What is The Dark Eye?

posted by Moldless Bread Original SA post

The Dark Eye 4.0

What is The Dark Eye?

The Dark Eye is often called the most popular german roleplaying game. Meaning, it was both the most successful game written in Germany as well the most played game by german Gamers. I don't know if these numbers still hold up today, but both facts were definitely true in the nineties and early aughties.

So there was that guy named Ulrich Kiesow. Sometimes in the 80s, he sits down to play a newfangled thing called Dungeons and Dragons. Kiesows reaction is great, he thinks that whole pen and paper roleplaying thing is the bees knees (something we all can understand, I'm sure). Rather than getting annoyed that DnD books are hard to get in Germany and moving on with his life, he starts writing and publishing his own system and setting: The Dark Eye. Somewhere along the line in the third edition, he founds Fantasy Productions, his own publishing company, publishing the game, adventure paths and a magazine and giving opportunities to other RPGs, Fantasy and SciFi literature.
By the time 3rd edition comes around, there is a large and established fanbase of the game. Most notable of that is probably the letter-game, where fans had the chance to put their player characters in the position of lords and nobles and roleplayed political issues and campaigns. The results of these multi-year affairs shaped and influenced the history of the setting.

The 4th Edition got released in 2002. This is the edition I am reviewing and the one I have most experience with. Ulrich Kiesow died in 1997, by the way, so I am assuming this edition has little to no input from him.

2015 saw the release of 5th edition. I am only familiar with it by looking over the beta rules once. It definitely got modernized, slimming the system down somewhat, but it still was too complex and did not have a clear enough selling point for my tastes.

There was an attempt to market the 4th Edition in America, but that didn't end up successful. As a result, only the basic rules have been translated, and I don't have access to those, so I'm going to use the german books for this review. That also means some terms might be translated differently than the official version.

Personally, I'm no longer a friend of the system. I played it for years and years (don't make me count, I'm getting old) and have run again and again into small annoyances, inconsistencies and bloated subsystems, so my viewpoint might bleed through and it's possible that I complain about a perfectly serviceable rule.
My relationship to the setting is somewhat better, having lots of nostalgia for certain events and parts of the world, although there are enough things that never gripped me or actively annoyed me that might set more vitriol off.
As the biggest german RPG for many years, it also tried to cover every possible thing you could play. That is something that is already difficult for a ruleset, but with a fixed setting it becomes a nightmare. TDE tries to offer lighthearted fairytales and gruesome horror, swashbuckling duels and large-scale engagements, a low magic setting and great feats of sorcery, presents itself as a beginners game full of narrative freedom and provides loads of very expansive and very crunchy rules at the same time. In my opinion, the game constantly stumbles over this mishmash of options and both rules and setting suffer for it.
This just won't be a very objective review, is what I'm saying.

Another note is that is has been definitely more than a decade since I read the rulebooks properly, having run the game mostly from memory and houserules since then. So I might (re-)discover something I was not aware of.

Who knows, maybe this will rekindle my interest or more in TDE (which would actually be good, because it looks like I am going to play it a bit longer...). Wish me luck!

The rules – quick overview

We're starting off with a quick primer over the game's rules and world. It's going to take a while to get a complete picture going through the books chronologically, so I am giving a bit context upfront.

The basic check

The basic check is a D20 roll-under check and will be involved, one way or another, in most tests. You look up your target number, roll a D20, apply modifiers and succeed if your roll is below or equal the target number, otherwise you fail. Natural 1s are great successes, Natural 20s are blunders.
(And already, TDE decides to be bit difficult, even if it is not a huge deal. For some reason I can't figure out, the game designers insist on modifying the roll instead of the target number, adding a number to difficult checks and subtracting from easy ones. Meaning, the short notation is +X for difficult checks and -X for easy ones. And that just feels counterintuitive.
I dont't know, if that has always been a thing in earlier editions, but in 5th they changed it around)

The Attributes
And how do you get your Target number? The eight Attributes (or good characteristics, for old times sake) of a character are used both for simple Checks (Can you lift that Gate? Can you catch the falling trinket? Is your first impression a good one?) and are a part of a skill check.
The Attributes are:
Courage (CR) Raw willpower, keeping your nerves under pressure and decisiveness.
Intuition (IN) Quick wits, having the right feelings and trusting them. Understanding Stuff before you can combine all the facts.
Cleverness (CL) Logical Thinking and Memory. Being really good at Lining up the facts in your head.
Charisma (CH) Projecting Confidence, seeming empathic, being likable, regardless of your looks. Also the strength of the characters magical Aura.
Constitution (CO) Being tough. That's it, really. But what more do you need?
Agility (AG) Speed, Flexibility, Moving exactly where you want to go.
Fingers Fleetness(FF), Hand to eye-coordination, fine-motor skills.
Physical Power (PP) Not just being swole, but also knowing how to effectively use your power.

Each Attribute starts between 8 and 14 for the average Hero, (10 is the absolute average for a random person) and maxes out at 1,5 times the starting value.

Additionally, the Attributes make up some derived stats.
A Derived stat is made up of several Attributes and potentially a racial modifier. Basic Attack, for example is calculated as (CR+AG+PP)/5. This does prevent God-stats (and I guess it is has more verisimilitude than strength only), but is hell to calculate on the fly when a stat-altering spell hits.

The derived stats are:
Life Points: Keep some to survive. CO and PP. Usually ends up somewhere between 25 and 35 for starting Characters.
Stamina: Keep some to do other stuff than crawl around on the ground. CR, CO and AG. Ends up in the same Range as Life Points.
Astral Points: Spell points, Mana, Magick. However you want to call it. Only available to those born with the magic spark. CR, IN, CH. Can end up with great variance, depending on what kind of caster you are.
Magic Resistance: A passive defense to make a Wizards life a little bit harder. CR; CL, CO. Gets a negative Modifier from race and usually ends up between 3 and 6
Initiative: Act first in Combat. Becomes drastically more important if you are using optional combat rules. CR,IN, AG. Starting Characters have between 7 and 11
Basic Attack: How good are you at hitting, regardless of weapon skill. CR, AG, PP. 7 or 8 for beginners.
Basic Parry: How good are you at not getting hit, regardless of weapon skill. Also used for Dodging, but we're not calling it Defense because it was always known as Parry. IN, AG PP. 7 or 8 for beginners.
Basic Ranged attack: Hitting, but at Range. IN, DX, PP. 7 or 8 for beginners.
Wound threshold: Damage below that threshold lowers your Life points, but that's it. If the damage reaches or exceeds the threshold, you incur penalties in addition to the damage. Half your Constitution.

Skills (and Spells) and the 3D20 Method
Having those Attributes for simple challenges is nice and all, but realistically, most of your out-of-combat rolls will be made via skills.
The GM will tell the players which skill is rolled. There are plenty of choices, seeing that there are – uh, let me look– roughly 150 different skills.
Were 90s Skill lists still a thing in the 2000s? Because that is a 90s skill list.
The list does include gems like Casting metal, Weaving and Carpentry (which are distinct from Blacksmithing, Sewing and Woodworking, of course), so you're character will only have a fraction of those – fraction meaning roughly a quarter, in this case.
Some Skills are Basic skills (Everybody can use them) and others are Special skills (You can only use them if you put points in it).
They are further divided in 9 skill categories: Combat skills, Physical skills, Social, Nature, Knowledge, Languages, Writing, Crafting and Gifts.
Combat skills, Language and Writing work differently than the others, we'll skip those for now. We will get back to combat in this post, at least.

So, how we roll skill checks?

By using the 3D20 method.

Let's look at Climbing, for example. It looks like this.

Climbing (CR/AG/PP) EN x2 SRV 9

9 is the Skill Rank Value for our Example.
EN x2 is the encumbrance modifier. When climbing, you take a penalty double your encumbrance in addition to other modifiers. (For this example, we're unencumbered). That is mostly a thing for physical skills.
As you can see, there are three Attributes attached to it. Those are set by the rules, but the book points out that at the GMs discretion you could change the ones you’re using. You could only use mental skills, if the character wants to know something about climbing or replace AG with CO if you are rolling for a long, strenuous climb. The assumption is, though, that you are using the given Attributes most of the time.
Each Skill has 3 Attributes attached, although some skills have one Attribute doubled up. It's never the same attribute for all 3 checks, though.

So, with skill rank 9 you are a competent, but not amazing climber and your three stats come out as 14/12/10 in order.

How do you actually climb that wall?

