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Title: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: shadowcourt on January 03, 2008, 07:49:02 AM
Hey, all,

I've been kicking around ideas for my next game of TSOY. Having played in both Maldor and Ammeni, and not wanting to quite dive into the steaming jungles of the north yet, I am very tempted by the "here be dragons" aspect of the southern world. Having followed the design diary for Near, I'm always tempted to push into those unexplored and hinted-at places and ideas (hence my excitement over the creative jam that is Oran).

That said, I was wondering if anyone has kicked around ideas for what's going down in the chilly southern countries of Near. I've been kicking around my own ideas for homebrew versions of Goren and Vulfland, and I thought in the interest of brainstorming, I'd throw out what I'm thinking about, and try to solicit other people's notions from their own homebrews.

Vulfland, of the two, is the one that has me more inspired, but its bleakness makes me want to include it in relief against Goren, as well. Here there are packs of savage Vulfen (feral wolf-men who predate the Year of Shadow) who eschew civilization and its trappings as signs of weakness. Its not so much that Vulfen has no human population, as that population is kept carefully in check by vulfen pogroms. While there are coastal villages who face the wolf-men only rarely (in sporadic raids), there are whole inland "settlements" of humans live under the thumb (or rather, claw) of vulfen tribes, who carefully cull their numbers and keep them in constant fear. Goblins, too, have sometimes fallen under the sway of the vulfen, but many of the indigenous goblins, whom the vulflanders call "yeti", are fierce enough to stand against the predators. These white-furred and long-taloned goblins defend their caves with cunning traps, mazy trails, and their seeming ability to blend in to the local tundra and simply fade away, disappearing into blizarrds as if they were never there. Most yeti mistrust outsiders, but some tentative friendships are occasionally struck wherein humans escaping from the culling-pens of the vulfen have been given refuge among their hairy cousins. Many yeti, despite their fear of humans en masse, have a child-like fascination with human goods and practices, and sometimes sneak into their villages to steal reindeer-milk, woven and carved goods, or even human "husbands" and "wives."

While the Vulfen (like so many of Near's non-human species) have no religion per se, they have come to see the power of Dream-Telling, the prophetic and oracular dreams which many of Vulfland's peoples experience. Here, where man's touch is faint at best, dreams sometimes predict the future, and there are places where the horizon is murky and mutable. Walk too long into uncharted lands to the south, below the aurorae, and one finds strange beings and places-- castles hewn out of twinkling ice, forests of petrified trees shaped as if they were frozen frenzied dancers, islands with stones that sing, and shaggy beasts combining the physiology of birds, reptiles, and mammals in stunning new forms. Interpretation of dreams is an art form among many of Vulfland's species--humans dream of their freedom from the oppressive vulfen, vulfen dream of a coming Second Wolf Age which will usher in the end of man and "civilized" ways, and even goblins and elves find the shifting lights in the night sky bring them strange dreams which hint at worlds which once were, and worlds yet to be. Many elves have traveled into the southernmost reaches, seeking the revelation of the ultimate secrets of Near and their role within it. Rumors of small settlements of elves are told by the ice-fishers and kayakers of the Great Frozen Sea, and some even say that there are strange ice temples in the far south, populated entirely by elves and the humans who revere them.

The coming of the Skyfire brought many shared dreams to the vulfen, who believed that the Second Wolf Age was coming at last. Surely, the burning disc in the night sky was the Eye of Agarim, the great wolf who would devour the sun and bring eternal ice to the hateful lands from which humans came. The Year of Shadow sent vulfen tribes streaming north, across the frozen seas, wreaking their vengeance for perceived sleights against their kind, for the vulfen believe that all of Near was once theirs, before the Age of Man. Ironically, not only did the vulfen reclaim the surface of Near, but their hold on Vulfland weakened. Human villages who had once lived in terror of countless vulfen found the smaller number of packs left behind could be attacked, and tiny uprisings set some humans free. Some of these villages retain their independence, though they continue to fight off vulfen raiders and slave-takers; others have been forced to scatter across the harsh frozen tundra, and struggle to bring their message of rebellion to other enslaved humans.

Other humans are forced to submit to vulfen rule, and indeed, the practice of submission and careful obedience is a cunning artform among the Vulflanders. Many villages possess a head-man, who parlays with the vulfen for mercy, rare though it is in coming. Some of these headmen are skillfull orators who can stay the cruel jaws and talons of their predatory masters, and keep the true numbers of human births each year carefully concealed. Others are collaborators who gleefully exploit the power they have over their brothers and sisters, using the threat of vulfen violence to take what they will and dispose of their enemies. Despite the vulfen "party line" of fierce devotion to wildness and self-sufficiency, many of the wolf-men are tempted by human ways, and some turn to alcohol, drugs, works of art, or even human mates to satisfy their curiosities and lusts. The image of all vulfen as fierce snowbound predators is too pat to be true; in reality, some vulfen make their habitation among the humans they master, forcing humans to build shelter and carve works of art for them, even accepting the veneration of humans as god-kings. Many of these vulfen take personal slaves, treating these humans as their mouthpieces and hands (vulfen paws are not nearly as skilled at manual dexterity as human and goblin digits). Hardline vulfen hold these settled vulfen in contempt, and conflict among the differing valru, the leaders of the vulfen packs, is quite common over these issues.

Human religion in Vulfland takes the form of totemic worship of the indigenous wildlife. Bears, reindeer, seals, walruses, whales, fish, arctic birds, foxes, squirrels, wolverines, and other such creatures are quite common as totems, while wolves are not unheard of, but often connote a settlement under vulfen control. Communities are typically bound to a specific animal totem, whom they honor through special feasts, dances and ceremonies, vision quests, and carved jewelry, fetishes, and totem-poles. It is not uncommon for the men of a village to have a totem who watches over them, and a seperate totem which the women worship. Similarly, some villages divide themselves into specific roles or tasks, such that hunters, fishermen, and those who keep the settlement all have their own animal totems whom they revere. In some cases, an individual in a community is singled out by a totem, often by a near-death experience such as a near-fatal bear attack, a fall into icy waters which results in him being saved by a seal, or a fever during which he has recurring visions of snow-owls. These personal totems often demand special services of the individual, but can provide great gifts as well, serving as guides, blessing his works, and imparting wisdom in dreams.


Okay, that's my first crack at where Vulfland stands at the moment. Anyone interested in sharing their thoughts, even (and probably particularly) if they're wildly divergent from my own? I've got some ideas in mind for Goren, as well, but they're a little more half-formed still, and they keep changing. Similarly, this Vulfland stuff gets more crunchy (I've got Cultural Abilities, Secrets, and some write-ups for the Vulfen and how they work), but I'd love to see what directions other people are running in, as well.

-shadowcourt (aka josh)

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: shadowcourt on January 03, 2008, 08:05:53 AM
Seeing as how I'm still feeling the creative juices flowing, I thought I'd include a follow-up post with the current Cultural Ability list I'm kicking around for Vulfland. Comments strongly encouraged.

One of the interesting things I have to consider for this is that a decent amount of the population is non-human. I wanted to create a list of Cultural Abilities which would have some appeal for vulfen and yeti, as well, whose lives are a lot more primitive and savage. As such, I'm tinkering with abilities with a primal feel to them, and trying to keep the list broad and diverse. Here goes.

Arctic Survival (Instinct): Woodscraft only goes so far on the frozen tundra and icy shelves of Vulfland. this ability is used to track people or animals, forage for food, find safe shelter, deal with local hazards (snowblindness, frostbite, etc.), know what sort of plants and animals are present in the area, and even use the terrain to your advantage against opponents.
Carving (Vigor): You can carve functional items and objects of art out of flint, bone, ivory, wood, or even ice, making simple objects which serve a variety of purposes. Use this ability to create items for ritual or tools for survival, anything from a totem pole to a fishing pole.
Dream-Telling (Reason): Dreams hold great significance to the people of Vulfland; a dire omen in a dream might leave someone marked as cursed, while a beneficial dream is seen as a favorable omen for beginning a new venture. Use this ability to interpret your dreams or those of others, and to dream lucidly, taking control of your dreams.
Harpoon (Instinct): The harpoons of Vulfland’s human and goblin tribes are designed to be used as both melee and thrown weapons, capable of spearing fish and walrus as easily as bringing down armed opponents. Use this ability to hunt for maritime prey as well as defend yourself from foes.
Hospitality (Reason): The struggle to survive in Vulfland makes hospitality a must—one never knows if one will make it another day without the aid of others. Use this ability to open your home to others and teach them your customs while still respecting their own. It is also used to evoke the hospitality of others, asking for things you need when you are desperate. It can be used to make fire or shelter in a place where none would otherwise be available. The coastal peoples of Vulfland use it to trade with foreigners, as well.
Kayaking (Instinct): This ability is used to sail the small kayaks used by the shore-dwelling peoples of Vulfland for fishing and travel. Use this ability to avoid the deadly ice floes and choked waters, as well as escape from predatory creatures in the cold seas.
Pursuit (Instinct): You know how to follow tracks, or to avoid leaving them if you are the one being pursued. Use this ability to find footprints or other signs of disturbance in the wilderness, or to make sure you aren’t followed by erasing or faking your own tracks.
Scarification (Vigor): You can use sharp objects (or your claws or teeth) to make scars in flesh, wood, or stone, leaving signs which others can interpret. These marks are often used for ritual or ceremonial purposes, and many vulfen use them to mark their “possessions,” particularly humans they consider their chattel. This ability permits you to read and interpret the scar marks used by vulfen tribes.
Submit (Reason): You know how to convince other beings—even animals—that you are small, harmless, or deferential to them. This ability can be used to trick vulfen into sparing human settlements, convince alphas that you are faithful to them, or get a bear to move on to find other prey. It is as common among omegas of vulfen packs as it is goblin yeti and humans.

I'm considering that the seperate Scarification and Carving abilities are probably needless, honestly, and might fold them into one. Comments quite welcome. Are there any things which people think are lacking?

