Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Markwald

I have no intention of abandoning Lukomorye any time soon, but my goal was always expand into other historical-fantasy settings - a Central European-flavored one, an Islamic-flavored one, and one loosely based on the Bronze Age Near East  - roughly in that order.

I'm not sure why the first of these settings has been on my mind lately - perhaps, with the likelihood of spotty attendance by the Lukomorye regulars during the upcoming holidays, I've been wanting to do some experimental stuff with those players that are available. Perhaps the drive to finally finish Peterson's Playing at the World turned my imagination to a setting that more closely resembled the original D&D setting.

On the one hand, for such a setting, fewer things have to be reconceptualized, and the availability of Lukomorye's reconceputalizations as a resource means there is less work to be done. That said, what appears here is still very much at the initial stages, and will have to be thought through more extensively, and informed by more external reading.

Michael Wolgemut, Tanz der Gerippe (1493)

Lore

The Totentanz has swept across the land. First, the winters grew longer, and the crops began to fail. Then, a plague struck all the large towns, before sweeping into the countryside. The corpses of the dead rose before the survivors had a chance to bury them, and marched across the land in the train of the Sensenmann, reaping those that had been spared. And behind the dead, other nightmares followed. Packs of hungry werewolves roamed the woods, and witches had grown bold enough to hold grisly rituals on hilltops within sight of city walls. The devastation destroyed commerce, as people feared to travel to areas where the Totentanz might still be raging. And many of those who were willing to take the risk lacked the coin to conduct trade. Initially, there were not enough miners to dig up silver and gold. But soon, the mines themselves ran dry, or creatures who dwelt in them no longer desired any intercourse with humans.

Those that were left, frightened and confused, turned on one another, trying to claim what fertile lands and important thoroughfares were left. The faithless, rightly or wrongly suspected of welcoming the Reaper, were driven out of their compounds, and forced to find towns that would take them in; those that failed to do so, starved. Many also blamed the Church, which had failed to either predict or to stop the disasters. New heretical sects flared up across the land. They were led by preachers who questioned its legitimacy, and proclaimed that a time of tribulations, heralding a final accounting before God, was at hand.

But in areas where the devastation had been less complete, or which had the good fortune to partially recover, new opportunities for those willing to face the dangers of the world left behind. Despite the scarcity of coin, magnates were willing to pay handsomely for to those who undertook to clear the royal highways to restore trade, or to keep the armies of the dead at bay. The Church was also willing to pitch in, especially to recover abandoned monasteries, or to root out witches and heretics. Towns in regions where mines had been plentiful sent out scouts to pump out water, in hopes of finding new veins in areas that had been submerged. Despite the Church's disapproval, rulers and nobles sought out magi who could make gold and silver out of base metals, unleash the power of the elements, and read fortunes to give their patrons an edge over their rivals. And mercenaries of various kinds sought work with anyone who would benefit from seizing their neighbors' treasure.

Rothenburg, Bavaria

Lay of the Land

A formerly prosperous region where major trade routes intersected, Markwald is dotted with numerous towns, each roughly 10 miles distant from its nearest neighbor. Most are inhabited by 1000 - 3000 people, though the seats of the magnates tend to be a bit larger. Some of the smaller towns have become deserted as a result of the Totentanz.

The towns that have survived are well-fortified to defend against the predations of bandits, monsters, and lords overeager to extend their domains. Behind the walls, one may breathe the free city air - many of Markwald's towns have imperial charters guaranteeing their right to self-government - provided one can put up with the stench generated by life in close quarters.

Most of the cities are ruled by councils that are composed of heads of the most important guilds. The councils, in turn, elect a Burgomeister, Shultheiss, or Vogt, usually based on how much money an aspirant for the office distributes to the individual syndics. The rough-and-tumble of political life is further stimulated by the patronage of major magnates, moneylenders, and the Church, all of which promote their own candidates and informal 'parties'. Successful syndics, it is often whispered, are those who have made mutually beneficial pacts with household kobolds or other Fee beings.

The insecurity of life for the underprivileged breeds anxiety that is often expressed through mass public gatherings. The majority of the population - including apprentices, unskilled laborers, and refugees from the country are not politically represented, and have little recourse other than to riot or loot when they want their voices heard. Aside from that, people turn out for funeral and holiday processions, public executions, visits by fiery itinerant preachers, bonfires of vanities, and fairs. Groups of itinerant Augurs occasionally encamp outside of the city walls, but in times of great stress or strife, town residents may carry out attacks against them. When strife within cities becomes pervasive, they are visited by the feared Vehm - a group of armed justices who punish guilty and innocent alike to restore order.

