I am busy setting up my December gaming schedule. It takes some doing as I am in a number of games and I GM three. I am also a horrible organizer. The two games I play in are more regular and more efficient than the ones I run, thanks to the skills of other people.
I play in a Pathfinder Game (where we are rebelling from "the man" in a fantasy setting) and a "The King in Yellow" game (where we are preventing various eldritch horrors from consuming the world) about twice a month. Both would be described as "serious" as far as the level of gaming and commitment. The game is very important and doing it the way we agreed upon is important as well. For Yellow King, this means improv. It is a theater kid's dream of a system and I am a theater kid. Pathfinder. on the other hand, has a rule for everything and those rules enhance the roleplaying in their own way.
I absolutely adore playing in them and I am in awe of the GMs' abilities to keep the game moving and interesting. I spend hours on my Pathfinder character building and re-building it over and over. My Yellow King characters have deep motivations that no one else will ever know. I also believe that I would be absolutely lost running these games. I love to be a player in games like this. However, as a GM...they are not my strength...
This brings us to my point about RISUS and my own GMing tendencies. I do run games...but I have learned to stay in my lane.
In fact, I GM (Gamemaster) three games. Two meet roughly monthly; my Pathfinder game for teens and my RISUS game. The other--a D&D 5e house game--is weekly when the entire family is in the house and then goes on hiatus when someone is at college, for example. I run them all the way I have been running games since I was 12 years old and using the "Basic/Expert" (pre-red box) D&D rules. That is, I (more accurately "we") read the rules, take the ones I (again...we) need, make up a bunch more, and then barely reference the book for the extent of the campaign.
Now, this is not the way the majority of people have played over the last 20 years. However--thanks to a childhood lived in the '70's and '80's--this approach is ingrained in my psyche. In serious games I still depend on others to tell me about what I am rolling for sometimes. Thankfully my fellow players are patient and helpful.
There are historical reasons for my approach. The early RPG's were brilliant in many ways...but they were also poorly written. If you wanted to find information on a specific rule, it may or may not be in the book. As kids, the question for us was how much time we would like to spend figuring that out. Most of the time, we wanted to get to the story and be the hero. Also--frankly--while the game was the reason to gather, it was not the only item on our agenda during those long summer vacations. We wanted to go out and run. We wanted to play Ms. Pac Man We wanted to goof around. So we did. One other boy and I usually steered everyone back to the game, but in a 4-5 hour "session" (sometimes 2 or three times a week, sometimes weeks apart) we probably played for about 2 hours.
Again, here was another reason to keep things moving. There were so many other distractions to...er...distract us if we got bored. Rules made us bored. It was best to keep things moving.
So...RISUS? It is the ukulele of RPG's. You play it because you like to play this sort of game and you also like hanging with your friends. In the same way I play an ukulele because I want to sing with my friends and am not so worried about virtuosity. I mean...I take the game seriously. I put hours of prep into the sessions I run. If the goofballs at my virtual table "visit" for too long I start to get antsy. Still. I am accustomed from my childhood for that "table" being fairly casual.
That casual atmosphere in many ways requires loose rule sets and in-game expectations. The Yellow King game comes in second in this way, but RISUS is boundaryless if you let it be. The current party in the "Clergy Game" for example, illustrates this. We have some intriguing characters based on literary tropes that form a solid structural core. However, we also have 1 guy who hammers really well but is incompetent at everything else (think of "The Shoveler" from Mystery Men), conjoined Elf Twins (loosely based on Zaphod Beeblebrox from the 1980's BBC production of Hitchhiker's Guide) and a horse with opposable thumbs.
THAT is what my childhood games were like. Totally random beings in a world that we then rationalized to fit the randomness. RISUS hearkens back--not to the rules and tropes of those early D&D games but--to the culture of the kids who originally bought those boxes and dice. In fact, I have loosely adapted a couple old modules from my youth for RISUS. It wasn't too serious back then. It was off-the-wall early teen mayhem for people who spent their time riding bikes, crawling through drainage culverts, and swimming in fetid pools of goo behind our houses on a dare. We adventured HARD wherever we were and we wanted our D&D to be laugh-out-loud-root-beer-squirting-though-your-nose funny.
Our characters died all the time. We didn't worry about their motivations or their backstories. Sometimes we would have them wander off because we were tired of them. We had another character ready to go. Then sometimes they didn't die because we liked them and though it would be better if they lived. We let that happen too. RISUS preserves this chaos.
No doubt the people who made the games (and all those first-generation old men and women who came from the wargaming scene) would have been as aghast as some current players and designers by our behavior. In fact I have first hand experience of a time when my friends and I--all playing Halfling Thieves (Rogues to you kids)--tried to kill a dragon by backstabbing (now sneak attack) with our daggers. It was a suicidal move but we thought it would be hilarious. The GM--an adult who designed games for a competitor to D&D--got so mad he walked away from the table, collected himself, and told us we couldn't play the game in his store unless we took it much more seriously.
We were messing up his world. We saw he had a right to be angry. We went back to playing in our bedrooms.
