Beats

Many outsiders are aware that rhythmic beats are important across all Thezi cultures, and some are aware that they seem linked to deeper physical responses, but until they visit few grasp what that means. The fact that thezi subconsciously walk in pace with suitable songs is well known (and in some places mocked). The use of drumming in thezi medicine to reduce pain and lessen shock is an active field of study. But for many outsiders, it is a disconcerting experience the first time they attend a public performance by a marching band and see that across a disparate crowd of thousands, every tail is wagging in sync.

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[GURPs] Converting Morrowind

I am tentatively toying with the idea of using the GURPs system to run a game set in Morrowind. One of the reasons I love that game is it takes the normal fantasy world and turns it on its head. Instead of distant archer elves living in the ancient forests, you have aggressively meritocratic mage elves living in giant mushrooms. Instead of knights in shining armour living in a stone castle, you have swordmen in bone armour living instead the shell of a dead kaiju crab. Instead of loading your mule to follow the grassing sheep, you’re following herds of giant shimmering beetles as your bipedal reptilian packbeast carries your gear. Although somehow your starting character will still find themselves stabbing unusually large rats for early XP.

The advantages of using either mainland Morrowind or the big island of Vvardenfell (which, confusingly, is where all the action of the Morrowind game is actually set) is that it’s a lovely sandbox with plenty of things for a player to go and do. The downsides are there are a lot of things for players to do, and almost all of the monsters would need to be statted from scratch.

Admittedly one of the reasons I’m tempted to give it a go is that I don’t feel I know the GURPs system very well and this would be an excellent way of learning more of what I’m doing, so even if I don’t end up using it for a game it’ll be good practise. And maybe inspiration will strike and I’ll be able to file the serial numbers off and turn bits of it into something less derivative, but for now I think I need the framework of an existing setting to stop me getting overwhelmed.

Every Elder Scrolls game plays a bit differently and messes with the mechanics, so I’m going to pick and choose which I use and throw some out entirely. Brainstorming some of what I’d need to start with:

  • A magic system. This is a big one. I like the Elder Scrolls system of several schools of magic and how raising ‘Alteration’ improves every spell in that school. I’ll need to do some research on what works best since I’ve never used GURPs magic personally. Any suggestions where to start?
  • Monsters! I don’t have much trouble with the advantages and abilities for animals, but figuring out what basic stat levels they should have is hard. Maybe I should grab that Pyramid issue on calculating CER.
  • Racial templates. I’ll need to figure out the magic system first, I suspect. I’m skipping the star signs entirely; if a player wants to play a character specifically influenced by one (I’m thinking Shadowscales and those born under the Astronach) I’ll address it then.
  • Equipment. Shouldn’t be too hard, I suspect DF covers most of what I need. May just end up renaming some of the special materials or adding those on top, like defining special traits of ‘Glass’ weapons
  • Organisations? They’ll be important, but there are a lot of them, and I could probably get by with descriptions until players decide to start interacting with someone.

I should probably start by digging through my box of books and seeing which ones I actually have, and then consider which new ones I may need to buy.

[Sehto] Persim Berries

Sehto is a semi-realistic Pokemon setting by the wonderful Pinkgothic. These are my attempts to turn the magic status cures into setting-plausible medicinal plants.


Persim plants are medium trees that like sunny, well watered soils. Their leaves are have fine hairs over the lower side that gives them a blueish colour when seen from below. Their orange flowers have four petals and produce a distinctive sweet scent. Since persim plants dislike shade the trees are often grown ringing orchards of other berry trees.

Persim berries are 4 to 5 cm across and a rich pink colour and very soft when fully ripened. While the ripe berries are sweet, for most of their growth persim berries are hard and bitter. The final ripening requires several days of bright sunlight and in the wild entire tree’s worth can be lost if the season is extremely overcast or if the plant is overshadowed by neighbouring plants. While ripe berries only last a few days, the fully grown but still bitter fruit can be stored for over a month. Persim berries cure confusion.

Debt, Crime or Oath?

“Debt, crime or oath?”

