All posts by jarkmandevries

My Life as a Grog(nard)

So I’ve not been posting much here on My Life as a Grog for a number of reasons.

I have a deep love of ArM5 and I’m proud of the material I’ve contributed to the game over the years (both in the official line but also through this blog, the early days of Marko’s Light of Andorra PBP online Saga, and the fanzines Hermes Portal and the two incarnations of Sub Rosa). However, going back and rejigging the pages of this site with all I’ve learnt about blogging and recycling the material isn’t a high priority for me sorry.

As much as I want this site to be a “Point of Light” between Ars Magica editions as suggested recently by Timothy on the forums, I’m really not going to be feeding the flame as actively as once I was able to and my interests aren’t really “vanilla” ArM5 in any case.

So I’ve gone back to my roots a bit more, shifted to a different main nom de plume (“The Ranting Savant”) and looked back on “Old School Roleplaying” and some of my juvenilia – mainly Planescape material when Jon Winter’s I am the Mimir was more than a husk floating in the digital Astral Sea…

My current active blogs are:

I’m still contactable via the Atlas Forums as Jarkman or by my various RPG related private email addresses for specific questions about aspects of my work, but I’ve enjoying the nostalgia trip and working in a more “rules-lite” design space for now.

Who knows I may be back from Twilight at some stage but for now…

Vale sodales!

 

 

 

 

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ArM5 Whimsy: Rochetto the Black Hrool

Rochetto is based on Rocket Raccoon but reinterpreted for Mythic Europe as an exiled warrior Hrool from The Broken Covenant of Calebais, designed as a grog level character with exceptional thrown weapons skills by using the clesrada mechanics from The Contested Isle. 

raccoon thief
The Raccoon Thief (from Dark Sword Miniatures)

Rochetto the Black Hrool

Magic Might: 5 (Animal)
Season: Summer
Characteristics: Int +2, Per +1, Pre -1, Com -3, Str -1, Sta +3, Dex +2, Qik +3
Confidence: 2 (5)
Size: -3
Virtues and Flaws: Magic Human*; Improved Characteristics, Natural / Pack Leader, Perfect Balance; Feral Upbringing, Magical Friend, Oversensitive (appearance).
* Includes the Monstrous Appearance (humanoid animal) Major Magical Inferiority
Magical Qualities and Inferiorities: Fatigue Mastery; Improved Confidence, Improved Defense x3 (dodge), Improved Powers, Minor Virtue (cles – see below) x3, Minor Virtue (Tough), Personal Power (Supernatural Agility); Major Flaw (Age Quickly), Miniature; Minor Flaw (Small Frame), Susceptible to Deprivation.
Personality Traits: Hrool +3*
Combat:
     Sling*: Init: 0, Attack +8, Defense na, Damage +4

     Dodge*: Init: +3, Attack na, Defense +12, Damage na
Soak: +9 (Sta, Tough, leather)
Fatigue Levels: OK, 0, -1, -3, -5, Unconscious
Wound Penalties: -1 (1-2), -3 (3-4), -5 (5-6), Incapacitated (7-8)
Abilities: Athletics 5 (climb), Awareness 2 (ambushes), Brawl 2 (dodge), Hrool 2 (orders), Leadership 4 (combat), Occitan 5 (insults), Ride 1 (combat), Stealth 2 (hide), Swim 1 (diving), Thrown Weapon 5 (sling)
Clesrada: Apple Feat, Rope Feat, Thunder Feat
(see The Contested Isle, pages 102-104 for full details of these semi-magical feats)
Powers:
      Supernatural Agility, 2 points, Init -3, Animal; this power allows the character to perform minor supernatural feats when using Athletics. These might include swiftly scaling walls, leaping from the ground onto the back of a galloping horse, and dropping great distances to the ground without harm. Costs 25 spell levels (Base 10, +2 Sun, +1 constant), 4 mastery points to reduce Initiative, 1 mastery point to reduce Might cost.

Equipment: sling, specially sharpened stones, buckler, leather harness (armour)
Vis: 1 pawn of Animal vis in teeth
Appearance: a black and white furred humanoid weasel wearing a leather harness with several pouches and a crude bandolier. 

This is where the backstory would go if I’d written it – presumably there needs to be some explanation as to why he is encountered outside of Calebais and acquired his clesrada feats but I haven’t worked one out yet so suggestions welcome…

For those of you that don’t have the Contested Isle, the Apple and Thunder clesrada feats allow Rochetto to juggle up to nine stones in one hand, throw up to three stones a round unerringly but not infallibly at an opponents head knocking them prone if it hits.  The Rope feat synergises with his constant Supernatural Agility power allowing improved acrobatics to explain his ability to move as his MCU counterpart does in the films.

