Discussion: A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles Through Islamic Africa

I recently finished A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles Through Islamic Africa by Steve Kemper. The book tells the story of Heinrich Barth, a German scientist who joined a British expedition tasked with exploring Islamic North and Central Africa. Over time, his two other companions on this trip died and he went on alone, eventually reaching the famed city of Timbuktu. Starting in 1849, the expedition took five and a half years and covered 10,000 miles.

What is amazing to me is how this expedition appears to be forgotten by history. As Kemper argues, part of this may be due to timing. The expedition happened at the tail end of the error of discovering the unknown and at the dawning of imperialism and some of Barth's research and findings undercut the beliefs required for imperialism. These include that at least the parts of Africa he visited had governance systems and histories, including some written. These were not exactly lawless lands full of people with no sense of history. Part of it is also Barth himself. He is a character and was not always as adept at navigating European politics as he was dealing with those he met on the trail.

While some might not appreciate the level of detail in the book, I enjoyed it, especially since one of the great values in Barth's work is that he took a snapshot of Africa before colonialism came through and made that impossible. I also found the details important in dispelling many myths about Africa and in presenting many of the historical figures as complex individuals making rational decisions given the reality of their world. Along with other works, I wonder if the details of the Barth's original books could be used to create an interesting historical setting that explains the world outlook in a way that makes sense to outsiders.

For instance, I loved the description of harems in some of the cultures. Concubines were part of a consumption culture. The women were an outward sign of wealth because 1) it took money to feed and house the women and 2) any children that resulted were entitled to full rights, the same as any of the other children. The women were concubines instead of wives because Islam limited men to a much smaller number of wives. Barth describes one man who collected women from each of the tribes and was interested when he heard about a new group because it meant he could add a new woman to his collection. Another man discusses with Barth how strange it is the European men drink alcohol so much to which Barth replies that since Europeans are limited to one woman, they must get their pleasures somewhere.

The book also touches on slavery, something that was important at the time. Abolitionists feature at times, although Barth often points out the issues with their schemes. He describes the devastation wrought by the razzia or raids, sometimes for livestock or other plunder but often for slaves. The whole system often relied on a neverending loop, plunder to get money for guns to protect yourselves from other groups doing the same things, all the while feeding the gun manufacturers. He also describes the differences between slavery as practiced in Africa and the chattel slavery practiced mainly in the Americas.

I also find the work important because it's an example not only of the fact that there were people arguing against the racism of the time, the same sort of racism we find in the foundational works of fantasy, but also what happened to those who stood up against that train of thought. Often when I try to discuss how our history is political, people try to argue that there wasn't a group trying to keep these sorts of arguments out. This book points out that the truth is probably at least a little more complex than that. Additionally, it means that for those who lived at the time and afterwards can't claim complete ignorance. These books and ideas existed. Barth did have some degree of popularity.

There are lots of interesting insights and contradictions with frequently repeated "facts" about Africa. Between the adventuring, politics, and descriptions of the land and peoples, there's bound to be a bunch of inspiration for games.

New Pathfinder book: Mythic Adventures

Last fall I had the great fortune of writing for new Mythic Adventures book from Paizo. The companion book provides ways to give a more mythic feel to your game, allowing for heroes and villains that break the mould. The system is meant to lay on top of the current structures of the game, allowing access at any level, even 1st, and tying it in with the deeds and actions of the characters. While I haven't had a chance to read the final book yet, this concept is one I was excited about from the first email I received and that interest hasn't waned.

In addition to the public playtest, Paizo recently released two previews of the Mythic Adventures content. The first has some of the path abilities. Mythic paths, to me, are meant to tie in to the notion of the hero's journey. During their ascension phases, the heroes discover something that sets them on a separate and distinct path from those around them. The way I see it, unlike a character class, a character can have just one path to walk, one archetype to fill in our common stories. The path abilities help to set them apart from all others and make them truly legendary.

