Blue Rose by Kai Tave
Once upon a time...Original SA post
Once upon a time...
It's the year 2005 and the 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons is five years old. The tabletop roleplaying game industry has been riding a wave of d20-mania for just about as long, buoyed by the Open Gaming License and the promise of sales bolstered by compatibility with the world's largest and most popular RPG.
Into this comes Green Ronin, originally Ronin Publishing, founded by Chris Pramas, a one-time Wizards of the Coast employee. Taking advantage of advance knowledge of the forthcoming d20 license Pramas published Death in Freeport on August 10th 2000, the same day that the 3rd Edition D&D Player's Handbook went on sale. Even after Pramas was laid off from WotC in 2002 Green Ronin continued to make a name for itself publishing a variety of d20-based sourcebooks and adventures, branching out into publishing their own full-fledged games such as Mutants & Masterminds in 2002 (perhaps the only successful attempt at making a d20 derived superheroes game that doesn't suck) as well as licensed works like an RPG based on Glen Cook's Black Company fantasy series in 2004.
But now Green Ronin wants to try something new, something more original that reaches out to a different audience. In 2005 they publish Blue Rose, the Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy designed by Jeremy Crawford, Dawn Elliot, Steve Kenson, and John Snead. Blue Rose was unique in two respects. For one thing it was Green Ronin's first game published using a pared down and streamlined version of the 3E D&D system which they later turned into a standalone system-agnostic product called True20. For another, Blue Rose was an attempt to make an RPG inspired by a different sort of fantasy fiction than most fantasy RPGs drew from. Instead of the sword and sorcery tales of Robert E. Howard's Conan or the mythic sagas of J.R.R. Tolkien, Blue Rose drew its inspiration from the works of Tamora Pierce and Mercedes Lackey, attempting to marry that with traditional D&D style tabletop gaming and create something distinct, with a different focus than the long-established traditions of pillaging dungeons and slaying wandering monsters.
I'm the deer.
The reception to it was, put charitably, a bit of a mixed bag. I'm not undertaking this review primarily to editorialize but it's difficult to discuss Blue Rose without noting the fact that when it came out it quickly garnered a number of extremely vocal critics who saw within it an attempt to subvert the roleplaying hobby, push a political agenda, condemn traditional fantasy roleplaying, or who simply couldn't understand what they were supposed to do with a setting that they perceived as being a flawless shining utopia free from conflict. Now this was four years before "Social Justice Warriors" would become a thing for people to rail against, but even then the sentiment was clearly there...Blue Rose was a weird, neo-liberal/feminist RPG obsessed with gay people and magic deer, a sugar-coated, idyllic fantasyland for people to pat themselves on the back over owning rather than a serious game to be played.
Blue Rose never made a huge impact as far as I'm aware, though it wasn't the dismal failure that some people made it out to be either. It was envisioned as a limited, self-contained gameline and had three supplements published for it, the Blue Rose Companion, the World of Aldea, and the Narrator's Journal (a 35 page GM's prep guide essentially). It won an ENWorld Silver Medal at GenCon 2005 for Best Rules. So it wasn't a failure by any stretch, but it never really rose to the level of a breakaway hit the way that Mutants & Masterminds did, and if I had to hazard a guess I'd say that this was probably more due to many tabletop roleplayers' unfamiliarity with and/or lack of interest in romantic fantasy than their outrage over implied agendas or cervid-based lines of succession. However it's worth noting that Green Ronin has just recently finished a successful Kickstarter to fund a brand new edition of Blue Rose, this time using their AGE system first used in their licensed Dragon Age RPG, so perhaps there's more interest out there after all. Or maybe people just want to see what all the fuss is about.
Speaking of systems though, another reason why Blue Rose might have fallen off the radar for a while is what's perhaps the game's true deep, dark secret...that under the hood, the True20 system that it runs on is fantastically fucking boring. Blue Rose came out at a time when everyone and their dog was publishing d20-compatible fantasy RPG material and while Green Ronin is hardly some fly-by-night operation churning out shovelware, Blue Rose's mechanical underpinnings are an inescapably boring rehash of 3E D&D without much to set it apart from the herd or even reinforce the themes of the romantic fantasy genre its setting draws inspiration from. It's streamlined, yes, but even being streamlined doesn't do much to alleviate the dullness of it in my opinion. Fans of interesting and deep mechanical crunch or clever mechanics probably won't find much of interest to them, and people looking for games with a strong narrative or thematic bent aren't likely to get excited over yet another d20 derivative game complete with samey-looking lists of skills, spells, and feats.
Fortunately one of the prevalent themes of romantic fantasy is the power of cooperation and friendship, and so I won't be tackling this alone. Fellow poster gradenko_2000 has never met a d20 system that he couldn't analyze and helpfully summarize, and so the two of us will be collaborating on this magical journey together...I'll be handling the fluff side of things and he'll handle the crunch. I don't expect things will follow a strict pattern and we'll probably both wind up commenting on all aspects of the game as we cover them, but for the most part you can expect him to deal with the bulk of the mechanical analysis, showcasing the True20 system's similarities and differences to the standard 3E D&D system (as well as presenting his own opinions on the quality of the system as a whole, which may be more charitable than mine), while I'll be attempting to present an in-depth look at the world of Aldis and hopefully clarify some of the misconceptions and confusion surrounding it.
Next Time: Introductions, Explanations, and Magic Deer
Introduction: Harts and MindsOriginal SA post
Speaking of things that aren't HoL or pirates.
Introduction: Harts and Minds
Blue Rose leads off, as many RPGs do, with a piece of fiction to set the mood. The character we're looking in on is named Jaellin and she's had a long day so far. King Halyn is lying in state and the nobles of the kingdom, of which Jaellin is one, have been holding vigil all afternoon. The day's not over yet either because now it's time for the Choosing, which you can tell is important because it's arbitrarily capitalized.
The nobles gather out in the courtyard facing the palace's main hall where an enormous stained glass window overlooks everything. At the center of this window, surrounded by glass roses and abstract sun and moon designs, is the Golden Hart, Blue Rose's infamous magic deer. The nobles along with every other citizen of the capital city of Aldis is crowding around to witness the Choosing of the next sovereign, and most of the nobles are quietly wondering if it's going to be them.
Apparently there's no way to predict who the Golden Hart marks as Aldis' next monarch. It could choose any one of them...or it could choose none of them and seek someone unknown. Apparently this has happened once before when the kingdom's selection of nobles had been tainted by Shadow, and that's our second arbitraily capitalized word so you know what whatever this Shadow business is it's probably important. Jaellin's musings are interrupted as she feels a sudden sense of something happening ("an unheard note, an unseen light" as the story describes it) and BAM, the Golden Hart steps out from the window and leaps down into the courtyard, making its fashionably late appearance in the flesh.
Peoples' reactions are mixed. Some shy away from the Hart, others step forward, according to their ambitions and capacity for self-awareness. Jaellin is simply frozen in place. Sayvin, the son of King Haylin, steps forward with open arms and head bowed humbly, ready to follow in his father's footsteps...and the Hart doesn't even give him a second glance as it passes him by and heads straight to Jaellin.
Sure enough it touches its horns to her head and then takes a knee before her, and a moment later everyone else in the courtyard is following suit as a squire presents an extremely shocked Jaellin with the Blue Rose Scepter, symbol of the sovereign, and just like that Aldis has itself a new Queen.
A Psychic Horse of a Different Color
Welcome to the world of Blue Rose, a fantastic world where brave women and men, gifed with arcane powers, live and work side-by-side with intelligent animal companions. The heroes of the peaceful Kingdom of Aldis strive to uphold the ideals of fairness, justice, and equality, while protecting their homeland against its aggressive neighbors, including the fundamentalist Theocracy of Jarzon and the dark land of Kern and its terrible ruler, the Lich King.
Blue Rose is a roleplaying game of romantic fantasy, where you and your friends take on the roles of the main characters in this fantastic world, creating your own stories about the heroes of Aldis, their triumphs and tragedies—like writing your own fantasy novel but where you play the heroes! You may have played other roleplaying games, or this may be your introduction to new worlds of adventure. Either way, welcome, friends, to the world of Blue Rose.
The introductory chapter proper starts us out with a brief overview of what Blue Rose is all about and hints at the threats and challenges facing the kingdom of Aldis. It's generally safe to assume that anyone called the Lich King is bad news, but there's also mention of a fundamentalist theocracy, and this was another sticking point for some people when Blue Rose first came out because they felt that this was one big hamfisted "take that!" against organized religion or maybe western culture in general, it's hard to say. We'll get more on Jarzon and what their deal is later.
We also get the mandatory "What is Roleplaying" section which attempts to explain what this whole RPG thing is all about to someone coming into this for the first time. Interestingly enough the first comparison they make, rather than improv theater or Cowboys and Indians as many of these explanations usually shoot for first, is writing cooperative fanfiction. It's a small detail, but given Blue Rose's romantic fantasy inspirations and the predominance of renowned female romantic fantasy fiction authors it makes sense that they'd choose a hobby frequently considered the province of women with literary aspirations as a point of comparison.
The real fantasy here is that no gaming group has ever actually looked like this.
What Makes Fantasy Romantic?
Speaking of which, the next section of the introduction is a much longer description of what exactly is meant by "romantic fantasy" anyway. In traditional high fantasy or swords-and-sorcery stories by authors like Tolkien, R.E. Howard, and Fritz Leiber, heroic loners, outcasts, and rootless wanderers journey to far-off lands and perform great deeds for power and glory or to protect the world from dire threats. Magic is an otherworldly and often sinister force...Conan had strong opinions on those who trucked with sorcery, and even in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings magic was rare, somewhat alien, and quite often dangerous...studied by secretive sages and hermits in remote towers and atop mountains. Tolkien of course also popularized the use of non-human races like elves, dwarves, and orcs in fantasy fiction, a trend that anyone even slightly familiar with tabletop RPGs is all too familiar with.
Of course literary genres and subgenres get kind of fuzzy around the edges, but in general what Blue Rose is referring to as romantic fantasy is characterized by the sorts of books that authors like Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce, and Diane Duane began to write in the mid-1980s. Romantic fantasy is fantasy that tends to place a bigger emphasis on things like social and political relationships. Romantic fantasy protagonists may start out as rootless wanderers but they don't remain that way for long...the goal of these characters isn't to escape social ties but to find a place to belong, a community that they can become a part of, and finding a community like that is considered far more desirable than being even the world's most competent murderhobo.
Magic is also treated differently in romantic fantasy. Instead of an otherworldly and alien force, magic is often considered an inherent part of the world and in many cases something that every character (or almost every character) has some affinity for. Magic isn't something known only to the ruthless, ambitious, and unhinged, it's something that your family knows, your friends know, and quite possibly you yourself know. It's an innate and positive part of your nature and a part of the natural world. In other words, magic doesn't make someone the other, quite often it helps bring them together. We're not talking Vancian style spellcasting though, magic in romantic fantasy trends towards simpler, innate gifts such as psychic powers or elemental affinities. Other, more swords-and-sorcery styles of magic can and do exist but these are more often found in the hands of antagonistic or villanous characters who seek to impose their will upon others in a bid for power or domination.
Just to clarify something, the "romantic" in romantic fantasy doesn't actually mean that there has to be any romance , though many examples of romantic fantasy fiction often include it. Likewise, romantic fantasy doesn't mean that everything has to be all talking about your feelings, there's plenty of room for daring adventurers and pitched battles with dangerous foes. Negotiation and cooperation are generally considered to be preferable to resorting to violence first and foremost, but sometimes you don't have a choice but to defend yourself or fight back against the darkness. It's not uncommon for romantic fantasy to feature other antagonists besides the explicitly evil ones though, whose motivations are more sympathetic and who eventually become allies through diplomatic means and heartfelt negotiations.
Oh, and non-human races don't tend to show up much in romantic fantasy. Elves, dwarves, orcs, et al don't get much play, and a lot of romantic fantasy is generally more humanocentric. You might get a "like humans but more magic and with funny-colored hair" or two (which I realize is probably hair-splitting to most people here when you consider that this could easily describe any number of published variations on the elf) but the big non-human inclusion that typifies the genre is intelligent animals, be they clever psychic pets or powerful spirit-creatures in animal form or even something much more mythical like unicorns, griffons, and dragons. And yes, you can be an intelligent psychic animal in Blue Rose.
(And while we're explaining things, blue roses are typically held to be a symbol of royalty and nobility, which makes sense given that it appears to be a symbol of Aldis' sovereign, but they also signify mystery, extraordinary beauty, hope for attainable love, and longing for the impossible. They also happen to be impossible to find in nature as roses lack the specific genes necessary to create a true blue color and despite persistent efforts to engineer and crossbreed blue roses so far no one has actually succeeded in creating one...while some florists offer blue roses for sale they're simply white roses dyed blue. So I suppose you could say that a blue rose is simply a romantic fantasy )
And Now For the Boring Stuff
Next up is a rundown of the basics of the game and if you've ever played, run, or heard of 3E D&D by rote description before then you know what the deal here is. Roll a d20, add numbers, pass or fail, etc. etc. Characters are built on six very familiar attributes, though Death to Ability Score advocates will appreciate that only the modifier is used. The GM is referred to as the Narrator. There will be feats, and also magic. Maybe skills I guess? And classes! Look, it's a d20 derivative fantasy game, what do you want from me here? I think this is a good opportunity to turn things over to gradenko_2000 who'll hopefully be able to provide a more informative breakdown than I can.
The Basics of the Game
Blue Rose is based on the d20 system, and so its mechanical core is the same as that of 3rd Edition D&D:
Roll a d20, add modifiers, and earn a success if the modified roll is equal to or greater than the Difficulty Class set by the Narrator
By the by, this game's synonym for Game Master is Narrator, and the player-characters are specifically called Heroes. Nice bit of thematic renaming, that.
Blue Rose still uses the same 6 ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. Where it differs from standard d20 is that instead of having a "score" from 3 to 18 and a "modifier" which changes by 1 for every 2 points in the ability score, Blue Rose just uses the modifier directly.
When you create your character your 6 ability scores are set to a base of +0. You then have 6 points to spend on increasing your ability scores, with the limitation that no score can go higher than +5. You can also lower a score into a negative modifier to reallocate the points somewhere else, but you cannot set it lower than -5 and the game flat-out says you probably should not go lower than -2 even if you wanted to.
This is rather progressive for its time because it just avoids the whole thing where d20 just kids you around about how you have 12 Strength when all you ever really functionally use is the +1 derived from that 12. Also, you're effectively using a point-buy system for stats instead of rolled stats, again not kidding you around about how you can actually still use 4d6-drop-lowest. We'll talk about this some more when we get to Chapter 2 for character creation.
As in d20, skills represent training in various tasks and activities, or knowledge in certain areas of specialization. Blue Rose has 25 skills, ranging from Acrobatics to Diplomacy, Sense Motive to Swim, and the number of skill ranks you have in a skill acts as a modifier to the d20 roll you make to try to beat the Narrator's set DC.
When we get to Chapter 2, I'll talk more about how Blue Rose's skill system differs from 3rd Edition, because besides cutting down the number of skill categories (3rd Edition has 45!), Blue Rose also takes a different approach to assigning skill ranks that avoids some of the problems of the parent game.
As in d20, the Heroes earn a limited number of Feats, which grant them various special abilities. This is not earth-shatteringly new, and I'm pretty sure I saw Cleave and Improved Cleave, so let's just deal with that when we get there.
One of the defining features of the Romantic Fantasy genre is that magic comes naturally to the heroes. It's very distinct from the Vancian model of "I study in a Wizard Tower for years and I get the ability to hurl Fireballs via memorized incantations and a bit of bat guano" and is more of a power that can be shaped, controlled and wielded at-will, sort of like The Force in Star Wars. The heroes might still encounter Vancian Wizards, but generally they'd be regarded as the bad guys. It's in this theme that Arcana replaces D&D spellcasting.
Here we get into very bog-standard d20 stuff:
* The core mechanic of 1d20 + modifiers versus a Narrator-set DC
* Opposed checks instead of rolling against a static DC
* The Narrator can give out up to +4/-4 to a roll to represent other circumstantial factors
* Take 1, Take 10, Take 20 and "whoever has the higher modifier wins" checks to avoid having to roll at all
Kai: I do appreciate them explicitly pointing out Take 1 as an option, even today a lot of people have it in their heads that skill checks work the same as combat rolls, with natural 1s and 20s meaning automatic success or failure, so it's nice that they've highlighted how it actually works even if it's something that's always been implied by the system.
Attack Rolls: here we see a change in terminology - instead of a Base Attack Bonus, you just have an Attack Bonus, and you're rolling against the target's Defense, instead of their Armor Class
Saving Throws: while we still have the Fortitude, Reflex and Will saves, there's also the new Toughness save, which when combined with a Wound Track forms the core of Blue Rose's replacement for a traditional Hit Point system. That's another d20 development I'm looking forward to talking about.
Combat Rounds: Standard Actions, Move Actions, Full-Round Actions, Free Actions and Reactions. Worth noting here is that the Swift Action does not appear: it was only 'invented' in April 2004 under the Expanded Psionics Handbook, and either hadn't caught on yet when they were designing Blue Rose or they simply did not find any abilities to use it with.
This is a Blue Rose-specific mechanic: it's essentially three free re-rolls of any action that represents a Hero's ability to act, well, heroic . It's a cool little thing that I'll get into more when we hit Chapter 2.
As far as fluff goes there is a vignette in a sidebar featuring the queen's envoy to the forest folk of the Pavin Weald. Kerin doesn't think much of their fermented herb beer but while hostility from the forest folk had been a concern when the queen had first sent him into the forests right now they seem to be treating him as an honored guest, albeit one that's fun to tease for his clumsiness as he stumbles and crunches his way along the wooded paths. Later around the campfire the rhy-wolves, companions to the forest folk, come to join the gathering to take stock of the queen's envoy. The call for a story goes up and Kerin obliges, launching into a traditional story with a few diplomatic amendments, featuring a girl in a red hood going to visit her grandmother with a basket of goodies...with her beloved wolf companion by her side, of course.
Then we get a glossary of terms (no amusing White Wolfisms here, we're talking stuff like "flat-footed" and "range increment") but there's also a recommended reading list of romantic fantasy books for anyone looking to get into the Blue Rose swing of things.
The best way to understand romantic fantasy is to read as many stories in the genre as you can. The following list includes some of the most representative romantic fantasy novels. These books should provide plenty of inspiration for your Blue Rose series.
The Door into Fire
The Door into Shadow
The Door into Sunset
Arrows of the Queen
ELIZABETH A. LYNN
The Dancers of Arun
The Northern Girl
The Blue Sword
The Hero and the Crown
The Realms of the Gods
And that brings us to the end of the introductory chapter.
Next Time: In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.
Chapter 1: The World of AldeaOriginal SA post
I mentioned it earlier but it might have gotten lost in the rest of the post but twice in Aldis' history have sovereigns needed to be deposed. Once it was because battling demons afflicted her with something that eroded her sanity, but the other time was because the sovereign wound up becoming a no-fooling tyrant. The Golden Hart doesn't select based on omniscience.
Yes, it's possible for the Golden Hart to select some nobody from nowhere untrained in statescraft to be the ruler of Aldis. This is sort of what happened with Jaellin. She's not really an untrained nobody but she's very young and certainly doesn't have a ton of experience ruling an entire kingdom. So why did the Hart choose her and not the king's son? The magic deer keeps its own council but presumably has its reasons. Personally I don't really see the problem with this given the profusion of random nobodies and minor players thrust into the spotlight running throughout fantasy fiction as a whole.
It also doesn't really cut off plot hooks because A). the magic deer isn't infallible and the book takes the effort to spell this out for people who might get confused and B). most fantasy RPGs and the game groups that play them don't often give that much of a shit about noble politics in the first place. 99% of your typical D&D adventuring parties don't care how Lord King Dumblefuck got put on the throne, they just care if he can pay in full to have them kill the rats in his basement. To me this is why a lot of the fuss over the magic deer has always seemed like people blowing something way out of proportion for no reason other than to have a thing to point to and go "See! This sucks! Look at how this ruins so many things!" when in virtually any other game they couldn't care less otherwise about lines of succession.
Speaking of which...
Chapter 1: The World of Aldea
Virtually every culture has a creation myth, a story explaining how the world came to be and where they came from. You can learn a lot of things about a people by looking at their creation myths...what they value, what they fear, the things that shape their culture and beliefs. In fantasy games like Dungeons & Dragons those creation myths even have the virtue of often being objectively correct. The gods really did war with each other, Corellon really did put out Grummsh's eye with a spear and where his blood dripped onto the ground is where we get orcs from. Get to be a high enough level and you can even ask them to retell the story themselves.
So with that in mind Blue Rose's first real chapter starts us off with a recounting of world's creation, and as expected it's one that's rather fitting for a romantic fantasy game.
In the Beginning
Before we get into mythmaking proper the book drops some hints about stuff we'll be sure to see come up later...the Old Kingdom, the Sorcerer Kings, and the Great Rebellion, all capitalized for emphasis. It's a universal law that anyone calling themselves a "Sorcerer King" is probably a huge asshole, and Blue Rose upholds that fine tradition by having them be brutal tyrants who were defeated three centuries ago, presumably in that Great Rebellion that got mentioned.
But all of that's for later. Right now we're going to talk about the Mythic Age and the creation of Aldea. Sages and storytellers the world over put their own spin on things, giving primacy to one god over another, their names and genders changing from one land to the next, but at the heart of it there are a number of common figures and events that more or less show up in most tellings.
In the beginning was the Eternal Dance, a great congregation of the first souls dancing as one, surrounded by eternal twilight and the Sea of Possibility. Four of these souls desired to share their joy and know the satisfaction of creation and so they emerged from the Eternal Dance and decided to make themselves a world, because it's going to be a pretty short creation myth otherwise. These four were the Primordials, the gods of Twilight (with a capital T, this'll be important later) and balance as well as the patrons of the four seasons. The most common names for them are Selene (winter), Braniel (spring), Maurenna (summer), and Anwaren (autumn).
Symbolically coded for your convenience.
Plunging into the Sea of Possibility they drew forth matter so that spirit could take form. They divided this matter into four elements and each took one to call their own (air for Selene, water for Braniel, fire for Maurenna, and earth for Anwaren) and used these to create the elementals to assist them. With the help of the elemental host they created Aldea or "the whole world" out of these four elements, shaping the earth, taming the wind and waves, creating rain and rivers, sprinkling the sky with stars, and breathing the fire of life into plants and animals. Selene looked to the world's future and saw that the happiness that was being crafted by her and her fellow Primordials wouldn't last forever and so she created the moon and hid the secrets of creation in it to be called upon by adepts in the future when the need arose. Of course the depth of these secrets would be enough to undo many who explored them too deeply, and this is why the moon is associated with both power and madness.
Drawn by the sparkling fruit of the Primordials’ labor, other souls emerged from the Dance. They descended into Aldea and cavorted amid its wonders. Still immortal and infinite, the souls took many forms, expressing themselves through matter for the first time. They flowed from form to form, with and without gender, with two legs and four, on land, in the sea, and in the air. They praised their siblings, and Aldea rang with the sound of their mirth. They would become the first mortals, their divinity dimmed by death.
The Mythic Age: a lot like Second Life.
But of course nothing can last forever, and a tale without conflict is a dull one indeed. It was Anwaren, relishing both the act of creation and the praise lavished upon him for his work, who began to feel the stirrings of jealousy within him as he began to covet the praise and adulation his siblings (okay I guess they're considered siblings, I was wondering about that) were receiving all for himself. Envy turned to obsession, but he knew that he had no chance of wresting control from his siblings given that there were three of them, all equal in power to himself, and that the souls cavorting about Aldea had no real interest in worshipping him. Since nothing within Aldea or the Sea of Possibility contained the answers he was searching for he decided to turn his search elsewhere.
Unfortunately that search led him to the Shadow, a darkness beyond joy and life. Gazing too long into the abyss in his search for something to help elevate his power above the rest of the Primordials, the abyss gazed right back and Anwaren was stricken with madness, cast into confusion and doubt.
The impossibilities of limit and death impregnated him, and in great agony he gave birth to seven beings, the exarchs of Shadow, the lords of cunning and malice. The first, arch and beautiful, named himself Gravicarius and proceeded to name the other six, subjecting them to his will.
You might be thinking to yourself "huh, Gravicarius is kind of a dumb name," but trust me, we'll be seeing much dumber later on.
So the Exarchs are clearly bad news. Inheriting Anwaren's lust for power they spawned creatures to rule, heartless and soulless beings called darkfiends, left Anwaren behind in his madness, and ascended towards Aldea to drag both its inhabitants and the entire world into the Shadow. Selene, the Primordial with enough foresight to see something like this happening, gets royally pissed the fuck off and throws herself between the world and the encroaching Shadow, "brandishing her shining sword and destroying darkfiends beyond number." So yeah, Selene's kind of a badass. But even she's not enough of a badass on her own to simultaneously defeat all seven Exarchs and save the world.
In the name of the moon, get fucked asshole
At this Maurenna wept seven tears and Braniel, thinking quickly, caught them within his Chalice of Bliss which I swear isn't a euphemism. As he sang the Eternal Song over it the Chalice shone brightly and from it were born the seven gods of Light led by Hiathas, the Lord of the Dance. So maybe it is a euphemism, come to think of it. As the gods stepped forth, droplets of divine water fell from their bodies to the earth and created the first unicorns and other creatures of Light. So we've got capital-letter Light, Twilight, and Shadow going on now and the more observant of you out there have probably figured out that this is going to be a big deal later.
Now that the gods of Light are here the Exarchs start getting their asses kicked in earnest, getting cast back into the Shadow one after the other, but the three sane Primordials realize that during all of this Aldea and its inhabitants have been drifting so close to the Shadow that they're on the verge of oblivion. Maurenna and Braniel quickly begin weaving bodies for the souls inhabiting Aldea, anchoring them to the world though they awoke with no memory of their divine heritage. These were the first humans, vatazin, and sea-folk. Only the sea-folk retained a vague memory of a time when their form was fluid and manifold, awakening as androgynous and amphibious beings. Other souls were placed into the form of animals to be awakened by the unicorns, and these were the first rhydan called to defend the world against the Shadow.
Meanwhile Selene, who's still a badass, refused to allow the Shadow to claim so much as a single soul, so while all this was going on she crafted the Wheel of Reincarnation and set it spinning. Mortal creatures might die but the Wheel would deny the Shadow its prize, and on every spoke she carved an eternal secret so that in time the souls might remember their original nature and rejoin the Eternal Dance once more. But Tyrexxis, the Exarch of wrath, hadn't yet been banished, being locked in an ongoing battle with Aulora, goddess of justice. He caught a glimpse of the Wheel of Reincarnation and grasped what it meant, casting Aulora aside and making to destroy it. Though Selene drove him away he was able to attack and unbalance it despite Selene's attempts to repair the damage. This lingering imbalance between life and death would later allow sorcerers to create the unliving.
Aulora chased Tyrexxis back to his siblings where the goddess Goia bound them in great shackles. There they found Anwaren, still lost in madness, and the two goddesses helped to soothe his madness and bring him back to his siblings. Meanwhile the Exarchs began to turn on each other, chiding Gravicarius (who it turns out is the Exarch of pride) for not delivering them the victory he promised. Maurenna and Braniel worked together and restored Anwaren's sanity, and in remorse for what he'd done he vowed to partner with Aulora in teaching the first mortals to oppose Tyranny and also ordained that his season would be a short one each year to help keep him from falling to temptation again, voluntarily allowing himself to be diminished and resurrected every year. The other Primordials decided "hey, seasons, we should get ourselves one of those" and followed suit, welcoming Anwaren back into the fold.
To commemorate their victory over the exarchs of Shadow and as a sign of hope for the renewed world, Hiathas hung the sun in the sky, and so was born day and night and the beginning of time.
So remember what I said about creation myths and cultures? So let's take a look at what happens in this one. What's the big source of conflict? What's the thing that drives one of the Primordials to inadvertently betray the others and nearly feed the entire world to the Shadow? Envy, greed, and a desire for power. Simple enough so far, though it's worth noting that Anwaren didn't intend to birth the Exarchs and lead to a ferocious war that nearly destroyed the world, he wasn't a bad guy right from the outset, it was simply a consequence of opening himself to the corrupting nature of the Shadow. You've probably guessed by now that Shadow is a corrupting force that player-characters are going to have to watch out for and so this is important right here.
But now let's look at the rest of it. A war in heaven is nothing new, but look at what the story focuses on. Yes, gods and Exarchs battle each other, but the details of the actual fighting are largely nonexistent and glossed over. What's actually important here are the acts of cooperation and creation...Maurenna and Braniel working together to create the gods and the mortals, Selene creating the Wheel of Reincarnation and robbing the Shadow of its victory, this is what's crucial as opposed to so-and-so battling such-and-such or who destroyed what.
