell-like abilities. They are immune to nonmagical fire but take half damage from magical flames. Every member of their race can grant up to 3 wishes per day,* but have several restrictions: first they can only grant wishes to creatures native to the Material Plane, cannot grant wishes to other genies, and the wish will be reviewed by their superiors in the bureaucracy of the City of Brass.

*which contradicts the magic item chapter’s Ring of Genie Summoning, which claims that only the rare nobles among all genies are capable of granting wishes.



Zakharan Djinni Genies have the friendliest relationship with the Land of Fate’s mortals besides the janni. They live among floating islands in the Elemental Plane of Air, although their cities have architecture for nonflying visitors. Djinni society is much like the Caliphate’s, even down to identical noble titles and a Great Caliph of their own. Their settlements are autonomous but have mutual defense pacts to come to each other’s aid in times of danger. Those who visit the Material Plane prefer the natural beauty of the wilderness and tend to regard mortals as comical; they are quite fond of using their illusory and air magic to play practical jokes. They’re the most amenable to servitude by a sha’ir, but find longer-term contracts distasteful.

Statwise they are 7 Hit Die creatures capable of creating a rideable whirlwind to batter their foes and blow things around. Their magical powers are themed towards air, creating physical objects, and minor illusions.



Zakharan Dao Genies are evil beings who live in the great caverns of the Elemental Plane of Earth. They enslave xorns and other natives to further excavate their holdings as well as use them as scouts if they have the ability to naturally move through the earth. The dao’s local settlements are known as mazeworks ruled over by a noble known as an ataman, who in theory pledge themselves to an emperor known as the Great Khan who rules over an empire known as the Sevenfold Mazework. Although punished when found out, more than a few individual mazeworks have managed to gain political independence. Their capital city is the Great Dismal Delve, rich in the trade of gems, precious metals, and slaves.

Dao are a hard-working race, eager to create new settlements, trade networks, and various plans of personal enrichment. For unknown reasons their race is bound to come to the aid of the yikaria when on the Material Plane. The dao hate having to serve the yak-men, and take out their anger on others while in service. But they’re capable of indirectly harming their masters under the right circumstances.

Statwise dao are 8 Hit Die beings whose spell-like abilities center around stone, the creation of magical walls, and detection-type divination spells. They can grant limited wishes once per day but with restrictions: they’re similar to the limitations of the efreeti, but additionally cannot grant their abilities to anyone with extraplanar heritage in their family tree (no cambions, planetouched, etc). Instead of being overseen by a bureaucracy, they can only grant a wish that will be twisted or bring misfortune. Even the dao cannot predict how said wish will be warped, although they are aware that their own wishes cannot be fulfilled as intended. Dao can also burrow through soil and soft earth, and are capable of lifting up to 500 pounds indefinitely without tiring.

Thoughts So Far: I feel that most of the bestiary are twists on existing monsters rather than new ones outright. I do not see what is much different in regards to Zakharan genies than the ones found in the core rules besides some mention of specific setting detail. The two giants are interesting from a fluff standpoint* but statwise you know more or less what you’re getting. The yak-men/yikarians are my favorite, and make for a good major villainous faction in al-Qadim campaigns with unique abilities to go along with them. Their mountain empire got an expanded treatment in Dragon #241, although I do not own that particular issue so comment further on it.

*I like the ogre giant’s cairns.

Concluding Thoughts: Al-Qadim still holds up well by modern standards, minus some dated 2nd Edition mechanics. It has enough unique features to make it stand out from other settings beyond the Arabian Nights aesthetic, and the various cities and regions have enough variation to host a diverse amount of campaign types. Courtly intrigue in the many cities, dungeon delving in the Ruined Kingdoms, and sailing the high seas of the Corsair Coast or Crowded Seas are but a few inspirational ideas which are not only supported, but expanded upon in further sourcebooks.

Al-Qadim’s major weakness is the datedness of the 2nd Edition ruleset, as I imagine most gaming groups would want to play it in the more modern 5th Edition. While the Land of Fate boxed set is mostly fluff, the class kits, magic items, and spells found in Arabian Adventures are a big part of the original campaign’s theme. Additionally there is a high-level bias on the part of many NPCs in power, although unlike the Forgotten Realms they are mostly confined to their individual domains. You don’t have Drizz’t or Elminster figures running around and saving the day to the point that you have to cook up excuses as to why the PCs are handling a crisis without their support.

I understand that this review was a long time coming ever since I polled the option two months ago, but I hope the wait was worth it. For my next review, we’re going to try something more modern and contemporary with SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists.

Xiahou Dun
Jul 16, 2009
BUTTS





Hey I really, really don't like making GBS threads on reviews cause that's kind of against the whole point of this thread, and I'll delete this if there is even a whiff of backlash, but :

hyphz? Yeah I did not like that post.

I like crunching math in games, it's one of my biggest hobbies. That was cool. But I didn't like you ragging on the children's princess game for letting everyone be a princess. Leaving gender politics aside, it's just crass.

Conflating two games in one post is at best some very awkward writing and it really shows.

