Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Goddesses of the Covenant



D&D's baked-in ideas about gods are derived from an assumed "points of light amid the wilderness" setting and the need to fulfill basic fantasy archetypes. Which means that a lot of D&D deities aren't particularly well suited to a modernizing fantasy city that owes more to Weimar Berlin than it does Waterdeep. 

However, we can probably come up with something that works by thinking about what ideals the citizens of a city value and how to bend the usual fantastical divinities toward life in the metropolis. Working off the ideas posted here about a syncretic pantheon of borrowed deities that has evolved over time through processes of cultural adaptation, here are the goddesses of the People's Covenant in Umberwell:

THE GODDESSES OF THE COVENANT


Eska, goddess of community

In the distant past, Eska was likely a deity associated with a particular homeland or nation, but she has come to represent the idea of a community woven together from disparate strands.
  • Alignment. Neutral good.
  • Province. Community, diaspora, funeral rites, celebrations, liberty, family.
  • Suggested domains. Grave, life, nature.
  • Symbol. A length of knotted rope.
  • Faithful. Healers, athletes, artists, farmers, cooks.
  • Creed. Find common ground, promote unity, fight oppression and division at every turn.
  • Avatar. A wise woman sitting before a loom.

Komoa, goddess of commerce
Formerly a fearsome goddess of storm and sea, Komoa has evolved into the goddess of travel and commerce. Travelers, merchants, and those who ship goods by air and water make offerings to Komoa for luck and prosperity.
  • Alignment. Neutral.
  • Province. The sky, storms, the sea, wealth, opportunity.
  • Suggested domains. Nature, tempest, war.
  • Symbol. A hand holding three lightning bolts.
  • Faithful. Travelers, merchants, bankers, sailors.
  • Creed. Conquer the horizon, take what you deserve, fortune favors the brash.
  • Avatar. An imperious shark-headed figure, her mouth wide to display a multitude of teeth.

Orthea, goddess of progress
Orthea was once a goddess associated with the preservation of ancient lore, but her duties have expanded to include modern applications of knowledge such as industry, science, and magitek.
  • Alignment. Lawful neutral.
  • Province. Progress, creation, learning, industry.
  • Suggested domains. Arcana, forge, knowledge.
  • Symbol. An open book.
  • Faithful. Artisans, scholars, laborers, wizards.
  • Creed. Master your craft, always move forward, let no hour be wasted.
  • Avatar. Alternately depicted as a laborer bearing a massive hammer or as a prim librarian shackled to a heavy tome.

Ravsana, goddess of pleasure
As the goddess of pleasure, Ravsana holds dominion over a varied array of gratifications: intoxication, love, art, the city’s entertainments, and the beauty of nature. Ravsana is also venerated by gamblers, thieves, and criminals whose livelihoods are connected to vice.
  • Alignment. Chaotic neutral.
  • Province. Pleasure, love, lust, ecstasy, crime, sin.
  • Suggested domains. Life, nature, trickery.
  • Symbol. A crescent moon.
  • Faithful. Decadents, artists, gamblers, criminals.
  • Creed. Seek new experiences, foster beauty in the world, love without limits.
  • Avatar. An alluring woman whose features are obscured by either a silken veil or carnival mask.

Verasti, goddess of justice
Once a goddess of bloody war and conquest, Verasti’s ethos of imposing order by force has been adapted to notions of civilized justice and lawful judgment in Umberwell.
  • Alignment. Lawful neutral.
  • Province. Justice, courage, excellence, fairness.
  • Suggested domains. Light, tempest, war.
  • Symbol. An unsheathed sword.
  • Faithful. Warriors, thief-takers, lawyers, the vengeful.
  • Creed. Be vigilant, protect those who are important to you, honor the law.
  • Avatar. A four-armed woman holding scales, a skull, a blade, and a scepter.
Vokara, goddess of danger
Vokara is a goddess prayed to out of fear rather than devotion; she represents a multitude of dangers that the citizens of Umberwell wish to keep at bay, such as random acts of violence, disease, accident, and untimely death.
  • Alignment. Chaotic evil.
  • Province. Danger, death, disease, calamity.
  • Suggested domains. Death, tempest, trickery.
  • Symbol. A curved blade.
  • Faithful. Those who wish to avoid misfortune.
  • Creed. The world is full of perils, offer prayers to be spared an ill reckoning, darkness demands sacrifice.
  • Avatar. A withered woman enfolded in ragged robes with an eye is embedded in each of her palms.
***

It's a common trope of fantasy religions to have the gods be "powered" by the faith of their followers. I think there is potential in going further with this: what if the gods' personalities are shaped by the needs of their followers as well?