Here's an example:

Guardian, 6th Tier:
Invincible Stand (Su): You can expend one use of mythic power as a swift action to make yourself nearly invincible for a short period of time. You gain DR 20/— for a number of rounds equal to your tier. If you choose to move or are moved by another creature during this time, this protection immediately ends.

More can be found Mythic Preview—Path Abilities Mythic heroes need proper enemies. The book has a few monsters and there's a preview of the Mythic Lich.

As for me, I contributed a couple monsters along with some of the mythic adventure themes and adventure ideas. I had a lot of fun trying to come up with different levels of using mythic levels in a game. In my experience, it's not meant to be an on-off switch, but as a way of adding flavor and some additional mechanics in ways that suit the type of experience you want to build. Setting regular characters against mythic monsters will give a different feel from a game where mythic characters constantly fight other mythic beings. I also loved coming up with adventure ideas that played with some traditional tropes.

If you're at GenCon, the books are there! Jason Bulmahn posted this on his Facebook fan page. I couldn't make it this year, but be sure to say hi to the lovely folks in the Paizo booth.

Mythic Adventures at GenConMythic Adventures at GenCon

And here are the full credits:

Lead Designer • Jason Bulmahn
Design Team • Stephen Radney-MacFarland and Sean K Reynolds
Authors • Dennis Baker, Jesse Benner, Ben Bruck, Jim Groves, Tim Hitchcock, Tracy Hurley, Jonathan Keith, Jason Nelson, Tom Phillips, Ryan Macklin, F. Wesley Schneider, Amber Scott, Tork Shaw, Russ Taylor, and Ray Vallese
Cover Artist • Wayne Reynolds
Interior Artists • Rayph Beisner, Eric Belisle, Eric Braddock, Dmitry Burmak, Anna Christenson, Jorge Fares, Taylor Fischer, Grafit Studios, Tim Kings-Lynne, Diana Martinez, Brynn Metheney, Roberto Pitturru, Klaus Scherwinski and Luisa Preissler, Jason Rainville, Denman Rooke, Chris Seaman, Bryan Sola, Matteo Spirito, Sandara Tang, Tyler Walpole, and Ben Wootten Cartographer • Robert Lazzaretti
Creative Director • James Jacobs Editor-in-Chief • F. Wesley Schneider Senior Editor • James L. Sutter
Development Team • Logan Bonner, John Compton, Adam Daigle, Rob McCreary, Mark Moreland, and Patrick Renie
Editorial Team • Judy Bauer, Christopher Carey, and Ryan Macklin
Editorial Interns • Jay Loomis and Cassidy Werner
Senior Art Director • Sarah E. Robinson Art Director • Andrew Vallas Graphic Designer • Sonja Morris
Production Specialist • Crystal Frasier
Publisher • Erik Mona
Paizo CEO • Lisa Stevens
Chief Operations Officer • Jeffrey Alvarez
Director of Sales • Pierce Watters
Sales Associate • Cosmo Eisele
Marketing Director • Jenny Bendel
Finance Manager • Christopher Self
Staff Accountant • Kunji Sedo
Chief Technical Officer • Vic Wertz
Senior Software Developer • Gary Teter
Campaign Coordinator • Mike Brock
Project Manager • Jessica Price
Licensing Coordinator • Michael Kenway
Customer Service Team • Erik Keith, Justin Riddler, and Sara Marie Teter
Warehouse Team • Will Chase, Heather Payne, Jeff Strand, and Kevin Underwood
Website Team • Ross Byers, Liz Courts, Lissa Guillet, and Chris Lambertz
Special Thanks • Ryan Dancey, Clark Peterson, and the proud participants of the Open Gaming Movement.

Il Fior di Battaglia (The Flower of Battle)

The Getty Museum recently made about 4600 items available as Open Content, meaning they are freely available for any use. While looking through the collection, I found a series of images that appear to be training information on different forms of combat. Through further research, I found out that they were actually part of the Il Fior di Battaglia (The Flower of Battle), by Italian master Fiore dei Liberi.

