Category Archives: System Agnostic

Campaign Setting: Icehold (Government)

Here are more Icehold campaign notes. You can read the first entry and Icehold Index here.

The people of the region of Icehold all consider themselves part of a single culture, generally called Icehold, but not all of them are part of the only large settlement in the region, the fortified harbor and trade town of Jokullnaf. Even so, understanding the government and laws of Jokullnaf (which, confusingly to newcomers, is also often just called Icehold) is crucial to understanding the region as a whole.

Jokullnaf was originally built some 200 years ago as a fortified base of operations for the Drakull Campaign, a religious expedition that sought to destroy the creature belived to be the First vampire and, after several decades, appeared to succeed in destroying it. This lead to a slow conversion of Jokullnaf from a military fortress to a settlement. It is the only major settlement within hundreds of miles of its location, though a few small family enclaves exist in the surrounding caves and valleys. Most are friendly with Jokullnaf.

A few are not.

But even those who are somewhat hostile to the townsfolk accept that the closest thing to law in the land of Icehold is the Jokullnaf Council of Principals.

Council of Principals

Jokullnaf is ruled by a Council of Principals, which serves as the only executive, legislative, and judicial authority within the town. The official motto of the council is “Secure in Body, Belief, and Self.” Councils argue often about what exactly that means, but in general it’s accepted that the job of the Council of Principals is to keep everyone in all of Icehold safe, without bothering them too much. 

The size of the council is currently 12 seats, but it has been as small as 6 and as large as 18 over the past century. Changing the council’s size requires a petition be brought by the population with at least 1,000 signatures, and then a vote in which at least 1/3 of the council agree with the change.

Each seat on the council is assigned to a “Principal Interest” within the population of the city. The current seats are (in order of seniority) Crusaders, The Guard, Landowners, Masons, Alchemists, Citizens, Churches, Scouts, Fishers, Gatherers, Merchants, and Service Guilds. A single councilor holds each seat, and terms are 24 months, offset so a new councilor takes a seat every 2 months. All matters are handled by an open vote among the councilors, with the oldest councilor who has held their seat for at least one full year being given the tiebreaking vote in case of stalemate.

Councilors are not paid for their labor, but do receive a few personal assistants for the term of their membership, generally young members of rich families and trade groups that wish too teach their children how Icehold is run. A councilor is not officially required to appear for the weekly meetings of the council, but one who shirks work without good reason is likely to be penalized by the grumpy councilors who do go to meetings, and eventually thrown out of the council.

Each group represented by a Principal Interest is responsible for keeping a list of enrollment current with the names of everyone considered part of that group. Each group is allowed to petition the Council of Principals to approve a charter that defines membership in an Interest, which almost always includes being of age of majority, mentally sound, not sworn to a foreign secular government, not convicted of a serious crime against Icehold or its population, and being considered an actively involved member of the Interest. 

For example, a Citizen likely only need be a competent adult in good standing, but a Mason must be of at least Journeyfolk skill level, and still an active participant in the profession of masonry.

Nearly all the seats are filled by sortition — each time a seat opens, a councilor is selected at random from the enrollment list of people who qualify. (This is not true for Crusaders, the Guard, or Masons). In most cases a person cannot sit in the same councilor seat two terms in a row (although members of the Guar and the Masons can). Further, the council can dismiss any member from their seat with a 2/3 vote, though that seat is then immediately filled by a new member of the same interest. (And only a more-than-half vote is required to unseat a council from the Guard or the Masons). 

The general definition of each Interest is as follows:

Crusaders: Individuals with ties to a known group that still seeks to destroy the powerful undead that exist in the far north. In most cases, modern crusaders are those who have been trained by someone who was trained by someone who was one of the original members of the Drakull Crusade.

Because Crusaders often leave Jokullnaf for long periods, they are allowed to elect a council from within their ranks, and may select a retired member who i no longer active in crusading.

The Guard: The region of Icehold is dangerous, and Jokullnaf is a fortress town for a reason. The Guard are responsible for walking the walls, manning the watch-towers and gates, organizing defense of Icehold in times of attack, watching for and organizing efforts against fires (especially at the harbor), enforcing degrees of the Council of Principals, and generally being the armed branch of Jikulnaf. However, there are only 30 or so full-time members of the Guard, with any major effort requiring rounding up armed citizens.

Because the Guard has a Guard Commander and a chain of authority is considered important for it to function, the Guard seat is appointed by a vote of the rest of the council, and can be held repeatedly.

Landowners: People who own land within the walls of Jokullnaf, or bowshot of its walls and harbor. Most landowners are families that date back to when Jokullnaf made the transition from armed camp to independent town.  The council restricts ownership to a single person per building, and doesn’t count any building too small for a person to live in, or that doesn’t serve a useful function for the betterment of the region. Unlike most Interests, Landowners are qualified for Council membership if they are  able to speak the oath of loyalty, regardless of age.

Masons: The walls and towers of Jokullnaff are considered crucial for the long-term survival of the town, and they require maintenance and protection from people prying rock loose for use in other projects. There’s no mason’s guild within Jokullnaff, just a very protective, skilled community of people who work on the town’s stone, some of them old enough to have helped build it to begin with.

Because masonry projects often take longer than two years, and require continuity of direction, the masons are allowed to vote for their councilor, and may vote in the same person each term. 

