Words Spoken We Fear

“Sigurd, That’s the third man this week. If you keep this up HE will notice.”

Stripping the cloak from the still warm body Sigurd quickly rifled the former thrall for anything of value. A Spare ration, boots in decent shape, serviceable knife. Sigurd continued taking anything that would go unnoticed from the body, not hearing the man who worried by his side.

“Do you even care that he’s dead”

Standing, Sigurd motioned to a young boy barely old enough to stand to arms. “Come here Nefstien, this man chose to act like a beast rather than a man. He has no need for these any more.” Sigurd spoke, while holding a neatly rolled bundle out towards a pair of eyes watching from a nearby tent.

“The dead feel no cold, tread no ground, and cut no meat. Take these.” Forcing the bundle into the child’s hands Sigurd began to walk towards the cook fire. “Kalder has made as many orphans in this camp as our Branded has. If he wishes to act as our Branded I shall treat him as such.”

——————————————————————————————————————————-

“Beneath the Sun and the Old Gods Eyes you have been found wanting. Beaten by a thrall with nothing more than a knife.”

“You who would send others to fight battles you would not face. Coward”

“You who would Claim deeds not your own. Liar”

“You who would kill his own brother, Murderer.”

“You who would take, and never share. Thief”

“On this day I could take your life. Hear my words and Obey”

“Your presence is disgusting. Never let the Sun see your shame.”

“You are dirt. Never take your eyes from the ground.”

“You are a Leach. Never rest for the day till you’ve brought food to the camp.”

“You will know hunger. Never eat until all others have fed”

“You are a beast not a man, and beasts have no names. Leave cur, before I take your life as I have taken your name.”
——————————————————————————————————————————-
“He’ll kill you one day you know that Sigurd.” Orm muttered as the cook fire spit and timber settled. “You should have taken his life and been done with it.

Sigurd answered in a tiered monotone.“ Dead men bring nothing but more death. Until the day that beast regains enough honor to be a man, he will at least bring food to the camp and learn what it’s like to live as those he tried to rule.”

Finished eating Sigurd stood. “Now that the last of the would be rimelanders has been taken care of, we can see to what comes next. Skard, pass word among all who we trust. Just before First light at the First birds song. We take our freedom for ourselves.”

Walking away from the three orphans Sigurd spoke, almost to himself. “I have no honor, so I work through the night. I am a coward, so I strike while they sleep, I am a thief. I shall take their life’s. I would be a leader. I have but one choice.”

Pausing before the first Jarl’s tent.

“For Nef, Orm, Skard.”

Sigurd stepped inside, dagger hidden but ready.

Rolf Character Writing 6/23/2022

Rolf sat down to rest next to the creek, staying alert for any noise in the nearby brush. He didn’t have any extra gear to lay out as he didn’t carry excess. Just like every night, tonight there was no fire. He couldn’t risk being spotted by a large force of Rimelanders. In his head he replayed the terrain he had already crossed. Being used to this land had it’s advantages and he knew where he was going without a map.
Being far from “home” didn’t bother him. It’s not like he really had any one place he considered a home. The forest was close enough, for it lacked the complications that arose from people. He was making the attempt to be near people more often and was finding it to his liking, but being alone again was good for him.
The sun had set recently but Rolf figured he could press on for a few hours after dark so he stood back up and set off again.

War Journals 1: A Certain Perfume

The tent was a familiar space. Certainly, he’d spent enough time on campaigns over the years for it to be more of a home than whatever passed for his actual home these days. The well oiled canvas had a few patches here and there from travel pains, but was largely in good order. Sif was handy with a needle, and Svetlanka hand set up and torn down the large tent more times than either of them cared to remember.

The trappings of the tent were sparse. A set of folding chairs, a collapsible table, the armor stand, and a cot in the corner stacked high with skins and blankets. Outside, the cacophony of a victorious army was at work. Drinking and revelry were abounding. The cook fires were still high with spring offerings; a welcomed change from the dried rations of winter. Their scent was nearly enough to cover the smell of the battle. Blood and bowels always marked a battlefield, when it was fresh. But as the heat took it, the scent would change towards something even less pleasant.

Sven chuckled to himself and pushed himself up from the table, striding to the tent and pushing himself out into the daylight. Men had cordoned off a proper campsite, but it was really broken into two parts. The area immediately around his tent were the sworn men of Runeheim, newly anointed in battle and still a bit wobbly in their expected duties. Ultimately the weaker of the two forces, but the more loyal. The second area was a bit less orderly, but rapidly growing in the afterglow of victory. These were the Karls; fierce warriors of the North drawn to victory as shit drew flies. Half of the assembled force had defected from the failing Hadvar Longstrider forces. Such was the way of soldiers of fortune; when things grew boring or the spoils thin, they would disappear in the night as shadows in the noonday sun. The old warrior let out a sigh, but still smiled happily.

