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Topics - Levi Kornelsen

Pages: [1] 2 3 ... 6
'm a big fanboy for Clash's On Her Majesty's Arcane Service, to the point of having a light hack of it I'm working on pretty often elsewhere.  But I want to hack the setting, too, right from the ground up, with a bunch of stuff added in.  Figured I do that here, where I can get lots of eyeballs on it.  And, to take advantage of said eyeballs, I have some questions for people in general on what they'd want to see.

So here we go.

Note that when we hit "the Arcane Service", that's the player characters.

Before The Beginning
Henry the VIII, father of Queen Elizabeth, reigned in England from 1509 until 1547.  Attempting to acquire a son, he took six wives in series.  To allow him to divorce, he split the English church from the Catholic, spreading many church holding among his nobles and emptying out many monasteries.  These actions made for some tumultuous times in England after his death.

A Most Rapid Succession
Henry's son Edward (the VI) was a protestant, crowned at the age of ten, and died at the age of sixteen through illness; he faced rebellions and unrest over his continued protestant reformations.  
 He was succeeded by Lady Jane Grey, his half-sister, by his own wishes, who was Queen for nine days before her claim was challenged and ended, by Mary I.  The Lady Jane Grey was executed shortly afterwards for treason.
 Mary (the I), also a daughter of Henry, and a Catholic, took back the kingdom, declared it Catholic again, and began to burn protestants – for which she gained the sobriquet “bloody Mary”.  Mary I reigned for five years, died of a tumor, and the throne passed to Elizabeth.

The Rise Of Elizabeth I, And Her Circle
Elizabeth, the remaining child of Henry, raised a protestant, became queen in 1558, two years ago.  Her innermost circle may be said to consist of:
  • Sir William Cecil, Lord Burley, a moderately stuffy and conservative fellow who seeks stability in the nation, and encourages Elizabeth to marry for such cause.  Burley also works to advance his ally, a certain Lord Walsingham, a ruthless, ambitious, and bloodily loyal maestro of spies.
  • Lord Robert Dudley, Elizabeth's favorite, but not favored for marriage for plain reasons of politics.
  • Doctor Johnathan Dee, the Queen's Astrologer, a noted arcanist.
Naturally, the foremost aims of this young queen are centred on consolidating her powers and her country.  Her Majesty goes about these ends through a fairly simple stratagem.  She has enacted a number of sweeping reforms, and now seems to be playing for time.  At present, her pattern is to accept any major power as an adviser, and listen to what they have to say, but make almost no changes or take any actions of significance, as her early reforms slowly become the status quo.  So, let's look at the three greatest reforms...

Religious Uniformity
To the great aggravation of the Catholic church, Elizabeth has passed a new settlement of religious uniformity.  It echoes the break her father made with Rome, but grants significantly more leniency to priests wishing to employ various Catholic trappings (in the real world, Elizabeth's settlement is enduring; this marks the real foundation of the Church of England).

Uniformity establishes a common book of prayer, common rituals, and much else.  Officially, England is Protestant, and there are legal penalties for non-conformity.  However, these penalties are both relatively lenient (no Catholics are burned, for example), and are not usually applied at all; it seems in general that Elizabeth is perfectly fine with variety in faith, so long as it keeps it's head down.

Naturally, Uniformity is not popular in Rome; the Catholic church has declared that Elizabeth is not Queen, and that Mary Queen of Scots ought to be.  This has fomented a fair bit of support among the discontented and those unwilling to convert to heretical Protestantism, and it is likely that Elizabeth will see a number of revolts and uprisings through her reign, relating to this claim.  There are, in addition, always rumours of Jesuit assassins, of gold from Rome to pay for raising of forces in unrest, and much else besides.

