Outlanders

Note: This campaign is currently active. Some information has been hidden to protect the (not-so-) innocent (AKA the Players) from premature discovery. Click the “Spoiler” tab to reveal.

Setting Overview

What it is, where it came from, and what I was smoking at the time :)

I generally don’t run fantasy games, as there are usually one or two ongoing D&D games in our group at any given time, and I try to avoid over-saturating the genre. This section is dedicated to the exception(s). Outlanders is my attempt to run a High-Fantasy game “my” way. The overall setting has undergone several iterations since it began, and in many ways, barely resembles, now, what it did originally. There are some characteristics that all those iterations share: a quasi-historical, realistic approach; a “realistic” treatment of nonhuman races and magical/hybrid creatures common to the genre; contemporary Characters who accidentally “time/world-jump,” and gain new magical powers in the process; a storyline that is a “twist” on an old theme/story.

The first iteration was a continuation of the earlier Temporal Solutions adventure series. It featured characters, most of whom already had powers, sent on a botched time-travel mission to a Medieval European target which, instead, dumped them into a parallel “Fantasy” world. It was inteded to follow a storyline I (currently) am referring to as "tolemaC" ("Camelot" in reverse; Lancelot, the Bad Guy, killed off Arthur, and was to be opposed by Arthur’s estranged son, Mordred). Although it had a completely different background and style from the current setting, the many lessons learned from the many mistakes made (Oy!) had a marked effect on how the Outlanders campaign turned out. In spite of those mistakes, the campaign was actually quite successful, and would have continued were it not for a hard-drive crash that wiped out all my notes and graphics (hence the fact that this website does not include a section dedicated to that campaign…Alas!).

The second iteration, and the first to bear the Outlanders title, was set in a Dark Ages quasi-historical period. Contemporary PCs were brought through the “Golden Mist” of Celtic mythology, and would meet strange people, and strange creatures, while being forced to limit their “open” use of technology, as much to conserve their limited resources as for fear of ill-will from the locals, who consider “technology” to be evil (much as real Medieval Christian folk thought of witchcraft). In addition to the expected “culture shock,” they also have to come to terms with the existence of magic in the world, and in themselves as they discover the limits of their new powers. I always wanted to try a noticeably “different” take than the usual. I have a particular affinity for the Dark Ages period, and had some gaming-related literature that covered it (and later, the release of the movie, The Thirteenth Warrior, served as further inspiration), so that’s where I based the setting. My use of displaced contemporary characters was influenced heavily by the Stargate movie, and El Hazard, an anime series that featured displaced contemporary characters who, as a result of their displacement, also gained magical powers (also a heavy influence on the previous TempSol fantasy attempt).

The third (and current) iteration, sub-titled Faraway, is an “indirect” sequel to Outlanders that ultimately came about as a result of a couple of factors: I needed something that could be put together quickly, since the composition of the group had, again, changed, to the extent that we were short on GMs (and the GM at the time was getting a little worn out); and I needed something easy to introduce Players unfamiliar with GURPS to, which made this the ideal campaign, given its D&D roots. The previous iteration occurred prior to the release of the Lord of the Rings movies. By this time, I had read Fellowship and part of The Two Towers, and had seen the movie(s). As a result, Tolkien’s work exerted a great influence on the nature of my fantasy world, and a great many changes were made, especially in the area of language and naming, and the nature of some of the creatures involved. I mostly abandoned the “alien” concept with regard to the non-human races, and incorporated more of the Changeling:The Dreaming elements, resulting in a much different “flavor” overall, and I returned goblins to “sentient” status. I abandoned the technology-is-evil concept in favor of limiting the tech the PCs would be able to bring with them. I also decided to go for a more “fairy tale” feel to the story. This document (currently) assumes this third iteration.

