Daydreaming about Swordlords, Sorcerers and Sword-Saints

We haven’t played our Swordlords campaign all together in a little over a month and we ended on a nasty cliff-hanger. The players are heading into diplomatic negotiations with Swordlord Grahl, who held his army back when Swordlord Zora was facing a horde of trolls and orc.

Then Zora’s mom dropped a bomb on her brother, who is going to talk to Grahl: “We have to consider the very real possibility that Swordlord Grahl doesn’t need us to save his wife’s soul because he’s already done it. We have to consider that he saved his wife by leaving Zora for dead in the battle with the orc. The Sword Saints have to be very scared of the idea that Zora could take up the dragon faith. It could be they wanted her dead and demanded that Grahl see it done by simply not showing up to the battle at the Little Sellen River.

“I can’t tell Ivo nor Zora about this theory because I am not sure what they would do with it. I am not sure how angry they might be and what their anger might bring about.

“Ivo has never cared for the Sword Saints and losing Spearpointe had a strong effect on your sister. I am sorry to burden you with this but I could not send you south without considering this. I am glad you are going; there is no one else I would rather be going to Spearpointe to talk to Grahl.”

I can’t wait.

medieval book border


Cyril’s Beliefs
B1: They all think clever words can fix this, as if lords and gods settle for anything less than flesh and dreadful promises. But I will not pay that price again. I will convince Swordlord Grahl to make the sacrifice.

B2: My reputation proceeds me and it always ties me back to Brevoy. I will earn a better Reputation that stands alone.

B3. I want to believe that we have a future greater than surviving and dispensing violence. I want to bring new life to our families. I want to have more children and Magnus needs an heir. I will find him a surrogate.

I1. Never sleep alone.
I2. Always soothe the tension.
I3. Never let them see your distress.

Homesick, Worldly, Mark of Privilege, Darling of the Court, Numb

Ivo, astride his borrowed horse, aimed at Grahl
B1: I confess; in my heart I wish the traitor Swordlord crisped from my flames. But my Swordlord has placed her faith in Cyril, and I will support him. It is his skill, not mine, that will see this resolved with the greatest good garnered.

B2: I will discern Grahl’s intentions and motivations. If, however, Grahl plays the games that brought Rostland to ruin, I will remove him from our Riverlands before these games ruin all we have built.

B3: The well being of the Rostlander refugees supersedes all other concerns. For the future of all, I will do what must be done to save their lives and livelihoods — Including surrender, if I must.

I1: Never overstep my place: Zora Kucera’s rule must be obeyed.
I2: If attacked, burn them with Sorcerous Fire.
I3: Things may not be what they seem – I always look for clues and signs

Character Traits
Pragmatic outlook, Shrewd

Die Traits
Mark of Privilege, Bastard, Gifted, Thick skinned, State-maker

I’m reading beliefs and day-dreaming until the game begins.

Traditions of the Swordlords: the Murk

To the west of the Riverlands is another Swordlord with his own charter to worry about. Swordlord Grahl has been a peripheral NPC, father of Squire Irenka, first mentioned in this blog post. He has two other daughters with him. He married a matriarch of a local swamp clan to strengthen his ties.

Now his daughter is a knight who has given birth to a demi-goddess, her home has been sacked by orc and he has rallied the Murk-folk to support his neighbor. He will join the effort to take back Spearpointe after its fall. It was time to think about where he is coming from and who he is bringing with him.


The Murk-folk are a group of quasi-feudal swamp tribes. They pray to their own fickle swamp gods, a few sword saints and sometimes they are known to call on the Dragon Gods. In the troll-haunted swamps, you call on whatever works.

Once they prayed to one of Erastil’s siblings but he died centuries ago during a war with the Brevosi that ended in blood and dragon-fire (oddly, I made that up BEFORE Erastil died). That sibling was said to have given them the gifts of slingstones, axes and druidic magic in the same way that Erastil gave the Riverlanders the bow, spear and hunting.

A few tribes claim to be “descended from the Sword-Crowns” and some worship that descendant as Rostlanders would pray to a Sword Saints. Swordlord Grahl has married into one such tribe and they see his sword as a holy relic, a tether to their proud, lost heritage.

Their highland tribes in the nearby mountains are their constant rivals with feuds often nearly becoming wars until cooler heads prevail.


