Tuesday, 29 March 2011

April A-Z Blog Challenge

Throughout April I’ll be taking part in the April A-Z Blog Challenge, which I found out about via Mike D’s Sword+1 blog. There’s a list of some of the other OSR bloggers taking part at Old School Heretic's Blog .

Obviously, as this is the Redwald Blog mine will be about Redwald RPG rather than general OSR and OD&D posts. I’m not sure about specific subjects yet, but I was thinking it would just be short posts about general design choices, and setting ideas, rather than rules additions, or monster write ups.
Of course, I have no idea what to post about, beyond the first two letters of the alphabet . . .

A: A is for Elf!

B: To Beowulf or not to Beowulf?

Saturday, 12 March 2011

A Fairy Tale and Three Dwarven Treasures

Skirvir and the Truth Telling Lyre 
A long-time ago, in the hall of the Dweorgas King Yngvi, there lived a young artisan called Skirvir. He was apprenticed to the King’s master-maker; a sour and ill-tempered fellow called Alþófr.
Skirvir was a pleasant soul born with a love of wonder and magic. He wanted nothing more than to learn, and to craft beautiful treasures to please his king.
Alþófr was a sullen and lazy teacher, but year by year, secret by secret he learnt his craft until one day Alþófr told him he must make something special to present to the king.
Skirvir set about the task. He collected the webs of a thousand spiders. Cunningly he weaved them with a thread made of silver, silver forged in Dragon’s blood, and made a fine cloak.
When Alþófr saw it he bemoaned Skirvir’s lack of skill, but his eyes burnt with greed and envy. He demanded that Skirvir tell him what it did, so Skirvir explained that when the king wore the cloak of webs no matter how high he climbed, he would never fall or tumble from cliff face, ridge, or rock. More than that; if he offered the cloak to a guest, that guest would never be able to leave the Dweorgas king’s realm until the king asked for the cloak to be returned.
Alþófr took the cloak to present to the king. When he returned he was wrathful. He told Skirvir the king was displeased with the work and this reflected badly on Alþófr as a teacher. For that he beat poor Skirvir. However, when Skirvir saw the king he was always wearing the cloak of webs, and looked proud of his new treasure.
Riftrenge: The cloak of webs is a thing of true beauty. Delicate and ephemeral it glitters silver and scarlet due to the filigree of spider web dressed in silver, coloured with dragon blood.
Despite its delicate appearance it cannot be damaged or destroyed by anything but the most powerful magic; though it offers no protection to the person wearing it. They could be blasted to ash by dragon fire and only the cloak would remain.
Anyone who wears the cloak can climb anywhere and anything, traverse any narrow crossing, path or way and never fear that they will fall. It doesn’t help with the climb though. If offered to a guest that guest will never be able to leave the home of the cloak’s owner until the owner asks for it back. And the owner must ask for it. Those trapped by the cloak of webs cannot give it back, discard it, or offer it to anyone else.
Current Location/Owner: The cloak is still in the realm of the Dweorgas. It is currently worn by an outlaw who tried to steal the secret of Rune magic from the Dweorgas. The current king Nýraðr takes great joy describing all the ways he might execute him; secure in the knowledge that although the thief is free to roam the Dweorgas realm he may never leave as long as he wears the cloak of webs.
Determined to do better Skirvir set about making another gift for the king. Knowing that love and hate were two sides of the same shilling; Skirvir set to think on those things the king loved and hated most. It struck him that of all the things king Yngvi loved hunting the vile Nihtgenga was the foremost, and there was nothing he loathed more than an oath breaker.
The goblin Nihtgenga were once friends of the Dweorgas, but they broke and oath to the king and betrayed and slew many of his kin. Worse than this, before that time no Dweorgas had ever broken an oath. Now the poison of the Nihtgenga, and their treachery, had spread. Dweorgas were breaking their oaths to the king.
Skirvir knew of certain lichen that illuminated some of the lower caves. He took it and forged it into a sword made of dragon bone and iron; all the time whispering to the sword: telling it of the treachery of the Nihtgenga and the evil of oath breaking.
When he had finished he had created a wondrous weapon. A steel sword tinged with ivory and patterned with lichen green filigree. Near Nihtgenga it would glow bright green and if an oath anyone broke an oath within hearing it would fly from its scabbard, like a thing alive, and behead the oath breaker.
Alþófr grunted when he saw the weapon as if in displeasure but his hands betrayed him for he snatched it up greedily.
Unable to contain himself, Skirvir could not wait and so followed Alþófr to the king’s hall where he hid in the shadows at the back of the hall.
The king was overjoyed with the sword, and bestowed much praise, and many jewels upon Alþófr.
