Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Ratfolk of the Grotto

Curiously, I'm posting this article a year to the day after first posting about the Grotto. (And, yes, I am shamelessly reusing maps again.) 


The Ratfolk of the Grotto
A previous article introduces the Grotto, a hollow asteroid filled with water that features a tavern, inn and brothel, the Sign of the Cup and Loaf. Among the eclectic mix of travelers and regulars who inhabit the place is a pack of ratfolk who serve as custodians for the place. What most people don't know, however, is that they are also a band of thieves. Under the unseeing eyes of other, larger people, they slowly gather any and all useful items and information that others leave unprotected.

The Ratfolk Lair
With its entrance located beneath the rightmost of the piers on the asteroid's artificial lake, this series of caves allows the ratfolk to live and work in the heart of the settlement's activity, all while not attracting undue attention. Refer to the map below for the following location descriptions. 

Note: For a map of the Grotto, refer to that post for details.

1. Entrance
The mouth of this tunnel is some seven feet wide and of roughly five feet in height. It is entirely covered by the artificial lake, making it particularly difficult to notice (DC 25 Perception check). From there, a tunnel cut out of the rock leads up above the waterline. Note, too, that there is a spiked pit trap (refer to page 420 in the core rulebook) in the two squares marked with X's on the map. What is more, to make this trap more dangerous for higher-level parties, the GM might want to have the spikes be poisoned with an appropriate venom or other kind of toxin (see Table 16-2 on page 559 of the core rulebook for options). 

As a general rule, tunnels in this cave network are as tall as they are wide; other chambers have a height of roughly half their width.

2. Main Chamber
This is where the ratfolk keep all of the general goods that they “find.” Most of it is junk, little more than shiny baubles that attracted their attention. To determine the nature of a random item, simply use the “Minor” column from Table 15-2 from page 461 of the core rulebook, but have all items be mundane in nature. At the GM's discretion, there is a 1-in-20 chance of an item actually having magical properties, with only one such item being present. There are also casks of water and various foodstuffs; refer to Table 6-3 on page 140 in the core rulebook for examples.

3. Midden Pit
Ratfolk have a very narrow definition of the word “trash,” but this hole (roughly four feet wide and twenty feet deep) is where they discard old bones, broken glass, spoiled foodstuffs and whatever else they deem apprporiate. At the GM's discretion, it could be home to a swarm of vermin.

4. Females' Den
The most notable feature of this area are five beds made from pieces of cloth, straw and other such materials. Each of these is occupied by one of the five females in the pack. Most notably, any items of legitimate value—coins, gems or magical items—that they don't carry on their persons are hidden in these beds.

5. Den of Nartamus and Lyram
A single large bed dominates this room. That is because it is home to Nartamus and Lyram, the leaders of the pack. In addition to their items of value, stored beneath their bed is a book in which the two ratfolk have written tidbits of information—both things that the rogues who serve Nartamus have overheard in the course of their activities, and additional details that Lyram has been able to glean from her divination magic. 

The exact nature of that information is left up to the GM, in order to add any plot hooks as needed to meet the desires of the players and the needs of the campaign. For example, this might include something overheard by a boastful pirate while he was drunk, notes from a secret meeting of the Royal Interplanetary Company or a similar oganization, personal secrets from any number of individuals, and the like.

6. Males' Den
This location is very much the same as the den for the females (Area 4), above, except that there are six beds that are occupied by the males. Once again, any valuable items they possess but do not carry are hidden in the piles of cloth and straw.

To find statistics for the various members of the ratfolk pack, refer to pages 178-81 the Monster Codex.

Rogues: Ratfolk Tinkerers.

Nartamus: Ratfolk Troubleshooter.

Lyram: Ratfolk Sage.

Using the Ratfolk in an Aetherial Adventures Campaign
There are plenty of ways in which these rogues can become involved in the events of a space fantasy RPG campaign; presented here are a few of the possibilities.
  • First and foremost, PCs visiting the Grotto would do well to visit the ratfolk to learn more about any potential business, since very little there happens without them noticing.
  • In a similar vein, the ratfolk provide the GM with a means of complicating or otherwise steering an existing storyline. For example, if the PCs should fail to acquire a valuable piece of information, then the ratfolk might offer it in exchange for something of similar value; should they leave an important item unguarded, then he ratfolk might “find” it.
  • Keeping in mind the types of—ahem--entertainment provided at the Sign of the Cup and Loaf, this could be a good opportunity for some blackmail—with a choice NPC or even the PCs themselves as victims.
  • Should the ratfolk recover a clue to something like a lost pirate treasure cache, then an all-out battle might erupt in the Grotto as people from various factions—the PCs, scallywags and even the powers that be—try to claim it for themselves.
  • Given the ratfolk's natural aptitude when it comes to alchemy, anyone seeking to experiment in that field—perhaps someone from Wodan studying strange mutative material, or even a Cult of the Void member seeking to develop a potent plague—could come here to set up a laboratory, consulting with these diminutive discoverers.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Building Civilizations: Using Character Classes for Inspiration

