Laws of Pretend Inheritance

One of the coolest things about the Pendragon RPG is the emphasis on generational play, spanning more than one lifetime.  This epic scale is something I also really love about Paradox Interactive’s Crusader Kings series.

So while I was out hiking the other day, I thought up a quick and fun way to start a dynasty for your RPG.  This would work particularly well with ACKS domain rules (and an aristocrat class!), and reminds me of the Punnett Square, which I was thinking of.

You’ll need two genetically compatible parents, and one d4 (or in this case, a d20).

For each of the child’s attributes, roll your d20.

On a 1-5, the child receives the mother’s attribute value.

On a 6-10, the child receives the father’s attribute value.

On an 11-15, the child receives the average of the parents values.

On a 16-20, the child receives a randomly determined value, as in character creation.

I haven’t done the math, but at first glance it seems this method would produce royal families whose average attributes were noticeably skewed towards those of their progenitors.

The interplay between status and Charisma value would be interesting to model here, because assuming that both status (wealth) and Charisma contribute to attractiveness and genetic fitness, then those without wealth but with high Charisma would be more likely than those with low Charisma to breed with the wealthy, and so forth.

You could add social status to Charisma to get a new value (Aristo-fitness?), and when world-building, have the mates of a given aristocratic NPC have this same value.

A less charismatic mate would then be of higher status, indicating perhaps an “arranged” marriage of political convenience, while a more charismatic mate could be of lower status, having charmed their way up the ladder a bit.

Depending on the relative values of “Charisma” versus “Social Status”, this could also reliably model an aristocratic taboo against marrying too far beneath your rank, as even the most charming peasant couldn’t expect to marry an Emperor or Empress.


The Dark Earth System

Hi everybody,

This is my world-building and RPG blog, but also a launchpad of sorts for my nascent game system (and accompanying setting), Dark Earth.

I am a younger gamer, in my 20s, and I got my start with RPGs with a strange mix of systems, including Palladium’s Robotech, the Alternity system, and D&D 3rd edition.

I have played a number of systems in addition to those, and comparative game design has become a kind of hobby of mine.  A while back I discovered ACKS, and through it the whole “Old School Renaissance”, which hearkens back to a time that I wasn’t actually around for.  In short, I was deeply impressed.

Looking into the OSR through the lens of ACKS gave me insight into the lasting appeal of D&D.  There are some elements to this kind of gaming that I particularly appreciate:

  1. The emphasis on a kind of existential “thrownness” and fairness-through-randomness. (epitomized by rolling 3d6 down the line for attributes)
  2. Simplicity in design, user-friendliness. (quick character creation = replaceable characters!)
  3. Baked-in risky rewards/motivators (gold = XP, monsters love gold)
  4. A sense of autonomous behavior of the world itself, allowing sandbox play and enabling a DM to better avoid railroading.

When designing my own game system, I wanted to include and emphasize these elements, while incorporating design elements from other games that I also really like.

Dark Earth is thus a “Franken-system” of various game content, and exists primarily to streamline the implementation of various changes to the basic d20 system.

It uses six familiar attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Perception, Charisma). These are rated on a scale of 1-10, with 5 being the human average.  Their full value is used for various skill rolls (d20 + DEX to Sneak, d20+INT to Pick Locks, etc), and half of their value is used for various derived attributes (Melee & ranged attack bonuses, Toughness, etc)

There are no skills.  Any humanoid character can do anything a humanoid character can reasonably do, and their basic proficiency at these things is shown by their six abilities.  Importantly, some characters are significantly better than others at certain things, by means of Specialties and Proficiencies (see below).  There are no classes.  At least, not exactly.  (Existence precedes essence: you are a human magic-user, not a mage)  Dark Earth does use levels, because even “level-less” systems are point-based progression at the bottom, and +1 is simpler than +5-6.