-shadowcourt (aka josh)

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on January 03, 2008, 09:08:51 AM
The fluff is good, I like it. Perhaps emphasize the interdependency of the human and vulfen populations a bit more, I find the unsustainability of the current vulfen policies pretty interesting. I love the Abilities, especially Scarification, Submission and Hospitality. I agree that Carving and Scarification need to be combined, though. Here's my suggestion:

Secret of Scarification
The character is versed with scar-marks and can read and write them using his Carving Ability (or a suitable other Ability). A failure when scarring living flesh causes Harm level 4. Scarring one-self is cause for a penalty die for difficulty, as is trying to depict abstract or unusual concepts. The scar-maker may determine who is supposed to be able to read the mark, and who is not; if the target audience is reading it, they gain the check success level in bonus dice, while anybody who is not supposed to understand will suffer it as penalty dice. Thus a master scar-maker may obscure or faciliate his message at will based on the individual understanding of his potential audience; however, scars will never be so simple as to be readable without an Ability check, for they are not real writing; Carving or suitable cultural skills may be used to understand the marks.

Secret of the Swear
The character has a powerful and alluring voice that may turn his enemies from their stride. He can use his Speech (R) or similar abilities to cause penalty dice to his enemies, given that he has opportunity to make them hear his terrible threats. Additionally, the same Ability check may support the character's allies normally. However, any checks for this Secret suffer an extra penalty die when used in a non-Vulfen language, as swears in other tongues hold not such power. Cost: 2 Instinct.

Secret of the Scar-rune
A master of scarification may write runes of such compelling nature that they horrify or inspire the viewer in a life-like manner, as if the carver was himself there to admonish them. Such a rune, when understood, causes penalty or bonus dice according to the message of the scars, so that characters working to defend their intent gain bonus dice while any resisting character suffers a penalty. The size of the penalty is the lower of the original carving check and the deciphering check made by the reader of the rune. (A new check is made at most once per scene per rune, and the level of understanding is never lowered for a pairing of character and rune.) Requirements: Secret of Scarification and Secret of the Swear. Cost: 2 Instinct and 1 Vigor, and one Vigor more for each rune crafted without rest.

The attention heaped upon the ability to read and write, even marks of such crude nature, is sure to inspire fun stories. I can imagine how a smart Vulfen tribesman might ridicule his chief in public with scar-writing the stupid chief cannot decipher, for instance.

Of my own south, as recounted in the Finnish version: there's that archipelago off the coast of the continent (well, at least there is in our map, I don't remember off-hand how it is in Clinton's map)? Well, it's called Inselburg and it's a pretty isolationist, independent and bourgeoisie culture that rebelled against the Maldorian empire shortly before the skyfire, striving for self-rule and self-sufficiency. It's a culture of fishermen, most of which live in pretty poor conditions, except for the leaders who cling to the large embattlements built before the skyfire, when Inselburg was a center of trade that dominated the entire southern coast. So it's basicly a combination of Iceland and Netherlands, or something like that. The interesting highlights of Inselburg include:
  • It has a culture of mystery cult worship, akin to ancient Greece. The strongest new cults are the Maldorian sun-god and moon-goddess cults (both equally unofficial with everything else), which battle for influence with the local "cult of the Skyfire", which predates the cataclysm and teaches pretty predictably that the skyfire was a good thing that freed Inselburg from the Maldorian chains. They have a pretty nifty secret, too, called the Secret of the Skyfire, that allows them to light and mold fires that hang in the thin air with no discernible fuel source.
  • Inselburg has a couple of pre-skyfire cave harbours that shelter massive (by modern account) shipyards and some pre-skyfire ocean ships. We're talking of a rather significant technical gap here: the old craft were made to cross the eastern ocean, so they're easily five times as high as the largest modern ships, manning over a hundred men and boasting technology like operable rigging, compasses and perhaps even some cannon. Not only are some of these operable, but more are slowly being recovered, as well as the technology and know-how needed to operate these renaissance-level craft. Inselburg is, consequently, increasingly impossible to conquer for the encroaching Ammenites; not only could Inselburg become a sea empire itself with this ridiculously advanced naval technology, but they could also come to cross the ocean again at some point.
  • Inselburg has old maps and a tradition for seafaring, so they're already competing for the southern trade with the Ammenites and exploring the icy southern continent as the first representatives of the civilized Maldorian cultural sphere since the skyfire. A significant source of income is hunting the whale, which only the large Inselburg vessels may currently consider. It's pretty much the only place to go if you're bred and raised in the environs of the old empire and want to find somebody who actually knows the waters and coasts of the south.
I haven't specified anything much concerning the southern continent itself, apart from stating that it's probably mostly unhabitable for humans and populated by snow-goblins and furry animals if anything. No reason not to get all Lappish with it like you've done, though.

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: shadowcourt on January 03, 2008, 02:39:54 PM

Thanks for the tips, and all of the praise. The Secrets you propse are really fun, and it confirms my suspicion about condensing Carving and Scarification into one.

I agree that part of the real drama excitement of Vulfland, as I'm envisioning it, is the interdependancy and complexity of the human-vulfen interactions (though I don't want to shortchange the interesting options for elves and yet-goblins throwing in to the human mix). Those communities that shiver at night, fearing the vulfen who come to levy blood-taxes on them, carrying off children when the population gets too high, are as story-rich for me as the places where the vulfen are growing more indolent and human-dependent, starting to try cooked foods, liquor, built habitations, or even garments. I'm conceiving of them, incidentally, as much more feral than even ratkin. They don't just run on all fours, they are frequently bent on to all fours, and standing upright even briefly is rare, like a bear rearing up on its hind legs. Their paws are built for speed over the snow and savagery, and much less so for manipulating tools.

I may end up including some of those runic elements in my write-up for Goren, which is phase 2 of all of this. For right now, though, I'm going to try to focus on the vulfen themselves. I know sort of the feel I want them to have, as a species, but I'm trying to get the mechanics just right, so they present something new, rather than being slightly more beefed-up ratkin, or something along those lines. The keys for them came easy, but I'm still working on the mechanical essence of the species. Elves have Past-Lives going for them, which is very satisfying, and their general mystique of otherworldliness and ancient ways. Goblins have delightful morphic qualities, with their mutable identity and swapping (we take this even further in the games I run, with some fun Secrets about building communal identites, and actually trading Secrets and Abilities with other goblins, not just yourself and your own scores).

I'd love to embrace the savagery and predatory nature of the vulfen, to keep them distinct from the pack-like and sneaky ratkin, and I have a few Secrets which I think do it nicely. I'll probably post some stuff tomorrow, but I'm waiting to see if a brainstorm hits, or if anyone else has anything cool to suggest. I don't want to narrow down the possibilities too early by presenting any hard-and-fast mechanic before someone chimes in with an exciting option.

-shadowcourt (aka josh)

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: shadowcourt on January 07, 2008, 07:10:45 AM
Thought I'd include some of the Cultural Keys I'm kicking around for Vulfland, while I have a few free minutes here.

Key of the Survivalist
You thrive by testing yourself against harsh environmental conditions.
1 XP: Every time you forsake creature comforts in favor of “roughing it.”
2 XP: Every time you test yourself against nature or the elements despite danger or threat.
5 XP: Every time an survive a test against the elements or nature which deals you great harm or could have killed you.
Buyoff: Avoid the wilderness in favor of luxury or civilization.

Key of the Totem
You have an animal totem which you are bound to, and which you seek to honor in all things. This totem may or may not provide you with any benefits (which are the purview of appropriate Secrets), but you have still dedicated a part of your life to its worship.
1 XP: Every time you make an offering to your totem or conduct a ritual on its behalf.
3 XP: Every time you behave in a manner appropriate to your totem’s personality (tricking a foe or stealing a precious item if your totem is the raven, or facing an opponent head-on in combat if your totem is the bear).
Buyoff: Reject your totem's ways, and potentially earn the emnity of the spirit.

Key of the Urgent Dream
You have had a dream which you know is of great import, and now you must convince others of its significance. This dream may come to you over and over, or it may be a single experience of such profundity that you are still trying to understand all of its symbols.
1 XP: Every time you recount your dream to another person.
2 XP: Every time you get another person to believe in the importance of your dream.
5 XP: Every time you make part of your dream come true, or risk great danger to fulfill your dream.
Buyoff: Forsake your dream and choose your own path.

Key of the Winnowed
You or someone you love has been selected by a vulfen Culling as unfit to survive. This could be an infant in a community where the population has risen too high, an elderly relative who is now a “burden on the community,” or simply bad luck in a random lottery. You have chosen to fight against this fate, and do what you can to prevent it.
1 XP: Every time you make a decision based on the Culling (i.e. hiding from or lying to vulfen, running away from home).
2 XP: Every time you convince someone to help you resist the Culling.
5 XP: Every time you directly oppose the Culling despite threat or danger.
Buyoff: Submit to the power of the Culling or escape it entirely.

Comments welcome.

Is the Key of the Totem too bland? Looking at it now, it seems like its missing something. I'd love to reward players for doing interesting things with their religious beliefs, but that Key just doesn't seem to pop yet.

-shadowcourt (aka josh)

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on January 07, 2008, 09:48:10 AM
The last two are inspiring for me, I could play those characters. The first two are a bit bland, but then, I rarely see the interest in mere color Keys that just proscribe some superficial behaviour. The Winnowed key is cool for me, especially as it's a free pass for the GM to basically have a Volfen attack on the character whenever he wants to - that's a basis for a whole campaign right there when the character doesn't buy it off when he escapes north or something like that. The survivalist key is passable when played with zest, I guess, and especially if its nature as a cultural key is incorporated and taken seriously on a larger scale.

If you want zing in the totemist key, consider if you want to really discuss the religious significance of totemism. Modern people usually don't appreciate or even understand totemism as a system of thought or state of mind, so it's no wonder if the most typical representation is "I now act like my totem animal for no particular reason". Going by that... perhaps I'd gamble here and do something like this in your stead:

Key of the Totem
You have a totem animal and subscribe to a religious system that is less than well understood by your average person likely to play TSoY.
1 xp - express your totemism by emulating your totem animal, sacrifice or whatever.
3 xp - make use of your totemist belief system in a way that makes psychological sense and garners sympathy from the play group.

