Thursday, November 20, 2014

Someone Else's Podcast: "What Is The OSR, Anyway?"

At U Con this year, I was on the "What Is The OSR, Anyway?" panel discussion. The Save Or Die podcast released the audio of the panel, so I thought I should link to it here. Here's their blurb on the thing:

This year, U-Con in Ypsilanti, MI added an OSR Track to their convention, and one-third of the DMigos was there to cover the action and record the “What is the OSR, Anyway?” panel discussion. While this is often a contentious topic online, host Ryan Thompson and panelists Tim Snider (Goblinoid Games), Adam Muszkiewicz (Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad), Doug Kovacs (Goodman Games), and Jim Wampler (yeah, that guy) were able to discuss the matter with humor and almost no use of the Star Trek original series battle music. Enjoy!

All in all, the panel was a good time. Like I said the other day, it felt like the deck was slightly stacked against a narrow definition of the OSR, but it's about damn time that side of the argument got its chance to speak, don't you think? 

So, give it a listen and judge for yourself.

[Edit: In case you're wondering, the annoying laugh is usually me.] 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Kick This: Barrel Rider Games' Class Compendium for Labyrinth Lord

Dear Old School Friends,

I know we've talked before about how I really don't like to pimp crowdfunding efforts. I know you've been burned before, just like I have. I know we like to talk about them from time to time, and I do like to write about them when they've successfully completed and fume about them privately (or to whatever audience I can get in a bar at a con) when they go wrong. But I don't really pimp things for folks. 

So please, don't take this as pimping. Instead, see this for what it is: me taking the opportunity to call to your attention to a project you might not have noticed yet. Over on IndieGoGo.com, +James Spahn of Barrel Rider Games has posted a crowdfunding campaign for his Class Compendium for Labyrinth Lord. I tend not to back lots of stuff on IGG and back more on Kickstarter, especially since KS is working harder than before to make sure its projects get fulfilled, but James is no stranger to producing content -- a casual glance at BRG's OBS page can tell you that. My best guess is that James used IGG because it allows him to raise a small amount, all he really wants/needs to get his project done and get a new laptop. 

In fact, here's James himself to pitch this thing for me.


When you look at what he's trying to do here, it's both ambitious and totally doable. Barrel Rider has been hard at work for the past 3 years, cranking out character classes for Labyrinth Lord (there's been other stuff for other systems, too, but we're going to focus on the classes). Now, he's putting together 50 classes for Labyrinth Lord in one book. One book. One book that, in this IGG campaign, you can get for $5, and he keeps adding more content to it. 

I'll stow the platitudes. It's $5 in pdf. You can probably afford that. $10 if you want the other stuff BRG has put out recently, too. Get it here.


Enjoy.

Thanks, 

Your pal Adam

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Inevitable Post U Con 2014 Post

First, I'd like to point out that +R.J. Thompson stole my post title here. I'd shake my fists in fury if I actually had any. Besides, this guy put in a lot of work on U Con, so he gets a pass.

This past weekend, November 14th through 16th, the U Con gaming convention came to my town for the third year in a row. Last year was my first with the con and I had such a good time, I knew I'd be back this year. But why should I blather about this when you can read all about it? Let's get back to this year!

Thursday, November 13th

All good conventions start the night before. U Con was no exception to this rule. +Kathryn Muszkiewicz and I had agreed to host (special guest of the con) +Doug Kovacs months before. We weren't sure when he was coming, though, so when he told us he was coming on Friday, we breathed a sigh of relief and then proceeded to totally slack on doing all the shit that one does around the house when getting ready for guests. So, I had to finish all that (including some remarkably stinky last-minute plumbing) on Thursday. Needless to say that by the end of all that crap, I needed a drink.

