Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Church, The Old Ways, Cults and Their Loathsome Gods

Follow this link to what you should listen to while reading this article

Author's Notes: This is likely the longest post I've written so far, please bear with me. In this post I mainly talk about THE CHURCH and THE OLD WAYS. These are essentially a monolithic abrahamic faith that the cleric class is a member of and polytheistic pagan/folk religion faith which would be more inline for a magic-user/druid/shaman class. I also mention CULTS towards the end but I think most people know what those are when I mention them. 

Dynamism of Faiths

a.k.a. Why your clerics should belong to a monolithic centralized faith

I think there is an inherent issue with the incompatibility of the OSR cleric and Polytheistic Faiths. There are two large components to this based on the nature of the priesthood in polytheistic faiths and the implicit function of the OSR Cleric.

In polytheistic faiths the function of clergy and priests is to oversee worship and supervise rites, essentially insuring that invocations of aid to their deities are successful. They function as a middle man between mortals and their gods. There is a fundamental difference between the metaphysics of abrahamic (I use this term loosely) and polytheistic faiths. Th abrahamic faith has a singular covenant which creates a standardized contract of moral righteousness in return for salvation and protection while polytheistic faiths involve offerings order to receive a benefit in turn. The function of the clergy, in polytheistic faiths, is then to officiate these offerings on behalf of people for their benefit. Polytheistic clergy do not go out and proselytize, the covenant of their gods are not open to admission and exist merely as a consequence of gods power over existence.

The implicit function of the OSR cleric is to essentially lengthen the amount of time their party may explore a dungeon/a hexmap without returning to a safe place to heal. Clerics are essentially Magic-users with different spell lists, the ability to turn undead, and weapon restrictions. The spells of OSR clerics function to mainly heal HP, remove curses or poison, raise the dead, and are defensibly and reactively cast rather than the combative or dungeon circumvention which is proactively cast. Firstly these spells fit a deity which holds power over life and death, such as a supreme abrahamic deity, be the origin of a cleric's powers. Polytheistic clerics facilitate invocations to a multitude of gods and I really don't see, outside of Vancian influence, why gods couldn't grant Magic-User spells to clerics. Why not simply combine the spell lists and fluff priests and wizards as the same class. Clerics have a unique relationship with the undead which is the result of the history to their creation. But it further complicates their existence as members of a polytheistic faith as why would Mars/Thor/Nagaynezgani turn undead? It fits it stronger thematically that a deity which holds power over life and death, such as a supreme abrahamic deity, be the origin of a cleric's powers. I believe that the weapon restrictions are merely a result of balancing gameplay as blunt weapons dealt less damage then edged ones and magic swords wouldn't be usable by clerics. As such I think they aren't necessarily relevant.

I would then say that OSR clerics and Polytheistic Faiths are incompatible due to the dissonance of the mechanics of the cleric and the generally polytheistic nature of most OSR settings. I would say then that there IS precedent that Clerics in OSR settings should worship a supreme abrahamic/cthonic deity and I will now list other reasons why you should have a singular monolithic church that characters who are clerics follow in your OSR games.

Contrast and Conflict Sources

If you have a singular monolithic church in your setting you can create multiple sources of contrast as well as conflicts. A large component of culture is the theological/existential/philosophical beliefs they share and most players of OSR (whom I assume are familiar with/from western cultures and traditions that are heavily steeped in abrahamic and monotheistic notions) would have an intuit understanding of THE CHURCH. Through cultural osmosis they would be familiar with THE CHURCH and I would wager that most would be unfamiliar with non-occidental religious practices and have a less intuitive understading of those cultures. Familiarity of THE CHURCH then allows you to create contrast with other cultures or races your players interact with and creates  a source to create conflicts from as THE CHURCH has a long history of heresies, religious wars, pope stealings, excommunications, witch hunts and the like. You have a strong tradition to draw from and can even steal things wholesale such as mythologies about demons and other apocrypha.

Further if you have THE CHURCH you have cause for multiple relics to be recovered from dungeons (they sued to be cathedrals and churches). Further you likely have saints and from them a source of multiple magic items be they real items the saints used or relics.

