Thanks as always for your detailed feedback.
With regard to Sinkholes in general, my original (house) rules on sinkholes are unspeakably baroque – they have 12 different categories such as “Blighted Type A” versus “Blighted Type B” with non-linear combinations such that Shadowed + Blighted B yields Ruined, etc… In actual practice I found I only ever used three types, so to offer something streamlined and elegant that’s what I presented. When I draft rules for review, I aim for a B/X level of elegance and simplicity. In response to forum comments it quickly evolves into a 3.5-level of complexity (hopefully without losing the elegance).
JAMES: Shadowed Sinkholes – there’s a certain inevitability to it that smacks of Lovecraftian Mythos to me. Whilst I love the Mythos for all it’s tentacular goodness I feel that it’s a touch too inevitable for a well tended, well loved graveyard – though perhaps the assumption here is that there are shrines to the dead here. If the feel of it is ‘whilst a site is actively tended by followers of a Lawful religion, it is safe from falling into shadow, but if those followers leave, if the site is forgotten or allowed to fall into ruin or disrepair, to become overgrown, then there is a chance that darkness will begin to seep into the land’, then there’s a much stronger feel of life pushing back the shadows. The very best sites for evil are the forgotten graveyards, the spooky ones, the ancient battlegrounds that people are afraid of, the vast grave site tended only by a lonely half blind caretaker who doesn’t do a very good job and who knows that several plots within the site now smell of evil because there aren’t enough people to help him do his job, etc…
APM: The fact that you can prevent a shadowed sinkhole from forming by properly attending ot the dead or building a temple is meant to combat the inevitability to an extent. That said, ACKS as I run it and write does have a certain bleak inevitability to it that is definitely Howardian-Lovecraftian-Pagan.
I’d prefer that a shadowed sinkhole grows over time rather than fills the area of a site immediately, but can be held at bay by shrines or blessed areas – a way of creating islands of purity within a sea of decay (and providing reason for why tomb of Saint Paladinus is untainted whilst zombies prowl the rest of the forgotten graveyard). I also think that whilst there’s some thematic sense to having the sinkhole stop at the borders there is an argument for having it spread to cover the whole village, or town, or city quarter – If you’ve played Half Life 2, I’m thinking about Ravenholm, though equally you could just argue that the ‘undead’ here have burst out of the graveyard and taken the town. I like the idea that shadows can grow (and lends something else for Domain level play too, with Domains of Shadow).
In addition, I’d like to see a way of forcing a sinkhole to develop more quickly. A spell or ritual to create one would be nice (Arcane and Divine), something similar to Desecrate in Pathfinder RPG. Alternatively, something that moves the annual dice roll to a monthly dice roll. I’d also like to see building / creating a Chaotic Shrine on a non-sinkhole area make it more likely for a sinkhole to develop more quickly (though blood sacrifice is ineffective until it becomes blighted).
APM: Blood sacrifice could cause an area to become shadowed, because you are causing lots of death there. Also, in my original (house) rules establishing a Chaotic Shrine on normal land made the land Shadowed. Basically it was EITHER (shrine) OR (dead) = Shadowed; (shrine) AND (dead) = Blighted. This is easy to add back in, and I think addresses what you are trying to achieve.
The methods by which a Lawful divine character can prevent a shadowed sinkhole from occurring are very much in line with Roman funerary practices from what I can tell, and in many ways that’s a beautiful touch and a very elegant piece of campaign as world.
APM: Thanks. Yes, there is lots of inspiration drawn from Roman and other ancient funerary practice.
It would be nice though if it wasn’t quite so ‘cremation or shrines’. Cremation doesn’t necessarily completely dispose of a corpse unless the remaining bones / fragments are ground into powder, so unless there is a mystical link between burning a body and protection from undeath (which is perfectly reasonable for some religions, but not all), cremation may not be sufficient to protect a corpse from rising as a skeleton. Mummification or Sky Burial are both ancient methods, and if done in the eyes of the gods should have a similar impact to cremation in my view – though obviously, mummification comes with its own interesting undead outcomes if done as part of Necromancy.
APM: This is where the Auran Empire as the “default” or implicit setting is relevant. In the Auran Empire, Lawful religions dispose of their dead by cremation. Chaotic religions embalm or mummify their dead.
APM: From the writings of Phimon, Sage of the Tower of Knowledge, Imperial Year 331:
“The Empyreans believe that after death, the body must be burned so that the spirit can swiftly travel to the afterlife, where its valor is weighed by Türas. Noble souls pass to the Empyrean Heaven, to dwell in the light of Ammonar forever. But most souls drink of the waters of sorrow and return again to the realms of man in a new body.
“Chthonic faithful do not believe in this cycle of life, death and rebirth. They believe that upon death, the Empyrean gods consume the soul, and then use it as fuel in the creation of new life. They see reincarnation of the soul the same way we see fungus growing in a corpse – new life, yes, but not the same life. They see, not a choice between undeath and reincarnation, but undeath and oblivion. They thus seek to keep their souls and their bodies intact until the time of the Awakening, lest their singular identity be destroyed by the cycle of death.”
APM: No decision I make here will work for every metaphysical setting, so I went with our implicit setting.
Speaking of which, the rules as written are very much a ‘Chaotic Divine’ device, but they don’t provide any benefits to either Arcane casters of necromantic spells (except for forsaken sinkholes and Animate dead), nor to practitioners of Necromancy itself. There’s a lovely opportunity here to boost the powers of Necromancy in a sinkhole, but the rules at Blighted and Forsaken levels actually make it quite impractical unless you’re quick off the mark (which in reality may be a good thing). Was it a deliberate design choice to exclude Necromancy from gaining sinkhole benefits?
APM: No, it wasn’t a deliberate choice to exclude Necromancy research. The rules for Necromancy and Sinkholes were written at different times. They should be integrated. The benefits of being in a sinkhole should be similar to those of possessing Black Lore of Zahar.
Moving on, all 3 flavours of sinkhole include a bit of text that states ‘Creatures that die in…’. I’d like to clarify this. If a creature dies within the sinkhole, but is then moved outside it, does the chance to come back as undead still exist? Is it the death that sets this situation up, or is it the presence within the sinkhole.
APM: What a great question. A corpse in the sinkhole for the listed period of time may rise. The deceased being doesn’t have to have died in the sinkhole – it could be interred there after death. That said, if you kill something in the sinkhole and drag it out of profane ground, it won’t rise.
Blighted Sinkholes – A blighted sinkhole is basically a shadowed sinkhole boosted by the presence of a Chaotic altar, and in addition to the ‘power increase’ it also allows for Blood Sacrifice. On page 122 the implication is that any sort of sinkhole would do, but here you need a ‘Stage 2’ sinkhole. So page 122 may need some amendments to bring it in line with this text. I do however, prefer the idea that any type of sinkhole can be used for blood sacrifice, and as I’ve said earlier, I think chaotic shrines have more scope if they can emit their own aura of evil – but I suspect there are play balance or simple logic issues with this approach.
APM: No, that was actually my original idea too, and it doesn’t impact play much. I just went with something simpler for the rules draft to see what feedback people had.
I’m also in two minds about whether I like that the Sinkholes are basically tiered. I do like that some are more powerful than others, and I definitely like some of the flavour differences between ‘Shadowed’ and ‘Forsaken’. However, I feel that the emphasis is so heavy on the Divine side that the Arcane possibilities miss out.
APM: The arcane/divine gap is just poor integration on my part.
I half think that a pyramid would be better than a tower, so there’s is more than one way to reach a Forsaken sinkhole, or that Blighted isn’t a simple ‘upgrade’ to a Shadowed. It’s only half a thought though, and too ill-formed to propose a useful alternative. I think it’s to do with flavour, and there’s some bleed-through from WFRP going on (which ACKs isn’t…) – so you’ve got Necromancy and you’ve got Demonology which are two different things. You’ve already said you didn’t want to go into the demons and devils arena, but I can’t help thinking the sinkholes provide an ideal lead in for when you do want to go there – but not as written.
APM: In my baroque 12 stage system it’s definitely a pyramid, but it was too much – too confusing and largely unplayable. But I think adding a second “leg” to the shadowed stool would work. There is definitely a connection between sinkholes of evil, and demons and devils, but since we didn’t go into such much in ACKS it’s not something I’m exploring in the rules too much. It’s easy to add on when we go there.
Forsaken Sinkholes – These appear to be the purest form of Chaotic power on the material plane aside from perhaps a Chaotic sentient sword, and rightly so. I’m uneasy about the ‘Lawful clerics can’t turn undead’ bit, given the boosts undead do get already. I think it’s awesome that it emphasises ‘this is a place of Chaos’, but at the same time it cripples the main weapon in the fight against undeath. It feels overpowered, but I could easily be wrong. Mind you – having a place that cripples clerics in the same way that an Anti-Magic zone can cripple mages is interesting, and worth a punt!
APM: It’s very similar to how anti-magic messes with mages. This is where the spells Smite Undead and Dispel Evil become crucially important.
80% chance to turn into undead in 1d4 rounds unless burned – There’s no way this could be done in a conventional fashion, so a PC would be reliant on magical fire for this. Challenging!
Cleansing Sinkholes – As already said above, I see more play in sinkholes being able to be patchy and piecemeal rather than flooding an area, but I accept that the rules as written are simpler, and therefore easier to apply. With that in mind, in my view Bless should cleanse an area for a time rather than suppress the whole sinkhole, and I think there’s definitely scope here for Holy Water to play a role – perhaps sprinkling it on the ground will cleanse an area for longer than a bless spell, and when used in a burial it may protect a corpse for longer. If Holy Water has a utilitarian purpose for staving off the creation of a sinkhole it adds a market for it to the world, making it a more valuable and potentially scarce commodity and not only something adventurers will want to stock up on before entering a dungeon.
APM: The intent was that Bless would cleanse its area of effect. I need to make that clear. Love the idea that Holy Water could cleanse.