Thursday, 26 November 2009

Jharat Part 2: Cultures and Deities

There are many different cultures on Jharat, perhaps a thousand or more. But there are five that particularly stand out and formed empires. Their pantheons include the deities that are most commonly worshipped around Jharat. All of the civilizations and cultures below became part of the Eternians Empire, their independence was crushed but they were allowed to keep their respective cultures as long as they did not damage the Empire or interfere with Imperial requirements. 

The Eternians
Eternians are like medieval or early renaissance Europeans They follow the Greyhawk pantheon in general, but other deities from outside the Greyhawk Pantheon are also followed by a few people (including deities of the Forgotten Realms and Ansalon). The Eternian Empire included many demihumans (elves, dwarves, gnomes and halflings). The Eternians are known for their knights in shining armour, gothic churches and cathedrals, grand feudal castles and their painting and sculpture that had just began to develop when the Summoning struck. A lot of administration and scholarship was carried out by priests and clerics rather than educated laymen.
Unlike the other cultures described below, the Eternian culture has spread out across the globe of Jharat as the Eternian empire has conquered the world. In many places Eternian culture has not completely replaced the native culture but exists along side it or else mixed in with it.
The most important deities of the Eternians include:

  • Boccob, God of Magic and Knowledge (TN)
  • Ehlonna, Goddess of Rangers and Forests (NG)
  • Erythnul, God of Slaughter and Panic (CE)
  • Fharlanghn, God of Earthly Travel (TN)
  • Heironeous, God of Valor and Honour (LG)
  • Hextor, God of War and Destruction (LE)
  • Kord, God of Beasts, Strength and Sports (CG)
  • Nerull, God of Death and Undeath (NE)
  • Obad-Hai, God of Nature and Druids (TN)
  • Olidammara, God of Rogues and Bards (CN)
  • Pelor, God of Sunlight and Strength (NG)
  • St Cuthbert, God of Common Sense and Discipline (LN)
  • Vecna, God of Secrets and Evil Magic (NE)
  • Wee Jas, Goddess of Death and Magic (LN)

The Millenians
The Millenians are a mix of the republican Rome and ancient Greek civilization. They worship the Greek pantheon. Unlike the Eternians, the Millenians are quite open and matter-of-fact about slavery - about a quarter of the population of the Millenian culture were slaves, until the summoning. The Millenians were also famous for their disciplined armies of both phalanxes (pikemen in bronze armour) and legions (heavy infantry armed with shortswords and javelins). They were notorious for their gladiatorial combats but also respected for their philosophy and development of drama and plays.
The principle deities of the Millenians include

  • Zeus, Ruler of the Gods, God of Lightning and the Skies (CG)
  • Hera, Queen of the Gods, Goddess of Wives and Jealousy (TN)
  • Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Beauty (CG)
  • Ares, God of War and Slaughter (CE)
  • Apollo, God of Prophesy and Music (CG)
  • Hermes, God of Messengers and Thieves (CN)
  • Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, Skill and Battle (LG)
  • Demeter, Goddess of Crops and Agriculture (NG)
  • Hades, God of the Underworld and Death (NE)
  • Poseidon, God of the Seas and Earthquakes (CN)
  • Hecate, Goddess of Magic and the Moon (CE)

The Nythians
The Nythians are primarily like the Egyptians of Earth, and their pantheon is the Egyptian pantheon. They also include elements of both Arabic/early Muslim culture and also Sumerian and Assyrian civilizations. Their culture sprang up around the mighty Nythis river, and it still plays a major part of their culture and a vital source of water for their agriculture. The Nythians are very mindful and respectful (some would say obsessive) about the dead and the afterlife. Their tombs to their dead kings are massive pyramids, while even their smaller tombs are impressive pieces of architecture. Beyond the river Nythis, there is the desert, and many Nythians are nomadic camel-riders, moving from oasis to oasis.
The principle deities of the Nythians include
  • Ra, God of the Sun and kingship (LN)
  • Osiris, God of Crops and Protector of the Dead (LG)
  • Isis, Goddess of Marriage and Motherhood (LG)
  • Set, God of Destruction and Darkness (LE)
  • Geb, God of the Earth (TN)
  • Shu, God of the Air (LG)
  • Nephthys, Goddess of Wealth and Tombs (CG)
  • Thoth, God of Knowledge and Magic (TN)
  • Horus, God of Revenge, Justice and War (LN)
  • Bast, Goddess of Cats and Pleasure (CG)
  • Anubis, God of the Dead and Planar Travel (TN)