“Eda!” he bellowed, looking about for the diminutive squire recently assigned to his command. She came up from behind a tent a few rows down, wiping her mouth and looking ill. The older fellow squinted at her. “Bit green around the gills?”

She nodded and opened her mouth to speak, but Sven waved her off. He found her wide-eyed trepidation charming, if overly naïve.

“We’ll talk inside, I need you to take a letter to Sir Ingvar,” he said, holding the flap open for her and gesturing to the writing kit on the table. The pages were blank, and clearly he intended her to write his dictations.

“Yes, sir,” she muttered, pulling quill and inkwell from the box. Sven turned his eyes back out on the field until he recognized one of the fellows from earlier.

“Lief,” he bellowed, pointing to a fellow who jumped in a startled fashion and scrambled towards the commander, bowing. “Has anyone found Hadvar Longstrider yet?”

Lief shook his head, “I don’t think so, sir.”

Sven gave a considering nod before speaking.

“Double the men looking for him. If his corpse is recovered, I want his bow and head,” he said. Lief gave a nod.

“And if he is alive, sir?” he asked, taking mental notes.

“Put him to the question. I want to know everything there is to know about this Lionslayer or killer or whatever he calls himself,” he said. “I believe Harold finds the work rewarding. You’ll find him in my kitchen deployment.”

Without further word, Sven slipped inside the tent again, catching the barest hint of perfume on the air. A slow smile set about his lips as he eyed the skins adorning his cot. When he noticed Eda looking at him expectantly, he cleared his throat and began pacing.

“Sir Ingvar,” he began as Eda scratched on the parchment. The task seemed to have grounded her a bit, though she still smelled faintly of sick and disappointment. “My force is currently East of Runeheim, along with those of the fire wizard and Lord Marshal. After our forces went their separate ways, I engaged Longstrider twice, and have decimated his forces. Casualties are negligible. As Runeheim lacks the infrastructure to support prisoners of war, I have instructed survivors to be put to the sword.”

There was a pause in the scratching along the paper as Eda faltered with the order he had given. She had been present when he issued it, of course, and she hadn’t seemed to care for it now either.

“Something wrong, Squire?” he asked in an amused, if cool, tone.

“It seems… unnecessary to kill these troops. Where is the honor in it?” she looked up at him with too big eyes. There was almost a plea to them that would have moved a younger man. Alas, for her, the grizzled figure before her had seen entirely too much blood to be swayed by the tears of youth.

“There is no honor in war, Eda,” he said. Frowning a moment, he settled in the other chair to be more at her eye level. It was important to educate squires in their knightly duties. “Honor is for duels and skald’s poems. We won’t sully ourselves by boasting of this victory in grotesque terms, but killing the enemy is always the objective in war.”

She frowned a bit and seemed unconvinced. Sven nods, and continued.

“Let us consider a moment,” he said. “Our enemy numbered roughly 800 fighting men and women, not to speak to their scouts, cooks, travel slaves and so forth. Of those 800, at least 500 lay dead in the field just an hour’s walk from here. The rest have fled or been wounded or joined with my forces here. Of the wounded and surrendered, reports have it at just over a hundred men and women who are enemies of the Throne.”

He cleared a small section of the table, so that he could draw with his finger and tap to elucidate his points.

“Runeheim has no prisons. Their stockyard is a literal tree with a chain wrapped about it. They are discussing if there are sufficient prospects to support the war effort through the winter. Further, I saw no priests or secular doctors in town, though I heard rumor of one,” he said, his tone growing more patient as she paled out before him. “Such as it is, these prisoners have wounds that will go untreated simply because we lack the capacity to heal them. They would be chained outdoors for want of a prison or camp. They would suffer from starvation from lack of harvest.”

Pausing a moment to consider if she was appreciating what he was saying. She nodded, but seemed hesitant.

“Our force will not be able to move if we are securing over a hundred warriors. And they would cast our own ranks in chaos if they managed to break free,” he said. “Our own force is made up of citizens that were farmers and merchants a few weeks ago. Hardly trained to the task of prison warden. And the rest of our forces are their former comrades-in-arms; not the most trustworthy wardens, I think you’d agree.”

For a long moment, the two were silent as she fidgeted with the quill.

“Can’t we just… release them?” she asked. It wasn’t a timid voice she used, but it was quiet.

“And give them a chance to raise up arms against us in the future? Seems foolish to me,” he said.

“How are we to win the North over if we slaughter their men?” she asked a bit more forcefully. He smiled.