Anyway, I like both kinds of games. Many people do, though they may gravitate to one or the other. In fact I was introduced to RISUS by the GM for that serious Pathfinder game and he plays in my RISUS game. I actually LOVE Pathfinder and some D&D rulesets. However, when it is my turn to run the game? That game will be rules-light and goofy as heck.
If you are thinking of getting back into RPG's, I cannot recommend RISUS more highly.
Almost two centuries ago, when the circumstances of the world created conditions for mass migration, some hardy souls among the self-aware species of all the states journeyed in small groups to the “Great Ruin” of the Northlands and renamed it “Port Rufio”. In reality, the port appears to have been a suburb of the Ruin. However, even in those desperate times, no one wanted to settle in that mass of abandonment. Given that tendency toward prudence, the area around Port Rufio made practical sense and—if the rumors are true—that act of modest caution, has rewarded them with their survival.
Today that is the name of a slightly over-crowded city—an autonomous collective—settled within the decaying remains of some unknown but once powerful civilization. The residents of the city are not alone, of course, but they serve as the conduit for most trade and cultural attractions in the area. It is a port (hence the name), trading finished works with the Wilders to the west, and south while sending raw materials (fish, furs, wood, farm products, etc) and occasional artifacts out to the world beyond its waters. The winters are cold—so cold the port freezes for about 4 weeks of the year—therefore the various beings that crowd its streets have found ways to live together...
The city is broken into neighborhoods, each controlled by a “Guild” which is half cop, half robber. It depends on how you like their rules. The “Council of Guilds” meets regularly for business and parties.
“Sheaves” Platinum Pieces
“Plows” Gold Pieces
“Hunters” Silver Pieces (most common)
“Gobs” Copper pieces
The Living Docks (Nieghborhood):
This neighborhood exists in the southeast corner of the city, bordered by the wall, central street, and Farley's Run. It's guild (dominated by the Goblins) is housed in a local inn, the Almordzar. The area is a busy, hectic place where business is done and deals (large, small “legal” and “illegal”) are made regularly in backrooms and common rooms. The denizens of this neighborhood have a healthy rivalry with the “Dead Docks” on the other side of the Curious River. That area has only recently been turned from a ruin to an ongoing concern and the “Livers” resent the “Deadheads” terribly.
When the first settlers arrived at Port Rufio they commenced to beach one of their larger ships and use it as a base of operations for reclaiming this part of the ruins. That ship—the Almordzar—subsequently formed the central element in a local inn. The inn is owned and operated by a Dwarf named Dungen Ness. He is a sometimes crabby but usually fair taskmaster to his staff. His facility also houses the “Liver Guild” and its “marshals” who are responsible for law enforcement (and just plain enforcement) in the area.
A sometimes-harrowing week’s ride away from Port Rufio is the keep, located on the very borderlands of the tiny “city-state” that sees Port Rufio as its capital. Travel between the two locations is safer than one might think--at least for the first few days--as various holders are obligated to feed and house weary travelers up to a point. However, there is a gap between the relative civilization of the city and the relative security the keep’s patrols provide. One must plan their itinerary carefully and keep to their schedules as the holdings become more scarce and hence farther apart. The wilds are not a good place to be in after dark.
The keep, itself was raised up on an ancient foundation While it’s current name indicates the affiliation of its inhabitants, it is known by others, etched on the rocks that make up its walls. The inhabitants of the keep are, for the most part, law-abiding. They expect the same from visitors and new residents. They do not tolerate boorishness within the walls. The community is too small for that.
Partly it is a military establishment, housing the people who make up the guard of this area. However, there are also merchants and others that liven up the community. Adventurers and others can make a solid if somewhat circumscribed life here. However, most folk make sure to schedule at least a couple of weeks in “The Port”, staying at the Almorzar or other similar establishment just to blow off steam in a relatively safer and less close-knit location.
The Tentacular Spectacular:
Slightly over two generations ago there was an event that is the cause of much pride and much confusion in the community. Simply put, people’s roasts grew great tentacles and began attacking the living. At the same time ghosts from some as of yet undiscovered hellscape began to suck the life out of the local citizenry. While the reason for the end of this scourge is unclear--a number of self-styled heroes claim responsibility--it has appeared to indeed have ended. Those who remember it have mostly died off now much to the relief of the current populace who have grown a tad tired of the stories.
That said the “Tent Speck” (as people now call it) has obviously had it’s impact, particularly in and around the keep. It is an even wilder place. The landscape has changed somewhat. Old icons and ruins have appeared on lonely hills when the mist parts, only to vanish again upon close investigation. Trade is stronger. The local Orcs have established peaceful if somewhat tense relations with the goblins and humans who populate the cities. Still, there are darker and more dangerous beings in the woods now. Most stay on the roads, which are dangerous enough.
The Party of Friends
So...what brings you to the keep? Presumably you have grown bored either with life in Port Rufio or in even more boring places far from this place. Whatever the case, you are here now. The only question is...how are you going to pay for this dinner?
