Category Archives: 2015 A to Z Blogging Challenge

2015 A to Z Challenge Reflections.

I planned to write a follow up on my A to Z experience this year, and a survey that arrive just before midnight alerted me to a Reflections Post, that needed to be done by May 8th. I am doing catch up on articles and clearing a backlog of things to review, on this rainy, thunderstorm laden weekend.

This was the second year that I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge to write a post every day, except Sundays, in April. As with last year, 26 blog posts is not difficult for me. I had most of them done and scheduled before April. Also, like last year, I only had time to keep up with the blogs in the (GA) category. This year, I read most of the posts.

For me, the hardest part of the challenge is a theme that I feel good about. This year, I wrote about different aspects of planning a city, whether it is a living city or an abandoned/lost city. Once I had a topic, I came up with 26 topics. I then scheduled each topic for the appropriate day and wrote on the topics that interested me.

I had most of my topics written with at least a few paragraphs or notes of things to be sure to mention. I dug in and wrote several posts in a marathon session, so that I only had to let them sit to do cleanup before they posted. A few topics seemed a bit harder to write, and I got a bit repetitive when some topics had overlap.

I did not come up with as many tables and generators as I had hoped. I did get some ideas for building them. Once those ideas have sat for awhile, I will gather them and see about making a more coherent PDF to share.

My goal of a system to randomly generate parts of a city did not materialize. I think because of the all the dice table in Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad #1, that +Adam Muszkiewicz showed me. It touched on most of what I was after. I don’t really need all the details I think I do, I just WANT them.

Since I scheduled each post, I had no problem posting on the correct day.

I am currently on the fence as to whether or not I will participate next year. I like that I used it to help me clarify and flesh out ideas for my own use. If I participate again, I will have to use it to do something helpful to my own needs and desires as a GM; whether it be a module, series of new creatures, a collection of maps, or NPC’s, it will have to be something that serves a dual purpose.

This year, there were twelve blogs with the (GA) tag for games. Of those, one was geared towards game books and not directly RPG related, that I could tell. Perhaps it was just not my thing.

Nemo’s Lounge gave up doing custom NPCs with a drawing after 16 posts. Both the drawings and NPC’s were great!

Wampus Country was doing a town a day and got up to E when it stopped. He had some interesting ideas, that I enjoyed while it lasted.

 

Others missed a beat here and there, but most of us managed all 26 postings for the month.

Tower of the Archmage had a great series of vignettes of a party of adventurers. He often included a map. He hiked the Appalachian trail and was gone for the whole challenge, so he wrote and scheduled all of his postings before he left. This series would make a neat short story and/or a module/dungeon.

Tim Brannon at The Other Side did vampires, as he promised he would last year, after doing witches. Who knew there were so many vampires in different cultures. He began with A for Aswang, which I not too long before learned about from watching Grimm. When White Star came out, he even did an A to Z special with a Space Vampire, modeled on the one from the 80’s Buck Rogers TV Show.

Mark Craddock of Cross Plains reviewed his favorite things about D&D.

Keith Davies of In My Campaign built several mythologies/pantheons and had a system to help him build them.

Sea of Stars had a series of NPC;s.

Spes Magna Games did a series on the “Boogie Knights Of the Round Table”. I have not seen the movie, Boogie Nights, but I got the reference. What if King Arthur and his knights where in the age of disco? He kept it going until the last few days, but did all 26 posts.

Another Caffeinated Day did a series of NPC’s,

The Dwarven Stronghold did NPC’s and magic items.

If you need NPC’s, items, maps, images, vampires, or city planning suggestions, there is a lot of good stuff collected in these posts, check them out.

Day 26 Z is for Z Axis

Z – Z Axis

As Kirk and Spock discussed in Wrath of Khan, don’t have two dimensional thinking.

Think of below the street level and above the tops of the towers.

Is there an issue with burrowing creatures or flying creatures?

Would a dragon or someone riding a dragon attack the city?

Is the ruined city so isolated by geography that the only way to arrive is by magic or by flight?

Is it a living but hidden city?

Is there a magical effect above the city, like the area of a rope trick, or other pocket dimension type space that is hidden from view? A place for observation of the surroundings and a great spot to ambush invaders, or trouble makers.

Day 25 Y is for You Owe

Y – You Owe – fines, taxes, tariffs, fees, tolls, etc.

If there is a fine, fee, or tax, where are the tax collectors? Where might the remnants of ancient taxes be today? This ties in with X Marks the Spot and with Vaults.

If a living city, where are the points where the government or local gang imposes fees for its services?