Even at the end there's little in the way of outright glorification of slaughter. The Exarchs are imprisoned, not killed, and Anwaren is neither slain nor left to fester in his madness but rescued by those with compassion, brought back to sanity by those who care for him, and reunited with his siblings once more, making amends and vowing not to repeat the mistakes of his past. In a lot of creation stories someone like Anwaren might be killed or run off to become some dark and malevolent force spoken only of in hushed whispers, but here he's got an integral role to play in the world and killing or banishing him would probably be disastrous.
Everything in this creation myth is an effective encapsulation of the themes that Blue Rose is aiming for. Cooperation, creation, seeking an end to things that doesn't involve endless combat or outright murder, allowing for forgiveness and compassion and not simply judging others as beyond salvation, while still allowing plenty of room for heroes to battle the forces of evil whenever they should arise to threaten those things worth fighting to protect. In that regard I think it does a nice job of setting the tone for things to come.
Gods and Other Gods
Now that we know the story of Aldea's creation the book provides us with an overview of the pantheons we've been introduced to and discusses their various areas of influence and veneration, though True20 doesn't really have a Paladin or Cleric class as such so this is less about choosing whose team colors your character is going to adopt (though you certainly could pledge yourself to one of them if you wanted to) and more about giving you an idea of the role that the gods play in Aldean society.
(As a note, every deity is referred to in the text as "god of [SOMETHING]" whether their aspects are primarily masculine or feminine, the term goddess almost never appears. So if you see the word goddess anywhere, that's probably me.)
First up we have the Twilight Gods or the Primordials who were the stars of the show earlier. They created the world and they're associated with fundamental primal forces like the elements, the seasons, nature, life, death, community, and so on. Their appearance and depiction tends to vary from culture to culture more often than the gods of Light, taking on either gender or neither.
They're venerated throughout Aldea but mortals don't really have the same degree of affection for them as they do the gods of Light...it's more of a distant relationship sort of thing. The Primordials are fine with that, their concern is simply maintaining the balance of the world while awaiting for everyone to remember their forgotten divinity and rejoin the Eternal Dance.
Selene , besides being a badass, is the god of winter, the moon, death, and secrets. She's the Wise Woman, the Winter Witch, and the Keeper of Secrets, and in her primary male aspects is Father Frost and the Winter Wizard. She's invoked at funerals, students of the arcane arts look to her for guidance and power, and during harsh winters people entreat her to be merciful. She's often depicted bearing the Blade of Wisdom.
Braniel is the god of spring, the stars, rain, music, animals, and plants. He's the Singer in the Stars and Green Beard, and in his primary female aspect is the Spring Princess. He's venerated in woodland shrines and atop hills by those thankful for their bounty, rain rituals invoke his name as do rituals for sexual potency which I promise aren't actually detailed anywhere in the book. Musicians also turn to him for inspiration. He's the lover of the god of Light Hiathas which we'll get to in a second, and the pair of them are considered a model for passionate romance. He's portrayed bearing the Chalice of Bliss.
Maurenna is the god of summer, agriculture, and community. She's the Summer Queen and the Architect of Civilization, and in her primary male aspect is the Grain Lord. She's considered the mother of the gods of Light. People who farm or tend livestock call upon her, and civic events and family gatherings are often opened with her name. During hot summers people joke that Maurenna is loving the world just a bit too much. The god of Light Leonoth is her consort and together they're considered a model of marriage. She's portrayed bearing the Rod of Blooms.
Anwaren is the god of autumn, the earth, mountains, sovereignty, and appropriately enough strife. He's the Warrior King, the Red Knight, and the Lord of Madness, and in his primary female aspect is the Queen of the Harvest. He's the father of the Exarchs and opposes them whenever he can. It's said he dies on the last day of autumn when the spirits of the dead are the strongest, and rises again when Braniel pours the waters of life upon him. He's invoked by people beset by strife or madness and by those seeking the riches of the earth, and he's considered a model of kingship having voluntarily diminished his own power to avoid becoming a tyrant. He's portrayed holding the Pentacle of Plenty.
Next up are the gods of Light who are much more your traditional D&D style pantheon. Interestingly enough the gods of Light are actually younger than the world rather than the other way around, but they're no less venerated because of it. The gods of Light are each associated with one of the seven virtues and is the patron of a core aspect of mortal culture such as dance, law, travelers, and so on. They have varied aspects, but fewer of them than the Twilight gods do. And because they're the everlasting enemies of the Shadow, they're called upon by those faced by darkfiends or vice for strength and guidance.
Man, class pictures are always the worst.
Hiathas is the firstborn god of the sun, beauty, dance, and hope. He's the Dawn Prince and Lord of the Dance, and he's said to be more beautiful than anything except the Eternal Dance itself. Artists and especially dancers seek his beauty. He's the beloved of Braniel, and those who fall in love with someone of the same sex are said to be caria daunen or "lovers of the dawn."
Leonoth is the god of the hearth, family, and faithfulness, is the Faithful Husband, and consort of Maurenna (maybe it's a common-law marriage, I don't know). He protects families, homes, and those who keep faith. People who love someone of the opposite sex are said to guard the hearth fire as he does and are cepia luath or "keepers of the flame."
In the nation of Jarzon rebellion against the Sorcerer Kings was apparently exceedingly dangerous and often deadly, and the leaders of the resistance gathered secret meetings around hearth fires as they plotted the downfall of their oppressors. Because of this association, and the grievous loss of life they suffered, Jarzon has become somewhat obsessed with family and procreation. There Leonoth is called the Liberator, Great Lord, and Keeper of the Holy Flame, and is the preeminent god of the Church of the Pure Light.
Felisar is the god of travelers, people in peril, the poor, the sick, and charity, and is the Bringer of Miracles. According to legend he wanders the world each winter when the poor suffer the most, and because he's Selene's favorite he uses his influence to protect the destitute and desperate from her chill. Travelers and the ailing turn to him for comfort and a lot of charity is done in his name.
Aulora is the god of law, soldiers, and justice, and is the Shield Maiden and Wise Judge. She's called upon by those who create and enforce laws, soldiers who believe their cause to be just, and the unjustly imprisoned look to her for mercy. When Anwaren becomes beset with doubt she calms him with reason just as she did before, and when he falls each year she turns to the arms of Goia. The two goddesses are together referred to as the builders of civilization.
Goia is the god of artisanship, commerce, and prudence, and is the Smith, the Builder, and the Artisan. Merchants pray for her prudence while artisans pray for her skill. Builders, shipwrights, and mathematicians all invoke her name. She loves both Anwaren and Aulora in equal measure, forging a crown for one and a sword for the other, and when Anwaren falters while it's Aulora who soothes him it's Goia who carries him.
Gaelenir is the god of exploration, learning, the sea, and fortitude, is the Great Sage, Sea Lord, and Teacher. Sailors and explorers call on him, and the sea-folk are his special children (because duh). He dwells by the Well of Knowledge at the bottom of the sea and seeks to know all things, and in legend he withstood the temptations of all seven Exarchs so he could explore their realm. Selene keeps secrets but Gaelenir uncovers them, and storms blowing in from the sea are said to be the two of them arguing over how much to reveal to the world. They're also said to harbor a secret love that will only be consummated when all souls return to the Eternal Dance.
Athne is the god of good fortune, wine, plenty, and temperance, and is the Mother of Plenty and Lady of the Vine. People who have plenty, or who desire it, pray to her, as do vintners and merry-makers. When Gaelenir, seeking to understand each of the gods, asked her for the meaning of temperance, she laughed and said, “Enough, or too much." She appears in various aspects across innumerable tales as an occasional lover of the other gods.
There's also a fiction sidebar! Lorena's twin girls are begging their mother to tell them the story about the birth of Lord Hiathas, which is their favorite story not only because it includes the first unicorn but because they enjoy teasing their older brother who has a boyyyyyfriend, oooooh. First we have a pair of gods engaged in a same-sex relationship and now this. Blue Rose's insidious promotion of the gay agenda marches unstoppably onward.
Oh, and remember the Exarchs? Yeah, they're still around, dwelling in the Shadow and up to no good. They spawn darkfiends to ruin everyone's day and seek to tempt people into vice, and while the gods of Light oppose them their power and cunning are both vast. Only the "malicious and insane" worship them, or in lands like Kern where followers of the Lich King proclaim them as the "true gods" because they're older than the gods of Light (by like five minutes, jeez, stop rubbing it in). The Exarchs' followers give them grand, improbable titles and engage in unspeakable rites. So basically they're Abyssal Exalted.
And I'll just quote this bit:
Little is known about the exarchs in Aldis, beside their names and domains. The first among them is Gravicarius, exarch of pride. He ruled the exarchs in the beginning, but the seven fell into backstabbing and spite after their defeat at the hands of the gods of Light. The others are Tyrexxus, exarch of wrath; Ulasta, exarch of envy; In’nassi, exarch of lust; Viasta, exarch of sloth; Yungo, exarch of gluttony; and Mytaxx, exarch of greed.
Yungo! Who the heck names their dark god Yungo? Or Mytaxx. This is some George Lucas level nomenclature going on, and I for one don't feel like I could seriously worship a dark pantheon with names like this, so that whole bit about the Exarchs' worshippers coming up with flowery titles for them makes a whole lot more sense.
And that brings us to the end of the Mythic Age. I'm going to need to break this first chapter up into multiple updates because there's a lot of stuff to cover, so gradenko_2000 might not have a lot to talk about for a bit (though he's more than welcome to), but don't worry because when we get to chapter 2 that's going to be all about crunch, so stay tuned.
Next Time: Back when magic was BIG and IN YOUR FACE, someone FUCKED UP and BROKE IT and now everything SUCKS.
Aldea Through the AgesOriginal SA post
Aldea Through the Ages
Fantasy RPGs love them some distant golden ages when things were bigger and cooler only someone fucked up and broke everything and Blue Rose is no exception to that trend.
The Old Kingdom
So now that we're out of creation myth territory we can start looking at history proper. "Fifteen hundred years ago, after the mythic age gave way to history, the great city of Aldis was founded," the book says, because when a pantheon of gods really did create the world it lets you bypass all that boring waiting around for evolution to figure shit out and civilization to faff around discovering fire and pottery and whatnot. Aldis was a beacon of learning and magic, art and culture, and people from across Aldea started making their way there to learn and teach. In time Aldis became the capitol of a mighty realm, known as The Old Kingdom, ruled by the Council of the Wise who were made up of the finest practitioners of every art. They presided over matters of law and justice and led Aldis the Beautiful into a golden age whose reach extended across the known world, even to now-forgotten lands far across the sea.
In sticking with the rose motif, the symbol of the Old Kingdom was a thornless red rose, with each petal representing a different craft or art treasured in Aldis.
It's not a true golden age without magical crystals and airships everywhere and the Old Kingdom had both in abundance. They were the first to figure out the properties of arcana-enhancing shas crystals and developed something called "crystons" which goes to show that long-lost golden ages were no better at naming shit than people today are. And they had airships! Also they could heal any ailment, construct great buildings without the need for manual labor, and stuff like that, but everyone knows airships are where it's at.
Of course the secrets to all of these miracles was lost during the Shadow Wars, but despite this people can still find Old Kingdom artifacts lying around throughout the world, buried beneath forgotten ruins or stuffed into the back of the attic somewhere. Like any good post-magipocalypse technology, though, most people tend to give such artifacts a wide berth because the Old Kingdom hadn't discovered the principles behind good User Interface design and so the artifacts are often a danger to those unfamiliar with their use. Present day Aldis encourages citizens to turn over discovered Old Kingdom artifacts to the crown to be studied by scholars or safely disposed of if they prove too dangerous to keep around.
Among the most dangerous of these artifacts are known as the shadowgates, upright rings fifteen feet across comprised of shadowsteel, no doubt set upon shadowhousings by master shadowarchitects with the assistance of shadowsurveyors. These shadowgates originally formed a linked network of portals that allowed the realms of the Old Kingdom to instantly transport goods and messages and travelers from one place to another, but the Shadow-tainted adepts who would become the first Sorcerer Kings figured out how to turn them into summoning devices, opening gates to the realm of Shadow and calling forth legions of darkfiends. In addition the Sorcerer Kings often trapped or hid their shadowgates to keep people from using them as a shortcut into their domains, which rendered them useless for transportation.
Today only the most learned scholars and adepts are even aware that shadowgates used to be anything other than monster generators. Most shadowgates are now inactive, but they can be reawakened by careless adepts, natural magical surges, or triggered by all manner of long-lost activation keys whereupon they start pouring forth darkfiends until someone shows up to shut them down or destroy them, and this is considered one of the most important duties of both the Sovereign's Finest and the priest-adepts of Jarzon, one of the few things the two nations can wholeheartedly agree on.
The Fall of the Old
But of course the Old Kingdom fell because it would be a pretty boring game otherwise. How did it fall? A slow decline into corruption and complacency, the usual. The members of the Council of the Wise began to grow more interested in their own pursuits than the welfare of the citizens. Justice became lax and taxes on distant provinces increased. But probably the thing that really set the snowball in motion was when the adepts on the council began to delve deeper and deeper into studying and experimenting with sorcery, which is Blue Rose's term for magic that's generally bad news...fleshwarping, dominating minds and bodies, magic that takes rather than gives, all that good stuff. They might have started with noble intentions but it didn't take long for even the wisest and most powerful to begin falling to the Shadow, cunningly concealing their corruption until it was too late.
This corruption began to spread through the Old Kingdom like a cancer. Backroom deals and alliances became plots and assassinations. Protests and rebellions were crushed mercilessly and used as an excuse by Shadow-tainted warmongers to build bigger armies as well as their own private militias. The first sorcerers began to learn the secrets of summoning darkfiends and drawing upon their own corruption for power. In general things started to look pretty bleak, but don't worry, they get even worse.
Every Rose Has'em.
In the seventh century of the Old Kingdom things finally came to a head as a cabal of sorcerers led by the alliterative Delsha the Dark seized the throne,
An alliance of rhydan and vatazin (psychic animals and not-elves respectively) tried to stand against her but they were outmatched and overwhelmed. Delsha placed a bounty on rhydan pelts and vatazin heads and within a generation the vatazin were no more. The rhydan were pushed to the brink, especially the unicorns, but they managed to flee to the depths of the wilderness and seas to regroup and rebuild their numbers.
Delsha ruled with an iron fist, like you do, but even with her extended lifespan she wasn't immortal though history is divided over whether her death was due to betrayal or sorcerous mishap (natural causes is apparently off the table). The Empire quickly tore itself apart as ambitious and ruthless Sorcerer Kings began to vie for the throne, none of them having the raw power or force of personality to defeat or unite the others, and within a decade the Empire of Thorns was a war-wracked ruin.
Things quickly took a turn for the Dark Sun as the Sorcerer Kings used fell sorceries to grant themselves immortality or transform themselves into ageless monsters, ensuring themselves an eternal rule. They treated people like beasts of burden, outlawed all magic except their own and ordered adepts and magical artifacts hunted down, and were generally huge dicks. The people under their rule quite obviously suffered, with blight and famine sweeping the land and diseases unknown a generation before running rampant. Meanwhile the Sorcerer Kings themselves kept experimenting with sorcery often with disastrous results such as in the port city of Falzanoth whose Sorcerer King wound up triggering an earthquake that caused the entire city to collapse into the sea.
Nonetheless things were as stable as they could get for about a century after the fall of the Empire as the Sorcerer Kings busied themselves consolidating their kingdoms, studying arcana, and gathering all the magical power they could. Then, of course, they decided that what they had wasn't enough and set their sights towards each other.
Even More War
So now we're T-minus 600 years from modern day Aldis and the Shadow Wars that we've been hearing about kick off as the Sorcerer Kings proceed to war with one another for two hundred and fifty fucking years holy Christ. They raise armies of the unliving, use flesh-shaping to create armies of ogres, troglodytes, night people, and all manner of aberrations and shadowspawn beyond naming. They invoke the Exarchs openly because they've long since stopped giving a fuck and summon darkfiends to be their assassins, soldiers, spies, and councilors. They corrupt promising adepts into their apprentices, some of whom overthrow their old masters and become new Sorcerer Kings themselves like any good Sith. Thousands upon thousands of people die and life sucks for everyone.
Various rebel movements slowly begin to gain strength, preserving the old ways and worshiping the gods of Light and the Primordials. The plotted and sent out spies, engaged in daring raids to rescue and recruit adepts, but none of them were aware of how deep the Sorcerer Kings' power truly ran, and it was only due to the sorcerers' greed, paranoia, and overconfidence that the rebels stood a chance.
Over time the weaker Sorcerer Kings are destroyed, some of their lands conquered while others are left blasted and smoldering ruins many of which remain barren wastelands to this day. The victors and survivors grew increasingly paranoid and began summong larger and larger armies of darkfiends to their service, and this would be the beginning of their downfall.
About 350 years ago, a horde of darkfiends turned on their summoner, Rhaz Tethes, lord of what would later be known as the Veran Marsh. They attacked his citadel in the heart of the city of Veran-Tath, and he summoned all his power to defend himself. The resulting cataclysm destroyed both Rhaz Tethes and the darkfiends and transformed the region around his citadel into the vast and deadly swamp that remains today.
Within days darkfiends the world over began turning on their summoners. Some say it was the gods of Light who weakened the Sorcerer Kings' hold on their minions and gave them a chance to turn, but others say it was part of a plot by the Exarchs to conquer Aldea for themselves. Either way by the time the dust settled two more Sorcerer Kings were dead and the rest were severely weakened, giving the opportunity they'd been looking for to strike at the remaining Sorcerer Kings across the Empire.
A New Hope
The Great Rebellion started small with a series of coordinated attacks by brave heroes but quickly became a mass uprising. Slaves rioted, the oppressed took up arms, and several Sorcerer Kings were even slain in their beds by their servants. The rebels had help from the rhydan who had been in hiding since the Empire's attempted genocide but now returned in force, rebel leaders riding griffons and unicorns and rhy-horses into battle while packs of rhy-cats and rhy-wolves joined the fight. Even treants from the Pavin Weald showed up to recreate that one bit from The Two Towers.
The rebels were also aided by an unsuspecting arrival. You know it, you love it, it's the
use the force, luke
That's right, this is the very first appearance of the Golden Hart, which appeared suddenly in the city of Aldis and proceeded to aid the rebels. Now you're probably wondering what the Golden Hart could really do for the rebels when it mostly seems concerned with lines of succession. Well what if I told you that the Golden Hart was immune to sorcery? And what if anyone within an ambiguous distance of it (the passage in the book reads "confer its immunity upon anyone within of it" which is a really annoying typo) was also immune to sorcery? Ah, now we're getting somewhere. Of course immunity to sorcery isn't immunity from armies of the undead and darkfiends so there was still plenty of fighting to do, but the rebels had a definite advantage going forward.
One by one the Sorcerer Kings fell. They refused to cooperate even to the end, and in fact many of them betrayed each other to the rebels believing that once the dust settled they could simply mop up what was left. Others destroyed themselves and their strongholds rather than accept defeat. The one holdout was the northern land of Kern beyond the Ice-Binder Mountains. The treacherous paths kept the rebel army from marching upon Kern in force and while bands of rebels assaulted it for years the power of Jarek the Lich King, bolstered by his land's rich deposits of shas crystals, was too difficult for them to overcome. After four successive defeats at the hands of his forces the rebels retreated, leaving Jarek in charge of Kern. After this the Golden Hart vanished and its disappearance is widely regarded as the end of the Great Rebellion and the reign of the Empire of Thorns.
The next century that followed was one of rebuilding. Everything had been blown to hell and gone during the Shadow Wars, stretches of farmland were too tainted to work, shadowspawn and monsters were all up in everyone's business, and populations had dwindled. It was a long hard road but new states began to emerge, rebuilding and growing, defending their borders and driving back the bandits, roaming shadowspawn, and darkfiends. Among these emerging nations were a reborn Aldis and the Theocracy of Jarzon. Jarzon remembered what how the Old Kingdom had become corrupt and tyrannical and sought to prevent that from occurring ever again, while the lands around Aldis were full of people who sought to restore the grandeur and traditions of justice and wisdom that characterized the Old Kingdom at its height.
Something Something Star Wars Joke
Then we get details on the rebirth of Aldis. I'm just going to go ahead and hit the high points because this section is already getting kind of long as it is. The lands around Aldis were spared the worst of the Shadow Wars and were full of fertile valleys where refugees fled following the war, making the new Aldis a melting pot of various cultures, including rhydan who came to dwell in the surrounding wilderness. Seltha, a charismatic and visionary leader, reached out to the rhydan and proposed the formation of a kingdom with the rhydan being granted full citizenship. They agreed to this and presented her with the Blue Rose Scepter, a gift that the Golden Hart had given them, and also worked rituals to ensure that Aldis would be ruled by a fair and just sovereign. The Golden Hart was called forth and chose Seltha as the first Queen of Aldis.
To further ensure the fledgling nation remained free from the Shadow of the Old Kingdom’s latter days, Queen Seltha ordered anyone who wished to become a noble to pass the test of the Blue Rose Scepter, which would accept only the touch of someone devoted to the Light. She adopted the scepter as her badge of office, and within a decade, Aldis was widely known as the Kingdom of the Blue Rose.
The kingdom became a haven for peoples and creatures of goodwill faced with hatred and persecution elsewhere. Diversity and acceptance were the founding principles of the land; even the newest immigrant could become a noble if he or she passed the test of the Blue Rose Scepter.
Bam, title drop. So it's not just the sovereign who gets a magical background check, only those who pass the test of the Blue Rose Scepter are accepted as nobles. We'll get more into that in the coming section on Aldis' government. Also check it out, diversity and acceptance are the founding principles of the land. How could you not see the secret fascism lurking beneath the surface, I mean really?
Some other stuff happened, rebuilding and whatnot, mentions of surviving libraries stores of knowledge, etc. They fight off a bunch of bandits, it's all very business as usual. Then the Lich King decides to attack, because when you're a Lich King you have a certain reputation to maintain. He sent a massive army of darkfiends, unliving, night people, and humans to conquer Aldis and claim it for himself. The darkfiends and unliving fought for him because it's their nature, but the humans and night people fought because Jarek held their loved ones hostage and they knew if they refused him that he would kill them all. Jarek is a huge jerk in case you can't figure it out.
King Karthakan, fourth sovereign of Aldis, mustered the city's exhausted troops but also tasked adepts with probing the Lich King's troops for weaknesses, and when they discovered the nature of the hold he had over his living forces devised a daring plan. A force of his most skilled scouts and soldiers flew into Kern on griffonback and freed the hostages in several of the Lich King's labor camps which were left lightly guarded because Jarek never imagined that anyone would choose to help their enemies.
King Karthakan’s adepts then contacted the most charismatic and disaffected members of the enemy forces and placed them in psychic contact with their now-freed loved ones. As news spread through the Lich King’s army, many troops deserted and joined the Aldin forces, while others launched surprise attacks against the Shadow-tainted officers commanding them, as well as the foul unliving and darkfiends. Although fighting was hard and most of those who struck back at their overseers died, the desertion of over half of the night people and human troops spelled the end of the invasion. Aldis was weakened in the war, but the loss to Kern was greater; it took the Lich King almost a century to reestablish order and rebuild his forces.
In the end Aldis gained several thousand exceptionally loyal citizens out of the deal, including an equal number of night people defectors. Night people are basically this setting's orcs, people warped by fleshcrafting into soldiers by the Sorcerer Kings, but they aren't inherently evil and while the people of Aldis didn't trust them at first their dedication and bravery against the Lich King's forces won them over and so they came to be accepted and their right to settle in Aldis was granted.
The war with Kern spurred the creation of the Sovereign's Finest, an organization of adepts, scouts, and soldiers sent to patrol the borders and keep a watchful eye on threats to the kingdom. The Sovereign's Finest grew in prominence during the reign of Queen Allia, fifth sovereign, and under her reign its prominence and mandate grew to the point where Aldis no longer needs to rely on its standing military as much. You can play as these guys!
Oh, and then there's Jarzon. Remember the Veran Marsh that got made when a Sorcerer King blew up? For a long while it was impassable but over time it became less so, and Aldis discovered that the nation of Jarzon lay beyond it after the Sovereign's Finest discovered several safe passages through to the other side. The initial diplomatic meetings went badly. I'll just lay it out for you, Jarzon is a fundamentalist theocracy that considers women to be second-class citizens, homosexuality to be a perversion, rhydan, vata, and night people to be dangerous monsters, and unregulated study of arcana to be tantamount to consorting with the Exarchs themselves. Needless to say, they and Aldis do not get on. The Jarzoni attempted several large-scale attacks against Aldis but their forces never made it past the hazards of the marsh, which is the only thing besides some very delicate diplomacy that's preventing yet another war.
There, now we're through with the history and we can finally, finally start looking at present day Atis and taking a closer look at its society, government, and people.
Next Time: What the heck is a vata exactly (spoiler alert, they're elves).
Representative VenisonocracyOriginal SA post
What particular flavor of 'fundamentalist theocracy' are we talking here? Crusades-and-Inquisition catholicism? Vaguely islamic? Something else?
Ignoring for the moment the discussion currently taking place re: deerfucking (seriously what on earth) the answer to your question is more the former than the latter. A good way to look at it is that Jarzon is the Menoth to Aldis' Cygnar, accounting for differences in genre and tone. We'll get into some more detail on them later but mentions are made of imposing stone architecture with gargoyle adornments and fire plays a prominent role in their faith, which includes plenty of cleansing flames.
Speaking of which, I should get cracking on the rest of this chapter. Hopefully I can be done in another two to three updates or so and then gradenko_2000 , who's been waiting patiently in the wings, can tag in when we get to character creation (of course I've been saying that for a while now and boy howdy, this book has more to cover than I remember). But for now:
So, Aldis! Modern day Aldis has been around for three centuries now and is a thriving nexus of trade and arcane study. Anyone willing to swear to abide by the sovereign and the laws of the land is accepted as a citizen which makes it one of the most increasingly diverse nations around, and within its borders you'll find rhydan, vata, night people, sea-folk, refugees from Kern, heretics and exiles from Jarzon, and a variety of people from across the land. In fact, let's finally get an overview of the various peoples' you're likely to find in Aldis (and be able to choose to play as).
Rhydan are psychic animals. More specifically they're Light-aligned beings gifted in the psychic arts that happen to reside within the bodies of various animals. There are actually a set number of rhydan types: unicorns, griffons, dolphins, drakes, rhy-cats, rhy-horses, rhy-wolves, and whales. Unfortunately this means you can't be an intelligent psychic bear so I'm going to have to knock a few points off for that.
Rhydan are accorded full citizenship in Aldis, and correspondingly have close ties with the city. Rhy-cats and dolphins are the most likely to reach out to the land's other peoples on their own accord and so they often serve as diplomats and liaisons, with rhy-horses tending to bond with the riders of Rezea. Nonetheless rhydan will aid lost travelers and people in need who stumble into their domains. They don't have nobility or monarchs themselves so much but they tend to respect and defer to the unicorns and griffons who are said to be the first of the rhydan. Griffons dwell in the peaks of the Ice-Binder Mountains while unicorns hang out deep in the Pavin Weald.
Rhydan are animals and are limited in both physical activity and vocalization accordingly but they're intelligent and have access to the shaping arts, and consequently they enjoy pursuits such as reading and creating works of art via magic. Also of note is that rhydan are capable of psychically bonding with a boon companion in a process known as a rhy-bond. This bond lasts a lifetime and is a pretty serious deal, and the citizens of Aldis view anyone fortunate enough to share a rhy-bond to be blessed. Some say that rhy-bonds are an echo of friendships founded between souls back in the days of the Eternal Dance.
Sea-Folk are amphibious and androgynous humans with hair and skin in various shades of blue and green who can hold their breath as long as a dolphin and swim with great skill. They always settle in areas close to water, and many of Aldis' sea-folk live along the southern coastline and in the Scatterstar Archipelago, forming communities with dolphins.
Being who they are many of them make a living as fishers, sailors, or deep-sea divers, and it's not unheard of for some enterprising and fortunate sea-folk to strike it rich after finding a sunken merchant ship lost during the fall of the Old Kingdom. Some also take up the role of explorers or navigators. They have an affinity for the god Gaelenir, love to sing, craft jewelry out of shells and colorful stones, and chill with their dolphin bros.
Sea-folk occasionally marry humans and vata and the children take after one parent or the other, no half-breeds. Also their gender identities are more fluid owing to the nature of their souls and as a result they're split pretty evenly on the sexuality front.
Vata are elves. Well, half-elves. Remember the vatazin that got genocided out of existence by the evil Empress way back when?
Called the Children of Selene, they were wise, nearly immortal, and filled with profound knowledge of the natural world. They lived in secluded dells, where they honed their potent arcane arts and gazed into the night sky, seeking to unravel the secrets of the moon.