For example: the bloodthirsty war god of a conquering horde might well be chaotic evil...until they settle down in their hard-won lands, start laying down roots, and turn their swords into plowshares. Those settled people are turning toward the law of civilization, so maybe their god moves along with them...ending up somewhere on the lawful spectrum and emerging as a god of justice or protection.

Undoubtedly this idea has been explored before, but I wanted to put a pin in it here for future reference.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The City's Songs

POPULAR MUSIC
A multitude of unusual musical styles finds an audience in Umberwell, from the dissonant shrieks and moans of Yvana Gallows, a black-maned and kohl-eyed cabaret chanteuse, to the melancholy dirges performed by the corpse-painted “black skald” band Plutonian Howl. Popular and underground musicians alike magically record their songs on wax cylinders so that their wealthier fans may enjoy their music in the comfort of their own homes.

POPULAR SONGS IN UMBERWELL
Jeremiad Street Asylum, by Traviata Maru. A tragic opera aria about a woman who visits her lover in a madhouse after he has been exposed to an unspeakable horror from the Far Realm.


Up to No Good, by Skinny Wailer. A raucous, upbeat tune about a wild, champagne- and drug-fueled night out on the town in Umberwell.

In the Dark of the Night My Lover Went Cold, by Yvana Gallows. A morbid murder ballad about a woman who slays her cheating beau—the story is related from her perspective while she awaits execution.

The Elfshine Blues, by Berrian Liadon. A comedic cabaret song about a pair of elven brothers brewing up a batch of moonshine for an underground speakeasy.

Glory in Decay, by Plutonian Howl. A grim blast of black skaldism that features the band’s typical combination of magically distorted lutes and unearthly screeched vocals.


* * *

Traviata Maru is Anne's character in my campaign. Now she has a hit song!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Don't Hate the Flayer, Hate the Game: Playstyle Preferences

Preferences: everybody has them, and it's okay to talk about them as long as you aren't asserting them as objective truths or the One True Way to play D&D.

These are some of mine.

There are two playstyles I really don't enjoy. The first is what I call Old School Avoidance, where the goal is to avoid or bypass as many encounters as possible. I play in people's games because I want to interact with the weird stuff they've dredged out of their imaginations; avoiding monsters, strange objects, and potentially dangerous locations makes it feel like the point of the game is to play the game as little as possible, and that's the opposite of fun for me. This goes double if your game has a mechanic where you can roll to bypass an encounter; that feels like pressing X to skip the game play to get to the next cut scene.

The second is one I call Small Business Owners, where some of the players want to take over a business, run an inn, or just sit around in a castle they've taken over instead of adventuring. Again, this feels like a playstyle that wants to avoid interacting with any of the imaginative stuff in the game in favor of safety and mundane middle-class life. I can understand getting attached to your character or wanting to play out their self-interest, but I also think games are more fun if you drive your character like a stolen car. If you ain't come to dance, why'd you put your shoes on? If you try to play this way in one of my games I will inevitably sink your barge.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The People's Covenant


RELIGION IN UMBERWELL
The immigrants and exiles who settled in Umberwell inevitably brought their gods with them. Some deities fell by the wayside, and are now only remembered by obscure sects and dying cults. Other gods thrived in Umberwell's rich tapestry of cultural exchange. Over the generations, a patchwork pantheon emerged; six goddesses of various races, lands, and systems of belief were blended together into a polytheistic, syncretic faith known as the People's Covenant. Over time, the goddesses of the People’s Covenant have come to represent the aspects of life in Umberwell that its citizens find important.

The places of worship devoted to the People's Covenant may focus their reverence on a single goddess, a grouping of goddesses within the Covenant, or the entirety of the pantheon. The various temples of the Covenant do not necessarily agree on the proper way to worship the deities they hold in common. Rites, liturgy, and ceremonies vary wildly from church to church. It is not unusual to see the goddesses of the Covenant depicted in a multitude of forms and as a myriad of races—time has worn away much of their traditional cultural meaning and specificity.

Although the People's Covenant is the most popular faith in Umberwell, the religious atmosphere in Umberwell is inclusive and permissive. Only religions that espouse murder or practice objectionable rites are forbidden by the city's Ministry of Altars. The clergy of less prominent deities maintain shrines and temples throughout the city. There are also dissenters in Umberwell who choose to place their faith in fiends, archfey, Great Old Ones, and other powerful extraplanar beings instead of in divine forces.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

How Thief's Stealth System Almost Didn't Work

Pretty interesting little video about how a crucial aspect of Thief's gameplay almost didn't come to fruition--and a pretty good argument for sticking with iterative design. The solution to their gameplay problem--adding more mechanical clarity for the player--is also a solid take-away worth thinking about.