I really couldn't even bring myself to finish your post because you're just kicking a game for kids cause you didn't like some of the word-play and it set my teeth on edge. I ain't ever played this game or even heard of it, so I have no horse in this fight, but I really disliked the tone and tenor of this review.

That said I'm just some rando so maybe other people love it and god-speed ; I'm just telling you how it made me, personally, feel.

megane
Jun 20, 2008





Xiahou Dun posted:

But I didn't like you ragging on the children's princess game for letting everyone be a princess. Leaving gender politics aside, it's just crass.

That's not what they said, though. They criticized it for forcing you to be a princess, as opposed to a prince.

Also, being aimed at children doesn't excuse being poorly-written.

Xiahou Dun
Jul 16, 2009
BUTTS





I ain't read the actual book and I'm just giving my opinion. That's all. Not calling for them to stop, not telling no one what to do ; just saying, "Hey, I didn't like X."

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

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Spoilers: reverse sexism isn’t a thing, Complaining that a game literally about playing princesses makes everyone princesses, even if they’re boys, is stupid.

If the idea that boys can be princesses, too, make you mad, perhaps consider instead why this is the case, and if you would be so mad if it weren’t the feminine version of the word being the one the game uses.

Pakxos
Mar 21, 2020


Libertad! posted:


Ring of Genie Summoning: Like Aladdin’s Lamp, but in ring form. Can summon a particular genie, who must serve the summoner faithfully after which the ring no longer works. There’s a 4% chance said genie is capable of granting 3 wishes to the summoner.


Quick point, in the pre-Disney versions, Aladdin was actually given a magic ring that literally called a genie to him - kinda neat they threw that in there along side the more recognizable magic items.

Joe Slowboat
Nov 9, 2016

Higgledy-Piggledy Whale Statements





I feel like 'it forces you to be a princess' has about the same weight as 'Vampire: the Masquerade forces you to hide that you're a vampire' when it's in the subtitle of the game, "Excellent Princess Roleplaying."

At worst, it can be house-ruled out literally without thought. At best, it maybe causes some young people to consider that we often use masculine collective nouns neutrally, but feminine ones are always marked.

megane
Jun 20, 2008





Mors Rattus posted:

Spoilers: reverse sexism isn’t a thing, Complaining that a game literally about playing princesses makes everyone princesses, even if they’re boys, is stupid.

If the idea that boys can be princesses, too, make you mad, perhaps consider instead why this is the case, and if you would be so mad if it weren’t the feminine version of the word being the one the game uses.

I clearly wasn't saying that, and I do not appreciate the insinuation that I was. I fully support people being, or playing as, whatever they want to, in terms of gender or otherwise.

Proud Rat Mom
Apr 2, 2012

did absolutely fuck all

megane posted:

I clearly wasn't saying that, and I do not appreciate the insinuation that I was. I fully support people being, or playing as, whatever they want to, in terms of gender or otherwise.

your review was good dude, other people also have strange bugbears about RPG's they review it's no big deal. I actually think it could be a problem not being able to play a prince or whatever when it's aimed at kids, as children's entertainment is still really gendered and I could see girls & boys who don't fit with the 'magical princess' vibe rebound of it.

Xiahou Dun If that review set your teeth on edge or whatever step away from the loving internet dude.

Loxbourne
Apr 6, 2011

Tomorrow, doom!
But now, tea.

Pakxos posted:

Quick point, in the pre-Disney versions, Aladdin was actually given a magic ring that literally called a genie to him - kinda neat they threw that in there along side the more recognizable magic items.

I do like the idea that wishes have to be reviewed by the Efreeti Wishing Review Board. There's some lovely adventure potential in the players being frantically sent to amend a poorly-judged wish before the paperwork gets processed.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

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megane posted:

I clearly wasn't saying that, and I do not appreciate the insinuation that I was. I fully support people being, or playing as, whatever they want to, in terms of gender or otherwise.

Honestly that was more aimed at hyphz.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim

Countess Competent

The People of Talabheim don't matter to the coming adventure for the most part. Only Countess Elise is actually important. Thankfully, she's also a pretty good character. So Talabheim and Talabecland were ruled by a man named Helmut Feuerbach. He was kind of a dick. Nobody liked Helmut; he was known for his arbitrary decision making, his short temper, and his tendency to appoint his hunting/drinking buddies to most of the important roles in the city. He was not only whimsical and arbitrary, but extremely heavy-handed. Dude made enemies everywhere he went. When the Storm of Chaos came, however? He grabbed Talabecland's army and immediately reported for duty, fighting on the front lines to defend the Empire. Guy was a total jerk, but it's kind of interesting that when the actual emergency happened he came without hesitation. Unfortunately for him, he was a man with many, many enemies who was now in a situation where there were all kinds of plausible ways to make him disappear. No-one has seen the Count since the fighting ended, with all kinds of rumors as to what happened to him and dozens of aggrieved suspects who would stand to benefit from him dying. No-one's even certain he's dead, which has delayed picking a new Elector.