The Tolteckix
The Tolteckix civilization are a mix of Aztec, Incan and Mayan. They follow the Aztec pantheon. Their homeland is jungle, but they have constructed vast cities and built great temples. Their most notorious aspect is the human sacrifices they sometimes perform - reduced in number since the Eternians conquered them but not completely stopped.
The main deities of the Tolteckix have not been adopted by many outside of the homeland, partly because they are often considered bloody and demanding, and also their names are difficult to pronounce. The most notable members of the pantheon are:

  • Huitzilopochtli, God of the Tolteckix people, War and Lightning (NE)
  • Quetzalcoatl, God of Air and Wisdom (CG)
  • Mictlantecuhtli, God of Death (TN)
  • Tezcatlipoca, God of Deception and Thieves (CE)
  • Tlaloc, God of Rivers, Rain and Drowning (LE)

The Wazumi
The Wazumi civilization are primarily based on Feudal Japan, but also borrow elements from both Chinese and Korean culture. They worship the Chinese pantheon. The Wazumi were ruled by a Shogun in the name of the Emperor, who governed with a large bureaucracy combined with feudal warlords. The noble warriors are the Samurai, the spies and assassins are ninja, the gangsters are Yakuza and the wizards are Wu-Jen. Monks are particularly at home here - indeed, it is believed the monkish tradition of meditation and self-discipline without direct connection to a deity originated here. There are priests here, including both Sohei and Shukenja and western-style clerics, and the deities they follow include:

  • Shang-ti, God of Rulership and Creation (LN)
  • Kuan-ti, God of War and Divination (NG)
  • Yen-Wang-Yeh, God of Death (LN)
  • Fu Hsing, God of Happiness (CG)
  • Chung Kuel, God of Ugliness, Testing and Truth (LG)
  • Liu, God of Crops and Food (TN)
  • Lu Hsing, God of Just Rewards and Salaries (LN)
  • Shou Hsing, God of Long Life (CN)
  • Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy and Childbirth (LG)
  • Chih-Nii, Goddess of Spinners and Weavers (CG)
  • Lei Kung, God of Thunder and Vengeance (LE)
  • Sung Chiang, God of Thievery (NE)

Then there are the "barbarian" cultures that were subjugated by the Eternian Empire many years before its own downfall. These cultures were coherent but not quite civilized. Because these cultures had fewer hive cities, they were hit slightly less hard than the more settled and complacent civilizations. Furthermore, characters with an affinity to the wilderness (such as rangers, druids and barbarians) are more likely to come from these cultures.

The Fyordfolk are based on Vikings and follow the Norse pantheon. They had a strained relationship with the Eternians. There are many dwarves who consider themselves part of the Fyordfolk.

The Keltoi are based on classical Celtic culture (especially when they were fighting Rome) and follow the Celtic pantheon. They are neighbours and often slaves to the Millenians. The Keltoi include several elven tribes.

The Ubuntu are based on both Zulu and east African cultures such as the Masai. They are neighbours to the Nythians. Their pantheon is uncertain and may not involve conventional deities but animism and nature spirits.

The White Eagle Nation are based on native North Americans, and share borders with the Tolteckix though not usually on good terms.

The Iron Horde are similar to the Huns, the Mongols and the Scythians. They have no pantheon of their own but sometimes adopt other peoples religions. They neighbor and occasionally raid the Wazumi.

Beyond these there are many "minor" cultures that may number up to half a million survivors. These are left up to the DM to fit in. Demihumans in particular may either fit into one of the above cultures or else form their own.

Design Notes:
This is basically my rationale for including stuff based on real world historical cultures. Stuff from conventional quasi-medieval fantasy can fit into the Eternian culture. Part of my reason for including these was wanting to use the deities from the old "Deities and Demigods" book (I'm thinking of the 1st Ed AD&D one with the Erol Otus cover).
The idea behind assigning the Greyhawk pantheon to Eternia was part laziness (I didn't want to create a whole pantheon from scratch), part fitting in stuff from Greyhawk adventures and sourcebooks and part was admiration for the pantheon, which I think is pretty cool. The "core" pantheon from 3rd Ed PHB drew most of its deities from Greyhawk. Although the Greyhawk pantheon covers most situations, I decided to leave the catch-all of "and other deities" so that the DM can include his own deities or those from other sources. 
You might have noticed that the Nythians and Millenians were borrowed from Mystara - their names were, but a lot of the other stuff about them comes from their historical source (Ancient Egypt and Classical Greece/Rome respectively), rather than from their Mystaran namesakes.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

A New Direction and a New World: Jharat part 1

Ok, I admit my grand theories about RPGs, settings, the universe and everything are running dry, or at least not so easy to think up and produce. Taking a broad view of gaming is good in short bursts, but it gets boring after a while.
Therefore I've decided to take this blog in a new direction and use it to put out stuff about a world that I've worked on for a bit - Jharat, the Fallen World.
If you have been following my blog, you will remember from the third post I have created a number of worlds for D&D, and Jharat has been one of the more successful (or at least persistent) ones where I have actually built up a bit of info about it.