Many of the house rules in the Clergy Game carry the name of "Almorzar". This is a large in located in a beached triple deck warship on the banks of the city of Port Rufio. RISUS rules grow and bend as a campaign goes on. Here are most of the extras we use in the Clergy Game.
Session Advancement: After each session, the GM will award a plus-one bonus to one cliche for each participant. It will be the cliche the GM found most entertaining during the game. There is no appeal. Once that cliche reaches plus-3, then a die will be rewarded instead of the bonus
Chapter Advancement: After each chapter the group will award one d6 to each player in a cliche of the groups choosing. The player is allowed to beg and argue.
Dice Limit: No cliche is allowed more than 6D6.
Cliche Limit: There is none.
Assisting Other Players
A character can assist another character with a appropriate story. The assisting character rolls half the dice (rounded down) of the cliche they are assisting with. Some items (like mounted crossbows) require an assistant to operate properly.
There are three types of damage. Physical, Psychic, and Mojo.
Physical is what it sounds like. Damage to a body or other object. It can be healed with an appropriate cliche that supplies first aid or other treatment.
Psychic is damage to the basic function of the brain. Theoretically it can also be physical (a blow to the head) but also includes severe mental strain, the creation of hallucinations/delusions, etc. It can be healed with an appropriate (mostly magical) cliche that can address such problems.
Mojo is damage that is inflicted to one’s self-esteem, basic luck, goodwill, reputation, etc. It can be healed through an appropriate cliche and a good story.
During a short rest healing is roleplayed out (describe what you are doing) and then a contested role is made using the appropriate cliche against a number of dice of the GM’s choosing. If the player roles higher, the difference between the two roles are the number of dice healed up to the maximum of dice lost in that particular type of damage. Which is to say, if you role for mojo healing and the difference is four while you only have mojo damage of three, you cannot use the extra die to cure your delusions.
If the player role is lower, they do not lose a die and can try again later.
A long rest will heal 1d6 of damage. There may be a penalty if the rest is not ideal (like winter camping, for example). Also there may be a limit on which type of damage can be healed. If you take a nap in a nasty dungeon on an uneven bed of gravel, your mojo may be healed but your psychic and physical may not.
Losing all one's dice in a single cliche results--in most cases--in some form of incapacitation!
When a weapon or spell is designated “heavy” it means that one can sacrifice a cliche die to increase the damage. For example, Porter can swing a heavy club using a 4d6 cliche and choose to roll 3d6 to do 2d6 damage if he makes contact. Proficiency in a heavy weapon can be achieved with an good story/appropriate cliche and the spending of three session plus-points from a reasonably relevant cliche (so in lieu of an additional d6).
One of the more enjoyable aspects of game world-building for me centers around religion. In our clergy game there are two religions that have been reasonably fleshed out in the world. One of them is referred to as the "Karranites". I originally wrote them to address some questions I had about my own tradition (various forms of Congregationalism) and used the game setting to do so. It is a bit more complicated and was originally used in my youth group game. In the clergy game the Karranites exist primarily as merchants and smugglers from a "far away land". The are poorly understood by the characters in the city of Port Rufio where the clergy game occurs. While the depth of Karranite lore isn't all that necessary for that game, it is nice to have it around to give richness to the new setting. These mysterious sailors have their own rituals legends, and holidays (see the first post in under "Clergy Game" for an example.)
What I have in this post, however, is the dominant religion in the region in and around Port Rufio. What follows is a short creation story written in collaboration with Rev. Shane Montoya. He also--when he was my intern--was very involved in the Karranite saga, but we decided his angel needed a different religion (one that believed in angels) so we worked up a god in four aspects. This document has been the jumping off point for more development concerning this faith. World building is, after all a collaborative enterprise and a gaming group made up entirely of clergy is going to lean in to developing this part of the world.
In reality nothing I offer in describing a setting is "mine" so much as "ours". This is double true when it comes to the Temple of the Four Aspects...
In the Beginning…
In the beginning there was Maerkvind and they were lonely. They asked “How can I, who encompass all of creation, combat this loneliness? All is within me for I have made it so, yet none is like me but me.”
So Maerkvind created within itself three more aspects of it’s Holy Will. They became both part and not part of the one holy God.
“First I will ‘be and not be’ Jarne the aspect of reason. Thought, logic, ideas will be it’s domain. For my creation has the power to think, the power to learn, and the power to build from that learning. Jarne will be my companion and, of course, myself.” So Jarne was and became the aspect of teaching and learning of growth of culture and of change. Jarne stands facing Maerkvind as the manfiestation of the continued growth of the spirit.
“Then I will create within myself two twin aspects, both like and not like each other. Dahlo will be the aspect of the body, the physical world, and the physical essence of all living things. Sport and exercise shall be their manifestion, so too procreation and parties.
Facing Dahlo shall be their sibling. Falko will be the aspect of the soul, of loves and anger, joy and pain, and of dreams not yet realized. As Dahlo manifests the action and movement of the physical world, so shall Falko manifest the internal movement of heart and soul."
