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San Angelo 2070

February 24th, 2018

San Angelo - City of Heroes

In 1998, the sadly defunct Gold Rush Games published Patrick Sweeney’s excellent San Angelo, a wonderfully detailed superhero city supplement for Hero. (You can read my 1999 review of the book here.) For a very long time, I was under the impression that this fantastic supplement had become completely unavailable. But I recently became aware that it is, in fact, available through DriveThruRPG in a version adapted for Mutants & Masterminds and the Action! system. That discovery, in turn, caused me to go digging through my archives and dig out the proposal I wrote for a San Angelo 2070 supplement back in 1999 or 2000. That project ended up going nowhere, but the proposal was quite detailed and I think you might find it of interest.

My goal with San Angelo 2070 was to combine the superhero genre with the techno-corporate elements of cyberpunk to create a setting which would evoke Marvel’s 2099 comics, the various mutant futures (such as Days of Future Past), and Machine Man; a number of DC’s Elseworlds titles; the then-recent Jack-in-the-Box storylines for Kurt Busiek’s Astro City; and similar supehero fare. However, I also wanted the setting to possess the strengths of San Angelo itself — a living, believable, detailed setting where the supers aren’t the only important characters.

San Angelo 2070 takes a look at the future of San Angelo. A future plagued by famine and war, this is the future which Ren Westlake and another mysterious time traveler fled in order to return to their past, our present. This future is merely one possible future for the world of San Angelo – Westlake and the other time traveler may introduce changes which will completely alter the outcome of history – but it is a fascinating one which time travelers might visit or in which an entire campaign might even be set. The heroes of the late-20th century are gone, their memory fading amidst the famines, wars, and plagues which have cursed this dystopian future. Their successors are nothing but a dawning hope.


2002. NATO and the UN intervenes when the small eastern European country of Haradika invades the neighboring nations of Salavar and Tehtan and engages in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the ethnic populations of Salavs and Tehts.

2004. The Salavar Peace Accords fall apart when a rogue superhero assassinates a Haradikan official in the name of the Salavan Liberation.

2005. NATO San Angelo - City of Heroessucceeds in overthrowing the Haradikan government with the help of the Justice Foundation. A regional government is put into place, but it is subservient to UN command.

2007. Haradikan nationalists, having raised their anger to a fever pitch by inciting the global domination over their homeland, declare themselves a sovereign nation once more. A newly resurgent Russia sides with the Harads, along with Syria. The so-called “Syrian Initiative” is soon joined by a hodgepodge collection of Middle Eastern nations. The world begins to draw lines.

2009. After two years of tense international relations the Haradans reveal a new development. Spurred on by the humiliation of their armed forces seven years earlier by the Justice Foundation they have engaged in a series of secret genetic tests, creating an elite force of uber-soldiers: The Haradan Saviors, supers loyal to a Greater Haradika. After several months of propaganda touting their new heroes, the Saviors begin a genocidal purge of the ethnic Salavs, earning the moniker “Haradan Savages” by those on the opposing side.

2010. Hesitant to engage a superforce, the world pauses as the Salavs are slaughtered. American superheroes succeed in destroying the research which created the Haradan Savages. Without the threat of new uber-soldiers being produced, the world finally responds. World War III ensues.

2013. After three years of war Haradika and her allies are losing badly. They engage in a limited nuclear strike, bringing the war to an end, but wreaking havoc on the global environment and creating vast stretches of radioactive wasteland. The superpowers are no more – Russia has been broken in half (roughly along the line of occupied territory); China has fallen into disarray, ruled over by feudal warlords; Europe has endured much during the war; America suffered heavily from the nuclear strikes, rendering it into a much more provincial place. Soldiers returning home from the war bring with them the First Plague, a biological virus with a prolonged incubation time.

2014. Although most of the Savages were killed during the war, one of them, having been driven insane, goes to London and engages in a massive killing spree. Thousands die. Combined with the horrific consequences of super activity during the war this event triggers the Pogroms – a systematic attempt to rid the world of unlicensed supers. Unbeknownst to anyone the singularity which had fueled the second age of heroes was becoming unstable and would soon collapse.

2017. A cure is finally designed for the First Plague (still known as the Great Plague), but this is only followed by more hardship. Food reserves established during the war run out and failing agricultural lands throughout the world are no longer capable of providing food for the population. Africa, in particular, is struck by severe famine.

2020. The Pogroms come to an end – supers are, for all practical purposes, eliminated from the world.

2021. A combination of global population declines and scientific advances allow for the problems of famine to be mitigated, but not entirely. Massive war debts and the decade-long degradation of industry has bankrupted almost all of the nation states. As a result regional governments gain increasing amounts of authority, particularly in the United States.