Hmm... of course you could also go by your own understanding of what totemism is under the theatricks, if you have a particular idea. Anyway, I'm busy with work this week, let's come back to this later. Following with interest.

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: dindenver on January 07, 2008, 11:29:36 AM
  Great stuff here!
  Regarding Totems, I might suggest a 3rd option: Making a different key for each totem. In one sense, it is a pain, cuz there is the potential for so many, but in another sense, its almost obvious. Example:
Key of the Wolf Totem
  You strive to be supported by and support your "pack" as you make your journey through life.
1 XP: Every time you put the needs of the pack above your own.
2 XP: Every time you put the needs of the pack above your own, even if it is detrimental to your character.
5 XP: Every time you risk your life in support of the pack.
Buyoff: Become a lone wolf.
  Or something like that. Right away the taint of genericness washes right off and you can see what the totem means to the character's daily life...

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: shadowcourt on January 07, 2008, 12:42:14 PM

Thanks! I had considered the option you suggested for a bit, because it allows for a lot of potential design work on the player side, which is fun, too. My concern is chielfy that sometimes player-generated Keys don't have quite as much dramatic "oomph" as I want them to have without really sitting down for a while and hammering it out with them (which isn't a bad thing always, admitedly, as the work is rewarding and highly personalized). I might encourage that as an option for players who pursue totemist routes to go for, to make Keys which are about manifestations of the personality traits of their totem, and even provide a few. The wolf one you have there is definitely the right direction, and I could see going for some of the classic ones... Raven, Seal, Bear, Fox, Hare, etc etc.. In some instances, though, it might work just as well for people to choose existing keys (Glittering Gold or the Precious for Raven, or Coward for Hare) and adapt them accordingly.

I think Eero might also be right in that any Key designed to be about direct interactions with a totem might need to change form a personality key to a dramatically-driven key.

Eero has one possible version there, which sort of gently touches the same field that the Key of Faith does, but pushes at the players rather than the characters. I think that's neat, but it addresses his concerns by pushing the action directly on the players. I'd rather keep it grounded in the character sphere, in some way.

I guess the question I haven't explicitly laid out, and which you've pointed to, is just what purpose totems serve to the peoples of Vulfland. It had been my conception, unspoken, its true, that the totems were an evolution of the earliest hunter worship religions, and that in the harsh clime of the frozen south, it was seen as essential to understand and placate these animal spirits. One can't assume that food is going to come one's way easily, and so the perceived spiritual risk of "injury" to an animal through not offering appropriate thanks for the gift of its death prompts the human tribes of Vulfland to make appropriate obeissance to animal spirits in thanks. Similarly, every part of an animal is used, so its not simply meat which the people are grateful for, but bones, ivory, sinew, hide, feathers, and the like, all of which mean the differeence between life and death.

Consequently, the role of someone chosen for a totem might be to take the dreams sent by the spirits (which, naturally, might just be perfectly normal dreams from their subconcious... part of the beauty of Near's uncertain divinities, where things aren't as boringly clean-cut as they are in a stereotypical D&D fantasy world) particularly seriously, treating them as messages and warnings. Some of this might already be covered by the Key of the Urgent Dream, so I don't want to tread too heavily into that area. Instead, it might make sense to incorporate your suggestions into something like this:

1 XP: Every time you invoke your totem through story-telling, prayer, or sympathetic magic (dressing as your totem for a social ritual, calling on its strength to accomplish a task).
3 XP: Every time you intercede in the physical world on behalf of your totem's wishes, as you understand them.

Does that structure make sense? I'm trying to hammer out the language for it, and its not quite coming out the way I intend. The point is to maintain the ambiguity about just whether or not a totem is an active force, an imagined spiritual connection, or something more complex (a manifestation of the collective unconscious need of the people) but still give the player an instinct and an agenda to follow.

Eero, it might also be a fun way to take your concerns about what I was writing as a Key before, and bend them into Secrets, instead, having them provide a concrete effect on the game world.

Secret of Sympathetic Magic
Your homage to a specific totem lends you strength in accomplishing a certain feat appropriate to that totem. You might draw stealth from the arctic hare, or skill at theft from the raven, or the powerful swimming ability of a seal. Your ability might even be more abstract; the people of Vulfland honor the whale as the great fisher, which could provide you with a bonus when attempting to catch fish. Choose one ability appropriate for your totem when you take this Secret. To invoke this Secret, you must dress or behave in a manner which evokes your totem; you receive a bonus die on the appropriate Ability check. Additionally, you receive a bonus die on Animal Ken or other appropriate checks to hunt for animals of your chosen totem.

Anyhow, just musing. More on this later, when my head gets clearer on the topic. I just didn't want to lose these thoughts, or the momentum of the conversation.

-shadowcourt (aka josh)

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: shadowcourt on January 09, 2008, 12:59:26 PM
Thought I'd continue some of the posting about Vulfland while I'm still fresh on the topic. I have a bunch of Cultural Secrets in the works, but I thought I'd focus on one or two aspects of the culture right now, namely the powers related to Dream-Telling, and the negative repercussions of certain dreams.

Dreaming Amid the Snows
For some reason, the cold southern reaches of Near are somehow less stable than other parts of the world. Those who become lost in the frozen tundra sometimes report wandering into strange green forests which simply cannot be, or meeting fellow travelers whose presence makes no sense in the inhospitable wastes, such as caravans drawn by great blue shaggy horses. The people of Vulfland know that sleeping underneath the twinkling Aurora can provide dreams which are oddly prescient of the future, and bear beneficial omens and dire warnings alike. Some are visited in dreams by the spirits of animals who have blessed them, made them their earthly representatives amid the peoples of the snows. And when a dream seems particularly bewildering but still of great urgency, the people turn to the Dream-Tellers, the interpreters and mystics, whose skills allow them to go abroad by night, traveling via their own dreams. Some elves are forever changed, both mentally and physically, by their time under the Aurora.

Even the savage vulfen, who eschew human ways and faiths, take their dreams seriously, understanding that a dream of danger is good cause for wariness. When puzzled by a dream omen, even the proudest vulfen might slink away to find a Dream-Teller of another species, forgoing his normal response towards the human tribes or the primitive goblins. The simple yeti of the mountains also trust in the significance of their dreams to guide them to new sensations which they might sample and enjoy. Only the elves, with their remote alien minds, do not experience the night visitations that the other peoples of Vulfland have come to trust over the generations. This is not to say, of course, that elves are immune to the strangeness of the "dreaming places" of the south--if anything, there are small enclaves of elves who eagerly study these "soft places," seeking to better understand the waking dream of their existence on Near.

Secrets of Dream-Telling
Secret of Dream-Walking
While you dream, you can send your mind adrift, entering the dreams of others to communicate with them. You can make social checks against other beings in their dreams normally, and they resist normally, but anything which deals harm to the dreamer immediately breaks the dream, causing them to awaken. Entering the dreaming mind of another who does not wish you there requires a Dream-Telling ability check, resisted normally. Cost: 1 Reason.

Secret of Dream Curses
When you Dream-Walk, you can haunt the dreams of another sleeping person, filling them with unpleasant nightmares and foul omens. This requires a Dream-Telling ability check, and is resisted normally. If you succeed, the SL of your check provides a pool of penalty dice which haunt the subject for the next day. Once a penalty die is used, it disappears. Only one penalty die is applied per check the character makes, and you specify when they are applied. Prerequisite: Secret of Dream-Walking. Cost: 3 Reason.

Secret of Dream Exorcism
You are trained at fighting off evil dreams when they possess or control others. You can chain your Pray ability to any check to exorcise, fight, or destroy an evil dream, or to social checks to address angry totems. Prerequisite: Secret of Dream-Walking.

Secret of Dream Healing
When you Dream-Walk, you can heal the harm inflicted on another being. This requires a Dream-Telling ability check, and provides bonus dice to a Will check to recover from Harm. Only one such check may be performed on a person each night, and this is in addition to the normal recovery checks a character may make per day. Prerequisite: Secret of Dream-Walking.

Secret of Dream Omens
Your dreams provide beneficial guidance on how to handle affairs in waking life. While you sleep, you can make a Dream-Telling ability check, and spend 1 Reason. The SL of the check provides a pool of bonus dice which can be used to benefit any action you dreamt about. These “dream dice” can be about your own actions, those of others, or some combination. Cost: 1 Reason.

Secret of Dreaming to Life
You can bring objects and living things out of your dreams, making these phantasms real. This requires a Dream-Telling ability check, and the expenditure of 3 Reason. These phantasms last for a number of days equal to the SL of your check before dissipating harmlessly. Items created through dreams function normally for their kind, and have no special powers or imbuement. Living creatures have ability scores equal to the SL of your check, and are not under your control, but can be interacted with normally. Cost: 3 Reason.

Secret of the Dreaming Place
You have access to a place where the boundaries between waking and dreaming grow thin, and strange things happen. Use of any Dream-Telling Secret in this place costs 1 less Reason than normal. However, this place is permeable to dreams, and you may face strange phantasms and other manifestations of the “soft”, morphic nature of this place. While it is a powerful locale, it is not always safe.

Secret of Powerful Dreaming
When you dream something to life, it is more formidable than the lesser phantasms of others. You can apply a single Secret to the item or being, which it has until it dissipates. This can imbue an item or weapon, or provide another benefit to a living creature as you see fit. Any Secret with a pool cost must be paid from your own pools to activate. Prerequisite: Secret of Dreaming to Life. Cost: As per Secret of Dreaming to Life, but +2 Reason, +1 Vigor.

Secret of True Dreaming
When you Dream-Walk, the actions you take inside the mind of another being never break the dream, and have repercussions on the real world. Sex in another’s dream could result in pregnancy, and harm or death inflicted in the dream has the same effect in the real world, wounding or killing the dreamer. A True Dream is as dangerous to you as the dreamer’s mind you enter, however; once made manifest, it requires a Dream-Telling check to escape, or one of the dreamers must be woken by an outside effect. Prerequisite: Secret of Dream-Walking. Cost: +1 Reason to the normal Dream-Walking check.

