Warhammer: The Guide To Estalia – An Open Call

 

Alrighty, here’s how it is. About five years ago, when WFRP 2nd ed had ended and there was no sign of 3rd ed, a lot of clever, creative people pooled their efforts to create more sourcebooks for the game, as close as possible to the style of the existing ones, such as Realm of the Ice Queen and Knights of the Grail. The Tilea book, Spears of the Maiden, was finished in a timely fashion and can be found on the Liber Fanatica website. Hooray! Meanwhile, I took on the task of the Estalia book (tentatively titled Swords of The Lady), and it went less well. Most of the book was assembled, but – perhaps because I was determined to make it as vast and awesome as possible – it got stuck. Most of the writing was done, then some stuff happened in my life and my mental health, and since then it has always been somehow too large to go back and finish it.

What I should have done, long, long ago, was this: put out an open call for editors to come and finish the project.

The content is about 90% done. It needs a few last minute tweaks, but we have history, culture, law, religion all done, rules for new religious spells, extra fun chargen stuff (including the random beard table) and so on. We wanted to do some rules for fencing and ship-to-ship combat but they never appeared. (Alas, we had a lot of people promise to work on things and then just vanish without a word.) To be a proper book it needs maybe a few careers and a few monster stats, and it needs someone to hammer the rules chapters into a cohesive whole. Then it needs art (we have some already), city maps (unlikely?) and layout (we have contacts) whereupon the enormous PDF can be forwarded to the Liber Fanatica people for hosting.

This seems to me the best and fastest way to get all the wonderful material out there, doing justice to all the wonderful contributors, and providing fans with juicy stuff to read.

As I said it is mostly done but it needs a strong, experienced hand to guide it to completion. I don’t want to hand this over to someone who won’t do it justice. There is no money in it, either. Only glory.

But if you think you’ve got what it takes to make the Lady proud, you know where to find me.

 

 

How It All Began

June 6th, 2006 I was asked to write my first RPG book, the critically acclaimed and fan-favourite, Children of the Horned Rat.  I just found in my folders the very first notes I made on the book, before we even got jobs or the outline, just trying to get a sense of Why Skaven Are Awesome (always a great place to begin). Here then, you can see great art taking form!

skavennotes

I shall translate the scribbles:

(picture of a skaven)

Evil Science (& Terrorism)

– electricity

-nuclear waste/power

-plagues

-bio-engineering

-privacy

(This is me nutting out the theme of the skaven, what makes them scary – a key fear vector is they are the fear of perverted science.)

In a circle: BE ASH. Not sure what that means. I think it means playing a Skaven is fun because you get to call everyone Primitive Screwheads, and build freaky robot hands and cars with medieval tech.

Biology

– smell and musk

– breeding = insane

– adaptable

– completely omnivorous

– resistance to disease

– CARRIERS (ala komodos, plus pestilence) – this was the old idea that komodos had no venom (now known to be false) but they ate such rotten food their breath was an infectious death sentence.

– sharp claws and teeth, strong jaw

– fur – waterproof, cold and warm

– senses – incredible

– speed and reflexes – phenomenal – good metabolism – always hungry

– can get anywhere – flexible

– strength low, courage low

(Marvel) Heroes of Science!

Lacking any roleplaying at the moment, I wander in random directions. Somehow I ended up statting up Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton using the wonderful Marvel Heroic Roleplay system.

The stats may appear quite vague because the system is not very descriptive. Whatever you imagine the powers to be in appearance I am sure is the correct conception. Enjoy, or at least, please, boggle at the places my mind goes, if only for a moment.

 

An Old Story

As I rebuild my website, I’m digging through stuff that is ten, twelve years old. There was a brief period around 2000 when my mind exploded and I could write short fiction really easily for about six months. This is probably my favourite story from that period.

A Helping Hand

There’s something undeniably wrong about patting a kangaroo in the middle of a rolling English green.

Cricket St Thomas. A zoo. Much better than London Zoo, and one of my favourite places in the whole country. Or at least, one of my favourites that I could get to and back from in a day, and without having to climb any cliffs, break any laws or kill anybody in particular.

It’s better than the London Zoo because the vast majority of it is open. Only a few animals roam free, but the others at least aren’t in cages or pools. It’s not quite swampland or jungle, but at least it smells of nature instead of chlorine.

