Monday, September 19, 2016

Setting: The Imperial Calendar

[Just a quick something to get back into the habit of writing. Not part of my current game rules, but rather something from my old campaign.]

The Imperial Calendar was created during the reign of the Emperor Constans in order to provide the Empire with a single calendar. At the time of the introduction of the Imperial Calendar, during the reign of the Emperor Constans, there were four major calendars in use within the Empire - the Mithraic, Aslander, Mahan, Pagan, and Church calendars (in addition to numerous minor calendars). Not only did they have a different count of years, they also had differing definitions of how the year was to be split up.

Each of them had their problems:

  • The most commonly used calendar was actually the Mithraic (since Mithras was the current Imperial Capital), which was a solar calendar that dated from the reputed founding of the city. However this consisted simply of a day count from the autumnal equinox (which was effectively Day 0 of the count). It was a tradition that all business deals and obligations in the year be finalised before the Equinox. Each new day started at dawn. Because it was a simple count of days the probability of someone making an error in the count (and subsequent disputes) grew as the year went on.
  • The Aslander calendar was a solar zodiacal calendar, with the year being subdivided by which of the twelve zodiacal constellations the sun rose in at the beginning of each day. This had two basic problems. First of all, the constellations occupied different parts of the sky, so each month was effectively of different length. For example the Vulture was officially a month with 34 days, whilst the Hare only had 25 days. Secondly there could be a dispute as to when a new month officially started, which had consequences for business disputes. This was officially settled by the Aslanders by having the Senior Judge of each city make the observation as to when each month actually began. Thus the first day of Hare occured 35 days after the first day of Vulture. This was fine and dandy, until, in typical Aslander fashion, a court case decided that "observation" was quite an important legal aspect of this decision/custom, so that the new month could not start until the Senior Judge literally observed the sun rise in the constellation. Thus an inconvenient bout of bad weather (or inability of the Senior Judge to make the observation) could artificially lengthen one month and shorten the next.
  • The Mahan calendar was really a minor calendar at this time, although is worth mentioning at this time because of the importance it gained after the Interregnum, when it was became the official calendar of the Witch Kingdoms (the so-called "Empire of the Moon"), which grew up around the clansmen of the Mountains of Maha and the Caverns of Nosorol. It was a lunar calendar based around the phases of the moon, and started each new moon and lasting 28 days. The first month of the year began on the new moon that follows the winter solstice.
  • The Pagan calendar(s) were your typical rural calendar system which was governed by the local agriculture and weather. They were probably the most important sort of calendar if you wanted to grow food, but the increasingly urban population (including scholars) tended to ignore it. Still many rural "contracts" were written in terms like "after the bean harvest," making it a useful measure of time.
  • The Church calendar was probably the worst of the lot, since it was a liturgical calendar based on the various saint's days. Originally the major saint's day where associated with the solar festivals (for example Saint Mithras Day was the autumnal equinox, whilst Saint Justen's Day was the summer solstice). There were two problems that resulted from this. First of all, the Synod added days to the calendar in positions that were theologically appropriate to the surrounding saints. As the calendar filled up, this eventually pushed some of the major saints away from their respective solar festivals since each saint's day had to be celebrated in order. The second problem was that the Synod didn't stop adding names to the calendar when they reached 365 saints. At the time of the Emperor Constans, the Church calendar was officially 456 days long.

The Emperor Constans, in consultation with his astrologers and court magicians, sought to create a new Imperial calendar. Because of a love of symmetry it was to have four seasons, each consisting of three months of exactly thirty days in length. In the middle of each middle month there was added an extra day to the calendar which was the ay of the appropriate Solar Festival. These festival day were not actually considered to be part of the calendar - they were not actually part of the middle month of each season, and no business or work could be performed on them. The middle month remained legally exactly 30 days long (despite the fact that the sun might rise and set 31 times in the same time period). The year would officially start on the summer solstice (using the count of years since the reputed inauguration of the First Emperor - who was later to be canonised as Saint Justen).

