Expanding the Universe - Skovlan

I’ve been running a small game of Blades since a bit before the final version came out, and when I got my lovely special edition hardback, I thought it’d be great to take my crew of Smugglers out of Doskvol some time and let them see the world (or U’Duasha, at least). Ever the over-ambitious scoundrels, the crew eventually found themselves at war with too powerful a foe and had to flee the city. Perfect. Except it turns out I’m an idiot and I didn’t give them any reason to trek all the way to the middle of Iruvia. They already had family and gunrunning connections in Skovlan, so of course they went there. So anyway, I made a country. It’s just an outline, really, but we’ve started playing in it and it’s already led to some pretty good times, and it’ll keep growing in detail as we go. Would anyone be interested in seeing what I’ve got so far?

P.S. Is this the right section to put this under?

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Toss it up, man! Show us what you’ve got.

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Yep, this is the place.

Keen to see what you’ve done. I’m currently playing in a smuggler crew that’s started playing in the middle of Severos.

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I would love to see the outline.

I enjoy collaborative world building with players and GM, but I also don’t like long “session 0.” K ran a short campaign this winter where I started by reading a 1 paragraph setting statement. We built characters and started in the middle of a score.

Over the first 3 sessions, players added a handful of places and factions and fleshed out back stories for their characters, the crew, friends, and rivals. They added the detail as the game unfolded. It worked brilliantly.

All I needed to get started was an opening paragraph, a few bullet points of interesting things, a starting score, and prompts that I rolled out over the intro sessions.

I did the same thing each time we moved to a new city / district.

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You bet! Show us yours and I’ll show the couple of pages I wrote up for Lockport – my crew isn’t sticking around there but they spent a month or so in exile.

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Skovlan is a harder, wilder country than Akoros. Old stone architecture, the remnants of the medieval age remaining more visible, though ruined in places. The weather is as violent as any of the criminal gangs. Yet this has its benefits. The stormy weather is harsh wherever you go, but gets worse the further west and north you go, the frequent lightning storms burn off the ghosts that populate the deathlands outside the cities, making those regions more accessible to the living than elsewhere, so long as you take adequate precautions against the weather and what ghosts do remain. For they may be wilder and more dangerous even than those of the rest of the world. These are, after all, survivors.

Outside the cities then, life is frightening, but possible for a few certain kinds of people. Covens of witches live out there, at one with terrifying nature, arcane wards and pacts with the spirits are their protection, instead of lightning barriers. Scavengers, the toughest or the most desperate, make trips out into the bleak wilds, gathering artefacts from the pre-Cataclysm, perhaps powerful mystical objects, or perhaps just trinkets picked off the bones of the centuries-dead, and sold in tawdry pawn shops and jewellers’. Castle, villages, whole towns and citadels lie in wait out there, for whoever would risk their lives and souls for loot.

Climate
Where Doskvol is blighted with a near constant drizzle, Skovlan is more a land of extremes; it does drizzle, but it can pelt rain, chill wind, even hail and snow. Yet at times, at the height of a storm, the air turns still, and the rain ceases to fall: with a burst of lightning overhead, thundering through the streets and down the valleys outside, the rain stops dead, droplets turning to fog, hanging in the air like the ghost of itself. This might last only a few moments, or on rare occasions for days at a time, the shrouding mist drifting through everything. But eventually, you will hear it again, that patter, slow and gentle at first, quiet in the distance, gaining strength with every passing minute as the fog condenses visibly in front of you, until the storms come again. The purple half-dawn of Akoros is replaced here with a feint orange glow.

Wildlife
Outside the cities, the land is rugged and bleak, but some animals survive there. Hares, foxes, wolves, bears. The further out into the mountainous regions of Skovlan, the bigger and harder they come. And worse; with those survivor spirits that haunt the wilds, some have learned to possess the animals, and with time, may distort their original forms into stranger, more awful things. Dire animals and worse mutants are creatures in the grip of a deeply rooted spirit turning ever more feral with the years in that grand wilderness.

