The Onderland Campaign
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Author:  pbj44 [ Wed Jan 12, 2011 5:39 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Onderland Campaign

Perhaps Fox relates to being a cheat or deceiver? Again, as Ian said, very interesting stuff!

Author:  Ian.Plumb [ Wed Jan 12, 2011 9:10 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Onderland Campaign

higgins wrote:
However, an interesting passage:

Title XXX. Concerning Insults
3. If any one, man or woman, shall have called a woman harlot, and a not have been able to prove it, he shall be sentenced to 1800 denars, which make 45 shillings.

There are many insults that are also descriptors. While calling a prostitute a "harlot" is demeaning the law accepts that it is far more demeaning to call a virtuous woman a harlot. The same would apply to the term bastard. Or thief. And so on.

Title XXX. Concerning Insults4. If any person shall have called another "fox," he shall be sentenced to 3 shillings.
5. If any man shall have called another "hare," he shall be sentenced to 3 shillings.

higgins wrote:
The "hare" part I can understand, as this is a common expression in Estonian how to call a coward, but what kind of insult is calling someone "a fox"? :? However, now that I think of it, this particular document doesn't say that it matters whether the accusation is true or not (as in case of the harlot). That seems to imply that calling someone "a fox" or "a hare" must be offensive beyond limits (no proof required).

These terms are simply derogatory -- they are not descriptions that might be true. So there is no way to convince a judge that you were referring to a person's legitimacy, or occupation, or culture, or religion rather than the negative connotations that might come with it.

In 1350s Lyon the biggest insult you can do is knock someone's hat off their head. It inevitably leads to blows -- and the affray charges refer to the person who knocked the hat off as the person who started the affray, not the person who swung first. The judge understood that the insult was beyond the pale...

To understand a culture you need to understand their laws.


Author:  higgins [ Wed Jan 12, 2011 2:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Onderland Campaign

Ian.Plumb wrote:
These terms are simply derogatory -- they are not descriptions that might be true.
Well, yes, but I simply figured what might be their essence that makes them derogatory. They must imply something and perhaps there's something more behind the hat-knocking as well, rather than a simple insulting gesture?

Author:  Ian.Plumb [ Wed Jan 12, 2011 9:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Onderland Campaign

Ian.Plumb wrote:
These terms are simply derogatory -- they are not descriptions that might be true.

higgins wrote:
Well, yes, but I simply figured what might be their essence that makes them derogatory. They must imply something and perhaps there's something more behind the hat-knocking as well, rather than a simple insulting gesture?

Anything that's derogatory implies something. As you say, calling someone a rabbit is the same thing as calling someone a coward -- if you are a member of that culture.

Knocking off someone's hat wasn't an insulting gesture -- in the same sense that taking someone's beer and tipping it on them isn't an insulting gesture. It is an escalation towards combat.

Why is a good question. Academic speculation revolves around the idea of personal space. At the time most people lived in shared space -- not a private room. So the notion of personal space was very different.

Here in Australia, farmers will talk to each other three paces apart. When they meet they will each take a step forward so that they can shake hands and then they will take a step back in order to start a conversation. Standing inside this distance to talk is very much seen as being inside the other person's personal space -- and it will make them uncomfortable.

That's one extreme. In medieval Lyon the speculation is that personal space was almost non-existent. People grew up crowded together sharing a one-room space. So the hat-tipping thing was seen as crossing that personal-space boundary -- deliberately provocative with a cultural expectation of violent response.

I'm not sure that's right -- I just see it as a cultural thing, like a ritual in a way. Like slapping someone with a glove is a pre-cursor to a duel.


Author:  pbj44 [ Mon Jan 17, 2011 1:13 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Onderland Campaign

Some thoughts on druids in the Onderland campaign.


The Druids of the Onderland

I've had very mixed feelings about druids for a long time, in part because, in all my years of playing, I've only ever refereed a single long-running druid PC (and he started out as a magic-user who, through a badly-worded wish -- "I wish I could cast druid spells. -- became a druid).

The other part of it is that I've never been happy with their popular portrayal among gamers as beneficent environmentalists. Perhaps I simply enjoyed De Bello Gallico too much in high school, I don't know, but, for whatever reason, I've always viewed the druids as somewhat sinister, where druids are a type of human "monster" served by barbarian followers.

The take on druids I've adopted in the Onderland campaign ties into the idea that the order of druids was composed of former priests, who apostatized from their original Hexadic faith and joined this Nature cult.

