Thursday, 6 May 2021

Beyond Cuir Bouilli

[Thought about entitling this 'Alternatives to Leather'. I suspect that would mislead some people searching online....]

Recent posts have focused on a series of equipment lists for a proposed Enlightenment-inspired setting. Among other things, I hoped that these lists would provide a variety of light armour variants - as indicated by the number of civilian roles listed, and the title of the first such list

However, I hope to do something a little different here. Firstly, I want to list light armour variants, but I also want to list their 'upgrades'. Certainly, I can use the hide of the Zinc Owlbear of the Bloodmarsh Dale to create light armour with a +4 bonus instead of a +1, but I'm hoping to do something a little distinct, similar to Gus L's +1 Swords.

Also, distinct from other equipment lists, this is intended to be.....well, if not bland, vanilla. Able to be slotted neatly another setting, or inspire else something in a more specific cultural context. This sets it aside from my previous lists and their inspirations (though some of the work for this list has clearly been done in those).

A quick note also to point readers in the direction of Fitzgerald's post on various armours, which almost ought to be a standard text on this sort of subject.

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I don't suppose I have to formally define 'Light Armour' for readers of this blog, but given I'm ringing the changes in this post, I will set out a few points to clarify things a little.

Light Armour....

  1. Offers some protection from blows, but considerably less than other sorts of armour.
  2. Doesn't weigh too much.
  3. Allows the wearer to move fairly freely (IE, allows for athletics, acrobatics, stealth, drawing a longbow, &c)

The list below hopefully always adheres to at least two out of the three of these. Point One will always be one of these points. 

***


Standard

Upgrade

1

Furs - A coat of dense, warm furs. A boon in cold weather, but a serious handicap in the heat. These are also somewhat more encumbering than other light armours. 

Mountain Man's furs - A complete, carefully modelled set of furs, that manage to keep the head and claws of the bear they were taken from intact.
Bonuses to prestige/charisma (it looks quite impressive, though perhaps other bears may not think so) and provides a set of d4 melee weapons in the shape of the claws.

2

Guerrilla's Blanket - A thick blanket, slung around the body in a broad loop. This provides a small quantity of protection. The blanket loop can also be widened to form an impromptu padded 'shield' (half the protection of a regular shield), wrapped around one hand. 

(This isn't quite a regular blanket - the blanket has to be aptly sized, of suitable thickness and a few internal straps added, quite apart from the need for proper technique).

Flying Carpet offcuts - Offcuts from a flying carpet have been woven into this Guerrilla's Blanket. This means that falls will damage the wearer less, as their speed is slowed by the carpet patches. 

The blanket can also be folded into a small (one foot square) bundle that will hover about two feet off the floor.


Padded Cloth Armour - Tough-packed cloth armour, worn next to the skin. It will slow and trap attacks, rather than strictly deflecting them. Lightweight and breathable, this is ideal for warmer climes - though perhaps not for midwinter. 

Discretion Suit - a full set of cloth armour, stained in drab, shadowy colours, complete with pads for the feet and hands. The wearer can move very quietly indeed, and stifle shouts with the gauntlets - but the pads make gripping with the feet and hands more difficult. Activities that require precise footwork or manipulation are at a disadvantage.

4

Oilskins - The tough surface of this waterproof cloak will tangle and blunt blows, as well as repelling water and other fluids. However, in order to get the full benefit of the armour, it must cover most of the body, and will interfere with drawing a bow.

Gallant's cloak - this is an ornate outer garment, designed to repel water. If cast over a body of water, you can walk on top of the cloak and not sink (this is like walking on thick mud - it can be difficult to keep your footing).

Secondly, the cloak will attract other traces of dirt, keeping the wearer's other garments clean. This also applies to anyone walking on the cloak, especially one's lady-love.

5

Smith's apron - a heavy, rigid apron of leather with accompanying gloves. This provides insulation from sources of heat, and the leather has been treated to make it fireproof. 

Whatever protection this offers, it is still a little cumbersome, unlikely to bend effectively. The wearer will struggle to crouch or perform athletic feats wearing it.

Mockdrake jacket - Actual dragon scales are hard to come by, even if you have the money. Therefore, wizards examining those scales have developed their own lightweight, fire- and heat-proof material, derived from ceramics. 

These tend to be attached to a tough jacket to form a more flexible garment, suitable for firefighters or anyone else who need to move fast around naked flames. 

Quite what the dragons think of these is anyone's guess.

6

Cavalryman's coat - a warm coat, cut for riding, with projectile pouches and loops sewn into the chest. 

This means less than a dozen projectiles can be carried without taking up an inventory slot, but they will be damaged or deformed beyond use if the wearer takes a critical hit. 

The wearer of the coat will also unmistakably be marked as one following the profession of arms.

Houndstooth vest - A cuirass covered in numerous studs, each a dog's head in miniature. These have been enchanted; when patted on the head, they will open their jaws and then close them on whatever the wearer puts between them.

Thus, if you don't object to tiny tooth marks on your possessions, they can carry a number of items for you, freeing perhaps two inventory slots.

