Saturday, January 21, 2006

Raavnia: Themes A

artwork by brom; copyright brom (most likely);
used without permission of any kind; see for more

As a child, we didn't have many books in the house; byproduct of being poor, I guess. This resulted in few things to read. And while I'm not the fastest reader in the world, I do love books. Sadly, I never developed a good habit of sitting down and reading everyday (even with a degree in English; go figure). It's just easier for me to create, I think.

So, when I got the Basic DnD book at the tender age of 11, I would read it all the time. I must have re-read that sample combat about 100 times. [No lie.] In junior high my only reading companions became Gygax and Webster's Dictionary.

That's right. I used to read the dictionary.

And I know this sounds weird, but the impact on my gaming experience has been immense.

Anyone who has read my non-gaming material can see I have a word fetish, a love of language and form, allowing expression that cannot be predicated in any other medium. Language is my first love, but my mistress is gaming.

Myth, storytelling, subtext, context. If there's a way to use a word for something else, a way to twist it into a gaming metaphor, I'll do it. God names and titles make me weak in the knees. [Ooh. The god of clay pots. What does he do?]

Sometimes, I'll crack open the dictionary, read through a few pages and come across a word like janissary, and instantly, I have 20 ideas in my head on how to use it in a game. In fact, given enough time, I could build an adventure, mini-campaign, or nation around it. I can't help it. And rather than contain or ignore it exists, I endulge these habits from time to time, jotting down notes on the pad of paper I carry with me everywhere.

I find this exercise extremely challenging on a lot of levels and I recently purchased a dictionary from the 99 cent store that I could mark up at will for just such an endeavor.

Like today's exercise.

Btw, this isn't a "how to" or an expectation that you run out and do this. It's just a little insight into how I sometimes start an adventure or campaign. If you want to try it, great. But, if you just want the ideas that are coming, that's okay too.

So. Without wasting anymore time. Let's try out the letter A.

Here's the words that caught my attention

Abaddon, abattoir, abjure, abstemious, aegis, agnosia, alexandrine, algesia, allopathy, amanuensis, annular, antenicene, arbiter, astrakhan, augur, ayatollah.

These are all great ideas that I'll be able to pull together into the world we're going to build over the next few months.

According to hebrew and catholic text, Abaddon can mean one of many things.
  • ruin, destruction (Job 31:12);
  • place of destruction; the Abyss, realm of the dead (Job 26:6; Proverbs 15:11);
  • personified (Apocalypse 9:11) as Abaddon and rendered in Greek by Apollyon, denoting the angel-prince of hell, the minister of death and author of havoc on earth. The Vulgate renders the Greek Apollyon by the Latin Exterminans (that is, "Destroyer"). The identity of Abaddon with Asmodeus, the demon of impurity, has been asserted, but not proved.
Text taken from

Since I know I want to do a church in this game world with two separate and divided arms, one will refer to the afterlife as Abaddon and the other refers to it as Apollyon. Asmodeus does not appear in my dictionary, but he's a great demon so he's in the story now too. In fact, he just moved to the head of the class.

Since he's a demon (CE) of impurity, he's goal is to defile and tempt the souls of the living. Since I can see the name ayatollah on this list, I know one of the church's sects will be more Turkish or Persian in concept. Which means they will be into cleanliness of body and mind more than the other. Asmodeus has just come a very important demon to these guys.

Now, this game world is going to be set circa 1000 A.D. in a land much like Yugoslavia. Which gives us all kinds of room for various cultures, languages, myth, and everything else. But, we're not there yet. Bear with me.

The Catholic church has already done the work of mistranslating Abaddon for us. Which means we have a great dynamic of words and culture to draw upon for this game world. Since the Vulgate is such a cool name for a book, we're going to keep it and say that the more Catholic of the church factions (it hasn't been designed yet) thinks of Apollyon as a place and a thing, and the arm thinks of Abaddon as a place and Asmodeus as one of many demons.

Perhaps the factions were fractured some time ago. Which means, they worship the same god and basically oppose the same evil in the world, but they don't always agree. Monster races will have their own gods as well, but to keep things easy for the DM (because pantheon design sucks), we're going to stick with a single evil for the world and the other races will have different names for the same general thing (although dwarves may have their own ideas).

"Themes B" might be a good time to name the church, god, and factions, as well. There's a lot of ideas there, which we'll investigate in future chapters.

artwork by christi smith hayden; copyright visonary games;
used without permission of any kind; see for more

Apollyon, in early Christian literature, is a name for the devil.
He is identified as an angel of death,
"hideous to behold, with scales like a fish,
wings like a dragon, bear's feet, and a lion's mouth."
Which this picture is most definately not.

While we're still talking about religion, let's use the words antenicene and arbiter. Antenicene refers to an era, before the first council of Nice, held in 325 A.D. We now a third faction of orthodox catholics that believe in the old scriptures and the time before a great event. Twisting this council meeting of 325 into a gaming event, it becomes a time of great scholars, enlightening priests, bishops and the like coming together.