Just as the details regarding certain species of creatures can inform the nature of a society or culture that they might build, so can the different character classes from the Pathfinder RPG be used to inspire the types of government (or lack thereof) that people might form. In this way, they can give different worlds—or different nations or settlements on the same world—distinctive flavor. Take, for instance, the following possibilities.

Barbarians and Druids: Primitive and Nomadic Tribes
These two classes are emblematic of a society in which people still lead a nomadic lifestyle, moving from place to place while following the migrations of animals, the natural growth cycles of edible plants, and the like. While they may return to more permanent locations in the winter, during the rest of the are always on the move. They possess only primitive material goods—with weapons and tools for hunting and gathering food being the most prized—and that makes trade with other worlds particularly lucrative, even though they might not have minted coins with which to pay for goods. In general the people know the land, along with its flora and fauna, very well.

Fighters: Military Coup or Warrior Hierarchy
This society might be a long-established military hierarchy, such as one led by a king who shares power with his noble knights, or the product of a recent coup d'etat. In either case, power and influence can be shared based on rank and achievement—although one does not necessarily match up with the other. For example, a particularly charismatic leader could be good at convincing others to obey him, but wouldn't be able to defeat others in single combat. In such cases, however, the strength of one's entourage might outweigh individual prowess. Whatever the case, a society such as this one could feature jousts, archery tournaments and other such contests as means of proving, and thus establishing, oneself. On such worlds, monks might be the pinnacle of self-actualization, or they could be viewed as strange ascetics who are too narrow-minded to make use of armor and more effective weapons.

Paladins and Clerics: Theocracy
When the followers of a particular religion or philosophy gain power over others, the resulting society can bring order and peace or distrust and terror. That is because the dominant faith tries to eliminate all others, believing them to be misguided (at best) or heretical and dangerous (at worst). That bias can manifest in many different forms, from intolerance to outright persecution, and even a crusade. Of course, the exact nature of the society's outlook on life and morality depends on the god(s) whom they worship, along with—to put it in game terms—the domains in the respective portfolio(s). In this way the espoused values can run the gamut from good to evil, law to chaos, and everything in between them. Moreover, monks could be a part of this society, self-disciplined warriors who fight to promote the dominant doctrine, or they could be just another group of unorthodox people who dedicate themselves to the wrong tenets.

Wizards and Sorcerers?
In many ways, a society run by wizards might closely resemble one based on a particular religion. After all, each is run by a cabal of powerful spellcasters. Given the studious nature of wizards, however, they might be more likely to rule by committee. In fact, it could make sense for them to be led by a council of mages, with the most potent practitioner of each school having a seat on it. The notion of a magical aristocracy also raises the question of how sorcerers would be involved. For them, of course, it's a question of bloodline, something akin to royal dynasties of kings and queens.

Rogues: Rampant Organized Crime
A society run by thieves can take at least two different forms. One is more covert, in which they work “behind the scenes” of another type of government. In that way they could secretly promote all manner of illicit activities, perhaps aided by collusion from the powers that be, and possibly even controlling the ruling powers via extortion or some other type of coercion. The other option is for an out-and-out lawless society, one in which the criminals run roughshod and there's no power who is willing or able to stand against them. This might take the form of gangs running amok, taking what they want from other citizens who are just trying to scratch out a living. Perhaps this would occur in the aftermath of some great calamity, one that has left only the shattered remains of a previous civilization.

The solitary nature of these wilderness warriors makes them unlikely candidates for forming any type of government. They could fit nicely into some of the options mentioned previously, however. For example, they would be valued as scouts in a fighter-driven society, or as explorers in a culture driven by arcane or divine spellcasters. Those who are lawful and/or good might find themselves at odds with a society led by thieves, necromancers or evil clerics, however.

