The Ashford Valley shares the Realms Zodiac, a series of 12 (sometimes 13) signs that roughly correspond with the months (full moons) of the year. The signs begin and end on the 27th of the month.
Why 13 sometimes? Well, on the years that actually have a 13th full moon, that sign is included into the zodiac (and only then), so being born under that sign can be either a boon or a bane.
The twelve signs are:
1. Angwish's Iron Chariot (Latewinter to Storms), Element: Fire, Quality: Leadership.
2. The Ship (Storms to Vernal), Element: Water, Quality: Depth.
3. The Runestone (Vernal to Planting), Element: Earth, Quality: Prudence.
4. The Western Wind (Planting to Flowers), Element: Air, Quality: Expansion.
5. The Great Dragon (Flowers to Summertide), Element: Fire, Quality: Persistence.
6. The Scroll of Lamiel (Summertide to Highsun), Element: Water, Quality: Knowledge.
7. Lucky Tor's Table (Highsun to Leafall), Element: Earth, Quality: Creativity.
8. The King's Scepter (Leafall to Autumnal), Element: Air, Quality: Determination.
9. St. Nobian's Sword (Autumnal to Firstwinter), Element: Fire, Quality: Passion.
10. The Wererat (Firstwinter to Nightal), Element: Water, Quality: Adaptability.
11. The Tree of Life (Nightall to Deepwinter), Element: Earth, Quality: Stabilization.
12. The Key (Deepwinter to Latewiner), Element: Air, Quality: Initiation.
The thirteenth sign is:
13. Lucky Tor's Rolling Dice, (? to ?), Element: Aether, Quality: Change.
The Ashford Valley contains a wide variety of wildlife, herds of deer in the forests, mountain goats in the hills, packs of wolves along the rivers, wild boar in the brush and brown bear wandering among the Runestones.
One such animal is the paragon of animals - Yarkand, the Emperor of the Valley, Lord of Forest, Farm and Field. Yarkand is a gigantic red stag , reputed to be over 18 feet tall and 900 pounds, with a long history in the valley.
Yarkand is supposed to be as intelligent as a man, friendly with the elves (they refuse to confirm this) and conversant in many languages. He is claimed to have magical powers, mainly dealing with nature, and can command woodland creatures, including wolves and cougars, to do his bidding.
Legally, a symbol of Yarkand is included in the Lord of the Ashford Valley's coat of arms and has a tie to the ruling family (or any future ruling family by tradition). The laws on the books concerning this stag are surprisingly simple: "Leave Yarkand be or face the ultimate in penalties."
Culturally, the love of Yarkand is deeply ingrained in the people. According to legend, this giant stag is as old as the valley itself, one of the earliest inhabitants, even before the first peoples who created the Runestones, well before the current inhabitants' ancestors arrived. Yarkand is the true Lord of the Valley by these stories, responsible for forests, farmlands and fields (as the name), and that the gods set him here to watch over it.
When the Valley's human lord gets too old or sick and is close to death, it is said that it is Yarkand, not Death, who comes for them and carries them to paradise with the gods. A good lord is treated well by Yarkand while an evil one is carried off so that the giant stag can trample them to dust beneath his iron-sharp hooves.
To think of harming the stag or even hunting it is considered sacrilege and may get the talker in trouble, as the commoners take pride in the Emperor as their own and the belief that Yarkand is the protector of the forest and the field. A few cases of near lynchings have been reported but nothing worse than that - so far.
Claims to have seen Yarkand are taken seriously and obvious liars are shunned for their impudence, while those who actually have seen the stag are treated with respect and reverence. Yarkand, however, is rarely seen and to have witnessed the Emperor of the Valley is to have been granted either a lucky life by the gods or an opportunity to greatness (often full of trouble) will soon present itself to the witness.
If the PCs are lucky enough to see the stag, what could that portent for their future? Perhaps a glimpse would be all that is necessary to get them into a trouble that they've not expected. Perhaps an encounter in a glade will lead them to a treasure-trove. How the stag crosses paths with the PCs is up to the GM, but having the stag as an "off-stage" patron is always worth a thought.
The Mystery Man: The same room and the man is there. On the desk is a book, the Bible, open to Revelations. The man is meeting with an old man.
The Computer System: In a darkened room, a large mainframe computer is working away. On many monitors around the room are images flashing too fast for the human eye. On one monitor is a view of the University defense perimeter. The focus is on a area past the defense perimeter, where a group of Pirate Corp$ are being messily killed by the Rat Creatures.
The Nazis: A convoy is entering the outskirts of the city, with a large group of unknown vehicles (combat walkers - see pics). The uniforms the Nazis are wearing are either really good re-enactors versions or actually from the 1940s. The weapons and equipment (with the exception of the combat walkers) all look to be straight out of Germany during WWII.
The Rat Creatures: A view of the sewer system of Sydney. From around a corner, a bright light, a weird color, shines. Then the sewer is filled with moving and running Rat Creatures.
Duchy of Sydney: Duke William Bligh II receives news of the Fall of County La Parouse. He calls his generals together and begins to plan.
The calendar (xalendar in common) for the Ashford Valley matches the lowland Realms pretty well. A few of the names may be different in some parts of the lowlands, but for the most part, the months and year are the same.