An overview of Jharat
Jharat is a huge world, about 3 times the size of Earth. It is covered by one massive continent that spans the entire equator, and two huge oceans, one in the northern hemisphere and the other to the south of the equatorial continent.

Until very recently, Jharat was dominated by the Eternian Empire, which had reigned over the whole world without too much disturbance or trouble for over 4,000 years. The magenta (pink) areas of the map are built-up and heavily civilised areas of intensive farming, towns and cities. Huge populations were supported thanks to magical improvements to agriculture.

Hive Cities
As populations grew, huge cities were built that towered both upwards and delved downwards as well as outwards. These cities became less like normal human settlements and more like titanic termite mounds, where buildings melded into each other above the covered streets and citizens could go for weeks or even years without seeing the sky. Such hive cities reached high into the sky, sometimes up to half a mile into the atmosphere.
Elemental Windows were vital for keeping the hive cities going: these are controllable portals to the elemental planes situated deep in the heart of hive cities. Air windows provided fresh air and ventilation. Water windows provided fresh water for both drinking and washing, Fire windows provided more than just heat for living - with wood being at a premium and coal not really used, the Fire windows were used for cooking food, smelting ore, firing pottery and other such tasks. Earth windows provided building materials and, on occasions, valuable ore that could be smelted into metal. Finally there were Entropy windows which did not produce anything but devoured and disintegrated anything that touched them - dangerous, but ideal for waste disposal.

The Summoning
Nobody is sure why the disaster known as the summoning happened 20 years ago: surviving sages have suggested that it was an attempt by evil deities to destroy humanity, while others say it was not good versus evil but law versus chaos - the forces of chaos saw that the Eternian Empire had made Law too dominant, and sought to redress the balance in a terrible way.
Whatever the causes, the actual events are known: monsters started appearing, especially out of the elemental windows. The Eternian army was not capable of dealing with such a large number and wide range of foes, especially appearing as they did, all over the Eternian Empire.
The collapse was rapid, and the slaughter was horrific. Within weeks, most of the hive cities had been lost. Within months the Empire had ceased to function. Within a year humanity's continued existence was in doubt.

The Situation Today
Humans and demihumans still hold on in pockets, but the grand civilisation of Eternia that had dominated before has now completely disintegrated. The population has fallen from what was 10 billion people to now just 500 million survivors, all of whom now live outside the hive cities, preferably at a safe distance. Politics is now generally replaced with survival tactics. There are still many monsters roaming the lands, and the hive cities are filled with fiendish beasts as well as the bodies (and maybe souls) of those unfortunates trapped inside during the Summoning. But there is hope. Heroes have arisen to champion civilised folk, to defeat the marauding monsters and reclaim the towns and cities. And even if the heroes are not so noble as to champion a righteous cause, there is a lot of treasure, both monetary and magical, in those ruined cities. Someone who could defeat dangerous monsters and defend communities could well become a ruler in these troubled and volatile times.

Designer's Notes
Jharat is ridiculously over-ambitious, and that's one of the reasons I love it. The planet is huge, the cities are bigger (and certainly taller) than New York, and the scale of the disaster is something few campaigns can compare with. No DM in his right mind would try to detail it in any depth. Which is why I'm going to have a go at it. 
Jharat is a setting where anything goes. The world is big enough to accommodate pretty well anything you like, including other campaign settings. With a bit of editing, you could probably have the Flanaess (the World of Greyhawk) sticking out of the northern coast and Ansalon (Dragonlance) floating in the southern ocean. 
More pertinently, because I have never taken it too seriously, I have been willing to include ideas here that I would consider a bit too strange or left-field for some worlds where I thought I had a chance of getting published. With 1st and 2nd Edition AD&D this was both taking things from other D&D worlds and also converting stuff from other game systems and fantasy settings. New stuff from Dragon Magazine and D&D supplements could also be put into Jharat without worry. 
With 3rd Edition, Jharat became the place where all D20 and OGL stuff could be used, no questions asked, and ideas from all sorts of D&D sources were still welcome. Converting stuff from other game systems was not exactly stopped, but there was so much stuff that didn't need converting suddenly appearing, it seemed a bit silly to put in more effort than seemed necessary. 

