Monstrous Humanoids vs Beastmen, more Chaotic Chaos

So, I was thinking about Beastmen and Demi-humans. If you elevate beastmen to demi-human status, then it seems weird to have, you know, hyena-men, lizard-men, bear-men, and.... short men. It just seems more coherent if elves and dwarves are beastmen too.

So, elves are bird-men, and dwarves are badger-men. You've got your shifty thief-broker Raven-Elves, your mysterious and terrifying Owl-Elves, your gregarious Parrot-Elves...

So what makes beastmen? Lots of things! Sometimes it's the natural byproduct of generations of living in a particular high-mana area. Sometimes gods take it upon themselves to 'improve' the locals, molding them into a preferred shape. Sometimes it's a deliberate act by humans in an attempt to improve themselves.

The bear-men of the North are bears that an ice-god granted intelligence and thumbs.

The centaurs are self-made, having used magic to fuse themselves with horses for obvious reasons.

The ogres are naturally occuring- they soaked up the strength and vigor of their volcanic homeland.

The toadmen were created by the ogres as servants.

The lizardmen were rewarded by their swamp-gods.

Nobody is 100% sure about gnolls. Some postulate that a bored god decided to create a violent, chaotic race for their own amusement. Others believe that their manic intensity marks them as having been twisted by the firey mana of the desert itself.

Dwarves and Elves I haven't decided yet, and welcome suggestions.

 

Let's have a dwarfy post.

Dwarves in the Borya empire are emphasized by pride and strength. They enjoy mining, metalworking, and war. They're traditional, conservative, and ruled by Mountain Kings. Each dwarfhold is an independent city-state, which makes alliances with its neighbors as it sees fit. Sometimes every mountain gets together for the secret Dwarven Counsel, although this happens only twice a century. Three times in known history, the dwarves have voted to elect a tyrant-emperor to shepherd all dwarves through a time of great crisis.

Most tropes that apply to klingons or vikings apply to dwarves.

Except, of course, for the Deep Dwarves that discovered gunpowder and the religion of the Makers. They're the Dwarven Machinists, dedicated to glorifying an ancient god of metal and wheels with their own creations and tireless industry.  Their cult spreads slowly but surely along the upper echelons of dwarven society.

What's the deal with lizardmen?

What if they don't like the cold?

What if OGRES don't like the cold? It makes sense for a race from a volcanic rainforesty region to love fire magic, and then naturally the rebellion can be all about the ice magic. That's a fun reversal- I feel like Ice isn't usually a good thing. But ice keeps your food from rotting, keeps the ogres away. Plus you can make water out of it pretty easily, so ice is really just swole water.

So lizardmen can't deal with the cold because they're from the warm, swampy regions on the border with Zahar. They were the first conquered by the ogres, and fought them the longest and the hardest, and they're among the most dedicated members of the Boryan empire. Unfortunately, Caesar started the rebellion in the far north, and the cultural history of the war is one of ice versus fire. The capital city, and indeed, most important cities, are in areas with brutal winters as part of this cultural/military legacy. Lizardmen who can't take the cold can't be where the important things are happening! Lizardmen who can't take the cold are seen as unpatriotic. Lizardmen who can't take the cold guard the border with Zahar, and sacrifice themselves by the thousand every time there's a big resurgence of evil. They're the Night's Watch, and get about as much respect and gratitude in setting (That is to say, none.)

Also, ice and chains is super metal as a motif for an empire.

Susan, I'm going to need a DNA sample so I can clone you several times to fill out my gaming table.

That sounds awesome! I'd love to be a table full of me. Plus, I can harvest them for organs if this body becomes untenable! Just give me a mailing address and your preferred bodily substance, plus a fifteen dollar deposit that you'll get back when the clones are successfully grown.

On-topic, I've decided that my campaign map, rather than the suggested 30x40 for a total of 1200 hexes, will be 100x100, for a nice round 10,000 hexes, or five million square miles. If you were to lay my map over a map of the earth, it'd cover about 2%!

Luckily, the 24 mile hex level is pretty easy to map, since you basically just take the paint tool like "aaaand this is desert. Thiiiis is desert. This is some farmland, couple forests, I'll add a capital city later.... Then desert again! And now a coast! Whoop! 30 hexes of ocean seperate these continents!"

I'll post the rough draft once I'm finished; I'm using the free version of Hexographer, which is pretty great.