Alchemists: Access to cheap Firestone and Blue Iron, along with natural materials unknown in warmer climes, has caused a small but vibrant alchemist community to develop in Jokullnaf. After a few explosions in the early days, the Council of Principals determined anyone wanting to work in alchemy required the council’s approval. This led to the council and the alchemists working closely together to keep the town safe from experiments and, eventually, that expertise proved useful enough to earn a seat on the council. 

Citizens: As the town grew, the fact landowners had a voice in government but other citizens did not lead to unrest. A citizen’s seat was added to settle things down, and remained for the past century.

Churches: Several churches have moved into Icehold, and often wish to have holy day celebrations, perform loud or odd ceremonies, or otherwise act in ways that seem questionable without some advanced discussion. The Council decided to set aside a single seat for all church leaders in the region. If a church leader fails to appropriately represent the interests of all churches in Icehold, the Council dismisses them and gets a new church leader to sit in the seat.

Scouts: Dangers to Jokullnaf often begin elsewhere, and sometimes you need someone to run to outlying enclaves or put together search and rescue parties. The town scouts are the only people crazy enough to do it all the time, and were granted a seat.

Fishers: Fish makes up a huge part of the Jokullnaf diet, and after a few council decisions made fishing more difficult and led to long, hungry winters, a Fishers’ Seat was added.

Gatherers: Added the summer after the Fisher’s seat, this seat represents those who gather barks, needles, and lichens for foodstuff. It also currently covers rangers with strong family ties to the town, who want their own seat, but aren’t currently numerous enough to convince the council to give them one.

Merchants: Only a few decades old, the Merchant’s Seat is a grudging acknowledgement of how much of Jokullnaf’s comfort, if not quite its existence, depends on goods being brought in by sea and through dangerous mountain passes. Most people on the merchant enrollment lists are also on the Landowner and Citizen lists.

Service Guilds: When the Summer Trade Season opens, hundreds of members of guilds dedicated to servicing the needs and wants of the tradeships, caravans, and merchants that briefly flood the town with money and new people. These cooks, courtesans, dancers, guards, musicians, and scribes, work in small, tight guilds that must follow council rules. Despite most guilds owning property, they are not allowed on the landowner’s enrollments and have often been seen as “outsiders,” leading to unfair treatment. Shortly after the Merchants gained a seat, the Service Guilds held a strike at the beginning of a Trade Summer to prove how important they were to Jokullnaf’s prosperity, and gained a seat.

Support

I’m currently fighting cancer, and sadly even with insurance that’s extremely expensive. Right now, the main ways to offer your support are to join (or increase your pledge level to) my Patreon or, if you prefer, donate directly through my Ko-Fi account – https://ko-fi.com/owenkcstephens

Campaign Setting: Icehold (Economy and Threats)

Here are more Icehold campaign notes, which were my focus for this week. You can read the first entry and Icehold Index here.

Economy

For much of the year, the fortified town is cut off from any other civilization. Sitting n the far western spur of the Middle Kingdoms, during the summer traders can sail in from the eastern ports of that continent, but also the far western and southern lands of the Ivory Empires, ports in the Spice Gauntlet, and even the Realm of the Jaguar. In addition to sea voyages to Jokullnaf, a few mountain passes lead southeast to the Njor lands and other points in the Middle Kingdoms, though those are passable only in September, and only for a few weeks.

With a typical winter population of 5,000 people, Jokullnaf can swell up to 11,000 in the summer months as merchants flood the city to buy up as much Blue Iron and Firestone as possible, and service folk come with them to provide services the wealthy expect, but there is little need for when they are gone. Numerous Service Guilds exist, including cooks, courtesans, dancers, guards, musicians, and scribes, who own permanent buildings in Icehold which sit nearly empty 8 months out of the year, watched over by a skeleton staff until the work season arrives in summer and its rooms are full.

Though the region around Icehold is mountains, valleys, and tundra, there remain natural resources the locals have learned to harvest and grow. White spruce are common, many growing to more than 100 feet high, and offer nutrition in their needles, inner bark, cones, and seeds. This is most often accessed as various teas, but it can also be used to make beer, porridge, and even a flat bread. Fishing is plentiful and open sea ice fishing, though dangerous, allows that bounty to be caught year-round. Numerous shrubs and bushes flow in the summer, including crowberries which are used to make wines and jams. Other forms of lichens, mosses, and sedges, abound and wyrmlichen can sustain a person for months, though the taste is bitter, sour, and spoiled.

Some herders manage reindeer and musk oxes, and households often raise a small number of hares or clipped snow geese to provide meat in cold months. Insect farming is also common, and considered a fine way to turn lichen into something closer to meat (and, if dried and ground, a kind of flour). Pickling food is extremely common, as is dry freezing and deep freezing in cold pits. Even so, when the Summer trade begins, the desire for honey, flour, and non-local meats is high.

Threats

Though the First Vampire is long since destroyed by the Drakull Campaign, other undead still dwell in the tundra, and during the Long Nights are a significant threat. While some are restless spirits of local folk who died in anger or hate, powerful undead from around the world have moved to the far north to take advantage of their immunity to the cold, and the long stretches where no sunlight can reach them. Though none have built true kingdoms, some have created their own tomb complexes, in the style of their homelands, and created as many servants as they can. None of these major undead have lairs too near Jokullnaf, but they keep an eye on the largest gathering of fresh sapient meat and hot blood, and raid whenever they feel they can.