The year is divided into four seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. The three Winter months are Nightal, Deepwinter and Latewinter (corresponding to December through February). The season of Spring starts with Storms, goes through Vernal and ends with Planting (March through May). The Summer months are Flowers, Summertide and Highsun (June through August) and finally, the Autumn is Leafall, Autumnal and Firstwinter (September through November).
Each month has 30 days, broken into five 6-day weeks, and the year officially starts with Spring (the 15th day of Storms) and ends in Winter (the 27th of Latewinter). The three weeks between these two dates is known as Angwish's Feast, an opportunity for celebration of the coming new year and reflection on the past year. This feasting time is not included in the normal ten holy days that each of the gods venerates (as ten is a holy number in the Valley).
The Warlords of the Accordlands is a D20 RPG series by Alderac Entertainment Group published in 2006. There are four books: The Master Codex, the World Atlas, the Campaign Adventure Book, and Monsters and Lairs. The books have over 1,200 pages of world history, character classes, monsters and spells, all based on a collectible card game Warlord.
I picked them up because I like D20 settings and this one has some difference. The world is sliding toward evil, with a decadent human civilization, elves that are long lived because of necromancy, and dwarves are fighting demons. There is a force of evil called the Medusan Lords, which is the big bad for the PCs to fight against.
RPG.net doesn't have any reviews of the series but I found one around the 'net for each of the books (1, 2, 3, 4). The reviews are mostly positive.
Vanas is old common for lust and desire. It can mean that for physical lust but also for lust for power or money. Many are the adherents of the Vanas of power and money in the Ashford Valley.
But Vanas is also slang for prostitution. While streetwalkers are not common in the Ashford Valley (most people can usually find a willing partner to couple without spending the cash), there are several reputable houses in the towns.
Clifton, in particular, has the valley-famous Vana Felix house (aka the Lucky). Because they are so close to the lowlands, the Vana Felix is very cosmopolitan and open, compared to the rest of the valley.
Sooton has a hidden house, rarely spoken of and few really know it's true name. Many things, both sensual and criminal, are said to be allowed there but it could easily be a story.
Ashford has a quiet house, the House of the Dawn. Just off a small, sleepy alley, it has an unassuming front and keeps a low profile. While the local constabulary doesn't give it trouble, the house tries to keep below the eye of Sir Raphel, the lord of the Ashford Valley.
Tradetown has two rival houses, the Vana Libertina and the Vana Verticordia. Like many things about their town, they are constantly competing and fighting with each other. Sir Hoel, however, has firmly informed them that any violence would lead to expensive fines, so the actual physical confrontations are limited to screaming, throwing flower pots and pulling hair.
While there is little societal or sectarian pressure against Vanas, most people keep in mind the old adage: Mind your own business.
The Ashford Valley has some different theological views from the lowlands, many which change the whole cosmology of the gods. Point in fact is Pesce, the unknown god. The Ashford Valley tale of Pesce is as follows:
In the beginning, the gods, Angwish, Pesce, Lucky Tor, Azrael and Lamiel the Crafty created the world and it's peoples and wandered across it in the early timeless time. They supped with human and Bugbear alike, taught their lore to the greatest minds of the age and drank with the various tribes that formed. They helped their creations grow crops, learn skills and enjoy the pastoral world.
At this point, Azrael was consumed with evil and thirst for power, but the other gods didn't recognize that because the Evil One had created those things in private. One day, Azrael invited Pesce to accompany him to a far-off valley. Once there, Azrael slew his brother god and decided to enact a fitting revenge on his other brother gods - he prepared a stew out of Pesce and invited the other gods, as well as the humans, to join in a feast.
At the feast, he planned to kill the other gods, being full of hubris at his ease with slaying Pesce. As the gods and humans ate the stew, the spirit of Pesce infused them with knowledge of Azrael's deeds and plans. The gods, sickened by their cannibalism and Azrael's crime, rose up as one and case the Evil One out of creation, into the darkness where he became a demon-prince.
The gods, lead by Angwish, and their human followers, fell then on their knees and begged Pesce for forgiveness. The spirit of Pesce came before them and smiled sadly - though he could forgive them for taking his body into them, they forever would carry that part of him as a reminder, thus creating in each one a conscience of good and evil. Since the symbol of Pesce was always the fish, the tale relates that the spirit form of Pesce in each and every person is a spiritual fish.
Priests in the Ashford Valley routinely reveal the personal fish spirit to children in a sacred ceremony when they are about ten years old. The whole community gathers as the child is taken to a local waterway (pond, lake, stream or river). The cleric intones to the gods for guidance as the child stands in the shallows. When a fish breaks the surface (and it always does, even if it takes a while), it is believed to be the spirit of the child.
Common Ashford Valley fish spirits include all varieties of trout (mountain, rainbow, golden, brook, silver, sea, salmon, biwa, char), carp (mud, goldfish, bream, tench, grass, common, black), sturgeon (starry, green, fringebarbel, pallid, dwarf), eels (short-finned, highlands, speckled, shrieking), and even some lowland fish (though these are less common).
Having a healthy spirit is believed to be true to your fish. Cruel and mean people are often said to have dead (or dying) fish spirits. The truly evil and the undead have skeletal fish spirits.
The lowlanders believe that this is a mild heresy in the worship of the gods, while those in the Ashford Valley believe they have the truth of the matter. Better to have a god-fish-shaped spirit within you than what those crazy things the lowlanders believe.
One does note that having a fish spirit doesn't prevent one from eating fish - after all, the local Ashford Valley fish is excellent and a common staple of the diet. Any possible confusion on this matter is dealt with by pointing to the story in the first place: eating fish is an act in memory of Pesce.