“It is not my job to win the populace,” he explained. “It is my job to disarm and emasculate them to such a degree that the thought of rebellion sickens their stomach. Anything beyond that is a matter for the clergy.”

Sven clapped her shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze as if that settled the matter. Regardless of her mouth opening to voice further protest, Sven rose to his feet and continued the dictation.

“Let’s see, where was I… ah yes, put the prisoners to the sword,” he nods and begins pacing, lacing his fingers behind his back as he does so. When he speaks again, it is the bold voice of dictation, from a man expecting his words to be captured. “I haven’t the time to construct crosses, else I would begin to line the roads with the crucified fallen. Not that there is much in the way of roads out here. Dispose of yours how best you see fit, though I imagine that Sister Solace will want to issue words over them or attempt to convert or liberate the thralls. When time is less pressing, we will formulate a plan to handle prisoners of war more efficiently in the future. Perhaps, if Sister Solace feels the pangs of guilt at the treatment of those laid low, she will utilize her forces into more of a prison camp managing system and we won’t have to worry about it further.”

The elder pauses a moment in thought, that wasn’t a bad idea. Perhaps that would solve both problems at once… Something to explore later.

“We haven’t been able to secure the body of Longstrider, though I will know directly if he survived the conflict. Named men taken will be put to the question before execution. We should see about developing our logistical support, and perhaps see if we can incentivize some of the locals to collect the weapons of the fallen for use within our forces. I expect the forces of the Lord Marshall to retreat back to Runeheim at the first opportunity, but I will meet with the leader of the Fire Wizards to see if it is their intention to continue on with us or fall back with the rest of the troops,” he said, continuing his pacing. “I expect a full report within a fortnight on the state of the farmers. Yours in triumph, Lord Bryjar, honorifics, and so forth. Dictated, but not read.”

He gestures in a ‘so-on’ way. Waiting until Eda finishes the letter, before signing the bottom and sealing it with his signet ring.

“Take the evening to settle yourself, Squire Eda,” he said, clapping her on the back again. “Then I expect you to deliver that without delay to Sir Ingvar. Travel along the road the army has passed. There will be some scavengers among the dead, but they won’t be trouble if you stay mounted. Longstrider might be in the wood, or some of his straggling soldiers that avoided capture. If you come across any resistance, return, don’t engage.”

Sven offers her a smile and formal nod of dismissal. Eda, to her credit, only hesitated a moment before saluting and exiting the tent. The old warrior smiled as she retreated before turning his eyes to the sheets of his cot and their sweet, guilt laden perfume. Whatever sweet heaven might be promised to humanity beyond this life, it wasn’t for him. He would just have to find his own heaven here, regardless of the protests of his soul.

A breath of fresh opportunity

Clemens stepped out from the tavern into the mid-afternoon sun. He had spent most of the day listening to the din of others pleasant conversations while relaxed into a chair. Eventually his legs had become stiff and he decided they needed to be stretched even if only for a brief stoll.

The pleasant breeze carried the subtle scent of spring on it. Clemens noticed that the muddy paths had mostly dried out despite the rain the evening prior. He chuckled a little remembering how many including himself had found themselves sliding all over the place, their boots caked in that muck. Looking up he noticed the brook that carved its way past the tavern. He could hear the stream gently careening over the smooth stones and felt called to the soothing sound.

A small bench sat near the brook. “Ah, a perfect place to sit and reflect.” Clemens thought to himself. Gently he lifted his cloak out from under him and sat facing the brook and the woods that lay just beyond. While Clemens greatly enjoyed the comforts of more developed and populated towns there was something about these less settled and developed places. A certain charming effect from being closer to nature.

Although he did not forget that this place was also the edge of a warzone. On this thought Clemens began to ponder why he had chosen to come to this place, to Runeheim. He was certainly of no use in battle and not a particularly savvy merchant or craftsman. He was certainly was not like Brother Manfred or Rolf, both whose skill at arms had seen them triumph over branded men of the Ironblood clan. He wasn’t quite like Victor whose resourcefulness could outfit an army or quite like the conviction and persuasiveness of Lady Vayne who managed to negotiate a lucrative deal out of that Hestrali captain, Tommaso. He certainly didn’t have the courage of that Dunnick miner who survived an encounter with a ghost and lived to tell the tale.

What could he do that would make the lives of people in Runeheim better? Surely he could be an educator, teaching those around him how to read and write and perhaps even a bit about the history of the corner of the world they now occupy, but that seems like a far off priority in a place like this. Although he was certainly capable of bringing people joy and inspiration through story, a small comfort to perhaps ease the stresses that weighed on folks hearts and minds.