And so all the calendar problems were to be solved in one fell swoop. By Imperial decree the calendar was adopted throughout the Empire at the next summer solstice, which would begin Year 756 of the Empire (IE).

Only there was one small teensy problem - the solar year was actually 365 days long, and the new Imperial year was only 364 days long.

They were still arguing over where to put the extra day in the calendar when the year 777IE formally started. The decision was delayed by Constans' illness though. And then someone noticed something strange about the autumnal equinox (Harvestfare). Everyone could remember celebrating it on the day, but people counting back the number of days in the month arrived at it being exactly 30 days long, not 31. There were 15 days before it and 15 days after it, but only 30 days in the month. This happened at the winter solstice (Sunreturn) as well. And the summer solstice (Emperor's Day) occurred exactly after 15 days of the middle month of Midsummer. An entire day had been excised from the year.

It appears as if they had inadvertently (although some suggest intentionally) created an Empire-wide magical ritual that had excised a whole day from the solar year.

The year 757IE happened much the same way (well except for the death of the Emperor Constans from his protracted illness and the investiture of the Emperor Rubens). And 758IE. 759IE. The magicians of the Empire waited for something to happen for their hubris at accidentally trifling with time (something that was prohibited by the High Council of Wizards for a very good reason). But nothing happened...

Except...

If you are busy doing a long task and you finish sooner than you think you would, or are taking a long trip and discover that you got there sooner than you thought you could, then perhaps, just maybe, that extra uncounted day you got was the Lost Day, just helping you in your time of need.

Serving time retail, rather than wholesale.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Birth Caste

The first thing players in my game get to do is determine their Birth Caste. They may do this by rolling 1d6 on the following table, or they may choose from one of the six options (if they have their hearts set on playing a particular caste or ... class). The castes are listed in a rough order of their importance in society.

d6Birth CastePreferred
Characteristic
1AristocraticCha
2MilitaryStr
3ReligiousInt
4ArtisanDex
5PeasantCon
6OutcasteWpr

The character's Birth Caste provides two main game-based advantages:

  1. When rolling characteristics the standard method is rolling 4d6 and choosing any three, However with the indicated preferred characteristic, all four dice may be chosen.

  2. Membership of a caste provides the character with certain innate background skills as a result of their upbringing. These are generally represented by two discrete Expertises (one of which is the form of etiquette practised by the members of the caste), although there are collateral effects.  One can, for example expect members of the Military and Aristocratic castes to be able to ride a horse, for example.

Firstly this means that members of a particular caste are much more likely to enter certain classes. For example members of the Military caste are much more likely to become Fighters, Knights, or Samurai, for example. Their upbringing particularly suits them for that role.

Secondly if someone wants to become a proper member of the indicated caste they will need to acquire the indicated Expertises. The etiquette Expertise is sufficient to convince non-caste members that you are a member of the caste, whilst the deeper knowledge of the second Experitse is required to convince caste members that you actually belong. Individuals that change caste will generally lack the appropriate Expertises to properly fit into their new social milieu and will often struggle. If they have risen in social status they will probably be considered parvenu (their children, on the other hand, have been properly brought up in the caste, will have the proper training, and will not be considered parvenu).

The Castes

I've used the term "caste" mainly because the operator "class" is already overloaded in most D&D games. However there is also a certain truth inherent in considering the social class your character was born into to be a caste, for in most cultures there are very few opportunities for a character to escape the social class they were born into, even if there are not religious, legal, or social impediments to doing so. Adventurers are a notable exception to this, because they effectively represent a distinct social class of their own: they are those individuals that have formally renounced their caste obligations and position in society to advance (or fall) on their own merits.

Aristocratic Caste (Charisma)

These are the hereditary rulers of the land (or the group from which the rulers of the land are typically drawn). From an early age they are exposed to the ins-and-outs of leadership and courtly behaviour and political machinations, and so Charisma is their preferred characteristic. Their Etiquette Expertise is Courtesy, which allows them to operate in the courtly environment, both in formal (presentation at court and proper etiquette) and informal (intrigue and gossip) situations. Their other Expertise is Heraldry, which is not just the technical knowledge of the heraldry, but the practical knowledge of what power and influence belongs to those to whom the heraldry belongs, as well as who is related to whom. Using this, an aristocrat can place their pedigree to a precise degree. Status is often everything to an aristocrat.