Ryan was on top of stuff, though, and wanted to run a game for the folks who had gotten into town early (or who lived there) which was supposed to mean me, +Shane Harsch+Tim Snider & +Jim Wampler. Apparently, Jim & Tim were wiped out from their treks up from Ohio, so that didn't happen. Instead, I convinced Ryan to join me at fabulous downtown Ypsilanti's own Tap Room (where Katie was working) for a few beers. A few very large beers. A few very large Hideout Brewery Hazelnut Stouts. Man, did my ass get kicked. Shane joined us for a round or so, then took off to get rest. That should have been a clue to me to leave well enough alone. Nope. In retrospect, Ryan drank a reasonable amount. Me? I had to overdo it and then throw a whiskey on top of it. Good thing I live on the same block as the Tap.

Friday, November 14th

Thanks to the night before, I started this day pretty damn hung over. I never finished my pregens for my sessions for the weekend, so I was still working on them (and hung over) at noon on Friday. I had agreed to help +Roy Snyder run the Goodman Games booth when the hall opened at 2, so at 1p, I drove the whole 5 minutes from my house to the con site. On my way in to the con, I tripped on some uneven pavement, but kept on trucking (I would later realized that I had ripped the knee of my jeans wide open and had skinned my knee pretty fiercely). Jim Wampler & I helped put the last few things in place and then staffed the booth while Roy went off to run an event.

Roy came back from his event kind of early; it turned out that only two guys had shown up for it (one being the very excellent Mr. +Brett Slocum who had stopped by the Goodman booth), so he went off script and taught them the rules a bit and I think ran them through a short somethingorother before calling it good. Which was a good thing, because it let me slack at the booth and finish up those pregens.

At 6p, I was on a panel discussion along with Doug, Tim, Jim & Ryan about what exactly the OSR is. Here's the thing about the guys assembled: the deck was totally stacked against a "strictly D&D" construction of what the OSR is. Which is good. I tend to think that folks who like to believe that "if it ain't D&D, it ain't Old School" are missing the point but, as with all point-missers, they'll miss the point of themselves missing the point. If there's no room in a particular version of the OSR for Runequest or Traveller or Call of Cthulhu or any of that stuff, then that particular version isn't worth my attention. Jim recorded the panel discussion, thankfully, and it will soon appear on the Save Or Die podcast.

After that, as in RIGHT AFTER THAT, at 7p I ran DCC and the players (who included +Mark Donkers+Andrew Moss+Chris Hooker  & man do I feel stupid now not being able to remember everyone who was there) were used as guinea pigs for an adventure I'm currently play testing. I realized after my "I can't tell you what it's called" stupidity on Spellburn that if I can't say what the name of a thing is, then I shouldn't call it by that name in con programs and the like. As a result, the thing I ran on Friday night currently has the "nom de guerre" of "A Tree Falls in the Forest" (by the time it gets published, it will certainly have a new title). These gents did a commendable job, and allowed me to explore some of the nuances that my session of this adventure at GenCon had spurred me to create. Thanks gents, you were a blast to work with.

When the session wrapped up, Katie, Doug and I went back to our apartment, where we spent the rest of the night boring Katie by talking about Philosophy and drinking Miller High Life. It's cheap, y'all, don't judge.

Saturday, November 15th

This was the day of the con that we were most successful in getting up early. 10am. We tried to get Jim to come have breakfast with us at the Wolverine grill (across the street from my house) because he's a man who appreciates a good breakfast and the Wolverine always has interesting, imaginative food. Jim didn't show. That's okay.

We got to the con later than we had intended, despite our early start, giving me all of 1/2 hour to get to my game and get set up. I ran my DCC adventure (also in playtesting) "Slaves of the Silicon God." This is the one that I got all stupid about the name of on Spellburn. It's currently one of my two "con adventures" after I ran it at Gateway Games & More in Cincinnati, OH, on Free RPG Day. Again, I had great players (including some folks I've mentioned previously, but including +Pete Schwab & +Stefan Poag among others). This session turned out to be a bloodbath, possibly because they were slightly undermanned. I balanced this adventure around a large (6+) adventuring party and there were only 5 players. Many, many PCs met their end at the hand of man-apes. After (barely) surviving to get reinforcements, the players managed to take on most of the rest of the adventure, but I had to vastly rethink how to do some things and I'm not sure my ideas worked as well as I had thought. The good news is that I know how where I need to edit stuff, which is exactly why I run this shit at cons.