His train of thought was interrupted by a loud creak from the bench beneath him. Standing up he looked at the bench and noticed the toll the wet weather had taken on its wooden structure. “If only wood could speak, I wonder what tales you could tell” Clemens sighed.

Although a thought suddenly entered his mind. A bench was a simple thing to construct. As a child he often went with his father to collect kindling and wood for fires when it was time to make camp. It wasn’t much of a stretch to think collecting wood to build simple comforts like sturdy benches and chairs wouldn’t be outside his of ability if he put his mind to it.

Perhaps he should speak to Victor, surely there were things that people needed that he couldn’t provide. That would certainly be a way for Clemens to contribute in a more practical way. Though he would need to learn more about how the people in Runeheim live from day to day, the routines they keep and the rituals they use to ensure their continued prosperity. Xavier seemed to know a thing a two about that, maybe Clemens should speak to him about the things ordinary folk need. Perhaps this was what his father meant when he said “There’s only so much you can learn from books”.

Clemens looked into the forest and thought to himself. “Perhaps this is the opportunity I’ve been seeking all along.” As a child he had loved grand stories about heroes and the great evils they vanquished, but perhaps his place was at the side of the people who live smaller, but no less important lives. To learn how they live and thrive, and to tell their tales to all who would listen. But, it also couldn’t hurt to to learn how to harness the gifts of nature and turn them into simple comforts for kith and kin.

An Account of the Rime Wars

The mud squishing under his horses hooves, he rode toward the village. Some of the buildings had damage from Rimelander’s raid, but the village still stood, mostly intact. Murmuring a quick prayer of thanks to Melandiel and Mithriel that he and Solace had gotten here in time, he continued on.
We do not even know the name of this place yet, but I feel responsible already. The knight commanders in Fenristadt had done their work well. Shaking off this thought he touched his heels to his horse. There should be a hetmann, assuming they survived the raid, and if not there should be someone who was able to tell him about this village and the region around it. Tonight they would celebrate and embrace life, but for now the details that crowded in on a commander at the end of a battle were piling up.
Morvald had not been much of a Warlord, none of the Ironbloods they had found since arriving from Vissvind had been worth their Brands. Upon reflection, Ivar had fought a good fight against Manfred, even if his followers had attacked as soon as he had fallen. The Inquisitor had taken their survivors for questioning, but he doubted they would know much really.
Ingvar wondered idly how Sven’s pursuit of Havdan had gone. Elf-Blood had been crushing the Ironblood army when Ingvar had begun moving to the southwest. But the Ironboods had been in the region longer, so most likely they knew the terrain better. Some of them may have been able to slip away. The unconfirmed reports of Coldhands warbands in the region also were a concern. They were not as good in a stand up fight as the Ironbloods, but were much more cunning. Regardless, the first battles of this war had gone in their favor. Now we just have to maintain that momentum. He had been pleasantly surprised that the Brands they wore had already drawn men to Sven and himself. The only thing faster than birds wings are men’s tongues. More would undoubtedly hear of their exploits in battle and would come to swear. My oath ring will become polished with the oaths of Karls.
The levies he had gotten from the Markgrafin stared back at him as he rode by. Their eyes a little less bright, but their backs more straight. No longer the green troops of two days ago, but not seasoned veterans they would be something to build on. He continued toward the heart of the village where his Karls had set up. They were the core of this new legion and with each victory more would come. It is the start of a long and bloody war for us, regardless.
He spied Ketil, the leader of his Karls, standing outside of the small hall that served as the hetmann’s home talking with an older man. Once again setting heals to his horse, Ingvar rode ever forward.

Bedding Down

One Door.
One window.
Three Bunks, a wash basin, and a “water closet”. Never in my dreams did I think I would have such comfort.

Looking back at his bunk, Sigurd paced the room. No way to secure the window but any who wanted to use it would have to climb over a sleeping Kanut. Good enough. One way or another an intruder from that path would resolve itself.

Unfurling a patterned blanket, Sigurd paused. Was there really no one who needed this cloth? to think spare Blankets. He shuddered with how wasteful an action this would have been just weeks before. Sliding the blanket under the mattress above Sigurd made sure to leave a gap next to the head board.

With cloth draped all around the lower bunk one could not tell if someone lay within. sliding into the makeshift cave, Sigurd smiled with satisfaction. A perfect sliver of vision looking out at the door, with enough room to respond to unwanted guests.

Stepping Out Sigurd stripped.

Taking one last look around, Sigurd grasped his sole possession, A black dagger. Gifted to him by his Lady’s other vasal. Kanut.

“Two blankets, a cloak, and a knife.” Sigurd wondered aloud. “Never did I think I would have this much to call my own.”

Climbing back into bed, Dagger in hand, Sigurd lay watching the open doorway. Dagger ready to strike.