Bards: Compliment or Contrast
Bards, too, seem unlikely candidates for establishing a society on their own. They make a natural addition to many of the previous options, however. As storytellers, they would be favored by warriors who seek to promote their own glory, especially through epic poetry and song. They might travel along with nomadic bands, or from stronghold to stronghold in a culture that has more permanent dwellings. Arcane spellcasters are likely to appreciate them as fonts of lore, especially when such learning could lead to new sources of magical power. In a society run by clerics, on the other hand, they might be viewed as a threat if their stories are in opposition to the established orthodoxy, and thus could be persecuted as sources of heresy. Indeed, their knowledge might extend back to the time before the reigning government gained power.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Using Earth History as a Model for Campaign Development

When developing a space fantasy campaign setting, the GM can easily use Earth's own history—namely, the Age of Sail—as a model. With that in mind, four stages in the expansion of exploration and exploitation of the galaxy are suggested below.

Stage 1: More Theory Than Practice
At this point, most people in a campaign setting don't believe that space travel is even possible. There are a few visionaries, however, who are willing to try it and discover the truth. More importantly, at least a few of them receive the patronage of a wealthy sovereign or some other backer, providing the means for testing the theory. When those intrepid explorers set out on their voyages, many dismiss any hope of ever seeing them again. Indeed, some do not return, and their disappearances become part of local legend. Others manage to complete their voyages, however, and bring with them the first evidence of wealth and culture from other worlds. Their success is cause for sensation and celebration, and others begin to consider undertaking expeditions of their own.

The voyages of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan are good examples of this stage.

Stage 2: Investigations and Investments
Once the first explorers have proven that aetherial travel is possible, governments and individuals with the wealth to do so begin plotting expeditions in more systematic ways. This includes more frequent voyages, undertaken with religious, political and/or mercantile objectives, likely accompanied by military support. Indeed, different powers are likely to compete against each other in the hope of claiming territory and resources for themselves. Of course, this is also when pirates begin their activity, since any kind of law enforcement is still remote and scattered.

The expeditions of the Spanish conquistadors, such as Cortez, Pizarro and Coronado, are good examples of this stage.

Stage 3: Companies and Colonies
As the level of interplanetary travel increases, the Old World countries gradually make their presence felt in bigger and bigger ways. This includes the creation of settlements and colonies on other worlds, as well as the creation of organizations dedicated to promoting exploration and trade. Specific routes become well established, although hazards still remain. Piracy is one such lingering danger, but can be met with a forceful reprisal. There is the possibility of insurrection in once-loyal colonies. Note, too, that cultures and societies on the Old World become increasingly blended, since travel between nations is much easier. What is more, visitors from other worlds are seen in larger cities.

In Earth history, the Golden Age of Piracy, along with the Revolutionary period that followed it, are good examples of this stage.

Stage 4: The Way of the Worlds
By this stage, travel between planets becomes commonplace. Visitors to and from other worlds are frequent sights in port. Additionally, post-colonial political situations occur; for example, an old country might have to learn to deal with one of its former settlements as a rival and an equal.

The developments during the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries on Earth are exemplary of this stage.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Truly Alien Species

One of the interesting elements of space fantasy campaigns is that they let GMs experiment with really different species—as opposed to races—and the civilizations and cultures that they might develop. With that in mind, presented here are suggestions for the ways in which creatures' biology can contribute to how they interact socially, politically and religiously, thus creating interesting backdrops for interplanetary adventures.

The Default: Various Types of Mammals
Humans are almost guaranteed, of course, with elves and dwarves a close second, probably some kind of halfling, and maybe gnomes and half-orcs. Whatever the case, the dominant races in most campaign worlds are various types of mammals. (Thus the same can be said, too, for many of the NPC races in settings, such as orcs and other humanoids, giants and the like.) They give life birth, and even larger litters—that is to say, multiple births—are relatively small in number. Offspring usually know who their mothers are, and thus most likely their fathers, too. Additionally, children remain at home for a lengthy period of time before they can provide for themselves. 

These factors taken together mean that family connections become quite important, and thus can lead to predominantly matriarchal or patriarchal systems of government, laws of inheritance, and such (such as among the Amazons or more traditionally medieval societies). As a result, characters who don't have families—orphans, foundlings, loners and the like—might find it more difficult to work their way into certain social circles, but areas that see lots of travelers won't present much of a problem.