The kangaroo was ignoring me, chewing jadedly and staring into space. He knew the deal. Let the strange bipeds scratch your head ineffectually for a few minutes and they’ll give you some corn. I was sweetening the deal by picking out the odd flea here and there when I was interrupted by Jason Dickhead.

I knew his name was Jason because it said it in puffy day-glo yellow letters on his jumper. Assuming of course, he hadn’t beaten up someone and nicked it, which seemed quite likely given his flabby but all-too-large frame and his stupid, glassy eyes. I imagined his room at home with fifty of the jumpers, all different names, hanging on the walls like trophies. Then I amused myself with thoughts that perhaps everything Jason owned had Jason on it, on account of the fact that he was too stupid to recognise his own clothes from his mother’s pantyhose.

Dickhead wasn’t written on his jumper but it was so blatantly obvious that he was one that it might as well have been. Again, I amused myself pondering whether at some time his mother would crack and sew Dickhead onto a few jumpers, just to see if he – or indeed anyone – would notice.

All this speculation was very important because it effectively blocked out most of what Jason was saying. It was an exterior monologue covering what this one’s name is (Skippy, Skip and Joey were considered deeply), whether he had a joey (the large phallus not being conclusive evidence for young Jason) and whether it was from Australia (again, Jason was nothing if not determined to look beyond the obvious). While this all went on, he kept gingerly patting the back of my kangaroo like he expected me to move over and make more room for him. Not a chance. I am not a man who shares his kangaroos with anyone.

Finally he said something which was actually a question, and I realised I had to do more than just smile politely and constrain myself from belting him. “What?” I said.
“Is’t true these things can box? I saw that on TV once.”
“No, not really. They can however, kick you so hard in the stomach your intestines would shoot out from your arse.”
“COOL!”

I cursed myself for making such an obvious mistake. Little Dickheads like Jason are not intimidated by violence. In fact, they enjoy it, and I’d probably just made a friend for life. Which meant I had to end one of our lives very quickly. After fairly and rationally weighing up all the alternatives, I decided it would be his.

Jason was now babbling to his new-found fellow violence-aphile about the other animals he’d seen fighting and killing. Once again I phased him out, hoping he’d get bored and go annoy another person, or better still, a kangaroo less sleepy and more belligerent than mine. So once again I missed that tiny second when Jason managed to say something interesting.

“Sorry, what?”
“I said, the snakes were total rubbish, I hate them. But the crocs were really psycho, ‘s so cool”
“Psycho?”
“Yeah. One of them, some boys had like stuck this stick through the bars and poked him, and the started chewing on it, and then it splintered and this bit went into his eye!” Jason was warming up to his favourite topic. “And then it was like rolling around and snapping and growling, it was so cool. And it tried to scratch at its eye and get it out but the fence was in the way so it was just scratching his arm back and forth like this.” At this point Jason moved his flabby arms up and down in a horrific spasmodic jerking to impersonate the agonised reptile, his face puckering up with the effort until it was nothing more than a squint, two nostirls and two horrible bucked teeth protruding from a dribbling orifice. It was a moment of indescribable horror, and at that point I decided I had really had enough. Keeping my kangaroo wasn’t worth that.

Besides, I had a crocodile to talk to.

By the time I got back down to the pit, the show had run out of steam and most of the crowd had moved on. The croc was still at the fence and a long, thin bit of bark was stabbed painfully into his right eye. The other end of the bark was leaning on the fence and if he moved away, it would fall down and the leverage would hurt him far more than the cut was already. So he was stuck there, as the remaining few brats hung onto the top of the wire fence and hurled peanuts at his head. Occasionally they sighed at the unbelievable unfairness in the fact that he’d stopped growling and snapping at them, no matter how many peanuts they threw or how close to his head their shots landed. Hello, I thought, it’s more of the Dickhead clubhouse.

I got the kids to fuck off by scowling at them like an authority figure and shouting “Fuck off” at them quite loudly. They suddenly remembered their mothers were calling them and I was able to get crouch down close to the animal, and find a place to get my hands near him.