Beyond the walls lie tracts of woodland and scattered villages. The peasants are, if anything, even more anxious than the urban residents, exposed as they are to marauders without the protection of city walls. Many of them have sunk into personal dependence on the noble landowners, who, in exchange for work on their estates, promise to shelter the peasants within their castles in times of need. Some villagers have found that freedom is a high price to pay for security, though many suspect that they have instead made deals with marauders, or even the Dark Powers.

The roads that connect the towns to one another have, in many instances, fallen into disrepair. Places where they have become impassible often become sites of ambushes - by hungry peasants, greedy landlords, unpaid mercenaries, or even worse horrors. City governments, large magnates, and princes of the church are often willing to pay people to clear away roads and marauders, but they also act at cross-purposes to one another, favoring the restoration of certain routes at the expense of others.

Further afield lie abandoned mines and deep forest hollows that are haunted by creatures of darkness.
The Totentanz has encouraged some of them to return openly into the world. Some of them have even set up their own backwater estates that are tacitly recognized by the magnates in exchange for being left alone. Here, they lord it over peasants, forcing some to work, and some to be eaten. Other creatures, though typically not allowed to reside in cities, are protected by the major courts, and thus have some freedom of movement throughout Markwald. Worst of all are the abandoned villages and towns, which serve as gathering places for the dead, werewolves and witches - especially at night. Wondrous beings of a bygone age - unicorns and serpents, have been reported in some of the most out-of-the-way places, and their reputedly magical properties foster lords to hire hunters to harvest them for body parts, or to capture them for placement in menageries.

Augsburger Monatsbilder, c. 1520

The Economy

The crisis in silver production is more profound than the crisis in gold, which may still be earned by selling manufactures to more southerly regions. Although the dearth of silver makes it more difficult to stimulate local production, gold is somewhat more available for those who are willing to undertake strategically important work - prospecting for mines, hunting for buried treasure hoards, service as a mercenary, or alchemical research. The same applies to leading diplomatic missions into the domain of the dwarven King Goldmar, if he can be successfully persuaded to share some of his wealth, or at least to lend some money. As a result, the system of exchange in Markwald is more reminiscent of the traditional gold-centered economy of the default D&D setting.

Despite crisis-like conditions, the division of labor in the region is traditionally well-diversified, with mining, metal-working, textile, and dying skills particularly prominent. There are many well-qualified apprentices and masters waiting to be employed, though doing so will involve negotiating with guild masters, and probably, greasing some palms.

Selling exotic and magical items will be difficult in the towns, but buyers can probably be found among the magnates, if enough reciprocal interest can be generated. They may also be convinced to sell such items from their treasuries, if the price is right. Most dukes or counts have ancestral swords or armor that are marks of family prestige, but the need to raise money for armies or castle construction may force them to deal. The same can be said about the more unscrupulous bishops' and abbots' willingness to part with relics - this is the real reason for many establishments claiming to possess the same relics. Priests, in any event, are always willing to sell their services, and to offer incentives for adventurers to atone for their sins.

Player Races

The vast majority of people encountered in Markwald are human, and non-humans (or humans who do not accept the predominant Ecumenical Faith) will find it difficult to freely operate in the towns. Nevertheless, non-humans are present, though they do not in every instance resemble their counterparts from default settings.

Humans. Church teaching asserts that humans are God's stewards on earth. During the heyday of the Vallanda Empire, which it is said covered nearly all the world, that seems to have been close to the case in practice. The collapse of this empire 1000 years ago brought creatures that had older claims out of hiding, but with the spread of the Ecumenical Faith, they once again retreated from the world, into their mines, haunts, and isolated estates. Some say that the Totentanz was their punishment for human pride, though others insist that without a settlement between humans and the other races, the apocalypse unleashed by the Totentanz will be impossible to contain.
There are many human nations. Those native to the Markwald are called Tungri, while neighbors include Vallanda, Labdy, and many others.

Dwarves. These people are quite similar to the standard dwarf race. Under the leadership of King Goldmar, they have withdrawn from most intercourse with humans, and retreated into their marble halls. Mountain dwarves live in his realm among the unapproachable peaks of the Ardz mountains, and are a very race sight in Markwald. Surprisingly, they are rumored to be physically attractive. Hill dwarves are somewhat more widespread, and are said to dwell in the Düst foothills bordering Markwald from the south. Some of these, known as 'court dwarves', appear in the castles of the magnates from time to time. The Dark Dwarves (or Duergar) operate in secrecy, and are said to have fashioned networks of tunnels beneath some of the towns. Their nefarious activities help further poison dwarf-human relationships.

