Category Archives: Appendix O

Top Ten Modern Crystal Balls

I love stories that mix magic with a range of modern time periods and aesthetics. Inspired by some such stories, I’ve come up with some modern stand-ins to be used in place of crystal balls by urban, modern fortune-tellers.

Top Ten Things Modern Diviners Use as Crystal Balls

10. Magic 8-Ball
No one ever expects the Magic 8-Ball toy to be, you know, magic. But it’s a perfect place to hide your real scrying lenses, and already thematically aligned with divination energy.

9. Mirrors
They’re a classic, and remain a popular choice for modern spellcasters. however, the big wall-mounted mirror is no longer the standard for scrying mirrors, though some older models still exist. Instead scrying is more often done through bathroom mirrors (good for early morning divinations), car rear-view mirrors (especially for threats that are closer to you than they appear), and make-up compacts (which are particularly good for showing you your own faults).

8. Pocket Watches
While a few modern spellcasters have turned wristwatches and even step-trackers into crystal ball equivalents, its much more common to use pocket-watches for this. The practice dates back to the 1800s, when the devices were far more common, but the protective cover, larger viewing surface, and psychic link to conductors on railways (often built along ley lines) still make pocket watches better divination tools than more modern timepieces.

7. Mashed Potatoes
As homaged in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” it turns out Starchomancy remains a powerful tool for foresight. Visions sometimes form within the mash itself, and other times the scryer finds themselves sculpting the vision received. The loss of scrying power is somewhat offset by the ease of acquiring and concealing the tools of divination.
This works best if you make your own mashed potatoes, but if you don’t have the time, store-bought is fine.

6. Fireball Whiskey
Long thought to just be catnip for college kids, it turns out cinnamon-infused spirits are a powerful medium for seeing visions, dating back to the temple of Apollo at Miletus. The bottle itself is most commonly used as the scrying surface, with the whiskey inside becoming briefly cloudy as it fills with visions.
A single drink of the whiskey can aid in divination, but more than that is a terrible idea.

5. Giant Novelty Dice
Though divination through casting lots with dice (a form of cleromancy) is common, using dice as crystal ball stand-ins is increasingly popular, using giant translucent dice the size of your fist or bigger. There is a direct correlation between the number of faces of the ide used, and both the complexity of the divination and the level of detail. A d6 may not tell you much beyond broad strikes, but it easily scryed with. A d100 takes much, much more effort, but a successful scrying gives you many fine details.

4. Cats
Yes actual, living, fur-covered cats. There is an entire school of scrying dedicated to feeding a cat a favorite feast, brushing them, luring them into a pillow, in a box, in a beam of sunlight, and then staring deep into their fur to foresee the future. While this is much harder to do on-demand than inanimate scrying tools, there are numerous curses and supernatural threats that can be detected by ailouromancy that other soothseeing methods miss.

3. Smart Speakers
While newer technology often takes time to be properly aligned with divination rituals, interactive smart speakers apparently come almost ready-made to be turned into crystal balls–though most use a purely auditory interface, rather than the old visions viewed without crystal-covered mists.

2. Stock Ticker
From 1870 to 1970, stock prices were broadcast via telegraph/telephone lines to stock tickers, then printed on ticker tape. While no one uses stock tickers anymore, many were enchanted during the near-century of their use, and those enchanted stock tickers are still powerful divination tools… especially if you want to predict financial news.

1. Old Computer Monitors.
The better the color and resolution, the better the vision you can get on it! Know someone with a pile of old computer monitors? They’re probably a modern spellcaster!
Or a hoarder.
Or both. Both is likely.

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Otherworld: A Mode for Wayward

One of my Shower Projects recently (things I only spend time thinking about while showering, making lunch, and so on) has been what my Modes (pocket parallel worlds that overlap with the “normal” world of the Ecumene may look like in the  Wayward campaign setting I hope to eventually release (as a private individual) for Modern AGE through the AGE Creator’s Alliance.

I’ll want my Modes to be distinct, different, yet feel like they belong in the same sets of stories. Two have already suggested themselves to me.