There are no hit points, because I prefer a system of abstraction for injuries with higher informational content.  The current version of DE uses basically the same damage/toughness system as Mutants & Masterminds 2nd edition.  Weapons have a fixed damage, and this determines a Toughness save DC.  Your margin of failure determines the actual results of the hit, from a mere bruise to d20’s familiar “dying” condition.

There are hit locations! This might turn out to be too clunky after play-testing, but as it stands, injuries have a location/type.  There are bleeding wounds, and also wounds that negatively effect each of the six attributes.  Characters can make “called shots”, adding a layer of tactical depth.

Like skills, everyone has access to combat tricks.  Wanna try to trip someone?  Go ahead.  Wanna wind up your attack for extra damage, at the cost of telegraphing it, as with d20’s Power Attack feat?  Just tell the DM before you roll.

Besides their attributes, characters are primarily differentiated by “specialties.”  As it stands, a holy trinity of them: Fighting, Magic Use, and Expertise.  You pick one of these each level, arguably making this a “modular class system”.  Proficiencies further differentiate characters. These function roughly as in ACKS, but they are all available to any character, and can be chosen on every odd level.

Dark Earth is, and should remain, a simple game: a 1st level character needs to roll their attributes, choose a specialty, and choose a proficiency.  Like M&M 2nd, all rolls use a single d20.  So far, all relevant character information can fit on a single sheet of paper (I am doing my best to keep it that way).

It is intended as an engine for perpetually gritty, low-magic campaigns.  Simplicity serves the dual purpose of enhancing accessibility and easing the transition to a new character, as mortality should remain high by default.

Monsters in Dark Earth function more like their horror-film counterparts than their D&D equivalents.  Goblins are terrifying abhuman man-eaters, Ogres are wrathful, hulking murderers of literally skull-crushing strength, and Dragons work as one would “realistically” expect a giant, flying, armored, fire-breathing lizard to work.

The only problem with just running away from them is that they’re always standing between you and something you want.

The only problem with staying to fight is how attached you are to those nice stats you rolled.

More to come soon, including game mechanics.





