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...
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...
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 demensions of the game as well as it's ability to spark the imagination about this world and other worlds.