Sources and Analogues

Influences, inspirations...and outright-plagiarisms...that make up the whole

Note: In the current iteration of this setting, I have decided to implement what I refer to as a “composite” approach. Therefore, a number of elements of the setting are what one might consider “direct ripoffs” of existing material—this is purely intentional, intended as an homage, rather than plagiarism, lampshaded by the implication that, in this setting, the creative minds responsible for those works were influenced by tales of this world (and not the other way around).
Fairy Tales and European Folklore:
  • The Sidhe are featured heavily in the background of this setting, so it's primary influence is obviously in Celtic mythology and folklore (therefore, GURPS Celtic Myth was a primary source). Although the setting of the first campaign was primarily Dark-Ages Anglo-Saxon, it had an undercurrent of classic Celtic in it's framework, which would have become more apparent as the campaign progressed. I tried to achieve a more period-accurate flavor with other elements of the setting as well, specifically with regard to the races (which would later give some ground to Tolkein's work).
  • Of course, the Grimms' Fairy Tales themselves are the best and most direct source for Fairy Tale story elements and tropes.
World History:
The original (tolemaC) campaign was set in a Dark Ages parallel, with the setting concentrating on events and personages surrounding the "historical" King Arthur story. I leaned much on GURPS Camelot for inspiration at that time. I decided to set the Faraway campaign a bit later, in a blending of the post-Charlemagne/proto-HRE period and the early Crusades period (mostly, a result of the Kingdom of Heaven movie).
Modern Cinema:
  • Lord of the Rings: The first Outlanders campaign featured the crossover-character of Myrddin as the catalyst for the PCs' adventure. I later established that in this world, Myrddin had influenced J.R.R. Tolkien, who had written Lord of the Rings based on that influence—his world, and much of what was in it, was based on the “real” one (mine). This provided me with a built-in excuse to rip off his stuff (in a friendly, respectful way ;) ). As of the Faraway campaign, I have thoroughly mixed in a lot of Tolkien-related names and concepts in a more “composite,” literal manner. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent…
  • The Brothers Grimm: Much is owed to this movie for moving my Outlanders-related efforts in a more "fairy tale" direction.
  • Stardust: I watched this movie based on the suggestion from the SJG site's Bibliography page for GURPS Faerie. I was totally surprised by how excellent the movie was. As it went, I decided to incorporate as much of the "feel" of the movie as I could.
  • Chronicles of Narnia Series: Specifically, Prince Caspian had a number of elements that I ended up using, chiefly the ill-treatment of the Narnians and the look-and-feel of the Telmarines.
Role-Playing Games:
  • World of Darkness: As with all campaigns in the Daniverse, Outlanders is heavily influenced by the World of Darkness setting, though it's foreground influence is mostly limited to Mage: The Ascension and Changeling: The Dreaming. In this setting, the Apocalypse/Gehenna/Reckoning/Gathering/Ascension/etc. all occurred at the same time as the Cataclysm that created this world. Most “paranormal” beings were wiped out; what remained of the Traditions’ Magi and Technocracy, along with the Lycans, retreated into the Umbra. Essentially, the Cataclysm replaces the Earthfall event in the Prime Timeline as humanity's turning point.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: From the beginning, I wanted to keep a certain “flavor” from D&D, especially with regard to magic, both because it was easy for everyone to grab onto, and because I generally liked it. In the Faraway campaign, however, I have taken the influence a step further, and have introduced a number of "composite elements" from the Greyhawk setting.
Music:
Unlike most of my campaigns, this one actually owes some inspirational credit to music (more specifically, for the earlier iterations). Some specific musical influences include the following:
  • Led Zeppelin: “Immigrant Song,” “No Quarter,” some lines from “Kashmir.”
  • Jimmy Hendrix: “All Along the Watchtower.”