Of all the castes, individual members of the aristocratic caste are the ones most likely to become adventurers. This is because if one is neither the "Heir" nor the "Spare," there is little opportunity for social advancement. If the family is rich enough, then they may usually remain as Gentlemen (Noble Social Level 2), who may support the family's interests as junior managers and supervisors (or just simply live well), but many will be relegated to the Military or Religious Castes instead. Seeking to make your own position in the world was always considered an acceptable alternative, and is why adventurers are effectively considered an acceptable social class/occupation).

Important Note: Being an aristocrat is expensive. Whilst most other castes pay their cost of living expenses in silver pieces (sp), members of the aristocratic caste are required to pay their cost of living expenses in gold pieces (gp). For this reasons most aristocratic adventurers voluntarily affect membership of the military or religious castes (depending on their class). This effectively limits their ability to trade on the family name.

Military Caste (Strength)

This is the military elite of the land. They usually have the privileged position just below that of the aristocracy, for they are the mailed fist that supports the social order. The officers and leaders of the military are invariably drawn from their ranks, and they themselves form the elite troops, such as knights, samurai, and weaponthanes of the society. Their upbringing often includes rigorous physical conditioning which makes Strength their preferred characteristic. Their Etiquette Expertise is Captaincy which is the ability to lead and organise men, especially into combat or danger, organise supplies, read maps, and have knowledge of strategy and tactics. Their other Expertise is usually Soldier, which is generally the practical knowledge of military life, especially on campaign. However nations where the Navy is the "Senior Service" may instead choose to take the Sailor expertise, which is the naval equivalent of Soldier. [However in order to be promoted to Lieutenant they will still need to gain the Seamanship Expertise.]

Members of the military caste often become adventurers because there is often little difference between adventuring and being on a campaign (except you are more likely to be outnumbered). In fact some members of the military caste can still manage to combine an active military career with an adventuring career whilst off-duty or on leave.

Religious Caste (Intelligence)

The religious caste represents the educated elite of the land. Throughout history and in many different societies this has usually been the preserve of the priesthood and clergy. Normally they play second-fiddle to the military caste, but in peaceful societies they might be the mandarins in control of administering society and ordering the troops where to go. Their formal education allows them to consider Intelligence to be their preferred characteristic. Their Etiquette Expertise is Educated, and they may generally choose any Lore as their second Expertise (which determines their speciality within the caste). For example, Theology might be the lore chosen by a member of the priesthood, whilst Law might be chosen by a lawyer, Physician by a doctor, Scholar by an academic, Magic Lore by a mage (the theoretical knowledge of magic rather than the practical knowledge represented by class abilities), and Stewardship by an administrator/factotum.

Most members of the religious caste would consider adventuring to be a cold, wet, and thoroughly miserable way to die. However the magic using element of the religious caste is over-represented amongst adventurers because the often the only way to acquire new magic is to go looking for it in all the dark paces of the world.

Artisan Caste (Dexterity)

These are the craftsmen that make the goods that are often treasured by the higher castes. As a result they have bought themselves a higher role in society. Because most members of the artisan class make stuff, Dexterity is considered their preferred characteristic. Their Etiquette Expertise is Merchant, which is the ability to run a business, whilst their other Expertise is Craftsman. The crafts known by artisans are generally jealously guarded family secrets like weaponsmithing, bowyer, armoury, apothecary, artificing, and even architect. Artisans are much more likely to know how to make magical items than common craftsmen (who have neither the time nor customers to investigate doing so).

Whilst technically and officially still members of the peasant caste, rich merchants and bankers have also managed to parley their services to the higher castes (and wealth) into an elevated caste status for themselves and are considered to be members of the artisan caste even if they don't manage to produce anything and just move it around. They are considered to have the Merchant Expertise and Banking Expertise.