Author’s Note: by explanation, he has been designed as a Magic Human rather than a Magic Animal as although his Hrool form includes numerous animal features and the core character concept is an anthropomorphic weasel (or raccoon), in ArM5 Magic Animals are animal in form, not humanoid. As a bestial variant of a Magic Human aligned to Animal rather than Corpus, Rochetto has functioning hands and can speak, unlike Magic Animals that suffer the Mute and No Hands Flaws. The obligatory Monstrous Appearance Inferiority of Magic Humans reflects his bizarre appearance – a talking humanoid animal, and one overly sensitive about his freakish nature.  

I also have some notes on a conversion of Groot as a Herbam False Elemental somewhere to expand on…

 

A Grog’s Life for Me?

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything due to personal reasons and in a practical sense, since the official end of the ArM5 line with Dies Irae, my appetite for contributions has fallen off over the last 2 years in any case.

I’ve been wondering what to do with this blog and whether the current format is as relevant or user friendly to new or existing Ars Magica players as it could be so I’ll be posting over on the Atlas Games Forums for ideas and feedback…

 

Books as Magic Things

Magic Book Sketch
The Magic Book: Talisman, Magic Thing, Faerie or Familiar?

 

Despite the importance of books within ArM5 Sagas, the books featured to date with few exceptions consist of either Summae or Tractati on the various Abilities or Arts. There are the expanded book rules in ArM5 Covenants, “Chapter 7: Library” and scattered across various supplements, but few eponymous books as individual tomes or objects stand out in the current canon as having magical power per se other than the knowledge they contain or help access such as the books that lead to the Mysteries of the Ars Notoria (RoP:DRE, pages 97-100).  There are rules for casting from text in the core rules, Timothy’s rules for “casting tablets” (ArM5 Covenants, page 89-90) and the books of Numerologists, but unless I’ve missed a bespoke talisman somewhere in the later canon there is no definite instance of a book being the actual source of magical power or the generator of a specific magical effect.

So let’s examine that for a bit…

Books As Talismans…

A large weighty tome inscribed with symbols, whether floating in front of a magus, positioned on a lectern or held in one or both hands makes for an archetypical wizard scene and a book as talisman or greater invested device may have some initial appeal. However, it’s sadly not a particularly practical choice –  wandering around Mythic Europe with an open spellbook basically screams “sorceror” and a book crackling with mystic energy floating ahead or to the side of the individual highlights the character as a wizard even more so…

Unfortunately, a standard leather bound book of vellum with wooden boards and leather stitching makes a somewhat lacklustre object to enchant as an invested device – if one counts the vellum and leather with a base size similar to a shield, the Material & Size product is only a mediocre 8 (2 base points, x4 medium size) unless one includes the simple metal clasps, bosses and corners which increases the potential to a more reasonable 20 (5 base points, x4 medium size). This limit on maximum instilled effects able to be included may be circumvented by incorporating more expensive materials such as precious metals and gemstones (see ArM5 Covenants, page 87 for a list of the various components of medieval books), but this also makes the book more conspicuous and likely to arouse suspicion from mundane scholars and thieves. Similarly, the size is unlikely to increase without making the whole thing unwieldy as a larger book is generally prohibitive cumbersome unless immobile on a lectern or levitating using simple ReAn(He) magics, which as noted previously scream “magic” to the casual observer.

Interestingly, there are no listed Shape & Material bonuses for books, papyrus, paper or vellum listed in official sources according to Erik Tyrrel’s PDF of Shape & Material bonuses, but there are bonuses for animal hide, bookshelves, Ink of Hermes, and wood. However the following bonuses are given in relation to the Numerologist’s Book in the “Arithmetic Magic” section of ArM5 Mysteries: Revised Edition, pages 91-91:

  • Book: +2 Intellego, +3 Divination, +4 Numerology
Supernatural books Part 2.JPG
Sketched Design Notes for Magic Books

To be continued…

Languages of East Africa

Design Note: this is the second post in a series about the East African area of the Erythrean Sea and draws on material from the supplement Lands of the Nile (pages 10-11) and the Appendix A “Languages and Name” section of the Cradle and the Crescent. 