“This place. I could call home.”

Out with the tide

It was barely light out. Faile had packed a bag, climbed out a window cat-quiet, and headed for the docks- but she’d made a detour. Call it sentimental. Down a back alley, up Pearl Lane, and…there. Her house, or it had been. A notice on the door proclaimed it repossessed.

She was sitting cross-legged on the dirt floor while her mother repaired a sail.
“Amma?”
“Yes, petal?”
“Where’s da?”
She traced shapes in the ashes of the hearth with chubby child’s fingers. Her mother paused mid-stitch.
“You know how I told you sometimes things go back out with the tide? Your da did that. But I ain’t mad for it, we both decided it was right.”
“Oh…did he love us?”
“Yes he did, flower. But sometimes love ain’t enough and you have to go out with the tide. It’s not your fault.”
“Oh…”
“He’s better off on his own. Just like we are, yeah?”

Faile tore the notice down, ground it into the mud under her sandal.

“How old is the girl?”
“Ten.”
“Old enough to work. Come here, little one.”
The big man, the one that smelled like rot, took her hand.
“I’m a close friend of your ma, and I need a special job done. Can’t just be anyone, and your ma tells me you’re a quick and clever sort. Can you help me?”
Faile looked at her mother, anxious, twisting her hem between her fingers. Her mother was never anxious. Something was wrong.
“Yessir, what d’you need?”
He smiled, she saw jeweled teeth.
“That’s what I like to hear. Basia, your girl is smart.”
Her mother didn’t say anything, wouldn’t look at her. Not even after she’d come back spattered with blood, carrying a paring knife and a heavy sack of coins. She’d thrown up, washed her face in the basin, and curled up by the fire, dreaming of serpents carrying her out to sea. Ten. Ten.

The lock was old, it crumbled in her hand. She slipped into the house- a room, really. They’d barely gotten by, even with the neighbors’ help.

Her mother’s illness had run its course, finally. She couldn’t focus on the body, her eyes automatically went to the wooden lion her mother had nailed to the wall just above the hearth. Her ears were ringing. She’d seen bodies before but this was different- she had to prepare it. Should she be crying right now? Where were the tears? Did she even have time to cry before she went next door to ask Ma Tallett for help? Wait, wait…Faile fumbled in her pocket, produced a coin. Placed it carefully under the dead tongue- da had said you have to pay for the crossing but she didn’t know if it was some outrageous bit of folk nonsense or some old truth- closed the mouth. Closed the eyes. Washed her hands raw in the basin by the grimy window. Then she went next door.

The service was short- the other women in the neighborhood covered the cold, pale thing on the bed in flowers and wept over her while a priest sang something slightly off-key. Then the body that wasn’t mother anymore was wrapped in sheets. Taken away to be buried. She couldn’t bring herself to follow. The women sighed and patted her hand, they just assumed she was grieving. So young, they said, on her own without her ma and da. What will become of her, of the house. So young.

Everyone trailed out, with varying degrees of pity.

And then it was just her in that house of silence, her and that fucking wooden lion and a pitiful little dent in the narrow bed.

Faile looked at the room one last time. The flaking paint on the walls. The filthy, cracked window. It had felt like a palace when she was a child, something marvelous where she could roam uncontested. Her domain. It had been cleared of furniture. Of any signs of life. And now, in the grey, wet dawn it looked like a crypt. A memorial to the family that wasn’t. A monument to her mother’s shortcomings and Vos’s endless greed. And she was cutting it loose, letting it drift away from her on the tide. Somewhere, a bell rang.

Time to go. She shouldered her bag, closed the door. And didn’t look back, not until the ship was leaving the harbor and the city was a colorful smear on the horizon.

Seven. Ten. Sixteen. Twenty-eight.

Development May 2022

Arcane Magic and Wizards

We are currently reworking the Arcane Magic system.  There is a lot to love in the current system, but there were several rough edges and pain points that we wanted to address:

The Learning Cliff

Arcane magic is somewhat deliberately technical and uses lots of grandiloquent words and terms.  One goal of the previous design was that a player could practice and become a better mage, just like someone could practice and become a better sword fighter.  Another goal was that you’d “feel” like a wizard as you navigate the system – that you’d be under mental strain to manage it all, but as a result you’d be rewarded with incredible power that looks OP to the outsider, but is actually the product of some very hard work.

The old system has all of that quite successfully, but a little too much.  If you showed up for your first game without hours of prep, you might not be able to cast ANY spells that game.  That is a bad experience, especially for a first time player.   This new system is intended to have a gentler ramp up.

