OSR: Pantheopolis and the Divine Exodus

Pantheopolis, the City of Many Gods! 

Pantheopolis, whose armies ranged far and wide! Their legions captured countless cities, and with each victory, the city's gods were carefully transferred to their new seat of power.

Pantheopolis! City of temples, built with the rivers of tribute flowing to the capital. City of priests and imported rituals. City of blessings uncounted. 

Pantheopolis! And when there were no more enemies to conquer, city of Ecumenodiplomats, who crept into towns and flattered their gods into departing. City of Theoarchivists, who searched scrolls and tablets for forgotten gods. For if the city achieved greatness under the guidance of a hundred gods, think of what could it achieve with a thousand.

Pantheopolis! City of blessings. City of curses. And, in time, a city where they could not be distinguished. Pray for fertility and receive barrenness from a rival god slighted by your inattention, or birth litters of dozens as gods compete to outdo each other. City where every wish becomes a prayer, and every prayer an invitation. Orphanages overflow with least demigods; armies are paralyzed by conflicting omens, crops grow out of season. The gods jostle and bicker, ignoring rites and forgetting their duties.

Pantheopolis! Former capital of an empire, now a collapsing nest of divine feuds. In desperation, the Five Oligarchs have issued a decree. Let the gods depart! 

And so, this is your task. Carry a god to a new place (with their implied consent). Find, build, or reclaim a temple. Instruct the locals in the correct rites. 

Jeremy Hunter

The Divine Exodus

I wanted to find a use for my 1d100 Divine Domains (and associated tables). You could also use the book Petty Gods, or any other list of gods. Pantheopolis is the mirror of Arnold K's Coramont.

The PCs are the usual mix of unsavory types, contracted to transport a god (and their physical presence as a statue or similar object) to a new land. Some money up front, but more money on their return (plus whatever they can fleece from the locals). It's reverse loot-for-XP; the more stuff you haul out of the city, the more XP you get.

All the useful gods (of safe travels, of warfare, of localized bandit smiting, etc.) have already been shipped out, surrounded by small armies and appropriate pomp. Don't expect a lot of help from the statue/stone/petrified frog/shield you're hauling.

In their lust for divine power, Pantheopolis may have unearthed or appropriated gods that were best left forgotten and buried. Traditional tentacular horrors, flame-and-skull cults, etc. Finding a settlement willing to take such a god off your hands may be difficult. Some image rehabilitation might be in order.

Sarunas Macijauskas

The League of Inveterate Atheists

The gods, great and small, have caused nothing but trouble for humanity. They should stick to their own affairs and leave humans alone. The League of Inveterate Atheists undermines shrines, tosses statues into bogs, bludgeons clerics, and generally attempts to reduce the total amount of faith in the world. The Divine Exodus is a great opportunity to pick off a few small and feeble cults. 

Members of the League are typically wracked with philosophy, and can be distracted by complex logic problems. They wear disguises, use false names, and avoid direct and clear-cut blaspheming.  

Of course, there are the usual OSR enemies. Cults of rival deities. Generic monsters. Other adventuring parties looking to take credit for someone else's work.

Nikola Matkovic

Useful Quotes

An enormous crowd went and filled the camp. After the Dictator had taken the auspices and issued orders for the soldiers to arm for battle, he uttered this prayer: "Pythian Apollo, guided and inspired by thy will I go forth to destroy the city of Veii, and a tenth part of its spoils I devote to thee. Thee too, Queen Juno, who now dwellest in Veii, I beseech, that thou wouldst follow us, after our victory, to the City which is ours and which will soon be shine, where a temple worthy of thy majesty will receive thee."  


When all that belonged to man had been carried away from Veii, they began to remove from the temples the votive gifts that had been made to the gods, and then the gods themselves; but this they did as worshippers rather than as plunderers. The deportation of Queen Juno to Rome was entrusted to a body of men selected from the whole army, who after performing their ablutions and arraying themselves in white vestments, reverently entered the temple and in a spirit of holy dread placed their hands on the statue, for it was as a rule only the priest of one particular house who, by Etruscan usage, touched it. Then one of them, either under a sudden inspiration, or in a spirit of youthful mirth, said, "Art thou willing, Juno, to go to Rome?" The rest exclaimed that the goddess nodded assent. An addition to the story was made to the effect that she was heard to say, "I am willing." At all events we have it that she was moved from her place by appliances of little power, and proved light and easy of transport, as though she were following of her own accord. She was brought without mishap to the Aventine, her everlasting seat, whither the prayers of the Roman Dictator had called her, and where this same Camillus afterwards dedicated the temple which he had vowed.