7

Banner pole - this suit of armour features a banner, totem or trophy rack fixed on the back, with straps across the front. This hampers attacks from the rear (no backstabbing bonuses!) and allows a warrior to communicate across the battlefield....with the natural consequences to stealth.

Martial Splendour - in addition to the imposing bulk of a banner, this armour features a number of noisemakers - sistrum rattles, small bells or similar such items. These can be set in motion at will in order to only intimidate one's opponents, or (with the correct enchantments) distract spellcasters.
Of course, anyone with both broad banners and chiming bells is more of a target than ever.

8

Ghost Armour - These are frequently issued to lesser inquisitorial agents, or are worn by travelling folk-exorcists. 

A tough coat is lined with wires of blessed silver, or rune-stones, or paper charms, or carved bones - all different ways of discouraging ghosts. Malignant spirits are prevented from wreaking the full force of their powers against the wearer.
However, this is the cheap form of ghost protection. If the wearer takes a critical hit from a mundane foe, the anti-ghost measures will be deformed and must be replaced.

Grave Armour - If you can't beat them, join them. This coat, looking much like Ghost Armour, was made by a magical artificer who definitely has never ever met any necromancers, and does not even know what a liche is.

Like Ghost Armour, it protects against fell spirits, but does this by keeping a ghost on your person at all times. You become, effectively, a walking tomb. Again, like Ghost Armour, if too badly damaged, the ghost will probably depart.

However, the ghost on your person provides certain benefits. It can act as a second set of eyes, or intimidate potential adversaries; a sufficiently motivated wraith can even carry small objects. But this is all rather dependant on a good working relationship with the ghost in question. 

There are those that will imagine the wearer of this coat to be a rather morbid person. Further, there are those that might think it blasphemous so to shackle a departed spirit to this mortal realm.



***

Various inspirations, illustrations, &c

Gazyrs: a delight to Cossacks and Scrabble players alike.
Ed Corbin's "bear man" in True Grit | sweet juniper inspiration
From True Grit, Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen, 2010



(I have only seen The Pride and the Passion once many years ago, but it made an impact. Though for some reason, I recall the scene in rather more Goya-esque tones.)


Thursday, 15 April 2021

Fading Suns: Passion Play

Fading Suns came into my awareness as a baroque space fantasy RPG, something in the vein of the feudal futures of Frank Herbert's Dune, Wolfe's Book of the New Sun or Warhammer 40,000. It struck me there could well be, in theory, a good space for such a thing. The Westworld RTS video games of Dune have long indicated that there is a space for people looking to explore elements of the Dune universe without the central element of Arrakis. The New Sun is maybe a little too convoluted to provide good RPG fodder (yes, there was the GURPS book); and a step away from the grimdark militarism (and ridiculous 'Which Primarch is the strongest/best fighter/best at flower-arranging?' narrative elements) of 40k is probably worthwhile. 

In addition to this, it emerges that Fading Suns aims to let players engage in a 'Passion Play' about the Redemption of Mankind. Well, I'm an easy mark for high-concept pieces apparently and Easter has just gone, so I decided to investigate.

I'm working from a PDF of Fading Suns's second edition (found here). Fading Suns was developed by Bill Bridges and Andrew Greenberg, once of White Wolf.

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The setting and features of Fading Suns will probably not surprise you, based on the influences listed above. Humanity spread to the stars as part of a great, technologically advanced republic. Psychic powers were developed and a network of ancient portals discovered. This collapsed and in its place grew up a series of feudal lordships. These were eventually unified into a single empire under the new Emperor, Vladimir I. He was assassinated at his coronation in the new capital, Byzantium Secundus (formerly New Istanbul...), giving way to a regency - that would be eventually filled by the current occupant of the Phoenix Throne, Alexius Hawkwood. It is the dawn of the sixth millennium. Mankind has risen and fallen, and the stars are beginning to fade in the sky.

(You may care to watch this triumph of CGI from the video game Empire of the Fading Suns.)

Those Who Rule

Several great houses govern the stars; others have fallen by the wayside (apparently the House of Windsor - or something with that name - lasted until 4550). The greatest are five in number - noble Hawkwood, the proud Hazat, the deceitful Decados, the pious Li Halan and the celebrated, popular Al-Malik.
(Hawkwood and Decados might as well be Atriedes and Harkonnen. Incidentally, the logo choice for the Decados is a praying mantis, which feels hilariously on the nose.)

"Trusssst ussssss....."

Those Who Trade 

Remnants of the old republic remain embedded in the world of the Empire. The Engineers and Charioteers will seem familiar as hoarders of technological lore and starfaring navigators and pilots, respectively. The Muster and the Reeves are somewhat novel, as interstellar mercenaries/labour guild and lawyers/bankers. The Scravers are effectively a crime syndicate, ostensibly dedicated to scavenging and reclamation but with numerous other, less-than-salubrious sources of wealth. Other guilds exist, but these are the greatest and most potent.