Elves. These are significantly more remote and dangerous than the beings depicted in standard D&D settings. The elves (Albe or Alpe) were the royal lines of the Fee, and in response to the spread of humans, have largely retreated back to their own world - Albenheim. Retreated, but not given up on taking revenge. They are said to sometimes carry out attacks against people who are asleep, though the purpose of doing so is unclear. They also steal children, and replace them with changelings. In the case of a certain Pied Piper - active in Markwald over a century ago - they do so en masse. Rumors have it that they control leaders of the heretical sects, and may ultimately be responsible for the Totentanz, and the Wild Hunt.
The two clans of elves - light (Eladrin) and dusky (Shadar Kai) are the two 'subraces' known in Markwald, though it is not clear that one is more favorably disposed toward humans than the other. The elves have their defenders, who argue that they are not evil, just misunderstood. Whatever the case, when they walk abroad in the world, elves are typically in disguise. Some changelings grow up to be half-elves, whose elven parent makes their desires and instructions evident, at some point.

Gnomes. Of the Fee, the gnomes (more commonly known as kobolds, wichtelmännchen, erdmännchen - 'gnomes' is the term used by scholars) actually interact with humans the most. The former two terms are used to refer to urban gnomes, who access the houses of town residents (perhaps through underground tunnels). They tend to be skillful at artifices, and sometimes reward certain craftspeople they like by leaving little gifts. Conversely, they torment those they dislike. Their motivations are unclear, though it is rumored that they seek alliances with certain artisan guilds, and are willing to share knowledge with them. The Erdmännchen are more likely to have forest haunts. They are wilder and more magical, and, like the famed Rumpelstilzchen are not above stealing (or bargaining for) children.
The former type of gnomes correspond to rock gnomes, they former - to forest gnomes. The deep gnomes who dwell in the mines may in fact be ancestral to both dwarves and gnomes.

Orcs. The orcs of Markwald are quite distinct from D&D orcs. Their physique does tend to be orc-like, though they are typically hairier, and lack mandibles. They do not live in tribes or march in large armies. They tend to be solitary, hiding in caves and swamps, though some have established themselves as estate owners in desolate locales. In such cases, they typically demand children to eat or spouses to marry as the price for leaving the rest of the people alone. Unfortunately, their spouses tend not to survive long, though some orcs imprison old spouses and practice polygamy. Solitary orcs sometimes kidnap partners from neighboring towns and villages.
The Church holds that orcs are descended from Nadad - the first human murderer and fratricide. This helps account for the orcs' monstrous lifestyle, but it also explains their close kinship with humans and ability to produce offspring with them. It is not clear whether orcs are in fact half-breeds themselves - in Markwald, there is no clear distinction between orcs and ogres. A subspecies may have magical abilities.

Little pockets not ruled by magnates might just be orc domains

Tieflings. Though church scholars are divided on the matter of whether the Fee are evil or destined for neither Heaven nor Hell, the beings that sire tieflings are clearly infernal. The appearance of such creatures are clearly marked as 'monstrous births', and though most die before reaching adolescence, some survive. Though priests typically do their best to save their souls, most tieflings who make it to adulthood are driven out from their native villages and towns. At that point, they turn to lives of highway robbery, or become mercenaries. The few that are magically gifted sometimes found heretical sects, or become sorcerers of some note. Various tiefling types exist, and trace distinct infernal parentages.

I'm undecided about the rest. I may choose to include some shapeshifters from Lukomorye, but given the greater distance between people and animals in the Markwald setting, I may not. Something like a goliath or volot might work - Gargantua and Pantagruel studied at the Sorbonne, as I recall.

Backgrounds

Given how close this setting is to the default setting, derived as the latter is from a medieval European matrix, I can't think of a reason to leave out any of the standard PHB backgrounds (with the partial exception of the Folk Hero, on which more below). I'm not entirely certain about the Outlander, as Markwald lacks Lukomorye's extensive heathen hinterland, but Grimm's Fairy tales are certainly replete with wood collectors (i.e. foresters). That background would also work for orcs.

From the Sword Coast Guide, City Watch, Cloistered Scholar, Courtier, and Mercenary Veteran would probably be appropriate. Far Traveler would be, too, if someone chose to play a visitor from distant lands. Clan Crafter might work for a dwarf, and Knight of the Order - for members of the monastic fighting orders (on which see below).

