RPG aids


Background to our new 13th Age Campaign, written by the GM …

Empires are born, empires grow, and empires fade away. This is an undeniable fact. You can ask any library-dwelling scholar mage and they will tell you that history dictates this so.

An empire begins with the dream of a better world, and is forged with the sweat and the blood of the countless. Under the guidance of wise leaders, chaos is given order, the people become organized, and peace, and prosperity follow. Yet, power and wealth inevitably leads to hubris, to the belief that now is the time when the forces of history can be brought to heel, that this is the eternal empire. This hubris makes us blind to unavoidable urges such greed, lust for power, insecurity, pride, jealousy as they strengthen across the empire. They begin as a small stream, but they soon grow to a mighty river, sweeping across the land eroding the empire away. When the erosion is complete, all that remains are vague memories of a once all-powerful empire and some crumbled ruins hidden deep a distant jungle.

The land in our story has seen an empire crumble twelve times, but twelve times it has also seen a new empire rise again from the ashes, each time heralding a new Age.

The empire in the 13th Age is known as the Dragon Empire. It is a place of order, and a time of prosperity. A benevolent Emperor sits on the throne in Axis, overseeing the government that works to maintain the order across the Dragon Empire. A kind and just Emperor, he has born the burden of the Dragon Empire for many years and has had to make many sacrifices for her.

However, maintaining peace and prosperity across the Dragon Empire is not a burden that the Emperor carries alone. The Archmage and his Order Magus work tirelessly to tame the forces of nature and harness the power of magic to make the Dragon Empire a safer and more pleasant place to live in. The High Priestess and her Church have devoted their lives to the spiritual protection and spiritual development of the citizens of the Dragon Empire. And the Great Gold Wyrm’s selfless sacrifice and the efforts of the Ordo Aurum keep the forces of Chaos at bay.

Will these four pillars be able to resist the forces of history and make the Dragon Empire the eternal empire? Or are the forces of history already at work, eroding the empire from within and from without? That is our story to tell.

Recent conflicts in Iron Kingdoms (which culminated in my character’s necessary death) have introduced me to the fascinating problem of feat point budgets, and methods for estimating the optimal use of feat points. Basically in Iron Kingdoms every PC has three feat points (in Warhammer 3rd Edition these would be fortune points; I think many games have this system). Feat points can be used to boost attacks or damage (or for various other tasks), and in the case of trollkin for regeneration. They are regained through rolling criticals or killing enemies or through GM fiat. Thus expending a feat point to kill someone can be cost free. But you only have three, so expending them too early or in an inefficient way can be catastrophic (as my party discovered, to Carlass’s great cost!) So it’s important to decide where to spend them.

The combat system in Iron Kingdoms is very simple:

  • Attack: roll 2d6 + attack value, you hit if you beat the target’s defense
  • Damage: roll 2d6 + weapon power, all points greater than the target’s armour do damage

That is, you have a threshold for success followed by a threshold for damage, with results above the latter threshold being more important if they are higher. Typically an enemy will have between 5 and 15 hps you can knock down, so a good result on the damage roll can be fatal. However, the attack roll is 2d6 so small improvements in bonuses are very important when attacking high-defense enemies.

Feat points can be spent to add 1d6 to either of these rolls. Adding a feat point to the attack roll increases the chance of hitting, but can be wasted if your target has high armour; adding a feat point to the damage roll can do a lot of extra damage but only works if you actually hit.

This scenario has an equivalent in epidemiology: it’s called a double-hurdle model, and is commonly used for estimating models of health-care expenditure in situations without health insurance. The first step (the first “hurdle”) is the decision to spend money on healthcare – this is often voluntary and poor people won’t always make it. The second step is the amount spent, which is inherently random. Amounts spent above a threshold lead to financial catastrophe (this threshold is defined by various means depending on how you spend income) and the intensity of expenditure is determined by the threshold. In the double hurdle model the decision to spend may be assigned a distribution, and the amount spent is often Gamma-distributed with a high probability of low cost and a small probability of extremely high cost.