After the session, Stefan, Doug and I met up with Jim, Shane and Ryan (and maybe a few more folks) for dinner at the hotel bar. I proceeded to have one too many and talk about time travel. Bad idea.

Several folks were running sessions at 8pm and I tried to figure out whose game I should jump into. Ultimately, I jumped into Roy's game, which was great! The players were me, Tim Snider & Pete Schwab and we were playing in Roy's take on the Tower out of Time. If you have the opportunity, play in one of Roy's games. He does all the voices and it's a blast. The session went on way later than it was supposed to, though, and it was 1a before we got out of there.

When we were done there, Doug & I went to the Tap and had beers while we waited for Katie to get off work. Doug made friends with some Ypsi townies, including the one and only SOULTRAIN. Starved, we had a late night dinner at Abe's Coney Island, a place about which the less is said, the better. We were out far, far too late.

Sunday, November 16th

I don't think I was hung over on Sunday, just tired. So tired. We got to the con in the last few minutes of the dealer hall being open, which gave me just enough time to make some last minute purchases and say goodbye to Tim Snider & Jim Wampler. We spent more money than was smart, picking up Frog God's Monstrosities from d20pfsrd.com's own +John Reyst. It was good to see John, who I'd had the good fortune of DMing for last year. We also picked up some dice (because convention) and then stopped by Roy's booth and picked up the new Castles & Crusades black box. Now I just need their starter box.

I had to figure out which game to jump into because there were two big options for me. Ryan was running his annual Palace of the Vampire Queen shindig, which was my favorite event last year, and that was a strong contender. At the same time, +Andrew Moss was running Peril on the Purple Planet (which I have yet to read, so I had no spoilers), so I jumped into that. I'll be completely fair, Andrew got off to a great start, then things got rocky. After they got rocky, it felt like Andrew lost a lot of confidence and things dragged a bit. However, by the time we got to the end of the session, it felt like he got his legs beneath him again when he started throwing in all these awesome comic book elements. Spoiler for gaming with Andrew: he's a total comics fanatic and his games are informed by that aesthetic. The moment the game developed Kirby Dots and cosmic rays, it got awesome. Andrew, if you're reading this, LEARN TO HARNESS THIS POWER! This is where your DM voice is. Use it.

After the session, I met up with Katie & Doug in the hotel bar, where we played Nanobots with some folks and had a few beers. We went back to the house intent on calling it an early night because we all had to hit the road in the morning: Doug had to drive back to Chicago and we had to drive to Imlay City on the far side of Flint at 8a.

This did not happen.

Instead, we stayed up late listening to music, drinking beer then wine (I won the Tour de Franzia!) and having a damn good time of it.

Getting up the next morning was hell.

Final Word

U Con continues to be crazy fun for me. It was even better this year than last since so many of the folks I've met over the last year (Jim & Doug & Roy) came to my home town and because I got to meet so many other neat folks (Tim & Andrew & Pete & Stefan & Brett & +John Till & more) who I'm excited to game with in the future! If I were to do anything differently it would have been to sleep more and bring more coffee. Other than that, pretty solid success all around.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Unplanned Griffin Mountain: The Sacred Time

Remember from last time that I am brand spankin' new to Glorantha and only passingly familiar with RuneQuest. In all my RQ/Glorantha reading, I think that what has driven my interest is the gravity of the interplay between the stetting and the rules and back to the setting. And so, from moment one, I've wanted to make sure that the RQ6 game that I'm running feels like RuneQuest feels to me when I read it. Cults, seasons, magic. All of this should together to make the game play experience an worthy synthesis of how the game should play and how the campaign should feel. And so, I'm left standing in the position of wanting to be true to the traditional feel of RQ, but having no experience in running it and being blessed/cursed with players who have the same limit of experience. 

How do I do this, then?