Occasionally, some of them would grow curious about the outside world and wander. Some of the wanderers never returned home, finding compelling knowledge, beauty, and even love among the shorter-lived races. The children who were born of unions between vatazin and humans sometimes appeared to be ordinary members of either race, but most were a new people known as the vata, who combined the natures of both races. They had human curiosity mixed with the vatazin affinity for arcana and a fraction of their longevity. These vata—who are now called vata’an, or “true vata”—have ice-white hair and pale blue, green, or amber eyes.
So, elves. The vatazin are all gone now though, and so their legacy endures through the vata'an or just vata, which are still basically elves in every way that matters. During the reign of the Sorcerer Kings the vata hid among the human populace but some of them were discovered and captured by the Sorcerer Kings who used dark magics to twist their forms and create a new type of vata to serve them, the vata'sha or "dark vata" known for their night black skin and white hair just like drow BECAUSE THEY'RE ELVES OKAY? Vata'sha were supposed to be servile thralls but the Sorcerer Kings failed in that regard because they're a bunch of dumb assholes, but some vata'sha chose to serve them willingly anyway because bad decisions know no borders.
Anyway, vata can now live openly and in peace in places like Aldis and Rezea. Even vata'sha, who aren't inherently evil but are still sometimes viewed by others as a reminder of dark times. Jarzon is cool with vata'an but views vata'sha as irredeemably corrupt by Shadow and the priesthood attempts to apprehend them when possible. The Lich King orders the execution of any vata'an within his borders but counts some vata'sha as his lieutenants.
Night people are orcs. Way back when the Sorcerer Kings used fleshwarping magics to create a new breed of shadowspawn for their armies. They were human once, but now they're basically orcs. Just as with the vata'sha though the Sorcerer Kings failed in their attempts to make them an inherently subservient and Shadow-tainted people, and they retained a glimmer of their ancestors' humanity.
Night people have it rough. Everyone else in the world but Aldis openly hates them because, well, they really and truly were the minions of a world-ruining empire of evil Sorcerer Kings. The Lich King captures and enslaves them, putting them to work subjugating the rest of his minions. Some say fuck it and throw in with him while others resist his rule in every way they can. In Jarzon they're put to death. In Rezea they face mistrust and are driven away from the Rezeans' hunting grounds. But in Aldis they've proven themselves to be exceptionally loyal and trustworthy, if brutish and frightening, members of society, if for no other reason than they know that no other nation would grant them a place to belong.
Eh, I've seen worse.
And that brings us to a topic we've all been waiting for, the modern government of Aldis and how this whole magic deer thing works out in practice.
Just before sunset on the day after the sovereign's death, the nobles and members of the royal family and whoever else can find some room crowds into the Azure Plaza in front of the royal palace's large stained glass window depicting the Golden Hart. We saw all this play out in the intro fiction when Jaellin was chosen. When the Golden Hart chooses someone it touches its horns to their forehead leaving behind a pale golden mark in the shape of a crescent. The Hart appears at the same time regardless of whether the people are aware that the sovereign has died or not (for instance, if they died suddenly while abroad) and sets out in search of the new sovereign.
Often, it says, the sovereign is chosen from one of the previous ruler's children or close relatives, but not always. Sometimes it chooses an unrelated noble, an ordinary citizen, or even someone who isn't assembled at the Plaza at all, in which case it sets out and bears the chosen sovereign back to Aldis upon its back which I'm sure must be a bit of a shock when you're sitting down to dinner and a magic deer suddenly shows up at your doorstep. The Golden Hart remains by the side of the chosen sovereign until they can be properly crowned. Anyone attempting to harm the sovereign during this time is immediately struck insensible and unconscious and doesn't reawaken until the coronation has finished and the deer has gone. When they awaken their faces are forever marked with a grey hoofprint and they're exiled from Aldis, because really now.
The Golden Hart doesn't only appear to choose the new sovereign though. In times of great trouble the Hart will make an appearance, approaching the sovereign and bestowing upon them a vision providing guidance. This is a rare occurrence and most rulers only ever receive once such visit. It also appears if a ruler succumbs to cruelty, injustice, or otherwise becomes unfit to rule, which has happened twice in the kingdom's history. When it does so it kicks the sovereign in the forehead, doing no damage but covering the golden crescent mark with a grey hoofprint before choosing a new sovereign. Valin the tainted was deposed and exiled for his cruelty while Larai the Mad was deposed and cloistered for her madness (naturally).
Now on to the nobles. Aldis isn't an absolute monarchy where the sovereign is the first and last word on everything. The sovereign is assisted in their duties by the Noble, Merchant, and Rhydan Councils who convene to debate, discuss, and vote on matters of policy and law.
First let's talk about how one becomes a noble. It's pretty egalitarian, really...anyone can become a noble, absolutely anyone from the stableboy on up, provided they pass the required tests in literacy, ethics, history, and law, and earn the approval of the Noble Council. Now I know what you're thinking, you're thinking "Aha! That's how they get you! How can ordinary citizens hope to pass tests in things given that this is a fantasy RPG and public schooling doesn't exist?" The answer is that public schooling exists.
The Kingdom of the Blue Rose makes certain all children receive a basic education. Children learn to read, write, and do basic math, as well as the basics of history and geography. This schooling is freely available to the children of anyone living in Aldis, even residents who are not citizens. Primary schooling lasts six years, and most children begin it between the ages of six and ten. To leave time for chores and play, instruction is only for a few hours each day. The children of wealthier families often have private tutors and receive more in-depth instruction.
The best and most ambitious students go on to attend the prestigious Royal College, which lies inside the palace walls in the capital, next to the Aldis Museum and attached to the Royal Library. Anyone can come into the college and read the books in the library, but classes are open only to enrolled students and visiting scholars. Students study history, law, medicine, natural history, and the arcane arts. Many healers, scouts, and others receive their initial arcane training at the college, while prospective and newly appointed nobles study law and history.
So there you go. But there's one last test to pass before you can be accepted and it's not really one you can cram for. To confirm each noble the sovereign holds the Blue Rose Scepter towards them which glows with a soft light. The prospective noble touches the carved petals and if the light holds then it indicates the touch of a Light-aligned person and they're accepted as a noble. If the light dims, however, then they cannot become a noble because either their ostensible desire to serve is insincere or they aren't aligned with the Light. The test works for each person only once so there are no do-overs. This means that many of Aldis' sovereigns had to pass two separate background checks, the first being the Blue Rose Scepter and then the Golden Hart.
Now we get a couple of sidebars, one for Queen Jaellin and one for Lord Sayvin, the son of the previous sovereign who we last saw getting snubbed by the Golden Hart. For Jaellin it has this to say:
Jaellin, the current sovereign of Aldis, was chosen by the Golden Hart eight years ago, when she was only eighteen. She is tall and slender, with long red-blond hair and green eyes. At her coronation, she was something of an outsider in the royal court, and is still regarded one by some of the older noble families. The last four sovereigns belonged to the prestigious Falish family, who have lived in the city of Aldis since the Great Rebellion. In contrast, Jaellin is from the city of Garnet, near the west coast of the kingdom. She had only been a noble for two years when she suddenly became queen. Further unnerving some of the more conservative members of the court, she has initiated several controversial policies, including increasing the acceptance of the study, but not use, of sorcery. That policy, in particular, has agitated relations with Jarzon.
She is seen as hardworking and serious, sometimes too much so. Many nights, she stays up late negotiating with foreign dignitaries or attempting to settle disputes between rival nobles or merchants. She is ethical and strong willed, sometimes stubborn, but her opinion can be swayed to other ethical options by sound arguments. In her rare quiet hours, she enjoys gardening and traveling into nearby woodlands to collect rare ferns and flowers. She wishes she could make these expeditions alone, but her ministers insist that she always be accompanied by guards.
In the hope of strengthening her political ties in the capital, several of her ministers have recommended she marry into one of the older noble families. She is a romantic, though, and has made it clear she will only marry for love and she will only marry someone who understands that her duties to Aldis come first, for her true love is the Kingdom of the Blue Rose.
I'm beginning to notice a subtle rose motif running throughout the work.
Jaellin is pretty quintessentially romantic_fantasy_protagonist.txt in action. But it's the sidebar on Lord Sayvin that's really interesting.
Although nobility is not inherited in Aldis, Sayvin was born to it. His father, Haylin, was the previous sovereign, and Sayvin’s eventual inheritance of the crown seemed certain, at least to him. It’s not that Sayvin specifically desired power, more that he loved and admired his wise father and wanted to serve Aldis in the same way. With this in his heart, Sayvin did all he could to make himself a worthy heir.
He was, therefore, shocked when the Golden Hart chose Jaellin as the new queen. Sayvin accepted the decision with grace and swore fealty to her, but he felt betrayed. All his life, he wanted nothing but to serve Aldis, and what was his reward? To be passed over for an outsider. Although Queen Jaellin makes noises about consulting Sayvin, he knows the she disagrees with him on various
matters, and he doesn’t want her charity.
Lord Sayvin continues to fulfill his duties as a noble, overseeing his region of the central valleys, but his heart is poisoned with envy. With each passing year of Queen Jaellin’s reign, Sayvin imagines what he could do, if only he sat upon the throne, and his mind idly turns over ways that could come to pass. With Lord Sayvin’s skills as both a noble and an adept of the arcane arts, woe betide Aldis when his thoughts turn from idle fantasy to action.
When Blue Rose first came out a common complaint that many people had was that Aldis was simply too perfect, a flawless shining utopia where there was no room for conflict. Here, within 30 pages, is a great big campaign-driving plot hook blinking like a big ol' neon sign. Lord Sayvin feels slighted that the Hart passed him up in favor of a young, untested outsider, and who knows what he might do if the envy he's feeling begins to fester? Hmm it's almost like we just had a story where someone succumbed to feelings of resentment and jealousy and sparked a giant conflict, it's just on the tip of my tongue.
Sayvin is interesting too because he's not a cackling, mustache-twirling villain. He's slowly winding his way towards a dark path, yes, but the book takes care to paint him as someone whose grievances sound reasonable and relatable...who here hasn't felt like they've been unjustly passed over for something before? It's a very human response, and it's in keeping with the themes of the genre that Blue Rose is trying to evoke that even as Sayvin is being dangled as a potential big bad threat to Aldis that he's still sympathetic.
But anyway, nobles! Those who pass all the tests generally start out as traveling nobles. Much of the kingdom is spread out and sparsely populated, too much so for a single noble to effectively administer from a central urban location. Many Aldin border communities also have an independent streak and aren't super keen to have a powerful stranger just plopped into their laps. So you have traveling nobles who are assigned off and on to various regions as itinerant ministers of the crown. They go from village to village, solving local problems, judging pending court cases, enforcing the law, and collecting taxes.
In the more settled regions of Aldis the Noble Council assigns more seasoned nobles to govern specific cities and towns. These guys do the same thing that traveling nobles do but on a bigger scale. Some nobles might spend their whole lives as traveling nobles while some are granted regional seats almost as soon as they pass the tests, but the only certainty is that regional nobles are never assigned to the city or region where they grew up in order to prevent conflicts of interest, prevent favoritism or prejudice, and encourage a nobility familiar with the kingdom at large.
The Worst Form of Fantasy Government Except For All the Others
So what's the deal with these councils anyway?
The Noble Council is comprised of comprised of three dozen of Aldis' wisest and most respected nobles who take up residence in the capital. They advise the sovereign, vote on policy, and help appoint new nobles. Each councilor has one vote and majority rules. In case of a tie the sovereign casts the deciding vote. Elections are held every other year at the Festival of Service though most councilors can expect to be re-elected unless they decide to step down. The councilors themselves also elect the president of the council who moderates their debates and serves as one of the three members of the Sovereign's Council.
The current president of the Noble Council is Lord Jarish Dukay , a gruff but persuasive sea-folk (sea-person?) who's been president for the last 12 years. He's deeply entrenched in court politics and has close ties to the prestigious Falish family (the previous royal family) and he has the unique perspective of being something of an outsider like Jaellin while also being a valued associate of those who view her as an outsider. He's been advising her to work within existing power structures for now and is hopeful he can persuade her to marry into the Falish family (one of the sons or daughters, either's good). He's also a fixture at court parties as he has an appreciation for music and storytelling.
The Merchant's Council is what it says on the tin. Aldis' prosperity is largely due to trade, and to help coordinate, regulate, and prevent feuds from occurring most trading companies join the Merchant Guild. Guild membership is open to any business that's been in operation for more than two years and employs seven or more people. The Guild is a cornerstone of the kingdom's economy and in recognition of its importance and influence the sovereign to appoint three dozen members who serve a similar function to the Noble's council. Elections are held every four years, and the also elect a president who similarly serves upon the Sovereign's Council.
The current Merchant's Council president is Chezia Thalis , a 79 year old vata'an who's been president of the council for six years and the head of the Thalis-Banik shipping company, the largest and wealthiest in Aldis, for 40. A literal chessmaster, she's soft-spoken and analytical with a head for both business and politics. She's the member of the council most likely to vote against Jaellin, viewing the current sovereign as naive, but she's strongly loyal to Aldis and a firm believer that the kingdom's good is synonymous with the Merchant Council's.
And then there's the Rhydan Council and I think you see where this is going. However while the members of the rhydan council have an interest in the affairs of the kingdom their council is less official than the other two and members rarely gather physically, most never coming within a day's ride of the capital itself. Most people don't even know who they are, and the main way in which they take after the Noble and Merchant's Councils is by appointing a single rhy-cat representative to the Sovereign's Council.
And that representative is Laritha , a rhy-cat with a rhy-bonded companion who accompanies her named Olar Klast. Laritha views herself not just as a representative of the rhydan but of the plants and animals of the kingdom as a whole. She refuses to compromise on her principals which has led to friction in her seven years on the council as she and the other two butt heads regarding issues pertaining to mining and farmlands. Olar isn't technically a member of the council but he serves as a combination interpreter and advisor, bridging the gap between rhydan and human perspectives, and while he's new to the capital's politics he's quickly learning how to broker compromises between Laritha and the other council members.
What's the Sovereign's Council? The three members of this council are the only advisors to the sovereign who have any official power. They come together with the sovereign to make official decisions for the kingdom, with each member of the council having a single vote while the sovereign themselves has two. This means that the sovereign only needs a single ally to pass resolutions which affect the entire kingdom, though the book mentions that Jaellin attempts to pass all such resolutions with no more than a single dissenting vote because of custom and a desire for harmony.
The book then goes on to talk about the various goings-on in the royal court, and in addition to the nobles and the councils there are a host of bureaucrats, dignitaries, spies, couriers, and advisors all coming and going along with the necessary servant staff required to house and feed them, entertainers, soldiers, rhy-bonded, people seeking audiences, etc. During the Festival of Service these numbers swell as members of the Sovereign's Finest bring their entire teams back to make reports and the court population can grow up to several thousand people.
Because people are people, though, over time life in the royal court can take a darker turn. Nobles who started out idealistic can gradually begin to slide towards pragmatism, and no known government in the world is immune to backroom deals, unstable alliances, and political grudges. As much as people don't like to admit it nobles can and do move away from the Light, and since the Blue Rose Scepter only works the once per person it can be difficult to tell which of them may be willing to use any means necessary to advance their agendas.
Also! Sometimes a big chunk of the noble court just up and moves! Every three years the sovereign spends two months in another of the kingdom's cities, to give the citizens there greater access to their ruler as well as getting a feel for the issues affecting people throughout the land. The entire court doesn't relocate but the Sovereign's Council, head of the Sovereign's Finest, and a huge swath of advisors all come along for the ride. The kingdom's cities maintain great halls normally used for public meetings and festivals which can be converted into a temporary royal court. Moving the court is challenging and potentially dangerous...many of Aldis' most important members of the government are traveling together in a caravan for several weeks, making them an ideal target for bandits, assassins, or monsters. The Sovereign's Finest spend weeks checking the planned route, interviewing villagers and investigating for potential ambushes.
And I think now that we've covered the ins and outs of Aldis' government that this is a good stopping place for now.
Next Time: Thoughtcrime and thoughtpunishment.
Brought To You By the Aldis Board of TourismOriginal SA post
It's also profoundly undemocratic. It's saying that, at any time, there is a Best Person, and they deserve to rule over their fellow humans. Contrast to Chesterton's Napoleon of Notting Hill, where the king is chosen completely at random , because the basic premise is the democratic idea the common man (or woman) is about as worthy to govern as anyone else.
Though this was posted earlier I wanted to come back to this once I was no longer phoneposting to address it specifically because it highlights something that often gets overlooked in the discussion of Blue Rose's deer-appointed royalty which is that yes, the Golden Hart appears to choose "the best" person for the job, though what criteria it chooses by is a completely unknown factor so saying the Hart's choices are unarguably The Best, Period is making several unsupported assumptions (and certainly not every character we've seen thus far thinks that Jaellin is the best choice for the job), but the thing about the Golden Hart is that while it may select the sovereign it does nothing to force the people of Aldis to abide by this decision. The magic deer doesn't cast a spell on people to make them obey the chosen sovereign, it doesn't make them a deal they can't refuse by causing the land to fall into misfortune if the sovereign isn't obeyed, it doesn't even stick around to prevent threats to the sovereign's life after the coronation. It is entirely in the hands of the people of Aldis to look at the sovereign the Golden Hart has appointed and go "no, we reject this choice" and appoint someone themselves while someone with a golden crescent on their forehead fumes impotently.
They don't do this though. They don't do this because give or take a few unfortunate incidents the Golden Hart's choices seem to have worked out for the best. The Golden Hart's choice for sovereign is entirely a matter of trust...the Aldin people trust that the Hart chooses someone who will lead them with justice and fairness, prosperity and wisdom, and so far that trust has been rewarded. The people could appoint their own sovereign any time they wanted to if they felt that they could do a better job of it, and they even still have the Blue Rose Scepter to check if someone is aligned with the Light or not (once), but I think characterizing Aldis' government as "profoundly undemocratic" overlooks that it's ultimately the will of Aldis' people that the Golden Hart choose their sovereign.
Anyway, it's about that time again.
Brought To You By the Aldis Board of Tourism
Last time we covered the government and its various ins and outs. Now let's take a look at stuff that concerns the citizens of Aldis as a whole.
Calendars! Aldis has a 12 month calendar of 360 days. Eleven months are named after the Primordials and gods of Light while the 12th month is "Gravihain" or "the end of grief" named after Gravicarius. In Aldis Gravihain represents the defeat of the Exarchs while disciples of Shadow view it as a sacred time to perform dark rites. I've never really gotten excited about a fantasy setting's calendar before, but if you do then there you go.
Education! I covered this last time...everyone in Aldis, even non-citizen residents, are entitled to six years of primary schooling covering literacy, math, history, and geography. People who are wealthy and/or ambitious can hire private tutors, there are museums and colleges where people can go to read books for free, all that good stuff.
Marriage! And romance! Aldis accepts marriage between any two legal adults, regardless of of the sexes involved. Aldins also love them some marriages, and as mentioned earlier they are persistent matchmakers, always trying to hook their friends up and engineering wacky hijinks to try and get them to hit it off. I made that last part up because it's an amusing mental image, but the matchmaker part is straight out of the book. There's no cultural prejudice against people who are straight or gay and anyone showing such prejudices is considered ignorant or, if they're real jerks about it, bigoted. The Jarzoni exiles living along Aldis' eastern territories are generally the only folks in Aldis who have problems with who's boinking who.
(Something I noticed is that the writers have a fancy fantasy term for people attracted to the same sex (cara daunen) and the opposite sex (cepia luath) but nothing for, say, bisexuals, which stuck out at me if only because Aulora, the goddess of law and justice, is a lover of both the Primordial god Anwaren and the goddess of Light Goia, so you'd think there'd be some fancy-sounding term for folks like that but nope.)
Along the central valleys and southern islands it isn't unheard of for people to enter into a polygamous star marriage , named for the multiplicity of stars in the sky. There are much rarer throughout the rest of Aldis, and the Jarzoni exiles in the east of course think it's super weird and maybe immoral.
AKA What Happens To People Who Act Like Player-Characters
Aldis, despite the many efforts of its sovereigns and nobles and magic deer, is not a shining utopia free from strife. Crime still happens. Sometimes it happens for understandable reasons, sometimes it happens because people are still people and consequently possess the inherent capacity to be huge dicks to one another, but since Aldis' mind-control satellite system is still in the early planning stages they must, like any other nation, decide how to handle the matter of crime and punishment.
Aldis' criminal justice system, being the product of pinko commie bleeding heart liberals, is primarily concerned with restoring the social harmony a crime causes instead of punishing the guilty. The first step in any judicial investigation is everyone reporting the details and findings to a judge, either the local noble or a magistrate appointed by the nobility. A noble personally presides over cases involving serious crimes like murder, treason, or sorcery, while either nobles or magistrates can handle anything else. Anyone who dispute's a magistrate's ruling can petition to have the local noble retry the case personally.
Once the judge hears the details they decide if a trial is necessary and, if so, makes sure everyone involved has an advocate. During the trial an adept Truth-Reads people who testify, determining whether they're lying about who stole who's pig. Because a skilled adept can easily concern lies the truth usually comes out pretty easily and things proceed swiftly and fairly. The judge then begins the process of determining how the victims should be compensated and the criminals rehabilitated.
Almost all criminals undergo psychic counseling from adepts skilled in the healing arts. Psychic counseling, not psychic surgery. A psychic adept can access someone's innermost thoughts to assist them in identifying behavioral and mental problems, but Aldin morals as well as the healer's code of ethics affirms the mental sanctity of every being. Long-term psychic influence of any kind, even with the best of intentions, without the patient's express permission is considered the foulest of sorceries. All a psychic counselor can do is help you to help yourself, but the success rate of such counseling is quite high. Mention is made here of the adept-priests of Jarzon forcibly "reforming" criminals, heretics, and dissidents with the psychic arts, however, and this is another point of tension between Jarzon and Aldis.
Murderers and other violent criminals are confined while they undergo counseling, implying that less serious offenders are granted more personal liberty so long as they're making restitution and a shot at reforming. These violent criminals are released once they've successfully subdued their violent urges. If, in the words of the book, they prove incorrigible then they're fitted with something called a peace torc, collars imbued with the Calm arcanum, which prevents them from further violent acts.
Here's where I'm going to skip ahead and dip into mechanics for a moment so we can see just what this Calm arcanum entails verbatim:
You can drain intense emotion, calming those around you. The target creature must make a Will saving throw or be drained of all extremes of emotion. The creature is calm and incapable of taking violent action (although it can defend itself) or doing anything else destructive. Any aggressive action or damage against the subject breaks the effect. A successful Will save means the creature acts normally. This arcanum suppresses (but does not dispel) arcana relying on emotion, such as Heart Shaping. While the Calm effect lasts, the suppressed arcanum has no effect.
A nation fitting people with "pacification collars" or something similar is a time-honored way for fantasy and sci-fi authors to helpfully point out for the benefit of the reader HEY THESE PEOPLE ARE PROBABLY EVIL while also playing on peoples' fears of, say, anti-depressants turning them into drooling zombies that can barely remember their own name, so it's certainly no surprise that some people reading Blue Rose get to this section and immediately go "I knew they were secretly evil!" Of course peace torcs only appear to be used the most serious and untreatable and/or unrepentant violent criminals and what it does is, basically, prevent them from taking violent action and shave the extremes off their emotions. No stumbling and drooling, no will-less subservience, the recipient is even allowed to defend themselves should they be attacked, so even comparisons to the Ludovico technique fall flat (no aversion to Beethoven either). This sort of thing can be a touchy subject, but I feel like it's handled about as well as it could be given that Aldins consider it hugely unethical and Shadow-leaning to simply reach into someone's head and rearrange their thoughts, even if they refuse to stop, say, murdering people.
Many criminals are required to pay fines or make other reparations in proportion to their crime. Someone who stole food to feed a hungry family is given a lecture on proper behavior and then receives assistance in finding work so they won't need to steal to eat anymore. Someone who stole an expensive jeweled bracelet because they wanted a bunch of money without having to work for it, on the other hand, might have to not only return the bracelet but pay a fine equal to half its value. Half the money of such fines goes to the person who was robbed while half goes to the crown. Criminals who can't pay their fines, are repeat offenders, or who've committed serious crimes may be assigned a period of indentured servitude lasting anywhere from six months to three years depending on the severity of their crimes. During this period of servitude one third of the criminal's wages get split between the crown and the victim, and after their period of indenture is over they're free to go live and work wherever and however provided they stick to the straight and narrow.
And lastly, criminals who consistently refuse to reform, who continue to do break the law time and again despite the best efforts of Aldis' justice system, are exiled. A cloven hoof is tattooed on their foreheads similar to the mark the Golden Hart kicks onto a sovereign who loses the mandate of deer-heaven and soldiers escort them to the nearest border. Serial violent offenders get peace torcs in an effort to keep a bunch of violent criminals from showing up on someone else's doorstep to start murdering and wreaking havoc. Jarzon executes such exiles on sight (unless the reason they were exiled is betraying Aldis to Jarzon) and so exiles are advised to steer clear of Jarzon if possible, but Jarzon sounds like it sucks anyway.
Bippity Boppity Blue
As mentioned earlier, part of what makes romantic fantasy is that magic is a commonplace part of everyday life, and Aldis is no exception to that. The arcane arts pervade Aldin society and are a cornerstone of its exceptional success. Healers cure diseases and extend lives, psychics relay messages, and magical items and artifacts, some left over from the days of the Old Kingdom, help the nation to prosper.
The most common of these magical items are those arcane crystals we've heard so much about. The secret of crafting entirely new types of crystal geegaw has been lost but skilled crafters can duplicate existing ones so that's cool. Shas crystal globes provide light and heat to the streets and homes of all but the most destitute, ranging in size from walnut sized traveler's lights to the yard-diameter crystal globe that light's the palace's main hall. Other types of shas crystals pump and purify water, which gives Aldis an unmatched level of sanitation. Oh, and we finally find out what "crystons" are...they're weapons made from shas crystals. Okay, cool.
When most people consider magic in Aldis they tend to break it down into two broad categories, the healing arts and the psychic arts. Adept healers are universally beloved and respected, and even in Kern the Lich King's servants don't harm them for fear of provoking a popular uprising...only if the healers defy the king directly do his servants apprehend them. Everywhere else though the attitudes towards psychic practitioners are more divided and complex. Most Aldins view psychic arcana as perfectly natural and respectable, but some isolated Aldins (remember the kingdom is spread out enough to require traveling nobles) view it with more suspicion and even fear, and many psychic couriers learn not to advertise their skills when traveling abroad...while outright assault is rare, suspicious townsfolk can be anything but friendly to someone they suspect might be reading their minds RIGHT NOW. Of course Jarzon continues to be a wet blanket about such things, and they even spread rumors about Aldin psychics turning people into their puppets and playing with their minds like toys.
Because Aldis is generally a well-meaning place that respects the rights and privacy of individuals that also happens to be a place where one person in ten can psychically sense someone's feelings and a significant chunk of the population can actually read minds, psychic ethics are taught from an early age. The ability to sense others' feelings is treated as nothing more than possessing an especially keen sense of hearing or eyesight. The only significant consequence to this is that Aldins tend to be more honest and forthcoming about their feelings than people elsewhere.
The ability to delve into or alter someone's mind is a more serious matter, however. The only times it's considered acceptable to use such arcana is if the psychic has the subject's permission, the psychic is using the ability to save lives or prevent a serious crime, or an official decides the use of the arcanum is necessary for the common good. Otherwise it's a gross invasion of privacy, and anyone misusing them to gain advantages over others can expect heavy fines if not exile for repeat offenders. Fortunately using psychic arcana requires a measure of concentration and anyone with any arcane talent can instantly sense if someone nearby is using psychic arcana. For non-criminal abusers of psychic powers social pressure comes into play with most people avoiding the inconsiderate individual and telling others about what a goonlord they are.
Of course, this means that people who happen to be naturally persuasive, especially those who actually do happen to be psychically talented, often get accused of using their psychic abilities to sway peoples' minds, more often in isolated villages and small towns. In cases like this the most common result is people with the Second Sight following them around for a while to make sure they aren't up to anything hinky, and if they prove themselves trustworthy those concerns soon abate.
But of course where there are politics there's intrigue, and where there are psychic politics then you get psychic intrigue. Everyday citizens are content to let the rules of courtesy and the assistance of trustworthy adepts protect them from illicit psychic influence, but politicians and wealthy merchants often feel the need for additional protection (perhaps not unwisely). Some learn to psychically shield themselves or carry enchanted items which can do that for them or glow in the presence of someone using arcana, and some even hire other adepts to safeguard them. Oh but remember that adepts can use Object Reading to learn secrets about a person so you'd better guard your personal possessions as well. The fantastically paranoid make a habit of burning their loose hairs and nail clippings.
And of course attempting to use psychic arcana on diplomats or foreign traders is a serious crime and likely to result in further disastrous consequences such as diplomatic incidents and trade bans. Even though the Merchant Guild would love to have a leg up on their trading partners, these sorts of shenanigans are a good way to see yourself excused from your position. All assuming you get caught, of course.