In Essence, you are making three Attribute Checks and try to pass all of them. Throw 3D20 and roll, in order, below 15,13 and 11.
Having to succeed in all three rolls seems daunting, but that is what your skill ranks are for.
If you roll above your target numbers, you can change the rolled number by 1 for each skill rank you spend.
So suppose you roll 7/13/14. You would have failed, but we are using our skill ranks to lower the second roll by 1 and the third by 4. We don't get bonuses for rolling so well on the first roll.
We have now succeeded in the skill roll and even kept 4 SP* (Skill points remaining - and no, it doesn't look less clunky in German).
Some rolls will be binary success/failure with a difficulty modifier upfront, some will not have a modifier but give you a scaling success on your SP*, most rolls will use both.

If you can easily calculate the chances of success in your head, I am impressed. I certainly can't.
I've seen a reference chart made by someone with a much better head for probabilities, and that was a three-dimensional matrix.
That also means the GM is usually eyeballing the difficulty.

The 3D20 Method is at least as old as 3rd Edition and came about (as far as I can tell) because they wanted to add verisimilitude to the check (because there is more to climbing than strength). From now on it is in the game because it always has been in the game. The 3D20 Method is one of the most requested features to be kept whenever there is an Poll about desired features of (theoretical) new editions.
It has now become the trademark of the system, I suppose.

TDE is a classless system, you buy Attributes, Skills and Feats directly by spending EXP. It's therefore always a bit difficult to know how good a character should be in a given skill.
Skill ranks up to 3 represent dabbling in that skill, a rank of 7 denotes "the end of apprenticeship", a skill of 15 makes you a master. Above 20 is the realm of legendary Grandmasters and/or experienced PCs.

Spells work the same as skills. You need to pay Astral points, depending on which spell you cast, but the roll is the same. Each spell is a seperate Skill that you need to learn and raise individually.

Feats
Feats are specialized Bonuses that you buy outside the skill system. Learn your way around in a certain kind of environment, learn the secrets of certain skills, learn to power your magic with a your life force.
Any kind of combat maneuver needs to be bought as a Feat first. They are rather expensive (and getting them cheaper or for free is the greatest advantage of combat professions), but are available to any character that fulfills the requirements.


Combat
So i promised you we would get back to combat for this overview.
First you take your weapon skills and calculate your Attack and Parry.
Combat skills run in the same range of Skill ranks as all the other skills. But instead of using the 3D20 system, you split the skill rank in two numbers (Difference no greater than 5) and add one to your Basic Attack, the other to the Basic Parry. Ranged Weapons get the full Skill Rank added, but have higher penalties.
Once you have determined your Attack and Parry for each skill (Swords or Sabers or Rapiers or Hand-and-a-Half Swords or Two-handed Blades... Impact Weapons cover axes, hammers and maces though...) you hopefully pick the weapon you're best with and engage the person you deem most worthy of getting their faces rearranged.

Every Character gets one action (read: Attack) and one reaction (read: Parry) as well as a free, minor action.
At the most basic, you determine Initiative and the winner goes first. They attack their target, roll against their Attack Value and hit if the roll succeeds, otherwise the attack misses without effect*.
If the attack hits, though, the defender gets to use their reaction to roll against their parry.
If they fail, they take damage. If the roll succeeds, the Attack does nothing.

Yes, the combat system gives every character one flat chance each round to completely no-sell an successful attack. Yes, the chance is roughly equal to the chance of the attack hitting. Yes, the chance easily starts at 50 % and rises with the skill of the character, ending usually above 100 %.
Yes, combat in TDE usually takes a lot of Combat rounds, a good deal of them ending with all attacks whiffing or going *clang*.
The maneuver Feint lowers enemies parry and is more or less mandatory for any fighter. In fact, a lot of high level tactics consist of circumventing the parry roll altogether.
Back in first edition, the combat system was supposedly created to model one-on-one duels, each character taking on their own enemy. This still shows. Since you only get a single parry each round, multiple enemies can easily cut you up without much chance to do anything against this. Even experienced Fighters struggle against mediocre Bandits when outnumbered, unless there is a serious difference in damage and Armor.

Damage is always rolled in one or more D6 with a static modifier. For comparisons:
The longsword (the "gold standard" of average weapons) deals 1D+4 Damage.
Armor works as a flat damage reduction. Most characters can scrounge up at least an 2 points armor, dedicated fighters can go up to 5 or 6 without much trouble.
If the damage ends up higher than the wound threshold, the character gets a mechanical wound, taking a penalty of 2 for each of their wounds on most rolls.
When the life points reach 5 (not 0!), the character is incapacitated. If they reach 0 the character starts dying. In-Combat healing is very rare, Magical healing is somewhat more common if you can take few minutes for it to cast.
Natural healing sits at 1D6 Life points per day, plus bonuses from healing skills, likely having a character recover in around a week. You could chalk that up to genre convention, but to keep verisimilitude the Healthy Air of Aventuria is explicitly a thing.

Combat maneuvers give you a diverse array of options to change the flow of combat – increase damage, Counterattack, force the enemy into the defensive. Usually you just make an Roll with a certain penalty, reaping the benefits of the maneuver at a success , but taking additional penalties when you foul up.

*The book is very explicit that a miss can be refluffed in a lot of ways instead of just hitting air like a dummy – not finding an opening in the enemies guard, hitting but not penetrating armor, getting parried without effort, etc. Most players don’t remember that, though.

Next up: The Setting primer

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Additional Infos
If there is one thing that defines TDE, it’s lists: Long, densely packed lists full of information you need to read to understand all of your available options. I can’t withhold those from you. But instead of summarizing a whole lot of important, interesting and/or irritating things or bombarding you with several list-filled updates in a row, I am parceling some entries out over the updates. We’ll start with the Culture Corner, the Profession Parade, and the Spell selection.

Culture Corner
In the Culture Corner we will take a closer look at the people from all around the continent. I will give you a short blurb about them together with any oddities, warts and fun little details that is unique to them.
I will also comment on the mechanical effects of this culture if your character hails from these places, which will consist mostly of a small array of skill points and some automatic advantages or disadvantages.
I will present the cultures in order of the book, which is sorted by... popularity of the culture, maybe? It starts with the standard not-europeans, jumps around the entire continent and ends with a barbarian culture whose schtick is excessive cruelty. I can't really make out a pattern here.

Profession Parade
Every Character decides on a profession packet during creation to represent what they learned up to the beginning of their adventuring career. Some of the professions provide only training, others shape the characters outlook and philosophy way beyond the apprenticeship.
Every profession gives the character knowledge in an array of skills (that can be individually raised later), providing most of the starting characters skill points. They also determine the starting equipment and some other goodies or automatic dis/advantages.
I am going by to introduce the professions in the order of the book, which is divided by general focus (combat, social, magic etc) and then sorted alphabetically – in German, so the translated version will likely appear random.

Spell selection
Most magic in Aventuria works by casting discrete spells. You pick one of the known spells, roll for it and get a predictable result, the actual effectiveness often modified by the quality of the check.
Some of the spells have certain variants you can cast instead, increasing the difficulty of the check but getting some focused effect, an extended one or a result that only vaguely resembles the original spell.
The entry also lists the reversed effect (doable via a certain spell). Those should mostly be obvious, but I'll mention some of the funnier ones as well.
I'll present the spells in the order of the book, which is alphabetical order of the often charmingly silly faux-latin names most of the spells have. (Sadly, but probably reasonably, they shortened the spell names to one or two words of faux-latin instead of the rhyming chants of earlier editions.)

The world - quick overview

posted by Moldless Bread Original SA post

The Dark Eye 4.0

The world - quick overview

The rules of The Dark Eye are very closely tied to its setting, with a lot of mechanics being specifically tied to its fluff and some character classes being directly tied to the background.

TDE plays on the continent Aventuria (Yeah, I know...) in the world of Ethra (Yeah, I know...).
It is, frankly speaking, a completely generic fantasy world without any outstanding features you'd notice from a glance. It's main draws are the incredible detailed sourcebooks about most of the world, the constantly evolving metaplot (both a matter of preferences) and the fact that it is almost impossible to separate from the most widespread german RPG, often being the first contact for new players.
The standard way the world is presented always reminded of fairy tales. Sure, there are Trolls or Witches or both in the forest, and a wizard travels through the hamlet every few years (Grandma even saw one cast a spell once!), but for the most part, the people are living a completely mundane life. (City folk usually have more wizards hanging around, so they are a bit more jaded towards the weird stuff). The TDE Designers dubbed this Phantastic realism; you can basically assume the life in Aventuria to be equivalent to the real world, unless magic or divine influence is explicitly mentioned.
Of course, the more you get into the metaplot, the more you stumble upon great feats of magic, Demons walking the earth and other high fantasy stuff (hello, magic Battleship), but tone issues will be a thing I am going bring up a couple of other times in this review.
Oh, yeah, the metaplot. Year for year, the time advances both in the real world and in the game, therefore you have magical discoveries, military campaigns, political upheaval and personal drama of the rich and powerful happening across the years in real time.
Aside from setting books, novels and Campaign books referring to events in earlier publications the most visible effect is the Aventurischer Bote (Aventurian Herald), a long running magazine released every two months (Still running, at currently # 174) which is equal parts rules und community updates, a publication of short adventure scenarios and an actual ingame Newspaper detailing the newest demonic invasion and/or academic humiliation of a famous wizard of the month.
I personally never followed it and have lapsed the metaplot some years ago anyway, so I'm only pointing out the most important events. I am also going to freely jump around the timeline, depending on what I am associating with the current topic.

