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Worldbuilding Week: Merothian Emnities

We’re continuing Worldbuilding week with a look at who the Merothians as a group hate, and who hates them. They say you can judge people by their enemies, so this both helps form a background a player can draw from, and gives guidance for things like common bane weapons and favored enemies. It also helps a GM know what to use for “Merothian” combat encounters.

We already did a brief history of Merothia here, discussed Merothian traits characters could take here, and looked a Merothian culture here.

Merothian Enmities

Merothia was once a powerful coalition of proud baronies, feared by its foes and respected by its allies. Free Knights were well-known champions of freedom and liberty, and honored in every city that looked toward the light.

But now, everyone (except dwarves) look at Merothia as a failed land and see Merothians primarily as peasants who proved they cannot manage (and do not deserve) self-rule.

Some Merothains are bitter about this. Others aren’t, but know that in lands outside their own they are likely to be seen as bumpkins, idiots, or worse small-minded villains who seek only to steal the silverware.

In the days of the High Barons of Morothia, the three great threats to peace were mountain giants (and their orroc minions), orc raiders, and the garm. The epic tails of clashes against these forces are still told around bowls of donnersop, and most of the few remaining relics of Old Merothia are weapons carried into battle with names like Wolfsplitter or Jotunslayer. Orcs and orrocs, in particular, often raided into once-peaceful Merothians settlements when the Baron Kings fell, and though that was generations ago the memory of the Merothians survivors runs deep.

Because of the constant wars with orc and orroc tribes, many Merothian communities dislike and mistrust orcs and half-orcs, especially those from the Raudak. Though the orcblooded people of the Raudak have no direct connection to the orcs who plundered Merothia at the end of the Age of Tyrants, the fact the Raudak hold many Merothian towns as protectorates and has entirely taken over the few major Merothian cities near it causes current-day Merothians to heap the hate and fear of ancient orc tribes onto the modern-day Raudaki.

Though the old Jotun mountain giants appear to be gone, their degenerate offspring the stone giants and hill giants (and even larger tribes of orrocs) now control much of the Basalt Mountains. Such giants can raid with impunity into some Merothians towns, and are a constant threat to others. The orc tribes that answer to them, and the orroc who share giant blood, are much more likely to be actually encountered than a true giant, but the distrust, fear and hate for all these groups runs deep.

As the Njor often raid down from the north and clear have some Jotun blood, some groups of Merothians are suspicious of any Njor. However, the fact that Njor Giantslayers often travel into the central Basalt Mountains seeking to kill off specific storied villains of giantkind cause many Merothians to appreciate the value of a friendly Njor. A single Njor, or a couple of Njor travelling with other races, are more likely to be viewed in friendly terms than a band of multiple Nor, at least until livestock begin to go missing.

Though true garm are extremely rare since the Age of Tyrants, their close cousins the worgs and winter wolves remain threats throughout Merothia. If anything these canine creatures hate Merothians even more than the Merothians hate them, and worg shamans often gather small warbands together during storm season to destroy as many Merothians villages as possible.

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Worldbuilding Week: Merothian Cultural Touchstones

We’re continuing Worldbuilding week with a look at little cultural notes or “touchstones” that GMs and players alike can use to build on Merothian themes. We already did a brief history of Merothia here, and discussed Merothian traits characters could take here. While the history was pure prose (with no rules to speak of), and the traits were solidly in the realm of rules (though with flavor text, of course), these cultural touchstones include elements of both.

Merothian Cultural Touchstones

There are some common elements of Merothains society that cross the boundary of a single village or group. Some are tied to specific rules elements, but others are just ideas a GM can hang a story or encounter on, of a player can use to craft a particularly “Merothian” background.

Arming Sword

The legendary Free Knights of Merothia carried a distinctive blade known as an “arming sword.” Similar to a longsword, an arming sword has a shorter handle with a cruciform hilt and a large lozenge-shaped pommel. Classically, Merothian knights carried an arming sword for use with shields, and had a greatsword for use in situations where heavier blows were required. This set them apart from most other sword-using elite warriors of the era, who carried bastard swords and adjusted their grip as needed.

Arming swords act like longswords with the following exceptions:
*A Medium arming sword deals 2d4 damage (and arming swords were not normally crafted in any other size)

*Because it is designed to work best with one hand, attacks using two hands with an arming sword suffer a -1 penalty to confirm critical threats.
*Because it is so well balanced and offers a firm grip with one-handed attacks, critical hits with an arming sword deal 2 additional point of damage (after all other calculations).