Culture
Skovlan was a nation deeply in touch with its heritage and with nature. But having lost its war of independence from the Imperium, it’s a nation divided and angry, and the Imperium seeks to eliminate the aspects of Skovlan culture that gave it its power and identity, hoping the people will forget the past, the better to embrace a future under Imperial rule. To wear the signs of traditional Skovlan culture in the major cities is seen as an act of defiance, and will draw the watchful eye of the constabulary; not necessarily immediate response, but suspicion and vigilance. Heavy furs, tattoos, woad and braids are all marks of that culture, and they mix with the modern imperial fashions on the streets of the cities, often still clashing in bitter feuds.

Of even greater worry to the Imperium is the history of witchcraft in Skovlan. With cults forming both in and outside the cities, there is a growing concern that should a concerted fightback occur, it may unleash forces that Imperials don’t understand. To be clad in fur and bones, baring mysterious patterns daubed on your skin, is to make an Imperial’s blood run cold, and to do so inside city limits is to invite a knock at the door in the night, that may be the last thing you hear, or the last act of the Bluecoat beyond.

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Lockport - The Imperial capital of Skovlan, Lockport has been the most industrialised. While it was already a strong mining and trading town, more here have had their lives changed by the new rule than anywhere else in Skovlan, with increased demand in the mines and factories overtaking the artisanal trades and fur trapping of old. This is where the change is felt most keenly, and with the most anger and heartbreak. The old Thane still lives, but is a puppet of the Imperial Council, a figurehead used to keep the more blinkered of the old guard happy.

Blackvale, to the north, has been relatively untouched by the Imperium, principally because it’s too cold and bleak to hold much attraction. Many who prefer the old ways have either moved there, or at least keep talking about it (but might never want to brave that strange, dark place in reality). The Thane was brutally killed by members of his own court who now rule loosely in the name of an indifferent Imperium. The valley in which the city resides is faced so that it never receives the low dawn and dusk the rest of the world gets, and the fortifications on the surrounding hills are long since ruined and very haunted.

Arvaedh, to the south, was always the most cosmopolitan, having strong trade connections with both Whitehollow in western Akoros, and Tyrmoor on the northern tip of Severos. Here, the benefits of being part of the wider world have long been appreciated, and the quality of life here has been a big selling point for the Imperium. The Thane ceded power to the Imperium without much fight, and so retains a relationship with the Council that renders him some amount of power.

Thanes?
Wouldn’t that imply a king of Skovlan? Absolutely, and there was such a thing pre-cataclysm. When the spaces between the major settlements became too dangerous to traverse (before the railways were built), any attempt at centralised government became impracticable. The title of Thane stuck when anyone with more power died and their positions became obsolete. Since the cities became more connected, this could’ve changed again, but with only three cities, they simply never felt the need, the city states working and trading together without any singular regime. This has also fed into the Skovlan national identity – if they haven’t felt the need for centralised government within the country for the last 800 years, imagine having one force itself on you from outside – yet might also have been part of their weakness to the co-ordinated Imperium.

The Imperium is seen by its supporters in Skovlan as an important step forward for inclusion and freedom of movement. The separatists are thus viewed as regressive, isolationist, a little bit backwards. But from the other side, the Imperium is seen as trampling a traditional lifestyle and culture, bringing oppression under the guise of progress.

The Imperial state religion, The Church of Ecstasy, with its distrust of spirits as corrupt beings, is being used to discredit and suppress the traditional spiritual practices of Skovlan. Many fear the old ways will be wiped out within a generation or two. This is partly why some of the witch cults are having to move out of the safety of the cities and live in small, arcane warded enclaves outside the lightning barriers. But this move of fear and desperation may yet bring them closer to the source of their power. That is, if they survive the contact.

The reverence of traditional Skovlan culture for spirits though has a dark side for any traveller coming from Tycheros. Demons are spiritless beings, and the demon blood in Tycherosi veins makes them a people deeply distrusted here. This attitude is the least prevalent in Arvaedh, where they are more used to being surrounding by people of different cultures.

