Archive for the ‘People’ Category


Ada Lovelace Day – Cleopatra the Alchemist

10 October, 2017

Cleopatra the AlchemistToday is Ada Lovelace Day, celebrating the contribution of women to the sciences, technology and knowledge.

As is my wont on ALD, I choose to highlight notable women of ideas of the Ancient World (see my 2011 and 2012 contributions) and today is no exception:

Cleopatra the Alchemist

Considered one of the finest alchemist of her time, roughly the 3rd Century CE, and was said to one of the four women alchemists who had mastered the philosopher’s stone and were capable of changing base metals to gold.

Alchemical secretsSadly, not much beyond that is know of her, there is a single page of symbolic notes she is believed to have written.  But the school of alchemy that she was attached to was well known as using advanced technology, she is associated with the early use or even invention of the alembic, used for distilling (and still used for distilling alcohol).

Notes: Images from Wikimedia Commons (seal) and Wikimedia Common (symbols) both are in the Public Domain.  You can read more about Cleopatra at Wikipedia.

Today’s magic item is inspired by her.












What Character Archetypes do you enjoy playing, reprised.

24 March, 2017

We were discussing what character types our current group tend to gravitate to, so I thought I would repost this article and see what people think of it (almost seven years later):

The Naive Expert / Talented Innocent

Who to be today?This is one of my favorite character conceptions, someone who is very, very skilled in a specific field but naive about the greater world.  These character are very good at what they do and very confident of their own abilities in their field and totally lost once they step out of that narrowly defined area.  They are usually young and without much in the way of social or combat skills, at least at the start.

Why play this archetype?

Read the rest of this entry ?


Wizards in the Sea of Stars

30 July, 2016

Wizard EarlMy, rather last minute, addition to this month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme of the Ways of the Wise hosted by my friend Brandes over at Harbinger of Doom.

Wizards were once a great power in the pre-Sundering Sea of Stars, indeed the gods feared that it would be the wizards that made a play to displace the divine beings and so agents of the faiths were actively working to undermine the power bases of the great wizards and keep them divided.  Unfortunately, the gods focus on the wizards caused them to almost entirely overlook the draconic conspiracy.

When the dragons attacked the gods, the wizards dithered, some arguing that the gods needed their help, others were happy to watch two rivals tear each other apart, most just waited and trying to figure out what was happening in the heavens.  A handful of ambitious wizards in the immediate aftermath of the Sundering tried to caim their own independent states, the Empress offer them one chance to bend the knee to her, most did not and were destroyed in swift and decisive action.  The other wizards either went into hiding or found draconic patrons, the choice was stark, avoid the eyes of the dragons or serve them.  The wizards’ ruins were left behind by the Empress’ wrath, she forbid anyone from looting them, leaving them as a testimony to her power.  Of course that has not stopped the greedy and the curious from exploring them, especially as Imperial oversight of the ruins fell away after centuries.

The wizards who found draconic patrons, most found them to be generous and willing to give them free reign as long as they produced the results there patron desired.  Such pressure to succeed does sometime lead to the cutting of corners and taking of risks, such as hiring of venturers to acquire needed items or information.

Those who went into hiding pursued various tactics to vanish, some found patrons among the elves, dwarves or even the criminal underworld, others traveled to the wilds at the edge of the world where few went, other concealed their skill and power and posed as hedge wizards or scholars.  Most managed to avoid detection by a few were swept up by Imperial forces or the Draconic houses to be pressed into service or executed.  After a century, the wizards had either integrated into their new lives or died, but the power of these rogue wizards was vastly reduced and the Imperial project to find them was wound down.

Wizards and their machinations, abandoned towers and labratories, can serve as adventure locations and seeds.  While not directly able to challenge the power of the dragons, the magic secrets of the wizards are a stepping stone toward equalizing the power imbalance between mortal and dragon.

Notes: Image of the Wizard Earl (Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland) by Nicholas Hilliard, held by the Rijksmuseum and is in the Pubic Domain.


Venturers (A to Z Challenge, V)

26 April, 2016

Those that wander the Sea of Stars seeking their fortune and, occasionally, performing acts of heroism are known as venturers.  They are immortalized in play, song and story and also vilified in the same mediums, how they are viewed in a local area depends greatly on how the last group of venturers treated the locals.  Unfortunately for venturers, good memories fade quickly, but poor ones quickly harden into lasting prejudice.

Wise venturers, a surprisingly rare breed,  try to build on the legends of successful and well regarded past venturers, creating a chain of positive associations.  Paying bards and actors to spread heroic stories and even printing books of tales to present the right side of the tale.  A friendly populace is useful, often vital, providing support and information, while a neutral or hostile one makes life much more difficult on almost all levels.

The stereotype of the venturer as a big talking and overconfident but ultimately barely competent and cowardly is well established and the basis of most comedic portrayals of venturers.   Venturers are common stock characters in popular comedies and show up quite often.  Venturers are rarely played as deliberate villains in the comedies but they often accidentally make things  worse in the stories by their blundering.

