Forbidden Lands – Talents

This post was delayed, not because the chapter is long, but because I am a busy man. Work and study and, yesterday, gaming took me away from the keyboard.

We learned in chapter two that it costs fewer XP to buy or upgrade Talents than it does to buy or upgrade skills. I am down this that, because I find the Talents list very inspiring. The combination of talents that you acquire as you develop your characters will make them truly unique.

So, what makes Talents so special in this game? For a start, these Talents have three levels, which is an idea we gave the guys at Fria Ligan back in … episode three, I think it was, of the Coriolis Effect. What it means in practice is that rank one talents might seem a little underpowered compared to their Coriolis equivalent.

For example, take the Executioner talent, which allows a character to swap the dice on a d66 Critical Injury roll, so the tens becomes units a vice versa. Thus a 16 becomes a 61 if you want. At rank one in Forbidden Lands, you only get a re-roll, so you might only replace your 16 with say, 12 if you are unlucky. You can choose which result to accept though. At rank two however, you get the re-roll and the ability to swaps the tens and ones around. So rank one may seem weaker than a Coriolis Talent, but rank two is definitely better than a Coriolis talent. And rank three?

RANK 3: When you inflict a critical injury on your enemy, you may choose freely from the relevant list.

Boom. Head shot. 66. Every time.

And if you want someone dead, it’s best to do it with a crit. Because it looks from the Coldblooded talent that it’s actually quite hard to kill people. Not because people are tough, you can break people, or be broken frightenly easily. But even though they are down, they might not be dead. If you want to finish them off, in cold blood, you normally have to make a roll to see if you can stomach it, and you have to spend a willpower point or take empathy damage. (I forgot to mention Willpower, you earn willpower for every one you roll when pushing.) Of course it’s all a lot easier if you have the Coldblooded talent.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The first talent you get you don’t chose. Or rather you get with your kin choice. Like in Star Trek Adventures, Humankind are “Adaptive”. Which kind of makes sense, if you think that all the other races, for all their back-stories, are all really a subset of what it means to be human, with some traits pushed to the fore. I don’t blame Fria Ligan for this, it’s the same for all games, which are (so far at least) all written by humans.

The first choice you get is picking one of three Profession talents. And each of these add a distinct “flavour” to your starting character. So, pick Rider for example, and you are a horseman. But there is difference between, for example, the Knights of Westeros and the Dothraki in Game of Thrones, and two of the Rider talents let you flavour your PC to feel more like one of those. The third, the Path of the Companion twists you more towards the Western trope of a lone horseman and his loyal steed, his one true friend.

But it’s the general talents that let you make your character your own. For example, there are three professional talents for fighters, but everyone fights in the Forbidden Lands so the fighting style Talents are open to all. Are you a Brawler, do you carry at Axe, or (again with the Game of Thrones examples – at least I am not still going on about the First Law books) like Grey Worm, are you a Spear Fighter? Using talents thus allows the game to keep the skill list to a neat sixteen, while allowing detail and diversification. So you don’t need to have sailing on the skill list for most characters or campaign even, but when you need it, it’s there as a talent. And level three of that talent, as well as the weapon specialisations, let’s you roll a d8 Artefact die, massively increasing your chance of success. Similarly, you might have the crafting skill, which makes it possible to have a go at making anything, but with talents, you can specialise, as a Smith, Tanner or Tailor.

To close, there are just a few talents I want to mention. The Berserker talent kind of does what I was trying to do with the The Nhamadan Talent or Neural Sheathing in Coriolis, but given that at rank three is only offers the equivalent of three hit points, maybe it does make my attempt somewhat overpowered. Players who don’t like the thought of being manipulated by other PCs or GMCs might want to consider the Incorruptible talent, which offer some defence or at level three means you simply can’t be manipulated. Fearless give you defence against fear attacks. And finally, Pain Resistant rang an alarm bell when I read that “if you take a single point of damage from a close combat attack, you don’t lose your attack in the same step”. I thought for a moment that meant that when I get to the combat rules, I would discover that people without this talent would not be able to counter attack when hit. “Wow” I thought, “this system IS deadly.” But then I noticed that it also says “This talent can only be used if you use the advanced close combat rules.” Phew!

Combat is the next chapter, and it looks like a long one, so again the post might not be out tomorrow.

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Forbidden Lands – Skills

The skills chapter also offers the meat of the rules, if only because characters using their skills is the meat of a game like this. Another adaptation of the Year Zero Engine, this returns to its roots, and in doing so reinforces the idea that it’s a post-fantasy-apocalyptic survival game. The push mechanic, like the original Mutant: Year Zero, risks damage, to your character or to your equipment. Because of this, unlike Coriolis or Tales from the Loop (where you pay for pushes differently), you need six sided dice of three different colours – one colour for attributes, at second for skill ranks and another for your weapon or gear bonus. Sixes on any die are successes, ones on Base (Attribute) or Gear dice represent potential damage. Ones have no effect if you don’t push your roll, but if you do choose to re-roll, you can’t use Base or Gear dice showing ones (you can use Skill dice showing ones, as they don’t represent potential damage). Make you re-roll with the dice you have available, and any ones showing on Base dice mean a temporary loss of attribute points for the attribute you used. (There are sixteen skills, four related to each of the four attributes, for example Melee uses the strength attribute). Further more, any ones showing on the gear dice reduce that item’s gear bonus.