For this reason, priests view druids with extreme distrust and often hatred, seeing them both as apostates and as competitors. Druids are thus unwelcome in the civilized areas where the church holds sway. They live and exert their influence in the wilds and among the barbarian Wild Men where worship often involves the sacrifice of human beings to appease elemental powers.

As a consequence, they do not abide by human moral concepts, adopting instead a philosophy dedicated to protecting nature. That balance just as often requires acts that non-druids view as evil as those they view as good. This, combined with the fact that druids view civilization as an impediment to their plans, makes them objects of much fear and distrust.

Druidic philosophy in the Onderland accepts the survival of the fittest as a moral principle, which is why druids advance within their organization only through combat. At any given time, there can be no more than four Master Druids, two Arch druids, and one High Druid.

Most contests are to the death, which discourages all but the most powerful and confident druids from seeking the highest ranks within their hierarchy.

Author:  Ian.Plumb [ Mon Jan 17, 2011 6:20 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Onderland Campaign

pbj44 wrote:
Some thoughts on druids in the Onderland campaign.

Druidic philosophy in the Onderland accepts the survival of the fittest as a moral principle...

Yes! A campaign where Social Darwinism is enshrined in religious belief! To assist the weak is to run counter to the moral imperative. Awesome!


Author:  higgins [ Mon Jan 17, 2011 9:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Onderland Campaign

pbj44 wrote:
I've never been happy with their popular portrayal among gamers as beneficent environmentalists.
That's a fair point! My only druid character was nobleman tied to the nature as a curse. I even found de Bello Callico on the net. Nice reference! :)

Author:  pbj44 [ Mon Jan 17, 2011 10:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Onderland Campaign

Thanks guys!

Author:  pbj44 [ Sun Jan 30, 2011 2:33 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Onderland Campaign

A short time ago one of my service buddies asked if he could play a solo email game with me and I agreed. He decided that he wanted a game with a bit of mystery and intrigue. Below are some notes from our little game for your entertainment. I have not included the OOC talk back and forth, as well as dice rolls, so some of it may seem to be a bit stilted.


Our adventure begins with Stefan on business for his family while in the capitol, Carse.

“Having concluded your business and deposited your families funds, you now find yourself with a few free days to kill. You are just starting to look for some entertainment when you receive a summons from Gortlan Emarson, Seneschal to the Jarl. You have certainly heard the name, everyone knows it. Lord Emarson handles all of the Kingdom’s day to day affairs for the Jarl, freeing him for major policy work and dealing with the various noble houses. It is considered a signal honor to be called upon to speak with him as few are seldom asked. The Ornstaadt page fidgets and waits for your response.”

I will not keep him waiting long.
I acknowledge the honer quickly and ask when Lord Emarson expects me.
If immediately (and I am properly dressed), I will follow the page directly.

"Very good Milord.”
He leads you through crowded streets to a seldom used postern gate of the castle and after a nod to the guards on duty, leads you through a maze of hallways before admitting you to a small office and departing.
Before you sits a small weathered man who though well past his prime still has the look of steel in his veins. He bids you to sit and thoughtfully strokes his salt and pepper goatee as his eyes play over you.

“ I will not waste your time because I presume you value yours as I do mine. Someone is attempting to embarrass House Ornstaadt and I need it stopped.

Some three weeks journey from here is the city of Seddamorra . Your kinsman, Sir Hugo Ornstaadt has resided there for many years and maintained our control of a large silver mine located but a short ride outside the city. We share the proceeds from this mine with several other Houses, some of whom are eager to see House Ornstaadt fail in it's duties. We operate the mine and provide security and transport and receive the lion’s share of the profit for our trouble.

During the past several months there have been three separate robberies of ingots being transported, with all of our guards slain in each case. The first two robberies were dismissed as attacks by Wild Men raiders.

But this last attack was different...

One of Sir Hugo’s monogrammed gloves was found at the scene, and Sir Hugo will not account for his time that day. Tempers among the other Houses are coming to a boil and Sir Hugo will surely be accused publically in a short time.

This must not happen!

I want you to take a letter of introduction to Sir Hugo advising him that I am sending you to him to assist him with finding the culprit behind these robberies. This you will do, but I must ask you to perform a darker duty. If Sir Hugo truly is behind this mischief then this stain must be quietly blotted out…do you take my meaning…??

Duty can often be harsh and unforgiving…They say death is light as a feather but duty is as heavy as a mountain. I believe this is so.”

Staring at the crackling fire he sighs.