The first of those is Otherworld, a mode where creatures from various afterlife mythologies (Valkyries, angels, devils, ghosts, and so on) live and interact in a version of the modern world where every town, or every neighborhood in big cities, has a single distinct character. Svanrcroft is tall stone buildings, broad, tree-filled lanes, and massive rock municipal buildings and concert halls; Latssvin is another neighborhood in the same city across the river from Svanrcroft, and is entirely rusting steel, cracked concrete towers, and brutalist sprawls with homes and businesses and offices crammed in with little rhyme or reason.

Each of these distinct neighborhoods is controlled by one afterlife group that serve much like some combination of street gangs, neighborhood watches, local beat cops, organized crime, and community centers. Major otherworld creatures mostly believe they are agents of divine beings, getting their “orders” from what appear to be entirely random sources — the Valkyries of Svanrcroft believe they receive orders from Freyja in the form of messages written on Brísingamen-brand food and drink packages, but to anyone else they just seem to be random, common commercial quotes.

Common citizens of the Otherworld are shades of Ecumene folk who have died, living agelessly in very much the condition they were in shortly before they died (though obviously ways to get better if sick, or younger if old, will be major potential plot drivers for Otherworld adventures featuring shades). The status of shades within Otherworld influences how they are remembered in Ecumene — a great writer whose shade has suffered misfortune and poverty within the Otherworld slowly loses their place of relevance and fame in Ecumene.

When major forces from Otherworld influence Ecumene, they tend to be voices heard by Ecumene commoners, who are driven into zealotry. A single Otherworld creature may be occasionally whispering to dozens of Ecumeners , or be spending vast amounts of time influencing a single person. Those affected are encouraged to perform acts, rituals, or influence world events in Ecumene that grant an Otherworld faction more prestige, power, and territory within Otherworld. Left unchecked, Ecumeners under Otherworld influence become Zealots, and begin to actually be able to bring tiny bits of Otherworld (and its Mode rules) into corners of Ecumene.

Within Otherworld, heroics are commonplace and easy, spellcasting is hard. This will be handled with some combination of special rules for stunt points — something like, whenever you reference the value of the stunt die (including when you roll doubles and need to determine the number of stunt points you get) you use the highest value die of your roll, rather than the stunt die–and special hindrances for spellcasting.

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Appendix O: The Ladies’ Sewing Circle

This is a group I have put in a few ttRPG homebrewed worlds, brought forth from the old files of my hardrive.

The Ladies’ Sewing Circle is, on the surface, simply a regular gathering for women of different backgrounds and social classes to get together and sew. Officially, the purpose is to trade sewing tips and tricks, and perhaps combine efforts on larger projects, and the cross-class nature of the circle is promoted as a way to ensure the important skill of sewing is not allowed to degrade within a culture, and to act as a back-channel for issues to be shared from member to member. Usually any woman of good standing may attend, picking up sewing skills if she doesn’t already have them, and gatherings are hosted by senior members. Where those members have space under their control, such as a dressmaker with a shop or a lady with a manor she can use, the meetings are private. In other cases, they occur in public meadows, or the town square, or a barn borrowed from a farmer in return for one new quilt a year.

But beyond that official and public purpose, the Ladies’ Sewing Circle is actually a powerful equalizing force with society. The senior and full members can communicate through stitch-speech and sewing patterns kept secret for generations, allowing them to talk secretly while in full view. And when the Sewing Circle comes to a consensus that an issue would be solved by someone dying, that person is assassinated.

Most Sewing Circles have a few different assassins working for them. Often these are members of he Circle itself, with a few women usually trained in slitting throats and choking foes, as well as stealthcraft. Less commonly, the Sewing Circle may outsource their killing, generally to a trusted ally (sons, daughters, brothers, aunts, and uncles of members are all common choices) who may have had their assassin training and gear paid for my the Circle. In cultures where some specific method is seen as a woman’s way to kill (such as poison, summoning magic, or archery), that method is least-used by the Circle just to ensure suspicion doesn’t fall on other women inappropriately.