Which is pretty much the only thing that's kept Countess Elise Krieglitz-Untern from being declared Elector of Talabecland so far. The Countess was recently appointed lord of the city by the parliament of nobles, and she seems to have begun her bid almost as soon as Count Feuerbach left for the war. Which means she's suspect number 1 for having gotten him killed somehow, but he was an incompetent rear end in a top hat that most people hated; the objection among the other nobles is more that she was better positioned to take over rather than that she committed some kind of outrage if she killed him. Plenty of other people wanted to rule Talabheim and eventually Talabecland, dangit! Countess Elise is a portly, homely woman in her thirties, and used to be the butt of jokes about her looks; jokes that never bothered her but instead told her who she could and couldn't trust. Similarly, she developed a keen eye for flattery. Her scheme to secure her control of Talabheim has been to replace most of Feuerbach's hunting buddies with competent and popular officials who help run the city better. She has decided that gaining the respect and trust of the common people and the middle classes is much easier than making the nobles love her (since she was always going to be competing directly with them and planned to replace plenty of them). Much of the nobility is annoyed, but the commoners of Talabheim cheer their Countess when they see her in the streets, and her name is toasted among the merchants and laborers for 'cleaning up' the city's officials. Sensible policies and an eye for management have put her in a position where it's very likely she will be the next Elector.

Which is interesting; this means 2 of the Empire's 4 biggest cities are run by women. Countess Emannuelle is a much more ambiguous figure (being generous) and the writing struggles with her a lot more, but as you might remember from Nuln it's possible to make the case that she's a surprisingly good ruler, as well. Elise isn't ambiguous; she's a capable intriguer who got where she is by being organized, intelligent, and having an eye for actually trying to govern. She's also quite important to the upcoming adventure, and forms one of the most prominent secondary objectives; if the player characters rescue the Countess during one of the most dangerous parts of the story, it will benefit them significantly because she's a good leader and will help organize some of their allies much more effectively. Also notable is that no-one seems bothered by her gender in this writeup, unlike all the weird gendered criticism in Forges of Nuln for the other prominent Countess.

Talabheim has a parliament, but it's made up entirely of nobles. The Parliament of Nobles are known for being corrupt, lazy, and built entirely on nepotism and cronyism. Most of the nobility find excuses to barely ever show up to vote or debate, and 'keeping a noble's hours' is a way to say someone's a terrible worker who can't even be asked to do the bare minimum. Hams remains a fantasy setting deeply ambivalent about the landed gentry. You'll get the occasional competent administrator like Countess Elise, yes, but the parliament is more the norm for the Empire's nobility.

There's a lot about the Hunter Lords (the city's generals) but none of them really factor into the adventure much and they aren't particularly interesting. Talabheim's army is busy hunting down what's left of Archy's forces within the northern Empire, like every army, so the city is more reliant on the watch and militia in this time. Talabeclanders have a strong militia tradition. The woodsmen and charcoal burners are all expected to be ready to pick up their axes and answer the city's call if things go badly, and the many hunters and bowmen around the crater and the lands just outside it mean that Talabheim's army is unusual for fielding axemen, spearmen, and archers as much as it does crossbowmen and handgunners. Strangely, the 'people of Talabheim' section has a whole section on the knightly orders of the city but doesn't mention the one so important to the adventure that it gets its own new 2nd tier Career. I'll just put them and their Career here for my own sake.

The Knights of the Verdant Field are one of the symbols of Myrmidia's doctrines: They were formed as an offshoot of the Knights of the Blazing Sun when they noted their campaigns in the heavily forested northern Empire encountered problems. Deploying conventional heavy cavalry in the Drakwald, the Forest of Shadows, or the edges of the Laurelorn just wasn't working. Being Myrmidians, the Knights gathered volunteers to study local strategies and tactics, trying to learn from both the Talabeclanders and the Wood Elves to determine how to effectively fight in a forest. They're an interesting cross between a Blazing Sun Knight and a Scout, mechanically: You really want to have been a class with Rapid Reload before you enter Knight of the Verdant Field, since they don't get it, but in return they're notably better at melee than a Scout (they get Strike Mighty), and they get access to both Fleet of Foot (+1 Mv, rare and valuable) and Keen Senses (Crazy +20% to Perception tests talent), plus Strength and Toughness on par with a full Knight. They have a wide variety of entries, too; if you want a great spot for your Militiaman to advance into, this is a winner. Same for Hunters or Initiates of Myrmidia, or Mercenaries or Soldiers. Their main weakness is not having any 3rd tier Exits; they can go into Scout, Veteran, or Priest of Myrmidia, and that last one is probably the most interesting. Still, it says a lot about Myrmidians that their response to setbacks in fighting in a region was 'study how the locals do it since they have more experience, fit it into Myrmidian doctrine', up to and including trying to learn from elfs. They're quite good at it, too. They'll be a major ally of the PCs later on in the adventure.