Religious Beliefs as Alignment

I think that Tabletop RPG's and OSR especially so are simply a continuation of the mythic Chaoskampf. There are a few points of civilization (Law) which are surrounded by sprawling wilderness (Chaos). There is a massive duality between Primordial Darkness and the Civilized Light and players take the role of the Law-Bringer striking down the Serpent. What's great about this is this already fits into the OSR alignment chart. Further this fits into the theme of ruination inherent to OSR. Great calamities bring doom and recycle the Lawful Civilizations into dark dungeons. I don't think I can emphasize how strongly the idea of a "points of light" setting fits into this Chaoskampf. The civilized areas are points of light and law and so having a monolithic faith, THE CHURCH, as an aspect of law underscores the metaphysics of OSR.

I greatly advocate for extremely humanocentric settings and in this you are able to use faith as an alignment system. THE CHURCH is lawful, THE OLD WAYS are neutral, and CULTS are chaotic. This works pretty similarly to alignment in OSR games especially so with the cleric spells of Protection from X and  Circle from X as these spells become Protection BY X. Rather than a magic circle against evil you have a Circle of Protection by God. Rather than asking the "metagaming question" of what alignment is he, you could simply ask what faith does he believe. This further ties in with the alignment nature of creatures. Lawful beings such as Angels are servants of the of THE CHURCH's God. Neutral beings such as animals arise from nature's existence. Chaotic beings then are the spawn of some CULT'S worshiped diety. I think the last aspect especially significant as it explains the existence of every dungeon denizen as supernatural and circumvents questions such as "what do orcs eat?". The next section of this post deals with the nature of THE CHURCH, THE OLD WAYS, and CULTS as alignment systems and their fundamental differences.

The Faiths

I didn't want to stop using Black Metal Album Art so here's another good album 


So THE CHURCH is essentially the veneration of The White God so revealed to his prophets by Covenant and Miracles. There are two important parts here the Covenant and Miracles. Unlike THE OLD WAYS or CULTS central to THE CHURH's theology is the concept of The Covenant which is essentially a spiritual contract made by the prophets with The White God on behalf of the nations of man. The Covenant is extended to all those inducted into the Church by the rite of baptism. Those people are now Protected and Preserved by The White God but must follow the rules of the Covenant as written in the Holy Writ.

Holy Writ
Thou shalt have no other gods before The White God
Thou shalt not kill
Thou shalt no commit adultery
Thou shalt not steal
Thou shalt not bear false witness

In terms of alignment the Holy Writ ends up as the following rules. Worship and partaking of only THE CHURCH's faith. Do not use murder as a means of solving conflicts, in extenuating circumstances this may become lose but essentially it means you can't just kill someone for disagreeing with you. Marriage is an important institution because it comes not from joining bloodlines but because it is allowed by The White God. Do not purjer yourself when people seek to attain justice.

Those who holds the Covenant and it's precepts in highest regard walk the earth as saints, idols of charity to the less fortunate able to preform miracles. Those who can perform these miracle in the name of The White God are viewed as saints (these are the cleric characters).

If you are a member of THE CHURCH/are Lawful you are devout in practicing your faith.


In contrast to THE CHURCH which has a singular covenant, the old faith is predicated on offerings made to one of many deities in order to illicit certain result. The church has a firm and established relationship while the Old Faith is in a state of constant flux. Rather than following a code of conduct and receiving benefits, you make sacrifices/offerings and in turn receive a benefit.

Types of deities often found in polytheism generally include:
Culture Hero: Hercales or Cu Chulainn
Death Deity (Chthonic Function): Hades or Orcus
Life-Death-Rebirth Deity: Osiris or Mitras
Political deity (such as a king or emperor): Imperial Cult
Sky Deity (celestial): Wakinyan or Perun
Solar Deity: Sol Invictus or Amaterasu
Trickster Deity: Loki or Anansi
Water Deity: Neptune or Susanoo no Mikoto
Gods of Endeavors: Athena Palas or Inari Okami

In terms of alignment THE OLD WAYS are essentially the ethics and code of conduct which predates THE CHURCH. The important aspects in "pagan" or "tribal" cultures tend to focus on the following things which were held as supremely important as they indicated one could trust you.