“I--Maerkvind--shall remain the parent, the creator, the aspect of the holy I am”
“My ne manifestions are both part and not part. I am infinite yet limited. This is well and good, for only when our essences are joined, like the waters of four rivers meeting in the placid ocean. Only then will we be fully God.”
And so from these manifestations grew the Holy court of angels and of mortals and so shall it be forevermore.
One of the current enjoyable parts of my gaming ministry has been "The Clergy Game". It is a group of--you guessed it--clergy who have played a variety of scenarios and systems with a wide range of success. People come in and out based on their busy schedules so there are now more alums than active players. This, however, is the usual in many long-running groups so that is OK. Right now I am the Game Master. Mostly this has to do with the system we are using (RISUS) and also because i said I would. I love being GM but being a player is less time-consumig and also quite a bit fun.
In this post I will describe a bit how our group operates. It may be helpful for people (particularly working adults) who would like to get a game going but just don't know how to get around to it. This has been our struggle, too.
First, our basic format...
We have always met online. At first, we did this because it made our lives easier by taking out one of the largest logistical hurdles. We had--I think--one or two live games early on, including one before my annual Christmas party. Those were better in many ways, but the compromise is what enables us to keep going in the end. Now, with the pandemic and with participants in Connecticut and Florida (which is a state or nation outside New England) it is a total necessity.
Also we have some basic rules...
1) No one plays a Cleric. This is what we do for work! Someone did, however, play an angel...
2) We will play at the appointed time if a majority of players can make it. It is up to the GM and the absent player(s) to figure out why the Player Character (PC) is not around. I usually find the best way to do this is set the campaign in or near a major city. People in a city have different friend groups, jobs, etc. It is harder to explain the disappearance of someone who was just next to you in a dungeon or on a wilderness trek.
3) Basically our game features a lot of improv. We follow the "yes and" rule unless things are just too ridiculous. We also follow the "don't be obnoxious" rule. Yes it has other names. If you can't play nice, play somewhere else. We are busy people in a stressful job trying to wind down. This is our clergy support/care group. If you can't be supportive and caring, why are you here?
4) Our games will be goofy and loose. The game system we use has very low "mechanics". This means that the system itself has very few rules and relies on us to fill in a lot of gaps.
RISUS, the system we use, is only two pages long and it's free. I also play in D&D games and in Pathfinder games where the rules inhabit thousands of pages enshrined in three or more books, each costing around $40 a pop. Those games--with much more complicated mechanics are super-cool and fun. The "Backstory" and "Thrush" tags in this blog come out of a 2nd edition Pathfinder group GM'd by my former intern Shane (who also plays in the clergy group). The advantages are in the way the math that supports the system also allows one to create a character whose traits, strengths and foibles have a measurable game impact.
In a low mechanics game--like RISUS--much more of the story is developed by agreement. The dice are rolled either a lot or a little--depending on the system and the group's culture--to create moments of tension, success, and failure to drive the story forward, just like in a high mechanics game. However there are just fewer formulas and rules defining the character, the world, and how those two things interact. I hope that makes sense.
This means that in many ways the sky is the limit in RISUS. Both you and the world can be anything you want them to be. It is a bit less of a "game" in one sense--defeating obstacles with clearly define powers and skills as in a video game RPG for example--and more of a "game" in another sense--collaborative story telling. I like both types. I currently play in (as a PC or GM) four ongoing high mechanics games and two low mechanics games...one of whish is the Clergy Game that uses RISUS.
Phew! That's alot. The best thing to do now would be to take a look at those RISUS rules.
Generally RISUS is considered a "less serious" game. It relies on classic (and original) tropes and cliches to built a character. One picks a number of stereotypical (or potentially stereotypical) qualities and assigns them a number of plain-old six-sided dice to reflect how good they are at these things. A character, therefore, could be a "Forgetful Inn Keeper" with four dice and then a "Vampire Hunter" for three dice, and a "Cat Lover" for two. I played an one-shot where someone put all their dice in "A Ball of Light". Then when something happens that the dice need to resolve--like combat or cooking dinner--and the player or GM chooses which trope seems to make sense.
In general it is fun. It is fast. Most importantly, these characters don't require a lot of attention outside of the game. The characters in Pathfinder 2nd edition? As a player, I can take a lot of outside game time trying to get the most out of their stats and skills. That out of game time is fun (again, fanfic backstories!) but if you don't have time for that, you should still be able to play.
So our group is finally getting back together at the end of the month. We had to take a break as my back injury and the Pandemic made it hard to find time to play. Not everyone can make it but we are going to make an attempt. I will keep you posted! Until then, here is the link to RISUS, the best RPG in the history of the world...or not...you do you...
Most gamers I know have more characters than games. I am sharing their backstories here in case they can have a life in someone else's game.
This is Urgoan a sort-of ghost orc sent by Pharasma (a God of Death) to guide the dead warriors back to the afterlife. I am using the Pathfinder world of Golarion but another world could be substituted.
