Category Archives: Fluff/Inspiration

Fantasy Superheroes

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We all know the classic superhero comics. Usually they are set into our modern world and the heroes wear either spandex or leather suits in flashy colors. But why not set a superhero tale into a medieval fantasy world? In a way D&D4E has done it, but a fantasy Mutants & Masterminds campaign comes to mind.

If you look at mythological heroes they usually have special powers not unlike the superheroes from your favorite comic book. I remember that I own a thin X-Men comic book where our heroes are in an illusion created by a villain so that they believe they are living in a medieval city. In that story Storm was some kind of queen and Wolverine a lone mercenary with a large sword. I found the idea intriguing. 

One of my favorite comic series is still Joe Madureira’s Battle Chasers. It’s a shame that it was never completed. The protagonists of that series are all exceptional in their own right, much like modern day superheroes. There’s Gully, a small girl, wears the magic gauntlets of her father, giving her enormous strength, Calibretto a wargolem, Garrison, the famous swordsman, Red Monika, a rather voluptuous thief and Knolan a powerful wizard. This group not only reminded me of a D&D party but also of superhero teams.

So, what do we need to mix the fantasy and superheroes genres?

  • Larger-than-life characters
    Your usual Joe Sixpack fighter will not do. You at least need a special sword, or a magic armor to give your character to rise to superhero levels. Insanely powerful magic items or over-the-top abilities help to give you the four-color-heroes feel.
  • Use comic conventions, not fantasy conventions
    In normal fantasy roleplaying games you start with amateur adventurers that slowly advance to heroes acquiring new abilities and “phat lewt” on their way to the top. In a superhero fantasy game we need powerful characters from the start, so there probably is not much advancement in terms of the characters’ power or gear.
  • Flashy clothes and catchy names
    No, I don’t think spandex suits work well in  a medieval fantasy settings but you should not to clothe your characters in brown linen. Also enormous swords and huge shoulder pads work in MMORPGs and Japanese manga and anime, so why shouldn’t it work in your campaign too?
    Names are also important in the superhero genre. For example a swordsman called Garrison is way cooler than his colleague Bob. And follow Greywulf’s advice and give your party a name!
  • Use a superheroes roleplaying game to run your campaign
    Ok, D&D4E probably works for getting that four-color heroes feel, but why not do it right? Run the campaign using Mutants & Masterminds and allow your players to build PL 10 heroes.
What do you think? Could a “superheroes genre meets fantasy” campaign work? I will definitely play around with that idea. I still have to think something up for next week when I want to introduce two friends into roleplaying. Perhaps some superheroic fantasy could be their thing.
P.S.: Thanks to ChattyDM for giving my creativity a jumpstart over Twitter today and to Greywulf for his excellent superhero-related posts!

Dungeoncraft: Religion on Asecia

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In most medieval-fantasy campaigns the gods are very real, they grant spells to their most devout followers and they sometimes even walk the earth. In a world like Asecia, I want religion (especially organized religion) on of the major forces of the world but I don’t want gods meddle with the affairs of humans. Although there are several religions on Asecia the gods themselves never interact with the living (although the pious believers will probably tell you otherwise).

As I wrote about in the first episode, there is no special divine magic. But most people believe that the mark of sorcery is a gift from god (or the gods) and organized religion and the magocracies worked hand-in-hand for millenia. But in the times of urbanization and industrialisation the power of religion starts to wane.
But let’s first talk about the major religions.

The Holy Cerynian Church of the Great Architect
Shortly after the Cerynian empire became the first democracy the Cerynians adopted the religion of the Great Architect. In earlier times they revered the Three Sisters, three vengeful and unforgiving goddesses. But then a young prophet from a small province at the border of the empire started to tell the people about the Great Architect, a loving and creating god that created the world for humans to make their own. The new religion was very successful with artists and craftsmen, that preferred the positive creativity of the Great Architect over fearful obedience to the Sisters. Especially the mages opposed that new religion because they feared that they would lose their power, because it was believed that magic was a gift from the Sisters. But in the end the new religion prevailed.