Lastly, I am going to bitch and rant and complain about a lot of things, but there is one thing in the game that has always been cool: Aventuria has very emancipated genders and ist tolerant of sexuality. Most cultures treat men and women as equals and have mixed groups in all parts of life, I can't remember a single instance of homophobia anywhere and there are several same-sex couples among the important characters.

Anyway, let's take a short trip around the continent.


Let's start off right in the middle, in the most central location of the gameline (geographically as well as narratively). The Middle Realm is an Empire encompassing several Provinces that all resemble different european places around the late medieval to early renaissance period, most of them with a germanic feel.
It has towns full of free citizens, minor nobles and beggars, hamlets full of peasants and hunters, feudal lords from Baron to Counts and Dukes, Meadows, Forests, Knights, well traveled roads and forsaken places deep in the forests, temples and wizard academies in cities, hermits and the odd wizard tower outside...
Again, the broad strokes are rather generic.

The city of Gareth is the biggest city on the continent, housing 200.000 people, merchants with goods from all over the continent, temples of every god and two wizard academies. It's also the traditional seat of the Imperial Court, but the court has taken to travel from province to province in recent years.

Other sample provinces are:
Weiden in the north is lagging somewhat behind culturally and resembles the later middle ages, with fewer urban centers and militaries consisting of Knights and their Men-at-arms rather than standing armies or mercenary companies.
Almada has a bit of a spanish flair, trading doublet and longsword for ruffled shirts and Rapiers. The locals take their honor seriously, live life vicariously and are involved in constant border skirmishes in the south.
Albernia lies at the western coast, has a close connection to the local fairies and – going by the names of the locals- has an Irish influence.
Warkhome on the eastern border of the empire used to be the military capital of the realm. We'll come back here later.

We will continue northeast and then move on counterclockwise. That seems unintuitive, but I have my reasons.
In the northeastern part of Aventuria lies the Foundland, which can be grossly oversimplified into two places: The once prosperous (but not yet ruined) Merchant-city of Festum on the coast, unique for having a sizable population of Goblins living together in peace with the human majority. The Goblins are clearly second-class citizens, but it's peaceful nonetheless.

And then there is Seweria, the endless wilderness to the north. The name's similarity to Siberia is no accident. The entire Country has a definite eastern-european bend. The landscape is dotted with isolated settlements, populated by serfs whose quality of life is mostly determined by how much exactly of an asshole their local Bronnjar (Noble) is.
Between those places roam wild goblin tribes, making trouble for travelers and occasionally following the words of their centuries old prophet, as well as Norbards, nomadic merchants who have a reputation for selling you everything you need (and some things you don't) and throwing amazing parties.

Going further north into the frozen wastes, we ignore the inhospitable lands of demonic cold in favor of the inhospitable lands of natural cold. As you'd expect of frozen wastes, there is straight up a whole lot of nothing for miles, with inhabitants coming down mostly to frost-elves, snow-orcs and ice-Conans either minding their own business or trying to kill each other. Also the Niveses, tribes of caribou-herders, who try to keep out of those conflicts and treat the occasionally born werewolf in their tribes with great reverence.

We could make a stop in our journey west to visit the elven lands in the south, but that is a bit of misnomer. Instead of a proper elven Kingdom it mostly means "There are an unusual amount of elven communities hidden between our human settlements." Some of the elves have even have moved to the human towns – why, almost 600 in the biggest one.
Yeah, there aren't that many elves around anymore in the setting. The ones that are usually stay in their primitive societies and look down on the short lived races.

The western half of the northern coast takes a dip into a slightly warmer climate, so we actually have things going on here.
The Svelltlands (named after the river in it), used to be an loose federation of city-states. But then the orcs came and claimed the land as their own. They now occupy the land, forcing the rural population to work for them and occasionally take slaves.

The cities are still free from occupation as long as they regularly pay tribute to the orcs. One of those cities on the coast is Riva, home to the Stoerrebrandt merchant-family, richest Aventurians alive. If you played the third Realms of Arkania game you know the city, you mostly hung around here.

But where did those Orcs come from? To the west lies the aptly named Orcland, a wide grass steppe that used to be populated by warring tribes until the Aikar Brazoragh, supposedly an Avatar of their gods, arrived and united the clans to take the fight to the humans. His goal is to the replace the humans as the dominant force in the world. There is actually a metaphysical component to this, but for now it means raiding as much of the human lands as he can.
If you played the second Realms of Arkania game, you mostly hung around here.

On the northwestern coast lies Thorwal, land of the freedom loving, hard drinking not-vikings and main setting of the first Realms of Arkania game. Depending on where exactly in the land you look (and who is writing them) Thorwalians range from good-natured, honest people who go south in their longboats to free slaves, have a good fight and kill some whalers to bloodthirsty, xenophobic assholes who go south to sink ships, pillage coastal towns and kill some whalers.

Thorwalians love whales, is what I am saying, and that actually puts them at odds with the Gjalskers, Barbarians north of the Orclands who wear kilts, channel totem animals and bury their dead by hurling them into a sea with a catapult.

Further South lie Nostria and Andergast, two kingdoms locked in a centuries old, sometimes-hot-sometimes-cold war, started for a reason nobody remembers. Nostergast (don't call it that in front of locals) is on the cultural and technological level of the early-to high middle ages and is seen as a beginners area, providing limited scope and map-size, easy politics and lots of potential mysteries in the dense forests.

This area is another one where the oscillating tone of the game is more prominent, flip-flopping between a place where poor peasants are trying to scrape out a meager living between famine, disease and uncaring nobles that could call on them to die in a senseless war on the one hand. On the other, it is a place that is constantly creating new noble positions with increasingly ridiculous names in an attempt to out-posh the other side and is feverishly working to win an arms race to have a more prestigious navy(with Nostria sporting "several fearsomely painted fishing boats" and Andergast being able to present a proper, modern warship – anchored in a lake, with the kingdom being landlocked and all...)

Going past the Middle-realm provinces of Albernia and Windhague we arrive in the southern half of the continent and begin with the Realm of Horas. The Horasians have an actual renaissance going on, harkening back to the not-roman Empire of Bosparan (the calender of the game counts in years since Bosparans fall). They are a small nation, but rich and technologically advanced with high-sea capable ships, plenty of clockwork and a standing army of not-musketeers (there are most definitely no gunpowder weapons in Aventuria, their guns being miniaturized versions of roman torsion ballistae. There are black powder fireworks, though).

The flavor of the Horasians is full-on swashbuckling. Courtly intrigue, Rapier fights on the roofs of the city and fancy capes with wide-brimmed hats are all found here.

The Cyclops-Isles – an island chain with an old-Greece flavor that also houses the last remaining cyclopes, who are as likely to dispense ancient wisdom as they are to sink your ship with huge rocks – is a vassal of the Horasian realm.

South Aventuria proper is filled with impenetrable jungles, forgotten temples of ancient civilizations and a sea full of isolated Islands that allow some Caribbean Pirate feel.
The rainforest is filled with plenty of tribal societies of native people who are trying to keep their indigenous lifestyle and animistic beliefs, but this is hard with the missionaries from the north and all the city states expanding their influence.

Some of those cities are colonies of the northern realms, but most belong to the Black Alliance of Al'Anfa. The Alliance seems mostly written as an antagonistic force in the south, being portrayed as a ruthless society full of backstabbing and hedonism, that nonetheless has large presence in the southern sea and lays claim to its natural resources.
A bright spot however, is that unlike the feudalistic lands of the north, there is vertical mobility– the society is cutthroat, but technically anyone is able to rise to the top and found one of the ruling families.
That only applies to the free citizens though – slaves are a different matter.

