A Roleplayer’s Guide to the Mythological Earth

For all those who are interested, the complete rules for Faerie Tales & Folklore can be downloaded in a convenient PDF format through the link below (click on the image, the link will take you to DriveThruRPG). This link will be updated along with the game and the rules are free to use for the purposes of play or personal reading. If you enjoy the material, please leave a comment and keep on the lookout for the coming KickStarter!

A License to be Extraordinary

There is a common trope in roleplaying games which often tries to define a beginning character as a nobody, an insignificant person within a great and wondrous world. This basic concept however is not born out by most of the cinematic or literary inspiration that draws people into the fantastic world of roleplaying. For characters who exist within the Mythological Earth, exceptional is often the point. In this blog, I am going to discuss the idea of exceptionalism from the perspective of a roleplaying setting and why I tend to urge such players to seek such exceptionalism should they choose.

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To begin, we should first look at a few popular protagonists from fiction and determine if they are indeed exceptional from the beginning, or if their “extra something” was found at a later point in the tale. This should provide a backdrop for the remainder of the article, while offering examples of the aforementioned exceptionalism. I will detail three heroes: one from cinema, from which I chose Luke Skywalker; one from literature, that being King Arthur Pendragon; and one from mythology, where Achilles seemed a fine choice.

Let us start with Achilles, the seemingly deathless war machine who nearly felled the lineage of Troy single-handedly. By looking at the beginning of the tale of Achilles, we see that he is no “regular guy”. His mother Thetis was a nereid, a type of oceanic nymph, and his father Peleus was the king of the Myrmidons. Alone, these two facts move Achilles far afield from the “regular guy” label and into the realm of “born this way”. As the tale goes, when Achilles was a small child, Thetis dipped him in the river Styx while holding him by his ankle. The river’s waters made young Achilles invulnerable everywhere save the place his mother held him, his heel. Thus, we can determine that Achilles is a high man with the “invulnerability” option (at least as far as Faerie Tales & Folklore is concerned). To be honest, this is as far as we need to go with this mythological figure. We have shown, by the myth’s own telling, that he was much more in the beginning then a mere ordinary man.

Now we shall look at Arthur Pendragon, King of Britain. This one is just as clear, as the man was born to be a king! He had the lifelong support of Myrddin, one of the most famed wizards in all of the world’s mythic traditions. Arthur carries the legendary sword Caledfwich, or Excalibur, which was alternatively either given to him by Nimue, AKA “The Lady of the Lake” or it was drawn by him from an anvil atop a rock. In the case of Arthur, his lineage and any potential otherworldly nature is a matter of debate, after all, he was taken to the land of Avalon upon his death– Which is not common for those without greater ties to the Otherworld and its inhabitants. It is known that he was born to be a king, and that he was watched over by the greatest of magic’s practitioners. This certainly marks The Once and Future King as something far beyond your “average joe”.

This brings us to Luke Skywalker, the greatest farm boy of recent fictional memory. Here again, Luke was the son of one of the greatest sorcerers of his era, that being Darth Vader. He was the direct descendent of a life brought into existence by magic itself (or the force, or midiclorians depending on your level of fandom) and was born with the possibility of even exceeding his father’s impressive abilities. Care was taken to make Luke’s beginnings seem humble, just as was done with Arthur above, but the truth is simple– Luke was never “just a farm boy” from a lawless desert planet (and no, Han was the only one who shoots). By the end of his arc, Luke could send a projection of himself clear across the universe to save his friends as he faced his failed student. By the rules of Faerie Tales & Folklore this puts the moisture farmer from Tatooine as a high man AND a magic-user, both of which are anything but normal.

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This penchant for fantastic beginnings is not limited to these figures either. Aragorn, as told of by Tolkien, was a member of a dying branch of people known as the Dúnedain who were blessed by the valar. Bilbo and Frodo were born with the ability to be ring bearers. Ulysses, of the Odysseia, was the grandson of Autolycus, son of Hermãhãs (the god). Paul Atreides, of Dune fame, was not only born the heir of a MAJOR noble house, but he was literally the culmination of a massive eugenics project intent on creating a superhuman of nearly godlike ability. Sétanta, or Cú Chulainn, was the son of, or an incarnation of, the god Lugh. Romulus and Remus were twin brothers raised by a she-wolf and born the sons of Mars. Even one of the oldest known tales, that of the hero Bilgamesh, tells the story of a man who possesses impossible strength. These tales merely scratch the surface of exceptionalism within the characters of our favored stories. In fact, a case could be made that a lack of an exceptional nature, in one form or another, is more rare in the fiction of our people then is its presence.

To support this ideology, Faerie Tales & Folklore encourages players to fill roles of epic heroes, otherworldly protagonists, and born kings of men. That is not to say that playing a character who came from nowhere is frowned upon, much to the contrary, it is simply important to recognize that exceptionalism is extremely common in the tales which our hobby draws from. As mentioned above, Achilles is a high man with the invulnerable option and the single class of fighting-man; Luke Skywalker would be a high man with a standard mutliclass of fighting-man and magic-user (same with Paul Atriedes); Arthur is a common or high man who’s class is fighting-man but is most importantly a noble; and Wayland, the smith, is a low man with the ability to enchant. By allowing players the freedom to be exceptional through their characters, they are allowed to tap into those very stories which inspired them.

Faerie Tales & Folklore is not built around the highly formulaic structure prevalent in many modern systems. The enemies players face are not likely to come at the characters in neatly packaged doses preselected specifically for a party’s level of experience. Myth, literature, and the cinema are never that fair, and for good reason. It is that sense of real danger, of real risk versus reward, that gives a good tale meaning. The same is true of roleplaying, without risk, the reward means little. This fact does not mean a player needs to be falsely limited to provide them a challenge. A king can be challenged by his people or his neighbors; a great warrior by evermore powerful creatures or larger armies; a magic-user might be under near constant assail from both supernatural forces and terrestrial prejudice; and a sneak-thief might always be tormented by the law, or their own insatiable greed. Any character will face serious challenges within the Mythological Earth, provided the narrator or referee has created such challenges for their players. For this reason it is important for the players to ensure that the referee has a clear understanding of who their characters are and the extent of their capabilities. This helps ensure that the referee can create an experience that is enjoyable for the whole group.

One way I have come to view the class/level structure of games based around D&D, is to consider it a form of destiny. For such purposes consider the abilities the character will possess at their highest level as the hallmarks of their eventual fate should they survive.

Example: A common man who has the class of fighting-man and took the background of landed noble could be seen as having the destiny of “Chosen by the ancestors to become a great hero, then lead his people in their struggle for independence, and eventually become their king.”

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Everything named in that character’s “destiny” is a perfect explanation of the abilities that character gains as their level increases. Thus, class can easily be seen as a measure of some portion of the character’s destiny. In this way, only the character’s of each player and the actual villains of the narrative have a destiny, as class becomes an easy way to quantify the future. By using class as a form of destiny, the idea of exceptionalism is further reinforced, including a sense of exceptionalism in the villain. The players and their characters can be seen as influential actors in important moments of history, they might still be essentially nobodies, but they are one’s writing the tale as it happens and that makes them something more– That makes them legends.

The Mythological Earth, as presented in Faerie Tales & Folklore, is not a game about the farmer who’s lands were burned by a warlord. It is the game about those who rise up to challenge that warlord. It is a game about those who do not hide from the dark, rather those who seek out what goes bump in that dark. These are not often “regular” people, but heroes, anti-heroes, and simply those who fancy themselves fit for a some grand purpose. This is, after all, what adventures and heroes do, they seek out their destiny and those tenacious enough to see their destiny through to its end become immortalized in myth, story, and tale.

Enjoy your time at the game table friends–

The Art of War, Part II (The Business End)

This is the second part of a two piece article on combat within Faerie Tales & Folklore.

A fight can seem like such a simple thing, find two or more individuals who are feeling a bit antagonistic and place them in close proximity. From this point however, the whole process becomes MUCH more complicated. There are questions of how and with what; of defense and tactics; and the list could go on. It might be this complex nature of combat that fascinates and terrifies us in equal measure. Perhaps it is the voyeuristic nature of roleplaying which feeds this fascination and abates the terror of violence, encouraging us to explore its most severe manifestations with the vim and vigor only fantasy can provide. In this blog, the second in a two part series, I aim to offer additional detail on arms and armor as they are represented in the Mythological Earth. Specifically, I will be shedding some light on a few of the uncommon mechanics used to define arms and armor within the system, along with a bit of detail on the various combat subsystems themselves. (Continued below)

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I will first delve into armor and armor class as they segue well from the discussion on hits and death. Armor, in its various forms, is handled by way of a familiar term “armor class” as well as the value attached to that term. However, armor class in Faerie Tales & Folklore has a more defined meaning then many games that make use the statistic. Each armor class value represents a specific combination of armor type and the presence, or lack, of a shield. These values are as follows:

  1. Clothing only
  2. Leather or gambeson
  3. Clothing and a shield
  4. Leather or gambeson and a shield
  5. Banded or mail
  6. Banded or mail and a shield
  7. Plate
  8. Plate and a shield.