Fiore dei Liberi was a late 14th Century knight, diplomat and master-at-arms. This work is the third oldest European fencing manual to be discovered.

Here are some example images.

Equestrian Combat with Sword
Fiore Furlan dei Liberi da Premariacco, author (Italian, about 1340/1350 - before 1450)
Equestrian Combat with Sword, about 1410, Tempera colors, gold leaf, silver leaf, and ink on parchment
Leaf: 27.9 x 20.6 cm (11 x 8 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. Ludwig XV 13, fol. 44

Combat with Lance
Fiore Furlan dei Liberi da Premariacco, author (Italian, about 1340/1350 - before 1450)
Combat with Lance, about 1410, Tempera colors, gold leaf, silver leaf, and ink on parchment
Leaf: 27.9 x 20.6 cm (11 x 8 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. Ludwig XV 13, fol. 40

The full manuscript covers topics such as unarmed combat, sword fighting, daggers, pollaxes, lances, mounted combat, and more. Since I found the Getty website a bit cumbersome to use, I created a Pinterest board with the images, all of which link back to the original.

Il Fior di Battaglia from Getty Museum


Beyond just being cool to look at or inserted into publications, here are a few ways to use this in games:

  • For martial characters, what about having a life goal of becoming one of these masters. With the Game Master, you could work on developing and mastering your own sets of techniques. As you did so, you could create your own treatise of techniques that your character would be known for.
  • Background artwork in NPC's houses or shops to give clues about previous experiences.
  • In some types of games, where you might have expertise in a particular weapon instead of class of weapon, you could give expertise as a boon or reward for certain types of quests. Giving the player an "illuminated" sheet might be a nice way to record this.
  • Assistance in visualizing and describing training scenes in towns and elsewhere, a staple of fantasy fiction.

Solidarity is For White Women

It's not often that I talk about a Twitter hashtag that isn't directly connected to gaming, but this is an important one. The hashtag is #solidarityisforwhitewomen and it was started by Mikki Kendall aka @Karnythia on Twitter.

The backstory appears to be this. There was a man who for years identified as a male feminist and who, even though he did a number of things that didn't seem very feminist, apparently being involved with a planned murder-suicide, allegations of sleeping with students, and allegedly standing in the way of some women's careers, women in power in feminist circles supported and even promoted him. Race comes into this because he and those who sided with him were predominantly white whereas those he harmed were women of color.

It gets even more difficult because this particular case isn't the only example of the women in the positions of power not understanding intersectionality, that is, not understanding how they were using racism and racist imagery to their benefits. For instance, in 2008, Amanda Marcotte released a book that used artwork of "natives" to talk about represent battling against the forces of "fundamentalists and antichoicers."

So what we have is a feeling that the experiences of one group of women, in this case those of upper-class white women, are universalized to those of all women. You are either with that program or you are not. If you are, it's easier to rise through the ranks and perhaps even earn a coveted paying gig in all of this. If you're not, you are told that not only are you not good enough, but that you are "hurting the cause." To add further insult to injury, it appears easier for a man to climb those ranks than for a woman who doesn't fit the predominant narrative, this in a movement that claims it's for equality.

And yes, I know that means it's been, for the most part easier for me. I know this because once I could compartmentalize some of my lower class outlooks and ways of thinking, I was able to go pretty far before hitting the next big road bump. This is not the case for everyone as a number of my fellow classmates from Dartmouth remind me every day.

And so, Kendall created the awesome hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen because regardless of how I or other (mostly) white women might feel about it, that's the feeling that's out there. And it's way important to know it's there and to see how we can make ourselves better. But to do that, we need to listen.

HuffPost Live did a great interview with Tara Conley ( @taralconley ) and Mikki Kendall ( @Karnythia ).

Other resources:

What can people like me do?