He tensed up when he saw me move in. He was in a lot of pain, and very afraid that he couldn’t seem to move away from it. He wanted to run from me too, or even snap, but he couldn’t. Bubbles of blood and pus were pooling in the corner of his eyelid, and some drool had formed between his lips. His eyes glazed over, playing dead. Neat trick. I prayed he was running the “pretend to be dead until this moron goes away” gag, not the other one, the “pretend to be dead until this moron gets a little closer and then ripping his head off” thigh-slapper. That one’s not really funny at all, unless you’re the croc.

So I touched the fence, and hoped it would be enough, because I wasn’t getting any closer. Pained as he was, I couldn’t ever let myself forget he was a massive, deadly beast, as strong as an ox and fast as a cobra, and one who was quite firmly on the predator side of our relationship. But despite the distance, and the metal between us, and the fact that I hadn’t done this since, since…well, despite all that, I got him pretty quickly. As he felt me make contact and start talking to him, he opened his eyes slightly, warily, and the sudden likeness to London almost made me burst into tears. God, I missed him.

I bit my tongue instead and dosed his mind with calm, and stood up. His eyes followed me slowly, not yet trusting anything. I poured on the juice, and kept my hands well back. Nothing scary about me. I’m small, I’m tiny, and I definitely won’t hurt you. Not at all. Just trust me. Good boy. And then in one smooth moment I shot my hand down over the fence and pulled up the bark.

The croc roared and rolled and tore wildly at the ground and the fence. OK, so I lied about the not hurting you bit, I thought, as I lay very still where I’d fallen backwards on my ass. I waited a few minutes until my body was completely convinced that both my hands were still where I had left them, and then decided to get out of there. I didn’t want to be around if any of the Dickhead brigade had thought to summon a parent, who would most likely have me castrated for the heinous crime of Saying Naughty Words. The croc looked OK – he was still blinking constantly and walking gingerly, unsure if the pain would come back – but he seemed to be a lot happier. As I turned to leave, he caught my eye and somewhere in the lost echo of the connection, there was gratitude. And I had a thought, so I remade the connection and gave him one last message.

I walked up the hill again, and found a toilet. Then I headed for the exit. Spending a day with animals to make me forget about humans hadn’t exactly panned out, so I figured I might as well head back to the jungle. As I neared the front kiosk, I saw the Dickhead brigade heading back down past me, now armed with ice-creams. With them again was Jason, and when he saw me, he waggled the stick in his right hand at me triumphantly.. “What are you doing with that?” I said, angrily, but he didn’t notice the tone.

“Summ’un took the stick out of the croc’s eye, so we’re gonna try and put it back again!” he explained, proud as punch. I just smiled and nodded and waved him on down the path with his friends. After all, there was no risk. Crocs are scent-based creatures; they can’t find weak points in fences because they all smell the same. The only way he could find it, break through it and rip the arms of a pesky little kid was if someone sight-based had told him about it. Which would be impossible.

Wouldn’t it?

Smallville: The Exciting Conclusion!!

 

Darkness. Then, snow. A blizzard, eternal. This is The Cold. Where the Rimeblood rule. Ankar, Lady of Order, mother of the first peoples, makes a deal with someone unseen. Later, Zyz questions her judgement, but she says to trust her. She will see it through, because she wishes to have more children, and would not see them devoured as the Rimeblood ate her first children. But Zyz wonders, what could Ankar possibly give Ulyuq in return for him agreeing to free the world from Cold? Ankar stares into the sky knowingly. An aurora shimmers…in the sky….

CREDITS! 
PANTHEON: SERIES ONE, EPISODE SEVEN: AVALANCHE

Fade up on a desolate battlefield, thick with slaughtered dead. The carnage was terrible. The tracks of impossible beasts walk through it, into the distance – where their howls and feeding can still be heard. Inikaya, messenger of the gods, takes it all in. For this, ultimately, is mortal slaughter, and Gods are busy elsewhere….

Not far away, Korak, Ix and Smith are where we left them. Ix collapsed on his knees, downcast. Korak fuming, unable to speak. Smith victorious. Korak orders his brother to leave because he cannot stand to look at him. Smith objects, because he wants Ix to deal with the consequences for once. Ix sulks but will not leave for now. So Korak says, fine, wait here for justice.

