By my words, cities burn.
Original SA post
is, at its simplest, a very well made fantasy RPG based on Greg Stolze’s One Roll Engine, which also powers Monsters and Other Childish Things, Wild Talents, Godlike, and Better Angels. Reign runs off of a simplified version of those engines that works well as a “base” to build off of. If you want just the engine and don’t care about the built in setting of the game, that’s no problem: You just have to get
which is just the mechanics, and is a very good affordable game for only $10 for the PDF.
But we’re covering the original book, because I do want to tell you about the setting. About the nations, the geography, the magic good god the
. I also want to talk about the mechanics, how it streamlines the stuff nobody cares about while giving goodly content for the stuff people
The biggest selling point is that this is a game built around being Important. Being big, powerful, and mighty, but not how most RPGs handle it: Nowhere in this game are there rules for becoming a god, the greatest of spells can be foiled by a bowman with good aim, and the greatest weapon in the world is a competent officer corps. This is a game of Lords and Leaders. Now, lone heroes are a great, and truly can change the world on their own, but this is a game that assumes your end goal isn’t a Sword of Lightning Stroke, or to master the Cataclysmic Transformation, it’s to rule the world. To be a power of your own, to wear the crown and bear the sceptre and control the lives of millions.
So, welcome to Reign.
By my words, cities burn.
In my youth, I carried the sword, led from the front, charged the gap and showed the soldiers around me that I would risk death at their side. Those days their shed blood mingled with that of royalty. I killed men face to face, in the clash of arms, and at night I drank in victory and slept in perfect tranquility.
I miss those days.
War taught me well how to seize men’s hearts with words, and in the peace I traveled our new lands, telling all they were now free, they were now part of a greater nation, they were partaking in a triumphant destiny that would remake the world. I spoke my grand words and they believed, they endured the taxes on their labor and the exhaustion of their fields and, in time, they gave me their children for the next war. The last war, I promised them. I gave them my word, my royal vow.
Those nights I drank to be cordial. Most nights I slept, having listened only to the very fanatics I’d persuaded. Most nights I believed it all.
That next war I served as general and I came to understand why my youth had been a series of triumphs, that a good war is not built on fair fights but on maneuver and advantage and the treachery of the frightened. I welcomed betrayers and I poisoned brave champions before they could shake my ranks’ confidence. I countenanced atrocity to terrify my enemies, I led sorcerers who could sweep the land with plague, bring the dead back hungry, shatter walls in on the children, the wives, the frail elders huddled within. Given the choice to crush everything the enemy fought for, I accepted it and eagerly.
Those nights, I slept poorly. Or I drank.
Now I wear the crown. My father fell to an assassin who was never captured, who may well be a laborer in my very castle. The people who once adored me whisper that by my hand this deed was done. The whispers are fed by the mothers whose sons never came back, by the soldiers who saw their compatriots made monstrous by enchantment, by the paupers taxed into penury by the army’s hungry demands.
I cannot sleep, and I dare not drink.
The conquered lands have rebelled, and the riots are beginning even here. My own people cry out against me. My people, for whom my blood fell, and that of so many others. The people call me a liar and a murderer, when everything I have done is for them, for the land, for my country.
But the troops who looted and came home rich in my employ, they are loyal. The wizards answer my call, for gold or power or simply a chance to test their twisted might. I speak the word, sign the paper, gesture with my royal scepter and all the horrors I have raised can descend on those cities, my cities, the cities I won. At my command they too can fall.
If I do it, I know what the passionate speakers will say, and I know what cause will call the brave swordsmen. If I turn on my own in wrath, there is no turning back until the land is completely broken, chained with despair, sapped of will like a whipped and whimpering dog.
It may be the only way.
"He said his hand is also a hand."
Original SA post
The One Roll Engine
“The hand is my sword,” the martial expert explained.
Laughing Midnight furrowed his brow. “Your hand… is a sword?” he repeated.
The expert nodded.
Midnight turned to Barthus and switched into his native language. “Maybe I’m not following something,” he said. “I think that man just said his hand is a sword. Is that right?”
“That’s what he said.”
The old man leaned in with a look of intense interest and whispered, “Ask him how he wipes his backside!”
Barthus looked at the martial expert, who seemed increasingly uncomfortable and suspicious. He cleared his throat and said “My elderly friend has heard of your honored discipline and is quite curious about how your train your hands to withstand the rigors of battle.”
“Oh well, lots of punching and striking practice,” he responded, making some sample gestures. “And to toughen them, we jab down into buckets of sand. As you advance in training, you use hot sand.”
The old swordsman goggled at the movements with horrified fascination. “What did he say?” he asked Barthus.
“He said his hand is also a hand.”
This part will go quick: There’s no need to over explain and the ORE is shockingly quick and simple to learn, so let’s just jump into it!
All rolls are made with d10s only. When you make a roll you grab as many dice as are in your
for that roll, generally this is your Skill+Stat, plus any bonuses you get from items, magic, special abilities, etc. For a simple example: Most combat is done with a roll of the Body Stat (General physical might and fitness) plus the Fight Skill (General combat ability). If your character has Body 3 and Fight 4, then you would roll 7 dice in your pool, notated as 7d.
Once you roll you look for sets, multiple die with the same result. Any dice that are not part of a set are called Waste Die. Normally they do nothing, but there are spells or special techniques or items that can make them matter.
Sets are read as Width x Height. Width is how many dice are in the set, and Height is what number that set’s die show. A set of 3x8 is three 8’s, 4x2 is four 2’s, 2x10 is two 10’s, etc. Higher and Wider are both good, but sometimes you have to pick between multiple sets for a roll, and when that happens the differences between Height and Width come into play.
Width determines, in general, speed. The Wider a roll, the faster it is. It determines what order people go in combat, how fast you climb a tree, how long it takes to forge that sword, if the haggling session takes 3 minutes or 30, etc. Height is quality, how well you did the thing. Where your axe blow lands on their body, how sharp that sword is, how big a discount you get from that merchant, etc.
