Tragedy of the Elves
Here’s the spot to do some world-burning. (Time to make some characters!)
Some thoughts so far:
A human kingdom wherein the bloodline has faltered — elves, sworn to the protection/defense/wise guidance of the place, are dismayed. The hereditary Regent (tempted to say a Duke, could easily go with a more Gondor-ish Steward) running the place is not a bad sort, but like all humans he’s short-sighted and grabby. Lacking a proper king’s grip on the reins, the land has started to sour. Wells are going dry, crop yields are down, bandits monsters rains of blood! Maybe not that last one.
But the Regent’s propaganda machine keeps the humans from seeing the worst of the changes. When some oldster complains “In my day, etc. etc.” everyone shrugs it off. Things are great! The Minister of Duplicity says so!
Below: Luke’s Happy Time Train-Ride World Burning Questionnaire.
What’s the Big Picture? What’s going on in this setting that makes it ripe for adventure. What’s changing, evolving, declining?
- Madu: Well, as above – the lack of a true king’s hand upon the reins has permitted the land to slowly slide out of control. Whether this is recent or past I guess will dictate the amount that things have backslid. The noodling above is predicated on several (human) generations without a ruler, but that the elves have witnessed in a sense like the passing of a decade. “You know, I distinctly remember things being better a hundred years ago – remember how green these fields were when we swore allegiance to the first of the royal line?”
- Odie: I had a hell of an idea this morning: centuries ago, (some or all of) the Elves set themselves to a sacred task. They swore to mentor the race of Men, the way that an elder Sword Singer trains his Second, so that one day Men would be ready to assume the Mantle of Protectorship from the Elves when the last Elf sailed into the West. The Mantle’s not a physical thing, but rather a sense of duty toward the larger world and of a race’s place as stewards of Creation. With things as they are today, the Elves are now divided between the faction(s) who believe that Men can still prove worthy of the Mantle, and those who do not. So from the Elves’ point of view (which is admittedly different than the typical PCs’, given their long lifespans), what’s evolving is Men’s place in the Elves’ mind. As the fortunes of Men decline, so to do the Elves’ hopes in them – and if Men should prove unworthy, then who should succeed the Elves when their Age has passed? (Kind of cribbing both from Tolkien and from various sci-fi alien races who are portrayed as the cliche “advanced protectorate sworn not to interfere” or what have you.) What do you think?
> Madu: I think this is made of gold.
- Ty: I think one thing that is declining in the setting is obviously the power of men, whether it be from internal squables or something else. I think it’d be interesting to have Orcs be on the rise.
What’s the world’s culture? What are the cultural analogs? Analogs can be taken from historical earth, current events or fantasy works.
- Madu: Here I’m low on ideas. VHD:B is in the queue for inspirational works. Sort of an eastern European feel, maybe? Kind of transbalkan, with little city-states and principalities? That’d give the neighbors an excuse to come over and cause trouble, assuming they could see the signs that the locals have missed.
- Odie: I can dig it. I like the Elves’ culture being straight Tolkien (maybe with a hint of Protoss, if you’re familiar with StarCraft), but for Men I’m down for anything.
> Madu: I’ll stick with ersatz Transylvania as the cultural standard of Men. A question: do we gloss over the whole history of invasions, dominations, guerrila wars, forced conversions, impalements, crazed tyrannical overlords, and so on? Because if I were an elf witnessing what went on through the ages, I’d be like “Pffft, forget the men — can we pass the Mantle to the Roden, do you think?” Maybe this kingdom (or regency, as it were) has weathered all the previous only to lose the royal line?
What’s the conflict in which the characters are involved? What are the sides? What’s wrong?
- Odie: So, I know for one thing we’ve got the rightful heir to the throne, who’s been effectively usurped and maybe doesn’t even know he’s the heir (although it’d also be cool if he does, and he’s like Viserys — only not that much like him). Sides on this are “those who want the status quo,” and “those who want to restore the line of kings of old.” I’d also be cool with a conflict between Elves, where the sides are “Men have failed us” and “Men can still be redeemed.” Each of those suggests action: if Men have failed the Elves, then either it’s time to find a new race of protectors to enlighten (hello, Roden! and hey, they can use Faith and Gifted too, can’t they? hmm….) or it’s time to, I dunno, find a way to keep the Elves around forever or until a suitable successor can be found. Or maybe create one? Elvish magic AI? I love it. Anyway. If Men haven’t failed, then by golly, it’s time to keep on with the plan to pass them the Mantle, which is where I come in. Lastly, I’d be OK with a conflict within the heir himself, between the part of him that can grow into the Best King Evar and the part of him which is, well, human. I don’t know if that part should be center stage or not (Ty?), and again, if he’s Viserys my dude’s probably going to despair outright, but I do think it’s reasonable that he have moments where he goes, “Whoa, this…this is a lot to ask of a guy.” Even Aragorn had his moments of doubt.