This use of a specific value allows the different armor and shield combinations to have different defensive capabilities against different types of weapons. Any bonus or penalty to armor class (or defense, as such modifiers are often termed) is used to modify the roll and does not change armor class. By keeping armor class a static value that is directly related to the protection worn, the differences in protection from armor type to armor type are easily maintained. This method of handling armor class allows arms and armor to interact in a much more realistic way.

Melee weaponry within Faerie Tales & Folklore makes use of a statistic called “Weapon Class” to distill a wide array of weapon data into a single value. Weapon class might be seen as a measure of size, but it is really much more. A weapon’s class is a specific value that corresponds to a tight array of similar weapons: hand axes, swords, spears, etc. This value encompasses such things as: length, speed, lethal area, and the ability to penetrate various armors. A weapon with a higher class is bigger, more cumbersome, and generally more likely to score a hit against heavier armor. By contrast, a weapon with a lower class is lighter, shorter, and more easily manipulated, but is often not as lethal against heavier armor. The various weapon classes are as follows.

  1. Daggers
  2. Hand axes
  3. Maces
  4. Swords
  5. Battle Axes
  6. Spiked Clubs
  7. Flails
  8. Spears
  9. Pole Arms
  10. Great Swords
  11. Lances
  12. Pikes

These classes, ordered by numeric value, can offer more information then one might first assume. Weapon class serves as the direct counterpoint for armor class and the two provide a level of interaction not commonly found in other d20 based systems, with the possible exception of AD&D (if all of the printed facets of a weapon are used). Each weapon class has a different set of odds to score a hit against each of the armor classes, thus more effectively mirroring the capabilities of real world weapons and armor. The class of a weapon also influences how rapidly the weapon strikes, the effectiveness of a weapon when parrying the attacks of others, as well as who strikes first during any given round (these effects are detailed on pages 339 through 340). With this system, it is a good idea to carry a few different weapons to ensure one’s combat readiness for a multitude of scenarios, as any good warrior of history would have done.

There are two elements which can apply to any melee weapon that are not covered by the weapon’s class, the number of hands required to use the weapon and weather or not it may be thrown. A weapon that requires two-hands to use, or offers the ability to be used two-handed, is especially deadly to unarmored and lightly armored targets. Such weapons score automatic critical hits against any target who has an armor class of 1 or 2. The benefit of a thrown weapon should be relatively self-explanatory, which brings us to the discussion of missile weapons. (Continued below)

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There are a few aspects of missile combat that are handled differently in Faerie Tales & Folklore. One of the most important is the idea of direct and indirect attacks. If a missile weapon makes a direct attack, the projectile follows almost no arc in its flight to the target and arrives with most of its velocity intact. An indirect attack is made with a noticeable arc of travel, enough to pass over intervening objects and people. Such attacks generally arrive with a reduced velocity and thus have less penetration. All missile weapons that utilize force generated by the user automatically make indirect attacks  once they exceed half of their maximum range. This makes most missile weapons perform in a manner more consistent with their use in the real world. Another important difference about missile attacks is that they are resolved during two phases of the combat round, the half-move and just before melee. Thus, one may make both melee and missile strikes in the same round.

The primary combat mechanic in Faerie Tales & Folklore is built around the idea of gaining more chances to make a combat roll instead of adding ever larger bonuses to increase the odds of a single die roll succeeding. It is a good idea to remember that each combat roll does not have to be seen as a separate attack, from a narrative perspective. In fact, it might be better to think of the results of a character’s combat rolls as a measure of offensive output during a given round, rather then a specific number of attacks. Faerie Tales & Folklore does offer a few bonuses that may be added to a combat roll, but it is through the addition of more combat rolls that a character or creature truly becomes a better combatant. This central premise in the game’s mechanics separates it from any of its peers who use variations of the “Alternative Combat System” original found in OD&D. Though it can take some getting used to, the system is not difficult once understood. The fact that a sword always requires a modified roll of 13+ to succeed against a target wearing mail armor (as an example), makes it easier to remember the various values as they do not change.

Faerie Tales & Folklore commonly makes use of two other variations of the combat system. One for large scale engagements or wars, and the other for combating mythic creatures. In both variations, the exact equipment used by the attacker and defender has less meaning then in single combat. In large engagements, combatants fight as their troop type and when engaged in mythic combat, only the mythic value is followed (hero, great hero, wizard, spirits, etc). Any bonus a character or creature adds from magic, attributes, item quality, etc is retained in mythic combat but not during large scale engagements (unless the character is choosing to act independently). However, neither of these two forms of combat focus as closely on the interaction between various armor types and attacks from various weapon types as single combat. In a way, a large scale engagement is a bit like pulling the focus back from the scene a bit to increase the amount caught in the frame. You can see more of the scene, but at the sacrifice of detail.

Mythic combat, like simultaneous hits, marks a major milestone in the evolution of any character. If a character has a magical weapon, as well as the ability to engage in mythic combat, there is little they cannot confront in direct battle. Mythic combat is intended to be more of a measure of skill and heroism then superiority of arms and armor. Though gear has little effect on mythic combat, bonuses from magic, quality of equipment, exceptional attributes, etc are all still utilized. By keeping mythic combat somewhat separate from the other variations of the combat mechanic, the paradigm is allowed to shift between the practical issues of equipment and into the less quantifiable issues of bravery, skill, and possible supernatural ability. Thus, a battle against a mythic creature is not won by way of gear, but rather the truly heroic nature of the character involved.

When learning any new system, I recommend that players and referees not concern themselves with all the details of the rules to start. Learn enough to play a game and bring in more of the rules as they come up. This is especially useful with most combat systems used by roleplaying games, Faerie Tales & Folklore being no exception. Learn how to make a combat roll and when to add more; get an understanding of the combat tables and when to use each; and learn the order of a round. Once the basics have been understood, start exploring the rules for critical hits, called shots, unarmed combat, duels, etc. Explore new rules as the situations they govern arise, thus allowing a more organic discovery process. For many, myself included, this is often an easier way to learn the intricacies of a new system. This method can, and likely should, be extend beyond just learning about combat. To this end, the table of contents for “A Roleplayer’s Guide to the Mythological Earth” uses the asterisks (*) to indicate the rules and sections to read first. Following this suggestion should aid in understanding the rules while preventing them from becoming overwhelming for the new reader. (Continued below)

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The central premise of the systems which govern combat within Faerie Tales & Folklore was to try and find a balance between simulation and abstraction. The goal was to offer what I call “efficient detail”, or a level of detail that does not unduly detract from game play, yet provides enough information to ease the visualization of the battle at hand. An overzealous attention to detail can quickly cause a system to “bog down”, too little detail and combat quickly becomes completely uninteresting. All roleplaying games seek to find a balance to this equation and I can only hope I that my efforts find an audience beyond my own. There is much more to combat in Faerie Tales & Folklore, from terrain and other environmental conditions to movement and formation, there are even subsystems for dueling, jousting, unarmed combat and grappling, but these are topics for another blog. My desire with this article was to detail the interactions between armor and weapon. To that end, I hope I have had some success.

Enjoy your time at the game table friends and remember, an intelligent warrior has a better chance to become an old warrior…

The Art of War, Part I (Pain Hurts)

This is the first of a two part blog detailing the peculiarities of combat within the Mythological Earth.

Combat, as outlined in the rules of Faerie Tales & Folklore, is nasty business and death is always a possibility (if not likely). In truth however, violence REALLY is nasty business and death really is an ever present possibility. The consequences of violence are not confined to death or dismemberment, but also infection, healing, and the difficulties of acting while wounded. In this blog, I am going to examine the deadly nature of combat in the Mythological Earth and how this danger is mitigated in ways that are meaningful to the story. (Continued Below)

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I would like to open with the most basic measure of violence, the hit. Unlike most other OSR titles, Faerie Tales & Folklore uses the “hit” as a measure of what keeps a character, or creature, conscious rather then the more common hit points. “A Roleplayer’s Guide to the Mythological Earth” defines a hit thus:

“In the most simplistic terms, a hit is considered to be a fatal blow in a man-sized creature.”