To those who receive this receipt: Greeting and Blessings in Life and Death
I am Urgoan Pharasmyn Orc of the Jade Skulls, Phalanx of Badgers, Devout Cleric of Pharasma
This is my statement upon departure from my home and temple for other lands though no land shall be found better.
Seasons have passed since I was discovered at the front enclave of Pharasma’s sanctuary. Whether I was left there by my parents or--as the Bishop claims--as a gift from the god herself as a blessing to guide the living toward their rest, I may never be certain. Suffice it to say I have never felt an absence of caring. Nor have they denied my place as an orc of the Jade Skulls. My fellow-priests presented me--along with the other novices--before the fighting pits on the assigned days. We took our boar hunt in a proper era of precociousness. Those of us who have survived to this time of young adulthood have not lacked for the scars and stories that form the bond of warriors. I have never felt different among them though my color be pale and my stature and girth be light.
In fact, for most of my life I have expected to be resident in this place; a servant of Pharasma guiding my friends in their final journey and hastening the journey of our enemies. Until one year past from this day--on the day of vision-fasting--when I received a message from the god I serve. She appeared to me as an aged orc of incomparable lineage and placed in my heart an urge to seek out the relics of the past. The dead, you see, still speak through their creations and the words and songs they have left behind.
“Why should I do this thing?” I asked “Why should I leave off my temple and my phalanx for a lonely quest away from my tribe?” “All will be clear in time” she said--again in my heart--”But why do you ask if I have need of you?” At this I was ashamed, but she took pity on me. “There is a great world out there, my child, and if you are to return to this place some day, the temple will have need of someone with your experience, skill, and knowledge. There is more to your mission than guiding people to death. After all, death is meaningless if they do not make the most of their journey to that door. You need to make the most of your journey as well. You must learn. I have seen you. You are curious about the past. All I am doing is giving you that chance to fill your curiosity in service to the great wheel.”
When I returned from the fast-time and found my family, my fellow-novices were skeptical. The Bishop, however, was not. She seemed to know what I had seen and set about my instruction, sharpening my mind and giving me the tools to understand whatever I may discover out in the ferocious world of wild beasts and hostile incivilities. I am grateful to her and to the others, who soon understood the seriousness of my mission. I will miss them. Perhaps the world will send me back again if Pharasma so desires. I leave this note in the records here, to be updated if I return and to stand witness to my faith if I do not. I am Urgoan, an orc I will not shame my people I will not shrink before my enemies I will live and die with honor And will honor the balance Of presence and absence Of death and of life I will carry my scars and tell my story And tell the new stories of the past So the light of the dead will never go out Pray for me. This is my quest
Sorry I haven't posted lately. I have been failing to game.
So my Paranormal Cowpunch game is pretty much dead. That is how it goes sometimes. My party of two got bored. One "Prospector Pete" turned murder hobo in what is actually a fairly atmospheric game. This is, of course, age appropriate, at least for the player. The other character "Ripley" was doing just fine except her player really was just into it to be nice. That's right. My wife is not a game nerd. In the end she could barely last for 45 minutes before checking her phone or leaving to do the dishes. I still love them but...the game is dead.
This happens to us all doesn't it? I have been having games end prematurely for about 35 years. Back in the day I would try to harass my teenage friends back to the table. sometimes it worked. Mostly it did not. When it did work the game would usually end in tears and recrimination. Over the years I have learned to surrender.
How do you survive? Well, there are livestreams. I sometimes use them to get some game on in the interim, I will list some at the end of this post. There are also other games if you can manage it. Don't be afraid to play with strangers. They won't be strangers for long...just strange. ;-)
Anyway, don't weep for me. I got picked up as a player in a Pathfinder 2e game--a fairly regular one--and I am attempting to reinvigorate my old RISUS game with clergy colleagues. That should be fun too. Both of them are online, which continues to be a big trend, particularly for the middle aged and older player.. I will post on both of these games. I am GameMastering the RISUS game with is a low-mechanics system that leaves things wide open for RP. It is goofy in a good way. The Pathfinder system is one that I have missed playing and the new system is super-cool, both crunchy and elegant.
Anyway, that is what is going on. I have stuff to game and, of course, normal work as well!
Here are a few of the livestreams I mentioned earlier. I didn't leave links because of the many ways to experience them. I suggest googling and then deciding on your platform (like podcasts, Twitch, or Youtube).
Critical Role: This is a fairly theatrical game that is also probably the most popular. The players are all professional voice actors and it shows. I like it but it also can be super-corny and they ignore many many rules for the sake of the story.
Glass Cannon: This game is more rules oriented--it is a Pathfinder game and they also play Pathfinder's Sci-Fi rules..."StarFinder--they also play with an eye to entertainment and are sometimes inappropriate for some listeners. Think late-night live standup and you will get the vibe as far as one-liners are concerned.
Acquisitions Incorporated/"C" Team: These folks are technically the "in house" game for Penny Arcade, the people who bring us the PAX conventions. There are a number of interconnected games that vary in seriousness.