(I’ve tried to maintain some moral complexity within the setting. Of the two characters the campaign started with, one is from Skovlan and has his roots among the anti-Imperial fighters; the other is Tycherosi, and it was their player who pointed out the distrust that Skovlanders might have for them, effectively volunteering to be an object of suspicion for many would-be allies. Two more players joined at this point, one from the Dagger Isles and one from Iruvia, the latter’s Vice being an Obligation to the rebellion who he came to Skovlan to support. So while one player has shown that this culture can be wary of some kinds of outsiders, another has shown that it isn’t inherently xenophobic. A currently open story thread is the possibility of redeeming the Skovlander character’s father in his suspicion of the Tycherosi - that is, once the returning son has earned his name back after leaving the rebels for the Imperial capital Doskvol years ago.

The Imperium, meanwhile, isn’t intended to be set up as any kind of progressive utopia, nor as an indiscriminately oppressive and destructive iron fisted regime. It’s certainly cunning and ruthless in breaking down elements that it fears, but it’s also smart enough to know that presenting itself as an open and accepting society is going to win more hearts and minds than trampling everything its people hold dear.)

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Unique and Modified Factions for Skovlan

  • The Rebellion – Formerly the Resistance, but having officially lost that war, they now seek to overthrow their new masters.
  • The Witch Cults – Perhaps not really single faction, but a collection of cults and covens that exist in and around the cities, being more prevalent the further north you go. They seek to be one with their world, and revere spirits as much as fear them.
  • The Church of the Ecstasy of the Flesh – Not yet as entrenched here as in Duskwall, but they have powerful backing from the Imperium, as they are very vocal against the spirit worship of the witch cults, and therefore a useful tool in suppressing certain dangerous elements of traditional Skovlan culture. As such, they are treated as more of an institution, but their hold is weaker.
  • The Path of Echoes – At odds with the Church of Ecstasy due to their reverence for spirits as possessors of ancient knowledge, they have a stronger hold in Skovlan because of the region’s spirit worship traditions.
  • Deathlands Scavengers – While Akoros has some desperate folk who’ll brave the world outside the barriers, those who do the same in Skovlan are a different breed. In Akoros, they’re among the lowest of the low, usually convicts working off a sentence, almost always people with little or nothing to lose. Here in Skovlan, they’re more respected among the underworld, and there are a few who’ve survived long enough to make a name for themselves. They’re a Tier III faction instead of Tier II.
  • The Factories – New captains of industry are taking over the cities of Skovlan, increasing mining and mechanised construction, claiming the land and people for their own gain.
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@watergoesred @ebrunsell @BryantD and everyone else, I’d love to see what you’ve made, if you’re willing to share. Let’s explore these Shattered Isles.

And by the way, don’t we just love a game that gives us such an evocative and richly imagined world, then still lets us get this creative with that world?

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The map I used for Lockport – this is from watabou’s Medieval Fantasy City Generator:

District Notes

Lockport Castle: the center of Imperial rule of Skovlan. Extremely well guarded. Also a hot point for dissent, since the Imperials took over the traditional home of the Skovland rulers.

The Plaza: mercantile and cultural center of Skovlan. Hangings take place in the center square. Rich non-Skovlanders like living inside the walls.

Varasto: the warren of deserted warehouses is now a smuggler-infested district.

Temple Point: hasn’t been the home to temples in a long time; still rumored to be haunted, but that may be propaganda spread by the shamans who think this district shouldn’t ever have changed.

Saltwatch: mostly residential, trending from well-off (near the walls) to middle-class (towards Tenbell).

Shipvil: where the docks and warehouses are. Industrial in nature. The refineries are east of here.

Tenbell: slums, criminals, and rebels. Better north of Marrowmont Way, but keep your eye on your purse anywhere here.

A few in a bit more detail:

Varasto
Varasto was once the docks and warehouse district. In the last decades, and particularly under Imperial rule, the mercantile docks have moved to Shipvil and Varasto’s relevance as a commercial district has withered. Easy access to the Carog River and the remnants of once busy piers makes it the hub of smuggling in Lockport.