And all of them are destroyed in a single demonic fervor, wrote by a great demon (to be named later). This gives us some subtext, refers to an event over 500 years ago, and fleshing out our world a little more. Arbiter means judge and will be used to describe a very high position in the church, that all sects must honor and respect. He holds no position with any part of the church, much like a cardinal might honor Dominicans, Fransican, and Jesuits.

Abstemious (lack of food or wine) fits the Persian arm of the church well, indicating another level of purity. We can either create a Ramadan like event for them, or better, create a roleplaying tool where they do not imbid alcohol and only eat sparingly, a much more useful artifice.

An abattoir is a slaughterhouse and could represent a word that commoners use to describe hell, for fear of saying Abaddon. Or. It could just be a slaughterhouse. I'd like to think it's the seed that helps define the great conflagration that consumes the council of 325 A.D., which means that the word does not have to be used literally, but instead fuel a greater idea in the text.

Keeping with the church themes, alexandrine and amanuensis are great complements to the concepts of "reading." Since the vulgate is written in Latin (in our game world, we'll call the language Lacris), few people can read it. So, parables and tenets of faith are taught through complicated twelve syllable verses (rhyming or otherwise). Copying and reciting these verses over the ages has led to many new interpretations of the faith, with rural folk singing hymns that are vastly different from the original text.

Priests (which I've decided will be rare), make long pilgramages to isolated regions of the world to help teach the true words of god to the people. Now, we have a character goal for clerics that allows us to explain why they might adventure with other classes. There will be more on the classes, later, and how to eliminate some of the silly tropes that lack cohesion.

We have now used these two words to affect a concept of the world, without using the pure definitions.

Abjure means to renounce a vow, which has an obvious use in roleplaying. But, I don't want to leave it at that. I want to create a game vehicle around it. Abjuring from the church is a serious offense and is not taken lightly. The role of the paladin in this world, is to hunt down those who have forsaken the laws of the church. Paladins are no longer LG, but they are Lawful, providing more range of use for this class and removing role-playing restrictions from their abilities.

Depending on the severity of the crime against the church, paladins are dictated to inflict pain (cf algesia) upon the accused, up to and including death. Smite evil is now a touch ability that inflicts damage the way lay on hands heals. And aegis represents is the paladin's ability to provide sanctuary for those who serve the church. Lastly, agnosia is a medical term, but I like the idea that those who have repented can be cleansed by the paladin, purging the memories of his sinful life. However, should he ever return to it, he'll be awash in his sins 12 fold (keeping the theme of 12 alive from alexandrine).

Don't worry, the clerics and paladins will get a new write up eventually.

Annular means ring-shaped, so I'm thinking the holy symbol of the church is an unbroken gold ring (or a broken one for the unorthodox arm) instead of a cross. This makes things simple, since 1000 A.D. yugoslavia isn't known for great printing presses.

The last three words, have little or nothing to do with religion, but give me some great ideas for the secular magic of the world.
Allopathy is a medical practice that is the opposite of homeopathy. Instead of treating the disease, you create an environment that is inhospitable for it. Since I intend for healing magic to be rare in this word, buying potions or healing herbs from a non-religious source is not a perfect practice. The church after all wants to know why you need to be healed again and their ability to throw around spells is limited. Therefore, anyone who is bleeding to death would have to see a "witch" for an allopathic cure. Perhaps leeches are applied to his skin, ensuring that there's no blood to drain from the body, so he can't bleed to death.

Very abstract, but I'm just brainstorming right now. The game effect, is essential a roll, but the DM and PC are welcome to develop and expand these ideas further. Craft (healing) or Craft (allopathy) will certainly be a skill later. Astrakhan is lambskin, which suggests to me the world has animistic magic and augur (reading the future by observing birds) reinforces that there will certainly be a new college of magic for sorcerers and wizards.

Since this is Yugoslavia in its inspiration, black birds (crows, grackles, magpies, mocking birds, ravens) will certainly be the friends of diviners. In fact, each college of magic can be tied to an animal, but I may not stick to that, because I don't know what the letters B through Z are going to produce. For now, we know that the four of the classes will be changing a little and that the world is dominated by the church and its two major sects and one minor one.

We still haven't addressed race, yet, nor do we know the enemies of this world beyond the demons (more to come) that the church has identified. But, this is a great start.

artwork by robert abel; copyright robert abel; used without permission of any kind;
see for more

And if it wasn't obvious, this was pretty much off the top of my head, stream of consciousness.

I hope you enjoyed it.
Edit: Here's an amazing resource for DMs.

1 comment:

James Beadle said...

I liked the first post, but tinkering with the game system has always been secondary and less than satisfactory to me, story is what I'm all about.

This post is brilliant however... keep it coming!

I'd expand but I have to get my ass to work, I will post more this weekend.