This paints a clear picture of what a hit actually is, a fatal blow, and frames it within the context of a man-sized creature. Most creatures and characters either have, or begin with a single hit. One hit, by anyone or anything, and they face the throws of a death spiral. Characters gain more hits as they gain levels, and many creatures begin with more, but a hit none-the-less indicates no “mere flesh wound”.

In Faerie Tales & Folklore there are two types of hits, cumulative and simultaneous. Most creatures and characters have cumulative hits, which accumulate without healing in a manner similar to hit points. Simultaneous hits are possessed by higher level characters and creatures of great power. These hits are replenished after each set of turns (a round) and thus require such characters or creatures to by depleted of all their hits in in single round. For characters, hits switch from cumulative to simultaneous after a level specified by their class (4th for fighting-men or 8th for magic-users and sneak-thieves). This jump to simultaneous hits is usually preceded by the ability to engage in mythic combat one level earlier (listed in the level benefits as “hero -1”). This step in character advancement is important, allowing players to engage creatures of much greater power, while acting as a deterrent for lesser characters.

Beyond the separation of cumulative and simultaneous hits, Faerie Tales & Folklore uses a mechanic called the “hit penalty” to simulate the impairment of serious wounds. Each hit a character or creature takes adds another point of hit penalty, and each point of hit penalty applies that penalty to all d20 rolls made by that character or creature. Unlike hits, hit penalty is not removed each round for those with simultaneous hits. Hit penalty can lead to creatures being pummeled into ineffectuality by stalwart adventurers. Even though it is not specifically stated in the rules, a creature or character who has acquired a hit penalty of 20 has most likely been rendered useless, but not dead or unconscious. Hit penalty, once accrued, can only be removed with time and healing.

This brings us to the save or die roll. This mechanic was created to uphold the “single arrow fells the great dragon” trope common in literature and film, while also providing a way to avoid such a fate. The war game used as inspiration for many of Faerie Tales & Folklore’s mechanics contained many ways for even multi-hit characters to be killed with but a single die roll. Though this concept works fine for a war game, it can cause issues in games where the story is central. The save or die roll is simple, you are allowed a number of saves equal to your remaining hits, each failed save results in a lost hit, and a successful save stops the series of the saves.

Example: A character with 4 hits and a constitution of 10 is hit with a critical strike. The character rolls save #1 (of 4) and the result is a 12, thus causing a loss of a hit and forcing the next roll. Roll #2 (of 4) results in a 15, causing the loss of a second hit and forcing the next roll. Role #3 (of 4) results in 9, a success and ending this save or die roll with the loss of 2 hits and 2 points being added to hit penalty.

There are many causes of save or die rolls in the Mythological Earth, though the most common is the ever present 5% chance of a critical hit (as shown in the example above). A critical hit, scored by any combat roll that results in a natural 20, triggers a save or die roll using the constitution attribute for the save. Poison, spells, and using two handed weapons against lightly armored targets are other example sources of save or die rolls. This mechanic is useful in both maintaining the highly dangerous feel of combat, even as the players acquire more hits, and protecting important creatures and characters from some measure of bad luck. (Continued below)

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Healing is problematic within the Mythological Earth, and we wont even get into the chance of infection (rule hidden on page 278). Without any form of aid, the process can be inconsistent at best and even with aid, it is slow. Magical healing, even by way of potion, cannot be used regularly enough to radically alter this issue. Furthermore, hits must be healed before hit penalty, thus extended the effects of that penalty. Players are likely to come to the understanding that being injured is not easily remedied and that major injuries can force a character to be out of action for a while. This alone can be a good reason for a player to bring along hirelings, as they can offer something to do if the their primary character is presently out of commission.

At this point, it should be clear that getting in a dust up while adventuring in within the Mythological Earth can be quite dangerous. In fact, it would be wise for players to keep in mind that any engagement, or hit, can be fatal. This sense of danger is intended to provide more meaningful combat by creating a greater sense uncertainty and tension during any given battle. This uncertainty should (and I stress SHOULD) provide players with cause to seek other solutions to problems then violence, though violence cannot always be avoided. So what possibilities exist to mitigate the deadly nature of combat within the Mythological Earth? Beyond the classics of raise dead, reincarnate, etc there are two, maiming and plot armor. Both of these options can be used to the benefit of the ongoing narrative when a death might otherwise complicate the story.

Maiming is the more grotesque method of avoiding a death, and the option I encourage using when a player is facing death more from poor choices then bad dice rolls. Using this option almost irrevocably changes a character, providing a nagging and constant reminder of the misadventure that led to the injury. Even still, this presents an option to death that can benefit a strong narrative rather then destroy it. Such characters are often forced to rise beyond their handicaps to become even greater then they were before the event. The myths of Tyr and Nuada Airgetlám are examples of such injury.

Plot armor is gained through good roleplaying, the use of virtues and vices, along with one’s introduction line. At the end of a session, players can award other players story benefits for roleplaying their dramatis personae, or character, well. One of the uses of such story benefits is to buy an instance of “plot armor” to avoid a death. I tend to prefer using the plot armor option in situations where the character is facing death by way of chance rather then poor choices. This option leaves a character in a death spiral (so death may yet occur) but alive.

Story benefits and plot armor can be also be used to encourage a player to act more like the character they intended to play. Even when a course of action might not be in the characters best interest. In this situation, it is not the players poor choices that has the character facing death, but who the character actually is– That makes for good storytelling and should be rewarded.

Example: A player has created a fighting-man who has the berserkr ability and the vice “I react violently when taunted or slandered”. This character is insulted at a mead hall, he attacks the man insulting him (not knowing the man is a great hero). In the ensuing fight, the player’s character receives a mortal wound from a save or die roll, which allows no death spiral. However, since the player was fond of playing the character as reckless as he was written, the player had a story benefit available (from the last time he charged a slanderous tongue). Using this benefit to buy plot armor, the character instead entered the throws of a death spiral and slowly recovered after the great hero afforded him a bit of mercy by not finishing him off. Thus, the very thing that kept this character alive was the continued poor choice of attacking people who insult him.

The idea of “plot armor” is intended to keep important characters alive after a run of bad luck (or good roleplaying) in order to prevent the loss of a good storyline. Plot armor can only be gained through story benefits however, so a player needs to earn them before this option may be used. Even then, this use of a story benefit can only be done once per month of game time. This option fills a great many classic narrative tropes, from the classic “Oh no! Our hero is mortally wounded! Tune in next week!” to the death and rebirth cycles found within the hero’s journey. Since recovering from such an injury “in-game” takes time, this option offers a great opportunity to “reinvent” a character to keep them fresh. Change a virtue, or vice; alter their introduction line; etc allowing a character to organically evolve from a serious defeat can sometimes reinvigorate a player’s interest in that character.

The two options presented above offer interesting ways to handle an unexpectedly deadly fight. These options should not end up being a regular rescue from poor choices though, hence their limitations. Both options aid in the mitigation of an extremely deadly combat system in ways that are beneficial to the story. Most importantly, these options do not seriously detract from the danger of violence in the Mythological Earth. Each of the aforementioned facets of how violence is handled in Faerie Tales & Folklore adds to the gritty nature of the game. The looming shadow of death keeps the game tense and the outcome of combat uncertain. It is through these simple game mechanics that I hoped to provide combat with what I viewed as an efficient level of detail.

Narrators should come to understand the deadly nature of the Mythological Earth and have the creatures and characters under their control act accordingly. Most creatures are not going to fight to the death when an escape route is available. Creatures and characters with magical abilities are likely to bring the full weight of those to bear in an attempt to stay alive. Enemies will run, hide, fight dirty and otherwise “do what it takes” to survive, and it is advised that players take a similar approach (unless prohibited by the previously mentioned “good roleplaying”). To be clear, the quick and deadly nature of combat should be mirrored in how the narrator approaches the actions of the creatures and characters they control. Half of the battle against “murder hobos” is not providing the setting where being a murder hobo works. When a party has to deal with enemies who surrender, run, or otherwise break the mold of “fight and die”, that party is likely to face more complex and morally difficult scenarios then the classic “hunt monster, kill monster, collect the monster’s loot, rinse and repeat”.

It has been my intention to offer some insight into why the combat system in Faerie Tales & Folklore works the way it does. I hoped to shed some light on some of the underlying mechanics I needed to create while moving ideas from a war game into a more narrative format. In the end, my desire was to reinforce the savage and unpredictable nature of violent encounters, while providing mechanics that encouraged more realistic behavior from the inhabitants of the Mythological Earth. My success is likely a matter of both opinion and debate but I have found the results enjoyable, I hope others do as well.