In both cases (Iron Kingdoms or out-of-pocket expenditure analysis) the problem is made more complex by the fact that we don’t usually know the thresholds. Usually in the double hurdle model we’re interested in identify risk factors for exceeding the threshold. Typically in Iron Kingdoms we want to know which decision to boost to get over the second threshold – should we boost the consumption (attack) or expenditure (damage) decisions? We’re also often interested in guessing the threshold values – the GM knows them but we don’t, and we may for example roll a 9 and fail to hit, or hit on an 8 but do no damage on a 9, and then someone else boosts and hits on a 9 but does damage on a roll of 15, so the question is – what is the armour threshold?

In my last Iron Kingdoms session this came up in a beautiful way: our opponent was going to finish off the entire group if it lasted another round, and Alyvia had one feat point left. Unboosted, she was guaranteed to achieve nothing. We knew our enemy was hard to hit and hard to damage, but we didn’t know the exact values. What should she spend her last feat point on? Naturally, since I’m a statistician in my day job, all eyes turned to me. What to do? This sparked a new interest for me: I think there are methods that can be used to answer these questions. So, over the next few weeks I aim to do a few analyses to present some answers to the following questions:

  • Under assumed thresholds and attack/damage values, what are the best ways to spend your feat point budget?
  • Are there guidelines for these decisions when you don’t know the thresholds but have a rough idea of what they might be?
  • If you don’t know the thresholds, are there simple formulas you can use to guess what they are, or to assign probabilities to given thresholds, given that you know the results of other players’ rolls?
  • Can these ideas be extended beyond Iron Kingdoms to other games?

The first question can be answered easily using basic probability theory. The second and third problems are actually a slightly challenging problem in estimating boundary values of a distribution using Bayesian statistical analysis, and I’m going to have a crack at it. The fourth question is related to the third, and is most easily explored through d20/Pathfinder: in this case my naive guess is that you can set a uniform distribution on the prior probability of any threshold value, and because the observed values (the likelihood) are also uniform, get a uniformly distributed posterior distribution for the threshold given the observed data (other players’ rolls). I think I will work from this example back to the Iron Kingdoms example (which may require simulation). If the fourth question has an analytical solution it will lead to a formula I can post on the Pathfinder forums that will allow players to second-guess their GMs’ monsters, and my guess is that a party of 3+ PCs can work out the most likely threshold required to hit within a round of combat. That’s a convenient little trick right there!

Finally, it’s possible that this information may be actually informative for the out-of-pocket spending problem, which I occasionally study at work. I doubt it, but wouldn’t it be great if random ponderings on gaming helped to improve our understanding of health insurance issues in Bangladesh?!

Stay tuned for some Bayesian nastiness, if I can find the time over the next few weeks …

Look here for that which you do not seek...

Look here for that which you do not seek…

When Japanese people want to succeed at life’s challenges, they will often visit a shrine and pray to the God therein for aid and succor. Most shrines have a designated purpose, with the God ensconced there tasked with aiding childbirth, or the accumulation of wealth, knowledge, or success in love, for example. Those who live in Japan are familiar with the culture of the shrine visit: washing our hands at the little water trough near the front, passing into the silence and calm of the shrine precinct, the sound of supplicants clapping and ringing the shrine bell, and then one’s own pause for contemplation as one bows one’s head before the God. Shrines are everywhere in Japan, from the huge rambling complexes of Fushimi inari jinja in Kyoto to tiny shrines at roadsides and car parks throughout the nation. There is even one on the edge of Shinjuku’s Kabukicho night life district, surrounded on all sides by skyscrapers and major roads, a little oasis of silence in one of the busiest places in the world – its only concession to the underworld it is situated amidst being the wire cage over the water trough. Most of us who live here come to appreciate these calm moments of contemplation in the midst of the urban bustle, and also understand the importance of countryside shrines as central markers of a traditional way of Japanese life that, despite the frenetic pace of urban existence, refuses to fade away.

