Race Pack: Titans is On Sale Now!

Ok, so it has been awhile since last we spoke. I can't really get into why, and most of it involves me dropping the ball on communicating with you guys.  I do promise that I will finish my series on how things I learned as a history student affect my world build, but this week I have something even more important to announce!

The third book in out Race Pack series - Race Pack: The Titans is out today.

 No, Madame Lacerti, you may not come in.  No, I don't care how good the wine is.

No, Madame Lacerti, you may not come in.  No, I don't care how good the wine is.

These big guys are titans on a mission: survive the apocalypse, restore the empire, find a new home where one was lost!  

Get it today for $5.99, only at drivethrurpg!

"Diffence, Context, Process": Lessons in Worldbuilding from My History Advisor - Part 1: The Big Question

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When I was an 18 year-old college freshman, I enrolled in "Introduction to World Civilizations I" with Prof. Scott Smith.  I was only a few months removed from having been so successful as a history student at my (very) tiny high school that I was tasked with teaching sessions of underclassmen history courses as a way to keep me engaged.  As a result, I figured I was pretty hot stuff and "World Civ" would be my first chance to show a college history professor how awesome I was.

Turns out, Prof. Smith was not so easily impressed.  The first time I gave some smartassed know-it-all response to a question he told me that it wasn't enough.  He said I needed to think deeper, beyond just restating facts.  It was the first time, that I could remember, that my teacher didn't immediately praise my thinking on history.  I would eventually get that praise and recognition from Prof. Smith, but (thankfully without resorting to "hardass prof." stereotypes) he made me earn it.

 My mentor and friend, Scott Smith.

My mentor and friend, Scott Smith.

Over the course of four years, I took many more classes with Scott (I eventually earned the privilege of calling him by his first name) and traveled with him to Russia as part of a intensive class in Soviet and post-Soviet history.  The title for this post comes from the mantra he made our Historical Methods class repeat as the core of historical study, but it applies just as well to creating fictional settings.

When I graduated in 2006, I gave him the stole from my robe as symbol of how big a role he had getting me to that point.

Scott died of cancer in July.  Earlier this week,  Linfield College (my alma mater) held a memorial for him on campus that I was too sick to attend.  So for a tribute, I decided I'd spend the next two weeks writing about some of the lessons he taught me* that I use when creating cultures, races, and worlds for RPGs. 

Asking the Big Question

The most important question in history and worldbuilding is not what happened, nor is it when or where it happened.  In most modern history, where, what and when are fairly reliably recorded.  This is also true when creating a fictional world.  The record a writer creates for their worlds is flawless in a way that even the best history can't be.  If I decide that X event happened in Aimsir or A.R.G.O., I cannot be wrong. Even if the version I present to readers may be deliberately unreliable or skewed, I can know exactly what happened if I want to.

Even who and how, which are far more nuanced questions than the above, can only get you so far.  To see what I mean, let's look at the following narrative with just the what, where and when with the occasional who and how, but missing "the big question."

*Spoilers for GOT and SOIAF... I guess*.

Ned Stark resided in Winterfell. Ned Stark leaves Winterfell by riding a horse.  He arrives in Kings Landing and is named Hand of the King.  He does research and learns that Prince Joffrey is not the son of King Robert's, but of Queen Cersei's brother.  Ned warns Cersei that he knows this.  King Robert dies without Ned getting an opportunity to tell him.  Ned ask Littlefinger to help him make Robert's brother king and Littlefinger agree.  When Ned goes to take the throne, Littlefinger sides with Cersei and Ned is arrested.  Ned negotiates a deal with Cersei to be released to guard The Wall at the edge of the North, but Joffrey decides to execute him.  Illyn Payne kills Ned with the sword called Ice which Ned used to own.
 Seriously, Ned?

Seriously, Ned?

Besides the obvious lack of George R.R. Martin's superior prose, that is a boring way to think about Ned's story because it doesn't answer The Big Question.

By now, you probably know what The Big Question is and having been screaming at me to just say it:   "Why?"

Why does Ned go to King's Landing to work for King Robert?  Why does he warn Cersei? Why does Littlefinger betray him? Why did he trust Littlefinger in the first place?  Why? WHY???????????

It's one of those things that always appears in advice for writers and it's the reason actors are so concerned with their characters motivations.  Answering, or at least asking, why somebody does what they do is what makes a story interesting and... for lack of a better word... human.  