Community Granna and Granther

Generally every Merothian community has an elder woman and elder man respectfully known as “Granna” and “Ganther” respectively. These are often, but not always a married couple, and some communities have more than one of each (generally resulting in using the gran honorific as a title, such as “Granna Maeth” and “Granna Hilde”). They often act as receptacles of oral lore, teachers and babysitters of the very young, and impartial, unofficial arbitrators of minor community arguments. Though not officially in positions of rulership, these are seen as town elders, and are generally included in any community planning meeting so their opinion is heard (though traditionally they don’t then weigh in on the right course of action, just give historical context and opinions based on their own experiences).

For Merothians being a Granna or a Granther is not explicitly about age, which is why they don’t automatically accord the same title to any centuries-old dwarf or elf they encounter. Instead, Granna and Granther are revered because they continue to survive despite having lost the vitality of their prime, and must now act with the knowledge they are closer to death and less able to save themselves. This distinction is well understood by most dwarves, but is often lost on elves of Te Astra and Te Essar who often feel they should all be treated as even more revered than the eldest of humans.

Donnersop

Whenever anyone hunts, farms, butchers, kills, weaves, tans, or otherwise crafts or gathers materials, scraps are given to Granna and Granther. If the scraps are edible, they are generally turned into a soup by one of the these two elders. If they are a fabric or covering, they are sewn or weaved into a quilt or shawl. If they are wood, they carved into something useful, or if metal adapted to a new purpose with a stick and rawhide.

Granna and Granther uses these items for their own upkeep, but also give them out as needed to families having trouble, or call for an event where a segment of the community comes and enjoys these patched- and stewed-together offerings.

Both the tradition of giving scraps, and the materials made from them, are known as donnersop, a uniquely Merothain word. When offered up to a segment of the community for communal enjoyment, this also becomes a time when tales are told, history recited, old songs sung, and initial long-term plans discussed.

While character’s can’t normally “buy” donnersop, they can receive goods worth 1-5 gp or less as donnersop if they seem sufficiently destitute, and worth aiding. Meanwhile a character who donates as little as 1 sp a week of material to a community’s donnersop stores gains a +2 circumstance bonus to Diplomacy checks to gather information in that Merothian community.

Weapon Inscriptions

Merothians often inscribe letters onto their weapons, a practive that dates back to the Free Knights of Old Merothia. These are usually letters in Celestial, though older traditions use letters in Fey. The letters are generally just the first letter of several words that are a phrase or motto important to the weapon user. Many famously use CMAS which refers to the ancient knight’s cry corie meroth aeter sang, Celestial for “The Heart of Merothia Bleeds Eternally,” a promise that the Free Knights would suffer any hardship to fight for freedom and justice. Current Merothains often don’t speak either Celestial or Fey, and may ask an Abthanian priest or a druid to translate a phrase meaningful to the individual into letters.

Those familiar that own an heirloom arming sword with such an inscruiption consider it an object that must be maintained, and given to a family member who has proven the willingness and ability to use it. Since Merothians communities often can’t afford to make new swords, the inscription tradition has been extended to the more common axes, spears, bows, and knives poorer Merothians depend on to protect themselves.

While most inscriptions are not magical, for 15% above the normal cost of a scroll, a magical inscription that functions precisely like a scroll can be etched onto a weapon as an inscription. This is normally only done by Merothian spellcasters with strong ties to Old Merothia, most often druids, Abthanian priests, and witches.

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Worldbuilding Week: Merothian Traits

We’re continuing Worldbuilding week (which started here) with a look at traits available to Merothian characters.

Merothian Ethnic Traits

These are all traits available to characters that are Merothian, and who were raised in Merothia or a neighboring region where it was known they were Merothian. These serve both as specific tweaks to character abilities that help players with Merothain PCs feel like their backgrounds matter, and as data points to help reinforce to players a culture and tone for Merothia in general.

Blessed are the Humble (Faith trait). Even the gods seem to know that Merothians have gotten a raw deal. If a divine spellcaster casts a spell with harmless in the saving throw or SR entry, treat that spellcaster’s level as being one higher when determining the spell’s effects (including amount healed, duration, and so on).

Born to Serve (Race trait). Since the fall of the High Barons, numerous groups (most often spellcasters from Te Essar) have made adjustments to Merothian bloodlines to make them better servants, often in an effort to prove Merothains are an inferior race of humanoids. Your family comes from such an altered bloodline. When you aid another in combat, your aid another bonus is +3 rather than +2. For skills, your aid another bonus is equal to 1 + 1/10th your total aid another skill check.

When you make an aid another check to help a nonhuman creature with a humanoid subtype you have never aided before, roll 1d20. If the result is a 20, this trait actually increases your aid another bonuses by +1 for all creatures of that subtype.

Distant Kin (Family trait). You have an extensive family of Merothian relatives who are commoners, peasants, and serfs. When in a settlement that has a population of at least 500 Merothians, in Merothia or a neighboring region, if you make a successful Diplomacy check to gather information you also find a distant cousin who may help you. Calculate how many followers you would have if you had the Leadership feat. This is the maximum number of cousins you can find over your career (though as your leadership score goes up, so do the potential number of cousins you are put in contact with). These cousins are randomly assigned npc class levels by the GM based on what follower slots you have remaining, are within one step of your alignment, and begin with an attitude of friendly.