Those Who Pray

Founded by the Prophet Zebulon following his vision of the Holy Flame in 2723, the Universal Church of the Celestial Sun has grown over the centuries throughout human society. Following the death of the Prophet, his teaching were collected in the Omega Gospels and the Church was gradually formalised under the first Patriarch, Palamedes. Later Patriarchs and Matriarchs would continue the process, railing against the luxuries and alienation of the Second Republic and eventually casting their support behind Vladimir Alecto in his bid for power. It comes equipped with a full cast (or caste!) of priests (both orthodox and heretic), a knightly order, pyromaniac inquisitors and saintly healers. Ritual powers - 'Theurgy' - are also at the priesthood's disposal, with bonuses if you wear the correct vestments.

Those Who Differ

Aliens exist in Fading Suns, both as external interstellar powers and subjects of The Empire of the Phoenix Throne. The threats of alien invasion, the pace and greed of human expansion and the teachings of the Universal Church (the Prophet Zebulon had alien disciples and spoke against their mistreatment, but their place in the Church's teachings has been occluded over time) have created a constrained place for non-humans within the Empire. Xenophobia and suspicion is the norm, but several species have their appointed place in the human cosmos. 

(You may care to look over these websites for more details)

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Some of this feels pretty stock, and I've glossed pretty quickly on the above, but I want to emphasise that a really good point about Fading Suns is that it gives approximately the same weight to Merchants and Priests as Nobles. The D&D cosmopolitan melange of faiths (possibly deriving from Fritz Lieber's story 'Lean Times in Lankhmar') maximises choice but reduces social impact, and doesn't quite get in the way of Parson Brown having a second career as a murderhobo.

The Street of Gods, from Chaykin and Mignola's comic book adaption of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.
You will have to translate the dialogue yourselves.

Fading Suns takes its religion seriously. We have details of the faith's foundation, the variety of interpretations the founding teaching have been put to, the social functions it finds itself in and the good and bad it has done. There's a useful piece of boxed text detailing the stereotypes of Priests and emphasising that this is not a universal rule (we get this for nobles and merchants as well, but the priestly text is the most extensive).

Looking past the catechisms, robes and rosaries, each priest approaches his or her faith differently. While some try as hard as they can to follow the party line, many do so in the way they best see fit. Not all Avestites are screaming fanatics; some may be calm and introspective, truly compassionately worried about the collective sins of the universe. Likewise, not all Orthodox priests are intolerant to non-doctrinal points of view; some are fascinated with the new ideas and perspectives cropping up on the many worlds of the Pancreator. 

Despite the Church’s often iron-handed role in politics, the priests who preach at the cathedrals through- out the Known Worlds are, for the most part, truly devout and unconcerned with worldly power. It is the state of the soul they concentrate upon, and the fate of the soul as it leaves its mortal coil. Without the selfless acts and counsel of Church priests, the populace of the Known Worlds would surely be worse off and deeper in despair. 

Here's something more, from the notes on playing an orthodox priest:

Priests are needed to provide witness to the Church’s truth for the Pancreator’s creations. However, there are many worlds, each with their own particular problems. Lack of rapid communication prevents direct answers from Holy Terra. The training a priest receives is designed to give him a broad framework with which to interpret any of the myriad trials of life; it is a priest’s responsibility to have the courage to make his own interpretations based on experience, with doctrine as guidance. Those priest’s whose answers to religious problems are most in line with the current patriarch’s beliefs (some say political needs), are those who rise the highest in the Church hierarchy. 

Nonetheless, while a priest owes respect and obedience to those above him, she has the duty to rely on her own experiences and convictions (as long as she does not slip too far into mysticism). Creation is ongoing, and the Pancreator reveals himself to his children in different ways at different times. Priests must be ever alert for these omens and be ready to provide the correct interpretation of them for the laity. Others look to the Church for answers; a priest must be prepared to give them boldly. 

Various priests, knights and devotees of the Church.
Their symbol is a stylised jumpgate, looking rather like a Celtic Cross.


You will have noticed that the working man, the Peasant, the Labores have been excluded from this list. I quote from page 30

There are two main social classes in the Known Worlds: freeman and serf. Seventy-five percent of the Known Worlds populace are serfs, the common folk working the fields on far-flung planets. Their lives are regimented and unchanging; few ever leave their home village. Of the twenty-five percent of freemen, eighteen percent are yeomen, folk of low class but more socially mobile than serfs. They do not necessarily owe allegiance to anyone, and if they do, it is usually through a willing contract of service. Artisans, learned scribes and rural officials make up this class. The remaining seven percent of the populace are nobles, Churchmen and League members. 

Player characters in Fading Suns are usually freemen. They are not forced by birthright into an unwilling servitude to a noble lord, a Church sect or a guild. Instead, they can choose their own destiny — as far as they are willing to fight for it. 

A working class origin is presumably possible for Priests and Guildsmen, but even if the average D&D party is made up of unusual individuals, this does seem to push the Man on the Clapham Omnibus a little far from centre stage. 