> Madu: Well, I don’t think I’d go full-on Viserys on you guys. But I did kick around the idea that the lad is elsewhere having fun, and as far as he’s concerned the kingdom can go soak its collective head. Maybe he’s a mercenary captain or a pirate or something. The conflict that catches my interest the most is, I think, the elvish factions. Speaks to Grief and Spite right there — “We’ve watched over Men for how long, and for what? Wars, plagues, and now this. Forget it!”
What physical place does this conflict take place in? What ecology, environment, place?
- Madu: Well, sticking to the transbalkan kinda scheme — craggy mountains, lonely tracks, misty moors, dark and silent forests. Cold, wolf-speckled killing winters, brief and dreamy summers. The rivers are chilly and rapid, the lakes placid but deep.
Edited to add: Channeling Jack and Eliza’s trip from the Siege of Vienna through eastern Europe, from Quicksilver.
What’s the name of the most important place in this setting? Not the capital or any dumb shit like that, but THE PLACE where all the action goes down?
- Odie: Tough call. Obviously somewhere in the human lands. Maybe it actually is the capital — that’s where the Regent’s at, right? Hmm.
> Madu: Certainly if there’s a face-off with the Regent, it’s going to be in the palace of his lord. I guess part of that depends on what the rightful inheritor is up to — if he’s a corsair lord now, then there may be some furious action in a nasty, seething den of filthy pirate scum.
- Ty: I think it’d be cool to have a couple stages we use. Obviously the capitol, but if we have to fight off Orcs it would require us to travel and fight them.
What’s the name of a faraway place that folks talk about, dream about or mutter under their breath about?
- Odie: Probably our Elven forest. That, or what’s a place the Elves dream or whisper about?
> Madu: You know, I like that. “I hear that the trees of the Elves each have a thousand different flowers, and each flower bears a thousand different fruits… and here I am, staring at an ox’s butt all day in the field.” Sheesh, where do the Elves wish they were? Apart from the west, hm. You know, to take that Mantle thing and run with it, maybe there’s an Ur-citadel somewhere, long fallen into ruin for lack of inhabitants — and the elf-folk long for it, but walking its overgrown streets and tumbled pillars is just too much to bear. Theirs is as much a longing for a different time as a different space.
- Ty: A place Elves talk about might be the ruins of the former Kingdom of men? And maybe that’s something we’re trying to resurrect along with the rightful heir?
Who are the antagonists? Who is opposing the goals of the characters?
- Madu: There’s this Duke or Steward or whatever, and all his little minions.
- Odie: Ty hinted at a faction of Elves who think my mission’s a waste of time. Or maybe they flat-out reject Men as the successors of the Mantle, and think my mission tantamount to heresy?
- Ty: I think Orcs would be a great antagonist for us to fight. They think that the elves are going to abandon men, and that men will not have the strength to fight them off.
Imagine all of the characters are standing a room/ruin/field with the antagonists or their minions. What do the antagonists want from that meeting? What do the character want from that meeting? That’s where your game begins.
- Madu: Hmm. I was going to say ‘The regent wants the elves to abandon their quest to return the true rulers to the land’ but that kind of lacks teeth. Like, duh, of COURSE he does. So, perhaps, the regent (and his backers) want the elves to recant the whole thing — to reverse their stance, and let the propaganda machine tell the populace that “Hey, it’s okay: the elves said we don’t need a king anyway!” Now I am seeing some public dismay over the fact that the proper ruler isn’t on the throne — a quiet, subtle dismay, because otherwise the regent’s Browncloaks come and take you away in the night. If this is getting too Stasi-ish someone say so.
- Odie: Well, what if from his point of view, it’s all Elvish meddling? Like, “drop this sanctimonious ‘Mantle’ business already, it’s just your excuse to keep us under your thumb and make sure we only do what you want us to do. ’Don’t mine in the hills, it’s bad for the forest,’ you whine. Yeah? Well we can’t craft stuff by asking the trees nicely, so we need that iron. I think you just want to keep us from getting too advanced.” Maybe not to a paranoid extreme, but I can certainly see the point: the Elves seem stifling, not guiding. Especially if they haven’t really dropped the whole deal on the Mantle yet and explained to Men that’s the idea behind all this.
Alternately, imagine the characters standing at the scene of some great disaster or calamity clearly caused by one of the antagonists. What’s the disaster? How did it happen? What are the characters going to do about it right now?
- Odie: Riffing off what seems to be the theme here, it’s probably some disaster caused by humans. Could be an environmental catastrophe – levees flooded, dams broken, or a fire in a coal mine1 that’ll burn for decades – or it could be infighting between human kingdoms, but either way it’s directly attributable to human greed and folly. And if the Regent’s involved, he’s probably either downplaying the catastrophic effects, or saying that it was necessary for the march of progress, or both. Gotta break a few eggs! As to what we’re going to do about it, wow, tough. Use our Jedi powers to convince some humans to pitch in and help stop the problem?