But there is another side to the challenges of Japanese life that is draining and exhausting, and that those little prayers at the shrine serve to support and perpetuate: the constant obligations of a life lived communally. Foreigners in Japan can escape many of them, but Japanese people face a constant stream of obligations great and small. From the demands of everyday good manners to the struggle of working as a corporate samurai, from the scourge of wedding parties that afflicts people in their mid-20s to the tedium of workplace drinking parties and even the obligation to visit a shrine on New Year’s Day, Japanese social life is full of  obligations. Most of these obligations can be embarked upon in spirit of good will and reciprocity: for example, when one finds oneself working back yet again to make things go smoothly, one can also understand that the reason the postal system is so wonderful is that someone there is also working back to make things go smoothly. People are also mutually understanding of the burden of these obligations, and do all they can to lighten the load and to be understanding of the burden of mutuality. And, of course, one can always visit a shrine, throw in 5 yen and pray for a bit of strength in the hard times.

But sometimes, those obligations carry with them a weight that cannot be wished away at a shrine, and sometimes they come with an additional, crushing challenge: the challenge of having to succeed at them even when one does not want to. The culture of ganbaru, of struggling to do one’s best no matter the difficulty, is an important part of Japanese social and work life, and worse still is the need to show that one is fighting on, even where one wants to fail. This raises the terrible prospect that one can be saddled with an obligation one does not want to carry out, but also forced to do one’s utmost to achieve it, lest one be seen to be shirking or – worse still – embarrass one’s family and colleagues by being openly seen not to want to succeed in a great goal.

It is easy to imagine these onerous tasks, because they arise often. Perhaps a man is forced to apply for a job he knows will come with a huge workload and boring tasks, that he needs to take for reasons of prestige and money but really doesn’t want: in Australia he would simply fluff the interview, but here in Japan if he was recommended to the job by his superior then he will humiliate his superior if he does anything less than try his best to get the job. Perhaps a woman has been arranged an introduction with a rich and handsome future husband, and is required to do her utmost to please him and his family, but she is secretly conducting a love affair with the Korean migrant son of a pachinko parlour owner – she needs to appear as if she wants the marriage and is trying hard, to avoid embarrassing her family and the introduction agent and to keep the peace, but she really needs this introduction to fail. Perhaps a soldier has been tasked with fabricating an international incident at the Marco Polo bridge, and failure to do his utmost to carry out the incident will lead to his punishment and possibly execution – but he knows that if he succeeds his nation will be dragged into a war that will destroy it.

It is at times like these that no amount of prayers at any shrine will save you. You need to appear to be doing your best, but you need to fail. And you know that if you do your best, you won’t fail. You are trapped.

It is at times like this that you need to visit one of the shrines of the God that Failed. You take with you a rotten mandarin, a cup of the cheapest, nastiest sake you can find, and the letter offering you an interview for the job you don’t like. Place the offerings at the shrine, burn the letter, and promise the God that Failed that you will do your utmost to succeed in this honourable task.

Then, failure is guaranteed.

The shrines to the God that Failed are not the usual calm, cheerful devotional spots, established long ago and broadcast to the world through their red torii gates and colourful roof. Rather, they are themselves monuments to failure, hidden in plain sight, just as is the failure that their supplicants seek. There are many such shrines, but they can be very difficult to find: the dirty toilet of the convenience store in Japan’s poorest and most crime-ridden suburb, perhaps; or an abandoned shrine just around the corner from Japan’s lowest-ranked and lowest-achieving community college; or a little waving cat statue in a broken self-storage unit, owned by a failed spam-forwarding start up company. These shrines are never far from anyone, but finding them is in itself something of a pilgrimage, a combination of internet searching, rumour-hunting, and then following one’s own innate spiritual sense for discerning failure and sadness. Also, perhaps, one has to be careful in one’s observances to ensure one is not discovered or seen: not only do prayer’s to the God that Failed have to be conducted in the strictest secrecy, but the shrine must be known only to those that seek it – discovery of religious observance by those who do not seek failure can bring down a terrible curse upon the supplicant.