Who or what are the gods?
The gods of Aria are no artifacts of the human imagination. They are very real, and existed before all the humanoid races walked the earth. Their plans and ambitions are often alien to human comprehension. Scholars believe they are very powerful intelligent beings who inhabit another world both removed from and contiguous with Aria. They are not human or even humanoid; representations of them are anthropomorphisms. Their depictions are based on a tradition of received symbology, based on the priesthood’s experience with the gods’ divine emissaries. Although alien to human minds, the gods reveal their personality through the intermediaries they send and through the mortals they choose to bless and empower. After millenia of priestly study, it is widely accepted that 13 major gods intervene in the world. Seven of these gods are considered nature gods, and have little interest in human affairs. They are mostly indifferent to the humanoid races themselves, but often hostile to humanoid civilization. Three of the gods actively support the spread of civilization, and seem interested in protecting the humanoid races. The remaining three gods have agendas hostile to the existence of civilization, or even to life itself.
How are they worshipped?
The sentient races of Aria worship the gods as part of a singular religion, which has no name in itself. Theology is simply referred to as such. A theologian studies the gods, their relationships to the world and each other, and the otherworldly beings that serve them. A theologian is not necessarily a divine spellcaster, but a divine spellcaster is necessarily a theologian. A devotee of the gods need not declare an allegiance to a particular god to receive divine blessings, although some choose to do so by joining the respective divine cult. All children of all humanoid races are taught about the Tekateon, the Ten Divines. Temples across the continent make sure to have a place for all ten of the divines, although it is commonplace when placing altars and icons to set the Treteon of the three benevolent deities in a more honored position than the Seteon of the seven more ambivalent and inscrutable ones. In larger cities, some deities have their own temple spaces, with altars and icons dedicated to honored servants of the deity, both mortal and immortal. Cities are the center of worship for the Treteon, but it is fairly common to find altars to the Seteon in the countryside, maintained by either priests or commoners. These are typically located near sites considered holy to the deity, and are places of pilgrimage for anyone wishing the favor of that god. The symbol of the Tekateon, called the Meldut,is a trefoil knot inside an interlaced trefoil inside a golden disk. The esoteric teaching behind this symbol varies from place to place, but one prominent explanation is that the inner knot represents the Treteon, while the outer trefoil represents six of the Seteon. The golden disc is variously interpreted to represent Eneb, Deya, or Gwaion. This symbol appears at all temples, and is also worn by priests and priestesses to identify themselves and to channel divine energy. In this role, it is most often worn openly as an amulet. Faithful (or merely superstitious) laypersons sometimes also wear such an amulet under their clothing for protection against evil.
Which gods are evil?
The Tekateon are not the only gods, and the others have much darker designs on the world. The unholy trinity lurking beyond and beneath the earth are the gods Urgor, Andaklon, and Shuthgaros. They are spoken of among civilized people only reluctantly, and even then their names are only whispered. Their individual names are unknown to many, but they are commonly referred to in a group as the Treduzhanzoi, the three great evil gods. Those ignorant of occult theology will sometimes use this epithet as a vulgar curse, but sane individuals who have read of them try to avoid invoking them in any way. The primary holy book of Arian religion, the Teodikon, discusses them briefly and contains their names. Much more detailed studies exist, but are difficult to acquire, and attempting to do so typically raises suspicion about the curious party’s motives.
What is the Teodikon about?
The Teodikon is the oldest written text of Arian theology. It was originally passed on as an oral tradition, but was written down long ago. It has gone through many revisions and alterations, and exists today in many forms that vary by region in language and content. Whether scroll or book, it is typically marked with the Meldut. It is common for priests and priestesses to refer to their personal copy as “my Teodikon,” since they will often differ significantly from each other, as owners add their own notes on theological matters and otherworldly beings. Each copy has at least thirteen sections, one devoted to each of the Arian gods, each containing the received knowledge about the deity in question. Depending on the individual version, it might also contain a creation myth or a cosmology. In the current era, the chapters on the gods are frequently divided up between three sections on the Treteon, Seteon, and Treduzhanzoi.
The Treteon