Slavery in Al'Anfa is legal and widespread and slaves are generally seen as expendable. Most Slaves are from the surrounding tribes, but that is a matter of pragmatism rather than any strictly racial motivation – one of the Grande families consists entirely of descendants of local natives.
Aside from that ugly issue, Al'Anfa is mostly notable being a theocracy. The patriarch of the Alliance is also the counter-pope of one the major religions.

Going back up north on the eastern side coast we come to the Lizard Marshes. Just like the elven lands, this isn't a place the Lizardmen are controlling and more an area you're more likely to find their tribes.
Lizardmen used to control great empires, but these days they have retreated from their former places and are busy hiding from their gods.

There is also the city of Selem. It used to be an the Capital of an old sultanate, an enormous and prestigious city more than a millennium ago. Then a meteor struck the bay of the city, shattering parts of of the coastline and flooding parts of the city and the surrounding countryside.
Today the city and the surrounding Ruins are suffused with feelings of squalor, madness and decay, humans and lizardmen lead lives of constant paranoia. Fishmen, toadmen and Crocodilemen are more common here than in any other part of Aventuria, possibly congregating in a tempel to an Archdemon under the sea. The Library of old is supposedly still intact, possibly still holding secrets from the old sultanate.
I am also once again baffled how many sapient underwater people there are for a game that gives so little support for adventures there.

Leaving the coast for a minute, we move further inland to the Khom Desert and the Caliphate. The seat of the caliphate and some other urban centers sit on the eastern edge of the desert, which is an endless sea of sand inhabited only by Novadi tribes who travel the dunes from oasis to oasis.

The Novadi and the caliphate are mainly united by their religion, its belligerent nature leading to constant clashes with other cultures.
What cultures are those? Almada in the north, Horasia in the west, Al'Anfa in the south, Amazons and Ferkina barbarians in the mountain ranges around them and occasionally remnants of the Lizardmen empire from a parallel dimension. They are busy people. To be fair, the Ferkina are assholes to everyone.

(The Novadi are strongly coded as muslims, xenophobic, very patriarchal and the book presents them as borderline unplayable. They used to be more sympathetic in earlier editions.)

Going back to the coast, Mhanadistan around the River Mhanadi and the Tulamidian city states are all heirs to the old Diamond sultanate, an old empire that got destroyed by Bosparan. The entire area is modeled after the stories of 1001 Nights and the local language is more or less Arabic.

The rural people are farmers in the fertile lands, nomadic animal herders or small communities formed around mining, while the city states range from the cosmopolitan Merchant city of Khunchom to the Magocracy with an oppressed underclass Fasar. Unlike the caliphate, they share most of their religion with the Middle realm, so the relationship is a lot more relaxed.

In the middle of Mhanadistan lies the Gorian Desert, which is not so much a proper desert as it is an area that had all its life sucked away by a magic ritual.

Further north lies the Matriarchy Arania, which is also an heir to the sultanates. The biggest difference to the other Tulamidians is that Arania has been under Middle realm occupation for a long time, becoming independent only recently. The resulting hybrid culture always struck me as an introduction to Tulamidian culture, allowing players to acclimatize if they want to shift their campaign there.
I like the Arani, but every story you could set here gets easily overshadowed by the fact that half of the country is currently occupied by the Blighted lands and its horrorshow.


What are the Blighted lands? Well, before we get there lets take one more step north to arrive at the Realmshield (Or Wildermarch, in a few Metaplot beats), located at the current eastern border of the Middle realm. Current, because the Middle realm used to stretch from coast to coast, but some shit happened and now the Blighted lands are squatting in the eastern provinces.
The area around Warkhome, then, is the frontline of a war that has become entrenched. Troops from all over the Middle realm come here to reinforce Fortresses and try to take bridgeheads, Warcamps across hundreds of miles of mountains, but concentrated around the Trollgap, constantly rotate fresh recruits with hundreds of wounded and soldiers gone mad from the demonic warfare whenever one side tries to advance.

Over time, the frontline will get frayed, Warkhome will fall and the area will become a no mans land, pockets of warlords and Bandits staking their own claim. For now though, the frontline runs right along the Trollpeak mountains. Yes there are trolls here, but they are not the man-eating monsters they are in most other games, but instead witnesses to ancient times and all around rather chill dudes.

Sigh. So, the Blighted lands, also known as the Black lands, the Shadow lands, Borbarads heirs, the Shardlands, Not-Mordor, Grimdarkistan, Evil-Dead-Land and DOOM DOOM DOOM DOOM (I may have made some of those up).
So, in recent years ("recent" meaning that it was a playable campaign in 3rd edition, the first module being released in 1994) Borbarad, an ill-tempered demigod gets reborn (as is usual for him). He takes a look around the world, decides "Fuck all of you", gathers up an army of mercenaries, opportunists and demons and starts a campaign of terror and conquests to... I don't actually know what his endgame was.

Anyway, he conquers several lands, including the eastern provinces of the middle realm.He and his armies get stopped at the Trollgate by the combined armies of the continent led by seven great heroes (5 of those unspecified, because they are supposed to be PCs). Borbarad himself gets slain by the heroes (who also put a stop to the "constantly getting reborn" thing by hurling his soul forward through time to the end of existence, which is admittedly a novel and metal way to deal with that). Several of Borbarads lieutenants cut their losses, each grab a shard of the demonic crown he was wearing, granting them a leverage in deals with one specific Archdemon each, and bugger off to occupy their own little playgrounds. Those end up the Blighted lands.

The lieutenants now rule those areas with a terror regime, each putting their own little twist (and that of their Archdemons) on their devices. Demons (who aren't just Dudes from another Dimension, but terrible blemishes on reality making the very fabric of existences scream by their mere presence) openly walk the land. People suffer and get mad, get killed to root out resistance fighters, to fuel demon summoning and to satisfy general assholishness, Children get pressganged as soldiers and the families of people trying to escape get horribly tortured as punishment.
I personally find the whole deal rather unfun to play, not just because of the unrelenting horribleness, but also because of the general depiction of the almighty Shardbearers punishing each every (player) action immediately and the expectation of the metaplot makes it hard to give the players any sense of success.

The Authors seemed to agree to that at some point, because as far as I can tell 4th Edition ended with several Campaigns that liberated the Blighted lands.
The inhospitable lands of demonic cold, half of Arania and large parts of the Island Maraskan belong to the Blighted lands as well, even if they are geographically seperated, but most of the lands are wedged between the Middle realm and the Foundland.

The Bloody sea is technically part of the Blighted lands as well, but I feel there are some things to talk about. The entire eastern coast is in the grasp of the the Archdemon of the sea, threatening the coastal towns and villages with raids from fish-, toad- and lobsterpeople and peppering the sea with demonic krakens and sea serpents, sudden maelstroms, patches of boiling water, fields of entangling seeweed and Demon Arks, enourmous living ships made from flotsam and organic detritus.
Unlike the rest of the Blighted lands however, the area is too big to be terrible everywhere. It is possible to cross the sea from its southern bounds up to Festum and encountering nothing but the bloody rain that gives the sea its name.

Since there are plenty of harbor cities trading and requiring supplies within the area (both from free lands and in the Blighted lands) there is an achievable objective for the players, there is a realistic chance of dealing with the problems popping up and that nautical horror tickles something I find kinda cool. I hate the Blighted lands, but I like the Bloody sea.

One last place: In the Bloody sea lies the Island of Maraskan. The Island is one of the few places it is possible to mine Endurium, a magical metal that can create extraordinary weapons and armor. Therefore it has a history of getting invaded. The Middle realms already invaded the island several years ago, but got bogged down in multi year guerilla war and was forced to retreat. Now, the Blighted lands have set up shop and are supplying the rest of the lands with the precious metal.
The insanely deadly flora and fauna gives the Island shades of Australia, the guerilla war in the jungle resembles Vietnam and arms and armor are clearly modeled after Japanese weapons, and yet the island as a whole resembles none of the above. Maraskani are weird, but I like them, and just like Arania it is a shame a lot of the place gets overshadowed by the blighted lands.

Did I forget something? Ah, Dwarves, I always forget Dwarves. Dwarves live (predictably) in several mountain ranges, mostly around the Middle realm. Some live together with humans in cities, although usually in separated quarters. Dwarves are available in the Flavors of Classical Dwarf, painfully cliched Turbodorf, Hobbit and and midget Cyrano de Bergerac.

Dragons are comparatively rare, range from dog-sized Gripedragons, to wingless Cave dragons and to giant Emperor dragons, who are highly intelligent and possess enormous magical skill. A couple Dragons involve themselves in human politics, but most are minding their own business, collecting their hoards.