(Art by DM7)

Other threats include arctic cave bears, ice perytons, snow spiders, white chimeras, and the sparse but significant threats of boreal dragons, drakes, wyverns, and wyrms. A troll kingdom once existed in the lands around the town, driving out or killing most other humanoids, but its population is much reduced and has grown only very slightly over the past century. Some trolls trade with the people of Icehold, others seek its destruction. Yeti also exist in the hillier and rockier regions, apparently existing at a neolithic stage of technological development and with extremely simple language skills. These yeti are often seen by newcomers as nothing more than bipedal beasts, but natives to Jokullnaf are aware they are as smart as any other humanoid, even if their culture is less technologically advanced (at least in part because they do not need or trust fire). Most yeti groups see all other humanoids (even trolls) as interlopers in their lands, and eliminate small groups if they can while avoiding bands too big to attack, but as with any sapient creatures, there are exceptions.

Support

I’m currently fighting cancer, and sadly even with insurance that’s extremely expensive. Right now, the main ways to offer your support are to join (or increase your pledge level to) my Patreon or, if you prefer, donate directly through my Ko-Fi account – https://ko-fi.com/owenkcstephens

Campaign Setting: Icehold (Location and Environment)

Here are more Icehold campaign notes, which are my focus for all this week. You can read the first entry and Icehold Index here.

Location and Environment

Icehold, also known as Jokullnaf, sits to the farm far north, halfway between the lands of the Njor and the Northern Pole. Even the seas around it are frozen most of the year, and its harbor is typically only free of ice from June to September, and is always frozen sold from November to April. The average temperatures of those months reaches a high of 6° C (43° F). It is below freezing nearly all the rest of the year, with the coldest month averaging high temperatures of −15.5° C (4.1° F), but sometimes getting as cold as −39.1° C (−38.4° F). On the coldest days, a cup of warm tea thrown into the air turns to powdery snow before it hits the ground.

Snow and ice on the ground are nearly universal, which is just as well since rivers freeze and even the deepest wells hit ice rather than liquid water. Nearly every building and most camps keep firesburning nonstop, year-round, with firestone the most common source of heat (a single fist-sized hunk of firestone weighs roughly half a pound, 4 pounds of firestone can keep a typcial stove hot and warm a 20 ft. x 30 ft. house for 24 hours, making it roughly 10 times as efficient as coal). This both heats an area and allows snow and ice to be melted daily for fresh water. It also ensures new fires can easily be started from the burning firestone, should that be needed.

Those local to Jokullnaf know how to survive the deadly cold, and warming magic is common, but some nevertheless freeze to death every year. Buildings are well-insulated, so much so that in the short summer most activity is taken outdoors as the buildings can get uncomfortably warm with just the heat of people in them. Clothing and armor are almost always layered, and extremely thick hooded cloaks known as feldjar are common. Feldjar are made of two thick layers of furred hide, sewn with the fur facing inward to form a thick insulation, and are designed to be buttoned closed if necessary, but generally warn just draped around the shoulders to it can be thrown off if necessary for any detail-oriented work.

Conversely, there are a few regions of the lands around Icehold where massive heat rules. Several apparently-dormant volcanos are close enough to the settlement for their red glow to be visible on a clear night, and many have slow lava flows down into apparently-bottomless pits. Anyone coming close to the molten rock find the air goes from freezing to burning surprisingly quickly, and when snow falls the lava hisses and can produce steam able to scald skin, which may twist and shift suddenly in strong winds. Even beyond the volcanoes, a few of the old firestone mines have caught fire often the decades. The entrances to these are unknown, but occasionally a vent opens in the ground and burning smoke and cinders jet out… before enough ice falls into the crack to make the ground shale so hard it closes access to the burning mines as suddenly as it opened.

The deadly temperatures are far from the only regional challenges Icehold residents face. When the sun sets on October 28th each year, it does not rise again until the 15th of February (111 days later), and due to mountains cannot be seen from town until shortly after the first week of March. Conversely, when it rises on April 18th it does not set again until August 23rd (127 days later). For weeks at either end of these periods the is enough glow to see even though the sun does not properly rise, though the light is dim, in the times known as the Blue Nights.

Some nights, the sky lights up with Spirit Tides from the Ocean of Souls, the literal path (also known as the Low Road) spirits of the departed take to reach the afterlife from the mortal realm. When the Spirit Tides are green, they can be safely observed, and individual spirits cannot be visually picked out. But on especially cold nights they can turn blue, purple, red, or yellow, meaning the barrier between the Spirit Tides and the mortal realm are too thin for safety. Specific souls can be seen, or if you are high enough on a mountainside even spoken to. Such nights draw undead, necromancers, and grieving beloved of the recently lost, but anyone looking at the tides also risks a spirit possessing them, or breaking free to become a spectre or wraith. If work must be done during the nights of strong Spirit Tides, locals to Icehold wear wooden blinders over their eyes, keeping their vision restricted to a narrow band they focus down, away from the skies.

(Art by Jasper W)

Support

I’m currently fighting cancer, and sadly even with insurance that’s extremely expensive. Right now, the main ways to offer your support are to join (or increase your pledge level to) my Patreon or, if you prefer, donate directly through my Ko-Fi account – https://ko-fi.com/owenkcstephens

Campaign Setting: Icehold

All this week I’m going to be writing about a fantasy ttRPG setting I’m calling Icehold. I’ll give an overview of the main settlement, some notes about resources and trade, local threats, and even adventure seeds.