Oblivion Oath: This is the house game of Paizo, who makes Pathfinder. If you want to actually learn how to play Pathfinder, this is the way to go.
That is enough for now. There are tons more but, hey, you are just waiting until you find a game...right?
I mentioned when I began this section that I used to have a D&D group at church and another at a progressive learning center where my son went to high school. During that time I would make a "holiday special" one shot to be played over break. In the spirit of the season, I thought I would share it's founding myth.
A couple of things are worth mentioning. This holiday is essentially a regional one affiliated with local legend more than a specific faith. There are two gods (or "gods" that are manifestations of a greater power) whose followers exist in the same region. While religion is sometimes used by one nation to attempt to assert control over other nations, it is generally understood by the common self-aware being that the true culprit in these conflicts is money and power rather than theology.
Anyway, I hope you like it and that it gives you ideas. It is just one take on the winter festival and the one-shot notes might make an appearance here before Advent is over. It doesn't look like I will have a chance to use it again for a while...
When Aaron Rhymer Stopped the Sun
The single most important holiday in the Wilds is the 9 day festival known as the “Season of the Sun” Held during the shortest days of the year, it commemorates the ancient legend of the poet/wizard Aaron Rhymer. Rhymer is a character that the people of the Wilds brought with them in the migration north, so he is equally important in both Karranite and Sandozian Folklore. While it is banned as heresy in the City of Sandoz, nearly every other community, regardless of their dominant faith tradition, holds some sort of celebration. Karran’s Arc and Free Port are particularly famous for their festivals. Many people dream of making the sometimes-arduous journey to be on one of these places for the holiday.
The Tale of Arcan and Rostaphar
The story is usually told as a poem, which is recited every night during the festival. It follows the travails of two young, star-crossed lovers named Alcan and Rostaphar who lived in a city “far far away” and a “long time ago”. Their parents were rivals in everything. They challenged each other in business and they strove for control of the town from the safety of their urban fortresses. To escape their parents, Alcan and Rostaphar would sneak out and meet in a private walled garden near an area that was considered “neutral territory” by the various factions. Nonetheless their parents caught wind of the situation and--their mutual hatred strangely bringing them together--they made a pact with each other that if their child was not home by dusk each day, they would kill that child and send the body to the other family as proof that the deed was done.
The couple was naturally frightened by this prospect so they agreed to meet one more time in the garden. However, they got so into their conversation that they lost track of time and realized that they wouldn’t make it home before dusk. This is where Aaron the Rhymer comes in.
The garden--as it turned out--was owned by Rhymer. Hearing the cries of dismay from his seat at the window of his second-floor study, Aaron rushed down to the garden to reassure the couple. He promised to stop the sun in the sky long enough for them to make it safely home. Of course, the couple returns the next night and the next so, predictably, Aaron find himself stopping the sun a little later every night as Alcan and Rostaphar squeeze out every moment they can with each other.
As time goes on, people in the town notice. The seasons seem to be moving in reverse! Astrologers start to worry, farmers rush to protect their crops, animals wake up from their hibernation. This, of course, could not be tolerated for long and Aaron found himself in an awkward situation. So he devised a plan.
He invited the parents of the couple over to dinner and arranged for them to find Alcon and Rostaphar in the garden. At that point, just as the parents were preparing to tear the youngsters asunder, Aaron the Rhymer reveals that it is, in fact, he who has stopped the sun and threatens to keep things that way if any harm befalls the couple. Facing that fearful prospect the parents realized that they were bested and imploded with rage.* The couple got married and unified the town, ushering a century of prosperity and peace.
The traditions vary depending on the area. However some remain standard throughout the Wilds. People decorate their houses with things found in nature, for example. In addition there are wandering bands of musicians and quite a bit of eating and drinking after dark (and therefore after fast-time, see below).
There is also a cycle of feasting and fasting. On the first day there is a great feast lasting well into the night. On the next 7 days the people fast during the day and eat after dark. It has been noted that the winter solstice is a rather convenient time for such a fast, but it does mean that almost everyone abides by it. During these days there is a cycle of staying up as late as possible and then sleeping in. On the final night the rhythm shifts again and there is a feast that begins at noon.
As previously mentioned, the entire (5-hour) epic poem is recited every day of the festival, beginning in the afternoon and ending well after dark, at whatever the largest public gathering place is in the area. In Karran’s Arc there are 9 long-time “houses” of citizens that sponsor a reading on their given day. Each has a special uniform and the competition to provide surrounding entertainment is stiff. Since food and drink are not allowed until dark, each house will bring their best beverages in barrels and perform the poem on top of them, using song and dance for interpretation. Once it is too dark to see the barrels are tapped, food is distributed, and the stage gets noticeably smaller.
In Free Port there are multiple readings and by tradition anyone passing by can be dragooned to continue the recitation (sponsored in this case directly by the guilds) . Again, kegs and crates of free food and drink are very much in evidence in an effort to attract the populace. For this reason--in every municipality--the Brewers Guild loves the Recitation and strives to cater it to the best of their abilities.