If a fallen city that is now occupied by new inhabitants, do they impose taxes and fees? If inhabited by ogres, they will just take all your stuff as the fee, as will most other humanoids and intelligent monsters. The ones that don’t eat you, will likely enslave you, or just kill you for the sport of it.

Intelligent monsters might impose exorbitant fees on passing caravans to let them pass mostly unharmed. This would affect the price and availability of certain goods.

If the city is not fallen, how far beyond the city walls to taxes and fees begin to be imposed? Is there a fee for every bridge and ferry, beyond the operator’s base fee? Are their toll booths at key locations along the road? If you have never had to pay a fee to cross a bridge or to drive on a tollway, this concept might be foreign to you. The AD&D DMG has a good overview on this. If the PC’s hang around civilization, they will run into lots of taxes and fees, which might induce them to go seek further fortunes.

For fallen cities, will random coins be found periodically near abandoned toll booths? Will the coin box be lost and found in some random location?

Will a tax collector have a hidden stash of his share, legal or illicit? In the ancient world, taxes were collected by tax farmers who bid how much they could collect, and they got to keep what they collected beyond that point, thus making them quite disliked by the taxpayers.

 

Day 24 X is for X Marks the Spot

X – X Marks the spot.

Note important locations, map it out – It does not have to be fancy, even a node map and rough idea of where things are will suffice.

With all of the free maps from so many talented artists and map makers in the OSR, and via many various websites, like Cartographer’s Guild, one can easily come up with a map. There are also lots of maps from the medieval and renaissance periods that are available online to give one ideas. There is more than one G+ community for maps and world building ideas. There is a surplus of riches in maps and adventure ideas, thanks to the internet.

For some city and town maps, I have taken something I found online that was close to what I had in mind, and used that to help craft something for my own needs.

Where is the important stuff? Where is the treasure in relation to the palace or the temple?

Have the rich buried or hidden their wealth when they fled, is it still there? Is it inside the city, or somewhere outside the walls?

If an abandoned city for hundreds or thousands of years, what groups, monsters, wizards, cults, etc. have made a home or base? Is that base still there? Is it inhabited by the original founders of the base or has it changed hands over the years?

All of the other articles in this series mention many different things that will have a location. Each of those things will have a quality of the original construction, degree of routine maintenance given when in use,  and the use, damage, neglect, etc. that these things have undergone if the city is abandoned.

Day 23 W is for Waste Disposal

W – Waste Disposal/Toilets/Outhouses/Sewers/Drains/Teleporters/Gelatinous Cubes/Otyughs/etc.

Water, food, and other things come into the city. This results in an unpleasant production that needs to be handled to avoid unpleasant odors and disease in the close quarters of a city. Even with clerics and paladins running around to cure disease, they could not heal everyone in a major plague.

Disintegrators could be used for the most hazardous waste, gelatinous cubes could be an invention for waste disposal and they become a menace in the collapse of a fallen city. Otyughs and other carrion eaters could be placed in the sewers to deal with waste, and could still be down there.

Breaking a barrier between the water supply and the sewer system could be more dangerous than mere exposure to disease. It could allow carrion eaters to get to other places. It could flood the sewers and drown the players, etc.

I can see a waste disposal/sewer system that is “dry”, that is there is not large amount of water coursing through it, if storm drains shunt water elsewhere. Gelatinous cubes and carrion eaters would go from one concentration of waste to another, removing what nutrients they can get from it. Even a fallen city, where the sewers are mostly intact might have some form of occupation that leads to waste, small animals, lost humanoids or adventurers. The sewers with such critters to handle the waste would have areas of near pristine, floors walls, and ceilings as all the contents of the sewer is picked clean. Any minimal accumulation of waste will “move” or “appear” and “disappear” as any PC’s explore.”Something” is down there but what?

I mentioned a series of teleporters to move about the ancient cities and empire. Such technology need not move people and goods. Using teleporters to move waste elsewhere could have interesting results. The location that receives the waste could have a huge number of carrion eating monsters. Anyone transported by this means, will have a nasty surprise both in waste and in what eats the waste. Such teleporters could either be constant, whatever enters the area of the teleporter is instantly transported, or it could cycle every so many hours or days.

Finally, disintegrators could be used for the most dangerous waste. Poof, it’s gone. Anyone or anything wandering into these areas would have some signs of warning, perhaps bars to block access. Bars might indicate blocking something valuable. It could be interesting to see characters break in to check out a room that is a disintegrator. Much like the teleporters, are the disintegrators always on, or do they have a cycle of so many hours?

Is the rain water/flood control using the same channels as the sewers? In an arid climate, minimal water would be used to move waste, as much water as possible would need to be gathered for later consumption.

