Etatia is a multicultural empire simply by virtue of its immense breadth. While it does its share of “exporting” Etatian values as the “proper” way to be, for the most part it is simply too diffuse to even consider any kind of cultural hegemony. So what kinds of generalizations can we make?
Etatia is an elective empire in the west of the Old World, north of the kingdom of Vaquero and south of the Staten. It is a vast feudal nation that imagines itself the heir to a much older empire of the same name.
We have our broad-strokes campaign setting, some history, fuzzy notions about incorporating the quirks of FRPG systems as setting conceits, but nothing we can actually use to play with. It’s time to get down to the nitty gritty of implementation. How exactly we do this has a lot to do with the kind of game we’re planning to run, so at this point we need to step away from the theoretical and make some solid choices about the game we’re going to be playing.
Two-thousand years ago, our Heroic Explorations setting wasn’t too different from Earth’s own Iron Age, with the addition of nonhuman races, powerful magic, and active gods. There are a number of powerful empires, but nothing on the scale of the earlier Atlantean or Elven civilizations. There are powerful Dwarven kingdoms as well, but the Elves are still sequestered away, and the other races don’t organize above the community level.
When we were talking about the setting’s magic and cosmology, we decided that the Gods had once been more active and communicative, but were no longer, and that’s one of the reasons why there are so many monsters running around tearing up the countryside. Let’s expound upon that a little.
The way that languages are presented in a lot of FRPGs has always bothered me. Intellectually I understand that they’re playable abstractions, that the players usually don’t care, that it really doesn’t matter, but emotionally I’m still attached to the way that linguistics actually work, how mutable language is, and how they impact the very way we think.
We have our Adventurers, and we have Dungeons for them to cavort around it. In describing them we’ve sort of implied a context for the rest of the setting. Let’s run through that quickly.
A setting’s magic and cosmology are usually tightly related. Let’s deal with that.
Miracles are Everywhere
The first question we should concern ourselves with is, “how common is magic?” Let’s say, “pretty common.” Not so much that everybody’s a wizard, but maybe everybody knows one. Everybody has an idea of what magic is even if they don’t know how it works. Powerful magic is correspondingly more rare, but so is high skill in every endeavor. We don’t want it so common that magic isn’t special, but nobody gets burned as a witch for lighting a candle from across the room.
Magic helps a little with the “how do lone communities in the middle of a monster-filled wilderness survive” question, but not so much that they’re living in a post-scarcity magical economy. Everything is still more or less recognizably medieval and feudal.
Do Divine Powers Prove the Existence of Gods?
Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe divine powers are a matter of the blessed individuals personal faith, rather than a gift from on-high. This has two implications.
- Faith is the belief in the absence of proof, or in the face of contradictory evidence. With absolute proof of divinity, there can be no faith. With no faith, there is no magical divine power. So there must be room for doubt in order for faith to resist doubt. That means the gods are either so subtle or inactive that they don’t really make their presences known on the earthly plain.
- Divine power is untied to rank within the church itself. This fits in nicely with our general attitude towards Adventurers as powerful outsiders, and gives priest characters a reason to be off adventuring rather than in some town giving sermons.
In fact, we can take it a step further and say that our established religions are largely orthopraxic. Modern religions tend to be orthodoxic – what matters is your belief, your faith. In an orthodoxic religion, like that of ancient Rome, your faith doesn’t matter… only your behavior. That makes our faithful priests more the outsiders; rank within the church is about your ability to play politics, and the highest ranks may be outright political appointments.
But what about the gods? Well, they’re distant, if they’re real. We established earlier that the appearance of all the deadly monsters is relatively recent; maybe this is tied to the cause of the gods’ disappearance, or the result of their inaction. Or maybe they were never real to begin with.
Despite the ambiguous nature of divinity itself, morality is an objective force. There are spells and magical effects that target “good” and “evil.” And everybody has an alignment.
In Dungeons and Dragons and many other systems, this Alignment is a defini
te part of your character’s stats. You are good. You are evil. You are lawful. You are chaotic. In some interpretations alignment is fluid and based on your behavior and attitudes.
Not here, baby.
No, we’re going to say that Alignment influences your choices. It’s not absolute. Good characters are not incapable of harm, and Evil characters are not unable to be compassionate, but these tendencies are strong, known, and taken into account by the people who live here.
What is ‘Alignment?’
Alignment is a concept within the context of the setting, as are its variation. If we’re playing Dungeons and Dragons, that’s Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, Neutral, Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil, and Chaotic Evil. These alignments aren’t choices that you’ve made, the result of devoting yourself to good or evil, but accidents of birth.
You were born that way. This is this setting’s astrology. The time of day, the position of the stars and planets, a lot of tiny astrological circumstances determines your Alignment. It’s not a definite thing. It’s not a divination. But it influences who you are, and who you will become. You’re not doomed to a life of evil for being born Chaotic Evil, but it might be a constant struggle against your nature.
So, Alignment is not what you have done, but what behaviors you tend towards. It’s not a compulsion, it’s an affinity.
- Good characters feel altruistic.
- Evil characters are selfish.
- Lawful characters prefer order, structure, and hierarchy.
- Chaotic characters find such restrictions stifling.
But in all cases, characters have free will, and can make conscious choices to resist (or play into) their instinctual drives.
Attitudes towards Alignment
Most people don’t know their alignment. The process to chart it out is complex and requires specialized training. But it’s an accurate enough statement of character that people do judge one another. As a result, most people are close-mouthed about their alignment except around very close friends. To ask someone about their alignment is one of the rudest things possible, and “proper” people refuse to discuss such things in public. “Are you Neutral Evil” is the same kind of question as “Are you a liar?” and “Are you Good” is like “can you be trusted?”