Our Ancestors Had:
Honor - Honor is a reflection on the merit of your word and ability to hold oaths, you would lose honor by being unable to do what you say. In ancient times your word was vastly important and if someone has no honor then they cannot be trusted.

Courage - While this does tie in to Honor, your ability to act in dangerous situations is an indicator of your trustworthiness. If you breakdown when scared or are easily shaken then why should people trust you.

Hospitality - In the ancient world there was massive importance on being a good host and on being a good guest. The outside world was cruel and dangerous so those who acted upon the politeness of hospitality risked much by offering aid. Those who would go against hospitality go against kindness offered by total strangers and as such could not be trusted.

Perseverance - If a person falters when they encounter difficulties then how can you trust them. If however they can keep struggling until they achieve their goal then they are to be noted for their actions.

If you keep THE OLD WAYS/are Neutral you may merely be a member of the church who isn't devout or you may keep the faith that your ancestors did making offerings to the old gods.


This should be the standard for the aesthetic of  every "evil" cult in OSR games

In the darkness of a dungeon many work awful rite in order to obtain promised power to fulfill their deepest desire. They worship forgotten gods which whisper from the darkness asking for sacrifice. These are literally every antagonist from the Conan books. By partaking in such anti-social rites you are rejected by much of society and aren't necessarily trusted by them. Flip through a monster manual to determine which creature you venerate.

If you are in a CULT/ are Chaotic you do not care about the horrible nature of what you may be praying to as long as it aids you no matter how it does so.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

An Account of 6 Cities

Art by El Greco

Originally, I had planned to make the list of 6 cities an expanded version of the Towns post. But I was inspired by this post to instead procedurally generate each city.

Authors Note: I've been drafting this post since July and have torn much hair out about it. I'm well aware that the purchasable clockworks lack descriptions, but I have no idea how to properly write them up so that can be up to you as a referee.

Procedures to Make a City

Every City has 3 Base Districts alongside 1d4 Unique Districts

Base Districts
1. Great Markets - This is where you can buy everything found on the equipment table
2. City Castle - This is the fortified structure where the High Jarl of the City holds court.
3. Defining District - This is the unique district always found in that city.

The Unique Districts are a set of 5 possible districts from which the contents of the cities are drawn. Each city is constructed in a hex-wise manner, with the Great Markets District at the center. As shown in the image below, in a clockwise manner the unique districts are added in a random order and the City Castle is added last. The hex on the edge of  the city and on the opposite edge to the City Castle is where the gates of the city allow entry into the city.


The cities marked with an asterisk are on the sea.



Above the cliffs of a cold cove rise numerous towers and walls. Waves lap at the base of fortifications as rains pour down. Lightning repeatedly casts dark shadows amid the cityscape as innumerable figures scurry away from sight underneath dark cloaks.

Defining District

Cliff Bridge: A lone cliff leading out towards the sea ends in a thin iron bridge which leads to a craggy isle out into the sea. Upon the rock rises a lone stone tower, beneath this tower lies a vast gallery from which the ocean floor can be seen. Often people gather before the vast walls of glass and stare at the contents of the sea.

Unique Districts

1. Valkyrjaholl - A relic of the Old Faith, amid the new buildings stand carvings of ancient warriors and their exploits. Few church-folk wander the streets here, instead the old holidays are kept and old traditions followed. Spirited away are conclaves of those who would prepare for the end of days, sharpening spears and hoarding supplies. Men choose to have their throats slit and are buried armored with sword in hand to await the upending of the sky. [Unique Purchase - Einherjer: As hireling but with a morale of 18 and 2 HD. Costs 100 silver to first have them join you]
2. Azurgate - The High Jarl's rule is lacking here, instead a mob [the Grafa] finds itself in control of what occurs here. Occasionally venturing to the other districts by the sprawling sewers built underneath they tunnel into the dwellings of the rich and steal from them. The Grafa are led by a trio of sisters, each named after a color.
3. Ancient Gearworks - A few old clay buildings contrast against many other gray stoneworks. Here aged artisans toil above magnifying lenses conjoining minuscule gears and cylinders. Several apprentices mimic the few remaining masters and craft their own minor clockwork constructs. Those privy to the interiors see tall massive stones etched in bronze from which all their knowledge is derived. [Unique Purchase - Intricate Clockwork:  Costs 400 silver]
4. Traitorous Holdout - There is no love lost between the Jarl and a plotting faction [the Logberg]. Due to Jarl's inability to rule they seek to depose of the Jarl and replace him with their preferred alternative. Most in the city are aware and fearful of the impending doom of their uprising. The Logberg are led by council of gray bearded men each a grandfather to many children.

