[To Playtest] Colonization of Qek

Started by Eero Tuovinen, December 13, 2008, 03:18:47 PM

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Eero Tuovinen

In the new TSOY book I'm going to have these things I call "campaign frameworks", essentially short articles on how to kick up a specific sort of campaign based in Near. I'm explaining the method in another thread. I'm going to need to playtest this stuff, and I invite others to do so as well if you get an inspiration and opportunity. The reason I'm playtesting campaign frameworks instead of the crunch directly is of course that this way I get to playtest both: each of these campaign frameworks I put up for playtest has both crunch that needs verification and the campaign framework itself that needs to be tested.

The second campaign framework I wrote for Near that was not directly based on what Clinton writes in TSoY was this idea for a colonial campaign in Qek. It's my answer to the question of how Qek as a location is relevant. As you probably know, Qek is far from an obvious setting for actual play of TSoY - I've never seen anybody play a campaign in Qek, the only way the jungle continent shows up in the game is when a character comes out of Qek to adventure in other places. I ascribe this to how Qek is not a part of any cultural clashes in Near, which leads us to the question of how to make it so. This is my answer.

Colonization of Qek

In the colonial campaign the people of the south come into Qek in search of riches of various sorts. Some come with the intent to stay. The colonial push is led by Ammeni lords who wish to bring the riches of the jungle continent out into the open for their own benefit and that of the world. Many colonists are middle and lower class Ammeni who have no place in the parts of the homeland overrun by slavery. Others are soldiers. Yet others are opportunists and homeless wanderers who end up in Qek through fate more than anything else. Many are outlaws or exiles.

Obviously the colonists have to deal with the native peoples of Qek, who react in no clear-cut and organized manner: most family units keep out of the way of the foreigners when they can, while hunters met in chance encounters will test and slay savagely any lone outlanders they find unworthy. The Qek culture shirks from real contact with the incomprehensible outside. Those families that are dependent upon the sea for their ancestral survival lore are often forced into contact and may lose the trust and acceptance of inland families.

Meanwhile, the outlanders are hardly more organized, the sea belongs to whoever dares to take to it. Many of the comers do not care of the natives - they're here to use the land and the natural resources. Others seek to exploit the Qek in different ways. Some stay only to burn down the bridges they need to to get what they want, others are looking to craft a compromise with the jungle, one that allows them to live. The Qek are wrong if they think that they can just kill and deny the outside world. The foreigners are wrong if they try to conquer the jungle without the keys the Qek have to it.


OK, it's pretty obvious that this campaign frame is all about Africa and the white man, distanced just enough to free the players from hunting Wikipedia for real placenames. I don't mind. There's an interesting structural thing in this campaign, though, which I'll explain down below. Specific rules for how the jungle works and how it shapes the interactions of the natives and the outsiders, in other words. I find it interesting how very tense the basics of survival can be for the colonists of Qek before they get their hands on the crunch the Qek use to survive their land. Protagonists of both cultures are forced to change to survive, and the jungle leaves its mark to everybody.

Character types

Player characters in this set-up are either natives or outsiders, obviously enough. They don't all have to be one or the other, either, but some of them should certainly be outsiders. Of course playing an all-Qek game is possible, but that loses some of the dangerous feel from the jungle. The player characters can be set up as part of a group of colonists or explorers, or they can all wander in Qek regardless of each other. Characters are easy to bring together later when they need all the help they can get to survive in Qek, should the players want that.The Ammeni is my primary choice for an outside culture because they're the sort of people who'd go for colonization, and I find them interesting as potential protagonists. The colonial setting allows a sharper focus on the less visible lower and middle classes of Ammeni society, as well as giving us a side of the culture that is sidelined by Clinton - Ammeni as explorers, scientists and merchants who take immense risks to tame the world.

I don't really need to list possibilities here, I'm sure you know what I'm discussing. If I were playing this, I'd go for an Ammeni lordling with an ambitious vision of opening the continent. That'd be fun to play.


Of course all Near crunch is applicable, but the specific bits that are more relevant than others are the Qek and Ammeni cultural stuff. Specifically, this list is pertinent, roughly in the order of importance:

  • General Ammeni stuff is used to style characters from there.
  • General Qek stuff to style the natives.
  • Qek knotwork crunch is crucial to the procedures, below. (From the Finnish edition.)
  • Ammeni economical crunch. (From the Finnish edition.)
  • Ammeni poisoncraft, Walozi magic, etc.
Not all of that is in the original TSOY book or easily available in the Internet, so I'll attach the difficult to find bits to this thread.