Geography Overview

Who and what is where in the world

GMs Only (Spoiler)

Political Overview (Faraway):

The major players of the Great Game, how they play it, and who's winning

GMs Only (Spoiler)

Timeline (Faraway):

The big list of stuff that happened, and when

GMs Only (Spoiler)
Note: I'm using ”relative“ dates rather than absolute Gregorian dates here, since this is more along the lines of how the locals would perceive them. Also, dates are arranged near-to-far. If you're just looking at the story, you should probably read from bottom to top. ;)
-0:
PCs brought through the Banestorm.
-45, The Holy Corran Empire:
Carloman I, holding the figurehead position of Emperor, reunited the fractured empire of Magneric the Great, through various means. When diplomatic efforts had failed, he led a "war of unification." After regaining the ancestral city of Magneric the Great, Rhômm, the other Rhômmish Kings finally surrendered (some more-reluctantly than others) to his authority, and were once again united. Having proven his piety time and again, the High Patron later crowned Carloman I as Holy Corran Emperor.
-65:
Upon his death, the Empire of Magneric the Great was split amongst his sons. Over the next few decades, there would be constant squabbling and open warfare over the distribution of those lands, which would ultimately result in the fracturing of the Empire.
-100, The (First) Holy Crusade:
The High Patron called for a holy war to recapture the holy city of [x], and bring the heathen Mannish tribes of the Pale under the Corran Church, declaring that whomever would fight would be forgiven any offense to the gods. Magneric the Great was the first to answer the call, and led the multi-national effort. Though not wholly successful, the lands south of the Barrier Mountains (including [x]), known therafter as the Marchlands, remained under Rhômmish rule for many generations.
-105 to -65, Magneric the Great:
Out of the ruin that remained, the old Corran Empire began to reform itself in the East, under the pious rulership of Magneric the Great, king of Rhômm. During his reign, he conquered the better part of the old Eastern Empire, bringing their people under the growing Great Church. He also retook Corr from the Easterlings, and gifted the surrounding lands to the High Patron (what would become known as the Holy State). He was crowned Emperor of Man by the High Patron, which continued as a significant institution in what would become the Holy Corran Empire; legend states that The High Lord, himself, appeared at his coronation.
-250, The Schism:
Theological disagreement between the Eastern and Western Empires regarding the position and powers of the High Patron, spurred all the more by the Fairy Crusade, resulted in the breaking in twain of the Great Church. The Fûrhondine Empire declared its independence, its new capitol as [Caras Vorrondim], denounced the High Patron as leader of the Church, and formed its own orthodoxy and patriarchy. After some harsh language, and some violence, the Fûrhondine Emperor commissioned a Great Wall to be built to separate their lands from the rest of the Corran world (to protect themselves from “barbarians”).
Corr, and much of the surrounding lands, was conquered and occupied by heathen Easterling tribes.
~-203
Outlanders 1 (tolemaC)
-260 to -180, King Orothorn:
King Orothorn of Tammland, the “King Arthur” of this world, and inspiration to chivalry.
-300, The Faerie Crusade:
(AKA The Dark War, among the Faeries.) As the Empire continued to decline, much blame for the plague (which they had begun to refer to as the Fairy Pox) was attributed to the presence of the Faerie races, and so, expulsion and open war was inevitable. When the Order refused to betray the Faeries, with whom they had always enjoyed good relations, they were declared heretics by the Church and were persecuted, accused of practising profane magicks and worshipping the old gods, while the rulers that were denied war-loans reacted as well, expelling representatives and siezing properties. The war was brief and near-disasterous for Man, ending with an intervention of the Nine on their behalf. The Faerie races accepted the gods' judgement (not that they could choose otherwise), and The Truce was established: thenceforth, no Faerie would ever set their foot on Mannish soil (wording that would be continuously subverted). Though the Mithrite Order survived their position in the war, they would never regain their former trust and status, nor would they ever truly forgive the kings of Men for their persecution.
-400 to -200, Decline of the Corran Empire:
Without warning, all the lands of the Empire were struck with a devastating plague, that over several generations, managed to wipe out half the Mannish population. Fingers were pointed in all directions, and much blood was spilled in the name of correcting the sins that resulted in this punishment from the gods. As the plague wound itself out, a new affliction came, in the form of Ork and Goblin raids from the Otherworld Realms; the loss of the noble class from the sickness and the constant warfare and sacking of the major cities caused the Empire to lose it grip on power. So weakened, it was unable to support its weight, and began to break apart. The Western Empire remained somewhat stronger, and managed to hold out againt the raiders, while the Eastern Empire eventually collapsed into anarchy under the weight of the constant raids and political corruption. Though the plague had run itself out, the disease would resurface from time to time, in individuals and sometimes larger groups, and those so afflicted were considered to have been cursed by the gods.
-700, Reign of the Witch-Queen:
During these dark days at the end of the Mariners civilization, they became a scourge to the other tribes of Man, raiding their coastal and river settlements mercilessly for decades. Raiding parties were often led by godling "abominations" (those men who had eaten of the Tree), whose descendents would continue to plague the land from time to time, long after the Mariners were gone.
-800 to -400, Peak of the Corran Empire:
Around this period, the Empire flourished, having conquered most of the tribes of Man and brought them under one rule. It was also the most technologically advanced civilization in the world. But with its success would come hubris, and the Empire drifted away from the Church, while the Church itself grew in power, and ultimately, in corruption.
-900, The Mariners:
A Mannish tribe traded up and down the northern coastal regions, and south into the rivers, known as the Mariners. They were generally peaceful, but not weak. When another Mannish tribe attacked an Elvish realm, for reasons that cannot be remembered, the Mariners came to the Elves' aid. As a reward, the Elves created for them the Mariners' Isle, a near-paradise, as a homeland. The new base of operations increased their prosperity greatly, but would eventually be their downfall.
-1000, The Chosen:
The High Lord, himself, appeared to Mardil, a Man of Corr, and dictated to him a series of documents which would be called the Writs of Mardil, or The Nine Writs. The Eldar stepped in and publicly demanded the execution of Mardil to prevent a prophesied calamity. The Nine then stepped in and “raised” Mardil from the dead. As a risen martyr, Mardil the Chosen, the Lion of Donaan, would live an unnaturally long life, spreading the religion, before ascending to be with the gods as the First Among Saints.
-1250 to -800, Rise of the Corran Empire:
The Mannish tribe of the Corrs began to dominate it's neighbors.
-1500, The Mithrite Order:
For centuries, the tribes of Man were ruled by the Druids: itinerant judges, peacekeepers and storytellers. Some Druids grew corrupt with power, and were easily turned to evil, oppressing the people they were sworn to serve. As the threat grew, those Druids still dedicated to the good of Man gathered together to counter it, forming what would become the Mithrite Order (or the Grey Order). In response, the evil Druids formed the Cabal. The Mithrites defeated the Cabal, but they would continue to rise again, time after time, as the Mithrites were unable to discover the root to destroy it.