The Holy Cerynian Church of the Great Architect is now one of the major religions in Cerynia and the other nations of Asecia. Following a long tradition most priests were craftsmen or artist before they were ordained. Followers of the Great Architect believe that the best way to please their god is to create something that outlasts their death, like a piece of art or a building. Members of the Church of the Great Architect don’t beliefe in an afterlife and they strive to live a fulfilling and pious life.
The Symbol of the Church of the Great Architect is a hammer and compasses. The priest usually don’t take a vow of chastity but some monks do so in order to focus on their religious or scientific studies but those vows are normally not for life. The tradional garb of the priests is a simple grey hooded robe.

The Brotherhood of the Three Sisters
Although the Brotherhood has lost most of its members hundreds of years ago, the religion is still alive. The Brotherhood believes in the Three Sisters, three vengful (sometimes almost evil) goddesses that expect complete obedience from their followes. In Brotherhood dogma all sorcerors are the Sisters’ children and shall be revered as well. In the Brotherhood only men are allowed to pray and take part in church service. There are a lot of rules which regulate the lives of the believers and not following those rules leads to fast and draconic punishment. The Brotherhood’s symbol are three black female figures in front of a red disc. The priests usually wear read, unadorned robes and featureless black masks that cover the whole face.

The Church of St. Michael
Michael d’Arellien was a minor noble with almost no magical talent born on one of the island that are now called the Principality of St. Michael. He was a devout follower of the Great Architect but pretty insignificant until a fateful day when suddenly his magical talent increased hundredfold. It is said that his magical aura and his eyes were shining bright as the sun even when he was not actively using magic. That influx of power has given him immense insight and hidden knowledge of the world. He used his new-found talent to help people, heal the sick and he preached about a better world for all humans. Many people believed that he was the reincarnation of the Great Prophet or an avatar of the Great Architect himself.

He convinced the Cerynian Empire to grant the Western Isles independence and became their first prince. But he tought of himself not as the ruler but the servant of his people. In the following years tales of miracles spread throughout the Isles.
All of the Principality sects started to rise that believed the prince was more than a man. They believed he was the Architect himself walking amonst men. And when Michael d’Arellien suddenly vanished without the trace it was believed that he transcended.

Today the major religion of the Isles is Michaelism. The Church of St. Michael still resembles the Chruch of the Great Architect but its followers believe that a man, St. Michael of Arellien, was an incarnation of the Architect himself and that he came to lead the Isles into freedom. The priest of that religion wear white silken robes adorned with the symbol of a white-blue star.

Minor Religions
 The citizens of Tovenar are followers of the Great Architect but there was a schism several hundred years ago that lead to the creation of the Holy Tovenari Church. The Holy Tovenari Church uses a slighty modified liturgy and this church is mostly based on monastries. Tovenari priests wear black robes.
There are rumors that the people of the lost kingdom of Rivenar worship some kind of evil entity, but that’s unconfirmed and doubted by most scholars. 
There are also a lot of atheists and agnostics in most countries especially in Cerynia and the Principality. 

So, that concludes this episode of Dungeoncraft.

Dungeoncraft: “It all started with a map”

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This article is the first part of an series of articles in which I want to talk about the development of a campaign setting. For quite some time I was thinking about what kind of world I would like to create and finally I decided to give it a try and start with some serious work. The series will be called “Dungeoncraft” as an hommage to the classic series by Ray Winninger. Today I want to talk about how the project started and about my basic design decisions.

“Hey, don’t steal our thunder!”
When I finished “Arcanum – Of Steamworks and Magicks Obscura” for the first time, I thought the world Arcanum would make an awesome campaign setting for a pen & paper game. I even contacted the developer Troika Games for their blessing and the publisher Sierra for their green light. The guys from Troika Games loved the idea, but Sierra couldn’t allow the creation of a pen & paper RPG based on their intellectual property even when it was meant to be free.