Dream-Possession, Nightmares, and Cannibal Spirits
Not all dreams which come by night are mere warnings, or blessings from the totems. There are evil dreams which can haunt and possess a sleeping mind, and which have an effect on the sleeper once he wakes. Some of these are angry totems, seeking vengeance for a crime committed against their animal kin. In most cases, these spirits are heeded and some attempt at restitution is made, but there are times when a totem has gone wild from pain, grief, or blood-thirst, and must be exorcised. In other instances, a totem becomes drawn to experience the physical world, seeking to sample the pleasures of dance, drink, sex, food, or other material acts which are denied to them. These dreams, when they are discovered, are honored by the Dream-Tellers but politely and firmly asked to leave their hosts, sometimes even bribed to do so through promised favors and offerings to the spirit. The worst cases of these are the cannibal spirits which force men to devour the flesh of intelligent creatures.

Even the most bloodthristy vulfen, who are all too keen to cull the human population of their lands, pause at devouring their victims. It is one thing to eat a simple animal, and quite another to feast on a creature which begs for its life in your own language. This is all the more serious among the human and goblin tribes of Vulfland, for whom starvation is a constant threat. The animal life of the tundra are gifts from the totems, beings who lay down their lives that other creatures might survive, but human life is not the same. Society in Vulfland could not exist if families feared their own starving kin, and so the prohibitions against cannibalism are reinforced with strong taboos. When these taboos are broken, it is an opportunity for an evil cannibal dream to slip in to the murderer's mind and take him over.

A being who succumbs to a cannibal dream--which the Vulflanders call wendigo--finds that he cannot help but think of other beings close to him as his prey. Humans, vulfen, goblins, and other species find themselves become withdrawn, solitary, but also desperate for the taste of the flesh of other sentient creatures. In most cases, an act which was taken for survival's sake becomes an all-consuming desire; some wendigo survive for a time by gorging themselves on animal prey, but sooner or later, out of desperation or compulsion, they turn to others of their own kind. This delights the evil dream which inhabits its victim, allowing it to interact with the physical world in the most gruesome of ways, savoring the taste of flesh and blood. Some mortals go mad from this possession, and take their own lives rather than face their twisted desires.

Dream-Tellers are trained to face these evil spirits, banishing them via complex exorcism rituals involving dream-walking and spirit battle. However, those who have been touched by the wendigo must be carefully watched for the rest of their lives; another slip into cannibal habits is always possible, and sends a call out to the blood-thristy spirits nearby that a ready vessel is waiting for them.

Characters who taste the flesh of other sentient beings may take the Key of the Cannibal Urge. If they do so, they receive the Secret of the Wendigo for free, and may take the other Secrets which have it as a prerequisite. Should they ever buy off this Key (typically through being subject to an exorcism, though some personal spirit quests may allow him to escape his curse), the Secret of the Wendigo (and its attendant Secrets) go dormant for the character; he receives none of the benefits of them, but does not receive any additional experience for them, and they remain on his character sheet. The Key of the Cannibal Urge is unusual in that it may be be bought again after it has been bought off, indicating the character has returned to his old ways. In these cases, all of the Wendigo secrets he possesses can be used again, and he is under all of their effects.

Key of the Cannibal Urge
You have been touched by an evil dream, which makes you hunger for the flesh of intelligent creatures.
1 XP: Any time you gorge yourself on large quantities of meat, no matter the source.
2 XP: Every time you treat other intelligent creatures as if they were your food.
5 XP: Every time your possessed status endangers your place in society, or the things you truly care for.
Buyoff: Exorcise the cannibal dream from your soul.
Special: This Key can be repurchased after a Buyoff, unlike other Keys.

Secret of the Wendigo
You are driven by desire for the flesh of intelligent creatures. You no longer refresh Vigor normally. Instead, any scene which would normally allow you to refresh your Vigor only refreshes 1 point in this pool, and this may only be accomplished once per day, as normal. However, if you devour the flesh of a sentient being, you fully replenish your Vigor; each additional intelligent creature eaten in that day refreshes 1 Vigor (as per the goblin Secret of the Addiction).
Special: You receive this Secret for free when you take the Key of the Cannibal Urge. If you buyoff the Key of the Cannibal Urge, you no longer receive the benefits of this Secret, or any Secrets which have it as a prerequisite. They remain dormant on your character sheet, waiting until you regain your wendigo status.

Secret of the Bloody Predator
Your hands and teeth sharpen to deadly weapons, and are treated as imbued natural weapons. If you had no such weapons before, they deal +1 harm on a successful attack. If you already possessed natural weapons, yours do an additional point of harm on an attack. Additionally, you can track creatures by scent by making a Reaction check. Prerequisite: Secret of the Wendigo.

Secret of the Cunning Cannibal
You are skilled at hunting intelligent prey. You receive a bonus die on Stealth checks when stalking a kill, and a bonus die on Scrapping checks when attacking a being you intend to devour. Prerequisite: Secret of the Wendigo.

Secret of the Waste-Walker
You no longer take any damage from cold--any time you would normally take harm from cold, your body merely becomes sunken and wasted, but you take no actual damage. Additionally, you can see in total darkness. Prerequisite: Secret of the Wendigo.

Secret of the Wicked Spirit
The wendigo spirit inside you is stronger and more subtle than most. You receive a bonus die on any Deceit check to conceal your wendigo nature. You also receive a bonus die on any check to resist someone exorcising the wendigo spirit inside of you. Prerequisite: Secret of the Wendigo.


Well, that's it for now. Figured I'd throw some more fuel on the Vulfland fire. Hope people are enjoying this little trip to my weird version of Near's cold continent. As always, comments and suggestions welcome. I haven't had an opportunity to field test most of this, so its all pre-story brainstorming. Let me know if it sparks some ideas that people want to add.


-shadowcourt (aka josh)

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: shadowcourt on January 11, 2008, 07:11:58 AM
The more I think about it, the more I really like the idea of having more interactions with the totems/dreams which can possess people. That idea formed as an outgrowth of the explanation for the wendigo, as I wanted some examples of less-severe forms of dream/totem possession to frame the wendigo experience against. It turns out I really like the idea of totems inhabiting human bodies and exploring the world thereby--it has a fun element of the voodoo experience to it, wherein loa sometimes "ride" a host specifically with the intent, or side effect, of enjoying the sensations of the physical world, whether that is drinking rum, eating cake, dancing, flirting, wearing perfume, or even more exotic things like eating grave dirt.

I wonder how best to express this experience in terms of TSOY, though. I recall the whole thread on whether some things we'd typically concieve of as Secrets might not work better as Keys, instead (, but I'm wondering how to design this as either. I sort of see totem possession as a "lease, with option to buy" scenario--namely, some people might have a totem ride them and consider it a plot development that they want to experience for a while and then exorcise, or exorcise as soon as possible. Others might actually want to relish the experience, and/or even treat it as a benefit which provides them with some power.

I guess the Key to Secret combo that I did for the wendigo stuff above expresses it fairly well, but I'm sort of stumped as to how to construct a Key which makes for interesting drama and is about a totem exploring the physical world through your body.

Anyone have any ideas?

-shadowcourt (aka josh)

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: oliof on January 11, 2008, 09:14:59 AM
if there's a way to fight the totem, or a take-over switch that makes the totem active, you could have a generic

Key of the Totem Bearer

Gain 1 XP if you try to fight the totem from taking you over. Gain 2 if this brings you to a serious disadvantage, for example because it keeps you from defending against someone else. Gain 5 if you suffer great harm because you fight your totem (other than the totem harming you). Buy-Off: succumb to the totem.

Unrelated to this, totem possession and Take-Over switches could be implemented by secrets that changes refresh conditions for pools and/or make things happen if a token-related pool is depleted.

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on January 16, 2008, 04:26:26 PM
Looking good on this side as well, you have more than enough crunch and fluff, it seems. Some notes on individual Secrets:

Secret of Dream-Walking: Excellent, although I would definitely include an Ability check for finding and accessing a specific dreamer at all, and generally walking the dreamscape, just to emphasize the fantastic element. (Unresisted normally, resisted when they don't want you.) Also, you definitely need to put in a single condition penalty die for doing this dream-stuff outside the southlands, to avoid making it too powerful and to emphasize the metaphysics.
Secret of Dream Curses: Overpriced, drop the price to 1 Instinct and 1 Reason. Compare with that prayer Secret in the main book that provides an unresisted check worth of bonus dice with no spending limit or time limit on spending.
Secret of Dream Exorcism: I don't see why this Secret is needed, I'd allow that particular supporting ability as a matter of course for any dream-shaman whose discipline includes religious overtones.
Secret of Dream Healing: This might be using the 1st edition rules, as I don't quite parse it.
Secret of Dream Omens: I like it. Who decides what the dream is about?
Secret of Dreaming to Life: This is very powerful. I would definitely do the following for flavor and setting balance reasons: (a) The dream nature of these things should be discernable with an appropriate check, only resisted if the original creator is in the scene. (b) The creation should disappear if somebody mentions their unrealness aloud. Thus the traditional southland greeting "You must be a dream!" (c) Creatures created have Advances equal to the SL of the check, distributed by the dreamer. (d) Creations last only a scene outside the southlands, counting from the first scene in which somebody else than the dreamer sees them.
Secret of the Dreaming Place: This is good, very good. Consider also that a character might walk bodily into the dreamscape through a place like this.
Secret of Powerful Dreaming: Good, although should consider in the light of earlier suggestions.
Secret of True Dreaming: Excellent, although I'd split this in two by only allowing social conflicts, refreshment scenes and social Harm in the first Secret, with the full effects reserved for another one.

Those are good, nice shamanistic stuff. My campaign would definitely be about discovering synergies with the very, very different Qek shamanism. But let's leave that for actual play exercise. Meanwhile, you also need the following Secrets:

Secret of Lucid Dreaming
The character has mastered lucid dreaming; a successful Dream-walking check allows him to realize that he is in a dream. He can also mold his own dream to his will with succesful checks.