There are three gods which take the most active role in shaping mortal life: Aweiton, Thunar, and Vraia. These three entities, or some believe aspects of the same entity, are worshipped across the continent. Some believe them to be the true rulers of the celestial spheres, while others consider them agents of even higher gods. The Treteon are, in any case, very powerful and widely worshipped. They even have various divine agents and intermediaries who contact mortals on behalf of their deities, and these emissaries sometimes gain followings of their own.  If the Seteon are the gods of nature, then the Treteon are the gods of the city, and by extension of civilization itself. Just as the nature deities care for various aspects of the world, the lawful deities care for various aspects of mortal civilization, and the mortals themselves. The Treteon are the divine guardians of culture and society, and love nothing more than to look down upon thriving communities. To them, a great city is the shining jewel of the Arian landscape. They encourage peaceful and honorable relations both within and among cities, but they do not teach or condone pacifism. They teach instead that war should be a holy ritual performed only between armed combatants on the field of battle, following accepted rules of engagement, and that changes in the political order that follow the ancient martial customs are to be considered legitimate. Generals who win dishonorably are considered illegitimate victors, and must suffer the disdain of the gods at best, and a revolution by their new subjects at worst. The execution of city populations, the reckless demolishing of buildings, and the destruction of crops are considered great sins. They teach that the landscape surrounding a city is to be pacified and turned to the use and pleasure of the city, but never destroyed or depleted. This is their primary point of conflict with the gods of the Seteon, who tend to like the landscape just as it is. Since the Treteon consider the Seteon their fellow citizens in their divine community (albeit of lesser rank), they counsel respect for natural places, and encourage city-dwellers to improve the land they work as much as they can before they begin to clear more. As the Treteon cares for urban communities before individuals, it is common for loggers, miners, and other rural workers to offer sacrifices and prayers to the relevant deities of the Seteon before they begin their work. The nature gods and their emissaries do not hesitate to spill blood of a few mortals in defense of their favored places, while the city gods rarely intervene on behalf of individuals when the community as a whole faces no danger.
The king of the gods is the divine patron of all who command power. Many take him to be the model for royal (or even general) conduct in civilized society. He enjoys and promotes reasonable discussion, the study of law, and the arts. His favored art is magical spellcasting, although artists of all kinds invoke him for inspiration: it is believed that he himself taught the art of writing to the races of Aria. He favors those who draw followers and admirers by force of character or greatness of deed. He wishes above all to see cities well-ruled, and so his teaching is that of acquiring knowledge, cultivating self-control, and striving for excellence in word and deed. He disdains the reckless, the self-indulgent, and the servile. He favors those who both know their place in the world and seek to improve it, but only those who seek to do so on their own merit. While he encourages patronage of others by the rich and powerful, he teaches that receiving such patronage entails a debt to the patron, and likewise that residing in (or ruling!) a city entails a debt to that community. He frowns on any and all who enjoy gifts without giving in return, while a gift refused obligates only polite thankfulness.
The god of battle is the patron of all who stand between civilization and the powers that would seek to destroy it. He values the strong and the skilled, but he values bravery and honor above all. He is pleased by clever tactics which seek foremost to destroy evil, but not by those which seek merely to preserve the tactician. He celebrates greatness, but not that which is won in a dishonorable fashion. He is often invoked by warriors for guidance in battle, and victories are often dedicated to him. He is also invoked by any who find themselves in competition, to request guidance or to pledge their honorable intentions. He particularly favors those who face certain death in the defense of their friends and communities. He wishes to see heroic deeds, valorous conduct, and magnanimity above all. He disdains cowardice and treachery, and frowns on those who attack or kill an unarmed opponent. His teaching is that a disarmed opponent should be given a chance to submit and be enslaved, and that if they refuse to submit, a swift and clean killing stroke should be delivered. The truly superior combatant is not merely dominant, but of superior character to the defeated: torture dishonors the torturer, while delivering a swift death is a gift to the dying. Defeat, or even death, is no disgrace if the defeated fought honorably. Thunar cares not for the uncivilized races, and teaches that beastmen, monsters, and other abominations should be cleansed from the land and given no quarter.