Procedures of play

To play this campaign, the players create characters through the normal procedure. Meanwhile, the SG prepares a special adventure map. The colonial campaign involves a lot of travel as characters need to get to and from different sites in the Qek jungle. As described in the Qek crunch, the jungle is not mapped; instead, the SG has a graph-form map of knots (sites made familiar and safe to the Qek by knotwork ritual practice) and paths (conventional routes between knots). The key to the colonial campaign is to create this knot map in advance and to force the realities of the jungle at the players with it.

(If you're not familiar with the knot stuff, now's the time to scroll down and take a look - the following won't make sense otherwise.)

The knot map is best understood via an example. Here's a simple one I made for the purpose:

Each dot on the map is a knot made by some tsafari and then taught to others. The lines are paths, established connections. The greyed out "Moot Grounds" are an example of an Area, a portion of the jungle limited by paths. (The "Clear Pool" knot is situated in what might be termed the "West Moot Grounds" if one wanted to use the Maxtla-Moot path to further split the Area.) As the rules explain, knots and paths are really the only way to get around in Qek reliably: you need to know a given knot to even try an Ability check for travelling there. Or you can use an established path, in which case you don't need the knot, but still need to make the check. To get rid of the Ability check component of travel you need to both know the knot and use a path. Some knots are not connected to paths, in which case they only way to find them is to stumble on them when getting lost (an extremely hazardous practice, I imagine) or knowing the knot.

This particular map presents the stomping grounds of four particular families near the sea coast. The Itzel family is the eldest, and deferred to by everybody except Ocelopan, who came here from farther away and is only tenuously related to the others. The Ammeni have formed their trading post a year or two ago some ways east of the primary sea inlet of this group of families. Runti's brother (remember, these families are literally the families of individuals whose names they carry), a travelling tsafari, immediately went to the Ammeni when he returned to the area; he knotted their location and taught the knot at the moot to some men from the families for their protection. No path exists yet for the Ammeni to use and find the places where the families live, but the Ammeni have no trouble finding the Maxtla family, whose curing huts and boats are relatively easy to find on the coast. So the Ammeni might breach inland somewhat productively by treating with or attacking Maxtla and then using the paths to get further into the jungle. The "Moot Grounds" is pretty much the area these local families know best and consider their own, so it's where they'll hide out and seek additional strengths if the going gets rough.

The key to the Qek campaign is that the SG prepares and updates as necessary a map of the jungle, which becomes a constraint on action, forcing characters to make compromises with others who have the necessary knowledge. I'm thinking of real power in the hands of the native guide, character archetype who is usually sidelined by colonial fiction. The map includes everything that has been established about the jungle and its locations; it's also easy to copy for the players in a running manner as they uncover the complex web of knowledge the natives possess. (Most locations in the jungle are knots simply because there is no reliable way to find the same place twice without knotting, but of course such might get established in play - use empty circles instead of dots to mark those, I'd guess, so it's easy to color them in when and if a character creates the knot.)

Example reasons for why outsiders want to get into the jungle include access to rare herbs, precious metals and exotic magics, as well as a more full-body contact with the elusive natives. Foreigners who infest and compromise the knot-network finally have the capability for staking the mysterious Qek and forcing them to interact, whether in constructive or hostile manner. Slaverunning might be the ticket out of exile for an Ammeni noble, for example, but just as easily a merchant might wish to establish a genuinely equal and safe trading ground with the distrustful Qek. And, of course, gaining access to the Qek grants further leverage in capturing or buying the services of knotmasters and tsafari who can provide further connectivity for the outsiders.

In actual play the geographical map can be combined with the traditional adventure map as outlined in the Solar System SGing instructions, or the geography can play the star role; the SG needs to decide what sort of notes he needs.

Ideas & notes

Qek as mysterious, incomprehensible and dangerous. Hunters will test foreigners to see if they have the spirit to survive in the jungle. Homesites and other important places are kept hidden from outsiders, protected by the jungle. Cooperators will be scorned, but Qek are humans, too, and live a near subsistence existence; they can benefit enormously by foreign resources, too. Clash of customs.