When I read Griffin Mountain, I was really happy to discover that there is a chapter on running "coming of age" quests. Running a group of adolescents who are learning just as much as the players are always feels like a good way to introduce players to a new rule system for me and jibes with the whole "zero to hero" thing that I dig. The players knew they were making teenagers (or nearly-teenagers), so going into it, they knew their characters wouldn't be full-fledged badasses (are RQ starting characters ever full-fledged badasses?), but that they'd have plenty of room to grow. 

We rolled for stats, and everybody had the "Primitive" background, and then distributed their first 100 skill points into their background skills. That's where we left skills. Careers will develop, but we're not there yet (see below); these guys are kids, not seasoned vets. I did allow the players to put skill ranks into Folk Magic out of the gate, counting that as a sort of bonus skill for the neophytes. I let the gents pick their starting Folk Magic spells, and I think that only one of them ended up with more than one spell. 

In order to reinforce the nature of the game -- i.e., that the players are playing neolithic hunters going through their coming of age rite -- and the setting, I decided to base the game around the seasons of the Gloranthan calendar. Each season was to have a scenario attached to it, a particular challenge that the players have to address as part of their rites of passage. Further, there are a series of questions that the players have to answer -- sometimes as a group, sometimes individually -- that discuss events that happen during the season, what particular NPCs are like, how a particular event went down, etc., which will often have consequences for the successive seasons and the tribe. Of course. Because otherwise they'd be pointless. In effect, I'm trying to increase player buy in by having my players tell me what their world of pre-Bronze Age nomadic hunters is like. 

And so, the three players who showed up created a cadre of would-be hunters and full members of the tribe and each player helped create context for that cadre. Who is each member? How do they fit into the tribe? What about their families? But first, let's look at Sacred Time.

Sacred Time

The Sacred Time season is the two-week festival that marks the end of one year and the beginning of the next, when sacrifices are made to the gods and their rites are celebrated. The Storm season, Yura the Clam, the old high priestess of the Hearthmother, sacrificed herself to drive off a blizzard that had battered the tribe for days on end. With Yura's death, the tribe had no high priestess going into the Sacred Time, and so were unsure of how best to thank the Hearthmother for her servant's ultimate sacrifice that had saved the tribe. The tribe decided to sacrifice the remains of their food stores to the Hearthmother in thanks, so as the Sea season arrives, the tribe finds itself in dire need of replenishing those stores, making the hunters' tasks literally vitally important. The tribe sacrificed Yura's fetishes, raiment and tokens of office to Votanki, the hero god ancestor spirit, that he might provide the tribe with the wisdom necessary to choose a new high priestess that would satisfy his mother, the Hearthmother, and have the wisdom and skill to fill the void left by Yura the Calm. One last sacrifice was made: as it does every year, the tribe sacrificed a one of its number, a young virgin (named Quiet Fawn), by burning that she may join the Found Child in the Godsplane (I've been calling it "Godtime" to make it fit my tastes better). In return for this sacrifice, the Found Child, god of the hunt, allows a secret copse of yew trees, known only to members of the tribe's Found Child cult, to grow and flourish. At the end of the Earth season, the tribe's Found Child cultists take their pick of the limbs of these trees, and throughout the Dark and Storm seasons use them to make the tribe's famous bows. At the end of the Sacred Time, the tribe announced the candidates who would be undergoing the rites of passage this year: Sick Ape, Little Fox and Little Bull.

[Absolutely all of this is the result of questions I asked my players. "Who died last year?" "What was sacrificed to the Hearthmother and why?" Things like that. The result was, as you can see, a pretty neat web of stuff that gives lots of gamable opportunities. As the PCs took shape, as you'll see below, their place in the tribe made even more gamable moments.]

Sick Ape is the oldest of the candidates to join the ranks of the hunters and, at sixteen years old, this year is his last chance to pass the rites, lest he become a bondsman, a slave to the hunter class. He's already failed the rites several times, but the quick-thinking Ape knows more about the rites than his rite-brothers. Always smaller than the other boys of the tribe, Sick Ape was unhealthy and weak throughout his childhood, but has grown into a lithe and agile, if small and weak, young man. Sick Ape blames the tribe's chieftan, Yuarvag the Fang, for the loss of Yura the Calm; had Yuarvag foreseen the possibility of such bad weather, the tribe might have wintered in a safer place, one less affected by harsh weather. Slowly, surely, Sick Ape has made up his mind that, if he passes his rite this year, one day he will be chieftan. 