Most Sewing Circles keep their assassination rate quite low, less than one per year, though in more dangerous or higher-population areas they may well feel comfortable doing more. When extrajudicial killing is not needed, their resources turn toward spying, exposing secrets detrimental to the public good, and information gathering. Since each ladies’ Sewing Circle is self-government, their methods can vary wildly. Some never resort to assassination, depending on rational discourse and gentle cultural pressure to achieve their ends. Others prefer to used late-night warning visits to push public figures towards more desirable behavior. Others ruthlessly kill, and main and steal, as needed to carry out their goals.

In all cases, the Sewing Circle is publicly well-insolated from all its actions. It’s commonly known that the members talk among themselves, and thus their opinions are spread to multiple households. Wise local authority figures see a Circle as a place to make announcements and receive feedback, even without any inkling that the members may be actively engaged in shadow actions. But any hint that a Sewing Circle is some kind of politically active group that has resources beyond needle and thread is considered laughable.

It’s important to note that this concept can be applied to any group that isn’t normally already gathering to make law and enforce their will, and have some excuse to do so that the powerful members of the culture approve of. In an absolute monarchy, you could have the Noble’s Hunting Lodge, where nobles gather to arrange hunts and other entertainments for the Royal’s amusement. In a rigidly hierarchal church you could have the Incensor’s Affiliation, where the lowest-ranked acolytes discuss incense-management and cleaning. In a totalitarian nation you might have the Rulekeepers, common folk who specifically get together to go over how the government wants them to behave. In High School you might have the Extra Study Club, where students gather to tutor one another in a display of self-motivation.

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Appendix O – Ragabonds

I originally presented the idea of Ragabonds, a form of fantasy migrant culture not built directly off any real-world society or group, in a series of Twitter posts. But some people asked if I had compiled them, so here they are. 🙂

Ragabonds

No one knows the Ragabond Rules’ origin, which state that Ragabond kithpacts must be allowed to travel freely. While many kingdoms that follow the rules allow nearly anyone to travel freely if they didn’t otherwise cause trouble, the Ragabond Rules are respected by numerous tyrannies, totalitarian theocracies, even dragons and devils.

The Ragabond Rules predate the elven empire of Te Astra, the Pact of Akkesh, and even the Tarsian Palatinate, but are not as old as the Jotunlaw or Drakkenjar. Further, while no divination can reveal any reason why, rulers who violate them tend to come to bad ends.

Thus for centuries, Ragabond Kithpacts have wondered freely through lands blessed and cursed, rich and poor, bright and dark. If they interfere in local matters individual Ragabonds lose their protection, but are still excellent sources of trade and news. Of course the Ragabond Kithpacts also have restrictions imposed by the Rules. None may band themselves in armors, gather in numbers more than 120, or be in sight of the same drop of water, green of plant or pinch of earth for more than 90 days or each year. Freedom costs stability.

Each Kithpact addresses these needs in their own way. Some form caravans of pachyderm-carried houdahs, or horse-drawn carriages, or well-laden mules and horses. Others travel in small fleets of nimble boats, or exist as walking nomads, carrying all that they own on their own backs or in travois.

Most Kithpacts have a route they travel over 2-3 years, ensuring they never risk overstaying their time in one place. Even so, these often take them through many different lands, leading each Kithpact to pick up some notes of multiple societies and cultures. A Kithpact is likely to have drawn music, art, language, mysticism, religion, stories, crafts, lore, and traditions from many lands–some from their current route, others from lands traveled centuries ago. Only adherence to the Rules themselves unite all Ragabonds.

Every few years, numerous Kithpacts will gather in a land that allows such things, sometimes called a Pactdom. this is a time of great celebration, but also a risk. As soon as more than 120 Ragabonds are in one place, the Ragabond Rules no longer protect them.While each Kithpact is unique, those of one Pactdom are often similar, and may answer to a single Ragabond Matron, or a Council of Caravan Masters, or the Bishop of Rags. These governments are separate from the Ragabond Rules, but no less rulers of their citizens than any landed nobility.