Secret of Dream Guiding
The character may take others for a dream-walk by first entering their dreams and inviting/kidnapping them with him. At most the guide's Dream-walk Ability rating in persons may be brought along.

Secret of Dream Shaping
The character has learned to direct the dreams of others in soft, indiscernible ways. After finding his way into another's dream he can, with resisted checks, mold the dream to his will. This allows the character to learn things the other person knows, even deeply-held secrets (or, indeed, Secrets) without the other's knowledge. If the character stays in the dream until morn, he may also stay to see through the other person's eyes through the day.

Secret of Hibernation
The dream-walker may make his sleep abnormally long. He may sleep for days equal to a Dream-telling check at a time, during which he is unaffected by moderate unhealthy conditions like bad air, lack of water or coldness, and gains a bonus die for resisting anything worse along those lines. The character also gains a bonus die against any efforts to wake him, whether from the dreamscape or reality.

Then, onward...

Secret of the Wendigo: Nice.
Secret of the Bloody Predator: Nice.
Secret of the Cunning Cannibal: Nice.
Secret of the Waste-Walker: Excellent!
Secret of the Wicked Spirit: Excellent!

Also, you need this: there are humans in Vulfland who consider the Wendigo a weapon against the Vulfen dominance. They take the similarities between Wendigo and Vulfen as a proof that Wendigo are intented to fight again Vulfen successfully. Thus they might invite the Wendigo for the sole purpose of fighting against Vulfen with its powers.

Overall: the dreaming Secrets need to be toned down a bit power-wise, but otherwise excellent going. Considering these and the Vulfen species Secrets together I'd perhaps drop the dullest 20% to sharpen the crunch set, but otherwise they seem rather good.

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: Troels on January 17, 2008, 03:55:38 AM

A village that keeps a wendigo or two, feeding them their dead and dying (or just really, really sick when there's been an inconvenient lack of local mortality), and uses them as living weapons! Makes you go: "Psycho bastards! ...But what made them that desperate?"

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: shadowcourt on January 17, 2008, 08:38:34 AM
Wow, everyone. Awesome stuff. Thanks for all of the comments; its really helped me feel Vulfland come into focus. I have a few things I'm wondering, here and there, so I'll comment only where its necessary, to keep this from drawing out infinitely.


Secret of Dream-Walking: Yes, that's exactly what I meant, really, in terms of when rolls should be used. Thanks for pointing out that I need to clarify the language a bit, Eero.
Secret of Dreaming to Life: Its powerful in some respects, but isn't quite as awesome as it seems at first. Right off the bat, the implication was that it could only be done while you slept, or if you were in one of the Soft Places where dreams and reality bleed over. Secondly, living beings you dream won't be under your control (though there's always the potential to Sway or Intimidate or do whatever, to make them your thralls, so there's always some risk there). I do love your suggestions about their dream-nature being discernable and their limited longevity once no longer in the southern wastes, though I wonder if everyone being able to just "pop" them with a statement of disbelief is too fierce. Should that be a resisted ability check, at least, or am I being too generous there? I *love* your suggestion about the cultural implications.
Secret of the Dreaming Place: Totally what I was thinking. Good idea to clarify this the way yoiu suggest, and even to indicate that this is a place where Dream-Telling Secrets can be used while awake.
Secret of True Dreaming: What would the second Secret give you, then? Maybe its just the way we play, but I'm unclear as to what the benefit of the second option is; harm and pool refreshment and these mechanical effects dovetail so often for us with tangible character effects. Can you clarify what you were thinking?

I like the idea behind lucid-dreaming, but I'm not sure it should be its own Secret. In many respects, its one half of what I thought the Dream-Telling ability would do, unmodified by Secrets. While its often used for dream interpretation, it is just as often used for lucid dreaming. That way, even a non-shamanic charaacter can pick this as a cultural ability, with no intent of taking any of the Secrets, but at least being able to interpret the dreams of his friends and realize when he's dreaming, and defend himself thereby from spirits, dream-walkers, and the like.

Perhaps a Secret of the Waking Dream, instead, in which characters can pull on their Dream-Telling-related Secrets without having to bed down and sleep for hours? I don't know if its really a good idea, but your post made me muse on it. The Dream Guide and Dream Shaping Secrets seem like good calls; I love your Hibernation Secret, and can't believe I didn't think of something like it, from my love of Aboriginal and monastic trance fiddly bits. Great catch there.

Troels and Eero, your thoughts about the Wendigo as cultural weapon slay me. That's totally brilliant. I love that image of humans penned up and fed flesh to keep them crazed and hungry; what a horrible little guilty sin for a community, and a tense dramatic conflict there ("your lover/your grandmother/your child has become wendigo, and the community wants to wield them as a weapon to defend themselves against the vulfen tribes..."). It really nicely meshes with this idea of the wendigo as horrible social taboo which alarms everyone, even the vulfen. I wasn't sure if I made it clear, but I wanted there to be an implicit danger about the vulfen tribes that some of their members occasionally "go wendigo," and are sometimes put down by their own kind. Its also a situation where the non-mystically-inclined vulfen are sometimes forced to come to a human dream-teller for shamanic assistance, swallowing their pride for a time to receive help from a two-legger.

And, of course, because Dream-Telling is a Reason-based ability, some of the suggestions about how to rethink the Vulfen species penalty can be particularly nasty there. I haven't settled on which one to go with yet, but let's keep that discussion in the other thread. No matter which one I opt for, others are perfectly free to choose their own, and none of them preclude the set-up where there simply is no dream-teller within a vulfen pack, forcing them to treat with the humans to free their valru from a wendigo spirit.


I think you're on to something about using refresh and keys the way you suggest. Without realizing it, I've probably already written a route for that with the wendigo stuff, so there's no reason to not consider a slightly less vicious form of it for other dream-possession, where inquisitive and curious (though not entirely blood-thristy and insane) spirits nose about in the dreams of living beings to possess them and experience the world firsthand. I'll see what I can brainstorm about it today, and try and post a working version.

Like the Key of the Cannibal Urge, I want to have an option to address that struggle in the external--the battle with a possessing dream is implicit. I'd definitely use the Key you created in a story which was all about someone trying to shrug off their possessing dream, but I also definitely want to brew up a key where the XP focus is on the actions you take in the world around you (like the Key of the Cannibal Urge), and how that makes others treat you, rather than the purely internal struggle against the dream. There's something which seems really interesting about having a Key which pays you off for doing odd (or cruel) things, and setting a mechanic against it which makes life hard, which is why I linked the Cannibal Urge and the Secret of the Wendigo so tightly. I love it when players get to get a new shiny toy with a weird price attached to it. It tends to make my players really feel the horns of the dilemma, and play it to the hilt.


Thanks for all the input, everyone. You guys rock.

-shadowcourt (aka josh)

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on January 17, 2008, 12:59:03 PM
Paralleling the other thread, some clarifications for my crunch commentary:

Secret of Dreaming to Life: Mostly this is powerful in a metaphysical fluff sense, which is where my "improvement" suggestions point to. It's a matter of taste, but I don't like unproblematic, blatant and easy magics too much; my prime suspect in this regard, when it comes to Near, is the Zu ability for summoning things, which I usually describe with lots of wonder, terror and unnatural SFX to make the outright supernaturality fit better in the textures of the setting. In this case I simply suggested some limitations that would force the dream-manifestations to keep to the more fantastic and fitting environs, instead of traipsing around annoying me ;) Lots about what's "cool" depends on the fluff context instead of crunch, and a blatant, flexible and physically impossible set of magics is certainly powerful in a fluff sense, even if it doesn't do much mechanically. My suggestion for dispelling was probably a bit too extreme (although I really like the cultural implications), although it should be noted that there is an implied Ability check involved: the dispeller has to notice that the dream apparation is not real before he can dispel it. Which is kinda nice, because usually all of these magic resistance checks are derived from Resistance, so it'd be cool to have a magic that you resist with React, instead.
Secret of True Dreaming: My thinking would be that things that are clearly supernatural in effect are "cooler" and "more rare", and therefore should involve a bit more Advance expenditure. In this way merely humiliating somebody in their dreams (Harm) or romancing them (refresh scene) doesn't seem like overtly magical to an outside observer. On the other hand, if the dreamer goes all Exorcist on his family and starts sporting flesh wounds in the middle of the night, that seems like major magical mojo to us the audience, and thus should be emphasized as such. Therefore the latter Secret would include all the more explicit things that might be done this way, like wounding, copulating-for-effect, dreamwalking the target around... plenty of possibilities if you separate the Secrets based on whether something is happening in the real world or not.
Secret of Lucid Dreaming: Oh, I didn't notice that the skill already covered this. I agree with your logic in that matter, including the possibility of a Secret that allowed a character to use his powers without actually falling asleep. Then again, it's kinda cool how a character might have to make Dream-Telling checks to efficiently fall asleep when a danger threatens...

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: Troels on January 22, 2008, 10:22:00 AM
The elves of the far south didn't much get discussed, and since you also asked for comments in general...

For some reason, the cold southern reaches of Near are somehow less stable than other parts of the world. Those who become lost in the frozen tundra sometimes report wandering into strange green forests which simply cannot be, or meeting fellow travelers whose presence makes no sense in the inhospitable wastes, such as caravans drawn by great blue shaggy horses. The people of Vulfland know that sleeping underneath the twinkling Aurora can provide dreams which are oddly prescient of the future, and bear beneficial omens and dire warnings alike. Some are visited in dreams by the spirits of animals who have blessed them, made them their earthly representatives amid the peoples of the snows. And when a dream seems particularly bewildering but still of great urgency, the people turn to the Dream-Tellers, the interpreters and mystics, whose skills allow them to go abroad by night, traveling via their own dreams. Some elves are forever changed, both mentally and physically, by their time under the Aurora.