Ruling Jarl

Fyrtarn -  Currently locked in a dungeon below the castle. He bears a cruel curse, his body and limbs contorted into a series of spirals. He still bears his sentience, but howls in constant pain from the deformities inflicted on him. Several cube like spires of brown crystal emerge from both side of his neck and reek of boiled soil. His howls can be heard at night and many in Hringepi erroneously believe that a monster from the sea haunts the streets after nightfall.



Immaculate and imposing, the pale stone structures glisten with ancient glyphs. Each street is kept pristine and a few trees stand flowering and manicured. Iron-wrought streetlamps cast down soft lights on figures in bright prismatic clothes swaggering in multitudes. A few ancient statues still stand upright, their original purpose lost to time.

Defining District

Polished Forests - A vast botanical garden stretches out through the center of the city. Mosaics of stone and shrubery spell out spirals only visible to the clouds. Many gather at these gardens on moonless nights and the iron trees at the center of the gardens are lit aflame and rituals are invoked. Smoke mixes with the night sky and obscures those involved from any eye.

Unique Districts

1. Ivorigate - The High Jarl's rule is lacking here, instead a gang (Reykr) finds itself in control of what occurs here. The Reykr have figured how to make smoke bombs and often will throw them through the windows of a buildings before rushing in and assailing those disoriented within. They are led by four captains each named after a cardinal direction. [Unique Purchase - Reykr Smokebomb: fills a 10 foot cube with billowing smoke hampering sight and requiring a save else coughing for 1 round. Costs 80 silver]
2. Modern Gearworks - An industrial citadel rises above the surrounding houses. Furnaces billow as workers cast standardized gears and cogs and set them onto an assembly line. Men align parts in a repeated ritual creating a singular product. Run by an apprentice once mangled within the Ancient Gearworks who now seeks to be the forefront of clockwork crafts. [Unique Purchase - Standardized Clockwork: Costs 300 silver]
3. Etched Plain - A vast field of stone is measured by stone pillars. Every three days there are tournaments to determine the greatest athlete, many waste most of their wealth betting on these games. [Unique Purchase - Games Ticket: Allows one to enter the games. Characters may advance in the games by making attribute checks with a penalty equal to the number of rounds of games you have won. The winner is determined by a tournament of numerous rounds of elimination with the winner moving on to further rounds. There are 1d6+1 rounds to the tournament with a number of contestants being equal to 2 raised to the power of the number of rounds. The winner wins no prizes except for the title of champion. The Costs 15 silver]
4. Maze Beneath - A portion of the city was built atop of a vast valley. The top was covered in a lattice work of wooden bridges and outcroppings but the depths still exist unseen. Criminal elements and outlaws hide in the shadows and some even set up storefronts for their black-market goods.

Ruling Jarl

Hvit-Ney -  A young maiden who took the title of Jarl when her father died, is clad in white armor and followed by a retinue of men clad in similar garb. She wears the sacred headdress of the bull and rejects the Church instead promoting the Old Faith. Few of the Church cardinals scheme to remove her from power and plot ways to show her incompetence and gain the support of the people.



Amid a vast plain of brown sand that abjures away the sea, numerous boulders stand insolent. The moon casts a calm light down upon rough masonry bleached by the salty air. Figures swaddled in tunics of white and blue traverse irregular cobblestone streets as bells echo from the center of the polis.

Defining District

Seaside Spire - A singular towering construct stretches upwards from where the waves crash to where the horizon converges. A spiral of staircases winds through galleries rising higher and higher. A series of open archways at the zenith shine as a bright flame twists within. Those traveling by see can see the light for leagues, a sign of safety and security.