2025. The international community has broken down. Tribal warfare plagues Africa; Europe has engaged in multiple border skirmishes; Russia has disintegrated into a set of squabbling political ideologies; China is ruled over by feudal, anarcho-communist / pseudo-capitalist warlords; South America has been severely depopulated by continued famine; North America has regionalized with the national governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States becoming increasingly weaker. The UN continues to exist, but less than half of the nations are recognized as current members. Into this chaos came the Second Plague. Developed as a biological weapon somewhere in China no one is even sure which brushfire war it was unleashed during, but was soon out of control on a global scale.

2028. Corporations in America develop a cure to the Second Plague, but negotiate sovereignty in exchange for it. A weakened United States government collapses within the year and corporate arcologies became the supreme authorities of the land. The UN is disbanded.

2032. A mutated strain of the Second Plague incubates in the African jungles. The Third Plague devastates Africa before burning itself out.

2039. The Alliance of North American Arcologies (ANAA) is formed. While not being a true government, it does provide a central decision making body through which corporate cooperation can be forged.

2042. The Northwestern League of Russian States launches an imperial campaign to reforge the lost glory of the Russia’s heritage.

2046. The remaining Russian States form the Eastern Russian Alliance (ERA).

2047. ANAA invades South America to secure natural resources. Although they meet with some success at first, the campaign quickly bogs down.

2052. Led by Saudi Arabia the remnants of several Muslim nations join together to form the Confederation of Arab States (CAS).

2055. The Northwestern League of Russian States renames itself the Russian Empire as it recaptures over half of the land once held by the Soviet Union. The Ukraine, one of the few European powers with any strength left, enters an alliance with the ERA, opening a western front in the Russian Wars.

2056. CAS overruns Israel.

2058. The Chinese Warlord Su Ling begins a campaign of conquering in an attempt to unify Southeastern Asia.

2060. Su Ling attempts to invade Japan. Japan repels the attack and several non-Chinese states align themselves with Japan in order to repel Su Ling’s imperialism.

2061. The Asian alliance against Ling formalizes itself, becoming the the Asian Freedom Force (AFF).

2062. Su Ling forms an alliance with the ERA to fight against Russia. The world is perilously close to a fourth World War.

2063. Ren Westlake, after spending close to a decade forging political and military ties among South American and African states, attempts a military coup designed to bring an authoritarian government to the world. Westlake sees himself as a savior to a world gone mad and this vision of a return to order over the chaos of modern reality appeals to many. Despite this the European, North American, and Asian powers all unite against this threat and Westlake’s force is quickly decimated. He finds himself, practically overnight, transformed from savior to fugitive. In his flight he finds a prototype time machine and uses it to return to the year 1988 in the hope of “making things right”.

2064. Ironically Westlake’s legacy changes the world, just not in the way he anticipated it. Although Su Ling threatens to renew the violence of the Asian and Russian Wars he finds little or no support from other nations, making it a hopeless cause. An uneasy peace settles over the world. In North America research into alternate energy sources leads to the creation of a new singularity.

2065. Su Ling finds himself deposed by a group of his mandarins who no longer wish to pursue his overtly violent agenda. Su Ling, in a fit of pique, launches his nuclear arsenal. He is stopped before he can completely to succeed, but missiles are already on-route to commit massive destruction. A hero appears and stops the missiles. Although he comes without a name he is quickly assigned the moniker of Savior. Under his guidance and inspiration a League of Nations is formed, uniting most of the European, North American, and Asian powers.

2066. A group of young heroes known as the Rogue Squadron appears. Unlike Savior they don’t capture the hearts and minds of the world’s people, but other supers begin to appear soon afterwards.

2067. The League attempts to expand its membership to include the CAS, but rogue elements of the CAS sabotage the arrangement. The world balances on the thin edge of war, but the intervention of Savior pulls everyone back from the edge.

2068. Savior creates the Neo Justice Foundation, an elite group of supers attached to the League.

2069. Savior is assassinated. Everyone in the League blames everyone else and peace totters on the edge of oblivion.

2070. The current year.

Go to Part 2: The Future of San Angelo


Session 8B: Meeting Tor

During Session 8, the party had its first interactions with two very influential citizens of Ptolus: Malkeen Balacazar of the Balacazar crime family and Lord Zavere of Castle Shard.

At this point in time, the PCs were either 2nd or 3rd level (depending on whether or not they had earned XP in the prelude sessions). Malkeen was 14th level. Zavere was 20th level. Obviously, in terms of puissance, the PCs were completely dwarfed. If they’d decided to pick a fight with either one of them, they’d most likely have been crushed like bugs almost instantaneously.

