Wednesday, 29 October 2014

13th Age in Csachticz − Detailed Icons, No.1: The Emperor

The Emperor is the ruler of the Empire of the One Faith, Europe's greatest kingdom, which covers Central Europe and much of the Romance-speaking areas of Southern Europe. He's also the head of many secular chivalric orders.

The capital of the empire does not have a fixed location; each new emperor chooses an imperial seat. The current capital is Burgstadt, which lies to the north-west of the Fair Kingdom.


In his castle at Burgstadt, the capital city of the Empire of the One Faith.


The current emperor, Rudolf II, was born in Wien in 1552, and has been ruling since 1576, i.e., for approximately 20 years (depending on when exactly the campaign is set), so he's well-established and his rule is unquestioned. He has never married and is rumoured to be bisexual. Even though he stalwartly supports True Faith, this may be more for political than religious reasons, as the Emperor is well-known for his interest in the occult arts and for his patronage of the Alchemist. He is also unusually tolerant of New Wayers. The Emperor, however, is a staunch opponent of the Sultan, and, at the time of the campaign, he is trying to set up a new Crusade.

The Emperor is a great protector of the arts, and there are numerous artists at his court. He also keeps a menagerie of exotic animals, botanical gardens, and Europe's most extensive "cabinet of curiosities", arranged in an encyclopaedic fashion.


Rudolf is distrustful of the Imperial bureaucracy and is often hiring adventurers for his missions. Because of his passion for the occult and for curios, these missions may have a wide range of purposes.


13C being a dark fantasy setting, Icons seldom have true allies; they rather have other Icons with whom they co-operate. The Emperor's patronage of the Alchemist has already been mentioned. The Emperor has also been known to associate with the Occultist. Given Rudolf's tolerance of New Wayers, the Emperor has closely worked with the Superintendent.
The Pope has an ancient relationship with the Emperor, as they both protect and promote the Old Way of True Faith, but this relationship is currently quite strained.


The Sultan is obviously the Emperor's main (and also oldest) antagonist; he's been conquering imperial lands for centuries, slowly moving northwards the boundary between the two great empires. The Great Boyar, on the other hand, is a new enemy, and the real clash hasn't actually happened yet.

The Emperor's brother, Archduke Matthias, is constantly scheming for the throne, helped by his right-hand man, György Thurzó. Matthias will eventually obtain the throne in 1612 after having held Rudolf prisoner in his castle in Burgstadt. Should the GM decide to use the rivalry among the two brothers as an important element of his campaign, Matthias should be 'elevated' to Icon status.


The Empire of the One Faith has been existing for centuries, almost for one millennium. It has shaped the arts, the language, the religion, the architecture of much of Europe. The Emperor is arguably the single most important Icon.


Whether they like the current incarnation of the Emperor or not, everybody recognise his authority and strive to support his rule, for the fall of the Emperor would be the fall of civilisation. This shan't happen, lest the Sultan and the Great Boyar should invade Europe's heartlands unopposed.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

13th Age in Csachticz − Icon Relationships

In an earlier post, I have presented a tentative set of 13th Age icons for a weird early modern Central European fantasy role-playing setting. Let's call it simply “13th Age in Csachticz” or even 13C [Csachticz was the name of the Blood Countess' home castle].

Now these icons must be classified as Heroic, Ambiguous or Villainous to be properly used with the Icon Relationships mechanism of 13th Age. Since 13C has been greatly inspired by Lamentations of the Flame Princess and its dark and gloomy setting, in which adventurers are hardly 'heroic', most icons in 13C will be on the 'Ambiguous' side. Feel free to modify this as suits your style of play (in the original 13th Age game, there are 4 Heroic icons, 5 Ambiguous icons, and 4 Villainous ones).

 13C Icon   Type 
 The Alchemist   Heroic 
 The Dracul   Villainous 
 The Emperor   Ambiguous 
 The Erlking   Ambiguous 
 Frau Perchta   Heroic 
 The Great Boyar   Villainous 
 The Occultist   Ambiguous 
 The Pope   Ambiguous 
 The Sultan   Villainous 
 The Superintendent   Ambiguous 
 The Trickster   Ambiguous 
 The Turul   Heroic 
 The Warlord   Ambiguous 

Monday, 20 October 2014

First Preview of Aperita Arcana

The good folks at Ebon Gryphon Games, who have already brought us the fantastically useful Collectanea Creaturae bestiary for the Monsters & Magic frp game are up to a second supplement for M&M.

Aperita Arcana adds a lot of new character classes and sub-classes to the main ones from the core M&M book.

The nice thing about Monsters & Magic is that character classes are not simply a bland collection of die modifiers, hit dice, allowed armour/weapons, or numbers of spells per level. In M&M, each character class is fleshed out by a series of traits and advancements that it may use but, again, not as mere 'plus sometings' but as narrative tools to enliven your role-playing experience (and kick ass — that's the magic of the Effect Engine).