This is the question a Talin will ask any slave that enters the Chanre Roughs. In the laws of Tanyl these are the only means by which one can become a slave, and any who are unable to answer – or to have their master do so in their stead, for the Talin know some answers are shameful – are suspected of being kidnapped or false-bound, and will find their steps dogged until the locals are satisfied.

The first justification, debt, comes in two forms. If someone has accrued huge debts which they are unable to repay and are at very real risk of perishing penniless before any dent can be made, they may consent to a period of debt-slavery. Some do not consider this a true form of slavery, for it is the only one that limits the power of the master. At the end of the allotted period the slave must be freed in good health and condition. They are to bear no deliberately inflicted marks from their captivity and, if an accident led to any permanent physical harm, are to be gifted with the same compensation that would be awarded to a free person. While there is no formal price placed upon psychological damage it is seen as disgraceful to leave a once debt-slave with crippling mental damage. (It is considered a given that the slave will suffer some amount of harm from the loss of autonomy, and this is not counted against the master.)

The second form of debt-slavery is permanent. In exchange for everything the person has to offer, the one they are selling themselves to agrees to provide and care for a small group of nominated people for the rest of their lives. These are usually the slave’s parents, siblings or children. They must be taken under the master’s protection, supported financially if required, and are often adopted into the household. This agreement is not tied to the slave’s life span but the master’s; should the master choose, they may kill the slave at any time, since that life now belongs exclusively to them.

The most common slaves are those who have been sentenced to such a fate as punishment for crimes. The only crimes eligible are those that have caused direct and permanent suffering to another person such as murder, torture, or other abuses. There are no crimes that will always result in a sentence of slavery because it may only offered at the judge’s discretion when the criminal’s actions are unprovoked, unjustified and unforgivable. On the occasions it is offered as an alternative to execution the funds paid to purchase the slave are used to partially compensate the victims.

Many outside the Chanre Roughs assume that the criminal decides between slavery or death, because sometimes a criminal will be executed after the sentence of slavery is passed. This is not the case; one convicted of crimes of such magnitudes forfeits all rights to their fate. Under Tanyl law any action taken by a slave is the responsibility of the master, who bears the consequences, and so none will purchase a slave if they feel they cannot control them. In these cases the criminal is executed.

The rarest and most variant form of slavery is oath-slavery. Many older rites and rituals persist in parts of Tanyl and one well known from stories is of powerful individuals being protected by their life-servants, vassals who have voluntarily offered everything they have to assist in achieving another’s goals. Despite most of these tales being exaggerations of loyal bodyguards or trusted advisors such relationships did occur and are still legal. Each set of oaths will be unique and are often formalised in contracts written in beautiful calligraphy as a mark of their importance. Unlike all other slaves, it is dangerous to make assumptions about what an oath-slave will or will not do, because they are closer to an extension of their master’s will than a possession.

Near uniquely amongst the nations ringing the Inner Sea, the Talin do not consider the child of a slave to be property. If only one parent is a slave, the infant is considered the descendant of the other and a ghost, as if their missing biological contributor had died before their birth. (The peculiar death traditions practised in the Tanyl region are their own discussion.) If both are slaves, or one a slave and the other unknown, the infant is considered the child of the parent’s master, with that of the mother taking priority. Even if they are a different species they are considered to be their adoptive parent’s flesh and blood.

The idea of a person being born to slavery is considered repulsive amongst the Talin and bringing a child-slave into the Chanre Roughs frequently results in the misguided owner suffering a fatal ‘accident’ on the steep paths leading to the major cities. When cooler heads prevail the slaver owner may be dragged before the judges on charges of child abuse, and the common sentence considered a suitably ironic punishment.

Adonasfel and its Uses

The adonasfel, occasionally called the starlight fern, is a plant with slender fronds of bluish silver. It is not a true fern and produces clusters of small red flower-like structures along the end part of each frond in early winter. These flowerlets have a waxy coating whose scent attracts the beetles that pollinate the adonasfel. While starlight ferns are reasonably common in low lying and well shaded areas and are not hard to care for they are difficult to propagate and cannot be efficiently farmed. The wax that protects the flowerlets is a luxury product that earns it high price from the number of plants that must be processed to extract a small quantity of the material and the seasonal nature of the flowering. However, attempts at monopolising adonasfel solution have failed due to the widespread area in which it grows and its dispersal through forests, and due to the small amount used at any one time.