(Art by Cerafts)

Overview

The fortified harbor and trade town of Jokullnaf, also known as Icehold, is the northernmost walled city in the known world. Nestled in Jokull Harbor, it is surrounded by mountains, tundra, hyboreal forests, and ice. No other major settlement exists within hundreds of miles of it, it can only be accessed for a few months a year, it is under constant threat by undead, extreme weather, deathly cold, and monstrous threats of the far north. With the risk and isolation, however, comes a level of political freedom rare in settlements its size.

Icehold exists only because the Drakuul Crusade built the original fortress as they sought to find and destroy the First Vampire, and in those years rich veins of Blue Iron and Firestone were found in the mountains that stretch for hundreds of miles in all directions of it. Holy pilgrimages still bring a few crusaders to its walls every year, but it is the fortune that can be made mining that has maintained the town. 

Though positioned far north of any humanoid settlement on its continent, it is also on the continent’s westernmost point, making it an attractive trade port for foreign nations… at least for the few months per year its harbor is not totally iced over. Even the extreme cost of the long travel and paying the high prices locals demand for labor in the harsh clime does not make it unprofitable for merchants to come to the Icehold every year, buying materials outright but also trading magics, foods, preservatives, and clothing to the icelocked settlement.  

The local population are a hardy folk, descended from crusaders, the tradesfolk and servants the crusade needed to survive, explorers, and researchers, The population has a large percentage of elf, dwarf, gnome, goblin, human, ogre, orc, and gnimmocs (a gnollish ethnicity adapted to arctic environments). Less common, but noteworthy, are the numbers of halflings, logith (a humanoid species with elemental fire ancestry), lyricera (a tundra-adapted ethnicity of catfolk), and ice trolls (native to the region, predating the establishment of Icehold).

The year-round population of Jokullnaf hovers around 5,000, with another 1,000 or so living in small private settlements (based mostly in caves and defensible valleys). During the summertime Trade Seasons, the popular can almost double, as merchant ships and overland caravans rush to buy as much Blue Steel and Firestone as they can, before the surrounding sea freezes over and the long, winding mountain routes become impassible.

Ruled by a Council of Principals, Jokullnaf sets high value on privacy, individual freedom, and the right to be left alone. While there are laws dictating certain antisocial behaviors are criminal, no sect, ethnicity, ancestry, nationality, religion, or creed is banned or outcast, as long as they play by the rules.

The combination of great personal freedom, vast mining riches, a history of undead-destroying crusades, and access to the coldest places in the world attract a specific kind of person, who is willing to brave all the risks of Icehold’s harsh environment to reap its rewards.

More Icehold!

Here’s an index of additional Icehold articles, updated as they are written.

Location And Environment 

Economy And Threats

Government

Support

I’m currently fighting cancer, and sadly even with insurance that’s extremely expensive. Right now, the main ways to offer your support are to join (or increase your pledge level to) my Patreon or, if you prefer, donate directly through my Ko-Fi account – https://ko-fi.com/owenkcstephens

Campaign Setting: Hellscape City

Just over 200 years ago, every major threat in the mortal world was defeated. every ravaging dragon slain, every tyranny toppled, every lich destroyed. Champions the likes of which had never arisen before, led by the Chosen Ones of the Goddess of Peace and Justice, sought out and cured every source of inequity, suffering, hunger, fear, bigotry, and poverty. They used nearly-deific powers to link their awarenesses and knew on one perfect silvery dawn, that total peace reigned in all places.

They sat back, sure that after the Silver Dawn, no pain or evil would ever exist in their reality again. By noon, they knew they were wrong.

No vast, continent-threatening evil arose. No hidden, secret source of vile intent had avoided their purge of all injustice. But, nevertheless, evils still occurred. People who did not need to steal, stole. People who knew better, chose to create and spread lies. The numbers were tiny, compared to the days before the Silver Dawn, but every possible crime still happened somewhere, to someone. Despite there being no remaining root cause of evil, some mortals performed vile deeds, from the prosaic to the murderous.

The Champions of the Silver Dawn could have used their powers to seek out every criminal and bully and ended or altered them, but to what end? If evil would arise even after every mortal cause for it was gone, what was the point? That meant the Champions could never eliminate all evils, unless the evil was coming from beyond the mortal realm…

And then the Champions turned their eyes towards Hell. The home of the tempters, deceivers, soul-buyers, and fiendish bargainers. Surely, though the Champions, it was not that some percentage of mortals would turn to evil no matter how idyllic their world. Instead, the denizens of Hell must be the true source of evil. And that meant that creating a world free of evil required that hell be conquered.

And so they set out to do just that.

The First Circle of Hell fell in a matter of days, its forces having never faced anything so mighty as the Champions of the Silver Dawn. The Second Circle took months, but its defeat was just as complete. Though it took years, so too did the Third Circle fall to the Champions, and after decades the Fourth Circle. But twixt the Fourth and Fifth Circle of Hell lay the mighty river Styx, the most deadly of moats. Further, the Lords of Hell had used their time to fortify well, and the Fifth Circle of Hell stood behind ramparts of unholy metals and punished assailants with siege weapons of fiendish design.

It’s been more than 150 years, and the Champions still have not done more than establish a bridgehead in the fifth Circle of Hell. The fighting literally shakes the pillars of existence, and the wise come nowhere near that battle.

(Art by grandfailure)

But… the earlier Circles of Hell are a different story.