The city is also home to some Knights of the White Wolf, like everywhere in the north. Like everywhere in the North, the White Wolves are well liked, even if most of the people are Taalite and Ulric's faith is fairly weak in the city. They're also extremely bored: While it's important to leave some knights behind to show the flag and protect the city, Talabheim is so well defended that the White Wolves stationed here have nothing to do but paperwork. I imagine it's seen as something of a punishment detail, with no real opportunity to gain glory or serve Ulric in battle. That's going to change thanks to Rat Nazis!

The Knights Panther and Knights of the Stag are less important; the Panthers aren't well liked because they're seen as a Middenheimer plant to spy on the city (not like the honest White Wolves), and the Knights of the Stag are Talabheim's homegrown heavy cavalry. They're mostly caught up in deciding if they should declare the Count dead and throw in with the new Countess. Taal's Chosen are the actual Templars of Taal, and they're effectively Scouts, not Knights. Their leader is said to be having a love affair with Countess Elise. As Hunter Lord Hafner is on good terms with the Stags and is a well-respected Templar of the city's chief God, if this is true an eventual wedding would effectively secure Elise as Elector Countess.

Talabhiem is full of priests, like everywhere in the Empire. The joke among Talabheimers is that priests are so common partly because priests are exempt from taxes on their beer and have full legal license to make and distribute spirits; when we get to the taxes this will make more sense. Suffice to say Talabheim has a tax for everything, because they assume people will evade as many taxes as they can figure out a way to evade, so if they tax everything in at least some circumstance the city treasury will limp on and muddle through. The two most popular gods are Taal (obviously) and Verena (laws). I'm surprised there isn't much mention of Rhya's cult in Talabheim. You'd think Taal's wife and counterpart would be a major part of the city's worship. But perhaps she's much more a goddess of the hinterlands. It makes sense for Taal himself to be the main object of worship; he made the crater (according to legend) to be a safe place for his people specifically, so the entire city is an act of worship in a way. But I'd still expect more Rhya. Sigmar is actually one of the least popular Gods in Talabheim, which means the Sigmarites that do exist are insanely devout. Given the way insanely devout and angry Sigmarites can be, I imagine they tend to send the cult into further disrepute. The southern realms send missionaries, but they never seem to find a lot of purchase for Sigmar in Talabheim; he's respected, but not influential the way he is in other parts of the Empire.

Unusually, Talabheim is welcoming to wizards. At least, wizards of the Jade and Amber orders. A Magister Lord is part of Elise's council, and the Jade Wizards have especial influence in the city. Because Talabheim is much more friendly to Taal's cult than Sigmar's, the Jade Order is free to work closely with the local priesthood to aid the city. Amber Magi tend to scamper around the wildlands outside the city, keeping them free from Beastman infestation, but both Orders have a strong presence in the city's army and both will even report to help the militia or city watch. Or they would, if most weren't away fighting in the Emperor's armies right now. Still, the nature-magic Colleges are welcome and an important part of the city.

Talabheim is also a little unusual for having Roving Judges wandering the streets of the city. There are simply so many laws and so much legal wrangling that normal court-houses won't hold all the arguing and lawsuits, and so it spills over into the streets. This would have been a good time to add a Roving Judge career, I think, given this book put in the Litigant as a new 1st tier Basic. You can just be wandering the streets and suddenly a man will pull out his gavel and big wig and demand that this part of the street is now in session and yell at you that you're on jury duty. This happens regularly in Talabheim. It can be a silly place.

As I said before, most of this won't come up too much in the adventure; one of the flaws of Terror in Talabheim is that it sets up an interesting and fun Talabheim, but then you don't spend any time in the city as 'normal'. Everything is riven with plague once you get to the city and then quickly turns into a Vermintide adventure. This material is very useful if you want to ignore the adventure and just use the book as a Talabheim sourcebook, at least. You could get a lot of fun out of Elise's attempts to tighten her grip on the Electoral position; she's the sort whose agents would recruit competent (or lucky) people like PCs. Another thing I like: All this struggle is kept in purely human terms for the most part. Helmut wasn't a Chaos Cultist or something, he was just kind of a loudmouthed dick who wasn't a very good leader. Lots of the fuckups in Talabheim are fuckups because they're spoiled noble brats or greedy bastards, not because they got some goo on them and decided to go nuts. Keeping much of the city's conflict human gives it more room to breathe.

Next Time: The Infinite Laws of Talabheim

hyphz
Aug 5, 2003




Mors Rattus posted:

Spoilers: reverse sexism isn’t a thing, Complaining that a game literally about playing princesses makes everyone princesses, even if they’re boys, is stupid.

If the idea that boys can be princesses, too, make you mad, perhaps consider instead why this is the case, and if you would be so mad if it weren’t the feminine version of the word being the one the game uses.

Not at all. I'm totally cool with boys playing princesses and/or people playing male characters who identify as princesses. Have played with them; have done it too.