There are some great nautical backgrounds in Ghosts of Saltmarsh, though the centerpiece of the Markwald setting is landlocked, for the time being. Fishers and Smugglers could certainly work.

From Lukomorye, I would certainly port the Peasant (still my preference over the Folk Hero), the Urban Laborer, the Healer, and the Vagabond. Merchant may work, and perhaps also the Scribe (although there are certainly Learned Doctors in this setting, who may deserve a background of their very own).

As for unique backgrounds, the I've worked out the Plague Doctor (and even had a chance to play one, briefly). The Augurs would get their own background, too - something fairly close to Ravenloft's Vistani. It's possible that there might be room for others - lay mendicant orders, special backgrounds for various types of non-humans, and so on.

Classes

At the outset, a few quick words about what's being left out. The barbarian, while possibly appropriate for a Viking Age setting, doesn't work here (and my experience with Lukomorye suggests that the Rage ability works just fine as a feat). Clerics as such don't really work in a historical setting without significant changes, so here, as in Lukomorye, they are altered. Monks are best left as a "foreign" class (though I do like the Sun Soul tradition as a kind of post-Cathar extrapolation). And a setting like this is probably too late for druids (there are several classes that would have access to most of their spells, and delaying the ability to polymorph to a more appropriate level is probably a plus). This leaves:

Artificer. For this setting, with its mills, clocks, and cannons, it would probably be appropriate, though I reserve judgment until the final version appears in the Eberron campaign book (which is being released even as I write this). I'm still a bit uncomfortable with an alchemist as a non-full caster in a high-magic game (transmuter wizards are the real alchemists), but that's probably a quibble. I do like the homonculi.

Bard. This is a pretty straightforward port, though the issue gets a bit murkier with specializations. The elite Minnesinger are an obvious subclass - but are they College of Valor (because they are knightly), or College of Lore (Wolfram von Eschebach knew a lot of occult stuff)? The Meistersinger are a good fit historically, but not into an existing subclass, so they might need a new specialization of their own.
I've never been a big fan of the 'newer' colleges, but for this setting, some of them might work. College of Glamour is a good fit for an elven bard - definitely a Pied Piper. College of Swords, and of Satire, might work for Augurs (though the latter might step on the Fool's toes).

Expert. This "sidekick" UA class might make for workable characters in this setting. In any event, I'd like to see them in action. Arguably, there are some prototypes - the Brave Little Tailor, the Skillful Huntsman, Clever Hans, Clever Elsie, and so on. All these characters might work better as rogues or fools, but they are generally more resourceful than roguish or foolish.

Fighter. There are fighters everywhere, obviously, the only question is, which subclasses to include. Battlemasters are the leaders of the Landsknecht mercenary companies like the Black Band. The more knightly fighters would probably end up with something along the lines of a hybrid between the Champion and the Cavalier - the latter subclass is a bit underwhelming, and Born to the Saddle can easily be ported over to the Champion without making it too powerful. As for others - Arcane Archer probably works for elves, Eldritch Knight - ditto (though some knights dabbled in the occult - is it better to have them wizard-based, as in the PHB, or sorcerer-based, as in Lukmorye?). I've never liked the Brute, it it would be OK for orcs. Sharpshooter is probably OK, the rest can safely be ignored.

Fool. I was accused by one Russian of only including the Fool in a Russian setting, though my response was that the non-inclusion was on the D&D designers, not on me. Holy foolishness was more widespread in Russia, but it existed in Europe as well. The fool was also featured in the Tarot deck, and village idiots were present as well. No Western fool matched Yemelia in the realm of cool, so the Idler's Aids specialization for the Simpleton archetype would have to be jettisoned. There may be room for an Everyman subclass for the Brave Little Tailors of the world, if they do not become Experts.

Friar. This is the revamped 'cleric' for this game, a more Western version of Lukomorye's priest. The friars sacrifice combat ability (armor, weapons, d8 hit dice), but receive more powerful Channel Divinity features, a much more extensive spell list, the ability to port spells from other classes' spell lists, and socially potent rituals to boot. I have observed one Lukomorye priest in action for an extended period of time, and she very much holds her own, and has an important role to play within her party (all of this probably indicates that the standard cleric is too OP, or too versatile). All the major mendicant orders (thinly disguised) represent their own domains.

