Creating Cosmologies: starting simple, getting complicated.

I read this blog post, The Myth They Tell in Vandakar and it reminded me of the 10 Minute D&D Pantheon and just got me thinking about building religions and cosmologies in general.

The deities of Vandakar start simple, four gods each cursing humanity.  The D&D pantheon linked above is based on the old 9-point alignment system.

The Trinity: Earth, Moon and Sun

More recently it reminds me of a Burning Wheel campaign we started a few years ago.  We riffed the cosmology off of the Sun, Moon and Earth.  The Sun was a resplendent mother goddess.  The Earth was a stern father who oversaw death and the Moon was a transgender deity, sometimes depicted the child of the Sun and Earth.  The vikings to the north beyond the sea were heretics because they worshiped the Stars, Sea and Moon…heretics!

The kingdom was split into 3 parts, with each part prioritizing a different one of the trinity.  For family names I grabbed words from those three concepts: Sun (Corona, Helios, Sol, Yavanna, Aule, Apollo, Laurelin, Surya), Moon (Luna, Tilion, Orome, Mani, Hecate, Crescent, Gibbous, Horned) and Earth (Gaia, Terra, Steele).

The con scenario I ran recently had a heretic holy knight of an order who worshipped the World Serpent.  In a game about spending a dragon’s hoard, I only chose the World Serpent in order to keep draconic imagery all over the place but its a rich enough myth and honestly, just plain cool-sounding enough that it evokes cool fantasy stuff.

The World Serpent

In the house-game I ran with the World Serpent heretic, a failed Faith roll getting help from a dozen nuns led to the nuns’ eyes flashing open with reptilian pupils.  After the word of the World Serpent came through the helpful nuns, they were all left blind and mad.  In the con game, Mayuren’s incarnation of the heretic called on a Minor Miracle to strike down a greedy duke.  Upon a successful roll, the dragon’s head in the cart came to life, eyes glowing and it breathed fire, burning the duke to cinders.

So, fast cosmologies:

  • Based on simple concepts (Earth, Moon and Sun), Numbers (four deities cursed humanity) that can lead to further complexities and mysteries unveiled through play.
  • Mine the simple concepts for cool imagery and names.
  • Cosmologies should hint at something greater, different points of view and ambiguities but you don’t have to bake that in to start.  Start simple and let the mysteries, heresies and complexities happen through interactions with the players and their conflicts.

Thoughts, comments and examples of such things from play are welcomed.

The Wheel Turns and Burns

Every once in a while I get all misty-eyed and I-love-you-man about the folks I game with.  This is such a time.

Look posted this up on the BW forum:

Five years ago today we released Burning Wheel Revised.
In five years we’ve sold over 7000 copies of BWR alone.
We’ve traveled the US and Europe promoting the game.
We’ve introduced thousands of gamers to the Burning games.
We’ve played incredibly games (that just keep getting better).
We’ve made amazing friends who will be with us for many years to come.

Thanks all for making this dream come true.
We hope to see you all at 10/10/10 so we can celebrate!

-Luke and BWHQ

And it got me thinking back on the past five years or so of gaming, looking back on AP threads.

Here is my first BW thread, I believe, 3 BW Games in 5 Days, in which I struggle with the rules, fuck up pre-game preparation, still manage to have a decent time here and there but I’m banging my head against the system. Some of my friends liked what they saw in the system and some hated the damned thing.

So, why and how did I continue playing the game and wrestling with it?

It is because, in Ithaca, I am blessed. I don’t have one group in this town. I am lucky to have a network of players and people interested in gaming, up for something new, game to try something. There are a few dozen games in this town whom I consider friends, people I’d be eager and happy to share a beverage with.

If I was gaming group monogamous, I’d never be able to play the game again as soon as one or two people hated it. I get to play games that I dig with people who are willing and eager to try them because when it comes to gaming groups, I lean polyamorous.