Enjoy your time at the game table friends, and remember… Pain hurts.

Cultivating a Narrative

The act of roleplaying is, in its most basic sense, a form of highly structured cooperative narration. As it was first described to me, when I was eight years old, “Roleplaying is like reading a book, except you decide the ending”. I must admit, that was a mind blowing idea to grasp at that age. Suffice it to say, I was hooked from the moment I heard those words. In time however, I found that this wondrous idea came with an often overlooked responsibility, that each player should be an active participant in creating the narrative they hope to experience. In practice, I have seen this simple idea often get left behind in a pile of books, between the cracks of rules, and hidden behind the disillusionment of not having things go as each player might hope. In this blog I will discuss the idea of establishing a narrative and how a group can foster narrative participation, as well as how everybody at the game table has a central role in maintaining their portion of the storytelling experience. I will also be quickly detailing how Faerie Tales & Folklore encourages different narrative view points across many of its fundamental rules. (Continue below)

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To begin this article I will briefly cover an opposing view point. Not all roleplaying must be of a highly narrative nature. In fact, there are many instances where an abundance of storytelling becomes cumbersome to the main objectives of a session. To this end, a large number of roleplaying games include rule systems (such as sandboxing, or massive military engagements) where an ongoing narrative is secondary to other elements, such as strategy or tactics. Faerie Tales & Folklore is no exception to this, as its rules include many systems that have little or no impact upon the act of storytelling. If this is the form of gaming you enjoy, I would still suggest finding ways to add some narrative flavor to your repertoire. Even in small doses, such additions can add a lot of enjoyment to the experience.

Now, let us focus on the idea of narrative responsibility. What is it, and why should I be responsible for such a thing when I am trying to enjoy myself? Narrative responsibility is the understanding that each player has a portion to play in an ongoing narrative outside simply utilizing their characters abilities to accomplish goals. To put this in more plain terms, a player better serves the narrative by saying “I take after my foe with unbridled fury” (yes, voiced in a strange, poorly intoned accent) then “I attack the lead knight”. By the same measure, a narrator would do better to say “As your company of men makes slow progress through the narrow corridors of the ancient catacombs” (to the sound of prerecorded wind and dripping water) then “You continue down the corridor”. This might seem  a “no brainer” when read in private, though the reality of many of gaming tables has more in common with the later of each example then the former. In defense of most narrators, I must say that this issue is much more commonly seen among players. A narrator tends to find themselves at least partially forced to create some interest in a descriptive, or they face the possibility of rapidly disinterested players.

Let us focus on the player for a moment. When assuming the role of a player, as opposed to a narrator, in a tabletop roleplaying game, it can be easy to fall into a reactionary role of almost unconscious call and response. In this situation, a narrator describes what is happening and the player simply blurts out one of many canned responses: “I attack X”, or “I make a skill check against attribute X”, or even the ever droll “I am doing the same thing as (player X)”. These responses add little to the narrative and exist as little more then button pushes on a game pad. It can be common for players to feel at least partially clipped in their ability to narrate their character’s actions as they would imagine them. This is partially due to the emphasis placed upon a game’s rules, especially the scaling of power, and each player should find their own ways to deal with this issue. It is also partially due to the fact that narration is commonly seen as the duty of the narrator, or the DM/GM. In truth however, it is as much a players responsibility to narrate as it is the narrator. The narrator of a game is responsible for everything BUT the characters played by other members of a gaming group. Thus, narrating your character and their actions IS your responsibility, should you choose to undertake it. By this same measure, if a player feels trapped by a game’s rules,  a narrator’s control, or an unsupportive gaming environment, they are more likely to bottle up and offer less of themselves to the ongoing narrative. When that occurs, everyone at the game table loses.

One might ask “What happens when the mechanics of the game or the dice themselves do not uphold the desired narrative?” The answer to this is simple and well documented in literature and other media… Humor, often accompanied by some measure of tragedy. Think of the film version of “The Lord of the Rings”. In a well known scene, Gimli brags about his senses before being completely and utterly surprised by Haldir of Lórien and his wardens. This is a fine example of one’s initial narrative not working out the way it was imagined. The resulting scene was a humorous dispersion of tension that could have otherwise taken the encounter in a decidedly more unfortunate direction. If a player is encouraged to become more active in their character’s narrative portrayal, it is often beneficial to the process of collective storytelling. Being prepared for those moments when the dice, or the games rules, do not support the imagination is just part of the game. Such moments occur more often then we hope in any game or tale, but without failure or risk, any rewards would be meaningless. Yes, characters die, sometimes the bad guys win but it is not the end of the world and there are always more tales to tell.

During the design process of Faerie Tales & Folklore, I did my best to keep the narrative element “always within sight”. It spawned such previously discussed ideas as the introduction line, as well as virtues, vices, and the benefits they can grant. This focus on the narrative can be seen in more subtle places as well. When explaining hits, the game leaves it up to the player or narrator to define how multiple hits manifest within the game. They could simply be a numerical quantification of how tough that character actually is; they could reference a character’s ability to “roll with blows” thus reducing their effectiveness; or they might represent some otherworldly force that binds the characters body together in a manner beyond that of mortal men. Each of these is a plausible explanation of one’s ability to persevere over mortal injury, but each has a very different narrative feel. In the explanation of how to handle multiple combat rolls, the game allows players to decide if multiple combat rolls that hit a single target are indeed separate blows, or if they amount to a single, more significant blow. This may seem almost a pointless distinction, but from a narrative point of view, it is extremely important. What might be a standard turn of “I use all of my combat rolls to attack the boss.” might become, “I pounce upon the enemy commander, raining a furious torrent blows upon him from every direction!”. Or, if told by another character who intends to mount a single massive attack, “With my great spear leveled, I summon the strength of four men and charge the leader of my foes. No shield nor mail shall see me denied!”

This narrative flexibility gives both players and narrators a broad range of tools that can be used to better tell their portion of the tale. As with any tool though, they must be used and used effectively. There are many ways to encourage narrative responsibility among players and there are many rules that encourage the same. However, the best tool for this purpose is the creation of an environment that encourages players to take an active role in the ongoing narrative. If the environment is supportive and open, the players are more likely to begin participating as actors within a tale then bean counters at a board meeting for an insurance company. The narrator should reward active participation of the players by working with them to see their desires realized over time. Players should reward the good storytelling of the narrator by playing along with the tale that is being told. Unlike many types of game, nobody at the table is in direct opposition with anyone else, not even the narrator. Everyone is at the table with the primary purpose of enjoying themselves, the more this is understood by all involved, the more likely the group is to foster such an environment on game night. (Continued below)

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Below is a list of ten suggestions to help foster a positive gaming environment. Each suggestion includes a brief explanation why it is important. These are not intended as commandments nor rules, just ideas that can keep game night fun for everyone.

1. Remember, this is a game and everyone at the table is there to have fun.

This one is simple, though some find it the easiest to forget.

2. Everyone at the table should be treated with respect.

This is not some overly PC suggestion, this is just common courtesy for the benefit of a social game.

3. The player should seek to cooperate with the tale being told by the narrator and as such, the narrator should not break the trust of the players.

The narrator has often worked hard to present a particular story for the group, so go with it. Narrators, if you ask for the trust of your players in going along with your story, do not break that trust by forcing the players to do things they, or more importantly, their characters would not do.

4. Establish and respect an order of turns, but defer to the narrator if they wish to speak.

If a roleplaying session is allowed to devolve into social jockeying, it can cause many players to become less interactive. With a group of highly aggressive players, the idea of a “talking stick” can improve the sense of order.

5. Keep the narrative within the predefined confines of setting and scope. Do not use your personal additions to a narrative as a method to circumvent these confines.

This one might seem obvious, but it does no good to imagine the acts of Superman when the role your playing a peasant.

6. Avoid conflicts with other players, including the narrator. Try to find less confrontational ways to settle any disputes that arise.

Conflict within a narrative is perfectly acceptable and sometimes central to the story being told. However, conflict between the players themselves and/or with the narrator can truly poison the environment of a game table.

7. Listen to the narrative effort put forth by everyone at the table. Try to incorporate the narration of other players, and the narrator, into your own.

This is a powerful method to encourage narrative participation. Listen to the ideas put forth by other players and/or the narrator and do your best to incorporate these into the narrative bits you add. This single idea can really help to pull the shy, or less confident, player into the game in a low pressure way.