Most Kithpacts are made up of the same peoples as the lands they travel, and recruit new Ragabonds when their numbers are low. Multiple ancestries and ethnicities are often found within one Kithpact, and their bloodlines are as intermingled as all their culture. Freedom is crucial to all Ragabonds, and the willingness to give up nearly everything to be free is the one thing that is common to all of them. A Ragabond that lacks that drive eventually leaves their Kithpact, and settles down in one place.

Ragabonds are often misunderstood by the cultures they interact with, but not more or less than other foreign lands. They may be seen as flighty for not setting down, or shameless for having little room for modesty, or evil for mixing multiple traditions and religions together. For some Pactkiths, these things are largely true. For others, they aren’t. For many, it depends on the Rangabond. But Ragabonds all have advantages in wide perspective and eclectic training, because they move freely through lands where others dare not, or cannot.

The Rules

The Ragabond Rules state that Ragabonds must be free to travel, trade, talk, sing, craft, perform, and be free of harm or harassment.

These protections last only as long as the Ragabonds themselves do not violate the Rules, requiring them to wear no armor, gather in no number greater than 120, and to take to action to harm the bodily person, wit, or livelihood or any they encounter unless the Ragabond believes doing so is mandatory to keep their own body, wit, or livelihood secure, and even then only in even and minimal measure. This doesn’t mean Ragabonds are all pacifist or vegetarian (though some are). A hungry Ragabond is free to hunt if needful to nourish themselves, and free to study fighting and use it whenever threatened if they fear there is no hope for peaceful safety.

The Ragabond Rules also require Ragabonds to shun for a year and a day any of their own they find to have broken the Rules willfully or foolishly. Those shunned spend that time unprotected by the Rules, though they may (or may not) still travel with their Kithpact.

Ragabonds are treated with suspicion in major towns and cities in Merothia, but seen as trade and news lifelines in smaller towns and villages–though if local youth choose to become Ragabonds themselves rather than aid in their parent’s farms and shops, that can breed ill-will with the abandoned families. Older empires tend to see them as annoyances–not a danger, and not worth struggling against, but not a group you are happy to see walk down the road. Less established groups and marginalized people often welcome Ragabonds as kindred in their lack of towns and walls, though this feeling isn’t always reciprocal.

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Building New Things That Feel Iconic

I love making new fantastic things. Not just “fantasy” things, but amazing and otherworldly things you could find in supers stories, or ancient mythology, or scifi, or weird west tall tales, or all of the above.

I especially love to make new things that feel like they have a long, established, iconic niche even if they are brand new. Obviously that’s a great *goal*, but it’s extremely difficult to do without making something that’s just a pastiche. It’s also extremely difficult to know when you have succeeded.

I do have some tricks I try to apply. Firstly, I often find if I can’t explain a thing within the number of characters allowed by a Tweet, I don’t have a firm enough grasp of what the core of that thing is. Second, I try to think about what the base of a thing is, and what the expansion is.

For example, today I had an idea leap into my head (likely due to insomnia-induced fatigue toxions) which I described thusly:

Ghortal are 7-8 foot tall unguligrade bipeds with roughly bull-like heads featuring tusks and 2-7 curling horns. Immune to undeath, if infected their faces take on skeletal features as their aging slows and they gain occult power.
They have a strong clan structure.

The base of ghortal is clearly that they are a kind of minotaur-kin, though with tusks and more horns. But then the idea is expanded to give them a special immunity to undeath, and a reaction to undead exposure that’s unique to them.

Minoaturs are clearly iconic, and there are a lot of similar beast + biped creatures in myth and fiction. Bovine skulls being used as masks and symbols is also extremely common, so I wanted to find a neat way to combine those into my minotaurs-with-extra-pointy-bits concept to make ghortal new and more interesting.

As for how I know when I have succeeded — it’s always a matter of how other people take to the idea.

But it’s sure a good sign when a professional cartoonist is so taken by the idea, they do art for it. Relatedly, here’s art the amazing Stan! did after reading my ghortal post earlier today. 🙂

Image

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Modes for Wayward, a Potential Setting for AGE Creator’s Alliance

Some more thoughts about the Wayward campaign setting I hope to eventually release (as a private individual) for Modern AGE through the AGE Creator’s Alliance.