Because the initial cliff was so high, it also made it harder to go higher.  A gentler path also leaves room for an even higher ceiling, and a way to address some minor gripes of mine about things like incants sounding too similar when repeated.  Wizards now opt in to their own level of complexity as they feel they are ready, and are rewarded as they do so.

Buffing Only Mages

One other side effect of the cognitive challenge of casting spells is that doing that under pressure was even harder.  To some extent this was expected and planned for, but in practice, it meant that we saw most mages focusing their effort only on buff spells – these can be cast out of combat, so they can take their time and carefully cast the spell without the chaos of combat.  As a result, the battlemage archetype was almost non-existent – it was just too difficult compared to the payoff of combat magic to perform complex hand signs and incantations while someone tries to swing at you.  This is at odds with the concept of mages as frightening magical powerhouses.

Big Calculations

The system used a large number, Acuity (the total of all your “good at magic” stats) with totals in the 20s and 30s, and then compared it to Complexity, a corresponding 20s or 30s number that was how difficult the spell was.  In general, large numbers are bad in LARP design and are better used in tabletop, if at all.  This system lead to a lot of “+1 collecting” and stacking, and usually involved each serious spell using every single available bonus.  In other words, no real interesting choice there, and when there’s no interesting choice, there shouldn’t be an illusory choice placed there.  These numbers needed to be deflated.

Advancement

One feature of the old system was more of a setting decision – the Mage Guilds were a cabal of selfish backstabbers who would climb over each other to advance.  There were themes of betrayal, cronyism, and amoral pragmatism.  To some extent, Mages still hold this position in the new system, but structurally the problem was that the path to advancement was always by fiat of another, more powerful character (always an NPC).   This meant that ultimately advancement big and small was always a Staff to player decision, and could feel like favoritism OOC, rather than IC.  It also depended on Staff to generate requests and needs for a variety of high level mage boss characters in order to provide any “quests” for mages to do to provide the excuse for advancement.  This was very top heavy and labor intensive for us, and ended up frustrating for everyone.  The new system has a much more self-driven advancement.

Spell Approvals

Lastly, a big pain point for Staff, and I’m sure for players too, was the approval of spells.  Players would submit a spell effect they wanted to create, and it was a lot of back and forth, disagreeing over some technical/rules aspects, but also more conceptual, like “This Domain can’t do that kind of effect” or “You think this is very low power, but it’s actually very high power.”  This process could be painful, and it was all tied into how technical and specific it was to create a single spell.  A given unique spell had close to 40 possible features, once you considered all the modifiers, restrictions (for bonus +1s) Techniques, configurations, and complexity reductions it could have.   This process was usually a back and forth that lasted from the first day after an Event to the last day before an Event, because every mage was doing several of these each game.

Okay, so a lot to love but some serious work to do!  Here are the major beats of the new system that address these pain points:

Modular Casting

Whereas before each spell had a distinct casting method, Spells now work by requiring the Wizard to gather a quantity magical power, and then spend the magical power on spells and techniques as they wish.  The individual spell effect, now called a Theorem, is very straightforward and simple, like “burn things” and costs 1 unit of power.   Making it burn more things, burn longer, burn harder – all of these you just spend more power to do in the form of an appended “Big Spell” or “Long lasting Spell” Technique.    This lets you customize on the fly, and have a specific bag of “tricks” you know and more ways to scale those tricks with you as your grow as a Wizard.

One way to get power is to just spend Discipline, so players of wizards who haven’t learned the incants or signs can still do some magic by will alone, a couple of times per rest.  This also means that battle wizards have some ways to always be dangerous, even if there’s no time or breathing room to do a long, mentally taxing cast.  But they can, for more power.

This change alone required an almost total rebuilding of the magic system, every spell and every technique, so it’s taken the bulk of the time in development.

This allows the learning curve to ramp up slowly, and allow a given player to opt in to all of the complexity of the system as they feel ready.  As well, advanced casting styles can be learned whenever the player is ready that are more rigorous and difficult, but let you gather more power more quickly.

This also means there is no more “Acuity/Complexity” system.  Wizards have a few ways to generate magical energy, and they can use various options one at a time or together to get it and spend it.  There are “bigger” power units that remain out of grasp for starter mages, and these require using Mysteries to get, until they’re a higher circle and can do it more easily.

Mysteries

Mysteries are new.  The goal of Fallacies in the old system (spell flaws for Complexity discounts) was to create a “wizardly” scene with all the arcane bibs and bobs you had to use to work difficult magic.  But since in practice, serious spells were just “every fallacy I can possibly do” it turned into one very specific wizardly scene every time.  So why not just create a very cool wizard scene from scratch that we’re happy with?  Why not several, for various purposes?  These are the Mysteries, and are sort of like Rituals (Ceremonies, actually – we’ll discuss that another time), but for Wizards.