“Slip out of the city quietly this night and take the Old King’s Highway west. It follows the course of the river and will lead you to the city of Tulan . From there take the road sough straight to Seddamorra. Your first goal should be to reach Wellan’s Keep, a fortified trading village half-way to Tulan, then onward to Seddamorra. Beware of riders on the road from other Houses.

By leaving quickly you can stay ahead of the worst of the winter storms. A few of the ingots have turned up here in the capitol, so stay wary and gather what information you can along the journey to Seddamorra. Take a spare mount from the castle stables so you can make better time.”

“Will you do this thing?”

Stefan ponders this briefly, perhaps to long.
Sending a comparative youth, surprises him, but he will not question Lord Emarson's charge.

"This shall be done, my Lord. I so swear it"

Stefan stands, gives a slight bow.
Returns to his lodgings, gathers his and the horse from the stable and quietly departs.

I am not sure how far Wellan's Keep is, but with the spare mount,I push to make it there in good time.
I secure the letter well within my leather armor (he chain is packed away).

Haste being more important to me than running into other riders, I push hard.

Having quickly packed, you hurry to the western gate so as to be well away from the city before dark. Joining the throng moving out of the gate you gradually move your mounts away from the crowd and pick up a good pace along the road.

Setting a brisk pace you move quickly down the road and after several hours leave the fields and farms surrounding the city far behind you. As dusk approaches you adjust your coat against the chill of the early evening, with nothing but an eerie silence to keep you company.

Several miles back, outlined but an instant against the setting sun, you spy the shadowed forms of several mounted riders passing over a crest of the road some distance behind you.

Well, that is disturbing; I was hoping to slip out unobserved.

I doubt every minor noble gets a shadow, so I must assume the secrecy of my "mission" has been compromised.

I will push on for several hours if I have enough light. Hoping the river can amplify what the moon is giving me.

If Wellan’s Keep is too far to make by dusk the next day, before dawn I will attempt a rune. My plan is to use “Os” to an area of the roadway. Once they hit it, the sounds that I have been making while traveling will be heard as if from a distance ahead.

If this works (or I at least I am able to stay hidden), I will pack away the surcoat and put on my chain. I will also ditch the shield, all in the hopes of altering my appearance enough to be overlooked.

Travelling through the night you can occasionally hear the sound of a hoof striking cobblestone, so you know they are still behind. Before dawn arrives you draw you animals into the woods and cast your rune.

Biding your time you wait until the riders are next to your hiding spot in the woods. You can hear their horses stomping and blowing as the riders pause and converse in low tones.

"might have..."



Deciding not to wait any longer you silently cast your rune...
Just when you have begun to curse your bad luck at having failed, there is a hiss from one of the riders!


Almost as one the riders bolt down the road! Soon the sound of their pursuit vanishes in the distance...

With a sigh of relief you check your map and see that you are still several days ride from Wellan's Keep. You have been riding all night and your eyes burn from lack of sleep and your stomach is growling...

I need to still run a cold camp.

I drift back a bit further into the woods and set up a camp.
Feed and hobble the horses, then myself and settle in.

Plan to move out no latter than noon and put in an solid 8 hours, keeping the horses as fresh as possible.

Author:  pbj44 [ Mon Feb 07, 2011 7:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Onderland Campaign

This is a copy of the warning that I sent to my players about the "Kindly druids".


Onderland Druids and the sacrificial rite

From the library of the Jarl – “Sacrifice is a common theme amongst the heathen druids of the Wild Men. Some years after the discovery of this vile practice, a body of our own Hexadic priests encountered a number of these “druids” thirty leagues north of Mertron and demanded, under threat of death, that they desist from their murderous practice. The druids defended themselves as follows:

"Life is because of the land; with its sacrifice it has given us life. It produces all sustenance which nourishes life."

What these druids refer to is their central belief: that a great, on-going sacrifice sustains the land. Everything is "spiritual flesh-hood". All things —earth, crops, moon, stars and people— springs from the severed or buried bodies, fingers, blood or the heads of the sacrificed. Humanity itself is "those deserved and brought back to life through penance". A strong sense of indebtedness is connected with this false view of the world. Indeed, “debt-payment” is a commonly used metaphor amongst these druids for human sacrifice, and, it is said that the victim was someone who "gave their service".”

Most of these sacrificial rituals take more than two people to perform. In the usual procedure of the ritual, the sacrifice would be taken to the top of an outdoor temple. The sacrifice would then be held on a stone slab by four druids, and his/her abdomen would be sliced open by a fifth with a ceremonial knife made of flint. The priest would then grab the heart and tear it out, still beating. It would be placed in a bowl held by a statue honoring the woodland powers, and the body thrown down from the temple heights.