Some players might argue that the chance of failure, and the cost of pushing is too high. I have heard a lot of players of Coriolis (none of mine) express their distaste for throwing a handful of dice and getting no successes. I have little sympathy for them, but players of this game are in for a tough time. It’s feels gritty, hard, deadly even. Perhaps that is why the writers have said:

It’s hard to succeed in the Forbidden Lands. If you lack the right gear or friends that can help you, there is a great risk of spectacular failure. With that in mind, you should never roll dice unless it is absolutely necessary. Save the dice for dramatic situations or tough challenges. In any other situation, the GM should simply allow you to perform whatever action you wish.

You can improve your chances of success by getting up to three other characters to help. Each one lets you add a skill dice – the least risky – to your pool. Which raises an interesting question about something that is said under the stealth skill – if more than one PC are sneaking past a guard, only the PC with the lowest skill level rolls. But, can that PC be helped by the others? I like to think yes.

Another way to improve your chances is to use master-crafted or magical gear, which brings a brand new mechanic to the d6 centric Year Zero Engine. These weapons and artefacts can add an extra d8, d10 or d12 to your roll. Any result above five is a success. Eight and nine are worth two success, ten or eleven means three successes and a roll of twelve is equal to four successes, which means of course that a d12 has 50/50 chance of success on its own.

Even without a magical weapon, once per game you can add a d12 to any role related to your pride, after you have rolled and even pushed. But if you still fail you lose your pride, and can’t choose a new one to the session after next.

Most of the skills themselves are pretty self explanatory, but there are a couple that deserve a more detailed look at. Performance for example includes the ability to heal wits or empathy damage. Animal handling confers the ability not just to ride but to command tame animals, and even to tame wild animals. Crafting is a Strength based skill that every soldier should take a rank in. It includes the ability to repair your weapons after pushing them. And like so many things I have read so far, it makes me think of the First Law books and especially The Heroes – the day by day account of a single battle, wherein everyone who is any good at soldiering spends time maintaining their weapons. It’s not just about repair though, with the right raw materials and time, you can make things from scratch.

And with the right talent, these can very impressive things too.

Forbidden Lands – Your Characters

The first thing that strikes me on reading the chapter on character generation is a similarity with Symbaroum – humans are portrayed as the invaders. When I started playing these games, the fantasy trope was of humankind threatened by the “other” be it dark Lords, orcish hordes or whatever. There may be something clever to say here, about the American concept of Manifest Destiny, and post-colonial European guilt, but it’s too early in the morning to get my head around that.

Let’s stick to the simple things. The races or “Kin” players can chose for their character are human, elf, half-elf, dwarf, halfling, wolfkin, orc, and goblin. Most of these are par for the fantasy RPG course. Traveller’s Vargyr make an appearance as the Wolfkin (ie wolf-men rather than werewolves), relatively rare in other fantasy rulesets. Orcs or half-orcs are common PC’s in F20 games, but there are no half-orcs here. The goblins are an interesting addition, though I am sure you can play goblins in D&D, it’s not one the basic options in the players handbook. This games take on goblins is an interesting one too – goblins are the “dark” brothers of the halflings. Not that there isn’t a pretty dark side behind the halfling smiles, which comes out in their description.

Indeed each description is very much from the point of view of that Kin, and to read most of them it’s hard to believe anyone would co-operate with another Kin enough to form a functioning party. But you have to remember, these PCs are rogues and outcasts from their own societies, and will have to get along with each other to survive. You also get an idea that each kin’s story is their own foundation myth – elves dwarves and orcs all blame each other for failing to keep the invading humans in their place. Somewhere between all their legends might lie the truth.

Then you get to chose a profession. Your profession doesn’t limit your character development as much as a D&D except in one way – you can never learn another profession’s unique talents. But there is nothing stopping you learning their skills, as long as you spend the XP. Your choice of profession then allows you to start with some skills that you are good at – every profession has a list of thee skills that you can start at up to rank three. All the rest you choose can only start at rank one. How many points do you get o allocate? Well, that depends … Every PC except elves get to choose whether they are young, adult or old. Elves (not half-elves) are ageless, and so are all adult. Your age determines how many points you get to spend on attributes and skills. Young PCs get the most attributes points and fewest skill points. The older you are, the more talents you get too.

This a quick and easy character generation system, but they mention an optional method of randomly generating a character in the separate pamphlet named Legends & Adventurers, “if you want to spend more time”. I am not convinced it would take more time. I find most of the time spent in modern point-buy systems like this is in reading all the options. Rolling the dice takes that time away, you can read about what you have created later.