Very few members of the artisan caste turn to adventuring. Some may wander, looking for a place to set up shop, but skilled craftsmen are always in demand.In fact some trades, such as the village blacksmith, are so important that the craftsmen are crippled if there is a hint they might "run away." Although in truth, given their elevated status in a rural community, there is little incentive for them to do so. Generally the ones that do become adventurers are the n'er-do-wells, who have parleyed their mercantile and mechanical abilities into more dubious pursuits.

Peasant Caste (Constitution)

These are the other 95% of society who toil to support the other castes. The result of all this hard work is to make Constitution their preferred characteristic. Their Etiquette Expertise is Folklore, which is not only knowledge of local superstitions and legends, but local history, law, customs, people, and gossip. While you typical peasant may not travel further than a half day from his village, they know every blade of grass within that half day. As a result the Expertise is generally tied to where the peasant lives. Travel far enough, or encounter people of a different culture, then the two Folklore Expertises will be effectively different (however it can still be used to validate your caste membership to the other party).

The other Expertise known by a member of this caste is generally Peasant, since about three-quarters of the caste will be engaged in purely agrarian pursuits. However members of the peasant caste have a wide-range of secondary Expertises available to them, including the Expertises of the other castes. For example:

  • A servant of the aristocracy may take the Courtesy Expertise. And yes this does mean they can readily pretend to be nobles themselves.
  • A common soldier or sailor may take the Soldier or Sailor Expertise.
  • A clerk may take the Lawyer or Stewardship Expertise.
  • A merchant may take the Merchant Expertise. A craftsman may take the Craftsmen Expertise, although it will concentrate more on those trades common to the countryside, such as blacksmith, mason, weaver, and carpenter (and the common craftsmen will almost never have any access to the recipes required to craft magical items, even if they may eventually develop the capability to do so).
  • Not to mention all the other common trades and careers, like Hunter, Fisherman, Herdsman, Labourer, etc.

Despite the fact that members of the peasant caste vastly outnumber all the other castes combined, very few members of this caste have the opportunity to take up adventuring. Often there are legal and social constraints (for example the ability to bear weapons or even leave the land), as well as the economic constraints of outfitting the character for an adventuring lifestyle (as opposed to becoming a simple bandit). Usually members of this caste become adventures through the direct sponsorship of a member of a higher caste.

Important Note: Being a peasant is as cheap as being an aristocrat is expensive. A peasant can pay his living expenses in copper pieces rather than silver. However as the lifestyle that results will be that of a poor serf, most members of this caste prefer to pay their living expenses in silver pieces if they can afford it. Note that since the daily cost of living is paid in copper pieces, peasants away from home gain no benefit from living cheaply. The benefit is only gained when paying cost of living expenses monthly or annually (and thus, only applies when the peasant can pay their cost of living in such a manner).

Outcaste (Willpower)

Some cultures will have an explicit outcaste of untouchables, such as the burakumin or Japan and the dalit of India. However these individuals can never rise to the level of adventurer within their native societies because of the restrictions put on them. If they acquire the Folkore Expertise then they can pretend to be a member of the peasant caste, but their lack of an "acceptable" secondary Expertise to support themselves will often give them away. Still this is always an option for adventurers coming from this social class. However the main adventuring members of this caste are those who already exist outside of society. In effect, they are already adventurers without the formal declaration that makes them what they are. Surviving and prospering as an Outcaste requires considerable tenacity in the face of opposition, which is why Willpower is the preferred characteristic.

The Etiquette Expertise is either Untouchable (for those societies that have an explicit caste of untouchables) or Outlaw (for those who exist outside society's protection for other reasons). Both of these Expertises are effectively disadvantages when used outside the context of the subclass, so all members of the outcaste who are adventurers also get the Folklore expertise for free. One of the advantages of this Etiquette Expertise is that the outcaste is often ignored by the authorities and it is easier to disappear into it. [Although when the authorities do take notice, the repercussions are often extremely brutal.]