The adonasfel wax can be removed by steeping the cut ends of the fronds in boiling water for several hours before removing the fronds and allowing the liquid to boil dry. This leaves the reddish-brown wax as a flaky, slightly crumbly layer that can be scrapped out of the pot and stored in sealed container in a cool dry place. It takes an apothecary around a day to produce a measure of finished wax flakes from pre-cut fronds. In rural areas were the fern grows particularly dense some households will make their own extractions, but without the tools and experience of professional apothecaries the resultant product is generally of lower quality and grainy consistency, and does not last as long.

These flakes do not dissolve well in water, leaving only a sodden oily mess at the base of the vessel unless the mixture is kept at a rolling boil. However the purified wax dissolves well in alcohol. Many have attempted to exploit this and use alcohol to extract the wax from the fronds, but this contaminates the wax with essential oils from the plant and transforms the wax into a sticky and near-worthless mass.

When clear spirits or white wine is used to dissolve the wax the resulting liquid takes a distinct rosy tint. This fluid is seen as an aphrodisiac and occasionally ingested mixed with red wine or mead to mask strongly bitter flavour and unpleasant after taste. Love letters between young nobles are often written on paper soaked in adonasfel solution, which oxidises as it dries and stains the paper a pinkish-tan hue. The most common use is as a perfume, generally when dissolved into odourless clear spirits. The solution is dabbed behind the ears or smoothed down small segments of hair, used less often in other unnoticed places; unlike more common perfumes, it cannot be used on the face or hands without staining the skin.

While easily recognisable humans can only smell adonasfel solution from close distances. The scent is strongest (and near overpowering) while the wax is being extracted from the plant or while the solution is being boiled off afterwards, and lacks the sweeter notes found when sniffing the living plant. As the prepared solutions dry after application the smell rapidly diminishes and after a few minutes most must hold the object near the nose to detect it. After an hour or two on skin and a day or so on porous objects such as paper or cloth the scent has faded beyond detection.

There are superstitions that adonasfel solution may be used to attract, reveal or ensnare werewolves. This may be based on its unusual affect on dogs. When exposed to small amounts – for example, the quantity used as perfume – dogs will actively investigate the source of the smell but rapidly lose interest once it has been located. Larger amounts tend to have a calming affect on canines. Care must be taken not to startle the animal, for it will often attack swiftly and reflexively if surprised. An unusual feature of these attacks is that the animal will often slip back into its previous calm state and not display distress if the attacked entity remains motionless, unlike the wariness and fear a dog would normally display towards a perceived threat. It is suspected the scent of adonasfel may have a hypnotic or hallucinogenic affect upon canines.

[Thanan] Dromae Feathers

Dromae moult once a year. The primary feathers on the legs and arms follow a pattern, with the outermost feather being replaced first and each following after in succession. Generally each feather is fully regrown before the next falls out, but occasionally one will drop before the next is full length. The secondaries are less coordinated in their replacement order but still broadly follow the same out to in sweep, beginning once the primaries are complete.

The feathers of the crest are often shed two or three at a time and in a more random distribution, occasionally giving the raptor an unfortunate lopsided look. Tail feathers are shed starting at the tip and moving down the sides, in theory dropping in pairs. In practice one side will inevitably get ahead of the other and so fall out of step. The contour feathers of the body are moulted sporadically throughout the year.

Many dromae choose to trim the long feathers on their arms and legs since uncut feathers limit the clothes that can be worn and for most occupations only serve to get in the way. Some employers will even require feathers to be kept below a certain length as part of their dress code. While their balance and jumping distance is restricted a dromae can still hunt with their feathers clipped. Consequently some raptors in occupations taking them into dangerous parts of the wilderness will still choose to clip their feathers so that they are able to wear armour, trading attack prowess for survivability.