The tradition among the populace is to find creative ways to skip the first few hours, but most people--at least in Karran’s Arc and Free Port--can recite parts of the entire poem from memory.
The wealthy will sometime hold private recitations as well. It is a big deal to be invited to one, even though they can be deathly boring.
Entreating the Sun:
At dusk on the last night the entire community (or family, it varies) gathers at a high point and an elder recites the words that end the poem. “Love has stopped the Sun and love will make it move again”. If the sun stops and night is delayed the party continues. If it doesn’t stop and night comes, then the kids go to bed.
In recent memory the sun has just kept moving as it always has. There are legends (perpetuated by eccentric drunk old uncles) that the sun did stop once in recent memory and the so-called “shortest day” was an hour longer. No one believes them.
*Tradition says that when they parents imploded they did not die, but instead turned into Scantlings or “Mountain Trolls” which are not real trolls at all but instead resemble hideous misshapen gargoyles and are accustomed to living in cold dark places, like caves and sewers.
Well that is it for now. I may post more from this world as I really liked it and it would be nice to know that some of it lives in the ether. By the way, if you are interested in the learning center I talked about, here is a very non-D&D sermon I gave a year or two ago...
So it happened! We had session 1 of Paranormal Cowpunch. The brief synopsis is as follows...
The intrepid crew (Prospector Billy and Ripley) left El Dorado City and headed out for El Dorado County. They traveled as part of the crew for a regular stagecoach, staying a boarding houses and ranches on their way out of civilization. During that time they picked up some rumors. Turns out there is a strange mist that descends from time to time even though the climate doesn't sustain that much moisture. Also, some people noted seeing a stranger who seemed to smell faintly of salt water and fish, which is also strange since there is no ocean nearby. Some of the ranches appear to be closing as well for unclear reasons. The party is heading out to spend the season at the Lazy J Ranch outside of Gordon. People expressed interest and relief to learn that its proprietor, Dame Edna, is doing well after her husband dies a couple years back.
Anyway, they head out on the last leg of the journey. Their stagecoach if full. Among their companions are the driver, 15 year-old Reginald Weems, and two cowpunchers named Alice Rollinger and Lester Jenkins. There are also a number of more gentle passengers, including a charming gambler, an older couple, and two women who never quite got as fleshed out. They were two days out of Burned Bush Wells and then an indeterminate distance to Gordon. Some time in the afternoon they, too, experienced the mist and then found themselves in a running battle with red-eyed Dire Wolves. They and their companions made a break for a hill to take a stand there. Chaos ensues, Prospector Billy and Alice both get mauled but manage to hang on. Reginald also gets bitten but not nearly as badly. Ripley and Lester patch them up and--with Reginald bandaged and driving, make for the Cross Y Ranch where Alice works.
Before they leave , a number of them see a figure in the mist that looks humanid but seems to be made entirely out of writhing snakes. In their delirium after being bitten, Billy and Alice both have visions of this figure as well.
So this was the first actual battle that the party encountered. Last session we tested the archetype mechanic and the "Hero Dice" but this was the first time using the old Boot Hill mechanics and the result was...mixed. Prospector Billy is played by a teen who became bored with the amount of rolls necessary. I mentioned in an earlier post but there are three rolls; one to hit, one for damage location, and one for damage. All of these use percentile dice (2d10 with one representing the "10's" place to generate a range of 1-100). The game these days move faster but that may improve with some practice. However, the location roll really helped with the storytelling. I liked that there was an actual location for me to work with that the other players could also recognize as having a generally agreed upon in-game effect.
Otherwise everything move right along. Our sessions, however are much shorter than what is considered conventional for most people...about 75 minutes. The reasons are solid. We play on Wednesday night. We have school and work the next day. Also, attention spans are short at times. I have seen one livestream that is about this length--Oblivion Oath on Paizo--I have been impressed by how much they get done in a short amount of time. would it be fun to play longer? I am sure I would like it, but I know to stop when I see the players fading a bit.
Anyway, that is all. Next week we should have two more players. That should be fun...
Perhaps not surprisingly, I am very interested in clerics. I am a clergyperson in real life, serving a small congregation affiliated with two progressive denominations. In some sense, then, I, too, am a cleric! However, my interest in the character class goes all the way back to the B/X (Basic/Expert) Dungeons and Dragons that I played in the '80's. That was WAY before I did anything churchy. If you wanted your PC to live, a cleric was a nice choice. Playing a cleric I had solid armor and weapons, reasonable hit points and (at second level) spells to get those hit points back. I was attracted to the class because of the mechanics. The whole religion thing came later.
In a sense that "original" cleric stayed with us. It is a martial archetype, a sort of pre-paladin off to the crusades. However, as the game developed I--and a ton of other people--found that archetype limiting. After all, when we look at today's religious landscape there are all kinds of religious leaders. There are sequestered monks, scholarly rabbis, and dynamic, entertaining pulpiteers just to name a few. Then, when one adds in the fact that many--probably most--traditional fantasy settings are polytheistic, the range of clerics increases. When we look at the vast array of religious experience--both real and imagined--that strangely medieval "high church' knight of the early years knocking out heathens starts to make the least sense of all.