“Don’t antagonize someone who has a fang-faced, void-mouthed guy to order around.” – Elestra

This, of course, was entirely intentional. In a zero-to-hero game like D&D, I think it’s really important for the PCs to have interactions with the very powerful. It gives them something to aspire to and is also integral to establishing that the world they inhabit is a large and complex place with concerns which extend beyond their daily lives. Doraedian is another prominent example of this, as are any number of denizens of the common room at the Ghostly Minstrel.

In some ways, this is kind of the inverse of Revisiting Encounter Design: Just as you want to increase the dynamic range of your encounters by designing them with a wide variety of creatures of varied powers, you also want to make the dynamic range of your entire campaign as broad as possible.

Agnarr cracked a sunrod and observed that they were now doing the same job (retrieving the girl) for three different employers: Zavere, Linech, and the man with the star-tattoo.

Ptolus - Malkeen BalacazarThis high level of power is not, of course, a necessary quality for a patron. (During these same sessions, Linech is an example of a patron on par with the PCs’ power level.) It’s obviously not a requirement for every villain. But these characters allow you to open doors that would otherwise remain closed.

On the other hand, this liberty must be carefully balanced against the inherent threat of the disparity in power: The ability to squash the PCs like a bug is not only problematic because they might actually end up getting squashed; it’s also problematic because it can make the players feel helpless, manipulated, and coerced. (That can be okay some of the time, but in most campaign it becomes a major problem if the players feel that they’ve become completely de-protagonized or that the GM is railroading them.)

The precise way you accomplish this balancing act is always pretty heavily dependent on the specific circumstances of the campaign. But there are a few general principles you can keep in mind:

Balance the Interests of the Powerful: Counter-intuitively, you can often reduce the PCs’ sense of powerlessness by including even more powerful people. These powerful factions can be used to checkmate each other. You can see an example of this with Malkeen Balacazar and Lord Zavere: The PCs were being sent up against a really powerful crime family, but they were doing so at the best of a very powerful patron. If things got dicey, they should be able to fall back on their powerful ally to provide protection.

Keep the Distance: You can have the powerful get involved with the PCs’ lives without them constantly invading the PCs’ personal space. Lord Zavere, for example, reached out to them through the intermediary of Mand Scheben. Malkeen Balacazar, on the other hand, was not actually supposed to directly interact with them: At the first sign of trouble, he was supposed to clear out under the mistaken belief that someone was bringing the hammer down and he would be in person jeopardy. (Allowing the PCs to perhaps glimpse him during his retreat.) The campaign obviously went a different way than that, of course.

“Tee! I was just writing you a letter!” He crumpled the paper and shoved it to the side.

You can usually tell that you’ve been successful in striking the right balance, however, when you discover that you can’t keep the powerful at arm’s length because the PCs are actively seeking them out. You can see evidence of that in this week’s campaign journal with the “crumpled letter” gag: I hadn’t actually anticipated that Tee would actively seek out Mand Scheben or Doraedian that morning, so I’d actually prepped letters that they were supposed to have delivered later that day. (I literally crumpled up the props and tossed them aside.)

Making the PCs Vital: If powerful individuals are taking an interest in the PCs, it means that the PCs have something to offer them. Crank that dial up. Make the PCs vital to the interests of one or (preferably) more of the powerful. This not only serves as a layer of protection (“I can’t kill you, I need you!”), it also, by definition, prevents the PCs from feeling powerless or irrelevant: Their choices matter. What they do matters.

The importance of this last point, in my opinion, cannot be over-emphasized. The reason to bring the powerful into the PCs’ sphere isn’t so that the PCs can goggle at the amazing antics of the powerful. It’s so that the PCs can get tangled up in their affairs.

And as the PCs seek to untangle themselves, over time they will slowly discover that they have become the powerful and the affairs are, in fact, their own.

Ptolus - In the Shadow of the Spire



October 7th, 2007
The 24th Day of Amseyl in the 790th Year of the Seyrunian Dynasty


The five of them moved into the common room of the Ghostly Minstrel. It was sparsely populated in that early hour of the morning, and Tellith pointed them towards a short, stocky man with light brown hair who was sitting at one of the tables and reading a slim book by the light pouring through the front windows.

When he saw them approaching, the man rose and they saw that he was ever-so-slightly bow-legged. “My name’s Tor.”

After a few moments of conversation, it quickly became apparent that Tor thought they were expecting his arrival. None of them had any memory of that, of course, but they managed to hide that fact from Tor.

It turned out that Tor was carrying a letter of introduction from a man named Ritharius. But, as was clear from the letter, Tor did not actually know Ritharius – had not, in fact, ever met the man.

The amnesiacs had hoped that, by careful questioning, they might find out why Tor had been sent for, and in that manner discover what their intentions had been during the time of their memory loss. But, unfortunately, Tor’s interests were maddeningly vague – he had been interested in pursuring the life of a wandering errant, hoping to accrue those deeds of valor which might allow him to become a knight.