Centuries of conflict mean supplies must be brought in to the Champions’ armies, and those come largely from the major cities of the mortal world, through permanent Hellgates built and guarded by the Champions of the Silver Dawn. In the First Circle of Hell, a major mortal metropolis has grown, Hellscape City, where mortals, angels, and devils who have sworn obedience to the Silver Dawn all dwell. Though literally a plane of Hell, the First Circle of Hell is now no worse than the most dangerous and vile of mortal cities was before the Silver Dawn, and many mortals swarm to that place looking for opportunities.

The Second Circle is of hell is under Silver Dawn control, but far less settled. Devilish bandits hide in its depths, and twisted mortals often seek to unearth fiendish powers here. Further, the nature of the place itself is untamed, and its otherworldly flora and fauna must be tracked down and either tamed or destroyed. Many mortals foray out from Hellscape City to hunt bounties and seek fortunes in the Second Circle of Hell.

The Third Circle is actively dangerous, as the Champions of the Silver Dawn find it keeps creating devils and devilish threats no matter how many times they pacify it. The greatest mortal warriors and warlocks are often employed by the Silver Dawn to scout and picket the Third Circle, to put down minor threats, and raise the alarm when major ones form.

The Fourth Circle is more dangerous still, with a few ArchDevil holdouts with flaming redoubts in its far reaches. The Champions of Silver Dawn themselves must grip the Fourth Circle in their nearly-divine iron grasp, for otherwise their crusade would lose this claimed land, and be pushed back, perhaps driven from hell itself.

Hellscape City and the lands beyond are not for the faint of heart, but they are realms where the secrets and wealth of Evil City have been hoarded since the dawn of time, and there are fortunes to be made, and power to be found.

Support
There are two massive multipublisher bundles of products on DriveThruRPG right now that are fundraisers for my growing medical debt. Each has more than $700 of pdfs, from 16+ different companies, for a dozen different ttRPGs (including some core rulebooks!), as well as maps, figures, stock art, and so on. They’re just $34.95 apiece, and will only be available through May 15th.

Bundle #1: http://bit.ly/3KNMw8f
Bundle #2: http://bit.ly/3Uu6JTV

Alternatively you can join my Patreon, or if you prefer donate directly through my Ko-Fi account – https://ko-fi.com/owenkcstephens

Campaign Pitch: The Mirk

On 3/25/23, as asteroid 2023 DZ2 passed between the Earth and the Moon, all power went out from L 97° W east to L 32° W  — a zone encompassing nearly half the planet, including the eastern US and Canada, all of South America and Europe, most of Africa, and the western edges of Russia.

And it stayed out.

The power-killing effect reached high enough to knock out any satellite that passed above the affected area. Most global communications systems collapsed.  Further, light and radio waves were shifted and fell off quickly. No explanation could be found.

The zone was dubbed “The Mirk.”

Within days it was found that no electricity could exist in the Mirk unless it was part of an internal, biological process, light shifted towards blue, and broadcast signals became hopelessly garbled. Storms within the Mirk, unable to dissipate energy through lightning, began to regularly unleash hurricane-force winds, torrential rains, hail, and tornadoes. Weather patterns outside the Mirk also became more violent, thought not to the same degree, and often with massive lightning displays. 

Within weeks, billions had died. Thousands of cities and towns in the Mirk were abandoned. While the highest death tolls by far were within the Mirk, several societies “In the Light” collapsed as well, and millions of deaths were brought about by needless panic, civil war, and violent opportunism.

(Art by Cerafts)

Years passed. In the global chaos Australia, China, and Russia became the main world powers, with the Japan-Taiwan Coalition and eventually the new nation of Cascadia — formed from the west coasts of the old nations of Canada and the US — not far behind.

Reports of strange creatures and events within the Mirk were dismissed as rumor, panic, and even intentional disinformation for years. Bodies of such creatures brought out of the Mirk decomposed within hours, and were discredited as misidentification or hoaxes. All that changed six years after the Mirk arose, as massive creatures with the most dangerous elements of bars, rhinos, and spitting cobras began charging out of the murk, and surviving for 20-30 hours before beginning to die and decompose.

It’s now 2033, and the exploration of the Mirk has begun in earnest. The two largest centers of Mirk expeditions and study are at the University of Oklahoma and Bauman Moscow State Technical University, both located near one Mirk edge. New technologies have been developed, with cameras designed with modern materials but centuries-old chemical and flash powder components, vehicles driven by diesel compression and even steam engines, and a wide range of clockwork and chemical devices.

Things are definitely happening within the Mirk. Some makeshift cobbled-together devices have been found with strange functions that only work within the  Mirk, making them difficult to study with any advanced science. Bizarre creatures grow increasingly common and dangerous. But also, polluted air and water gets sucked into the Mirk, and emitted clear, without plastics, greenhouse gasses, or toxins.

And there are still people living in the Mirk. Most of them don’t like or acknowledge the authority of outsides. Some have… powers. Powers that explorers in the Mirk sometimes develop after enough exposure, but do not function outside the powerless zone. By the same token, most people from the Powered Zone who spend too much time in the Mirk get sick if they return too often. Only a tiny percentage of Powered humanity and animals seem able to sustain repeated or long-term Mirk visits. 

And reports of strange, twisted structures growing, blurry flying shapes, and horrific, calm-destroying sounds deep in the Mirk? Well, they aren’t being ignored as early monster reports were.

The Mirk is the greatest mystery and threat to the Powered world. And you are one of the few who seem to survive its environment without harm.

Support
Medical bills continue to pile up. The main ways to support me right now is these two megabundles. Each has more than $700 of pdfs, from 16+ different companies, for a dozen different ttRPGs (including some core rulebooks!), as well as maps, figures, stock art, and so on. Each is just $34.95, and will only be available through May 15th.

Bundle #1: http://bit.ly/3KNMw8f
Bundle #2: http://bit.ly/3Uu6JTV
You can also maintain (or even increase) your pledge level at my Patreon, or make a direct contribution at my Ko-Fi.

Njor Games and Sports

I’ve done two Njor posts now, one with base notes about Njor culture and one with 3 Njor idioms (with a link to the Patreon version of the article that has 18 more idioms!). But I have TONS of Njor-notes in my files (having used variants of them in 3 different campaigns I have run), so I thought I’d keep compiling and offering Njor articles.

Today, we look at some common Njor games and sports, which I think are another great way to flesh outa culture.

Bear Hunt

Supposedly inspired by older contests utilizing actual bears, the Bear Hunt game is a popular way to get young Njor some simulated combat experience. An experienced warrior plays the part of the “bear,” (often wearing a big, silly bear hat that somewhat obscures their vision), wearing a belt with 3 or more red flags that dangle to just short of the ground, and armed with a mop soaked in red dye. A circle, normally 30 feet in diameter, is marked on the ground and the Bear cannot leave it. “Hunters” must dash in, try to grab a flag (there are normally at least half as many flags as Hunters), and get away. The Bear attempts to hit Hunters with the mop. If hit, the Hunter must rush back out of the circle. If an arm or leg is hit, it is bound down before they can go back in. If the head is hit, a thin cloth is tied over the eyes to reduce vision. If the torso is hit, the Hunter must chug a mug of strong ale before rushing back in. Anyone hit three times is out. Whoever grabs the most Bear flags before the last flag is taken, or all Hunters are out, wins.

Dugr

Dugr is the most popular form of wrestling in the Njorlands. In some regions it is so popular professional Dugr wrestlers can make a living just from the sport, and sometimes conflicts between clans, groups, and even city-states can be settled by champions engaging in a series of Dugr matches.

The rules are specifically designed to allow competitors of different sizes to compete against each other by using different tactics. Njor don’t much care about a Dugr match being “fair,” but they do want it to be “interesting.”

A Dugr field consists of a 10-foot square pit 4 feet deep, with a 5-foot path around it. At each corner and the midpoint of each side of the outer square are 5-foot tall posts, each topped by a rod 10-feet long balanced at its midpoint.

Two Dugr contestants enter on opposing sides, and have one arm of their opponent’s choice lashed to a rope strung between them. There is 20 feet of slack in the rope between the contestants. The contestants may not wear hand, arm, foot, neck, or head coverings, or capes or cloaks. Wrestling begins when a horn is blown, and consists of 1 round with no breaks.

If a contestant touches the bottom of the pit, or steps out of the path around the pit, or knocks a rod off a pole, they lose. If a contestant touches their opponent with anything other than the rope, they lose. (Wrapping the rope around your fist to punch someone is allowed, but risky as the rope can slip.) If a contestant changes what side of the path they are on, their opponent must also change what side they are standing on within a three-count given by the crowd, or lose. If this happens when you are standing on a corner switching fully to either side counts, but if on a side just switching to standing on a corner doesn’t.

Normally a local considered honest and sharp-eyed is mutually agreed-upon to serve as a judge. For more contentious matches, each side proposes five judges, each side pick two of the other sides’ proposals to be put in a random selection, and then three of the four are randomly selected to judge and judgements are made by majority vote.

It’s common for heavy betting to take place around Dugr matches.

Flights

Flights is a form of archery contest. A ramp is set up, edge-on the the contestants. A basket of dyed rawhide balls of different colors is dumped on the high end of the ramp. Contestants must shoot only one or more specific colors which are announced just before the balls are dumped (often tan or fire-blackened), getting one point if the knock a ball off the ramp and two if they stick their arrow into the rawhide, but forfeit if they hit even a single ball or a forbidden color. The archers keep shooting until all the balls are off the ramp or reach its end. The exact length and pitch of the ramp, number and color of balls, distance from the ramp, number of arrows each archer gets, and whether the archers go one at a time or all at once vary both by region and based on the expected skill of the archers.

Some regions have similar games but for thrown rocks, slings, and even hurled axes.

Mallets

A large field is set up, longer than wide, with a basket half buried at each narrow end, on its side so its open mouth faces the field. A large rawhide ball is placed in the center of the field. Two teams of people armed with wooden mallets rush the field, one from each end, and try to use the mallets to hit the ball into the basket on the far side from the one they entered on.

In some regions, that’s the entirety of the rules. In others, its forbidden to hit each other with the mallets, there’s a pause if anyone is knocked down and each time a basket is scored, the number of players per team is limited, or the collective weight of all the members of each team must be nearly equal. Nearly all Njor consider the rules common in their region to be reasonable, fun, and wise, and rules only found elsewhere to be dumb and boring.

Pit Fighting

Less popular than Dugr and banned by more civil Njor settlements, pit fighting remains common enough for all Njor to be familiar with it. Pit fights take place in a 10-foot-square pit, 4 feet deep(which also often serves as a Dugr pit). Four 10-pound stones are placed in the pit, one at each corner. Two, three, or four fighters jump into the pit at the corners. The first one to lift more of the stones out of the pit than any other fighter-still-standing has lifted out, wins.

The rules for what weapons and armor can be taken into a pit vary by region, but the most common are that no weapon may be longer than the length from fingertip to elbow of the shortest fighter in a given match, only one weapon may be anything but a club, shields are disallowed, and helmets are encouraged.

Normally pit fighting does not have judges, as the terms of victory are self-evident and there really aren’t any other rules once you’re in the pit. While pit fighting is more popular than Dugr in some Njorlands, and professional pit fighters exist, no one ever settles larger conflicts with pit fights. In fact, pit fighting is more likely to create disputes between factions than end them.

Tafl

There are multiple forms of tafl games popular in Njorlands, including some that have up to 5 players (1 central player, and up to 4 outer players who get 1 move each per 4 central player moves). Tafl is seen as a game of sages, leaders, hunters, and people who are dangerously clever.

A form of Ale Tafl is popular at celebrations, where each player must drink a small cup of winter ale (ale that has been frozen and the ice thrown away, so its alcohol content is higher) after each move, and falling over is considered forfeiting.

Tides

Only common near large bodies of water, in Tides a number of weights with ribbons are thrown into the water and allowed to sink, then 2 or more swimmers dive after them and bring up as many as they can within a set timeframe. In some variants, different colors of ribbon are worth different values. The colder the water, the shorter the timeframe, and some Njor play Tides after drilling a whole in an iced-over lake.

Support

A number of folks have asked about helping me cover my medical expenses as I recover from my pulmonary embolism, and prepare to battle my cancer. While I’ll do a GoFundMe if I absolutely have to, and expect there to be more product bundles to raise funds come April, the main way to support me right now is to join (or increase your pledge level) at my Patreon, or make a direct contribution at my Ko-Fi.

Thanks, folks.

Owen

Now On Patreon: Njor Idioms

Yesterday I gave a preview of Njor culture for a fantasy setting. One of the things I often like to do to explore the attitude and tone of a culture is to write up some words of wisdom common among them. Over on my my Patreon, I listed twenty-one common Njor idioms.

Right now the full list of 21 idioms (and all Thursday blog posts) is Patreon-exclusive, because I need to grow my Patreon to keep spending time writing blog posts and other public content. However, once my Patreon funding level hits $1,000/month, I’ll go back to posting my Thursday posts free for all to see here, AND I’ll create and maintain an index page of all my PF2 articles for Patrons, so they can easily access all my online PF2 content!

But here are 3 of those idioms, as a teaser.

Railing against the storm does not stop the snow.

The cleverest fox is still a poor wolf, the strongest wolf is still a poor fox.

Respect your elders. They have survived that which you have not yet faced.

Support A number of folks have asked about helping me cover my medical expenses as I recover from my pulmonary embolism, and prepare to battle my cancer. While I’ll do a GoFundMe if I absolutely have to, and expect there to be more product bundles to raise funds come April, the main way to support me right now is to join (or increase your pledge level) at my Patreon, or make a direct contribution at my Ko-Fi.

Cultures Not Species: Njor Culture

For many years now, I’ve been looking at worldbuilding with cultures and societies defined not by species (ancestry/origin, whatever term your ttRPG uses), but with cultures. Most (though certainly not all) fantasy settings have a mix of species living in most big cities and regions, so why define them as being from specific species-oriented kingdoms? Yes, that’s how Tolkien did it… but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way.

Nor do I feel any flavor has to be lost by focusing on multi-ancestry cultures, rather than monospecies groups. A lot of tropes in fantasy can easily apply to regions, guilds, orders, religions, and sects, rather than being tied to a single species, and much like there are sub-cultures within real world societal groups, we can explore sub-cultures within our larger regional/sectional cultural idea.

Here’s an example, a short beginning sketch of a multi-ancestry culture adapted from several old campaigns of mine where I used from variant of this.

The Njor

The Njor (/niˈɔr//njɔr/)are a culture found in the Northern Reaches, ranging from the Thalassic Ocean in the west (and in some cases settlements within and west of the ocean) to the Barrow-Steppes in the east; and from the zastruga in the north to (west-to-east) the Daggerports, the Midland Kingdoms, Merothia, the Allemarche, Wroklaw, and to Old Belavarus to the south. Note that the Njor are not a unified kingdom, and though the term Njorlands is often used to describe territory largely controlled by Njor groups, its borders with other regions are approximate at best.

Further, Njor groups self-identify into a wide range of clans, tribes, city-states, and domains held by independent chiefs, gyothi, jarls, and kings which are no bigger than typical baronies in the Middle Kingdoms or Allemarche. As personal allegiance is typically more important to Njor than loyalty to a group of government, but loyalty to a broader clan, kith, or sept can overshadow even personal allegiance, non-Njor often find the links of interlocking obedience and faithfulness confusing at best, and actively contradictory at worst.

Common Njor Ancestries

The most common ancestries among the Njor are dwarf, giant, goblin, hobgoblin, human. Less common but not surprising ancestries include elf and halfling. Individuals with mixed ancestries are common and generally not considered oddities, including a large number of giantblooded (with giantblooded goblins often seen as the source of hobgoblins, and giantblooded halflings thought of as the origin of the Stoutist clans of halflings), dragonblooded (who often seem to have draconic influence from some source other than parentage, such as being born on the day a dragon was slain, or marked by draconic constellations when coming of age), and trollblooded (which are generally attributed to the old High Trolls, regenerating giants of great culture and smithing skill). 