So, one of the core conceits of Wayward is that there are “modes,” which represent adjacent realities to the (mostly) normal world, or Ecumene, where PCs call home. Things from other modes can influence, or even partially leak into the Ecumene, causing trouble and pain, but cannot be permanently destroyed except in their native mode.

Luckily, there are the Wayward, people native to the Ecumene who can travel to other modes to deal with things found there. Most modes are twisted parallels of the Ecumene, familiar in some respects and terribly (sometimes horrifically) different on others. Modes are all dangerous, even deadly, but just as things from other Modes (I’ll need a name for “things from other modes” at some point) can’t be permanently destroyed while in the Ecumene, PCs native to the Ecumene cannot be permanently destroyed while corporeally in another mode. However, that doesn’t mean being Put Down in another mode does hurt… and leave scars that stick with you whatever Mode you are in.

I’m using the term “Mode” so far, because I want to treat these alternate realities in roughly the same way Modern Age treats its different Modes of Play (gritty, pulpy, cinematic). So while the Ecumene itself is gritty, the laws of reality on others may be pulpy or cinematic, AND have other local rules changes to represent their altered rules of reality. That might not be a good enough reason to stick with “Mode” in the final term (‘demesne” comes to mind as having the right feel, for example), but it’s definitely good enough as a placeholder name for a in-progress game concept for a campaign using a working title.

Since there are likely going to be options that work differently in different modes [like having a Fiery heart talent might just give you a bonus to Willpower (Confidence) checks in the Ecumene, but allow you to actually summon fire magic within the Otherworld Mode), the rules are going to assume there are a finite number of “core” modes. A GM building a new mode should either make it an offshoot of one of the core modes (perhaps in addition to Otherworld, there is a very Nordic Helvangr which has different creatures and powers and appearance, but follows the same game mechanical rules as Otherworld.

That of course means the core modes I include in the campaign setting are important to the overall success of the setting, and need to be diverse, iconic, compelling, and fun.

So, no pressure.

I already foresee having at least two, which I’ll discuss tomorrow.

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Quick Notes for the potential “Wayward” Setting for AGE Creator’s Alliance

So I am planning, as a private individual (rather than as a developer for Green Ronin or the publisher of Rogue Genius Games) to release an AGE Creator’s Alliance product… eventually. Not at that program’s launch, but hopefully within a year or so.

For what seem like obvious reasons I originally thought that would be a Fantasy AGE product… but now my opinion is shifting. I have had an idea for a Modern AGE setting I might prefer to release though the Creator’s Alliance, and that might not only be a great way to divide what I am doing as a GR dev and a private citizen but also help me have a more baseline feel for the Creator’s Alliance experience.

Now, this is far from a done deal. I could discover there are good reasons not to do this setting, or change my mind about the best rules set for it or venue to offer it in. I could find something I like better as a first offering, I could just lose interest. Who knows?

But since part of what I wanted to do was showcase my own journey through the Creator’s Alliance, I wanted to offer up the short notes I jotted down at 5am for this setting idea.

Product/Product Line Title: Wayward
This idea began as I was driving on errands, listening to a song used as a theme for one of my favorite TV series. So, yes, I’m wearing one of the inspirations on the sleeve of this concept. Like anything that might change as the product moves forward, but working titles are useful.

Product Type: Campaign Setting and Adventure Line
As I currently envision it, Wayward is a campaign setting for Modern AGE which comes with built-in adventure support. each Wayward product would have a chunk of setting material, a smattering of new rule options, and an adventure designed to highlight both.
For example, the first product would be Wayward, which would also serve as the name for the whole setting, and be the in-world title of a certain kind of person most PCs are expected to be – the “Wayward,” people who operate outside the expectations and even the reality of common society. The Wayward operate in a shadowy world with creatures and abilities that are literally set apart from most of existence. This Wayward World normally isn’t “real” enough to impact most people, but there are rare exceptions, which Wayward Heroes need to deal with.
So in this first product there would be rules for what makes people Wayward, and an adventure for 1st level characters just discovering the existence of the Wayward World around them and dealing with something leaking out of it.