So, if time matters, wider is better, if time is no issue, higher is better. But ideally you want to roll sets that are both wide AND high.
Types of Rolls
This is pretty standard stuff, no surprises which isn’t bad: Don’t fix what ain’t broken. There’s three kinds of general rolls you’ll make, Static, Dynamic, and Opposed.
Static is simple: Roll Pool, if you get any sets the thing succeeds. If the GM thinks that’s too easy, he can add a difficulty or penalty. Difficulty is a minimum Height you have to roll to succeed: Difficulty 3 means you got to have a set of 3 or higher to win. Penalties mean you have less die in your pool, simple. These are for when a PC wants to do something hard or dangerous or difficult, but there isn’t something or someone else involved to compete with, just the situation.
Dynamic rolls are for when two or more people want to do something, but not all of them can succeed. Debates, competitions, races, that sort of thing. Importantly, this is for two people trying to do the same thing, but
in opposition to each other. This kind is also dirt simple: everybody rolls their pools, whoever gets the best set wins. The GM decides whether Height or Width decides based on the contest.
The final kind is Opposed, which is for when one person wants to do something, and the other wants to stop them. Both characters roll their pools, which can differ: Attacking with a mace might be Body+Fight, while the target might try and stop it with Coordination+Dodge to avoid the blow. If the active character, the person doing the thing, fails he fails and the blocker’s roll doesn’t matter: That mace blow didn’t even come close to hitting. If the active succeeds and the blocker gets no successes, the active… succeeds. The blocker’s attempt just flat does nothing or doesn’t work.
succeed though, then the blocker’s pool becomes [/b]Gobble Dice[/b]. Each Gobble Die can counteract and eliminate a die from the active character’s set, as long as that die is of equal or lesser value. Once you lower a set to a single die, it’s no longer valid. But, Gobble Die have to be used before the active person can do their thing, so they also have to have a higher width. So, to successfully oppose another's roll, the blocker has to roll a set at least as wide and high as the active character’s. Mind, the width only matters if time is a concern, if time isn’t an object then only Hight matters.
This is a section for some miscellaneous game terms that are needed to understand later parts of the book, so I’ll just hit the important ones.
- Area Dice: Dice rolled for area attacks, generally magic or stuff like bombs or splashes of oil. Notated as Area # Killing/Shock, with the number being how many d10s you roll. Everyone hit rolls that many die, and takes a hit of the appropriate damage type to the hit location shown on the die.
- Expert Dice (ED): Special die that gets attached to certain skill rolls. Instead of rolling this die, you set it to whatever number you want, then roll the rest of the pool. You can only have one in your pool, and you can’t have an Expert and a Master die. If there are any penalties to a roll, you drop the Expert Die first.
- Master Dice (MD): Similar to Expert Dice, but you set a Master Die to whatever number you want after rolling the rest of the pool. This means you can always guarantee at least a 2 width set if a roll has an MD in it. Penalties work the same as Expert Die: if the roll has a penalty, you lose the Master Die first.
- Squishing: Some special abilities let you do this, reducing Height to increase Width or vice-versa. This lets you turn an accurate hit into a fast one, or sacrifice speed for quality on a roll.
That’s it for basic mechanics! There’s more detail in the Combat and Magic chapters, as you’d expect, but for now that’s enough to let you move on to Character Creation! Which we’ll cover next time.
“Now you kill us for them. Is that a better peace?”
“Yes.” The judge, the Thubor turned and glared and raised his voice, a little. “You have not seen them lay pyramids of skulls. I have. They have traditions for brutality, old man, protocols for the way to burn men alive! They… the piling of bodies is a language to the Opetkans. If they lay a three-sided pyramid of heads before a village, it means one thing, and if it has four sides, that’s something else. Can you imagine what they must be like to have their massacres so orderly? I don’t doubt that you hate them, but you can’t hate them more than I. I’m sure you despise me, but no more than I despise myself. But in the night, when I wake sweating, it’s not from dreams of what they do now, but what they would do if we resisted again.”
“The gods never neglect a righteous cause.”
“They have gods too.”
Original SA post
Character creation is pretty straight forward, so this will go quickly. There’s not much here that will be new to regular RPG players, so I’ll mainly focus on the more unique parts and skim over most of the things in the book.
The first part of the chapter is actually a nice few paragraphs about the practical reasons to create a varied party while at the same time making sure they work together as a coherent whole, with exploration of party composition strategies and making sure the GM and players agree what sort of characters belong in the game.
Character creation works on two ways: standard Point Buy and good ol’ One Roll generation.
Point buy is bog standard, you get so many XP , either 85, 120, or 150 depending on what power level the GM wants the characters to be at, to buy stats, skills, advantages, etc. Absolutely nothing surprising here, but once again: if it ain't broke don’t fix it. There’ s nothing wrong with just sticking to good old Point Buy for the default character generation. If you want to look at the costs of everything, here they are:
Increasing a Stat by 1: 5 points.
Increasing a Skill by 1: 1 point.
Promoting a Normal Skill die to an Expert Die: 1 point.
Promoting an Expert Die to a Master Die: 5 points.
Acquiring an Advantage: Varies, but the cost is listed.
Acquiring a Problem: Free, but you can’t have more than 3 Problems.
One Roll is more unique, but it’s boring to explain: Roll 11d10, check all the set results and waste die on a series of charts that tells you what sorta stuff you get. Instead of going through everything, here:
A REIGN Character Generator
. This’ll let you get a good feel for what sort of characters this generates. For example, I'll just use that to roll up a quick generic character:
1x1 Raised Wild: Perhaps you were abandoned in the woods as a child and were nursed by wolves (or a bear, or an ape, or whatever). Maybe primitives who have no real language of their own raised you. Whatever it was, you're used to living on the edge.
Language (Native) 0
2x3 Street Entertainer
1x5 Press Ganged: Against your will, you were forced onto service aboard a warship. How'd you get out of that one?