Magical Regularity
England is home to a vast profusion of temples, lodges, fraternities, and societies given to the study of Thaumaturgy, Theurgy, and Fairy matters.  Many of these societies possess actual magicians – other possess mystical lore.  Such societies often lay claims as inheritors of the Druids, the Rosicrucians, or of the Templars.  Others are far more foreign, and at least one, Freemasonry, is a wholly new synthesis of older groups.

Her Majesty has taken the advice of Dr. Dee in regards to these groups, and has passed an act of Regularity.  This act has a number of different effects; the three greatest are:

First, in order for a human being to practice arcane or fairy magic in England, they must pass examination, and swear an oath of loyalty to the crown, and register in a census.  They can be drafted in time of need.

Second, the examination in question is to be administered by an arcane college that is chartered by the Crown.  A large number of such colleges were created on the day that Regularity was passed – these were, in truth, existing groups that had been carefully screened, and endowed with lands (specifically, empty monasteries remaining from Henry's break).  

Third, such arcane colleges are to be overseen by a Master chosen by the Queen; in addition to overseeing those colleges, that Master will also hire and maintain agents to enforce these rules and deal with oddities and incidents.  These agents are referred to as Her Majesty's Arcane Service.  The first Master of Arcana is John Dee himself.  

Those arcane groups which possessed relatively significant power were almost all chartered into schools, and those without have now been given an opportunity for gain.  As a result, Regularity may be said to be a qualified success, much as Uniformity is.  

There are magicians offended by the idea of examination – and those that fear it due to some malign or infernal dealings in their past. As of yet, not a single fairy that teaches magic has shown any interest into sending their pupils into this new system, nor have any of the arcane schools yet managed to acquire a fairy professor (and when one does, there's likely to be some trouble over that, too).  These objectors are often capable of voicing their grievances by supporting revolutionaries, by setting up their own underground schools, and by desperately grasping for more power, the next couple of decades will likely be interesting, to say the least.

Fairy Ambassadors
Kings and Queens in England have long treated fairies as enemies; as agents of demoniacal evil on one hand, and of foreign powers (the fairy lands) on the other.  Elizabeth, however, has a general policy of keeping communications open with the enemies of her state, and does not consider fairies to be demonic.

There are many fairy kingdoms that lead into England by one route or another, but two of these kingdoms are both ubiquitous and powerful – the kingdom of Oberon, and that of Mab.  Both of these kingdoms have been invited to send ambassadors to Elizabeth's court, and both have done so.

Mab, who once mentored Morgana leFay in the days of King Arthur, is also known as the Queen of Ice and Darkness, a title that is borne out in her lands.  The interests of her court in England have traditionally been the taking of human servants by force, and swapping of fairy and human infants, in order to place potential agents throughout the country.  With changelings rapidly embracing the new Regularity, and spreading knowledge of the means and routes by which her raiders enter England, her usual methods are stymied.  Mab's ambassadors, newly arrived at court, seem to simply be trying to learn the shape of human politics.  Mab herself has not yet visited; it is unknown what she plans beyond trying to understand the changing shape of affairs.

Oberon, often called the Summer King, visits court regularly, where he seems to delight in verbal sparring with the Queen and her advisers.  Over the course of seemingly endless debates on minute points of law and land, claims and rights, it appears that Oberon's court is building, one tiny deal and agreement at a time, a solid foundation for regular interaction between his court and England.  

Many of the resultant compacts of law between fairy and human are reflections of tradition, now formalized  For example, it has been determined that should a craftsman leave out milk, entering his workplace on the same night he does so, expressly in order to aid his work, even without his knowledge, is not necessarily criminal, something a number of Oberon's boggans and knockers insist upon.  There is some question whether Oberon is engaging in playing an absurdly long joke, but relations have been much improved regardless.

Of course, the petty Kings and Queens of smaller fairy lands, having heard of all this, take their non-invitation as the greatest insult.  Their plotting and raiding have increased hugely.

And now, the Questions:

Anything here that makes no sense to you - stuff you can't follow?