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A few other points I enjoy, or think are worthy of comment:

  • The use of jumpgates induces a religious experience (separate from the doctrines of the Universal Church) known as Sathraism. This produces 'a sublime moment of ecstasy and profound remembering of some deep truth once known and since lost. When [the pilots taking a jumpgate] arrived on the other side, the memories again faded, but their afterglow remained.' Sathraism was surpassed by the First Republic via the production of a forcefield for spaceships. 
This is a nice contrast to the terrors of the Warp or the anodyne hollowness of hyperspace.
  • There are a set of rules for play in Fading Suns. It looks fairly clunky to Yours Truly, after so long dipping into the OSR but I'm not going to touch on it much here. 
  • Traits selected at character creation include Blessings and Curses, which 'represent a character’s psychological quirks or physical endowments and/or handicaps.' Referring to page 126 I note that curses include 'Gullible', 'Haughty', 'Mammon' and 'Subtle'. This might almost demand a rather unsubtle response.
  • There's a fair list of skills including Academia, Bureaucracy, Physick, Drive (Aircraft, Beastcraft, Landcraft, Spacecraft, Watercraft), Remedy (First Aid against Physick's more general medicine), Ride, Tech Redemption and Xeno-Empathy. 

Languages include human and alien tongues. Urthish is the general human language, but others exist: the guild dialect Urthtech and the Church's Latin. Latin is detailed as being: 

A nearly forgotten tongue from Holy Terra, Latin is used for all Church rituals, documentation and official communication. Actually, Dark Age Latin is also composed of many Greek and even Sanskrit words — all languages known to have been spoken and written by the Prophet — but consists mainly of classical Latin. 

  • Quote, page 67

Time in Fading Suns is measured in five units, ranging from the smallest to the largest. These are: the turn, the span, the act, the drama and the epic. Note that time in Fading Suns is measured in cycles rather than exact, standard amounts; plot advancement, rather than an exact hour- minute-second count, determines the flow of time. 

The Hobbit is a Drama, within the Epic of Middle Earth. An Act sees the resolution of a major plot point. I'm not sure how useful this is a mechanic, but it indicates and supports the narrative focus of Fading Suns.

  • Wages are given for Chauffeurs, Performers, Butlers, Courtesans, Assassins, Aides de Camp, Starship Gunners, Magic Lantern operators and Authors (both Successful and Moderately Successful).
  • Urth, Holy Terra itself, is normally the seat of the Holy Patriarch (if not the Emperor). This is apparently in 'Rio Brasilia'.

Urth is an overcrowded planet, not because of rampant population growth or technological decay or ecological destruction or what have you - but because vast portions of it are preserved as wilderness, demonstrating the wonders of the Pancreator.

  • Other worlds include the aforementioned capital of Byzantium Secundus, Aragon, Cadiz, Bannockburn, Delphi, Chernobog, Grail, Icon, Pyre, Leagueheim, Leminkainen, Midian, Pentateuch, Ravenna, Stigmata and Vril-ya. Would have thought the cross-cultural background of Fading Suns would have mandated at least one world with a world named Confucius Prime, or the like.
  • Stereotypical inspirations for the Hazat include a military officer, a commando and the Sheriff of Nottingham. The Li Halan are likened more to Thomas a Becket or Joan of Arc than Televangelists, though Aramis, the Fisher King and secret diabolists like Gilles deRais are also mentioned. The al-Malik are specifically likened to champagne socialists.

Stereotypical inspirations for Mendicant Monks include (quote) 'Sean Connery in “The Name of the Rose,” or Brother Cadfael' 

Is the name William of Baskerville so unmemorable?

Stereotypical inspirations for Engineers include 'Cyberfetishists'.

  • The art in this edition makes me think slightly more of Moebius and The Incal than (say) John Blanche and the 41st millennium. A little smoother, the occasional more obviously 21st century image. The distinction might be between a world that forgets or neglects a technological heritage and one that has utterly lost it.  But it never quite strikes me as a world like that described in the following quote (page 13):

The atmosphere of the dramas played out in Fading Suns is one of tragic ignorance. Civilisation is in decline, and superstition and fear are everywhere. New ideas and frontiers are spurned by a nervous populace, fearful of change for the harm it brings. But it is just this sort of wilful ignorance that keeps civilisation from rising again. It is such fear that keeps hope buried and great challenges from being met. The player characters represent the heroes who can break the bonds of this ignorance and bring something new and great to their culture, to reawaken and invigorate life.

Yet I'm not sure we ever get an image of this as strong as (say) those in the Book of the New Sun - the towers that were once starships, the strange melding of the tales of Mowgli and Romulus. I don't believe we even get a ruined Statue of Liberty on the beach.


Art by John Blanche, found here.

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So, what's a Passion Play?

A Passion Play is a performance dramatising the Passion of Jesus Christ. The concept is almost one with that of the Mystery Play.

