Saturday, June 26, 2021

Law in the Perilous Realms

This is the first in a series of web log posts where I describe what “alignment” must mean in the Perilous Realms, based upon our group’s tone and play-style, and its cumulative rulings so far. I am coming to realize how essential to the game alignment is. It defines so many things: the cosmos, the setting, the characters, the classes, especially clerics, monsters who are intelligent, and whether they are free, language, and whatever counts as “religion” in a given setting. This shouldn’t be surprising, I suppose. It is a wargame, after all. And wars have sides.

The Law in the Perilous Realms

So, a character is on the side of LAW. What is the Law? Well, since you asked, they are the Seven Laws of the Prophet Noe, revealed from heaven, through the great prophet who survived the cataclysmic ancient flood of Tiamat.

The Seven Laws of The Prophet Noe

1. Thou shalt not worship idols

2. Thou shalt not curse the Most High

3. Thou shalt establish and hold courts of justice

4. Thou shalt not murder

5. Thou shalt not dishonor the wedding vow

6. Thou shalt not steal

7. Thou shalt not show cruelty

The first law, no worship of idols, rules out a lot of behavior common to a lot of people and free races in a low fantasy setting. This limitation really stands out as something that distinguishes the Lawful from the crowd. The second law, no cursing the Most High, represents a kind of vague blasphemy prohibition that can be interpreted and enforced more or less leniently or strictly depending upon the local community, Church or otherwise Lawful leadership.

The third law, due process, is important and, in many ways, defines Lawfulness, setting Law in stark contrast to Chaos. Due process is essential to the Law. It is the key to establishing safety, order, and civilization. It forms an absolute prohibition against lynching, feuds, unlawful duels, revenge killings, and the like. Punishment may still be “cruel and unusual,” by modern standards. But they must at least seem to fit the crime. Duels may be authorized by the court as an appropriate means of settling a suit. But it must be court decreed.

An exception that is often, but not always honored by courts of Law (that is to say, by this referee) is that of “Wilderness Law.” In cases where adventurers find themselves far away from Lawful civilization, Lawful characters may declare “Wilderness Law,” and, well, let us say, “exact justice,” as the Lawful party understands it. In this case, the Lawful party (or the subgroup of Lawful members thereof) becomes a kind of de facto court of Law, likely to be recognized by the Church or a lawful civilization. So, for example, if it is dangerous to haul a captured Evil High Priest all the way back to a settlement with established Lawful courts, the party may just decide to “try, condemn, and execute” the “obvious offender,” right then and there. As the referee, I would usually uphold this if the reason were obvious and not simply a sham for making things easier on the party.

The fourth law, the prohibition of murder, may seem a little tough to uphold in a fantasy wargame. But note that what is prohibited is murder, not killing. Killing in defense of the defenseless and even in self-defense is not murder.

Capital punishment after due process is not murder. It is the removal of an individual from a corporate body, by that corporate body, through its authorized and Lawful leadership, to maintain safety and order for the whole. The court may just as well choose exile or gulag instead.

War, when declared just by the appropriate authorities, and conducted in a holy and chivalrous fashion, is about two people groups (or a people group against another free race) fighting one another. The death of individuals is a necessary and unfortunate by-product, not its goal. Thus, war does not technically count as murder.

Furthermore, you can only murder members of the free races: men, elves, dwarves, halflings, and intelligent lawful beings. Monsters, especially Chaotic monsters and fell races are not murdered, they are exterminated. Fell “races” count as monsters in the Perilous Realms. Remember, this is just a game – a medieval fantasy game based on the philosophy of Alchemy. Fell beings arise by abiogenesis. So, they don’t have spouses or children to worry about. Monsters are archetypes of our nightmares, ulterior motives, vices, passions, skeletons in the closet, etc. Try not to over think it or “deconstruct” it.

The fourth law, honoring the vows of marriage, establishes the basic unit of human order, the family, and thus ensures the safety and rearing of the next generation. This would include most traditional mores around such things, as understood by most traditional human societies. But it also includes things like the defense of widows and orphans, etc.

The sixth law, prohibiting theft, ensures the basic property rights necessary to maintain a free and orderly (medieval fantasy) society. This is an imaginary world before the industrial revolution so there is no “Capitalism.” And if wealth is not defined as the means of production, then we don’t yet need some medieval fantasy version of Marxism informing us that “property is theft”!

Finally, the seventh law, prohibiting acts of cruelty, maintains the humaneness of Law. Although there are plenty of Lawful characters who rule with an iron fist, if they cross a certain line, they may no longer be regarded as truly Lawful. The prohibition on cruelty includes not only the usual things associated with cruelty but also a wider gamut of behaviors such as: no corpse abuse, no animal cruelty (the actual prohibition of the seventh law of Noah, In Real Life) and no eating meat without humane slaughter and thanksgiving rendered to the Most High for the animal’s life.

