Tox Fantasy Adventure: The Root of Knowledge, 4a – The Cost of Knowledge

A forest with question marks on the trees.

Welcome back to Isladja, a forgotten country in the wake of a collapsed empire, where magic is woven into the very identity of spell casters; the ideals they strive to embody and the face they show the world shape the magic players can work. Magics thrust suddenly upon individuals (instead of carefully cultivated over years) can warp personality. In our first adventure post, we introduced a cast of sorcerers who meet seeking a Tree of Knowledge to enlighten them, but finding they’d been duped. In subsequent chapters of the adventure, they research more about merchant who misled them and the tree.

Perhaps at this point, players discover that the Tree of Knowledge has actually become the Iretree. However, there is an ancient ritual requiring them to plant a token of their self-searching at the base of the tree, causing it grow a budding scroll of knowledge. Instead of poring over old lore, perhaps the players have instead followed whispers of a shadowy cult, too-coincidentally named The Tree of Experience. If players catch a hold of a cult member, perhaps they hear that the cult offers mystic insight after an initiation ritual that requires them to bring tragedy upon another person. Perhaps the characters, following every lead have discovered both paths and must choose between them.

At this scene, characters should have a daunting challenge, either braving the angry spirit tree or investigating this cult. The tension in the story should be building as characters discover dangerous forces beyond their power at work. However, the game splits at this point. Either players pursue their self-knowledge and undertake some effort to test or understand their abilities, or they pursue the mystery of the cult. Either way, characters can potentially gain the insight they sought from the tree.

Option 1: Give the Tree of Token of Self-Searching

This option will most likely appeal to players who like to explore and develop characters. Veteran players might take the lead here, and discuss what they want to learn about their characters and how they might test themselves. For less pro-active characters who have stumbled on this path, the GM might take a more directed approach, confronting players with obstacles and difficult decisions. Here are some recommendations for the pre-made characters:

  • Luminitza’s is caught between her ambition to become more than her humble upbringing and the potential ostracism she might face for adopting The Righteous Path if she decides to go home. A good test of who she is would be running into an acquaintance from home. The acquaintance should be someone not too intimately known, but whose opinion back home is important.
    • Does she reveal her powers, or hide them?
    • Does she pretend to be Spirit-Touched instead of Righteous Path? Is she conciliatory or defensive?
    • The outcome of the interaction should provide a clue as to what Luminitza finds most important.
    • The acquaintance should give Luminitza a gift or a momento. If the meeting went well, perhaps a token from her own town. If it went poorly, perhaps the acquaintance returns an old gift, or even goes so far as to rend Luminitza’s traditional scarf.
  • Stanteen is trapped by his own powers. He’s excited to have them, but since they revolve around apathy, he can’t get too excited or involved. A good test for him is a situation in which he can become involved (and lose his powers temporarily by becoming too invested), or in which he can refuse to become involve and maintain his abilities.
    • This could either arise naturally, by one of the players asking him for help. If no such situation presents itself, put Stanteen into a situation where he could use his powers to avert catastrophe, knowing that they would short out. Catastrophes should be common enough, given the Tree of Experience behind the scenes.
    • As appropriate for Stanteens ability, some symbol of his choice fortuitously appears. Perhaps a lucky penny (from good karma and self sacrifice, or as a token that his abilities still work). Perhaps a piece of the wreckage from an accident not averted, or a thank you from a citizen saved.
  • Zihaka struggles with the fact that her powers are based on laughter, but in the wake of tragedy she finds it difficult to laugh. Her test of self-knowledge might involve a figure that is both tragic and comedic (such as the grave digging scene from Hamlet). Zihaka’s player can choose whether the encounter only depresses her more deeply, or whether she develops a sense of gallows humor.
    • Perhaps an important and comedic figure has died in Merchant’s Rest (again, the Tree of Experience might be unknowingly behind the scenes). The individual did some good, made a mess of other things, left a family behind. The hearse cart driver runs into a bump and the casket falls in front of Zihaka, prompting a scene in which the irreverent driver engages Zihaka with off-color jokes and puns.
    • If Zihaka seems worn down by the encounter, perhaps the driver gives her a partially-broken funeral flower to cheer her up. If Zihaka seems to find the humor in the situation, she might acquire something funny or off color (like the dearly-departed’s ruined wig).
  • Istvan struggles with being forced into solitude by his powers. Perhaps Istvan runs into a situation where he can either gain the community or acceptance he craves or slip into a prophetic trance, both helping and frightening those around him.
    • Much like Stanteen, Istvan may have the choice to use his powers to help other players. If so, make sure Istvan knows that he is likely to say something very off-putting or frightening to them as well as given them the answers they seek.
    • If Istvan doesn’t make his choice on behalf of the players, the host can present a scenario. Perhaps a frightened Mom with a lost child is running through the streets. Her boy has been missing under conditions in which he is likely dead. Istvan can choose to eschew his gift and console the mother, or use the gift knowing that he might frighten her and become the bearer of bad news.
    • Again, the person helped should be able to pass on some token. Perhaps dropping something in their distress, or giving a token of thanks.

If you want to create your own situations, or if players attempt to, follow these guidelines. 1) The players should be faced with a difficult choice around one of their key struggles. 2) The choice should have no clear “right” response, either option should involve some kind of sacrifice… highlighting what the character ultimately prioritises when the going gets tough. 3) The situation should leave behind some kind of momento, either given intentionally or left accidentally, that can symbolise the character choice.

Next Week: Inside the Cult

The other option the players have, instead of going directly for the tree is to infiltrate the Tree of Experience cult and explore that connection. The will be confronted with difficult choices there, too. How much do characters want the insight they seek? Enough to join the cult and create a tragedy? Or more challenging, enough to take advantage of a tragedy already made? Will they be able to trace the cults origin and find a way of thwarting both the cult and placating the Iretree?

Varza Games: Break week, moving to Japan.

Varza games is currently in the middle of several posts that brain dump the material for what will be a Tox fantasy adventure. We’ve covered the world, the player characters, and two initial stages of the story: introduction to the problem and further investigation. We’ll pick up next week with the third stage: action. What are characters going to do resolve their problem?

Behind the Scenes at Varza

Like many indie tabletop-RPG studies, Meg and I both have had day jobs. Tox RPG is a work of passion; I drive the development, while Meg tests and copy edits big releases. Recently, we’ve undergone a major change! Meg has found her dream job of developing the curriculum for a small English-teaching job in Japan. We spent about 24 hours traveling yesterday and arrived in Yuzawa, a small ski town where Meg’s school is located.

For me (Alec), this moves means more free time to develop Tox RPG. Previously, I worked full time in Silicon Valley building web apps. When I got home, I watched kids,and then worked on Tox RPG in the evening and on weekends. Now, I’ll spend a good chunk of the work day watching kids, but I’ll be able to hand them off to Meg in the earlier afternoon for some time to work on my passion projects during the day.

Our goals for the upcoming year are to release an initial version of Tox RPG, created some ready-made adventures for people to try out, and build our fan base. We’ll be working hard to support those early pioneers who are adopting the system and running stories, and incorporating their feedback into the product. All of these will be easier to accomplish with my increased free time during the day.

Thanks for your support, and I look forward to growing Tox at a faster rate.

Tox Fantasy Adventure: The Root of Knowledge, 3b – The Tree of Experience

tree-of-experience

In previous posts, we’ve covered the country of Isladja, sample PCs, the meeting of the PCs, and the beginning of their search through merchant’s rest. After the initial scene, we’ve focused on prepping situations, not strictly outlining the plot. We’ve just described lodging in Merchant’s Rest (with a possible encounter with the Captain of the Guard) and the market (with a possible encounter with Bogdan, who had given players a false location for the tree of knowledge). In the inn or with Bodgan, characters can be lead in one of two directions. The first direction we covered last time, discovering that the Tree of Knowledge became the Iretree, and that there are old rituals that might placate the tree long enough to gain some of its wisdom.

This post describes the information that may lead the characters to a local cult, one with stolen fruit from the tree. Characters may resolve their quest for self-knowledge by returning the stolen fruit or by seeking the aid of the cultists.

A Tale of Two Trees

Untold generations ago, the Iretree was the Tree of Knowledge. Many seeking knowledge brought tokens of their self-reflection and searching, laying them at the feet of the tree. Some tokens the tree did not accept. The tokens that it did accept caused a tiny scroll bud to grow, with a single word that would enlighten the reader about themselves. Of course, one could return with more tokens, and, overtime, cause the scroll to grow into a lengthy volume.

One scholar of magic, who had lost ber family, had cultivated such a scroll. Every year, she presented the tree with a token, and the scroll grew some. She would ask herself whether she wanted to take the scroll each year. Instead, she found that nurturing the tree eased the tragedy in her own life… until one day, her scroll had disappeared.

A would-be sorcerer had also come to the tree repeatedly. His tokens were accepted less often, and his fruit much smaller. Rather than taking joy in the process, he lamented. Why was the scroll so small? Should he read it now? What if it wasn’t finished? What if it said something unbearable? One day, unable to contain both insecurity and jealousy of the larger scrolls, he took a scroll that wasn’t his.