Craving: Beat On Sailors
2x6 Foot Soldier
2x8 Squad Leader
Language (Native) 0
Craving: Beat On Sailors
So, from one random roll we have a charater who: Was raised in the wilderness, a wild animal child. As they grew, they wandered, back to the city, finding a pace in civilization as a street entertainer and part-time thief. But, sadly, one day they were press-ganged, appearently into the Marines, as they were forced into a career as a foot soldier. This gave them a lingering dislike towards sailors, but eventually they rose up to the rank of Squad Leader, which might be what they are when the game begins.
Stats and Skills
Next up is a quick overview of Stats and Skills. Both get elaborated in a later chapter, but this part is more based around helping a new player quickly understand what each ability does when making a character.
Stats are all pretty self-explanatory:
- Body: Strength and Endurance combined essentially. How big strong, tough, etc. The BEEF stat.
- Coordination: Dexterity! Speed, balance, grace, aim, you get the picture.
- Sense: Wisdom. It’s your alertness and how aware of the world around you you are.
- Knowledge: Intelligence, the ability to learn and remember, cognitive ability.
- Command: One half of this game’s Charisma. Command is your presence, raw charisma, and magnetism. Someone with high command might not be likable, but you can’t ignore them.
- Charm: The other half of Charisma. Charm is more about being pleasant and engaging, your likability and general social aptitude.
Skills are the same, and I’m not going into most of them because it’s all the old standby’s in general. Athletics, Climb, Perform, Stealth, Weapon: Whatever, Haggle, etc. I’m just going into the more interesting and special skills that are unique to Reign or how Reign works.
- Counterspell: Linked to the Knowledge Stat, Counterspell is the ability to mess up the flow of magical energy in an area, and is used to counter and disrupt spellcasting. It’s essentially the magical counterpart to something like Dodge. This is not exclusive to Sorcerers, any character can put points into Counterspell and therefore can fuck up Wizards.
- Strategy and Tactics: Both linked to Knowledge, these are similar skills based around the command of others. Tactics are unit scale, essentially the nitty gritty of commanding troops in a battle. Strategy is the Logistics ability, it’s not about commanding troops, but the overall grand strategy of War, logistics, supply lines, dictating the movement of entire armies, you get the picture.
- Jest: One of the many social skills in the game. Most of them aren’t worth mentioning, it’s general stuff like Lie, Inspire, Intimidate, etc. But jest is special: It’s the skill of making people laugh. On it’s own not very impressive, but it’s worth noting because of a little optional rule:
If you like movies and books where the hero always has a snappy comeback, you can use the Jest Skill to set this up. Here’s how.
Before every game session, each player can present the GM with a number of writtenout “straight lines” equal to his Jest score. The GM should make a good-faith effort to provide these, and the player (presumably) has some clever rejoinder prepared.
Example: Joey’s character Bo has Jest 1. Before the session starts, he hands his GM a slip of paper that says ‘Indignant woman says “Well! I never!”’ During the course of the game, the GM arranges the requested line from the right type of character, so that Joey can come back with “And with that unfriendly attitude, you never will.”Enjoying this so much, Joey raises Bo’s Jest to 2.
Next session he hands the GM two straight lines, anticipating a confrontation with a hated enemy. “You! But… you’re supposed to be dead!” and the other is “When you’re in my power, your suffering will be legendary!” When these come up, he responds with “Yeah, well, I’m supposed to brush my teeth every night too” and “Legendary suffering? And here I expected a nice foot rub.”
It’s too bad if the GM can’t find a way to insert the line, but she shouldn’t feel like she’s supposed to contort the plot to work in bon mot opportunities.
- Eerie: The Magical sense skill, the ability to detect magic, curses, and supernatural thingies. Once again, a skill everyone can take.
- Sorcery: This is a special one. This skill represents obviously your character’s ability and training in magic. But, it isn’t linked to any single stat. You can roll Sorcery+Body just as easily as Sorcery+Knowledge, it just depends on what school of magic you are using, therefore, no your stats will not lock you out of any magic at all. ANYBODY can learn magic, to some degree. And there a lot of really good cheap easy spells any character would love to get.
That’s skills done. Next is a bit talking about Esoteric Disciplines and Martial Paths. These are the Feat equivalents of Reign, things you buy with XP to give special abilities generally tied to a specific skill. They’re covered properly in other chapters, so we’ll come back to them in a later bit. There’s also a short bit about Money, but that comes later as well. It’s just here so you know that money is a thing and why you would want to buy it up at creation.
If you’ve ever played any Burning Wheel games, this will seem quite familiar. Passions are the driver forces of your character’s personality. There are three kinds, and you can have one of each, or none at all.
is a concrete goal your character wants to accomplish, a definite task that can be completed. If you fulfill your mission, you get bonus XP and can pick a new one.
is more vague, this being a sort of overriding ethical or moral principle. “I Shall Never Kill”, “Always aid a Woman in Distress”, “My Life is the Empress’”, etc. You can spend 10XP to get rid of a Duty, but if you don’t start the game with one you can only get one through plot and roleplay.
is a personal and selfish goal, a defining desire or passion. You get one at character creation and can never get rid of it or change it. This is where you put your flaws, foibles,and delightful little quirks. “Make love with as many willing partners as possible” and “Get drunk whenever nobody is counting on me” are two examples given.
How passions work are easy: If whatever you are doing is in direct pursuit of a passion, you get +1 die to any pools you roll. Pursuing two passions? +2 die to your rolls, and +3 die for all three passions. You can also use these “bonus die” to offset penalties to your rolls. The catch is if you are doing something
to your passions, then you get a die
. These are optional: your character can have none or all three or any in-between, it’s just some mechanical reinforcement for acting in character which can act as a hindrance as much as a bonus.
These are little, or big, things that you can get to boost your character that don’t fit into any other categories. Special possessions, unique physical traits, special social connections, you get the idea. Some are good, some are crap, and I would actually remove them from the game because of it.
- Animal Companion: You get a plot-protected Animal Buddy! The rules explicitly state that this companion should not be removed from the game except in important plot circumstances. If you spent XP to get that horse, it’s bullshit to have him killed 5 minutes later in a bandit ambush. Notable companions are a trained Stealing Monkey, a Great Ape Bodyguard, a Talking Cat, and a Riding Mammoth.