8. Respect the narrative being created and attempt to work within that narrative to the best of your abilities.

Though similar to #5, this suggestion is based more around a player or narrators attitude about the narrative being created. Scoffing at the narrative, or using your narrative time to mock the current story is truly disruptive and counter-productive. If you are that unhappy with the games direction, perhaps the current game is not for you.

9. Respect the rules of the game, but do not use those rules as a method to destroy the fun of others.

Though the rules of the game exist for very important reasons, these rules should not be used to stifle the enjoyment of the other players, including the narrator. A player who creates a character that cannot be beaten is no more beneficial to the group then a narrator who is unnecessarily brutal.

10. Be the player you would enjoy playing with or the narrator you always wished you had.

Yes, a modification of a Gandhi quote that non-the-less is poignant at the game table.

Many of these suggestions may seem to be common sense, yet they bear repeating. When the players heed these suggestions, not only is the game likely to go smoothly, but those involved are more likely take an active role.

Of course, there are the war gamers. For you guys, just have it off already! Swear, curse, and otherwise carry on like grumpy grognards having the time of your lives. We know why you’re here… “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women.”

Yes… A good tactical victory over your gaming friend down the street is fiendishly satisfying. I get it, so does Faerie Tales & Folklore… Just set the field of battle and get on with the war gaming!

For those here to tell tales however, it becomes part of everyone’s responsibility to create the environment that encourages good narrative, and thus good gaming. The habits that help to ensure this are not often as clear to some as to others, and players should seek to encourage the success of their follows and their narrator. This brings me full circle, back to that first day roleplaying and to the friend who introduced me to the hobby. He said one other important thing that day, “There are no winners in this game, and no losers.” It was in those words that I came to understand the most important part of why we enjoy this hobby, having a good time with friends.

Within this wordy diatribe, I hope some might find a bit of wisdom and maybe even a few ideas on how to elevate game night into something truly epic. These days, it might seem that everything entails some conflict, and that might be true, but let us not forget that roleplaying is a social activity… One that is often best experienced when the conflict unfolds through the narrative and not between the players.

When you next sit down at your own game table, take a good look at those you have gathered about you and ask yourself what you can do to create an environment that fosters a greater sense narrative interaction. Be that player you would like to play along side, or become the narrator you wished you had. Somewhere in this process, you will be creating a better game and a better experience for everyone. Enjoy game night friends…

An Interesting Question of Setting

After returning from a long sabbatical I used to finish the public manuscript of Faerie Tales & Folklore, I was greeted with an interesting question from a member of the Faerie Tales & Folklore G+ community:

“Why didn’t you go for a particular, explicit, setting?”

There are many reasons for this decision, some being more simplistic then others and one that requires some sideways thinking. In this blog, my first in some time, I hope to answer this strangely complex question. (Continued below)

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First, let’s look at the most basic and simplistic answer, Faerie Tales & Folklore is driven by the stories the players wish to tell. To this end, I had hoped to create a game that could traverse the eras and cultures of our world with little effort. My intention was to fashion a setting which sat alongside the world we know through history, and paralleled the one we know through myth. By using the historical Earth as my setting, I was unencumbered from many of the demands of world building and allowed to provide greater detail to those elements which set the Mythological Earth apart from its mundane counterpart.

Second, while writing Faerie Tales & Folklore, I had a desire to keep a strong focus on the literary aspects of human culture. That said, choosing a single literary source as primary inspiration for the game’s design seemed far too limiting, both to myself and to potential players. One of the often lauded elements of early roleplaying games, and the recent crop of “old school” titles, is the inherent hack-ability of their included settings and rules. To aid this, I included a number of literary reviews to give both a sense of what is possible within the rules, but also how the advancement of the eras affects the game. By including a broad variety of literary inspiration, I was also allowed to add the idea of plot points and themes. This addition provided an important modular resource to handle the wide array of game types and settings the rules allowed. When combined with ideas such as: the three non-culturally based classes and lineages, introduction lines, and the various natural language systems, nearly any type of historical setting can be conjured forth.

This brings me to the most important reason for the lack of a “specific” setting within the pages of Faerie Tales & Folklore. It actually does have a very specific setting, however it is not a setting in the way we commonly think of one. To explain, the Mythological Earth referenced in the manuscript is actually a fusion of two settings: the world we know that is populated by the things with which we are familiar; and the Otherworld, from whence all magic and myth reside. The setting provided with the game IS the Otherworld and all which that entails. The central conflict within the setting is not simply good against evil, it is the mundane versus the supernatural. Where upon the Earth your game unfolds is not the setting, the setting is the otherworldly influence which allows the game to live up to its name, Faerie Tales & Folklore.

Some might ask:

“Then why did you not describe the Otherworld in greater detail?”

To answer this, I would point those who ask to its many attestations in literature. Many such tales offer a mutable view of this strange land, often changing from teller to teller. It is this ubiquitous flexibility of form and purpose that I hoped to maintain. Simply put, it is the realm of the tale’s creator to offer the particularities of the Otherworld envisioned within the stories they pose. Such descriptions are as varied as those who pen them.

Dante Alighieri writes of The Primum Mobile:

As in a circle, light and love enclose it, as it surrounds the rest and that enclosing, only He who encloses understands.

The tales of Irish bards tell of Tir Na nÓg:

Oisín arrived in Tír Na nÓg and was very happy there with Niamh. Her stories of the land had been true. Everyone was young, and beautiful, and happy. Upon meeting an older woman, Oisín was confused, as he thought everyone there was young. The old woman explained she had been older when she arrived, and that in Tír Na nÓg she would continue to get younger until she reached the age of a child.

The Poetic Edda speaks of the Otherworld’s effect upon its heroes:

So was Helgi beside the chieftains, like the bright-growing ash beside the thorn-bush and the young stag, drenched in dew, who surpasses all other animals and whose horns glow against the sky itself.

Thus, it becomes the mandate of the current tale’s narrator to define the ever-changing realm. After all, this is a game of telling one’s own tales and keeping the setting open to interpretation seemed an important goal. Those few who have written of the Otherworld tend to maintain a certain undefined nature to the realm, leaving much to the listener’s imagination. I felt this was an important element of the myths to uphold, as it allows for a greater amount of flexibility within the game itself and the stories one may tell through its play.

In the effort to provide the tools needed to tell tales as far fetched as those of our own people’s myths and legends, I included tools to create whole planets, planes of existence, and fantastic beasts. There are rules for games stretching from the Stone Age to the dawn of the 20th century and there are even rules for telling tall tales. They are all united by the existence of the Otherworld and its impact upon the mundane. If players need detailed information on a particular era, there is an astounding number of resources available where one can learn as they wish. Books, films, television broadcasts, and the ubiquitous world wide web are all great examples of such resources. The manuscript itself suggests utilizing these sources of information as often as necessary to ensure a the creation of a believable experience for everyone involved.

If the plethora of historical and mythological sources exists to inform you of the contents of the mundane world and the myths of our people, then Faerie Tales & Folklore exists to inform you of how the Mythological Earth is different from our own. It lays a framework upon which your own tales can be set. I hope that somewhere in all this blather, the question was answered to the satisfaction of the one who asked. It is also my hope that others may glean insight into some of the reasons why I choose to present the Otherworld in the way It was and why having the Mythological Earth resolve with our own was so vital.

What tales shall you tell and where shall you go? These questions can only be answered by you, the players. Go forth with an adventurous mind  and enjoy game night friends… May your imagination serve you well.

Retaking Rule Zero

Well, this is the big one for some. In my ninth blog I will be explaining the changes to the much venerated “Rule Zero” and why I felt it needed alteration within Faerie Tales & Folklore. This is a surprisingly polarizing topic within the tabletop roleplaying community so I felt I should give a relatively thorough explanation of this choice, and what its real ramifications are within any given game session. To begin, an understanding of exactly what “Rule Zero” is should be stated to give the proper perspective for this conversation. D&D Wikia defines “Rule Zero” thusly:

“Rule 0, or rule zero, in tabletop role-playing gaming is the unwritten but commonly understood rule that the game master can override published game rules for any reason.”

This Rule is often also understood in this way:

“The game master is always right.”

This is a common and widely accepted idea within the roleplaying world, one that I do not challenge in most situations. However, it is also a bit authoritarian and this can lead to its abuse. Neither of these points are why I decided to alter the rule a bit. Faerie Tales & Folklore is a deeply intertwined system where even the setting itself cannot be easily separated from the supporting rules. This was done with the intent of providing a high level of believability to the resulting game. Additionally, Faerie Tales & Folklore is set in the history of our own species and largely upon the Earth we consider our home. This alone can cause issues with the traditional implementation of “Rule Zero”. If by example, a referee in a game of Faerie Tales & Folklore was to say “gods are real” in my version of the setting, much of the existing rules about the Otherworld become difficult to resolve. If that same referee was to state that the Viking Age never happened or that the Mongols never invaded China, it would create a huge hole in the setting’s history that would be difficult to resolve over time.

