Latest “Vanished Lands” telecom team, Update 17 — Haunted inn

The "Vanished Lands" heroic fantasy campaign setting
The "Vanished Lands"

Fellow role-players, here is my update for Session 17 of the latest adventuring party in my “Vanished Landsheroic fantasy campaign setting. The teleconferencing team met on Saturday, 19 February 2011, and has been using Pathfinder, Skype, and an online dice roller.

In one ancient world, there was a region where strange majicks and demihuman races thrived. After “Holy Steel‘s” journey to the distant empire of Khemet, another motley group gathered in the northwestern “Vanished Lands” to explore a world full of perils and wonders….

>>Telecom party Player Character roster, as of spring 2011:

-“Kovar” [Beruk A.]-male Half-Orc/Saganim human Paladin of Mithras; raised as an orphan; contact of the Order of the Golden Lion; LGn, Lvl. 2

-“Davven ‘Digger‘ Hollysharp” [Robert A.S.]-male Faldine Halfling archaeologist (Tallfellow Rogue) from a pipeweed farm in Tarken; contact of “Tunnel” [Stuart C.G.]; CGn, Age 45, Lvl. 2

-“Asish Chen Ti” [Byron V.O.]-male Tsucharim human archer (Mongol-style Ranger), escaped from service to Nannuattan (eastern Dark Elf) Wizard Arbalas; contact of “Sukhov” [Beruk A.] and owner of Akita dog Genghis and horse Onimusha; NGl, Age 20, Lvl. 2

-“Jovinda Halflight” [Sammy H.]-female Half-Elf (Grugach/Hifalendorin) Cleric of Mekkil, goddess of nature; owner of horse Wyth-Amoi, or “Wind Spirit”; NGl, Age 23, Lvl. 2

-“Kazuo Takenaga” [Taum D’A.]-male Nezumi (Rat-kin) Monk from the Zedu kingdom in the Therud Forest; LNg, Age 20, Lvl. 2

-“Favelhorn Riftbringer” [Dexter V.H./absent]-male Mountain Dwarf Summoner; CGn, Age 51, Lvl. 1

-“Gawain Keary” [Paul J./absent]-male Saganim human Illusionist (proto-Celtic Wizard) and contact of “Kimo” [Beruk A.]; NGc, Age 20, Lvl. 1

14 to 15 August 1229 B.C.E.:” The unlikely band of adventurers had tracked hostile Centaurs from the edge of the Wisalef Forest to a mysterious woman named Vappu Lahja. Returning northwest across the Plains of Sathendo, the party had found the Hifalendorin (proto-Western European) human hamlet of Alarn deserted, except for two mischievous Korred and their prisoner.

Digger and Jovinda question hairy duo Connacht and Maldrod in the cellar of the “Mellow Mule” inn. The Korred claim that the Halfling and Hifalendorin peasants had been driven away by a surly giant who recently stomped through the area. He had been followed by a fearsome storm and a huge serpent in the Aspar River, further scattering the local inhabitants, according to the Fey.

In the inn’s common room, Asish and Kazuo talk with “Sir Bonner of Runnymeade” [Jon B./Non-Player Characer], whom the Korred had released from a Stone-Shaped cell. The tired knight explains that he had stayed in Alarn for some time while searching for a worthy quest.

Sir Bonner notes that some people had abandoned Alarn after the hamlet was visited by Centaurs and Satyrs, possibly followers of Vappu Lahja. He went on patrol into the surrounding wilderness, only to be ambushed by the devious Korred.

Kovar rides in to provide backup, leaving Gawain with the other steeds. The Half-Orc sharpens his weapons, strengthening Connacht and Maldrod’s desire to leave. Digger and Jovinda eventually allow the Korred to return to the Wisalef Forest, on the condition that they find or release other refugees and send them home.

The party reunites to compare notes. Digger thinks that the Korreds’ tall tale is nothing more, but Kazuo observes that they could be speaking in metaphor or riddles. Jovinda reminds her companions that the Fey don’t adhere to the same moral codes as humans do and that their sense of priorities is skewed by their long lives and chaotic nature.