- Beauty: You’re gorgeous! There’s three levels of this advantage, each giving a bigger bonus. With Beauty, whenever you roll the Fascinate (General charm and socialization) or Graces ( Etiquette and Protocol) skills, you can raise any set to a minimum. The one point beauty is a minimum height of 3, meanwhile the 5 point version bumps that up to a minimum of 10. Yeah, if you get 5 point Beauty, as long as you roll a set you can’t fail Fascinate or Graces rolls, and by definition at minimum tie any contests or opposed rolls.
- Cannibal Smile: You have abnormally strong jaws and sharpened teeth. You can perform a nasty bite attack in combat, and get a bonus to Intimidate rolls thanks to your scary smile.
- Followers: You get a squad of mooks hanging around. You can spend more points for more and better goons. At max cost, you can either have 50 incompetent boobs, or 10 hardcore badasses. The exact rules are explained later, but Followers are generally fairly expendable, and are good more for backup than a gamebreaker. Nice but never mandatory or overpowered, a good advantage.
- Fool Lucky: You can spend an XP to re-roll! You have to keep the second result, even if it’s worse. This is a good advantage: obvious benefits, but not without a cost. Good reasons both for taking it and for ignoring it, I like this advantage.
- Knack for Learning: You pick a skill, and improving that skill now costs 1 XP less. This is a bad advantage, because there’s no reason to NOT pick it on your most-used skill. Every character would want this, no exceptions, as it would save you XP in the long run guaranteed. Though it’s only worth it if you know you’ll be maxing that skill out, so it’s not too broken. But, if you wanna specialize in a particular thing? This is a no-brainer.
- Leather Hard: More Wounds in each hit location, makes you take a bit longer to kill. This would be mandatory if it didn’t cost a whopping 5xp, and generally an extra wound box can help but not be a guaranteed bonus.
- Lucky: once per session, of you completely fail a roll and get no sets, you can re-roll it. This is not a thing that should exist, because it’s 1xp. Yeah, no player would ever pass up a free re-roll on a failed roll for no cost to them. I’d make it more expensive, 3 or 5 maybe to offset the fact there’s no penalty to using it.
- Patron: Standard NPC boss skill, more points spent means more important patron. It goes from a village chief up to a full-blown King. This is nice, the Patron gives you stuff and helps, but the Advantage explicitly states that the Patron is going to expect services rendered in exchange for their aid. A good roleplaying advantage.
- Possession: Your special signature plot-immune… whatever. This advantage varies based on the cost of whatever it is you want to get, a fancy sword is a lot cheaper than a castle fortress or pirate ship. No issues with this one, pick a possession from the big item list, you get it and it has limited plot-immunity. Good.
- Secret: You know something… Special. A big, important, plot thing you know and few other people do. The cost varies based on the power of what organizations want that secret kept hidden. Knowing Top Secret National Security info is way more expensive than having blackmail material on the town mayor. This is a flexible plotty thing, and really relies on the GM not being a shit about it to make sure it’s useful, so I can’t really rate it. Depends on GM how good this advantage is.
Here’s some example secrets from the included setting of Heluso and Milonda:
Secret of the Aqueduct (3 Pts.): The masons of Uldholm are the most advanced in the world, and currently they alone possess the building techniques that let them construct aqueducts. Aqueducts, in turn, are what allow Uldish cities to be unusually clean and healthy, and therefore large. Even the masons don’t understand just how important their development is, but they still try to keep it proprietary. Only characters with an Expert: Mason Skill at three or higher have the background to understand this secret.
Secret of Kratig (3 Pts.): The concoction that gives the Blue-Face tribe of Truils its name is more than just a drug to them. It’s a sacrament. The Secret of Kratig is only available to characters who have at least three points in the Student of Herbalism Skill. (It gets explained more later, but Kratig is basically Ye Olde Fantasy PCP)
Secret of the Dinda (4 Pts.): The swords that gave a nation its name are the finest known to mankind. They undoubtedly give an advantage to the nation that developed them, but more, there’s a point of pride in keeping outsiders from making swords of equal quality. A character must have at least an ED or five points in the Expert: Blacksmith Skill to learn the Secret of the Dinda. (Dinda are Not-Valyrian Steel, essentially. Swords made out of special metal.)
- Status: You are in a position of some social standing. This confers no material goods, simply a general recognition that you are, in some way, a Big Deal. A guy with Status 5 and no money may still be a Prince, but he’s a broke-ass vagabond Prince. More points, more important. 1 point you’re a village sage or certified expert in a skill, 2 is equivalent to a Knight or town Mayor, 3 is a proper Lord or Merchant Prince, 4 is a Duke, Grand General, or similar big important guy. 5 Is straight up Royalty or Pope-equivalent.
- Thick Headed: Bonus wound box in the head, a terrible advantage. The Head is the most vulnerable bodypart, it is the one you want to protect more than anything, and this is only 1xp, no reason not to get it. Make it more expensive and it’d be more balanced.
Spells are considered an advantage, but the proper rules will wait for the magic chapter. It works simply as more powerful spells cost more XP to get. You can either spend Xp for two spells of the equivalent level, or for one spell of the next level up. So 1 XP gets you a level 2 Spell, or two level 1’s. 2xp is one level 3 or two level 2’s, etc.
Problems are your general disadvantages, get them to get bonus XPs fi they cause problems. Except they don’t give you the XP at character creation. You get them for free, up to 3, but they only give you XP when they actually come up in the game to cause issues. If they never come up, you get no XP. Also, the Problems are all amazing.
- Drunken Blackouts: The Hangover Problem. Your character had a bad habit of doing dangerous and illegal things while drunk, and then not remembering it. The player decides when they get blackout drunk, but then the GM dictates what issues resulted from the player’s drunken rampage. If the player does something like lock themselves in a room, or hires some people to babysit them they don’t get XP.