It has been the intent of Faerie Tales & Folklore from its early conceptualization to offer a setting that resolved itself into the modern world while still offering a past rooted within the mythology of the various earthly cultures. Thus, unlike many fantasy games, history has already occurred and we know the final outcome. Knowing such should not spoil a good tale however, as most stories have a predictable ending. It is the tale itself that we enjoy, not simply its end. In the game’s setting, we know what happens, not simply in the history of our world, but with the inevitable division of the Otherworld from our own. It is in this certainty that Faerie Tales & Folklore diverges from many fantasy games. In this fact, especially considering our own history as a people, the referee may NOT always be correct and it is important for a referee to allow themselves to be corrected, even when it is not comfortable. It will be unlikely for any single referee to know the entire history of the Earth and its people. If they get a detail wrong, and it is of significant import, such a moment should not be simply “Rule Zeroed”. The players should feel empowered to call the referee out on such irregularities.

The modifications to “Rule Zero” do not include bits such as fudging dice rolls, or making minor changes to simple rules to fit a need. It is suggested that when a referee wishes to make larger changes to the structure of the rules, he puts the requested change to a vote with the other players. In a war game there is usually no referee, so such votes should be decided by majority. This should also be the form of decision in cooperative narration, as any change will effect any player when they take the role of the referee. In a traditional roleplaying narrative with a single regular referee, the other players must be united in opposition to a referee’s proposed ruling to override it. When a referee is starting a new game for a group of players, it is advised that the referee go over any changes to the rules thay may use. This gives players the chance to object, possibly outvoting the referee, or to allow them to disengage from a session and seek play elsewhere. Players themselves may also suggest alterations to the rules, this occurs in the “Example of Play” section of the game when the players ask to keep unit placement secret until the correct moment. This should not be abused however and should be done with the blessing of the referee. The example used in the “Example of Play” allowed the players to create a more realistic and effective ambush that the referee could not bypass through “metagaming”.

By and large, players should respect the judgement of a referee. This is important to keep a sense of order at the table. Coversely, the referee should respect the rules of the game so as to not slip into an ever-changing game of nebulous “make believe”. It may seem to many that these points do not need to be gone over, but it is my opinion that they do. Any game is a set of rules and the rules of any game need to be understood by all who choose to play any particular game. Roleplaying games are different in many aspects from what may be considered “standard” games, but there is no less of a need for an understanding of the game’s rules. When rules are constantly being modified, the game’s sense of “terra firma” is jeopardized. This can impede the sense of commonality among the players and the referee, leading to resentment or disillusionment with the game itself. In games that utilize “collective imagination” this becomes even more important. As children, many of us played pretend cops and robbers games, or superheroes, or any other such derivation of imagined “good guys vs bad guys”. In such games, there is often the player who makes up “rules” as they go along. This almost always would result in some form of spat and an abrupt end to the game. If it is understood from the beginning what the rules of a game are, there will be a little chance of a painful misunderstanding of the rules.

In both the rules and setting of Faerie Tales & Folklore, as mentioned above, there exists a very deep amount of interplay between the various rules and subsystems. If a referee begins to alter these rules, the resulting changes can rapidly destabilize the balance that was crafted within the game’s environment. This makes the subtle change to “Rule Zero” even more important, as even what appear to be meaningless changes can have extreme effects within the game. Allowing a common man to be a magic-user for example, erodes the power balancing of the lineages, just as letting a low man call miracles or undertake the class of fighting-man would. There are a great many games available where the rules and the implied setting can easily be devorced from one another, Faerie Tales & Folklore is not truly one such game. Though I encourage its players and referees to experiment with the system if they feel the need, I would advise them to do so with the full awareness of all involved. When you are running a game as the referee, it is wise to respect the law of the “Rules as Writen”, and as a player you should respect the referee and their ability to arbitrate those rules. A roleplaying game cannot flourish without a certain mutual respect among all the players, including the referee.

Keep all of this in mind when sitting down at the game table and try to understand why I choose to make this subtle change. No one is always right, everyone at the table deserves respect, and the rules are there for a reason. Play with the original “Rule Zero” if you like but understand the reasons it may be wise to stick with the subtle changes offered. Look toward the long term “end game” of Faerie Tales & Folklore to see why the setting is not meant to be altered and try to understand how alterations may affect the setting as well as its believability. To me, this is part of the magic I sought to create…

Enjoy your time at the game table friends and remember, while there, we are all playing a game… Even the referee.

The Consquences of Witchery

There are three magical laws:

1. Magic has no sway of the heart of another. It cannot cause one to love or hate, etc.

2. Magic may not destroy the “spark of life”. Though magic can kill, the spirit continues.

3. Magic must have some amount of plausible deniability which allows it to be believed.

This makes blog article eight and within I will discuss something that sets Faerie Tales & Folklore apart from most of its peers, that being how magic is handled. In the setting that was crafted for this game, magic is problematic, it is in no way free of consequence and it is usually more subtle when compared to many fantasy roleplaying games. Magic within the mythology of our earthly cultures was seldom flashy, and it often came at a cost. It is this cost which kept it a practice of the brave, or foolish. In addition, magic is frightening in the extreme to those who do not understand. For all of these reasons, magic often becomes a pursuit of the hermit or other solitary individual. To surround oneself by practitioners of magic opens one to the otherworldly influences of many things best left forgotten. (Continue below)

So what makes magic in Faerie Tales & Folklore different? This question alone will take a bit of explanation and there is no short answer. First, there are three separate systems by which a magical effect can be invoked: spells, that have set effects and set side effects; spontaneous magic, where casters can shape magic on the fly; and finally miracles, that are called upon by common men and enacted by spirits from the Otherworld. Each of the known magical systems operates in a very different way and will like;y achieve different results. A miracle is the least reliable form of magic, though it can arguably create some of the most dramatic effects. A predefined spell will likely be more powerful according to its difficulty then spontaneous magic but is far more limited. Spells will have side effects which can be as severe as death, and material components which can add greater effect to the magic being summoned. Spontaneous magic is mostly intended for use by a game’s referee, and is capable of creating a wide range of effects so players do not become overly accustomed to what can be levied against them. Each of these descriptions is but a simple generalization however and each method will need to be detailed further.

It would be prudent to begin with the most common fantasy trope for magic within the roleplaying spectrum, spells. A spell is a predefined magical effect which is passed on by way of scrolls or spell books to other casters. This form of magic is very well-defined and will require the least effort to utilize within the game. Each spell has a detailed effect, as well as both a side effect and material component. To avoid a given side effect, a caster is required to fulfill the material component. Unlike many spell casting systems presented in fantasy roleplaying games, the one in Faerie Tales & Folklore is not “Vancian”. That is to say that spells are not memorized and forgotten when cast. Instead, each time a spell is cast, a complexity roll is made. If the complexity roll succeeds, the spell succeeds and if no material component was used, the caster suffers the spell’s side effect. If the material component of a spell is used, the spell is modified as stated in its description and the side effect is avoided. A spell’s side effect is also accompanied by a fear within those around the caster, the penalty of this fear affects the moral of everyone near the caster and not simply enemies. Spell magic has the further advantage of being able to be ritualized, so as to make casting easier but more time-consuming; or rushed, which makes a spell more likely to be cast quickly but with more difficulty. Lastly, a character is allowed to choose a single spell as a “signature spell”. Such spells may be quickly cast with some ease, though the caster will be significantly drained by such a casting.

Next I shall detail spontaneous magic. This magical form is generally less powerful than casting a spell, but it is much more flexible. To cast a spontaneous effect, the caster must decide on a single effect then roll a complexity check similar to the one used to cast a spell. However, this complexity check does not decide simply if the spell succeeds or not, but also determines the additional parameters of the final magical effect. It is important to understand that when deciding upon an effect, the character is NOT deciding upon the magnitude of the effect, only the type. The complexity roll for a spontaneous spell will be used to determine the available complexity level of effect that may be summoned. This complexity level is expended on aspects such as the magnitude of the desired effect, or the area, range, and duration of the effect. Spontaneous casting more than a few times per day will often cause serious depletion of the caster, leaving them drained and unable to function effectively. This will not be the case for spontaneous effects with a complexity total of zero. A spontaneous effect which totals zero is called a cantrip, a cantrip can be cast repeatedly without issue. Finally, spontaneous magic incurs no side effects and as such makes no use of material components.