Even the savage vulfen, who eschew human ways and faiths, take their dreams seriously, understanding that a dream of danger is good cause for wariness. When puzzled by a dream omen, even the proudest vulfen might slink away to find a Dream-Teller of another species, forgoing his normal response towards the human tribes or the primitive goblins. The simple yeti of the mountains also trust in the significance of their dreams to guide them to new sensations which they might sample and enjoy. Only the elves, with their remote alien minds, do not experience the night visitations that the other peoples of Vulfland have come to trust over the generations. This is not to say, of course, that elves are immune to the strangeness of the "dreaming places" of the south--if anything, there are small enclaves of elves who eagerly study these "soft places," seeking to better understand the waking dream of their existence on Near.

This is the bit about your Vulfland that really makes me want to play. Say, a ruthless elf hunter/mercenary mystic determined to learn about peoples' prophetic dreams. At any cost. To them. To get to stick around, he tries to make himself indispensable so that he can "cultivate" dreamers. And the more desperate and pressed their situations, the better. When he has a couple of really good subjects, he will convince them that it is necessary to travel to a soft place, where he can actually meet and mess with their dreams. The thing about the Aurora changing elves keeps him at risk, and his quest for dreams and dreamers could ultimately threaten to turn him human. THAT, I could play!

But then, the elf/goblin/human triangle is one of the bits of near that I love the most.

Hey, here's a thought. Since goblins are defined by their addictions and consequent lack of love for anything else, maybe human (or elf) wendigos who truly embrace the cannibal urge actually become goblins. Horrid, monstrous goblins, whose ability to change makes them even harder to control and contain. Imagine, then, a wendigo goblin falling to the affliction. Imagine being the target of it's affections.

The stories are just popping out of your Vulfland!

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: shadowcourt on January 22, 2008, 11:01:37 AM
Heh, thanks, Troels. Glad you're enjoying that element.

This is only vaguely on-topic, but I wrote that bit particularly because in the games of TSOY I run elves simply don't dream, or even sleep in the way that other creatures do. I've stolen the D&D conceit of elves meditating rather than sleeping just as an homage to the whole "D&D heartbreakers" thing which seems to be the genesis of TSOY's development, and because I liked the implications it had for the idea that Near is only something that the elves are dreaming.

With the idea that Vulfland has a strange connection to dreams in general, it seemed particularly apropos (whether people are using that variation on the elf daily cycle or not) to indicate that things were strange for them there. Your elf character idea is brilliant, though. I hadn't even considered just how vicious an elf could be, in his obssession to control and understand the dreams of the Vulflanders, and thereby gain a leg up on his mastery of himself/Near/what-have-you. All the more exciting if he's in danger of becoming human in touching too closely on what dreams are. Excellent stuff.

I love your thoughts on goblins and their connection to the whole Wendigo thing, as well. Its not for nothing that I based the Secret of the Wendigo so heavily on the goblin species secret. I wanted people to be able to question and play around with that weird place of obssession/addiction/madness which is so mired in the goblin-human-elf triangle. Your goblin wendigo who is suffering from the Afflicition is truly terrifying. Even if he solves his goblinhood, and becomes human, he's still a vicious human cannibal. Wild.

I've been thinking that I really need to figure out what the Vulflander humans call themselves. The idea that their nation might be called Vulfland is one thing, but I'd love to get an Eskimo or Lapplander-sounding name for the people themselves, just so that they have a term that means "the people" which they call themselves, among their own kind, and which indicates what their language should sound like. I had considered "Inuk" before, but I'm not settled yet.

-shadowcourt (aka josh)

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: shadowcourt on February 07, 2008, 02:30:11 PM
Sorry to bump what's been a largely dormant thread for a bit, but I realized I never posted the core Cultural Secrets for Vulfland. They've got more than just the magical stuff for the Dream-Tellers. After all, what does a non-mystical type get as a potential perk?

Comments welcome, as always. Some of these could use some work. And there's definitely plenty of space available for some new ideas from folks.

Cultural Secrets

Secret of Awakening the Tale
When you tell a story (with an appropriate ability check), you can spend 1 Reason to wield magics to make the narrative come alive, bending shadow, firelight, and smoke to appear as the things you are talking about. In addition to fascinating and impressing listeners, this can be used to paint an accurate story-picture of something or someone you’ve seen. When you choose to do so, this 1 Reason expenditure provides unrestricted bonus dice when you chain a story-telling ability to another check to convince others of the import or truth of a tale you tell. Cost: 1 Reason.

Secret of the Cold Sea
You can use your Kayaking ability to safely cross frozen seas, and even operate icerunner craft—sailed vessels with skates beneath them, useful for getting across sheets of ice. You receive a bonus die on ability checks for dealing with the hazards of frozen seas.

Secret of the Fearsome Hunter
You have great skill at tracking and capturing prey, and have earned a measure of accord from this ability. You receive a bonus die on Animal Ken checks and related checks to pursue game. You receive a bonus die on Intimidate checks when facing vulfen, who treat you less as prey and more as a rival. Prerequisite: Must not be a member of the vulfen species.

Secret of Fetch Status
You are bound to the service of one of the vulfen, serving as their hands (and perhaps mouthpiece). Your status counts as a +2 social defense against threats from other vulfen, as your owner will come to your defense. Additionally, you sometimes receive a bonus die on checks where your master’s assistance is a benefit; he wants to keep you alive and capable, after all. Prerequisite: Must not be a member of the vulfen species..

Secret of the Flame-Keeper
You are a priest of flames, devoted to the importance of preserving fire among the tribes of Vulfland. A Hospitality check, and the expenditure of 1 Reason, allows you to make fire in any place, even when there is seemingly nothing to burn and no way to keep it lit. Cost: 1 Reason.

Secret of Foraging
You have a great talent for finding or hunting for food in the cold wastelands. When you make an Arctic Survival (or similar appropriate check) to find food or drinkable water, even an SL 1 result finds food for you and a small group, or else lasts you for several days. Higher SL’s find sustenance for increasingly larger groups.

Secret of the Icy Home
You are well-trained to survive in freezing environments. You receive a bonus die on Arctic Survival checks to navigate or find shelter. You ignore 1 point of harm from cold damage, no matter the source; this benefit applies in addition to any imbued defenses you have, which further reduce harm from cold (such as warm clothing).

Secret of the Many Snows
The language of Vulfland has over seven hundred terms to describe ice and snow, signifying just how complex the people’s mastery of the arctic terrain truly is. By making a successful Arctic Survival check in a cold environment and spending 1 Reason, you can lead an opponent into a natural phenomenon such as a winter storm, avalanche, or thin ice. This deals Harm equal to the SL of the check (even outside of Bringing Down the Pain). You can increase the lethality of this natural disaster by spending Reason: every point of Reason spent increases the Harm done by +1. Cost: 1+ Reason.

Secret of the Mountain-Walker
Your experience in the cliffs and mountains of the your frozen homeland has taught you how to travel over difficult terrain. You receive a bonus die on ability checks to climb mountains or navigate in steep or rocky terrain. You receive a bonus die on Endurance Ability checks to deal with thin air and cold climates.

Secret of the Polar Nomad
You live among nomadic cultures of the tundra and glaciers. You add a bonus die to Animal Ken ability checks when dealing with arctic wildlife. If you become lost in the cold wastes (typically through a failed check), you can immediately spend 1 Reason to make the check a second time, as if circumstances had changed.

Secret of the Scentless
You were born without an easily detectable body scent. Anyone trying to track you by smell takes 2 penalty dice on the check. However, you make animals and feral creatures nervous, imposing a penalty die on your Animal Ken checks, and on some social checks with vulfen.

Secret of the Sunken Harpoon
When you successfully damage an opponent with a Harpoon ability check, you can keep the weapon embedded into your foe and use its rope to tangle and bind the foe. A second Harpoon ability check in the following round deals normal damage and additionally inflicts a penalty die on your opponent’s actions until he spends a round removing the harpoon, beating one of your ability checks. Cost: 2 Vigor, 1 Instinct.

Secret of the Surefooted
You find it easy to keep your balance while walking over snow, ice, or similar loose terrain. You add a bonus die to any check to keep your footing or avoid slipping.

I know a lot of those are redundant, in some ways. I think I might have gone overboard on the "Get it? It's all snow and ice!" tip. Anyone who has suggestions for combining, cutting, etc.. I'm all ears. Ditto for adding things which have a little more diversity and spice to them.

In addition, two minor systems. These are on the scale of the moon-metal stuff in Khale, hopefully. Not everyone is into them, and they're not the biggest thing, but they provide additional spice.

Totem Worship
I know I need to detail a little more carefully just WHY the Vulflanders believe in totemic representation, and what their origin myth is like. I'm tempted to go for a slightly stirred-up version of Australian Dreamtime beliefs, with the idea that both animals, land-forms, and certain people were created by progenitor animals, who watch over their children still. As such, communities, families, and individuals might all have totem spirits associated with them. Personal totems usually come only as a result of powerful dream visitation, or a traumatic or intense event in a character's life. A young child who wanders away from his family, is attacked by two vulfen who are driven off by an enraged walrus is clearly marked by the Walrus totem, as far as his fellow villagers are concerned. He is more likely to be pushed towards a maritime trade, to exploit the good graces of the Walrus spirit, and he may dream of walruses much more often (though whether this is the result of Vulfland's dream-world responding to his own thoughts, or vice versa, remains intentionally mysterious).

As such, here are a couple of Secrets designed to play around with those thematics. Hopefully some more flavor text to follow.

Secret of Totem Blessings
You have a patron animal totem which gives you blessings; this may be the totem of your tribe, or a personal one if you wish. You receive a bonus die on all Animal Ken and Arctic Survival ability checks to interact with or hunt your totem animal. You also receive a bonus die on an another Ability appropriate to your totem, determined when you take this Secret. For instance, a character with the seal totem might receive a bonus die on Maritime checks for swimming, while a stag totem might provide a bonus die on Athletics checks while running. An eagle totem might provide a bonus die on Reaction checks related to vision, a hare might provide a bonus die on Stealth checks, and a bear might provide a bonus die on Bash and Hold. An arctic fox might provide a bonus on Deceit checks, while a raven might grant a bonus to Theft. Keeping a positive relationship with a totem requires giving thanks to it whenever you take of its children (offering prayers to the Salmon when you eat fish, for instance, and thanking them for their deaths) as well as willingness to participate in community rituals in honor of your totem spirit.