Inspirations
Wayward is clearly in big part inspired by specific modern media, but I don’t plan for it to be a pure pastiche of one thing. Instead my inspirations include Diana Tregarde Investigates (novels by Mercedes lackey), MAGE (the comic, especially The Hero Discovered and The Hero Defined), the Maxx (animated series especially, but also the comics), Sin City (just the first movie), Supernatural (TV show and it’s literally tie-ins)… and especially the trailer for the Max Payne movie (Yes, really just the trailer. not the movie itself, not the games–just that one trailer) and the trailer for Dark City (yep, again, JUST the trailer).
And I really mean “inspiration.” Wayward is an idea that grows out of thoughts I had when exposed to those sources (and many, many more), rather than an effort to duplicate them. It’s very much a thing I wish existed and had movies and comics and games, but doesn’t quite. Not a wholly original idea of course–just my take on a slice of the zeitgeek.

Kernel: Modes of Reality
The core kernel of an idea for wayward is that there are modes of reality that overlap slightly. Most people live only in the Ecumene, the “normal” world we all know and that (roughly) follows the real world rules of physics and history. But there are other modes, where twisted, dark, and blindingly bright things dwell. Sometimes you can glimpse those things when you sleep, or are in an altered chemical or emotional state. And, sometimes, those things can glimpse you. The most powerful things from other modes can sometimes visit or influence the Ecumene. But no Ecumene dweller can go into other modes to deal with the root of those problems.
Well, none but the Wayward…

And that’s as far as the idea has gone so far. 🙂

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Big Bones, a Betting Die Game

Big Bones is a WEIRD betting dice game I mused over for a long time, and never felt was ready for playtest or something I had a real use for. Essentially my current concern is that it works, but there’s no sense to me that it would be fun or easy to play.

But it’s a game you can use a d13 in, or not, so

Big Bones

Each player picks a die, which can be anything from a d6 to a d20. If you have weird dice, like d13s, they are fair game.

This die is placed in a die cup and covered in front of each player, so no one knows what die size you picked.

Everyone antes 5. (5 gp, 5 poker chips, 5 dollars, 5 betting units each of which are worth $4,16, it doesn’t matter.)

Everyone reveals what die they are rolling.

Starting with the lowest die size (or the youngest player among the lowest die size if there are multiple), each player must stand, raise, meet, or drop.

If you are at the current bet, you can stand or raise.

>If you stand, play passes to the player to your right.

>If you raise, you put in another 5, increasing the current bet by 5. Play then passes to the player on your right.

If you are not at the current bet, you can match, or drop.

>If you match, you put in the different between how much you have invested and the current bet. Once you have done this you meet the current bet, and can stand or raise.

>If you drop, you remove yourself from further play. However, your bet money stays in, and you may owe even more than that (see tallying the winning pot, below).

Once every player has gone at least once, and all remaining players stood or dropped on their last turn, the your resolve the game.

Everyone rolls their revealed die.

The lowest die result wins. In case of ties, the highest die size among the lowest rolls wins.

The winning pot is tallied for its full value. That value is then divided by the number of players, and multiplied by the number of sides of the winning die. If this total is less than the pot, the winner gets the full pot. If the total is more than the pot, all players who anted must pay the winner funds calculated as (difference in winning pot)/number of players who anted. If this takes all their remaining funds, they are out (but do not owe money past what they had on the table).

The round is over, and every decides whether of not to ante for a new round.

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More Bennenite Staff Mastery Feats for PF1

I’ve dipped into my old campaign files to post lore about the holy warriors known as Bennenites, and converted some of their concepts from previous game editions to PF1, including Staff Mastery feats.

So, here are more.

Defensive Bennenite Training
You are as good at defending with an attack as you are attacking.
Prerequisites: Bennenite Training, base attack bonus +1 or 1 rank Knowledge (religion)
Benefit: When equipped with a quarterstaff, as part of any other action that is not any kind of attack, you can choose rather than treating it as a quarterstaff or longsword and shortsword, to treat it as a longsword and a light wooden shield, or a longsword and a heavy wooden shield. You can stop treating it as a longsword and shield at the beginning of your turn, or as part of any standard action, move action, or full action.