Skirvir was elated. This time the king liked his creation. He was crestfallen when he heard Alþófr claim credit for the sword. At least he had pleased the king and would not be beaten. He ran back to the workshop, but when Alþófr returned he told Skirvir the king liked the sword less than the cloak. He beat Skirvir even more savagely than before and threatened to have him banished if his next gift did not please the king.   
Áþbricedóm: The sword known as the oath breakers doom is a normal Dweorg Dragon tooth sword, but the blade is patterned with a moss-like green threading. The blade glows a dull green if a Nihtgenga is within a mile. It grows brighter the nearer it gets to goblins. If anyone is proven to be an oath breaker Áþbricedóm will fly through the air with supernatural speed and decapitate them. No Saving Throw, no defence, no mercy.
Current owner/Location:  It has been a generation since the Áþbricedóm was lost during a raid against the Nihtgenga of the western mountains. Some believe it is now in the possession of the Goblin king; others that it is simply lost somewhere in their territory.
Knowing exactly what he would craft next Skirvir set to work. He travelled to the lands of men. There he traded all he owned in exchange for wood. All, but for one gem encrusted necklace which he traded for seven strands of hair from an Eorðwerod queen called Bebba; a queen famed for knowing a lie when she heard one.  
He worked the wood into a Lyre, stained it with varnish made from the ground down shell of a dragon, made pegs of silver, cunningly coated queen Bebba’s hairs with gold, and strung them on the Lyre. Finally he set it to a tuning that only the most gifted of Scopas could fathom.   
When Alþófr saw the harp, greed glittered in his pig like eyes, he clenched and unclenched his hands, hands that twitched and itched in their desire to hold and possess the Lyre. With an avaricious grin on his face he told Skirvir it was badly made and the king would not be pleased.
Once more Skirvir followed his false-hearted master to the king’s hall and watched from the shadows.
The king was mightily pleased with the Lyre. “
“You have outdone yourself this time,” said king Yngvi.
“Who built the Lyre?” Skirvir shouted from the shadows.
The king looked displeased at such rudeness. The crowd chattered among themselves excitedly at such goings-on. Alþófr’s face was red with rage.
“I built it of course,” Alþófr said.
The strings of the Lyre vibrated and thrummed and then in a beautiful lilting voice it sang out two sweet notes that sounded the words . . .
“He lies.”
A hush descended on the hall. The king looked at Alþófr. “Who built the Lyre, Alþófr?” Yngvi asked.
“I did,” Alþófr said. With no hint of shame he raised his voice high and clear. “It is my creation, sire.”
“Lies, lies, lies,” sang the Lyre.
Skirvir stepped out of the shadows and stood before his king. “I crafted the Lyre, my lord,” he said. “The cloak, and the sword too.”
Everyone in the hall looked to the Lyre. It remained silent. The king looked at Alþófr.
“Can you not see!” Alþófr said. “It is a trick, a mark of jealousy, he has bewitched my lyre.”
“Lies, lies, lies” sang the Lyre once more; this time with a light mocking tone that drew sniggers from the crowd.
The king turned to Skirvir. “Explain,” he said.
“My lord I crafted them for you,” Skirvir said. “Each time Alþófr presented them as his own crafting, took your praise and treasure, then returned to me and beat.” He showed the king the marks of his beating. “Worst of all he told me you were displeased with my work.”
The crowd were outraged. The king’s gaze turned on Alþófr. A cold, hard gaze. Behind him his guards put hand to hilt.
“He is the liar!” Alþófr shouted.
“Lies,” sang the Lyre.
“I built the Lyre,” Alþófr said.
“Lies,” sang the Lyre.
Alþófr pointed at Skirvir. “I built it and he bewitched it!”
“Lies, Lies,” sang the Lyre.
“By my oath,” shouted Alþófr in ddesperation He held up his hand. “I swear I created the Lyre with my own two hands, I swear it.”
Once more the Lyre’s strings hummed and thrummed. “Lies,” it sang.
The king’s sword Áþbricedóm, the oath breakers doom, flew from its scabbard, twirled through the air, and beheaded Alþófr. Before his head hit the floor Áþbricedóm was back in the scabbard.
The king looked at Skirvir and smiled. “I believe you will make a fine master-maker,” he said.
All the jewels and riches that had been Alþófr’s were given to Skirvir; more too. He lived out his days happy and contented crafting many wondrous and magical treasures for his king.
Se Sóþcwide Hearpa: The Truth Telling Lyre is a superbly crafted seven string Lyre. It is decorated with draconic designs, and strung with golden strings. If tuned correctly (INT Check or Saving Throw) it will sing out the word ‘lies’ every time a lie is uttered in its presence. Other than that magical gift it is a superior instrument in all respects, and when played by a master Scop can quiet the rowdiest of mead hall crowds.
Current Location/Owner: The Truth Telling Lyre was gifted to the Kings of Westlund Seaxe and is in the hall of their current king now. However, the power of its magic is long since forgotten because the last two Westlund Scops lacked the skill to tune it correctly.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