The scroll contained secrets for how to strengthen one’s mystic sight through tragedy, and he quickly realized that he could cause tragedy in other people’s lives to gain insight, rather than suffer through his own. He did cause tragedy; he gained his powers; and he passed his insights to an apprentice. Every generation, one secret apprentice caused a tragedy, gained their sight, and passed their secret on. They called their secret the Tree of Experience.

The tree, irate at this betrayal (perhaps the last of many?) became the Iretree. Instead of sharing knowledge, it called the darkness wolves to strip any trespassing humans of their senses.

The Secret Becomes a Cult

The Tree of Experience once referred to the secret ritual passed down from a master to a single apprentice… but it has become something more. The current master has a larger and more commercial vision for the secrets, and has apprenticed many well-paying individuals to create the Tree of Experience cult.

While one tragedy in a generation was easy to overlook in a large town like Merchant’s Rest with many strangers wandering the streets, the flood of new recruits has made the cult impossible to hide completely. People have begun to whisper the cult’s name and connect it with suspicious and tragic “accidents.” Costin, captain of the guard, is aware of these rumors and actively seeking verify them.

What Character Learn in the Research Phase

In the early part of the story, characters won’t get the whole history. At the Mangy Hound, they may here clients whispering about a recent accident at the mill and mentioning the cult’s name. This will give them enough info to begin asking around. Alternatively, they can get more info if they win Costin’s trust: he can explain the existence of the cult, but also share a lead about a late-night rituals he believes may be associated with them.

Another way the characters may learn about the cult is from Bogdan. If they follow Bogdan, they may seem him get accosted by a cultist. If they earn Bogdan’s trust, he will tell them about the cultist… perhaps even going so far as to give a description and the location.

The cultist, will be very wary. If followed secretly, he may be found striking up conversation with rich second sons of merchants and nobles. If alerted the presence of the players, he will flee. If cornered, he will fight. If subdued, he will reveal little except that the reason for the tragedies caused is to gain some mystic powers and that the recruit the wealthy, bored, and jealous children who know they will not inherit the family business and are looking for a different way to acquire power. He can mention the same rituals that Costin has caught wind of, leading players to the woods late at night to find the cultists.

Fain, Tree of Experience Candidate

Fain is not yet welcomed into the mysteries, and is currently in a position of 1) having paid what is essentially an “application fee” and 2) following orders in hopes of being initiated. He knows that initiation brings with it some kind of mystical sight and that before the initiation ritual he must inflict tragedy upon another. He doesn’t know the specific instructions, but he’s been in town long enough to know that members of the cult have destroyed livelihoods, priceless or irreplaceable possessions, and even maimed or killed. He hasn’t seen the faces or learned the names of other cultists, but he knows one of the locations where they meet for their rituals.

By background, Fain is a disinherited noble’s sone from Fair Winds, who stole a bunch of money and ran off. There’s a chance that Stanteen may recognize him and get him to open more easily.

Trainings

  • Traveler (Charming) +2
  • Manipulator (Deft) +1
  • Seer (Wise) +1
  • Seer (Smart) -1

Skills

  • Stealth +2
  • Lying +2
  • Knife +1
  • Carousing +1

Tox Fantasy Adventure: The Root of Knowledge, 3a – Librarian and Lorist

An Old Library

In previous posts, we’ve covered the country of Isladja, sample PCs, the meeting of the PCs, and the beginning of their search through merchant’s rest. After the initial scene, we’ve focused on prepping situations, not strictly outlining the plot. We’ve just described lodging in Merchant’s Rest (with a possible encounter with the Captain of the Guard) and the market (with a possible encounter with Bogdan, who had given players a false location for the tree of knowledge). In the inn or with Bodgan, characters can be lead in one of two directions.

If characters accept the first answers given by Costin or Bogdan, they will be directed to research more about the Tree of Knowledge from the local occultists and lorists described in this post. If characters had earned the trust of Costin or Bogdan, or eavesdropped on other tavern residents, they might have heard about a Tree of Experience cult, which will be described more in The Root of Knowledge, Part 3b.

Occultists in Merchant’s Rest

Merchant’s rest have a thriving occult industry. On top of merchants spinning tales and promising secret treasures if you buy their wares, there plenty of “magical” charlatans willing to spin fanciful stories for some coin. Fortunetellers, witches, and healers abound. These folk typically have little or no real power, happy to pass on fake fortunes or sell inert charms to the magically ignorant. Merchant’s Rest even has a few individuals who can offer more than tall tales.

If characters decide on their own to find out more about The Tree of Knowledge, chances are that they’ll wind up talking to a quack first. All will require coin, and if the characters haven’t gotten their money back from Bogdan, they may need to find a way to make money in order to pay for their fortune or a Tree-of-Knowledge-finding charm. As an example, we offer, Madame Vivi, Visionary and Farseer.

Madame Vivi, Visionary and Farseer

Madame Vivi is an aging lady with purple hair and fair too much makeup. She lives in a dark, rickety house filled with mysterious nick-nacks that would be clearly revealed as fake in better lighting. Vivi speaks only in a loud, projecting stage voice or a whisper. If the characters have been asking around a bunch, she may attempt to bamboozle them using rumors she’d heard about the character. “I sense you have met for a common quest. You seek knowledge, and not simply knowledge from books… something… deeper.”

Madame Vivi knows nothing about the Tree of Knowledge (she may or may not have even heard of it) before the players arrive. However, she will offer them tantalizing tidbits, usually ending in a dire warning… requiring additional coin to see clearly.

“The knowledge you seek is found to the north in dangerous woods. Something is guarding it. A wolf! Many wolves! No ordinary wolves, these will still your wits and rend you limb for limb, unless… there may be a way around… I can’t quite see. These is very exhausting work… I may need to go rest…”

Madame Vivi stands with her hand out for coin, clearing her throat. If players give her coin, she continues.

“I suppose I can press on. There is a way around the wolves. They may be distracted by fresh, raw meat. I know a good butcher around the corner, fresh cuts and reasonable prices. Lace the meat with nettlesweet, and the wolves will let you pass. I see the knowledge you seek! It is closer, but something still stands between you and your goal! Anger, so much anger. I see the spirit of the hanged man! He will curse you unless you can speak the word that will lay him to rest. I try to see this word, but he is guarding it. So powerful. If only… Ahem…”

Eventually the players will may up to these dire warnings. Zihaka may be able to make a roll with Seer (Wise) to outright tell that Vivi is a fake. The GM may also roll secretly for other characters to spot inconsistencies in her advice. Luminitza, for example, may be able to roll Creator (Wise) + Herbalism to discern that nettlesweet actually tends to enrage animals rather than placate them. If worst comes to worse, players will follow her advice and see for themselves that Vivi is a fake.

Vivi Stats

Training

  • Manipulator (Charming) +2
  • Manipulator (Smart) +1
  • Seer (Charming) +1
  • Seer (Smart) -1
  • Strong (Soldier) -1

Specialties

  • Reading people +3
  • Occult language +1
  • Occult lore -1

 

Legitimate Sources of Knowledge

Two individuals stand out as sources for knowledge about the Tree of Knowledge. One is Pulocta, who maintains a library sponsored by The Righteous Path. The other is a local lorist, Danel, who was touched by an owl spirit and has a particular interest in the Tree of Knowledge.

Pulocta, Librarian

The library is maintained by Pulocta, who follows the virtue of Knowledge (as a sub-set of the prime virtue of Judgment). Pulocta who won’t let any known zani-atins into the library; she’s already rejected Danel several times. Pulocta believes that zani-atins individuals are possessed because their powers are manifestation of something else’s virtues, and not their own. If any of the party are spirit-touched, they will have to wait outside, as well. However, she has no magical powers and no means of detecting any zani-atins, so unless they are actively using powers, suffering tox, or openly admit to being spirit-touched, zani-atins characters may enter the library.

Pulocta can help players find information on the Irewood: where the Iretree is most likely to be found, the fact that darkness wolves didn’t appear until after the Iretree did, and that there is a time that predates both the Iretree and the darkness wolves. If the players already know that the Tree of Knowledge became the Iretree, or ask for books on magical trees in general, then Pulocta can find an additional resource. One book of folktales has a story about something called the giving tree (that gives scrolls in response to gifts) that becomes the taking tree after one person steals from it.

Pulocta Stats

Training

  • Seer (Smart) +4
  • Seer (Wise) +1
  • Creator (Smart) +2
  • Seer (Charming) -1

Specialties

  • Library science +4
  • Local History +3
  • Righteous Path Lore +2
  • Etiquette -1

Danel, Spirit-touched Lorist

Danel is one of the few local Zani-atins. He was touched by an owl spirit and suffers from an obsessive desire to hoard knowledge… and knowledge about trees particularly appeals to him.  He can tell the players that the Iretree was once the Tree of Knowledge. He’ll mention that there was some kind of ritual associated with the tree, but he hasn’t be able to find it. He wonders if there might be more information in the library, but Pulocta won’t let him in.