Anyhow, however you have chosen your kin and profession, and allocated your points it’s time to choose a pride and a dark secret. Your pride has a mechanical effect, once per session if you fail a roll related to your pride, you can roll an extra d12, with an extra 50/50 chance of success. Your dark secret is a hook for the GM to narratively mess with you, but if it comes up in the story you get an extra XP.

You need define to your relationships with the rest of the party. This sometimes feels a bit clunky to me, and in Coriolis, I have suggested to my latest party that they don’t need to do so until after a couple of sessions. I guess in Coriolis you can change the nature of the relationships, but in this game it’s made explicit:

After the end of a game session, you are free to redefine your relationships to the other PCs as you see fit.

You can similarly change your dark secret if you so desire.

Your profession itemises some gear that you have, and a number of things you can pick from the equipment list. You also get a small amount of money, and can spend that if you desire. And some consumables like food and water. But beware, the game has a simple but potentially punishing encumbrance mechanic. Encumbrance is a thing I have hand-waved in pretty much every game that’s had it. But not this one, which at its heart is a wilderness survival game. This system is maths free and easy to check. So it WILL be used, and woe betide the character that ventures into the desert over encumbered. With the wilderness survival theme in mind, the game uses resource usage dice, which I first saw in Cortex+ Firefly, but many credit to the Black Hack for consumables. The intention is to make resource tracking easy and pleasurable, and to add risk to expeditions without adding accountancy.

Finally players are prompted to describe their character and choose a name. There’s a nice little feature earlier in the chapter to help with this – each Kin has male and female name suggestions, and every profession has nickname suggestions. So together your Wolfkin Druid might be Kekoa Windwalker. Or if he is a fighter, Kekoa Grimjaw. A lot of what I have been reading makes me think of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series of novels, but nothing more so than the Rogue nickname Half-finger. (“Still alive…”)

Then we move on to Experience and Reputation. The XP cost of advancement is a lot more demanding than in Coriolis. In that game, each skill level costs just five points. In this version of the system, it’s five times the level you are aiming for, so mov8mg from level two to three costs fifteen points! Talents are generally cheaper, with a multiple of only three times the rank. Except magic – if you can’t find a teacher, the cost is tripled again!

There are narrative costs for other talents and skill too. For example:

Learning a new skill (at skill level 1) costs 5 XP. Also, you must either have used the skill and succeeded (without skill level) during the session, or be instructed by a teacher (at skill level 1 or more) during a Quarter Day.

The reputation mechanic looks better than the sledgehammer-nutcracker version in Coriolis. Young characters have zero reputation, old characters two. Those are the dice you roll to see if anyone recognises you (which makes me think that perhaps young characters don’t get a nickname until they have earned it, like the Northmen in the First Law books). Deeds you do, good or bad may earn you another point. Your Reputation may well impact Manipulate rolls just like they do in Coriolis, but in this game, the bonus will be well deserved.

Forbidden Lands – Introduction

I am going to try another “Where I read…”, to force myself to go through the two new PDFs I just got from Fria Ligan. As a Kickstarter backer I got earlier alpha PDFs, which I thought I’d read enough to try a game. That I was floundering during the session proves it’s different enough from Coriolis to deserve a more thorough reading.

So, I am going to go though this chapter by chapter. I have plenty of time before I start a game – our first scheduled session is in November, and I am not even running that one. But if I don’t discipline my self now, time will run away with me, and I’ll be leafing though it the night before we play.

The PDFs I am reading here are from the files that went to print. Meaning when the books come out, this is the content they will contain. The books will come as a boxed set, in the traditional Swedish RPG size, so they will look a bit different from US sailed hardbacks.

I am going to post chapter by chapter, every day if I can, but we’ll see how successful that ambition is. Let’s start with the introduction to the players book.

I always sigh when I read the introduction chapter of most RPGs. Indeed I often skip it, too much trite fiction and “what is an RPG?” style explanations get me down. I am pretty sure I sighed as I began the fictional piece that start the introductory paragraph. This is a game that features men, elves, dwarves etc, and I gave I reading that sort of fiction, oh, over 30 years ago.

But this manages to be different. It’s short, for a start. Yes there are the usual made-up names, and affectations of great histories, but it gets to the point:

Adventurers. Treasure hunters. Scoundrels. Not heroes, far from it, but men and women who dare travel the land as they choose and make their own mark on it, unbound by any fate or story set for them. They hunt for ancient treasures, they fight whomsoever gets in their way, they build a new world for themselves on the ruins of the old.

They are the raiders of the Forbidden Lands.

This quoted section is about a third of the fiction, which I hope highlights how short it is, and readable. But it also very firmly puts the game in context. This is what YOU will be playing.