As an aside, one of the ideas I was working on was a dwarven hydraulic empire, where those who controlled the dams and sluice gates to the fungal gardens of the vaults were the ones who held the power. Because better irrigation designs meant better farming and larger populations, the craftpriests and machinists became important members of society, protected by vaultguards. The furies are the outsider barbarians, who follow the earlier gods and are protected by their runic tattoos. Rebellion within the vaults could be controlled by withdrawing the waters, bunkering up within the dam, and surviving on stored food until the rebels became compliant, or by flooding the vault and drowning the opposition. Abandoned vaults tend to be half-flooded and filled with odd amphibious creatures and fungal growths. This also shapes where vaults are located, most being in mountainous areas close by rivers that they could divert to their weirs.

I love it and I'm stealing it. That's definitely where the machinist caste came from, and the gunpowder thing is a more recent addition. I think in my setting though, they'll be somewhat at odds with the non-mechanists, and most mountainhomes maintain an uneasy truce between the rivermaster and the king.

 

WHO RUNS BARTERTOWN?

http://imgur.com/SyZGGev

Here's a rough draft!

I decided to throw some mountains around the farthest north to isolate the bears a little more, and a desert to isolate the centaurs. Greece has a mountain range too. Zahar has mountains along the coast to limit the number of viable ports- It's unclear whether this was their doing or their enemies.

So, I was considering having there be an almost colonial economic structure to the realm, as goods flow north to the capital, with the other kingdoms often feeling exploited, but I have no idea how to establish that in ACKS terms.

Isn’t there that one service that calls for an extra tax on the vassals?

You could have that, one or multiple times, and have them pay the tax in goods rather than coin. This would also lead to them often feeling exploited as extra services have a negative effect on morale, as I recall.

Could reduce land or service value and assign it to the capital, representing capital interests completely bypassing the vassal->liege relationship. (monetarily no different than more tax...)

You could depress the market availaibility of goods locally - either actually knock everyone down a market class or do it by category, depending on what you want to happen. That'd represent merchants/traders actively not even bothering to sell locally.

More detailed approach may be adjusting "capital" demand modifiers up and local modifiers down - selling gets you not as much locally as going to the capital - but you might have to inverse that for buying things locally to have the full effect - that may or may not get weird...

Oh, duh. Just have the Czar pass favors to his favorite and require duties of the rulers of the other zones. That's the most straightforward option for sure.

Alright, so, let's use the book to learn about our empire! So, everyone gets 4-6 vassals. I already know I want five kings, but beyond that, I'm just going to use a dieroller to randomly figure out some totals.

1 Emperor
5 kings
26 princes
130 dukes
650 counts
1950 marquis
7869 barons.

Now, I think that the bears and mongols are relatively desolate kingdoms, not to mention that they have substantial nonhuman populations that are harder to sustain, so they will have the lowest population density the book suggests, at 40 people a square mile. The swamp is probably a bit more lively, so I'll give it 50 people/square mile. The southern human kingdom is excellent growing country, with 80 people/square mile. Lastly, the northern kingdom SHOULD be a desolate wasteland, but it's importing lots of food, so we'll give it 80 as well. That's 4,000, 5,000, and 8,000 families per hex.

I *had* written down the exact hexes of each of my kingdoms, but I failed to retain that document, so I'll wing it.

The bear kingdom is about 80 hexes. 320,000 families.
The Northern Human kingdom is about 250. 2,000,000 families
The Centuar Kingdom is about 400.  1,600,000 families
The Southern Human Kingdoms is about 600. 4,800,000 families
The lizard kingdoms is about 240. 1,200,000 families
Total empire size: 1,540 hexes, 9,360,000 families total.

This gives us, first and foremost, an idea of how big our settlements will be based on realm pop. So here's how our realm breakdown works:
Emperor has over 4 million families, owns a max size metropolis.
NHK and SHK own over 2 million each, so they get smaller metropoli too.
CK, LK, and BK all get Large Cities, class II markets.
Princes will then control some fraction of that, but I haven't drawn lines yet or figured out how many princes are assigned to each kingdom. Everyone except the bears can support class 2 markets even at the principality scale though, so every prince except for four controls a large city.

So that's 1 emperor's metropolis, 2 king's metropolises, 3 king's large cities, 22 prince's large cities, and 4 bear prince small cities.

That's probably all the cities worth putting on the large-scale map for the empire. We don't have to roll demand modifiers for all of them, because the trade routes are short enough that unless they're directly adajcent, they don't interfere with each other! Only the one closest to our players will matter.

GODS, METAPHYSICS THEREOF: The more powerful a god is, the less time it spends on the earth, and the more time it spends in the Sacred Realm. The less powerful a god is, the less time it can spend in the Sacred Realm. The line between God and Demi-God is thus drawn based on which domain the being spends more time in.

Very, very powerful beings have a very difficult time entering the material plane, and may do so only at great cost, or with great assistance from the other side. They prefer to act through champions and intermediaries. 

Divinity is acquired through the relationship of an individual with communities. Worship is the act of consciously choosing to transmit divine power, but unconsciously, almost all actions resonate with energy. Adoration, fear, lust- any time you think about something really hard, that's sort of like worshipping them. It's not as direct as saying "PRAISE [X] WHO I AM WORSHIPPING RIGHT NOW" but it's a start. A lot of the Early Gods were legendary beasts that the first bands of humans told stories about around the campfire, gathered together to fear and hate, and they grew bigger and meaner off of those liquorous emotions. (That's why ancient cthonic gods are kept a secret- Because, say, ten people fearing them is as good as one person worshipping them.) Others ascended to divnity off of more positive emotions and became champions of humanity.

Gods are thus tied to their relationship with their believers, and shaped by it. Most can't benefit from anything other than direct worship and a couple favorite emotions, and it's a lot of effort to learn to accept a new feeling. Even if they went through the effort, Divine Space Hitler can't suddenly turn around and be nice, because he's depending on fear and hatred from the general populace for most of his divine power. He could try for it, and maybe the rebranding would be successful, but he'd probably end up a lot weaker, or forgotten entirely. Even one nice act could ruin his reputation.

 

NOTES: 

Pretty much anything can store energy. It takes a lot of people or a lot of time, usually both, to make something a god, but sometimes stored energy precipitates out as small miracles. Parents superhumanly lifting trees off of children might just be tapping into the bank of stored energy from years of loving that kid.

This does mean that maybe, maybe just once in my campaign, I'll allow the Power of Friendship to be invoked between two characters that really have been friends for a long time.

GODS, A HISTORY:

Once, there were many tribes and city-states in the land-that-would-be-Borya. A lot of them had their own little gods. The ogres killed many of them, used powerful magic to enslave others, and some simply fled, presumably dwindling to mortality without worshippers. When the revolution came, Caesar again defeated the conquered gods, but did not free them, instead, he seized them, and bound them anew to his cause.

The gods of Borya must obey the laws and serve its people, but this was not a choice. They are the Lawful gods because their chains are Law and they unbreakable. Below the slave-gods are the Saints, legendary Boryans who were canonized for their contribution. The pantheon of saints and slave-gods are worshipped collectively by Borya, and when the horse-men of the West were annexed, some of their gods voluntarily became chained.

This is a good place to tie back in to "my" dwarves. Dwarves don't have gods. Instead, they have a form of ancestor worship and belief in a time-bound afterlife. When a dwarf dies, his soul goes to the Great Workshop, where it labors to protect mortal dwarves from supernatural foes. The soul of a dwarf only lasts as long as something the dwarf created is still existent in the world. This is why their traditional leaders are Craftpriests. Those who work in stone or metal are the most highly regarded, for their works will last for centuries if nothing goes wrong. Farmers are regarded as very nearly the lowest of the low, for crops last no more than a year or so before being either eaten or replanted. Dwarves mark objects that are intended for export with secret craft-marks that virtually no non-dwarves can identify. These objects are well made, but are not intended to be the anchors of a dwarven soul. A non-dwarf, any non-dwarf, with an object that was clearly made by a dwarf but does not have the craft-mark will draw instant, unremitting hostility from any dwarf, because it means the immortality of a dwarven soul is in the hands of a non-dwarf. This is not tolerable. Wars have been started over a human noble possessing the wrong dwarven sculpture. Orcs are known to engage in spiritual warfare against dwarves by taking the arms and armor of slain dwarves, partially melting them and twisting them into useless slag, then using catapults to launch them into the courtyards of dwarven fortresses.

 

The Craftpriests are the most righteous of dwarves, those who are able to channel the power of their ancestors to protect and heal their people and their allies. Furies are dwarves who have sacrificed their chance for immortality to become powerful warriors, capable of slaying many mortal foes. Vaultguards are pretty much normal dwarves. Delvers are almost a sort of holy warrior, breaking the objects of other races so their ancestors will go to their final death. Machinists, though...machinists are heretics. Every good dwarf knows that dwarfishness revolves around doing work with ones own hands. Machinists, though, have become focused on efficiency, on creating things to do work for them. This offends traditional dwarves. Furies will often get along with Machinists, since both are pragmatists at heart, but Vaultguards will be split, and Craftpriests will almost never tolerate the presence of a Machinist. Some Delvers try to break Machinists' creations, to eliminate the undwarfishness among the dwarves, but others take the practical outlook that they're all trying to help in their own way.

 

Dwarves will respect any smith or mason, be neutral towards woodworkers, have little respect for farmers or alchemists, and have no respect for a person with no skill at creating things. Truly great artisans may be invited to spend time in a dwarven region, teaching their craftsdwarves new techniques and thus strengthening the souls of the dwarves. This is rare, and the dwarves do not usually teach techniques in return, but they will pay very well.

What a splendid thread!

Delightful! I'm definitely incorporating some of this into my game, perhaps as a competing faction to the Viking-dwarves and the Mechanist-dwarves.

So, the next step is probably to start on my local map. But before I can do that, I have to pick which part of the game to put the local map in. Deciding on a region limits what kinds of things I can run within that region, which leads me to the realization-

I'm really pleased with all the neat stuff I have planned, but it's all on OPPOSITE SIDES OF THE WORLD. What the hell, past me? Did you really think players were going to spend time in both the deserts of not-africa and the tundras of the arctic? How were you going to move them from one place to the other?

So, at this point, my options are:

1. Figure out what setting stuff I just never want to use. Goodbye, gnolls! :-(
2. Come up with an excuse for bouncing the players all over the world to hit all the hotspots. You're... uh... gladiators... on a... magic... train... Yeah that's not going to work well either. :-(
3. REWRITES

I think the easiest solution is to declare Ursa Major the starting zone. I think polar bear secession is an interesting environment. We can just apply a lens filter to the gnolls to make their sandmobiles into snowmobiles and make them wolves instead of hyenas. Plus, you know, BEARS VERSUS GNOLLS, NATURAL ENEMIES! Tell me you don't want to see an armored bear fighting a wolf motorcycle gang.

The arctic is also already on the coast, so it's easy to include mer-stuff. Plenty of mountains and trees, so dwarves and elves are present. I think I'll redraw the map so Zahar is closer, so I can have the orc invasion arc if I need to. That'll require rewriting a little bit of the backstory, but that's fine. The aztecs don't get to play as big a role, but that's fine, narratively I didn't know what to do with them.

Once I redraw the world map a little, I can start on the local map, and while I'm working on that, I'm also going to be mulling over some generic RPG-setup questions. The big ones for me are:
1. What level should the PCs start at? I think we've all been level 1-4 enough for a lifetime. I'm so sick of the endless cycle of joining a game at level 1, grinding desperately to just past 3, and then the campaign falls apart because Dave's new job has him working nights and Steve keeps having funerals to go to on game night because everyone he loves surely dies. So then you eventually join a new game at level 1 again and you go your whole life without getting to cast Teleport. On the other hand, for the reasons I just mentioned, I'm most familiar with the lower levels. I don't think I'd start a party off at 14th, I'd have no sense of scale. It'd be weird. 

2. Do I want to establish some kind of concept for the party? In another ACKS game I'm in, the DM has declared that all PCs are part of the same secret society, and new PCs joining are agents from the homeland just arriving. This removes the need for the gathering-of-the-party episode that's almost always a nightmare of a first session, and makes it less awkward to meet a cloaked stranger on the road and immediately accept him into your inner circle because he's Dave's new mage. With the societ society thing, well, if he knows the passwords, he's trustworthy, done and done. Plus it provides an easy device for introducing new NPCs- "Your contacts within the guild inform you that a Mr. Byrnner is in Adamantus and worth speaking to. He is of your order and may have gifts to give or favors to ask." 

2A. If so, what kind of concept? Right now I'm leaning towards they're all former gladiators, with bonds forged in blood. This establishes them as a team familiar with each other, but not with the starting region, which is good, because the players will be at least a little familiar with each other, but not with the starting region.

2B. Or not 2B. That is the question.