Often during times like this, people want to know what they can do. Here are some suggestions:

  • Over the next few days or weeks, look at those who used the hash tag and see if any of them share interests with you. If they do, why not follow them? I've been doing this for about a year or so now and I've found all sorts of awesome stuff and new perspectives as a result.
  • As much as possible, if you are part of the group that finds it easy to get an outlet for your voice, use your voice to magnify those who have a harder time. Do your best to not use your voice as an attempt to silence them.
  • Read up on primary sources of history. Seriously, you might find out that what you think of as "historical fact" is actually someone's "historical fiction" or perhaps even "historical fantasy."

Games I Love: Trine 2

Over the past few days I've played, oh, 16 hours of Trine 2 with the forever awesome Jared von Hindman. We both fell in love with the game's art and story (at least the original story line that constitutes the first half of the game or so, but more on that later) and it's an awesome co-op game, something that's been difficult for us to find. Before I get much further, here's a trailer of Trine 2:

At it's core, it's a side-scrolling game that combines action, puzzles, and platforming to tell a story. It's one of the best co-op games I've come across in a long time and we had a ton of fun working out the puzzles while talking to each other on Skype. I think it could be a great game for anyone close who has to spend time apart including couples.

Great Mix of Characters

You get to play one of three heroes:

  • Amadeus the Wizard - An older, reluctant hero who is married with kids. He doesn't have any direct combat abilities but his core abilities include levitating objects (which expands to monsters) and making boxes (which later expands to creating planks and monster cages).
  • Pontius the Knight - A rather large fellow who loves to smash things, with his sword or hammer. Besides bashing things, he has a shield that he can use to glide or redirect water or fireballs.
  • Zoya the Thief - Or as she likes to refer to herself, an entrepreneur. She has a bow and as she gains in levels, different types of arrows unlock such as anti-gravity, fire, and ice. She also has a super awesome grappling hook that lets her get up and over many of the challenges.

Each of these characters have unique talents, that when combined together and often with the environment, let you do some pretty awesome stuff. For instance, we found that Amadeus can't levitate a block while one of the other characters is standing on it. However, if Zoya creates an anti-gravity area with one of her arrows, he can place a block there. She can then jump on it and while she's in the air, he can push it upward. When she lands on it again, she can jump off and also gains the benefit from the upward momentum. Additionally, wooden blocks found in the environment aren't restricted in this manner when she's hanging from them with her grappling hook, so Amadeus can levitate her across obstacles in that case.

Beautiful Scenery

Much of the game is just beautiful. Some of it is creepy beautiful for sure, but a lot of work went into making it all work and it shows. The first half of the game plays through the adventure the Trine, an ancient artifact, summoned the characters for. I don't want to spoil the story, so that's all I'll say, but it has a wondrous, fairy tale vibe and there's a real story there. Throughout the adventure there's a bunch of notes, diary entries, paintings, poems, and the like to collect. Many of these reveal more about the land and the story. There are also lots of puzzles. Some of them are pipe puzzles involving redirecting air, fire, or water to either redirect the flow to make it possible to get through or to help magic plants grow and reveal new areas. Some areas are underground and others are even underwater.


This game has awesome amounts of co-op. A fair number of the puzzles involved working together to solve them, using our special abilities to create some really cool stuff. While it wasn't impossible for us to get in each other's way at times, it also didn't happen all the time. We had so much fun with this game, we're going through again trying to find all the areas we missed and trying to unlock more of the achievements.

More Than One Way to Do It

Also, I have to confess I'm not the world's best platformer (that is, I'm not great at video games where the difficulty is in precision jumping). This games helps with this in a few ways:

  • There's often multiple ways around a problem. If you're great at platforming, then jump your way around. Not so great? Find a way to build what you need.
  • Working together often is better than working alone.
  • If one person gets to the next checkpoint, you'll be there if you die, so why not try. If the other person gets too far ahead, you'll be whisked there too.