So, now we know the continent we're supposed to play on. What do we know of the rest of the world?

To the west lies the continent Myranor, known as the Golden land in Aventuria. The Thorwalians and people from the Middle realm (as well as Horasia, the Foundland and large parts of the Al'anfanian Alliance) are actually native to this continent, having immigrated to Aventuria Millenia ago. The god of the seas specifically messes with everybody trying to cross the ocean these days, so the continent mostly exists in as a myth for the current Aventurians.
Myranor is a bit more high-fantasy than aventuria, featuring widespread non-humans, empires of sorcerer Kings and airships.
Fanpro created a gameline for Myranor, but it only met middling success and wasn't continued.

To the south lies Uthuria which is, to be brief, Fantasy-Africa. The Sailing routes aren't closed by divine decree like the western seas are, but sea monsters, underwater volcanoes and a continent-sized patch of closely packed algae made the trip all but impossible for millenia. Recently, some explorers made it back and brought back maps that allowed other ships to travel there (read: Adventure paths/sourcebooks have been published) and since I am currently starting to play in a campaign that's focused on exploring the continent, I can't actually tell you all that much about it.
Instead I'm going to complain about publishing model of spreading the setting book over the campaign books which seems to me like pushing the campaing on the players instead of just handing them the setting and letting them run wild.
Unless I am surprised by the ending of the the campaign I am probably going to have some unkind words about the campaign (and possibly the setting) down the line.

To the east lies the Giant's land which actually has a land bridge in the northeast of Aventuria, but it and all possible landing points for ships are blocked by the Brazen sword (Brazen, really? Does that make sense in english?), a mountain range reaching 33.000 feet above sea level.
There has been no official release, but all glimpses we've seen paint the land as Conan-y sword and sorcery. It's just that everything is bigger over there.

There are actually seven distinct Planes in the setting, but given that all others are places like the divine Castle Alveran, the stars above the world and the Netherhells, the characters probably won't hang around there. They are going to travel to the limbo (Etheric space between the planes) at most.

Placed in the Limbo are Globules, little pockets of liveable space that range from a few square meters of an Archmages personal retreat to Zze Tha, the remnant of the Lizard-Empire that decided to nope out of existence via a greater ritual when their Dragon Emperor got killed. It's more or less the size of the desert Khom, seeing as the desert got created when the lizards took all of the plants (and the weather, apparently?) with them when they left.
The fairy realms are their own distinct places that count as Globules as well.

Next: Magic and Religion


Culture Corner

We start of with Garetia. Rather than having the character hail from the Empires central province, as the name would imply, this is the culture shared by all inhabitants of the Middle Realms cities, encompassing both the central as well as the northern lands. The text points that out and admits a better name would be "Cities of the Middle Realm" which is the name the culture has been given in the 4.1 Rules. I guess it's good the writers named the culture appropiately eventually, but why not in the first place if you're putting that little admission right after the title...?

The culture is still a generic pastiche of medieval cities, but the text puts some effort in giving the reader a feel for the life in the city, making distinctions of the life between craftsmen, beggars and criminals and rich ne'er-do-wells.

I'll take the genericness as an excuse to list the subcategories of trivia each culture has. Those being: Place (The cities of the middle realm) Lifestyle (said tidbits about different milieus) Outlook and Faith (Generic Middle-Agers believing in the twelve gods, more cosmopolitan than rural people) Habits and Traditions (Very different. Buy the regional sourcebooks!) Clothing and Arms (Shirts, Tunics and Cloaks. Knows the basics of Polearms and Crossbow from Milita training) Roleplaying tips (However you like, but you know 'your' city), Language (Garethi, which is basically German. This subcategory also lists uncommon naming conventions outside the ones typical for the language) and Sources (lists the salient 3rd Edition Sourcebooks at this point)

Mechanically you get the cost in Generation Points (0! If your Character concept isn't married to a specific place, you're from here, I guess), Limits to Social Status and additional Stat Bonuses, Automatic, suggested and unfitting dis/-advantages and which professions can be found in this culture, followed by the cultures skill points. None of those are very exciting for Garetians – the skills are mostly inoffensive fluff skills, none above +2, but you get a smattering of a foreign language.
After the main stats comes a list of variants, in case it's really important for your character sheet to say you're from a coastal town. Those cost additional GP and gives some extra skill points, but Garetian Variants are incredibly pricey for the few +1 Skills they give.

Garetian Variants are: Harbor Cities, Religious centers, Colonial towns of the northern Regions. More interesting is the Noble Variant, which gives you the Nobility advantage for half price.
You can combine Variants unless specified.

Profession Parade

We begin with Combat professions

Although technically, every woman living on an amazon castle counts as an Amazon, only the ones that get their warrior training are the real deal. They don't just fight as light cavalry, every part of their training and combat is a holy service to the goddess Rondra at the same time, so they also put stock in looking awesome both in formation and in single combat. That's also why they wear their embarrassingly low-cut armor.
The text points out the amazons sometimes pick up a girl from outside of their castle and train her as a warrior, if she is badass enough.

Amazons cost a medium 13 GP, can only be women (obviously) and get the awesome Academic training (warrior), but always live by a Code of honor. They get good skills for cavalry charges and one-handed blades, some basic combat and Physical skills and a disappointingly low riding skill (probably to be used in tandem with the amazon culture). Otherwise there a very few skills in the other categories, but they get a decent all-rounder selection of feats (both automatic and discounted) as well as the most important feats for mounted combat.
They get their unique Amazon armor and saber among their Equipment.

Spell selection

Abvenenum purified food is a neat little utility spell, making rotten food edible again as well as purifying it from potential poison and diseases. The elvish version removes all alcohol from the drinks.

Accuratum Magic needle allows the wizard to change the color and cut of a piece of clothing in mere minutes. There are modifications for creating a piece of cloth from raw materials or changing the fabric.

Adamantium stone-like structure turns an object "almost indestructable" but has it become "incredible brittle" once the magic ends. Rules wise, it triples hardness and Structure HP but halves them afterward, so depending on the object it might now work quite as advertised.
The standard spell allows only for enchanting a few pounds of matter, but a variant exists to apply it to entire walls.
Other variants turns an expendable weapon in a short lived magic one, turns the object to shiny crystal or making the spell permanent.

Religion

posted by Moldless Bread Original SA post

The Dark Eye 4.0

Religion
Let's talk religion. The most widespread creation myth is that Sumu, the earth mother and Los, the Sky father met in the swirling nonexistance of chaos and fought each other, Los dealing a killing blow. Sumus dead body became the world and the flowing blood from her wounds created titans. Los, meanwhile, wept over his actions before going to sleep for eons, and his tears became the gods.
The gods and titans wage war on each other, with the fallen titans becoming mountain ranges.
The six last remaining Gods and the six last remaining titans finally make a truce, retreat to the divine Castle Alveran and start shaping the world and creating its Inhabitants, producing the world we are playing in.

The last gods and titans became the Twelve Gods, which is the most widespread religion on the continent. Not only is the religion accepted by all goldenlanders and (with variations) the tulamidians, but many of the other religions turn out to pray to one or more of the Twelve in disguise or their children.
But for the followers of the Twelve, they are the greatest and mightiest anyway.
(That is supported by the mechanics. The priests of the Twelve wield greater power than the priests of any other god)
The twelve are generally seen as benevolent, and the usual Dogma of the religion is and all or nothing deal (with "nothing" being heresy). Every faithful usually has a main god, but believes in and respects the others and may pray or sacrifice to them if he needs help in their speciality.

Most of the things we "know" about the gods are mortal interpretations of the divine powers, by the way. They vary rarely interact with humans in a comprehensible manner, the miracles of the priests being fueled by the divine power but shaped by the priests belief.

The twelve gods are:
Praios, god of light, of order and of the law (but not necessarily justice) and the prince of the twelve. He is the the sun and hates all magic. His church keeps up the "natural" order (feudalism, for example) demands discipline and obedience from the common people and is in general an approptiate stand-in when an author wants to criticize the Catholic Church. The also act as impartial judges and legal advisors, and the more sympathetic priests don't shy away from calling bullshit on authorities abusing their power.
Given the anti-magic bent of the religion, the church houses not one, but two Inquisitions. One, considering dark magicks and demon cultists are real, is portrayed as a necessary if flawed institution, the other goes "burn the witch" 24/7.