- Gruesome: You look like a tirefire. It’s the opposite of the Beauty advantage, giving you a -1d penalty to Command or Charm skills. You get an XP per session where this causes an issue.
- Hated Enemy: Somebody wants to kill, ruin, or embarass you. Whenever having an enemy causes a problem or harms you, then you get bonus XP.
- Jinx: Once per session, the GM can nullify a successful set you rolled, no appeals or re-rolls. This can either be fun or fucking obnoxious, depending on the GM.
- Manifest Density: Every played a low-Intelligence run of Fallout? That’s this. You can never have more than 1 Knowlege, it’s at 1 and can never be raised. But, that’s not the problem: The problem is that you are obviously a moron to everybody you meet, and whenever your sub-vegetable intelligence causes problems in a session, you get the bonus XP.
- Misplaced Confidence: Pick a skill, any rolls against that skill are made at Difficulty 3, and any rolls that already have a difficulty, get it raised by 3. It’s the Dunning-Kruger Syndrome in action! Whenever you fail a roll because of this, you get an XP.
- Missing Arm: You don’t have an arm, duh. YOu can’t do anything requiring two hands, trying to do something that generally uses both arms like climbing that roll now has an added difficulty, and if somebody hits you where your missing arm would be, hit locations 3 and 4 or 5 and 6 depending on the arm, you instead get hit straight in the body. Any session when one of these things come up and causes a problem, you get a bonus XP at the end.
- Missing Hand: A less-severe version of the above. Instead of a hand you have a hook, clamp, wooden hand, or other prosthesis. Same as Missing Arm, but you only take the torso damage if they do damage to Hit Locations 4 or 6.
- Peg Leg: Yaaar! You get a Difficulty added to any rolls dealing with running, climbing, or other leg-intensive actions, and any damage to the missing leg goes straight to the Torso.
- Repulsive to Animals: You make any rolls to ride or handle animals at Difficulty 3, and animals are more likely to attack you. Whenever you fail to ride a horse, or get mauled by a random tiger, you get a bonus XP.
- Stupidly Forgiving: You are a moronically nice guy, who would rather give villains a lecture then stab them in the face. If you forgive or let an enemy go, you get Bonus XP, and it probably won’t bite you in the ass later, right?
- Unwholesome: Whenever you meet someone for the first time they roll their Eerie pool, if they get a success, they start out disliking you because you feel creepy and weird to them. You can overcome this initial dislike, but you start off in the red, socially speaking.
And that’s pretty much it for character creation! The last part is a bit dull to cover, but is actually really nice for players and I wish more RPG designers would include it: A strategy guide to creating a good character. Stolze breaks down the actual odds of getting matches with each size of dice pool, how to choose between investing in Stats vs. Skills, whether being a generalist or a specialist is better, and when you would want an Expert Die vs a Master Die on a skill.
But, that’s it for Character Creation, next up is the start of my favorite part of this game, the Setting! Well, part of the setting. Reign splits the setting bits up into several chapters throughout the book, instead of clomping it all into one big chunk. So, next time
The First Nation: Uldholm.
Kranach preened his feathers and elaborately yawned at the fortress before him. “Easy,” he said.
“Easy,” repeated his employer, skeptically. Her name was Illurya and she’d hired the stormtongue magician to help her dig out a troublesome Oblob rival. As long as the island fortress stood, her ships would never make it up the river to the markets beyond.
“Primitives like the Ob-lobs won’t have any experience with an aerial assault,” Kranach said, his tone pedantic. “Look at their architecture. It’s open to the sky. There’s nothing to keep me from simply flying over there, swooping in and burning out their siege engines from above.”
“Nothing but those engines’ discharge.”“The big catapults can’t be aimed upwards. I’ll fly over the arc of any loose shot. As for the scorpions, I can dodge those bolts easily. Machinery like that is constructed to aim at large, slow targets like your ships -not a single, swift individual.”
Illurya didn’t like Kranach, but he came highly recommended and from what she’d seen he certainly knew his sorcery. She gave him the sign and felt a ripple of enchantment as he surged up into the air.
She squinted, cast a spell of her own and saw his distant form as if it was a short bowshot away. She blinked as the lightning stroked down from his mouth and as he’d predicted, the stones of the war machines were low and ineffective. She smiled. Could it be he was doing it?
Then she frowned. Something was coming out of the open fortress top. Was it smoke? Steam? No, it boiled out and moved against the wind, a cloud but a purposeful one, like a flock of birds but denser and darker. She squinted at Kranach as the black shapes enclosed him, as he spat lightning out to no visible effect. He turned and began flapping back towards her ship, taking sharp cuts in the air, trying to shake off a multitude of inky shadows, finally plunging down to dive into the water…
Just as a shower of stones arced through the air, blanketing him and the sea for a thousand paces around him. He hit the water like deadweight and she scanned the surface, waiting for him to come up again. She’d just resigned herself to another failed assault (with the slim consolation that she wouldn’t have to pay the final installment of his fee) when he broke the surface, his wings draggled and stroking weakly. There were swift Ob-lob chase boats coming from the docks, setting a course towards him, but they retreated as Illurya gestured her own ships to close and ready weapons.
An hour later, Kranach was on the deck of her flagship, shivering under a blanket, bruised, covered with tiny circular bites and sipping hot rum with quivering hands.
“Easy, huh?” Illurya said.
The First Nation: Uldholm
Original SA post
The First Nation: Uldholm
This is the ballad the Uldfolk sing:
“Clever Criff was a baker’s son, a bold and dissatisfied lad
For The Empire was marching in Uldholm and the ladies loved men at arms.
He slipped off in the darkness and was soon in armor clad.
They marched all night and day and then engaged the foe at noon.
Then Criff learned the labors of war outweigh any maiden’s charms.
“One hard blow to his helmet, and Criff collapsed in a swoon.
He awakened hours later to a crowfeast and a shout,
‘I’m blind! Oh god of Pahar, bring me home, give me this boon!’
Criff answered him in his own tongue, ‘I’ll help you if I can!’