A section called “What do you do?” explains that your party will explore this land, discover adventure sites, seek eleven gems (a cross promotion of the optional campaign) and, if you survive long enough, maybe build a stronghold. That’s reinforced by the rest of that chapter, which explains you won’t be sent on missions by some great Lord, rather to are relying on yourself, and your companions, to survive and prosper in a land once deadly and still very dangerous. In describing the Ravenland setting, the chapter makes clear, without actually saying it, that this is a post-apocalyptic landscape. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t our world made into a fantasy world by an apocalypse, it’s a fantasy world that had its own apocalypse, from which it is only just starting to recover.

Though if that doesn’t float you boat, it says the rules will work with any setting.

I am also impressed by how to play section which, even though it goes over the basics like character sheets and dice, manages to inspire rather than bore this veteran gamer. I particularly like the box out which succinctly describes the phases of a game session. This shares space on the page with another highlight, the obligatory “we’re not going to be sexist section”, which drives that particular point home in a manner totally in keeping with the story:

Forbidden Lands takes place in a faraway fantasy world, not our own world’s past. Therefore, we are not bound by the norms and hierarchies of our history. The monsters of the Forbidden Lands do not differentiate between men and women, and neither does the Blood Mist.

I really think they have done a bang-up job of explaining how this game differs from other fantasy RPGs for experienced players, introducing us all to the world itself, while introducing the whole concept of RPGs to neophytes. In this year when D&D has sold more copies than ever before, when there are more new players than ever, Forbidden Lands in a game I would actively recommend to newbies and old-hands alike.

And that is before the chapter even gets to the section called “What is a role-playing game?” which unusually is the very last thing in the chapter! I’d almost argue that it doesn’t need such an explanation, but it’s mercifully short, and contains some vital reassurance:

The advantage of roleplaying games is also their challenge – the freedom to create the story yourselves can be overwhelming. But Forbidden Lands contains plenty of exciting events, places and people you can populate your story with, and very specific tools for the GM to use.

Colour me impressed so far. Of course all this was originally written in Swedish and translated. And they are some obvious artefacts of that translation – “during ten generations” for example, rather than “for ten generations”, but that charms rather than annoys.

Almudakhir and Kharon

My very basic sketch as I tried to apply the aesthetics of an Egyptian Barge of the Dead to space travel. I have no 3D modelling-fu.

For Icon worshipers across the horizon, including the Church of the Icons and the Order of the Pariah, it is traditional to cremate the dead, except those revered as saints. Their holy bodies are preserved so that their spirits may continue to find a way to the horizon and continue their good work. One of the many heresies that the Nazareem’s Sacrifice were accused of was their insistence that every initiated member of the cult was a saint. To the horror and disgust of other societies, The Nazareem’s Sacrifice no dead cultist was cremated. Instead the “beautiful dead ” were interred on Charnel Ships, which constantly plied the Dark between the stars.

Nazareem Charnel Ships were never designed for atmospheric entry. Generally class four of five, they were serviced by shuttle and supply ships. Their main hull took the form of an ancient boat lying on its side heading, keel first, into the Dark. Two huge archaic graviton projectors extended rearwards. The macabre “cargo” was kept externally, the vacuum of space desiccating and preserving the bodies of the saints while giving their spirits the opportunity to commune with the Dark Between the Stars. The structure that holds the dead is a scaffold frame between the graviton projectors, which can be expanded as more bodies are added. It is built around the entrance to the hanger, so that cortege shuttles could pause on their way into the hanger to inter the saintly cargo in their appointed place on the scaffold.

When the Horizon turned against the Nazareem’s Sacrifice in the early years of the Portal Wars, it was considered a matter of both faith and hygiene to instruct the Legion to seek out and destroy every Charnel Ship that the Sacrifice had launched. It is doubtful whether this task was completed. With the arrival of the Zenith, the Legion gradually became distracted by other tasks. There are rumours of ships of the dead still playing the space lanes.

And there is at least one still in operation.

The Almudakhir is hundreds of years old. No one knows its yard of construction, and some have suggested it may have been built in orbit around Al-Ardha itself in the First Horizon. How it survived the purge is unknown.

Features

Almudakhir features ancient glyph-type 8 point armour had predates the sort used by the Order of the Pariah. Apart from being very hard to actually look at, the armor can negate all damage from an incoming attack. (This generates 2 DPs for the GM. If the attack is a torpedo attack, 3 DPs are generated. This effect can be used only once for regular attacks and once for torpedo attacks in a spaceship combat.) Like every Charnel Ship, it carries its cargo externally, there are around 1250 tons of corpses in the scaffolding that project from the aft of the vessel, between two old and outsized graviton projectors. In theory, if there is a revival of the sect, and many more adherents to inter, the cargo scaffold could extend even further. A cloistered arboretum of remembrance sits below the base of the cargo scaffold. It’s a long, square walk with a number of stopping places – benches, tables and chairs or water features. Looking up, the plexiglass ceiling reveals the ranks of the dead stacked high above. (The artificial gravity of board is orientated so that aft is “up”, and “down” points to the keel of the ship and the direction of travel.)