Holy Staff
You can channel the grace of St. Bennen through a staff.
Prerequisites: Bennenite Training, good alignment, base attack bonus +1 or 1 rank Knowledge (religion)
Benefit: When using a quarterstaff, your attacks bypass any DR that has “good” as one of the elements to bypass it. For example, you could bypass “DR 5/good and cold iron,” even if your staff was not cold iron. (The exception to this is if an attack normally also has to be mythic to bypass the DR, in which case you only bypass it if you are 15th level or higher.) Against targets with the evil descriptor, you gain a +4 bonus to staff attack rolls made to confirm a critical threat.
Additionally, you can use a staff as a holy symbol, and fullfil somatic spell components with a hand holding a staff.

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Expanding Fantasy Worldbuilding With Research: Clans of the Reisende

Too often, fantasy worldbuilding seems to be designed primarily to fill in the pre-existing name slots on some universal chart of what already commonly exists in fantasy literature. Obviously this is far from universal, and I’m not trying to claim I am the first (or best, or most important) person suggesting bucking this trend. But when I see worlds with a dwarven mountain nation, and an elven forest nation, and human kingdoms mostly ruled by monarchies with one example each of exceptions that have recognizable modern governments, I often wonder if the creator’s research began and ended with names and style. There have, in the real world, been SO many other forms of community organization, government, family, relationship, kinship, identity, association, rulership, authority,

These notes grew out of research I was doing for two different projects that never happened. The first was to update two “Viking-like northerners” kingdoms from my longest-running campaign, the Sovereign Kingdoms to 3.5 d20 rules. The second was the Runepeaks, a setting I was creating for a project to update a 3pp’s company (not one I have ever ended up working or writing for) from 3.5 to Pathfinder. (That was going to be an ongoing project hand-in-hand with that publisher, and it fell apart for various reasons). At about the same time I was exploring the history of some of my own Norden heritage. I found a lot of information abut clan structures, various Nordic mythologies, fylgja, Nordic fauna, and so on.

I got inspired to lean into some of the more interesting elements of that material to create something more interesting to me than just “Kinda-not-Vikings-have runes-and-axes.” While I never finished the write-up of that area, I did pull together a “first draft” with some key ideas I wanted to build on if I ever got to really explore these ideas in a fantasy setting.

Below is a slightly-cleaned-up version of notes for that fictional culture, the Reisende.

The Reisende

The Reisende are also called Northfolk, because they live further north than the biggest land-trade empires (which are generally the ones with the maps that include the most countries, and who thus have their names for everything used by many other nations). The Reisende themselves consider themselves “Travelers,” rather than “Northerners,” with a strong tradition of naval trade and exploration and of spending winter months gathered in roving bands of explorers, but who also sometimes act as merchants, couriers, raiders, or hired mercenaries.

Reisende culture is heavily influenced by their belief that each of their souls is created by one of the Ancestor Beasts, the original godlike examples of specific animal species. Reisende form clans based on which Ancestral Animal they are descended from, and these clans are cross-regional societies more important than territoriality, feudal allegiance, or even religious affiliation. The most powerful or well respected member of a clan generally settles intraclan disputes near them, and is often called to serve as an advocate for members of their clan with disputes with members of other clans. Local Jarls are landowning military and spiritual leaders who directly own enough land to make them self-sufficient, and generally serve as protectors of outlaying towns overseen by borgers–senior members of same clan as the jarl who convey the clan’s wishes and concerns to other town members. While a borger of a different clan might make an alliance with a powerful jarl if no strong leader of their own clan is close enough, it’s much less common.

Nearly all significant matters are handled through clan channels. Each clan has a reputation to maintain, and no matter what else they may be seen as by their neighbors (strong, or fierce, or crafty, or sly, or even cowardly), it is important to ever clan to be seen as honest and competent. There is no formal policing or court system–a person who commits a crime is rebuffed and if necessary punished by other members of their clan to ensure the clan’s own reputation is not ruined. If others are not satisfied with the can’s handling of their own members, complaints are elevated to senior clan members, borgers, and jarls.