The following languages are spoken on or around the Red Sea and the Erythrean Sea. Most characters should take the appropriate dialect as a specialty but educated or well-travelled speakers will have tried hard to rid themselves of their dialect and may have standard specialties (see ArM5, page 66).

     Amharic
     Arabic (Masri, Khaliji, Maslawi, Shirvani, Somalian)
     Bantu (Kiswahili, many other mainland dialects)
     Faerie Speech*
     Malagasy
     Nubian
     Somali (Northern, Mogadishan)
     Soqotri

Languages of the Red Sea

The most common Arabic dialects spoken in the northern areas and by most traveling merchants and sailors is either the Egyptian Masri  or Arabian Khaliji dialect (the latter usually spoken with unique Yemeni and Omani idioms and inflections). Merchants and seafarers from further afield will use either the Levantine dialect or if originally hailing from Basra or nearby ports, the Persian Maslawi dialect. Due to the short distance across the Arabian gulf, the variant Somalian Arabic is spoken by many southern Arabian natives and differs enough from the form spoken elsewhere in Arabia to be classed as a separate dialect.

Somali_Stone script
Wadaad script

 Somali is the common language of the Bilad al-Berbera, the southern coast of the Arabian Gulf comprising the Horn of Africa. It is very distantly related to both Coptic and Arabic and currently uses the so-called Wadaad version of the Arabic script, although older inscriptions using can be found using a unique native alphabet. Soqotri was once a closely related tongue but has become distinct enough recently to be unintelligible to outsiders. It is rarely heard outside of the isolated island as its merchants and spies use Arabic or rarely Somali when moving through the wider world.

Languages of the Erythrean Sea

Bantu is the anachronistic umbrella term used here to describe a variety of related languages spoken by mundane inhabitants of the hinterland region of the Bilad al-Zanj often enslaved by the coastal towns. The most commonly heard dialect is Kiswahili (or Swahili), spoken in the Arabicized island trade settlements of the coast and island states. It contains many Arabic and Persian loan words and fast becoming the Erythraean Sea’s equivalent of the Mediterranean’s lingua franca. Unlike the other Bantu dialects, Kiswahili is written using the Arabic script.

Shirvani Arabic is an unusual dialect only spoken on the islands of the southern seas, particularly by inhabitants of Qumr. It includes some Bantu derived phrases but mainly borrows Persian words as it was brought to the area by exiles from Shirvan in northern Persia.

Malagasy is an unusual magical language spoken only by the cannibals of Waq al-Waq to the far south and sometimes the rarely encountered Faerie blooded merchants claiming to be from far off ports of the Bahr al-Harkand on the route to Serica. The exact relationship between the two groups is unclear but their language is completely unrelated to the other languages of the region. The exotic merchants sometimes use an unusual Arabic based script they refer to as Sorabe.

What Language do the Faeries Use?

The area of the Erythrean Sea is beset by Faeries claiming to be exotic but mundane merchants or sailors from distant lands such as al-Hind, the hinterland of al-Zanj and the far distant ports of Serica. Instead of speaking mundane dialects, these creatures use a magical ability to interact and carry out their roles in stories. Close observers will note that although these Faeries may appear to speak their own language, the words have no meaningful structure or grammar, merely serving to enhance the creature’s exoticism.

Faerie Speech is not actually a separate language but a Faerie Pretense (see Realms of Power: Faerie, page 50). Characters that possess this Minor Virtue are able to converse with humans as if they know the language being spoken, allowing them to appear to always know how to talk to anyone they encounter.

Dead Languages

     Ge’ez
     Sabaean

Ge’ez is the Semitic forebear of Amharic using it’s own unique alphabet. It is the ancient language of Axum and still used in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s liturgy. Sabaean is the magical language of the ancient Kingdom of Sheba and can still be seen inscribed in either the Masnad or Zabur scripts on ruins and scrolls respectively found in contemporary Yemen.

Languages Penalty

Same language, different dialect -1
Arabic (Somalian) vs Somali -2
Somali vs Soqotri -3

The other pairs of languages are so distinct from each other that comprehension is likely to be based on signing and good guesswork, or magic such as the use of the Gift of Tongues Virtue or the Faerie Speech Pretense (see above).

Once Upon the Erythraean Sea

Design Note: the area known in the 13th century as the Erythraean Sea reflects the modern day Arabian Sea or western edge of the Indian Ocean, correlating with the Arabic Bahr al-Hind. This area links the “Mythic Arabia” chapter of the Cradle and the Crescent, the “Ethiopia” chapter from Lands of the Nile and “Sorcerors of Soqotra” chapter from Rival Magic. This article is one of several gazetteer style posts intended on ultimately linking these sources together.