Netflix is a wonderful thing and Netflix Instant Play is even better. I have The Secret of Kells on my queue and I watched it recently.
A combined effort of Belgium, Irish and French animation industries, the film is wonderful. The art, the story, and the tone of the piece is excellent - no wonder it got nominated for an Academy Award.
The Secret of Kells tells the story of a young boy, Brendan, who is in Kells, Ireland, during the Middle Ages. Kells and all of Europe are just one boat ride away from being raided by Vikings.
The monks of Kells are split, one group wanting to finish a holy book and the abbot, Brendan's uncle, who wants to build a wall to protect the town and abbey.
The Vikings are going to come, but Brendan has is a forest to explore, an immortal faerie to befriend and an evil force (besides the Vikings) to confront, in addition to making ink, feeding a white cat and outrunning a pack of ravenous wolves.
I highly suggest watching this vid - it's well worth it.
Sooton Stout is a magical beverage rare (but popular) in the Ashford Valley. Who makes this stout beer or where they make it is unknown but often it can be found, for the right price, in Sooton.
This dark beer provides the imbiber with excellent health and cures all diseases, magical or otherwise. As a side effect, the roughly 10% alcohol by content is an added bonus. The taste has been described as "better than the best beer you've had" or "even better than that."
The price of a bottle varies but usually is close to what a potion of Cure Disease would run. The merest rumor of the brewery that makes it (or even a case of the stuff) would cause many disreputable characters to come running.
Important People: James (S), Bill (X), Bob (E), Alexis (C)
Important NPCs: Robbie the PolRob, Nasdaq the Robot, Miles Dayton, Rich Johnson, Amanda Hayes, John Ritter, Captain Adele Droblas, RAA Captain and SUR Commander, and various other Uni Survivors.
Group B calls to Group A in Electrical Engineering. They get no response besides incoherent screaming over the radio. Bob calls Anderson Stuart and talks to Capt. Droblas, saying that he believes Group A is in trouble.
Group B immediately goes to the surface floors of Biochemistry Building and Alexis taps into the Electrical Engineering computer. Pulling up the security cameras, only viewing, they look in horror on what is happening to their friends. Alexis patches Anderson Stuart in on the video feed.
Over the video, they see Miles pick up his Gauss Rifle and empty the clip into the walls and (cleverly) takes out several security cameras. The security cameras do not fire back, much to the surprise of Group B. Bob orders Nasdaq to go subdue Miles and secure the bodies. Nasdaq heads over to Electrical Engineering.
Alexis locks down the Biochemistry Building. Her attempts to contact the UDC are met with silence.
Capt. Droblas confirms, from the medical team, that Miles and the rest of Group A do indeed have the "Scourge of God" plague. The "Scourge of God" plague has an incubation period of about 3 hours, then boils and sore appear and the infected have periods of homicidal rage. Anderson Stuart is locking down. They are enforcing a strict 2 week quarrentine on both Groups. Any supplies needed, Anderson Stuart will ship up and drop off for them.
Bob sends Robbie over to help Nasdaq, and tells them to get a hold of Amanda for quarentine. Bob requests from Capt. Droblas two freeze tubes for Amanda and Miles. Capt. Droblas tells Bob that it will take several hours to get them disconnected and transported.
Miles, meanwhile, has dropped his Gauss Rifle and stumbles around, holding his head and screaming in pain and insanity. Suddenly, he stoops and goes to each body, taking something off of each: John Ritter's hand and pistol, Amanda Hayes's Gauss Rifle and Gauss ammo, Rich Johnson's ammo; and then runs down the hall towards the exit. Meanwhile, Amanda stirs and starts pushing John's body off of her.
Alexis manages to lock the doors to Electrical Engineering, but Miles just blasts through them with his Gauss Rifle. Bob confirms to the rest of the group that Miles running around infected is a bad idea, especially an armed Miles. The Group determine that Miles has somewhere around 380 rounds for his Gauss Rifle.
James and Bill exit Biochemistry in time to hear Group A's vehicle start up. Climbing into their own car, they give chase, travelling on and off road to catch up with Miles. They loose Miles around a corner and, approaching slowly, find his vehicle, crashed against a tree, with no sign of him.
Weapons out, the cruise slowly past the vehicle, trying to catch some glimpse of him or his tracks. Is Miles going back to Anderson Stuart? They find some tracks that confirm he is going in that direction. They spend an hour trying to find his tracks.
Bob mentions the Nuke again, and how the hell did he get it and where did he find it. James remembers that Miles told him about a downed Russian helicopter over at St. James College. Talking among themselves, the group determines that the Nuke was probably in the Russian helicopter.
Meanwhile, Nasdaq distracts the crazy Amanda while Robbie stuns her with his taser. Then both robots take her down and secure her. Capt. Droblas informs Bob and Alexis that only one of the freeze tubes is coming, the other was damaged, so they have to start over again.
Alexis and Bob prepare Biochemistry for a stay. Bob prepares the garage for decontaminating the vehicle. Alexis checks the video records of the Electrical Engineering building, and finds video of someone entering the building several days before Group A got there. James and Bill head over towards St. John's College, thinking that Miles is headed there for the Nuke.
Few sages of the Ashford Valley know the real reason Bugbears make such wonderful longswords, often falling back on the more common telling (see the letter B).