The lady of the fields is the divine patron of all those who work the land. She is seen as the most compassionate of the Treteon, and is considered the guardian of animals, particularly of herds. She wishes above all to see land wisely cultivated to feed the city. She favors farmers, shepherds, and field workers (both free and enslaved) and promotes the use of fields to feed as many as possible as well as possible. Her cult practices vegetarianism, but does not require it from laypersons, although the cult does insist on careful and humane ritual slaughter of food animals. It is considered a great sin to abuse or torture a domestic animal, and the cult will often seek retribution on those who do so. Her teaching makes no distinction between nobility, freemen, and slaves regarding conduct, but emphasizes that all should be good stewards of the land and of those in their care. Her devotees often run free clinics for treating both humans and animals, and these subsist on donations. The cult of Vraia understands and appreciates the beauty of natural places, but ultimately favors the needs of the urban community above those of the wilderness. Deforestation is thus discouraged, although not strictly forbidden in times of need. In connection with this, the cult encourages the wise use of space within the city walls, since new construction at the expense of the fields requires more land to be cleared. Her priesthood marks the limits of the fields with engraved stones (“fieldstones”), and likes to keep them there. Vraia wishes to see sustainable agriculture in harmony and balance with naturally wild places. She disdains cruelty, wastefulness, and urban sprawl.
The Seteon
The nature gods of Aria are widely feared and revered by the humanoid races, but not for their universal benevolence. The Seteon is at best adversarial to human civilization, and often openly hostile. They are not opposed to humanity in itself, as a species, but wish to see them live in small communities as they did in the past. Wise communities tread lightly into the wilderness, and it is not unknown from time to time that emissaries of the Seteon fall from the sky and emerge from the woods to cull the size of a city when it has gone too far. At these times, the city gods of the Treteon were either unwilling or unable to help. As such, city dwellers tend to revere the Seteon out of fear, while those who live on the land or in the wilderness tend to share an appreciation of many of the same natural features. Small and primitive communities consider the Seteon their protectors, since they protect the land they live on. Each of the Seteon has their own particular favored creatures and places, and respecting these creatures and places is the surest way to avoid the wrath of the nature gods. Those who show respect and keep their place in nature sometimes sometimes find they have powerful friends in the Seteon, while those who destroy or exploit nature gain terrible enemies.
Eneb is the god of the endless sky, and all those creatures that fly in it. He is also the god of storms and weather, although prayers to Eneb to rain for the fields are rarely effectual. His holy places are mountain peaks and hills, where the faithful display banners dyed sky-blue, erect columns sometimes holding mirrored bowls, and establish sanctuaries for birds and other flying creatures. He rarely interacts with humanity through emissaries, but his domain contains many dangerous and powerful giant birds, as well as the dragons, and so many try to stay in his good favor on their account.
Deya is the god of the sun, the dawn, fire, and light. Among all the Seteon, she has the largest following in the cities, and asks the least of the humanoid races. Her holy places are open fields and deserts, and sundials and stone circles are often erected there in her honor. It is said she can see through a burning flame. She shines on the good and evil alike, on the just and injust. The humanoid races honor her for her generosity, but few can say what could insult or upset her. She seems imperturbable, but she is also sometimes eclipsed by Mena. The significance of this is much-debated.
The god of the forests and woods, and the creatures who live in them, is one of the most powerful (and dangerous) of the Seteon. She is the holy mother to forest dwellers, but a nightmare for those who would destroy these places. She commands legions of animals and other beasts, as well as the plants of the forest. Those who live in wooded places stay in her good graces by living as the other animals do, and by taking only what they need. She is rabidly opposed to deforestation, and often ensures that cities who take too much from the forest must wage literal war with it to do so. She is assisted in this effort by forest communities of humanoids, by the numerous shamans and druids devoted to her, by magical beasts, and sometimes by her own emissaries. Some believe that Vraia is her sister or daughter, and their conflict is the subject of numerous Arian myths. Her nature is red in tooth and claw, but also abundant and generous. She is the wilderness itself, and is a friend only to those who know how to live in the wild.
The god of earth is the tender of the soil, caves, and cthonian creatures. The dwarves call her the Earth Mother in their language, and worship her in every community. Getha watches over the dark, subterranean places of the earth as Uela watches over the forests. Anyone who goes underground enters her domain, and many an explorer says a prayer or gives an offering before setting into a cave or dungeon. Her shrines are found in many unlikely, hidden places. She is particularly fond of cave creatures, and those who care for them are in her favor. She prefers that the dark places of the earth stay dark, and too much light brought into shadowed places can arouse her anger.