A Note

One thing to note, we played the complete story. We weren't as thrilled with the second half. It felt much more like a generic video game and, at least on my end as the wizard, I felt constantly frustrated because I didn't have any combat powers. It also felt like there was a sudden difficulty shift and the art wasn't quite what we expected given the rest of the game. Of course, your mileage may vary.

So there you go. I highly recommend the game if you can get it. We lucked out and got it as part of the Steam Summer Sale. It's available for PC, Mac, Linux, XBox, PS 3, and Wii. That page also has a link for a free Mac demo and there is supposed to be one on Steam as well.

Survey on Anti-Harassment Policies at Conventions

There's been a lot of talk about anti-harassment policies at conventions lately. This isn't a scientific survey by any means but I'd love to gather your thoughts through it as well. All answers are anonymous and in about a week, I'll publish the responses thus far.

Exploration Through Games: Steal Away Jordan

Steal Away Jordan by Julia EllingboeSteal Away Jordan by Julia EllingboeIndie+ recently ran a day of events that focused on taboos in gaming. One of the events was a live play of Steal Away Jordan: Stories from America’s Peculiar Institution by Julia B. Ellingboe. In this game, players play the roles of slaves in the US during the 1800s. Since I haven't read the actual game yet, this will be about my reactions to watching the game play. Hopefully the game itself will be available soon so I can read the text.

Humanizing the Dehumanized

I don't know how the evils of slavery was presented to any of you growing up, but I remember that my school textbooks treated enslaved human beings as property or things even as we were taught how evil this was. They were full of pictures of white humans looking into the mouths of black humans to see how healthy they were with this act compared to the inspection one would give a horse. We saw pictures of them bound and chained standing on the auction block, sold off as individuals. Stories and images of whippings, beatings, and the scars of the same showed up over and over again. Then came the pictures of those who fought slavery, generally the white and upper class people of America who righted this wrong.

While I think those are all important things to learn, notice we haven't learned much, if anything, about how the enslaved people lived. We rarely heard their voices. I couldn't tell you what games they played as children. How did their parents comfort them during a thunderstorm? After a hurricane?

Douglass and Brown Argue: Douglass argued against John Brown's plan to attack the arsenal at Harpers Ferry by Jacob LawrenceDouglass and Brown Argue: Douglass argued against John Brown's plan to attack the arsenal at Harpers Ferry by Jacob Lawrence
In this game, we started with people. Each player described their character. How old he/she was. Whether or not they had attempted to run away before and, if so, what scars they had on their body that told that story. Were they literate? Did they have skills? Why were they there? Where were they born? What was their name? In the process, they created people and the possibilities of rich, detailed stories should not be glossed over.

After the creation of the people comes the assignment of worth and the slave name from the game master. If you watch, there's a interesting bit where one of the players gives a current name to his character. Julia steps in and says he doesn't get to choose that. It's the first time, in my opinion, that we start to see how these characters have two selves, their human side and then the part where they are another person's property. Whereas the earlier section reinforced the former, this drives home the latter. The game master decides what the details about your character are worth and assigns the players their dice based on it. Young adult typically is worth more than older adults, although being skilled mitigates that. Previous escape attempts as well as disobeying result in dice being taken away.

Community as a Resource

After the worth of each player character is assigned, Julia gives the worth of the NPCs, including the slave owner, Robert Ford. Robert has a lot of dice and Julia even suggests that the characters might want to combine forces if they want to have a conflict with him.

Understanding Motivations

I discuss issues of social justice a lot. One of the concepts I find hardest to talk about is why 1) people don't just rebel and 2) why some of the people in the oppressed group do things that reinforce the oppressive system. Between Julia's descriptions and the play in the game, I hope people get a better idea.