But it's not the same as all players being required to, and the game's backstory doesn't really explain it. If it was "a game about playing princesses" in the sense that a part of the game or setting is that the PCs do something that's specific to their identification as princesses and not princes or anything else, that'd be cool. And if it's the case that the "magic" involved or whatever insists that those who use it must identify as princesses specifically, like the "magical girls" in the Magical World setting or the Unknown Armies "Flying Woman", then that's fine, but it is totally the opposite of gender identity not mattering - both Magical World and UA were absolutely blunt about that. (Both state that physical sex doesn't matter, but the whole point is that's not the same thing!) But The Excellents has no such explanation, and makes the assertion that "gender doesn't matter". In that context, "princess" is just an unnecessarily gendered word.

(And before anyone says it, this doesn't mean I have a problem with people using their choice of pronoun, because that's much more personal and culturally integrated than a term used for a general character in an RPG.)

As for "dumping on a kids' game", well, it's more dumping on the system which doesn't seem to have been thought through. Most little boys are exactly the ones who are most likely to balk at being required to call their character a princess. And just because a game is for kids means it's justified in having a bad system. A simpler system might be a good thing, but if kids don't enjoy the game because of the system, that's still a failure.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

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The game is literally for playing princesses. It's in the title. If you don't want to play princesses don't play that game, it's not for you. It's like complaining that you're playing vampires in a game about vampires.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

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Also, perhaps consider: why is it weird to you that the default term for the job everyone does ('princess') is gendered, but you've almost certainly never made the same complaint about things like sorcerer (male gendered; compare sorceress), knight (male gendered; compare dame - not that many people use dame, because knight has in fact become the default simply because there were literally no female knights in England until 1917), magus (male gendered and explicitly so because it's Latin, the feminine form is maga)…

It's only strange because usually we use the masculine as default.

e: I should note, I have literally no opinion on the quality of the game mechanically; my issue is with complaining that 'princess' is too gendered a word.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

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Night Horrors: Nameless and Accursed
Stormkiller



Manzazuu is obsessed with his own past lives. He is a Malefactor fixated on murder, and his Obsession is drawn from his belief in reincarnation, whose secrets of enlightenment he seeks to tap. To achieve this, he attempts over and over to recreate the single clear vision he has ever had of his past lives: a murder. He manipulates his victims with social skills and magic, forcing them to act out specific roles in the hope that eventually, he will perfectly recreate his vision and thus recall his past lives. (Not that there's a clear connection between these two things - he's just Rapt.) His needs are highly specific, however.

The victim must be a young man with sand-colored hair. He must stab the victim to death while thunder rolls. Two people must witness the act, one eager to see it and the other horrified. The eager one is a woman with a vicious scar, the horrified one is an older man with a hunched back from a long life of work. Their clothes date back to the early 20th century or so, and the room must be dirty and cluttered. Manzazuu has many small details that he recalls, and each kill, he gets closer to his perfect recreation. Because of all these details that Manzazuu feels must be correct, he kills fairly infrequently. Finding the right victims and observers, the right location, and so on means he travels a lot. He still clings to the pretense of being a Silver Ladder thearch, and he occasionally uses his contacts in the Pentacle to explain why he's wandering, often claiming to be investigating some local Mystery or advising someone. The Sleepers he uses as tools forget him quickly, and he's good at covering up his trail, so as yet his local Consilium has no idea what he's up to.

Manzazuu's vision actually predates his Awakening. As a Sleeper, he took part in a past life regression exercise. Unlike most, he didn't dream up a false life as a king or noble, but rather saw himself murdering a man in vivid detail. After Awakening, he focused on study of the soul in an attempt to discover where it came from and where it went after death. He studied his own Oneiros for clues to his past lives, and he came ever closer to becoming a Reaper in his frustration with the lack of answers. His first attempt at recreating the scene in his memory was not intended to end with a murder. His efforts with volunteers and Sleepwalking assistants were useless, so he sought out people that resembled his memories more and more, and eventually, his frustration overcame him and in a moment of hubris and passion, he slew the boy he'd hired. For the first time, as he fell into Rapture, it felt like he was getting closer to answers.

Manzazuu comes off as a relatively normal person for a mage. He's a thin, wiry sort with sharp features and slicked back hair who always keeps his gaze low and his posture meek. He gets even less assertive around other mages, except when speaking on the topics of souls, past lives or memory. Many others in the Consilium wonder why he joined the Ladder in the first place, though they respect his willingness to do his duties. He has an intense case of imposter syndrome, fearing that even his Awakening was a mistake and that he's too dumb to solve his Mysteries. He felt the Ladder might give him some confidence, way back when he joined. Now, it's just cover. When focusing on his Fault, Manzazuu becomes alert and jittery, fearful of messing up. He can be very charming for short periods, but not much longer, and is always a nervous wreck after. Only in murder does he find any peace. After each kill he suffers a brief fit of rage at the lack of progress, then becomes cold and confident as he cleans up the evidence. His Immediate Nimbus is a cold breeze and the whispers of half-remembered things. His Signature Nimbus is the howling of wind and echoes of unspoken feelings. His Long-Term Nimbus causes strange coincidences related to one's past and the feelings of nostalgia.