Walozi deep in the jungle. Powerful magics that may be entreated by anybody, as long as they can find the places. Ancient knots upheld by undying rohos. Qek turning to warfare, using the marginal knot effects (such as uncapped Pool expenditures) for killing. Foreigners burn forest, poison springs, die of diseases. Expert magicians brought from afar to tame the land. Power-agriculture fails. Loads of exotic furs, slaves, gems & metals breath life to the colony. Play in terms of seasons, long-term developments, follow the progress and choices of a colony.

Develop Ammeni trade crunch. Trade routes with mechanical effects to parallel the Qek geographical understanding. Ammeni trade riddles the Sea of Teeth, visit other lands nearby for alternate perspectives and to get out of the jungle. Similar understanding of space (space as a network of relationships) a basis for cooperation between Qek and Ammeni? Is balanced relationship possible, or is culturally destructive interaction the only choice, even if peaceful, when the Qek are brought into contact with the outside world? Or is the jungle so strong a proposal that it defeats the outside world? Will the colonist or explorer have to go native to survive?

Ape-goblins, ancient elven knot-keepers, hostile Khalean traders to spice things up. Requirements and orders from the home-land, threats to cut off support if unreasonable demands not followed. Pressing personal ambitions that lure protagonists into taking the risks with the jungle. Relative safety and death by thousand cuts on the coast, or risking it all out there. Contrast between characters bound to these godforsaken shores by duty, by poorness, by ambition, by curiousity or mere emptiness of life. Ultimate fate of the colonization efforts, closing of a continent, turning the back to a failed effort; triumphant return, turning resources and experience gained into leverage in the homeland, raising a house and felling lords.

Playtest advice

In case you want to help me playtest, here's a checklist of things to do:

  • Prepare the scenario in the manner I suggest above. I want more knowledge about whether people can get anything out of this sort of "geographical story mapping".
  • Create Ammeni characters who either want to get rich or are already rich. Those rules need to be tested, and this is as good a place as any. Make a Qek player character if you want, too, but don't make too many of those - I'm more interested in how characters learn the Qek crunch in play.
  • Start with player characters who don't necessarily know a lot about knots and Qek crunch in general, but who learn to succeed in their ambitions. Play until you figure out where the game's going and whether its going to work.
  • Let me know how it went and whether the crunch or campaign model should be improved somehow. Especially keep an eye out for blank directions in the crunch: play creatively and with full force, don't hesitate to create new crunch as necessary, but also let me know where I've developed unnecessarily much and where I should have provided more.
  • Get some characters lost in the jungle and see how you solve the issue, if possible. I'm not certain myself how it should go. Perhaps it has to be a situational choice, so the character gets the bad consequences that relate to why he was in the jungles in the first place.
  • Figure out how many Advances characters need to invest into the knot stuff to be viable in fulfilling their jungle ambitions. Same for making a believable, heroic tsafari. Find out whether knots are as powerful as I believe them to be. Remember to provide alternatives, such as walozi crunch and situations and Ammeni stuff - we need to find out whether players find the knot stuff appealing.
  • Let me know if you find that some other Near stuff works really well for this campaign. I like Ammenites, but perhaps there are some other obvious bases to go with. Anything can be used, but what is more natural and what is less?
  • If there is something you need to know about Qek or the method of the campaign or something, and I've forgotten to write about it, ask here. I'll answer.
  • Play something like 2-3 sessions, if possible. I estimate that the things I want to know should have been discovered in 3 sessions at most, but what do I know. You know your group better than me, but consider setting the Advance cost to 5 xp or even to 3 for the special playtesting purpose. That latter might make players spend Advances too easily, though, so beware.
  • Remember to create interesting Keys. I don't usually bother making these in tow with crunch, but I assume that characters will have appropriate Keys related to wealth, knots, walozi or whatnot.