I don’t play PTA with Jim or Aaron because they tend to like more mechanics to sink their teeth into. I play Shock: with Pete and Janaki because we love making up worlds together and see how they turn out when we bang on them with anthropological hammers. The BW character sheets make Janaki dizzy but make Aaron sing with glee. And I full realize that I can do this because I have spent the last 10+ years gaming in this medium-smallish college town and rather than sinking one night a week into creating the perfect group of uber-gamers, I have flitted around, weaving webs and making networks of buddies.

Some I don’t game with at all, because their games don’t interest me and mine don’t interest them but we have fun IMing or having the occasional lunch to talk shop and geek out. Some are up for long campaigns, some aren’t. Some are down with the occasional one-shot once the kids are asleep, some want to game on Friday night have rocking a porch party. Some were strangers who PMed me on a forum (and some of those became great friends and others faded), some got dragged into a game I was playing with through a stagnant university gaming club and others have been friends we met under the mantle of Kryos over a decade ago.

My gaming privilege makes me wince when people post on forums how “their group would never play X game that they lust after.”

So, thank you, my friends who despite their busy lives, careers and families spend time playing games with me.

Thank you to my friends who played

the pirates,


revolutionary fast food workers rebelling against The Man,

the R&D exec and the Rogue Scientist,

the interstellar corporate agents,

the Patrol-men and Patrol-women,

the barber’s son from the Sangre,

the knight and the bastard,

the uncommon orcs,

the princess and the bodyguard,

the freebooter turned mercenary captain turned champion of humanity, the Herald of the Dawn, the Spider of the Book and the Chosen of Hell’s Honorable Brother,

the Horselord Prince, the Sheriff of Baal, the God-killers

the Elven Sword-singer and his loyal princeling apprentice,

the nobles and the jihadim,

the teen  samurai hostages to the sleeping emperor who dressed as ninja and went dancing at night,

the kids with magic out on the corner,

the Dragonborn Cleric, the Human Fighter, the Drow Ranger and the Elven Paladin,

the wolf pack traversing the World Tree in search of a new alpha,

the Barons whose lands surrounded the Hub of all Revenge,

the doomed samurai ascending a cold mountain for bloody reasons,

the cast and crew of Hare and Hound,

the Man in the Mountain,

the concubine and the dead god’s bride,

the Centurions,

Sharn’s Finest,

the cast and crew of Episode LV,

the Grey Legionnaires,

and many more.

Thank you, my friends for joining me in trying odd games, playtesting others and all in all making up cool shit.

Diaspora: Looking back on a cluster.

The Glorious Dawn

Our Friday night Diaspora game has fallen to the wayside and there are a few things I would have done differently if I could go back and lots of things I would not have changed at all.

The premise of our game was rock-solid.  East India Trading Company but in space worked really well.

The cluster creation might have been more fun than the rest of the game combined.  In some ways, I am seeing Spirit of the Century parallels here, when I feel more horsepower  in setting the game up than in playing the game through.  I believe our first three games skated right through on the strength of the amazing setting that we created.

The Intro

There are 3 sub-games in the game, a squad based combat, social combat and spaceship combat.  We got through several social combats and one stilted spaceship combat but never did any squad based, which is a shame.

If I could go back, I’d have started every game (well, every game in a new system) with one of those sub-games with the players taking up the parts of NPC’s in the system the game was to be set in.  The results of that combat, debate, battle, etc. would have informed the situation that the players were flying into and it would have allowed us all to gain system mastery in a way that isn’t risky to our beloved player characters.

Aspects =/= Beliefs

I treat aspects in FATE games like Beliefs from Burning Wheel.  I do.  I rarely compel actively, instead arranging situations where the players are confronted with their aspects but not actively compelling them to make matters worse.  I think this led to the players having too many FATE points.

Statted up NPC’s

I would not have fully statted up every NPC but I believe that through creating NPC’s for the intro’s, I would have had a scaffolding from which to build other NPC’s the players might come into conflict with.  I felt like that, the game as we ran it, didn’t challenge the players.  I didn’t invoke many consequences or really chip at their damage tracks and this led to some limp sessions where it felt like danger didn’t touch them as much as it should have.

13 Cities Timeline

From the BW Forum post:

Also Buzzed

The history that we have down in a google document and in notes, scribbled in notebooks and on character sheets hither and yon is suddenly very important. We are fleshing out the sons and daughters the Sorcerer-King has sired in the past centuries.