Many argue that the God that Failed is Japan’s weakest and most aberrant god, but it is possible that actually it is the most powerful. Not only are its shrines everywhere, but it has many followers. While supplication of the God that Failed is always difficult, ordinary daily worship is easy, in a way that the other Gods of Japan do not allow. Ordinary Japanese Gods do not allow one to pray to them from home, or just anywhere, but the God that Failed is aware that many of its best worshippers do not seek anything in life, and it takes their devotion where it can. To worship the God that Failed it is enough to drop out of work and school, and stay home all day on the internet in chat rooms and on 2-channel. It is sufficient to waste one’s money and time in a pachinko parlour, where the whir of the machines serves as a devotional hymn to the God that Failed, your soul slowly leaking through the storm of pinballs into its possession. Worshippers of the God that Failed may not even realize they are in its thrall, but they are everywhere: pachinko junkies, NEETs, that ageing Host who has to work just that little bit longer every morning to make ends meet, that English teacher in the second-rate company who works nights doing skype lessons for sad shift workers … all the silent failures in life who struggle to succeed in a task that everyone else knows is already a lost cause. They flock to the God that Fails, though they don’t realize they are its worshippers, and through the repetitive daily rituals of failure they slowly lose their souls to it. And with the power of these lost souls, it grants the wish of failure to those who are otherwise successful, guaranteeing continued happiness to the successful by robbing the souls of the already-lost.

If the God that Fails has a grand design outside of the ordinary spiritual precincts of Shintoism, no one knows it. It seems reasonable that the very nature of this God would preclude any greater purpose than to leech on second-rate souls. But it is possible that in its army of followers and its calm, epochal dedication to the cultivation of failure, it actually has a deeper and more evil purpose. Who is to say what grand movements in Japanese history and culture are due to its meddling? Who is to say that it does not have power in the halls of the high and mighty as well as the low and feeble? Were the spiritually aware to notice its designs, perhaps they would uncover a great and evil pattern, that only the very brave and courageous would dare to unravel …

This deity would be suitable as an adversary or an ally in a Shadowrun- or Feng Shui-style campaign, or perhaps a far Eastern version of a Cthulhuesque horror. It might be a subtle adversary, its influence underlying more obvious criminal and spiritual cliques that use less subtle techniques. Its efforts might manifest through hacking, accidents, suicides and economic ruin, and establishing the pattern of its attacks would thus be very difficult. It is also a perfect excuse for that GM who needs to destroy the plans of an overly powerful group, but hasn’t figured out a detailed storyline for why they came apart. Missed money transfers, transport plans that fail, contacts who don’t show, NPCs who commit suicide just when you most need them – look in those plot moments for the sinister movements of the God that Failed. Should you be afraid, or scornful? Only time will tell …

Everyone loves to suck the mango seed...

Everyone loves to suck the mango seed…

Mangoes are a fruit from heaven, much loved by all residents of the Steamlands, but the environment is inimical to their growth. Aside from the lush jungle of the far south, the climate of the Steamlands is harsh: cold, snowy winters and harsh, dry late summer and autumn make it difficult for a fruit as fragrant and delicate as the mango to survive. Mangoes in the Steamlands thus only survive around hot springs, where they are protected from the chill of winter and safe from the harshest excesses of summer. But because all hot springs retain a certain magical property of earth magic, mangoes have developed a kind of affinity for magic, and if the seed of a rotten mango is appropriately treated in a hot spring, it can become a cheap and durable vessel for simple magic. In particular, mango seeds that have been boiled in a hot spring can be enchanted with base magics and a trigger word, such that when thrown and activated they cast a low-grade spell in a small area.

To be enchanted, a rotten  mango must be reduced to just its seed through treatment in a hot spring. Hot spring owners don’t allow rotten fruit in their hot springs, so usually this treatment needs to be done in a wild hot spring or at a friendly location. Unfortunately, wild springs have become increasingly rare as hot spring farming has become more common, and although a few exist around Separation City they are near the graveyards, and rumoured to be haunted. This means that preparation of mango seeds can be dangerous and time consuming. However, once prepared, they can be enchanted.

Preparation is not simple, however, and requires someone with knowledge of plants and hot springs. Typically the task can be completed by a wood elf, farmer, NPC specialist, or way watcher. Preparation takes about an hour, and requires a 2D nature lore check. Failure renders the seeds unusable, but success can affect the enchantment process, as described below.