Also, a crucial Qek Secret I just realized is only in the Finnish edition: can't play real Qek without this one:

Secret of Sudden Strike
The character attacks so suddenly in conflict that the enemy has to counter with a Passive Ability. Usable with any Vigor-based Ability, but only when surprising the opponent. Cost: 1 Vigor
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Eero Tuovinen

Qek Knotwork

These rules were in the Finnish edition of TSoY. I'll probably revise them a bit when I polish this up for the new book, but I should have done a rough translation at some point for the forums... ah, here. I'll copy and polish a bit:

Nobody's been to every valley

The Qek jungles are difficult and dangerous to traverse. Nobody, not even the Qek, knows it's every corner. Qek may, however, improve his chances in the wilderness by listening to his parents and looking carefully at the terrain. For game purposes there is no map of Qek. Instead the characters may have terrain knots, representing places the character knows. These are frequently oral tradition, crafted in poetic form by local families. Knots are both practical knowledge and spiritual acts of binding the spirit of a place, there is no separation. A character who creates a new knot is honored with the title of tsafari, a knotmaker. A character who knows many knots may be called a knotmaster. Each knot belongs to a given place or landmark, like the Knot of the Deathriver or Knot of the Birdrock. A Qek character has to be able to name a place to knot it.

Many tsafari spend their lives travelling the jungles and coasts, searching old ruins and crafting poetry of the things they've learned. A tsafari can usually find hospitality with families not his own, assuming he is willing to tell tales and teach knots. Knots are created and undone with the Secret of the Tsafari. Knots can be learned from other characters, just like any secret. Knots are otherwise like secrets, but a character may learn several of them in a row, like zu syllables. When the roho of a place has been knotted with the secret, no other character may knot it again; he has to learn the knot from somebody who already knows it. When the sasha of the original knotmaking tsafari fades, the knot is undone and all characters who know it lose it.

Using knots

A character who knows a knot finds his way to it with a successful Jungle Travel (R) or Wilderness Survival (I) check. There is no other way to find your way in the jungle reliably. The check may garner penalty dice if the character is farther than usual from the knot, doesn't know where he is or has other such difficulties. A character without a knot is bound to get lost in the jungle unless he knows some other ways of travel - he simply doesn't know which way he should go, and will soon get disoriented by the sinuous hills and bogs of the jungle, and the sun that peeks only intermittently between the leaves.

The player may use unlimited Pool in Ability checks whenever the character uses the terrain of a known knot to his benefit, or works against the terrain. For knotting purposes anything that has not left the location of the knot since it's creation is "terrain" (including buildings or even people in the case of young knots). Example uses are stalking, hunting, hiding, gathering, looking for herbs, building in the location, knowing the history of the location.

If a character tries to use the knot against another character familiar with it, the opponent may prevent the usage for one scene with a resisted Jungle Travel (R) check. The character with the less direct oral lineage to the tsafari who made the knot (that is, the character who more directly learned the knot from the original source) gets a penalty die for the conflict.

A Path is a way between two knots. An Area is a space limited by Paths. These concepts are used by knot-related secrets. Paths are used to establish easy routes between places, Areas are used to determine geography.

Getting lost and travel without knots

The knot-lore is really not an optional part of life in Qek - it's unfair, but a person who wants to get around safely has to know his knots, or at least be pointed to the right paths between knots others know. A person who is knot-aware in the local environs is termed a knotmaster; a person who doesn't know the knots but knows the most important paths is an adult; the person who can't reliably use the paths is a child, kept at home and safe.

When characters go haring off into the jungle without knotlore, or when they fail in the necessary Ability checks to stay on paths or navigate to known knots, the SG gets to frame complication scenes for the lost characters. A lost character might be constrained by tiredness, light or other conditions to trying to limited travel opportunities (such as trying to return whence he came before getting even further lost). He might also stumble on dangers in the jungle, such as hostile animals or stranger things. Ultimately the SG has to make the call as to how these frequent travel conflicts in the jungle are going to feature in his dramatic coordination.

Being lost is traditionally a bit of a problem in rpgs, as it's usually just a matter of slowing down the game. We need to figure out a way around that. Probably the key is to treat with the lost condition as a tacit permission for the SG to screw with the character; he gets late to wherever he was going and thus automatically fails his efforts, whatever they were. Or he stumbles in the jungle and gets injured and poisoned. Perhaps the SG just needs to choose real enough stakes for such conflicts so as to present the jungle as a real danger.