Now, I have played a variety of clerics of the years. Also, for our church youth group game (no "Satanic Panic" here) I tried to develop an order of clergy loosely based on my own tradition (Congregationalism). What I ended up with was an order of druids and bards who all run taverns and debate the existence of their deity who--strangely enough--occasionally drops in for drinks in the guise of an anthropomorphic lizard.--Sometimes the ministry feels like that.
Thanks to these experiences, I have decided to focus on two big challenges when roleplaying a religious leader. However, before we get to these challenges it is worth mentioning an overarching dynamic. Certain character classes in games like D&D or Pathfinder, for example, have clear real-world analogies. For RP purposes you can be (or know) a cleric, a bard, or any number of rogues. One could make a real-world argument for fighters and rangers as well. However, none of us actually knows a wizard or warlock or monk. They have fantasy hard-wired in. That said, I do believe that RP'ing clerics presents another special hurdle or asset, depending on how one looks at it. So on to the challenges...
The first of these problems comes from our own relationship with religion and our general lack of understanding about how it works. Because we don't know that much we bring our own biases into the game. This is not a shocker. Of course we do. However, it is limiting. If we do not know a fair sample of religious professionals (regardless of their religion) how can we make a fair assessment of our options? Certainly not by watching movies. More often than not--if there is a religious figure in a film at all--that person is a shorthand stand-in for the judgmental establishment. So many of the clerics I know in real life are non-judgmental and decidedly counter-cultural. I am not saying that hideous clergy don't exist--I know a lot of those folks too! However, It is worth remembering that Fred Rogers was also a minister..
Also, when we think of religion we often exclude the internal experience of our own naturally agnostic selves. This is too bad. After all what we see imperfectly outside ourselves should not be prioritized over our own thoughts and reflections. From a psychological or sociological perspective, we all have religious tendencies because we all want to make sense of the world we live in. This fact includes atheists. I actually know a large number of atheist clergy and they are some of the most religious people I have encountered. They are faithful to their world view and their beliefs.
Religions can be very toxic or they can be a blessing. Often one tradition can be both. Also, they can be organized or disorganized. Life is messy, after all. In its "purest" sense, though, faith isn't something you have permanently and all the time. It is an ideal that can be "lived into" even as we fall short. It is a path leading to a dimly conceived goal. It is an adventure of the mid and heart, which makes real-world--or RPG world-- adventures possible.
When we think of RP'ing a cleric, though, we often narrow our scope. even though that crusader image is increasingly a thing of the past, we often start with the idea that our character possesses theological certainty. Paladins have this problem as well. We think that they never have doubts or that they will want to "convert" everyone to their way of thinking (more about that in a minute). I have been a minister for 20 years and I have to tell you that I have doubts every single day. I also have never tried to "convert" anyone. Your clerics (and paladins) can be a hot spiritual mess sometimes while still being good people and being faithful to whatever divine entity they serve.
This brings us to the second problem. We bring our understanding of clerics into a world that is fundamentally different from that of our own. There is a wide variety of worlds that we game in. However, the default--certainly in the popular worlds put out by popular companies--is to take a polytheistic system of faith and put it into a Western European setting without making making all that many adjustments. In a lot of settings (like the one for my youth group that I mentioned earlier). The gods just wander around, dropping in on their followers. In others there is no clear religious system and instead a smattering of cults. The challenge for our brains is to separate these different systems from the one we are familiar with. It is a hard thing to do.
Naturally we look at these worlds through our own lens and can forget to make adjustments. In a world with tiny cults, for example, conversion makes total sense. In a world like ours--with a few large "world religions"--it makes less sense. In both of those cases what religion you identify as frequently has massive cultural implications. Think of all the people who don't go to church but do celebrate Christmas and Easter! A smaller cult would probably have even more intense cultural markers to separate themselves from others.
In a polytheistic world with "teams" of gods, conversion doesn't make much sense at all because someone else's deity might be besties with yours! Also, the existence of gods is not really questioned. They are right there...at the other end of the bar. Cultural markers will be different too and while it may not take a lot of thought it does take some. There might be some clues in Hindu practices if your world is one of these.
OK, I am running out of steam but there is so much more to say! Every once in a while I will come back to the topic of religion in world-building and roleplaying. I would like to talk about building realistic church or temple governance structures for fantasy worlds, for example. One can have a completely fantastic game without thinking about these things but if you want to think about them, they will enrich your world.
Bonus link of the Week:
Here is a sermon I gave a couple weeks ago about the deep welcome I have found in nerd culture over the years: NERDS!
A few years ago my intern and I began a D&D game for our church youth group. I wanted to get back into Tabletop Roleplaying games that I had played extensively as a kid and then off and on (eventually with my own kids) over the years. Anyway, fast-forward to now, I am gaming a lot and have become interested in the spiritual dimensions of the game as well as it's ability to spark the imagination about this world and other worlds.