Such plays are Medieval in origin, and popular in form. These were (seemingly) Church sanctioned - after all, they communicated the Gospels quite nicely - but performed by the populace rather than any given corps of sacred actors. Certainly in Britain, Guilds would provide the players and props for given scenes. The Saddlers might do one episode of the Easter narrative, the Butchers another. Given the variety of episodes and locations that have to be included, there is some need to have a fair number of backgrounds available.

The Mystery plays cover a number of Biblical scenes and indeed more, for the Chester Cycle has a play detailing the Fall of Lucifer, the York and Towneley Cycles portray the Harrowing of Hell, and the Ludus Coventriae cycle has a scene before the Annunciation portraying a Parliament in Heaven and the debate of virtues such as Peace, Mercy and Justice.

Andrea Mantegna 036.jpg
The Agony in the Garden, Andrea Mantegna, c. 1458-1460
To be found in the National Gallery.

The texts of the plays we have step beyond the text of the Gospels. Dialogue is added, action is expanded. Here's Jesus in the Garden of Gethesmene, from the Ludus Coventriae cycle:

O, Fadyr, Fadyr, for my sake
This gret passyon thou take fro me
Wech arn ordeyned that I xal take
Gyf mannys sowle savyd may be.
And gyf it be-hove, Fadyr, for me
To save mannys sowle that xuld spylle,
I am redy in eche degre
The vyl of the for to fulfylle.

For contrast, here's that scene in Matthew 26.39:

And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Authorised version)

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will. (New International Version)


...and Mark 14.36:

And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. (Authorised version)

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (New International Version)

The next page over in the play, an angel descends to Jesus, bearing a chalice.

This chalys is thi blood, this bred is thi body
For mannys synne evyr offeryd xal be.
To the Fadyr of hefne tat is al-mythty
Thi dyscipulis and all presthood xal offere fore the.

Giovanni Bellini - Orazione nell'orto.jpg
The Agony in the Garden, Giovanni Bellini, c. 1458-1460
To be found in the National Gallery.

Characters address the audience; here, at the start of the Ludus Coventriae Passion Play, is the Devil:

I am your lord Lucifer that out of helle cam
Prince of this werd, and gret duke of helle,
Wherefore my name is clepyd Sere Satan,
Whech aperyth among yow, a matere to spelle.

I am norsshere of synne to the confusyon of man,
To bryng hym to my dongeon, ther in fyre to dwelle.
Ho-so-evyr serve me reward hym I kan
That he xal syng wellaway ever in peynes felle.

Scenes that the gospels might deal with in a few verses are expanded to full episodes - the Council of the Chief Priest and Elders, say, or the Dream of Pilate's Wife. An episode from the Towneley Cycle 'The Buffeting', largely concerns the dialogue of Christ's torturers, as well as their assistant, and both Caiaphas and Annas.

I've dealt with the English cycles of plays above, for I know them best, but plays of this kind existed across much of Europe (the Oberammergau Passion perhaps being the most famous). Indeed, after the Reformation, the English plays would either be banned, or fall into disuse. Anyway, that's likely enough background.

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What does Fading Suns say about Passion Plays?

I quote from page 13.

Fading Suns is a passion play of sorts, a story about the triumphs and even tragedies of its characters that takes place in an imagined future. Many possible stories can be told here, from galaxy- spanning epics to the most personal of tales. 

Like medieval passion plays, Fading Suns deals with grand themes universal to human experience. Its main theme is the Seeking. This is the mythological role all heroes play: the knight on quest, seeking power to vanquish his enemies or the secrets of self-discovery. 

...and page 277, a section entitled: Option: Passion Play Roleplaying 

Historical passion plays were about the sufferings of Jesus, while morality plays displayed the triumphs of Christian virtue over sin. Fading Suns uses the term passion play in a somewhat new sense: as a morality play of the future concerning the lives of the player characters, whether they be heroes or villains. 

So 'grand themes universal to human experience.' The events the players undergo are taken to be of unique import and grave significance. Page 278:

A Passion Play roleplaying drama or epic is meant to go over-the-top and play up the medieval stageplay elements to the hilt. 

(Rhyming dialogue and fourth wall-breaking demons it is, then.)

The characters are thrust into a universe where their every action and decision has momentous consequences for good or ill. They may not be aware at first of their pivotal roles or the ramifications of their deeds but it eventually comes clear through the intervention of strange coincidence or even the appearance of Empyrean angels or demons to guide, warn or harass the destined characters. 

There's a sense of intentionality inserted into this, a 'mandate from heaven, that colours the physical (and supernatural) universe of the drama.....In short, it allows the gamemaster — and players — to cheat a little bit with the dice.' 

This isn't just a way for players to win '...critical failures become just as mythic. The character’s gun doesn’t just jam on a fumble, it becomes the story of Erian’s Failure at the Cave, or Alustro’s Fall from Grace.'

A number of grand themes are suggested: the Triumph of Good or Evil, the Restoration of Balance, a Fisher-King like Redemption, Transcendence - and the aforementioned Seeking, which seems to be the designers favourite. The Emperor even has an organisation of Questing Knights. 

