Five pointed star faction system

signature scrap princess art ^

scrap was talking about the idea of friends-and-foes, inspired by the MtG colour pie. It’s not something I’d heard of before, and not actually something I’ve done a tonne of research on. (I had a pretty good green-blue Cagebreakers deck back in the day, and I’m not sure how that fits with the colour pie theme.)

What I did like was the idea of using two-friends and two-foes as a framework for factions. Unrestrained creativity can sometimes be exhausting, but wrap a constraint around a thing and suddenly some sort of internal logic starts to appear.

I’m still hoping to make The Rest a fun writing project that people do. Maybe it’ll be fun to take five cards at random and fit them into this structure (which scrap called “five point star faction system”).

Five randomly drawn cards:

  • Strength.
  • The Chariot.
  • The World.
  • The Magician.
  • The Tower.

(Strength; endurance.) Ilwater was better known as The City of Water less than a generation ago, but the siege against it has all but dried up its last wells. News stopped travelling out of their a year or so again. Their numbers have fallen into the hundreds much down from the flurishing streets of yesteryear. The Waterfolk inside still man the walls. They still watch the gates. They still tend to the animals they have left. Whilst some think it’s just a matter of time before the walls crumble against the invader’s machines, there’s no doubt that the Waterfolk will fight til their last.

(The Chariot; aid to warriors.) Ilwater is not alone. The Petty Prince, though expeled from their own country, still has his spies. His might is not as it once was, but what he lacks in an army he more than makes up for it in poisons – curses of drink and of ear – which can cripple an enemy just as well. So long as Illwater stands there’s a chance he can regain his seat and his mistakes forgotten. But, when all is said and done, and the war for the small but holy town is won, he needs it to fall at his feet, and not his sisters’.

(World; as old as time.) The Merchants of Ultima see Ilwater as their last uncollected waypoint to the east. Going around it takes weeks and going through it was impossible whilst its inhabitants worshipped at their ridiculous, puritanical church of Ilmater. The war so far had cost them greatly, but the Merchants could endure for much longer, certainly longer than those pestilant fools inside.

(Magician; unnatural power over something.) Since Ilmater had turned on the Sighted Elders, and refused to offer any help to their cause, the Elders were more than happy to join the Merchants in their crusade. If they should win, Ilmater would be crippled by the loss of his major temple, or else be forced to crawl back to the other gods and beg to rejoin. No one would go to war without the knowledge that the Elders could provide – gossip and thoughts directly from the gods – and so the Merchants entered into this unlikely coalition.

(Tower; bringer of doom.) There are four royal sisters, who in their mother’s illness have wrestled control of the country and ousted their brother. The Queen would never have stood against the Merchants, but the sisters are not quite a like their mother, yet even they are smart enough to not openly fight the Merchants. Instead, they aim to move Ilmater’s holy site, in secret. Then the Merchants can do what they like with the town. Their good allies, the Elders, will be more than happy with a slightly less powerful Ilmater rocking the boat.

It’s difficult to find ways for allies to be friends with their friends’ enemies.

Highlights of some of the relationships:

Royal Sisters and Petty Prince: The Prince was the intended heir but his politics of giving his friends more power didn’t sit well with them. They’re unsure if he’s dead or not, to be quite honest.

Petty Prince and the Merchants: Supposed allies. The Merchants stand to gain a lot by the Prince being in power. They both overestimate they can manipulate the other. However, if Ilwater was to fall it would be the last nail in his political coffin. If the Merchants insist it falls, it must happen in exactly the way the Prince intends it to.

Ilwater and the Sighted Elders: The Elders have the gods by the balls – literally in some cases. They’ve successfully tracked down and captured many relics of the gods which act as their physical anchor to the Material Plane. The Elders, whose only desire is control, became enraged when Ilmater’s relic was stolen. If he’s not with them, then he is against them, and his temples must fall.

The Rest; a tarot cast.

For whatever reason tarot cards have been following me around a lot more than they should be. Between Cyberpunk 2077 (which I’m playing just fine on my eight year old PC) and Troubled Blood (by Robert Galbraith, which I just finished reading) every piece of media I’m consuming is meddling with it.

Today I wrote this eight page cast of characters.

I know nothing about tarot. I’ve been thinking about Demon City (and when it will be ready, my gosh) and how I may need a tarot set to play that with. I went to a Waterstones and there were dozens of different kinds. In the end, I didn’t get any because I didn’t know what the differences were. I mention this just to show that I know little about tarot. Whilst writing this, I had Wikipedia open and that’s the extent of my research now. I took heavy inspiration from the cards, but am not trying to acurately represent them.