A note about the relationship of the Law to being a “Good,” character:

You can imagine an “evil” Lawful character, one who hides behind the law in cowardice, for false motives, or who imposes the Law on others with forced conversions and an iron fist. But, in general it is “good” folks who will choose law, because they can see its obvious benefits to the oppressed and also its general benefits due to its role in the development of human civilization.

Up next: Chaos in the Perilous Realms

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Saving F'dech Fo's Tomb

I've never been a collector. But this year at the NTRPGCon, I got really exciting about the Judges Guild. I bought a bunch of modules from a booth based, in the main, solely upon one criteria: the cover looked cool, or, even better, "totally metal." One of these purchases was F'dech Fo's Tomb. Note how totally metal the cover is:

I failed to read the Wikipedia article which states clearly that it received only bad reviews:

Pulsipher commented that "Even at [a lower price], this booklet is a waste of money."

I am sad for this, because most Judges Guild stuff is great. Before I discovered this, based solely upon the bad ass and totally metal cover, I decided to use the town of Dantell as one of the towns on the Outdoor Survival board I am running as a wilderness campaign for a group of mine. When I carefully read the module (assuming, since it was JG, that it was going to be filled with awesomeness) I was sorely disappointed. Perhaps I had made a mistake.

But then I realized that what I was encountering was a series of missed opportunities. And that what the module offered me was an opportunity of my own: I could save F'dech Fo's Tomb.

First, missed opportunity: the map of the Tomb itself sucks. Think of Bryce Lynch's criteria for review. Now think of a dungeon map with none of those things. That is F'dech Fo's Tomb, as presented. (Sigh.) I had to draw a new map of the Tomb itself. The tomb as drawn is a completely linear set of five rooms with no traps, no tricks, no secret doors, nothing.

Here is my map of the Tomb:

Another missed opportunity: how did F'dech Fo wind up a lich. the module just says that about a hundred years ago, pissed of that his once wandering nomadic tribe decided to settle down for the village life, got pissed off, went up on a hill outside of town, lifted up his hand, and green lightning totally burned him to a crispy black skeleton. That's it.

So I made up that in his anger he called on the shadow side of his jaguar god to curse him as a lich so that he could take revenge on his tribe. His god's shadow side willingly obliged. Then a team of associated shamans managed to pray and sacrifice enough to the light side of the jaguar god to trap him while, nevertheless, giving him an honorable burial, for, as the module says, "the people still loved him."

Next major missed opportunity: clues that help the players figure out the bad things to come. For example, the lich's inner crypt is guarded by a kind of "force field" that keeps him from unleashing his evil on the village. There is no reason given for this. It is no part of the legend anywhere else presented in the module, no NPC is said to know about any of this, the legend does not mention it nor even hint at it. No one in town knows about it. There are no clues. If they pass through the vaguely purplish veil, it comes down and he wakens and starts wreaking havoc. End of story. So I had to fix this.

The ancient society of shamans prayed to their god to protect them from the lich's wrath with much sacrifice. Their answer was to provide this magical barrier. The current town shaman knows nothing of this, but I placed various nonverbal and even written clues as to the existence of a barrier and the danger in taking it down. For example, only offering incense in the shrine room will open the secret door to the inner crypt itself. When this happens, a voice will boom out, warning not to break the seal.

I did not need half the descriptions of all the NPCs in Dantell. But I did need the chief and the shaman. But what about this dude, Ninax the Watchman of the Water, who lives just outside of this unwelcoming primitive town? So I decided, he had taken them on as a special project out of some kind of love for their simplicity. So I had him come out and greet the party as they arrived first of all. Through a series of bad reaction rolls, the relationship did not start off on a good foot. But they were warned of the villages troubles and general unfriendliness to strangers.

The chief and shaman then greeted them as they neared the town. They were warned not to enter the town and to camp only on the outside. Then the shaman promised to meet them by night (in common, so his chief would not hear). That night, he related as much of the legend of F'dech Fo as he could remember.

Another lost opportunity: F'dech Fo's medallion, is only a "golden holy symbol." Seriously? After defeating a freaking lich? No. So I made it a medallion of control lycanthropes. This will help with the were jaguar.

Another lost opportunity: the module explicitly says that although the people think that their jaguar god of the jungle, Utigetcho, has recently become incarnate, he has NOT. It is only a were jaguar. But why is there a were jaguar at all? Seriously? Dumb. So sometimes I had to just do the exact opposite of the modules explicitly stated things. Of course Utigetcho is incarnate now! He IS the were jaguar. Duh. So unless they defeat the jaguar with F'dech Fo's medallion of control, any other "defeat" will result in the manifestation of Utigetcho himself! That should be fun.

I know all this seems like a loss. Why use such a poor module? Why use a module I had to do so much work on to "fix"? Easy. A good module is like a Rorschach test. It provides contour lines and symmetry -- sources of imagined patterns. This allows my mind to free associate with some material already presented to me so that I don't have to produce from scratch but in dialogue with something in front of me. So, in the end, this bad module has turned out pretty good.

Fight on!