A Magic Sword

Among the Eorðwerod there are no two peoples who hate each more than the Geats and the Jutes. This ancient enmity began when Etheldreda, a Jutish princess, was betrothed to the Geatish prince Herebeald, but his father King Hrēðel did not approve of this match.  Hrēðel forbade his son to marry, but Herebeald would not be swayed and renounced his claim to the Geatish throne for the sake of his beloved.  Enraged, by such disobedience, Hrēðel ordered his other sons Hǣþcyn and  Hygelāc to slay their brother. They invited him to hunt on the eve of his wedding and Hǣþcyn slew him with an arrow.
The shameful murder was hidden behind the lie of a ‘hunting accident’ but Etheldreda used witchcraft to learn the truth and to find Wayland Smith. She begged Wayland to forge a sword with which she could take her vengeance. Wayland himself knew the bitter-sweet joy of avenging loved ones and obliged her by forging Wudwuewyrhta, the widow maker, for the woman who would never herself become a widow.
Etheldreda took the sword Wudwuewyrhta to King Hrēðel and presented it to him as a gift from the Jutish people in remembrance of his son Herebeald. Hrēðel felt greatly honoured to receive a sword made by Wayland. Urged on by Etheldreda he tested its blade with his thumb, the blade drew blood, and though the wound was but a mere cut King Hrēðel fell to the ground his face ashen, his body stricken with a mortal wound. Etheldreda seized the sword from the wounded king and cut both brothers, before she was struck down by the King's men. 
By fall of night both Hrēðel and Hǣþcyn had died of their wounds, which all agreed were mere cuts, but Hygelāc, who was as  then unmarried, survived even though his wound was by far the worst of the three.
When he was healed and newly crowned Hygelāc took Wudwuewyrhta and used it to wage war on the Jutes seeking vengeance for his brothers. He was slain by Etheldreda’s father King Wihtgar. Since then the Jutes and the Geats have ever been at war, and that doom-lusty blade: Wudwuewyrhta, fell into the hands of warriors of both kingdoms and did its work well making many widows and much sorrow.
Wudwuewyrhta:  This ancient sword’s blade  is dull and pitted, and won’t take a good edge. The hilt, pommel, and guard are all damaged. Because of its sorry state it only does 1d6-1 damage. Other than that it is like any other broadsword: except that any married man who takes a wound from it, no matter how slight, will die within the day.
Current Location/Owner: Wudwuewyrhta, like the legendary smith who forged it, has long since become a thing of myth. Despite this there are rumours that somewhere on the borders of Jutelund and Geatlund, the sword lays in the Barrow of a long forgotten king.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Religion in Redwald

