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Friday, 24 March 2017

Where to buy a blessing

You’ll be pleased to hear, especially if you were one of the people who backed it, that The Serpent King’s Domain is nearing completion. Paul Gresty has delivered the manuscript to editor Richard S Hetley, Russ Nicholson is more than halfway through the interior illustrations, and Kevin Jenkins is clearing a space in his busy Hollywood schedule to paint the cover. 

I'm not in charge of the production (the Kickstarter was run by Megara Entertainment, not Fabled Lands LLP) but at a guess the backers might have their copies by the summer, and paperback editions could be on sale in the autumn. Fingers crossed, anyway.

In the course of editing, Richard is coming across some interesting points which force us to revisit some of our rules choices. I say “force”, but to be honest it’s fun having these intensive game conversations. The process is making us all quite eager to run a Kickstarter for The Lone and Level Sands – though maybe this time we should get the book nearly complete first.

* * *

Richard: I continue to proofread by playing, and… ack! It's not so easy to keep track of blessings anymore!

Paul, is the plan that all these new deities would be worshipped in book 8 as well? Or, Dave and Jamie, would it be culturally appropriate? If so, then good. That makes this change much simpler for the reader.

Likewise, you added more than one new type of blessing. Would these blessings (no more and no fewer) be available in book 8? Also good from a game design standpoint, because then they would be “special blessings you get from the southern continent” instead of “weird quirks this new author added for one book.”

And questions which might involve Dave and Jamie:

The price on these blessings keeps changing. I depended on stability in pricing in the northern continent to allow me to update my budget without flipping through too many pages: “Oh, Tyrnai in this port? Combat blessing restored for 25 Shards.” Should “inflation” be allowed in these blessings for the higher-level books? And whether yes or no, should there be such variation from one town to the next?

And this isn't about gods necessarily, but is the entire world called Harkuna or just the northern continent? Book 1 is ambivalent on this.

Dave: I can see that it makes sense to have widely varying prices. On the northern continent cities are linked by trade, stabilising prices to a large extent. In the south, the jungle tends to isolate each community into its own pocket economy. Less trade means less standardisation -- and an opportunity, of course, for daring merchant-adventurers to make a profit.

Wrt the name of the world... I think Harkuna is just the northern continent. It certainly isn't a word that southerners would use. However, ambiguity exists in real scholarship and can do in FL too. When the Maya spoke of “the One World” did they mean just Central America, or all the Americas, or the entire planet? The fact is that usage changes to fit changing ideas of reality, so you might find one sage who'll tell you that Harkuna means all the lands, where others might say it's just the northern part. Jamie, any thoughts?

Blessings... well, I doubt if the regions of book 8 will have many deities in common with book 7. They're different geographies with little commerce between them, except perhaps along the coast. Blessings acquired in any book to date have worked in all books, regardless of whether the deity in question is locally worshipped, but it's possible we could have blessings that are more restricted. (In one of my Tekumel games, players came from a small island where they grew up worshipping a local god; once they travelled to the mainland he had no power to aid them.)

Jamie: “Originally there were three gods, those who created the world. These are hardly mentioned in the legends. They are dim, shadowy figures of a primordial age. Even their names bespeak dream-like obscurity: Harkun, He Who Is Like Harkun, and The Third God. These three having died, their place was taken by powerful demiurges, each with his or her own delineated jurisdiction. Thus there is Tyrnai, overseer of war; Elnir, lord of the sky; irascible Maka, who brings disease and famine if not appeased with sacrifices; Lacuna, lady of the hunt; Nagil, king of the dead; wise Molhern, deity of craftsmen; Sig, who guides the soft footsteps of thieves; the Three Fortunes, goddesses of destiny; and the twin gods Alvir and Valmir, who rule the land under the waves. Those, at least, are the gods of the northern continent...” (3:357 ).