Knots in the civilization

There's nothing in principle stopping a character from creating knots outside the jungle (even if nobody has before the game starts). A single city could be a knot, or in the case of the northwestern plains, a knot could cover a full day's travel. The character needs the equivalent of the jungle travel Ability for the terrain in question, however, like Plains Travel (I) or Maldor Travel (I). Any abilities of this manner invented during the game are always cultural for both Qek and the local culture both, as the Qek-born are used to looking at the world in these terms. All secrets concerning knots always use the terrain-appropriate abilities instead of jungle travel in these situations.

Jungle Travel (R)
The Qek cultural ability concerning travel in the Qek jungles, and knowledge of the terrain and geography. Usable in travelling long distances, finding a certain kind of place (a freshwater spring, say) or simply in supporting Wilderness Survival (I).

Secret of Tsafari
The character can create and unmake Knots. In addition, the character can discern whether a given location is knotted, and whether it may be knotted (reasons for why not range from the place not having a roho to it simply being a part of a larger place), with a successful Pray (V) check. A Knot can be created by going to the location in question and staying there until the next solar eclipse (the end of the month, in other words) preparing and calling the spirit of the place. Before the month is over the character will face a mortal danger specified by the SG, summoned by the roho of the place. During the eclipse the player makes a Jungle Travel (R) check (penalty dice if the character's been in the place only a little time) to create the knot. If successful, the knot is created and the player pays an Advance for it. A Knot can be unmade with an identical ritual, except using Pray (V) as the ability. The creator of the knot knows immediately when the unmaking ritual starts. Requirement: be lost in the jungle, and tie a knot to survive.

Secret of Jungle Travel
The character is a rugged traveller and gets some slight breaks with the merciless jungle. He can make a Jungle Travel (R) check to create an Effect related to his knowledge of a place, whether knotted or not. The Effect, apart from its normal uses, allows the character to find his way to the same place again, similar to how a knot functions. Requirements: This Secret is not very common among the common Qek, who prefer knots for their superior qualities; outsiders who travel the jungle a lot learn this Secret from other travellers or by superficially aping the Qek. Tsafari often know this Secret simply because they often have to travel to places that are not knotted yet.

Secret of the Wanderer
Some wanderers and fools trust in the jungle itself to take them where it will. When the character gets lost in the jungle due to a failed Jungle Travel (R) check or intentionally, the character disappears in the jungle (and loses his next scene, if applicable). Afterwards he surfaces in a knot chosen by the SG, at a moment chosen by the SG, but always in a meaningful way. Alternatively, the player may pay extra Instinct to gain choises: for each point the SG lists one more combination of time and place, and the player gets to choose when and where his character pops up from among the options. Cost: 1+ Instinct

Secret of the Hermit
The character can refresh his Vigor and Reason pools by spending a day alone from sunrise to sunset within a knot he knows. Cost: 2 Instinct

Secret of the Pathmaster
The character may create a Path between two knots he knows by travelling the route and succeeding in a Jungle Travel (R) check. The check may suffer penalty dice from distance or difficult terrain. If the route contains several geographical areas, all appropriate travel abilities are checked from best to worst, with bonus dice to latter rolls. Any character may use a Path so created to travel the route with a successful jungle travel or Wilderness Survival (I) check. The creator of the Path doesn't even need the Ability check. The Path becomes undone whenever either knot fades. Requirement: the character knows at least two knots.

[I'm uncertain whether this is the right way to deal with paths, might make them too difficult to create.]

Secret of the Stomping Ground
Whenever the character is in an Area delimited by Paths between knots he knows, he can make a jungle travel check to find anything appropriate to the area - people, waterways, caves, animals - whatever could be found in the area in principle. He can look for specific something, or declare a general type of thing like "Maldorite ruins" or the like. The SG creates the details. Unlikeliness may cause penalty dice. If the area limited by the knots contains several geographical areas, all appropriate travel abilities are checked from best to worst, with bonus dice to later rolls. Requirement: The character knows at least three knots. Cost: 2 from appropriate Pool: Vigor for geographical features, Instinct for animals and plants, Reason for people-things.

Key of the Knotmaster
The character has committed to preserving and upholding the frail knowledge of the jungle that various Tsafari have wrested from the land at great risk to themselves. This knowledge is the life-blood of Qek.
1 xp: The character's status (or lack of the same) as a knotmaster comes up.
2 xp: The character learns a knot from another character, or teaches one to another.
5 xp: The character creates a knot himself.
Buyoff: Unmake a knot.