Little Fox+PJ Muszkiewicz 
It has been a year of harsh realities for Little Fox. Last year's Earth season saw the death of his parents at the jaws of a legendary beast known only as the "Dark Howler;" none has seen the beast for a generation, but its bleak call is known to all members of the tribe, a hideous clarion that gives pause to even the bravest hunters. In the intervening weeks, he has found himself part of his uncle's household --  a place where he is not exactly welcome. Should he fail his rites and become a thrall to his uncle's house, Little Fox doubts that Uncle Sergh will hesitate to sell him into slavery with passing merchants or at one of the citadels. Knowing his likely fate should he fail, Little Fox has joined this year's rite-brothers in an attempt to free himself from Uncle Sergh's house and seeks every advantage to do so. Currently, he compensates for his deficiency in the art of magic by learning as much lore about the spirits of the land and the Godtime that he can. 

Little Bull+Craig Brasco 
Each of this year's rite-brothers has much riding on his completion of the rites, and Little Bull is no exception. Though the youngest of the rite-brothers, Little Bull is nonetheless the largest. A burly youth of a mere twelve years, Little Bull has joined the rites in hopes that should he be accepted to the tribe as a hunter, his family's position within it will be secured. This past Fire season, his family was taken in by the tribe, one of the few surviving families of another tribe, now extinct. Little Bull's parents, however, are notorious for their skill with animals, and have taken up the mantles of the tribe's dog handlers. As dog handlers, they're not quite on par with the tribe's hunters, but higher than the tribe's thralls; Little Bull hopes that, if he becomes a hunter of the tribe, his family's place within it will be secured. Although the largest and strongest of the rite-brothers, he is by far the least experienced in this tribe's customs and power structure. Little Bull was horrified by the sacrificial death of Quiet Fawn during the Sacred Time rituals

[Almost all of this information comes from questions that I asked the players, often about the other players' characters. For example, I asked Phil "Why does the tribe not trust Little Bull's family?" and asked Craig "How did Little Fox's parents die?" At the same time, questions were asked about their own PCs' feelings on matters such as asking Gabriel "Who does Sick Ape blame for the sacrifice of all the food stores and why?" and Craig "What does Little Bull think of the virgin sacrifice?" Here's a neat fact: it was Craig whose idea the virgin sacrifice was in the first place.]

Seasonal Play

Here's the plan: each session will present the PCs with at least one season (more than one if time permits). Each season will have an associated scenario, a challenge for the rite-brothers to overcome, part of their rite. The idea for me is to give the players a glimpse into the normal life of their tribe and to help teach them the myths that will guide them as hunters and tribe members. After the scenario (or perhaps before, depending on what I need/want to know), I'll also have some questions similar to those that guided us through the Sacred Time to flesh out the tribe, their surroundings and the course of the year. At the end of each season, no matter how it ends, surviving PCs will gain 20 skill points to spend on Career skills (which means that, as of the end of Sea season, they'll have to pick a Career). 

My goal is for the player, after a year's worth of seasons, to have a solid grasp of who their characters are, understand their tribe and its myths, know more about the wider world around them (even if that's just Balazar) and have fully finished character creation. By the next Sacred Time, we'll know how many of the rite-brothers become hunters and how many fail and become thralls. Should be a neat journey. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

An Unplanned Campaign: RQ6, Griffin Mountain & Wednesday Night

This weekend, I read the old Chaosium RuneQuest book, Griffin Mountain for the first time (well, 2nd or 3rd if you count flipping through digital pages) and I was completely inspired. My RPG upbringing didn't touch on BRP-related stuff until the early 90's, and then it was entirely Call of Cthulhu. I knew of the early existence of the RQ system, if only through the conversion notes presented in my copies of All The World's Monsters, but no one I knew had ever played it nor did they have experience with anyone who had. What I knew came by way of ads in Dragon magazine and gaming catalogs (I'm pretty sure I used to always get TSR's Mail Order Hobby Shop catalogs back in the day), which didn't tell me much. However, I had different gaming fish to fry, so RQ went on the back burner, and for the most part (other than CoC), I've only ever read RQ stuff, never actually played any.