Granted, when presenting a narrative to an audience, we don't need to answer every why or even make our answers explicit.  You probably asked and answered some of the whys in the narrative above based on past experience or knowledge.  For example, you probably don't need me to tell you why it matters who Joffrey's father is, but it is still a why that needs to be asked and answered to understand the story of Game of Thrones. The fact that the audience instinctively fills in some whys is a great example of how important why really is.

The same is true when creating a society, culture, or civilization for a fictional setting.  Why do the Kontio, who we explored last week put so much effort into gathering supplies and preparing for disaster?  Because their leaders got a mystical vision of an apocalypse.  Why do Sandhoppers paint strange marks on their fur?  To show that they  have accomplished something of value to their band.

Of course that brings up the questions of "why do the Kontio trust these visions?" or "why use painted symbols to signify achievement?" And then, possibly, a why that explores deeper, and then one deeper than that.  These whys, what I'll call the "deep whys," are the questions that are vital to creating a world that feels as though it is occupied by believable people making believable choices.

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Deep Whys are the heart of good history, good storytelling, and good worldbuilding.  But what stops us from asking "why" in response to every answer until we sound like a stereotypical toddler?  Next week, I will attempt to answer that by going bit deeper into answering the Deep Whys and talk about the framework I use when creating societies, cultures, and races for use in gaming.

If you would like to support education and the memory of an excellent teacher and historian, Scott Smith's family has set up a fund at Linfield College, here.  When asked the gift designation, choose other and write "Scott Smith."   You can also find Scott's book, Captives of Revolution: The Socialist Revolutionaries and the Bolshevik Dictatorship, 1918–1923 on Amazon. 

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*Scott would want me to give credit where it is due so I will note that many of these lesson are additionally derived from the ideas of "Thick Description" found in the anthropological works of Clifford Geertz and others that have seeped into the study of history.  It also references the works of historians like John Tosh, and Robert Darnton.

My usual nerd audience might remember Darnton as the guy who wrote "The Great Cat Massacre" which included the creepy 18th-century version of Little Red Riding Hood that Neil Gaiman referenced in "The Kindly Ones."

Aimsir Preview: Kontio

*Apologies for getting this post out late, I'm current fighting off a nasty cold and wasn't up to writing yesterday.*

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for this weeks blog, we are giving you a preview of one of the races featured in Race Pack Three: Titans, the Kontio.

Kontio are large, bear-like humanoids that live primarily in the northernmost regions of Aimsir.  In times of peace, they content themselves with hunting, herding and fishing in small villages.  In times of conflict, the Kontio have long been allies of the good people of Aimsir.  The sound of their famous sotrumpu battle drums sounding in the distance struck fear into the hearts of the wicked and stiffened the spines of the righteous.

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50 years ago, things started to change with The Seeing.  All of the Noadi, the shamanic leaders of Kontio society, experience simultaneous visions of an invasion by the Stallo, canniballistic giants from the polar north.  Loss against this invasion, called the Stalloaige, would mean the end of the known world and centuries of bitterly cold winter.  The Seeing convince the Noadi that the Stalloaige would happen within three generations and that the Kontio must prepare in order to survive and serve as the world's first line of defense.

Since The Seeing, preparation for the Stalloaige has become an obsession for the bearfolk.  Kontio communities dedicate themselves to preserving any extra supplies in secret supply caches.  Traditional Kontio values of honor and honesty have begun to give way to ruthless pragmatism, with the once-unthinkable idea of raiding neighboring human commmunities becoming commonplace in some clans.  When the Stalloaige comes, these clans claim, those same neighbors will forgive them these trespasses in gratitude for saving them the Stallo. Other Kontio struggle to balance their need to prepare and their traditional role as a vanguard of honor in the world. 

Regardless of their thoughts on the changes in Kontio culture, many bearfolk become adventurers, hoping that the ruined dungeons and lairs of the world may contain a secret to defeat, or even avert, the Stalloaige.

The Kontio with appear in Race Pack Three: The Titans, coming this fall from Galahad Games!

This Spell is Eeeeeevul!: Alignment and Magic in Aimsir

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In many fantasy campaign settings good, evil, law and chaos exist as literal and tangible things. They are forces of nature and exist similar to elements like water or earth. In this framework, an angel is better thought of as a "goodness elemental" rather than a race or species, like those that can become PCs. This is, as far as I can tell, a pretty common explanation for retaining alignment and it is a very good one that allows for nuance when it comes to the choices made by PCs.