Ammeni wealth

I don't think that this stuff is available in English anywhere. At leat the bits I've developed since publishing the Finnish edition certainly aren't. I'll just translate some stuff here and now:

Incomprehensible wealth

The Ammeni lords are unique, exalted beings in this time and age. They wield wealth that is not only all but monetized, but greater than any one man could ever hope to consume. They have capital, a concept near unknown in great parts of Near. This is a condition that gives the lords unprecedented options in elevating and ruining themselves and others.

First, Secret of Fortune:

Secret of Fortune
The character has more than any one person could ever need. The form of the wealth might be specific or everchanging, depending on the character. Any material Effects he chooses to garner by wealth come to him effortlessly, without Pool cost. The only limitations to this are practical, and the fact that the character needs to make a check with a potentially mediocre Ability (such as Bargain (R)) to create the Effect. In most situations the SG may assume that a wealthy character has the logistics to create one brand new Effect per scene or so. Effects need to still be supported normally in Refreshes. Requirements: Difficult to achieve, see below.

The Secret of Fortune is special, it cannot be bought just like that. Wealth is only made by planning, stealing or bequethal. Specifically, the Secret of Fortune is created like so:

Secret of Incubation (Fortune)
The character has a plan to create a fortune. The player lays out the plan in rough terms. The SG may challenge the plan freely in appropriate conflicts, making success part of the stakes. A failure in any such conflict means the loss of the plan and this Secret. However, when the character has succeeded thrice, the SG has to allow the player to exchange this Secret for the Secret of Fortune.

A character can have several fortunes, although he can only use one meaningfully. A character may also give away a fortune to another. A fortune can be stolen in appropriate circumstances: a tie in such a conflict could mean that the fortune is destroyed or lost, depending on the exact form it takes at the time.

Secret of Fortune goes usefully with the Ammeni Ability here:

Wealth (R)
The skill of handling and using wealth. This is somewhat different from Bargaining (I) in that the character knows how to preserve, increase and spend wealth efficiently. It's useful for hiding wealth, trading it, monetarizing it, moving it, buying things with it, tracking it in accounting and so on. In practice only characters who have the Secret of Fortune or accountants of one such may use the Ability meaningfully; the skills involved are not useful in other conditions.

Next, what does wealth mean to Near? This is what:

Secret of Client (Patron)
Not only does the client live comfortably (contingent on the pleasure of the patron), but he can also use the benefits of the Secret of Fortune just like he had it himself. Using the patron's wealth for exceptional purchases will draw his attention, of course. Requirement: Patron has the Secret of Fortune, willing to be the patron

Secret of Upbringing
The character has lived the life of the free man for years, acquiring the unmistakable polish of a person of means, one who has the leisure to attain what others cannot. He gains a bonus die for any finer pursuits appreciated by the high classes, and automatically recognizes another with this Secret. Also, he may dabble (as in, pick one thing) in cross-culture or otherwise limited crunch freely as inspiration takes him. Requirement: Secret of Fortune and time

Key of Corruption
The character has fallen prey to vices and entitled abasement unimaginable to the common man.
1 xp: Spend wealth frivolously.
2 xp: Assume expensive and vain habits.
5 xp: Hurt others for your amusement.
Buyoff: Lose the fortune
Requirement: Secret of Fortune

There should also be other Secrets in this stuff, but I haven't had time to figure them out. What I'd like to express is two-fold: on the one hand quantity has a quality of its own - quantity of wealth in this case; on the other, wealth can be used constructively and for the overall good as well, for which I'd like to give some tools. Still brainstorming this, need some killer application for the mechanics, perhaps. Or might be that minimalistic is the way to go for the mechanics.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


Hi, Eero.
One question about this:
QuoteKey of Corruption
The character has fallen prey to vices and entitled abasement unimaginable to the common man.
1 xp: Spend wealth frivolously.
2 xp: Assume expensive and vain habits.
5 xp: Hurt others for your amusement.
Buyoff: Lose the fortune
Requirement: Secret of Fortune

Isn't a 5 xp option far too easy to obtain by player?

Like, he may have some slaves who are fighting on arena. Easy 5 xp, don't you think?