Not every Njor settlement has all these ancestries of course. Njor underground and mountain holdfasts are often a mix of dwarf, goblin, and hafling clans as their lesser stature work well in tight tunnels where every foot of headspace must be carved from the rock at great effort. Hill settlements tend towards taller Njor ancestries, and those in the most frozen regions lean towards humans and orcs. 

Njor Honor

Honor is highly prized in Njor culture, but honor is not defined in the same way by Njorlanders as many other cultures.

Njor honor was defined by Skatti Grandmother Salmon as “Being true to your Way and your Word, and hiding neither in common life.”

While that is self-evident to most Njor, many Te Astran and Allemarchan scholars have spend lifetimes analyzing what it means. In short, a Njor is seen has having a path in their (their “Way,”), which they must stick to the core principles of. A Njor blacksmith is expected to take all smithing tasks seriously, and to never intentionally act to make smithing less famous, less trusted, or less respected by others. Similarly a Njor ruler is expected to look after their lands and their people, Njor thieves are expected to be true to the art of thievery and their thieves’ band, and Njor soldiers are expected to take the art of fighting and warfare seriously and as important and worth doing right.

Note that a Njor being honorable is not the same as being blameless. “You can’t shame a wolf for killing your sheep, but you can’t mistake it as kinfolk, either.”

Njor Virtues

In addition to holding honor (as they define it) in high regard, Njor strongly value cleverness, courage, honesty, luck, martial prowess, sagacity, thrift, and tenacity. Of course often cleverness and honesty are at odds, but to Njor there’s rarely an actual conflict between the two. If someone is extremely clever about their dishonesty, that’s a virtue. If they are prosaic, clumsy, or even just unsuccessful with dishonesty, that’s a personal failing.

The Njor attitude to mysterious powers often varies based on how those powers are presented. If a wizard seems to be a clever sage, their powers are an extension of those virtues. A warlock granted strange powers through no act of their own might be seen as lucky. A cultist who tricks people into being blood sacrifices to fuel their own power could well be accused of lacking honesty and thrift.

Going Wolfing

Life in Njorlands is often harsh, and sometimes the crops do not produce as needed, the cattle are sickly or have suffered too many loses to wild creatures and monsters, the coffers are empty, and trade is poor. If a settlement or even single household is close to the edge of failure, one or more of its members may choose to mark their face with the rune of the wolf, and become a raider in richer lands. The wolf-rune on the face is an indication that the Njorlander is no longer following the path of their normal life, but has become an animal for survival. Known as “going wolfing,” this activity is seen as rational and acceptable, and a Njor is not blames for acting like a wolf when marked as a wolf. By the same token, no one is blamed for treating a wolfing Njor as an animal — killing one on sight is reasonable and not treated as murder, much as killing a wolf stalking your sheep is not seen as murder.

Of course, non-Njor generally don’t care about such distinctions, and when wolfing raiding bands strike down into richer bordering lands to the south or east, the targets of those raids both tend to attribute the savagery shown to all Njor, and to blame the settlements the wolfings came from holding a grudge long after the wolf-runes are removed.

Support

A number of folks have asked about helping me cover my medical expenses as I recover from my pulmonary embolism, and prepare to battle my cancer. While I’ll do a GoFundMe if I absolutely have to, and expect there to be more product bundles to raise funds come April, the main way to support me right now is to join (or increase your pledge level) at my Patreon, or make a direct contribution at my Ko-Fi.

Thanks, folks.

Owen

Now On Patreon: Political Structure of My Longest-Running Campaign

Over at my Patreon, I’ve done a quick sketch of the political structure of my longest-running ttRPG campaign to date, the Sovereing Kingdoms. Begun way back, before I was a professional game designer, that campaign had as much stolen material as new ideas, since I wasn’t worried about things like publishing rights, or anything more than providing entertainment for my players. (Which there were many of — the Sovereign Kingdoms actually had many different games set in it — the Heroes of King’s Ford, the Squires of King’s Ford, Czardia, the Court of Aquilanne, Knight’s Watch, my wife even ran a campaign in it called The Emerald Sea.) 

Given how long ago I began setting up that campaign, it’s no shock to me that there are lots of things I did then that make me cringe now. But some of the setup still has promise in my opinion, and very little of it is neatly typed up. (I did my campaign notes by pencil in 3-ring binders at the time). In particular, there’s a lot about the core political situation I think still has a lot of promise.

The main powers of the Sovereign Kingdoms were broken into the High Court, the Royal Courts, Religion, and the Guild League. While these were not necessarily equal, none of them could afford to ignore any of the others. I go into the details over at the Patreon, and neither that article nor this preview of it are covered by the OGL.

Right now that worldbuilding sketch (and all Thursday blog posts) is Patreon-exclusive, because I need to grow my Patreon to keep spending time writing blog posts and other public content. However, once my Patreon funding level hits $1,000/month, I’ll go back to posting my Thursday posts free for all to see here, AND I’ll create and maintain an index page of all my PF2 articles for Patrons, so they can easily access all my online PF2 content!

Methods of Support

A number of folks have asked about helping me cover my medical expenses as I recover from my pulmonary embolism, and prepare to battle my cancer. While I’ll do a GoFundMe if I absolutely have to, and expect there to be more product bundles to raise funds come April, the main way to support me right now is to join (or increase your pledge level) at my Patreon, or make a direct contribution at my Ko-Fi.

Thanks, folks.

Owen