  • 1 success: the seeds can be enchanted
  • 3 successes: +1 expertise die on the enchantment check
  • 2 boons: reduce enchantment cost by 10 sps per seed
  • 2 banes: +1 misfortune die on the enchantment check
  • Chaos star: one seed is cursed so that it only produces bane and chaos effects

The enchantment process itself costs 30 sps per seed. To enchant the seeds, the wizard gathers the ingredients and conducts a ritual that lasts one night. Mango seeds only hold magic from rank 1 spells, and no more than than three mango seeds can be enchanted at any one time. Only spells that produce a lingering effect can be cast on the seeds, and if the enchantment is successful these seeds will become a kind of grenade that, when thrown, afflicts a small number of enemies in an engagement with the lingering effect. Only magic (not blessings) can be used on the mango seeds, and positive enchantments can also be cast (affecting allies rather than enemies). The enchantment check is a 3D spellcraft check, with effects described below.

  • 1 success: 1 seed enchanted
  • 3 success: 3 seeds enchanted
  • 2 boons: seeds gain the two boons effect
  • 2 banes: seeds gain the chaos star effect
  • Sigma: seeds gain the sigmar +1 wound effect

Throwing the seeds is easy: they simply need to land in an engagement, so the task is a 1D ballistic skill check with no effect of enemy defense. Once the seed lands in the engagement, the targeted enemy or enemies need to resist the effects of the spell embedded in the mango. Because the mango seed requires activation with a special word (chosen by the enchanter) only those who know the command word may use them, and there is a risk of failure due to a poorly timed command word (hence the skill check to deliver the seed). Effects of seeds do not stack, so only one seed can be used in an engagement at any one time. This is reflected on the action card through the recharge value of the card.

An example card is shown at the top of this post. This card is assumed to have been enchanted with the Jade Order entangling spell. Other spells will produce different lingering effects. The condition invoked by the seed lasts as long as there are recharge tokens on the card.

It is rumoured that there are ways to treat mango seeds to make them reusable, but this magic is either lost or known only to the elves. It is also rumoured that the flesh of mangoes makes a useful ingredient for potions, but this may also be a secret known only to the elves…

Introduction

In previous posts in this series, I showed the differences between fighter builds, and especially that “fast fighters” are a weak decision that is particularly bad for halflings and elves even though they are the more agile races. In this post I will approach the question of fighter builds from a different angle, that of the most effective choice of feats, armour and weapons for given attribute scores. Ultimately, the aim of this work is to develop decision models (expressed as flowcharts) for PC development. We will do this through a generalized version of the simulations run to date, in combination with classification and regression tree (CART) methods.

Methods

For this study a completely random character generation method was developed. This simulation program generated random races, ability scores, weapon and armour types and feats subject to the rules in the online Pathfinder System Reference Document (SRD). Weapons were restricted to three choices: rapier, longsword and two-handed sword. Armour types were studded leather, scale, chain shirt and chain mail. There were eight possible feats: improved initiative, dodge, shield focus, weapon focus, power attack, desperate battler, weapon finesse and toughness. Ability scores were generated uniformly within the range 9 to 18, and racial modifiers then applied: the human +2 bonus was applied randomly to the three physical attributes. Feats were assigned randomly, with humans having three feats and non-humans two. All fighters with a one-handed weapon were given a light wooden shield. Halflings were given size benefits and disadvantages as described in the SRD. Initial investigation revealed that ability score values were only important in broad categories: ability scores that gave bonuses greater than 0 were good, and bonuses of 0 or less were bad. For further analysis, therefore, all ability scores were categorized accordingly into values of that gave a bonus of +1 or greater vs. those that did not.

All fighters were pitted in one-to-one melee combat against an Orc, which had randomly determined hit points and the fully operative ferocity special ability. This happened in a cage deep beneath Waterdeep, so no one could run away. Winners were promised a stash of gold and the chance to buy a farm on the Sword Coast, but were actually subsequently press-ganged into military service in the far south, where most of them died of dysentery. A million fights were simulated.