Anything here strike you as especially hot or as no damn use to you?

The next bit would be "what the Arcane Service actually end up doing" - adventures, basically.  So, what kind of adventures would you want to know are available in this setting, as a player of GM?

Max Weber was this dude that made up a bunch of what has become modern sociology and political science. I think it'll probably pass muster on the board here because, well, this is an actual theory in the scientific sense rather than the usual run of stuff theory gets; there have been hypothesis-experiment cycles run around this, and it more or less stands up in politics.

He posited three basic types of political authority (he also posited many yards of other stuff, but let's leave that on the side for now):

Traditional Authority is authority vested in certain people because of their lineage or because of their position with regards to tradition.  The tribal cheif is followed because "that's how we've always done it, and it works".

Charismatic Authority is authority that comes from the perceived personal qualities of the individual.  They are perceived as extraordinarily good or smart or whatever, and acquire folowers as a result.

Legal-Rational Authority is based in laws, in institutions.  It's not personal; authority is gained and retained by meshing with the structure of governance.


Now, let's say that, for the sake of argument, that these theorised types are more or less accurate.   And let's say that they apply to the internal politics of your gaming table.

If these things are true, then what how would you describe a good night at your table in these terms?  Who has which kinds of authority?  

When there are problems at your table, do they come from someone trying to claim authority of one of these types?

If this is true....   What else is true?

I've been long-tempted to grab stuff from Clash, declare myself his layout monkey (and possibly even quasi-editor), and just dig the hell in.

This is because he write great games, but the goodness is (at least to me) obscured somewhat by the total bare-bones format.  And presentation layout is easy for me - it's something I just do.

So, I'm fiddling with On Her Majesty's Arcane Service, grinding at it to make it natural.  Yes, he's very aware of this; it's kind of a 'tester' project.  And, of course, I'd like to get some feedback on how it hits you.  But we're not going to give away the farm here.

So.  Right now, I have re-drafted layout for the introduction, for association-building, and for the start of character creation (which will likely see a lot more revision, but still).

What are you interested in seeing?

Everything that dreams creates Quina, a form of energy.  Quina is tricky stuff to quantify; it acts according to rules native more to the unconscious mind rather than bowing to physics; it is tied to primal powers not because it must be but because those things matter to those that create it.  Quina is the foundation of all magic.

The Loose Flow Of Power
Where things dream, Quina moves, seeking other Quina that carries similar imprints.  This flow occurs in pools that mirror the living spaces of the dreamers; a street or neighborhood has one distinct ‘pool’, while the next block over, a different pool is in motion.  Each flow finds a central locus - a place or thing that enough dreamers imprint into it regularly, and which is not active in itself.  This   locus becomes the place where the flow collects; the touchstone for the power moving through that immediate area.  Such spots are known to magicians by many names, but most commonly as Hearths.

Hearths, Thresholds, And Keys
As a Hearth gathers age and power, it has a number of effects on the area.  First, the presence of a Hearth causes the pool of power that created it to grow more difficult to influence; a magician wishing to cast a spell or activate an item within that pool must work harder.  This is known as the threshold effect.  At the same time, certain actions, items, or persons become imbued with a sort of ‘trust’ from the Hearth - those performing such actions, carrying such items, or who have been well-referenced by those persons are not affected by the threshold effect.  Such actions, items, and persons are generally known as hearth keys.

As well as centralizing the flow of power in a region, a Hearth also comes to store Quina.  Left to itself, fragments of this power will attain a process that resembles thinking, and emerge as Fae.  These beings are formed, however, from the impulses of dreaming minds - and not only human ones.  They are  always confusing to deal with, usually nonsensical, and sometimes horrifyingly dangerous.  Left long enough, a hearth will spin out many Fae, which will slowly cull and duplicate until a sort of community forms.  A mature Hearth that has seen no interference for decades will become a Fae Court, which may be protective of it’s dreamers, or predatory, or any mixture of the two.  Such Courts exist in states of permanent competition; even the most benevolent of Courts with regards to their dreamers still cull their own ranks constantly.