At the end of a game session, the gamemaster and players review the recent events and weave a morality play from them, deciding the meaning of what may have been random or spontaneous choices during gameplay, but which are now examples of destiny in action. 

The Grand Theme is slowly revealed to the players, by clues within the drama.

Street signs seem to repeat the same name or books opened randomly reveal the same message, although reworded or in different form. Dialogue overheard between strangers eerily echoes meaningful events in the drama.

An indication of some of the philosophy behind this:

dice rolling simply embellishes the tale. Dice provide a game’s unexpected moments of glory or tragedy, its surprise and shock value, but they do not substitute for actual roleplaying. 

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Does this work?

This is really two questions. One, Do I think that Fading Suns is analogous somehow to the process of acting in or seeing a Passion Play? Two, Do I think that this could work as written?

Well, I don't really think this is much like a Passion Play, either in a medieval or modern context. If nothing else, because the majority of the audience and actors of a Passion Play know the story - this can be a reminder, or an education, but it's not only that. Nor are the actors making it up as they go along (maybe there was some improvisation regarding demonic turmoil and so forth, but not the actual plot).

As for the second point....there's that popular image of What I Played/Expected/Got with the segments filled with (say), D&D, Lord of the Rings and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There's a true word spoken in jest. And now we are taking our actual play - Monty Python - and trying to extract Le Morte d'Arthur from it. 

Fine, yes, a good parody or pastiche should contain identifiable elements of the original within it, and so one should somehow be able to translate back from one to the other. But this still seems an unlikely prospect.

Perhaps I'm not being entirely fair. Dorothy L Sayers's 1943 The Man Born to Be King was a radio play cycle of the life of Christ, and was written in realistic dialogue. I could write quite a lot about this, but this post is already too long. Anyway, as an earlier essay 'Divine Comedy' and the final play cycle indicate, she felt there should be comic elements in the Biblical narrative. The Disciples bicker and squabble; the risen Lazarus is possessed of a 'secret, both of laughter and terror' and is seen by onlookers laughing with Jesus. 'Divine Comedy' (in addition to referring to 'the freedom of Oberammergau or the medieval stage') also refers to making 'the "bridge" between "gentle Jesus" and the wrath of the Lamb; we shall no longer be able to keep the Godhead and the Manhood in watertight compartments, since the same actor will have to deal with both of them'. Sayers, it must be said, was not as such an unorthodox Christian; her approach is summed up in the title of one of her other essays: the Dogma is the Drama. 

The problem of getting each player onboard with the same theme remains, I rather think. 

++++

So, I suppose I'm interested in Fading Suns. It offers, in some fashion, the Romanesque space fantasy that I looked for. But I'm not enchanted by it. I want some more hints of particularity to it: a few fascinating locales, organisations or people. The ninth chapter with its list of planets functions best at this. Maybe this is something where I have to sit down and roll up my own characters, from their own unique religious orders and noble houses. There was, it seems, a book of short stories, Tales of the Sinful Stars (sounds like indecent literature!). Maybe that's something to pursue. There's also a new and spruced-up edition on the way; maybe that's something to look out for.


Wednesday, 31 March 2021

The Estates Immaculate: A Partial Hexcrawl

The Estates Immaculate: the province of Imperial immediacy, personal grounds of the Emperor. Where sit the Palaces, Chancelleries, Academies and ritual Colleges of the Empire. 

A thousand separate foundations and freeholds, ten thousand ancient charters, a hundred thousand stipends, sinecures and pensions. An Emperor yet to earn the name that will be awarded by his death. 

This is but one segment of the Estates. Two gates sit in the ancient walls, with their extramural settlements, barbicans, formal thresholds, and internal customs houses. At the base of the map, below 09, is the sanctum sanctorum. (Eventually.)

The walls themselves mimic military forms, but have lost all military function long ago, serving as a proclamation of imperial power and a boundary marker. Eclectic features bedeck the walls, most famously the great Pylons. 

Things to remember about the Estates Immaculate:

  • Most laws, however ancient, are still in effect, and most laws have an exception.
  • Most things here were built for what seemed to be at the time a very good reason, and as a matter of policy.
  • Everyone has a better right to be there than you, and can back it up.
  • Everyone has a right to appeal directly to the Emperor's Person. Legally, the Emperor has a very big person. Such appeals still take a long time.
  • Everyone steps on everyone else's toes. Chances are, you're probably on somebody else's property.

It will be supposed (both by the author, and by gate-wardens asking for letters of transit!) that those entering the Estates have a good reason to be there, and will be heading for one destination in particular.

Map made using Hexographer.


00.00 Gate of Lawmaker IV

Those passing through this gate are taken immediately to 00.01. 

01.00  Wall

The Walls of the the Estates are maintained by hereditary clans - joint masons and small-holders. Those in this stretch go by the sign of a red trowel.

The wall here is well maintained, if ill-policed. The wall is studded with ornamental prows, some bearing absolutely no resemblance to anything a self-respecting sailor would ever take to the waters in.