Are there public latrines? Do people have latrines in their homes and businesses, or do they use chamber pots and haul the waste to a neighborhood waste pit? If gelatinous cubes and other dangerous carrion eaters are used to deal with waste, there would need to be some mechanism to prevent them attacking the populace. Only someone foolish enough to go into the sewers would counteract such safety measures.

Maps and adventures don’t often touch on the actual waste and chamber pots and latrines. However, if one is to use carrion based monsters, many of them presuppose waste. For villages, and even towns, they wouldn’t go to the efforts to deal with waste that is needed in the crowded confines of a bustling city. Chamber pots, outhouses, a back corner of the yard, or area outside the town limits is where human waste would be collected. Human waste can be composted for use in gardens, but it has to be extra hot in its composting method to use it on food crops. When human waste is used for fertilizing food crops, it often leads to the spread of disease.

What do guards on watch use? A latrine in the corner of the guard tower, or a chamber pot, or just over the outside of the wall? How common is it to be walking down the street and someone toss out their chamber pot to the street below? What is the chance that someone rises in the middle of the night to take care of business and dumps the chamber pot, with bleary eyes, to the street below and it hits the thieve(s) sneaking about on their way to or from their latest heist? If on their way to their heist, are they “marked” so well, that they decide to postpone, either long enough to get cleaned up, or for another night? Is the nature of the heist one that they can’t re-schedule? If this happens after the heist, is it close enough to the location of the heist that it makes them easier to track?

UPDATE: May 31, 2015 – I found this article at the Register about London’s sewer system. the key point is that it still dumped into the river, just not where there was a large enough concentration of people to complain about the stink. Also, the capacity of the system when originally built 150 years ago, was such that a large part of the current sewage system of London still uses it.

Types of Currency

The article on Rai Stones over on Sea of Stars for the 2015 A to Z Challenge, got me to thinking about various forms of currency. The aforementioned article, talks about them as involving magic, which is cool.

There are many different types of money:

Commodity money – Something that has a value and is used in trade for other things. It is a “step up” from the barter system.

Fiat money is money that has value because everyone agrees it has value, like most modern currencies, such as the American dollar.

If money is tied to the value of something else, it is representative money. Strangely, this can include both commodity and fiat money.

Types of Currency

  • Paper/cloth – Fiat money if it has a specified value, representative money if it is used in lieu of something else, or commodity money if bundles of paper or cloth are used in exchange.
  • Coins – Originally the coins were a commodity of precious metals, that in the modern world have become mostly base metals and fiat money.
  • Rai Stones – The linked article is on the actual rai stones used in Yap.
  • Beaver and other pelts
  • Salt
  • Tobbacco
  • Gold bars (or bars of other precious metals.)
  • Gold Dust
  • Iron Bars
  • Gems
  • Jewelry
  • Barter/Trade
  • Shells
  • Cows/other herd animals
  • Favors – Back in November, 2014, I wrote about how favors can be used as currency.

Nearly anything can be used as a currency, like this article about some ancient forms of currency.

In areas where coin is in short supply, barter or another commodities will become money. In areas where the wealth of the adventurers inflates prices, other things with a more stable value might rise to the level of money.

What kinds of unique or interesting things have you used or encountered as money/currency/barter in the RPG’s you have played?

Vikings Season 3 Finale

I just watched the Vikings season 3 finale. I like how they pack so much into seasons of just a few episodes.

It is interesting how they take historical and semi-historical figures and weave a story among known historical events.

I won’t post any spoilers here, but I will say there are multiple surprises of how they wrapped up a few loose ends, but left a twisted trail of many more things to come in the next season.

I wonder how many years they will skip when it comes to the next season.

I like how they have portrayed vikings as more than bloodthirsty plunderers. They show social divisions among the vikings and what we know about them from their own stories, first hand accounts, and archaeological finds. Of course, with fiction, they take many liberties and insert things the writers made up that are very fantastic.

There seems to have been a revival of interest in vikings in various RPGs or RPG add ons, like adventures and campaign settings, in recent years.

This is a big change to how vikings influenced my original experience of their influence on AD&D. That is, the berserker, under Men in the Monster Manual. This single narrow aspect of some viking warriors is all that some knew of them, beyond their raiding coastal towns and villages.

The vikings were great explorers, who sought new lands and new goods for trade. Their influence via trade was perhaps greater than that of their raids. However, it is the dreaded viking raid that made the biggest impression on most of Western Europe. Of course, the survivors of many of these raids were the monks who were able to write about their experiences and preserve their side of these encounters. I am not aware of any direct connections to the viking side of these raids. Do the sagas that we have today hold such information?