Also familiars exist, woo. Find an animal you share certain characteristics with, bond to it. They live twice as long as a normal animal of their type and are about as intelligent as small children. Killing a familiar is considered a serious crime in Aldis but of course the Purist priests in Jarzon consider them suspect. Some breeders raise various types of familiar but by law they can only sell them to other licensed dealers or those with the potential to bond with one.
Matters of Faith
So, religion. We've already met all the setting's major players, deity-wise. The people of Aldis are deeply spiritual and honor both the Primordials and the gods of Light. They aren't a theocracy though so foreign faiths are welcomed provided they aren't of Shadow for reasons that are as much practical as anything else. As the tales go direct knowledge about the gods is spotty because Selene hoards it all and Gaelenir has only been able to reveal a tiny bit so far, so there are no direct answers to questions of faith and no religious tradition is considered objectively correct. This may also help explain how two nations like Aldis and Jarzon can worship some of the same gods and come away with two very different interpretations of how to properly venerate them. There's even mention made that some sages postulate that the gods don't actually exist, but most people do believe in them.
The only near-universal religious affirmation in Aldea is a staunch belief in reincarnation. Pretty much everybody believes that souls reincarnate in some form or fashion. In Aldis the prevailing hope is that souls will reincarnate until they find their way back to the Eternal Dance. Jarzon is the only nation where reincarnation isn't affirmed, instead they believe that perfected souls eventually transcend material existence to join the gods of Light directly. So, I mean, again this is another instance of Jarzon doing something differently than Aldis does seemingly just to be contrary, but in this particular case it seems like more of a "six of one, half a dozen of the other" thing.
Oh, and there's no hell. Yes, the Shadow exists but the Primordials and gods of Light prevent souls from being cast there so the Exarchs can get fucked. In Aldea the closest thing to eternal damnation is being trapped as one of the unliving, an animated corpse or spirit wandering the world and unable to move on, which is why the undead are viewed as abominations.
The book details four major Aldin holy days but it's pretty standard fare, nothing super exciting or interesting. They have a big spring festival and a somewhat more solemn midwinter festival where everyone hopes for a bountiful spring etc. etc. The Feast of Anwaren occurs during the autumn equinox and features lots of honoring the dead and recounting the tale of how Anwaren will perish at the end of autumn but be reborn in the spring.
And lastly we get a couple paragraphs on Jarzoni Purist sects of which there are a number residing within Aldis' borders on account of Jarzoni heretics and exiles seeking refuge somewhere they aren't likely to be cast into purifying flames. The Hierophant of Jarzon takes the fact that Aldis protects these refugees as a personal insult. The Jarzoni residing within Aldis are more moderate than the theocratic hardliners back home but there's still plenty of tension, as many Jarzoni refugees have trouble adapting to Aldin culture with its psychic talking animals and commonplace arcana and its magic deer while Aldin nobles are worried that Jarzoni refugees are going to flip out and start purging heretics...or worse, might be Jarzoni agents secretly working for the Hierophant. Some members of the Sovereign's Guard and the Rose Knight order are also unfortunately not as tolerant as they could be and see no difference between these refugees and the Jarzoni who regularly raid towns near the Veran Marsh.
At this point I've given up predicting how many more updates it'll take until we're at character creation. We're closer than we were though! That has to count for something.
Next Time: Wanted: three to six able-bodied protagonists for magical adventures, must be able to lift 50 pounds and work well with others.
Places To Go and People To BeOriginal SA post
Man I really want to run a campaign with a ostensibly on the up and up noble aristocracy that's actually hideously corrupt and authoritarian in all sorts of subtle ways.
I mean I realize the genre lends itself more to black and white morality but goddamn does this plot concept practically exude an air of "this could be totally super fucked up if ever misused."
The thing is, and I say this not to dissuade you from doing this, I find that it's far, far more common for tabletop RPGs to take this exact approach already. Roleplaying games are littered with ostensibly good organizations which turn out to be terrible and evil and corrupt, their goodness nothing but a facade, to the point where it feels like a lot of gamers simply can't accept the idea of anything being genuinely noble and decent without trying to invert it and make everything cynical and grimdark. To borrow an example from JRPGs "The church... is secretly evil! And also god is the final boss" is such a cliche by this point that I feel like Blue Rose is more daring and original for presenting a fantasy kingdom that stands for justice and fairness and equality and actually means it.
Speaking of which.
Places To Go and People To Be
One of the big draws in tabletop roleplaying games is the much-touted ability to do whatever your heart and imagination desire. You could run another typical game of Dungeons & Dragons where the players go down into a dark dungeon to kill monsters and steal treasure...or you could decide to start up your very own thieves' guild, start up a traveling band that solves mysteries, or go into the mustard smuggling business. The possibilities are endless.
In practice it helps when a game provides a quick and easy framing device for wrangling a group of player-characters together and providing them with a convenient in-character excuse for going on adventures together, and Blue Rose helpfully does exactly that. Of course some people may be wondering what use there is for a group of fantasy adventurers when Aldis seems to have its shit mostly together, but there are plenty of threats facing the Kingdom of the Blue Rose both from within and without, and it takes those with strength, wits, and a stout heart to face these threats in the name of the Light.
And this is exactly what the Sovereign's Finest do for a living. Founded by Queen Allia, Aldis' fifth sovereign, the Sovereign's Finest has since then grown in prominence and scope to form one of the cornerstones upon which the nation relies for its safety and security. Bandits, ancient artifacts and remnants of the Shadow Wars, pirates, raiders from Jarzon or Kern, all of these are frequent threats to Aldis, and so specially trained and royally appointed individuals travel the country, accompany nobles, and patrol the borders of the kingdom to provide defense, advice, and other assistance where and when it's needed most. Healers, couriers, scouts, rangers, adepts, and the rhy-bonded can all be found within their ranks. They are Blue Rose's Harpers, Aldis' version of Firewall, an organization tailor-made to give GMs a ready-made reason for why the player-characters happen to be traveling and working together with a mandate broad enough to encompass a variety of potential adventures.
Befitting that purpose, the Sovereign's Finest usually operate in teams of three to six and are welcomed in most communities in Aldis. Members are formally known as envoys and their highest allegiance is to the sovereign themselves. Depending on who the current sovereign is the organization may be referred to as the King's or Queen's Finest, but the book simply sticks with Sovereign's Finest when discussing it. In isolated parts of the kingdom, of which there are plenty, a team of envoys may be the locals' primary access to news, martial aid, and magical healing. Mots remote villages don't have the the ability to hunt down bandit gangs or close shadowgates on their own, and when these problems arise such communities are more than happy to welcome aid from the Finest.
We get a sidebar on the director of the Sovereign's Finest, Sharit Ranith. He's not really that interesting to be honest...he started as an envoy when he was 17, worked near the Ice-Binder Mountains for a decade, then transferred to the capital with his team to serve as the sovereign's personal messengers and scouts, he's had 35 years of service overall, and Queen Jaellin has recently appointed him as director. He loves his husband Dalt but some people joke that he's married to his duty, and every now and then he gets nostalgic for some good old fashioned field work and accompanies a team of envoys on a mission to keep in touch and prevent his skills from growing rusty.
At any rate, the director of the Finest assigns the teams to various areas often based on their experience, with veteran teams getting assigned to dangerous patrols such as those near the Veran Marsh or Ice-Binder Mountains, but even newly trained envoys (that's you!) are considered worthy defenders of the kingdom and in troubled times even the least experienced teams can expect to find themselves patrolling untamed portions of the frontier or rooting out bandits and shadowgates. Experienced teams of envoys often have storied and impressive reputations but just wearing the uniform and badges of the Finest is enough to garner respect from most people. Some jaded urbanites and nobles view green recruits with disinterest or even disdain, referring to them as the Sovereign's Lapdogs, but to most of the kingdom's citizens envoys are heroes and while most envoys aren't nobles themselves isolated villages and remote settlements frequently make little distinction between the two.
Envoys even get paid a regular salary for being the kingdom's on-call troubleshooters, but the truth is that envoys have little need for money much of the time...one of the ways that communities pay their taxes is by providing food and lodging to traveling teams of envoys. Of course if the community is going through a rough patch then envoys are expected to pay their way like anyone.
The Hall of Envoys is where the Finest are administered from, out of a building on the grounds of the royal palace, and this is where the director lives along with four assistants pulled from the ranks of the Finest and assigned by the sovereign themselves. They're not just expert administrators but traditionally they're all psychic adepts as well. The Hall is big enough to house multiple teams if they happen to be called to court for whatever reason. Two teams of envoys are permanently attached to the court and handle things like scouting the sovereign's travel routes as well as various problems around the capital. Other teams only visit the court for special training, inquests, reviews, and important mission briefings, and most teams will never visit the capital more than once a year or so. Ordinary briefings and assignments are handed down remotely through psychic communication with the director's staff, and this sort of long-distance direction works because the Finest expects their teams to be largely self-directed. Detailed instructions are handed out in emergency situations, but otherwise teams of envoys are expected to keep themselves busy.
After them we have the Sovereign's Guard who are Aldis' standing army. Aldis does have an army, but it's not as big as it might otherwise be due in part to the Sovereign's Finest handling things like border patrols and bandit hunting. This allows Aldis to maintain a smaller force of well-trained volunteers ready to stand against threats to the kingdom, but on its own it isn't large enough to stand up to a full-fledged invasion or an organized force of darkfiends all on its own. The Guard supplements its numbers by maintaining a number of reserve forces comprised of citizens in good health (men or women, makes no difference) who spend at least one day a month training with weapons and learning woodcraft and other skills, in return for which they receive a modest reduction in taxes and the knowledge that they're ready to help protect the kingdom in times of need. Using psychic arcana the army can call up the majority of its reserves in less than two weeks despite the distance, and while Jarzon and the Lich King of Kern may scorn these reserves when led by officers they can be a formidable fighting force.
The army is also responsible for handling disaster relief efforts. Soldiers stationed in cities are trained to fight fires, and if hurricanes, floods, or other disasters strike then the army mobilizes to rescue people, build shelters, administer medical care, and help repair buildings.
The Knights of the Blue Rose , or simply the Rose Knights, are the elite of the Sovereign's Guard. They're the kingdom's military champions at the forefront of the most dangerous missions, whether it's leading the army in charges against powerful darkfiends or personally spearheading the closing of shadowgates. They also patrol some of the most dangerous parts of the kingdom, such as the Ice-Binder Mountains. Only the most skilled, selfless, and devoted soldiers are chosen to become a part of the Rose Knights, and they receive special training including various arcana useful for combating darkfiends. The most heroic knights are permitted the honor of riding griffons into battle in dire times of need. This could be you (after some leveling up)!
I dunno guys, I'm just not feeling the uniforms. Maybe if you had some giant pauldrons or something.
Then we have Spirit Dancers which, uh, are honestly kind of vague and just sort of appear out of nowhere. In the Old Kingdom the Spirit Dancers were adepts specializing in the meditative arts, masters of mind and body. Maybe like Monks, I guess? I dunno. Their spirit dance is a physical reflection of the Eternal Dance and said to touch upon the divine as they whirl through its steps. Like many adepts of the Old Kingdom most of the Spirit Dancers were wiped out and the survivors corrupted and recruited by the Sorcerer Kings, but some went underground and survived, passing on their lore in the guise of complex folk dances often set to music and they formed part of the core of the resistance, teaching new spirit dancers the skills they needed to overthrow the Sorcerer Kings. So kinda like Jedi? Like I said, the writeup here is distressingly vague and non-specific compared to the other groups we've seen so far.
Spirit Dancers strongly support Aldis and its sovereign, and most of them live in special academies where they perfect their arts, but some are wanderers who freely give their services and teachings to anyone who's ready to receive them, and hey, several of the most famous Spirit Dancers have even joined the Sovereign's Finest which means you can play one too! Just as soon as you figure out what the hell they are (spoiling it now, they're basically Jedi Monks who Dance).
Where the fuck are my feet?
Bads Big, Bigger, and Biggest
So now you've got a group of characters together and a reason to be roaming all over Aldis righting various wrongs, but now you need some wrong to get righted. Fortunately Blue Rose has you covered there too.
First up are unscrupulous merchants because while shadowspawn and darkfiends might rampage across the land sowing terror and darkness in their wake, you don't see them fucking each other over for a percentage now do you? Most of the kingdom's merchants are scrupulous, but those that aren't can cause a great deal of trouble in their quest for greater profits. Sometimes they accidentally poison streams and lakes with the byproducts of mining, smelting, and dye-making operations, and these sorts of problems can go unnoticed until crops begin dying and people and animals begin falling sick. Envoys and independent healers know to watch for this sort of thing. Sometimes the merchants were simply careless or unaware of what they were doing (or, y'know, that's what they say), but just like in real life some merchants understand that not being a huge dick costs both time and money and so they'd rather just let things ride, at least until a noble straight-up orders them to get their shit together.
Pollution is one thing, but even more troubling is that some merchants are Shadow-alligned and willing to collude with the forces of darkness, engaging in behavior ranging from mistreating their employees to willingly betraying the kingdom to Kern or Jarzon in exchange for bribes, trade concessions, and promises of future wealth and power. Some of these merchants use their caravans to smuggle information, spies, and dangerous artifacts across the kingdom's borders.
The Noble Council is aware that some members of the Merchant's Council are Shadow-aligned traitors working in secret to undermine the kingdom and assigns envoys to investigate them, but these investigations have to be handled with exceptional care. Relations between the two councils are already touchy, and false accusations could throw everything into turmoil while allowing the actual traitors to continue their dark work unabated. Such investigations can be lengthy, difficult, and potentially quite dangerous if the traitor in question is cunning and ruthless, but if enough evidence can be gathered the investigations culminate in tribunals which often results in the traitors being banished.
On the other side of that particular coin there are also fallen nobles to worry about. The Blue Rose Scepter ensures that all nobles are aligned to the Light...or at least it does when they're first accepted to the position. But since the scepter only works once per person that means that it's all too possible for a noble to slowly stray from the path and give themselves over to the Shadow without anyone being the wiser. Such a fallen noble is an agent of deception, division, and unrest, and while the Noble Council can strip such nobles of their titles if there's sufficient evidence of their misdeeds, this is a rare and serious procedure involving a length hearing.
The worst dangers come from Shadow-aligned regional nobles who can exert their influence over entire swathes of the kingdom. They exploit the labor and goodwill of the people under their jurisdiction but most are generally subtle about this, preferring not to tip their hands in a fit of cackling and mustache-twirling. They gradually twist and corrupt the place they rule and appoint assistants who agree with their policies and are able to maintain a facade of honor and compassion.
Some fallen nobles even seek out sorcerous power because of course they do. Some even do it with good, if misguided, intentions, seeking the power to protect Aldis no matter the cost, but even the best of intentions aren't enough to prevent sorcery from corrupting those who believe that no really, this time they've got it figured out. In some cases nobles are even unwillingly beguiled into Shadow by a sorcerer or evil arcane artifact, and once the source of the affliction is removed then the noble can return to normal.
Lastly, some nobles fall from the Light but don't dedicate themselves to outright evil. The stresses of the job lead some nobles to slip from the Light and become Twilight-aligned, not evil or corrupt but simply sacrificing their ideals for expediency, though most remain ethical even so.
We have a sidebar here about uniforms and insignia and it's really, really boring! I'll give you a hint, practically everyone has some variation on a blue rose or a golden hart. Either way I'm not summarizing nine paragraphs of clothing descriptions, sorry.
Something more interesting are bandits and pirates, who are pretty much what you'd expect. When people think about the Sovereign's Finest they think about them fighting darkfiends and sealing shadowgates, but much of the time their duties consist of dealing with brigands and bandits. Bandits are especially common in lands around the Ice-Binder Mountains where there are plenty of caves, valleys, and ancient ruins for them to make into hideouts, some of which come with complimentary unstable magical artifacts. Some bandits even make their home in the Veran Marsh though few are desperate enough to stay there for long, but those that do are incredibly difficult to pursue through the treacherous environment.
Bandit gangs range from a half-dozen to four dozen well-armed brigands with swift horses. A majority of them citizens of Aldis who've rejected all this lovey-dovey peace and tolerance to prey upon the weak and unsuspecting. Some are soldiers and refugees from Kern or Jarzon just doing what they do best. While there are plenty of grisly tales of bandits putting entire villages to the sword or selling the residents into slavery these incidents are fortunately the exception rather than the rule...most bandits are more interested in plundering whatever food, coin, and valuables they can find than they are in slaughter for slaughter's sake.
And because Aldis has a wealth of seaports they also have pirates, with the Scatterstar Archipelago having more pirate problems than most. They harbor in hidden coves and inlets, sailing out to plunder merchant ships before returning to nurse their wounds, make repairs to their ships which sometimes number up to a dozen, and load their ill-gotten gains onto small, innocuous-looking merchant vessels to be sold. Some of the most daring pirates hide among the ruins of the sunken city of Falzanoth and spend as much time searching for lost treasures among the ruins as they do attacking ships.
Now here's something you probably weren't expecting...Aldis has its very own clandestine criminal syndicate known as the Silence. In the central valleys of the kingdom bandits are a rarity but unfortunately crime isn't, and it's largely due to the Silence which controls all but the pettiest crime in Aldis' cities. Criminals are expected to pay a portion of their takes to the syndicate, in exchange for which the Silence provides them with fences, hires out bodyguards and assassins, and provides criminals with refuge from the law. All of this is overseen by the mysterious figure known only as the Prince, whose identity is a mystery to all but his (or her) most trusted senior lieutenants and the Barons who manage the syndicate's regional cells. Those criminals who decide they'd rather operate independently or disobey the Prince's orders are slain by his enforcers, a distinctive sigil branded onto their face to let everyone know who was responsible.
The Prince has contact with many of the bandits and pirates on the kingdom's fringes, fencing goods for them and hiring them to attack specific targets, and they also maintain loose ties with Kern, purchasing arcane artifacts and even the occasional darkfiend or unliving creature from the Lich King. Few of the criminals apprehended in Aldis know anything more more to do with the Silence than a local representative, but both local law enforcement and the Sovereign's Finest continually work to dismantle the syndicate. Sometimes they manage to snare a Baron, but as of yet they've been unable to acquire any concrete evidence of the Prince's location or identity.
Shadow cults are pretty self-explanatory. Worship to do with the Exarchs and the Shadow is expressly forbidden in Aldis, but that doesn't stop secret Shadow cults from occasionally arising and flourishing like weeds before the Sovereign's Finest can discover and disband them. These cults are characterized by blood sacrifices and encouraging the soul's darkest impulses, and both Jarzon and Aldis work tirelessly to stamp them out, though Jarzon frequently accuses Aldis of not rooting them out with sufficient fervor.
The most fearsome cults are those which have access to sorcerous power, capable of summoning darkfiends to do their bidding, and a worst-case scenario for the Sovereign's Finest is a Shadow cult with access to an active shadowgate. But the most insidious of these cults are those which are sponsored by the wealthy or nobles. Some jaded members of Aldis' upper social circles are drawn to the allure of the forbidden and use their wealth and influence to sustain and conceal their cult followers at first for the thrill but then later for fear of discovery (or full-blown corruption).
Shadow Dancers are dark Jedi Monks who dance. Some work for the Lich King, some have their own agenda, but they're all just as vague as their Light side counterparts.
The Unending Circle is another sort of cult, but one that's more concerned with escaping the consequences of their ill-spent lies by opting out of the whole Wheel of Reincarnation business. They're focused on achieving immortality through alchemy or sorcery, while others seek life after death. Most of these schemes end in failure but sometimes, through dark rituals with terrible spiritual costs, they find a way to extend their lives. Some instead dedicate themselves to fulfillment in unlife and seek out the rites for becoming a shadow, vampire, or even a lich.
It's not just people that pose a threat to the kingdom of Aldis. Arcane relics can be found all over the place, dotting the landscape in the aftermath of literal centuries of warfare against depraved Sorcerer Kings. A farmer might inadvertently dig up a necklace which turns the living into zombies or twists their mind and spirit. These sorts of relics don't show up often but they can do so practically anywhere, and while many of them are easy to identify thanks to their esoteric sigils, telltale magical craftsmanship, or sinister glow, the real troublemakers are the ones which look perfectly normal to casual inspection. The obvious ones get reburied or picked up carefully with the longest tongs one can procure and locked in a strongbox until they can be given over to the Sovereign's Finest, and carrying such things to the Royal College for study or discovery is a common duty for envoys.
Of course the problem is a lot of these relics are made from precious materials and so some people are loath to hand them over. These people will often sell or even wear items they find without even determining if it's safe to do so, and the Sovereign's Finest has to clean up the mess. Very rarely their naivete is rewarded and someone lucks into an amulet that makes crops flourish or a figurine that keeps vermin away, but most of the time people aren't so lucky.
Shadowgates have already been covered. Once they were part of an empire-spanning transportation network, now they mostly serve to barf forth darkfiends. Some are active, some are dormant, some open every few days like clockwork while others only open when specific events, like thunderstorms or a new moon, occur. Some are awakened by surges of natural arcana in the land or nearby adepts, which I'm sure is great fun for someone practicing their ESP in the wrong place.
What makes matters difficult is nobody knows where all the shadowgates are located. The Sovereign's Finest are tasked with finding them and substantial rewards are offered for anyone who discovers and reports one, but the Sorcerer Kings cloaked many with illusions to hide them from their ruthless peers and others are located in remote ruins or far underground. Some are also protected by powerful wards and enchantments because nothing can ever be easy. Once a gate is found the Sovereign's Finest and Rose Knights are mobilized to destroy or seal it if at all possible. If it isn't possible then the area is secured behind guards and wards and the location is not revealed to the populace if possible.
The Lich King loves him some shadowgates, but pretty much everyone else in Aldea is on the same page regarding them, even vastly different nations like Aldis and Jarzon. In fact, one of the few things the Finest and Jarzon's Purist priests can agree on is that shadowgates are bad news, and some of them have learned mutual respect and even admiration after working together against the forces of Shadow.
Yeah, this looks safe to use.
And of course there's sorcery which I've already talked a bit about. Aldis is a kingdom with a strong connection to the arcane arts and even it is wary of sorcery for the simple fact that it can corrupt even the most innocent of souls. The most conspicuous forms of sorcery pervert the natural order, summoning darkfiends and creating the unliving or warping people into monstrous forms, but the insidious threat sorcery poses is the subtle ways it can creep into other arcana...an adept who misuses his gifts, pursues power too deeply, and tries to exert control over the world runs the same risk that Anwaren did of falling into corruption and madness.
It happens even with the best advice and wisest of teachers, a promising adept deciding that they're the one who can succeed where others have failed. Or maybe they thirst for power and revenge. Perhaps they're simply experimenting, pushing the limits of their power and they wind up pushing too hard. To Aldins sorcerers are to be pitied for their fall from grace but they're also feared for their power, and while Aldin healers and the Sovereign's Finest prefer to treat and redeem sorcerers when they can, the safety of the kingdom comes first. Jarzon doesn't even bother with treating or redeeming, and sorcerers can expect an abrupt and fiery end once they've been found out.
Almost a century ago King Rannath ruled that the study of sorcery was no longer a crime in Aldis, stating that it was not sorcerous knowledge but its use which constituted a crime. This decision heightened tensions between Aldis and Jarzon and has allowed some sorcerers to operate in the kingdom's shadows. Some on the Noble Council are pushing for Jaellin to reverse Rannath's decision and make studying sorcery illegal once more, saying that it creates a needless danger to Aldis, but Jaellin has concerns about banning knowledge and study of any kind. Once one sort of knowledge is declared to be forbidden then what next? This is a hotly contested debate, and even Light-aligned nobles find their tempers flaring when the issue arises.
And with that we're almost through with chapter 1! Just one more update to go (I swear) and then I can turn things over to gradenko_2000 and his breakdown of Blue Rose's actual mechanics.
Next Time: Backpacking across Aldea.
Fantasy Geography 101Original SA post
Fantasy Geography 101
Now we're in the home stretch with the last part of chapter 1, which may also wind up being the part I summarize and condense the most because it's time for the part of the book where the writers talk geography. Now fantasy geography can be interesting, but for the most part, even in good games, it frequently comes across like an extremely boring textbook with occasional references to magic peppered throughout. This is how the section leads us off:
Aldis consists of a large peninsula and a small archipelago extending to the west. Aldis has a temperate climate, with dry summers and wet, mild winters. It contains many rivers, and the land is exceptionally rich and fertile. Most of Aldis consists of rolling hills and a mixture of meadows and forests.
First up is the north and we finally get some more information on the Pavin Weald which we've seen mentioned several times before sans context. It's a dense forest of oak and maple and also the wildest and least settled portion of Aldis because north of the woods are the infamous Ice-Binder Mountains which makes the Pavin Weald the buffer between Aldis and Kern. Only griffons, bandits, and shadowspawn call the mountains home but rich merchants maintain seasonal mining camps there due to rich deposits of silver, shas crystals, and tin, and the Sovereign's Finest frequently patrol these camps on the lookout for dangers.
The mountains are also lousy with natural magic, and consequently are lousy with wizard towers left over from the Shadow Wars as well as magical artifacts. Also darkfiends, because there's at least one active shadowgate somewhere in the area, but fortunately it only opens once every few years.
But anyway, the woods themselves are dense and and deep, limiting visibility and travel time. The deepest portions are largely uninhabited and kept sacrosanct by the unicorns who dwell there, but there are settlements on the outskirts and even a little ways into the woods. The unicorns are cool with people gathering fallen wood, edible nuts and fruits, and reasonable amounts of hunting and fishing, and traders frequently visit these villages to trade worked goods for rare herbs, furs, and wild mushrooms. Deeper in the forest the villages there live in harmony with rhy-wolves and are distrusting of outsiders, even members of the Sovereign's Finest, so envoys there need to be on their best behavior.
Many of the inhabitants of the Pavin Weald are descendants of refugees from Kern. They dig vata but are suspicious of night people, and even night people who are members of the Sovereign's Finest have to sleep on the outskirts of the villages if they're staying there. Fantasy racism is apparently alive and well. It talks about the size and general makeup of their villages, arrangements of buildings and how they choose their leaders, blah blah blah, it's all just sort of dull and you're not missing much. They live in harmony with nature and if they had pointy ears and a sense of smug superiority you could pass them off as elves. I'm still not going to summarize clothing descriptions but there are more of them and they're just as boring. If you guessed some variation on furs, leathers, buckskin (the Golden Hart looks on disapprovingly), and mountain-sheep wool then award yourself a prize.
Yep, that's a fantasy map all right.
Then we have the central valleys , the densely populated and fertile heartland of the kingdom. It's very pastoral and scenic, with the first but certainly not the last mention of Aldis' profusion of olive and almond trees. Also white marble and murals. It's all fantastically uninteresting, though something of note is the fact that most of the natives of the central valley region aren't your typical Generic European Caucasian stock, described as having olive skin and dark hair. These people make up about half the region's population with the rest being a melting pot of blonde, pale northerners, night people, vata, sea-folk, Jarzoni refugees (who apparently trend towards red hair), "and even a small community of dark-skinned traders from the distant island of Lar’tya" which is a place I'm not sure is ever mentioned again anywhere else in the book.
Consequently diversity and acceptance are big parts of central valley culture, and people who judge based on things like skin tone, gender, or customs is liable to receive polite explanations and lectures at best, outright mockery at worst. Word has it that they roll their eyes at anyone trying to play the "you're all intolerant of my intolerance" card too.
Central valley houses tend to be big and home to extended families from grandparents on down. Also two more fucking paragraphs about clothing , the only noteworthy part of which is that the central valley region tends to set style across much of Aldis and that dress is largely determined by profession and status, not gender. This means that trousers are the norm for both men and women when going about their daily lives and if a man wants to wear the stylish dress he bought to one of the region's many festivals then nobody's going to bat an eye. Eddie Izzard would approve.
Next is the city of Aldis itself. It's Aldis. We've already kind of covered this place in detail but did you know that its construction is mostly marble and whitewashed brick? Now you do! Think marble, domed buildings, and trees and you've more or less got it. Interesting details include some information on the palace which is described as spacious and inviting, and also happens to be much more open to visitors than many might expect. Guards trained in psychic arcana observe visitors and if anyone filled with rage or hate enters they make their way over and try to ascertain if they're dangerous or simply upset about a legitimate grievance. In addition to identifying potential threats this also enables them to help direct people with serious grievances to the appropriate authority.
Also Aldis has a "small but well-tended zoo." What do you keep in a zoo in a setting where sentient psychic animals exist and might view the entire notion of "let's put animals in an enclosure for people to come and watch them" to be somewhat distasteful? The book doesn't say, probably because it's wasted too much page-space describing clothes.