Manzazuu's birth name was Jack Trevelyan, and while that name now holds no mystic power over him, he hides it anyway. He hasn't heard it spoken to him in years. Despite this, he still doesn't truly identify with the name Manzazuu - he was just told he needed a Shadow Name and picked one that his research told him was related to his hunt for his past. He really wants to learn his past life's name, sure it will be the perfect Shadow Name for him, and has been painstakingly hunting through early 20th century records in the hopes of stumbling across a name that feels right. His antics also aren't entirely hidden. He's avoided must detection by the Pentacle, but his cabalmate, a member of the Mysterium named Phyrgia, is aware of his murders. She has decided she doesn't care, since he's only going after Sleepers and she hopes he'll find the truth he needs before he kills too many. If not...well, she can betray him and reveal his deeds at some convenient point and be hailed a hero. She is no more aware than Manzazuu is that a Pylon of Seers is aware of his deeds, too. They've taken to mapping Manzazuu's movements, and have noted that he often seems to head for areas that are predicted to have thunderstorms.

You may also be wondering Manzazuu's past life stuff was supernatural, given it predated his Awakening. Answer: yes. Past Life Therapies is a weird little pop-up clinic that advertises past life regression as a way to unlock your inner potential. They lack the ability to actually do so - they just put you into a hypnotic trance, and most people who go through it just make up their own past life visions like any past life regression. However, a rare few are like Jack Trevelyan was, and undergo a deeper experience - all see a vision of darkness and violence. After a few of these, the clinic shuts down and moves on to the next town. A conspiracy backing them then swoops in to collect those who suffered these Mystery visions, to use them for their own ends. Jack escaped their notice due to a mugging gone wrong triggering his Awakening.

Manzazuu tries to get potential victims in his recreations to come to him by putting out casting calls and want ads. Even if he can't talk an ideal candidate into 'working' for him, he can identify them for later kidnapping and magical means of obedience. Still, finding the perfect candidates, setting the stage and ensuring it all happens during a storm isn't easy. The setup can take weeks or months, and during that time, Stress builds up. Manzazuu's lesser Tulpas are typically strange Time distortions that give people highly realistic visions of their own potential future deaths. This doesn't actually kill anyone, but Sleepers can't tell the difference between a vision death and a real memory after Quiescence is through with them, so it tends to gently caress people up hard.

Manzazuu is a Moros of the Silver Ladder and a member of the Stone Scribe Legacy. His Vice is Timid and his Fault is Time-linked: Kill a victim resembling the man from the vision, in a scene as closely resembling the vision as possible. His savant power is that he can channel magic through the destruction of souls for Time magic, and if he does, he learns a lot about that soul and its magical nature. His other Obsessions are discovering what happens to souls after death and reincarnation. He's smart and manipulative but otherwise average, and he's well educated, especially about history and the occult. He's also decent at short-term persuasion and knife fighting. His primary magical skills are Death, Mind and Time, with a bit of Life and Matter.

Manzazuu's Greater Tulpa is the Eternity, a Specter. She appears as a vaguely humanoid mass of ghostly energies in a Victorian widow's funereal gown. The Eternity is extremely direct in pursuit of the Fault, with none of Manzazuu's fear or hesitation, to the degree that when she appears, he becomes her terrified servant. On manifestation, she directly attacks anyone that is preventing Manzazuu from pursuing his Fault as brutally as possible, with none of the usual subtlety of a Specter. She drags victims into the scene and locks them into place with Time magic until the vision-scene is ready as best as she can manage. If Manzazuu does not then begin the murder, she tries to force him to. As yet, she has only manifested once, when Manzazuu managed to go months without pursuing his Fault to maintain his Ladder position. He believes she is a manifestation of his past lives' need to reunite with his soul, and while he is afraid of her, he also idolizes her. Her Vice is Impatient, she's Rank 4, and her primary magical skills are Death, Time, Mind and to a lesser degree Matter. Her Bane is that if she sees a funeral procession or ceremony, she must stop everything and quietly observe it for a scene. Her Bane is the ashes of a unique historical record totally destroyed by fire.

The Stone Scribes are a primarily Moros and Mysterium Legacy focused on Time. They see themselves as psychopomps, collectors of the experiences and names of the dying on the moment of their deaths. They do this out of a set of occult theories about Supernal reincarnation, believing that souls in death pass on to the Supernal, returning to the Fallen World only once purified of the taint of the Lie. Capturing the essential nature of a soul in that exact moment of release to the Supernal, they think, can give enlightenment. They are also known as the Name Takers, and they create ritual mantles out of the memories and sympathetic names they collect from the dying. They refer to these as 'final names,' using them with sympathetic magic to become those who have died. They can channel magic through the performance of deathbed rituals such as last rites, performing gematria calculations, learning sympathetic names, paying respects to the dead or being in a crypt, graveyard or other place of remembrance of death. They can gain mana via meditation while speaking sacred names, carving tombstones or taking grave rubbings, creating or updating extended genealogies or family trees, or documenting oral history or memoirs.