The group told Tor a little of what they were currently planning – in very general terms – and he seemed more than happy to help them. A firm handshake from Agnarr seemed to seal the arrangement.

Agnarr, Dominic, Elestra, Ranthir, and Tee were still bedraggled from their morning excursions in the sea. And there was various business to attend to. So they agreed to go their separate ways for a bit, and then reconvene here in the common room in the early hours of the afternoon.

While the rest of the group headed upstairs to get cleaned up, Tor arranged a room for himself and lodging for his horse (paying for a week in advance). Then he headed across Delver’s Square and headed down into the Undermarket. There he sought out the Delver’s Guild facilities and arranged membership with the ebullient Gorti. With his papers and his lodgings in order, Tor spent some time wandering through Midtown. He was amazed by the size and wealth of this city, and his eyes were drawn constantly back to the wonder of the Spire.

After finding what high quality barding would cost for his horse, Blue, Tor returned to the Ghostly Minstrel’s common room and continued reading. Ranthir, who had spent this time studying his arcane lore, greeted him as he passed through on his way to the Delver’s Guild library, where he researched the Order of the Chalice. Although he found some generally unsatisfying tidbits of information about the Order, he found nothing to explain what connection – if any – had existed between the group, Sir Robilard, and the mysterious Ritharius.

Elestra, meanwhile, had gone on another walkabout. She was increasingly convinced that the Voice of this strange city was whispering in a place just beyond her hearing. And more and more it seemed to her not as if she was trying to hear the voice of a stranger, but that it was the voice of a long-lost friend.

In the end, Elestra did not hear the Voice as clearly as she might have hoped. But its whispers – half heard and barely understood – were beginning to guide her. In more practical terms, she discovered that the Commissar had placed a bounty upon the “tail of all Plague Rats, also known as Ratmen, Ratfolk, and Rats most Dire”. Notices were being posted throughout the city. Elestra grabbed one of them and brought it back to the Ghostly Minstrel.

The rest of the group, but particularly Agnarr, thought that the rat bounty sounded like a great opportunity to earn a little coin. They agreed that, in the morning, they should investigate the best ways of pursuing the matter.

Proclamation of Rat Bounty



In the morning, after breakfast, Dominic went to the Temple of Asche and spoke with Mand Scheben and Lord Zavere (by way of the purple stone). He reported on everything that had happened the day before. Zavere, in turn, told him that the man with the star-shaped tattoo was Malkeen Balacazar. (Dominic didn’t mention the deal Tee had made, since he didn’t know about it, but he did tell them that the watch was most likely in the hands of the Balacazars.)Dominic also talked to Mand and Zavere about Tor and the letter of introduction from Ritharius. To Lord Zavere’s questioning, he reported that none of them had any idea who Ritharius was or why he might be sending Tor to them.

Lord Zavere told Dominic that Ritharius was an “associate” of his. If Tor had come from Ritharius, then Tor could almost certainly be trusted.

Zavere also had another job for them: Linech Cran’s office was protected with anti-scrying spells. Zavere had created a small wooden cube – about the size of a child’s plaything – and imbued it with magicks that would help him to penetrate those defenses. He wanted them to sneak into Linech’s office and hide the cube.

Dominic felt this would be difficult – given the way they had parted company with Linech – but Zavere was offering them 1,200 gp for the job. Dominic said he would have to talk it over with the rest of the group, but agreed to take the scrying cube back with him.

Zavere and Mand paid him a further installment on the money they owed the group for their ongoing activities, and Dominic headed back to the Ghostly Minstrel.

Meanwhile, Tee, Tor, and Elestra were scouring the city to see if they could find a good place to follow-up on the activities of ratmen. They discovered that there had been several sighting of ratmen recently in the area around the Midden Heaps in the Guildsman District.

When everyone had returned to the Ghostly Minstrel, Tee and Elestra made excuses to separate themselves from Tor and met up with Dominic, Agnarr, and Ranthir. Dominic split the money and shared the information he’d gained from Mand and Zavere.

Both Elestra and Tee recognized the name of “Balacazar”: The Balacazar family was the oldest and most powerful criminal organization in Ptolus. Menon Balacazar was the aging head of the organization, but his son – Malkeen – was second in command and well-known for the star-burst tattoo over his right eye. (Menon also had two daughters, Fesamere and Maystra.) Everyone knew they were criminals, but they were “officially” a minor merchant house with a small estate in the Nobles’ Quarter.

The revelation that they had brushed up against the highest echelons of the Balacazar crime family – and that Malkeen might even know their real names – sobered the group immensely.