While venturers are nearly universally outsiders, they are needed, they fill roles that many communities do not have people who can.  Dangerous beasts, magical outbreaks, sometimes even just bandits, venturers are hired to sort these out when the locals, or their rulers, cannot.

Notes: I just like the term venturer over adventurer, perhaps because merchant-venturer has been stuck in my mind since I was young.  Also, another minor way to differentiate the setting.





Monarchs of the Sea of Stars (A to Z Challenge, M)

15 April, 2016

Symbol of rulershipWhile there are many sorts of governments across the Sea of Stars, monarchies and their close kin (oligarchies and dictatorships) dominate for the simply reason that the dragons find them both controllable and understandable and of the two, the later may be the most important.

While the divine right of kings may not have been universal, since the Sundering, the draconic right of kings has firmly established with most royal bloodline having blood ties to their draconic overlords.  The dragons like continuity of bloodline and ties of blood are one of the few things they trust, though not completely it must be said.  Most of the royal bloodlines were intertwined this way in the first century of dragonrule when the dragons reveled in their new ability to take human form.  This added a further level of legitimacy to the royal lines and an implied level of support for the family and threat to any that would try to depose them.

Once these ties were made and traditions established, the greater part of the dragons were happy to withdraw and leave the boring minutia of governing to their relatives and descendants.  As long as they receive their due, the dragons are willing to let others rule in their stead, but they like to have a many hooks into the lands (and people) that they see as theirs just in case.

Royal and ruling families are usually proud of their draconic ties, which provide physical benefits in the form of enhanced health and lifespans as well as the political one, though it depends of how the dragons are perceived by their nation of how much they play up such ties in public.  Dictators and tyrants especially tend to embrace their dragon blood and draconic philosophy in their approach to rule.

Notes: I explained why we have knights and castles, two high fantasy tropes, in the Sea of Stars and here is the explanation for queens and kings all over the place.

Photo by Chris Brown and used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


Knights and Knightly Orders in the Sea of Stars (A to Z Challenge, K)

13 April, 2016

Not looking good for the knightWhen the dragons carved up the world in the aftermath of the Gods War and the Sundering, most came to the realization that actually governing was dull and unpleasant, so they restored or established new power structures and placed themselves at the very top.  So far on top that they only needed to deal with major, as in populace destroying level, of problems.

One of the tools available to them were the military aristocracy, the knights, who the dragon could easily understand at least.  Most dragons were happy to take on the patronage of Knightly orders in their realm and several dragons (such as Ba’ai’i) even created new orders from the ground up to their specifications.  New knightly Orders have continued to be founded, about half of which are directly or indirectly sponsored by a draconic ruler, with those with a draconic patron more likely to be focused solely on martial achievement and military glory.

Knightly orders in the Sea of Stars are likely to work closely with magic wielders: the Eosiante Knights of the Sun are a quasi-religious order that stands with the Church of the Sun, though they are always careful to bow to the state and their distant dragon overlord.  The Laccini Order of Gold works closely with the necrourgists of that Kingdom often fighting side by side with unliving troops and wielding vicious magic weapons.

Noble and trueA handful of the old knightly orders, shattered by dragonrule, have become secret societies plotting to take back what was theirs.  Most of these have degenerated into simple criminal conspiracies by this point but they still lay claim to (a very tattered) noble heritage but a very few remain true to their original ideas, acting as knights errant in a world with a surfeit of dragons.

Notes: Knights just need to exist in a high fantasy game, of course samurai, martial artists and all sorts of other wandering heroes exist in the Sea of Stars too.

Cloth image by Daria and knight photo by narzissysiphus, both used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


Imperial Agents (A to Z Challenge I)

11 April, 2016

Usually spies, rarely assassinsThe Empress runs the Imperium with a minimum of staff and bureaucracy, she values efficiency over mass and quality over quantity, the fact that she can demand the service of any of the Draconic Houses and their assets as needed provided for the rare occasion when quantity* is needed.

But the Empress is always seeking talented and dedicated individuals to act as her eyes, ears and -rarely- talons across the Sea of Stars.  Her existing agents seek those who might also serve, setting them tasks and challenges to winnow out the less skilled and devoted.  Those that do well, from luck, skill or sheer bravado, are recruited into Imperial service.

But to become a full Imperial Agent, with all that entails, the Empress herself will set the prospective agent a task, invariable one with lethal consequences for failure.  Visse have infiltrated the Sen’tek, branches of the Moon Cult have be exposed, sorcerous conspiracies undone, and many potential agents have died failing in similar missions.  But those that succeed are granted access to specialize training and equipment almost unknown outside of the Imperial circle.

The most successful agents may even, eventually, retire from active and be ascended into the ranks of the dragonkine where they may train and advise the next generation of agents.

Notes:Yes, you could build a campaign around Double O agents of the Dragon Queen fighting dangerous elements with high magic gadgets.  Their numbers are very few and they are only used when required.  Their mere existence increases the worry and need for security among those that would seek to pull down the Empire.

*”Quantity has a quality all its own.” -possibly Stalin.

Image from The British Library where it has No known copyright restrictions.

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