Mysteries have several phases where various tasks must be completed quickly and skillfully.  What tasks need doing are variable – random elements and ST interaction may be part of them, where arcane fluctuations and anomalies may require the Wizard to react with the right intervention to proceed or mitigate some problem.   The result of these are powerful effects, but they aren’t spells.  Some Mysteries help you gather great power to use on spells.  Some of them are how you advance as a Wizard to the next circle of power.  Some of them help you do things like target far away places with your magic, or affect the world in some other way.   Each time they’re done, they’re intended to be both a challenge and a spectacle for others, and of course, make you feel pretty wizardly.

Advancement

The Guild now likes you and wants you to succeed.   Recruiting new Wizards, and advancing to new Circles is now essentially totally in your power, but it is gated by a series of difficult and dangerous Mysteries.  If you can succeed at the Mysteries, you advance, but doing so is the challenge.  It will involve having achieved mastery of many different Wizard abilities, and the challenges you face may require experimentation over time to overcome.  Likewise, the Mysteries can be dangerous to perform.

You’ll still need to find ways to get the Esoteric Studies required to learn new Techniques, but tools will exist to get your hands on those in a self-paced way as well, so you aren’t relying on Storyteller attention to advance anymore.

Advancement isn’t just linear though, it’s also lateral.  Wizards now start with only 1 Domain (one topic of spells within their element’s portfolio).  The intention is that each Domain is a lot “bigger” of a character concept, so you could reasonably play your whole career as just a “Pain Mage” who fights with just Pain, controls people socially with Pain, protects against Pain – solves all their problems with magical Pain.  We want there to be a stronger identity around being a “Beast Mage” or a “Time Mage” rather than a do-it-all Earth Mage or Water Mage.  You can still get more Domains, but it’s harder to do, and a bigger deal when you do it.

Spellcraft

Part of this new world is a different kind of emphasis on the spells themselves.  If you only ever need one spell for “shoot fire” then once you have it, you have it.  All your fire shooting needs are permanently met, even as you become a mighty wizard and the fire is very hot or very large.  This means there is a somewhat more constrained emphasis on making spells, and it’s a little more “optional” to do so.  Wizards will start with a bundle of spells to help get them out the door as a fully functional character with a bag of tricks that feels like a “full character” with just these.  If they get more Domains, they can expand their tricks that way.  In short, making spells isn’t a hard requirement as part of getting more powerful.

Coming up with new Theorems is possible.  In higher tier games, this will involve using a magical laboratory as part of a Wizard Tower as a way to reliably work towards developing new Theorems.  It will exist as a subsystem there.  For lower Tier games, or just for wizards who don’t have a tower, it’s always possible to learn new spells as a sort of “quest reward” for doing in-game magical research, at storyteller discretion.

Likewise, when new Theorems are made, since the they are by nature very simple, the approval process can be a lot simpler as well.  We only have to agree on a few key points about its appropriateness, and then we’re done.   The Techniques themselves handle the modifiers and extra costs, when wanted.  Making these less often and it being easier to do so should make for a better experience all around.

Roadmap

Here is where we are in terms of development progress:

Overall Progress:  ~86%

    • Core Systems:
      • 90%
        • Pending:
          • Anacrusis Refresh
          • Wizard Achievements Explanation
      • Techniques:
        • 100%
    • Pre-Written Spells:
      • Earth:  35%
      • Fire:  58%
      • Air:  35%
      • Water:  0%
    • Mysteries:
      • 40%
        • Pending:
          • “Energy Mystery” Write-Up and Diagrams
          • Circle 2 and 3 Advancement Mystery Full Design and Write Ups
          • “Material Mystery” Write-Up
          • Geomantic Mystery Design and Write-Up
          • Far Mystery Design and Write-Up

We’ll keep this Roadmap updated as we progress through.  Look out for more Development Posts for some of the other things that are still In Development soon.  Feudalism (City Building and Downtimes), Organization and Rulership, Warfare will be getting updates as well.  Stay tuned.

Sean

Demon of the Rime

This place is more cold and desolate than you could have warned me. I haven’t seen any living foliage other than towering evergreen trees in nearly five months. Snow covers every inch of this hellscape and continues to fall during the nights. Our force has slowly waded our way through spring snow towards the Rime clan front lines, though where they have gone since the initial report has yet to be confirmed. We number nearly forty fire mages accompanying a larger force of troops. I must say, our numbers should easily overwhelm a nomadic force of Njords.

We rose before dawn to signs of a smoking fire over the ridge. Our quarry had been found, and we readied our formations to march upon our enemy.