Anyway, I had quite a lot of fun writing this. I’ve bashed this out today, on a lovely, homebound Sunday. This blog doesn’t have a very wide readership, so I’m not expecting anything of it, but if anyone else wants to get on board with building a world based around the 22 Major Arcana (slipping in the Minor if you’re up to it), then I’d read the shit out of it.

I was using a list of old British names, if anyone’s curious about the weird spellings.

Page layout and single page encounters

I want to write an interesting encounter – an antithesis of “roll on this table for a random encounter”. My problem with those kinds of encounters is that they often have very little imagination to them, and by their nature the DM can’t prep for them to add more colour. I know they gap they’re trying to fill: sometimes players dawdle and if they hang around the forest or make too much noise in a dungeon, something should turn up to teach them a lesson and get them moving.

I don’t think that problem needs to be solved by having a table to roll on which says “3 bears, 2 liches.” Why can’t there just be half a dozen generic, but well thought out, encounters at the back of the adventure?

I’ve been working on writing one of those. Laying it out on an A5 page is tricky though.

I’ve got one page of text which the DM should read at their leisure, explaining the environment. And then the cast list for the combat. The idea is that this is all they need open for the encounter, and can doodle on the page as needed.

I’ve only managed to fit 4 of the bad guys on this, so it doesn’t really scale. As I’m writing this, it occures to me that I’ll actually have two pages of A5 content I can fill for the DM to see at once.

Here’s the aims:

  • Give the bad guys descriptions. If you’re playing theatre of the mind this is super important, but hard to think up something unique on the spot. I promise your players will refer to them by their descriptions rather than “the one I just hit” or “which one is closer again?”.
    • Problem I’m trying to solve: fleshless mobs. The goblin has a locket around his neck and suddenly you’ve got the players thinking of his loved ones back home.
  • Give the bad guys tactics. Read their actions from top to bottom on their turn. Do the top most possible one, skipping if it sounds boring right now. This gives them a personality which the players can come to expect during the fight.
    • Problem I’m trying to solve: The bad guy has a d4 dagger and a d6 shortsword. Why would you ever chose the dagger? Many creatures in the MM have redundant weapons, leaving them as one-trick ponies.
  • Initiative has already been rolled. It was random, trust me. Just pencil in the characters around.
    • Problem I’m trying to solve: Why bother rolling for this at the table? It takes ages to do this, meanwhile your players are already yelling their initiative at you.
  • Fleeing should be at the front of the DM’s mind.
    • Problem I’m trying to solve: Why does ever bad guy fight to the death? How often to bar fights end up with body bags? At some point, even in a war people give up. The bad guys here must have a limit of some kind. The flee condition turns the end of the battle from a slog to a race, before they get away.
  • Loot is relevant, more interesting than just money, and already written down.
    • Problem I’m trying to solve: “Can I loot the corpses?” “Uh, sure. They’re got shitty clothes and weapons that aren’t worth taking… They’ve got six gold though, I guess.”


I’ve been reading through my copies of Workskin (Norman & Gorganmilk) again and I’ve also got The Peridot (David McGrogan) kicking around my deks now because of it. I quite like the idea of throwing some ideas into a zine like this so that’s what I’ve been working on recently. (This something that I played around with before if anyone spotted my unlaunched Patreon and was actually what Merchants and Civilisations was originally for.)

Anyway, I keep finding hurdles to slow myself down with. I’m unsure why I’m that kind of person. One such hurdle was “I can’t even tell if this text should be justified or not.” I ended up Googling for it and found Butterick’s Practical Typography. It’s full of advice that I’m working through. I’d recommend it for anyone writing who isn’t likely to get an editor or layout person.

It talks a lot about typography not being about aesthetics. Instead, it’s more about being appropriate for your subject area and being in the right format to sink in as completely as possible whilst reading.

For completion: with regards to left aligned or justified, it suggests following personal preference. There’s apparently little evidence of one being better than the other. I’ll go with left aligned right now, because it leaves more space for notes, but I don’t have a strong preference.

I did wanna do the preface centred but was heavily berated by Butterick’s chapter on that.

A poem showing off when centred text can be used. The irony is that the poem is written centre-aligned despite the advice.
A poem from Butterick.