Note: The above image is from NYPL’s Digital Image Collection.

excerpt from The Military History of the Riverlands Swordlords by Norwich O’Ber


Sgt. Jitka is one of the few soldiers to have fought in every engagement of The Swordlord’s Westerly March. She dragged several comrades to safety, one out of the very maw of a Great Wolf during the Spearpointe Arrival.

She road with the Swordlord and caved in her share of orc chattel’s heads during the Sellen River Orc Drowning, chosen due to her limited experience on horseback at a time when riding skills were rare. During Spearpointe’s Fall she galvanized the Little Goddess’ Spears and helped them find a path for their deity to safety once the desperate call to retreat was sounded.

Her Lieutenants have held off on promoting her to sergeant because of how dependable she is on the scout and because she claimed she would bloody an officer’s nose to be busted down if she received her stripes, not wanting the responsibility. After the orc invasion the stripes and the responsibility that came with them could not longer be avoided.

I love this picture found for our Traditions of the Swordlords Pinterest board by Alexander “Minze” Thümer, had to write something about it from our Burning Wheel game.

Burning Minutiae

tl;dr: talk to you players;engage the system – ORC!

The Traditions of the Swordlords campaign has reached a point where the frontier nation has grown and now they are collecting taxes and founding a proper state (or as Janaki put it, “So they were getting colonized but now they are doing the colonizing?” Me, defensive, “NO!…maybe. Kinda, yeah.”). We made some big rolls and got some big things done and oddly, the players navigated clear of any internal war. It was a close thing and they made some smart decisions, some brilliant decisions and some lucky ones.

Good stuff.

We were starting to use our G+ community dedicated to just the game to write out to-do lists. Not wanting to play Crusader Kings 2 (a game I LOVE) at the table, I wrote told them an orc invasion was coming and after discussing it with them for a while and realizing there was so much to do before the orc impact, I wrote the following:

Here’s my idea.

Feel free to write any orc-invasion beliefs and set them aside.

One of Eliska’s left-over squires arrives on a half-dead horse that Bow-mother was attacked and decimated by wolf-riding orc. The refugees who could make it, made it to Spearpointe and the gates were closed. 3 pages made their way out and so far, she is the only one who made it to you. She says Baron Kucera reckoned there were about 100 wolf-riders.

Within the hour you will hear from Haps that someone set a fire on Spider Hill and it led to a few buildings there being burned down and whoever did it seems to have gotten into some kind of tussle with some soldiers and were driven off. He isn’t sure; he was keeping clear of it all but heard about it all second hand from merchants on their way down to Spearpointe to purchase more wool.


You get an Estate Management roll. Don’t have the skill? Roll unskilled and every two successes is a success (and take a test!). For every success you complete one to-do item before the orc arrive. Each item has to align with a pre-orc belief, so the max is 3.

Yeah, you can get shit done but how much you get done depends on how good your character is at administrating medieval fiefdoms. Roll the dice.

bakshi orc

Orc are coming!



Burning Saturday: Iron Gods and True Swords

Burning Saturday: Iron Gods and True Swords

Played 2 games of Burning Wheel this Saturday.

Welcome to Unity Prison was the second session of our Iron Gods-inspired science-fantasy campaign. The first game got the players in prison and so we started the second session in the mix.

Iron Gods Pinterest



Death and Taxes is the umpteenth game of the Traditions of the Swordlords campaign. The players just collected the first year of taxes and made their Ducal Lifestyle Resource roll. The sorcerer summoned the dead. Good times.

What? The game inspired ill-advised short-story writing? Yes, yes, it did.

Swordlords Pinterest

Drew asked if the games were taking place in the same world, which is an excellent question. The True Swords from the Swordlords campaign are right out of Numeria and are clearly inhabited by networked, AI haunted swords. I don’t want the campaigns to get so entangled that it becomes messy or gets in the way of gaming. For now, yes, they are happening in the same world, though perhaps not at the same time.

Above image of a spinning wheel (get it? huh, get it?!?) from the NYPL Images Collection


Science Ficton Sorcerer at Dreamation 2016

Science Fiction Sorcerer

Demons are bits of alien technology left in the colonized solar system. When I watched The Expanse, it looked really familiar in lots of ways and it inspired me to dust off this old thing and take it for a spin.

When a player hits 0 humanity, the aliens return.