Dhow
A typical dhow

The dhow (Arabic or Swahili: daw) is the predominant style of ship on the southern waters constructed from teak from far off mythical al-Hind. Unlike the ships of the north detailed in City & Guild, page 84-85, these ships are literally sewn together with coir, a tough woven cord formed from palm or coconut fibres soaked in seawater.

In the thirteenth century, these ships have double-ended hulls that come to a point at the bow and stern – the much later square stern is an innovation influenced by European ship designs.

The generic word for ship in Arabic is markab or safiinah. Although named variously badanbuumjalba, and zaaruq depending on the region they are found, all ships share the common hull features of carvel design (planks laid end to end) providing them with flexibility to manage the surf or shallow coastal shoals and rocks of the Red Sea or Arabian Sea at the expense of their overall structural integrity.

Each ship is so-called lateen rigged, using a near triangular trapezoidal sail (or corectly a settee sail) with an additional luff as opposed to the true triangular sail seen in the Mediterranean. This hybrid design still allows the ship to tack before the wind, unlike the square rigged ships of Europe, but the extra area provided by the leading edge or luff helps catch a greater amount of wind than the regular triangular shape use in the north. Most used for coastal trading have two masts with basic rigging, the larger sail on mizzen and a smaller sail aft, although smaller craft only have a single mast.

Unfortunately, very few of these sewn ships have closed holds or decks, requiring passengers to brave the elements and settle themselves amongst the cargo and any sported animals as best they can. This and their pliant hull design makes them ill-suited to rough weather – the standard practice for regular sailors of these vessels when confronted with a storm at sea is to pull down the mast, jettison the sail and pray for deliverance. Unsurprisingly, the nakhodas or “dhow-masters” often name their ships with fatalistic names that effectively translate as: “By Allah’s Deliverance”, “In Praise of Mohammed” and “As Allah Wills”.

The Magic of Sewn Ships

Unlike northern ships which use bronze or iron nails in their construction, the woven coir binding method and teak or coconut wood construction means that dhows are composed entirely of material derived from plants. This makes them virtually immune to Hermetic Terram spells, but exquisitely sensitive to Herbam based magics.

Historically most dhows were built in India, the eastern source of the teak and coconut used in their construction. Although well known in the thirteenth century to Muslim merchants, in Mythic Europe canonically there is no such land as India, only the rumoured Faerie land of al-Hind. This suggests that the ships of the southern seas may be all built with the aid or permission of exotic  Faeries or may even be Faerie Objects obtained through bargains…

Even if otherwise mundane such ships are rumoured to be crafted using planks sourced from Faerie teak trees in their construction, which if the correct incantations are muttered whilst building them may provides the resultant ship with a small amount of resistance to magics intent on warping or twisting it out of shape, providing a defensive bonus to Herbam style magics equal to the boatbuilder’s Craft: Shipwright score.

Teak wood has the following Shape & Material bonuses:

  • +3 resist rot or disease
  • +2 Rego

Additional Resources

If Wormwood came to Gimlé…

star-the-wormwood-1908.jpg!Large
The Fall of Wormwood through the sky…

Dies Irae: A Book of Wrathful Days is sadly the last book of the ArM5 line and while I bought it a while ago, I’d been reluctant to open and read it out of mixed sense of grief and nostalgia at the official end of the line that I contributed to.

It’s an amazing work. Kudos to Ben, the two Marks (Lawford and Shirley) and Matt.

Two of the scenarios (“Fimbulwinter” and “Twilight of the Gods”) link together thematically and potentially sequentially, with the option of integrating a third as an extension or follow-up of the main arc.  Any Saga would need to last decades to play through the combined plots presented, but each scenario provides details of the effects on the Order following the apocalypse.

There’s been a lot of talk about alternate settings for Ars Magica now the line has finished – a whole issue of Sub Rosa, Issue #16, was dedicated to these concepts and similarly many of the Diedne articles from Issue #13 touched on this. The majority of concepts, except Mark Shirley’s “After the Plague”, deal with earlier versions of Mythic Europe, drawing on the history of the Order and it’s origins.

But I’ve been wondering about an alternate setting for Ars Magica set significantly *after* the Apocalypse or even the combination of two of the scenarios involving Ragnarok and the fall of Wormwood with some elements of Mark’s 1470 AD article.

A Saga set in an Age of Bitterness