The real story is this one:
In the long, long ago, in the time before time, the gods had created the world and peopled it with peoples, living among their creation. One tribe of humans, however, had little to do with the gods, so Angwish the Just called the other gods together to discuss this tribe.
Angwish, Lucky Tor and Lamiel the Crafty met and talked long. Angwish thought to directly confront them and find out why they weren't worshipping the gods. Tor wanted to make war upon them. Lamiel thought trickery to find the reasons. In the end, Lamiel won the argument (by trickery, of course), and set off to meet this tribe.
He disguised himself as a lowly human, which the gods can do easily, but a clever one at that. The human tribe welcomed him and fed him, asking about news of the world. This Lamiel did, expounding the virtues of the gods.
The tribe, however, dismissed his talk of the gods, haughtily explaining that they had found knowledges even the gods knew nothing about from a local spirit name Azrael. Knowing that Azrael would recognize him, Lamiel eschewed meeting him (and thereby perhaps falling under his sway).
Lamiel spent many months with the tribe, learning from them all the knowledges they had gained from the wily spirit, realizing that Azrael was planning an overthrow of the gods, with the tribe as willing dupes. So, using his trickery, he bargained and gained all the knowledge of the tribe, bit by bit, from their greatest skilled practitioners. Always he gave something else in exchange, something worth less but with the appearance of something greater.
After Lamiel gained all that he could, but not everything, Azrael came among his people asking about his knowledge and where it was. Time and again, the tribe pointed to Lamiel and at that point Azrael recognized the god. In anger, he smote Lamiel and the facade of a simple human fell off of Lamiel. With all the spirit's knowledge taken by trickery from the tribe, Lamiel rose up into the air and cast a curse upon the tribe and Azrael. For their disobedience, they were surely damned.
Azrael was cast into the place where demons dwell, there to become a prince, nay, a king of them. The tribe of humans was twisted by their haughty behavior in rebellion against the gods and became the Bugbears.
Lamiel departed and returned to the gods, thinking he had all the knowledges (which, in addition to his own, increased his standing) not realizing, until too late, that Azrael had come upon him too early. One final knowledge, the skill to craft fine longswords, had been left behind. Bugbears, then, from that time on, retained that knowledge and the world has been a warlike place ever since.
Holy warriors are not unknown in the Ashford Valley, but they are rare, with few (less than a dozen) wandering the Valley at any one time. Few valesmen have seen one in their lifetime and even fewer still have seen two. There are rumors that there is a small priory that trains the Paladins but so far no-one has ever been there or knows it's location - and the Paladins themselves aren't saying.
Some believe Paladins are born, not made. But whether that is true or not, there are some steps in order to become one. First, there has to be a monastic (or at least a spiritual) calling. Second, a dedication to the people of the Ashford Valley. Both are usually present in Clerics and Monks. This final requirement, however, is an event in their past either where they witness an act of utter depravity that impells them to right it OR a religious experience that imbues the candidate with a zeal unfelt by most of the ecclesiastic orders. Only when called in this manner will an individual reach the level of commitment necessary.
Since the church forbid clerics from using any but blunt weapons, they reached a legalistic solution for Paladins: As the noviate Paladin is immersed for baptism, he draws his sword and holds it high so that all is baptized except the sword arm! Whether the Paladin spends eternity after death without the offending limb is still being considered by theologians.
The Paladin is considered a subset of Fighter, with the same level progression and hit dice. They gain the spell-powers of a cleric, including the turn ability, at two levels lower (minimum 1), plus the ability to cast Cure Light Wounds at a number of times every day equal to their level.
Paladins must be Lawful and must retain their Lawful status or lose all Paladin abilities. They take vows of poverty - Paladins are able to use all weapons and armor as a Fighter but are limited by their possessions - they may only have one horse, one suit of armor, two swords (one is spare), a small amount of personal possessions, and little money, subsisting mostly on the benevolence of the faithful and local churches. They also take vows of obedience but not chastity, so they may marry but only with the blessings of the Church.
A Paladin that fails to keep faith and remain Lawful, or one who commits a known evil act, must atone to regain their abilities. The head of the Paladin order himself orders the quest that he must perform to fully atone and few (if any) companions are allowed to assist in the quest.
The rumor of an anti-Paladin, a fallen Paladin that has willingly embraced unholy forces, is surely a rumor, isn't it?
In the Ashford Valley, there are many illuminated manuscripts and holy books to each of the gods, and each of the manuscripts is typical of most holy books - they tell the same story different ways or tell completely different stories that mix elements from the all sorts of stories together.
One such holy book of St. Nobian is the Book of Erimoor. This holy book holds the rare epistle, supposedly written by St. Nobian himself and was amended by the the monks of the lost abbey of Erimoor. While part of the epistle is known, the majority of the holy works and the amended story hasn't been heard in the Ashford Valley for over 200 years. By popular legend, it contains the location of the bones of the saint, hidden somewhere in the Deep Forest, in the ruins of the lost abbey of Erimoor.
What do you suppose would happen if the Book of Erimoor showed up sometime? There are many people, both good and bad, in the valley who'd want that information. What are a saint's bones worth on the open market?
Atlas Games published a D20 game called Northern Crown in 2005. Set in the early colonies of America, in a world where magic still existed, there were two books: The Gazetteer and New World Adventures.