Their First Attainment is In Memoriam, which combines Time, Death and Academics or Occult. It requires them to ceromonially listen to the final words of the dying and record them somehow, though the target need not actually speak if the mage has other means to gain the essence of their life history as they die, such as going through their photo albums or researching their genealogy. They can then use any information-revealing magic they know to learn about the dying or dead person's past self via temporal sympathy, even if that would not normally be possible. Their Second Attainment, Borrow History, uses further Academics and Occult knowledge to let the mage steal someone's temporal sympathetic connections as their own, though the mage can't give their own temporal connections to others - it's all taking, no giving.

Next Time: The Primal Avatar

hyphz
Aug 5, 2003




Mors Rattus posted:

Also, perhaps consider: why is it weird to you that the default term for the job everyone does ('princess') is gendered, but you've almost certainly never made the same complaint about things like sorcerer (male gendered; compare sorceress), knight (male gendered; compare dame - not that many people use dame, because knight has in fact become the default simply because there were literally no female knights in England until 1917), magus (male gendered and explicitly so because it's Latin, the feminine form is maga)…

It's only strange because usually we use the masculine as default.

e: I should note, I have literally no opinion on the quality of the game mechanically; my issue is with complaining that 'princess' is too gendered a word.

Yes, D&D calls one of its default classes "Sorcerer". But it doesn't forbid PCs from calling themselves sorceresses.

Pathfinder has an extension class called "Witch". A Witch would probably cause confusion at the table if they referred to themselves as a Wizard because that's a completely different class, in the same way as in the Discworld setting. Thus there is a reason why Witch and Wizard are not gendered equivalents, and the issue does not arise so directly.

But The Excellents has this strange combination. It doesn't give any reason why "princess" isn't gendered in the setting, and it implicitly forbids playing princes. And the literal wording is "the Universe doesn't care how you express your gender". But calling yourself a princess is expressing a gender. I'm not sure if the implication is that a) all The Excellents characters are female, but possibly trans female; or b) a PC can be a cis male who calls themselves a princess for lulz and power. b) is a far more negative message about gender than anything implied by allowing the word to be flipped.

"It says it's a game about playing princesses," isn't really fair. By the same logic, since "Vampire is a game about playing vampires", nobody could complain if it banned playing vampiresses.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

FATAL & Friends
Walls of Text
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2014-2018



Why can’t a cis man be a princess seriously?

PurpleXVI
Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?
ALL PART OF MY BRILLIANT STRATEGY!


Hyphz: I think you may be reading far too much into the use of the term Princess.

Night: Glad to see Warhammer back on the docket, and this place sounds interesting. The Street Judges sound like they could make for an entire adventure on their own.

Edited for clarity.

JcDent
May 13, 2013

Give me a rifle, one round, and point me at Berlin!


Maxwell Lord posted:

So that wraps up Gennie creation. It’s a bit weird, blending in-setting stuff with GM tools and guidelines for PCs who can tell NPC scientists to make them a Gennie, and it doesn’t completely make up for the lack of a proper bestiary.

Them not including a bestiary is still very "wtf" to me

Mors Rattus posted:

She's a decent investigator and a terrifying shooter and sneak, plus she's scary and still has contacts in special forces, plus a terrifying amount of combat training. Seriously, Professional Training (Soldier) 5 is insane. She specializes in Life and Spirit magic, primarily to make herself sneakier, weaken foes, and scare spirits. She's decently tough and a great fighter, especially by Mage standards, but not especially focused on doing magic.

Mors Rattus posted:

She also knows how to shoot a gun, though not super well, and is magically quite potent.

Mors Rattus posted:

He's extremely educated, particularly on magical artifacts, and he's a decent sneak and survivalist, plus he does know how to shoot things.

I got from the Werewolf review that combat stats like that don't mean poo poo when dealing with floofs; what about mages? Like, does it matter than she can shoot good when you have the coin flipping time eraser around?

Mr. Maltose
Feb 16, 2011

The Guffless Girlverine


Hyphz stands mightily upon the hill of the essential gender binary, ready to fight and ready to die.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


PurpleXVI posted:

Night: Glad to see Warhammer back on the docket, and this place sounds interesting. The Street Judges sound like they could make for an entire adventure on their own.

I've basically decided I'm going to do the remaining adventure books and things, because I like doing it and we're probably all stuck inside for the next month or two.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

FATAL & Friends
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2014-2018



JcDent posted:

Them not including a bestiary is still very "wtf" to me




I got from the Werewolf review that combat stats like that don't mean poo poo when dealing with floofs; what about mages? Like, does it matter than she can shoot good when you have the coin flipping time eraser around?