Anyway, as a backer of the Collectanea Creaturae Kickstarter, I have received my preview PDF copy of Aperita Arcana, and I am simply astonished at the quality. I was expecting a number of new character classes and sub-classes (see my previous post), but there's much much more in Aperita Arcana:

  • Chapter 1, which is 62 pages long without the art, does detail the new classes and sub-classes, followed by
  • Chapter 2 with new races, and with new twists for the already-existing ones, but there's more:
  • Chapter 3 with lots of new spot rules and advanced rules for the Effect Engine,
  • Chapter 4 with equipment,
  • Chapter 5, new rules and variants,
  • Chapter 6, sample cults, examples of religious organisations...
  • Chapter 7, a lengthy discussion about the magical tropes in fantasy,
  • Chapter 8, Magic Items,
  • Chapter 9, Spells.

It thus appears that Aperita Arcana, which had initially been advertised as a small add-on to the Bestiary, has eventually become a kind of big "PHB+DMG+DDG" supplement — to use classic fantasy parlance.

Much like I believe that Collectanea Creaturae, because of the way it gives examples of monsters' motivations etc., is a must-buy supplement for any classic fantasy GM, I also believe that Aperita Arcana is a must-buy for any GM who wants to spruce up their classic fantasy adventures.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Elizabethan Weird Fantasy

The aim of this blog is to slowly build, disparate element by disparate element, a Central European-flavoured early modern setting for weird fantasy role-playing.

The idea is to remain rules-agnostic, even though a certain number of rule sets are put forward on this blog, namely: Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP), Renaissance, Monsters & Magic (M&M) or 13th Age. Please refer to the sidebar for the relevant links.

LotFP, whose default setting is Central Europe during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) is the most obvious candidate because it shares the same geographical location as Lamentations of the Blood Countess (Central Europe), and almost the same time-frame — I tend towards the turn of the 17th century myself.

Well, if you'd rather you'd be playing brave Englishmen, I direct you to Jeremy Duncan's O Brave New World, a free PDF supplement to LotFP. The premise is as follows:

The year is 1589. PCs are English sailors, soldiers, gentlemen, and their hangers-on. A sudden TEMPEST struck whilst engaged with the galleon La Visitación de Nuestra Señora, and all hands lost beneath the waves. By the grace of GOD, you awake to find yourself and several comrades washed safely ashore on an unfamiliar beach.


Wednesday, 15 October 2014


Hermannstadt is a large, bustling city at the far south-eastern end of the Fair Kingdom. Many of its burghers hail from the Empire of the One Faith but have become New Wayers. The city is full of artisans, merchants, craftsmen, and all kinds of traders, happy to deal with both empires as long as money keeps flowing in.

Hermannstadt city centre

The city holds one of the largest markets in south-eastern Europe. The adventurers are sure to find all kinds of supplies here. It's actually two markets: one at the Grosser Ring, one at the Kleiner Ring (see map).

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

13th Age in Csachticz

There is a 13th Age in Glorantha Kickstarter project that has just ended a smash success. Because of this crowdfunding campaign (which I have backed, of course), I have started re-reading the 13th Age core book.

One section has struck me as particularly interesting:

Luckily you can port some of the best ideas from 13th Age to your own OGL campaign. Our one unique thing, icon relationships, and background mechanics could fir in well in a typical campaign. The same goes for the campaign map, the icons, and the world description. Increments, the escalation die, recoveries, and full heal-ups are portable as well. Help yourselves.

Well, one idea that I do like from 13th Age is the icons mechanism. Icons are extremely powerful, campaign-defining NPCs that the player characters tend to establish relationships with. These relationships then have an influence on the GM's campaign. It's a simple and cool way to give players agency whilst remaining in an 'Old School' rules framework.

As a result, I have spent the week-end thinking about campaign-encompassing NPCs for Lamentations of the Blood Countess, and here are the results.

The Alchemist
For all his support for True Faith, the Emperor has always protected the Alchemist and his strange experiments, which have enabled the Empire of the One Faith to remain at the cutting edge of weapons and (so it is rumoured) magic technology.

The Dracul
The Dracul has only one aim: to defend True Faith against its enemies, no matter the price that must be paid. The Dracul sponsors the Order of the Dragon, a powerful chivalric order, but also controls less savoury agents, because the Dracul firmly believes that the end always justifies the means.

The Emperor
The Emperor is the most powerful nobleman in Europe; he rules Europe's greatest kingdom, known as the Empire of the One Faith because of its temporal and spiritual nature. In the past, the Emperor and the Pope used to be in conflict for supremacy, but since the appearance of the New Way and the conquests of the Empire of the Crescent Moon, they have been co-operating to defend the Old Way.