To learn more, characters can either visit the library themselves and find the book of folk tales, or provide a distraction while Danel enters the library to search. After the book of folktales is found, Danel can add an old saying that is actually about the ritual of receiving knowledge from the Tree:

Feed the root of knowledge with a token of your essence, watch the fruit of inspiration grow in luminescence.

Danel can then explain that the Tree of Knowledge required seekers of knowledge to give the tree some evidence of self understanding and soul searching before growing a scroll that would blossom into a personal revelation. At some point, a person must have stolen someone else’s scroll and angered the tree, leading it to become the Iretree. Players can either

  • Attempt the old ritual, providing the tree with evidence of soul searching, and hope that the tree will at least momentarily forget its Ire
  • Attempt to find and return the stolen knowledge, placating the tree and demonstrating their heroic essence.

Training

  • Seer (Wise) +3
  • Seer (Smart) +2
  • Traveler (Smart) +2
  • Seer (Charming) -2

Specialties

  • Isladjan Spirits +3
  • Storytelling +2

Gifts

  • Sense 3 “Truth telling” +3

Tox

  • Fatigue “Owlish Insomnia”

Stay Tuned for More on the Tree of Experience

Of course, the librarian and Danel aren’t the only ones who know about the Tree of Knowledge and the ritual. In fact, the Tree of Experience knows even more… if the players can find the cult. More on the Tree of Experience next week.

 

Tox Fantasy Adventure: The Root of Knowledge, Part II – Merchant’s Rest

In the spirit of not prepping plots, we’ll proceed fleshing out our Isladja adventure by describing some of the locations and people that players might run into as they search for the Tree of Knowledge. We’ll continue building out sections of Merchant’s Rest and the Irewood in future post. When we collect this material into official adventures, we’ll create a few different version. We’ll create a highly-structured, single track plot for new RPGers, along with a decentralized scenario with lots of information for experience GMs.

Merchant’s Rest: A Mandatory Tourist Stop

Merchant’s Rest is in a strange position as a town. It is the largest, safest stop for some distance along an important trade route, but otherwise has little value to offer. MR lies in the middle of a forest, with no river to power mills or facilitate speedy travel and no hills or mountains to mine. The dangers of the Irewood (the woods around Merchant’s rest, especially to the north) prevent extensive farming, logging, or hunting in the area. In essence, the Iretree prevents MR from utilizing its only natural resource: trees.

However, the dangers of the woods have also been a boon to the town. Because the woods are dark and treacherous, travelers are eager to seek the city’s safety. The hospitality industry (inns and taverns) thrives, as does the market due to the trade route. Secondary industries, such as bards and other entertainers have grown up around the inns. The city does boast some of the best hunters and trackers in Isladja, largely because darkness wolves make short work of novice, clumsy, or careless woodsmen.

Lastly, the city has quite a bit of would-be occultists. While it lacks the distinguished institutions of Fair Winds (The Righteous Path) or Irqar (The Seeming), it has quite a diversity of sorcerers, including Wyrdlings from the south as well. Of course, a number of charlatans and soothsayers have also been attracted to Merchant’s Rest, trying to profit off of the fears of travelers.

Something Sinister Seething in Merchants Rest

The townsfolk have suffered a large spate of recent tragedies: family members disappearing, houses or livelihoods burning down, etc. The rumors are that some shadowy group called the Tree of Experience is behind this, although no one seems to know more than the fact that they exist and seem to be causing (some) of the trouble around the town. The name should catch their attention, as the Tree of Experience and the Tree of Knolwedge seem to be related. However, since most townsfolk have not heard of the Tree of Knowledge (it’s a little obscure lore), and know next to nothing about the Tree of Experience, they won’t be able to comment on the relationship.

Staying in Merchant’s Rest: The Mangy Hound Tavern & Inn

While MR boasts a variety of inns, from the rich establishment that house traveling nobles and wealthy merchants to seedy dive bars, players will only be able to afford the cheapest accommodations after being fleeced out of their money by Bogdan. When the players return to the town, they will be exhausted and the market will be closed. Perhaps one of the players knows the cheapest joint in the city, or perhaps they have to ask someone. Either way, a good destination for them is the Mangy Hound Inn and Tavern.

The Mangy Hound was originally a tavern, known for its ever-changing collection of local moonshines rather than the typical beers and ales. Because these strong, cheap drinks have the tendency to make the clientele pass out, they added rooms where they could throw collapsed drunks… and charge them in the morning for the night’s use.

If players arrive early in the evening, the Mangy Hound will be lively. They might get a chance to carouse, and even a chance to meet Costin (the captain of the guard) as he breaks up a fight. Costin will be suspicious of their motives for being in town, and especially if they talk about the Tree of Knowledge, urge them to forget such non-sense immediately. He’ll site a large number of sooth sayers, but if pressed he can point players to some more legitimate lorists and librarians who can provide more accurate until. If characters are especially good at earning his trust, he discuss looking for the Tree of Experience.

If players arrive later in the evening, the Mangy Hound will have some patrons (as it does until the very early hours of morning), but conversation will be subdued. Characters may have a chance to overhear a local complaining about a personal tragedy and blaming it on the Tree of Experience.

Finding Bogdan: The Merchant’s Rest Marketplace

The marketplace is a hodgepodge of permanent builds and stalls or booths that change every day. Bogdan is in one of the latter, despite being a permanent resident of MR, so he is difficult to track down.  As it turned out, the players had each bought something worthless from Bogdan (you can ask each player what they would have bought) at an exorbitant price with the understanding that they were really paying for the intel on the the Tree of Knowledge. This is a fairly common tactic around MR. Because marks are paying for a physical good (and not information directly), merchants can “sell” false information without actually running afoul of the guilds or the guards. There’s a very good chance that the characters want to address Bogdan themselves, either to see if they can pry some better intel out of him or at least get their money back.

If you’d like, as host, you can roleplay characters haggling with merchants to find Bogdan, or simply narrate how long it takes them to find him. Alternatively, you could have the roll to search for Bogdan, using Traveler (Smart)… with a failure meaning they don’t run into Bogdan that day. They may choose the scrap the search altogether and find another, more reliable means of information. Or they may decide to keep searching the next day.

Bodgan himself is a rotund, mustachio’d merchant with cheap, worn, spangly clothes and cheap, worn, spangly trinkets. He thrives mostly on rumors. If confronted about the bad information, he will initially shrug it off claiming to only pass on what he has heard. If pressed about the money, his initial stance will be that he gave them something for their money, so it was a fair trade.

However, something is off about Bogdan. He seems a little nervous. Players can either attempt to scare him (more than he is already), or attempt to soothe him and earn his confidence to find out that he had been sharing a rumor about the Iretree once being the Tree of Knowledge. A hooded figure stopped him on the street last week, and threatened Bogdan’s life if he didn’t instead pass on some disinformation. Players can either track down this person’s description or follow Bogdan to learn more about the Tree of Experience.

 

Quick update: Reworking Isladja Story Structure

A couple weeks ago, we posted the initial scene of our Isladja fantasy adventure. We thought it did a good job setting up a quest (finding the Tree of Knowledge) in a fun way that let characters introduce themselves and avoided cliches like getting a quest from an employer at the Tavern.

When we started to write the second scene, we realized that we had a major decision to work through. Should The Tree of Knowledge be a straight-forward, single-path adventure designed to be easy to run and play (but not allow much room for deviation from the plot)? Or, should it be designed for more seasoned GMs, as Justin Alexander advocated in Don’t Prep Plots. This second approach would include characters, locations, and situations… but it would not specify order and would allow for a lot more player freedom. This second approach, however, is less structured than the first and may be more difficult to run for a new group of gamers than a linear, very structured story with careful bumpers to prevent players from popping off onto tangents.

Preference on which approach you would like? Comment here, on Facebook, or Twitter.

Tox Fantasy Adventure: The Root of Knowledge, Part I

A Mysterious Tree

This is Part I of a fantasy adventure for Tox RPG. It is set in Isladja, and designed for premade characters Istvan, Luminitza,  Stanteen, and Zihaka. You can use this adventure with custom characters, but hosts and players should ensure that any characters in the game have a motivation to seek out the Tree of Knowledge. Where the adventure gives specific advice for the premade characters, you can adapt the situation for custom characters.

Scene 1: A “Chance” Meeting

Players, one at a time, arrive at a clearing deep in the Irewood as the Autumn sun is setting. Gnarled trees fight for the dying sunlight, and the ground is thick and soft with decomposing leaves. The clearing has a small hillock with an old, mushroomed stump. You can introduce the setting in a few ways:

  • Easy: Describe the setting to all players at once, telling the players that they have all come seeking the Tree of Knowledge. It was supposed to be in this clearing, according to a merchant named Bogdan. Each player paid good money (or traded hard work) for the information. The players do not know each other.
  • Dramatic: Give each player a piece of paper describing how they are looking for the Tree of Knowledge. A merchant named Bogdam pointed them in them toward this clearing, after taking their money. Players won’t know at the beginning that they all are looking for the same. Describe the clearing to the first player to arrive, then slowly introduce new players as they stumble upon the clearing.