Are all orcs evil? No. Just as with every other sentient creature, they are born under an Alignment Sign. Their culture and society may reward different behaviors and encourage different attitudes, but that just reinforces the fact that alignment is not an absolute predictor of attitude and behavior.
Same goes for every other race.Universality
Alignment is a literal moral force within the setting, but of course, not every culture views it the same way. Maybe they think about it in other terms, or ascribe different reasoning to the reason for these attitudes, like blood type or time of year.
But Alignment itself is a spiritual reality, and magic can and does reveal its truth.
The tradition of the Dungeon Keepers is an ancient one, at least as old as Adventuring itself, grown out of the tendencies for communities to grow around serving the needs of Adventurers.
The Role of the Keeper
Dungeon Keepers’ ultimate goal is to maximize the income Adventurers spread around their communities. Generally this entails:
Attracting Adventurers to the Site
The simplest way to attract adventurers is to simply send word to the local Adventurers’ Guild. The Guildmaster will generally work with the Keeper to make sure that the company sends Adventurers suited to the task. Skilled, but not so capable that they clear the site in one trip. The more they have to come up to heal and resupply, the more the town makes off of them, but if it’s too dangerous and they don’t make it out, nobody gets rich.
Vital to this process is the ability to accurately assess a given dungeon’s danger level. Different Keepers have developed different processes for this, from careful and systemic checklists of observable qualities, to subconscious ‘gut feelings’ developed over long careers. They evaluate potential adventurers in much the same way.
Once a Dungeon Keeper knows a dungeon’s relative danger, he can estimate, roughly, how long it’ll take Adventurers to clean it out. More powerful Adventurers may handle the dungeon more quickly, but they’ll also have more coin to throw around. This lets the Keeper manage the Boomtown’s population and makeup, so that there’s enough commerce to go around.
The Keeper also does what he or she can to maintain order within the boomtown itself.
The New School: Dungeon Cultivation
Those are the traditional duties of the Keeper, but in recent years a new philosophy of Dungeon Keeper has been evolving, one that takes a more hands on approach in making sure that a Dungeon experience is suited to the Adventurers who meet it.
These Keepers go so far as to enter the Dungeons to make whatever small changes are necessary, replenishing them with guardian creatures and traps.
In extreme cases this becomes a form of Dungeon tourism, where wealthy and terminally bored aristocrats can pay for the “Adventurer” experience. They fight trained beasts, contend wih dangerous-seeming but non-lethal traps, and find specially placed trinkets, often with the assistance of a professional adventurer as guide.
Needless to say, professional adventurers and more traditional Dungeon Keepers alike don’t look upon the practice very kindly.
Adventuring is big business, dealing routinely in sums otherwise the province of small nations and nationwide merchant companies. This can have an inflationary effect on communities as adventuring companies pass through, spending more in a fortnight than would otherwise be spent in a season.
Places where adventurers congregate develop specialized economies catering to the needs of adventurers with goods and services not generally required in common society.
One industry that has grown up in the periphery of adventurers is that of the hireling. These are individuals who lack the stomach, skills, or will to be adventurers themselves, but who are brave enough to accompany them on their excursions. Hirelings act as porters, wilderness guides, torch-bearers, cooks, servants, valets, and groomsmen, as required.
The work is dangerous and many hirelings do not return, but a commoner can earn as much from a single expedition than he or she could earn in a year at an honest trade. Even more are attracted by the reflected glory of their patrons, hoping one day to join them as partners, as equals.
These hopes are rarely realized, and many Hirelings end their careers as lost bones in the bottom of some fetid pit.
Types of Hirelings
- Valet: An adventurer’s personal assistant. They care for any horses, clean their master’s (or mistress’s) clothing, polish their armor, clean their weapons, cook for them, and see to minor arrangements in town. The equivalent of a Lord’s gentleman’s gentleman, or a Lady’s personal maid.
- Cook: Prepares meals for the entire camp of adventurers and their hirelings. Will handle food procurement from the budget allotted by their employer.
- Jack: Handles logistical matters for Adventurers. Will hire other hirelings, manage them, arrange for lodging, plan routes, handle the treasury, manage camp, purchase equipment and provisions, find buyers for recovered treasure, and act as liaison with local business and authority. May accompany adventurers, or simply offer his services when they come to his town or city.
- Link Boy/Torch Bearer: Hired to accompany adventurers into dark and lonesome places, carrying a torch or lantern to light the way. A derogatory term is “trap finder.”
- Guard: Literally hired to guard the adventurer’s camp, expedition, or less physically inclined members of the party. Better as sentries than monster-killers.
- Entertainer: A musician, poet, jester, or acrobat present to liven up otherwise dull moments and take Adventurer’s minds off of the grimness of their business.
- Healer: Trained in nonmagical healing techniques to keep wounds clean and provide care after battles. May also be a barber.
- Groom: Hired to feed and care for adventurers’ mounts. Will take care of them while their bosses are down in the dungeons.
- Guides: Locals who know the area Adventurers are expected to be traveling in. May also hunt to provide fresh meat for the expedition. May be capable woodsmen, or may just know their way around.
- Laborers: Take care of the heavy lifting. Will carry supplies and recovered treasure, dig holes, set up camp, any other nonhazardous and unskilled work required of them.
- Armorer: Commissioned to make field repairs of adventurers armor and weaponry. May be a bit of a luxury.
Hirelings come in a range of competency for their skill-sets. Few will willingly accompany their masters down into a dungeon, and even fewer will be effective there. Except link-boys, of course. That’s basically their only job.
Generally speaking a Jack can be hired to assemble any other desired hirelings, and once they’ve done so, will cheerfully manage them as part of their other duties. Valets (and sometimes Jacks) may be long-term employees of adventurers, but the rest are typically commissioned for a single expedition.