Rondra ist the goddess of thunderstorms, of chivalry and honorable combat. That specifically does not include war, but the lack of a more fitting god (and the necessity of divine support in recent years) sees them pushed in that situation regardless. How to arrange a belief in fair Duels and honest Challenges with the realities of war is a source of lots of headscratching, teeth grinding and cursing both in the church and around the gaming table.
The ideal follower and priests of Rondra is supposed to protect the weak and helpless, either as a Guard integrated in the community, or a wandering knight errant, honing his weaponskills and solving every problem that can be solved via sword with honorable fights between equals and referring to the laws of the land when it can't. Or maybe they just want to be immortalized in legends about their heroic deeds. That's cool too.

Efferd is the god of the sea, of storms, and the associated elements of water and air. He has a temperamental streak, creating all those storms in the first place. The church then, is mostly present on the coast and around big rivers, guiding the sailors and placating their god.

Travia is the goddess the family, the hearth and hospitality. They are the usual go-to place to get married (technically every church can marry people, but marriage is commonly known as Travias Bond). The church as a bit of a conservative streak, but supports anything to keep homes safe and comfortable, both for ones family and for travelers seeking shelter. They are also usually the ones running orphanages and poorhouses.

Boron is the god of death, of dreams and of letting go. The church mostly offers funeral services, their priests preparing the dead for burials and holding (mostly silent) masses to guide the souls to the realm of the dead, but also take on more mundane jobs like maintaining the cemeteries and helping the family deal with grief. They also try to give people restful sleep and help the faithful to interpret dreams or visions.
They specifically hate the undead, having a military arm to fight them. They also maintain an order that runs sanitariums, where they try to heal mental trauma and madness.

The other Boron is – of course - the same god, but the church of Boron had a major schism. While the northern church is satisfied caring for their flock in times of need and hunting undead, the southern is a bit more ambitious. They have declared Boron to be the chief of the gods, running off the logic that eventually, Boron rules over everybody.
The church is therefore politically active, has a bit of an darker bent (requiring human sacrifice once a year) and is a bit more ... proactive in inducing visions, but still takes up the other jobs.

Hesinde is the goddess of knowledge, sciences and magic. Their traveling priests try to learn as much of the world as possible, contributing their journals to the great library after their deaths. The local churches, when not engaged in philosophical discussions, also put great effort in educating the populace, both in general and by supporting universities and scholars, especially the magical ones.
While not a clear mandate of their goddesses aspects, the church also feels responsible for rooting out tainted magic.

Firun is the god of nature, winter and the hunt. Firun personifies the harsh, uncaring side of nature, where everything follows its natural order, even if that order results in death. Aside from propagating the good hunt (putting emphasis on the active competition between the hunter and their prey, shirking traps and hunting partys) his most human-facing aspect is that of self-reliance, steeling yourself to deal with the harshness of the world.
Firun is, therefore, not the most popular god to pray to. If you kept his tenets, after all, you wouldn't need his help, now would you?
Southern priests often act as gamewardens, but most priests of the north are solitary mystics, vanishing into the forests and steppes for months to test their mettle against the uncaring wilderness and getting closer to Firun (and maybe killing a bear with nothing but knife along the way).

Tsa is the goddess of youth, fertiliy and renewal. The church has a very flat hierarchy without a proper high priest and very few actual temples, so most of of the strictly pacifistic and perpetually cheerful priests do their own thing, caring to shrines and traveling around to act as midwives and healers, both learning new things and trying to expand the horizons of the people they meet.
They strongly reject tradition, some even flirting with dangerous and forbidden concepts like *hushed whisper* democracy or treating all peoples as equals.

Phex is the trickster-god of thieves, merchants and adventurers. "Help yourself, then Phex will help" is the battle-cry of his priests, encouraging the dispossessed to fight the injustice they suffered, preferably with some daring heist or other audacity. Some skip the middle man and perform these coups themselves to get closer to their god. The cleverness of these tasks and readiness to take risks is more important that the actual winnings. Stabbing a sleeping merchant and taking his chest wins you no points.
Generally chill people, until you remember they consider it a sin to help someone without demanding compensation...
The hierarchy of the church is pretty muddled, with most priests hiding their ordination. Sometimes hidden temples in the same city don't know about each other. In fact, nobody knows the identity of the churches high-priest, The Moon.
(Yes, the pope of the trickster god can introduce himself with the words "I am the Moon." I'm fairly certain that precedes the meme, but I just thought you wanted to know.)

Peraine is the goddess of agriculture, healing and shutting-up-and-getting-shit-done. The church is mostly there for the common people, using their knowledge and divine powers to protect the crops, tending to cattle and dealing with common and not-so-common diseases of the people.
The church doesn't give much about their status and joins the people when another pair of hands is needed. Be it harvesting a field before the storm ruins the crop, tending to the victims of a contagious disease or treating the wounded while the battle is still raging on around them, priests of Peraine are right in the thick of it.

Ingerimm is the god of fire, of craftsmanship in general and smithing in particular. The church is a rather political one, organizing guilds and securing the livelihood of the artisans. The interests of individual priests veer toward a mystic interest in fire and mastering their craft. Therefore they are able to produce amazing weapons and armor (as well as beautiful glass baubles, really sturdy clothes and amazingly detailed frescoes, but let's face it, those don't come up that often)

Rahja is the goddess of joy, of love, of beauty. The church is naturally very popular with people across all ways of life, helping everybody to find (or create) happiness in their lives, navigating the complicated paths of love and, of course, organizing holy feasts (and supplying holy wine).
The church supplies all kinds of pleasure to the people, but on an individual level priests endeavour to turn whole lives around. Their priests provide the muse to an artist, help star-crossed lovers elope and free unhappy people from their chains, whether those are fear, shyness or literal ones from iron.
As long as you are free and open to happiness and feel love for other people, you are doing Rahjas work.
Aside from that, they have some more practical responsibilities, like horse breeding and growing wine.
(And yes, every kind of love mentioned includes the physical kind. I'm sure we can all be grown up about that.)

The Nameless One is the thirteenth god and technically no longer part of the pantheon. Unlike his brothers and sisters, he is clearly painted as an evil god (both ingame and outgame), lording over domains like power, cruelty and betrayal. According to the legends, the other twelve overpowered him and bound him to the breach between the stars of Ethra and the Netherhells beyond. Since then he is ranting and smoldering with rage, tearing pieces of his body and throwing them down to Ethra, to become his agents and work towards his freedom. The last part is not merely a legend, several people called Eyes of the nameless, Hand of the nameless, Tongue of the nameless etc. Have influenced Aventurian history at some points.
Small note about the calender at this point: The year is divided into twelve months, one for each god, 30 days long. The remaining 5 days are attributed to the nameless one. Those days are considered cursed, with disease and demons running rampant. And indeed, this has effects on some rules.

Despite both being evil, The Nameless One is still an enemy of the twelve Archdemons. Each of the gods has a counterpart residing in the swirling chaos of the Netherhells, each representing a twisted version of the gods domains. Praios counterpart stands for tyranny and revenge, Rondras for bloody massacres and wanton cruelty etc...
Most summonable demons are attributed to one of the Archdemons, and their powers always have different interactions with their respective Gods power.
And yes, the irony of having beings of pure chaos fit neatly into the same categories as the gods is acknowledged and sometimes questioned, but the rules are clear...

Other gods and religions
Other Gods that pop up now and then:

The Demigods count as children of the twelve serve as minor deities in that religion, although they, too, moonlight as Gods in other pantheons now and then.

Kor is the son of Rondra and a dragon and stands for the Lust for battle and is the patron of Mercenaries. Aves is the son of Phex and Rahja and presides over travel and exploration.

Ifirn is Firuns daughter and represents the milder, forgiving parts of Nature. She's the one you're actually praying to if you get stranded in a middle of a blizzard.

Swafnir is technically a Demigod as well (Efferd and Rondra), but the Divine Whale is mostly worshipped by the Thorwalians, where he lords even over the other Gods the Thorwalians accept.

Angrosch is the main God of the Dwarves and is essentially Ingerimm with the aspect of Dorfiness tacked on. Some Dwarves attribute one or more of the Twelve Godesses as his wives.

Brazoragh and Tairach, the son-and-father duo stand for strength and death, respectively and are the Gods of the Orcs. They are the ones who supposedly sent Brazoraghs avatar to unite the orcs.
The orcs that are more willing to coexist with the humans pray to thinly veiled variants of Peraine and Ingerimm

Druids pray to the Earth Mother Sumu herself and believe she is dying, but still alive, while witches worship her daughter Saturia as the surviving representative of femininity.

Rastullah might be the Skyfather Los stirring in his sleep, the first signs of a Titan/mountain range awakening, the prank of an Illusionist gone out of control or none of the above. The Novadi try to live by the 99 laws dictated during his revelation, but going by the mechanics, he has no influence on the world.