-Livy 5.21-22

After being thus victorious in battle and capturing two camps and nine towns belonging to the enemy and receiving the surrender of Praeneste, Titus Quinctius returned to Rome. In his triumphal procession he carried up to the Capitol the image of Jupiter Imperator, which had been brought from Praeneste. It was set up in a recess between the shrines of Jupiter and Minerva, and a tablet was affixed to the pedestal recording the Dictator's successes. The inscription ran something like this: "Jupiter and all the gods have granted this boon to Titus Quinctius the Dictator, that he should capture nine towns."

-Livy 6.29

That the art of statuary was familiar to Italian Italy also and of long standing there is indicated by the statue of Hercules in the Cattle Market said to have been dedicated by Evander, which is called 'Hercules Triumphant,' and on the occasion of triumphal processions is arrayed in triumphal vestments; and also by the two-faced Janus, dedicated by King Numa, which is worshipped as indicating war and peace, the fingers of the statue being so arranged as to indicate the 355 days of the year, and to betoken that Janus is the god of the duration of time. Also there is no doubt that the so-called Tuscanic images scattered all over the world were regularly made in Etruria. I should have supposed these to have been statues of deities only, were it not that Metrodorus of Scepsis, who received his surname from his hatred of the very name of Rome, reproached us with having taken by storm the city of Volsinii for the sake of the 2000 statues which it contained.

-Pliny NH 34.24



OSR: The Iron Gates and Information Gating

Here are some more notes on my Alexander Romance/Dark Souls-inspired Iron Gates setting. People have asked why I don't just write the setting. This post is an attempt to answer that question. The issue isn't writing, it's choosing what to write, and choosing how to present that information to a GM in a useful way.

Stepan Alekseev

Dark Souls takes video game elements and makes them part of the world. Constraints become building blocks. Elements that most games gloss over become emblematic of the series.

  • Dying and respawning at checkpoints.
  • Resetting enemies.
  • Enemy deaths converting into Experience Points.
  • Boss fights.
  • Intermittent PvP.

The constraints of a tabletop RPG are not the same as the constraints of a video game. If you want media that turns RPG elements into world elements, Order of the Stick and similar tongue-in-cheek media are probably the way to go.

Dark Souls is a single-player game. The game proceeds at a pace controlled by one person. Combat is satisfying. Player skill is vital. Mysteries are optional; you don't need to know much of the plot to go somewhere you haven't been before, find a fog gate, go through it, and kill whatever is on the other side.

RPGs involve multiple people, who all need to be sufficiently entertained to turn up to the next session. The pace is barely controlled by anyone, but everyone gets some input. Combat is rarely as satisfying as system designers hope it will be, mainly because it takes time to do anything. Roll dice, move chits, mark down numbers, do math; a computer can do it all instantly and seamlessly, but tabletop RPGs are slow. Player skills are important, but are mainly focused on finding ways around combat (or similar roadblocks) and coming up with lateral solutions. Because the world doesn't exist outside of the group's shared imagination, a higher degree of engagement with the plot is important.

Simulating Dark Souls combat in an RPG doesn't make a ton of sense to me. You could build a tabletop system to "authentically" simulate a game of snooker... or you could just play snooker. If an experience is difficult to come by (say, landing an airliner, firing a neutron laser at a mutant space goon, etc.) then I can see some utility in simulating it, but Dark Souls isn't exactly hard to find.

So if we set the system aside as an issue for another time, we're left with non-system information. The old crunch vs. fluff distinction. What makes a Souls setting a Souls setting, and how can that information be conveyed in an RPG context?

Ariel Perez

Conveying Information In An RPG

In a Souls-type video game, player-facing information consists of the opening cutscene, any mandatory boss cutscenes, the environment, and maybe a few lines of dialogue. It's possible to play the game to completion and not have a clue what's going on. Why do bonfires exist? Who's this big snake? Why is this guy on fire? Oh well, hit them until the health bar drops and the credits roll.

Even players who pay close attention will probably miss lore elements. Some secrets seem like they are designed for collaborative analysis and debate. Why does Lysanderoth's Ring have a picture of the Fourfold Sigil on it? Why is a corpse in the Billowing Library wearing the Elm Scholar's Set, and does it have anything to do with the cut content surrounding the War of the Misfiled Ledger? You know, that sort of detail.