But there didn’t seem to be much they could actually do about it. What they did decide, after looking at their finances, was that they should take the job from Zavere. They’d also get Tor involved in the new job, but wouldn’t give him much in the way of details from the previous job (most notably, the Balacazar connection). They also decided to continue keeping their shared amnesia a secret from him.

Tor was more than happy to help, and the group split up for a few hours to gather information.

Tee and Elestra asked around town about Linech. They discovered that, shortly after their meeting with him the previous day, he had lowered the gate across the entrance to his burrow and shut himself inside. The word on the street was that he had done something to anger the Balacazars, and had now given up all hope. (“No wonder he was so angry about losing the watch,” Tee said.)

Tor, meanwhile, headed up into the Rivergate District to scout around and see if he could find an approach to Linech’s office. (Since Linech didn’t know him, the group figured he was the safest one to do the work.) What he discovered was that Linech’s burrow was right up against the western wall of the Rivergate District – beyond that wall there was nothing except a huge drop-off into the King’s River Gorge.

Fortunately, the building holding Linech’s office was on the other side of the burrow: The ten-foot wall on that side of the burrow was built up and overlooking another burrow directly to the east. The buildings in this other burrow were all independently owned, with the building directly below Linech’s office owned by the Yebures – a father who worked as an accountant and a mother who stayed at home with their young daughter.

Even better, the window in Linech’s office was east-facing – affording the half-orc a beautiful view all the way down the length of Ptolus, but also making it relatively easy for someone to climb up, enter through the window, and hide the scrying cube somewhere.

Dominic had spent some of this time replenishing their diminished supplies, particularly in the crucial area of healing magic.

Agnarr, meanwhile, had simply been wandering the city. He heard news that an explosion of some sort had happened in the North Market. He headed in that direction and discovered that it was, in fact, an “explosion of shadow” which had left a permanent inky darkness at the top of a tower. Several bodies had apparently been removed from the area of the darkness.

Agnarr wanted to know who the tower belonged to. His first tactic, upon spotting a plaque on the side of the building with some writing on it, was to walk up and try to rip the plaque from the wall. (He figured he could take it back with him and have Ranthir read it to him.) The city watch on duty stopped him from doing that, but simultaneously let slip that the tower belonged to someone named Nycedon. That satisfied him and he headed back to the Ghostly Minstrel.

Upon reconvening, the group decided it would be best to wait until evening – the office was more likely to be empty and they were less likely to be noticed.

So, after dinner, they split into small groups and made their way up towards the burrow next to Linech’s.

Ptolus - Linech Cran's Burrow

Once there, Tee went down the narrow alley between the Yebures’ and the house next door. From there she climbed quietly onto the Yebures’ roof. She had some difficulty climbing the next section of wall up to Linech’s window – falling and cracking her head once – but she eventually secured a grappling hook in the chimney on Linech’s roof, climbed the rope, and then rappelled over to Linech’s window.

The lock on Linech’s window yielded to her thieves’ tools easily enough and she slipped inside, falling to the floor next to the life-size gold statue they had noticed the last time they were in the office.

In looking for a place to hide the scrying cube, Tee’s eyes were naturally drawn to the bookshelves along the room’s north wall. Clearing some of the books away she reached back to place the scrying cube behind them… only to find a crumpled up sheet of paper lying there. She pulled this out, glanced at it, and then stuffed it into her bag. Placing the scrying cube and then carefully replacing the books she had moved, she went back to the window, shut it behind her, and climbed down.

Tee gave the signal that the others, scattered around the lower burrow, could disperse. It had all gone as smoothly as anyone could hope.

On the way back to the Ghostly Minstrel, Dominic stopped by the Temple of Asche to report their success. He was paid the remainder of the monies due them, and was told that Zavere would be in touch with them in the morning.

When Dominic joined the others at the Ghostly Minstrel, arriving only a few minutes after they did, he quickly split the money. Agnarr immediately handed 100 gp of his payment to Tee. “You did most of the work on this venture. You deserve most of the payment.”

Tee thanked him, and then pulled out the crumpled note she had recovered from Linech’s office and showed it to them:


Ruror says you’re still making deals with that old fool Demassac. You need to stop this. I’ve told you before. We can’t trust Demassac. No one can, but us most of all. He’s in close with the Balacazars and we’re none too popular with them at the moment. He’ll stab you in the back in a moment. Or stuff you into one his god-forsaken machines. Keep clear of him.

Big Bro

They didn’t know what it meant, but they resolved to look into it the next day. Then they went down to the common room. Tee was careful to make a big spectacle of herself (she wanted a firm alibi) – buying several rounds for the entire common room and letting Agnarr get completely drunk on her tab.



The next morning, Tee woke up early and left the Ghostly Minstrel before the dawn’s light had even begun to halo the Spire.Her first stop was the Temple of Asche. A priest ushered her up to Mand Scheben’s office. The priest looked up as she came in: “Tee! I was just writing you a letter!” He crumpled the paper and shoved it to one side.