Modules

The arboretum has become the defacto social space for the crew, because the crew quarters are 20 basic “coffin style” bunks with shared facilities. There is also, of course a Stasis hold, which as usual for a ship this size, holds up to 60 people in Stasis. The bridge is on the lowest deck, at front of the vessel. The consoles are set around a large round plexiglass viewport, set in the floor, which can be disconcerting to visitors as the ship appears to be falling through space. The original Nazareem’s Sacrifice chapel, with its cadaver clock, is still in place, but to disguise the true nature of the ship a more normal, nine Icon chapel has been retrofitted around it. Access to the cadaver clock is now through a secret door in Dancer’s alcove. None of the crew actually know what the cadaver clock does, so many mysteries of the Sacrifice were lost in the Purging. Close to the false chapel is a chapel of rest, which had been fitted out to do double duty as a Medlab.

Other modifications to the vessel include a number of weapon systems. There is a torpedo launch system, currently stocked with four ancient antimatter torpedos. Given that this ammunition costs almost a third of the value of the ship, the crew are advised to use them only as a last resort. Even more recently, the vessel was fitted with a data pulse system and an accelerator cannon.

The current crew have not yet explored the entire ship, but they do know there is a workshop and a hangar, which contains a vessel specially commissioned for their mission.

Kharon

The Clave of the Nazareem’s Sacrifice which sponsored this mission have commissioned a modern class II shuttle craft to act as the ships shuttle, and its public face. In an effort to disguise the true nature of Almudakhir and it’s crew, the Clave ordered Kharon from the Chelebs shipyard of Mira, heart of the Icon Church. It’s living quartets include four coffins and more standard cabin. There is a concealed section in the hold, for the transport of illicit cargo such as stolen relics. It’s only defence is an auto-cannon. Designed for atmospheric entry, it leaves its more macabre mothership hidden in the dark of space.

Kharon is equipped with a ship’s intelligence to make it semi-autonomous, capable of operating without a pilot if required. With its brand new, precise, thrusters it is very capable flier. However it takes its mission to hide the true nature of its crew and protect them from exposure very seriously, which can make it somewhat more obtuse than obedient.

Together these two ships, and their crew are on a risky mission. Emboldened by the discovery of a copy of a book once thought lost, A Soliloquy of Sacrifice, and Council’s decision to publicly release the text, the Sacrifice Clave hidden on Zib have repurposed the Almudakhir to seek out other Claves around the Horizon, and especially to recover the knowledge and artefacts that, since The Purging, have been hidden or lost for generations.

A fillable PDF ship sheet for Coriolis

ShipSheetImage
Click on the image to download the PDF

I think there is only a full colour version of the official ship sheet out there, so I took it apart in Acrobat DC, removed the ink-sucking space background and drop shadows, replaced the Coriolis logo with a black version, and of course, made it form-fillable. I left the little crew icons in colour. Please do feedback any errors I’ve made, or improvements I could change in the comments. If you are looking for the character sheet, its available here.

The Mystery of the Church of the Icons

I am guilty of taking the Church of the Icons for granted. And I think that is because for most of us, our experience of churches is of something that has always been there, or at least been around for centuries. Whether for not you go to church, the building itself is a landmark in your life, and similarly the traditions of whatever faith you are, or choose not to be, have become landmarks in our annual calendars. Our churches have become part of the background of our culture. Something we take for granted.

But there is a perplexing mystery at the heart of the Church of the Icons. The Church of the Icons is young.

Or rather, both old and new. The religion or folk law has been around for centuries, but the church, with its trans-Horizon structure, is “the Horizon’s youngest faction”

It’s rise to prominence is extraordinary. New international churches in our world do exist. For example the Church of Scientology, created by Science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, is about as old as the The Church of Icons. It’s a global organisation, yes, but it doesn’t have reach and acceptance that the Icon Church appears to have achieved. What is the secret to their success?

The core book tell us that the Church of the Icons has “grown strong through collecting, canonizing and institutionalizing the wide, sprawling faith that has existed in the Horizon for centuries.” So, rather than making up a pantheon of Thetans, like L. Ron, the Church of the Icons appears to be more like the Baha’i faith. The Bahá’ís philosophy is one of unity, their belief is that every prophet, every religion, reveals a different aspect of the truth of god. Similarly the Church of the Icons seek out and embrace local variations of faith, progressively revealling the truth of the Icons. But the Bahá’í faith has not achieved the level of acceptance and authority the the Icon Church seems to have managed. Indeed its adherents are persecuted in the Middle East where it was founded by an Iranian, 125 years ago.

How has the Church not only become accepted, but risen to prominence so smoothly and so completely?

Perhaps the answer lies in its structure. The Icon faith is not a cult of personality. There is no L. Ron or Bab. Its a federation, the Matriarch and Partiarch appear to have little power except as notional figureheads, and there are two of them anyway, so neither one is THE leader. The Seekers, an ancient cult which may have had something to do with the founding of the Church, have been marginalised. They “looked upon as wise ascetics and prophets rather than actual figures of power within the faction.”