02.00 Wall 

The Walls of the the Estates are maintained by hereditary clans - joint masons and small-holders. Those in this stretch go by the sign of a red trowel.

The wall here is well maintained, if ill-policed. The wall is studded with ornamental prows, some bearing absolutely no resemblance to anything a self-respecting sailor would ever take to the waters in.

03.00 Wall 

The Walls of the the Estates are maintained by hereditary clans - joint masons and small-holders. Those in this stretch go by the sign of a coiled green plum-bob.

This stretch of wall is less well maintained. It is easier to cross, but the clan know all the accustomed crossing points and make a pleasant living extorting wall-jumpers. The wall is covered in numerous ragged green banners.

04.00 Gate of Crusader VI

Those passing through this gate are taken immediately to 04.01

05.00 Wall 

The Walls of the the Estates are maintained by hereditary clans - joint masons and small-holders. Those in this stretch go by the sign of a coiled green plum-bob.

This stretch of wall is less well maintained. It is easier to cross, but the clan know all the accustomed crossing points and make a pleasant living extorting wall-jumpers.  The wall is covered in numerous ragged green banners.

00.01 'Taxed portal'

All goods passing through here are subject to a fee and a light inspection, in accordance with the present scheme of taxation.

Past the customs house, numerous officials, vendors, tastemakers and well-wishers jostle for the attention of travellers - especially those heading straight for the Court. Lawmaker Northgate is a key stop for those on imperial business.

01.01 Military Road

Built to support the Estate walls and move troops rapidly along them, those on this road not possessing the titles or documents of sufficient importance may be subject to the seizure of tools and building equipment and impressment into the Corps of Muraleers. 

The Estates Immaculate have not been threatened militarily for centuries.

Many of the Road encounters below would fit here.

02.01 Military Road

See 01.01.

03.01 Military Road

See 01.01.

04.01 'Untaxed portal'

Goods passing through here are subject to no formal exercise duties, but will be painstakingly inspected and a fee of indefinite size potentially levied by the Assayers of the Passage, in accordance with their ancient charter.

Fewer travellers pass by Crusader Tychogate; it is held to be somehow less respectable. Those who do are still targets for the townsfolk.

05.01 Military Road

See 01.01.

00.02 Sacred Cattle

In the pastures here are cattle descended from the herd blessed by an ancient saint. They have grown accustomed to their privileges, and do not have their horns removed or blunted.

The White Cattle of Chillingham, by Landseer

01.02 Road

See below.

02.02 Monastery

This Monastery has produced a fine crop of theologians and professors of the faith. It maintains a fine library and a busy scriptorium, and is accommodating for visiting scholars.

03.02 Folly

On top of this hill is a big statue of a heron, incorporating a many-turrerted tower within itself. A number of eccentrics re-enact ancient battles and religious tableau about its feet.

04.02 Road

See below.

05.02 Road

See below.

00.03 Wheat

Fields of wheat are maintained in an elaborate raised set of fields under conditions of ritual purity. Those who till the soil are quite willing to turn ploughshares into swords in order to maintain these conditions.

01.03 Road

See below.

02.03 Faun Commune

Fauns dwell here, living their mild, Epicurean lives. They are remarkably hospitable, especially to visiting noblemen after a taste of the Caprine life.

03.03 Temple

The shrine here was once a heathen temple. The uncharitable (and the enemies of the incumbent priest) say that it still is.

04.03 Horsebreeders

A notable stables and several paddocks dwell here. They rear and train patient, elegant horses for the Emperor's Household.

05.03 Cemetery hills

The hills here hide the ritual sites of the Enshrouded Order of the Eighth Aspect. Behind every spur, a graveyard, a barrow, a mausoleum.

00.04 Village

This village offers to the visitor the perfect vision of life in the Estates: the benevolent gaze of the Emperor, the rich fields, the comfortable homes. It's not quite a deception, but they do play it up for the tourists. 

01.04 Road

See below.

02.04 Citadel - The Custodian Knights of St Castrum

The crusader's Commandery here is less a fortress (for all that it has high walls and strong gates) and more a political outpost, to agitate within the Imperial Court for men, supplies and gold.

Beyond that, however, it is a posting for the exhausted, wounded and combat-fatigued to recover in the salubrious surroundings of the Estates.

03.04 Road

See below.

04.04 Road

See below.

05.04 Vineyard

This vineyard is mounted on the terraced slopes of a hill of alchemically enriched soil. The high terrace walls are arranged in an angular fashion, giving the impression of a lush ziggurat. 

The fauns from 02.03 are a source of occasional labour here, frequently taking their payment in kind.

00.05 Ruins

Within the ruins of an ancient town, the Order of the Steel Suns practice warfare. Surely the ghastly cries that come from within are only the sounds of the melee?

01.05 Road

See below.

02.05 Road

See below.

03.05 Elf Grove

These woods are a diplomatic enclave of Woodland Elves, who keep an ambassadorial facade with a 'more Sylvan than thou' attitude.

They are perennially bothered by missionaries from the Monastery at 05.06.