We learn what the aliens were by the demons created and summoned at the table. We learn about them from the xeno-tech they left behind and that is all made by the players, more or less. So, we made demons together and all demons had the same Desire and Need. I’m not sure how I felt about keeping the Desire and Need the same.

I wish there had been one table that decided to have Creation of Art be the Desire. That would have been interesting. I am considering making pre-packaged aliens to choose from with demons that have a look to them based on which alien species is on the table.

The 3 Sci-fi Sorcerer games were taking about 3 hours with 20 minutes for building demons, writing kickers and rolling that first binding.

The characters were a Professor of Xeno-Tech, a homeless war veteran, the President of the Mars Republic and a starship captain. These character sheets, with the back of the sheet on the front were game-changers and are the only sheets I will ever use from now on.

Thank you to everyone who played! You were all wonderful.

Kickers (can’t quite remember all of them)

  • Professor/Black Marketeer is called into a meeting with the local organized crime lieutenants, asking him to kill the current godfather and take over.
  • Starship captain finds out that he was stranded on Europa on purpose and he knows who did it.
  • Starship captain discovers that someone from his crew has been transmitting military intel to some filthy mud-sucker from earth.
  • The President of the Mars Republic is woken up to deal with food riots.
  • The Starship captain’s ship is locked down on an orbital satellite because the Satellite Warden knows something is wrong about his ship’s logs.
  • The professor receives a call that her uncle and mentor is dead.
  • Homeless/vet is approached by his handler to come back to the government program that paired him with his demon.
  • Homeless/vet finds his buddy dead in his shelter bunk.
  • The President of the Mars Republic is blackmailed by the Senate Majority Leader about his use of Xeno-Tech.

Writing kickers at the table made me nervous but once I started weaving them together with one player seeing consequences of another’s kicker in their scenes the players leaned into one another and started to meet and interact in interesting ways. Some didn’t and some did.

16 - 1 (1).jpg


There was an important moment in a Sci-fi Sorcerer game that I need to write down:

The Professor of Xeno-Archeology/Black Marketeer was meeting with the local crime boss, thinking that he would kill him. As he walked in the crime boss was reading the newsfeed, commenting on a bit of news from an earlier scene from the other character at the table, the President of the Mars Republic. After a little back and forth, the player turned to me and said, “I don’t want to kill this guy. I like this guy.”

This was the turnaround moment of the game, where players starting linking their characters together through play and talking to one another like humans do. It also prompted me to remind players of the third game that though they are Sorcerers they do not have to be sociopath demon-feeders who ask everyone they meet to put-the-lotion-in-the-basket. Turns out, that third session was the most successful.

Reflecting on Dreamation 2016

I dipped my toe back in the convention waters with Metatopia last year and knew I’d be going back to Dreamation this year. It was nice to be back.  I attend cons like a grown-up now. When I yawn after midnight, I go to sleep. I wake up and hit up the morning gaming slots. I eat every meal and come home tired but not exhausted. It only took me until 40 years old to begin to get this right.

Walking into the con and being surprised at faces I didn’t expect to see, putting names to G+ avatar pics and turning online acquaintances into friends is a wonderful process. Rooming with Rob and talking about our day’s gaming while we dealt with the hotel’s dry air but moisturizing our legs is one of those wonderful and awkward game con moments that I missed.

Game-wise, I have to figure out how I want to interact with game conventions because it isn’t clear to me. I love games and love gaming but I’m not sure 4 hour one-shots are where its at for me.

My favorite games are fun in cons but not as fun as they are after a dozen or more sessions. I don’t have any interest in Burning Wheel blood opera, with lots of Beliefs arming and pointing the characters at one another like that scene from Resevoir Dogs.


This weekend I ran Sorcerer in a science fiction setting that I wrote down years ago and never did much with. My problem with Sorcerer is that the first session is always good but the second session is always an order of magnitude better. I GMed 3 solid sessions of Sorcerer this weekend but left the table wishing I could play a second session.