If you opt for the dramtic introduction and you’re using the premade characters, you might introduce them in this order. Stanteen is the first to arrive in the clearing, accidently stepping into a rope trap at the edge of the clearing. He winds upside down, for the next player to find. Lumintza arrives next, finding Stanteen. They investigate the stump, and may not notice Istvan, who spies them before entering the clearing. Istvan may choose to enter or wait, either way Zihaka arrives.

Obstacles

Players have a few obstacles to overcome in the first scene, but most involve introducing themselves, realizing they are seeking the same thing, and deciding whether to work together. For experienced players, you can probably let them do most of the work. With new players, you might encourage them to think about how their characters would respond to stranger, and whether they need help. Here are a few pointers for guiding players.

  • Some characters may be reluctant to share their purposes (Istvan and Zihaka in particular being less personable), but you might encourage more outgoing or trusting characters to be open about their goals.
  • If the characters are slow to decide on a course of action, or to trust eachother, they might hear the howls of wolves. Let them know that the Irewood is full of darkness wolves that steal mens’ senses and other more sinister monsters. Wolves are much more likely to prey upon lone individuals than groups.

Each character also has individual motivations to join up with others, especially if they learn that the others are sorcerers too. Each character also has unique skills to offer. You if the characters run into dead ends, you might prompt individuals by pointing out the following:

  • Istvan – Does not hide his abilities, is used to being seen as different. Will want to find an excuse to keep the company of players who do not seem intimidated by his special abilities, especially if he realizes they are equals and have powers of their own. Can offer help searching the woods and protection from danger.
  • Luminitza – May be hesitant to show her abilities (especially to a fellow Northerner like Istvan), but very curious about the abilities of others. Can offer her knowledge of forests and botany, and healing abilities. Perhaps she’ll even hint that she can make herbal mixtures with other helpful properties.
  • Stanteen – May be a little tricky, as he will attempt to not care about anything. However, you might suggest that being found my this group of people at the same time is a sign from the universe. Can offer the ability to renegotiate with Bogdan, although his powers would be hard to describe. Maybe he could offer them “luck.”
  • Zihaka – Is openly a follower of Il Athwah. Either of the Northerners (Istvan and Luminitza) may or may not be suspicious of her. However, she might benefit from having native companions, as people might not speak as openly to a foreigner. Zihaka also has a lot to offer; she has the most knowledge of things supernatural. She can assure the others that the Tree of Knowledge is old lore and not made up by Bogdan. She might also have information about darkness wolves. Lastly, she can offer her services both in fighting and first aid.

Outcomes

Players may make any number of choices, but the most likely are:

  1. Examining the clearing at length
  2. Continue searching for the Tree of Knowledge in the area
  3. Returning immediately to the village to confront Bogdan

Option 1: The current clearing has no obvious special properties except some useful herbs for Luminitza, clearing the way for this character to introduce her skills set (and special abilities, if her player decides to trust the others). However, if players spend a long time in the clearing, darkness may fall and they may encounter darkness wolves (or another creature of your own devising).

If the players take special precautions (such as banding together, lighting torches to frighten off beasts), you may decide they can return safely back to the town; this may be a preferable if the party has no fighters (like Istvan or Zihaka).

Option 2: The Tree of Knowledge is nowhere in the immediate area, although the search may provide opportunities for Istvan to show off his Tracking skill, or Luminitza to show off her Forestry skill.

Option 3: Characters may hear the howl of wolves on the way home, but otherwise proceed safely to the next scene.

More Scenes to Come

We will post more scenes in following weeks, including finding and dealing with Bogdan, tracking down the Tree of Knowledge, and encounters with the minions of the Ire Tree.

NPCs for Isladja: Quick and Dirty or Custom

darkness-wolf

Tox RPG is streamlined to allow for great flexibility: you can create a simple, mundane NPC in moments, or customize them deeply for important or recurring characters. For our Isladja adventures, we’ll start with some basic NPCs and move on to a few NPCs that characters will encounter. Warning: later NPCs are spoilers for characters. Don’t read past GM Only section if you don’t want the adventure spoiled!

Guards and Goons: Quick NPCs

In order to figure out what kind of modifiers a character should have, we created these loose guidelines:

  • Hobbyist: total talent & skill modifier of 1-2
  • Talented Amateur: total talent & skill modifier of 3-4
  • Professional: total talent & skill modifier of 5-6
  • Accomplished professional: total talent & skill modifier of 7-8
  • Master: total talent & skill modifier of 9-10

For your average, non-gift joe, you’ll be looking at a total talent & skill modifier of 5 for their primary skill, and a smattering lower modifiers. Lets use city guard of Merchant’s Rest as an example.

City Guard (Melee): 16 points

Trainings

  • Soldier (Strong) +2
  • Soldier (Deft) +1

Skills

  • Sword +3
  • Bow +1
  • Law +2

The guard’s main skill, sword fighting, is +5. They have a few other skills (Bows at +2, Law at +2). Since they have Strong Soldier, they will also have a bonus to avoid passing out when taking damage, so they’ll stay in the fight longer. We can easily switch the values to have an archer:

City Guard (Archer): 16 points

Trainings

  • Soldier (Deft) +2
  • Soldier (Strong) +1

Skills

  • Bow +3
  • Sword +1
  • Gambling +2

Now, we have a much nimbler, ranged fighter.  Instead of solving disputes or policing the streets (Law), they tend to spend a lot more time waiting, and so they have a skill for passing the time (Gambling).

In the Flesh: More Individualized NPCs (Isladja GMs only)

A simplified approach works fine a throw-away NPCs that the characters might only interact with in a couple of ways like fighting or arguing over city ordinance. However, if the characters are likely to have repeated contact or in-depth conversations, you’ll probably want to flesh out the NPCs more. An individualized NPC might have a wider variety of Talents and Skills, including some penalties, because 1) normal people aren’t good at everything and 2) you might want to think of ways an NPC is likely to win or lose to characters in a potential roll or contest.

As an example, lets take our City Guard (Melee), and expand it into Catalin, captain of the guard.

Catalin, Captain of Merchant’s Rest Guard: 30 points.

In a city that cared only for martial ability, Catalin might be captain of the guard because of superior swordsmanship… and perhaps he once was one of the best, but now he spends quite a bit more time with administration than fighting. So he doesn’t have much higher abilities than a regular guard, he has more of them.

Trainings

  • Soldier (Strong) +3
  • Soldier (Deft) +2
  • Soldier (Charming) +2
  • Manipulator (Charming) -2
  • Creator (Charming) -1

Skills

  • Sword +3
  • Law +3
  • Politics +3
  • Streetwise +2
  • Tactics +2
  • Tracking +2
  • Bow +1
  • Gambling -2

Catalin is slightly better with the sword than your average guard (+6), although perhaps he used to be better. He’s better with the bow than your average, melee guard (+3), but not as good as a typical archer (+5). He’s also a little keener on the finer points of law, although he’s no lawyer.  The bulk of his extra points, however, are in areas that help him keep Merchant’s Rest and the area around it running and safe. He knows the politics enough to get the property funding for the guards, he knows a little streetwise for dealing with criminal elements. He also knows a little tactics and tracking for the rare times when he needs to martial groups of the guard outside the city to track down some menace. He also has a lot of natural talent for leadership (+3).

Mixed in with his additional strengths are some weakness that suggest ways characters might get the better of Catalin—if it comes to that. He’s not good at word games or persuasion with Manipulator (Charming) -2, or Gambling -2. Catalin’s smart enough to know he’s not good when it comes to manipulation, so he takes care to avoid either persuasion or gambling, resorting intimidation with Soldier (Charming) or political knowledge to see him through. If the characters do find a creative way to maneuver Catalin into a gamble that involves bluffing, the results could be catastrophic for him (-4).

Also, he is not much of a poet or artist with Creator (Charming) -1,  for the same reasons he’s not very good at artfully choosing his words. That might seem irrelevant; except that Catalin would trade help with a love letter for a small favor, should the players discover this need.

Gifted NPCs (Isladja GMs Only)

The Training and Skills system is fast, straight forward and allows for surprisingly complex characters, like Catalin, who lacks natural talent for manipulating people but who can compensate in some situations by using his political skill or substitute his imposing soldier’s charisma. Gifts are even more powerful in customizing unique characters.

The easiest way to created a powered NPC is to simply glance down the list of NPC gifts and find the mechanic you like the most (“Blasting people from far away, sounds great!”). Then add a theme for your character, and select a max power and skill. Done.

However, we prefer to focus on character concept—plus starting with an idea for a gifted NPC and then selecting the appropriate mechanic will allow us to show off Tox’s customization a little better. We’ll use a common monster around Merchant’s rest as an example.

Darkness Wolves

Darkness wolves are a magical beast found in the Irewood that steals your senses. Darkness wolves are typically encountered as the alpha of a mundane wolf pack (as they will fight to the death to be Alphas if there are more than one in a pack). Darkness Wolves are named after the wolves that steal your sight, but there are wolves that steal other senses. Ones that steal touch and hearing can also be very dangerous. Darkness wolves that steal smell or taste typically avoid humans and other prey less reliant on those sense.

Stealing someone’s senses as a gift, could be modeled with several different mechanics, depending on the exact effect your looking for.