Digger, Kazuo, and Gawain point out that the giant, storm, and serpent could have been illusions cast by mischievous Fey folk. Alarn is empty but otherwise undamaged. The wanderers agree to look for more tracks in the morning.

Archer Asish stokes a fire in the hearth and sets watches for the night. Kovar is still wary of Digger and Kazuo, whose judgment has been compromised since they underwent Centaur rituals and met Vappu Lajha. Nimble Kazuo and arcanist Gawain have an uneventful first watch.

During the second watch, armored Kovar leaves wary Digger in the common room to check upstairs. He climbs the creaky stairs and finds a long hallway with four doors on either side [cue spooky music]. In the first room on the right, the Paladin of Mithras, lord of oaths, sees undisturbed beddings and a crow sitting in the open window.

In the next guest room, Kovar finds a broken mirror on the floor. He looks at the shards and is surprised to see eyes that are not his own looking back! Quickly moving on, the brave holy warrior enters a room whose furniture seems to have been thrown out the window. As he examines the damaged sill, a splinter leaps out and penetrates his gauntlet!

At the last room on the right, Kovar is unable to open the door all the way because of a weight behind it, possibly a corpse. The wise Paladin returns to Davven, and they agree to tell the others later about the strange findings. Asish and Jovinda’s watch is quiet, and they let Sir Bonner rest.

Digger keeps track of the remaining provisions at breakfast the next morning. Kovar and Jovinda lead Asish, Digger, and Kazuo upstairs, while Gawain stays with Sir Bonner. The crow left a feather on the straw-stuffed mattress of the first room. Rogue Digger grabs a sheet, which Kovar uses to gather up the pieces of the enchanted mirror in the next chamber for later study.

On the left side, the first room’s furniture is all suspended from the ceiling! Digger tosses in a copper coin, which floats in midair. Everything in the second room is covered in ice, and Kovar upends the bed to reveal a frozen chamber pot.

The Paladin’s Detect Evil and the Cleric’s Detect Undead reveal that the building is definitely haunted, but the malicious intent or presence is diffuse. It gets stronger down the hallway, however. Ranger Asish readies weapons, and Monk Kazuo clenches his fists.

Jovinda uses her quarterstaff to test the damaged window where Kovar got the splinter. Like a maw, more toothy pieces of wood fly at the Grugach’s staff, forcing all to withdraw! The last room on the right does indeed contain a corpse — the unlucky innkeeper, hung upside down.

Digger notes that his position is reminiscent of the Hanged Man card in the Tarot deck, as well as certain aspects of Skaevingol [Norse] beliefs. Barbari raider Asish recommends burning down the “Mellow Mule” as a precaution, but Jovinda observes that even though evil may have been gathering before Alarn was abandoned, destroying the inn won’t necessarily dispel it.

In the last room on the left, the group is horrified to see the remains of Sir Bonner’s horse strewn about like some unholy decoration. Jovinda suspects the Unseelie Court, or malevolent faerie folk, rather than followers of Vappu Lahja. This comes as small relief to Digger and Kazuo, as they agree to press on toward the city of Nadwi….

I hope that all of you enjoyed our latest game as much as I did! Dexter and Paul, let us know when and if you’ll be able to rejoin us — both “Favelhorn” and “Gawain” could be helpful as your party continues its adventures. Rob will be out next weekend.

Paul and Beruk, I look forward to seeing you and the rest of Team 2 for tonight’s FATE 3e Starblazer Adventures: “Vortexspace opera! Erik B.L. and family’s visit to the Boston area from New York went well this past weekend. Note that we’ll be moving back to Sundays as of the next “Vanished Lands” session, on 27 February 2011. Take it easy, -Gene

30 June 2010: “Vortex” species — humanoids

Berkeley art

Fellow role-players, by now, you’ve probably seen my descriptions of the development of my upcomingVortexspace opera and the “future history” and tone of the homebrew campaign setting. As we get closer to beginning the game, here are some notes on available Player Character species.

In one future, humanity has begun to colonize the Sol system, but struggles for scarce resources persist. Open and official First Contact with alien societies, themselves at war, opens a wider galaxy to explore — if Terrans survive.