Magic and its Traditions
Magic in Aventuria cannot be learned by everyone, Casters needs to be born with the Astral spark to feel and direct the magic energies. The birth rate of magically gifted children is pretty low, hovering around *looks it up* 1 in a 100 Births? That actually seems like a lot. I guess most Children don't get discovered and have their Talent wither to keep the low Fantasy feel?
Children between two Gifted have a higher chance of creating a gifted sucessor, but it's still far from guaranteed.
Depending on who trains the child, the magic takes on the structure of the teachers Tradition, putting limitations and certain idiosyncrasies on the Casters magic that are hard to shake.

The biggest and most visible of these traditions is the humble (hah!) Wizard. Wizards take a scientific approach to magic, quantifying and analysing the strands of magic, creating complex formulas and multi-dimensional matrices to be filled with Astral power to channel spells or perform rituals.
Wizards are organized into Guilds that provide their members with supplies and legal help, create and maintain Wizard Academies to train new talent and conduct research, and hunt down rogue Wizards before the Inquisition gets too trigger-happy.
Wizards are required by law to wear robes and silly hats.

The League of the white Pentagram sees themselves as stalwart defenders against all kinds of dark magic. Being faithful to the Twelve Gods is just as important as following the dressing and weapon regulations, and the thought of even researching demonology or necromancy at one of their academies is unthinkable.

The Great Grey Guild of the Mind (the alliteration is complete in German) cares more about research than about politics (on paper, at least) and accepts any academy that doesn't ping as obviously evil. The goddess Hesinde is still considered the patron of all magic, but members of other religions are still welcome in their ranks.
Dark Magics get researched and occasionally taught, mostly to prepare their students to defend against it.

The Brotherhood of Knowing Ones (AKA the black guild, NOT gender-restricted despite the name) sees it as their highest goal to enable free and unhindered research for all their members. Nearly all academies that concentrate on demonology, necromancy and other unsavory magics have moved here, but the both the Guild leader and his strongest Rival agree that Wizards that sell their souls to demons and sympathize with Borbarad and his heirs have no place in their Guild, hunting them down with their private armies.
People are free to believe in the Twelve and other religions, of course, but most black wizards are actually proponents of the Wizards Philosophy ("No gods, no masters!").

Wizards are the only Tradition that is officially accepted by the authorities, enabling them to actually earn money with their spells. All others live at the edge of legality, but at least an old decree prevents them from being prosecuted just for being unregistered Mages.

Elves all have the astral spark when born, and all their Elf-specific professions are fully trained wizards with magic that supports their specific niche, be it fighting or shaping the environment.
An elf that loses access to their song-based magic also loses access to the supernatural connection to their community and can only be pitied by the rest of their tribe while they wither away from their broken heart...
(We haven't yet begun to probe the depths of drama Aventurian elves are capable of.)

The druids try to preserve the nature to save the dying Earth Mother. They shun all kinds of processed metal and draw their magic from nature itself and the elements to protect sacred groves and other places of power. Aside from the circles forming around those places, most druids are solitary hermits.

Witches used to be the most persecuted Tradition in earlier times, so their emotion-fueled magic focuses on being subtle. Even their covens only meet in secluded places, only reachable by the flying brooms, barrels or rocking chairs the witches use.
The game flip-flops a bit about the question if they are supposed to be unfairly hated by the common folk and have to fear the inquisition despite being innocent or if the adversity is justified by them being both capable and mechanically likely to destroy a hamlets crops and kill all their cattle because the innkeeper wasn't polite enough...

Demi-casters actually encompass very different Traditions – Shamans, Spelldancers and flunked out Wizards - but they all share a lack of widespread organization and strongly limited access to magic, being only able to perform rituals or using strongly pared down Spell-lists.

Minor casters are gifted that either never had that much magical juice to begin with, or had their talent wither due to lack of training.
There are some actual Traditions in this category (alchemists and totem-warriors), but the majority are everyday people, often not even aware of their powers themselves. The still have access to a few spells and can get supernaturally good at skills.


The Dark Eyes
So, what is a dark eye and why is the game named after it?
Dark Eyes are are magical Artifacts, black orbs used for divination, allowing to user to look at far away places and enabling limited communication. In short, they are Palantir.
There are only a few Dark Eyes in the game (I want to say two or three dozen) and are most likely used as a plot point.
Seems weird to name your game after that, right? Legend has it, Kiesow actually named the game "Aventuria" but the publishers thought the name sounded too silly. So pressed for time, he said the first fantasy-ish thing that popped into his head, and wrote the artifacts later into the game when that name was accepted.
The literal translation is "The Black Eye", by the way, but I think we can all see why that was changed.

With just a short overview already becoming longer than I planned, we stop relying on my memory and actually look at the books next time. Also, the updates will probably get shorter.
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Culture Corner

The Middle Realm should – again – be called Rural places from the Middle realm and represents exactly that. You're a peasant or from a place with less than 1.000 people from about any knights and kings setting you've ever seen. Most of what was said about Garetia can be applied here too (aside from hating strangers and having a much narrower selection of temples), but the book points out unless you're a minor noble earned your freedom in army or church, you probably shouldn't be adventuring. Go back to your field and farm that shit, peasant.
The culture costs 3 GP and has a very basic skill array (but broader than Garetians) with a focus on nature and crafting.
Variants are Coastal Areas, Along Trade route, Weiden and Griffinsford Provinces, Northern Settlements, Mountains, Deep Wilderness or rural noble. Notable are – again – the noble that gives you a useful advantage (this time without the discount, but with lots of useful skillpoints as a bonus) and the deep wilderness, which denies you the skill points from the Social category (both of them) and gives you some wilderness-focused skills and a survival feat for an environment of your choice.

Profession Parade

The Gladiator comes before the Ensign, which isn't correct in German either. Huh.
Anyway, they are exactly what you’re thinking of: Someone who doesn’t fight just to win, but also to entertain the crowd, mostly from southern Aventuria, since the northern countries don’t have Arenas. Unlike most other classes, who get a general chassis and then several variants on top, the gladiator presents its variants as fully independent classes.
Also the first part of the text tells us Gladiators like to fight flashy and show off in all fights, the second part tells us they are embittered and fight as efficient as possible. Which is it, Book?

The first variant is the Gladiator from Fasar. Those are the Gladiators from the town of Fasar, where the crowd is more interested in seeing people die gorily than seeing an exciting duel. The gladiators from these places are usually slaves or criminals and are forced to fight wild animals or each other to the death.
Mechanically, they are amazingly cheap (2 GP!) and get some basic skills in weapons (two out of a large list), unarmed and physical skills and not much else skillwise. They get a free unarmed fighting style, a good assortment of discounts for basic combat feats and decent, if unexciting equipment ( severely lacking proper armor). They also get the ‘Must-have-for-warriors’ advantage Iron Skin for free.
They also count as starter professions, which becomes important for the Widespread Education advantage (Multiclassing, for a lack of better explanation). The Fasarian gladiator specifically has a reputation for enabling some ridiciously cost-efficient shenanigans.

Gladiators from Mengbilla, Chorhop and Brabak get shoved under the same header, where we are advised to look at the gladiator from Fasar for inspiration and stats. Smooth editing, that.
Gladiators from Al’anfa still fight for life and death, but aren’t slaughtered like the other gladiators thanks to Priests of Kor presiding over the arena and enforcing ‘Good fights’. The successful can becomes celebrities popular with the upper crust.

They pay a reasonable price (12 GP) for Iron Skin advantage, a slightly better but similar skill spread,and some of the discounted feats of the Fasarian Gladiator get upgraded for free.
I’m not entirely sure that’s a fair trade for the price hike.

There are more Gladiator(-ish) professions next time.

Spell Selection

Eagles Eye and Lynxes Ear is a classical buff spell, enhancing perception checks for all five senses. Can't be all positive, of course (that wouldn't be verisimilitudous), so the user can be stunned by bright light, sudden loud sounds, hot chili etc...

Eagles Wings and Wolvish shape is another classic, turning the caster into an animal the size between a rat and a horse while keeping sapience. It only polymorphs the caster, not his equipment, so you have to strip before using it. You aquire "the physical attributes" of the animal, but the book offers a lot of haggling and bullshitting the GM to let you do stuff instead of offering concrete rules. It does note your attributes are capped by the doubled Skill-rank, though. You do get the animals hitpoints, but carry over injuries proportionally ( both human-to-animal and animal-to-human), so you better have a calculator ready.
Elves (more specifically, characters with the "Elvish worldview" drawback) can only turn into their spirit animal and then tend to get carried away by the animals instinctive behavior, being forced to hunt a rabbit instead of being useful. No mention of when this happens or how you can avoid that. They also get charged Astral points per hour instead of 5-minute-interval and can fuck off and truly embrace their animal for an entire day to buff their spellcasting.
If you're really good at this spell, you can break the size limitations. Which animals you choose specifically "has to be agreed upon with the GM".