Of course, things don’t tend to be left untouched.  Creatures living in an area for many generations, who dream of the personalities of places, sometimes adapt.  The signal adaptation to magic is the ability to force it out from a Hearth; the Hearthbonded are those who possess this capacity.  Powerful and gifted Hearthbonded, who have not only become aware of this ability (most do not), and have practiced their powers for a significant amount of time, can cause vast flows of power from one Hearth to another.  A few Hearthbonded have become lords over Fae courts, simply by being able to feast or starve those courts at will.  Hearthbonded have existed from time before memory.

Hedge Magicians
At some point in prehistory, some Hearthbonded were instead born with the capacity to force Quina out of Hearths and into material form.  Those that were born empowered in this way became a new kind of magic-worker.  Each       family line of such magicians, developed and refined the ability to craft a few kinds of magical items.  For the most part, these Hedge Magicians outpaced the original Hearthbonded; almost any town has a Hedge Magician or a cluster of them somewhere, while only a few towns have a Hearthbonded in their ranks.

As it happens, this earthly arrangement of power is unusual in the greater scheme of reality (though not unique).  On most planes of existence, the local “Fae” are dominant, and dreamers are bred for their ability to generate Quina.  In their travels, a number of wanderers from such other planes have found their way to our reality.  Such beings found the local powers laughable, and began to establish centers of power - the first human cities.  In those cities, these alien gods opened gates to their own planes, letting the rules of far realities leak across.  Such power brought about an age of tyranny under beings that wished to remake the human mind into a form more suitable for giving them power.  

Lineage Magicians
In the cities of the Outsiders, mad attempts and experiments were untertaken, as hedge magicians sought to eke out some form of existence.  They worked to  draw tainted Quina from the gates to alien realities, whether to challenge the alien gods or to gain a place of power at their right hand.  Their failures were immense.  The few and awesome successes came when they transformed their own bodies into gateways to other-planar power, inheriting an entire new suite of powers and abilities, and the ability to store Quina within themselves.  These successes were the first Lineage Magicians, and between them, they shattered the thrones of the Outsiders.  The alien gods were driving into hiding by humans who had stolen and mastered their own powers.  

Those were your ancestors.



News and Adverts / Amagi Games, properly returned.
« on: October 14, 2009, 04:50:39 PM »
After the big site crash, and an abortive Worpress restart, Amagi is back online.

Some reshaping has been done to fit the actual patterns of use...

Most people on the site were interested in a resource for tinkering and design, so that's what it is.

They didn't need another discussion site, so it isn't one anymore.

Also, they were treating the games hosted there as examples of cool stuff to hack with, rather than as a big deal in their own right.  So that's how the site treats those games, now, too.

Design, Development, and Gameplay / [Haven] Early notes
« on: September 11, 2009, 08:35:35 PM »
What you're about to read is the turn order for a board game. The board game in question is also intended to eventually act as a frame for a roleplaying/improv game, and as a campaign system for a combat game. However, it should also work as an actual boardgame without either of those.

Players taking on the role of dragons who rule an island, as a group. A turn is a season.

While you read, I'd like you to look for:

1. What kind of play do you think this would create?

2. Can you easily see this as 'strapping in' as the campaign system for a roleplaying game?

..................As a boardgame.........................

The game ends after a set number of turns.

The winner is the player with the best personal resources.
However, if the communal resources are not significant enough, everyone loses.