What I do know is that a population growth lead to seeking new lands and new wealth. When money is based on gold and silver, of which there is a finite supply, one has to find it through either mining or taking it from someone else. Thus, a common motivation throughout history. This same motivation will exist in RPG’s, like D&D, whose economies are based on coins of precious metals. Land and certain other items that don’t decay will also hold value.

So as the vikings were motivated by an expanding population and so forth, other groups of men and humanoids will have similar motivations for their raids and efforts at expansion. Other motivations might be doing the bidding of their deity or being manipulated by someone on a quest for power, whether it is political or magical. A shortage of females might prompt gathering brides, or for a female dominated society, it might prompt gathering grooms.

Concentrations of wealth, such as cities will be attractive. Only walls that are well defended will provide the most protection. Even that might not be enough for a determined and motivated force. Caravans or convoys of merchant ships might also be targets.

Bribes, threats, tricks, and other things might be used to get inside the walls of a city to allow a large force of raiders inside to get what they are after.

Some ruler or other type of power broker or power seeker might seek to manipulate a viking like group into going after his enemy or some other target to facilitate his own plans. A powerful wizard seeking a specific item, might use a raid to distract all the guards to defend the walls, to make it easier to pop in and take what she is after. An evil cleric might do something similar to gain an item, desecrate a good temple, of establish a foothold of evil in a city.

Related to my A to Z series on cities, this fits in nicely as a second article on V. Who wants what is in the city? Who are the enemies of the city? Who or what is the reason the city has walls and gates? As with anything, there are two types of threats to a city, known and unknown.

Obviously, it is much easier to plan for known threats. Unknown threats can only be guarded against based on how similar they are to known threats. For example, in a world without known magic, how would one guard against it? In a fantasy setting with magic, one can only guard against the types of magic one knows about. Invisibility, illusions, and disguises are all general categories, but some specific magic items, or unique spells would present a threat to undermine all defenses.

For physical threats that are unknown, it can be a new tribe or group of humans or a resurgence of humanoids whose population has recovered after their last beat down.

Vigilance against a threat is hard to maintain all the time without discipline and a very regimented dedication. It always happens that in time, people tend to forget the bad times, and don’t see the connections in events that lead to some “sudden” occurrence that in hindsight was building towards its outcome.

 

Day 22 V is for Vaults

V – Vaults – wealth of city, guilds, nobles, adventurers, etc. Where is it kept? Moneylenders, money changers, bankers, etc. Thieves and Assassins will do a lot to get it. Taxes, etc.

Where is the wealth of the city kept. In a fallen city is any of it still there?

If treasure maps lead to the city, where might it be hidden? Tombs, cisterns, fountains, basements, etc.

Vaults can also hold tombs, coffins, etc. Vaults are also a type of architecture with high ceilings. A vault might have a vaulted ceiling.

For all your cities, living and dead, where is the wealth kept? A high level thief out for a major haul, might want to know. A party more interested in robbing the wealthy than plundering a dungeon might want to know. Nobles, the wealthy, merchants, and anyone with anything that they consider valuable and are concerned others might take it from them, will have some way to protect their stuff. A crazy old man might have all kinds of junk he considers valuable and due to his paranoia devises elaborate means to protect it. This could lead to a lot of people going after what they think is valuable, and it is just junk. Wizards will have protections for their books and scrolls, experiments and items, and more rare spell components. Temples will have divine magics and other things to protect their wealth. Even the poor who have squirreled away a few coppers or silvers will have a hole in the wall, floor, ceiling, or hearth to hide their meager wealth.

A city is a living thing unto itself. The GM will need to have the thieves and others of that ilk doing things, or have a list of things they might be doing, in case players seek it, or something needs to happen in town to keep the game interesting. There could be some famous or rare item that is rumored to be kept somewhere in the city, like a wealthy merchant or noble is known to have the biggest ruby in the land. If the player characters are in town, is it a coincidence that an ambitious thief or gang of thieves have a plan to steal it?

For a fallen city, there will be rumors of great treasures for those who dare to seek it. Where was it kept originally? Is it still there, or is what could not be hauled off hidden nearby, in hopes that those who found it would return?

How might vaults and other stores of wealth be protected?