Humans and “near” humans

As I’ve noted previously, about 200 years from now, our solar system is home to nearly 20 billion people, most of whom are “normal” humans living on Earth. They’re still the baseline for whatever rules set we ultimately choose (the top contenders are D20 Star Wars: Saga Edition, FATE Diaspora/Starblazer Adventures, GURPS 4e Lite/Space,” and BASH Sci-Fi Edition).

In the “Vortex” universe, as in many space operas, humans are adaptable, corruptible, and lower-tech than their new galactic acquaintances. Still, the upstart children of Terra have great potential.

Also known as “metahumans,” “parahumans,” “posthumans,” and “transhumans,” the broad category of “near” humans includes mutants, genetically modified humans, and cyborgs. About one in 5 million people is born with a random but significant (and mostly helpful) mutation, and during the era of the Societe de Justice Internationale and the “Drake’s Seven,” many were costumed vigilantes or supervillains.

“Gennies” include humans born in the low-gravity environments of the Lunar Free State, the Mars Confederation, or some outer colonies (but not the orbital cities, which have mostly normal inhabitants).
Some people have been enhanced as entertainers or soldiers, while others have engaged in dangerous recreational splicing. As mentioned previously, some cloning exists, but it’s expensive and heavily regulated.

Cyborgs may not seem as high-tech as their genetically modified kin, but they can be nearly indistinguishable from normal humans (in contrast to many gennies, who often flaunt their differences and supposed superiority). Many modifications are to repair injuries, to interface with machines, or to have swappable functions.


“Synths,” or synthetic humanoids, include genetically modified animals and androids and mostly live in Earth’s colonies. Although humans created these client species to be more capable individually than themselves, humans have also been reluctant to grant them equal rights.

Uplifted” animals arose out of the creation of “gennies” and efforts to preserve megafauna that was going extinct. They’re commonly based on dogs and wolves (Canids), large cats (Felinoids), primates (Chims), bears (Ursoids), or cetaceans (Delphines). Uplifted animals are usually stronger than humans but not as smart, and like gennies, their reproduction is strictly controlled. Alien synths are known as “xenoids.”

By contrast, true artificial intelligences may be smarter than humans but rely on robotic bodies. Robots have industrial, exploratory, or military applications, and androids are often confused for gennies and have social or entertainment applications. Humanoid androids, nonhumanoid bots, and disembodied A.I.s all have programming and legal restrictions and are as vulnerable to computer viruses as organic beings are to
regular illness.

Coming soon: “Vortexaliens and occupations!

1 June 2010: The setting of “Vortex”

The future is now!Fellow role-players, I hope that you had a good Memorial Day weekend. I’m glad that our one-shot games have been mostly successful so far, and I know that some of you have expressed interest in a longer-term campaign. Although I don’t plan to return to the “Vanished Lands” fantasy world anytime soon with the Boston-area face-to-face group, by now, you should have seen my recent post about the development of my “Vortexspace opera.

Here’s more information about my homebrew speculative fiction setting: About 200 years from now, humanity has begun to colonize the Sol system, but ecological problems and internecine conflict persist. The rediscovery of mystical powers, plus open and official First Contact with alien societies, themselves at war, threaten Terra’s very survival. Can heroes arise to meet the challenges in time?


Most of the solar system’s 20 billion inhabitants are human, and most live on Earth. The average person is born to a slightly smaller nuclear family than in previous generations, is educated and employed by a megacorporation, and lives in one of the megalopoli that have metastasized along rising coastlines. To picture the teeming megacities, think of Blade Runner or The Fifth Element. Despite globalization, regional and cultural differences remain.

The orbital cities around Earth, Venus, and Jupiter have millions of residents (think Babylon 5 or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and the Lunar Free State has megacorp and military bases. Many settlers in the Mars Confederacy (which is beginning to be terraformed) come from crowded Asia. A few generations have now been born that have never set foot on Earth.

“Near” or “trans-” humans (mutants, metahumans, and cyborgs), “Uplifted” (genetically engineered) animals, and true artificial intelligences (robots/androids) are minorities, mostly living offworld. Like the outer colonies, they’ve fought for and earned limited rights.