One of the big stumbling blocks to entry was that I never felt I knew enough about Glorantha to run RQ. It's not like back in the day they were publishing setting books about Glorantha (to one degree or another, all books were setting books) and those that have been published since are less written for folks getting into the setting than for the already initiated. I thought about kicking for that hugely expensive Glorantha setting KS a year or so ago, but that thing was too expensive. I think that one of the things that TSR did right throughout the 2e era was that they never stopped teaching people how to play and kept introducing players to their settings in one way or another. What I had wanted with Glorantha was an entry point; a point where someone with minimal Glorantha/RQ experience could tap in, start running and learn as they go.

Griffin Mountain is that product, and no one ever told me.

Well, old issues of White Dwarf may have told me. Like, the ones where Griffin Mountain is reviewed in the first place. That's probably where I got the idea to start there.

Long time readers of the Dispatches may remember that I talked about running a Runequest campaign I was calling "Exiles In Eden." The idea here was heavily influenced by the King of Dragon Pass video game, wherein several decisions you make at the beginning of the game about your tribe's history affect how the game plays. Similarly, "Exiles In Eden" was going to allow the players to define some things about the tribe's past to define their future. Basically, the players would answer a few questions about their tribe and those answers would shape the future of the tribe. Many of these ideas are things I've borrowed from Fate and The Quiet Year and I'd like to see them put into play.

Coming off my Griffin Mountain high over the weekend, yesterday +Jason Hobbs let us know that he's not going to be able to finish his tenure as DM for our rotating-DM Wednesday night game; he'll be able to play, just not to run. So, I offered up my "Traveller'd by the Apocalypse" thing as well as a possibility of doing RQ6 set in Griffin Mountain alongside +Gabriel Perez Gallardi's 5e Greyhawk. Surprisingly, the thing we've never talked about before, RQ6, won. Now, I've got some prep ahead of me before tomorrow night and, instead of doing that, I'm writing about it.

So, here's the plan. I'm going to use Griffin Mountain as the sandbox it's intended to be. The PCs will start out as hunters of one of the nomadic Balazaring tribes. In fact, they'll start out as kids going through their rites of passage to become hunters. There will be no tribal allegiances with any of the different citadel kings going into the campaign nor any looming conflicts with Lunars or chaos beasts. All of that will come about as a result of the PCs choices and what the PCs explore rather than any preplanned "story" that I choose to foist off upon them.

We'll see how it goes tomorrow.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Oh, The Places You'll Go: Two Nations of Ore

The Most Flavorful Gastrarchy of Shugab

The eastern province of Shugab is one of the great powerhouses of the network of spice traders based out of Ur-Hadad. The finest and rarest of spices do not originate in Shugab, but are instead bound for the province, to serve the caste of noblechefs who rule through recipes. Home of the most renowned chefs, sous-chefs, bakers, confectioners, and so on throughout the Dominion of Man, Shugab had long held a strong culinary tradition when a series of gastronomical bribes led the 14th Prefect-Duke of Shugab to announce: "Let flavor reign, for she is mightier than any mortal ruler's whim." Thus, the province's decision making, rather than being a contest of wills between rival aristocrats, became a contest of recipes and culinary acumen between rival chefs, each pushing their political agenda with unique dishes that they believe will win the "argument." The 15th Prefect-Duke took the honorific "the Gourmand," and the appellation has stuck; now, in fact, the title "Prefect-Duke" is no longer used, and instead the ruler of Shugab is known as "the Gourmand of Shugab." Over the years, the Gourmands have become more and more decadent and debased; the current Gourmand of Shugab, Scurfang bar Squom, is said to be even worse than his predecessor and has never turned down a culinary experience. Somehow, Gourmand Scurfang yet draws breath, despite the indulgent, often dangerous and frequently vile gamut his tastes run.