On the flip side, possessing particularly long, well groomed and decorated plumage is considered a sign of status. Considerable time must be dedicated to preening to achieve this as well as one’s job both allowing it and not being likely to cause quill damage.

For most dromae attention is mostly given to the feathers of the head and crest. These are an important part of a raptor’s body language and may be enhanced with lightweight jewelry or daubs of paint. More daring raptors may chose to dye their crest bright colours or even trim the tips and sides of feathers to create dramatic shapes.

Contour, trimmed or damaged feathers are disposed of once moulted, but some dromae choose to collect and recycle intact larger ones. In many past cultures tribal leaders would wear wraps, scarves or capes decorated with the tail, wing or crest feathers of their pack as a symbol of unity. For highly formal functions many empresses will wear a full cloak made from the donated feathers of their subjects. When a new empress is chosen the call will go out and thousands will be collected with the finest woven into the cloak she will wear at her coronation. The majority of empresses will be buried, cremated or entombed wrapped in this garment.

[Aurelius Rising] Musings on Soul Formation

These are the human musings on how life energy and complexity impacts soul formation. The Sobeki have somewhat different views. I feel I should clarify that in this setting ‘life’ and ‘soul’ are two completely independent things and both measured in different ways, and yes this affects culture in various forms that have not been explored here.

 

Every living creature is imbued with life energy, and this living energy forms the first element of magic. The greater and more complex the creature the greater the volume and the more potent the life magic within. Measuring the potency of this energy is challenging and many practitioners have developed testing methods over a great span of time. None, as yet, has formed a theory that holds true in any but a handful of related beings. Broad strokes can be made: the energy of a century old eucalyptus is different to that of a mammoth even if the total volumes are similar. But knowing the patterns they will form when drawn upon is still more art and instinct than science.

Amongst higher beings the problem is compounded by the presence of the soul. The precise nature of souls is one that triggers significant debate. It is known that they are directly linked with high concentrations and complexities of life energy within a discrete being. It is less certain if crossing some threshold will trigger the formation of a soul, or if possession of a soul enables the greater magnitude of energy to coalesce and protects it from being dissipated.

While the presence or absence of one’s soul is easy to detect in adults of the sapient species this is mostly due to it being the seat of consciousness and identity. It is unclear when the soul is developed. It has been proven present in infants slightly over two months of age, and tentatively detected in babes of four weeks. However the younger the infant the more difficult it is to detect and, more pressingly, the greater the risk to the child; attempting to measure souls in younger babies or even those still within the womb has resulted in death on too many occasions. Yet the same magics have been cast upon women who did not know they were pregnant and caused no harm provided she is still within her first trimester, suggesting the soul cannot have formed before then.

Due to the inherent risks the question is now left to the theoreticians and theologians. The most popular consensus is that the soul rapidly develops in the first hours after birth once the child begins inhaling the natural energies in the air. Some still feel that these wild energies must be capable of penetrating the mother and that the soul forms in the womb, whilst ages as late as twelve months and the recognition of self have also been suggested (with younger ages stated to possess a still forming proto-soul).

A soul may be briefly separated from its body without harm. The difficulty comes in returning it. A sudden separation can cause a great shock that results in an individual injuring themselves, or they could panic and flee their body and become lost. Within a day the isolated body will start to shut down. People trained in soulwalking can extend this time somewhat but even the most talented are limited to two or three days and to a prolonged recovery period should they push themselves that far.

[Thanan] Dromae Feet

Dromae and their relatives, both close and distant, have feet with four toes. The outer two digits are strong, flattened and bear the individual’s weight as they run. The claws are capable of damage but ground contact naturally blunts them and they serve primarily to provide grip against the soil (or the hide of their prey). Individuals planning to hunt particularly large and challenging prey may sharpen their running claws the evening before to enable them to better pierce skin and aid in clinging to a panicked beast. In cultures that mark adulthood with a traditional blooding it is common for the ceremony to involve the huntmaster ritually sharpening the running claws of the adolescents, or for one of their older participating family members to do so.