So, the Church of the Icons seems less like, say, the Catholic Church, under the Pope, and more like the international Anglican Communion, of which the Archbishop of Canterbury is more a figure head than leader. I therefore imagine that the teachings of the church can be very different in different systems, just as the philosophies of the Episcopal church in the United States regarding, for example, homosexuality, are very different from those of their Anglican brethren in Africa.

So, how does anything get decided? How does the church make any decisions, if not by Papal Bull or Fatwa? I think, every two or three Cycles a great Synod is held, with representatives of the church from all corners of the Horizon attending. Much discussion is had, many topics are debated and occasionally, very occasionally something is agreed. Between such Synods, weighty topics might be the subject of an Ecumenical Assembly, which would present its findings at the next Synod. Thus it was the Nine Sacred Rites were only put in writing in CC49, only a couple of decades ago, in game canon. Before that, I imagine, that doctrine which denies the duality of Icons, and that evil exists, not in the Icons but within humanity was agreed in a similar manner, with much muttering around the periphery.

Indeed, I think that despite one of the nine sacred rites being that “Once a year, during the Cyclade, a believer should openly declare her faith by reciting the creed together with others in a temple” that Creed itself might still be in flux. The Creed isn’t defined anywhere in the core book after all, and we know very little about it other than that Icons are only good doctrine.

The core book mentions two schisms, which I think are not schisms at all, but rather issues upon which a Synod has not yet agreed a wording for the Creed. So right now, the creed does not mention Humanites at all. But perhaps, the first Cyclade after the Oikoumene as Najim Assembly has reported to the Synod, the Creed will include a line about whether Humanites have a soul, or are simply biological automata or animals.

Talking of souls, I am amazed that the Creed is not yet clear on what happens to your soul after you die. The Church of the Icons assures us that our souls do not become monsters trapped in the Dark between the stars, for which, personally, I am grateful, but stubbornly refuse to confirm whether you are rewarded with an afterlife in an Al-Ardhan paradise, or as the Seekers believe, becomes one with the Icons in the eternal Aoum.

The fact that there appears to be no ecumenical agreement upon this important matter, surely confirms that the Seekers are indeed marginalised, and are not the power behind the Church. But, conversely this fudging of the issue of the afterlife also raises questions about the rapid growth and success of the Church. In our world, the one key selling point for religions is the promise of an afterlife, be that in heaven, Valhalla, or a more successful reincarnation, if you follow the teachings of the church. And of course the many alternative hells or unfortunate reincarnations for those that don’t follow the path. If the Church of the Icons can’t define how your soul is rewarded, how come so many people, have accepted the Church and the Creed into their lives?

The Black Sheep II “Portalhopper”

If there is a problem with the rich background of Coriolis it is GM paralysis. Almost every paragraph is a really cool adventure seed, but we know that some paragraphs will be expanded upon in future publications. For example, take the Emissaries. If you only ever read the core book, the Emissaries could be a cool thing for your player characters to investigate, and over the course of the campaign, the GM and the players could create a marvellous history for the Emissaries, unpack their motives and desires, and imagine a mutually satisfying reason for their mysterious appearance. And talking of appearances, the core book doesn’t even reveal what they look like – I was imagining something like the Vorlon in Babylon 5

Until I read the Atlas Compendium, which reveals … well, let’s keep the mystery alive for your players, and just say that they are, biologically at least, as human as the rest of us. And of course, we know that the upcoming first part of the Mercy of the Icons campaign is called Emissary Lost, so I imagine most English speaking GMs are putting the Emissaries to one side, until that comes out. Not the Swedes though, the Swedes are already enjoying that campaign. (Mumble, gripe)

Then there is the “Taoan incident” Its a big mystery. Dangerous enough for the Legion and the Order to work together, and put aside their differences? (Or are they?) Fleets of ships are going though the portal, and very few are returning … what is going on?

I have plenty of ideas. But the Last Voyage of the Ghazali is coming out soon, and that includes a flashback to the very beginning of the Taoan incident. What if there is a really cool secret in that scenario that contradicts whatever I have already told the players?

As it turns out my players were curious about the Taoan incident, but demonstrated very little desire to investigate it. That didn’t stop me thinking about it though, and how I might give players a taste of the Taoan incident without giving them much opportunity to discover what what was actually going on … yet. I do have a pretty good idea about what the incident is, one which fits the arc my players are on, but it’s not one I’d want to share this early in the campaign. And in the interim (given how infrequently we get to play) The Last Voyage of the Ghazali might present me with a really cool idea that blows mine out of the water.

So just in case my players were curious, I had an idea for a scenario about the “Dabaran Run” race. Where speed is of the essence, and the player characters are motivated not to linger. The race would includ the Taoan system, and that visit might well be the climax of the adventure, but the players would be too concerned about survival and reaching the next portal to worry about investigating the mystery.

Around the same time that I was thinking about that possible adventure, David Reichgeld, who created the lovely floor plans for Samar’s Hamam, shared a 3D modelled ship design he’d been working on, and invited suggestions for what it might be.