Yes. It’s way, way more efficient to shoot someone than to use magical attack spells.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Terror in Talabheim

Hat Tax

So Talabheim was super into making laws during the Time of Three Emperors. Talabheim is also super into never striking laws from the books. The same goes for their taxes. This is in part due to the influence of the guilds of legalists and excisemen. There will always, always be work for a lawyer or a tax collector (or an accountant) in Talabheim, hence them getting classes in this book. The Exciseman is effectively a more hands-on 1st tier merchant, and their exits reflect that. They're smart, quick, know the law, and aren't that bad in a fight because lord knows people try to kill taxmen. Their main issue is their only 2nd tier exit is Merchant, and while having a business character around can be very useful, it's a little disappointing not to have more options. Their other exits are fine; stuff like Militiaman, or Roadwarden, or Thief. Still 1st tier, but 1st tier in different tracks, and something like Militia is surprisingly good as a 'transitional' career anyway. The Litigant is a social and scholarly character who knows the law better than the Exciseman but is totally useless in a fight. They also have the bizarre ability to just plain skip 2nd tier and go right into Guildmaster, which is a pretty drat good commercial third tier but is also going to take forever if you just jumped right in.

Anyway, the city's taxes are famous for being bizarre and wide-reaching. The Hat Tax, for instance, is not actually a tax on fabulous hats. If such a thing were passed, the riots in any Imperial city would be beyond belief. No, it's a tax on busking; charging a portion of what you collect in your hat. In practice, it's a tax on any charitable income, which I imagine annoys the Shallyans and other charity organizations, even though it was initially intended to attack street performers for 'not contributing anything of worth' by designating their income a charity (and thus refusing to recognize that they provide value by their entertainment). Meanwhile, to help upkeep orphanages and others hit by this unintended (but widely followed) tax, they have an orphanage tax, which is not a tax on the orphanages (they're already semi-accidentally taxed under the Hat Tax) but rather to provide for them by taxing poultry trade in the port outside the crater. There is also the Short Shrift, a protective tariff designed to harass halflings and their imports (and outrageously, passed during the Pie Week of 2504, probably so the halflings would be too hopped up on pies to notice the city was preparing to screw them) because Talabheim really despises halfings for some reason. It charged a larger tariff on small-sized clothing and other items designed for use by halflings. Most halflings have decided they aren't wanted (because items that are sized for them are charged a high tariff) and have left the city, and the city is apparently happier for it. Don't know what they have against the halflings, I guess they had one too many gut-exploding pies.

You get the general gist. There are more crazy, interlocking taxes, but almost every tax has an exemption and nothing is ever really struck from the books, so you have to know the city and its culture to avoid having to overpay. Outright tax evasion as opposed to claiming legal exemptions is also harshly prosecuted and the local culture despises it; it's seen as denying your part in the city's society. The exception is the Cup Duty, the most widespread and least paid tax in the city, and the only one people will actually evade outright; asking people to pay taxes on every drink in a society that likes to drink as much as the Empire is difficult. Evading the Cup Duty is one of the most shared cultural experiences of Talabheimers, and takes many forms. Either you have a priest claiming that the distribution of alcohol is a ceremony (and thus exempt), you drink with the lawyers (who know how to get out of it), or you build a speakeasy. The speakeasies and illicit taverns are such a well-honed part of the city that even surprise inspections will arrive to find three dozen drunk patrons but not a single drop of actual illicit alcohol, at which point nothing has technically been done illegally. And again: As long as you can get a priest to sign off on your drinking if anyone asks, you can always claim the moonshine was part of a sacred ritual to Taal. Taal loves people getting drunk in the woods, so this usually has the benefit of being true.

The tax code is detailed in the book primarily to give players a flavor for the laws of Talabheim and the local culture; the laws are every bit as convoluted and every bit as subject to interpretation and evasion. There's a very good chance a party is actually going to have need of an accountant or a lawyer if they operate in Talabhim at a time when it is not imminently blasted with rats.

Next Time: The City.

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Emy
Apr 21, 2009


hyphz posted:

Yes, D&D calls one of its default classes "Sorcerer". But it doesn't forbid PCs from calling themselves sorceresses.

Pathfinder has an extension class called "Witch". A Witch would probably cause confusion at the table if they referred to themselves as a Wizard because that's a completely different class, in the same way as in the Discworld setting. Thus there is a reason why Witch and Wizard are not gendered equivalents, and the issue does not arise so directly.

But The Excellents has this strange combination. It doesn't give any reason why "princess" isn't gendered in the setting, and it implicitly forbids playing princes. And the literal wording is "the Universe doesn't care how you express your gender". But calling yourself a princess is expressing a gender. I'm not sure if the implication is that a) all The Excellents characters are female, but possibly trans female; or b) a PC can be a cis male who calls themselves a princess for lulz and power. b) is a far more negative message about gender than anything implied by allowing the word to be flipped.

"It says it's a game about playing princesses," isn't really fair. By the same logic, since "Vampire is a game about playing vampires", nobody could complain if it banned playing vampiresses.

I'll be blunt, I don't understand your objection, and this elaboration only further confuses me. And the dichotomy you've constructed rather sucks.

Why would a cis dude or otherwise non-femme princess be in it "for lulz and power"? As far as I can see, "Princess" is simply the title for a person with a specific set of duties in this game, who is empowered in the execution of those duties. The fact that the title comes across as feminine to us, the audience, is assuredly intentional, but that doesn't stop it from having a specific, different meaning in world of The Excellents. And I don't think the game owes us a lore explanation as to exactly why that is.

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