The second toe is held aloft from the ground and bears the lethal sickle claw the Deinonychosauria are known for. In childhood the sickle claw is of similar size to the running claws and only grows to full dimensions in early puberty. It is a weapon and all children are taught to treat it as such. In adulthood, one’s sickle claw will only be touched by one’s closest friends and family members, or by medical professionals. Many dromae with urban jobs choose to keep their sickle claws slightly dull and only trim when necessary, to reduce wear on their claw covers.

During social engagements it is considered polite to place a claw cover over the sickle claw as a gesture of peace. Traditional claw covers are woven from plant fibers and decorated with bright feathers or tassels, or carved from wood. Modern claw covers are still split into soft and hard. Hard covers better protect the claw and are often more utilitarian, although intricate designs in wood, metal or ivory are available. Soft covers are crafted from a variety of fabrics or leather and are decorated to accentuate the foot, with more fashionable varieties connecting to anklets and other foot jewellery.

In contrast, dromae who’s lifestyle or occupation requires their sickle claws as tools or weapons will devote considerable time to sharpening and maintaining the edge. Generally speaking a pocket knife will be a better tool for cutting but it can be much more convenient to use a claw to cut a small cord or a piece of tape. In rural areas the opportunistic hunting of small game is common and much more difficult if covers are being worn. Rangers, police, guards and military consider their feet backup or even primary weapons and maintain them accordingly.

The innermost toe on a dromae’s foot is small, unable to reach the ground and somewhat more flexible than the other digits. The claw is blunt and used for grooming feathers, especially on the head and neck. Between the grooming claws and the mouth a healthy dromae can, in theory, reach any feather on the body. In practice parts of the plume, the end of the tail and the sides of the neck near where it joins the chest are tricky to reach, and the areas most targeted by communal grooming.

Thanan Bestiary: Bruma

The bruma is a tyrannosaurid that is highly adapted for arctic environments, and is the apex predator of the northern-most parts of the globe. They fill the same niche polar bears do in the modern era.

Bruma   31 pts

Attributes: ST 25 [60]; DX 10; IQ 4 [-120]; SM 2
Secondary Charactistics: HT 12 [20]; HP 25; Will 4; Per 6 [10]; FP 12; Basic Lift 125; Basic Speed 5.5; Basic Move 8 [15]
Advantages: Acute Taste and Smell 2 [4]; Cold-Adaptive Feathers* [3]; Damage Resistance 2 (Flexible, -20%; Tough Skin, -40%) [4]; Discriminatory Smell [15]; Enhanced Move (Ground) 1/2 [10]; Hard to Subdue 1 [2]; Night Vision 4 [4]; Parabolic Hearing [4]; Reduced Consumption (Cast Iron Stomach) [1]; Sharp Claws [5]; Striker (Tail: Long, +75%; Cannot Parry, -40%; Clumsy, -40%; Limited Backwards Arc, -40%; Weak, -50%) [2]; Teeth (Sharp Teeth) [1]; Terrain Adaptation (Ice) [5]
*Identical to Cold-Adaptive Fur (Biotech)
Disadvantages: Wild Animal [-30]; Gluttony (12 or less) [-5]; No Fine Manipulators [-30]; Restricted Diet (Carnivore) [-10]; Short Arms (2 Arms) [-10]; Short Lifespan -2 [-20]; Weak Arms (2 Arms) [-5]
Racial Skills: Brawling 13 (DX+3) [8]; Intimidation 10 (Will+6) [24]; Stealth 10 (DX+0) [2]; Survival (Arctic) 14 (Per+8) [32]; Swimming 12 (HT+0) [1]; Tracking 13 (Per+7) [28]**; Wrestling 9 (DX-1) [1]
**Discriminatory Smell gives +4 to Tracking when scent is a factor

Attacks: Bite 13: 2d+3 cut, Reach C-1; Kick 11: 2d+4 cut, Reach C-2; Punch 13: 1d-1 cut, Reach C-1; Tailwhip 2d+4 cr, Reach 1 (behind)