Shipvil
Shipvil is where the new Imperial docks are, and as such is a district of warehouses and people interested in pulling a bit of coin out of the stream of money as it flows past. Not inherently dangerous but there’s not much foot traffic in the evenings.

Temple Point
These days, Temple Point is where you live if you can’t afford land in the Plaza and you don’t like being too close to the ocean. Those Skovlanders who remember and care that they used to worship the earth itself find the nouveau rich Imperials of this district tasteless.

Saltwatch
The moderate residential district of Lockport. The main streets are commercial: shops catering to a range of citizens from the aspirationally wealthy down to the people who just want to buy some mushroom wine to get through the week.

Tenbell
Tenbell is so named because when the evening tenth bell rings, all city services south of Marrowmont Way cease. “Be north before Ten Bells, or be your own man.” This deadline creates both danger and opportunity, and so over the years a thriving criminal community has arisen there.

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(My Arvaedh was a sleepy little fishing town that got populated when the Imperials slapped a rail station down there. Funny how things diverge.)

My name lists:

Sigfast, Ulfketil, Gærrar, Hardbein, Geir, Herjolf, Isgaut, Asketill, Sigfus, Rodmar, Ingemar, Gufi, Hjalti, Vigi, Serk, Thiodolf, Herjolf, Vog, Sam, Eyrbjork, Gefi, Siwald, Gandre, Emulf, Snare, Orinn, Hori, Mundi, Hosvi

Astrid, Bolla, Ljufa, Thorballa, Olof, Ulfheid, Hrefna, Sibbe, Ljufu, Abi, Sigvor, Ragneid, Frida, Rafarta, Asvor, Tola, Ingibjorg, Brynhild, Geirny, Finna, Innag, Thildga, Aurild, Hilda, Orag, Arflorgg, Thallgra, Horla, Thildga

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A couple of factions:

The King of Youth
Every three years, Lockport crowns a new King of Youth with a crown made of the teeth of the previous King.

Tier II

Turf:

NPCs: Jakob Shornbeard (King, daring, young, terrified).

Notable Assets: Tradition and habit; that’s about it.

Quirks: It’s considered good luck to leave a coin with the King of Youth if you’re embarking on a particularly dangerous venture. If you return, he’s expected to give it back.

The Snow Dream
A shamanistic society surviving on (and dedicated to) memories of past glories. They are the best couriers in Skovlan.

Tier II

Turf:

NPCs:

Notable Assets: An extensive collection of arcane artifacts, mostly natural in origin. Contacts in every city in Skovlan. Generally appreciated by older Skovlanders.

Quirks: Thanks to ancient bargains with local spirits, members of the Snow Dream can travel outside cities without fear of ghosts.

Allies: The Azure Rebels

Enemies: Moonmight, Imperial Military

Situation: The Snow Dream is the remnants of the Skovlander shamans who maintained the obelisk network. With the obelisks shattered, they maintain the knowledge of how to create new obelisks: a task that will require blood sacrifice and much effort. Their ability to pass between Skovlan cities without using Imperial trains or ships makes them superb (and well-compensated) couriers.

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This is great. And thanks for the map generator link; I was looking for something like this but the best one I found, I didn’t have time to get good at. This one looks perfect for a lazy and temporally challenged soul like me.

Back at you!

I have a couple of ad hoc factions generated during play which are still on notecards; I’ll transcribe them soon(ish).

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Here is the document that I use with players as we co-create the Shattered Isles. The first section includes brief resources for creating factions and city locations, followed by a blank city sheet. This is followed by a page for each of the shattered isles.

Shattered Isles Almanac – Google Slides / You can make a copy and edit as needed.

Over the first few sessions, I ask players to add interesting locations and rumors. Then, I occasionally have them gain additional information / rumors as part of the results of a score. I just give them a generic “information” reward and then let them provide the detail.

In my modern action hack, this is formalized as bonus INTEL that they gain during a mission. The players can then determine what the characters learn about the world from that INTEL.

In the past, I have formatted the book so that each 1/4 page is one page of a book when it is printed, cut and folded. Then, I can give each player their own almanac.

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