Here's the turn order:

1. Primacy Challenges
The draconic laws of the Reach limit all challenges for dominance and position on an island to the first day of the season. So, on the day that the season changes on a given island, dragons may buck and manuever to take on the roles of Prime, Fisher, Shaper, Quickener, Seeker, Shepherd, and Walker, each of which has it's own advantages (Prime beign the biggest).
[Mechanism here]

2. The Prime Assigns Population And Duties
The player of the Prime picks up dice to match the 'population pool', and assigns these to the various dragons (including themself). They then state what they want that dragon to do as their duties, within their role - a seeker, who rules any mineral deposits, could be told to mine gold for the communal hoard, or to build stone walls on the hills, etc. Each dragon also has a set number of dice to start with, depending on how well their dragon matches their current duties.

3. Everyone sets closed action, and closed effort - and reveals the effort.
Each player grabs a slip of paper, and notes down a project they're undertaking that is not part of their duties, placing this face-down. They then (behind their hand) put some of their dice on this slip to indicate how much of their oomph they're putting into it. Dice (population and effort) that are left off this slip of paper are dice the dragon is using towards the duties of their role.

4. Duties are resolved
Everyone rolls dice for their actual duties, and resolves the effects on the island. Stuff is built, resources gathered, and so on.

5. Events are resolved.
Any die pool that comes up with doubles or triples or four-of-a-kind generates an event. Some events are just color; some are trade offers, others are combative, and still others are roleplay-ish. This have simple mechanistic effects, except where the related games are plugged together (in which case, this becomes by far the longest step of the game).

6. Closed events are revealed and resolved
Everyone rolls dice for their pet projects. Influence is gained, loyalty swayed, personal (on-communal) resources generated.

7. Maintain the people.
Food and such are dealt with, and any other 'clean-up' occurs.


How does that hit you? How do you expect you'd play it, and what would you hope to see in that mix?

Playing a character, and doing it well, takes time, attention, focus.

It gets trickier when the group has a fairly potent fictional world they're agreed upon.  It can get even trickier when this fictional stuff is anchored down with fiddly mechanical stuff - but also rewarding in ways that are awesome.  Add in jumping back and forth from playing the character to playing the world for others, and it can be damn near impossible to actually see the character that you came to roleplay.

That's why there's a GM chair - to manage a lot of that load, so players can get down to business.  The GM isn't a special snowflake, not are they a stern-and-fair arbiter.  Their "power" does not need to be protected from evil and abusive players.

The GM is a load-bearing device, creating a space for the roleplay that's otherwise all too easy to lose.

Go on, tell me I'm wrong.

So, the one thing that got the most "this is the missing piece" in the Dark Overlord thread looked to me to be "There's no substance to the characters", posed in various ways.

So.  If a total lack of character substance can be one of the things making a game where you roleplay into not-an-RPG...


How do you make your characters more substantial?  Niches?  Character options?  Deep ethical character decisions?  Emo corner-sitting?  What?

When you've got that substance, what do you (and other in your group) do with it and around it that makes it a rewarding and awesome part of your play?

Other Games / The party game "Aye, Dark Overlord" is actually an RPG.
« on: September 03, 2009, 03:05:13 PM »
Aye, Dark Overlord is published by Fantasy Flight as a "Party game".  It is 4-6 players, and runs on cards.

Here's a fast intro.


Here's the rulebook.

Here's my flat statement:

This game is a Roleplaying Game.

Can you make a reasonable case that says otherwise?  The evidence for or against is all there...

Design, Development, and Gameplay / Havoc: Needs playtesters.
« on: September 01, 2009, 06:06:38 PM »
Havoc: Aerial Battles In The World Of Hoard is going to start needing playtesters within the week.  It's 2+ players, a straight-up combat game of fightin' dragons.  To be a playtester, you need to have:

-A willingness to read about ten pages of densely-written (but not terribly complex) rules.
-The capacity to print two pages out of a PDF.
-A big pile of six-sided dice - like, seven or eight at a minimum.
-Pencils, and possibly a stack of tokens if you'd like to re-use sheets.
-At least one other person you can sit down with for an hour or two to play.
-The desire to give feedback.
-The understanding that you will be playing a draft rule-set.  There WILL be screwy things.