Because slavery is often taught as a means to an end, in this case understanding why relations in the US broke down to the point where we fought a destructive and costly Civil War, we often don't think of slaves as three-dimensional human beings. We don't think of them having a culture. We emphasize the property element to the point we don't understand that they might often travel within a limited sphere and have all sorts of relationships with all sorts of people. We also might not consider that, like all human beings, they have basic needs and wants and that one of the big differences between free and slave comes down to how you get those things. I'm going to simplify things for a moment. For me, as a free person in the US, my ability to meet my needs is largely self-driven. If I want more, I should either work more or find a job that pays me more money. I have the freedom of choice to attempt to do that (whether or not I'm successful is another matter).

If you are owned by another person, by and large your ability to meet those needs and desires is tied to the person who owns you. If he or she does well, there's a good chance you will benefit from that. If you sabotage that person, you may be harming yourself as well. The way I tend to view it is their status sets your base. Since material goods may be harder to come by and keep, as an enslaved person, your relationships with others are important whether they be the comfort of friends and family or the access to information and resources that others might provide. So, if you were to get caught attempting to escape or planning a slave revolt, you could easily lose most if not all of your resources through the punishment and the possible sale to someone else.

Re-examining the Hero Story

Emancipation: Credit Library of Congress / Thomas NastEmancipation: Credit Library of Congress / Thomas Nast

As I mentioned earlier, in my experience, the slave narrative is often not a tale of the slaves at all but of this epic battle between whites over the topic of the slaves. We champion Abraham Lincoln, knowing all sorts of details about his life, but rarely do people like Frederick Douglass get the same treatment. We have lists of those who died in the Civil War, but I have yet to see a book that lists the name of those who died attempting to escape slavery.

Detail from Freedom to the Slave: ca. 1863, lithograph - New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Schomburg Center for Research in Black CultureDetail from Freedom to the Slave: ca. 1863, lithograph - New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Instead of playing a white abolitionist or a slave owner who sees the light and frees his or her slaves, the players played slaves. They were attempting to free themselves, using their own wits. When we compare this to other games that attempt to explore these issues, such as say, Bioshock Infinite, this change of perspective is huge.


There's a bunch more that I could go into here, but I'd prefer to wait until I can read the game itself. While my knowledge of the specific subject matter the game covers may be limited, I saw a lot come out during the game play that made me excited, especially as someone who grew up in a lower class household and had to later deal with how people from the upper classes viewed people like me and our lives and choices. While the game is not currently available, I asked Julia about it and she hopes to have a PDF version available again soon. Also, I asked Indie+ if they would consider releasing it in audio only form for those who dig podcasts. It sounds like there's a possibility of that happening next week.

If you are interested in learning more, the Library of Congress has a collection of narratives from former slaves on their website.

(Also, notice how much of the art presented focuses on white people and their roles in the anti-slavery movement, often presenting them as the heroes. Understanding how common that presentation is is important to understanding some of the race issues that continue in the US.)

Desertification: The Dust Bowl

In school, most discussions of the Great Depression talked about the Dust Bowl. I knew things were bad during that time period, but I didn't quite understand how bad it was until I watched Ken Burns' The Dust Bowl. The way it was always described to me focused on the drought and the lack of food, both horrible on their own for sure, but not necessarily awe-inspiring.

Watch The Dust Bowl Preview on PBS. See more from The Dust Bowl.

Dust BowlDust BowlThe Dust Bowl was the result of a decade-long drought combined with farming practices not only ill-suited to the area but destructive. The two amplified each other until we had an ecological disaster that is almost unfathomable. Here are some of the things that happened:

  • Gathered by the winds, dust storms covered hundreds of miles and would sweep through much of the US in a single day. In some areas, they would cause dust drifts that reached the rooftops and deposit inches if not feet of dirt in a new location.
  • These storms could destroy most if not all of a crop across several states during one storm.
  • The dust clouds could black out the sun. The static electricity they caused would make it impossible to use the phone.
  • The clouds would drift into cities like Chicago and New York, thousands of miles away from where the dust originated, causing damage and blocking out the sun.
  • The dust was small enough to get into the lungs. Man and beast alike could suffocate if caught out in the storm without protection. For some it lead to dust pneumonia.
  • The drought caused plagues of grasshoppers and rabbits. The rabbits in particular would get so bad at times that towns would hold special events to kill them, asking townspeople to bring the whole family for the chore.