“It all started with a map”
So I decided to create my own version of Arcanum that didn’t use any intellectual property owned by Sierra. I started with a map of the continent where the majority of the action should take place. I created the map using some computer software and printed it out on 6 DIN A4 sheets of paper in color. Then I obviously stopped working on that project and the map ended up in some drawer. Years later, when I was rearranging some furniture, I started cleaning out some of my old stuff. And that’s when I stumbled upon the map. I had some faint memories of the project but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what software I used to create the map. But I decided to keep the map for future project. So now, I am going to use the map as a basis for my latest project. Having a map of the world makes things much easier to visualize. I probably will have to recreate the map in some point of the future, but it is sufficient for now. For this purpose I already bought Campaign Cartographer 3 some time ago. Although the software has a steep learning curve, you can create some impressive maps.

“Welcome to the lands of <please enter a great name here>”
Since the map is pretty big and the original file is nowhere to be found, I can’t give you an image of that map here. Hmm, perhaps later I can use my digital camera for making a photo. The yet unnamed continent/island has roughly the same shape as the British Isles and is probably of the same size, perhaps a bit larger. I plan to add a bigger continent later but for starters a place of that size should be big enough for my purposes. The climate is mostly temperate but there’s one large desert area that probably was created by unnatural means. The island is also dotted with several cities, some fortresses, towns, ruins and even some other features. I will talk about them in a later article.

“Let’s get down to the basics…”
Now I want to focus on the basic ideas of the campaign. Like in Arcanum I want to confront the players with a world where magic and technology collide. But instead of Arcanum I don’t want to have the whole magic vs. technology dichotomy. Having magic and technology interfere like it has in the computer game needs a solid set of rules that are probably easy to realize in a computer game enviroment but much harder to get to work in a p&p game. The other point is that mixing technology and magic could lead to some interesting results like enchanted guns, airships driven by magic and more wonderous contraptions.

“We don’t serve your kind here”
Arcanum uses a tolkienesque world as a premise and then introduces an industrial revolution. “Tolkienesque” means that you have a world with several intelligent races that are similar to those seen in the “Lord of the Rings” or perhaps D&D. Although my world will have several trappings that are reminiscent of a tolkinsque world, I have decided against other intelligent species than humans. Magical creatures like dragons will exists but they will be simple beasts instead of highly-intelligent beings they are in other settings.

“History 101”

Let’s talk about some history. Millenia before the campaign starts humankind was still organized in small tribes, sometimes even clans that had a more or less nomadic lifestyle. It was during these times that the first children where born that carried the “mark”. The mark looks like an elaborate tribal tatoo and normally is invisible to the naked eye. When these children were in stress or in great fear the mark starts to glow and they were able to do impossible things like hurling fireballs, creating things from thin air, heal wounds or teleport themselves. Each time they used their abilities the mark glowed in an eery blue-white light. Sometimes these children were feared and even killed, sometimes they were revered. In time they learned to control their abilities and they called it “Magic” or the “Art”. Often the “marked” grew to become great leaders of their people and so the first sorceror-kings were born. Normally the children of sorcerors inherit their parent’s abilities but it is not unheard of “normal” people bearing a “marked” child. But this was becoming less and less common.

For several millenia the most common ruling system was magocracy. But this was about to change with the advent of the first industrial revolution.
This concludes the first part of the series. I will talk about the fall of magocracy and the industrial revolution in a later episode.

UPDATE: Following an advice from The Chatty DM and the Questing GM I tried to break the article into paragraphs to make the text easier to “swallow”. Since I hadn’t thought of readabilty when I wrote down the article, it’s still very much a “wall of text” but I hope it’s a bit easier to read now. I will try to work on that in the future. And thanks to all of you for the helpful advice!