Thursday, 26 November 2020

Setting up a Proto-Neolithic Sandbox Part 2: Spirits of Place

 A series of posts about building a proto-neolithic Sandbox for PARIAH:

  1. The Base Map
  2. Spirits of Place

One change I made to the old map was the colour of clear land: I matched it to the base tone of the forest as I feel it shows the forested hills better.

The map is also mostly sea so I don't have to write up so much! You will recognise this as the southeast of England: while I'm drawing on that part of the world for inspiration, I'm not going to be trying to create a remotely historically accurate gameworld. I don't play on alternate earths, even if they might look like them.

Spirit of the Campaign

That previous sentence is a reminder of addressing design goals before sitting down and making a map, and should have been addressed in the first post. However, choosing this corner of England as a base map was a deliberate decision and a consequence of what sort of sandbox I wanted to make.

Some elements I want to include, in no particular order or degree of resolution:
  • Folk horror.
  • Wilderness as ally, wilderness as enemy.
  • Survival horror.
  • The price of progress.
  • Mud, rain and the maritime climate.
  • Megaliths.
Mostly, like all pariah games, the players have to find some way of carving out a place for themselves in the proto-neolithic world. They are small fish swimming against big currents:
  • As ever, the forces of nature and the supernatural forces behind them.
  • A human culture which is aligned to one or some of these spirits.
  • A human culture which seeks to subdue or placate the these spirits in order to destroy them.
  • A human culture which seeks to destroy these spirits.
I also like the idea of the initial pariah party being dumped on the shore by a 
Okay, back to the map: along the way I will make it apparent where the vague campaign goals of the above are influencing design decisions..

Naming Geographic Features

Giving names to the geographic features is a bit like establishing domains: there will be powerful spirits associated with each place, almost like a feudal liege. In pariah, each individual hex has its own genius loci (spirit of the place) but it's not necessary to generate each one from the outset.

We have rivers:
  • The Midden, draining into the Northern Sea.
  • The Swift Rivers, emptying into what looks like it should be a wetland.
  • The Black & White Rivers, a network of rivers that empty into the Bowl, a depression to the north.
Forests and hills:
  • The Chalkhills on the southwest coast, continuing northwest off the map. A 12 mile river carves a valley through to the coast from the oakwood
  • Elmwood a deep forest of ancient elm trees.
  • The Broadhills wooded hills of stately beech and oak, the source of the Midden.
  • The Dankwood a semi-wet woodland of birch and alder, probably home to some isolated tribe...
  • The Bowl a great depression in the land to the north of the map, where a great river flows out to the Northern Sea.
  • The Woodfell is a sacred 
Seas and Oceans
  • Sea of Blight so called for the bad weather that seems to blow over from the south and west. The Bleak Isle Folk fish here but other tribes do not.
  • The Northern Sea even colder and more deserving of a blighted epithet than the aforementioned waterbody, but far to the north so less immediate in everyone's consciousness.
  • The White Coast could be used to describe the whole of this coastline for its steep chalk cliffs, but is applied in particular here because the cliffs are especially steep and magnificent.

Just writing this down makes me want to make amendments to the map...

Great Spirits

Based on some of these divisions, I've then divided the map into different "dominions": regions under the influence or control of a powerful spirit.

  • The Green area (A1, A2, B1-3, C1, D1) is ruled by a strange spirit that ever sprouts anew, and has taught coppicing to those that follow her.
  • The white areas are the chalk hills, and are walked by the White Giant who ever wages war with the the Blue Giant...
  • The light blue areas belong to the Blue Giant, daughter of the Northern Sea, ever quarrelling with her sibling on the shore... 
  • The pink area is the domain of the Whispering Elm, a vast network of connected trees that speak in unison.
  • The yellow zone belongs to the Many-Headed Eel of the black and white rivers.
  • The orange area denotes the broad-hill, an escarpment of densely forested hills under the protection of the Guardian, sometimes seen in the form of a stag-human hybrid.
  • Whereas wallowing in the purple area is the Mist, haunting the wet woods and swamps of the Dankwood.
  • In the north, the teal area denotes the marsh and riverlands of the Midden spirit, an enormous feathered otter with the colourful plumage of the kingfisher.
  • The Great Spirit of the Northern Sea lurks in the dark blue waters, a slumbering giant occasionally roused to wreak havoc on the coastline with its many tentacles.
  • Red denotes unaligned, possibly human settlements or renegade spirits.
Of course, each individual hex has its own spirit of place, who mayor may not be an extension of the will of the spirit above it.... and each hex can be home to myriad other monsters, beasts or human tribes.