AppearanceBruma are a species of tyrannosaudid that grow to about 3m long, not including the tail, and almost 2m high. They are distinctly stocky compared to other tyrannosaurs with shorter, fatter tails and bulky torsos. Their entire bodies excluding the toe pads are thickly covered with feathers. The outer layer is closely fitting and waterproof and pure white in adults; immature bruma have mottled patches of pale grey along their dorsal region. Beneath is a thick layer of fluffy down that traps air to insulate the bruma against the cold, and doubles as a buoyancy aid when swimming. Bruma hold their heads close to their body when at rest, making them appear to have abnormally short necks. Their small forearms tucked against their chest and extremely difficult to see, leading to the common myth that bruma have no arms at all. Unlike many therapods, male and female bruma are the same size.

Behaviour: Bruma prefer to attack from ambush, hitting with a powerful bite and using it to grapple their prey and drag it out of the water before clawing or pinning with their feet and tearing with their jaws. Land-based prey may be chased for short distances but bruma do not have the speed to run down fast prey. Instead they target creatures sheltering in burrows or hiding beneath snow. Bruma are solitary hunters who roam over large distances and do not protect individual territories, but will chase away other bruma if encountered outside breeding season.

Breeding occurs in summer when the melting ice forces individuals together. Females retain sperm throughout autumn within specialised parts of their reproductive trait and use it to fertilise eggs the next winter. Two eggs are laid in early summer and brooded by the female. The hatchlings are cared for until late in the next spring.

 

[Thanan] Evolution of Dromae Hunting Adaptions

There is significant debate amongst dromae paleontologists about whether their primitive dinosaurian ancestors were capable of flight. It is clear that their distant cousins the birds are, and that some species closely related to raptorian ancestors may have been more than gliders.

Dromae paleontologists are firm that they are not descended from birds. The presence of teeth, prominent primary feathers on the legs, partially keeled sternum and shoulder girdle adaptions indicate the split was from the protoavians. Unfortunately the small size, fragile bones and forested habitat combine to form a sharp gap in the fossil record. Primitive raptorians next become obvious in desert salt-lake deposits and there are multiple potential paths that could have brought them there.

It is thought that small primitive raptorians may have roosted in trees and outcroppings and retained the legwings for ease of return to the ground for hunting. Hunting techniques are thought to be similar to that used by young dromae or by adults against small prey: the prey is pounced upon from a distance, with the spread arms lengthening the jump and acting as large control surfaces while the tail and its feather vanes stabilise and make fine alterations. Upon landing on the prey the sickle claws sink into its flesh to provide an anchor point while the arms and their protowings are rapidly flapped to stabilise the hunter and prevent falling. The jaws are used to tear into the prey and inflict injuries. Prey death is by shock and blood loss from the combined teeth and claw wounds while more skilled hunters will dispatch the prey with a targeted bite to the neck or spine.

Larger prey is hunted communally. While the sickle claw of dromae is still curved, unlike ancestral dinosaurs the base is straighter and the claw more pronounced at the tip, and the inner surface sharper. After cutting out and harrying a chosen large prey animal pack members will leap onto its back and flanks, avoiding the threatening front quarters where possible. Front and rear claws are used to grip the prey’s hide, sometimes supplemented by jaws, while one or both legs kick out with sickle claws to inflict deep injuries. Once the prey has been sufficiently weakened and dragged down the neck and throat can be safely targeted and the prey dispatched.

The scaled belly and inner thighs of the dromae is an adaption for this method of predation. A struggling prey animal is challenging to cling to and the smooth surface of feathers lacks grip. Contour feathers are likely to suffer significant damage by being scraped over rough hide while offering little protection in return as the hunter is shaken. The naked face reduces fouling by blood and offal as the dromae feeds, as it will be reaching deeper into the body cavity given the size of the prey. If crests were not such an important visual communication tool and if ancestral Arenicalia had scavenged more frequently, it is possible they would have lost their head and neck plumage all together as some distantly related species have done.