  1. Hidden – Behind a tapestry or curtain, behind a concealed or secret door, under the floor, above the ceiling, by magic either made invisible or disguised. The more unusual and less obvious the hiding place, the better. Hiding in plain sight can be a good one. Location, location, location. It must be difficult for thieves to gain access, but must not be too inconvenient for the owner to get at his or her stuff.
  2. Locked – Bars, locks, gates, and anything that presents a physical barrier that prevents just opening the door or lid. This can include magic, like wizard lock.  Where is the key?
  3. Guarded – One or more men, monsters, items, spells or a combination thereof can actively prevent access. What is the password? How avoid having to fight the guard(s)?
  4. Trapped – Active or passive traps. A pit before a chest is passive. Spring loaded dart traps are active. Again, this can include magical traps, like fire trap. How can one avoid/defeat/circumvent the trap(s)?
  5. A combination of two or more of Hidden, Locked, Guarded, or Trapped.
  6. A combination of all of the above.

My article for I on Innkeepers touched on hiding places for the proprietor.

Back in February, I wrote a post with some tables on Locks.

Day 21 U is for Unusual

U – Unusual – Sites, sights, sounds, smells, etc. See DMG tables for dungeons for ideas.

What is unique about this city? What sets it apart from the others?

Is it a tourist or pilgrimage destination?

Is it the site of a famous battle, a famous magical occurrence, wizard dual, undead invasion, etc?

What is so interesting or special about this place that it would bring the player characters here? Why should they care about this magnificent work that you have labored over for hours, days, and perhaps weeks? In short, so what?

In my campaign, I had an NPC advise them not to go to the ancient city because I did not have it ready. I finally made some rough plans and ideas, and they said they were headed to the city, but kept making detours, then we have not played. This series has been me fleshing out ideas, and making some charts and tables to help me with this city or any of the other ancient cities around the fallen empire. I can also use this to help with a new setting of various genres, not just fantasy.

A city can be a place where the town, wilderness, and dungeon meet. A city has all the “civilized” aspects, plus all the odd things that can happen there. The wilderness can encroach on the city, when a monster or group of crazed animals enter the city. The city may have lots of unexplored spaces underground, sewers, cellars, etc.

A city gives the opportunity to have multiple cultures interacting. Players can find a job, find someone or something they are looking for, or get into more trouble or find some injustice or other happening that they can act on now and be delayed in getting to the dungeon, or act on later when the consequences of failing to act now are played out.

Cities present the image of civilization, is it only a skin-deep veneer, or does it permeate the mindset of its denizens? Does what this city considers acceptable behavior something strict and uptight, or something more nebulous, or perhaps something frightening to the truly civilized?

Cities of any size will have a dark underbelly. How easily can this be found? Does it infiltrate all levels of society, a single general neighborhood, or only those places that you must know where to look?

Every genre of RPG, fantasy, science fiction, etc. has a place for cities. Some claim that you can’t have good adventures in cities, other claim you can’t have good adventures or good campaigns without them. I say, it all depends on the desire of the players and the skill of the GM.

Cities can be a place of refuge and safety, or they can be a bottomless pit of danger.

Things happen in cities that rarely or never happen anywhere else. It’s hard to have a riot in a thorp of 20 people. At least, what we tend to think of as a riot. Under a certain size, it is hard for anyone to avoid the prying eyes of everyone in town. If you have ever lived in a small town, you know what it is like to live in the fishbowl of everyone knowing your business, sometime before you know it. For certain illicit activities, it is difficult to keep it under wraps without a large number of the town knowing about it. Unless it is the kind of town where everyone is in on it, a science fiction/horror movie like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where strangers are shunned, rushed out of town, or incorporated into the population, small towns won’t have some of the activity found in cities.

Cities of a large enough area and population can have all manner of things occurring. Smuggling, drugs, prostitution, murder, robbery, and other violence, graft, and intrigue. Certain things may not be illegal, like drugs and prostitution, merely frowned upon by the “respectable people”. Of course, some of them are hypocrites in secret. Is it truly a secret, or a known thing, but never spoken of type secret?

If there is a thieves guild, how organized are they? A newer guild may only focus on the small scale robbery and break ins. A more established guild, or one with a more thoughtful guild master might find a way to gain wealth without drawing the ire of the guards, or figure out how to bring the guards into it, etc.

The black market will require someone to bring in the illicit things, whether they be items prohibited from import from an enemy country in war time, or items that require a high tax, or items that are illegal for some reason.

Will there be any cities that are so unusual that there is no thieves guild and the party thief exhausts his knowledge of thieve’s cant, and still can’t make contact? Would this be a population under mind control, truly free of crime, or pulling a fast one on all newcomers?

Is there a zoo, menagerie, museum, or other site to see in this city? Would the wild animals from the zoo of a fallen city have descendants roaming about? Perhaps a pride of lions, a troupe of monkeys or apes, or even something more fantastic.