  • Illusion is one of the first options you might think of, for it is used to deceive or alter the senses. Technically, in this case, the wolves are not stealing the sense but creating the illusion of no stimulus. If the players fell under this gift, the host would likely assess a penalty for any task using the affected sense.
  • Enhance is another option, because, depending on the theme, it can reduce trainings as well as increase them. Most awareness/notice checks are (Smart) trainings, so the wolves could have a gift that lowers trainings related to the senses, especially Smart. This is a little simpler than using Illusion, since the host doesn’t have to add modifiers to rolls on a case-by-case basis. However, a lack of sight will affect more than awareness checks so you’ll have to get creative about what Trainings you penalize.
  • Stun is a third option for such a gift. In this way, the wolves would act like flash-bang grenade: knocking out your senses with such a blast as to cause you to simply lose turns. This is a simple approach that, for better and worse, would just treat any sensory loss the same.

We’ll go with Illusion, because it seems the closest to our original intent… although we could have used any option.

Any character (even NPCs) with a gift should also have a tox type and theme.  A host could omit this for throw-away monsters, assuming that character won’t have time to discover it or trigger it… but you never know what characters will do, so it pays to include it. Since the Darkness wolves are denizens of the Irewood, and anger theme seems appropriate. They’ll have the tox Psyche “Berzerk attack on prey.”

While “Berzerk” may not seem like much of a weakness for our wolves, attacking their affected target will prevent them from stealing the whole party’s senses at once before it attacks them. Also, it will leave darkness wolves open to attack by others. This is a good example of how adding tox to gifted characters helps enrich the story. The characters could treat a fight like a simple hack-and-slash… but the existing of a tox effect will reward characters who research, problem solve, and strategize about how to best defeat opponents.

Darkness Wolf Stats

Trainings

  • Soldier (Strong) +4
  • Soldier (Deft) +2
  • Traveler (Strong) +4

Skills

  • Bite +3
  • Tracking +5

Gifts

  • Illusion 3 “Steal sight” +3

Tox

  • Psyche “Berzerk attack on sensory-deprived prey”

 

 

RPG Setting: Isladja Player Characters

Here are four example player characters for our Tox fantasy setting, Isladja. These characters represent a variety of cultures and magic systems in Isladja. Our Isladja story (to be published in two weeks), is designed for them. Here are editable Tox  character sheets with their information:

  • Luminitza – An ambitious, conflicted herbalist from the northern Isladjan villages who came to follow Elivid (the Righteous Path), which is taboo in her home country. Her chosen path or virtue is Passion, which she uses to infuse her herbal concoctions with the power to heal and augment the human body. Using her long-sought magical abilities is exhilarating… but it also leaves her exhausted.
  • Stanteen – A rebellious heir from a wealthy, Fair Winds merchant. Fair from seeking out the Righteous Path, he wanted to rebel against it and family tradition by adopting a non-virtue for his path: apathy. Supposedly, the Elivid magics cannot be practice without a virtuous path, but Stanteen was stunned to find his path allows him to summon helpful objects and clear obstacles from his path. However, his ability shorts out when he fails to demonstrate sufficient apathy.
  • Zihaka – A mournful mercenary and ex-scholar of Il Athwah from Zaraloft. She has a particularly powerful Il Athwah speed ability, but she is only able to use it when someone around her is laughing. Using the laughter of others to fuel her powers brings bad karma, however, and results in tragedy.
  • Istvan – A wandering hunter who was blessed (or cursed) by a great cat spirit and became Zani-atins. He was a farmer’s son, before his intimidating martial and prophetic spirit powers distanced him from friends and family. His tendency to drop into a trace and give vague, dire warnings does not help him find the human connection and sense of community that he is seeking.

Character Notes

These characters use have diverse backgrounds and magics: (Elivid, Il Athwah, and Zani-atins). However, they are all wandering far from home and are at odds with their wyrds (magics), a fact that will bring them together at the start of our Isladjan story. The story will be designed for use with any combination of these characters… or you can take inspiration from them and design your own questing group of sorcerers.

Each character is 35 points. Our demo book has templates for 25 points (novice adventurers) and 50 points (seasoned adventure). We wanted to select something between the two. Also, some characters do have gift mods, but otherwise we limited them to stats in the Tox Demo. They do not include Fortunes, Misfortunes, or Equipment, which will be detailed in the full version of the Tox rule book.

To help you as game hosts or players, her are some notes on the characters (no spoilers).

luminitza

Luminitza

Luminitza is a strong support character, as her herbal-themed Path powers can boost the strength, reflexes, and sense of the whole party. Of course, the ability to use her own herbal concoctions gives her quite a bit of flexibilty to overcome obstacles herself. She is slightly inept in fighting, however, and would avoid fighting herself whenever possible.

Roleplaying & Motivation

Luminitza felt stifled in her home village. While grateful for her training as a herbalist, she felt that the world had more to offer her. Specifically, she wanted magic, and she eventually settled on the Righteous Path as the most likely road to unlocking her own magical potential. She’s fairly new to the path and has two main goals. 1) She seeks to develop her own mystical potential, and 2) she’s deciding whether to return to the north despite practicing magics that are taboo in her home county. She’s learned as much as the priests in Harvest Cove can teach her and is now exploring the rest of Isladja.

Why join with the others? Lum is unsure of exactly who she is at the moment and where she belongs. She loves her village and the Harvest Moon area… but she fears being ostracized for following the path. Other sorcerers from different places might help her explore who she is and whether she might find a better home elsewhere.

Gifts and Tox

Luminitza’s gift is unusual for a righteous pather, as most pathers only augment themselves. Luminitza has actually circumvented that limitation by augmenting her herbal skill and infusing her concoctions with supernatural potency that can be enjoyed by anyone. However, this means that she must have a ready made concoction in order to use her powers. If she lacks a pre-made powder or potion, she must gather common ingredients and make more.

The normal rules of gift activation apply to Luminitza: any enhancement requires the target to be in her line of sight and requires her to take a turn to activate her gift before she can boost anyone’s trainings.  In addition to the normal restrictions her gifts have a Required Component mod, a low level restriction with an herbal them: the target has to consume or apply one of Luminitza herbal creations in order for Lum to activate the gift. The player is free to declare that they prepare and distribute such concoctions in advance. Since Required Component is only Tier -1, it shouldn’t impact the story heavily or often. Perhaps once per story, the character should run out of ingredients and have to make more, or cause Lum and other players to lose precious turns hunting through their packs for the herbal concoctions.

When the gift is activated, Luminitza’s player can choose a combination of bonuses to any Deft, Smart, or Strong Training up to the activation power limit to impart to whoever imbibes the concoction. This restriction is due to the theme: physical and sensory-enhancing herbal concoctions.

Luminitza’s healing ability works the same as her enhancement gift, except that it accelerates healing for a time, instead of boosting stats.

The side effect of infusing her herbal concoctions with extra potency is exhaustion: her tox effects lower her own attributes. The host could choose to trigger tox effects immediately after someone imbibes her remedies (as if she is literally putting herself into her work), but the host could also wait from another time when Luminitza puts forth great effort or has her passions/ambitions blocked and gets frustrated. If the tox effect includes Trainings that Luminitza can buff, she can enhance herself to compensate… but she will then increase to tox level again and possibly enter an addictive cycle that could make for great story fodder later. The host can side step this ‘loop-hole’ by either choosing Charming or Wise trainings to penalize (one can also exhaust their social skills or insight), or by setting up a situation where Luminitza runs out of supplies and cannot augment herself any more.

stanteenStanteen

Stanteen is young, good with people and money, and a little bit of a clutz. His powers which involve summoning helpful objects and letting fate remove obstacles from his path are very flexible. His theme of apathy, however does make him a unique challenge for a player. Stanteen can act on pure logic, or he can follow what he interprets as signs from the powers that be, but any time he shows too much attachment, concern, care, desire, or anger, he risks losing his powers.

Roleplaying and Motivation

Stanteen is by no means actually free from desires and truly apathetic. He is thrilled to have recently discovered powers that are his own, not granted by his parents with strings attached. He is also afraid his parents will attempt to control his powers should they ever find out, so he simply decided to run. He finds that his powers disappear when he tries to plan ahead (because its hard to do so without forming an attachment to the plan), so he instead has attempted several methods to maintain a certain level of apathy: doing the first thing that he pops up into his head, accepting the will of the universe as revealed by coincidences, or following the directions of other people without heaving thinking. He can act on logic, but thinking is risky as it frequently sparks emotion.

Why join with the others? From a purely logical standpoint, it’s helpful to have friends with powers if yours short out. Also, its easier to remain apathetic when following someone else’s instructions as opposed to making ones own decisions. However, he is most likely going to bond with the group if he meets them in an unusual coincidence that appears to be a sign from the universe that he should follow them.