The Erlking
The Erlking is the king of the Faeries. Although humans have been encroaching his lands for centuries, and although True Faith has cancelled any trace of Heathenry, the magic of the Erlking is still powerful, and it will remain so as long as the stars shine and men dream.

Frau Perchta
Frau Perchta is the spiritual and magical head of the spirits of nature and the covens of witches. She is the cold and pale virgin of the moon, the protector of animals and of their fertility. She is also the leader of the mysterious Wild Hunt.

The Great Boyar
Across the foreboding range of mountains on the eastern borders of the Fair Kingdom lies a vast and obscure steppe-like territory divided into squabbling petty kingdoms of ill repute. Shrouded in mystery, a figure has recently emerged from the squabble to unite them all under his iron rule. The last time a similar event happened, almost all of Europe fell before the Tartar horde. Will history repeat itself?

The Occultist
The Occultist is a loner without loyalties who works both for the Emperor and the Sultan. He does not really care as long as his forbidden researches get funded. The Emperor and the Sultan hate him but do not really have the choice if they do not want the latest sorcerous artefact fall in the wrong hands. It is rumoured that the Gipsies are his agents, which may explain why he is so well informed without ever leaving his tower.

The Pope
The Pope is the supreme pontiff of the Old Way branch of True Faith. As the leader of the oldest and most prestigious branch of True Faith, he still commands various orders of knights that he relentlessly uses to fight against the Empire of the Crescent Moon.

The Sultan
As both the temporal and the spiritual ruler of the southernly Empire of the Crescent Moon, the Sultan commands the loyalty of millions of faithful subjects. In Europe, he is viewed as a dangerous tyrant intent on conquering the Empire of the One Faith; at home, he is considered the embodiment of all the virtues of the Way of the Crescent Moon.

The Superintendent
One of the big differences between the Old Wayers and the New Wayers is that the latter have rejected the centralised and hierarchical way the Pope has been managing the church; the New Way faithful only obey God, their bishops are elected, and no bishop holds sway over the others. However, the New Wayers have realised that they do need a single spokesman; since his election by the New Way Synod in 1564, the Superintendent has been maintaining a careful balance between the two empires.

The Trickster
When the Pied Piper leads away the children of Hamelin, when Till Eulenspiegel plays his practical jokes on the burghers of a city, when a knight has a picaresque behaviour instead of a chivalric one, the Trickster is at work. He has been plaguing Europeans since Antiquity, and he always will be. Sometimes, as in the case of Mattie the Goose-boy, he is a welcome figure. It is said that vagrants are his agents.

The Turul
The Turul is the totemic bird of the ancestors of the Plains People. Even tough they converted to True Faith centuries ago, some of them still dream of the Tree of Life and of the Turul bird that perches on top of it, and that grants magical powers in dire times, as when King Matthias was saved from the Empire of the Crescent Moon by a pauper who breathed fire and ice.

The Warlord
The Mountains People are a proud and aloof people who guard the mountain frontiers of the Fair Kingdom. They are ruled by the Warlord who, despite his name, loves and protects peace. But woe to him who should cause the Warlord to choose war rather than peace, for his battle rage is immense and he is only placated when all his enemies are slain.

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Pool of the Dejected Rusalki

The Hill Cantons blog has organised a small 'competition'. Each contestant had to write a short Eastern European-flavoured encounter. The winning entries would be included in Hill Cantons' upcoming sandbox supplement.

Well, apparently many contestants beat me, so I am publishing my entry on my blog.

John William Waterhouse - Hylas and the Nymphs

The Pool of the Dejected Rusalki

A dense wood of birch trees conceals this shallow pool. The pool itself is surrounded by immense weeping willows, which look like brooding green giants or trolls from a distance. The water is very still and greenish. All berry bushes in the area grow incredibly bountiful.

A long time ago, a wandering knyaz (knight) stopped here on one of his errands. The knight was insanely handsome, but somewhat of a womaniser, so he made up a tale of him knowing some magician who could transform the rusalki into normal women to take advantage of them and bed the rusalki — yes, all 12 of them. The pool is currently inhabited by the offspring of the knight and the original rusalki, who are much more humanlike than your average rusalka (-2 to any spell that detects or affects glamorous/fey creatures, etc.)
The rusalki are still waiting for their father to return, break their bond to the pool, and transform them into human females.

If a party approaches the pool, 2D4 rusalki will exit the water and start walking, all beguiling smiles, towards the most 'knightly'-looking character, e.g., one wearing full plate armour or, if no PCs wear plate armour, one who looks or acts aristocratic.