Before and during the killing, druids and Wild Men (gathered below) stab and bleed themselves as well. Hymns, whistles, spectacular costumed dances and percussive music marked different phases of the rite. Outsiders are the preferred sacrifices, followed by criminals from the community. But, if the former cannot be had, an innocent (typically elderly or infirm) will be chosen from the village.

The body parts would then be disposed of with the viscera fed to the village dogs, and the bleeding head placed on display at the foot of the shrine.

Author:  pbj44 [ Tue Feb 08, 2011 2:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Onderland Campaign


Ron Edwards and me brawling on a raft - or how I play my Onderland game

There was a recent brief discussion in another thread concerning player or GM fiat and the narrative approach to gaming, so I decided to share with those interested, some of my thoughts on how I run my sandbox Onderland campaign. I snipped what you will read below from an email sent earlier this year while in a similar discussion. Note: This is NOT a poke at anyone else's style of play as I don't think there is such a thing as "wrong" gaming. Gaming I do not care for...meh, okay.

The most important thing to remember is to not assume that the PCs will succeed at any point during the adventure.

As a referee, your job is to be completely impartial during game play. You have absolute power at the game table and can bequeath success or mandate failure at any time. Doing either of those things ruins the game, as both give no incentive to play well.

Do not fudge the dice. Ever. Luck is a part of the game, and the dice are there for a reason. Resist the temptation of sparing characters that fail or even die due to “bad luck” or a “stupid die roll.”

Would it be acceptable to tell a player that just rolled a stunning success that you’ve decided, just because it’s more fun, that the die roll doesn’t count and he instead failed? I don’t think so. So why would ignoring the dice to favor players be acceptable?

Good game play will tip the scales of fortune and those that rely on pure luck deserve what they get – either way. At the same time, if an incredibly lucky roll derails the entire adventure and gives the players a quick victory, it should stand. It needs to work both ways. When the dice go badly for the players, they should be thinking of how to not let a roll of the die be the sole determiner of their fates. And when the dice go a little too well for the players, the referee should note what he needs to do to prevent a single die roll from determining the course of an entire adventure.

Traditional games (pen and paper) are all about the players (and referee) learning to play better over time. Demand and reward player excellence and the game will be more challenging in the long run.

So what are the consequences of deciding to play this way?

The party is just lost and sitting around because they didn’t find the secret door that leads to the next section of the dungeon? Tough. It goes unexplored.

The party missed a vital clue and has no idea where to turn next in a murder investigation? Tough. The killer gets away.

There are too many options to choose from, and the players are disorganized and can’t agree on an option and look to the referee for guidance? Tough.

This only works if the referee is willing to realize that sometimes, all his work on an adventure is going to be wasted. The players are sometimes going to be unwilling or unable to see it all. The referee must contain his ego and resist the urge to introduce some way of being able to show all his work off. And the referee must not take the unused, unexplored parts of his adventure and plug them in elsewhere, as this negates the choices the players have made that led to them, intentionally or not, failing to explore the areas in this particular location.

Playing this way also means that the game can “stop” at any time because a battle wipes out the PCs, or some other disastrous result that means the mission will come to an abrupt end. Oh well. Of course success is always more fun than failure. But if failure is not an option, then the success is but an illusion, it’s fake, it’s a lie. And by taking the attitude that the end result determines the fun of the game, then suddenly the process of playing the game is not fun in and of itself.

I don’t need to say anything about how stupid that is, do I?

Every adventure must have situations that directly and truly threaten the lives of the characters participating. If there is no true threat, it is not an adventure, it’s a tour.

I'll go so far as to say there should be situations designed specifically to kill characters. A monster that's way too tough. A trap that's going to claim a victim. Save or die. These sorts of things. Every. Single. Time. The key is to put these "expected death" situations in places where it isn't necessary to encounter them. The players must choose to engage in these areas and situations.

Every adventure must have meaningful choices that the players must make, and these choices must significantly alter the flow of the adventure for them to have any meaning.

The absolute key to good gaming is the ability of players to choose their character’s actions. Any adventure which dictates what a character thinks or feels or does (barring magical enchantments, of course) is a terrible, terrible adventure.

The choices made must be real choices. “Floating locations” of the “Well, whichever inn they stop at will be where the adventure happens” sort is not a real choice, it’s a mere illusion. This is worse than railroading because it is dishonest in its methods.

Choices should not only be offered, but forced: Things are happening, and the players have to do something, and none of the options seem to be all good. Of course, if they choose to not do anything, they’ve still made their choice and the consequences should be different (and more severe!) than if they’d done something.