Gifts and Tox

Stan’s powers work primarily when he adopts a course of action without too much thought, preparation, or attachment. This makes him a great scout, except the part where he’s a klutz and has a hard time sneaking. As with any character, Stan’s player will have to declare an activation power (for summoning, his travel power only has 1 level) and take a turn to activate the gift (maybe this involves meditation and clearly his head, or simply distracting himself from caring with something else). However, is themes prevent him from actually declaring a particular result, as he relies on the universe to provide. Instead, Stan will declare the type of problem he’s trying to solve and the Host will provide the most effect: introduction of a helpful item in the case of summoning, the removal of a small obstacles in the case of Traveling.

Summoning is a little bit of a tricky gift. Each higher power level allows for the Stan to summon an object, bigger, rarer, or more powerful (1 for small, inexpensive, everyday items; 2 for something might require two hans or have some small value, 3 for large or unusual items). By default, these items don’t instantly appear; the appear in the time it would naturally take for them to reach Stan. These means that items reach faster in the city (where there are lots of nearby items to be coincidentally found in trash, fall off wagons, put on display in a shop, etc), and they reach him very slowly in the middle of the forest. However, the summoning can be sped up by activating at higher levels than you need. Use 1 higher activation power to expedite the object, and 2 higher activation power to make the object appear, miraculously in Stan’s hand. For example, activation his gift a power 1 means that some small object of negligible value will as soon as circumstances could coincidentally drop it at Stans feet. However, Stan could activate at power 2, and have a small object of negligible value expedited.  The object still has to travel to Stan somehow, but circumstances conspire to deliver it with uncommon speed. Lastly, stand could activate at power 3, and have a small object of negligible value magically appear on his person, without the need to be carried or transported coincidentally.

Travel allows Stan a small bonus for traveling under tricky circumstances. When climbing, he will find the good handholds; which running through the streets, people will get out of his way just a little quicker. A trained climber or running will still generally beat him, but he does slightly better than the average joe. And it’s not to do skill or practice.

Stan’s tox type is Mana meaning is powers short out. Specifically, his theme involves them shorting out when he becomes attached or involved. For hosts, we’d recommend not shorting out Stan’s powers every time he does something that could be construed as being emotional. Instead look for outburts of relatively passionate words or actions. Unless the player is spamming Stan’s abilities, make sure not to trigger Tox effects more than you trigger tox effects for other characters.

zihakaZihaka

Zihaka was a friendly Il Athwah scholar with a smiling mask and an ability for speed that helped in her travels. However, when tragedy befell her village, she lost her ability smile. Since the seeming she used for magic was smiling and laughing, she lost control of powers. She can still use them, but only when other people laugh. This character has both deep knowledge about the supernatural and skill with knives (both melee and throwing).

Roleplaying and Motivation

Zihaka lost a lot when her village was burned to the ground. She still hasn’t recovered and can’t stand to return to her home region because it reminds her of the pain. The fact that she can’t directly control her powers is insult to injury. She’s motivated to figure out how to regain control of them, although learning to laugh again will be very, very difficult… and will probably require the help of friends she trusts.

Why join with the others? Maybe this group of lost souls, like her, can help her regain her seeming. Also, she may be attracted to their need: no one has needed her guidance since her village was destroyed.

Gifts and Tox

Like Luminitza, Zihaka has a Required Component: she must wear her mask to speed herself up. This should be easy most of the time, but once per story the host might orchestrate situations in which the mask is not easily available or its use in public is awkward. The real challenge for Zihaka’s speed is the mod Uncontrolled: she requires someone else’s genuine laughter to use her gift. When there is genuine laughter around her, she can roll to activate her Speed. She has few different strategies for getting this laughter. First, in a city, she can visit a place where she is likely to her laughter (like a square with playing children during the day, or a tavern in the evening)… and hope the speed lasts long enough to take her where she needs to go. Second, she can try to get someone around her to laugh (difficult during a fight… but possible if a fight has not yet broken out). This last is tricky. Due to her low Creator (Charming) she’s bad at all forms of art / using words to get an emotional response, so she’s got a penalty for simply telling jokes.

Once activated, her Speed allows her to cover more ground, get a bonus to dodging, and take extra actions.

Her tox type is Karma which introduces story obstacles (rather than have some mechanical, numeric change). Specifically, since she’s at odds with her forming seeming of happiness, her Karma introduces tragedies that will keep her off balance or depressed.

istvanIstvan

Istvan is a fairly simple young man. He loved being a farmer and the company of friends, until he became spirit-touched. He found that his abilities intimidated others, making personal connection difficult, and the cat-spirit wanderlust he feels prevents him from staying in one place and putting down routes. He is a solid melee fighter, thanks to cat powers, and also has a limited ability to see the future.

Roleplaying and Motivation

For the moment, Istvan mostly just subsists and worries about the day to day job of hunting. He enjoys the focus he feels during a hunt. That focus takes his mind off of the conflict between his former identity that enjoyed friendship and being rooted in one place and his new identity that includes the personality of a solitary, wandering cat.

Why join with the others? He’ll be happy to have interactions with people who won’t be as intimidated or afraid of him as mundane folk. Also, if the group travels, it may provide the balance between having a community and needing to travel that has proven elusive so far.

Gifts and Tox

Istvan’s Melee and Toughness gifts are pretty straight forward. His strength makes him hit faster and harder, while his enhance reflexes help him avoid or reduce damage.

Prophecy is a more nuanced gift for Istvan. The spirit that touched him was a cat spirit, roughly similar to breed of large, black wild cat in Isladja that is known for being spotted when there’s a big change in the weather or seasons. Istvan has received some of their prescience. However, his ability to see the future only applies to large scale trends (like weather and seasons). Istvan can’t get any answers about the actions or fates of individuals.

Istvan’s tox type is Psyche, specifically a compulsion to give vague, dire prophecies. Low level tox effects might look like simply odd or off puting remarks, Since his gifts are all fairly low level (2), his tox effects are likely low-power, and typically only have the effect of confusing or annoying those who don’t know him. This prophecy compulsion can also be an obstacle when Istvan must stay silent. He hates it when he feels compelled to shout out a dire warning while hunting. It scares the game away.

Tox Fantasy Setting: Isladja

A map of the fantasy country, Isladja.

Isladja is a forgotten country in the shadow of a dark age. Sheltered by mountains north and south, desert in the west and sea in the east, Isladja appears to be a refuge in chaotic times. Nothing can protect it, however, from the ghosts of an empire buried in Isladja’s own soil.

Isladja is a fantasy setting for Tox RPG, loosely inspired by a country dear to my heart: Romania. Like Romania, it was the outer reaches of a vast empire that collapsed, leaving it without the skilled labor and resources to maintain the country it once was. Isladja is also a fusion of cultures, blending histories, languages, and magics from two great empires as well as smaller neighbors to the south.

Magic in the world of Isladja is called the Wyrd. The Wyrd and its side-effects are revolve around themes of personal identity. How the wielder’s identity influences the world through magic depends on the the culture and personality of the individual. Some align their identity with an ideal until that ideal begins to change them and their environment. Others are touched by spirits, becoming an avatar of that spirit and taking on aspects of its nature—whether willing or not. Some alter their identity temporarily with masks to become more powerful. A few, reviled sorcerers steal the bones of powerful individuals to assume their traits and powers.

The following post contains Isladja’s history, magic, and geography.

A Dark Age

Isladja was once the border between two large empires. Most of Isladja was the western-most holding of an island empire called Ilid, bordering on a desert empire named Zaraloft that stretched to Irqar. The island empire collapsed, and in its wake, chaos reigned for a time. Isladjans refer to this time as the Calamities. Cities and roads fell apart without money or trained craftsman from Ilid. Strange plagues ravaged the larger towns. An earthquake reshaped the center of the country. The earthquake sunk the middle of the country, splitting one of Isladja’s largest rivers and creating a swamp.

During the Calamities, the Zaraloft withdrew into the desert, leaving Irqar behind.

Rebuilding

Slowly people rebuilt a portion of the county. Where they could, they left the old cities behind to crumble and created new villages. Harvest Moon, Merchant’s Rest, Haven Cove, all have ‘shadows’: ruined cities nearby that their ancestors abandoned.  These cities lack the elaborate stone and concrete architecture and infrastructure of the Ilid empire, mostly built with wooden huts and thatched roofs, although Merchant’s Rest & Haven cove do have a simple stone keep. Mossy Shores appears to be a new town as well, and everyone seems to remember that there was an Ilid city nearby… but no one knows where the ruins are.

Mills and Fair Winds are the only Ilid cities still populated. They have been renamed, because the old names are considered ill omens. However, neither shed it’s name entirely. The superstitious whisper Fair Winds original, Ilid name: Darasiv. More skeptical residents of Fair Winds itself may eschew superstition and boldly refer to their town as Darasiv, and themselves as Darasivians. In contrast, the pragmatic Millers have more uniformly adopted their “new” name… although their new name is simply the Isladjan translation of the Ilid name for the town.

Irqar retains is Zaraloftian name, much of its culture, and its demographics. Loss of Zaraloft resources and personnel was the only Calamity it suffered.

Isladja Now

Generations and generations have past. The oldest elders vaguely remember stories they heard as toddlers from their great, great grandfathers who actually lived through the calamities. Such stories are now highly exagerated and distorted. Information is precious, as books are rare and most of the population are illiterate farmers or trademen.  The histories, philosophies, sciences, and arcane texts left behind by Ilid are moldering in ruins or in the hands of rich collectors, as are the occassional imported Zaraloftian tome. Much of Isladjan culture is shaped by oral tradition and folk superstitution.