If you are looking for a cataclysmic event for your game, this should qualify. Depending on what type of story you are going for, it could be based on the same reasons as the real world dust bowl, human ingenuity gone awry in the struggle between man and nature. However, I could see other things working as well. Nature spirits upset at the defilement of a sacred location create massive winds. Fire elementals summoned by a an evil wizard (or a spell gone awry) parch the land and burn away the top layer of soil and sod.

For me, I see ecological disasters as a good way to provide tensions in a game without relying on stereotypes or things like racism, sexism, etc. I feel story-wise it also provides both an impetus for groups to have tensions against each other as they compete for limited resources as well as providing a way for players to solve those tensions without genocide if they choose to do so. Does it work for everyone? No, but it's what I happen to like.

Anyway, I definitely suggest checking out the documentary and learning more about this chapter of US history. If you have US Netflix, it's available for instant play.

Goals for Druids: Reversing Desertification

I like adding elements of environmentalism to my games. This came out in my article for Melora and in my Acadia game where one of the tensions I explicitly set up was between the ship builders and their need for a certain type of timber and the gnomes and other forest folk who made their homes in those trees. I recently heard about the underground forests in places like Niger and the work being done to make them rise again in an attempt to combat desertification.Apple ValleyApple Valley

Basically, in some deserts, there are stumps or seedlings of trees that, with care and cultivation, could turn into trees. If this is done, they not only provide their own goods, in the form of shade, firewood, etc, they also make the land around them more productive. We didn't know this because for years we destroyed them, allowed cattle to feed on them, and didn't prune them. Some farmers purposefully destroyed them believing that they would decrease yield. According to the article, in some areas crop yields increased 2 to 3 times after practicing these techniques.

Introducing in Game

There's a few ways one could introduce this in game.

  • Have local groups fight over land where these procedures aren't being used. Allow nature-type checks to be used to find out a non-violent solution to the conflict.
  • If the PCs leave the well-travelled roads, have one of the communities they meet practice this type of cultivation. If you are making a morally grey world, it easily could be one of the "monster" groups, similar to some groups of Horde in World of Warcraft. However be careful to not make this into a typical "savages" narrative that we find all too often in fantasy.
  • Make finding such a solution the life's goal of an NPC and have him or her ask one or more PCs to aid in the development of these techniques.
  • Providing Information and Implementing

    What information to provide and how to provide it depends on what type of game you are running. For instance, if the game is primarily about dungeon delving with very little social interaction, downtime, or character backstory, providing detailed information to your players about what needs to happen to produce one of these green zones isn't necessary and may be overkill. Providing a journal or tome that details this information that they can then redeem in town for rewards should work and, if the campaign goes on for some time in the game world, you can describe the changes that are occurring when the enter town after a trek.

    If the characters are interested in being more directly involved, I'd suggest doing some research on the techniques and the outcomes. Then decide if the PCs should research and experiment themselves on what techniques work best or if they are going to be more involved in the implementation stage. It all depends on what you and your players find interesting. This would be a great use for in-game-world downtime and I'd suggest going for simplicity and success over simulation.

    Also, remember that the challenges presented to the PCs don't have to be limited to finding information or providing physical labor. If you listen to Tony Rinado's story, you'll notice that he had to convince a lot of people, at many different levels of society, that this worked and was a good idea.

    Describing The Changes

    In the video, Tony Rinaudo discusses how the environment and the local culture changed due to these techniques. I'd suggest figuring out a time line for how this could change the local game world and play it out as either NPCs or PCs employ these techniques. Change the description as they venture outside of town. Have the NPCs thank the PCs for making it easier to get firewood or for the increased prosperity for town. Decrease the number of conflicts based on competition for resources. Add new people to the town, people who were enticed to come there based on the developments.