Magic in the Outlanders Setting

Wizards and Clerics and Bards…oh, my!

Magic in the Outlanders setting has a much stronger focus on foci and components for spellcasting. Standard GURPS rules or mechanics are used where applicable, even if that system did not exist in D&D.
Magic Zones
High and low ”mana“ zones (see GURPS Magic) are not wholly static, but tend to move around much like (and often, in accordance with) weather patterns (high and low pressure zones). Factors affecting its movement include static Nodes (always high-mana), and astrological phenomenæ. These movements are predictable, and can be sensed by those sensitive to magic fields. When a particularly-strong high-magic zone intersects with a strong meteorological storm-system, it can result in the Banestorm (or, in the case of heavy fog, the ”Golden Mist“). The Otherworld is always considered a high-mana region. See also ”Hedge Magic“ below.
Mage: The Ascension
Aforementioned rules for combining D&D magic and MTA are considered to be in effect. Study of True Magick, also referred to locally as Wild Magic, is considered profane and dangerous, the domain of the gods alone. Paradox is accumulated only on failures, as for MDA—the Technocracy's hold on reality had long ago been released (though they await the chance to re-emerge from their extra-dimensional hiding), and the Gauntlet is far weaker than it once was.
Casters' Primary Attribute
Casters' Primary Attribute will always be Will, regardless of Caster Type. Easier, and keeps more in-line with MTA.
Arcane and Divine
Arcane and Divine magic are actually two interpretations of the same metaphysical principles. Divine magic does not actually derive from “divine” sources, but is merely a differing magical paradigm. That being said, their respective methodologies differ enough that they remain “functionally” incompatible for most purposes, however, a Wizard could theoretically use a Cleric's wand if he understood the principles behind it (that is, if he had sufficient knowledge of Theurgy). Magic Resistance does not differentiate between Arcane or Divine.
Spellbooks
Required for all Traditional Casters; Divine Casters use the appropriate religious texts as their spellbook, which will already contain all the spells available to that Caster, though he will still have to "learn" those spells (this is an exception to the normal rule for Clerics—they will use the Known Spells Perk at the normal cost). The Casters' Spellbook is considered "basic equipment" for spell preparation, and follows the normal GURPS rules for equipment modifiers (B345).
Spell Slot Preparation
Not a function of "memorization" as described in D&D, but spells are rather cast into the Caster's Focus. Higher Caster Levels allow for more efficient storage of spells within these Foci, allowing them to “slot” more spells. Spells so stored generally fade after 24 hours.
Time to prepare Spells, per Spell, is a base 6sec per Spell Level, rather than a fixed 15min. Spell Preparation requires a check against Thaumaturgy/Theurgy-Spell Level per Spell, at an additional +4 for “routine” usage; normal rules for “time spent” and “equipment modifiers” apply (B345-6). Failure is treated as a failed casting attempt, and the spell is not successfully prepared; components may be ruined, @GMD, but a retry is otherwise possible. It is possible (and perhaps, advisable) to use the "Take 10/20" House Rule in this case.
A Caster can use another Caster's Spells so stored in his Foci, providing he possesses the same Magery type, at a penalty equal to the Spell's Level (see Use Magic Device, above). Once "loaded," a Focus is treated as a magic item based on its physical form.
Overcharging
Casting of Spells that are above one's Caster Level allowances (if known/transcribed, or "borrowed" as such) or casting of Spells whose effects are treated as a higher Caster Level, is possible in this setting. IAW MTA, Spells so prepared/cast are treated as "Vulgar, With Witness," automatically inflicting one point of Paradox, and more on failure. Spells so cast/prepared bear a -4 skill penalty per Spell Level exceeded. This might also apply to the use of Metamagic Feats that the Caster does not possess—treat as one Level higher if the Feat description does not already specify a higher Slot for the modified spell.
Foci