Something a Little Different: Reptiloids
In many ways, the cultures and civilizations built by reptiloid species are similar to mammalian ones. Take, for instance, the lizard folk and troglodytes, both presented in the Bestiary, or the serpentfolk presented in Bestiary 2 along with supplements from Green Ronin's Freeport setting. For them, the concept of family can still be quite important. Because young are hatched from eggs, however, there is less certainty regarding parentage, and thus the society might take more of a communal outlook toward caring for them. Since more young are born at one time, less value is placed on each individual. What is more, since hatchlings are sometimes even expected to fend for themselves right from the start, this means that close family ties are less developed. While there can be individuals who seek to promote the well-being of the whole species, others are just as likely (if not more so) to be concerned only with their own survival and success. Taken further, this can lead to a culture in which greater strength—perhaps demonstrated through prowess in combat—becomes the means of attaining positions of leadership, rather than promotion through communal decision-making.

All of One (Hive) Mind: Insectoids
Along with lots of other creatures, Bestiary 4 presents the formians. These sentient insects have a society dominated by a central figure, the queen. From an individual perspective, all that matters is following her orders; she, then, provides the materials needed for life to her loyal followers. There is virtually no sense of self-determination; indeed, those who think to follow their own paths are deemed to be deviants at best and at worst, threats to peace and stability. Because large numbers of creatures are born from clutches of eggs, they are not seen as being of individual importance. Instead, all that matters is what they can do to serve the queen. They work together to generate foodstuffs and accumulate other goods, all of which remain under the queen's control, for her to distribute as she deems appropriate. In theory she should have no favorites among her loyal followers, but in practice that is not always the case.

Unhindered by Bonds of Blood: Arborlings
An eponymously titled PDF supplement from Clockwork Gnome Publishing presents an interesting variant species, the intelligent and mobile tree creatures known as arborlings. As sentient plants, they are born through the spreading of seeds or pollen; this is a relatively anonymous process when compared to live birth or even hatching from eggs. For this reason, while a given creature might feel some sense of kinship for its offspring, a much greater emphasis is put on individuality. That is, one cannot be expected to heed a parent's wishes when it is almost impossible to prove parentage. What is more, since the earth, water and sunlight provide the materials necessary for survival, and those are commonly available to all creatures, then there is little cause for competition in acquiring them. This tend to makes for a peaceful society, and one in which decisions are made through discussion of the common good rather than any sense of obedience to any authority. 

An exception, can arise, however, when outsiders threaten the territory in which these creatures live. At such times, when they are forced to band together in mutual self-defense, then a charismatic and crafty leader might arise to rally them in battle.

Beyond the Pale: The Undead
Taking the strangeness even a step further, one can consider a society made up of the undead. They don't need to reproduce through any natural means; rather they can be created in a number of ways. Some, like skeletons and zombies, are simply the animated remains of living creatures; they lack any real drive of their own, but simply follow orders. Others, such as ghosts, wraiths and spectres, come into being when a mortal dies and—for one reason or another—is unable to attain any peaceful kind of afterlife. Finally there are those who enter into undeath knowingly: the lich, a wizard who seeks a kind of immortality; and the vampire, who willingly or unwillingly participate in the blood ritual.
An interesting aspect of life (for lack of a better term) in a predominantly undead society is the strict hierarchy that exists among these types of creatures. As mentioned above, skeletons and zombies are clearly of the lowest stature. Above them are some of those like ghouls, ghasts, wights and wraiths, who possess greater power but who cannot to rise above their given positions. It is only among the ghosts, vampires and liches that can aspire to any real power. In this way they tend to build up their own centers of influence, commanding those beneath them while working toward their individual ends. While they may work together toward common purposes, they are just as likely to betray each other, since there is no love lost among their kind. Their main weakness is a reliance on living creatures for food, be that in the form of blood, brains or flesh. They do have the benefit of time, however, since they can plot action over the course of decades, centuries and even millenia.

Lifespan and Outlook on Life
When considering the outlooks of different cultures and societies, it is important to keep in mind how long each of them lives. Humans, for example, are considered by others to be impetuous and grasping, in part because they typically live for less than a century. While halflings and half-orcs are pretty similar in nature, dwarves, gnomes and elves tend to view them as short-sighted. In this way, the formians are much more like humans in nature, while arborlings and lizard folk tend to see things in the same way as the older races. Only among the undead does time truly lose its relevance.