04.05 Memorial

A column here is set in memory of an ancient battle. The guardians of the site would love to tell you all about it.

05.05 Tower

Atop these hills, the Swift and Resplendent Order of the Fourth Aspect maintain a tower with numerous vaults and safe-rooms.

00.06 Monastery

This Abbey is a wealthy and well-appointed foundation, known as a favoured destination for the pious aristocrat.

01.06 Road

See below.

02.06 Pleasure Grounds

This is nothing short of a remarkably pleasant parkland. Walking on the grass whilst wearing armour is strictly forbidden: the turf here has been carefully kept for five centuries. Two hundred years more and it might start looking quite good.

03.06 Lake

A narrow lake, used more for boating than any given industry. Jetties, islets and other little features of passing interest line it.

04.06 Elf Grove

These groves are more private than the Embassy, and the place any Elf of taste would actually care to visit.

05.06 Monastery 

This monastery is known for the rigours of their chosen discipline, a fact reflected in the architecture of their cloisters and stark, square, carefully whitewashed cells.

00.07 Flowerbeds

Here are fields and orchards, producing flowers and blossoms of every hue to serve in the floral offerings and decorations for the rites and banquets of the Imperial Household.

01.07 Road

See below.

02.07 Reed beds

The edges of the lake are kept as reed beds to form a home for waterfowl. Hunters can be found here in season.

03.07 Lake

See 03.06.

04.07 Sculpture Gardens

Several statues sit in sculpted avenues here. A favourite meeting place for wizards, who enjoy contemplating art that has no magical origin whatsoever.

05.07 River

Beside the river is a beautiful network of marinas, holding pleasure boats that see on average one outing each year. Numerous sand paths on twining quaysides with trimmed grass verges. 

00.08 Proving Grounds

A series of parade squares and meadows, maintained for the training of the Imperial Cataphracts. 

01.08 Road

See below.

02.08 Questors' Stronghold

Questors of the Manifest Rite have a fortified manor house here for privately holding trials of the faithful. They do not appreciate having their deliberations interrupted. 

03.08 Reed beds

See 02.08.

04.08 River

The river here is clear of boats, flowing swiftly to the lake.

05.08 Village

A charming community of former Imperial intelligencers and inquisitors, all seemingly going by obvious aliases. The whole set-up is monitored and governed by an avuncular wizard, wearing many different faces and possessing a terrifying spherical familiar.

00.09 Proving Grounds

See 00.08

01.09 Village

The inhabitants of this village are rustic philosophers, who gather in the evenings to discuss the workings of the cosmos and the joys of country life. (They rely on the generous subsidy of a Prince of the Blood for their continued good fortune; he finds them amusing.)

02.09 Dormitory of the Scribes

This is less a village than a barrack-block: modern, planned complexes of stone buildings. Scribes, clerks and lesser secretaries of the Imperial Court dwell here, trudging from their offices each evening. It is utterly deserted during the day, but has a surprisingly active nightlife. 

03.09 Real Tennis Courts

A tight quad of tennis courts, kept in pleasant grounds for the benefit of the Imperial Court.

04.09 River

Beside the river is a beautiful network of marinas, holding pleasure boats that see on average one outing each year.

05.09 Villa-strewn hills

These hills contain numerous pavilions, lodges and getaways for denizens of the Court seeking privacy.


Road Encounters

  1. A party of pilgrims
  2. A travelling noble (and escort)
  3. A convoy of petitioners
  4. A troop of Imperial troops en route to an award ceremony
  5. An urgent emissary
  6. A ritual guardian demands that you face him in a joust before you may pass!
  7. A clan of charioteers mimicking what one chronicler's description of the distant past demand meat, strong drink and entertainment from you.
  8. A friendly man, eager for conversation. He is an Importer of Ideas, who looks to recruit by fair means or foul, fresh talent and novelties for the jaded palates of dwellers within the Estate.
  9. A party of roadworkers, repairing the ancient highways in an immensely awkward but completely permitted fashion.
  10. This is a party from the Ephorate of Conductors. A recently established group in the Estates Immaculate, unlike other guides, escorts or transit officials they are strictly permitted to only accept gifts or extort bribes from people when they have arrived at their destination


As from previously on this blog: 

The Estates Immaculate – The Imperial City, Pleasure Grounds, Centre of the Manifest Rite.
Surrounded by The Pylons of Macrobius. Boundary markers.  Gets weird inside. Ancient dynasties of seneschals, ancient rituals. Very Gormenghast.   

Inspirations include Virconium. Julie Taymor’s Titus - a city set about by ruins and ancient customs, where the past overwhelms the present.  Marco Polo in the Court of Kublai Khan. The Pillow Book. An edge of Warhammer 40K or The Book of the New Sun would not be inappropriate.

Ancient religious elements still exist. Rumours of infidel cults. Imperial Cults, &c. exist – spun off from ancient, less than entirely Church approved beliefs.

The Estates Immaculate are meant to be the size of a county (perhaps two), rather than the equivalent of Habsburg Austria within the Holy Roman Empire.