And some more mechanical questions:
What type of magic exists in this world? Pick one or two of the magic systems: Faith (and Blasphemous Hatred), Sorcery (and Abstraction), Natural Magic, Spirit Binding, Summoning, Enchanting.
- Madu: Natural magic, obviously. Not real concerned about the rest. Sorcery? Faith? Death Art?
- Odie: Give humans Sorcery of some kind (Art Magic?), to as to provide an obvious reason why they’re the ones the Elves think can handle the Mantle. Or Faith. Death Art makes ’em less a good choice for it, so may want to shy back from that one.
> Madu: I was joking about Death Art. :P I think Art Magic is a good match — heh, maybe it’s even a diluted variant of the Songs that the elf-folk taught to Men to prep them for taking the Mantle, and another reason to be resentful. “If we only had MORE SORCEROUS POWER we could be so much greater! But you elves won’t give it up!”
If Sorcery is used, what’s it’s idiom? Does it require speech? Gestures?
If Sorcery is used, what spells are available? Which spells are inappropriate to the game world?
If is Faith used, what is the Faith idiom? What are the religions? Is Faith universal or does it only affect believers?
What character stocks are in play in this world? Which are restricted and why?
- Madu: So far I’m seeing Men and Elves. I am guessing we don’t want this loaded up with hobbits and dwarves and gnomes and orcs and kobolds and… you know, I’ll spare you the Monster Manual recitation.
- Odie: Actually, I am OK with opening this up. I mean, we are probably only going to play with Elves and Men, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be the Tolkien standards, especially Orcs and Trolls as some kind of external threat. Alternatively, if we don’t want to worry about those, surely Men can stand in (barbarians, or whatever). Wouldn’t be averse to tossing in another race for competition in the Elves’ little pageant, though.
Will you allow only character burns or will you allow monster-burned characters as well?
If monster-burned characters are used, what are their common traits?
What cultural traits apply to the characters of this game world? Pick three character traits for each culture.
- Madu: Stocky, Superstitious, and Taciturn are three that leap immediately to mind.
- Odie: Sure. I mean, our Elves already get the Elvish traits, so we’re really just detailing NPCs and world-flavor.
What’s your Resources cycle? 1 month, seasonal, 6 months, annual? What’s the game world’s currency? Who collects the taxes? What do people do for work? What’s the major economy? What’s the black market economy?
- Madu: H’m. If I were to guess, an Annual cycle would trouble an elf none. What’s a year to an immortal being?
- Odie: Rock on. I’m really cool with rolling through a lot of downtime/practice time in the game. You may want to be stricter on us with our practice time, though. Elves could get some heinous tests in through practice time. “I wait for a year, and during that time I train exclusively with my sword. I come back with a B5 Sword and kick his ass!”
> Madu: Of course, the way Men are — you could come back in a year and the dude is dead. “What happened?” “Oh, he caught something from a whore in Cashport and croaked.” I would like to play up the different ways Men and Elves perceive the passage of time, particularly as regards taking quest-time away for stuff like practice. Just another nail in the Grief-coffin.
Material world: What weapons and armor are available? Are some weapons and armor restricted to certain cultures or character stocks? What property is available? Are resources and gear otherwise restricted?
- Madu: Elves, of course, get access to all that kickass elvish gear. Perhaps Men are permitted an item or two created with Antiphon Union, as royal treasures, etc? Oooh! Maybe there’s something to do with the true king’s sword (elf-forged and enchanted) which needs to be delivered to the scion of the line — and he needs to accept it willingly. Wonder what that would take Spell Song-wise. Apart from that, though, I’m thinking that only the nobility has access to Superior arms, and that by and large most Men never see anything more than the plainest, most workaday tools and arms.
- Odie: Oh, man. Antiphon-enchanted elven blade for the king’s sword? Sheesh, the possibilities: Anthem of Courage (helps lead an army), Hymn of Victory (evoking Wonderment in your enemies is always a good thing in a pitched battle), Song of Burning Bright (Steel test in all your foes? Yeah, baby!), Song of the Sword (Excalibur-quality sword). Bonus points if the “must accept it willingly” bit is added through the Verse of Decision (cannot be drawn into Duel of Wits to recant his claim to the throne, or his vow to govern justly?), or even better, the Doom Sayer — he’s got to dedicate a Belief to his just rule in order to claim the sword.
> Madu: Heh, that last one is PERFECT. Here you’ve got to find him, carrying a priceless artifact the whole way, deliver it, and get him to commit so deeply that he has to change a Belief to do it. Rock! [wails on the teeny-tiny frets]