Once possessing one of the most diverse ecosystems in the galaxy, Earth still has an impressive variety of organisms and cultures. The “ecocrises” of population pressure, pollution, global climate change, and the depletion of fossil fuels and freshwater led to famine and wars, as well as technological innovation. “Cold fusion” is finally a reality, but disparities in the distribution of resources remain.

Outside the megalopoli, carefully maintained cropland is surrounded by vast wastelands. The average person has access to more technology but less personal space than his or her ancestors. Cyberspace mitigates that somewhat, but virtual perception overlays and mechanical telepathy bring their own hazards, such as addiction.

Communications, transportation, and combat have also changed, even if the social sciences haven’t yet succeeded in creating harmony for all citizens regardless of belief. Memes (transmittable ideas) flitter across infotainment media, and those who still want to or need to travel in person can take high-speed trains, hypersonic aircraft, or commercial submarines (to undersea cities). Unfortunately, these advances also facilitate crime, terrorism, and warfare along economic, ethnic, and ideological divisions.

First used in the colonies, mecha (powered suits) are used as heavy infantry and artillery. Interplanetary carriers, aerospace fighters, and scout ships spend long months patrolling the cold vastness of space, but a storm is approaching the Milky Way’s Orion Arm. After First Contact, Terran humans and related species have access to Transit-level faster-than-light drives, which can propel vessels at up to a parsec (3.26 light years) per day.


Many illnesses have been cured, and the life expectancy for the 60% of people above the poverty line is 120 years (half that for those still below it). The very wealthy have access to cloned bodies, partial consciousness transfers, and android avatars, but such technology is expensive and restricted. Terran biochemistry isn’t exactly compatible with that of most aliens.

Economics and politics

Politics has become both decentralized and more centralized, with many services once delivered by local governments now performed by megacorps, and regional governments replacing states and provinces. For example, Boston is now part of the North Eastern American Megalopolis (NEAM), with most goods and services provided through Transglobe Information Company, one of the “Big Eight.” North America’s Continental Congress (NACC) is in Denver.

In response to the ecocrises and the use of weapons of mass destruction, the United Earth Authority has started to become the first true world government. It’s based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and is the nominal ruling body over Terra’s colonies. Each regional state contributes to the U.E.A.’s law-enforcement, bureaucratic, and military forces. NACC’s elite force is the Aerospace Marine Corps. The U.E.A.’s Fort Olympus Mons overlooks Mars’ red outback, where bands of homesteaders, nonhuman rebels, and ecoterrorists try to eke out a living (not unlike Firefly/Serenity).

The sparsely populated Asteroid Belt and Jovian and Saturnian systems include several mining colonies, policed by the small but growing Interplanetary Patrol (think Outland). The colonies have petitioned the U.E.A. to change its name and grant them both equal and proportional representation, but that’s only one of many debates on the eve of First Contact with galactic societies, themselves at war.

The U.E.A. sponsored the United Ecumenical Movement partly in reaction to the destruction of Middle Eastern holy sites and the horrific related casualties late in the petroleum era. Although its chaplains are drawn from different faiths, the U.E.M.’s members have managed to collaborate closely on secret archaeological and paranormal research (with extraterrestrial advice).

Galactic conflict

Many of the billions of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy have planets around them, and millions of those have life. Of those, thousands are capable of sustaining intelligent life, and hundreds are inhabited at any given time. Dozens are homeworlds to Transit-capable beings. Hidden for centuries behind Kuvor’s Veil, a nebula, the Sol system has been a backwater, visited by occasional pirates, explorers, or pranksters. First Contact causes some disruptions in Terran society, but greater threats are ahead.

Although most aliens are nonhumanoid, some can (and do) interact with Terrans (think Flash Gordon, Star Wars, or Farscape). Most of the starfaring species in the Orion Arm are nonaligned, neutral, or members of the Trade Guilds, which are interested in working with Terran megacorps. A few are members of the growing Kharvamid Alliance, which seeks to defend systems like Sol’s from the approaching Zarkonian Armada….

In coming posts, I’ll outline Player Character options for species and occupations, why our choice of rules matters, and more! In the meantime, I look forward to the next Pathfinder: “the Dragonslayers” teleconferencing session and Gabe C.’s Lady Blackbird one-shot. Be seeing you!