But the idea about the original three, a kind of Trinity (actually something similar to Finnish old gods if I recall correctly) were the creators of the whole world of Harkuna through their deaths. Harkun falls from 'heaven' or 'the land of the Gods' and his spine becomes the mountain range that runs through northern Harkuna ie the Spine of Harkun. His blood is the ocean and so on. But as Dave says, it's the northern folks word for Earth or the 'One World'. I don't think the southern continent would actually call it Harkuna, though they could. They ought to have a similar kind of back story as it were. A different name, but still 3 elder gods. I say 'ought' and not 'must' or 'should' so it's not that important. Some southerners might also name a mountain range after the bones of Harkun and scholars would argue endlessly about who was right. Perhaps fight a war about it, that kind of thing.

The Uttakin take a different view of course... And we shall have to wait and see what the scientists and scholars of book 8 think about that too. Also Atticala and Chrysoprais would have their own versions as well.

As for Blessings, having different prices is fine. But bear in mind that you could start in book 8. That is of course a problem with our whole system - getting to very high levels. And starting with a level 8 character and then just sailing straight to book one makes things a lot easier. But still. Not sure what we can do about that.

I'd think about getting rid of the one god rule perhaps? You can have one God per 'culture' as it were? That means you could have multiple blessings, but hopefully that won't be too unbalancing because it would be very hard to get another blessing of Tyrnai for instance if you are inland. Except of course Ebron where you can never worship anyone else without renouncing him and becoming an Apostate.

Dave: We can't change any meta-rules (like having one god) because those are written into the start of each book. But you can build in special casing within any book, of course -- Ebron being an example of that.

As for the creation myths - well, we can say that's one story. Other cultures will have different stories. The people of Dangor think that the rest of the world outside their city state hasn't been fully created yet, but is just a dream their god is having. Q: “Is the whole world called Harkuna?” A: “No, it's called Dangor.”

Jamie: I meant just for books down south as it were. Part of the problem being that you'd be unable to renounce Enlil for instance whilst in Dunpala. You can have local gods on top of your legacy gods from books one to six. And of course, yes, each culture has their view on the world, like Ebron etc.

Paul: In some (most) cases in FL7, the blessings you get are the same as in the earlier books, so that only the source is different. You can get a THIEVERY blessing from Ko, a SCOUTING blessing from Kel Kin, etc. So it's rarely a problem that you'll need a blessing, but can't get hold of it without crossing the world.

The Sage of Peace in book 6 is a good example of how you can use a specific case to change the meta-rules - it specifically says that you can be an initiate of the Sage of Peace as well as an initiate of another faith, at the same time.

There is a loophole to getting out of the church of Ebron without becoming an apostate, for the record - you become an initiate of Ebron in book 5 as normal, but instead of renouncing the faith as normal you head over to book 2, and have the encounter with the 3 knights of Nagil. They give you the option of becoming an initiate of Nagil on the spot, which replaces the god you're currently an initiate of - that is, you can leave the faith of Ebron without picking up the necessary codeword to say that you're a heretic.

You want loopholes in FL1 - 6? I got 'em.

Jamie: Hah, though not in the eyes of the Expungers! But that’s typical of a lot of stuff – book 2 having been written before book 5 came along and buggered around with the rules. That could be fixed in a later edit though. However, it’s a mild problem in the grand scheme of things I think.

Dave: We really should have written all twelve books and fully standardized the rules before releasing the first one. Not that videogame developers work that way either, but patches for print gamebooks are harder to deliver.

Richard: Yes, well, if you want to change the history of the real world, I can think of more important things to perfect than the development of Fabled Lands. I wouldn't stop you from the latter, of course…

Before commenting on these blessings, I used the search button to look for familiar blessings (Combat and so on) in books beyond what I'd read in 1-3. I saw things like randomized blessings, which is fine. What I didn’t see was “Yes, you non-initiates need to pay thirty Shards on this page, but thirty-five Shards on this other page in the same book. Gotcha!” Remember that, unlike with checking a local market, the player needs to go through (to use a computer metaphor) sub-menu after sub-menu to find the price on just one local blessing, then repeat this from the top for the next one. So, inflation for the book as a whole might make sense, but I'd argue that the gameplay benefit of standardization between cities would benefit players greatly, despite the “sense” of local supply and demand.