Thinking about how these spirits relate to one another might dictate some of the conflicts that emerge through the game. This could be taking very literally or more subtle: the chalk cliffs doing battle with the sea's waves might manifest as natural erosion and occasional landslides... or as two giants going toe-to-toe on a stormy night. It depends on the sort of campaign you wish to run.

In any case, these relationships are determined by geography, not least whose domain abuts whose.

  • The Green Spirit (this needs a name, concept is too vague) sits beside the Many-Headed Eel and the White Giant.
  • The White Giant is adjacent to the the green spirt, the Many-Headed Eel, the Whispering Elm, the guardian and of course the Blue Giant.
  •  The Many-Headed Eel holds a territory that abuts that of the Whispering Elm, the Guardian, and the Green Spirit.
  • The territory of the Whispering Elm is approximate to the Many-Headed Eelthe Guardian and the White Giant.
  • Where dwells the Guardian borders the zones of the Whispering Elmthe Many-Headed Eelthe White Giant, the Mist and the Blue Giant.
  • The Mist borders the Blue Giant, the Midden and the Guardian.
  • The Midden borders the Great Spirit of the Northern Sea and the Mist.
  • The Sea of Blight/ Blue Giant borders The Guardian, The Mist , The White Giant and the Great Spirit of the Northern Sea.
  • The Great Spirit of the Northern Sea borders The Midden.
Relations slide along a linear spectrum, loosely based on the old reaction roll table (handily, you can use this to randomise relations... with 2d6! Modify your rolls based on geography and pre-existing attitudes):

  • 1-3 Hostile/ aggressive: the spirit considers its neighbour a serious threat or potential victim, and attempts to undermine its ambitions. 
  • 4-6  Uneasy: the spirit feels threatened by its neighbour in some way, but is uncertain about its strength or motivation. The spirit's servants may conspire against those of its neighbour, but open conflict will be rare. This could be moving to a position of neutrality, or towards a more hostile attitude.
  • 7-9 Neutral:  Either the spirit is not interested in its neighbour, or it is unsure whether its motives are belligerent or benevolent. In any case it errs towards non-interference.
  • 10-11 Friendly:  the spirit considers its neighbour to be an ally. It works towards goals it feels will benefit both itself and its neighbour.
  • 12 Infatuated: the spirit considers its neighbour to epitomise some supernatural quality. It is more than a friend, brother, or lover.. it is a form of worship and devoted loyalty.
Furthermore, we add the binary property of ambition:
  • Expansive: the spirit seeks to extend its influence beyond its own borders.
  • Isolationist: the spirit seeks to improve upon the world within its current borders.
Thus, to understand extremes:
  • An isolationist would put up hard borders against neighbours it felt aggressive towards but welcome friendly neighbours who wished to learn from it.
  • An expansionist would seek allegiances with friendly neighbours but seek to suppress and overcome uneasy neighbours.
Finally, these qualities can be assessed in terms of power or strength: of course the sea is stronger than the land, but its resistance relies upon the number of hexes it has behind it. Likewise, who is stronger: the river or the forest? Perhaps they are more equally matched, but again the forest might be stronger than clear land, which relies upon human and managed livestock intervening.

(again, this could be an interesting mathematical/ procedural game but one that is probably beyond my ken)

Headed Eel
Whisperin' ElmThe
The MiddenWhite GiantBlue
Northern Sea
Green Spirit
Many-Headed Eel
Whispering Elm
the Guardian
the Mist
The Midden
White Giant
Blue Giant
Northern Sea

Expansionist/isolationist was based on geography or 50/50 coin toss.

So now that the spiritual boundaries are set, the next step is setting up the human communities.

* * * 
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