Thanks to Rachel tipping me off via IM last week, I played in the Thousand Arrows Long Con/Kristacon, a 3 session game about Samurai invading Korea in the midst of an attack of the Dragon King’s sea monsters. The game had its moments and its problems. I’ll dissect and critique later. It feels wrong to start in with a scalpel while the organizers and GM’s are still recovering from sleep deprivation after their hard work. The game was on the morning slot of Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

16 - 1

For now, Brennan should be happy that he has a Powered by the Apocalypse Hack that is coming along well. James should be happy that his passionate work exposed me to a period of history I knew nothing about and has instilled in me a powerful passion for learning more about it. Brand should be happy that I could listen to him talk about any historical period for as long as he cares to talk about it. Krista should be happy that I am not sure I have ever disliked a PC/NPC as much as I disliked her General Gwon.

I am wondering if some kind of 3 session long-connish format is where my sweet spot might be. I’d enjoy running one table of 3 or 4 for 3 sessions over a weekend. However, it is a gamble for all of the players involved.

It would be neat to play a full season of Primetime Adventures

or a long-con of Shock: (maybe the building of a generation trip, the journey and then the arrival)

or even Burning Wheel (in which there is an uprising against the human dukes, dwarven princes and elven etharchs by the crafts-folk and peasants)

or Torchbearer (in which there are 9 dungeons are taken down by 3 tables of adventurers over 3 sessions, divvying up the adventurers based on the intel by the delving guild’s leadership).

It was that kind of con – a come home and write about game ideas kind of con. It was a smile thinking of friends kind of con. It was a write notes about game moments to write about later kind of con. It was a make new friends kind of con.

Which is to say it was the best kind of con.

Fate’s Fell Hand and Epilogue #DCCRPG

In which we begin *Fate’s Fell Hand

Spoilers for those who would like to play the module later. +Rachel E.S. Walton, +Eric Duncan and +Renee Knipe are welcome to read it.

Rest in Peace
Llaras the Elf, killed by Captain Kaschei in the manor’s throneroom, after throwing sorcerous fire at him and thus earning the knight’s ire.

Kaschei in the Throneroom
The PC’s found the population of the odd valley preparing to play Hunt the Stag. The watched in confused horror as a young soldier was given a hat with stag’s horns and sent running while Kaschei chugged a wineskin. When the wineskin was firmly chugged, the soldiers, the ladies-in-waiting and their matron ran from the throneroom to hunt the stag, leaving the knight alone.

When Inez told the forelorn knight that his spear was magic and could probably kill him, the knight attacked, taunting everyone and taking it as a game. Until Llaras threw around magical fire, then Kaschei concentrated his attacks on the elf until the elf was dead, allowing the rest of the group to gang up and kill the knight.

Llaras had an odd spell side-effect where he fell unconscious and dreamed of warring gods but since he was in this strange pocket dimension floating in the phlogiston, he instead dreamed of the wizardly feud after a demon-summoning that caused this valley to fall off of the Prime Material Plane. Alas, the elf never awoke to tell his comrades his vision.

Ladies’ Tower
The ladies in Waiting skulked by, with the stag’s head in their hands, giggling and flushed from the hunt. The posse had found the secret door under the rug and realized that the ladies’ keys were important.

Alright, time to come clean. I forgot to describe the keys, so I had them all make DC 5 Int checks and said that if they made them, they noticed the keys that aligned with the lock mechanism in the floor-plate.

They asked for the keys but didn’t get them. Inez got a very snooty response to her asking for them. So, they all watched their jester’s shadow puppetry. He was telling a lewd story of an elf getting killed by a knight with lots of dick jokes. He was clearly mocking the death of their recently deceased friend.

Jossi stole the keys off of their necks and then rolled a 20 to get the matron’s necklace, thus no one noticed she even did it.

They went down into the secret door and that is where we ended it for the night.

elf emperor


“Lord of the Stars and Master of 10,000 Slaves, we are sorry to interrupt your meditations but we must tell you that Llaras is dead. According to our seers, he died somewhere in the phlogiston.”

The Emperor of the Elves looks bored at the news. “Have his belongings doled out as my secretaries deem fit. He had that one piece of property called Groat who had destiny and possible greatness in his threads. Bring that one to me.”

“Emperor, I’m sorry but we can’t.”

The Emperor looks confused. “Can’t?”

“The slave is under the protection of the Chaos Titan. Our magics will not bring him back to your Solar Throne as is custom.”

“Send Llaras’ sisters to bring their brother’s property to me. I want it. Groat and all of his possible destinies are my property.”

His servants leave quickly, bowing on their way out and send missives with the Emperor’s Sun Seal.