I knew exactly what it was, a Black Sheep, the perfect ship to compete in the Dabaran Run, and this is what I wrote:

The shipyards of Darkos are known for practical, armed freighters. But the biannual “Dabaran Run” race, which started decades ago as a simple bet between two Shipmasters, has prompted the development of specialised class 1 portalhoppers, in which pilots compete in their own single class race, while the freighters battle it out. The are often piloted by the scions of great trading families. These are the Black Sheep II model. Fast and manoeuvrable.

Since the Taoan incident, the Race has been postponed, and portal hoppers like this have been mothballed. But it is said a rogue group of disgruntled pilots are retrofitting stealth tech to them and plan an illicit, and dangerous, revival of the race.

There was no time for sleep during the Dabaran Run, so the racing portal hoppers had a crew of two. The limited accommodation was taken up by two stasis holds for portal jumps, which meant the crews took turns sleeping in their cockpit seat, or stretched out in a stasis bed. Facilities were inhumane, with pre-packed food, a very basic shared “head” and no washing facilities. Ground crews charged with cleaning the ship out after races were hardy folk, with very poor sense of smell.

In happier days, occasional shots were taken at other competitors with a cheap autocannon, chosen because of its dreadful range, and limited probability of life threatening damage. Those preparing to take the run since the Taoan incident, fully aware that they know little or nothing of the dangers in that system, have pragmatically swapped out the cannon for a countermeasure dispenser – thinking that running away is a better option than fitting a bigger gun.

STANDARD MODEL

ENERGY POINTS: 4 HULL POINTS: 3 MANEUVERABILITY: +3 SIGNATURE: -2 ARMOR: 1 SPEED: 5 MODULES: Cockpit, reactor, graviton projector, stasis hold x2, autocannon FEATURES: Turbo projector, supercharged reactor EXTRA GEAR: none PROBLEM: Unreliable Sensors COST: 195,000 birr.

RETROFITTED TAOAN MODEL

ENERGY POINTS: 4 HULL POINTS: 3 MANEUVERABILITY: +3 SIGNATURE: -3 ARMOR: 1 SPEED: 5 MODULES: Cockpit, reactor, graviton projector, stasis hold x2, countermeasure dispenser FEATURES: Turbo projector, supercharged reactor, stealth technology EXTRA GEAR: none PROBLEM: Slow Accelerator COST: 205,000 birr.

A Coriolis Curry

When we went to Sweden to chat with the guys from Fria Ligan, they told us that they hadn’t always been as good at running Kickstarters as they are now. They mentioned that they had been a little too ambitious setting stretch-goals for the Swedish language edition of Coriolis. In particular they mentioned that they hadn’t (yet) delivered on Wahib’s Cookbook, a stretch goal unlocked at 200,000 Kroner. I am sure they are working on it, and it will get delivered. But in the meantime, there are over 400 Swedish backers who are starving desperately awaiting the delivery of that PDF so that they can cook and eat a meal at last.

In the absence of Wahibs Cookbook, the Coriolis Effect comes to the rescue! I thought I’d share one of the recipes that I make for the boys, when it’s my turn to host a session. I always like to make a meal that is at least tangentially related to the game we’re playing, whether it’s venison stew for A Song of Ice and Fire, or sausage and mash when we’re playing dashing British World War One pilots.

This one is a sort of curry, with a wide enough variety of spices to require a visit to the Spice Plaza on Coriolis Station. And while we’re at the market, here’s the shopping list. With apologies to our American listeners, measurements are metric. If it helps, a pound is about 500 grams. It’s a pretty forgiving recipe, so if you want to replace the specific regiments with “some”, you’ll probably get away with it. Watch out for the spices though. This provides four generous portions.

2 tbsp vegetable oil

500g goat or lamb fillet, cut into cubes

2 onions, roughly chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 green chillies, finely chopped (these are optional)

1 tbsp fresh ginger, shredded

1 tbsp ground turmeric

1½ tbsp garam masala

1½ tbsp ground cumin

1 tbsp paprika

1 tbsp plain flour

4 sweet potatoes, chopped

1 tin, about 400g, chopped tomato’s

1/2 block 100g creamed coconut, dissolved in 400ml water

250g baby spinach leaves

pomegranate seeds to dress

steamed rice, to serve

Turn on the oven, and let it heat up to 150 degrees centigrade. This is best if slow cooked. In the meantime, heat a large saucepan and add a tablespoon of the vegetable oil and then the meat. Brown it over a high heat for 3-4 minutes, then remove take it out of the saucepan.

Reduce the heat and add another tablespoon of vegetable oil. Fry the onions, garlic, chillies and ginger for 2-3 minutes, until golden and softened. Add all the spices and fry, stirring well, for one minute. Add the flour and cook for a further minute.