A player-driven adventure (such as TroS) challenges the now-common philosophies of good adventure pacing. Common wisdom today states that if the action has slowed and the players either don’t know what to do or don’t want to do anything, the referee should make something happen to give the players something to react to. I feel that this ruins the pro-active element in the game, and creates a disincentive for players to control their own destiny.

But what do you do if all the obstacles described above actually stop the party?

You do nothing.

If a player complains that he’s bored and that nothing is happening, look at him and say, “I agree. So are you going to do something or not?”

It is not the referee’s job during a session to provide excitement for his playing group. His job is to administer the setting and resolve character actions. If the characters are taking no action and are not interacting with the setting, then the referee has literally nothing to do. The players are wasting his time.

But when the players go looking for adventure… you’d better have some for them to find…

Author:  Grettir [ Tue Feb 08, 2011 8:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Onderland Campaign

Great work on the druids in Onderland, pbj44. It’s been at least a dozen years that I had anything close to traditional rpg-druids in a game of mine, but they, too, were similiar to yours – little mery, survival oft he fittest, social Darwinism etc. Btw, I have since found that Christopher Lee in „The Wicker Man“ is a prime example of such a druid; charming, educated, slightly weird, and utterly devoid of mercy. If druids are currently figuring prominently in Onderland, an inspirational screening of the movie might not be off the mark, I think.

And I don’t want to derail your wonderful Onderland-thread into aniother discussion of gaming principles, so I’ll answer briefly. I agree almost totally. I think that there is a misconception of what is meant with narrative, possible stemming from games (White Wolf’s, for instance) declaring that gaming is storytelling, and that the referee ist he storyteller. In fact, the players should tell the story, with the refere facilitating their storytelling. For once, this means offering the players opportunities to engage in what interests them narratively. At the worst, this is heavy-handed (and rather deplorable) springing of events when the players are not being proactive, when it should actually be not obstructing but rather aiding the players‘ proactiveness – i.e. providing openings for their SAs, reacting to their own activities and not forcing them down prepared plotlines. This does of course include not faking rolls or any other means of railroading.

Where the referee’s narrative fiat comes in is ideally only thematically – trying to thread one o rat the most a scant few unifying themes through the events to connect them into a thematic whole instead of making them just a string of events. In short tying them together into a proper, thematically unified story.

I fear , though, that this is rather difficult to explain and may sound rather cryptic. :(

Author:  pbj44 [ Tue Feb 08, 2011 2:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Onderland Campaign

Thanks Michael for sharing your thoughts! You are quite right in the idea of my method being about empowerment of the players! In my sandbox style game I put out a variety of "hooks", each having elements or themes that the players have indicated are desirable via their SA selections. The rest is up to them.

P.S. - Okay, I have never seen the movie "The Wicker Man", but now I simply have to! I love Christopher Lee's characters so this will be a treat! Thanks for the tip!


Author:  pbj44 [ Tue Feb 08, 2011 3:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Onderland Campaign


On the Nature of the Gods of the Onderland

It may be a matter of my own personal beliefs or my view of how Burroughs, Howard, Lovecraft and others have depicted pulpish fantasy, but I don't want the Onderland to be a setting where the gods are living, tangible things.

At least, not the kind of gods that priests or their flocks would follow...

Instead, I leave the presence of the Holy Hexarchs and the Lords of Entropy as mysteries. Are they real or imagined? Will the gods intervene for me? The answer is a big fat patch of silence. We don’t even know if there are gods out there.

Now, there will be things worshiped as gods. Wild Men in the trackless wastes may worship the great Morwen as embodied nature spirits.

Degenerate folk dwelling in the great ruined city of the Cold Marshes may worship a great Spider God, which is actually a huge, semi-sentient spider.

A cult in the sewers of Seddamorra may worship the Mother of All, which is actually a huge pit of grey ooze.

But these aren't real gods, just powerful beings which are being worshiped by the superstitious or gullible.

Magic is real in the Onderland, but the real faces of the gods — if there are any gods — remain entirely inscrutable.

Author:  Grettir [ Tue Feb 08, 2011 4:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Onderland Campaign

pbj44 wrote:
Okay, I have never seen the movie "The Wicker Man", but now I simply have to! I love Christopher Lee's characters so this will be a treat!

I daresay it will. Christopher Lee has said repeatedly that he considers Lord Summerisle, his character in the movie, his all-time favourite part.

I couldn't resist it, so here's a sneak preview of Lord Summerisle, 20th-century Scottish druid: :D


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