It's not difficult to write a Souls-type setting. It's difficult to present it to a GM in a manner that makes it useful (or even useable). Writing paragraph after paragraph about various dieties and locations doesn't help. It's just... words. What a GM needs are tools. I've written about a few tools in this post, but here are some additional notes.

A GM doesn't have access to spectacular visuals or sound cues. They can turn the book around to show the players some art, but that's not always feasible (or even wise; a good description can be far more evocative than a piece of art). Players tune out after a sentence or two of readaloud text.

Information is impermanent. Unless a player took notes, the description happened and then vanished into the past. In a video game, you can revisit an area, check an item description, or replay a conversation; RPGs do not have that luxury.

In between RPG sessions, real-world events will cloud memories and obscure details. "Where were we? Who were we fighting? What's that giant snake talking about?" Good notes help, but a GM can't force players to take notes or pay attention. 

Therefore, a setting guide needs to rely on tools that a GM can access:

Whenever possible, descriptions should use elements already present in the players' minds to create the shared imaginary world. Call up a castle and a castle appears; the players know what a castle looks like. Sure, everyone's imagining a different castle, but in one word the GM has set the basic framing of a scene. A handful of descriptive words and modifiers fill in the colours.

The first description of a scene should give the players enough information to make immediately relevant choices. If there's a giant dragon sleeping on a pile of gold, the GM should definitely mention it, and fill in architectural and textural details later.

But as the players move through a scene or interact with the world, the GM can introduce layers of description. It's an overgrown chapel with an altar. It's a wooden altar, painted to look like marble. The bowl atop the altar is made from the horns of a stag. The horns are untouched by the moss and algae that coat every other surface in the chapel.

In a Souls inspired RPG setting, every detail should matter. Everything should be part of a larger pattern, because there's so little information being conveyed. Everything presented in a setting guide should connect, in some way, to some other element or hidden plot or world system. If an altar is made of wood, it's made of wood for a reason. If a ring is made of silver, it's made of silver for a reason. It allows players to make educated guesses about the world, and experience the joy of discovery when their inferences are rewarded. It also lets the GM improvise with confidence.

Perfect coherence is impossible for any author... but it's worth aiming at, and it's worth convincing your readers (and players) that yes, this was all planned. Whenever possible, smile gently and take the credit. 

Themes and visuals can be repeated in different areas, or reinforced by similar phrasing. The chapel's guardians wear cloaks of lichen and masks of bark. They flee before anyone wearing a crown. Their blood is black and thin, like stagnant water.

Presenting this information to the GM in a useful and consistent manner is crucial. The days of chapters of two-column lore text are over. This information can fit in random encounter tables, items, NPC descriptions, location descriptions, weather tables, etc, etc. You don't want a GM to feel as if they have to quote the text verbatim, but you want to provide high-quality prompts that they can weave the written words into a fluid description.


Secrets, Secrets, and Secrets

I'm not a fan of RPG books where vital setting elements are hidden from the GM. If there's a murder mystery, summarize the plot early in the book. If there's a metaplot, provide a handy chart. Try, as much as possible, to make the GM's life easy. Let the players puzzle out the solution (or one possible solution), but don't force the poor GM to pick through pages of purple prose to discover Nepotian the Merchant is really Nestorpot the Heretic in disguise.

But since people sometimes buy RPG books to read, not to use, it might be advisable to include some less relevant mysteries for the GM/reader to uncover. Vital concepts (such as Iron, Gold, and Water in the Iron Gates setting) should be fully explained to the GM, but subtle patterns could be left as surprises for readers and players alike.

Since the Iron Gates setting is based on stories from the real world, readers, GMs, and players can use real-world knowledge to assist in-game. The material isn't a 1:1 adaptation, and reading the Alexander Romance might provide too many spoilers, but patterns present in the Iron Gates setting will resonate with other stories known to the players.

Example: The Stag and the Unicorn

There is much to be surmised, but little that a cautious investigator would care to affirm positively, about the symbolic meanings ascribed to the unicorn in pre-Christian times. Several bits of evidence concur, however, in the suggestion that for a very long time one-horned animals have been regarded as emblematic of unlimited or undivided sovereign power.


In the Book of Daniel (chapter viii) there is recorded this strange vision: "And behold, an he goat came from the West on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground; and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. And he came to the ram that had two horns . . . and ran unto him in the fury of his power. And I saw him come close unto the ram, and he was moved with choler against him, and smote the ram, and brake his two horns: and there was no power in the ram to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground and stamped upon him." Later in the same chapter we are given an interpretation of this vision: "And the rough goat is the king of Grecia, and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king."