Eero Tuovinen

It's only easy if the character is willing to do it, which makes him a villain by most lights. I'd also sort of assume that repeat exercises would escalate and wary appropriately rather than becoming routine; if for no other reason, then because it's not amusing to pay the peasants to humiliate themselves in public time and again. And the SG of course should remember the golden rule: everything has consequences; every life you trample is one more enemy down the line.

All that being said, a group should never use Keys they don't like, understand or appreciate. I don't personally balance Keys based on how difficult it is for a given player (player OR Story Guide) to cause the conditions of the Key to come about - it's just fine for me if instead of the SG having the ultimate authority to frame a situation where a given Key activates it's the player who makes the call. The group should just remember that activating the 5 xp reward in a Key is a relatively big deal, so this Key wouldn't be appropriate for a character or campaign for whom it weren't that. Taking this Key is tantamount to accepting that hurting others without reason has its consequences.

I should mention here that I almost made the Key of Corruption into a Motivation Key. Perhaps that version works for you better:

Key of Corruption
The character has fallen prey to vices and entitled abasement unimaginable to the common man.
1 xp: Spend wealth frivolously.
3 xp: Hurt others for your amusement.
Buyoff: Lose the fortune
Requirement: Secret of Fortune

Now that I think of it, perhaps this version is the one I like more. Corruption is a bit of a liminal case for whether it's dramatic or motivational. Depends on how you view it, I guess.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Eero Tuovinen

Some additional notes. A group of my friends in Helsinki are apparently going to play this thing, so I got some pointers from them.

  • There should really be some rules for animals in a Qek-based campaign. The thing is, such rules would need to dovetail with the rules for ratkin, which makes it non-trivial. And I don't like Clinton's animal rules obviously enough, as those animals have more stats than even the most important of my NPCs. My current off-the-cuff solution is to make animals as NPCs with the "Secret of Mindless Rage: lift all limits on Vigor Pool expenditure." Most likely animals will have slightly more nuance ultimately, but not a lot - and whatever they have will also be available through some finangling for ratkin, wulfen, feral goblins and such.
  • The definitions of Wilderness Survival and Jungle Travel as Abilities need some work. Also, Jungle Travel and other possible Travel Abilities should be (V) in hindsight - I think I miscategorized earlier for some reason, or I haven't remembered yet why I originally chose (R). At this point a group should just let the SG make the call as to what WS can do vs. what JT can do.

Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


I do animals as such: One Pool, one Ability, Ferocity (F). Special abilities come as Secrets if needed.

Let's not forget that the wild is for some Qek as the "civilized south" is for ammenites or maldorians. So, either whip up a "Secret of Jungle Dweller" which exemplifies the difference (mandatory for jungle dwelling Qek families, not so much the ones on the coast lines) to give the difference mechanical weight, or just keep it in the area of circumstantial modifiers. The Secret would be a nice way to for a savaged settler trope, especially if it brings some limitations.


Forgot to add: I will run a convention one shot in february, called "Penal Expedition", which will send some disgraced Ammenites into the deark heart of Qek.

Eero Tuovinen

Ah, that's quite excellent, Harald. Also interesting: the Helsinki group apparently settled for a penal colony independently. They had one session on Monday and another one today (they're on holiday vacation each, and want to get the scenario out of the way before Christmas), and from what I've heard so far, theirs is a rather gritty Near. The Ammeni are greedy, heartless bastards to a man, it seems, and Qek is a hell on earth with food spoilage, festering wounds and disease running rampant. Perhaps I'll get somebody to provide us with more detail, could be useful for new colonies.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.



  I have two thoughts on this. I'll hit the first one, because its easier. Unfortunately, it is less productive as well.

  If I were to cast the Qek into a game that used the setting as is, I would probably cast them as the villain (more so than the Ammeni). The reason is, of all the nations, that the Qek are the least productive and least friendly. For instance, their primary trade is gems. This adds no value, but breeds envy, greed and other negative notions. Their people seem to lack all ambition, they are content to live off the land, as is, without trying to better themselves or their children. Finally, of all the magic in Near, theirs is the most sinister. With a sort of Macabre power source and the most potential for misuse (I mean you could, potentially, send a spirit unseen to spy on your enemies and rivals).