The southern coasts and the Scatterstar Archipelago are home to people similar to the natives of the central valley region "except for being swarthier" which, like, wouldn't have been my first choice of descriptor but okay then. At any rate, life along this region is a lot less idyllic than it is in the land of olive trees and marble buildings...the winter brings harsh storms and the sea grows treacherous enough that small fishing boats are periodically lost. Many coastal people spend these months indoors weaving and dying cloth and carving shells, and in response to this more rugged life the fisher folk have evolved a social system known as the hearth, which is essentially a polygamous marriage only considerably larger, somewhere between a conventional family and a clan, and members of the hearth all live in a single rambling house with new wings and additions to the building sprouting up as the need arises.
Hearths can have dozens of members and frequently work together, crewing boats and herding animals along the coast, and many hearths split their trades between the two professions to minimize the risk of tragedy to the hearth as a whole due to a work accident or a problem with the local fish or herd-animals. Hearths can and do include both humans and sea-folk. In the islands of the Scatterstar Archipelago things are much the same, with around 15,000 people living in hearths across the 22 islands ranging between 4 and 50 square miles each. The winter storms are even worse on the islands however given that they lack natural breakwaters or high cliffs.
Fortunately the islanders are close friends with rhy-dolphins, and fishing vessels can expect to be escorted by a few of them in a mutually beneficial arrangement...the dolphins herd schools of fish into the nets and then the fishermen let part of the schools escape through a narrow opening where the dolphins can wait for them to emerge and eat their fill. In this way, as well as the large numbers of native sea-folk, the islanders are quite capable of making a comfortable living out on the open ocean, though storms and sea monsters are still threats even then.
Landlubbers who travel to the islands need to prove themselves because the islanders put more stock in seamanship than anything else. If you're willing to pitch in and learn how to get things done around a boat then you can earn their respect. The Sovereign's Finest tries to assign envoys to the region who either have prior sailing experience or who they feel could stand a dose of humility from the dour and pragmatic islanders. Those who can't adapt get reassigned, those who thrive frequently wind up marrying into a hearth.
More clothing descriptions! Three entire paragraphs this time! Stop it Blue Rose, you can't make me care about oilskin cloaks and dyes extracted from seashells!
And lastly we have the east which comprises the buffer between Aldis and Jarzon, courtesy in large part due to the Veran Marsh. The land is rocky, the soil is thin, it's overcast more often than not, and while it's possible to raise hardy crops and lean cattle it's nobody's idea of prime real estate and few people voluntarily choose to live there...except for the Jarzoni refugees who've settled there since it's a pretty close approximation of their native land with the added benefit of no one trying to set them on fire for heresy.
Refugees from Jarzon have been settling in the region for going on two centuries now, and the oldest of these settlements have largely assimilated into the local culture, aided by intermarriages and a steady progression of life lessons on not being bigoted jerks. The most recent communities, however, are having a rough process of adjustment. Ata-San, meaning "sacred to Ata" the Jarzoni name for Aulora, goddess of justice was established 15 years ago while the town of Relgis, named for their prophet who was slain by the priesthood, came over about 40 years ago. While they're both grateful to be living in Aldis instead of burning alive, at the same time they're having trouble adjusting to concepts that rub against their conservative traditions such as the open practice of arcana and dudes sometimes doing it with other dudes.
Visiting either of these communities can be a touchy process, with the somewhat more assimilated citizens of Relgis still fearful and mistrusting of those who employ psychic arcana, remembering all too well the priests using such arts to root out dissidents and heretics, and Ata-San being almost comically huffy over the Aldins' "brazen and immoral" ways. Helping them to acclimate and shed some of their more obnoxious cultural baggage has been a delicate and ongoing process but Queen Jaellin is starting to get a little impatient and is taking some steps to try and get them to adapt faster, among them having the Sovereign's Council start sending more female envoys to Ata-San to start getting them used to dealing with women in positions of authority.
More clothing details. Jarzoni clothing is boring in more ways than one...it's mostly done in shades of grey, brown, and tan with occasional touches of color. Their buildings are also similarly uninviting, made from grey stone and built with thick walls and narrow windows, but they have the excuse of frequent attacks by shadowspawn, bandits, and dangerous beasts making such architecture serve a practical purpose. All able-bodied men (not women) in the region are trained in the use of arms to defend their communities, and armed men regularly guard the gates in and out of each community, but while many Aldins would find such towns and dwellings oppressive and foreboding the refugees living there know that life in Aldis is better than anything they could expect back home and when loyalist Jarzoni raiders sneak into Aldis these communities are especially enthusiastic about helping kick them back out.
Places Which Don't Have a Rad Magic Deer
Now that we've covered Aldis in extensive, occasionally too extensive detail, the chapter concludes with an overview of those places which aren't Aldis, not all of which are actually antagonistic towards the Kingdom of the Blue Rose.
The first place isn't a kingdom at all though, it's the Veran Marsh. If you recall from earlier, the land that the Veran Marsh currently occupies used to be known as Veran-Tath, one of the greatest strongholds of the Sorcerer Kings, until the darkfiends that they'd been summoning en masse suddenly turned upon their masters. The city's Sorcerer King used to divert the mighty Tath River from its banks, and after a series of terrible earthquakes the entire city-state had settled several yards downward and everything was broken and fucked-up. The river spread across the entire landscape, forming the marsh that everyone knows and loves to this day.
The Veran Marsh sucks. It's full of treacherous quicksand, mud, poisonous plants, and dangerous animals. It's Blue Rose's own Blighttown. There are only four known paths through it, most of which are sized for player-character groups and their equivalents only. The exception is the Great Westerly Road. Merchant caravans, Jarzoni refugees, diplomats, and spies all regularly use this road, which is too well guarded at either end to be of any use to potential invading armies, and the terrain to either side of the road is an impassible expanse of mud and quicksand with no food or safe water to be found, meaning that even a comparatively small garrison can hold off an invading force many times its size.
And it's this that keeps Jarzon from invading fertile and abundant Aldis. Aldis doesn't invade Jarzon because Jarzon is resource poor and holds nothing of interest to them, but the marsh helps. And in case you're wondering Jarzon also has a rocky and ruined coast which means that a naval invasion is right out as the Jarzoni navy is small and almost purely defensive. The Hierophant continually sends raiders and spies however, hopeful that they can one day find a new path through the inhospitable terrain.
More than a century ago someone did discover such a path. Fortunately for Aldis it was discovered first by an Aldin border scout. Queen Fashi ordered a group of adepts to remove the path using their mastery of the shaping arts. They succeeded, but at the cost of several of their lives...it turns out that the Veran Marsh reacts violently to the use of shaping arcana, and the marshland itself struck back at them like a living thing. Since then Aldin adepts have avoided the use of shaping arcana within the marsh if possible, but the Hierophant keeps throwing adepts at the problem of constructing a new path through the marsh with limited results thus far. They have inadvertently created a new type of quicksand pit which can extend tendrils to pull in prey, so there's that.
Speaking of which, there's a sidebar with some actual rules crunch for determining what happens if your player-characters decide to ignore all of these very clear warnings and use shaping arcana inside the Veran Marsh. Roll badly enough and you too can cause your own earthquakes, you idiot, what did the book just tell you?
Okay, so Jarzon. We've all pretty much gotten the picture on this place by now...repressive and oppressive, big on religion and bigotry. So did they just spring fully formed out of the earth as a convenient antagonist for natives of Aldis to feel smugly superior to? Well, not really, no.
What happened is this...during the Shadow Wars and the Great Rebellion, Jarzon suffered more than Aldis did. The land they live in was blasted by dark sorceries, leaving it barren and useless for growing more than scrub, a few weeds, and maybe a hardy goat or three, littered with magical ruins and dangerous relics. The agents of the Sorcerer Kings were also ruthless in their hunt for dissidents and many people were slaughtered even as the flames of rebellion continued to grow within the Jarzoni peoples' hearts. And it certainly doesn't help that Jarzon is presently bordered by a place with the inviting name of the Shadow Barrens.
All of this has taken its toll upon Jarzon, and an understandable mistrust of sorcery and the works of the Sorcerer Kings has developed over time into a paranoia regarding anything which might even possibly be considered similar to the darkfiends and aberrations which even now continue to plague them, including vata'sha, rhydan, night people, and even on occasion sea-folk, as well as any form of magic other than the healing arts. The Jarzoni's view of homosexuality as perverse is implied to be a result of the severe depopulation they faced as a result of the Shadow Wars and the emphasis they placed upon rebuilding their peoples' numbers in the wake of that tragedy. It's not really clear why women get the second-class treatment though.
Jarzon owes much of its survival to its religion known as the Church of Pure Light or the Purist faith. Born in the oppression of the Shadow Wars and nurtured around bonfires in secret caverns and basements, martyrs died at the hands of the Sorcerer Kings and crusaders led the charge against them during the Rebellion. After the war the church's influence and power grew until Jarzon became a full-blown theocracy. The central god of the Purist faith is Leonoth, god of the hearth, and he embodies the Jarzoni ideals of hard work, perseverance, and faithfulness, while Maurenna, the Summer Queen, is generally relegated to a secondary role as Leonoth's consort. Purist temples are imposing edifices of rough-hewn stone bedecked with gargoyles and chimneys, and the cavernous interiors are windowless and feature great roaring fires meant to invoke the earliest days of the faith.
The religion is deeply divided in many ways: militaristic but valuing peace, preaching love but often practicing hate. Its priests and the faithful run the gamut, from Light- to Shadow-aligned. The upper levels of the church are riddled with hypocrisy and corruption, but also have some truly good men trying to do what they fervently believe is right, although often based on ignorant views of the world beyond Jarzon’s borders.
The theocracy is ruled by the Hierophant who's supported by the priesthood who are the only people within Jarzon permitted to study arcana. Anybody else who gets caught studying the arcane arts, be it sorcery or the psychic arts, receives the same sentence of death by burning. Foreign healers are grudgingly permitted to practice their art so long as they don't violate any other laws. Jarzoni priests are more than adepts though, they also form the militant arm of the church, training as warriors in addition to studying theology. These Knights of the Pure Light are the Jarzoni equivalent to the Rose Knights and lead the theocracy's soldiers in battle. In addition to these priests the Hierophant maintains an extensive network of spies and assassins that he's all too willing to turn inward towards his own people, utilizing them as a secret police to root out heresy and subversion, the sentence for which is, you guessed it, death by burning.
There's not really a lot of interesting art in this section unfortunately.
And then we come to the biggest and baddest menace looming over Aldis and Aldea as a whole, the kingdom of Kern presided over by Jarek the Lich King himself. I'm going to go ahead and post it in its entirely, totally not because I'm lazy no sir.
Tallow smoke hung low in the small room, hazing the air. The Lich King, Jarek, leaned on the edge of the map table, ignoring the smoke and the uneasy shifting of his generals. Jarek no longer breathed, nor cared about the feelings of the living. They would do as he wished and that was what mattered.
“There.” He pointed, black painted nail sharpened to a deadly point and dipped in venom. “Our victory. There.” Jarek’s fingernail traced a path from the guardian Ice-Binder Mountains, through a narrow pass, into the Pavin Weald—and on into the heart of accursed Aldis. There was a long, shallow valley running towards the heart of the kingdom. The trees of the Weald were thinnest there, and the mountains dipped low.
Aldis was a fertile and gentle land, of gentle, weak people. The winters were soft there, the farmlands generous with their bounty, the forests full of hardwoods and rare herbs. The west opened onto the sea, giving Aldis access to lands beyond the waters, a strength they refused to exploit. The soft and foolish citizens of that kingdom did not deserve the riches they possessed, yet they continued to defy the strength and uncanny power of the Kingdom of Kern.
They had warred with Aldis before, throwing the strength of ancient sorcery against the weak powers of the arcane arts. Jarek scowled at the memories. He had lost more than one army in battle with the Kingdom of the Blue Rose. At first, young and foolish,he had been certain pure might would overcome their enemy. Now, older and wiser, Jarek knew that guile was also a strategy of war. With a new queen on the throne of Aldis, treachery and deception might win him what brute force could not.
“My lord . . . ,” Jarek’s favored general—the only one who dared to question him—spoke up uncertainly. The long valley had been tried before, and their enemy guarded that weakness well. Jarek could see the thoughts pass in her mind and smiled. Here was one who could be nurtured, a general who could be trained in guile and, properly managed, taught loyalty.
“Indeed. Obvious, is it not? Oft tried and oft failed.” Jarek’s burning red gaze shifted to the silent guest at the other end of the map table. The stranger stood, throwing back his hood to reveal the dark, elegant looks of the western seafarers. A long scar traveled across his face, the mark of a traitor. He also wore a nose ring signifying his membership in the pilot’s guild. Hatred burned in his black eyes and shadowed his face.
The generals stirred, faces lit with sudden excitement. The sea passages to Aldis were protected by nature in the form of deadly shoals and treacherous currents; only trained pilots knew the secrets of passage. And here, for the first time in the history of landlocked Kern, a pilot stood in the council chambers of the last of the Sorcerer Kings.
“And here is our key to the kingdom,” Jarek said softly with a dry chuckle.
I talked at length in the section outlining Aldea's creation myth about how the writers worked to keep things within the thematic framework of the romantic fantasy setting that Blue Rose aims to evoke...it's not a myth that glories in bloodshed and battle but in creation and redemption. This bit of fiction up here is the first time we get to see anything more of Jarek beyond his name and title throughout the book so far, and what I like about it is that it once again shows that the writers are doing a good job of keeping things tied into those themes. Jarek is obviously bad news, you don't call yourself the Lich King for nothing, but look at what's emphasized in this passage...his lack of concern for others save their obedience, his covetousness, the fact that only one of his generals dares to question him. Selfish and self-centered, seeking domination over others instead of cooperation, Jarek is everything that an aspiring romantic fantasy protagonist isn't, and we don't need to see him grinding up live puppies for his Soul Furnace to see that this guy is a huge jerk.
And I'll go you one further. Take a look at Jarek's secret weapon up there...it's not a Death Star, it's not some artifact or ritual or a giant monster, it's betrayal. The true threat comes from someone who's given into their hatred and is willing to turn on those he (presumably) once loved. It's not an award-winning bit of fiction, no, but I appreciate how it further reinforces what Blue Rose is going for.
All that said, Kern is about what you'd expect for a kingdom of evil and despair presided over by an undead sorcerer king (who refers to himself as the Grand Thaumocrat among other things, which I have to admit is a pretty baller title). It's frozen and it's miserable and it sucks. The Ice-Binder Mountains would be a treacherous and formidable natural barrier protecting the land even if they weren't haunted by shadowspawn and darkfiends, which they totally are, and this is one reason why Kern has remained unassailed for as long as it has. Assuming anyone is able to brave the mountains and break through to the other side what they find is a ruin of a land populated by brutalized slaves and even more darkfiends.
Another thing which keeps Kern firmly in Jarek's hands is the land's natural abundance of shas crystals. Humans work during the day and night people naturally work during the night in addition to serving as overseers, and they all work towards the singular purpose of unearthing a steady flow of crystals from within the huge mining pits. Even zombies and skeletons aid in the unending toil, carting away loads of rock, but they're too clumsy to be trusted with handling the more delicate shas crystals themselves which is why Jarek bothers to concern himself with living subjects at all. Over-reliance on undead laborers might also risk expending too much of his power, but that's only a theory.
It turns out that Jarek was actually one of the least of the Sorcerer Kings of old, and it's largely due to his kingdom's remote location and natural defenses that he held out when his peers were falling one by one. That said, he's still a Sorcerer King and his ambition is matched only by his ruthlessness. He desires to rule over far more than his small kingdom and spends a fortune in gold and gems mined out of the earth by his slaves procuring magical tomes and artifacts from other lands as well as employing bandits and pirates. These bandits are frequently sent on slaving raids into Aldis, Jarzon, or Rezea, accompanied by darkfiends or shadowspawn, zombie thralls, and members of the Knights of the Skull, the finest warriors among Jarek's living subjects who serve him willingly, taking a twisted delight in doing so.
There's also a sidebar here about turning things around and raiding the Lich King himself. Aldis, Jarzon, and Rezea periodically mount raids on Kernish shas crystal shipments both to secure the valuable crystals for themselves while simultaneously denying the Lich King valuable resources. In addition these raids also take the opportunity to rescue any slaves that happen to be transporting the crystals. Griffons and rhydan often accompany Aldin raiding parties. On rare occasion Jarzoni priests and members of the Sovereign's Finest even work together on such raids, but the cooperation usually only lasts until the Lich King's forces have been routed and the shiny, candy-like treasure is sitting there waiting to be claimed, and more than once envoys have been betrayed by their allies from Jarzon.
So what the heck is Rezea then? The Khanate of Rezea lies to the northwest of Aldis in a land of vast prairies and seasonal rivers with very few natural resources. The inhabitants are clans of nomadic herders and hunters who owe allegiance to the Great Khana, a revered priestess who nonetheless possesses very little political power. The Rezeans worship the Primordials, viewing the gods of Light as the gods of soft, overcivilized people and back in my day we had to walk uphill in the snow both ways, now get off my lawn. They have a lot of respect for rhydan and the mystic arts, particularly animism and meditation, but forbid sorcery in any form. Sea-folk and vata are also cool but night people from Aldis get the cold shoulder.
The Rezeans are big horse-people. They spend most of their lives on horseback and tend to great herds of horses, the finest of which they train for riding and battle and the rest of which get used for leather and food. They also hunt large herds of elk and bison that roam the great prairies and if you're starting to go "waiiiiiiiit a minute, these guys sound a lot like some sort of weird fantasy Native American by way of the Mongols thing" then you're not the only one. It's not anywhere near as bad as it could be thankfully (as other RPGs featuring Native Americans and analogues thereof have helpfully demonstrated), but it still comes across as a bit too "paint by TVTropes."
Rezean-bred horses are some of the finest in the world, but the finest scouts, hunters, and warriors of Rezea ride the rhy-horses who have long since allied with them. Since rhy-horses are exceptionally long-lived both the rider and the horse share a bond that lasts a lifetime, and gives them someone to talk to during those long rides across the prairie. If either rhy-horse or bond-rider dies the other usually sickens and dies shortly thereafter, or begins leading suicidally dangerous raids against bandits and darkfiends until death finally comes. Some Rezean rangers and warriors also earn extra money for their clan by selling their services as mercenaries, hiring out as caravan guards or to merchants setting up mining camps in the Ice-Binder Mountains. Rezean warriors also occasionally work with the Sovereign's Finest to launch raids into Kern, freeing slaves and destroying dangerous magical artifacts.
That one kid looks so smug about his weird knife-boomerang thing.
And last, but actually least, out of fucking nowhere we have the Roamers. The Roamers are...look, I'm just going to be blunt, the Roamers are essentially gypsies with the serial numbers filed off.
Roamers once had a land of their own, a prosperous nation of mosaic-covered domes, fragrant perfumes, and long nights of dance, storytelling, and prophecy. Faenaria, as it was called then, was more wracked in the Shadow Wars than any other land. Today it is the Shadow Barrens. Roamers are the descendants of the few Faenari who escaped the devastation of their homeland. They are now a nomadic people, living in brightly painted wagons and staying in one place for no more than a week or two, often only for a few days.
Roamers make their living as fortunetellers, entertainers, traders, and tinkers, repairing simple household goods. If a pot or knife is beyond repair, the Roamers are ready to sell a new one. They are renowned for their skill at music; for their Cards of the Royal Road, which they say they use to read a person’s soul and see the future; and for their intricate carvings. Many villagers in Aldis purchase Roamer pendants made of polished bone and wood carved into knot patterns. These “lucky knots” are supposed to protect the wearer from curses and misfortune. Many believe in their properties because the Roamers wear them themselves and seem to have good luck.
Slender and a bit shorter than the peoples of Aldis, Roamers have straight black hair and light brown skin. They are a somewhat secretive people. They have their own language and their own religion and do not share these with non-Roamers, except for those who wish to join their wandering life. Sometimes youths from small villages do just that; there are stories of adolescents running away to join the Roamers and other stories of Roamers kidnapping children to raise as their own. The tales of kidnapping are untrue, but if young people are both sincere in their desire to join the Roamers and willing to help with the hard work of living on the road, they are welcome. The Roamers always return youths who cannot adapt to their way of life to their homes.
Roamers also have a reputation as thieves. In Jarzon, priests harass them, and the more corrupt and greedy priests occasionally accuse them of stealing so they can confiscate their wares. Although stories of their thefts are widespread, Roamers rarely steal, except for the occasional petty theft from people who are deeply inhospitable to them.
So yeah. This exists and it's pretty dumb. This is the one part of this writeup so far that I've been unsure of exactly what to say or how to say it. I'm not really sure why fantasy RPG writers have this weird seeming obsession with sticking not-gypsies in all their settings, as though things aren't complete with yet another iteration of the fortune-telling, thieving, magical travelers with their dancing and their caravans, but of all the things I don't think Blue Rose was really crying out for this is somewhere on the list.
Even setting aside the roleplaying hobby's historically, I'll say questionable track-record with how it portrays Roma and their assorted off-brand "gypsy archetypes," the fact remains that the Roamers are basically completely uninteresting and bring nothing new to the table. Take every romanticized gypsy stereotype you can find, file some of the edges off (they aren't really thieves and kidnappers, that's just their reputation), and call it a day. I've generally been pretty positive towards Blue Rose up to this point, more for its setting than its system, but this part right here is one that I'll straight-up admit that I think is badly done, lazy, and not at all necessary.
And on that upbeat note, we've now reached the end of chapter 1! It only took me about two or three more updates than I'd originally intended, but it's the journey that matters, not the destination. Except the destination is also important because now that I'm finished with the first chapter it means I can finally tag my extremely patient partner gradenko_2000 back in and turn things over to him for a while as we move beyond Aldis' fluffy exterior and crack into the crunchy center lying beneath.
Next Time: Characters have six abilities: Strength, Dexterity, Conszzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Chapter 2: Creating Your HeroOriginal SA post
We're now finally (finally!) finished with chapter 1, which brings us to the most important part of any RPG...how the heck do you make a character and actually play the game? Unfortunately Blue Rose's answer to that is "with a stripped down 3E D&D-derived d20 system." But simply leaving the breakdown of Blue Rose's system at that would be doing both you and the game a disservice (even if it's still pretty boring in my opinion) which is why for this chapter I'll be mostly turning things over to gradenko_2000. The following portions of this review are written by him, unless otherwise indicated by the helpful Snoop Dog icon like so. And so without further ado:
Chapter 2: Creating Your Hero
As we covered in the Introduction, Blue Rose uses the traditional 6 ability scores from D&D, STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA, except this time you start at 0, or the functional equivalent of a 10 in 3rd Edition D&D, and then you have 6 points to distribute among them, a +3 being the functional equivalent of a 16 and so on.
You can also reduce an ability from 0 to a negative modifier in order to gain a point, although there's a hard limit of -5, and the game warns you that no hero should have an ability lower than -2 at most, if they have a negative modifier at all.
There's also a neat little sidebar that tries to more precisely explain the difference between Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma, as that's kind of a long-running bugaboo:
A character with a high Intelligence score tends to be knowledgeable, clever, and prone to using big words. A character with a high Intelligence but a low Wisdom may be smart but absent-minded or easily distracted. A character with a high Intelligence and low Charisma may be knowledgeable but something of a know-it-all or lacking in social skills. Characters with high Intelligence and low Wisdom and Charisma tend to be social misfits. A character with a low Intelligence may be slow, poorly educated, or just not very cerebral.
High Wisdom characters are aware, sensible, and confident in themselves and their abilities. High Wisdom, low Intelligence characters are simple-minded but capable of surprising insights. High Wisdom, low Charisma characters are quietly confident and tend to work behind the scenes. Low Wisdom characters are indecisive, absentminded, impulsive, or just gullible.
Characters with high Charisma are outgoing, forceful, and often attractive. High Charisma, low Intelligence characters either manage to seem to know what they’re talking about, or they attract people who find them endearing and want to help them. Characters with high Charisma and low Wisdom aren’t very good at choosing their friends wisely. Low Charisma characters may be cold, aloof, rude, awkward, or simply plain and nondescript.
Note that their description of Charisma still implies that a little bit of it comes from physical attractiveness.
At the end of this section we also get a note on dynamic changes to ability scores, such as inflicted by disease, poison and arcana. It's the dreaded "Whenever an ability score changes, all attributes associated with the ability change as well. For example, if your Dexterity bonus decreases, your Dexterity-based skills and Reflex saving throws suffer." inherited from 3rd Edition. While skipping the ability score and only dealing with the ability modifier means might simplify this somewhat, having to re-derive all your secondary stats from a change in your STR is going to be a pain in the ass regardless.
These are the functional equivalent of races, except Romantic Fantasy is humano-centric, so you don't get different humanoid races so much as different ... backgrounds, representing cultural and geographical differences.
To discuss this next part I'm going to have to talk about Known skills and Favored skills, but we don't get to Skills until Chapter 3, so suffice it to say for now that Known skills are skills that the character is trained in and has skill ranks equal to the hero's level, while Favored skills are skills that get a +3 bonus on top of that.
Favored Feats, on the other hand, are feats that your Hero can always take regardless of their class/role.
All Humans are Medium-sized (another d20 mechanic), and move at 30 feet base speed, and they have one additional Known skill and one additional Feat at level 1.
And then you get to select which particular background of Human you are:
Aldins come from the central valleys of Aldis and are a diverse cosmopolitan group that form the majority of the people in the Kingdom.
Favored skills: Diplomacy, Knowledge-Nobility and Language
Favored feats: Fascinate, Jack of All Trades
Forest Folk are humans that live in the Pavin Weald whose connection with the animals there give them a knack for communing with nature
Favored skills: Handle Animal, Notice, Survival
Favored feats: Animism Talent
Islanders come from the southern shores and islands of Aldis. They're darker skinned from a life out in the water, and their skills reflect this.
Favored skills: Knowledge-Geography, Survival, Swim
Favored feats: Evasion, Improvised Tools
Jarzoni are refugees from a very strict theocracy. They've learned to suppress their outward emotions because of the limits placed on them by their former homeland.
Favored skills: Bluff, Knowledge-Religion, Sense Motive
Favored feats: Fascinate, Favored Foe-Heretics or Favored Foe-Shadowspawn
Kerns are hardy mountain survivalists that know the value of cooperation and stealth from living under the yoke an undead Lich King.
Favored skills: Bluff, Sneak, Survival
Favored feats: Diehard, Surprise Attack
Rezeans are passionate warriors who are practically born in the saddle, riding across the plains of Aldis.
Favored skills: Handle Animal, Ride, Survival
Favored feats: Rage, Weapon Focus
Roamers are the expert traders that prefer life on the road and also are usually gifted with second sight.
Favored skills: Bluff, Perform, Sneak
Favored feats: Evasion, Surprise Attack, Visionary Talent
As I was writing up these descriptions, it occurred to me that they still draw upon a lot of fantasy tropes: Kerns are part-dwarves, Rezeans are part-barbarians, Roamers are part-gypsies, on top of backgrounds that are explicitly "these guys come from the forest, these guys come from the sea". At least though the book does a good job of sticking to the "these are all just variations of humans" bit by describing them in terms of differing skin tone, hair color/style, height and build.
"Drawing upon fantasy tropes" is a very charitable way of describing the Roamers who, as we've seen, are every romanticized gypsy stereotype there is. Naturally their favored skills and feats make them the equivalent of Rogues/Thieves because of course they do.
They were created by the Sorcerer Kings to serve as laborers and soldiers, but since the Great Rebellion, a number of them have broken free of their bonds and have sought refuge either with the Kerns or with the Aldins. It's a testament to the tolerance of the kingdom that the Night People are accepted in society. Night People are taller and bulkier than humans, with ashen gray skin, sloped foreheads and small beady eyes. Along with tusks, their appearance is quite frightening, although they manage to get along with Aldins for the most part.
As one of the few non-human characters, they do have "racial" adjustments and special abilities:
* They have ability score adjustments of +1 Strength, -1 Intelligence, -1 Charisma, as a reflection of how they were bred for physical labor and not independent life
* Double encumbrance/carrying capacity
* Darkvision, they can see up to 60 feet in total darkness
* Light Sensitivity, they become Dazed for one round whenever they're first exposed to light as bright as full daylight
* Favored skills: Intimidate, Survival
* Favored feats: Cleave, Great Cleave, Rage
Like I said earlier, these guys are orcs, right down to getting bonuses to Strength and penalties to Intelligence and Charisma so, y'know, have fun with that. Also enjoy that light sensitivity drawback.
These are animals that have been gifted with intelligence and magical ability. They're still more comfortable in nature than civilization, and some regard humans with caution, but others interact with and even adventure with humans on a regular basis.
This is a very unique take on a playable character, and they have a lot of adjustments to reflect it:
* They only have 4 points to distribute across their ability scores, rather than the standard 6
* They can see twice as far in low-light conditions
* All Rhydan have the Psychic Talent feat, and they can use the Mind Touch, Psychic Shield and Second Sight arcanas even without training for it
* They suffer a -20 to any check requiring manual dexterity or opposable thumbs, since they do not have any. The game also suggests outright preventing them from attempting these tasks.
* They cannot speak, and instead have to rely on whatever vocalizations are available to their physical animal forms, or communicate psychically. Like their lack of thumbs, this can limit how they can interact with the world.
* They cannot use weapons without resorting to magically manipulating them.
* They are not trained in the use of armor, and if they do learn (via feats), armor for them is much more expensive since it has to be custom-made.
* They do not start with any Wealth, and they cannot easily carry sums of money nor make use of most humanoid-tailored items anyway. They can still earn Wealth just like any other hero though, if they adventure and interact with human society.
* Favored skills: Notice, Survival
They're dolphins, except intelligent, and they have a long history of befriending and bonding with Sea-folk and Islander humans. Those societies consider killing a dolphin to be as serious a crime as killing one of their own.
On top of the other features of a Rhydan:
* They have ability score adjustments of +3 Dexterity, +1 Constitution
* They have a swim speed of 80 feet. They have no land speed, and at best they can move 5 feet at a time on land by flopping and crawling around (as a full-action, no less)
* They have a +8 bonus to Swim checks, a +4 bonus to Swim checks, and can always Take 10 on Swim checks even under rushed or threatening circumstances
* They attack with a head-butt: +2 non-lethal damage, plus their Strength
* They have the Blindsight feat to simulate echolocation
* They can hold their breath for [60 + (6 * level)] before drowning
* Favored skills: Perform-Dance, Swim
* Favored feats: Favored Foe-Sharks, Stunning Attack
These would seem to be very difficult characters to play unless part of a dedicated water-only campaign or session.
This is the first thing I thought of when I read that rhy-dolphins were a playable character option as well. Fortunately Blue Rose DOES provide for that option given that sea-folk are also a playable race, so your options may still be limited but they do exist to allow you to run an all- or mostly-aquatic game of Blue Rose: DSV. Unfortunately Aldis' technological base doesn't allow for the Blue Planet solution to mixed human/cetacean parties which is to give the dolphins and orcas remote teleoperation drones so they can follow the more landlocked members of the party around with their own personal flying robot buddy.
They're described as being leopard-sized cats, but with the coloring and temperament of Siamese cats. They're the most common type of Rhydan and get along quite well with humans, although wild Rhy-cats can be dangerous. As Kai Tave has mentioned, Rhy-Cats can bond with their human companions using the Rhy-bonded feat.
Just to clarify, all rhydan can form a rhy-bond with a chosen humanoid, not just the cats. Presumably even the whales. Sadly we don't get playable psychic whales in this book.
* They have ability score adjustments of +1 Strength, +2 Dexterity, +1 Constitution
* They have a base speed of 40 feet
* They have a +8 bonus on Climb and Jump checks, a +4 bonus on Sneak checks, and can always Take 10 on Climb checks
* They attack with either their claws for +0 lethal damage plus Strength, or their bite for +2 lethal damage plus Strength
* If they hit with a bite, they get a free grapple attempt. If the grapple attempt succeeds they can attack with their rear claws for +2 damage plus Strength as a free action
* They have the Scent ability, which lets them use Notice checks to detect enemies through smell, or use Survival checks to track enemies.
* Favored skills: Climb, Sneak
* Favored feats: Crippling Strike, Improved Balance, Improved Climb, Rage, Surprise Attack
It should be becoming clear by now that while Rhydan only get 4 points to allocate to their abilities, their ability score adjustments give them a higher total adjustment regardless.
Also, I've mentioned attacks twice now but Blue Rose uses a different enough system that me saying "+2 lethal damage plus Strength" might seem confusing, so I'll go ahead and touch on how attacks and damage done so you have some context
Attackers roll a 1d20 + Base Attack Bonus + STR or DEX + other modifiers
-Defenders have a Defense score of 10 + armor bonus + DEX + Base Defense Bonus + other modifiers
-If the attacker's final roll is equal to or greater than the defender's Defense, the attacker hits
Once the attacker hits, the defender needs to make a Toughness saving throw or become wounded
-A Toughness saving throw is a roll of 1d20 + Base Toughness Bonus
-The difficulty for the saving throw is 15 + the attack's damage bonus
So when I say the Rhy-Cat's bite deals +2 lethal damage plus Strength, that means the DC for a Toughness saving throw against a successful bite hit is 18. 15 base, plus 2 lethal damage, plus 1 Strength (assuming just the Rhy-Cat's natural Strength adjustment)
Something like a short sword deals +2 lethal damage, so a +1 Strength human wielding a short sword deals damage comparable to a +1 Strength Rhy-Cat's bite. We'll dig deeper into how this works when we get to the Combat chapter
They look much like normal horses, and their coloration runs the gamut, but these intelligent ones tend to have blue eyes and pale, dappled hides.
Rhy-horses are fiercely independent, and will only allow bonded companions to ride them, or perhaps non-bonded but trusted companions as a large favor. Otherwise, they consider being turned into mounts or pack animals as forms of slavery, and most of the human societies agree with this. The plains-dwelling Razeans in particular hold Rhy-Horses in very high regard.
* They have ability score adjustments of +2 Strength, +1 Dexterity, +2 Constitution
* They are considered Large sized, which carries with it a -1 penalty to attack rolls and Defense scores and a -4 penalty to Sneak checks
* They have a base speed of 40 feet
* They have a +4 bonus to Notice checks
* They have Endurance feat
* They attack with their hooves for +1 lethal damage plus Strength
* Like the Rhy-Cats, they have the Scent ability
* Favored feats: Diehard, Finishing Blow
The last and most reclusive of the Rhydan, Rhy-Wolves mostly live in the forests of the Pavin Weald, where gather together in close groups. Bonding is a much bigger deal for the Rhy-Wolves, but they are lifelong friends when they do, and some fortunate Forest Folk do get to live with them in their communities. They're described as having proud and honorable personalities.
* They have ability score adjustments of +1 Strength, +2 Dexterity, +2 Constitution
* They have a base speed of 50 feet (!)
* They have the Scent ability, and they have a +4 bonus to Survival checks when tracking with it
* They have the Track feat
* They attack with a bite for +2 lethal damage plus Strength
* If they hit with a bite, they can immediately attempt to Trip the target as a Free action, and the target cannot Trip them back
* They can Howl using a Move action, and that gives them a +4 bonus to Intimidate checks for 1 round
(in case it's not clear, these are not Rhydan anymore)
These are sleek-bodied, androgynous humanoids that live in the sea (but are perfectly capable of being on land). They can interbreed with humans, and some communities have close ties to Islanders as a result. They're described as having greenish or bluish skin.
Their characteristics are similar to humans, except for:
* Their base speed of 30 feet is doubled while swimming
* They have a +8 bonus on Swim checks and can always Take 10
* They have the Wild Empathy feat, but it only applies to aquatic creatures
* They can see twice as far in low-light conditions, including while underwater
* They can hold their breath for [60 + (6 * Constitution)] before drowning
* They need to immerse themselves in water once a day, or drink twice as much water as a human would, or else suffer from dehydration
Seafolk would seem to be much more viable player-character choices than Rhydan Dolphins, although correspondingly you don't get the kickin' rad echolocation and high DEX
Play a Sea-Folk if you want: that wet hair look.
They are the arcane-touched children of a pure-blood Vatazin and one other human parent that avoided the Vatazin genocide by hiding with the latter. Of the Vata, there are two groups: the Vata'an who are the white haired "true Vata", and the Vata'sha, or the dark-skinned "dark Vata" that were the products of the Sorcerer Kings' experiments on the Vata.
The latter find it difficult to assimilate in human culture, especially in Jarzoni and Kern societies, since their night black skin and known past makes people believe they are agents of the Shadow. The text makes it very clear that they is no innate corruption or evil within them.
They are humanoids, so again similar characteristics to humans, except for:
* They receive one arcane talent feat for free
* They can use the Psychic Shield and Second Sight arcana, untrained
* They have a +2 bonus to all checks related to recovering from damage
* Their Favored skills and feats come from any one human culture that the Vata came from
* Vata'an have low-light vision
* Vata'sha have darkvision and light sensitivity (similar to the Night People)
Next Time: A class by any other name.
Know Your RoleOriginal SA post
Okay, so attributes, races, that stuff's nice and all, but the true meat of a d20 fantasy game's player-facing mechanics is probably going to be bound up in its classes. Once again,
takes us deeper into chapter 2 where we'll get to see how Blue Rose handles such things. As usual, my own comments from the peanut gallery will be found bookended by helpful Snoop Dogs for your convenience.
Know Your Role
Instead of classes, Blue Rose calls them Roles, and there are three of them:
Adepts: these are the intellectuals with a talent for the arcane arts. Practically speaking they are the spellcasters, were it not for the fact that Blue Rose uses a somewhat different system.
Experts: these are skill-monkeys. Blue Rose invokes both "cunning rogues" and "shrewd merchants" as examples.
Warriors: these are the ones that are skilled in the use of arms and have training in combat. Does what it says on the tin.
Each character's various stats change as they gain in levels, and I'm going to split them up between stats whose spread is the same across roles, and stats that scale differently depending on your role. For the former, we have:
* Favored Skill Rank: as I touched on earlier, characters can Know skills, and they can Favor skills. If a character Knows a skill AND Favors a skill, they add this amount to the d20 roll of a skill check. It's basically the character's level + 3, so it starts at 1 and maxes out at 23.
* Normal Skill Rank: if a character Knows a skill, but does not Favor it, then they add a smaller amount to their d20 skill checks. In the case of these non-favored skills, it's the Favored Skill Rank / 2, rounded down. It starts at 2 and maxes out at 11.
* Ability Increase: characters get to bump up their ability scores by 1 at level 6, level 12 and level 18, and they can exceed a +5 this way. D&D 3rd Edition characters would be able to increase their ability scores at levels 4, 8, 12, 16, and 20, but since Blue Rose just uses the modifier directly, going from a +2 to a +3 by level 6 in Blue Rose is the functional equivalent of going from a 14/+2 to a 15/+2 by level 4 then from a 15/+2 to a 16/+3 by level 8 in D&D 3rd Edition.
* Conviction: at level 1, characters have, and have a maximum of, 3 Conviction points. They then gain an additional point/increase their maximum allowed points by 1 every 2 levels, topping out at 12/12 points by level 19-20.
* Feats: characters start with 1 feat at level 1, and can gain another feat with every level. Different roles have different selectable feats, but everyone should have 20 feats by level 20.
One of the big departures from standard D&D 3rd Edition is how heroes get a "Defense Bonus" similar to how they already get a "Base Attack Bonus". It's worth noting that there was already a similar variant rule in D&D 3rd Edition's Unearthed Arcana circa Feb 2004. In order handwave-away the need for everyone to be using magical and/or heavy armor all the time, they'd simply gain a bonus to Armor Class based on their level.
In Blue Rose, that's also true, but it refines the rule further by making heavier armor limit the maximum Defense Bonus you can avail. That is, a Warrior's Defense Bonus caps out at +12 by level 20, but a Warrior with full plate and a shield is also going to have a +12 to their Defense, except since the Defense Bonus is counted as a Dodge bonus and heavy armor has a low Max Dodge Bonus, you can have +12 Defense from your Defense Bonus or you can get it from equipment, but you can't stack it.
This also creates a situation where since the roles are fairly generic, a wide array of character concepts can be represented: a lightly armored, Monk-themed character is going to have as much Defense as a Knight with a mailed fist, and so they can exist and adventure side-by-side without running into mechanical issues.
Beyond this, however, none of the three roles come with anything particularly unique or interesting to call their own. It all boils down to different attack/defense/save values and feat allocation. Now I'm not THE biggest fan of class-based RPGs but to me one of the big draws of using character classes is giving players something unique and cool to play with for choosing one class or another. Even some OSR games such as Kevin Crawford's Stars Without Number or Other Dust do this, even with "Fighter/Warrior" type classes whose defining features have traditionally been nothing but a bump in numbers. That Blue Rose leaves things as stripped down as it does is one of the reasons I find the system underlying the setting to be as aggressively uninteresting as I do, and when we get to the section on Feats you'll see that the boring train doesn't stop here.
Warriors are any and all characters that depend on their skill at arms to prevail, whether it's the Rose Knights of Aldis, the woodsmen of the Pavin Weald, the riders of Rezea or even the Jarzonian foot soldiers.
They have the best Attack Bonus, starting at +1 and ending at +20 (it's worth noting that there are no Iterative Attacks in Blue Rose)
They also have the best Defense Bonus, starting at +3 and ending in +12
They have the best Toughness saving throw, starting at +1 and ending at +20, or the functional equivalent of having the best/highest hit points
Their Fortitude saving throws are on the "good" track of +2 at level 1 and ending in +12, while their Reflex and Will saving throws are in the "bad" track of +0 at level 1 and ending at +6
They can designate 6 different skills to become Favored skills plus one Craft skill
They can Know as many as [2 + Intelligence] skills.
They start with the Armor Training-All feat, and the Weapon Training feat. They can pick another two feats to start with at level 1, and those and any further feats they gain with levels must be feats of the General and Martial categories.
With each role comes with a series of Paths , or the game suggestion a set of Skills and Feats to create/reinforce a certain theme.
Skills: Intimidate and Survival
Feats: Great Toughness and Rage
Skills: Knowledge-Religion and Intimidate
Feats: Smite Foe and Favored Foe-Darkfiend/Shadowspawn/Unliving
Skills: Diplomacy and Ride
Feats: Mounted Combat and Weapon Focus-Swords
Skills: Notice and Ride
Feats: Weapon Focus-Spear and Weapon Specialization-Spear
Skills: Sneak and Survival
Feats: Point Blank Shot and Track
Rose levels: Critical
Adepts are the practitioners of arcana, and this role represents healers, shaman, visionaries, and possibly even those that use Sorcery
They have the worst Attack Bonus, starting at +0 and ending at +10
They also have the worst Defense Bonus, starting at +2 and ending in +10
They have the worst Toughness saving throw, starting at +0 and ending at +10
Their Fortitude and Reflex saving throws are on the "bad" track, while their Will saving throws are on the "good" track
They can designate 4 different skills to become Favored skills plus one Craft and one Knowledge skill.
They can Know as many as [2 + Intelligence] skills.
That's right, in a stunning reversal of trends Adepts actually have FEWER Favored skills than Warriors do, receiving 6 Favored skills overall to the Warrior's 7. They also don't inherently Know more skills as both receive the same 2+Int number to start with...buuuuut of course one of these Roles is more likely to have a higher Intelligence modifier than the other so in PRACTICE Adepts will probably know more skills than your average Warrior will. Still, it's nice that the Fighter class isn't quite as explicitly shit on as it is in other d20 fantasy games.
They can pick four feats to start with at level 1, and those and any further feats they gain with levels must be feats of the General and Arcane categories.
Skills: Handle Animal and Survival
Feats: Animism, Arcane Training (Beast Reading and Enhance Self), Familiar, Wild Empathy
Skills: Concentration and Knowledge-Arcana
Feats: Arcane Training (Mount Touch and Psychic Shield), Arcane Training (Manipulate Object and Move Object), Psychic Talent, Shaping Talent
Skills: Concentration and Heal
Feats: Arcane Training (Body Control and Psychic Shield), Arcane Training (Enhance Self and Enhance Senses), Meditative Talent, Self-Healing
Skills: Concentration and Heal
Feats: Arcane Training (Body Control and Cure), Arcane Training (Mind Touch and Psychic Shield), Healing Talent, Psychic Talent
Skills: Concentration and Sense Motive
Feats: Arcane Training (Mind Touch and Psychic Shield), Arcane Training (Mind Reading and Illusion), Iron Will, Psychic Talent
Skills: Concentration and any one Craft skill
Feats: Arcane Focus (Shaping), Arcane Training (Manipulate Object and Move Object), Arcane Training (Earth/Fire/Plant/Water/Wind Shaping, choose two), Shaping Talent
Skills: Notice and Sense Motive
Feats: Arcane Training (Psychic Shield and Second Sight), Arcane Training (Scrying and Visions), Fortune's Favor, Visionary Talent
If it seems a bit difficult to follow right now, that's because it really is even for me, since it's throwing all of these Arcana things at us when we're still many chapters away from the discussion of what Arcana actually are. Let's just roll with the punches until we get there and maybe we'll revisit the feat selections to see how the Path suggestion gels into a coherent theme.
Once again, tabletop RPGs love scattering stuff all over the place in a way that forces you to flip back and forth in order to understand anything.
That owl tho
They are the skill-monkeys of this game, but Blue Rose describes Experts as also being the socialites and merchants on top of being the thieves and bards of traditional RPGs.
They have the midline Attack Bonus, starting at +0 and ending at +15
They also have the marginally midline Defense Bonus, starting at +2 and ending in +11
They have the midline Toughness saving throw, starting at +0 and ending at +15
FINALLY SOME VARIATION!!!
Experts can choose which of their two saves will be on the "good" track, and which one other save is on the "bad" track. The other alternative is to take one Good save, two Bad saves, then gain +1 Defense
This is a fairly cool idea because it doesn't lock the Expert into a particular archetype based on their stats.
They can designate 12 (!!!) different skills to become Favored skills, plus one Craft skill.
They can Know as many as [ 6 (!!!) + Intelligence] skills.
They can pick three feats to start with at level 1, and those and any further feats they gain with levels must be feats of the General and Expert categories. They also start with the Light Armor Training feat.
Good Saves: Reflex and Will
Skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, Gather Information, Knowledge-History, Perform-Stringed Instruments, Sense Motive
Feats: Fascinate-Perform, Sensitive, Taunt
I actually had to go and sate my curiosity right there and then about what sort of feat Sensitive would be. Turns out it's a +2 bonus to Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate and Sense Motive checks against intelligent creatures. Oh well.
Good Saves: Reflex and Will
Skills: Diplomacy, Gather Information, Knowledge-Nobility, Notice, Sense Motive, Ride
Feats: Favors, Inspire-Competence, Inspire-Courage
Good Saves: Fortitude and Reflex
Skills: Notice, Ride, Search, Sense Motive, Sneak, Survival
Feats: Track, Wild Empathy, [Arcanum-Mind Touch OR Arcanum-Second Sight]
Good Saves: Reflex, +1 Defense
Skills: Acrobatics, Concentration, Escape Artist, Jump, Perform-Dance, Sneak
Feats: Arcanum-Battle Dance, Arcanum-Body Control, Improved Strike
Hey, remember these guys? Told you they were Jedi Monks. Expert, in addition to being the Bard and Rogue class, also pulls duty as Blue Rose's equivalent of the Monk class for those who haven't already been thoroughly disabused of attempting to play Monks in 3E D&D derived games. That said, most of the mechanical changes to Blue Rose's underlying system seem like they should make playing such a character much less onerous in practice.
Good Saves: Reflex, +1 Defense
Skills: Climb, Disable Device, Escape Artist, Search, Sleight of Hand, Sneak
Feats: Canny Defense, Surprise Attack, Trapfinding
President of the Yoshitaka Amano fan club.
There's a sidebar near the end of the Roles section discussing campaigns where players make up part of a company of the Sovereign's Guard or even a group of Rose Knights for those who want a more knightly sort of game. The sidebar suggests that 1st level members of the Guard would probably be junior officers working under the orders of the company commander but that the Narrator could start players off at 3rd of 4th level to give them more authority of their own. A Sovereign's Guard campaign is suggested as ideal for those groups that want exciting military adventures focused on fighting bandits and monsters as well as critical rescue work.
Rose Knights are the military champions of Aldis and their adventures will probably have a similar sort of focus, but the book suggests that if not everyone wants to play a member of the Rose Knights that it's fine to run things with a mixed group of Rose Knights and members of the Sovereign's Finest operating together, and also that rather than starting out as a knight proper that knighthood makes a useful character goal for players to aspire to if they wish.
Next Time: The thrilling world of d20 skills and feats.
What Makes a HeroOriginal SA post
These last few pages have been amazing, especially about games I never knew existed (Freebooter's Fare, Harn). I'm really enjoying the Kai Tave's Blue Rose write-ups too. I'm kinda surprised at how interesting I'm finding the setting, I think I agree with the assessment that the setting would have avoided most of the initial "too perfect" vibes if it wasn't a little TOO detailed at the beginning.
Thanks, I aim to edutain. I feel like Blue Rose is one of those things where it has definite flaws, but those flaws are almost invariably overlooked by people grinding an axe against perceived flaws which may or may not exist. It's like how D&D 4E has plenty of flaws, from kludgy math in places to an overabundance of feats to ritual costs which become increasingly superfluous at mid- to high-levels to skill challenges needing an overhaul and a bunch of other things which could definitely be pointed to as being in need of polish and revision, and yet most people with a beef against 4E are mad about dissociated mechanics stealing our jobs and arms shouting Warlords back on. Blue Rose is far from a perfect game, and it's not necessarily a game for everyone, but I feel like the setting is more interesting than a lot of people gave it credit for while at the same time a lot of the rough patches that it actually has go overlooked.
Speaking of which:
What Makes a Hero
Characters in Blue Rose aren't just wandering murder-hobos, or put a bit less flippantly they aren't merely rootless mercenaries out for coin and perhaps the thrill of cheating death. Not every player-character in a game of Blue Rose needs to be a noble knight clad in shining armor, but both the themes of romantic fantasy and the game itself urge players to be who has a reason to do what they do, a drive and desire to protect their community or to make the world a better place. These are characters with calling, characters with conviction, and if their actions are bold and their deeds are great they may one day become the stuff of legend.
But first, gaining levels and multiclassing!
Because Multiclassing Has Always Worked Out So Well Before
Yeah, it's time for some more mechanics stuff, this time leveling up and how to multiclass. I'm covering this real quick because I don't think it got covered in the last update, so let's just go ahead and rip the band-aid off and get it over with.
Okay, so leveling up. You level up when the GM decides you do, bam, done. I mean let's be honest, most of us do this already unless you really have a fetish for tracking XP values since most D&D players these days aren't using asymmetric XP advancement charts anymore. Ever since 3E D&D standardized XP across the classes the only time that it really becomes relevant to know how much XP someone has is if they're a spellcaster getting up to magic item crafting shenanigans. Most D&D games these days probably handwave XP as a matter of course, so I appreciate that Blue Rose's writers are at least savvy enough to say "just do it whenever, okay?" The GM section later on in the book goes into more detail about when to hand levels out, but right now we're still firmly in PC territory.
Leveling up gives you the following benefits:
You choose where the level goes, into your existing role or into another role if you want to multiclass.
You look at the corresponding Level Dependent Abilities table for your role and raise all your stuff like saving throws, attack bonuses, etc.
You pick a new feat. Yay.
If your new overall level is divisible by six then one of your ability scores gets raised by one.
The system for how to handle multiclassing and skills is some hilariously tedious bullshit that I have no interest in dealing with so I'll just quote the book here:
If you add a level in a new role for your hero, you may be able to learn additional skills that role favors.
First, compare your current list of favored skills to the new role’s number of favored skills. If the new role’s number is greater, you may add one new favored skill to your list. Each time you gain a level in the new role, you can choose another skill favored by the new role and make it into a favored skill, until you reach the new role’s total of favored skills. For example, a warrior who acquires a level as an
expert gets to add one favored skill (since the expert has twelve and the warrior has six). Each time the hero gains an expert level, the player can add another favored skill, to the expert’s total of twelve favored skills.
If you already know a skill and it becomes a favored skill, its rank improves accordingly. So if the previous warrior had Diplomacy as a skill, then made it a favored skill upon becoming an expert, his Diplomacy rank would increase to the favored skill level. Second, compare your new role’s number of known skills at 1st-level to the number of known skills at 1st level from the role or roles you already have.
-If the new role grants the same or fewer starting skills, you can add one skill to your known skills.
-If the new role grants more starting skills than your best previous role, you can add two skills to your list of known skills.
You do this only when you gain your 1st level in a new role.
If you think I'm reading any of that shit you've got another thing coming, sorry. If the way your multiclassing system intersects with your skill system requires three paragraphs of explanation then somewhere along the line you've done something wrong. That's a rule to live by that's served me well so far.
Feats are thankfully much less ridiculous, you get one per level no matter what and the feat you get has to be from the allowed categories for the role you're leveling up in, so taking an Arcanist level gives you access to Arcanist allowed feats. Makes sense. Mixed role heroes use their adept level for arcana effects which is an ominous statement to anyone with extensive familiarity of 3E D&D but we'll see how that shakes out later. Also a couple things called Conviction and Reputation get namedropped here, wonder what that's all about?
Thank god there's some fiction here. RPG fiction: still better than reading d20 rules. Svel is hungry, standing in the rain, and waiting. He's been wet a lot and hungry a lot this year, the implication being that Svel is on the destitute side of things. What he's waiting for, as it turns out, is to see if the local spirit dancers will take him in.
He's not the only one. Rich and poor, young and old, an entire crowd is gathered waiting for the gate to be opened (Svel falls into the poor and young category, as well as the orphaned one it turns out). Finally the gates are opened by a kindly old man who seems to put Svel at ease. But of course the spirit dancers don't just take anyone, there's a test to pass. The hall's students are crowded onto the porch to watch the candidates attempt to literally follow in the old man's footsteps as he nimbly dances up a series of stumps arranged in a path. Nobody makes it path the seventh stump, but Svel begins to realize that the old man is looking for something that goes beyond raw skill...some candidates who make it farther than others are turned away while some who stumble and fall are accepted. The ways of the Jedi are mysterious indeed.
Svel steps up to take his turn and as he leaps from one stump to the next he realizes that there's a rhythm there, a rhythm that he's out of. He tries to correct himself but he only manages to make it to the sixth stump before landing in the mud, but he's not upset at all because he realizes that he can feel the rhythm now, in his heartbeat and in the earth beneath him, all around him. It surrounds him and penetrates him and binds the galaxy together. The old man helps him up to his feet and tells the hall's newest apprentice to get out of those wet clothes and get himself some soup.
Frequently Asked Questions
And now, thankfully, we're onto something that's actually kind of interesting, namely the part of the character creation chapter where you're supposed to think about the all the little details that make your character come to life, fleshing them out beyond numbers on a sheet of paper. Personally I'm of the school of thought that says that RPG characters are best when you start with a few broad, colorful details and fill out the specifics over the course of play...I find it a bit too tedious to think about, say, my character's culinary preferences when I'm first putting them together, but it feels organic to decide at an appropriate moment that she's actually a bit of a wine snob and will happily talk your ear off about vintages if you let her. However, I understand that not everyone prefers this approach, and for people who are new to roleplaying games this can be a good springboard to get them thinking about their character as a character.
We get the usual...names, age, appearance (with another sidebar on the difference between Charisma and appearance, helpfully reminding us yet again that ugly people can have high Charisma scores), but also a bit on gender which talks about more than just putting "M" or "F" in the appropriate checkbox. Vata are somewhat androgynous while sea-folk are even moreso, and so beyond "what gender is your character" it also suggests considering how masculine or feminine (or in-between) your character might be. And years before D&D Next would get kudos across the internet for having a section on diversity in elfgaming, Blue Rose mentions that you might even want to play characters that aren't your own (the player's) gender or are even transgender, mentioning that there are transgendered characters of every race.
There's one bit which that makes me look askance at it though which is the mention that transgendered characters might seek a means of living as another gender (okay so far), and the possibility they suggest for this is the Flesh Shaping arcanum. But this is sorcery, as the book helpfully reminds us, and is this a price your hero is willing to pay? On the one hand, it's nice that Blue Rose comes right out and says "Hey, you want your character to be transgendered? That's cool," and it's fine that they suggest a goal for such a character might be to find a way to bring their body in line with where they want it, but I find it a little questionable that they decide to couch this in terms of "will you risk dabbling in the dark side of the Force to transition?" I dunno, I can't speak with any authority on the matter not being trans myself, but this seems like a shitty dilemma to throw at transgendered characters, especially if they're being played by transgendered players.
Following these questions comes a question so important that it gets several pages all to itself, namely what is your character's calling? Excuse me, your character's Calling? Everyone has a goal and motivation in life beyond the immediate things like "defeat this bandit" or "find the perfect birthday gift." Callings are something less concrete, maybe a bit more abstract, and much larger in scope, and they drive everything a character does, acting as a lens through which they rest of their actions get filtered. Not everyone's callings are as loud and insistent as some but everyone has one all the same, and someone who forsakes their calling or achieves it through twisted means is a tragic figure.
Of course not everyone has to respond to a calling the same way. Two people may be called to temporal power, but while one might rule with wisdom and compassion the other might be a big dumb jerk always after more more more. A calling is the goal, but the character's nature reflected in his or her alignment to the Light or Shadow determines how they're likely to approach that goal. A calling is often something that a character is guided to through outside forces...the village elder, loved ones, a spirit in the woods, the voice of a god. Sometimes heroes call themselves, either through exceptional self-awareness or amazing hubris, but either way it gets the job done.
There's an interesting way for randomly determining a character's calling if you're the sort of person who likes to leave things to chance. A sidebar lists the 22 primary callings that have been identified by the Roamers, each of which is associated with one of the Major Arcana of the Cards of the Royal Road...it's a tarot deck, okay? They're talking about a tarot deck. There's a whole other sidebar here about Roamers and the not-tarot deck that I refuse to dignify because the Roamers are dumb, so let's ignore all that and instead focus on less dumb things, namely that if you want to randomly determine a character's calling you can either chose from the list or draw a card from one of the Major Arcana, or come up with a different calling based on your own reading of one of the cards. Or roll a d22 I guess. The list of callings is comprised of:
The Fool: Adventure and excitement
The Adept: Mastery of the arcane arts
The Priestess: Unity with the gods
The Empress: Protection of nature
The Emperor: Power in the temporal sphere
The Hierophant: Power in the religious sphere
The Lovers: True love
The Chariot: Mastery of the martial arts
Strength: Physical perfection
The Hermit: Transmission of knowledge
The Wheel: Wealth
Justice: Justice (Wow, really? Who'da thunk.)
The Hanged Man: Inner peace
Death: Creating change
Temperance: Mediation of extremes
The Exarch: Trickery
The Tower: Lowering the lofty
The Star: Artistic mastery
The Moon: Learning secrets
The Sun: Championing the everyday
Judgment: Atonement for oneself or others
The World: Exploration of the world
In addition to callings, the book suggests deciding whether your character has any other long-term goals that are a bit less abstract and more personal, things like finding their long-lost family, avenging a terrible wrong, seeking acceptance and a new home in Aldis, or living up to a mentor's legacy. Giving your character motivations beyond "generically do good" makes them more interesting and gives you more roleplaying opportunities.
Next up is the matter of a character's alignment , and if you've been paying attention at all during this writeup you probably know exactly what this comprises in the world of Blue Rose. There are three potential alignments for characters, Light, Shadow, and Twilight. Light-aligned individuals follow their Light nature. They value community, cooperation, peace, and the general good, though they may still disagree on the best way to achieve all of that. Shadow-aligned individuals are selfish asshole who follow their Shadow nature. Twilight-aligned individuals, who we've only seen passing mention of up until now, are
Players choose their alignment to start with, but Alignment can be changed if they decide it's appropriate. Quoth the book:
Alignment is not fixed; people change over time. Nobles who start out Light-aligned with nothing but the good of Aldis at heart can become cynical and jaded, shifting toward Twilight or even Shadow. The Shadow-aligned can find that spark of Light within them and nurture it to change their ways. Twilight-aligned people choose one side or another as their path, and so forth.
In practical terms, if a player wants to change alignment all that's required for them to do is decide "okay I'm gonna change my Alignment now" and spend a point of Conviction which doesn't return until they next level up. What's Conviction, you ask? We'll get to that shortly. For some creatures, however, Alignment is an intrinsic part of their nature, unicorns and darkfiends for example. It's up to the Narrator to decide whether it's even possible for creatures like these to change their Alignment and suggests that if it is then it's almost certainly the sort of thing that epic quests are made of, but it's nice that they leave the possibility open that you could, with sufficient effort and dedication, redeem a being of raw elemental evil from the evil dimension.
Alignment is easy enough to figure out here, but what's with all this Light nature and Shadow nature business? While Alignment indicates whether the character is generally a decent person or a jerk, natures are how the character is decent and/or jerkish. "And/or" is the appropriate grammatical conjunction here because characters don't just possess a single nature, they all possess both a Light and a Shadow nature. Even the nicest, most do-right person has the threat of Shadow within them, tiny little selfish urges and impulses, while even the meanest Grinch has it within him to allow his heart to swell three sizes even if only for a day.
Natures are broad terms and aren't meant to fully encapsulate a character's personality, but are pivotal forces, two of the primary modes they might assume as they follow their calling. Examples of Light natures are things like Compassionate, Courageous, Diplomatic, and Resolute, while examples of Shadow natures include things like Treacherous, Cold, Standoffish, and Overzealous. If you thought we were done with the tarot cards think again because this time we're using the rest of the deck...there are 56 random entries corresponding to the minor arcana, each of which itself corresponds to a single Light and Shadow nature, for a total of 112 pregenerated Natures for your character to follow (of course you can also make your own up but with 112 entries chances are pretty high that you'll be able to find something that's close on the list). I'm not going to list all 56 entries because I don't feel like formatting that much fiddly text, but I think you've for the gist of it. Players can draw one card for their Light nature and one for their Shadow nature, or they can draw a handful of cards and decide among them, or they can just choose whatever they think fits best.
Characters can change Nature the same way they can change Alignment, at the cost of a point of Conviction which is only regained after they level up (so changing both Natures is going to require two points of Conviction if you decide to do both at once). At the Narrator's discretion certain major events in a character's life might also be grounds for a change in Nature, but these should be few and far between.
Okay okay, so what in the world is Conviction? It must be pretty important if all this stuff keeps bringing it up, right? For that, let's turn to my partner in deer-related crime gradenko_2000 who's ready to give us the lowdown.
Whether it’s luck, talent, or sheer determination, heroes have something setting them apart from everyone else, allowing them to perform amazing deeds under the most difficult circumstances. In Blue Rose that something is Conviction. Spending a Conviction point can make the difference between success and failure. When you’re entrusted with the safety of the kingdom, that means a lot!
As I had mentioned, all heroes in Blue Rose have Conviction. They start with 3 points (and a maximum of 3), and then gain more as they grow in levels, topping out at 12/12
Conviction can be used to do a number of things:
* Reroll: any time you roll a d20, such as for an attack roll or a skill check, you can spend a Conviction point to roll again and then choose which result to want to use. You can do this after you make the initial roll, but before the Narrator declares the result of the roll. If both the original roll and the reroll are lower than 10, the reroll can be considered as a 10, so this use of Conviction can also be treated as Taking 10 on any given roll.
* Perform feat: you can spend a Conviction point to gain the effects of a feat you do not already have, for 1 round. You must already be eligible to learn the feat that you want to have.
* Dodge: you can spend a Conviction point to gain your Dodge bonus whenever you would otherwise be denied it but are not currently incapacitated, such as during the surprise round, or while still flat-footed, etc., at which point you gain your Dodge bonus until your next turn.
* Surge: you can spend a Conviction point to gain an extra Movement Action or Standard Action.
* Recover: you can spend a Conviction point to immediately recover from a Stunned or Fatigued condition, or turn the Exhausted condition into the Fatigued condition, or immediately make a Recovery Check.
Sidebar: More on Blue Rose's damage system.
As I briefly touched on in the Rhydan discussion, Blue Rose does not use a traditional Hit Point system. Rather, characters need to make Toughness saving throws, with the DC based on the amount of damage inflicted by the attack. The other half of this system is a "Wound Track", or a 5-step series of states of damage representing how badly hurt the character is. If the player fails a Toughness save, they become Hurt, and then succeeding failures on Toughness saves wil make them Wounded, then Disabled, then Dying, then Dead. A Recovery Check is a DC 10 Constitution ability check to "move up" one place on that wound track, such going from Wounded to Hurt, or Hurt to unhurt. Since the Reroll function of Conviction also grants an automatic 10, then a player could spend one Conviction point to trigger a Recovery Check, then a second Conviction point to Take 10 on that Recovery Check and pass it.
* Escape Death: the last possible use of a Conviction point is to use it to stabilize a dying character, either yourself an ally that you're assisting.
Conviction Points are themselves regained by a variety of means: Heroes regain one every 24 hours. The game recommends the hero choose a specific time of day when this will happen, such as dawn for Light-aligned heroes, midday for Twilight-aligned heroes and then dusk or midnight for Shadow-aligned heroes.
This seems like a fantastically picky way to handle things bordering on the asinine, and I imagine the reason it exists is to head off people blowing all their Conviction just before they decide to bed down for the night and waking up with their tank filled automatically, but Blue Rose is largely based on a game where wizards can't cast any more spells once they've run out unless they sleep for a minimum of 8 hours so I guess there's precedent for this sort of meticulous scheduling of metaphysical concepts.
It's also designed to be used as a role-playing reward, but besides the "give one to the player if they're Light-aligned and they're especially good at being a Light-aligned dude" approach, or the "give one to the player as a reward for completing as especially heroic or challenging feat of derring-do", the game also challenges the Narrator to use it as a temptation . That is, when giving the player a choice between two different actions, the Narrator may want to tell the hero that there is a Conviction point waiting for them at the other end of the branch that is contrary to the person's alignment .
This strikes me as a sort proto-Fate-Aspect-invoke, or what the Numenera system might call a "DM intrusion", where you're asking the player to do something that goes against the established nature of their character and/or something that has negative consequences for them (a deal with the devil, or an ends-justify-the-means, greater-good situation), but in exchange they get something that'll help them deal with the resulting fallout.
The Light/Shadow nature dynamic puts me in mind of the new World of Darkness' Virtue and Vice system, and of course the Star Wars comparisons are inevitable. However since following your Shadow nature gives you exactly the same reward as following your Light nature does (one point either way), it doesn't really feel like there's as much of a compelling reason for players to go "welllllll..." when confronted with an opportunity to give into their darker nature as there might otherwise be. It feels more like something you'll wind up doing because there was nothing else good on TV and you were in the neighborhood than a struggle to avoid the temptations of the Dark Side.
The thing about Conviction is that it's actually one of the variant rules in 3.5's Unearthed Arcana. They were called Action Points in there, but then Green Ronin renamed and modified it. Action Points, for example, let a player add 1d6 to their roll, as opposed to here where it's a reroll/take 10.
In fact, this isn't even the first game of Green Ronin's where Conviction appeared! In Mutants & Masterminds they're called Hero Points and they work more or less the same way with some differences here and there.:
And on that note, this is where I point out that there are quite a number of mechanics that were, like Conviction, originally from Unearthed Arcana but were then adapted and polished and modified for use in Blue Rose. So far, we've encountered:
1. Blue Rose's skill system is a modification of the "Maximum Ranks, Limited Choices" system from UA
2. The three roles are UA's Generic Classes: Warrior, Expert and Spellcaster
3. Defense Bonus, which I've talked about
4. The damage/wound track system, which I've only briefly mentioned, is a heavily modified version of the Injury rules from UA, except with a dedicated Toughness saving throw and re-math'd damage values instead of UA trying to crowbar everything in with the Fort save and 'divide all damage taken by 5'
And then we're about to encounter another one:
All heroes have a Reputation stat, adjusted by their Role: Experts and Adepts start with +1 and gain another every 4 levels to top out of +6, while Warriors start at +0 and end up with +5.
Fighter? Never heard of'im.
The idea is that the Reputation stat is a codified representation of the hero gaining fame (or infamy) as they grow in levels/power, and that this affects their interactions with various other NPCs.
Whenever a hero encounters an NPC (that per the Narrator is an interaction important enough to merit it), a DC 25 Reputation check is rolled: [d20 + Reputation stat + the NPC's Intelligence]. If the check is successful, then the NPC has heard of the hero. The hero will then have up to a +4 bonus or -4 penalty on social skills with that NPC to represent the change in the NPC's attitude toward them.
I imagine most tables that play in this sort of game already try to account for "the farmer has heard of you burning down crops one county over and thus hates you", and it's a neat little touch to have actual rules written for it, and the fact that it's built right into this particular tells you directly that you should be keeping track of it for Blue Rose - rules inform the fiction and all that.
Skirt or cellophane, you decide.
And with that, we're finished with chapter 2 of Blue Rose! We're 74 pages into a 219 page book not counting the index, so about a third of the way done. I know that gradenko_2000 has already written up a rundown of chapter 3 but this update is already getting pretty long so I'm going to save that for next time as we continue our review.
Next Time: I have a particular set of skills.
Deer Lore DC 15Original SA post
Posts about Blue Rose in grognards.txt can mean only one thing...
the magic deer rides again.
This is going to be a shorter update because chapter 3 of Blue Rose is given over solely to skills and the use thereof, beginning and ending with the ins and outs of how they work. And how they work is about how you expect them to, 3E D&D is close to 15 years old by this point and everyone here is by now doubtlessly familiar with how rolling a d20, adding a modifier, and comparing it to a Difficulty Class works. That is, of course, the entire point behind the vast swathe of d20-derived RPGs including Blue Rose and the True20 system, the familiarity which ensures that no matter which game or genre your GM decides to try that you'll always know exactly how things work (unless the designers changed things up in some way that manages to break the system even more than it already is).
I don't have much else to say on the subject and so I turn things over once again to gradenko_2000 to delight and astonish you with another succinct summary of Blue Rose's mechanics
Deer Lore DC 15
Skill checks are made by rolling d20 + skill ranks + ability score, and then any other circumstantial modifiers, to pass a DC set by the Narrator. As I mentioned earlier, interpreting what "ability score" means in the equation is easier because it only ever means one thing, as opposed to "do I add the 18 or the +4?" that a newbie might ask in D&D.
Blue Rose however has a much more simplified way of approaching skill ranks. Whereas in 3rd Edition you had a complex system of earning skill points that you had to allocate into various skills, and some skills cost more or less points than others, Blue Rose takes a less fiddly approach:
1. Your skill rank is equal to your level.
2. If your class Favors the skill, add another 3 to the skill rank.
3. If your class does not Favor the skill, cut the skill rank in half.
So let's take a Human Aldin in the Warrior role:
1. They Favor Diplomacy, Knowledge-Nobility and Language for being a Human Aldin
2. They also Favor Craft for being a Warrior
3. They can pick 6 other skills that they Favor
With 25 different skills in Blue Rose (not counting Language and Knowledge with sub-specializations), the Warrior would Favor 10 of them.
The other half of the skill system though, is whether you Know a skill:
1. If you Know a skill, you can apply your ranks to it, so [level + 3] ranks if you both Know and Favor a skill, and then [(level+3) / 2] ranks if you Know a skill but do not Favor it
2. If you do not Know a skill, and the skill cannot be used Untrained, such as Acrobatics, then you cannot attempt that kind of skill check at all
3. If you do not Know a skill, and the skill can be used Untrained, such as Bluff, then you can attempt that skill check, but only with [d20 + ability score], with no ranks applied
Our Warrior can Know a number of skills equal to [2 + Intelligence]. If we assume that a Warrior would have an Intelligence of 0, so that gives us 2 Known skills.
This is where a sort of disconnect happens. Even if we set aside the free Favored skills granted by the Background selection, the Warrior is going to have three times as many Favored skill selections as they do Known skill selections, but if the hero doesn't Know a skill, then the Favored status does not matter because skill ranks cannot be applied.
And bear in mind that even though Blue Rose ditches ability scores in favor of ability MODIFIERS directly that it's still quite plausible for your Warrior types to leave Intelligence as a tertiary concern since, y'know, Strength and Constitution, maybe Dexterity, and so it's just as likely that, per usual, the fighter is going to wind up with few effective avenues to contribute to non-combat related challenges. Maybe that's why Warriors receive less of a Reputation bonus than the other two roles for no fucking discernible reason.
This happens even with the other roles: the Expert can Favor up to 12 skills, but Knows only 6 + Intelligence. The Adept can Favor up to 4 skills, but Knows only 2 + Intelligence. Maybe the Adept will be able to Know all of their Favored skills if the Adept has high Intelligence as a spellcasting/arcana class, but essentially there's very little reason to draw a distinction between the Favored state and the Known state.
Since you'll usually have more Favored skills than Known skills, and since Favored skills are useless without being Known, and since you can allocate your Favored skills freely, then your skills are only going to have 2 states: you Know it and you Favor it with level+3 ranks, or you do not Know it with no ranks.
I think what happened is that the D&D 3rd Edition Fighter, Rogue and Wizard/Cleric all have specific Favored Skills (or what that game calls Class Skills), such as Climb, Handle Animal, Intimidate, Jump, Ride, Swim and Craft for the Fighter. The generic Warrior class from Unearthed Arcana just lets you pick any six skills as class skills. When Blue Rose ported over the Warrior class into the Warrior role, they let the selection of Favored Skills similarly be unrestricted, but because it's unrestricted, it created this situation where the the player will always match their Favored Skills to their Known skills, as opposed to playing a Fighter where you might conceivably be in a position where you Know Diplomacy, but you don't Favor it, since your Favored skills are locked in.
This isn't really a "bad" thing per se, but I thought the implications were worth going through.
These are the 25 skills that are in Blue Rose. They're super standard d20, apart from where they cut down on some of them:
Sleight of Hand
And these are the ones that were left out, merged or otherwise modified from 3rd Edition D&D:
Knowledge (3rd Edition lists 10 different categories, Blue Rose lists 8)
Use Magic Device
And that brings us to the end of Chapter 3. The next chapter is the raison d'etre for this partnership with Kai Tave: FEATS!!!
Wait, hold on, that's it? Gradenko's not going over the skills and their uses in exacting detail? Well no, he isn't because frankly you all know how this shit works. If you're a regular visitor of the Something Awful Traditional Games forum and don't know how a Gather Information or Jump skill check works in the d20 system then happy 15th birthday, you probably shouldn't be visiting a website where people occasionally post pictures of a man's distended anus.
For real though, there's nothing new here that you haven't already seen before, Blue Rose doesn't add any new quirks or fun twists to the bog-standard pass/fail array of d20 system skill checks. The fact that the skill list is pared down and managed to do away with perennial favorites like Use Rope and Decipher Script is nice, but honestly not that impressive to those of us living in the blasted futuristic hellscape of 2015, and it honestly doesn't go far enough for my tastes...you have Notice and Search as separate skills, not to mention Acrobatics, Climb, Jump, AND Swim as four entirely separate skills you have to purchase on their own, it's madness.
There IS some fiction though so it's not a total wash. Reyna is infiltrating a sorcerer's tower which seems like a fantastically terrible idea, but it turns out she's a member of the Sovereign's Finest so this is what she does for a living. She's been training and honing her mind and her body for this moment, an incredibly dangerous task for which the price for failure is a fate worse than death so, y'know, no pressure or anything. She's outfitted in fantasy spec-ops style with blackened knives and soot to darken her skin, a grappling hook, and something called a ward-stone. It's an artifact of the Old Kingdom and Reyna isn't fond of it because it requires being bathed in a cup of blood every full moon (the consequences for failing to do this are unspecified), but it allows her to slip right through the sorcerous wards of the tower without detection.
She's crawled through sewage tunnels and servant's quarters and even climbed up a chimney leading into the sorcerer's innermost sanctum and now she's reached her goal, a small silver and ebony chest atop a black granite pillar. But she's hesitating because her keen ears have noticed something, a faint scraping sound where there shouldn't be any, and while nothing LOOKS amiss her ears and her instincts are rarely wrong. The pillar should be impossibly heavy and even the tiny chest is supposed to be filled with some incredibly dense evil matter of some sort but she's positive that the pillar is shifting somehow. Reyna's momma didn't raise no fool and she recognizes a trap when she hears one, no matter what her eyes might tell her, and she slips back into the chimney and prepares to descend back down without taking the bait.
And that's really, truly it for chapter 3.
Next Time: uggggghhhhhhhhhhhh
Help I'm Trapped In a d20 Feat FactoryOriginal SA post
Well, it had to happen eventually. We're at the part of every d20 derived game that I consider the absolute doldrums, where excitement goes to die among a list of dumb fiddly bullshit. If any of you have been enjoying this review so far then please be sure to thank
because if it wasn't for his willingness to do the stuff like this himself then this is probably where things would go on indefinite hiatus. Let it not be said, however, that we aren't committed to bringing you the entire unvarnished, and sometimes highly derivative, truth about Blue Rose.
Help I'm Trapped In a d20 Feat Factory
In Blue Rose, heroes start with 1 feat and gain another feat every level. There are 4 feat categories: General, which is available to every role, and one per role which only members of that role can take.
Additionally, certain races and backgrounds have Favored Feats, or feats that they can always take regardless of their role. A hero of the Night People will always be able to take Cleave even if they're an Expert or an Adept.
So, y'know, if you really want to make a caster character using a race that gets penalties to Intelligence AND Charisma and then take Cleave instead of anything useful to the casting of spells while you're there, Blue Rose has you covered.
A lot of these are bog-standard 3rd Edition feats, but I’ll try to throw in some color commentary on anything that sticks out. If things aren’t in alphabetical order, it’s because I’m rearranging them to demonstrate the prerequisite and chaining paths. Also, if some of my reactions are way more enthusiastic than they should be, chalk that up to me never actually having read through the entire 3rd Edition feat list.
You lucky motherfucker.
Cleave - if you knock out or kill an enemy with a melee attack, you get an extra melee attack against another target in reach. Needs Power Attack (General Feat).
Great Cleave - lets your successful Cleave killing blows re-trigger Cleave until you miss, until your attack doesn’t kill anyone anymore, or until you have no one else to cleave to. Needs Cleave.
Diehard - when your status is changed to Dying, you automatically succeed on the Constitution check to stabilize.
Rage - as a free action, fly into a berserk rage, granting you +2 Strength, +2 to Fort and Will saves, and -2 to Defense. You can’t use skills that need concentration or patience, and you can’t take 10 or 20 on checks. The rage lasts for 5 rounds, and you become Fatigued afterwards for 5 rounds. You can use Rage once a day, plus an additional use every 4th level. If you take this feat multiple times, you either gain an additional +1 to Strength and Fort and Will saves (the penalties stay the same) or extend the duration by an extra 5 rounds (and the Fatigue lasts correspondingly longer)
They turned the Barbarian’s gimmick into a learnable feat! This is the sort of thing that Feats could have been doing from the get-go. One cool thing that results from Blue Rose’s modification of the attribute bonus and HP/damage system is that Rage is no longer a pain in the ass to track.
Favored Foe - pick a Narrator-approved broad category of enemies: you get a +2 bonus on Bluff, Intimidate, Notice, Sense Motive and Survival checks against them, and +2 damage when attacking them. You can take the feat multiple times, either to cover more enemy types or to boost the bonus to up to +6.
They turned the Ranger’s gimmick into a learnable feat!
Smite Foe - when you melee attack a target covered by your Favored Foe, you can choose to Smite, which lets you add your Charisma to the attack roll and half your total level to the damage roll. You can Smite once a day, plus an additional use every 4th level. Need Favored Foe.
They turned the Paladin’s gimmick into a learnable feat! Certainly it’s interesting the way that they have “generic” classes and then turn them into more recognizable specific classes with the insertion of specific mechanics via feats.
Another thing I'd like to point out is that by tying Smite to Favored Foe, it's effectively alignment-agnostic , except if you decide to make your Favored Foe to be "evil creatures"!
Finishing Blow - you can perform a Coup de Grace, which is outright killing/executing a downed/unconscious/dying enemy as a standard action instead of as a full-round action.
I’ve seen multiple incarnations of this feat across however many d20 versions, but never once have I really read or heard of a game where it was necessary since I imagine most tables consider 0 HP NPCs to be good-as-dead without playing out their dying “process”.
Weapon Focus - choose a weapon type: you can a +1 bonus to attack rolls while using that weapon. You can take this feat multiple times to cover multiple weapon types.
It’s annoying to have “Greater Weapon Focus” as the first feat to be listed ahead of “Weapon Focus”.
Weapon Specialization - if you already have Weapon Focus for a weapon type, you can take this feat to gain +2 to damage rolls for that same weapon type. Needs Weapon Focus.
Greater Weapon Focus - if you already have Weapon Focus for a weapon type, you can take this feat to increase the attack roll bonus to +2 for that same weapon type. Needs Weapon Focus.
I get that Blue Rose characters get a lot more feats, but +1 to attack rolls? Really?
Greater Weapon Specialization - if you already have Greater Weapon Focus and Weapon Specialization for a weapon type, you can take this feat to gain +2 to damage rolls for that same weapon type. Needs Greater Weapon Focus.
So two feats for +1 to attack rolls each, and another two for +2 to damage rolls each. Great. I feel like they could have compressed this into a single feat that you take multiple times.
Woo, yeah, welcome to featsville baby! It's like it's 2005 all over again!
So you've no doubt surmised by now that I think pretty poorly of d20 feats in general and stuff like this is why. I admit it's theoretically possible for someone to make feats interesting and not boring but they almost never actually do that. Instead we gets lists of titchy shit like Weapon Focus and Greater Weapon Focus and Weapon Specialization, and even beyond being about as exciting as filing my taxes in this particular case I feel like bog-standard D&D-derived d20 fantasy mechanics complete with comprehensive feat lists don't really do much to sell you on Blue Rose being a different sort of fantasy game when it looks, feels, and plays almost exactly like the most generic fantasy game on the market. It's not that I think Blue Rose needs to be some artsy-fartsy storygame for swine, but when I think "romantic fantasy" my first thought isn't "okay but how can I really maximize my DPS here?"
Stunning Attack - when you make an unarmed attack, you can choose to forego the damage in exchange for having the target make a Fortitude save, DC 10+unarmed damage bonus. If the target fails, it’s Dazed (can take no action, but defends normally) for 1 round. If it fails by 5, it’s Stunned (can take no action, -2 Defense, no Dodge bonus to Defense) for 1 round. If it fails by 10, it becomes Unconscious.
They turned the Monk’s gimmick into a learnable feat!
Surprise Attack - gain a +2 to damage rolls when you make a Surprise Attack. You can take this feat multiple times, increasing the damage bonus by another +2 each time to a maximum of +10.
The description of a Surprise Attack is when the target does not/cannot benefit from the Dodge bonus to Defense. They turned the Rogue’s Sneak Attack into a learnable feat! Unfortunately this version still carries with it the ugly 3rd Edition legacy of Surprise Attack not working against targets that are immune to it for one verisimilitudinous reason or another.
Crippling Strike - when you Surprise Attack a target, they take a -1 Strength penalty. Requires Surprise Attack.
And this continues ugly 3rd Edition legacies of the -1 Strength only actually making a difference to NPCs if the Narrator goes through the motions of statting them up.
Deflect Arrows - once per round, you can use a free hand to deflect a ranged attack that would otherwise have hit you. You have to be aware of the attack and not flat-footed. Massive ranged weapons and ranged attacks created by arcana cannot be deflected.
They took the Monk’s gimmick and turned it into a learnable feat!
Evasion - effects that would be reduced to half damage on a successful Reflex save instead deal no damage.
Improved Evasion - effects that would be reduced to half damage on a successful Reflex save instead deal half damage on a failed save (and no damage on a successful save). Needs Evasion.
More porting over of gimmicks, this time for the Monk / Rogue.
Fascinate - choose an interaction skill: Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate or Perform. If your skill check succeeds against a target’s Sense Motive or Will save, you captivate them and hold their attention. Potential threats will cause additional opposed checks, while outright hostile acts will break the fascination. The fascination is maintained by standard actions and lasts for up to 5 rounds. This feat can be taken multiple times, once for each different interaction skill. Needs the character to be trained in the associated skill.
Apparently this is a Bard gimmick, except in this version they let you use it with different social skills instead of just Perform.
Suggest - you can use the social skill associated with the Fascinate feat you have to plant a suggestion in the fascinated target’s mind with a successful Will save. If you take this feat a second time, you can Mass Suggest, or make the same suggestion across any number of fascinated targets. Needs Fascinate.
This marks the first time I run into the phrase “as the spell Fascinate”, except with Arcanum instead of spell.
Improvised Tools - you can ignore the -4 penalty for using a tool-dependent skill without tools.
Inspire - learning this feat lets you create different effects: Awe will Daze targets, Competence will grant a +2 skill check bonus to allies, Complacency will cause a -5 penalty to Notice and Sense Motive checks for targets, Courage will grant a +1 bonus to fear saves, attack rolls and damage to allies, Fear will cause a -2 penalty to attack rolls, skill checks and saves for targets, and Fury allows allies to Rage as if they had the talent. Needs +1 Charisma or higher.
Porting over the Bard!
Jack of All Trades - you can use any skill untrained, even skills that are normally defined as cannot be used untrained.
Master Plan - if you have some time to prepare for a set-piece encounter, you can make a DC 10 Intelligence check. If you pass it, you get a +1 bonus to all skill checks and attack rolls during the encounter you planned for. The bonus can increase to +2 or even +3 if the result of the check is even higher. This feat will not work and you cannot take the Intelligence check for it if you are dealing with an immediate and/or unexpected situation.
This is a very cool feat, one that I couldn’t find an equivalent of in the 3rd Edition PHB. It seems to be some sort of mechanical representation of the heist movie’s planning montage, with the most brainy character narrating the various steps to the job while a “hypothetical flash forward” shows them doing it. It’s probably not as good as it sounds on paper, but the sentiment is nice.
This feat is, much like Conviction points, more or less a direct port from an identical feat in Green Ronin's own d20 supers game Mutants & Masterminds. I agree with the idea that it sounds better on paper than it turns out to be in practice because what it boils down to is "yet another floating +X bonus to keep track of, yay."
