The World Is Your Setting Guide 3

As readers might be aware, one reason I like historical or real-world settings for tabletop RPGs is that it means that there’s a wealth of material out there in non-gaming reference works ready for you to adapt for your game. In this occasional series, I review things which have caught my eye as being particularly useful for adapting to RPG purposes.

The Isles of the Many Gods by David Rankine and Sorita D’Este

Put out by Avalonia, this is primarily aimed at a pagan audience, but is particularly aimed at what’s sometimes called “reconstructionist paganism” – as in people who are not so much interested in constructing new forms of paganism as they are in figuring out how older forms of pre-Christian spirituality may have been practiced.

Specifically, it is an attempt to provide as comprehensive as possible a list of the deities with some form of recorded worship or recognition in Britain, prior to Christianity becoming predominant. The growth of Christianity in Britain went in fits and starts – the Roman Empire converted, but people didn’t exactly forget their older traditions overnight, and outside of Wales the Romano-British territories were largely taken by the incoming Saxons.

As Rankine and D’Este note in one of their introductory essays, by the time Alfred the Great compelled Guthrum, ruler of East Anglia, to convert to Christianity as part of a peace deal in 878 CE things were on the wane. They note that from the tenth century onwards, any pagan practice had to be clandestine; they don’t note, possibly to avoid offending that section of their readership who buy into Wiccan myths about their religion being a survival of an ancient pagan faith and other such legends, that by the time of the Norman era pagan worship in Britain was basically done.

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Dynamism In Investigative Scenario Design

A discussion on Facebook prompted a textwall from me about investigative scenario design. I’ve banged on about some of these ideas on here before, but I thought I may as well also post this here for referring back to.

For my purposes the key things I think about when designing an investigative scenario are:

  • How do the players first become aware of this mystery?
  • What is at the heart of the mystery, and how can that be meaningfully interacted with?
  • What is dynamic about this mystery?

The last bit is key. 99% of mystery scenarios need some sort of dynamism to them, by which I mean there needs to be stuff happening independent of the PCs, and which will keep happening unless the PCs actually stop it or prompt it to change course.

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A Bestiary Refined

Chaosium have gotten around to updating the Malleus Monstrorum. Previously published for the 6th Edition of Call of Cthulhu, having been compiled by Scott David Aniolowski, the original version was an impressively expansive book crammed with stats culled from publications of the whole of the game’s history, both of full-blown Mythos deities and of the various gribbly monsters that fill out the intervening parts of the food chain between the Old Ones and humans.

Naturally, the new revision entails updating the presentation to the new higher standards Chaosium have adopted for 7th Edition, and the book is both very nicely presented and substantially better laid out than the original. In addition, it is now divided into two volumes – one for monsters, creatures of folklore, and conventional animals, and one for Mythos deities.

Whilst some might regard this as a price gouge – selling two books where previously they’d only sold one – I actually think the division is extremely sensible, because it emphasises that you are going to get very, very different uses out of the different halves of the Malleus. In effect, volume 1 is now devoted to detailing creatures which you might consider throwing into a Call of Cthulhu scenario for the PCs to directly encounter, volume 2 is now a catalogue of entities whose direct appearance is probably a campaign-ending moment, but which will more typically have an indirect effect via humans and aliens who worship them or otherwise interact with them in inadvisable ways.

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