Shugab operates as one great hierarchical bureaucracy, at the peak of which sits the Gourmand, who, tradition demands, acts as the interpreter of the "divine will of flavor." Below him, an autocratic tier of master noblechefs and connoisseurs apply  similar methods of culinary argument to determine the "best course" for the country; the "best course" is, naturally, the best tasting. The real power in the country lies in three places: the Librarian's Assembly (who maintain centuries of recipe books), the Grocers & Butchers Alliance and the Spicers' Guild. A web of favors, threats, greased palms, blackmail, diplomacy and outright violence draws these three entities together in a tangled knot, a shadow bureaucracy that stretches from the farms and docks through the kitchens to the highest seats of power. Oddly, the noblechefs and aristocratic connoisseurs (much less the Gourmand) have yet to notice that they aren't in control of the province and that the real power rests with those slowly feeding the upper classes to death.

Common slang throughout Shugab is full of references to cooking, food preparation and flavors. In fact, many Hadadi scholars trace common phrases like "What's cooking?" (in the sense of "What's going on?") and the countless permutations along the line of "you can't make a [particular dish] without [doing something violent to a food-animal]" to Shugabi chefs, probably incorrectly. 

The Duchy Of Karel

The maritime nation of Karel lies roughly a week out from Ur-Hadad along the strong northeast current. Inland, Karel's great forests make possible the logging necessary to supply Karel's strong trade as some of Ore's greatest shipwrights. In ages past, large Karelik frigates and galleys were sought after by navies in every corner of the Dominion of Man. Today, though, these vessels have become so commonplace that the Karelik shipwrights nearly have put themselves out of a job. Nearly. The Karelik people are ever industrious and, perhaps, ever opportunistic. With the success of their large vessels, the Karelik shipwrights realized they had inadvertently created a demand for smaller, faster vessels of the sort that could outrun and outpace the higher-tonnage ships. Now, Kareliyya, port capital of the duchy, has become a sort of smuggler's haven, a fact which the Herzog of Karel, Zorgmund-Frantisko IV, seems reluctant to do much about. So long as Kareliyya doesn't become a haven for pirates like Port Scourge, it seems, the Herzog will permit most things.

The nobility of Karel maintain few palaces or manses, instead preferring lavish ships and barges at sea, often conjoined by rope bridges and gangplanks. The Herzog holds court in the great lighthouse at Kareliyya, issuing orders about the arrangement of the noble flotilla to his functionaries, who then communicate the Herzog's dictates via semaphore to those very ships. This tradition stems from Zorgmund-Frantisko II, the current Herzog's great-grandfather, who became so infuriated at the nobles at his court that he ordered them all to sea; as it turns out, no Herzog since has officially ordered them back to port. Instead, Herzogs have ordered the flotilla to "perform docking maneuvers" with the grand lighthouse-palace.

With the interior of the nation largely neglected by the nobility, it might be surprising that so many things run as efficiently as they do. The nation's vast interior forests are steadily farmed for lumber, with the resultant open land sold off to farmers or reseeded with trees. Stones from the hills in the south are still quarried and brought to Kareliyya and other settlements for homes and to the east of the country to form the Safewall, a structure that "protects" the farmers and lumberjacks of Karel from the diseases and vermin of Ostweg Swamp. The Kareliks have cooperated with their northern neighbors, the Satrapy of Kuth, to bridge the swamp, and Karelik soldiers patrol the bridge alongside Kuthite mamluks. Karel enjoys a unique relationship with the Satrapy of Kuth. The Satrap, a being believed by his subjects to be a sort of god-prince, tolerates cooperation with Karel only because the faith of which the Satrap is supposed to be a demi-god is so widespread within the duchy, including its nobility. It's been well over a century since the Satrapy tried to press this "claim" on the duchy, and the Herzog, the nobility and even the peasantry of Karel fiercely resist a Kuthite hegemony, their doggedly independent spirits being a core component of the Karelik national character.