Tee asked if the scrying cube was working well. It was. In fact, Mand said they had been scrying through it intermittently even before it had been placed. (Tee reflected that she was glad she had taken cares not to take the cube anywhere particularly private.) They had anticipated leaving the cube in place for some time before taking any action on the information it obtained, but it turned out that immediate action was demanded.

The life-size statue of gold in Linech’s office was, in fact, a friend of Lord Zavere’s: A man by the name of Lord Abbercombe. Lord Abbercombe had, apparently, been turned into a golden golem many years ago. A few months back, however, Abbercombe had simply disappeared. How he had ended up in Linech’s office – and how he had come to apparently be paralyzed – were mysteries. But it was very important that they rescue him. And this had to happen quickly, before Linech decided to melt him down for cash or the Balacazars raided Linech’s burrow, killed the half-orc, and took Abbercombe somewhere that would be even more difficult to extricate him from.

Tee is hesitant to take the job. It would, after all, be much more difficult than simply hiding the scrying box.

“Lord Zavere understands that,” Mand said. “Which is why he’s willing to pay each of you 1,000 gp for completing the job.”

Tee agreed to talk it over with the rest of the group.

Her next stop was Doraedian’s. As she entered the office, Leytha Doraedian looked up: “Tee! I was just writing you a letter!” He crumpled the paper and shoved it to the side.

Doraedian had been writing to Tee to inform her that her training would begin the next day.

Tee was excited, but quickly turned her attention back to the reason she had come: She reported to Doraedian the visions (had they been flashbacks?) she, Ranthir, Dominic, Agnarr, and Elestra had experienced when they had been knocked unconscious (while carefully not going into detail on how that had happened). Doraedian couldn’t give her much help in understanding them, but “any insight, no matter how small might be the one to unravel these riddles”.

Tee returned to the Ghostly Minstrel.


When the rest of the party came down to breakfast on the morning of the 26th of Amseyl, Tee was waiting for them. She quickly discussed the details of the job Mand Scheben had offered them.

They also discussed their other options: Ranthir was interested in following up on the “shadowy explosion” that Agnarr had told him about. Various errands still needed attending. And many of them showed an interest in returning to the dusty complex of tunnels beneath Greyson House – this time better prepared and better armed. And there was the rat bounty to consider.

They finally decided that, as difficult as getting the statue out of Linech’s office might be, the price was right. It was definitely better coin than they could gain from pursuing the rat bounty and surer coin than what might be found beneath Greyson House.

After putting a plan in place, they decided that evening was the earliest they could hope to get back into Linech’s office. They could only hope that Linech wouldn’t do something desperate today. (If he did, though, they took some comfort in the fact that Zavere would immediately know of it through the scrying cube and could take more decisive action.)

With an empty day ahead of them, Tee and Dominic decided to check up on Phon (who they hadn’t seen for several days now). They stopped by Saches and picked up the shirts that Tee had ordered, but Marta told them that, although Phon wasn’t scheduled to come into work that day, she’d seen her the day before and she seemed fine (although very pregnant!). They headed up to Phon’s house, but there was no answer to their knock.

Agnarr, meanwhile, was yet again looking for a dog to rescue from the streets and train into a loyal companion. While wandering the streets of the Warrens, he actually came across such a stray… but made the mistake of offering it iron rations. The dog, repulsed, growled at him and ran away. Agnarr slumped down on the curb for a long while.

Ranthir spent the day studying another spell from Collus’ spellbook, then – perhaps feeling the close quarters of his room – decided to head over to the library and research the tower where the explosion of darkness had happened. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any meaningful records of Nycedon or his tower. He resolved to check the City Library at his earliest opportunity.

Tor, meanwhile, was already at the City Library. He had finished the book he had been reading, and was eager to find more – always working to improve his literacy.

Of all of them, it was perhaps Elestra alone who was working towards their larger goals. She was following the Breath of the Streets, pursuing the whisper of Demassac Tovarian. And then, for the first time, she heard the Voice of the Wall in Ptolus. It guided her back to Nul’s, the hole-in-the-wall tavern in the Warrens where she and Dominic had gone.

From there the patterns of the Breath were clear, and by noon she had followed it from the Warrens into the Guildsman’s District and back again. She discovered that Demassac Tovarian owned a house in the Warrens, out of which he publicly ran a shabby antiques and curio business.

But, in reality, Demassac ran a trade in used magical items, selling directly to criminals and their ilk – which, based on Linech’s letter, she assumed meant the Balacazars. But lately there were reports that Tovarian was beginning to supply the Pale Dogs gang with high quality magic items, making that group more dangerous than it had been previously.