Now two things may happen:

(1)- The party doesn't take any offensive action.
The rusalki will ask the "knight" to enter the pool with them. If he resists, they will try and drag him into the pool. If the party becomes aggressive see (2) below; if not, the "knight" is carried into the pool where the remaining rusalki assemble and ask him to vow to return with the magician. If the "knight" agrees, the party will be left alone, and even provided food, water, and more. If the "knight" refuses, the rusalki disappear under water never to be seen again. In the following 1D6 days, any woodland creature encountered by the party will be extremely aggressive towards them. Double the occurrence of any woodland wandering monster roll.

(2)- The party becomes offensive.
Whilst the initial rusalki surround the "knight", 3D4 more rusalki appear from the pool (just their head and shoulders) and start gazing at the other characters. A PC must successfully save vs magic or under his wisdom [depending on your favourite rules] or become entranced by the sight of the fabulously beautiful rusalki. An entranced PC will just stand idly and do nothing.
The rusalki around the "knight" will try and grab him to bring him into the pool.
(2a)- If the "knight" resists or tries to harm them, the rusalki will animate the branches of the weeping willows. Each rusalka may animate 2 branches. The two branches attack in co-operation: whenever one of the branches has successfully hit (it attacks as a 4 HD monster), it entangles its victim, which cannot move or fight any longer. The other branch then tries to strangle the immobile victim (it needs a hit); from the next round on, it will start suffocating it (1D6 automatic dmg per round).
(2b)- If the "knight" does not resist, he will be carried into the pool where the remaining rusalki assemble and ask him to vow to return with the magician. If the "knight" agrees, the party will be left alone, and even provided food, water, and more. If the "knight" refuses, the rusalki disappear under water never to be seen again. In the following 1D6 days, any woodland creature encountered by the party will be extremely aggressive towards them. Double the occurrence of any woodland wandering monster roll.

The encounter does not end here, though. If the "knight" has vowed to return with the magician, he has put himself under a strong geas, per the classic fantasy 'geas' spell, to find a magician who can transform the dejected rusalki into human females.

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Rusalka

Rusalka, by I. Bilibin
Even though the tentative weird fantasy setting described within this blog is supposedly "Central European"-flavoured, I will sometimes touch upon more Balkanic or Eastern European subjects. I particularly like Eastern European folklore; it is similar enough to the more familiar Western European folklore, yet it does retain some exotic aspects. I particularly like the Eastern European depiction of the fey people: the various rusalki, domovyie, vodyanyie, etc.

So let's enquire into the rusalka (plural: rusalki) today. The Wikipedia describes her as “a water nymph, a female spirit in Slavic mythology. She is the equivalent of a mermaid: a legendary aquatic creature with the upper body of a female human and the tail of a fish. According to most traditions, rusalki were fish-women, who lived at the bottom of rivers. In the middle of the night, they would walk out to the bank and dance in meadows. If they saw handsome men, they would fascinate them with songs and dancing, mesmerise them, then lead them away to the river floor to their death”.

Also: “Rusalki were linked with fertility and weren't considered evil before the nineteenth century. They came out of the water in the spring to transfer life-giving moisture to the fields”.

Well, causing young men to drown isn't particularly 'good' behaviour, but one may think that this was unintentional on the rusalki's side, and that they were overall 'neutral', much like druids are, because they are linked to Nature. Also, as life-giving fertility nymphs, rusalki are definitely the clear opposite of undead. So how come they are listed amongst the undead in many frp games?

I suspect the fault lies with the very first description of the rusalka as a D&D monster by Roger E Moore in issue No.34 of White Dwarf:

"Undead spirits"... OK, the Wikipedia states that “in nineteenth century versions, the rusalka is an unquiet being who is no longer alive, associated with the unclean spirit and dangerous”.

"Chaotic evil", OK, we've already seen that drowning people is evil... but why "female magic-users"??

"Who died by drowning"– now this is a complete permutation of the original creature: rusalki were supposed to drown people, not the other way round!

I may be mistaken but apparently there were no other rusalki in early *D&D products, except in issue No.290 of Dragon Magazine, which was a 'Slavic'-themed special issue. The rusalka was amongst the new monsters in that issue:
“Rusalkas [sic] are female spirits who dwell in the lakes, rivers, and streams of Russia. Their beguiling song is known to lure men to their watery graves”
“The rusalkas are believed to be the restless spirits of drowned maidens, tied to the place of their deaths”

They appear in Pathfinder as “cruel and bitter fey”, who “are not undead”, which is quite close to their true Slavic folklore origin.

The various retro-clones seem to have ignored the rusalka, except for Swords & Wizardry, which has the following:
“Rusalka are undead maiden-witches that haunt the cold rivers and lakes in which they drowned. In appearance, rusalka first appear to be comely maidens, clad only in fog. Upon close inspection, however, they are cadaverous with dishevelled hair and eyes that shine with evil green fire.”