For he could see we’d lost the day, with only invaders about.
“Criff entered the enemy camp disguised and aiding the Pahar man.
He spun them quite a tale of being ‘Criff the Imperial Wizard.’
They led him to the General to confer on the battle plan
Where Criff was much distracted by the general’s lovely daughter.
He swore, ‘I’ll win her favor tonight,’ and he was good as his word.
“As the girl lay dreaming of all the joy stout Criff had brought her
Criff dressed and crept away in darkness, towards the storage quarter.
He’d pocketed their battle maps and then, to make things hotter
He lit their food stores all afi re, save one cart he could fl ee in.
He chuckled, ‘Baker? Mage? Translator? Now I’m an exporter!’”
The Uld are a modern, egalitarian, hard working, progressive, forward thinking people. Theirs is one of the few rare non-feudal nations in the world, instead the Uld are ruled by a council of Trade Guilds, who fairly and equally represent the Uldish people in a meritocracy based government where the competent and hard working are rewarded.
That is of course assuming you aren’t too lazy or unskilled to join a guild, in which case you don’t deserve any of the proper privileges of good Uldish Guildfolk. Or if you weren’t a native-born Uld, immigrants obviously cannot be trusted to know what’s best. Or because you just so happen to practice a trade that doesn’t have a guild, but that’s their fault for practicing a worthless trade. Or just because the guilds don’t like you due to byzantine internal politics, but in that case you obviously aren’t worthy or deserving of being a part of a guild you worthless leech.
It’s not hard to be more egalitarian than feudalism after all.
This isn’t to say Uldholm is a bad nation, in fact it’s a downright nice place to live. It truly is the most egalitarian nation in the world, has a very good quality of life, and just the fact that you can actually improve your lot in life instead of getting stuck farming the same patch of dirt as everybody else in your family for the rest of your life is a revolutionary idea.
As a culture the Ulds value ambition, loyalty, personal excellence, innovation, and cleverness. Uldfolk are obsessed with the concept of progression, modernity, and upward mobility. One of the largest philosophical issues in Uldish culture is what the best way to pursue those values actually is. Most Uld fall into one of two ideological camps, the “Visionaries” who are progressive and always seek a better, more efficient, and easier way to do things, and the “Traditionalists” who believe the best way forward is through hard work and traditional Uldish Values.
History of Uldholm
These values, and this unique system of government, came about due to the simple expedient of the total extinction of anybody with noble blood in the entirety of Uldholm.
You see, Uldholm used to be a traditional feudal monarchy, with dukes and princes and a King at the top ruling by divine mandate and all the other standard things. This lasted until the Empire showed up. The Empire was expanding rapidly, conquering nation after nation, but they had hit a bit of an issue: While they can certainly conquer a nation, holding one is another thing. If the Empire left enough troops in a conquered land to ensure control then they wouldn’t have enough to keep conquering, but if they did keep expanding the conquered lands would fall to chaos and insurrection.
Fortunately, the empire found a solution: Bloodcutters.
The Bloodcutters were an order of sorcerers whose magic worked through ties of blood. By casting magic on one person, they could then strike at anybody related to that person, no matter how distant. They could slit your second cousin’s throat, and wipe out the entire family tree in one swipe of a blade. To show the power of the Bloodcutters, Uldholm was chosen to make an example to the rest of the world. Whenever a nobleman was captured, his entire family line was dead within a fortnight. Nobles either fled to foreign lands or were killed off, eventually culminating in the death of the entire Uldish royal family. This lead to other nations quickly capitulating to the Empire, allowing them to rule without having to disrupt the local power-structures of their conquered lands. Meanwhile though, Uld one of the few nations that didn’t surrender.
Instead, with the elimination of the nobility, the local Trade Guilds stepped up to lead the nation, in particular one General Rolf Sorgersaard a common born soldier. As the Uldish nobility was wiped out, Rold found himself with more and more power and leeway to fight the war against the empire as he wished. Through his tactical expertise he turned the war from a traditional affair into a bitter guerrilla war, which the Empire was poorly equipped to fight. In time the Empire gave up on holding Uldholm, ending the war and allowing the Guilds to consolidate their power and found modern Uldholm.
The Uld’s favorite genre are tales of hard working, clever, innovators who rise to power and success through their own talents and hard work. Two of the most popular Uldish tales are those of “Rolf’s Battle”, a dramatized war epic recounting the life story of Rolf Sorgersaard which has essentially created its own literary genre full of stories and songs meant to fill in details of the story, tell of events both before and after the tale, and essentially build a Star Wars-esque expanded universe around the story. The other is The Ballad of Criff the Clever, and Uldish Culture Hero who personifies all good Uldish things. The ballad is fifteen verses long, telling the tale of the clever Criff’s various adventures making money, seducing women, and foiling the wicked Imperials at every turn always in service to his homeland. Throughout the tale, Criff acts as a member of every one of the Uldish guilds, and acts as a unifying figure for the people.
In the arts the Uldish prefer music that is upbeat, peppy, shallow and fun. For theater, there are three rough genre’s in Uldholm: Buffoonish slapstick comedy, over-the-top action plays with magic special affects, and heavy romantic tragedies called “anguish plays”. Yes, the Uld listen to pop-music, watch low-brow comedy, special effect driven action flicks, and Oscar bait dramas.
In the Crafts though, they are unmatched. While purely decorative art is rare, most artwork is built into architecture, murals, walls and the like decorating a practical object, their functional work is without compare. Uld artisans are skilled and rewarded for it by the Guilds, pushing Masters to always innovate and improve.
Uldish cuisine is typified by bread, meat, and booze, in as many varieties and flavors they can get. Bread and pastries are the staple foodstuff of the Uld, in as many types and varieties as possible:
Walk down an Uldish bazaar and within a mile you’ll be offered fresh sweet rolls with honey glaze, thick black bread reputed to promote virility, fi ne-crusted bread fi t for the daintiest of teeth, chewy sourdough pies with meat baked in the center, long rolls, hard rolls, fl aky and delicate pastry rolls… any sort of bread one might imagine and some (like the peculiar “horse hair string bread,” an acquired taste) that one might rather not.
