From Tree to Letter to Month (or How Does Gregory Make a Place Unique?

Some years back, Todd Jordan and I were discussing our game worlds and, in noting that each city or region of Rillmorn was unique, Todd said to me, “Your world is like Indiana Jones leafing through a tome of onionskin pages, while mine is like that guy who finds the singing frog.”  To this day, I am uncertain if Todd was trying to say that my games were more serious than his or that because I put more effort into attempting to make each area of Rilmorn distinct that it made my games feel more real.  Whatever he meant, I took it as a compliment and have continued to work hard and give each campaign site a special twist.  Something for my Players to hang on to and work with to give them a sense that this place is different from where the last campaign happened.

Iolta is much like my original continent Moytonia.  Moytonia was originally boiled out of Witch World, Middle Earth, and B1-In Search of the Unknown.  It was later spiced with the works of Katherine Kurtz, various issues of Dragon magazine, other modules and settings books, and finally a good dose of Player and PC creations.  Iolta uses many similar sources.  So, in an attempt to make Pellahm distinct from Kardon, Spellguard, and the Storm Kingdom, I am going to design a new calendar.

When I originally named the Months of the Year for Rilmorn, I decided to go with something different than January, February, etcetera or “Hot Month, “Growing Month,” and so on.  I chose the names for the twelve signs of the Western Astrologic Zodiac.  I did it as much to be different, as I did for it to be familiar.  I did not want my players to struggle with month names in addition to the other Rillmorn specific features: two suns, three moons, and such.  In addition to designing the months to keep track of the passage of time, I created four seasonal festivals for that would be nigh universal across Moytonia.

I have long had an interest in Celtic myth and history.  I remember writing a paper in my History of the English Language class at USM on druids and got to use the 1E Players Handbook as a reference.  Despite my interest and study, I did not know as much as I thought I did.  So when I picked Beltane, Lamas, Samhain, and Yule to the festivals and placed them on the vernal equinox, midsummer, autumnal equinox, and midwinter, I did not know that these were not events celebrated on the equinoxes and solstices nor did I realize that I had didn’t even get all the names right for the festivals that used.  Despite all that, the Four Feasts of the Year as celebrated by the druids of Rilmorn have become a deep part of the myth and lore of my world.  So, I am pleased to keep them, use them in Pellham, and add a lunar calendar to help with the verisimilitude of the setting.

I am basing my new lunar calendar on the Celtic Tree Calendar.  My sources for this are The Celtic Tree Oracle by Liz and Colin Murray and Celtic Tree Magic by Danu Forest.  While some dispute the historical validity of such a calendar, it is irrelevant for Rhillmoran.  Rhillmoran is not Earth and history and myth unfolded differently there than it did here.  The Druids of Iolta count the beginning of the Year on Samhain the first day of Beith or Birch.

The people of Pellham don’t use the largest of the moons (with its 38 day cycle) in their calendar, because legend holds that The Eldest Sister no longer watches Rhillmoran.  Her gaze is turned outward from world to watch for the return of Bazel, so that The Three Sisters may be ready do battle with him and prevent his return.  So, the Months are only 36 days long, since the two remaining moons have a 9 day cycle and 4 day cycle and they synchronize once every 36 days.  This will have little effect on my Players’ perceptions, but I hope to use the magical significance of each month’s tree to shade the adventures taken during those months and hopefully that will affect my Players’ perceptions.

So, dear readers, what do you do to make your settings distinct to your Players?

Game On!

So, You’re an Adventurer (or What Makes You so Special?)

A while back, D. over at Fleur du mal linked to Rick Stump’s post Monsters of the Id on his site Don’t Split the Party.  Rick’s post begins with a digression about how many people never read the entirety of the rules set and uses an example of how he guest DMed and brought low a party of 3rd to 5th level PCs with a standard patrol encounter.  This, along with D.’s post on High Men – a subset of humanity in his game world, set me to thinking about how “heroes” became “heroes” in Rhillmoran.

I admit that until I read Rick’s post I had not read all the random encounters section on the 1E DMG and was not aware that 5 in 20 encounters in Inhabited Outdoor Areas were with patrols of fighters or rangers on horseback led by a 6th to 8th level Commander, seconded by a 4th to 5th level Lieutenant, or that these patrols included a 2nd to 3rd level Sergeant, 3 to 4 1st level men-at-arms, and 13 to 24 soldiers (See page 182, Dungeon Masters Guide © 1979).  Also, there will be either a 6th or 7th cleric or a 5th to 8th level magic user with the patrol.  This got me to reexamining other Random Encounter Matrices.  The City/Town Encounters section (pages 190-192, 194) of the DMG showed me that City Guard and City Watch encounters included fighters, clerics, and magic users and that a randomly encountered cleric could be 11th level and have 5 attendant clerics of 4th level with him or her.  Clearly, the PCs weren’t the only members of society to have adventuring classes. (2016.04.29)