The final form of magic that can be utilized in Faerie Tales & Folklore is that of miracles. Miracles are unique in that only common men are capable of calling them. Miracles are the least reliable of all the forms of magic available to a player and one should not come to rely upon their use. To call a miracle, a common man must make a specific request of a known spirit. This request is most easily handled by simply asking for an effect that is similar to an existing spell, though this is not a requirement. A request from a miracle can be almost anything, a miracle can even break the three magical laws in very rare or special circumstances. The type of request and who the request is made of will affect the chance the miracle is enacted. Once all the factors are figured and tallied, a percentile die is rolled to determine if the request for a miracle is answered. One of the primary reasons only common men can call for a miracle is that only their voices can be heard across the veil by the spirits who may answer them. Knowing which spirits will be able to fulfill certain requests will aid in receiving the requested miracle.

It is important at this point to give some detail to the power of astrological influence as it affects the use of magic. Though astrology has almost no influence over the calling of a miracle, it can hold strong power over the use of spell and spontaneous magic. When one uses astrological influence to cast a spell or magical effect, the collect correspondences which relate to the astrology of the magic they are trying to use. The more correspondences gathered, the more rare such correspondences are, and the more of each is gathered, the greater the magical effect that can be invoked. This method of casting spells or magical effects is far more reliable than even standard spell casting, as no complexity roll is required so long as all the necessary correspondences are provided. Procuring such correspondences can become quite a challenge however, especially for extremely powerful magic.

Magic within Faerie Tales & Folklore is intended to feel like a living thing. It is a fickle if not mischievous force that delights in its own double-edged nature. It is not as flashy as it will seem in other fantasy settings, as the mythological Earth tries to maintain a certain relative believability with the Earth we know. A wizard does not throw lightning and fireballs at foes directly from their hands, they call them down from the skies. It is this believability which is key to the feel of magic within the game’s setting. The mythological Earth is not “high fantasy” in the most basic sense, though that feel can occur within the game. Rather Faerie Tales & Folklore seeks to provide a more subtle and nuanced view of all things magical and otherworldly, and in this subtlety, it hopes to create a memorable experience that feels as though it could have happened in another time or another place.

Enjoy your time playing, or sitting behind the referee’s screen friends! Remember, sometimes a shadow brings more fear than the Devil himself!

The Lineage of Class

In this blog I will be detailing both lineage and class as they are presented in Faerie Tales & Folklore. Though the term “class” is relatively common within the vernacular of tabletop roleplaying games, “lineage” on the other hand is less common. Class, as presented herein, is a basic explanation of how any given character moves through the world they exist within. Lineage, as referenced in the game’s language, is a term which defines what branch of humanity a given character has descended from and has a profound impact on a character’s relation to the Otherworld. These two descriptive choices will make the largest impact upon who a character is and how they interact with the world around them. (Continued below)

Let us first approach the idea of lineage, or what many fantasy roleplaying games term as “race”. In Faerie Tales & Folklore, there are three primary lineages of men: common, high, and low. A fourth is also detailed, that being under men, but they have received a bit less detail and will not be detailed further here. These names have no bearing upon the power, social nobility, nor genetic superiority of a lineage. Instead, they speak more of their otherworldly connections and preferred earthly environment. One of the most important distinctions between these primary lineages is how each relates to the Otherworld. This can be shown most clearly by the category of creature they fit within: common men are mundane in nature, high men are spirits, and low men are monstrous beings. These categories are important and they appear throughout the game. A mundane creature has no otherworldly nature, though most are still reflected within the Otherworld. A spirit is itself native to the Otherworld and they are often seen as foreign within the mundane world. Finally, a monstrous creature is a product of the Otherworld’s ability to shape and reshape the mundane world. Each of these creature categories offers an important view of the world presented Faerie Tales & Folklore and the cosmology it promotes. All of the creatures within the game fall into one of these three categories, though a few blur the lines a bit.

It should also be discussed what the lineages of high and low men entail, and why more prevalent fantasy terms were not used. The idea within the game’s implied setting was to offer an experience that was easily modified to the various cultures and mythologies that are found throughout our world. This is important in the effort to avoid the necessity of piles of additional support material. A high man, being a spirit, can be a great many things: a hemitheoi of the ancient Greeks, or an aos sí of the the people of Ireland, or even the child of a lóng to the Chinese. A low man can also fill a great many mythic archetypes: an ancient seeming wizard, a shape shifting thief or pooka, and possibly even a dvergr who crafts items of great power. In this same manner, a common man may be of Asian, European, African, or of some other terrestrial heritage. In many instances this choice of lineage can itself blur some of the lines between monstrous, mundane, and spirit, sometimes even of the lineages themselves. This can be seen in the example of a low man filling the role of a traditional wizard.

Each of the lineages posses a few unique traits which provides a particular value for that lineage. High men are unique in that they may follow two classes if they so choose. This puts high men in the position to both fight and use magic with some proficiency. A high man may also more easily travel between the mundane and the Otherworld then many other spirits can. Low men also practice magic, though they may not attain the ability in such pursuits as a high man. Many low men have the ability to enchant items, which includes the creation of scrolls. This puts low men in the unique position of being able to choose the spells they learn in a way few other creatures can claim. Possessing the ability to enchant provides low men a unusual value within any game and is invaluable to any group looking to expand their capabilities. Lastly, common men may drive off spirits and call for their aid in the form of miracles. These abilities place common men in a position with an unusual amount of control, or sway, over the spirits of the mythological Earth and its greater cosmology.

If the lineages are the way a character relates with the Otherworld, the idea of class reflects a more practical choice. The character’s choice of class defines how they choose to interact with the world and outlines how they deal with everyday problems. A fighting-man will often charge headlong into conflict, facing a challenge with brute force or pure courage. A magic-user relies upon magic and the supernatural to solve the various issues they face. A sneak-thief relies on their wits, skill, and intelligence to navigate the world around them. These classes are not to be confused with a character’s profession, nor are they truly a facet of background, it is better to see them as a methodology. Each of these classes does not necessarily require vast training, though such formal education may certainly be a portion of one’s class. Furthermore, each class has a lineage which is not able to practice that class. Common men cannot undertake the role of a magic-user, a high man cannot follow the path of a sneak-thief, and a low man will not follow the way of the fighting-man. This is a fact of how each lineage approaches the world around them and is not to be ignored, nor should any be allowed to deviate from this rule.

The differentiation between the classes is both deep and readily apparent. A fighting-man will be able to engage in pure combat on a much greater scale then any of the other classes. They will also be able to lead armies and are most likely to build major fortifications. Fighting-men have the least knowledge of the Otherworld however and will generally be the least skilled, or educated, as such knowledge is often sacrificed for skill at arms. Those who take the path of magic-users will be capable of calling upon otherworldly forces to produce effects far beyond the capabilities of the other classes. They can bend minds, summon spirits, and call down lightning or meteors from the heavens. A magic-user will not be a highly functional warrior in standard combat however, nor will they have the breadth of practical skill of a sneak-thief. In fact, a magic-user will not even be as effective as a sneak-thief when a fight gets up close and personal. The sneak-thief can make the best use of their skill set and they make effective combatants when they can take advantage of an ambush or stealth. Sneak-thieves have a knack for creating large groups of organized, individuals with whom they work with to further their interests. As seen, each class has a very clear set of abilities and this should be maintained, especially in situations were a referee has decided to introduce their own “house rules”.

It is important to the power structure of the game that each lineage and class maintain a high level of differentiation, as this offers clear choices for the players to make as they create their characters. In many popular roleplaying games there is a heavy amount of homogeneity among the various lineages, with each capable of fulfilling the full range of classes and taking those to the highest levels of proficiency. In my view, this makes each choice less important and that does little to provide interest in such choices. In Faerie Tales & Folklore, each choice you make when creating a character has weight. If a player wishes to experience the game as a low man, for example, they will have a wholly different experience then the player who chooses to play a common man. This is equally true of a player’s choice of class. Choices of this nature have consequences and benefits that are immediately appearant and they directly shape a character. When such choices are coupled with the “Introduction Line” spoken of in my previous article “Introducing Your Character”, a vast array of archetypes can be created to fill almost any imaginable role within the confines of what is loosely human.