The one-horned goat of Daniel's vision, in other words, stands for Alexander the Great, and the whole allegory depicts his triumph over the hosts of the Persians, represented by the two-horned ram. The interesting thing is that the one horn should be chosen as a symbol of superior power. One can readily understand it as a symbol of single and supreme sovereignty, and it is permissible to paraphrase the sentence quoted above so as to make it read: "The great horn that is between his eyes signifies that he is the supreme king." Exactly the same symbolism is found in the pseudepigraphic first book of Enoch, in the ninetieth chapter: "And I saw till horns grew upon these lambs, and the rams cast down their horns; and I saw till there sprouted a great horn of one of these sheep, and their eyes were opened. And it looked at them and it cried to the sheep, and the rams saw it and all ran to it." The one-horned sheep of this passage, according to the notes of R. H. Charles, must be Judas Maccabaeus.

- Lore of the Unicorn, Odell Shepard

In opposition to the singular horn of the Unicorn / the singular power of Kingship / control / legibility, we have the Stag, whose branching antlers represent opposition to anthropocentric order. Consider the White Stag of Arthurian legends. Both the White Stag and the Unicorn are otherworldly and proverbially difficult to capture. 

So, in the Iron Gates setting, creatures with one horn will be associated specifically with Iskandar, and creatures with multiple or branching horns will be associated with the outer darkness and wilderness. Will this association ever be relevant to the players? Probably not. But if they pick up on it, and find an amulet with a unicorn on it, they might make a connection.


40k: Deconflagrators and Sump Pirates, Painted

Sump Pirates

The Sump Pirates of Necromunda, as previously stated, do not exist. They are an underhive story to frighten children. When they appear, it's as if a mythical beast has suddenly and inexplicably burst into the mundane world. When they retreat, their victims invent explanations for the destruction and death they inevitably cause.

Members of the gang often wear masks, whether to filter out sump toxins, shield their identities, or to protect from a hypothetical memory-altering gas. Jump packs and grappling hooks are common.
Sump Spiders allow the Sump Pirates to raid across the Hive and beyond. While slower than many wheeled or tracked vehicles, it can climb walls or paddle through toxic rivers. It also carries an autocannon, a terrifying weapon in any gang conflict, as well as a rear-mounted heavy stubber.
The unusual camouflage pattern on Sump Pirate vehicles may serve to conceal their hull shapes during raids, or it may be mere tradition.
The Sump Strider is the capital vessel and roving war-base of the Sump Pirates. Festooned with weapons, the Sump Strider allows the Sump Pirates to raid with impunity.

Its terrifying war-mask bears a mysterious vent.

Kits: The Sump Pirates are a mix of various Necromunda gangs and spare parts. The Sump Spiders are Age of Sigmar Arkanaut frigates with 40k Defiler legs. The Sump Strider is an Arkanaut Ironclad with Knight legs. Buying these kits new and mashing them together is probably not a good plan. I just happened to stumble across them (or parts of them) at a convenient time.

How do the Sump Pirates maintain their cloak of unnatural secrecy? Are they the ancient remnants of a marooned Navigator house? Warp-touched pskyers? The owners of some mysterious artifact or source of mind-altering sump gas? Who knows.

The Deconflagrators

In the Dark Grimness of the Future Imperfect, things still catch on fire that should  not be on fire. The Deconflagrators rush to the blaze, connect hoses to ancient skull-shaped hydrants, and pour foam and water onto the flames. They are respected by citizens and outlaws alike, for the brief life of a Deconflagrator is spent in constant service.

Rubber melts and cloth burns, so the Deonflagrators ride on iron wheels and shroud their bodies in hissing cryosuits. With suitable ritual preparations, a Deconflagration Wagon can survive the heat of an alchemical fire or promethium spill. 

Kits: The Deconflagrators are based on Forgeworld Titan crew. The wagon is a modified Goliath Truck with wheels from (of all things) the Forgeworld Malcador Infernus. The foam cannon is based on an old Ork cannon.

Other Underhive Denizens

Two other models for Necromunda/Inq28 games: an Inquisitor on a bike from Wargame Exclusive and a humble water-seller. Pretty soon I'll have enough vehicles to run a Necromunda-themed 28mm Gaslands race.

Side Note: It's really odd that The Great Race (1965) predates Wacky Races (1968). It feels like it should be the other way around. The Great Race has all the hallmarks of a misguided adaptation, yet it's the origin. Oh well.