  Militarily speaking, the Qek have the perfect defenses. They are protected by very hostile waters and they are decentralized allowing them to operate essentially in a terrorist cell/guerrilla warfare mode from day one. So, if they were to engage in war, I see them doing a polynesian-style invasion with thousands of outriggers or something.

  Ultimately, I see them as the perfect breeding ground for a Thoth Amon type character and would use that as my primary source for a BBEG type campaign. I mean, all it takes is for onme of the waluzi to flee Qek and realize that they were basically unrestrained as soon as they were beyond the reach of their cultures taboos and influence.

  OK, my second thought was to make up a little faction thing for this campaign-let. Give me some time and I'll post it.
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo

Eero Tuovinen

Hah, that's an excellent viewpoint! We had something sort of like this in the Finnish edition - there was this evil jungle-shaman-necromancer in the illustrations created for the book that was just dripping evil. I didn't realize it at the time, but now that you mention it, he was obviously going to travel and become an antagonist in the innocent southern lands and not just some curious sideshow for people coming to Qek.

I'll definitely have to put this suggestion in the book. I'm going to try to write frankly about some ways to use the setting, and this is certainly a fruitful viewpoint.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


  OK, so this is the idea I had for a basis for factions in a Qek Colonization campaign:

  I see the central conflict is resources.

  The key for the colonizing nations are:
Wealth - There really isn't any other motivator. It is not in a strategic location. It is not any more or less fertile than its neighbors. And with the obvious exception of gems and people, it doesn't have anything to offer. I think if there were an expedition to Qek, it would be very profit oriented. I think you and I are on the same wavelength, I had the Boer Wars in mind.

  The hold ups would be:
Who to send - I think it would be an interesting way to deal with political dissidents, send them to Qek to get them out of your hair. But you would have to send real patriots in order to make sure it doesn't become a hotbed of rebellion
Pacifism/apathy - I think that a lot of people would hesitate to support this kind of invasion
Capitalism - I think others would hesitate taking the wealth, when it might be more beneficial to trade for it
Inner turmoil - Others might use the colonization as a way to secure more influence on the home front

The key to Qek Resistance would be:
Protecting their family
Protecting their homes
Protecting their trade

The barriers to resistance might be:
Inner turmoil - Some people will be apathetic to the plight of others and still others might not react until the colonization affects them
Trade Shift - Some Traders might see a benefit in trade with the shift to colonization and/or war. these people will not be interested in resisting the colonization
Curiosity - I think these people will want to get to know their new neighbors.

  I think the real trick here is that the Qek in this campaign and the Khale in the other campaign are filling nearly parallel roles. Staunch defenders. In the end, it might be more interesting to use one over the other.

  If this overview is right, I'll make one of my spreadsheets and show you what I have so far.
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo

Eero Tuovinen

Yes, I agree that the parallel nature of Khale and Qek as far as their relationships to other places go is a bit of a problem for trying to figure out what use they are. My best bet in this regard is to use them as foils and contrasts for each other. So whatever your campaign is about and in whichever place, the other place illustrates other choices and other possibilities. I'll probably say this in the book - when you need an individual barbarian character or a whole nation, it's basically a toss-up whether you should use Khale or Qek to fill the role. Use whichever you want, or even leave the nation unspecified and combine the two - I could well imagine playing a whole Maldor campaign where the difference between Khale and Qek never came up; individual "barbarians" could even be statted as amalgam characters with traits from both all nilly-willy to illustrate the Maldor-centric, civilized mind-space. It's not like the Romans are going to distinguish between the Gallians and the Germans in their internal situation, after all.

One factor that seems potentially pertinent in Qek is the idea of mystery and unknown forces at work. There are plenty of hints about forgotten cultures and hidden powers in the jungle, and it sort of seems to me that the Qek colonization will have to address this in some way - do the Qek know about these powers and are they able to harness them against the invader, or are such powers inimical to all humanity, for instance. In the Helsinki campaign they played in December, for instance, the guys ended up dealing with hermit walozi and gorillas of the misty mountains which neither were really friendly to Qek or colonizers either. They were just these forces that waited to be awakened to adverse consequence.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.



  I'll fold in that hidden theme into my faction write up, wil probably have to wait til tomorrow, the rest of my day is pretty busy.
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo


  I added a Qek tab to the existing sheet at:

  Basically, I see a lot of people coming there for different reasons and then it all shaking out in the end.
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo