Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The "What My Father Told Me" Trick

I'm posting a little ahead but it occurred to me that since I was giving examples, I wanted to provide two for something I mentioned several posts ago. I talked about being able to provide material for the players that would give them "the view from the ground" to help them think about their characters. I think this is especially important the further away you get from a contemporary setting. Runequest uses a simple template of ideas, modified depending on the group under consideration, to get these ideas across. They're easy to do-- between an hour or two, but the payoff for players from those groups is pretty strong. Below are two examples I wrote up. The first comes from one of the non-human races on the Third Continent. The second comes from a set of entries I did to describe the seven major blocs on the First Continent. I wouldn't do these for every group-- more likely I'd write them up if a player had chosen some group or if the number of possible groups were eight or less.

What My Father Told Me:
A Personal View of Aperkitas Culture


Who are you?
I am Dender, Aperkitas Engineer, member of the Stonemaster Gaggle. I take care of earthworks and assorted building things. Actually, the Gaggle does, I’m just one among the five of us.

Who are we?
We are the Aperkitas, the first among the Created Races. We were made during the Arba-Kur, but not by the really nasty Sorceror King. We were made from the great sacred hounds of the gods who were permitted to walk around and use their hands so they could get more done. A fairly decent guy made us. We ended up here in Laksmi for the most part. I hear there are some of us in the Emerald Confederation, but I don’t think I’d like that, not enough materials. Plus, I’ve heard about those “sea dog” jokes they make about sailor Aperkitas.

We are good citizens of Laksmi and are respected as craftsmen. I suppose a few of the goofy ones are respected as warriors, but they outgrow that eventually. We are master craftsmen and builders. We’re good at it so we do it, plus it truly is the most enjoyable thing in life. You’ll see when you craft something on your own.

What makes us great?
“Great”? Have you been talking to Sir Breshen? Well we’re great craftsmen. What we make lasts, is useful and shines. By shines I mean its right and good. We’re also premier among the Created races, no one ever speaks a word against an Aperkitas. Except Laranians, and they’re kinda dim. We’re hard-workers and enthusiastic, you gotta respect that.

We also do good by those who do good by us. You’d do well to remember that, loyalty’s a virtue. We also don’t get in big fights and argue about stupid stuff like a lot of people, you know like kings and philosophers and theologians and stuff. You do what needs to be done.

What is the difference between men and women?
Umm…well some of that you gotta figure out on your own. If you mean how humans divvy things up, then I guess we’re a little different. Women can do whatever they want. Mind you, there are more male knights than females, but nobody thinks any less of ‘em.

Where do we live?
Mostly we live in cities and towns, any place that needs a lot of work done. Cities are best because more people need craftsmen there. We live all over the north of Laksmi; the south’s still getting settled so only a few groups good down there to work for the King. Also, we make pretty lousy farmers. Most who’ve done it ended up spending more time working on their tools than diggin’ the ground. Some say that’s funny for dog people. Come to think of it, that’s not that funny.

How do we live?
We craft. People gather into their groups, like my gaggle. We form into teams early on. Usually you stay with a team for a long time because you get used to them. If you kept switching around you’d have to keep relearning where to scratch ‘em if you know what I mean.

If you find a woman you like and she likes you, you marry them. Don’t marry from your group, its just not right. You live and work and craft. Then when you get older you retire. During retirement, you work on your “Great Work.” That’s something you think about all your life, what you want to leave behind. What you make depends on what you know. These things can take years.

That’s a problem, because we’re different from humans. We don’t get old. Around about forty, give or take a few years, we just die. You’ll know you’re going to die when you get up in the morning. Make sure you tell someone, its rude to just drop dead without informing your family.

It can be real sad when an Aperkitas dies without completing their great project. I had that happen to an uncle, it was a shame. We all would’ve loved to have seen what he made. But, you know you can’t plan for everything. Take the Elders for example. Every once in a while an Aperkitas just doesn’t die, they just stick around til they get bored and decide to go away. They people try and convince them to do one more thing. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t they just croak in their sleep, real peaceful-like.

Who rules us?
That’s a real human question. Among us, whoever knows the most about what’s happening rules. On the other hand, we all serve King Ducas of Laksmi. He’s a real good guy.

What makes a person great?
Working hard, being loyal, and making a really cool great work. Well, its just nice to have a great work, I don’t think anybody’ll think less of you if you don’t finish it; they just might feel sorry for you.

What is evil?
Dishonesty is bad. Hurting people is evil. Not helping out others is downright nasty. Ummm…I guess just being good is what you have to worry about, that whole thing sounds like some kinda philosophy thing.

What is my lot in life?
You can be a craftsman and build great things.
Or, on the other hand, you can also be a knight. Knights are kind of strange. They don’t like crafting as much as they do headbashing and chivalry and stuff. They’re ok people, and most of them end up doing a great work. Its funny to watch ’em low-punch a human bravo.
But you could also be a craftsman.
How do we deal with others?
Fairly, that’s the bottom line.

Who are our enemies?
Bad guys. Anybody that tries to hurt people. Laranians probably count for that, but don’t judge everybody by a label. Yeah, and Aslani. Those cat-guys have a big, ugly chip on their shoulder against us. It’s because we’re so much more lovable than they are.

Who are our gods?
We follow the path of the Wheel. It only makes sense, it’s got all the parts. Some join smithing or crafting cults, bit that’s just to make humans happy. We don’t have any priests anyway, we can’t do any magic, divine or otherwise.

What is there to do around here?
Well, we could play Struthos. Or you could help me out in the garage with this thing I’m working on…

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What the Guildmaster Told Me: A Personal View of the Raven’s March

This is presented by Guildmaster Hallek Caine, who carefully watches the incoming arrivals in the city of Ska-Pasha and assigns people to “help” newcomers.

Who are you?
Hallek Caine, your Guildmaster. That means that I look after you and you follow me until you’re ready and able to strike out on your own. It is a trade off…I’ll protect and teach you until you know enough to be able to take on obligations yourself. Life is a struggle, and you have to be ready to fight for your place in it. That means preparation and patience.

Who are we?
We are the peoples of the Raven’s March. We are the only truly free peoples on the continent. Everyone else thinks they are free, but they managed to come out of the darkness and tie themselves up with new shackles…orders given from on high, limits to what people could do…bindings across their lives. We’re the only ones who fly free.

Atshana the Collector was the Boon companion who we look to. She knew that sometimes things need to get done that others might not have the stomach for. That’s a great responsibility. It is also something that make others wary and fear us, and for good reason. We understand that one has to embrace the good and the bad together to succeed.

We’re the ones who find lost things, the ones who liberate people from their ties to material goods and their ties to their old lives. We keep people jumpy, never certain where a Raven is going to hop. Other places think they’re in control, but we know the real story.

What makes us great?
Our Freedom is what makes us great. Our obedience is a choice. We are free to do what we want. We can be and do what we like, so long as we have the strength, will, and skill to accomplish it. That’s the trick though. You have to live up to your freedom…you have to be able to grab it with your hands and hold on. There are many Ravens who cannot do that, and we don’t blame them. They enjoy their lives. But I’m sure there’s an itch in the back of their minds…knowing that they could be free.

Where do we live?
We live in Ska-pasha, Sky-City of the Overlord Throne. It is the capital of Besathar, one of the two countries which make up the Ravens March. Ska-Pasha floats above the mountains…moving slightly with the winds, but staying in one place. There is a Sky-side and a Night-side to the city. Be careful walking around the Nightside down below, on the bottom of the city. You’ll have to defend yourself and your freedom there. Below them are the chain-city…settlements built on the great chains which keep the city tied to the ground. The best Aero-pirates come from there, having grown up used to the winds and having to clamber up and down ladders, nets and ropes their entire lives. Up here is sky-side where we have the open air and the chance to travel. Besathar is wondrous, a land of strange backwoods, forgotten secrets and cities. Those cities are the heart of Besathar, for a Raven prefers them over the country.

The other nation bound to us is the Maranos Republic. They are Ravens, but they’re very different from those of us from Besathar. They love romance, idealism, and adventure. Those are great things, but we tend to be more hard-nosed and practical. Still, the people of Maranos own the skies. More than any other, they know how to craft and pilot the sky-ships that travel about the continent. And they don’t keep themselves to one thing…they have dozens of ways of propelling ships, from great balloons, to air elementals, to giant avians. If you can think of it, they’ve tried it as a way of reaching the heavens. The people of Maranos are great dreamers, so make sure you actually have their attention before talking to them…otherwise you’ll have to repeat yourself at least a couple of times.

How do we live?
Day-to-day. We live by building a network of friends, family and obligations. Every Raven is tied to the people who have supported them. You will figure out what you wish to do and then strike a bargain to make your way there. The real substance of life and living lies in the people you know. A friendless person, a wanderer without allies, that is a dangerous person. They owe nothing and therefore care for nothing. The Prophet King knew this and that is why he gathered the Seven Boon Companions, to forge a network of family and obligation.

What is important in my life?
Figuring out what you want and then making that happen. It may take you time to decide what you want, but once you have, you need to follow after it…no regrets. That is the freedom that we are given. It is not a right, but it is something that has to be earned. You find your freedom by taking on burdens and obligations and then fulfilling them. There are many people who owe favors to me, like yourself, and in turn others whom I owe favors to. It is vital to live up to your obligations.

Who rules us?
We rule ourselves literally and figuratively. You are master of your own destiny, but you must understand that you cannot do that alone. You place yourself in society by giving your service over to others, and they in turn to others. We present ourselves as having a royal house and leaders, and we acknowledge them. But in truth, I am not certain who is at the top. Some speak of the Raven Queen, some say that it is Atshana and that she yet lives. Others say there is no one. I like this last thought, it means that we govern ourselves truly.

In the Maranos Republic, it is a little of the same. There, they have a more formal system of guilds, apprentices, patrons and clients. The have a council of governors and all the trappings of a “real” country. They talk about things too much. If you put obligations out in the open, as they do, I think you lessen their importance. But you give away some of your strength by talking of such things. Better to keep those things to yourself so that know one truly knows you.

What makes a person great?
Patience. It is why the Owls earn our respect. Patience and careful planning make all the difference. They say that “Fools Rush In” and that is certainly true, and while they rush in, you have an excellent distraction at your disposal. The great person can outwait, outthink and outlive his opponent. Patience is not about waiting just to do a little thing, but waiting to do the big thing…carefully building up to your goal.

What is evil?
One who doesn’t fulfill the obligations and responsibilities which he has willingly taken on. If you agree to something, you must carry through. The only true fetter on your freedom is yourself. If you don’t follow through, then you chain your own soul. At the same time, evil is imposing obligations on others without assent. An obligation and debt coerced is not a real one, though some may try to force you to believe it is.

Now here’s the trick with this and the thing that most people don’t understand. A Raven fulfills his obligations, not necessarily exactly as the person wanted. Always be careful to set the stakes and the terms for any bargain you make. So long as, in the end, they have what they asked for…the method and means lie in your own hands.

Cruelty, viciousness, and brutality are also evil. They are demonstration of impatience and lack of thought. There is a place for revenge, but it is slow and exacting. There is a way dealing with your enemies, and it is final and total. These things are symptoms of a sickness of your soul, and another Raven would be obliged to take care of that, especially if it threatened others.

What is my lot in life?
What you want. You choose to take on whatever responsibilities you want. You just have to be able to carry through on them. That is all I can really tell you.

How do we deal with others?
Figure out who owes what to whom. Within our lands, that is a complex game. Part of the trick of making your way in this life is to discover where debts lie. Then you can trade for those, bargain with them and leverage your own skills and duties better. Knowledge is a real power. When dealing with those of the outside world, it is a little different. But, no person truly stands alone. Uncover what kinds of obligations they have: loyalty, love, money and so on. When you know these things, then you can use them, carefully and patiently.

Be careful though. Everyone is suspicious of us. They are wary and call us tricksters and thieves…not that this is entirely untrue. But blanket paranoia can make people look in the wrong place.

Be careful of Doves and Eagles. Doves like talking and bargains and if you’re not careful, they’ll wrap you up in bargains before you’ve realized it. They would wish the rule of the Prophet King to be stronger and more direct. We’re not so fond of that idea. We like the free choice it gives us. In the same way, be wary of Eagles. We appreciate their piety and that they help us understand the gods. Don’t get me wrong the gods are great and we’ll listen to them and honor them…but we don’t think the rule of priests is necessary. Eagles would like to see churches everywhere, giving out commands and edicts. That’s not going to happen.

Who are our enemies?
We claim predominance in the sky through our mastery of the arts of the Sky-Ships, but there is a threat to us from there as well. When the Brothers first came, they disrupted many things. Creatures were disturbed, old things which once lay sleeping awoke again. It was during that time that the Danghul arrived here in our lands. They were an avian race, like strange humanoid birds. At first these new settlements simply kept to themselves high in the mountains, but soon they and the natives came into conflict. The powers of the Greyholders were enough to hold them back and weaken their numbers and in the Long Night which followed, we thought them destroyed. However, some hundred years later we heard reports from the most distant provinces that they still lived. The Danghul are tricksters, and in that we can appreciate them. However, they are dangerous and we clash often. They attack lone Sky-Ships when they can, raid outlying villages and hunt down lone unwary travelers. They are not stupid, in fact many of them are powerful swordsmen, wielding wicked scimitars. They have mages among their number as well. Some swordsmen have gone to challenge them and learn their skills, most have died, but a few have returned, different for their experience—more cruel—but duelists as powerful as you’re likely to meet.

Who are our gods?
I don’t think it best to go into that. We worship that which is useful. We also give homage to many whom the others might fear. Chaikhaj is the greatest of the Wheel, but never say such a thing openly. Know in your heart his power. Also, beware Crow. Others might beat him and try to destroy his worshipers, but that is a dangerous game and invites retribution. Instead, send them away, turn them out of your house. Don’t aid them, because that is attention you don’t need. Among the Eighty-One, the demi-gods, we often build shrine to Bhundhail, the god of luck. Perhaps most important around here is Daon, the god of flight . His blessing helps the many of us who rely on the skies for life.

What is there to do around here?
Whatever you damn well please.