At the Pit: Aristeia and Always both try to protect the other, which sums up their whole relationship – both sees the other as the little sister. Always, more and more sure of herself as Adelos, wins. But the world reacts. A frost runs across the earth,  and every flying thing feels Aristeia’s fear, and rushes to the pit. But Ulyuq is no wild beast, but always the bargainer. He is conciliatory, demuring.

Feeling the fear of the Sky, the boys realise something is up. Smith sends Inikaya to get Zyz from Toleken, the underworld, and Smith leaves to get Dorabus. Korak and Ix look at each other, remembering that moment last ep when they recalled past alliances. They both run to the pit. Ix, faster, wilder, gets there first.

Snow falls across the edge of the Pit. Ix moves to rescue Aristeia, but finds Anehute blocking him. Ix realises Anehute has gone off the reservation. Smith and Dorabus arrive and Smith starts telling everyone how he so knew this was going to happen. Always tells him to sit down and be quiet, and for once, he does. Korak arrives next and he and Ulyuq swap barbs about the last time they battled. Ulyuq says he is just here to talk  – to talk to Always.

Always says okay, everyone else clear out. Smith pretends to. Ix, trusting in his instincts, grabs Aristeia and runs. Korak refuses to budge and the two have a massive awesome domestic about who is in charge. Korak, as God of War, believes this is his domain, and she should respect that. He wins, but Always stays to help. A concession that only this new, wiser Korak could have made.  Ulyuq explains he is here to talk business: if Always or the Five is to become a new Balance, then Cold belongs within it, it is part of that nature.

Always leads the accusations against Anehute, but the mortal says he has only freed a few beasts and Ulyuq cannot leave. He thinks he’s a genius. Smith disagrees. Anehute says he’s better than Smith because he will become a God and wed a mortal without going through all those hoops and all he had to do was borrow some of Ulyuq’s strength. Always wonders if she could take some of Ulyuq’s strength herself. She is tempted by Ulyuq’s offer perhaps. Smith reminds her – as he knows so well – that it’s not about strength, but manipulation. Leverage. Ulyuq is up to something – but Smith has a plan….Korak says he’s going to get his armies to finish this, so keep him busy.

Meanwhile Ix thinks the only safe place for Aristeia is to go below, to Toleken. She agrees but will only go if Teyamaq accompanies her. The three go below – and with the sky and the moon gone, the whole world plunges into a solar eclipse.

Always thanks Smith for his council and tells Ulyuq neither she, the gods nor the world needs him any more. He is of the old world and does not belong. Ulyuq aquiesces but says he has another matter to discuss – he wants his property back. You see long ago, he was given the Sky in exchange for a truce, and then the Sky was taken from him by force, which hardly seems fair, does it? Always, shocked, runs to Ankar and Rokan to confront them about this revelation. Smith left behind at the Pit decides to work out Ulyuq’s game, using all his cunning.

In Toleken, Ix tells his father that the gig is up, and he is here to do a swap. He will take Zyz’s punishment and stay in Toleken, and Zyz can be free. Zyz says that firstly, it doesn’t matter if the gig is up, he’ll still take the punishment for his son’s sake, and anyway, nothing matters until Rokan forgives him – it is the anger of his brother Rokan that Zyz needs to see rescinded before he will leave. Ix nods and leaves. Aristeia, worried, follows.

Always tries to ask Rokan and Ankar about their daughter but doesn’t get far before Ix, mad with rage and furious speed, storms in. He confesses to Rokan and demands he release Zyz. Rokan refuses to believe it, and says it doesn’t matter anyway, Zyz is still a betrayer. Ix nods and moves on, he didn’t expect much else and already has another solution. He says Smith was right – we can’t move forward because we come from something broken. After he leaves, Aristeia arrives and begs for mercy for Zyz. At the tears of his oldest daughter Rokan relents – he will speak to Zyz and soften his heart. And so Aristeia runs after Ix, back to the Pit. Always, finally, can talk to her parents about everything – about Ulyuq, which really matters, about the deal. Ankar says she’ll talk to Ulyuq and Always says no, tell me NOW. Ankar and Rokan are taken aback.

“You raised me to lead,” she says, “Now WATCH ME”. Ankar smiles, and congratulates the new queen. But warns her, there is always a price to leading….