In Greyhawk Adventures by James M. Ward © 1988, there is a section on beginning your campaign with 0 (zero) level characters (pages 117-126).  Using this option, nobodies can work their way up to somebodies of importance.  This is, clearly, a take on the idea that it is not one’s social class or bloodline that makes one a hero; it is one’s actions and choices that makes one a hero.  This seems so at odds with 4E and its emphasis on Epic Destinies and minions.  I seem to recall a passage about 4E fighters that said even a veteran of multiple wars would only be a 1st or 2nd level fighter (I can’t find a reference for that passage at this time).  In 1E, adventurers are defined by what they do, not by what they can do.  In 4E, adventurers are defined by what they can do; they are inherently different than the hoi polloi of the rest of creation.  What changed and why and what does it say about how I am going to develop NPCs and societies on Iolta and Thrain? (2016.04.29)

Clearly in 1E, the PCs weren’t the only people with adventuring classes, but they were the main ones going out and “adventuring.”  I don’t really know what was going on in 2E, since I treated everything as if I was still running 1E.  3E made a distinction between PC classes and NPC classes and 4E PCs were a separate breed entirely.  Ever since the implementation of the CR system, there has been a growing distinction between the PCs and everyone else.  I don’t know if that distinction still applies in 5E or not.  I still haven’t picked up the 5E DMG, so I don’t know what it says, but my reading of the DnD Next Playtest rules, the Players Handbook and the Monster Manual, I suspect that the distinction is extremely lessened, if not completely removed.  If that is not the case in D&D Official Settings, it is Rhillmoran.

For many years, I had players that assumed that every orc encounter was with an orc that had class levels.  Why because I believed that if a PC could do, so could an NPC.  The reverse is also true anything an NPC can do, a PC can learn to do, as well.  If the super evil wizard boss can cast 25 hit die fireballs, then the PC wizards who take her down can learn how she could do such magical feats.  If the PCs don’t want to make a pact with Mephistopheles, then they don’t get cast 25 hit die fireballs.

Having adventuring classes among the clearly non-adventuring populace says all sorts of things about how D&D societies work, but I am going to ignore those things for now.  What I want to focus on is why the PCs are adventurers in the first place.  Why do people with very little in common gather together in commando style groups and set out to loot ruins and do daring do?

They’re misfits, also known as Red Nose Reindeer Syndrome.  Adventurers are people who do not fit into the rest of society.  They have something in their personalities that make them outsiders in their own communities and/or even families.

They are laggards, also known as I want to Win the Lottery Syndrome.  The PCs are folks who are looking for the big score.  They will go out of their way and do more work than necessary, just get out of work.  They enter each dungeon with the hope that they will escape with a dragon’s hoard and never have to work again.

They are thrill seekers, also known as Adventurer Syndrome.  Everyday life is boring.  There are only so many cliffs one can use to base jump before base jumping gets stale.  Dungeons provide so many more thrills.  One can face horrible monsters, deadly traps, and grueling self-torture.  It’s awesome!

They are heroes, also known as They are Heroes Syndrome.  The PCs are adventurers because they are the ones who stand up and do when things need doing.  They may clothe it in terms of mercenary greed or proving one’s self or fulfilling destiny, but the PCs go into the dungeons, slay the dragons, and rescue the princes because they are the ones that will do it; they are heroes.  When the call to action has been sounded and others cannot or will not, the PCs rise and do or die trying.  The queen may be a 15th level fighter.  She may stand with her generals and soldiers and defend the city gates, she isn’t an adventurer. She isn’t going to sneak into the orc encampment and assassinate the orc cambion warlord leading the Horde.  The PCs will, because they are heroes.  It is what they do.

Game On!


An Epiphany of Time (or Does Gregory Know When the Prophecy Will be Fulfilled?)

On this the Twelfth Day of Christmas, I want to talk about my attempts at cosmology and calendar keeping.  Before I get to that, I would like you, dear reader, to drop over to Falling Toward Mythopoesis and check out Sarah McCabe’s commentary on Christmas and time keeping.

When I started creating Rilmorn, I decided that Rillmorn had two suns, three moons, and twenty-six hour days.  I did this mostly to be difficult, but soon those features of my game.  My Players and I soon began discussing what would the effect of three moons be upon lycanthropes.  I told my players that Rillorrn was at the apex of triangle formed by the two suns and Rillmorrn and that they all orbited around a central point and that led to all sort of questions concerning the three body problem and how the axial tilt of the world affected the apparent positions of the suns based on the seasons.  I gave the three moons orbital cycles of 4, 9, and 38 days and using those numbers, I created a three-year perpetual calendar that covered the times each moon was full.  While my Players and I often forgot what day it was supposed to be in the campaign, I often got to use those 36 pages to set up important ceremonies and planar openings in game based on which moons were full and were they fell in the seasons.  Over time I added a wandering star that appeared ever 26 years, “God’s Eye,” a comet with a 27 year cycle named the “Dragon’s Tear,” and Mondham, a city that appears for a year once every 7 years.  I never successfully added those cosmological events into my calculations.

Given all this information, I should be able to pinpoint the date of Llywelyn’s Return, but after the Cataclysm that precipitated transition from 2E to 3E, the suns named Mercy and Justice were no longer in synchronous orbit with Rillmorn.  With that, I have too many variables to track.  Fortunately, my friend Thom made me a website that can.  Using this calendar and the information that I created to fit the Prophecy, I know that Llywelyn is prophesied to return 1 Aris 2029 Age of Wyrms.  This stuff makes it much easier to work out prophecies and track celebrations and holy days.  Do any of you have similarly complex calendar/cosmologies?

Game On!