These two choices, each between three possibilities, present very dramatic shifts in a player’s roleplaying experience. Each possibility opens a unique set of doors and also closes others. It would be my suggestion that any “party”, or “company”, of adventurers have a wide range of the presented archetypes so long as it fits with the narrative being told by the referee. Not only does this increase the groups capabilities, but it gives each member a defined role to fill. In this differentiation, all of the players have an important place in the group which will not easily be filled by another member. When handled well, a healthy group dynamic is fostered and each player feels they have value at the game table. This is one of the reasons I suggest a “Session Zero” when starting a new game. Have the players create their characters as a group, the narrator should also create the primary villain during this session as well. In situations where a cooperative narrative is being told and referees will be swapped, all of the villains should be created at this time. This process will help foster a greater level of interconnectedness among characters, while providing more meaningful villains with which to challenge them.

The high level of differentiation in the basic choices available to players is very important within Faerie Tales & Folklore. This is but another example of the deeply intertwined nature of the games rules, both in its basic system as well as the implied setting. In a latter article, I will detail how this deep integration brought me to alter the classic “Rule Zero” of most roleplaying games, a change which no doubt has its detractors. For the space of this article though, I hope to have provided insight into two of the most important choices a player can make within the game, at least before play begins, and why I choose to go the direction I did with many of the classic fantasy tropes. I also hope to have shown a bit more about how the more ambiguous nature of class and lineage within Faerie Tales & Folklore allows a greater level of customization by both player and referee. It is that very customization that I hope makes this game more approachable to a broad audience without the need for either supplemental material, nor house rules and modifications by each individual referee.

As always friends, enjoy your time and the game table and have a happy New Year!

To the Otherworld and Back Again

It seems fitting to write a blog detailing the relationship between the mundane realm and the Otherworld of Faerie Tales & Folklore as I prepare to release the game itself into the “real” world. The project has consumed nearly two years of my life and in the end, it has shown me as much about myself as it has about my tastes for roleplaying in general. One of the main objectives I sought to achieve in the creation of this tome was to resolve the differences between the world we know and the mythology we find so fascinating. Historical fantasy has long been a favored genre of mine, but it only shines when the suspension of disbelief is upheld through logic, reason and a careful consideration of believability. The interaction between the mundane and the otherworldly in Faerie Tales & Folklore is an area in which I invested a great deal of time and thought, in hopes of achieving this very end.

What is the Otherworld, and why is it important? This is a fundamental question of no small importance within the mythological Earth. In short, the Otherworld is the source of all things supernatural. The longer answer is a bit more complicated, but the answers to that question are hopefully illuminating to the setting I have provided. To reach greater understanding of this topic, we first need a little background for reference. As a student in college, I studied with a cultural anthropologist by the name of Hank Wesselman. He was deeply intrigued with the world’s shamanic traditions and had penned several books on the topic. Hank would speak in great length about the higher and lower worlds and how neither should be seen is inherently positive or negative, they were simply different in intent and purpose. This single concept was the foundation of the game’s cosmology. It was from this basic understanding that I began to see an interesting conflict brewing and a believable resolution to one of the primary discrepancies of fantasy versus reality.

In the cosmology presented by Professor Wesselman, the two realms could be defined thus: the lower realm was one of adventure, challenge, and danger; while the higher was one of thought, creation, and consciousness. These two worlds are neither good nor evil in and of themselves and can be envisioned in myriad of ways. Most commonly, it was culture which defined how each would be viewed by the multitudes. The lower realm could easily be seen as both Hell to the fearful, or Valhalla to the brave. It could be both glorious and terrifying in equal measure. The higher realm could be Heaven to the those who sought peace, or as the Astral to those who sought to create. It could be both a place of unflinching law, and shifting chaos. It is important to understand that the higher and lower realms are the final destination of the spirits of all men. In that sense, they truly are the locations of one’s final judgement. In the end, these two realms alone did not provide all that was necessary for a complete fantasy cosmology however, for they could not explain the nature of the supernatural within our own realm. For this reason, I added the border realm to that model.

The border realms are the veil that divides the mortal world from the true Otherworld. It is here that most of what we might consider the fantastic will transpire. This realm is the very flux that allows facets of the Otherworld to shape our own. It is through this realm that thought can manipulate reality by way of what one would consider magic. Unlike the Otherworld proper, any creature may visit the border realm, but travel beyond its hazy confines is a death sentence for all creatures considered mundane or mortal. The border realms are a common place to which many travel in literature, and it is known by many names: Sidhe, Faerie, Neverland, Wonderland, etc. It is in this realm that common men are the anathema. The very existence of common men forces a division between the realms that grows ever deeper as more are born, or cluster in an area. As mentioned in the rules, when at least a million common men gather in a larger area (such as a city) a phenomenon known as The Black takes hold, destroying all spirit within its confines. The Black is the manifestation of the power common men possess to destroy belief and all things mythic. It is the destiny of common men to end the connection between the mythic and the real. It is this dynamic that shapes nearly every aspect of the setting presented in Faerie Tales & Folklore and it is the inevitable outcome of this conflict that allows the setting to resolve itself with the world we currently understand.

Being perhaps the only known thing not to be mirrored in the border realms, common men fill a unique role in the realms as a whole. Even the mundane animals, as well as the very plants themselves are mirrored within the border realms. This fact has led the common man to deep feelings of both loneliness and superiority within the game’s cosmology. Due to this natural separation from the Otherworld, it can be more difficult to draw common men across the veil and into the border realm. Spirits and high men are able to, but only if they outnumber common men in total. Common men are able to pull high men across the veil, but only if a high man is outnumbered by the familiar 100 to 1 ratio. Because of the fact that high men are able to choose which realm, mundane or border, they are in at a given time, they can move among common men they outnumber while remaining undetected. Though this can be thought of as a form of invisibility, that is not exactly the truth. If it is the destiny of common men to destroy the connection to the mythic, it is the destiny of high men to guard that connection. Though common men are those who stand against the fantastic, they do however dream, as all sentient beings do. It is in this last fact that even they are not truly divided from the Otherworld. (Continue below)

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This all leads us full circle, to the back door of the Otherworld proper, the realms of dreams. It is these strange individual shards of a greater realm which can never be taken from the dreamer or those who imagine. It is these places which always tie the mundane to the Otherworld. It is precisely the fact that each shard of the dreaming realm is a place only its dreamer can truly enter that keeps it protected from the ravages of common men and their desire to strip the multiverse of wonder. In fact, it is in this realm that even common men find solace in the mythic nature of the Otherworld. It is supposed by some that the realms of dreaming are the source of all things, real or imagined, and it is here that Faerie Tales & Folklore “breaks the fourth wall” and becomes aware of itself. Though not directly said within the rules, it is here in the realms of dreams, that the game’s various creatures and characters would find that they are the dreamed, the fantastic creations of the player’s imagination. Thus, it is here that dreaming realms have kept the mythology of our people alive and thriving. It is for this reason that none may truly enter the realm of another’s dreams. Though we may view them through our collective imagining, and character’s may experience them through magic, all but the dreamer is a voyeur in another’s shard of the dreaming.

This layered cosmology sets up a myriad of possible realities for an intrepid group of adventurers to explore. It defines a central conflict within the implied setting, and it offers a clean resolution to the differences between mythology and reality. Additionally, it provides a way to view the wide range of otherworldly locations common in the mythic tales of our many cultures without having to detail each. Each realm offers some of itself to the border realm to shape the formation of the fantastic. From the magic of creation through thought brought by the higher realms, to the eternal immortal agelessness of the spirits allowed by the lower realms. Even the mundane offers its mantle of absolute form, just as the dreaming lends its ever changing mutability. All of this is tied together by the mists of the border realms, and threatened by the great insurmountable wall of The Black. These are the five realms of Faerie Tales & Folklore, inseparable and bound by imagination.

In later blogs I will write more on topics such as the difference between a monstrous being and a spirit, as well as how the Otherworld shaped both. That however is not the intent of this article. Here I hoped to offer some bit of illumination into the complex interplay between the various realms of the game and how these realms were to shape the game itself. Cosmology as presented in many game systems often seems more of an afterthought, a mere way to create additional types of adventure, or offer a more broad range of settings. Seldom is it treated as a fundamental aspect of the game itself and the greater narrative it hopes to uphold. In Faerie Tales & Folklore, this was the very intent of the cosmology that was introduced. The Otherworld cannot truly be omitted from the rules I devised, nor should the attempt be made. Instead, the players and referees should try to embrace the greater cosmology and the nature of the game’s conflict. I would hope the relationship between the realms can be seen for its ability to resolve the mythic and the real, as well as provide reason behind the reality of meta-gaming within the construct of structured roleplaying.

Enjoy your time at the game table friends, and remember to set your imagination free from time to time… It can create whole universes! Peace friends…