Certain classes may only be taken by members of the Outcaste. In particular the class of Cultist can only be taken by members of the Outcaste, in which case the Etiquette Expertise becomes Heretic and the Etiquette Expertise normally associated with the character's Birth Caste (or roll randomly), and the secondary Expertise is Dark Lore or Cult Lore. Access to this class, and the increased Willpower characteristic, are the general reasons why someone might choose to be an Outcaste.

Membership of the Outcaste also allows characters to ignore societal restrictions that may be placed on them. For example in a society where peasants are not allowed to touch weapons (and not just the serfs and slaves), becoming an Outcaste might be the only way to become a Fighter. Admittedly an outlaw or bandit, but that at least allows you to acquire the class.

[That was exhausting. My primary game notes were basically the listed table. All the rest was addenda and explanation which I just added to explain the table.]

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Et ├Ždificavit prava in lacum

In a moment of weakness I've decided to publish some of the various house rules I use (or may not use) in my current incarnation of my D&D game.

I was saving them up for formal publication (for free), but that is probably never going to happen, since I am far too chaotic.  So this is a somewhat motley collection of various rules.

And I say "rules" rather loosely.  Most of my game has grown out of a set of three defined axioms and rulings are always ex tempore.  In effect these are worked examples extracted from my head with the aid of a trepanning chisel.

So I should probably start by explaining these axioms.

The First Axiom


Everything has a level (which is quantifiable and not an abstraction).  This level is relatable across the game system, so level of place, nobility, title and character are all comparable.

[In effect this isn't quite true because magic (both items and spells) has a level that is half the value of a character level. However doing so eases conversations with mainstream D&D players.]

The Second Axiom


The basic classes of Fighter and War Mage occupy opposite poles of a spectrum of ability.  Fighters are the experts in melee, whilst War Mage are the experts at spellcasting.  This is reflected by giving the Fighter a base d10 for their hit points and melee damage, and a base d4 for their magic points and magic damage, whilst the exact reverse is true for a War Mage.

[Although when you start adding other classes into the mix it gets much more complicated.  For example, Demon Hunters (Clerics) are the second best at both fighting and spellcasting, and Bravos (a subclass of Fighter) gain increased hit points and increased spell points.]

The Third Axiom


The six characteristics are well defined.  For example Strength is used when you attempt to do something physically through the application of force, whilst Dexterity is used when you attempt to do something physically through the application of finesse.  The spiritual characteristics (Intelligence, Willpower, and Charisma) mirror the effects of the physical characteristics in the spiritual world.

Because the characteristics are well defined they define the nature of the character.  The corollary of this is that many of the game systems should refer back to these characteristics when they apply to a character, and that the player gets to choose how they affect the world.

[The classic example of this is a saving throw against a Wand of Paralysis.  The player could choose to take cover from the wand wielder (and make a save vs Wands and Staves [Int]), to avoid the paralysis ray by dodging out the way (and make a save vs Breathe and Blast [Dex]), to resist the magic of the wand (and make a save vs Magic and Spells [Wpr]), or to resist the effects of the magic (and make a save vs Paralysis and Petrification [Str]).]

The Fourth Rule


This is probably a rule I should mention here (because I probably won't mention it anywhere else), which, while not really axiomatic, is still fundamental to the design principles.  A bonus that originates from natural abilities generally increases the size of the die that is rolled by two sides.  So a War Mage (base melee damage die of d4) with a Strength of 14 (+1 Strength bonus), now has a melee damage die of d6 because of their strength (and so may wield a short sword in one hand).

On the other hand a magical bonus is added to the roll. So that self same War Mage wielding a +1 magic shortsword would roll 1d6+1 for damage.

[The obvious place this breaks down is the d20 roll for combat.  Ideally a +1 strength bonus should mean that the character rolls a d22 to-hit.  But unfortunately these larger dice are still relatively unavailable and for ease of play I want a single die that is rolled.  So a d20 with added bonus it remains.]