Paladin. Definitely works here. As "foreign" classes in Lukomorye, they were reflavored to represent the monastic fighting orders. The Knights of the Ritterheim/Oath of Conquest (i.e. Teutonic Knights) definitely have Komtors in the region. As for Oath of Vengeance, it might just be better to give this over to the Holy Vehm - its officers are even called Justiciars (one of the level titles for AD&D paladins). Oath of the Ancients could world for elves (or their allies). Not sure what to do with the Oath of Devotion - could give this to the Knights of the Mitre (as a 'home team') in this setting, or could just leave it for unaffiliated paladins, as in Lukomorye. Haven't had much patience for the straight-up anti-paladin subclasses since I was an adolescent, so leave those be.

Ranger. Had to think about this one for a bit, but magnates still have their private woods, and there are still poachers to punish, and unicorns and giant boars to shoot down or capture - these are all Hunter rangers. Call them 'Wildhüter' for more local flavor. I haven't been a big fan of the new rangers, but for this setting, they may work - the Gloom Stalker to lead expeditions into old mines, or dwarf realms, and the Horizon Walker for Albenheim. I've always thought that Monster Slayers were a bit too similar to Hunters, but this sort of Witcher character actually works well for this setting. Normally, I'm a fan of the Beastmaster, and think they get a lot of bad press, but I'm not sure they work in a more urban setting like this one (ditto for the new Swarmkeeper). A rebranded version of the Lukomorye Ushkuinik (marine ranger) might work, however, if adventurers take to the seas (or discover that there are Lorelei to deal with somewhere downstream). 

Rogue. Of course. Most varieties work, and here, both assassins and their rural (Lukomorye) cousins - the bandits - would both be appropriate. Thieves's guilds are present here, and could play important swing roles in the multicornered struggle between cities, magnates, monsters, and the Church. Arcane tricksters would be appropriate for gnomes (but not only for them). Never saw much use for Scouts and Inquisitives (in a medieval setting), but Masterminds are certainly appropriate. Swashbucklers I can live with, though they are a little late flavor-wise. Not sure what to make of the new Revived - but this is a pretty undead-oriented setting.

Sorcerer. As with the ranger, I was initially uncertain, but in areas with tieflings and monstrous births, sorcerers certainly belong. The question is, which kinds. This isn't a dragon-heavy setting, and Chaos Mages are better in Swords & Sorcery environments (especially given the religious persecution of magic), so the two PHB types are not a great fit - hence, my initial difficulties. The same goes for the elemental bloodlines - they seem too heathen. The Divine Soul, on the other hand, is great - what better class for a heretical propheta who hears God talking to them? The Shadow sorcerer I've always liked, but they never fit. Here, with dusk elves, and the Grim Reaper, they may work much better. And the Lukomorye Netherworldly bloodline (pretty much the 'standard' sorcerer in any historical fantasy setting) would also fit right in. A shapeshifter bloodline might be good in Markwald, too, if there are no obvious shapeshifter races. And there are lycanthropous brooks to drink from...

Warlock. The Fae Pact and the Fiend Pact are both great for this setting (hello, Doctor Faustus! - or do you have magus levels also?). The Celestial might work also (though the Church doesn't care if your powers come from God - just ask Joan of Arc). Hexblades would probably work in combination with the Pact of the Undying (as in Lukomorye), with the Sensenmann filling in for Koshchei as patron. Lukomorye's Netherworldly pact is also a good fit (some named devils will have to fill in as patrons for various chthonic deities, though a Dusk Elf magnate could as well). The Shapeshifter Pact would also work really well here, given werewolf panic. Not sure about the Great Old Ones - there is probably enough going on here as it is.

Wizard. Unlike Lukomorye, this a terrific setting for this class. All the main schools can be in play, as students of ancient magical traditions they probably picked up as university students (I've reflavored illusionists as Kabbalists, transmuters as Alchemists, diviners as Astrologers, and so on). There is plenty to do in terms of tracking down texts, and if there is a printing press in play, there are lots of interesting decisions to be made about mass-producing spellbooks and scrolls, and what the likely response of the authorities would be. Wizards (probably 'magi' is better as a name here) are in an interesting position here - they are not exactly legitimate, and will be hunted down if they step out of line, but they produce useful services, and will have elite patrons who will defend them if they find them useful.

Other classes will have to be classified as "foreign". I toyed with the idea of including shamans, because in reality, they are much closer to hedge witches than members of the warlock class, but they conceptualize the spirits with which they traffic in animal form, whereas many witches in this period tended to be understand their partners as demons, and have an explicitly anti-Christian self-understanding, which doesn't really fit with shamans are they are currently written.

In any case, let's see where this goes.




 



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