The Gods of Redwald
There are no Cleric or Priest classes in Redwald, and gods don’t ‘exist’, intervene, or grant power in the same way that deities do in various other RPGs and settings. In meta terms there are no gods in Redwald the RPG, but in Redwald the setting, not only are the gods real but everyone believes in them. 
The gods, may not exist, but the priesthood does and the power they wield is real enough. Not even a King can flog, punish, or otherwise harm a Thegn unless a priest first agrees the punishment is just. It is possible for an ambitious and ruthless priest to control, and manipulate weak kings; becoming, in effect, the ruler of the kingdom.
Warriors might consider this type of manipulation unmanly, but the Priests are outside of the usual caste system, unable to bear arms, or ride stallions amongst other restrictions, but are in the perfect position for power broking as most of their efforts are in the service of the elite. Those of lesser means are left to appease the gods in their own humble ways, with their own humble folk ceremonies.
The people of Redwald fear their gods as much as they revere them. If the myths and stories are a guide, then most mortals wouldn’t want the gods to take notice of them as the gods attitude towards their people seems cruel and capricious. In the eyes of the gods short-lived mortals. with their woes and misery. are nothing more than a fleeting amusement.
Sacrifices are made to appease the gods, to glory them.  The things mortals do ask the gods for: good crops, victory in war, protection from illness are asked for with sacrifices and ceremony.
Attitudes, like the methods of worship, vary depending on the status of the worshiper.  The common people, the Þræls and Ceorls, are more likely to be terrified of the gods and their ways, and generally superstitious about everything. Thegns, Ealdormen, princes, and kings, are less timid, but starkly aware of their precarious position and see no need to risk that through impiety. The priests, dependant on belief in the gods for their own status, are ever ready to remind the people of the power and cruelty of the gods, and the need to appease them.
Royal worship, which is mostly of Woden, involves modest temples built much like mead halls, but instead of the hearth and throne an altar and carving of the deity are the focal points.  Worship is also conducted, especially amongst the common people, at Heargs: hill top sanctuaries marked with a pile of stones, at a lēahs: cleared spaces in woodland, mostly associated with Thunor, and at a Wēohs: wayside shrines placed where roads or paths cross, or rivers are forded and bridged.
Each race has its own take on religion, but only the Eorðwerod’s pantheon  is covered in detail as the basic assumption is that campaigns will be set in Redwald and contact with the Ælfcynn, Dweorgas, and Réðealingas – outside of player characters – will be peripheral. The others we will deal with briefly . . .
The Ælfcynn
The Ælfcynn religion is mixture of shamanism and ancestor worship. They believe that everything in the forest, which is their entire world, has a spirit in the otherworld that they can commune with. They do this in order to seek help from benign spirits or pacify the malign.
It is Trees themselves that are the most important part of their beliefs. Each tree in the forest contains the spirit of an ancestor, and every living Ælf is joined in spirit to a tree.
When an Ælfcynn child is born, his parents cultivate a sapling, this sapling becomes the child’s spirit tree. The parents nurture the sapling with as much care and protection as they nurture the child, and when the child comes of age, they become responsible for their own tree.
If anything happens to an Ælfcynn’s spirit tree in their lifetime, then they become one of the fey, the doomed and must leave the tribe, some even leave the forest. When an  Ælfcynn dies their spirit becomes one with the tree, and their tribe can still commune with them via spirit rituals and prayer.
The Dweorgas
The Dweorgas have a complex relationship with their deity, Eorðdraca, the Earth Dragon. She is the source of all their wealth and power, and they speak of her in reverence. The whole clan gather  weekly for a day of elaborate ritual worship. At the same time, they keep her imprisoned, torture her so that she creates fire to heat their forges, and farm her eggs and unborn offspring to create their arms and armour.
The Réðealingas
The gods of the Réðealingas  vary from tribe to tribe, and many a hill or forest glade will have its own local  god. Some of the Tribes even worship the Queen of the otherworld and her Fey court. Most tribes will worship some variation of Belenus, the Sun god, Beli-Mawr the war god, Cerunnous, the horned god of the forest, Brigantia, goddess of rivers, Rhiannon the lover, The Morrigan, goddess of battle and strife, and countless others.
