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.

“Enhanced Interrogation”

As a player or as a referee, I can do without torture happening in my games.

My line goes as far as “lets tie him to a chair, and wave a dagger around to intimidate them”. Anything more than that and it gets kind of icky for me. The immersion is broken and the situation snaps into clear focus: I’m sitting with a group of adults whilst one of them describes ordinarily unmentionable ways of compelling someone to hand over some information, and they push it and push it in the hopes of getting advantage on their roll.

I’m happy to say that this almost never happens. It’s happened a couple of times, and when it has most people have understood and found another route. On one time though, the DM said, “well, you need to find another way of getting him to tell you the information then.” It didn’t feel like there was another way – the bandit was steadfast and cared for nothing but the end of Chult. We didn’t get the information – I expect we weren’t supposed to capture the bandit, but a dice roll got out of the DM’s control.

On a few occaisions we’ve chosen “the scene fades to black as you begin your interrogation” method. This is largely fine! (Your mileage may vary.) Nothing is described, other than the character’s intent, and then an intimidation roll is made. This is fine.

However, you still have to journey with adventurers who were willing to do that. (This awkwardness only extends to the character – I’ve never played with genuninely sadistic people, I assume.) In world, I’m not sure how that would sit well with everyone. Rarely are there consequences.

So, as a general houserule for games I run in the future, I have this:

Torture will never yield beneficial results, even in “fade to black” scenes, or off-screen scenes by NPCs. You will only ever hear lies. The lies will be uninteresting. There’s no point in trying. My promise in return is that there will always be another way to find the information you’re after. If it’s not obvious what that way is, talking to another NPC will point you in the right direction.

There are other tools and you should start each campaign by checking in with your group for them. The “fade to black” option is similar to ‘lines and viels’ that is commonly used. It’s not just about super grim stuff like this: double check if your group are okay with fighting spiders, as you don’t want to be kickstarting anyone’s phobias.

An Engorged Chthonian

I made a fun encounter to run for a game I forgot to prepare for. I liked it so much that I decided to write it up and maybe write a few more D&D 5e Lovecraft bits.

Today, I’ve ran out of time! So here it is so far.

If anyone fancies having a go at drawing art for it, please do get in touch. I have always have a small art budget!

I like the idea of a bad guy that doesn’t just want to kill everything. This dude specifically needs the characters to remain alive, which means his combat style needs to change.

I’m playing through Baldur’s Gate 3 at the moment, which may have nudged me into reading through the Call of Cthulu rule books and inspired this. That game’s opening scenes are delightfully creepy.

You can grab the encounter here.

Hey. It’s so artless that I forgot to draw even a basic map. Here’s what it looked like on roll20.

Icons from 2minutetabletop.

Tavern Fare

I had a free afternoon and fancied fooling around with Affinity Publisher some more. I’d also spotted some of Leonardo Azevedo and Guilherme Gontijo‘s work, which got me excited about folded zines/leaflets. So, I decided to spend some time making a menu that you can give out to your players.

The menu comes with “serving suggestions” – DM notes about what each of the special food items do. It’s a way to spice up a character by giving them a short lived, potion-like perk. It also might be useful to drain some cash from characters who have enough money to start their own hoard.

This was quite fun because I did it whilst on a call with a few of my D&D friends, and got lots of different ideas from them all.

The art all came from the British Library, which has a huge selection of public domain images.