The language of Isladja itself is a fusion. Ilid was the official language for a long time, stamping out the native dialect. However, Isladjans borrowed many Zaraloftian words and concepts. After the collapse, a few almost-extinct native Isladjan words and grammar patterns crept into the language as well.

Striking cultural differences divide the rich of Isladja and the rest. The rich communicate with other countries, occassionally traveling themselves. Many of the wealthy or educated classes are, in fact, foreigners and not native Isladjans themselves. They have access to some knowledge from greater epochs, and they view the mysteries of the past as a secret for personal gain, protection from invading countries, or a means of founding a new empire. They sometimes employ treasure hunters or adventures to raid the ruins of Ilid and other Wyrd sites.

The majority of the population lives season to season, in the same small villages that bore their parents and grandparents. They are distrustful of the Wyrd in general (although they sometimes encourage low-level supernatural ‘knacks’ that they falsely view as separate from the Wyrd). They are even more distrustful of anything Ilid or Zaraloftian. Only the most desperate, adventurous, or ambitious of this class will explore Ilid ruins or seek out by themselves or accept pay from wealthy patrons to do so. Such are typically viewed as suspect.

The farmers and tradesman attached to larger towns labeld in the map above may be slightly less superstitious or xenophobic, but they have much more in common with villagers in terms of education, wealth, culture, and sympathy than they have with the wealthy that live among them.

Magic of Isladja: They Wyrd

The Wyrd is a word borrowed from Isladja’s neighbors to the south, and originally referred specifically to their own brand of magic “The Way.” Isladjan’s more frequently use the Wyrd to refer to any path of magic.  Regardless of culture, there are a few commonalities between the branches of magic.

  1. All magic stems from a sense of identity. That identity may be one’s own personality refined, or it may be an external identity adopted or thrust upon an individual. The strength and integrity of that identity is what alters to the wielder of magic and the world around them.
  2. No human personality is perfect. The flaws in an identity used to channel magic transform the weilder of magic as much as the identity’s strengths do. Even spirits that manifest in the human world cause strange side effects, as their pure identity ripples through our muddy fabric of reality and warps.

Elivid: The Righteous Path

The Righteous Path (Elivid) is both the official religion of the Ilid empire and a brand of magic. The core belief of Elivid is that the universe works by the power of certain principles or virtues. When someone aligns themselves with  a virtue, the virtuous principle is able to change the practicioner… and through the practicioner, the world. Someone aligns themselves with their virtue (or Righteous Path) by embodying the virtue in thought, word, and deed, as well as by removing from their thoughts, words, and deeds any items that contradict said principle.

The most purest, most powerful virutes in the Righteous Path are thought to be Discipline, Honor, Judgement, Passion, and Genius. However, not all people are able to embody such lofty virtues as these, however, and people are allowed to choose other virtuous ideals that are viewed as lesser or mixed versions of those five, pure ideals. Most practioners, however, do not succeed in embodying any principle enough to acheive magic results.

Priests of the Righteous Path vehemently deny it, but one does not need to embody a virtue to win power. Even ambiguous or negative traits can be lived so thoroughly that the leave their mark on the practicioner or the world.

No props or items are necessary in the use of the Righteous Path, although individuals sometimes adopt a symbol or reminder of their principle that can become a channel for their power (or a crutch for their abilities).

The magic of The Righteous Path tends to focus on augmenting the practicioner herself: enhanced senses, physical prowess, insight, combat ability, etc. Powers directly affecting others, and powers involving deception, and powers involving transformations are rare. Once a practicioner is so bonded to a virtue that they can gain power from it, they tend to lose power if they contradict the principle. The integrity of their bodies or minds weakens along with the integrity of their character, causing them to weaken, lose access to their powers, or even to take bodily injury.

Elivid is the most widespread form of magic in Isladja, but it is especially strong in Fair Winds and Mills.

Il Athwah: The Seeming

Il Athwah is the primary form of magic among Zaraloftians. Unlike Elivid in Ilid, it does not enjoy any official or centralized support. The core principle of Il Athwah is that the world responds not to your innerself (which is inaccessible to the world), but to your seeming: the you that you project. There is a relationship between the inner self and seeming: aspects of your inner-self you may not be aware of or in control of escape into your seeming. However, you have some conscious control over your seeming, allowing you to alter it. The more control you have over your seeming (either by aligning it with your inner self, or by cleverly manipulating it in opposition to your inner self), the more likely you are to work magic. The face and the eyes are viewed as the primary vehicles of one’s seeming.

Almost all practicioners of Il Athwah use a mask when attempting forms of magic, and sometimes during non-magical practices like meditation. Rumors exist of powerful sorcerors with so much control over their own face, their face can become a mask—they can completely change their seeming at will. Some groups belief that special concoctions can alter ones seemings, the way alchohol can alter one’s personality, but these can have dangerous side effects.

The magic of Il Athwah is very flexible. Some branches of Il Athwah, like the Righteous Path, focus on augmenting the magic user. However, other branches focus on affecting the world around the user by altering ones seeming. Unlike Elivid, Il Athwah is especially good at deceptive or transformative magics. The limitations of Il Athwah tend to be a dependance on external items (masks), and the psychological disconnect between one’s seeming and one’s inner self. This disconnect can cause madness, and some people believe that if one deceives the world by altering one’s seeming, the world will retaliate and turn against the magic user. Such beliefs are nebulous, but they have their strong devotees.

Il Athwah is most prevalent in Irqar, but practicioners of it stretch across the southern trade route to Fair Winds and beyond.

Zani-Atins: The Spirit Touched

Zani-Atins means “spirit touched” in native Isladjan. It refers not to a practice of a magic, but to a class of people who have become magical through contact with Zani, Isladjan spirits. The nature of these spirits varies widely, but they all have a few things in common. None of them have ever been witnessed to attempt any form of human communication. Some are silent, some shout unintelligible sounds. All seem to embody some theme from the natural world. There are stories about a bird Zani who flies, can see distant places, and can change the weather. Other stories involve a Zani of sleep who either heals the sick or sends them on to eternal rest. Lastly, there are no “good Zani” or “bad Zani.” All can inflict hurt or harm, and it can be difficult to decipher which they are about to do at any given moment.

There is no set pantheon of Zani only a collection of oral tradition that grows stronger the closer one is to The Veil. Some claim there are thousands of Zani. Others claim that there are only a few, but they appear in many different forms.

Those who are touched by a Zani (and survive) are said to imbued with spirit power. A portion of the Zani’s spirit inhabits them, and they gain both personality traits and powers related to the Zani that touched them. The nature of the powers varies widely, and depends on the nature of the Zani involved. These powers also come with weaknesses related to the Zani. A fire Zani-Atins, for example may become impervious to fire but then be weakened or harmed by water.

There is no concensus on when or why Zani choose their targets. Half the time, the person already seems closely aligned with the nature of the Zani… but the other half the time the choice makes no sense at all. Some claim (perhaps inspired by Il Athwah) that Zani choose those whose inner self most reflects the Zani, regardless of how the Zani Atins had appeared to others.

Zani stories are most common close to The Veil (in the villages surrounding Harvest Moon). Zani sightings are rare in Fair Winds, although a few immigrants tell the Zani stories of their native lands.

The Wyrd (Proper)

The Wyrd (proper) is the distinct form of magical practice from Ustovija to the sound of Isladja. Is relatively rare, but not unknown in Irqad or Merchant’s rest. Wyrd practicioners believe there is a way, pattern, or destiny to the natural world, including human history. One brings only misery (in the long run) by attempting to control or change fate, as Elivid or Il Athwah practicioners do. Instead of emphasizing ones identity to assert control over the world, one attempts to release one’s personality or ego. What remains is perfectly in harmony with the Wyrd and able to effortless take actions that seem impossible for those that struggle against the Wyrd.

Of course, few jump straight to complete enlightenment at once. Most learn to accept apportion of the weird, releasing those aspects of their personality that fight against it. The portions of the weird that one accepts determine ones capabilities. One who accepts the Wyrd of time may learn to slow or speed it up. One who accepts the Wyrd of the human body may strengthen it, heal it, or even harm others.  The accepts of the Wyrd that one struggles with define the side effect of Wyrd magic. One who attempts to control others (failing to accept the Wyrd of choice) will find themselves causing people to make the worst possible choices.

Mana: Bone Magic

Mana is a form of magic officially banned in Ilid. Practicioners of Mana believe that the residue of a powerful person’s identity remains in a persons bones after death. Manans, therefore, seek to collect bones so that they can channel this residue for their own purposes. The more powerful the person and the more complete the skeleton the hold, the more of that person’s identity they are able to channel.

The practice of mana is view by most as unforgivably disrepectful at best, at worst violating the spirits of ancestors and causing them torment in the afterlife.

Mana is rare anywhere, but most likely to be found in the strongholds of the old Ilid empire: Fair Winds and Mills. However, the Barrows form an irresistible temptation for Manans, so they can be encountered as far as Harvest Moon.