    What ideas do you have? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

    Image: "Apple Valley" © 2012 Gwyneth Ravenscraft, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Sources of Inspiration: End to End

I love to use fairy tales as an inspiration for my games. Ralph, the talking chicken, was a prince transformed by a witch's curse. Rumpelstiltskin served as inspiration for a bargained child tale. Given this, I'm always on the hunt for new tales, especially given how often the current Grimms' versions don't have great roles for women.

Enter End to End, a book of four fairy tales written by Jocelyn Koehler. I was fortunate enough to get a review copy. Set in the mythical land of the Nine Kingdoms, near the borders of Faerie, these tales often mix the real with the fantastic. A forbidden wood. Dancing sisters. A kingdom in decline. Medicine required for survival. These all feel familiar and yet new. What I love in particular, plenty of strong women who have their own agency.

Pearl Against Diamond: When Pearl meets Lin in a forbidden forest, it is the beginning of a romance, and the beginning of a tragedy. For Lin is the slave to a faerie queen, and Pearl must journey through dangerous realms to save him. But Lin hides a secret of his own. A reimagining of the legend of Tam Lin, this story pulls inspiration from not only the original, but also the dreamland of ukiyo—the “floating world” of forgetfulness and pleasure.

The Solider Underground: Alexander Stargazer is a wanderer and a mercenary. One day, when he stumbles into a new kingdom, he hears about a mystery he can’t resist. For a full year, the twelve princesses have disappeared every night to go dancing...but no one knows where or how. Many have tried to solve the mystery. All have failed. Stargazer uses his wits and magic to discover the secret, which lies far below the castle in a subterranean world too fabulous to be believed...and far more sinister than it first appears.

Wise Marah: We all know the legend of the Sleeping Beauty. Or do we? When a beloved queen falls into an enchanted slumber, a whole kingdom is dragged down into a shadowed grief. Can a simple housemaid break the spell? She can...if she is wise enough.

When the Wolves Returned: In a forgotten kingdom severed from all others, life is incredibly dangerous, and survival depends on not falling prey to the sickness that ravages the land. The key to survival—a precious medicine—lies beyond the forest. A strong young woman named Red is the one who journeys through the woods, wary of wolves and other perils. But the largest threat may prove too powerful for Red to fight...until she makes a fragile, remarkable alliance with a former enemy. Together, they will bring their benighted land back into the light.

I enjoyed these so much that I am going to buy the previous book in the series, The Way Through the Woods.


This section may contain some spoilers.

  • Part of the story of Pearl Against Diamond involves her being swindled. If your players are looking for ways to be heroic without killing everything in sight, righting a wrong like this could be a good way.
  • Pearl also receives a few magic items created just for her by Lin. Consider allowing extremely limited magic items like these in your game without worrying too much about what the rules say NPCs can create.
  • In the Soldier Underground, it's not until he drinks from a fountain that he sees the underground world for what it is. It's a risk for the players to drink from random fountains but having rewards like these can encourage them to take those chances and explore.
  • Likewise, a few of the art objects in the underground palace give hints at the story of the world. Providing these hints throughout a game rewards exploration and helps ensure the players don't look at you confused when they figure out the mystery of the world.
  • Wise Marah reminds us that sometimes an outsider can see things that locals cannot. In my experience, players would react in a similar manner to Marah, questioning any restrictions, especially without a firm reason why they shouldn't explore further. With some groups, I wouldn't necessarily have an end story in mind, I'd present something like the sleeping queen and let the players work out an explanation that works for them.
  • What happens when the old ways are no longer necessary? When the Wolves Returned reminds us that someone always profits off of these things and they are often reluctant to give up their revenue streams. The same can be adapted for a fantasy world.

I hope you try them out. If you'd like to read some excerpts, the publisher was kind enough to provide me with some.

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