Within any settlement, the more members of a clan there are the more strongly that clan’s behavior is considered to be enforced. A settlement overseen by a Seal Clan borger will certainly have more Seal clan members than any other, and often half or more of the population will belong to that clan. When only a very small percentage of people in a settlement belong to a clan, they often must depend on either the reputation of the nearest major member of their clan (even if that is weeks of travel away), or a strong alliance with local members in a clan with more influence nearby.

While it is often the case that a child is of the same Clan as one of more parent, it is not always so. The Ancestral Animals are divinities, of a sort, after all. If two Bear Clan parents give birth to a Sea Eagle Clan child, well, that’s Ancestral Animals for you. However, everyone has some ties to the clans of their parents, though it is not as strong as their tie to their own clan. Even so, if a Seal Clan daughter of Bear Clan parents was in a warband that took up arms against the Bear Clan, the warband would not expect her to join in the fight. Much rarer, some Reisende are strongly tied to two clans all their own, a state often known as “having an ancestor on each shoulder.”

Indeed, such cross-clan connections are often the way major issues are settled. If a town under a Reindeer Clan jarl has a territorial dispute with hunters under the banner of a Forest Cat jeger, someone with strong ties to both clans (even if not as strong as someone with an ancestor on each shoulder) is most likely to be the mediator that both sides trust.

(Being Northfolk, such issues are often formally settled by a Nærkamp–a ceremonial fight between two small groups of combatants the two sides agree are equal to one another, whether that’s three warrior to a side, or one mighty warlock for one side, against twenty farmers on the other. In some cases, other challenges settle disputes, such as drinking competitions, pig-wrestling, races, swimming contests, thread-spinning matches, butter-churning events, and so on).

Clan membership is not restricted by heredity. While most Northfolk are dwarf, elf, goblin, grendel, human, orc, or ulvemann, each of those is equally likely to belong to any given clan. A Bjornung dwarf and Bjornung orc are likely to be much closer to one another than a Bjornung dwarf and a Havorning dwarf. And if a gnome, or cyclops, or half-dragon centaur shows up and is recognized as descended of the bear (perhaps bya clan member in communication with their fylgiur–a kind of divine prophetic animal guide who likely appears in dreams), they are a beloved member of the Bjornung as well. Clan-kinship can also be extended by members of a clan who are willing to be responsible for the actions of the person they bring into the clan. Spouses, shield-mates, and hearth-bonded groups of any size often include members of numerous clans, and the most respected member of that joining (who is usually a woman, who are considered to be wiser on matters of family, but less often may be a man, especially in families of choice that do not have women as members) can petition the most respected local sage or wise-one of their own clan (also most often a woman) to accept all the members of the family-of-choice as clan-kin.

Of course just as people of the same nation or same family may feud in other lands, two members of the same clan may dislike, mistrust, or work against one another. But such animus is the exception, rather than the rule, and is almost never allowed to go so far as to damage the clan as a whole. If someone within a clan is considered to have committed crimes not great enough to deserve death, but too great for the clan to ever vouch for them, then are generally branded with a severed-head sigil indicating they have been cast out of the clan. It is difficult for such outcasts to be find a home anywhere but with brigands or in lands far from the Reisende, though it does occasionally happen (usually as the result of performing some legendary act of heroism, kindness, or crafting), and the tales of Ulfathe Thrice-Branded proves even someone outcast more than once can earn their way into a new clan.

There are dozens of clans, and the prestige, reach, power, and size of each varies as the fortunes of their notable members rise and fall. The following are the most powerful, well-known, widespread, and respected of the clans.

Bjornung (The Descendants of the Bear)
Hafgufang (The Descendants of the Leviathan)
Havenselung (The Descendants of the Seal)
Havorning (The Descendants of the Sea Eagle)
Lintormeng (The Descendants of the Dragon)
Moskusing (The Descendants of the Musk Ox)
Ratatosring (The Descendants of the Squirrel)
Reinsdyrung (The Descendants of the Reindeer)
Reving (The Descendants of the Winter Fox)
Skoggkattung (The Descendants of the Forest Cat)

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