The tag line is: What if Cotton Mather's paranoid fantasies about the Salem witches were all true? What if Paul Bunyan really was 10 feet tall and could fell a tree in one stroke? What if Ben Franklin was a natural philosopher whose inventions blurred the border between science and magic?
With that in the mix, how could this not be awesome?
Unfortunately, RPG.net doesn't have any reviews and so far I haven't been able to find any on the net. But it's a pretty cool set of books.
The Order of Magicians in the Ashford Valley is a loose confederation of sages, magic-users, hedge wizards, witches and alchemists that usually are so buried in their own concerns and books that rarely lift their heads up to notice each other, much less anyone else.
The first magician of the Ashford Valley was Zesamumetem, a lowlander who (some say) fled the outside world to settle in the valley. Whether it was fleeing excessive gambling debts or a charge of murder (or even a number of other, more prosiac reasons, like a jealous, cuckolded husband), Master Zesa became the court magician to the first lords of the valley, spending many years to gather the wonder-workers together in a well-trained (and well controlled) brotherhood.
After Zesamumetem's death (or disappearance), the coalition fell apart, as some of his apprentices gained lofty stature and the lowly witches and hedge wizards were slowly forced out. Over the next 300 years, the Order of Magicians has grown, splintered, reformed and shrunk, as the fortunes of their members did the same. A bad couple of years about a hundred years ago, when witch-hunters stalked the land, drove some sorcerers underground but that religious fervor soon burned up itself (the chief witch-hunter turned out to be a priest of Azrael and soon witch-hunters became hunted themselves for evil). On the whole, most valesmen are pretty accepting of mages, treating it as a useful (though expensive to some) skilled profession.
Many tales abound about Zesamumetem's magic books (missing these several hundred years), treasure (magical toys and swords, jewels and coins) and actual fate (did his apprentices do away with him?) has lead many seekers to scour the old haunts of that first wizard. Finding a scrap of information on Zesa brings out the tales all over again (and all new ones). Maybe a new bit of actual fact will show up and drive the PCs into danger and magic.
Tuesday Night Sessions - GURPS Aftermath! Operation Morpheus session 8
Session Eight: "And God Said . . ." World Party (June 6, 2104)
Close up a puddle of blood, panning back, the PCs can see Amanda Hayes, a body (about the size of John Ritter) draped over her knees with a knife in his back. On Amanda's hands and face can be seen marks, like blisters or sores. Panning farther out, a corridor is seen. Rich Johnson is slumped against the wall and Miles Dayton is bare-chested and screaming incoherently. His body is covered with blisters or sores, similar to Amanda. It is obvious that Miles is completely insane. He proceeds to butcher Rich, taking him apart with a knife and his bare hands. On Mile's wrist is a watch, timed to 1 minute ago.
The Mystery Man: The same room is empty and the man is not there. Open on the desk is a book, not "Poisons for Professionals." Instead it is the Bible, open to Revelations.
The Russians: In the evening, the Rat Creatures attack the Red Star Commune. Bypassing their defenses, the Rat Creatures kill and burn in an orgy of blood and death. Though the Russians fight back, with automatic weapons and knives and even their bare hands, they are overwhelmed and the results of this slaughter is the complete bloody and violent death of each of these people.
The Sign: Close up view of a small nuclear symbol on what seems to be a curved surface. The view pulls out, to show a Russian Nuke. A hand, with a familiar wrist watch (Mile's), closes the case the Nuke is in. The date/time on the watch is from April 2104.
The Computer System: In a darkened room, a large mainframe computer is working away. On many monitors around the room are images flashing too fast for the human eye. On one monitor is a view of the University defense perimeter. The focus is on a Caretaker Robot patrolling the defense perimeter.
County of La Parouse, Duchy of Sydney: One night, the Rat Creatures come and kill everyone they can. La Parouse Castle falls after a short and violent struggle. No quarter is given. All the defenders are killed. The few survivors, mostly serfs, flee from the destruction.
Stargate SG-1 is a television program about people who travel to other worlds through wormholes disguised as large ring gates and Farscape is a television program about people who travel to other worlds through wormholes disguised as large sentient ships. Both shows had compelling casts, excellent special effects, awesome villains that kept coming back to plague the heroes and good writing. No wonder I liked watching them.
There are two major Knightly Orders, the Order of St. Nobian and St. Uriens and the Order of the Ash, in the Ashford Valley.
The Order of St. Nobian and St. Uriens is an ancient, and former holy, order of knights. Originally an order of priests, they evolved over the years from a monastic order to a secular one, shedding the priests for knights. In the process, they retained two influences from their saintly patrons - Travel (from St. Uriens) and Healing (from St. Nobian). The majority of the knights travel around the Ashford Valley, righting wrongs, acting as judges and healers, and defending the weak against incursions of Bugbears and other humanoids, as well as from bandits and thieves. The Order has a chapter house in each town, usually a two-story building with stables below and simple accommodations above. Since the knights are abroad most of the time, the houses are cared for by trusted servants or retired knights. The current headmaster is Sir Albert.
The Order of the Ash was formed on the bank of the River Ash, at the ford where Ashford town proper was built. The current rulers of the valley are all members of the Order and so are their household knights. Every five years, the knights gather at Ashford town to renew their oaths of allegiance and have a tourney, with jousting and a festival. At that time, the Lord of Ashford Valley, Sir Raphel, grants knighthood on deserving squires. The Order of the Ash has had problems in the past of some knights going bad, or in the parlance of the order "taking a dip in the Soot," which has caused the order some uncomfortable moments. The last knight who went rogue was Sir Pauli and he disappeared in the Rolling Hils a decade ago, after being pursued by Sir Hoel. No sign has been seen of that evil knight but treasure-seekers still search for his bones (and the loot he stole).