For Aimsir, however, the metaphysics of magic I settled on early in the process made this framework... insufficient.  While good, evil, law and chaos still exist as tangible forces in Aimsir, and certain outsiders are living manifestations of their alignment, it works different for most people. In Aimsir, magic is the direct byproduct of consciousness.  As such, it is directly tied into the ability of creatures to think, make choices, and take moral agency for their actions. This brought into focus a problem I've had for a long time with certain spells being "always good" or "always evil" within the rules as written.

Take, for example, Symbol of Pain which bears the [evil] descriptor.  Rules as written this means a cleric of a good god can't even prepare this spell and that casting it is an inherently evil act.  Okay, causing excruciating pain to living things is usually wrong (and, in some cases may even rise to the level of torture, a clearly evil act) so that might make sense. However, Symbol of Death, which...y'know... kills people, does not have the [evil] descriptor and thus can be prepared by a good cleric.  What?

 "I don't even know  how  to curse a turnip!"

"I don't even know how to curse a turnip!"

Let's imagine a scenario that a player in an Aimsir game might experience.  A Cleric of Vindex (the LG Saint of Justice)and her companions are riding past a village, only to see a terrified trow running from your standard-issue mob of peasants with torches and pitchforks.  When the cleric asks why the mob is pursuing the trow, their leader explains that they think he is a warlock who cursed their most recent crop.  The trow professes innocence and claims that the village has singled him out due to anti-trow bigotry.  The cleric, in accordance with Vindex's teachings, declares that the trow's guilt should be determined at a fair trial and that she will not permit the crowd to simply kill him.  The crowd disagrees and moves to attack the party.

As written, if the cleric were to cast Symbol of Pain in the direction of the mob, causing them intense agony, but also disabling them and possibly taking them out of the fight entirely, she would be committing an inherently evil act.  Her patron probably wouldn't even have granted her the spell in the first place.  But her patron would allow her to prepare and cast Symbol of Death killing some of (or perhaps even all) of the peasants, and that would not be inherently evil (though it may still be ruled an evil act by the GM).  This flies in the face of how most people I know understand morality.

Instead, in Aimsir, the vast majority of spells do not have an alignment descriptor.  Some still do: summoning an evil outsider as a servitor is still a big no-no, as are any spells that explicitly require the sacrifice of a sapient creature. But most spells will depend on the context of the action and the judgment of GMs.

So go ahead and use Animate Dead to fight off the zombie hordes with some undead of your own or cast Protection from Good to buy yourself time to explain to the paladin that he's got you confused for your story's villain.  Unless you're literally an angel or a demon, good and evil in Aimsir is a thing you do, not a thing you are.

Announcing A.R.G.O.

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For our first weekly update, I have a big announcement.  But first, a story.  About 5 years ago, I had an idea for a sci-fi campaign setting, which I ended up developing into an Alpha playtest in 2015. While set in a universe where humanity originated on Earth, the aliens humanity met resembled races from fantasy (elves, dwarves, etc.).  The setting was well-received by those that saw it, but I ended up getting distracted by other projects (and the decision to wait for Starfinder before I went further down the sci-fi road).

Now I am pleased to announce Galahad Games 3rd product line (after The World of Aimsir and Genrevolution):

A.R.G.O.

A.R.G.O. is short for the Allied Research and Guardian Organization, a collection of explorers, adventurers and heroes from across the galaxy committed to unlocking the secrets of the universe.  They are also responsible for protecting the democratic Free Systems Confederation from those who would destroy it, be that a force of invading parasitic aliens or the fascistic government of Earth.

The 23rd century world of A.R.G.O. is a new campaign setting for The Starfinder Roleplaying Game.  A.R.G.O. will focus more on the "science" part of science-fantasy, with "magic" being largely limited to psychic powers and technomancy.  Think more Babylon 5 or Star Trek than Star Wars or Warhammer 40,000.

Starting in 2018, we are hoping to release some of the first material related to A.R.G.O.   Like with Aimsir, these initial products will include information on how to include them in your own campaign universe, as well as how they fit into the broader world of A.R.G.O.  We will also include sneak peaks of A.R.G.O. material in this blog and elsewhere on Galahad. Games. 

Thanks for your continued support,
Rob

Welcome to Galahad.Games

Hi Internet.

My name is Rob and I'm the owner-operator, writers and game designer for Galahad Games.  In the future, this space will be used to share announcements, previews, thoughts, musings, and ramblings from yours truly (or perhaps the occasional guest poster).  

I wanted to thank all the people who have made it possible for us to finally launch our own website, this is a dream come true for me.

Looking forward to a future of adventure together here on Galahad.Games.

Thanks,

Rob Gaffney