I'm not too concerned about difficulties in renouncing worship. The biggest ticket items are resurrections, right? I'd sail across the ocean for several hundred Shards; that's the amount you make from cargo anyway. And you also get a free teleport to the location of the temple when you die so you can change things without losing that cash. Otherwise, getting a discount on exactly one blessing out of the crowd has never seemed important enough to risk the opportunity cost of “Oops! I didn't realize I'd want to become the Chosen One of Nagil! Missed opportunity for this Alvir and Valmir initiate, here.”

In books 1 to 3, I felt little reason to the “God” box outside of resurrection. If this changed in 4 to 6, I wouldn't know. (And then there's Illuminate of Molhern, which doesn't go in that box at all and is just good to have.) Thus, in books 7 and onward, I still wouldn't see myself becoming an initiate of anybody without a higher reason: Huan-da and In-da giving Nahual is one such reason. Unless other gods give powers or Chosen One-style plot events, I don't see players choosing them, especially if there's another new crowd in the next book too.

I really like the idea of Obfuscation as a blessing type. I'd want it in there somewhere for the name alone! If it's too similar to other types, though, perhaps players would like to see an older blessing reappear: some overlap in “quirks” with another region in the world. The Clarity blessing, of course, being relevant to Nahual combat, surely would reappear in all subsequent books that use such combat.

I'm noting the conversation about Harkuna. Bumping against the southern edge of “the world of Harkuna” got my attention. For loopholes, well, I'm trying to catch any in this book as I read. Obsessive gamers will always find them…


  1. Regarding the bit with Ebron and Nagil. I always felt that it wasn't turning away from Ebron that got you the code word. It was publicly, officially turning away from Ebron that puts you on the hit list. It's going into their temple and spurning their god right to their faces that'll get you tossed in the pokey and/or turned into plant food.

    1. In "real life" it would probably be safer never to go back to Uttaku, though. Just in case!

    2. Sure, but I need that Eldritch code word for my investments. How else can I support my lavish lifestyle as a Masked Lady (my PC is usually a female Mage called Autumn Frostwind)? Plus, I left a lot of stuff in the Palace and that inn.

    3. I just know I wouldn't last five minutes in Aku.

    4. Just remember the mantra "Do unto others before they do unto you."

  2. Yes, run the kick-starter fir Lone and Level Sands!

  3. Thanks for sharing the correspondence Dave, always makes for interesting reading. Also shows just how much thought and planning you and Jamie had put into the world that you still remember and feel passionately about. It's nice as a reader/fan to know that the original guys are still actively engaged with it.

    And yes FL8 soon please! :) I wonder, given the success of FL7, whether there would be cost efficiencies from running a campaign for FL8 and another book(s) together?

    1. I'm not sure if people would have the patience for that. It's taken long enough to deliver this one - and nobody's fault, I hasten to add, it's just that Kickstarter doesn't exactly shower you with the riches needed to drop everything else. Hopefully we can deliver FL8 a little quicker.

  4. I've just discovered Fabled Lands (if you can imagine that), and I'm fascinated by all the moving parts you made fit into place across several books, no less. I've not gone beyond Book 2 yet, but Ican imagine the difficulty of balancing all these items, blessings etc. to the various settings. Eager to now see the other books. On that note, any chance of making the larger format versions of 4-6 available? I much prefer that over the paperback version (I also play the German omnibus ones), which seem to have more illustrations than the English edition.

    1. I'm going to get the large format versions of books 3-6 on sale as soon as I can clear a few days to set them up. I prefer them to the regular paperback format myself, but the larger format wasn't an option when we re-released the books in 2010. I'm glad you found us, anyway!