Both orders cooperate together (mostly) and are excellent goals for PCs to attain - perhaps as a result of the defeat of the Necromancer? Perhaps.
While the four main towns in the Ashford Valley have dungeons (usually in the castle of the lord of the town), the smaller communities usually have lock-up. Most turn out to be root cellars or a covered pit. A few, however, are actual jail structures, with small cells, locking doors and a guard.
There are a lot of different adventures that can revolve around a jail, especially a country jail - escape, rescue, even guard duty. In the more insular communities, like the hill-folk, getting jailed is par for the course for "damn ferriners." If that won't lead to some sort of conflict, I don't know what would.
The peoples of the Ashford Valley are free-born men and women. They are a proud people, well versed in their history and well-knowing of their rights as free men. Slavery is a repugnant concept and very illegal in the Valley. In fact, slaves are granted automatic freedom when they enter the valley (often to the chagrin of their owners). On the whole, slavers and those who espouse that philosophy are in the minority.
But indentured servitude, however, does occur in the valley, though rarely. The terms of indenture are spelled out very carefully in any contract, usually limiting the service to 5 years, whether or not the full value owed is recouped. In no way can any indenture be passed on to any children. Repeat servitude, while even rarer, is not disallowed but a new contract must be written.
The indenture contract must be drawn up by the courts (at a fee usually added to the total value of the contract). The contract includes the length of servitude, the type of work to be done, the rights and responsibilities of both the servant and the master, how the servant will be housed and fed and trained, and the legal ramifications of breaking the contract (which usually involves jail for the servant).
An interesting adventure could involve getting a friend out of a contract or stopping abuse of a mute indentured servant or a conflict between a servant and his master over his master's daughter (they're in love and Pappa doesn't like it).
The Sword of Carolus is an ancient holy sword, forged even before the Ashford Valley was ever settled by humans. It is the first Bugbear Longsword that was consecrated to Angwish the Just. Some histories say that the sword was forged by the god Lamiel the Crafty, but that is often disputed* by later history.
Over 250 years ago, a young knight of Clifton named Carolus received the ancient weapon from a mysterious stranger, which historians surmise was either Lucky Tor or even the lesser deity, St. Nobian. When he gripped the blade, he was imbued with a bright light and a religious zeal to guard and protect the Valley from danger. Over the next 20 years, he fought in many battles against Bugbears and bandits, keeping the land safe and fulfilling many quests. When a rumor of a dragon in the hills above Tradetown reached Carolus, he sought it out and disappeared into history.
The sword, however, resurfaced in the hands of a bandit chieftain a decade later, who turned to the side of Law, hunting down his former fellows, until, he, too, disappeared. Over the next 200 years, the sword has come and gone, usually vanishing for a dozen years or more after it's bearer takes on a foe more worthy than the holder. Many tales surround the sword, from only the pure may wield it, to the swordsman becomes infused with goodness, no matter their previous position.
The Sword of Carolus is a +1 Holy Longsword (1d8+2**). It can only be wielded by a Lawful person and acts as a Helm of Opposite Alignment for any who attempt to use it that are not originally Lawful. As a holy artifact of the Ashford Valley, the sword is priceless and very recognizable.
*One old story describes how the Bugbears, then a tribe of humans, convinced Lamiel to teach them swordcrafting and for many years were beloved by the god until they embraced Azrael the Evil One. They were cursed to becoming monsters but still retained their sword-making skills.
** The Bugbear Longsword does 1d8+1 damage and the +1 Holy feature adds to have it do 1d8+2 damage total.
The people of the Ashford Valley are industrious and serious. However, when it comes to games and play, they are just as serious about fun as they are about work.
Three common Ashford Valley games involve dice, coins and playing cards.
The dice game is called Odd-Even. In the game, a dealer puts 2 standard 6-sided dice into a cup, shakes it up and upends it on the table, with the final dice roll covered by the cup and hidden from the players. The player then bid, either against each other or against the dealer (if played in a gambling den), whether the dice roll is even or odd. After the bets are placed, the dealer reveals the roll and the winners take the bids.
The coin game is called The Emperor's Face. A player will hide a number of coins under his hand (or a box or plate), and the other players have to guess something about the coins - like the number present, or whether more heads or tails face-up, or type of coin, or even markings on the coin. Bets are made with the guess, success means the bet is doubled, failure means the bet is lost. Many players collect unusual coins or create them to add unusual features. This can be done with pretty much anything, including stones, dice and bones.
The playing card game is called Ivy. Each player bets an amount before the cards are dealt. Then each one gets five cards. If the value of the cards totals 49 or higher, or 11 or lower, then they cry out "Ivy!" and win double the amount bid. If no one gets Ivy, then the game devolves around the table with the players trying to form sets of three or four cards, of the same value or the same suit. These sets can be anywhere on the table. Each round, the players draw new cards. The first player who gets rid of all his cards cries "Ivy!" and wins.
Session Seven: Part 2: "Life Will Go On" (June 6, 2104)
Important People: James (S), Bill (X), Bob (E), Alexis (C)
Important NPCs: Robbie the PolRob, Nasdaq the Robot, Miles Dayton, Rich Johnson, Amanda Hayes, John Ritter, Captain Adele Droblas, RAA Captain and SUR Commander, Lt. Mike Garrison, Uni Militia, Corporal Jones, and various other Uni Survivors.