Would there be some item or artifact of the ancients on display in a living city, or would a fallen city hold the mundane and marvelous items of the forgotten past? This is something where fantasy, science fiction, horror, and apocalyptic genres all converge. The ancients had things no longer used or understood. Things that can change the course of events in the current time. In AD&D this is represented by the Artifacts and Relics in the DMG, in Metamorphosis Alpha this is represented by the forgotten technology that is found and perhaps put to a helpful use.

+Adam Muszkiewicz’s city of Ur-Hadad is a mixture of all kinds of weird and unusual. Rugs made there have some strange property that hold information that can only be understood by a few. Some of this, I am sure he comes up with at the table as it happens, and other stuff he has notes for ideas. Use whichever works for you.

Make a list of what is unique or special about this city.

  • Why was this city founded?
  • Why is is located here?
  • What is the one thing this city is/was known for?
  • As with +Jeff Rient’s 20 Quick Quetions for Your Campaign Setting about the greatest people, monsters, and so forth in a campaign, do the same for your cities.
  • What are the major imports/exports of the city?
  • Where is/was the largest/most valuable gem, treasure, magic item located?
  • What is the predominate architecture of the city?
  • What is the craziest rumor you will hear? Is it true?
  • Anything else you feel is needed to bring this city to life at the table. Review my prior posts on cities in this A to Z Challenge for other ideas for your cities, like Entrances & Exits.
  • Ask the players for their ideas, use them then and there, or save them for later.

The unique, unusual, distinctive bits and bobs you attach to your cities help bring them to life, and make them different, so that while cities have some aspect of sameness to them, they are not all cookie cutter duplicates. The same should be said of dungeons. While they are all underground, there should be something different about them. All the tombs in a series of barrows might be nearly identical, except one has more traps, or more undisturbed traps, or more wealth, or better construction, etc. Likewise, all the cities of an empire spread across hundreds of miles might all have common elements, but relative age and local culture will add their own distinctiveness. As with everything else in RPG’s it is expected to steal ideas, that is, gain inspiration, by borrowing from reality.

What can you learn about real ancient cities, or current cities? What twist can you find to put on like cities, or what quality or aspect of cities can you “swap out” to make each one distinctive? Even if running adventures in living cities is not your thing, such embellishments will help make your dead cities more real.

For example, Kansas City, Missouri, is called Cow Town, for all the stock yards that were the end point of cattle drives, once the rail head moved west from Sedalia. Large stockyards have a distinctive odor. If you have ever driven by a modern stockyard, you get the idea. The direction of the wind, and location of the yards will influence how far the smell travels and how strong it is.

Rome is called the City of Fountains for all of its fountains. The list could go on.

 

Day 20 T is for Temples

T – Temples

Temples present a special case. Ancient wards against evil or good, if an evil temple, would still be in place. Clay golems and other holy/unholy guardians could be about. What sort of quest might be placed on someone to take up a holy relic?

My BA degree is in history. Way back in college, two of the professors had a lecture about the Medieval Cathedral as scripture. They pointed out how the stained glass windows, statues, and other facets of the soaring cathedrals served to help educate the illiterate masses. The high ceilings showed the awe and power of God, and symbolized the distance between man and heaven. Various statues and stained glass windows usually portrayed a story. For example, Jesus is only depicted with a beard before his resurrection. I won’t go into further details here, just enough to illustrate the idea. If you want to debate the merits of religion in general or Christianity in particular, this is not the place.

How detailed you wish to get is up to you, but what types of art are in the temples in your campaign?

Art can be in stone as statues, reliefs, functional or only decorative. Such as many gargoyles’ mouths being the downspouts to direct the flow of rainwater off of roofs.

Cloth is used for tapestries with either scenes, or designs, vestments, liturgical cloths on altars, pulpits, and lecterns. Banners, flags, pennons and other large, but mobile cloth could be about the temple. they could be used in processions, or when the faithful go to battle. There could be holy or unholy battle standards of a magical and perhaps intelligent variety that ward off enemies of the faith, or assist those aligned with the goals of the deity (ies) in question.

Glass can be for windows either clear or stained glass, glass or ceramic ceremonial cups, glass, bottles, plates, etc. Do the current inhabitants have the technology for large panes of glass? (Magic fire, i.e. a fire started by magic, like burning hands, fireball, dragon’s breath, etc. is known to burn hotter. Forges, ceramics kilns, and glass works get a bonus for using magical fire.)

Frescoes on walls or floors can be in glass, ceramic, precious stones, colored stones, or shells. These can depict scenes or merely patterns and designs.