Unique Districts

1. Butchers Bay - The stench of blood has become embedded into the very stones here.  Legions of thick arms swing heavy knives splitting open carcasses. Flanks and chops are wrapped in wax paper and stacked among each other. A rampart of numerous butcheries stands a monument to the carnivore nature of those inside. [Unique Purchase - Vivisectionist Manual: If in possession it allows corporeal and visceral monsters to have a 1 in 6 chance of being able to be butchered into consumable rations equal to their HD. Costs 50 silver]
2. Allalms - A tall cathedral is swarmed by a field of slums and lean-toos. Processions of monastics meander through canopies of beggars arms. Missing limbs and scarred faces linger under a starving sun, a few under the shadow of the cathedral. Every hour the bell tolls and echoes. [Unique Purchase- Donation to a Beggar: Every 2 silver donated to beggars grants a single point of XP. Cost is variable]
3. Kwizling - There is no love lost between the Jarl and a plotting faction [the Brimsker]. Due to their hate of the Church they seek to depose of the Jarl and replace him with their preferred alternative. Most in the city speak of rumors of the impending doom of their uprising. The Brimsker are led by a pair of brothers, one branded on his face as a priest slayer.
4. Portyards - Brash voices coalesce into a cacophony near the sea here. Merchants transfer their wares and have their ships repaired. Men toil in crafting new vessels and some come together in investments to seek further fortune. [Unique Purchase- Shipping Investment: A character may invest money into a merchant venture. These investments are resolved as a reaction roll a month after the investment is made. Negative reactions represent a loss of investment, neutral reaction rolls represent investments no undergoing significant change, and positive reaction represent a windfall of a 100+2d20 % growth accumulation. Cost is variable]

Ruling Jarl

Stala -  By tragic means a Nun of the Church has become the Jarl. Once the eldest daughter of a Jarl, she was sent away to a coven. After his death she returned and now acts as a bastion of the church in the political sphere. Few are able to speak to her as Jarl and many share glimpses of her about in the streets, amid dirt and grime, delivering charity to others.



Innumerable thin buildings long for the height of the sky reminiscent of frail fingers reaching out for love. A panoply of gold, bright green, and crimson tiles stain the roofs of each building into a shimmering mosaic. Chimes hang from corners, meekly shaking in the wind, as hordes of monastics intermingle with resolute hedonists.

Defining District

Belfries Two - Two Gargantuan towers fill the sky. One stands immaculate of silver and alabaster, a shining exemplar of what beauty may be  stacked towards the heavens. The other is a ruin. Mere fragments which strain to remain composed into a single entity. The immaculate belfry is the site of mirth and veneration its bell spreading joy while the ruined belfry is abandoned, the occasional echoes which emerge from within merely reminiscent of some great melancholy.

Unique Districts

1. Garden of Crom-Lechs - Houses and shops are built among complexes of standing stones etched in runes of ages past. Scholars trace their shapes seeking to divine knowledge now lost to the past but most are unsuccessful. Most who live here take solace in the ancient carvings around them and some even speak of a ring of standing stones hidden away somewhere which holds an entrance to the realm of ages past. [Unique Purchase - Pillar Translation: Reveals location of dungeon 2d10 hexes away. Costs 100 silver]
2. Disirholl - A relic of the Old Faith, amid the new buildings stand carvings of ancient warriors and their exploits. Few church-folk wander the streets here, instead the old holidays are kept and old traditions followed. Honey harvested from beehives within the rib cages of dead men is steeped in their blood. This dead man's mead is said to let those who drink it see the spirits of the dead. [Unique Purchase - Totenmjod: Allows one to see dead spirits for 1 hour. Costs 45 silver and takes up 1/3 of a inventory slots]
3. Argengate - The High Jarl's rule is lacking here, instead a warband (the Bana Hog) finds itself in control of what occurs here. The Bana Hog wield enormous martial prowess, once being a famed mercenary company. They are rather antagonistic to those who would pass through this portion of the city and seek to tax each for 15 silver. [Stats as Bandits but with HD 3 and Def 5, each has a shield and may splinter it]. They are led by a man known as Verja [Stats as Bana Hog but with HD 5 and Def 7, has a shield and may splinter it]
4. Vichpike - Three towers, each matching like the fingers of a disfigured hand arise from a steep hill. A few boroughs surround the hill but otherwise leave them a great deal of space. Inside live five witches each clad in singular shade whose name they share, each etches pernicious gifts.  Rumors speak of Carmine stealing air into her lungs and walking beneath the waves. Rumors speak of Ceil binding an iron ring to a lover so that she would never succumb to another's charms and compulsions. Rumors speak of Citrine tasting the blood of her enemies and seeing what they see. [Unique Purchase - Witch Talisman: As described above, each lasts for an hour. Costs 150 silver and takes up 1/3 of a inventory slots]