Gods of the Eorðwerod
The First Goddess
In a time long forgotten, even by the most ancient of the Scopas sagas, the Eorðwerod worshiped only one god: Eorðdraca, the Earth Dragon or the Mother as she was known. The only remnant of this ancient worship is Draca Deag, Dragon day and  Mōdru Niht, Mother’s Night which signifies the start of the new year. Most people in Redwald don’t associated the latter with a Dragon, or believe the former refers to a real dragon. As for the idea of  Dwarves worshiping a real dragon, most people outside of Westlund Seax don’t believe in Dwarves let alone Dragons.
The Elder Gods
The elder gods replaced the monotheistic worship of Eorðdraca, and although they themselves have been superseded by the new gods many people still swear oaths or curse by them, though few worship them.
Hengist & Horsa: Two stallion siblings, one black; one white. Legend has it that they carried  the first Eorðwerod across an ocean of stars. For this they were turned into mighty warriors who defended the people from the vile creatures that plagued Redwald in times past. They are also said to be the fathers of all the tribes, and all the gods of Redwald. The fact that finest of all horses became men, explains why there are only a few hardy hill ponies Redwald.
Sunne & Mona: Sunne, the Sun is a young woman, and Mona, the Moon a young man they are lovers, but kept apart by a pack of ravenous wolves that chases each of them across the sky. If the wolves ever caught them it was said the world would end.
Neorðu:  A Goddess of the earth represented by a wooden carving non but her priest could see and live. She was transported across the land in a covered wagon pulled by cattle. She would let her priest know where she wished to go, and once there no one could go to war during her festivities. At the climax of her festival she would be bathed by slaves in a sacred pool; the slaves having seen her would then be drowned in the same pool.
Wuldor: The Sky father who dwelt in a magical dale of yew trees from which he made a fearsome bow, a bow that he could also cross water on as if it were a boat, or cross the skies riding it as if he flew on the back of a great eagle.
Seaxnēat: The sword god and legendary father of the Seaxe tribes who still remember him in curses and praises, if not in prayers.
The New Gods
The names of the new gods are never far from the lips of the people of Redwald, and the lips of their priests are ever near the ears of Redwald’s rulers. Hills, woodland, lakes, mountains, moors, and dales all bear their names as do many a sword, shield, and spear.
Woden: Woden One eye, also known as Grim. A god of death, war, and wisdom, a poet. He hung from a tree of knowledge so that he could gain wisdom and knowledge of runes and magic. Those that die in battle feast in Woden’s for all eternity and when storms rage through the night skies his horde of dead warriors follow him as he rides through the sky leading the wild hunt. He has two ravens and two wolves who tell him all that happens in this world and the other world.
Fríge: Woden’s wife: a goddess of hearth and home, marriage and childbirth as well as mother’s wisdom, and the authority of women over the household. She is also a keeper of women’s secrets and mysteries, and the Wyrdwebba, the fate weaver entwining, pulling, and cutting the threads of men’s lives.  
Thunor: The god of thunder, law, and justice, wielder of a magic stone hammer with which he creates the thunder and lightning that fills the night skies when his father Woden leads out the Wild hunt. He is loved and worshiped by the common people, especially craftsmen and smiths. He is particularly keen for mortals to keep their oaths, and said to smash oath breakers with his hammer.
Tiw:  Tiw is a god of champions, heroes, and personal combat. Warriors honour him with ritual sword dances and sometimes duels.
Hretha: A warrior goddess of fame, glory, and victory. Much beloved by vainglorious warriors.
Eostre: The goddess of dawn light, a maiden offspring, and fertility; especially of crops. Her sacred symbols are the hare and the egg.
Helið: An aged goddess of health and healing.
Hell: The goddess of death she claims the unworthy dead, cloaking them in her wælmist, her slaughter mist and transporting them to her home from which none may claim them.
Ing: A god of rain, fertility, and defence of the people. A bearded god who goes about naked (and well endowed) riding on a Boar and wielding his magical sword Flyhtfeoht that can fight on its own. He was once King of the Ælfcynn.
Freo: The goddess of love, and brother of Ing.  A Stunning woman wearing a falcon feather cloak and little else. She travels in a chariot pulled by sacred cats.