The god of the ocean is feared and respected by all who sail the seas. Rare is the sailor who has not offered a sacrifice to Marselon, and those who live off the sea offer him their thanks as well. He is particularly fond of the large creatures of the sea, and humanoids go whaling at their own great risk. His holy place is the ocean itself, although he is also respected in some places as the god of rivers. Those who take from the water to survive must always mind his sovereignty, or his amphibious emissaries might pay a visit to a village or a ship that causes offense.
The god of the moon is also considered the god of fertility and reproduction, and rejoices in the growth of plants and creatures. She is no god of peace, however, but wishes to see an overflowing of species followed by a cyclical culling. Her dance is that of birth and death, of evolution and extinction. She cares not which species rise and fall; it is the rising and the falling she wishes to see. Her shrines are found in most humanoid communities, where couples go to pray for children.
The god of the stars is the most distant and inscrutable of the Seteon. It is said he brings dreams, weaves fate, and is the lord of time itself. The astrologers are theologians studying Gwaion, and their divinings claim to pierce the veil of apparent reality and look upon the Real itself. Whether their mistakes in prediction are due to their personal incompetence or Gwaion’s divine indifference is a subject of some heated disagreement, even among the astrologers themselves. It is attested in the histories that the emissaries of Gwaion can be called down by ritual frpm the sky. In the past, such magic has brought down indestructable metals, annihilating flame, and monstrosities beyond human comprehension.
The Treduzhanzoi
The three great evil gods are a perennial threat to civilization. Their uncomfortably human-like motivations are the subject of much scholarly debate, but it is agreed that they are at odds with one another, as only one of them can bring about the world they desire. This contrast with the gods of the Treteon, who are united in their vision for the world, is a suggested explanation for why the Treduzhanzoi have not yet succeeded. Few are comfortable relying on the mutual antagonism of these gods for their protection, and beseech the Tekateon for protection against them. Some philosophers point to the Treduzhanzoi as examples of why the inhuman agendas of all the gods are not to be trusted, but are unable to produce a meaningful alternative to the protection of the Tekateon. The cults of the Treduzhanzoi exist everywhere in the shadows, and a perpetual inquisition against them is a matter of course. It is grimly acknowledged that Treduzhanzoi cults consist not only of mortal converts, but also of emissaries borne forth from otherworldly darkness.
Urgor is obsessed with control, and desires only that his power over the earth be extended to the utmost. He is exceedingly jealous, and cannot tolerate the existence of other gods or cults.  Where his cult comes to power, other worship is ruthlessly suppressed.  He delights in those whose ambition or vanity leads them into either politics or criminality, as he sees in them both a reflection of his own desires and a potential pawn to use in broadening his cult. The cult itself is fraught with tension, because it requires cohesion to persist, but is also predominantly comprised of power-hungry backstabbers. The most powerful cult leaders try to circumvent this problem by operating through various fronts, posing as more respectable cults devoted to other minor deities or philosophies. Unlike Shuthgaros, Urgor has no problem with diplomacy, trickery, and (relatively) bloodless revolutions. He is destructive only in regard to existing institutions that do not serve him. He desires to see a permanent global empire, under his control and shaped in his image. His followers believe such a world would be beautiful, the unfaithful are naturally not so sure.
Andaklon wishes to silence the world, permanently. He desires that all conscious life cease, at which point he himself will finally die as well. His cult teaches that souls are reincarnated, and that this is a very unfortunate event, because consciousness is essentially negative in character. As such, their priests are engaged in various plots to permanently extinguish all life on earth, to prevent anyone or anything from being reincarnated again.  They portray themselves as compassionate liberators from existential suffering.  They idolize the undead, who are soulless, but conscious (that is, intelligent) undead that follow Andaklon are considered very holy individuals who have postponed their true death in order to help bring final peace to the whole world.
Shuthgaros delights in chaos, violence, monstrosities, and unreason. He is pleased by unstoppable killing sprees, the creation of monsters, the outbreak of war, the spread of tyranny, and he is honored by a refusal to engage in discussion in favor of violence. Scholars think that Shuthgaros wants the world to persist, but wants to see it bathed in blood, in an eternal war of all against all. He frowns on diplomacy, discussion, and detests peace and harmony. A tyrannical empire remains in his favor as long as it continues expanding, subjugating, and fighting. Once there is no one left to take over, he desires a civil war. His modus operandi is continual upset, perpetual unrest, and above all the survival of the fittest. His cult consists of people who follow roughly this same logic, and they choose him as a patron to enhance their own power. Shuthgaros is a generous patron in this regard, and often asks for nothing in return but a good show.