Ruling Jarl

Dodsen - A powerful Occultist who controls legions of the dead. Once an oprhan child Dodsen was found wandering the in the remains of the ruined belfry seemingly speaking with imaginary friends. Each corpse-spirit whispered his secrets into the child's ear and promised him servitude if he would exhume their shells from underneath the rubble. After a few years of solitary excavation Dodsen amassed a population of servitors. Fearing his power turning cruel, the heir-less Jarl adopted Dodsen as his own child.



A mountain in the distance, aqueducts cast long shadows from their arches, creating irregular spheres of light and shadow along the roofs of the city. Each stone was placed with intent and each building was wrought of an artisan's obsession. The few figures, who pace among the complex, bear open arms at their waist and speak in exasperated tones between themselves. The air is cool and is easily breathed in somewhere a waterfall roars.

Defining District

Upturned Lake - An excess of aqueducts sprawl outwards from a singular lake elevated above most buildings. A cage of stone elevates the lake above the city but below the roaring waterfall. Water from the mountain above spreads through out the town, still icy from the snowy peaks above.

Unique Districts

1. Nornirholl - A relic of the Old Faith, amid the new buildings stand carvings of ancient warriors and their exploits. Few church-folk wander the streets here, instead the old holidays are kept and old traditions followed. Trios of maidens draw water from ancient wells and divine portents of the future from the way it falls. [Unique Purchase - Oracle Reading: Roll a d20 [don't say a numerical value] and a player is able to replace a future roll that they have to roll with that value instead of rolling for it. Costs 60 silver]
2. Gullgate - The High Jarl's rule is lacking here, instead a mafia (The Masfrekr) finds itself in control of what occurs here and in 1d4 other districts. They have spies everywhere and trade in debts and information. They are led by a single figure, but no one knows his identity.
3. Gambling Houses - Innumerable dens of ill repute border each other. Inside men wager against each other and lose themselves to lust and gluttony. Men trade fortunes on the outcome of a dice and others still barter in potent drugs. If not for the crowds one would think it easy to find a knife between their ribs. [Unique Purchase - Narcotics: Give temporary 1d6 hp and penalize initiative by 4 for 2 hours. Costs 40 silver]
4. Treacherous Halls - There is no love lost between the Jarl and a plotting faction [the Hirsteinn]. Due to the singular ambitions of their leader they seek to depose of the Jarl and replace him with their preferred alternative. Most in the city reject the possibility of the impending doom of their uprising. The Hirsteinn are led by Bayonet the Bastard.

Ruling Jarl

Branblomst - A maiden who rejected her royal blood and instead fell to blood-lust, Branblomst traveled the land as an outcast. Infamous for her berserk rage, dozens ended their journey's coughing blood up at her feet. Years passed and she returned home challenging her father for the throne, running him through with her sword in a duel and ascending to his throne still stained in familiar blood.


The last City is one of tremendous size and contains every unique district not found within the other cities. If you want, you can make this city the capital of the kingdom and write up your own court intrigue and politics. Alternatively, if you want a more fractured/frontier/dark-ages aesthetic it's just a very large city and there is no central king. Nothing says you cannot encounter Urborg early and then instead simply roll for which Unique Districts are in each city and place the others here.


Enormous and sprawling, Urborg is massive and dark.

Unique Districts

All Unused Unique Districts

Unique Purchase

Every item purchasable in any settlement may be purchased in Urborg, but any Unique Purchase will cost double the price.