Secret of the Totem Boon
Totem spirits associated with you and your community listen when you call out to them in dreams. You can make a Pray ability check to call on an animal totem and converse with it, asking its advice, spending 2 Vigor. The totem will appear in dreams, providing advice, information, or minor aid as per the SL of the check, but will also demand some minor service or act performed in its name. Cost: 2 Vigor, plus the service the totem demands.

Secret of the Totem’s Children
You can call upon your totem to ask for minor aid or favors from its animal kin. This requires an Animal Ken ability check, and the expenditure of 1 Instinct. Animals are called who provide minor benefits to you, usually performing simple tasks which are within their scope of ability. This can result in a pool of bonus dice equal to the SL of the check, if that is appropriate for the favors asked. Cost: 1 Instinct. Prerequisite: Secret of Totem Blessings.

Secret of Totem Form
You can assume the form of your patron animal totem. This requires 2 Instinct and 1 Vigor. In this form, you redistribute your ratings in your Innate Abilities and your Pray ability between the following Abilities: Power (Vigor), Swiftness (Instinct), Senses (Instinct), and Brain (Reason). You cannot use any other Abilities in this form, can only communicate as an animal, and are denied access to any Secrets which rely on your normal shape. Cost: 2 Instinct, 1 Vigor. Prerequisite: Secret of Totem Blessings.

Dreams and the powers of totems are not the only magics of Vulfland. It is said that long ago, a dream-teller was upbraided by the eagle totem his people worshiped for demanding gifts and favors of the spirit without giving service and making offerings in turn. This arrogant shaman stole gifts the people gave to the community totem and took them for himself, leaving no part for the hungry Eagle. When he was warned by Eagle to be generous to the children, he laughed and did as he wished, shooting many of the great birds from the sky without giving thanks for their deaths, and making a fine stew of them.

The shaman was punished by the spirits when, during a great rite in which he sought to impress the village with his gifts of flight, he was turned back into man-form by Eagle and set to fall from a great height. Falling past the other birds, he reached out in his anger, snatched one up, and tore it to pieces. Smearing its blood and feathers on his body as he hurtled towards his death, his magic and anger twisted inside him, and he stole the bird's form, becoming an eagle once more.

Since that time, those who mock and defy the spirits have learned the gifts of Skin-Thievery, becoming dangerous sorcerers who work magics that are displeasing to the totems. Humans are not alone in these magics; vulfen, who care little for reverence to the spirits, have learned these arts, as have some self-serving elves and yeti, though the latter are almost always banished from among their people for such needless blood-letting. Skin-thievery is a dark art, and those who practice it are driven away from communities, regarded in much the same light as the wendigo are. It is not uncommon, of course, for a skin-thief who is denied access to the bounty of the community to turn to murder, and finally cannibalism to survive in the cold wastes, making the association a literal truth.

Secret of the Skin-Thief
You have learned magical secrets of impersonation, allowing you take the form of a creature you kill by skinning it and wearing its hide. This requires a Crafts ability check, and the expenditure of 2 Instinct and 1 Vigor. The total SL of the check results in a number of hides prepared from a single body. A hide can only be used once, after which it disintegrates. You appear as a member of the species which you killed and skinned, but not exactly as that individual; the strength of your disguise is equal to the Crafts check result, which can be opposed normally by anyone trying to pierce the disguise. Cost: 2 Instinct, 1 Vigor.

Secret of Skin-Thief Mastery
When you steal the hide of a creature to appear as one of its kind, you can choose to prepare the hides so that you appear exactly like that creature, rather than simply a member of its species. This allows you to easily appear as your subject a distance, though you may still need to make Deceit checks to impersonate mannerisms and voices. Prerequisite: Secret of the Skin-Thief.

-shadowcourt (aka josh)

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on February 07, 2008, 05:42:52 PM
I'd love to comment on this, but I'm too busy as it is with convention preparations. If I haven't come around by the 18th, feel free to bug me about it; for now I'm trying to have time for something else apart from TSoY, too.

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: Rich F on February 08, 2008, 01:49:23 AM
Initial Thoughts

Skin Thieves are nice, and suit the tone.  Could you wear a man's skin?  I'd be tempted to change the cost to 1 Vigor, 1 Instinct and 1 Reason (you need to be the animal, think like the animal and act like the animal).

Totem's are OK, but don't grab me yet.  I think it is missing a twist or hook - perhaps the idea of love between the totem and the shaman, 2 souls in 1 body perhaps, "I am the bear and the bear is me".  Perhaps look at the distinction between A bear and The Bear.  Can you see through the eyes of any bear, control their actions for a time.  Grab a couple of animals and detail them up, what is the Essence of Bear and turn that into a Secret and (perhaps more importantly) a Key.

Cultural Secrets I really like are Fearsome Hunter (Appear as Predator not Prey to Vulfen), Fetch Status (I can't help but picture Wormtongue from LotR), Many Snows (using the environment to do Harm - ties in with so many film heroes, using their knowledge to beat a physically superior opponent) and Scentless (just seems to tie in well with the Vulfen).

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: shadowcourt on February 08, 2008, 09:44:17 AM

You can absolutely wear a human's skin. That's part of the fun of this. It allows sorcerers to prey on communities, or vulfen to secretly try out how the other species live, even though its totally taboo for them to do so among their own kind.

I'm also probably missing:

Secret of the Borrowed Form
Without a full hide to steal, you can still appear as someone else briefly. This requires a stolen lock of hair, fingernail clippings, or some fresh drops of the subject's blood. The Crafts check creates only a single "hide" no matter how many Success Levels you achieve, a small bundle which must be worn while the illusion is assumed, and lasts only for 1 scene before burning away.
Prerequisite: Secret of the Skin-Thief, Secret of Skin-Thief Mastery. Cost: As per Secret of the Skin-Thief, +1 Reason.

Something to keep the mischief level up, when you can't quite afford to kill your prey yet. Note the shorter duration, though.

Something about your idea of Totem-love is really sparking for me, except in a different way than you're suggesting. Rather than "I am the Bear, the Bear is me," which is sometimes done in a very bland way, maybe the answer is to treat Totems as if if their family relationship was much more evident and present for the Vulflanders: "Bear is my father", "Hare is my little brother", "Owl is my lover." There's a beautiful Amasalisk eskimo poem I can remember from my youth which equates the way a man feels for the woman with whom he's in love for the way the hunter wants the seal he is hunting. Its a matter of survival, that kind of passion. His continued existence hinges on her. It may make for a very interesting cultural conceit in that the Totem is treated as a family member, and welcomed/propitiated accordingly. One keeps symbolic representations of the totem in the appropriate family role: a fetish-doll of Hare is brought to children's games, fed at the table like an infant brother, and must be played with, sang to, and cradled. If Bear is father, then his image must occupy a seat at the head of the table, he must be consulted on matters of import to the family, and one may have to seek Bear out and accept his punishment if one has hurt the family in some way, before one can be allowed into its good graces once more. Similarly, if Owl is your lover, you might be compelled to dance with, seduce, and make love to the ritual-dancer who wears Owl's mask at the great ceremony.

Similarly, the Totems quarrel with each other, and have enemies and allies. Kite steals the eggs of Penguin, making them foes of each other. Seal and Bear fight for the same food, and battle with each other. Fox chases Hare, who gains cunning from running from his foe.

We could easily construct a few Keys which represent the Keys as familial relationships, which might make Vulflander spiritual practice really unique in Near. Rather than being the Bear, you are the Bear's lover. The method whereby you are chosen by your Totem might well give insight into the nature of this relationship, as well-- communities often default to Totem patrons as parents, while people rescued by a Totem's representative (the sailor who almost drowns were it not for a seal) regard their personal Totem as lovers if they are adults, or parents if they were children at the time of their accident. A strange dream of a weak or small animal, or an experience caring for one which marks the character, might render the Totem their child. Vision quests and fever dreams become key ways to determine this social pecking order.

Key of the Totem Child
You have accepted one of the Totems as your own, whom you treat as a child figure. This could be your sibling, or your own child, depending on your own social role. You treat its representatives (animals of the Totem's type, carvings, fetish-dolls, and ritual implements which bear its likeness, priests and ritual dancers wearing its garb and masks) as if they were your Totem child.
1 XP: Treat your totem's representatives with tenderness and generosity--feed or baby them, raise them as your own.
2 XP: Defend your totem's representatives from danger.
5 XP: Give generously of yourself to your Totem child even though it causes harm or great personal loss.
Buyoff: Fail to come to the aid of your Totem child.

Key of the Totem Lover
You have accepted one of the Totems as your own, whom you treat as a lover. You treat its representatives (animals of the Totem's type, carvings, fetish-dolls, and ritual implements which bear its likeness, priests and ritual dancers wearing its garb and masks) as if they were your Totem lover.
1 XP: Offer a love gift (a meal, jewelry, poetry or love songs) up to your Totem or one of its representatives.
2 XP: Make a sacrifice of something you need or want for the good of your Totem or one of its representatives.
5 XP: Refuse the love of another in favor of your dedication to your Totem.
Buyoff: Cheat on your Totem lover or reject their advances.

Key of the Totem Parent
You have accepted one of the Totems as your own, whom you treat as a parent figure. You treat its representatives (animals of the Totem's type, carvings, fetish-dolls, and ritual implements which bear its likeness, priests and ritual dancers wearing its garb and masks) as if they were your Totem parent.
1 XP: Offer respect up to your Totem or one of its representatives--allow it to eat your food, or use your home.
2 XP: Submit to the authority and suggestions of your Totem's representatives.
5 XP: Complete the demands of your Totem's representatives even though it brings you harm or risk.
Buyoff: Defy the edicts of your Totem or its representatives.