After this big push to get supplies, the Groups are given free reign again to search on their own. With Group A going off to Electrical Engineering, Group B decides to tackle the Biochemistry & Microbiology Building.
Arming and securing supplies, James, Bill, Bob, Alexi, and the robots drive to Biochemistry in full bio-hazard gear and check out the building. Before entering, Bob insists on checking out the roof for the air system. If the air system is compromised, then the whole building may be contaminated with unknown diseases.
Climbing to the roof, the Group encounters two "Caretaker" robots, which they had seen at a distance. These monster robots challenge the Group and when Bob flashes his Gold/1 Military Key Card, they stand down and continue their surveillence.
Bob determines that the air system is ok from this end and figures that any bio-labs would be in underground bunkers. The Group enters the building and checks out the lobby map, looking for Dr. William Smithson. They find his office and explore it, but find nothing of interest, even his computer is just for paperwork. Any work that he did of a sensitive nature is probably on his lab computer. They figure out that there are five separate elevators to the bunkers below, and enter the central elevator.
The door opens and a group of SecRobs challenges them, calling for proper identification as well as the appropriate military key code or they will open fire. The Group closes the elevator door and retreats to the surface. This is the first time that a SecRob has asked for a specific military key code. Alexis asks Nasdaq if he knows the key code. Nasdaq explains that each building has separate control over their own SecRobs, that's what the program she is installing on each computer system is doing - linking the building computers to the UDC. But there are also robots that have been given security codes from their old (and long dead) human supervisors, security codes that are (probably) no records of, especially in the chaotic last days of the Ruin.
Abandoning the central elevator for the time being, the Group tries another elevator and enters a bunker level. They proceed to search the bunker level, and find several occupation rooms, some for military personnel, but most for science personnel. They manage to enter a vault foyer that has three vaults. They find nothing in the first vault. In the second are several refrigerators that contain a serum that could halt aging for a short time (5 years) with about 6-8 applications. In the final vault, there are two SecRobs, who ask them for valid identification and the appropriate security key code. The Group retreats again, not able to give the key code.
Puzzling over what to do about these SecRobs, they look at their clue again (Bob's note "Dr. W. J. Smithson, Plague Research, Breakthru?, Biochemistry, 3 PolRobs") and Alexis breaks into the building computer system.
I'm a fan of D20. I hope that's obvious by now. So, even though I had a bad experience playing a demo game of FantasyCraft at GenCon 2008 (the GM was too railroady and the choices of PCs was very much an attempt to highlight the races and not really to show the system's goals), I still had to pick it up. I found it for a good price on ebay and got it a few weeks later in good shape. It's a nice book and all contained. A wide variety of races and classes, a bunch of other features for PCs, too. All very interesting.
So far, no reviews on RPG.net but a couple of "sell me on" threads that I found useful (1, 2). I'd like to play it again but not sure if I'd want to run it. Well ... maybe I'll run it. I'd definitely use it for my Ashford Valley campaign, as some of the features would work really well.
The Ashford Valley has plenty of evil - the Necromancer, tribes of Bugbears in the forests, thieves in Sooton and bandits on the roads, even the Morlocks under the ground. But they aren't the only ones. There are deeper evils, more subtle evils in the Valley.
The Scions of Azrael are one such deeper evil. They are a cult who worship the demon-prince Azrael but their purview isn't death and destruction, it is corruption and temptation.
Only a few of the Scions, maybe a half-dozen or perhaps a few more than that, reside in the valley and they often hold positions of power and influence. Their ranks include rich merchants, skilled craftsmen, brave knights and even a holy cleric.
The holy cleric is Insidias, the High Priest to Angwish in Ashford town. He became corrupted a number of years ago and has so far been able to conceal his treachery. The other priests have no clue that he is evil as he uses his influence, with them as well as with others, very subtly. When he encounters an individual that may be of use to the Scions, he carefully grooms them, slowly leading them to corruption.
One young priest named Verum, however, has discovered his secret, quite accidentally. The priest is confused and has been trying to justify what he witnessed to convince himself that High Priest Insidias is not evil. Verum, however, has been receiving prophetic dreams from Angwish, warning him of the danger, that he is in as well as the Church. Insidias has learned of his liability and is formulating a plan to either kill, corrupt or discredit Verum. Can the PCs help? Or will the Scions of Azrael win?
(A Paladin in Citadel had two posts (1, 2) on the Chapel of St. Michael d'Aiguilhe in Le Puy-en-Velay in France. It was so cool, I decided to steal it for my Ashford Valley setting).
In the center of the Ashford Valley, between the rivers Ash and Soot, sits the Elven Woods. This mysterious forest has been the home to elves for centuries, even before the humans settled the valley. When the valley was first settled over 300 years ago, the human leaders made a pact with the elves not to disturb their forest. The elves agreed that the humans wouldn't be filled with arrows and their settlements burned. In that way, the tradition of leaving the Elven Woods alone became a constant.
But very little is known of the Elven Woods or the elves that live there. Many areas around the valley have elves that aren't of that tribe and, while the elves of the Elven Wood are friendly, most other valley elves believe those elves are a bit ... odd and insular. Perhaps if they knew the truth, they'd feel differently.