Monday, 2 November 2009

Borrowing from other sources

The D&D rules, whatever edition you use, offer a wide range of material for the players and DM to play with. However, it is almost inevitable that the DM will start to look elsewhere or (as has happened with me a number of times) the DM comes across something that he thinks is really cool and that he wants to use in his games. Original ideas are not easy to create, and they often take time and effort to develop into a useable form. It is so often easier to let someone else do the hard work, and then you just use their ideas. In D&D this happens more often than you might think, though the borrowed ideas may come from cultures rather than specific authors. Many monsters and most character classes are based on ideas from history and mythology. The minotaur, medusa and centaur all came from Greek mythology, while dwarves, elves, dragons and giants come from Celtic and Norse mythology. Druids and bards are from ancient Celtic societies (at least in name), paladins came from medieval ideas of combining chivalry with christianity, while fighters, barbarians, wizards, priests and thieves are all multi-cultural and quite obvious. Even the monk has its roots in the Shaolin monks of China and Tibet. The World of Greyhawk has a lot of aspects borrowed from medieval Europe, especially the feudalism and titles of rulers. Technology, architecture and fashion are nearly all quasi-medieval as well. The Forgotten Realms is a little more different, but it still has many similarities with medieval Europe. Cultures can also provide specific personalities, usually in the form of epic heroes, such as Robin Hood, Hercules, Cu-Chulain Hiawatha, Merlin,

Last post I looked at computer games, which have been a perennial source of ideas for me. There are many others, and the ones I myself have enjoyed using are:

  • Other RPGs
  •     Ars Magica
  •     Empire of the Petal Throne
  •     Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game
  •     Earthdawn
  •     GURPS
  •     Rolemaster
  • Films & TV
  •     The Lord of the Rings films
  •     Clash of the Titans
  •     Jason and the Argonauts
  • Novels & Short Stories
  •     Robert E Howard
  •     JRR Tolkien
  •     Fritz Lieber
  •     Michael Moorcock
  •     Robert Jordan
  •     Robert Silverberg
  •     David Gemmel
  •     Terry Pratchett (if you don't take your campaign too seriously)
  • Real Life
  •     History
  •     Myth and Legend
  •     Geography
  •     Art
  •     Literature
  •     Archaeology
  •     Anthropology
  • Other Games 
  •     Magic: The Gathering
  •     Fighting Fantasy Game Books
  •     Table-top wargames
  • Other stuff
  •     Artwork
  •     Comics
The examples I have listed are just a tiny sample. The list could be gigabytes long if I was to put in the effort.

In the examples above I have (with the exception of real life stuff) stuck with the fantasy genre (in its narrower sense of heroic fantasy/swords and sorcery). However, any DM worth his salt can borrow and adapt from a wide range of genres including science fiction, hard history, superhero, modern day, horror, crime and detective fiction, war stories and travel writing. The internet (in case you hadn't noticed) has lots of cool stuff dotted about the place if you can filter out the huge amount of crap that usually obscures the good stuff.

Borrowing ideas from cultures has one big advantage: nobody owns those ideas. Nobody has copyrighted Roman Gladiatorial combat, the ancient Pyramids of Giza or the system of medieval heraldry (though I believe specific coats of arms may be protected by law). You can use them as much as you like. The only problem is that if you know about them, it is quite likely that others will too. In terms of publishing, this means that others will have probably used the idea before you, and you won’t seem so brilliant if you present something that other people have already produce their own versions of. In terms of your own home campaign this means that your players may know about it as well as, if not better than, you. Running a setting based on medieval Japan would be cool, but if one or more of your players know more about medieval Japan than you do, they may well anticipate your “surprises” (“guys in black pyjamas with black balaclavas throwing small metal stars? They’re probably ninjas. Lets beat them up and get us some experience points….”) or even worse, start correcting you on the finer points of Japanese etiquette.

If you simply want to use the borrowed ideas for your own games with your friends, then by all means go wild.
If you want to publish, even on the internet, be very careful. Folks who make a living out producing pieces of fiction or art do not take kindly to other people plagiarising their works. Some stuff is now in the public domain (see wikisource and project Gutenberg for works of writing now in the public domain - stories by HP Lovecraft, RE Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs).
For stuff that is currently in copyright and used by corporations or even individuals, be very careful. I am no expert in what is considered fair use, so I play it safe. I have written a number of conversions for stuff from both Magic: The Gathering and Fighting Fantasy game books into D&D which I would like to share here but I would rather not get into legal trouble over.

Another consideration which is not quite so serious but worth considering is whether the new stuff is appropriate for your campaign. Sometimes a campaign is as notable for what it doesn't have than what it has. For example, the Dark Sun setting has no deities - the clerics draw their power from elemental sources. The Lankhmar setting and many other fantasy settings do not have demihumans (at least not as player characters). In my own campaign settings some of them do not have oriental characters (no ninja or samurai), while some games such as Empire of the Petal Throne are so completely different from conventional heroic fantasy that bringing in ideas from outside would require careful consideration.

More soon