She also discovered a whisper of a whisper… and it said that Demassac Tovarian had connections to a major underworld figure known as the Surgeon in the Shadows.

It took her another three hours, but Elestra finally managed to eke out a few details on the Surgeon: His real name was Kinion Luth, and – for a price – he would alter his customers in horrid ways while granting them fantastic abilities. But whenever she asked for more than that, mouths shut and whispers stopped.

Elestra returned to the Ghostly Minstrel in the late afternoon. There she met up with the rest of the group. They exchanged notes and headed to the Hammersong Vaults in Oldtown. Each of them rented a separate lockbox and placed many of their valuables in them.

Then, with dusk falling, they set out to rescue a golden statue…

Ptolus - Lord Abbercombe



Character Background: Tor

Adding new players to a successful campaign can be really tricky. It doesn’t take much to muck up the strange alchemy that makes for a great group, and that doesn’t even take into account “real world” concerns like discovering that scheduling which was previously hassle-free has stumbled into a nightmare of subtly conflicting schedules that form a real impediment to actually playing.

Auditioning players can help weed out some of these problems. I know some groups will “audition” the new players by just adding them to the existing campaign as a trial run, but I’ve found that this generally causes more problems than it solves. (Even if you manage to cleanly break with a player who’s not working out, you still end up having to deal with the jagged edges of continuity left from introducing a new PC and then, even more importantly, writing them out.) I prefer running a one-shot completely separate from the campaign (although perhaps set in the same campaign world) or even a short mini-campaign that lasts two or three sessions. It allows you to assess how the chemistry of the group will work out, without disturbing the primary campaign in any way.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, of course, an open table is a big help here, largely because a successful open table will leave you with a surfeit of qualified candidates who you’re often eager to play with in a dedicated campaign. There’s no guesswork in determining whether or not someone is a good player because you’ve already seen them play; in fact, you’ve probably already seen them play with the other members of the campaign.

Keeping the difficulties in mind, however, in practice, I just don’t do it. Most of my campaigns sit five players. I generally don’t like going above that number, and if I lose a player (for whatever) reason I’m generally more comfortable letting the number of players slip to four or even three. (This is particularly true with more typical campaigns of 15-25 sessions. Usually easier to just power through to the end.)

Nonetheless, in this session of my Ptolus campaign I found myself adding two new players. I’ve described the reasons for this previously. In brief: Due to the events in Session 7, one of the original long-distance players (Agnarr) had decided to quit; the second long-distance player (Alysta, who had already been having scheduling problems) decided it was a good opportunity to also drop out; and the third long-distance player (Ranthir) had become more-or-less local.

As we regrouped in October 2007, two new players would fill the empty chairs and bring with them two new characters: Tor and Elestra.


Let’s start with the more traditional addition.

Although I didn’t “audition” either of the new players, I had literally auditioned one of them: She played the role of Abigail Adams in the 2007 production of my play John and Abigail. If I recall correctly, she had not played RPGs before, but was intrigued by the whole concept after chatting about the campaign after rehearsal one night.

I offered her the option of picking up either of the characters who had been abandoned, but as this was her first time at the rodeo she was interested in getting the full experience by creating her own character. Thus was born Master Torland Mank.

This actually ended up being, unintentionally, a great thing for the campaign. Introducing a character who was not directly tied into the mystery of the group’s lost memories ended up pulling the campaign in directions it otherwise would not have gone and anchoring it in ways that, in retrospect, were absolutely essential. Without Tor, it’s likely that everything else the group encountered would have continued playing a second fiddle to the overriding concern of what had happened to them, and much of value would have been lost.

And because Tor’s player was, in fact, fabulous, the roleplaying revolving around Tor’s introduction to the group was amazing (as you’ll see over the course of the next few campaign journals).

So, that’s lesson one here: When looking to add a new character to the campaign, try to find a new dynamic. Add something that the group doesn’t already have — a different perspective on the world, a different social class, a different set of goals, a different set of problems. (At a crude, mechanical level, a different set of abilities.) All of these things should obviously complement the existing group, but in adding a new character you have an opportunity to make the campaign richer than it was before, so take advantage of that.

This applies just as much to a new character created by an existing player.

(We’ve all seen those TV shows where an actor leaves and they replace them with a “new” character is actually just filling the same functional role as the old one, right? And we know that never works, right? The new guy is always just the slightly suckier version of the previous character? Right. So don’t do that.)

Another tricky thing to consider when adding a new PC is the hook: How do they get introduced and (even more importantly) how do they get pulled into the group?

In most cases, even if you completely screw this up the metagame will paper over the gaping cracks: Everybody knows that this is Peter’s new character, so they’ll just kind of “naturally” accept him as part of the group. But it is, in fact, this sort of “go with the flow” tendency which, for me, makes it even more important to not have it be that simple; to have the new addition to the group make sense in character.