Things have, through play, gotten really complicated.

We ended up needing a timeline to keep it all sorted out and here it is, with some blurby bits thrown in for fun:

Year 0

  • The Druid Lords surrender in order to save the Elder Ring and the Lord Under the Hills, the only two surviving deities in their ancient pantheon.
  • Sorcerer-King’s Empire is born
  • Dragon ascends as a demi-god, Yshan burns as a sacrifice.
  • The Dragon burns Baal, stopping short of the Elder Ring once the Druid Lords surrender.

“Stopping the flames in Baal was my greatest mistake. That tree has roots underneath all of the 13 Cities and make no mistake, it wants our entire pantheon dead.”
– The Dragon, speaking before the first Sorcerer-King at his coronation.

1001 S.K.

  • God-kings are killed in series of revolutionary uprisings and the federation known as Occulus is born but not yet mature.

“Let all faith be in humanity.”
– Occulan motto

1008 S.K.

  • Occulus shakes off the yoke of the demi-gods, demons and spirits who seek to rule it and found a human run democracy.

“Feudalism with godlings commanding human vassals would have taken thousands of years to dismantle. Send the children of the god-kings to their parents, to wherever it is deities go when they die.”
– From Founding of a Republic by General Alexandros

1234 S.K.

  • The Sorcerer-Queen, Shoshana is murdered by Occulan god-killers after she ascends into goddesshood.

“She ascended so far and now her bones are among the stars.”
– Inscribed on the Memorial to the Sorcerer-Queen

1357 S.K.

  • Tabat the IV – the God-Finder is born

“He never meant to be king but his elder siblings were killed by the khan’s own knives.”
– Rise of the Fourth Tabat

1396 S.K.

  • Tabat IV summons the 13th God

“My kingdom is complete once more. The pantheon is the heart of the 13 cities.”
– Sorcerer King Tabat IV’s invocation to the Summoner’s Council

1470 S.K.

  • Wars against the Pirate Cultists in the Banished Isles

“Historical texts state that Prince Shahin was forbidden by the Sorcerer-King’s own decree from fighting against the pirate cultists but folk tales up and down the west coast tell of a mighty battle in which many of the Sorcerer-Kings sons and daughters fought alongside the Horselord Prince against the cultists as the ships burned.”
– The Sorcerer-King’s Hostage Guests

1482 S.K.

  • Prince Shahin is killed and the Yelteth Wall is broken.

“Never has so much history been turned on the flashing of two blades. Duelists who witnessed the fight said that it was the cruel khan’s armor that saved him. As the war began, Tabat had his own armorer garrotted and his property given to Shahin’s widowed bride.”
– The Yelteth Wall and the Empire

1483 S.K.

  • Steppe Invasion is quelled

“No one will ever know how close Kuryn Kor came to declaring himself the Druid-King and attempting to usurp the Sorcerer-King’s centuries long rule over his people. After his part in the defending of Baal and the Lake Country from the steppe nomads, his power was immense. In the end, he chose a more quiet life.”
– The Druid-Lord of Baal

1493 S.K.

  • Ossad is re-settled

“Ossad has everything in the world that there is worth loving and many things well worth hating. It is a city built on a pit and in that pit is a beast. When that beast slouches free, the world will end. These are people who know how to enjoy life.”
– Bishop Jayden’s journals from his days as a wandering priest in the steppes

1502 S.K.

  • The 13 Cities’ invasion force lands in Occulus, taking the newly christened Tabatton, an important southern port, and holding it as an occupying force.

“Because I remember Shoshana and my pantheon grows restless.”
– Conversations with a Sorcerer-King

1522 S.K.

  • Jayden is Bishop of Ni-Jael’s Holy University

“Bishop? I guess my days of wandering the steppes are over. Hell and blood, I never liked this city.”
– From Father Jayden’s journals

1582 S.K.

  • Tabat announces intention to ascend into godhood

“I will become a god and you will each help me ascend in your own way.”
– The Sorcerer-King Tabat IV’s address to his children.