A long time ago, some elves, fleeing a dragon or some other evil, stumbled upon the valley, which they called Vantumba (the fair, deep valley), and made it their home. The Elven Woods (Taurë) were larger then and they found plenty to keep them occupied. A mysterious basalt rock formation, standing 269 feet tall, was discovered in the wood. A twisting path of 268 rough stone steps lead to the top to a platform 187 feet across, where an ancient stone table, ringed by several Runestones, sat.
This stone needle intrigued them and they realized that the table bound some unknown demon or evil. Calling the basalt formation Barad'Craban (the Tower of the Crows) and the table Andofuin (Gate of Darkness) and unwilling to leave it to it's own devices, they cast many protection, binding and guarding spells. They set a guard on it and waited.
For years, they waited and watched, adding to the spells as they decayed in time, preventing anyone from approaching Barad'Craban, not sure of what they were guarding. Then humans started entering the valley. Keeping this danger secret was easy - the surrounding forest had shrunk in the intervening centuries but the trees had grown taller (amazingly, all the trees close to Barad'Craban refused to grow higher than six or so feet, despite repeated attempts to cultivate them by the elves), obscuring the tower.
When the humans and the elves of the wood interacted, it was at the borders of the Elven Woods, far from the tower and table. And soBarad'Craban was undisturbed.
Nearly 250 years ago, a party of monks appeared at the edge of the Elven Woods. These monks were Nobianites, followers of St. Nobian, a minor deity of protection and healing. Their leader, Prior Robert, had received a vision from his god, telling him to gather what followers he could and go to the Ashford Valley. At the border of the Elven Woods, the Prior met with the elven leaders. Long they spoke and unknown what was said, but for the first time in centuries, humans were allowed to enter the Taurëand approach theBarad'Craban.
The monks built a chapel and belltower on top of the basalt formation and took over guarding of the stone table. The Runestones were incorporated into the chapel to St. Nobian and over the years, as the monks aged and died, other clerics came through the wood, inspired by their god, to serve at the chapel.
The elves continued to guard the surrounding forest and provided the monks with needed sustenance. Several times a year, elvish sorcerers and monks would gather, the elves to cast spells of protection and the monks to bless the chapel. For the next two and a half centuries, the Chapel of St. Nobian thrived and the monks stayed true to their calling.
Every now and then, in Ashford Town proper and around the Elven Woods, a series of bells could be heard ringing. The priests and leity of the valley recognized the tunes as belonging to St. Nobian but no one could discover where they were coming from - not even the regular Nobianites. It just became another mystery of the valley.
Recently, a tragedy has struck. The feared day had come. A hidden doorway opened, into the depths of the Barad'Craban. The guardian monks have all been killed. And something evil is inhabiting the Chapel. The elves of the Elven Woods are frightened. All their preparations, as well as the prayers of the holy monks, has come to naught - who will enter this chapel, descend into the Tower of Crows and free the Diocese of the Elven Woods from this evil?
The Coin of the Dead is a magical coin that assures the dead a free path to paradise, no matter their sin. Looking like a common copper coin, the faces have the benevolent visage of Lamiel the Crafty on one side and a menaced goat surrounded by snakes on the other.
The coins appear at odd times and few recognize them for what they are, often spending them for trivial things. If one if found and recognized, however, it can command high value because it will wash clean any crime in the afterlife.
To be effective, the coin must be placed either in the mouth or on the left eye (Lamiel side up) on a corpse and the body must be buried in hallowed earth for three days without being disturbed. According to legend, if those requirements are met, the spirit of the dead will fool the guardians at the gates of paradise, thereby gaining entrance into those hallowed halls. Thereafter, the coin disappears.
If, however, the coin is removed during those three days, the spirit is recognized and (often) treated worse by the guardians. Some legends state that the coin becomes tainted with the failure and subsequent use leads to eternal damnation (another variation of the legend mentions that undead are created by interruptions to the ceremony). Even with that, the value of the coin is still worth enough that most graves are guarded for the three days to prevent theft.
In the Ashford Valley, a Bugbear Longsword is a prized possession. Even though they are made by monsters, the swords are excellent - dealing 1d8+1 damage. Few owners, however, know the history of their particular blade.
Once upon a time, a primitive tribe of humans made a deal with the god Lamiel the Crafty. They would learn his craft of making in exchange for worship and servitude. Lamiel entrusted them with many secrets and over the years, the worship became less and the servitude became less as well. When they desired knowledge, Lamiel gave it willingly.
Unfortunately, the good times didn't last. The humans delved deeply in knowledge, too deep, past Lamiel's understanding or even morality. And they discovered a new "god," Azrael, a demon-prince. And Azrael taunted them and tempted them, well past their morality and their trickery. Soon they were snared and bit-by-bit, Lamiel's teachings fell on deaf ears and the tribe turned away from him. They became twisted and evil, losing all the fine and widespread knowledge and only retaining the sword-making skill that Lamiel gave them. Thereafter, other tribes of men called them Bugbears.
The only pure thing from Lamiel that remains in Bugbears is sword-making. And few histories that have this knowledge also note that it is said the god Lamiel the Crafty smiles on Bugbears, as he did their forefathers, but only when they craft the finest sword.
This month, I'll be doing the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. And I'll be continuing my D20 notes for my Ashford Valley setting from last December. I know it's kinda a cheat taking the A to be today, but that's the way I roll. Tune in tomorrow.