Cities

Fair Winds

Fair Winds is largest, most prosperous city in Isladja, and has been the capital since the beginning of Ilid occupation. Fair winds imports goods in exchange for raw lumber or ore from Mills, Zaraloftian goods from Irqar, and durable foods from the northern grasslands.

All cultures flow through Fair Winds, although Ilid culture is strongest here. Value the infrastructure and knowledge imported from Ilid during the occupation, bemoan its decline, and are heavily skeptical of stories about the curse the felled the Ilid empire. Residents assume the Calamities were either exaggerated, several different events conflated into one, or simply a coincidence. The only tragedy was the departure of Ilid resources (and the opportunity for political advancement on a much larger scale). Fair Windsors, above any others, are most likely to fund expeditions to study (rob) Ilid ruins around the country.

However, old Darasiv has its own shadows and mysteries. Collapsed or forgotten basements hold tomes of lost knowledge… or even magical items. Not every Ilid sorcerer followed the Righteous Path. Manans and stranger things still lurk in this old Ilid city.

Mills

Millers have a chip on their shoulders. They are the miners, lumberjacks, and carpenters that provide the raw materials which form the backbone of Fair Winds’ exports. Yet Fair Winds, they feel, takes the lion’s share of the profits. They are a pragmatic group of people, and not particular endearing to the rest of the country. Shortly after the collapse, when most abandoned their cursed Ilid cities and started new villages with new names, Mills remained where it was and simply translated its Ilid name back into Isladjan.

Like Fair Winds, they have ghosts from Ilid occupation left over. While they don’t ignore them, as the Fair Windsors attempt to do, they feel like the real dangers are being flattened by a tree your felling or the collapsing ceiling of a mine. There may be some curses left over in Mills from the collapse, things rising in the Bones of Astremar not far north… but the mines take men every day. And usually, it’s the falling rocks or the mine dust that takes them. Not the mine lurkers.

Sorcerers in Mills are most likely to choose whatever branch of the Wyrd suits their fancy, and adapt it as they see fit. They are more likely to use their powers in practical ways, like ensuring the safety of their goods and maneuvering Fair Winds into better trade agreements. For most Millers, adventuring in remote locations on the chance of finding treasure is too fanciful. Of course, since they never abandoned their Ilid roots, they don’t have to go far to mind abandoned mines, tunnels, and temples.

Irqar

Irqar thrives as the last watering hole before a long stretch of desert on the trade route to Zaraloft. Irqar also receives trade from southern Kingdoms. Although Merchant’s Rest is technically closer to the southern pass, travel over the grasslands to Irqar is faster and safer.

Like the rest of the country (except Fair Winds), Irqar often lacks the skilled artisans to maintain the more elaborate architecture. Older structures either crumble or are awkwardly patched. Much of the populace is illiterate, although the merchant and upper classes are educated and retain quite a bit of their original Zaraloft influence. The upper class will speak Zaraloftian in general, although they also speak Isladjan in order to communicate with the rest of the country. Most of the lower classes speak only Zaraloftian or only Isladjan, relying on the overlaps between the languages to communicate basic ideas to each other. A few are Ustovijans, although they face a fair amount of prejudice.

As the gateway to Zaraloft, Irqar has many Zaraloftian treasures, oddities, and mysteries… and of course is more influenced by than any other Isladjan town.

Merchant’s Rest

Merchant’s Rest tries its best to cultivate a reputation for fantastic hospitality, despite its location in what much of the country agrees is a haunted forest. It always struggled with rumors of the Iretree and malevolent spirits or beasts attracted to it. After the Ilid empire collapsed, Merchant’s Rest rebuilt the farther than any other town to avoid being associate with a second curse.

However, travelers to Zaraloft, or those headed south to Ustovija that can’t afford passage on a ship, have few options for stops on the way to Irqar. Merchants Rest is by far the safest. If anyone is crazy enough to want to explore the Irewood, the Cursed Lake, or the Bones of Astremar, typically Merchant’s Rest is their last stop. The innkeepers and merchants are happy to charge them a pretty penny and make their last night a fine one.

Culturally, the permanent residents of Merchants Rest are Isladjan, but the there are a high proportion of travelers in the town from many countries. Many languages are spoken, and several types of magic and be seen. It does boast the most practitioners of the Wyrd (proper), but that is disputed by both Irqar and Mills… and isn’t very many in any case.

Haven Cove

Haven Cove is the safest shelter in Isladja during inclement whether. Before the collapse and the abandonment of the Oridea Mine, it competed with Fair Winds as a trade center, attracting more cautious merchants with its safer harbor. While they have lost much of their trade and population, they are still able to sell the food of the Norther villages for other necessities. Haven Cove is a sleepy town, for the most part, without much magic, although it is the closest town to the ruined Ilid magical university now called The Vanity of Knowledge.

Like much of the north, it has much native Isladjan culture… although being coastal had more Ilid influence than Harvest Moon.

Mossy Shores

Mossy shores is a small village, mostly known for two things: good fishing and the mysterious lack of its shadow. It is clearly a rebuilt Isladjan town, without traces of Ilid architecture. The village elders agree that there was a nearby Ilid city, but no one can find the ruins.

Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon was the capital of Isladja before the Ilid occupation, and has regained some political status since the collapse. It is the strongest seat Isladjan culture, and even during the Ilid years, Isladjan nobles were brought out to the Barrows for traditional burial. After the collapse, Harvest Mooners were eager to shed their cursed Ilid city and start anew, rededicating themselves to their native culture.

There obsession with cultural purity however, breeds a certain amount of xenophobia and those of strong Ilid or Zaraloft descent are rarely shown a warm welcome. Those who openly practice foreign magic are told directly that they are not welcome. Harvest Mooners, however, regard the Zani-Atins with a combination of awe and pity. They feel sympathy for those set a part through no fault of their own, some jealousy for their power, and caution for the strange occurrences that haunt them. The do feel a certain special sense of pride, however, whenever the powers of a Zani-Atins put a practioner of Elivid or Il Athwah to shame.

Harvest Moon attracts Isladjans from all over the countries for native holy days, celebrated close to (but not too close to) the Barrows or The Vale. You could also access both the Irewood and the abandoned Oridea mine from Harvest Moon. Although, why you would want to is behind the earthy folks of Harvest Moon. In fact, they may give you bad directions, because your better off not arriving at your destination anyway.

Places of Interest

The Veil

The Veil is said to be an early gateway to the world of the Zani. It appears as a long, narrow corridor between tall mountains with a bright white light shining far in the distance. No one has ever actually seen a Zani coming from or going to The Veil, but those who claim to have seen a Zani say there is a distinct feeling or atmosphere to them that emanates from The Veil as well. The Veil was regarded as sacred long before the Ilid occupation, and is the reason Isladjan nobles until the collapse were buried in the Barrows.

The Barrows

The Barrows is the ancient burial ground of Isladjan nobles. It is a city of crypts and mausoleums, many built out during the Ilid occupatione.  It was said to have been blessed or protected by the Zani of sleep/death: those who attempted to rob graves would be struck with irresistible tiredness, finding themselves laying down in a freshly dug grave, never to awake. More recently, however, it seems cursed and people whisper of the barrow walkers and the dead that refuse to sleep. No one has been buried here for a long, long time.

The Iretree

The Iretree (and the Irewood named for it) is the third major supernatural site that predates the Ilid occupation. Stories disagree as to whether the Iretree is a Zani itself or if it is a tree that was cursed by a Zani. Stories agree though, that it looks like a claw, has no leaves, and attracts evil spirits and creatures. Every storyteller has a different reason for the ire of the ire tree.

Oridea Mine

Will the mines of Mills are largely coal, iron, and copper, Oridea was known for gold and precious metals. The mines were abandoned during the camp and the town of Oridea is a ghost town. No one knows what happened to it. However, most Isladjans agree that if there are mine lurkers in Mills, there’s worse in Oridea.

The Vanity of Knowledge

This Ilid university was devoted to the study of all magical arts (and why the Righteous Path is the superior one). It boasted a huge library and monasterial solitude that drew mystics from across the empire. However, in the collapse, Isladjans lost its name and refer to it as the Vanity of Knowledge. Many feel like if the Calamities were brought on by a curse, the Vanity of Knowledge was somehow involved.

Even if it weren’t haunted, the magical protections laid by its residents would be enough to prevent would-be pillagers. But by all accounts, it is haunted. Some say even the Zani fear to visit this place.

The Bones of Astremar

Astremar was one of the biggest cities in the late Ilid occupation, as it lay on a route between Fair Winds and Oridea Mine. In the Calamities, an earthquake struck and collapse huge underground caverns and collapse this portion of the country. The Galit river forked, and filled the area around Astremar with water, creating the cursed lake and turning even the very streets of Astremar into a swampy mire. Little is known about it, although people seem to recall some sort of connection between it and the Vanity of Knowledge.

The Lonely Road

There are Isladjan stories about a lonely road that never appears in the same place twice. If you walk it for a little bit, you might find what you’re looking for. If you walk it for a while, you may never be seen again.