Ulds eat fresh fruit and cooked vegetables, though these are generally a side or garnish for bread or meat.
The Uldish are obsessed with meat, anything that flies, swims, walks, hops or digs and doesn’t talk back there’s a gourmet recipe for it. What meat you eat is based on your income, with the poorest Uld make do with pork and beef often sausage form with properly greasy and questionable contents, while the rich dine on sparrow brains, lizard tongues from the Truil Wastes, snake meat of the Tuumblahd Strangler, and Pucklish monkey livers.
There are sweets, but they are seen as an innately childish food, and an adult eating sweets more than once in a while will be seen as immature. Instead the favored vice is liquor. Beers and Wines are everywhere, with hard liquors being a recent introduction that are quickly gaining popularity.
Uldish Fashion is all about ostentation. Bright colors, complex design, and accessories everywhere. Fringes, feathers, tassles, slashed and puffed, fur lined, fur edged, elaborate buttons, braids, beads, bells, buckles, and anything else they can think of. This is because to the Ulds success is tied to moral rightness: Being good, honest, hard working, intelligent, and loyal, will lead to success and wealth. The rich are seen as more respectable than the poor, so even the poorest Uld keeps a set of fancy clothes for special occasions.
Two things the Uld specialize in is jewelry and embroidery. The Uld make and spend more on jewelry than any other people, and their textile arts are the best in the world with elaborate tapestries being a popular home decoration.
One oddity of Uld fashion is their love of going barefoot. Even the riches Uld will gladly go about without shoes if the weather permits, though this is rare abroad as most cities aren’t nearly as clean as Uldish ones. Summer wear is made up of trousers and skirts with pull over shirts and a broad hat to keep off the sun, with winter clothing being supplemented by thick quilted coats and long thick scarves worn wrapped around the head like a turban.
The Politics of Uldholm
The government of Uldholm is made up of members of the fifteen Guilds, composing the Senate and the Council, which act as the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of the government. The government works almost exclusively for the benefit of the guilds, even though more than half of Uldholm’s population are not members.
To be a member of one of the guilds has three requirements. First, the prospective member must be a native-born Uld, barring any immigrants and minority races living in Uldholm. Secondly, you have to pay an entry fee, the fee varies based on guild but it’s enough that the poor or lower working class couldn’t afford it. Thirdly, you have to be a member of whatever profession the guild represents, and be in good standing.
Guild membership is lifelong, and qualifies you for guild-taxes. New members are known as Apprentices. They cannot vote, but can attend meetings and propose measures, as well as petition to be tried by the guild in legal proceedings instead of civil authorities. Technically apprentices can serve on the Council or Senate, but it’s very rare. Only four apprentices have ever served on the Senate, and never on the Council.
After a while, an Apprentice can take a competence test, and sometimes pay an advancement fee, to become a Journeyman which entitles them to vote in Guild and Government matters. This is the rank occupied by the majority of guild members.
The next level up is Master status. After passing another test and paying another fee, Masters are given two votes for representation, and are allowed to petition to be tried by the Council in criminal cases, though this is very rare as it tends to backfire.
The Senate is the main legislative body of the Uld government, and currently has 222 members. It does the normal Senate duties of proposing, debating, and passing legislation, while also acting as judges in capital manners by creating 4 Senator juries to decide cases.
The formula to determine how many Senators there are is constantly revised, but at current time each master equals twenty apprentices and five journeymen. This works out very favorably for guilds with high numbers of masters, but poorly for those without. In fact the Cultivators guild, by far the largest, has been lobbying for a revision to the rule but oddly even though they are almost unanimously for it they just can’t get it to pass.
The Council of Fifteen is the executive branch of the Uldish government, made up of one representative from each guild. Certain councilors have been given extra power to perform certain governmental acts like appoint tax assessors or manage tariffs, but these powers can be revoked by the Senate at any time and so Councillors with these powers generally use them to their full extent as quickly as possible. Generally the Council has broad powers to interpret and enforce the laws of Uldholm, if they can act together enough to exercise those powers.
Local mayors or governors are appointed by the Senate generally, though the Council does appoint the mayors of major cities. During their tenure, they are required to renounce their guild membership while they serve to maintain impartiality. These positions are held to have little actual power or tenure, mostly being seen as positions for lackeys or as a stepping-stone to joining the Senate. Governors can request aid from the Soldiers guild at their discretion, though generally they prefer to hire their own mercenary troops. Longevity in most local government is dependent on being either dishonest, a guild lapdog, or both.
Uldholm at War
- The Cultivators’ Guild (71 Senators): The largest guild by membership. They are generally fractious and disorganized, and are all over the political map. The only thing they can all agree on is tax cuts for farmers and more taxes on non-farmers.
- The Merchants Guild (30 Senators): Pacifistic and isolationist, they like not spending money and not claiming territory as whenever territory is claimed, the Cultivators are the ones that grow the most.
- The Guild of Miners and Gemcutters (21 Senators): Aggressively expansionist and the second richest of the guilds. More lands means more mines to get more ore and gems, and more wealth for the guild.
- The Guild of Weavers and Woodcarvers (16 Senators): Very unified and politically neutral. The entire guild swings for whoever gives them the best concessions on any given issue. Everybody hates them, but needs them to get anything passed, because nobody can turn down their aid on an issue.
- The Masons’ and Builders’ Guild (12 Senators): Peacefully expansionist, but against military action. They love spending public money on big public works projects and infrastructure, and actually back up their rhetoric. The Masons have the highest taxes of any guild.
- The Guild of Butchers, Teamsters, and Tanners (11 Senators): No real definite politics, but are pro-expansion against the Truils.
- The Bakers’ Guild (10 Senators): Not a factor, small, disorganized, and generally coopted or bullied by other guilds.
- The Guild of Bankers, Lawyers, and Mercenaries (9 Senators): The riches of the guilds and more influential than their size would indicate. The mercenary branch is very hawkish for obvious reasons. Rivals of the Soldiers and Enchanters guild.