Even in my months here I have never acclimated to the way my feet drag through the snow on a march. The cold numbs the pain of my thighs dragging me forward up the slope. At the crest of the hill I could finally see them, maybe 200 men around an intentionally dying fire. My breathe slowed as my eyes fell upon him, a creature of immense size towering above his men. His eyes shown red through his skull covered face, large bony spikes protruding from his shoulders. Murmurs among the men started; we had found a Rime clan demon.

Our troops clashed upon the open snow quickly stained red by the carnage of battle. This demon crushed men before us, cleaving them in two with an unnatural ease. My ears rang as my unit repeatedly cast on our enemy. His men slowly fell before us, but as did ours in even greater numbers slowly dwindling to nothing.

He stood there before what was left of us, alone. I could sense it, this impending despair and recognition of our desperation to live.

‘Deflagrate Ignis et Auctorita Luminos Dextera ex Anima Solarius Praepotentia’

Unflinching, his skin crackles and burns away slowly.

‘Deflagrate Ignis et Auctorita Luminos Dextera ex Anima Solarius Praepotentia’

The wind rips through the battlefield, crackling with the scent of burnt air. I wipe away at my eyes, my sleeves stained with bloody tears.

He crushes Alexi’s skull in his hand and his body falls limp to the ground.

‘Deflagrate Ignis et Auctorita Luminos Dextera ex Anima Solarius Praepotentia. Deflagrate Ignis et Auctorita Luminos Dextera ex Anima Solarius Praepotentia. Deflagrate Ignis et Auctorita Luminos Dextera ex Anima Solarius…..

His hands closed around my throat as he heaves my body off the ground.

Praepotentia.
An inferno engulfs us both. Screams of agony rise as flesh melts away from bone. And then, there is only silence.

Prologue: The Raid on Vissvind

The barracks in Vissvind was warm, almost stuffy from the bodies crammed inside it. The garrison had swelled recently as tales from the north had heralded a renewed war against the Rime Clans. But the tales were distant and muddled. There weren’t enough trainers for the new recruits and Arne found himself running awkward drills for the new blood.

His arms were sore from fresh effort after years of mostly gentle guard duty for King Einsland. He rubbed them absently and stood, stepping outside for some fresh air despite the bitter cold. The days blended into one another. Guard duty at the north gate. Guard duty at the south watchtower. Guard duty at the port. Training in between. Sleep in a hay bed. Bread and occasionally fish to eat. It wasn’t a bad life, but Arne sometimes wished for real battle. The dreams of his youth. Earning a Name.

Arne’s eyes wandered to the horizon where a lazy curl of smoke ascended into a darkening sky. He followed its pattern absently, marveling at the freedom of wisps as they defied the pull of the earth. And then he shook his head. Smoke on the horizon. The guard at the north tower saw it a split second after and the alarm bell rang. Arne was about to get his wish.

*****

Blood spackled Arne’s raven helm as his axe bit deep into the neck of Rimelander before him. Hollow Song, he noted with disgust. The torn faces hanging from the dying man’s belt perfectly exhibited the evil that Arne was fighting. The boy fell, Arne swiftly pivoted to deflect a heavy hammer blow from a raider with filed teeth before that opponent was impaled by spears.

Thirty five years. That’s how long since the Rimelanders broke their oaths. They had been allowed to fester on the fringes for too long. Arne shattered the knee of a bearlike oathbreaker and wrenched his axe free with a sickening crunch. Like chopping wood, he mused with a tinge of dark humor. He stepped over the man as his companions finished him off and surveyed the battlefield. He could see the signs of rout already in the enemy’s movements. Subtle hesitations, a pause too long while they seemingly looked for a new opponent.

And then one of them ran. Arne grinned to himself at the inevitable cascade and joined in the infectious roar of victory with his comrades.

He stopped cheering before the others. Hollow Song this far south was a rarity. Overturner’s report of the Rime Clan Althing was now public knowledge, though it was difficult to tell what was true and what was embellished. Apparently, a new clan called the Sons of Ulfrandr had tried to force others into following their mad, bestial god in the same way the Bearking had united the clans long ago. But the Rime Clans had proven as fractious and treacherous as ever, most abandoning the Althing and their traditions.

With their renewed internal conflict came more raids to the south. This had been one of those and while Arne’s own Frostravens had hurried to the aid of this settlement, the smoldering wreckage of homes and blood on the snow revealed the true danger of the raids- their speed. Arne absently touched the leonem hanging from his neck and offered a prayer to White Benalus to help guide the fallen and protect them from Sveas.

A call from his companions broke his reverie. The glory of battle was over, but the Church taught that was only the beginning of their labor. Now comes the rebuilding. Hefting a fallen beam over his shoulder, Arne rejoined his band and got to work.