Once data had been collected it was analyzed using classification and regression tree (CART) models implemented in R. CART models enable data to be divided into groups based on patterns within the predictor variables, which enables complex classification and decision rules to be made. Although it is more complex and less reliable than standard regression, CART enables the data to be divided into classification groups without the formulaic restrictions of classical linear models. Results of CART models can be expressed as a kind of flowchart describing the relationship between variables, with ultimate classification giving an estimate of the probability of observing the outcome. In this case the outcome was a horrible death at the hands of an enraged orc, and the probability of this outcome is expressed as a number between 0 and 1. CART results were presented separately by race, in case different races benefited from different choices of feats.

Some univariate analysis was also conducted to show the basic outline of some of the (complex) relationships between variables in this dataset. Univariate analysis was conducted in Stata, and CART was conducted in R.

Results

Of the million brave souls who “agreed” to participate in this experiment, 498000 (49.8%) survived. Survival varied by race, with 55% of humans surviving and only 45% of halflings making it out alive. Some initial analysis of proportions suggested quite contradictory results for the different feats, with some feats appearing to increase mortality. For example, 47% of those with improved initiative survived, compared to 51% of those without; and 46% of those with shield focus, compared to 52% of those without. This probably represents the opportunity cost of choosing these feats, or some unexpected confounding effect from some other variable.

The three combinations of ability scores and feats with the highest number of observations and the best survival rate were:

  • Dwarf with +3 strength, +3 dexterity, +3 constitution, chain mail armour, rapier, weapon focus and desperate battler (15 observations, 100% survival)
  • Dwarf with +3 strength, +0 dex, +4 con, scale armour, two-handed sword, toughness and weapon focus (13 observations, 100% survival)
  • Dwarf with +3 strength, +2 dex, +3 con, studded leather armour, longsword, desperate battler and power strike (13 observations, 100% survival)

Despite the apparent success of Dwarves, a total of 55% of all unique combinations of ability scores, feats, weapon and armour types with 100% survival were in humans. The majority of the most frequent survival categories appeared to be in non-humans, however – this bears further investigation.

CART results varied by race. For humans, ability scores were most important; for dwarves, weapon type and armour type were important, while constitution was largely irrelevant. For elves and halflings, the only important feat was toughness; weapon finesse was only important for humans, and sometimes only as a negative choice. The key results from the CART analysis were that strength is the single most important variable, followed by dexterity for elves and halflings, or constitution for dwarves; and then by decisions about armour and weapons. Feats are largely relevant only for those with weak ability scores.

As an example, the CART results for humans are presented as a flowchart in Figure 1 (click to enlarge). It is clear that after strength and dexterity, heavy armour and constitution are important determinants of survival. Weapon finesse is only important as a feat to avoid for those with low dexterity – for those with high dexterity it is largely irrelevant. Toughness primarily acts as a counter-balance to poor constitution in those with high dexterity and strength.

Figure 1: Character creation decision model for humans

Decision models for other races will be uploaded in future posts.

Conclusion

This study once again shows that strength is the single most important ability for determining survival in first level fighters, and that feats are largely used to improve survival chances amongst those who already have good ability scores. In previous posts dexterity appeared to be irrelevant, but analysis with CART shows that the absence of a dexterity bonus makes a large difference to survival – those with no dexterity score bonus do not benefit from feat choices, while those who have a dexterity bonus can benefit further by careful choice of armour and feats. Although previous posts found that “tough” fighters have a very high survival rate, this post finds that constitution is not in itself a priority ability score. By following the decision model identified in this study, players can expect to generate a fighter with the highest average survival chance given their ability scores.

行ってきます!

This is my first attempt at mapping the Steamlands, the kingdom in which I am now running WFRP 3 adventures. The map was created in Hexographer (the free version) because I’m a terrible artist, designer or drawer. The geography of this kingdom is based loosely on Kyushu, Southern Japan, taking the names and some of the features of parts of Japan for inspiration. I’ve also chucked in a bit of Germany for good measure (the World Forest on the west coast, and the river system lined with towers, is essentially a geographical feature copied from the Black Forest and the Rhine).