- The Blacksmiths’ Guild (9 Senators): Shrewd negotiators and generally aggressive politically.
- The Guild of Soldiers (8 Senators): Authoritarian and conservative, but generally anti-war. They get along with Masons and Enchanters. They act as the official law enforcement of Uldholm, and can wield a lot of unofficial power because of it.
- The Guild of Traffickers (7 Senators): Seperate from the guild of Merchants, this guild is specifically for import/export merchants. They’re pacifists and internationalists, and are distrusted by everybody but the Musicians, Brewers, and Enchanters.
- The Physicians’ Guild (6 Senators): Politically passionate, but not organized in any way. Lead on health matters, but nothing else.
- The Guild of Enchanters, Sages and Lifelong Students (5 Senators): Small but influential, mainly due to their support from the Uldholm magic schools. Closely tied to the Soldiers.
- The Guild of Musicians and Translators (4 Senators): Love foreign adventures, peaceful or warlike because they make for good work and songs. Known as spendthrifts and are generally distrusted.
- The Guild of Brewers, Innkeeps, and Givers of Hospitality (3 Senators): Small, disorganized, and irrelevant on the large scale.
Uldish military power relies almost totally on their technological inventiveness and their powerful sorcery. Home to both the Stormtongue and Flame Dancer schools of Sorcery, the main strength of the Uldish military is in its powerful war-sorcerers, which act as the main projection of power and the Uldish special forces. Otherwise the military is mainly staffed by bulk troops of typically armed spearmen and crossbowmen, but their forces lack the training or combative instincts of their neighbors. The Uld tendency to self-interest makes poor footsoldiers.The Uld’s biggest weakness is a dire lack of higher class warriors. There is a definite shortage of irregular troops, saboteurs, scouts, and heavy infantry.
The two biggest military threats to the Uld is Dindavara to the North and the Empire to the East. Against Dindavara, the premier military power of Heluso, the Uld rely on layers of fortresses packed with the most advanced weapons and devices the Uld can think up. This may actually work, as the border between Dindavara and Uldholm is hilly, mountainous, and the few large passes are easily guarded.
Sadly, this is not going to work against the Empire. On the Imperial border there is nothing but rolling fields, and the Empire are masters of siege warfare. The Ulds only home that their sorcery and merit-based military will be able to stand against the Empire, if they ever invade again.
Seeking to expand their territories the Uld have started a slow colonization of the Truil Wastes, seeing the nomadic tribes as easy pickings. Which is both true, and false. The much smaller bands of the Truil cannot stand up to an organized Uld army, but an organized Uld army doesn’t have a hope of actually catching Truils in an open batte. Instead the general strategy is for their armies to march into an area, build some fortified homesteads, and then be completely ineffective at actually holding the border as Truil bands wander freeling in “conquered” territory.
Next time: The Player’s Chapter
The Uldholm Commentaries
Original SA post
The Uldholm Commentaries
I feel I haven't been doing this game justice, partly that's because we haven't gotten to the really neat and fun mechanics, but I feel like I've shortsheeted the lore. So, consider this an addendum to the last post about Uldholm where I share more of my thoughts and feelings about that bit of the setting.
One thing I love is how they book will throw terms at you and they won't explain them yet, or never explain them. The world is explicitly built with large holes in the lore for GMs to fill in as they please, and what is there is just to spark some inspiration.
First off, look at that fucking map! Now, as a navigational aid it is barely adequate, but as a map to give your party, it's fucking amazing. Just in this map we have the concepts of:
- Talking Frogs! But it's important you never listen to what they say. Why? Do they speak misleading prophecies? Give really bad advice? Just flat lie about everything? Maybe they're giant vicious monsters and if you ignore them they attack, so you have to engage them in polite conversation but they're so vapid and dumb they just say useless drivel?
- A fucking LIVING LAKE. Is it some sort of magic water-elemental? is the area Demon-Possessed? Maybe the lake is actually a giant ameoba-like creature. Is it sentient? can it talk? What sort of things live on a living lake? Or in it?
- Ruled by Changeling Boy. It's important to note, this is literally the only mention of Changelings in the entire book. They never tell you what a changeling IS, so, what does that mean? And isn't Uldholm a pseudo-democracy? Why is that mountainous area ruled by a Changeling? What even IS a changeling?
Plus all those little other notes that hint at bandit strongholds, greedy merchant cities, a place of proposals you cannot refuse and other such fun events. Every setting bit will get a map like this, and they're great.
Now as to Uldholm itself: This really does feel like the PC Starting Area, which is actually very nice. It's set up to be the perfect place for a good Rags to Riches story, the Guilds give neat definite character concepts, an easy-to-understand political system ripe for player manipulation and interferance. Want a war story? Uldholm borders two expansionist military powers and has a lack of dedicated top-flight soldierguys. Or, you could be in charge of one of the frontier towns out in the Truil Wastes. Uld has a definite police-system in the Soldier's Guild so it fits right in for playing a Night's Watch-esque fantasy Police Procedural. Uldholm is also home to two schools of magic that are actual... schools. Most magic in this game is... very unusual, but both the Stormtongues and Flame Dancers run actual dedicated academies of magic, and all the fun that comes from having two possibly rival magical tradeschools in your nation.
Uldholm is essentially built to be a nice fairly easy to understand place for PC's to start out in which is literally designed to reward and allow the sort of independent daredevil actions PCs love to do, and while the lands themselves are not crazy, Uldholm is essentially climatewise central European, temperate and never hitting serious extremes at any particular time of the year, it is next to some very interested and fun places. That Lightless Jungle will be explained later, but it's exactly the sort of hideous death-trap place full of potential riches beyond belief that PCs fucking flock to like moths to a golden spike encrusted light.
Oh, and a note about Uldholm: The Uld are explicitly black. Like, African-featured, very dark skinned, with tones describes as "earth colored". Just changing that, making the Uld black can suddenly change completely what images go through your head, yeah?