Add the sweet potato, the tin of tomatoes and the coconut milk and heat to bring to a simmer. Put the lamb back in and heat the mixture until simmering, then cover and put in the oven for about one hour, or until the lamb is tender and cooked through. Just before serving, take it out of the oven, and stir in the spinach (the sweet potato should be soft enough now to break up and thicken the sauce). Serve onto warmed plates with steamed basmati rice and sprinkle the pomegranate seeds over the top.

It’s a dish Wahib himself would be proud to serve.

The Atheist’s Talent

A discussion in G+ prompted me to share this talent, which featured back in an early episode of The Coriolis Effect, but never saw publication on this blog. That is partly because it’s never been play-tested. I wrote it just in case a player might want to be an atheist. So far, no-one has. So this is a transcript of what I said on the ‘cast.

Not everyone in the third Horizon believes in the Icons. As the corebook says on page 191 “The secular Foundation is the part of the Consortium mainly concerned with research and development.”

That said, not everyone in the Foundation is an atheist. On page 243 it refers to “the most ardent disbelievers in the Foundation” which suggests that most of the foundation are, shall we say, less ardent. I’m sure in fact that the majority pray to the Icons, if only under their breath. After all it’s the rational thing to to do isn’t? Even if you don’t have scientific evidence that the Icons exist, uttering a short prayer when you want things to go right isn’t going to do any *harm* is it? We know that Rhavinn Bokor, the Foundation’s Akbar on Hamurabi portal station, is a friend and frequent dining partner of the preacher, Talib Ogor. Not everything in the dark between the Stars can be explained with science.

But what about your players? What if a player wants their character to be a hardline foundation scientist, an atheist? How do they play that in the game?

This hasn’t come up for me, yet, and currently, the Factions aren’t a big thing in my campaign – where they do appear they are like the wheel of fate, crushing the characters beneath its rim. That’s one of the things I like about the rules and the setting. Unlike many games with factions, no-one is forced to become a member of one. Indeed, only three character concepts give players the opportunity to start with the Faction Standing talent. But what if your players do want to get more involved in the politics and traditions of the factions, and represent the scientific method if the Foundation? Or to play a hardcore Zenithian with a sceptical view of the Firstcome religion? Or wants to play an atheist just to be different?

How does that work out in play? And more importantly, how does that square with the Icon Talent that every character receives? Shouldn’t there also be an Atheist’s Talent?

My first thought was that perhaps an Atheist should get a bonus on his or her more “rational” skills. But what do you call “rational”? Do I mean all the advanced skills? Well, sure, I can get behind a bonus on: COMMAND; CULTURE; DATA DJINN (of course); and, MEDICURGY but MYSTIC POWERS? I don’t think so.

Indeed I’m making a house-ruling here – you can’t be an atheist and have mystic powers.

So that made me think, you get a bonus, not on advanced skills, but all skills that are based on the Wits ability. I quickly ruled that out though – yes, it extends bonuses to skills like OBSERVATION and SURVIVAL, but it would exclude culture. And more insidiously it equates rationality with intelligence. As my mate Tony pointed out, with all the evidence there is of the existence of the Icons and the Dark Between the Stars that characters discover, Atheism is an irrational philosophy.

So no, I’m not giving a bonus to rolls exclusively involving Wits.

In fact I’m not sure a mere dice bonus is a good idea anyway. My thought *had* been to give just plus one dice to each roll, given that the bonus would apply to so many rolls. But given the way the dice mechanic works, that there’s a perception out there that it makes players feel their characters are incompetent, despite rolling a good number of dice, a plus one die bonus may not cut it.

Especially because I sure of one thing – that the *cost* of the Atheist’s talent is that you are not allowed to pray, *ever*. Well that’s not quite true. I want the cost to be that if you ever do pray, you lose the Atheist’s talent.

The whole point of this rule is to create a situation, where the player must weigh up the cost of admitting that the Icons exist, against the opportunity to succeed when they’ve failed a roll. I want the temptation to pray, to be counter-balanced by a talent that has *real* value’ so that losing it, and opting in re-roll, is a big decision.

And while I think that a plus one bonus on every roll is *actually* a big deal, I worry that players won’t appreciate its value. And will discard the talent on the first fluffed roll.

And then it hit me. Certainty. The Atheists in this universe are stubborn believers in an idea, despite all the evidence to the contrary. They know (or think they know) how the world works. They are confident that they can explain cause and effect, action and reaction.

So how about this?

The Atheist’s talent.

This talent may be chosen instead of randomly selecting an Icon talent. For each advanced or general skill in which they have one level (except Mystic Powers – if they have mystic powers they shouldn’t be an atheist) the player makes a roll, with a plus one bonus before the game starts, and notes the result. A failed roll means that the first time they use that skill in the adventure, the character will fail, but after that they can roll normally.

Any roll with one or more successes can be held until the player chooses to spend it. They don’t have to spend it the first time they use the skill, they can always choose to roll normally instead and accept that roll. Any difficulty penalty the GM imposes is taken from failed dice before dice that rolled six.

If the player chooses to pray (re-roll) on any role, the character loses the Atheist talent, and must spend five experience points to draw an Icon talent.