Hard to Kill (Combat). Most Merothian families have more than one ancestor who survived outrageous wounds and long odds to live long enough to have children. The trait for survival is often passed on. Add your character level to the negative number of hit points you must reach before dying.

Old Magic (Magic). There aren’t many Merothian spellcaster left, but tales of the Witch-Knights, Green Mages, and Holy Kirks make it clear there were once many eldritch traditions in Merothia. Some of that old lore has been passed down to you, allowing you to occasionally surprise a foe with a different way of doing things. Once per day (plus once per day per 5 caster levels) when you cast a spell that is not the highest-level spell you can cast, and the foe succeeds at a saving throw, you can force the foe to reroll the saving throw. If the foe fails this second save the spell takes effect, though if it deals damage it deals minimum damage, and if the spell is not instantaneous its maximum duration is 1 round.

Used to It (Social trait). Things often suck for Merothians, and to survive they have had to simply learn to manage under harsh conditions. When you have a penalty of -2 or more that applies to d20 checks (such as attack rolls, skill checks, saving throws, and so on), as a move action you can cut that penalty in half for one round. You can’t reduce the same penalty from the same circumstances multiple times.

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Worldbuilding Week: Merothia

So, this week I am planning on putting up a set of four linked posts that are an example of how I like to combine game rules, broad mythology, and a selection of small details to build an element for an RPG campaign setting.

This week I’ll be going over Merothia, a region appropriate for PC origins and adventuring in a fairly typical fantasy-style Pathfinder RPG game. I’ll also be mentioning a lot of things that tie into Merothia but don’t get full write-ups just yet, which is also often how I expand a world — toss out details to players, and see which ones they find interesting enough to justify my spending more time on them.

Merothia

Once, Merothia was a series of 27 semi-independent baronies rules by he High Barons, who had significant autonomy in all local matters (and could even wage war on one another to a limited extent), but who all swore to obey a single Baron King in all dealings with foreigners. Merothians were fiercely independent and had strong dedication to building a world that was “fair,” and it was often said “Twelve Merothians will starve rather than eat unevenly sliced bread.”

In the Age of Quests, this fierce independence generated numerous heroes and small bands that kept Merothia safe. During the Age of Tyrants, it lead to most of Merothia being conquered by the elven nation of Te Essar. Since the end of the Age of Tyrants, Te Essar’s near collapse and the rise of Te Astra and the Silent Empire have left Merothia largely ununified.

Most regions of Merothia are now officially protectorates of some foreign power, but generally only those in the far west that answer to the Raudak and those in the south-east that are oppressed by Te Astra actually see any benefit for the taxes they periodically send to their distant foreign rulers. The notable exceptions to this are villages in north-central Merothia that have managed to become official Craft Homes to the dwarven Clan League, which enjoy significant advantages for their formal membership (though it is much more common for a Merothian town to have strong alliances with the League rather than be able to claim Craft Home status).

Merothian settlements that aren’t formal protectorates fall into a few broad categories. Some towns have powerful enough local rulers (usually a retired crusader, Njor raider, mid-level Tarsian merchant-prince, minor aething half-blood Te Astra or even Te Essar noble with casual support from their homelands, or someone who also happens to run a nearby Abthanian church or monastery) to maintain independence, though generally under restrictive rule that favors a small non-Merothian upper classes. Other towns and villages have agreements with varying levels of officialness with bandit bands, raiders, local petty tyrants (ranging from hags and dragons to powerful priests or other spell casters) or monster packs.

Notable and well-known exceptions to this trend are the Free Harbor of Auvant, which uses the combination of its access to natural harbors and river routes and distance from any similar ports or major political entities to make enough money to buy mercenaries that keep its ruling council at least nominally in charge; and Whurrak, the mountain holdfast that carefully enforces equality for itself and the Merothian towns and villages that support it economically.

True Merothians rulership in the style of old may only still exist in far-off Presthor, if the storied last Merothian Free Barony (supposedly locked in an endless crusade that keeps its knights and nobles from returning to Merothia proper) even exists.

Merothians

Ethnically, Merothians are humans descended from the High Barons of Merothia, before that suzerain’s fall. They are generally typical in human appearance, with a trend toward light tan skin tones, darker hair and eye color, and thick shoulders, hips, wrists, and ankles. Those with more Njor blood tend to be taller, those closer to Te Astra and Te Essar tend to be thinner and paler (though not as fair as aething half-bloods), and those close to a port or harbor are often darker skinned, and may even be mistaken for Tarsians or Akkesh.

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