An Arcane Focus is required for all Arcane Casters, and is a component for all Arcane Spells. It can be a number of “traditional” focus items, including wands, staves, rods, or orbs—and possibly other items, such as weapons. Typical Foci for any given Caster will be based on his training, though he may learn to use others. All rules for Foci in MTA are permissible. A Caster need not use a single Focus for all Spells, but can use different Foci for different Spells, Schools, Levels, or whatever. It is not unusual for an Arcane Caster to use more than one.
Spell Components
Spell Components are more important in this setting. Spell Components will differ between similar Caster types, or even the same Caster Type from different "traditions," as a matter of style rather than substance. For Divine Casters, Spells are not so much cast into their Divine Focus as they are cast into the spell components (components indicated in spell descriptions would be specifically observed in this case); components so prepared are treated as one-use magic items whose new properties fade within 24 hours of preparation.
Spell Components may be improvised, but not elminated; the improvised component must be similar, and incurs a -4 “equipment” penalty (or less @GMD, if sufficiently similar). Spontaneous Casters still need components, but since they don't store the spell being cast, they can be more easily improvised or ignored. In any case, the GM should feel free to be creative with the usage of spell components—it should add to the flavor of spellcasting.
Runecasting
A slight variation on the “slotting” mechanic, used primarily by (not necessarily all) Arcane Traditions. Spell preparation consists of inscribing magical runes onto their Arcane Foci, which fade away in 24 hours. As such, it becomes more common for higher-level Wizards to use staves as their primary Focus due to their increased surface-capacity. The Spell capacity of an individual Focus is limited as follows (perhaps a significant skill penalty to "cram" a bit more might be appropriate?): Orb: 4; Wand: 6; Rod: 10; Staff: 20; Dagger: 4; Sword/Mace: 6; Two-Handed: 8; Spear: 10; Shield: 12 (GM may vary this for specific items). For these purposes, only a non-magical device can be used—previously enchanted items will not accept a runecasting.
The original Runecaster kit for D&D (2e) also included the ability to create Bonus Runes, for mundane weaponry or armor. This was a basic component of Runecasting, and required no additional Spells or study. In the place of a weapon's “spell slot(s),” a Bonus Rune could be inscribed to grant that weapon a simple +1 Damage, Attack, Defense (for Armor), etc.; a weapon so enruned would be considered “magical” so long as the Rune lasted. In this setting, this is partially so—a Spell with a “Caster's weapon” as its target (Magic Weapon, for example) could be cast in an “active” state, and as such, its duration would be changed to that of the Rune itself (24hrs).
Casting Times
Casting times, as listed in D&D Spell descriptions, should be converted to seconds. The new casting procedure for Standard-Action Spells would be (a)1sec (Ready) to fetch the spell component(s) (or more in some situations, @GMD), (b)1sec to Ready component(s) for casting, (c)1sec (Concentration) to cast Spell. Swift or Immediate Spells should require no physical component, and thus take only 1sec (Concentration) to cast. One-Round Spells should take 3sec to cast, in addition to component readying. Casting times in excess of One-Round take the listed amount of time to cast.
Spell Techniques
In this setting, Spell Techniques may be separately improved up to +3 above their default. Some spells from GURPS sources, especially appropriate to Celtic/Dark-Ages settings, could be justifiably incorporated into the spell lists, as desired.
Hit Dice
In this setting, Hit Dice are determined differently, as follows:
  • For Fort/HT-based effects, HD x 12=(total of targets') HP; fractional remainders are ignored.
  • For Will/Will-based effects, HD* x 12=(total of targets') Will score(s); fractional remainders are ignored.
  • Others may be possible, @GMD, based on the situation. Treat any HD-based effect that isn't easily identifiable as using HP.
Paradox
For non-Awakened Casters, Paradox is accumulated on Critical Failures IAW MTA, at one point only. Backlashes are also possible IAW normal MTA rules, though the effects of Paradox on non-Awakened Casters should be "minor" by comparison.