Key of the Totem Sibling
You have accepted one of the Totems as your own, whom you treat as a brother or sister. You treat its representatives (animals of the Totem's type, carvings, fetish-dolls, and ritual implements which bear its likeness, priests and ritual dancers wearing its garb and masks) as if they were your Totem sibling.
1 XP: Spend time working and living alongside your Totem or its representatives, accomplishing tasks with it.
2 XP: Engage in competition against your Totem's representatives or its spiritual enemies.
5 XP: Improve the situation of your Totem's representatives despite risk or harm--make fools of its spiritual enemies, find new homes for its animal children, or get the priests to make special offerings to your totem.
Buyoff: Hurt your Totem or its representatives and refuse to make apologies or restitution.

(I'm having a tougher time with that one, even though I think it's important. The Seal-Brother is potentially just as interesting as the Seal-Lover or the Seal-Child, I think, but I have to figure out a good payoff scheme for a Key which is about supporting, living with, competing against, and helping your Totem.)

I'm glad you liked some of those other Cultural Secrets, Rich. it's true that you like the ones which I like the most, as well. Some of the others are there for survival sake, but really need to be condensed and simplified.

Just some brainstorming. Hopefully, its got a new fun twist to it.

-shadowcourt (aka josh)

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on February 28, 2008, 10:39:04 AM
In general, there's some excess fat on these, I feel. Lots of Secrets that are pretty basic stuff that I'd create during play as necessary. Then again, you seem to prefer a pretty high number of premade Secrets, so you probably know what you're doing in this regard.

Secret of Awakening the Tale

The mechanical benefit here is pretty small, so much so that I'd allow that for anybody with Storytelling for free. Also, I wouldn't outright claim magical power where skill and mystery suffice.

Secret of the Cold Sea
Secret of the Fearsome Hunter

Flavor stuff.

Secret of Fetch Status

I like. Balanced and flavorful.

Secret of the Flame-Keeper


Secret of Foraging

An appropriate Ability will, per the rules, do this with at most a couple of penalty dice. Of course, using this Secret implies that such is not the case in the horrid ice wastes of the south, which is of course a possible decision to make. I'd hesitate to do so, however, as were I the SG I'd feel pretty bad at nerfing the Survival Ability in the one place where a character investing in it gets to actually do some heroic and epic stuff with it. After a campaign concentrating on urban environments finally gets to the extremely unhospitable reaches of the glacier it's a pretty shitty move to tell that the one Ability specifically meant for this kind of thing won't be doing anything, here.

Secret of the Icy Home

A better version of the above, I'd say.

Secret of the Many Snows

Excellent. Add one day of preparation per point of additional Harm, though; it should take time to mislead a pursuer or set up a trap.

Secret of the Mountain-Walker
Secret of the Polar Nomad

Flavor stuff. I try to avoid precreating this stuff, as I find it difficult to remember which is which or even that I have these "small" Secrets prepared.

Secret of the Scentless

Pretty interesting, but horribly marginal. So it's weak and has penalties, which isn't necessarily so good. Now, I'm a firm proponent of allowing and cherishing situationally useful Secrets, as the rules-system has no problem with them, but they should then be pretty strong in their chosen situation instead of random and detached from the setting. In this case, for instance, I'd just flat out state that the character can't be tracked or noticed by smell, he's outright invisible to smell-dependant creatures and that he's reviled by Vulfen, who consider him anathema and the harbinger of the second Age-Rift that shunts the forthcoming Wolf Age into a fold in time. Now that's significant, even if it's still pretty situational. Also, have to add some interesting requirement for getting this, so it's not just completely random. Could require having been a vendigo, for example.

Secret of the Sunken Harpoon
When you successfully damage an opponent with a Harpoon ability check, you can keep the weapon embedded into your foe and use its rope to tangle and bind the foe. A second Harpoon ability check in the following round deals normal damage and additionally inflicts a penalty die on your opponent’s actions until he spends a round removing the harpoon, beating one of your ability checks. Cost: 2 Vigor, 1 Instinct.

Nice. I'd write it this way:

Secret of the Sunken Harpoon
When you successfully damage an opponent with a Harpoon ability check in BDtP, you can keep the weapon embedded into your foe and use its rope to tangle and bind the foe. Any additional activations cause normal damage and inflict cumulative penalty dice on the opponent for the rope you dangle on him. The opponent can remove the harpoon and the penalty dice with a successful defensive action using React (I). Cost: 2 Vigor to embed the harpoon, 1 Instinct per round of using the rope.

Secret of the Surefooted

How many times is that going to come up, now? I don't think I've had one of those situations ever...

My recipe for all that environmental flavor stuff that gives minor benefits and bonus dice is to save that stuff for actual play, unless the Secret is used as a speed-bumb for something else.

Totem Worship

I like the idea of totem relationships. Has something to grab on.

Secret of Totem Blessings

Add a requirement: to get this Secret a character has to face a life-threatening situation and survive. Then:

Secret of Totem Shaman
The character is blessed with the spirit sight, and can therefore see the totems of people and things. The character can set up a ritual ceremony for awakening the totem of another character; the shaman's player chooses the totem in this case. Requirements: Secret of Totem Blessings Cost: 2 Reason for preparing the totem rites.

So a given tribe will have a handful of people who got their totems spontaneously and many more who were given them in a safe ritual by the shaman. Sounds good to me.

Secret of the Totem Boon

Sounds good to me! Especially like the phrasing in the scaling effect.

Secret of the Totem’s Children

Again, good. Balances well with the praying-based one.

Secret of Totem Form

A bit high-fantasy to my tastes, and potentially powerful when you consider that some animals can fly, breath water and so on. It'd be cooler if the character just thought that he's changed into the animal. The mechanics can even stay the same ;) Then, give another Secret that allows actual transformation if you want; even then I'd go the way real-world shamanism does and have the character go into solitude and appear later in the form of an animal, instead of just transforming then and there in a blatant supernatural display. But that's just my tastes.

Also, thematically a bit weird that skin-thieves transform into animals as well... I guess it allows for cool duels in animal form under the ice pack and such.


Sounds good to me. Now you absolutely have to stop, though; three magical systems are more than enough for one culture, especially as there are a bunch of racial specialties tied to the same region as well.

Secret of the Skin-Thief

The "number of hides prepared from a single body" makes little sense for small creatures. Rather, "number of hides per ritual". Also, limit this basic facility to creatures the size of the character. Also make a call on whether any ability replacements happen, or if this is just a shape-change.

Secret of Skin-Thief Mastery

Have this consume all the skins prepared from a single kill. Also, allow the character to take the form of creatures smaller or larger than himself. Give some mechanical impact that is "deeper" than the impact of the above version.

Secret of the Borrowed Form

Require just the first Secret for this; this is not a capstone ability.

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: shadowcourt on February 29, 2008, 11:15:18 AM
Thanks for the input, everyone.

Eero, I agree with your suggestions about where to cut. Similarly, the totem stuff you suggest is really good, and I'm all for it, particularly the Shaman secret and the way it works with Blessing, and such.

I like the idea that you go off into the wilderness to assume a totem's form, and that its even uncertain if you've actually transformed, are inhabiting the mind of an existing animal, or something else entirely is going on. As a result, I've broken that Secret into two, basically following your ideas, but tweaking them slightly:

Secret of Totem Strength
You can call on the physical gifts of your totem, asking for its speed, strength, leaping or swimming ability, keen senses, or something of the like. This requires 2 Instinct. For the duration of the effect, you can use your Pray ability to stand in for another ability, appropriate to the totem’s strengths and capacities. Prerequisite: Secret of Totem Blessings. Cost: 2 Instinct.

Secret of Totem Journey
You have a special capacity to assume a totem form, by going off into the wilderness alone, out of sight of all other beings, and communing with your totem. No non-shaman is truly certain if a shaman physically transforms, or merely sends his thoughts into the body of an existing animal, while he undertakes a totem-journey. For the shaman in question, the difference is moot, and never spoken of. While journeying, you redistribute your ratings in your Innate Abilities and Pray between the animal form’s abilities: Power (Vigor), Swiftness (Instinct), Senses (Instinct), and Brain (Reason). You use your normal pools and Harm while in this form. You cannot use any other Abilities in this form, can only communicate as an animal, and are denied access to any Secrets which rely on your normal shape. However, you gain an appropriate Secret for the animal, such as the ability to fly, breathe water, or the natural weapons of the creature. Prerequisite: Secret of Totem Blessings, Secret of the Totem Shaman, Secret of Totem Strength. Cost: 2 Reason, 1 Instinct.


Thanks for the accidental inspiration for where the totem stuff ended up. I feel loads better about them now, and hopefully they grab people a bit more. The idea of the complex social politics around totems now become much more exciting to me. For instance, in a community where Walrus serves as the parent for the village (which is the traditional role for a totem's relationship to an entire community, though that's hardly set in stone...), a young child might fall into the icy waters one day, only to be saved by a walrus. The shaman of the community determines that walrus belives the little girl is his mother, and promptly conducts a formal awakening ceremony. Now, there's a young girl who other people refer to as "Grandmother", and ask her for advice sometimes when the walruses become difficult and threaten the ice-fishers. Thanks to her Totem Blessing, she at least has a bonus die or two when dealing with the walruses, but they intend to put her out on the ice floe to negotiate with them. Potentially exciting stuff, and weird for a foreigner to get their head around.

I'd love to play anything from the child herself to the concerned parents in that story, and I can think of lots of exciting plot. The jealous shaman might be envious of the special role that Walrus has given to this young girl, and conspire against her. She might be thrust into all sorts of negotiations, as well, when the chieftains of the community have to parlay with others communities and outsiders. It makes me think that the Key of the Totem Child should also have a whole bit in it, maybe as part of its 2 XP payoff, about "disciplining your totem when it misbehaves."

Thanks, everyone. Vulfland lives and breathes thanks to all of your contributions. I can't wait to play it this summer.

-shadowcourt (aka josh)

Title: Re: [TSOY] Near's Frozen South
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on February 29, 2008, 12:14:32 PM
Be sure to write about it if you get to use this stuff in play. I have this "new TSoY stuff", referring mostly to your souther initiative, ready to break out whenever there's play opportunity. Almost got to play with it a couple of times already, but not quite; Hero's Banner, Prince's Kingdom and Primitive stole the slots so far.