Box Releases

posted by Moldless Bread Original SA post

The Dark Eye 4.0

In 2002, Fanpro released the Basic Rules of the 4th Edition. Rather than true basic rules, it rather is a shortened version of the by-then not completely released rules and ends up redundant. I am therefore skipping those and am going to move on to the three box releases of the TDE 4.0 Rules.

Box release, because rather than selling single books TDE always used to sell box sets, spreading the rules over several softcover books in one box together with some goodies, for example a scrapbook of prepared character sheets, a magazine full of Archetypes or a poster.
The releases were changed to Hardcovers shortly after, with the release of the 4.1 ruleset (now under management of Ulisses Spiele) being seperated in several Hardcovers (Character Creation, Normal Rules, Magic rules etc. all being several books).
4.1 is called that because the rules were not so much changed as they have been updated, the rule changes being no larger than having some costs of mandatory character resources folded together rather than buying them separately and removing a whole 3 skills from the bloated skill list (offering 2 as feats and folding the third into a different skill). It's therefore better regarded as an errataed re-release (though one after some public playtesting).
I mostly have access the 4.0 rules and am going to review those. I'll occasionally call out a change or two if I find something interesting. (as well as make a comparison with 3rd or 5th edition here and there). I might go over some supplements and/or adventure modules afterwards.

The first Box set is Swords and Heroes, counting as a general or basic box and includes the books:
- Aventurian Heroes – Character creation including Races and Cultures, mundane professions
- With Fleet Fingers – general rules and advancement
- With Flashing Blades – Combat rules and everything related to that, Combat professions, equipment

The second Box set is Sorcery and Witchcraft (or Wizardry and Magecraft? I guess you could pick any two synonyms for "doing magic shit" and end up with a technically correct translation) which includes:
- Aventurian Wizards – Magical professions, feats and Dis-/Advantages
- With Knowledge and Will – Magical Rules, Ritual Magic, Magic setting Information, Rules for Demons, Undead and others (I'm tempted to call it With Wisdom and Will instead)
- Liber Cantiones – Spells, spells, spells

Last of the Box sets of the Rules is Gods and Demons, covering everything religious of the setting. It included the books:
- Aventurian Servants of the Gods – Clerical professions, feats and Dis-/Advantages Rules for divine powers
- With Spirits Might and Planar power – Setting information about demons, Rules for playing a Demon's pactmaker, Expanded rules for Demons, Undead and others
- Gods, Cults, Myths – a closer look at the aventurian religions, a setting book without rules


A thorwalian Pirate, an Albernian fencer and an Amazon in an action shot.

Going in Order, we begin with With Fleet Fingers:

The book begins with a Preamble that gives an overview about all the available Books and other boxes. It also advises to get the Basic rules under the logic that some rules aren't reprinted. I'm fairly sure that only applies to two or three minor rules.
On the other hand, there is no What is roleplaying spiel anywhere in the boxes, no example of play and the Roleplaying and GMing chapter is a bit lacking, so I might have to see if I can get access to a digital copy of the basic rules somewhere...
Anyway, after setting up the three boxes, the basic rules and the three books in Swords and Heroes, we also get to directed to With Flashing Blades if we are looking for an Index.
I mean, I can see why you don't want to reprint the index three times, but if the attempt of quickly look up a rule starts with looking for the Index, that’s not a great start.
The next paragraphs introduces the modular Rules System, dividing every Rule in General Rules, Optional Rules and Expert rules. The standard play is supposed to be with General and Optional Rules. General Rules provide a complete ruleset, but lack a lot of character options and dials. Expert Rules provide even more options and tactics and make the game supposedly avoid some of the annoyances of the system but usually require lots of bookkeeping.
Also here we find the obligatory permission to change the rules if we find them unfun in a short and clear declaration. The game won't always be so gracious...
Finally there is a reference to the downloads on the homepage as well as not only an Email address, but also a telephone number if you wanted to contact the developers directly for feedback or rules clarifications, which I find weirdly charming. I mean, there was no twitter back then, but still.
(Legend has it that several Character options are only in the game because someone called the hotline in the 3rd Edition Age and told the chief designer they wanted Barbarians/a Fireball spell/playable Goblins. That runs counter to the detailed an metaplotted world, but the creators were always close to the community, so I'm inclined to believe it.)

The next pages are an overview of the most basic Rules (which I covered in an earlier post), Damage calculations for fire, poison, falling and asphyxiation, the relevant Units for Time (Combat Round = 3 Seconds, Game Round = 5 minutes and specific times in minutes and hours) and Space (A step is a metre, a mile is not a mile but a kilometre*) and the first (and IIRC only) rules the book refuses to explain and references the Basic rules instead: Movement speed (8 steps per combat round for most characters, the range only goes from 7 to 9) and Exhaustion (That one I'm actually going over later).

Next time, we are taking a closer look at the rules.

--

Culture Corner

Andergast and Nostria makes you an inhabitant of one of the two kingdoms locked in a centuries old (currently cold) war, as well as experiencing the occasional orcish or thorwalian raid. You’re kind of a joke to the people from other lands for being a hick from the woods (and you’re fucking sick of that). But you’ve been through a lot of shit in your life and it has made you tough and good at improvising, if very stubborn and conservative.
The country has feudal structures, but the noble families have a living standard that’s often equal or poorer than the richer common folk in other lands, and the actual peasants are constantly fighting with hardship and malnutrition.
People from Nostergast generally believe in the Twelve Gods, but Andergast in particular has plenty of people still practicing druidic faith.
Andergast is also an exception to the gender equality, being patriarchy and denying women to wear pants - unless her job requires it. So what I am reading here, is that an Andergastian will be not quite comfortable with a female PC but not make a huge deal out of it.
Mechanically, the rather pricey 8 GP will give you bonus hitpoints and stamina, a wide array of +1s in combat, physical, nature and craft skills as well the Master of improvising Feat for free. You have access to to a lot of professions that aren’t too modern or too outlandish and get the variants of living in a city and the Rural Noble. I know I keep mentioning that one, but we’re almost out of Cultures with classic Nobility.

Profession Parade

We're still at gladiators (kinda)

Stagefighters fight for the splendor splendor, for glory and most decidedly not for their life. These choreographed fights have a predetermined victor and offer the audience spectacular duels and compelling stories around the fight. The reward is decent income and invitations to all kinds of events and parties for the fighters. The text points out that some might just see themselves as wandering actors, while others have convinced themselves they’re actually good with swords and are going to get chumped in the beginning of their adventuring careers.
Stagefighters cost only 4 GP, get up to three weapon bonuses that get outclassed by their acrobatics skill, some other physical and social skills and a very basic selection of discounted feats. Their starting weapon is also explicitly blunt.
Fairground fighters are the guys at circuses and fairs who are beating up overconfident young people who think they can hold out for 3 rounds. They consider themselves purely entertainers rather than fighters and - unlike stagefighters - know their limits.
The text points out there are Fighters for every conceivable fighting style (expcept for the fantasy-capoeira, the most dangerous and lethal martial art in aventuria) but the profession only gives us WWE style wrestling and boxing.
Aside from those, the cheap 5 GP offers a good physical and social array of skills, high bonuses to both brawling and grappling and the first Feat of the dodge tree for free and the rest discounted, as well as several generally useful feats .


Spell selection

Aeolitus Roaring Wind lets the caster blow air with enough strength to snuff out torches, clear a room of smoke and generally make a mess. Throwing around people requires a variant though, as does adding a nauseating smell to the the puff of air.
The reversed spell reverses the flow by sucking in air instead, and it helpfully points out that the casters mouth will be filled with dust and bugs afterwards.

Aerofugo Vacuum creates a Vacuum. Aside from causing Stamina damage and mentioning some physics fuckery (air rushing in afterwards, breaking sealed containers) it mostly serves as damaging and disabling spell against air-elementals.
The availability theorizes the spell used to be part of demon-summoning rituals and points out there could be variants for other elements.

Aerogelo tortured breath is the opposite of the Aerofugo – the two spells reverse into each other – and compresses the air in an area into an almost viscous consistency that lowers combat and physical stats and causes Stamina damage for everyone exerting themselves into the zone.