At the moment I have no ideas for this world except the names of towns (translated from the Japanese) and a couple of general features. Although the geography is modeled loosely on Kyushu and the city names a translation of Kyushu names, the vegetation and weather is roughly similar to south east Australia – so the World Forest, for example, is a vast wilderness of eucalyptus forest, and the flat areas can be imagined to be rolling pasture dotted with cows. I haven’t decided if it has marsupials (probably not) but it will have a bird that resembles a kookaburra, and the forest will preserve Australian features – quiet, pleasantly fragrant, dry and kind of spooky. Some particular features of the landscape (and the names they’re translated from) are given below.

  • The Spear Capes (Nagasaki): a land of inlets and bays, rich swamps and wild rivers, I imagine this is dotted with independent cities of pirates and traders, and is quite primitive and barbaric in many ways. I imagine the swamps will be mangroves, and crocodiles will be common. I also imagine that the inland areas will have plantain and sugar farms, and possibly large plantations owned by strongmen from the other kingdoms (particularly from Twinluck)
  • Twinluck (Fukuoka): Twinluck is the largest city in the Steamlands, and is connected by a railway line to the city of Store. I imagine Twinluck as a chaotic melting pot, with an ancient history and lots of steampunk technology. I also think that the current ruler has styled himself “The Emperor of Infinity” and is attempting to build a great empire, the Empire of the Manifold Path, which is slowly expanding East and Southwest (through the land that in real life is called Saga but in this map is simply farmland and forest that is open to exploitation by the most aggressive settlers). I also imagine that the people of the Manifold Empire (as it is often referred to) are of a different race to those in the Spear Capes, and there is much conflict on the edges of the Empire
  • Store (Kitakyushu/Kokura): I know nothing about Store except that it is at the other end of the railway line from Twinluck, and it constitutes the Easternmost boundary of the Manifold Empire. It is so-called because the coastline is riddled with old caves that connect into a deep dungeon, in which can be found lost artifacts and ancient technology – as well as ancient evils
  • Heavenbalm (Usa): Heavenbalm is the temple-fortress at the centre of a religious kingdom, about which I know nothing. I guess there is human sacrifice and witch burning, and possibly magic is forbidden.
  • Steamline Spa (Yufuin): This town is the centre of a network of hot springs and spas, scattered through the mountains in this area. This is the area where the campaign began
  • Separation City (Beppu): The adventurers are heading here as I make the map. I’m not sure why it’s called “Separation City” or what’s there, but I think it will be a smallish town with a large entertainment industry, and a large port for Eastward travel to the Four Kingdoms and the Summerlands (two other continents not shown on this map)
  • Greathalf (Oita): A large industrial and agricultural city, the last significant town before one heads down the wild east coast
  • The Beastlands (Kumamoto): Kumamoto means “origin of bears,” so for this area I figured it must be full of beastmen. These beastmen regularly spread to the east coast or northeast towards the civilized lands of Greathalf, and the line of towers has something to do with them. The southernmost island of the Beastlands is the Isle of Pan, and it may be the home of some kind of god of the beastmen, though no one has returned to tell the tale of its contents. This island corresponds with the province of Kagoshima (Island of Fauns), and the islands which inspired the mythical forest of Princess Mononoke, which seems apt
  • The World Forest: the home of the elves, especially away from the coast, and continually being contested between elves, beastmen and humans

Besides these rough outlines, I have no other ideas for the world. I know there is another kingdom on the east coast, not yet described, which corresponds with Miyazaki, but I can’t think of a good translation of Miyazaki (“Palace” plus “Promontory” or “Peninsular”). Maybe the “Bay of Palaces”? Sounds rich and powerful! Or maybe it once was, and now is crumbling under the beastman threat.

Because there is a dwarf in the party I need to find a place to fit dwarves in all of this – they might, however, come from over the sea, in the Four Kingdoms.

The PCs are heading to Separation City to get a lawyer to sign a deed transferring property to them, so that they can take ownership of an onsen in the mountains. After that they have adventure options in Twinluck, and they can return and explore the land around their property, or they can head elsewhere to explore the Steamlands. At this stage it’s all pretty open, basically a sandbox to enable me to see how far I can push the WFRP 3 rules before I get bored of them and/or they break. Shall I have a beastman empire? What is buried beneath Store? And does the Emperor of Infinity know something we don’t? Only time will tell…

He went thattaway ...