At the Pit, Korak arrives with his armies. Smith says he did everything he could to make Ulyuq leave and he didn’t so the big guy must be stuck – whatever he gave to Anehute has made him too weak to leave. No doubt Ulyuq is waiting for Korak or Ix to kill Anehute for his rebellion leaving Ulyuq free. Korak smiles and advances and demands Ulyuq return to the Pit. Ulyuq says he will leave when he has his property.  Ix arrives, storms to the edge of the Pit – but isn’t here to see Ulyuq, but his brother.

Ix demands of his brother: “Do you care about Rokan’s justice, or do you want to forge a new one?” Korak says he will forge a new one. Ix demands what that rule will be like  – has he sinned? Does he need to be punished? Korak says absolutely. Smith says no, dammit, no more punishment, but fixing things, dammit. The boys argue.

Back at the Rokan and Ankra’s yurt, Ankar confesses: that she gave Aristeia to the Rimeblood in exchange for ending the endless winter. Rokan can’t believe it. Always pauses, ruminates, and accepts it. It’s in the past, it’s something of Ankar, and, as she says: “You don’t matter any more”. Ankar smiles, her girl has come of age.  She takes off her crown and passes it to her daughter. Meanwhile, it finally hits home to Rokan what his wife did to his daughter. He bellows with rage and goes to strike his wife – but hits his daughter by mistake! Always brushes it off and reminds the feuding couple that they were once brought together by love, founded by love, built Always on love, and now Ulyuq threatens that love, and so do you. Rokan doesn’t listen. He shatters the balance and storms off. Always says “How do I fix this?” Ankar replies that she doesn’t know.

Ix says if he is to be punished, then let him be punished. He kneels. Is he waiting for Korak to kill him…or is he going to offer himself to Ulyuq in his cousin’s place? He looks into the Pit. But then Aristeia runs in and tells Ix to stop. But before she goes any further, Anehute grabs her and tells her she will be his now. Ix nods, thinking that might be right when he’s gone. But Aristeia screams no and pushes Anehute away. He falls into the Pit screaming as he dies. The cold of his heart flows back into Ulyuq. Always, now assured and wearing a new mask, built from her mothers and hers, showing her as now the Balance in full, runs and runs to the Pit. But Ulyuq rises and rises. Ix knows he only has one chance and leaps at Ulyuq. Suddenly Korak realises his brother could die and leaps to save him – too late. Always arrives too late.  Aristeia yells for Ix. And Ix locks his arms around Ulyuq’s throat, and Ulyuq’s claws begin to tear the God apart. But it’s Ix’s Pit. Always has been. He can open it and he can close it – forever, if need be.

The mountain explodes, the earth shakes, the rocks fall, the avalanche rains down…and the Pit is filled and Ulyuq is gone.

We pull back slowly. The eclipse ends. Aristeia weeps and rain comes down for her. Always wants to comfort her, but she cannot, for she is no longer love. Smith reminds them they must tend to the wild beasts. Always says “yes, we must remember our duty.” Korak nods “As my brother remembered his.”

The music comes up. Montage. Dead Can Dance’s “Fortune Presents Gifts Not According to The Book” plays as we see each of the four reacting. Smith walks the earth, aching for the dead mortals. He sees the corpse of a carpenter, hammer still in hand.

Korak sits in the throne at the Brass Palace, brooding, remembering.

The church of Always and the church of Zyz reconcile, now that Zyz has been redeemed, the gravediggers are part of the church once more.  Yeqawah also dons a new mask.

On the hills of a dying, denuded forest, recovering from cold, starving wolves howl.

Teyamaq carries the weeping Aristeia back home to the sky.  And the credits roll over total silence.

 

THE END.

 

Sting: Deep amongst the crevices and tunnels, Smith goes spelunking….looking for bodies…

 

Night of the Crusades

I don’t do reviews any more. Partly because it stopped paying (you can sell on hard copies of things after you review them, you can’t sell on PDFs), partly because I was sick of reading so much that was mediocre and awful and being forced to trudge through it top to bottom, and partly because I’d done everything I’d wanted to do in the field. The second one was a big one: I don’t actually like most games, and I’ve seen a LOT of dross. And I read slow. So when a nice chap dropped my an email and asked for my thoughts on his game, I twitched. Even if it was good, I was unlikely to care, and I hate trying to say that nicely.