Skill Mastery - choose 5 skills you know. You can now take 10 on skill checks for those even while you’re under pressure or distracted. This does not allow you take 10 on skill checks that completely disallow it.
More skill-monkey Rogue-related shenanigans.
Slow Fall - any height you fall is treated as 10 feet less for every two character levels. Needs Jump rank 5 or higher.
Stunning Attack - same as the Stunning Attack feat for Warriors, but also available to Experts for Monk-like characters.
Trapfinding - without this feat, your Search checks cannot find traps with a Search DC higher than 20. With this feat, your Search checks can. Without this feat, your Disable Device checks cannot disarm arcane traps. With this feat, your Disable Device checks can.
This is where I wince a bit. Rogues already have this right out of the bat, but since Experts are supposed to be generic skillmonkeys, they then had to turn the ability to find traps into a feat you now have to learn and take, although at least you can have it right out the gate at level 1 with your free feats.
All right, so with that out of the way let's talk some more about something that gradenko picked up on when he started this which is that Blue Rose takes a lot of 3.X class features and turns them into feats...raging, favored enemies, stunning blows, snatching arrows out of the sky, inspiring performances, etc.
This sounds really rad, doesn't it? Like this is what feats should have been from the beginning. It also sounds way more flexible in terms of making the sort of character you want to make, right?
The problem with this is that, if you'll recall, feats are categorized into General, Martial, Expert, and Arcane categories, and you can only take feats from the General category and the category permitted to your role...Martial for Warriors, Expert for Experts, and Arcane for Adepts. And guess what? All those awesome class-abilities-as-feats feats? Are gated away within those categories. Which means you can't make a Warrior who snatches arrows out of the air or an Adept who knows how to backstab, or a worldly bard who knows everything there is to know about defeating a particular sort of enemy.
Oh, you can still pick things like that up though...through multiclassing, of course.
So in PRACTICAL terms the system that Blue Rose presents isn't much more diverse or interesting than regular d20 D&D. I guess it's kinda cool maybe that you can make a martial character who rages AND smites or a bardy rogue with some monk for flavor, but in general it just comes across as a slightly more obfuscated method of arriving at the same set of conclusions as before. If you want to build a character that breaks out of the (slightly more genericized) mold then you're back to messing with multiclassing as per usual. Ultimately I feel like this was something of a missed opportunity to make a "generic d20 system" that True20 was eventually marketed under more interesting and flexible. Then again I'm not sure the best way to handle class-based RPG systems is by reducing things to a smaller number of ostensibly broader classes in the first place.
There's some fiction here too but it's honestly not that interesting, there's a storm at sea and a guy is tossed overboard and thinks he's gonna drown but some sea-folk rescue him and his other crew who fell into the sea. Go sea-folk.
Next Time: More feats. There’s still the Adept-specific feats and 77 other general feats.
The One With Even More FeatsOriginal SA post
So it's been a little while, both because I've been busy with work but also because I've been dragging my feet since we're into what's easily the most boring part of Blue Rose for me. This is entirely my doing, gradenko_2000 has long since submitted his update and has simply been waiting on me to get my ass in gear, and since I'm determined not to let this review go uncompleted it's time for me to bite the bullet and power through this. I hope you guys love fiddly situational modifiers because here we fucking go.
The One With Even More Feats
Gradenko's note to me when he submitted this part of the writeup was "feel free to release this over as many parts as you like" but haha nope, you're getting it all in one huge hard to digest lump so you can experience that same eye-glazing sensation of intense boredom I feel whenever I reach this part. As usual, if you're at all familiar with 3.X era d20 feats (and of course you are, you post to Something Awful's traditional games forum) then you already know what to expect out of this, but for completionism's sake here's gradenko_2000 with all you ever wanted to know about the wonderful world of feat selection for your romantic fantasy roleplaying needs.
Chapter 4: Part 2: More Feats
We’ve already covered the Warrior- and Expert-specific feats, but I’d like to leave the Adept-specific feats for a later time because we haven’t even really talked about Arcanum as Blue Rose’s magic system yet.
That leaves us with General feats, or ones that any hero can take.
Note: I'm segregating them into various categories so that they're easier to follow along than a straight alphabetical order, but only the prerequisite I write at the end of the feat description actually matters.
Accurate Attack - you can take a penalty on your damage roll of up to -5 in order to gain the equivalent bonus to your attack roll. You cannot reduce your damage roll below +0.
All-out Attack - you can take a penalty on your Defense of up to -5 in order to gain the equivalent bonus to your attack roll. You cannot reduce your Defense below +0.
Defensive Attack - you can take a penalty to your attack roll of up to -5 in order to gain the equivalent bonus to your dodge bonus to Defense. You cannot reduce your attack bonus below +0.
Power Attack - you can take a penalty to your attack roll of up to -5 in order to gain the equivalent bonus to your damage roll. You cannot reduce your attack bonus below +0.
Improved Strike - your unarmed attacks can deal lethal damage, and your unarmed strike damage has a +1 bonus for every four character levels.
Canny Defense - when unarmored and unencumbered, you add your Intelligence or your Wisdom, whichever is higher, to your dodge bonus to Defense.
Arcane Weapon - your melee weapon is considered an arcane weapon for the purposes of being able to hit enemies that need arcane weapons in order to be hit. Requires Base Attack Bonus +6 or higher.
That was a really awkward description to write.
Improved Critical - the critical threat range of one of your attacks is doubled. You can take this feat multiple times, each applying to a different attack/weapon.
Point Blank Shot - you get a +1 bonus to ranged attack rolls against targets within 30 feet of you.
Far Shot - the range increment of your projectile weapons increases by 1.5, and your thrown weapons by 2.0. Requires Point Blank Shot.
Precise Shot - you can make ranged attacks against opponents engaged in melee with your allies without the -4 penalty. Requires Point Blank Shot.
Improved Precise Shot - you ignore the Defense bonus granted by anything less than total cover, and the miss chance granted by anything less than total concealment. Requires Precise Shot.
Improved Ranged Disarm - you have no penalty to attack rolls when making a ranged disarm attempt.
Ranged Pin - you can pin an opponent by using your ranged weapon attack to nail a bit of their clothing to a nearby surface. The target must be within 5 feet of a wall, tree or similar surface. Make a normal ranged attack roll against your target. If the attack hits, the target is pinned and needs to use a move action to make a DC 15 Strength or Escape Artist check to break free.
This is a surprisingly flavorful feat.
Flavorful yes, but I have a feeling it runs into the problem of "I could do this cool Robin Hood thing and pin that guy's sleeve to the wall...oooorrr I could just shoot him with an arrow. The fact that you need to spend a feat to unlock the ability to even do this the one time in a hundred it might come in handy is like an object lesson in why feats and the philosophy that went into them are terrible.
Saving throw feats:
Great Fortitude - you gain a +2 bonus to Fortitude saving throws.
Great Toughness - you gain a +1 bonus to Toughness. You can take this feat up to 5 times.
To be fair, this is a damn sight better than 3.5’s Toughness giving you a flat 3 HP.
Iron Will - you get a +2 bonus to Will saving throws
Lightning Reflexes - you get a +2 bonus to Reflex saving throws
Mounted Combat - when your mount is hit in combat, you can negate the hit by taking a Ride check and rolling higher than the attacker’s attack roll. You can do this once per round. Requires training in Ride.
Mounted Archery - your ranged attack roll penalty is reduced to -2 instead of -4 if you’re shooting while your mount is taking a double move, or a -4 instead of a -8 if you’re shooting while your mount is running. Requires Mounted Combat
Trample - when you attempt to overrun an opponent while mounted, your target cannot choose to avoid you. Your mount may make one hoof attack against any target you knock down, and it gains the standard +4 bonus to attack rolls against Prone targets. Requires Mounted Combat.
Ride-By Attack - while mounted, you can move both before and after you take a standard action, as long as your total distance moved does not exceed your normal speed limit.
Spirited Charge - when mounted and using the Charge action, you deal double damage with a melee weapon, or triple damage with a lance. Requires Ride-by Attack.
Endurance - you gain a +4 bonus on Swim checks to avoid becoming fatigued, and also on Constitution checks / Fort saves to hold your breath, or avoid damage from starvation or thirst, or avoid damage from very hot / very cold environments.
Improved Balance - you are not penalized for using accelerated movement while taking Acrobatics checks, and you are not flat-footed while balancing.
Improved Climb - you are not penalized for using accelerated movement while taking Climb checks, and you are not flat-footed while climbing.
This sort of feat seems niche enough that the only time it’d come into play would be if you spent a Conviction to temporarily gain it, or if you found out that your campaign’s Big Bad is Daisy De La Cruz.
Sensitive - you gain a +2 bonus on Bluff, Diplomacy, and Sense Motive checks when interacting with creatures of -3 Intelligence or higher.
Second Chance - choose a hazard, such as falling, being tripped, triggering traps, being mentally controlled, being affected by a particular arcanum, or a skill with certain consequences for failure. If you fail a check against that hazard, you can immediately roll again and use the better result. Unlike spending a Conviction point, any roll less than 10 is not automatically increased to 10. You can only use this feat once against any given hazard, and the Narrator decides if the hazard you’ve specified is allowed and if it’s applicable in the particular situation you find yourself in. You can take this feat multiple times, each time applying to a different hazard.
Definitely another feat to take for the Haunted Mansion campaign.
Skill Affinity - add two Favored skills. if you already Know these skills, then their skill rank increases as if they were both Favored and Known accordingly.
Skill Focus - choose a skill you Know. You get a +3 bonus to checks using that skill. You can take this feat multiple times, choosing a different skill each time.
Skill Training - add two Known skills. If you choose only one non-favored skill, you gain it as a known favored skill. This feat can be taken multiple times.
I’m not sure how the second sentence is supposed to be read, whether it means you get a Known+Favored skill as long as only one of the two skills you choose is Favored, or that you can choose to gain just one skill, but that one skill is both Known and Favored in exchange.
Talented - choose two Known and related skills, such as Survival and Sneak or Acrobatics and Climb. You gain a +2 bonus with both skills. You can take this feat multiple times, applying it to two different skills each time.
Wild Empathy - you have a special connection with animals. You can use the Handle Animal like Diplomacy to change the attitude of an animal by interacting with it. Unlike Diplomacy, you do not need to be able to speak a language the animal understands, and Wild Empathy will allow you to interact with creatures with Intelligence less than -3. You can also use your Bluff and Gather Information skills normally with animals.
Basic Training feats:
Armor Training - after taking the respective versions of this feat for Light, Medium or Heavy armor, you can then wear those armors and their armor check penalty will only apply to Acrobatics, Climb, Escape Artist, Jump, Sleight of Hand, Sneak and Swim checks. Without this feat, the armor check penalty will apply to all physical rolls and checks, including attack rolls.
Exotic Weapon Training - you can use an exotic weapon. Blue Rose explicitly lists the bastard sword, the whip, bolas and nets to be exotic weapons.
Shield Training - after taking this feat, you can equip a shield and only suffer its standard penalties. Without this feat, the shield’s armor check penalty will apply to attack rolls and all Strength and Dexterity checks.
Two-Weapon Fighting - you can fight with a weapon with each hand, giving you one extra attack per round. The attack roll with both weapons has a -4 penalty. If the off-hand weapon is a light weapon, the penalty is -2. Requires +2 Dexterity or higher.
Two-Weapon Defense - when wielding two weapons, but not while unarmed, you gain a +1 bonus to Defense. When fighting defensively or using the Dodge action, the bonus is +2. Requires Two-Weapon Fighting.
Weapon Finesse - when wielding a light weapon you can add your Dexterity to your attack rolls, instead of your Strength
Weapon Training - you can properly use martial weapons. Without this feat, you take a -4 penalty with attack rolls while using a martial weapon.
Man these feats are all lame, so have a skeleton inviting you to the GUN SHOW
"Combat Maneuver" feats:
Improved Demoralize - you can make Intimidate checks to demoralize opponents in combat as a move action instead of as a standard action.
Improved Disarm - you have a +2 bonus on attack rolls when trying to disarm an opponent, and the opponent does not get a free disarm attempt on you if your disarm attempt fails.
Improved Dodge - when you use the Dodge action in combat, you gain +6 to your dodge bonus instead of a +4. You can take this feat a second time, increasing the bonus to +8.
Improved Feint - you can make Bluff checks to feint in combat as a move action instead of as a standard action.
Improved Grab - when you hit with an unarmed attack, you can immediately make a grapple check as a free action. The unarmed attack you just made already counts as the initial attack roll required to start grappling.
This is more of what Kai Tave has been saying: do we really need goddamn grappling rules in a game about Romantic Fantasy?
The issue underlying all of this isn't that Blue Rose's writers sat down and thought that the roleplaying game of romantic fantasy needed grappling rules, it's that they simply ported 3.X D&D over wholesale and didn't bother to examine any of the mismatched assumptions that arise as a result. You have to remember that back when Blue Rose was new everybody and their dog was making d20 stuff, it was the biggest boom in roleplaying games to come along and probably still holds that title today, and as a result a lot of writers were simply going with the flow and giving people what they expected to see. Blue Rose is based on d20 D&D so therefore it's obviously going to have the same grappling rules, it's going to have feats, it's going to have saving throws and all this other shit, etc. This is what the market at the time was bearing. I'm curious to see what the AGE version of Blue Rose is going to shake out like because AGE seems equally unambitious to me, so it remains to be seen if the new edition is actually going to be any better in this regard or if once again we're going to the world of Aldis tacked on to another dull as dishwater fantasy roleplaying system.
Improved Speed - your speed increases by 10 feet while wearing no/light/medium armor and while not carrying a heavy load. You can take this feat up to 5 times.
Improved Sunder - you have a +4 bonus to attack rolls when trying to strike an object held by another character.
Improved Trip - you have a +2 bonus on Strength and Dexterity checks to trip an opponent, and they do not get an opportunity to trip you back if you fail.
Taunt - as a Standard action, make a Bluff check against a target, opposed by their Sense Motive check or Will saving throw, whichever is higher. If you succeed, the target is Shaken for one round (-2 to attack rolls, checks and saves except Toughness). You can attempt to Bluff a target multiple times, but they gain a cumulative +1 bonus to their opposing roll for every Bluff attempt used against them in the same encounter. If you take this feat a second time, you can choose to spend a Move action to Taunt, instead.
Everything else that didn't fit into a neat category:
Blind-Fight - you only suffer half the usual miss chance due to Full Concealment, and you can spend a Conviction point to completely ignore the miss chance.
Dodge - your dodge bonus to Defense increases by +1. You can take this feat up to three times.
It is a testament to how fucking bad the original 3rd Edition version of this feat was that this thing is significantly better.
Heirloom - you’ve inherited some valuable item or object or possession such as a house, a ship, jewelry, a magical item and the like. The item must be Narrator-approved.
Improved Initiative - you get a +4 bonus to initiative checks.
Uncanny Dodge - you still retain your dodge bonus to Defense even if you are surprised, flat-footed, etc., so long as you not bound/helpless/unconscious/etc.
Improved Uncanny Dodge - you cannot be flanked. Requires Uncanny Dodge.
Low-Light Vision - you can see twice as far as a human can in low-light conditions. Your vision is still hindered by total darkness.
This is a sort of roundabout but effective way of solving the 3.5 problem of everyone except humans having low-light vision.
On the Run - you can move both before and after taking a standard action, as long as your total distance moved does not exceed your normal speed limit.
I cannot restrain myself from taking a shot at D&D Next. Sure, it’s a feat, but it’s been done before!
Run - [throwing out the book’s description here completely because the rules are not very well-written] when you take the All Out action to run, and if you are only wearing no/light/medium armor, and if you are only carrying a Medium load or lighter, you can move up to five times your normal speed. If you are wearing heavy armor or carrying a Heavy load, you can move up to four times your normal speed. If you make a jump after a running start, you get a +4 bonus to your jump check.
I had to go back and forth on this feat a lot because the actual text says “when running, you move five times your normal speed”, but there is no “running” action in the Gameplay section, just “All Out” as a full-round action. That All Out action is described as moving four times your base speed. As I understand it, this Run feat will let you run at five times speed instead of four, and it’ll let you ignore the movement penalties imposed by certain load and armor combinations.
Track - you can find and follow tracks left by other creatures using Survival checks. [There follows a description and a chart of how to assign DCs to the Survival check based on various circumstances]
Trackless Step - you can choose to leave no trail in natural surroundings and therefore cannot be tracked. Requires training in Sneak and Survival.
Wealthy - increase your Wealth bonus by +3. You can take this feat multiple times.
There's actually some more fiction in the feats chapter, this one slightly more interesting than "guy falls off a boat, is rescued by sea-folk." Jen and her bonded rhy-cat companion Kili are fucking up an army of the undead, as they've been doing for most of the day now. Unfortunately being an army of the undead, every living person that falls adds another to their ranks and Jen knows that if she and Kili don't put a stop to this that the defenders, whose morale is already fraying, are going to rout, so she and her cat-shaped cat buddy go charging up the hill, pulling off sick zombie-slaying tricks until they carve a path to the enemy commander's tent. Turns out zombies make terrible sentries and within moments she's face to face with the dread necromancer...an old woman rocking back and forth, murmuring to herself. Jen hesitates for a moment because that's not quite what she was expecting to find in the tent surrounded by channels of blood carved into the ground but Kili snaps her out of it in time to avoid getting blasted by dark magic as the old woman goes into a murderous frenzy. Unfortunately it turns out old ladies make terrible melee combatants to, and Jen introduces her to the power of Greyskull with three feet of Light-infused sharpened steel through the chest. With the sorcerer slain the hundreds of spirits being enslaved against their will depart, the undead army collapsing where it stands.
Get fucked, grandma!
At this point gradenko_2000 left me with a small selection of feats that he felt I might be better suited to cover, either because they're more flavorful/tied to the setting or because I may be in a better position to address what they do. Personally I think this is his way of saying he's done covering feats, for which I can't blame him in the least. And so, in no particular order:
Arcane Balance - a General feat that nonetheless requires Improved Balance and 6 ranks or more in Body Control which isn't a skill, it's actually one of the game's spells which we'll cover in more detail later on. So what does it do? By first taking a full-round action to get yourself ready and then a standard action every round thereafter you can walk over surfaces like quicksand, snow, water, etc. without sinking. That's it. I mean yeah, "you can walk on water!" is totally something that sounds rad in practice, but the need to spend a standard action every round concentrating to use it and requiring a full-action windup explicitly to prevent you from using it in response to sudden falls mean that for a thing that requires several prerequisites it's usefulness is rather situational.
Arcane Speed - also takes 6 ranks in Body Control. Why aren't these just part of the Body Control spell, which itself is a buffet-type spell to begin with? Who knows. You can run ten times as fast for 1 round (6 seconds as the book helpfully reminds us). It takes a full round action, carries a risk of fatigue (DC 12), and you have to spend a full round doing nothing but running when you use it. Oh and your jumping distance is multiplied by 5.
Arcane Strike - are you seeing a pattern yet because I sure am, Improved Strike and Body Control 8(!) as prerequisites lets you do to your bare hands what Arcane Weapon does for weapons.
Arcane Training - this plays into Blue Rose's magic system which we haven't really covered in coherent form yet, just sort of hinted at around the edges. Okay so here's a quick and dirty primer...Adepts, as opposed to lower-case adepts, have access to the Arcane feat pool, among which are various X Talent feats which give them greater mastery over one of the talent "schools" of arcana, such as the healing arts, the shaping arts, the psychic arts, etc. Arcane Training is a feat that gives you two new spells in up to two talents that you have. This is a more efficient way to quickly broaden out your selection of spells than the General feat Arcanum which anyone can pick up and use, even Warriors and Experts, but only gives out one single spell at a time. There are some more details that I'm glossing over but that's the gist of it.
Beloved - Well okay, this is at least kind of interesting? You've found true love with someone, though the book does mention that it doesn't have to be romantic love specifically, it could represent a bond between siblings (no not like that), a parent and child, mentor and student, or just really close boon companions...but it does cover romantic love as well. It also mentions that the person you've found love with can be another PC as well as an NPC. The benefits are a +4 bonus to saving throws and checks that would sway you against your beloved in any way, and when you spend a Conviction point to reroll a die on anything concerning your lover (rescuing them from dread pirates, storming the castle to stop them from being married to the evil king, etc) then you can simply treat the roll as a 20 ( not a natural 20 the book reminds us, let's not get too carried away here). It's a neat feat and finally something flavorful to the game itself, but it still feels kinda lackluster a little bit that no-fooling true love is "a +4 bonus on saving throws."
Comprehend - requires the Mind Touch arcana at 7 ranks or higher and lets you understand the language of any creature intelligent enough to have language...understand but, of course, not speak.
Favors - you can call in favors from people you know by using the Diplomacy skill against various DCs depending on the extent of the favor wait a minute what the fuck, isn't this just a standard use of the Diplomacy skill anyway? Oh, you can spend a point of Conviction to bypass the roll if you want? Fuck you, this is still bullshit.
Fortune's Favor - for having the following prerequisites of any arcane talent feat or Arcanum or Wild Talent, along with Charisma +1 or higher, you get to add your Charisma score as a bonus to all of your saving throws. This seems a bit like a sneaky "wrapping the pill in cheese" sort of way to encourage even the minmaxers in the party to stop dumping Charisma goddamnit.
Immunity to Disease - requires Body Control rank 5 come on Blue Rose, enough with this and makes you immune to disease, automatically succeeding on saving throws and so on.
Immunity to Poison - Body Control 10, ditto.
Pure-Hearted - you get a +4 bonus on saving throws and checks to resist corruption, including Corruption, bribery, or any such attempt to turn you from the right and noble path. This doesn't count if you voluntarily indulge in such activities so no sorcery for you unless it's for a really, really good cause at the GM's discretion. Also when your Shadow nature is dominant you lose the benefits of this feat for the duration.
Rhy-bonded - you have a bond with a rhyden or, if you're the rhyden, you have a bond with someone else. Curiously the wording of the feat seems to exclude Night People from qualifying. Man, nobody likes Night People. You have a permanent psychic link with your buddy and even if it's blocked by something like the Ward arcanum you can make rolls to try and overcome it, and the link instantly reestablishes itself once the interference has passed. Your buddy, if an NPC, levels up when you do but is fixed at two levels below you.
Self-Healing - being trained in Body Control is a prerequisite HEY GUYS DO YOU THINK I SHOULD TAKE BODY CONTROL I DUNNO MAN I JUST HAVE THIS HUNCH, and it effectively lets you use the Cure arcanum but only on yourself.
Wild Talent - this is a General feat that allows you to use any arcana under a single talent untrained BUT whenever you're under stress you have to roll a Will saving throw at DC 10 + half your level, and if you fall you become stunned and the GM gets to choose one of your arcana to go off randomly, picking the target. Could be neat but could also be a huge fucking pain in the ass, just like Wild Magic usually is in D&D. If you do somehow acquire the Arcane Talent feat for your chosen talent then you still get to use all of that talent's arcana untrained but no longer have to make the Will saves.
Wildwalk - requires the Animism talent to take and you're no longer hindered or slowed by any sort of natural terrain like underbrush, snow, mud, etc. Cool, great.
And that's it. We're done with this chapter and on to the next one. In conclusion, fuck feats forever.
Next Time: Magic: the Gathering
Spellcasting 101Original SA post
Speaking of d20 magic systems and gradenko_2000:
Arcana is Blue Rose’s magic system. It’s divided into six different arts: animism, healing, meditative, psychic, shaping, and visionary.
Sorcery is another kind of arcana that is supposed to be exceptionally powerful, but at the cost of letting the user become corrupted by the Shadow.
Arcana have ranks, like skills.
If you’re an Adept hero, you have a rank of [level+3] in all Arcana that you’re trained in
If you’re a non-Adept hero, you have a rank of (level+3)/2 in all Arcana that you’re trained in.
If you’re a multi-class character, your Arcana rank is either [Adept level+3], or [(non-Adept level+3)/2], whichever is higher, except any Arcana that you learn through the Arcane Training feat has a rank of [total level+3]
Each Arcana also has an associated attribute with it, which you add along with the Arcana’s rank on the d20 roll. Just like using skills, you roll d20, add the Arcana’s rank, and then add the associated attribute, and the effect depends on how high the result is.
Because some Arcana, particularly psychic ones, deal with minds and thoughts and feelings, there are rules for Familiarity: the DC of these Arcana checks will increase if the subject is not visibly to the naked eye/not physically present or not in direct mental contact. People, places and things that you’re close to or have spent lots of time with will only add a +5 to the DC, while a subject that has only been described to the Adept will add a whopping +25 to the DC.
Arcana that require attack rolls always add Dexterity.
Arcana that require saving throws have a saving throw DC of [10 + (Adept level / 2) + associated attribute]
Some Arcana can cause fatigue: when they are cast, the Adept needs to make a Will saving throw of DC [10 + (Arcana rank / 2)]. If they fail, they suffer a level of Fatigue, which plays into Blue Rose’s damage system. Further, the DC cumulatively increases by 1 for every fatigue-causing Arcana cast within the same hour. Finally, an Adept can actually choose to cast Arcana at a lower rank, to a minimum of 1, in order to reduce the DC of the resulting Will save.
Arcana can be cast on multiple targets: it’s a +2 to the DC of the Arcana check, and also the Will saving throw if it’s a fatigue-causing Arcana for every target beyond the first. If it’s an Arcana that needs a saving throw, it’s a -2 to the saving throw DC for every target beyond the first. Any Arcana that’s cast this way now needs a full-round action to be cast, and any Arcana that already required a full-action needs a second one.
Some Arcana can be maintained, so that their effects can be retained round after round after round. This requires a Free Action to do. If the Adept is already maintaining one Arcana when they cast another one (whether this second one requires maintenance or not), the Arcana check DC and the Will saving throw DC is increased by 2. Some Arcana require total concentration, which means the maintenance requires a Standard Action rather than a Free Action.
If the Adept is distracted, they must make a Concentration skill check with a DC based on whatever happened to them, +2 for every effect that they’re already maintaining. If they fail the Concentration check, all maintained effects cease. For an idea of what the Concentration checks are like:
High winds, and/or rain and/or sleet: DC 5
Getting damaged: DC 10 + damage bonus
Taking continuous damage: DC 10 + half of the last dealt continuous damage bonus
Vigorous motion (bouncy vehicle ride, small boat in rough water, riding a horse): DC 10
Wind-driven hail, dust, or debris: DC 10
Violent motion (small boat in rapids, galloping horse): DC 15
Entangled, such as by a snare: DC 15
Extraordinarily violent motion, such as an earthquake: DC 20
Bound, grappling or pinned: DC 20
Despite all the streamlining they did with the skill system, I feel like leaving in Concentration was a missed opportunity. Even if you don’t have to fiddle around with skill points anymore, you still have to tag Concentration as a known and favored skill if you want to be able to use Arcana reliably, and if you’re not going to be using Arcana then it’s a rather useless skill for you. It’s a skill tax.
Okay, so earlier on in this review I discussed some of the themes and common elements of the romantic fantasy genre, one of which is the fact that magic isn't a strange and alien force known only by a few weird hermits living in towers or evil overlords, magic is commonplace and everybody probably knows a little. The way that Blue Rose handles this is through feat selection (womp-womp) in the sense that none of the three PC classes, not even Adepts, actually have inherent spells. The way you acquire spells is by taking certain feats which grant you training in one or more arcana. Any class can take the feat which grants you training in a single arcana, while Adepts have access to feats which give them multiple arcana as well as allow them to use various arcana untrained.
So that sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? Your Warrior can learn a magic spell or two and doesn't even need to multiclass in order to do so. Well sorta yes and sorta no. As gradenko illustrates above, spells in Blue Rose are handled like skills and non-Adept classes inherently have lower ranks in any spell, even ones they're trained in. Furthermore there's the fact that most arcana are tied to attributes whose bonus you add to the d20 casting check and guess which attributes are by far the most commonly seen? If you guessed "all the attributes that fighter-types typically dump" then give yourself a prize. All arcana are linked to Wisdom, Intelligence, or Charisma, even Body Control which is not so subtly encouraged as "hey maybe fighters should take this wink wink" is linked to Wisdom instead of, say, Constitution or something.
It's not enough to prevent someone from acquiring and using spells per se, but it does mean that non-Adepts are always going to run annoying odds of rolling against DC 15 checks (or higher in some cases) with, say, a +4/+5 modifier while the Adept has double that, and since spells take up anywhere from a move to a full-round action to use, flipping a coin to see if you successfully use a spell or not seems like a bit of a bum deal and further encouragement for fighter types to stick with tried and true methods of swording people to death. It's not the most egregiously offensive divide between casters and non-casters I've ever seen, but for the sort of fantasy Blue Rose is attempting to emulate it doesn't go far enough for my money.
Next Time: Everyone's second favorite part of any given d20 fantasy game, spell lists