If this interests you, email me at:

If you have questions, ask them here - that way, if I missed something stupidly obvious, I only have to answer it once.

Consider this chain of events:

1. Levi releases an Aerial Wargame of Dragons, two or more players, about an hour to play, build your own dragon in ten minutes or less.  Free, as a PDF.

(Would you look at them?  If you found them interesting, would you actually get around to playing them?  If good, would you share them?)

2. Levi releases the Campaign Rules for the aerial wargame - which turn the game into an island-running game which generates combat encounters.  Two or more players, one of which must act as the "adversary" player, though this position can rotate.

(If you hadn't been interested in the wargame, would the combination make you more interested?  If you liked the wargame, would you want to give this a look-see as well?)

3. Levi releases the Roleplaying rules for the whole package - which, notably, would strap right into the Campaign machine, so that the island-running creaats roleplaying encounters as well, and those encounters feed back into the whole thing too.

(How does that last step hit you?)

I'm thinking about going this way.  I'm thinking about it pretty seriously.

So, Luke Crane, the Burning Wheel guy, decided that a good definition of an RPG was as follows:

"[An RPG is] A game in which a player advocates the goals, priorities and survival (or doom) of a persona who, in operation of the game's mechanics, is confronted with one or more ethical choices."

And this has caused some discussion.

Speaking for myself, I'd word it like this...

An RPG is a game in which a player advocates the goals, priorities and survival (or doom) of a persona who, in the course of normal play, is confronted with one or more open-ended and substantial value decisions.

And I'd attach, as a note, that the value decisions don't need to be central to the play of the game, nor do the players need to be focused on them.  But "making substantial and open-ended value decisions while taking on the part of a fictional person" pretty much strikes me as being the thing that differentiates actual roleplay from, say, Final Fantasy.

Anyway, I'm curious what this lot would have to say about it.  

Kick it around, would you?

This is what I want to tinker with.  I have exactly zero ideas right now, other than what I want to simulate, which is the following:

You, character, have hangers-on and the like, and are engaged at some social milleu - a fancy ball, a royal court, shit like that.

You want to achieve status, dominance, and screw with the reputations of others.  And this is not a campaign of intrigue; this is the conflict of the moment, a night of many-personed confusion.  Planting rumors, picking fights between others, all done from your own little empire of hangers-on and followers.

How can this be accomplished?  What would you want to track, roll, all that?  Followers?  Rumors?  Tensions?

In advance of free RPG day tommorrow, some Amagi PDFs that have been offline a while are back up for download...

An archive of early articles.

Always Questing  -  Broken Places  -  Creep  -  Hideaway  -  Hit Me  -  Long Knives  -  Rule of Lame  -  What Is Roleplaying?

...Now, these dowloads might stick around.  They might get expanded on, they might vanish into the air.  I 'm not even remotely sure what, if anything, I intend.  But they ARE public domain.  So if you like them, feel free to steal and rehost them, rewrite them, share them.

At present, these aren't linked visibly on the actual site; that might change, but for now, if you know people that'd want these, let 'em know.

Tomorrow, hopefully, some actual games as well.

News and Adverts / Cog Wars Stuff
« on: December 12, 2008, 02:43:28 PM »
The Cog Wars: Zero Edition is a steampunk game of rebellion coming December 19th from Amagi; "Zero Edition" is to mark the fact that the game may well see significant further development after release, if there is enough interest.

As a preview of this game, a fillable, saveable character sheet has been uploaded.  This sheet is filled out with a sample character (Clarence) which can be overwritten. Also contained is a summary of the character creation rules.

Please note that the rules summary included is an excerpt from a prerelease version of the book; chapter references are included, and some rules may be outdated by the book.

If you want to 'warm up' for the release of the game, try your hand at building a character and uploading it to the file gallery at for The Cog Wars!  Site registration is not required.

Download the Character Maker

See the cover

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