During this weekend’s gaming session, we killed a lich. Good job! おつかれさま!Unfortunately, we didn’t know where our victim’s phylactery was, so we couldn’t actually eliminate the lich – we needed to find the phylactery, but the only way to do that was to let the lich reanimate its body and then follow him to his lair, kill him again and this time destroy his phylactery. All in a day’s work, etc. We had his body and disembodied head (gagged, of course) and we’d stuffed the head in a sack, then stuffed the sack in a barrel of water, then put a lid on the barrel, so we could make plans without fear of being overheard. So we hatched a scheme to follow the lich, but there was unfortunately a small hitch – we knew that this lich had the power to dissolve his body into a swarm of cockroaches and scuttle away to his dark and stinky home. We were in a city, where following a swarm of cockroaches is impossible. So, we designed a lich compass. This is how our plan worked:

  1. Carve a chunk of flesh from the lich’s body, near one of its injuries where it is unlikely to notice the piece is missing
  2. Put this chunk of flesh in a jar large enough for a cockroach to move around
  3. Take the body and the head to a park, build a fire large enough to make a lich think we’re trying to destroy its body, but not large enough to completely incinerate the body
  4. Chuck the lich on (and its head, of course)
  5. After about 10 minutes of watching, tell each other that the job is surely done, and walk away
  6. Hide
  7. Once the fire has died down, the lich body will slowly reanimate, and the lich will collect his head and go shambling, smokily, to his lair
  8. Follow him
  9. The big risk is that he will turn into a swarm of cockroaches. This is pretty likely, since his clothes will have been destroyed and he’s covered in burns – he probably wants to go home in a slightly less conspicuous form
  10. When he turns into cockroaches, pull out the jar
  11. All the cockroaches will be heading in the same direction – this means that the cockroaches in the jar will be trying to push through whatever side of the jar is closest to the lich’s path
  12. Follow the compass!

Obviously this plan has a large number of flaws – I count 11 (anyone can follow a compass![1]). Our compass was based on two big assumptions:

  1. The lich doesn’t have a detailed knowledge of the location of every piece of his body, but the pieces are somehow spiritually connected
  2. When the lich casts a spell on himself, all parts of his body are affected

Obviously some GMs would take issue with these assumptions, but I don’t think they’re unreasonable. If the GM accepts this particular approach to Lich corporeality, then I think our compass should work. Also, perhaps, it would work on Vampires.

Unfortunately, we never got to test our assumptions because a crazy wizard teleported in, stole the lich’s head, and teleported out again. The GM then revealed that the lich can disconnect his soul from his body, leaving the body to rot, so all we ended up with was a jar full of rotting flesh. But I think if the wizard hadn’t appeared, we would have been good to go – he disconnected his body because he’d been teleported out, not because he knew we were hiding there.

Incidentally, when we killed the lich it made me aware of a problem that GMs face with these undying types of creatures, which is that the nature of their invulnerability is really hard to describe. Sure, we all know that you can’t kill a lich permanently, but of course if the players don’t have the phylactery they’ll do a damn good job of making the lich essentially eternally dead. Cut it into tiny pieces and feed them to fish in 7 oceans, burn the body and scatter it to the winds, etc. We were on a city that was on the back of a massive, slow-moving tortoise, and I recommended trying to find a way to feed the body into the tortoise – it wouldn’t be  dead but a thousand years of digestion would surely make the matter irrelevant. At this point the GM has to figure out a way to make the creature’s return plausible. Obviously it can be done but, particularly for things like trolls and the like that aren’t undead spirits in a temporary physical shell, it’s damn hard to explain. And in the case of liches, the Monster Manual seems to imply quite strongly that it’s their original body they’re in (the demi-lich is still tied to its body’s dust and skull) – so how exactly does it work for a lich?

This is further proof that as one advances in levels in D&D, it’s important to put points into your various lore skills. If one hasn’t read Mordenkainen’s seminal texts on undead corporeality, how will one know the best way to build a lich-compass?

fn1: Actually I’m pretty sure that there would be systems and/or GMs where a skill check would be required …

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