Specific Spell Rituals, Components and Effects

  • Detect Magic: Attempt to carve spell-rune onto the item in question; failure indicates it is magical. Power & school are determined by the way the rune is “refused.”Alternatively, a crystal rod (by a very loose definition) may be enruned, which will “react” when passed before a magical object or field; the crystal is not consumed, and may be reused (may develop some “quirkiness” over time, if used often).
  • Light: Req. crystal, Ref:LotR.
  • Teleport: Babylon Candle, Ref:Stardust.
  • Tongues: Listener(s) spits on runed scrap of paper; Speaker grinds & smokes it (in a pipe, other), speaks Quenya; Listener(s) perceive their own language. Does not work for others (non-participants) who speak the language being translated—they hear Quenya.

Hedge Magic

Taken from S. John Ross' web article. In this setting, the effects described in the aforementioned article can be assumed, without the need for any additional CP expenditure, when living in a high-magic zone (or always, in the Otherworld)—presumably after a short period of “acclimation” time. Hedge Magic, as described, is really the best way to represent the “magical nature” of most fantasy races (elves, dwarves, goblins and such), as well as the Sidhe, and effects produced should reflect their respective cultures.

GMs Only (Spoiler)

Other Systems

Stuff I couldn't find a good place for otherwise

GMs Only (Spoiler)