But then, miracle of miracles, it was good. And interesting. But I’m still too tired and too busy to write a proper review. So here’s a non-review of Night of the Crusades, because it deserves your goddamn attention. And – and this is the REAL kicker – it is FREE. You risk nothing. For a 120 page PDF, a full campaign-ready RPG. And there’s supplements too.

Night of the Crusades is not unlike Ars Magica – a fantasy game, but one focussed heavily on real history, in this case, the Crusades. The entire game is set in that period, and in the Middle East. The world map is Byzantium to Cairo. There are fantasy elements, but they are few and far between – far fewer than Ars Magica. It’s also a darker, more brutal world than Ars Magica’s mythic europe – a lot more like Warhammer, but without the black comedy. It’s also a game where passions and loyalties matter a great deal, as in Pendragon, but where Pendragon takes its key from a mythic world, here again, the real world is the source.

And that makes a huge difference. It is one thing to get a bonus to hit orcs or saxons because of your blood hatred against them; quite another to get the same bonus against muslims or Christians.

Don’t think that the game is about religious genocide, however. No, far from it. It’s about what happens in between that. When the religious genocide of the Crusades dumps a massive foreign population in the middle of an indigenous one and everyone has to find their way.  One day you might be fighting Moors and be happy to get your Hatred bonus but the next, trying to negotiate a deal with them and it will be an accursed penalty.  But you’ll want that guy who really hates group X in your party, because just like in real life, hating someone really makes it easier to try to kill them. And this is a game that makes that HARD. Along with the combat talents and stats, the game also includes the psychological difficulty of trying to hurt a living human being, and the trauma of being successful. Like the madness and critical hits of Warhammer, the world of NotC is one where players end up messed up if they fight too much.

All of these things are accomplished with a system is always simple and a times breath-takingly elegant. There are five stats: Communication, Knowledge, Melee, Ranged and Vigor (I really like this because it gave me confidence in my recent stat list of Communication, Knowledge, Striking and Enduring but I digress) and the values in the range from 0 to 10. The really elegant part is that your stat level is equal to the number of feats you have that are keyed to that stat. So you just pick feats you want and voila, the stats are there – and every time you get a new feat, your stat goes up. It gives you twice the information in one stroke, the very definition of elegance.

The resolution system is compare your stat to the difficulty level, and add the difference to a d10 and try to get a 5 or better. This is the same for all attribute tests, so its usable for everything. But with the addition of all the fun feats (which have beautiful evocative names like Hyena’s Heart and Body Temple) the players have stacks of toys to play with, and there are also some superbly fun mini-systems not just for combat but for negotiations and even telling stories. The latter allows you to gain power-ups if your character tells a good story, and this brings in a kind of Arabian Nights feel to the whole thing…but that sits in contrast to the real history, adding poignancy to both. It would be like if Warhammer had mechanics to let your character play D&D, so you got a real sense of how the two were different. That’s really clever.

There’s also a great wealth system so you can play it Traveller-sandbox-style (or Pendragon month-by-month lifestyle stuff), buying and selling your way through life in a foreign country. Also part of this are the rules and information on societies and organisations – the game is less about getting XP then it is finding a community and rising in its ranks – building a home in a world where everyone is a stranger. It’s another example of what is just a simple and fun rules addition is in fact a subtle layering of theme as well. Sometimes the rules aren’t totally clear or robust but they are always clever like that.

I’m in awe of this game. Really, the best comparison is Pendragon: it matches it in scholarship on the target subject, it matches it on a subtle, evocative blending of history and myth, it matches it in making what you feel matter as much as your abilities, and it matches it in opening up the classic idea of the long-term D&D campaign into a life-long story of time and tide, money gained and spent, battle scars gained, madness tasted, and triumph paid in blood, sweat and years – and it matches all of that with a system that is almost as simple and elegant as the one in Pendragon itself. But don’t think it’s anything like a copy either – Night of the Crusades is very much its own game.  It definitely deserves to be as well known as Pendragon though, and if you have any love for the Crusades or the Arabian Nights, you will find fertile ground here.