Would a temple be recognizable as such to the uninitiated? Perhaps a temple is not in the temple district, so that hint is missing. Perhaps is has a totally different architecture. A temple to an infernal or subterranean deity might be underground, or carved into the stone of a hill. Perhaps only some symbol alerts others (who know its meaning) about what is inside.

A temple, if such exist, to a deity who is patron to magic users and illusionists, might just look like a big wizard’s tower, with a lab and all the attendant equipment as the sanctuary. Would this be in the main temple district, or near or in the college of mages?

A temple to a good deity could have an evil creature trapped. How easy is it for the PC’s to free it by mistake? Likewise and evil temple could have a good creature trapped. Would the trap make the good creature appear as a foul demon? Perhaps by an illusion?

Would a large parkland inside or near the city contain a grove holy to druids and worshipers of nature deities?

Would a large enough human city have enough demi-humans in it to support temples to their deities? A full on dwarven temple, might have a working forge. A gnome temple might have a gem cutter shop. A halfling temple might appear more like an inn with an excellent larder and wine cellar, and the best halfling beers and ales. An elven temple could be a grove, or a stone circle, or other nature/woodland themed building. Would these temples be in the temple district, or would they be segregated to the districts of the appropriate races?

Will some temples have the most holy area that requires a saving throw for a non-believer or opposite aligned creature to enter that area? For example, evil/good, law/chaos, etc. Did such a protection once exist and the temple was defiled? Will the players be able to restore the blessings of the temple, if they are good? Will an evil big bad be able to restore the power and might of an evil/chaotic temple?

Will temples have their own cemeteries? Will rulers and the famous be interred under a temple? Will the temple district or any temples be near the main graveyard for the city? Will it only contain smaller sanctuaries sufficient to conduct the burial rites of that group?

Will an evil temple worshiping undead be allowed to coexist contemporaneously with a temple devoted to the destruction of undead? Perhaps in a time of upheaval, the people turn to darker ways rather than trusting in the goodness of the deities of light and good. In an ancient, fallen city, what will the player’s be able to learn about such things? Will a sage know, will their be a hidden scroll, or will the players have no way to know and just have to deal with whatever is going on?

Will there be altars, statues, and shrines throughout the city to remind the people of the presence of the various deities? Will a seafaring culture that worships a sea god have its temple near the docks, or partly in the water? Or will the main temple be in the temple district with a shrine by the water? Perhaps what is now a large shrine by the water was once the original temple, and with the growth of the city, a larger temple central to the worshipers was needed in the temple district.

Types of Worship Centers:

  • Marker (Stone, collection of stones, ruins, worked stone, monument, obelisk,statue, free standing altar, etc.)
  • Landmark (Physical place, stone, collection of stones, holy grove, cave, special tree, hill, mountain, ranges of hills or mountains, etc.)
  • Semi-Permanent (Hut, tent, booth, wagon, etc.)
  • Shrine (From a small covered road side altar, to a small building. Contains the bare minimum for the rites of this group, altar, pulpit, or the equivalent.)
  • Sanctuary (The worship center for a village or small town.)
  • Temple (The worship center for a town or small city.)
  • Cathedral (A worship center for a large city or a special location, either significant to the faith, or of some other importance, such as political or economic.)

Types of Worship Items:

  • Incense (Air?)
  • Water (holy/unholy, ceremonial bathing/purification)
  • Fire (Candles, braziers, ceremonial fires, sacrificial fires, forges)
  • Earth (dirt, clay, mud, stone)
  • Dress (Whether special dress is limited to the clergy, or there is some ceremonial garb for all worshipers. Like the Sunday best, or yarmulkes & prayer shawls.)
    • Are there any rules for day to day dress of believers?
  • Standing or Sitting? (In the early Christian church, the pastor/teacher sat during the sermon and the congregation stood. Later pews and kneelers developed.)
  • Prayer rugs
  • Prayer bead or other devices
  • Holy/unholy symbols
  • Giving (Tithe means 10%. Some religions on Earth do more or less.)
  • Sacrifices (time, money, labor, blood (from blood letting of self or others, or animal sacrifice, or human sacrifice.)
    • This can be combined with burning, pouring out or sprinkling of water or other substances, sprinkling or dipping in the blood
    • An altar or other place to collect or perform sacrifices is needed.
    • Reading of entrails or patterns of blood?
  • Books/Tomes/Scrolls of teachings or ceremonial instructions like a prayer book.
  • Directions – Is the rising sun or moon, or alignment of the stars important? For example, for druids, the change of seasons is important.
    • Do buildings have to have a special orientation?
  • Omens & Portents – Are there certain everyday signs that are treated as good or ill? For example, what does it mean when a black cat crossed your path, or you see an owl in flight during the day? Do these signs really mean anything, or are they just tales?
  • Can non-believers enter any of the area, or is any of it off limits to non-believers?
  • Monastics/Ascetics? Does this faith have monks, nuns, or hermits?
  • Organization? Is there a central authority/hierarchy, or is each site independent?
  • Heretics & Schisms? Are there divisions in the faith with more than one branch? Do the different branches consider the other to be heretics or merely on a different path?
  • Sounds (Bells, gongs, cymbals, musical instruments, singing, chanting, etc.)
  • Movement (Is dancing part of worship, or frowned on? Processions, entrances, exits, etc.)
  • Colors (Are there any significant colors? Are they just the same colors all the time, or do they change with certain times throughout the year?)
  • Times & Seasons (Are their certain times of day, week, month, year, or season that are important? For example, a sun cult would see sunrise and sunset and the solstices and equinoxes as important, and lunar and solar eclipses might signify a battle of the light vs. the night, or good vs. evil. Does every deity get worshiped on the same day?)
  • Does celibacy play a factor for clerics? (Never, for a special term, only until married, life, etc.)
  • Food (Are there rules about what kind of foods can or can’t be eaten? Are there any ritual foods?)
    • Ritual fasting?
  • Intoxicants/Hallucinogens (Wine, beer, liquor, or other fermented substances, mushrooms, herbs, etc.)
  • Hair (Shaved, long, unkempt, no rules, etc.)
  • Body Markings (Permanent – Ritual tattoos or scars? Temporary – Something like henna markings or body paint.)
  • Most forms of worship seek to touch all the senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, movement, mental, and emotional.
  • Relics (Objects of significance, such as a weapon, tool, device, or instrument, or a body part of a famed member of the faith.)
  • Idols/Images/Statuary/Artistic Representations of the deities, famous faithful, or mythological scenes.
  • Fertility cults (They got quite raucous in the ancient world. It varied from ritual sex of a few, to everyone letting loose. Keep in mind that not everyone needs to go into minute detail about this.)

Rites of Passage: (What happens, how are they celebrated/observed? Not every event will be ritualized or celebrated in a formal way.)

  • Birth
  • Puberty/Adulthood (Religious and Traditional Culture may have separate but coextant processes. Some might be opposed to each other.)
  • Marriage (Divorce?) (How many spouses and what form of marriage?)
  • Pregnancy/Miscarriage
  • Death
  • Burial (Includes cremation & are the ashes scattered or gathered and put in an urn, entombment, platform burial like some native American tribes, burial at sea, mummification, ritual cannibalism, etc.)
  • Status (graduation, appointments, promotions, elevations, enoblement, knighthood, crowning, enfeoffment, etc.)

Shape of Religious Buildings:

  • Round
  • Square
  • Rectangular
  • Pentagon
  • Hexagon
  • Other Polygon
  • Must include a natural element. For example, one end open to trees, or include a significant cave or holy pool.

Building Materials:

  • Rough cut lumber
  • Rough cut stones
  • Unworked stones
  • Earth/Clay/Brick/Adobe/Cob
  • Fitted stones
  • Finished lumber
  • Any wood
  • Any stone
  • Wood or Stone
  • Any material
  • Special (Dragon bones, whale bones, oliphant tusks, semi-precious or precious stones, precious metals, magical materials like stone from mud to rock or wall of stone or wall of iron, etc.)

Features:

  • Number of floors allowed. (Is odd or even numbers important? Is above or below ground permitted/required?)
  • Number of rooms allowed. (Only one big room for ceremonies, or are cells, kitchens, hostels, outbuildings, walled compounds, etc. allowed?)
  • Towers (Allowed? Is a certain size, shape, color, or placement required?)
  • Religious symbols on the building?
  • Tithe house or barn (Room, building, or other type of treasury to hold collected donations.)
  • Parsonage/Rectory (Where do the clerics sleep? On site in the religious building, or in huts, cells, or houses constructed on the grounds?)
  • Is there a special room or location where the clerics learn their spells?

One does not need to detail every tiny detail of a group of worshipers, but keep the above in mind to add a special flavor or distinctiveness so that all temples are not the same identical structures. Perhaps all the temples in a given mythos are the same general design, except for the god of the underworld and it has to be a natural cave, for example. Maybe a certain color, symbol, word, or substance is required or forbidden in the worship area.

It can be fun and interesting to develop these things, but if it never comes up in play, don’t let it frustrate you. If it will frustrate you that no one will ever know of all your detailed preparations, don’t spend the time to do that much. Use the time to detail the things that will be used in play.

In March, 2014 I published an article on districts or quarters of a city.