(This is also something you can fiendishly invert: Next time Peter needs to roll up a new character, instead ask him to take on the role of an NPC that’s planning to infiltrate the party and betray them for one reason or another. The eventual revelation may do irreparable damage to the group’s metagame trust of the next PC to show up, but it’s worth it.)

In the case of Tor, as you can see in the campaign journal, I was able to take advantage of the PCs’ lost memories to just literally have them hire him. This tied him loosely to the central mystery of the campaign, obviously, and (now that I think about it) kind of hung a lampshade on the whole “of course we trust this guy, it’s Sarah’s new character” thing.

(In point of fact, as you’ll see in the next journal entry, they did not fully trust Tor and ended up concealing their lost memories from him. This is all for the good. A little intra-party friction is good stuff.)


Elestra’s player was also new to the table, but her character was slightly more unusual. I’ve discussed this in greater detail in the past, but basically Elestra was originally a character named Alysta. And I retconned the campaign so that Alysta was written out and Elestra had been there all along.

I’d never done anything like this before, haven’t done it since, haven’t heard of anyone else who has done it, and will probably never do it again myself.

The reason I did it was relatively straightforward: I’d designed a mystery basically starring these five characters — Agnarr, Tee, Dominic, Ranthir, and Alysta. There was no logical way for Alysta to decide to just… leave. (For a similar reason, Ranthir’s player took on the role of Agnarr and has played both characters simultaneously ever since.)

The existence of a detailed campaign journal actually made this relatively easy: I spent an afternoon or so rewriting the existing campaign journal, replacing all references to Alysta with Elestra. This not only created a new “canon” for the campaign that everyone could agree upon, it also made it easy for Elestra’s player to catch up on all the things that “she” had experienced.

This worked surprisingly well. So well, in fact, that the group basically forgot all about Alysta. I think I speak for all of us when I say that when we think back to the early days of the campaign, we think of them as if Elestra had been there. Until writing this essay, in fact, I don’t think I’d thought about the name “Alysta” in close to a decade. Even Elestra’s player discusses the events of the first seven sessions of the campaign as if she had actually experienced them.

Beyond that, I don’t really have any general lessons to take from this, though: It was kind of a wacky idea. Despite the fact that, against all odds, it somehow worked, I wouldn’t really recommend it as something you should try.

Ptolus - In the Shadow of the Spire



You grew up in the duchy of Anathor in the kingdom of Barund. Your father was a Royal Equiner, meaning that he possessed a royal license for the “right and true breeding of noble steeds”. The patents of lineage and seals of training which he controlled gave him the right to breed, break, and train horses suitable for the royal orders of knighthood. (He also did considerable business with the major and minor orders within Anathor.)

(Anathor is located in southern Barund, on the border between Barund and Arathia. The orders of knighthood can be roughly divided into three varieties: The royal orders, the major orders, and the minor orders. Similarly, equiners can be divided into three varieties: Royal Equiners, Noble Equiners, and Common Equiners. The only honor your father lacked was a gilted patent, which would have allowed him to breed and train horses for the royal family, the three Orders of the Lion, and other members of the highest nobility.)

While your father lived, you and your brother Ny shared in the work. Ny took to the trade work – the books, negotiation of sales, and the like – and also had a fine understanding of the intracies of royal breeding and patentage. You, on the other hand, came to love working with the horses themselves. Above all, you treasured the work of coraling and breaking and training wild horses – the creation of new lineages.

These new lineages were rarely of the sort that would appeal to your noble clients, but there was no shame in extending the work of your family to include plough-horses, militia mounts, and caravan haulers.

You married at 15 and have three children – first a boy (Jareth) and then twin daughters (Mila and Jaspin). Your wife, Fera, died a year after delivering the girls. Jareth is now 17 and takes after you. Mila was married this year to a silversmith. Jaspin shows no interest in marrying at all, but has a natural head for business. Ny and Jareth now run the family business, and Jaspin keeps the books.

All through your life, tales from across the world have reached your ears: Caravan masters out of Arathia would tell stories gathered from their trade. Nobles would share the pomp and glamour of their tournaments. Knights would speak of their acts of glory. The wanderers trading in wild horses from the Borderlands would tell tall tales from beyond the mountains. Even the farmers would share their myths and legends.

These tales always seemed distant and removed, but with the passing years you began to wonder if that meant they out of reach… or if it simply meant that they needed to be reached for.

Now at the age of 33, with the corners of your life tucked away and the legacy of your father well-secured, anything seems possible. You had often wondered if you might some day achieve knighthood, and a few months ago you decided to pursue some of the tales you’ve heard. You began teaching yourself how to read, and you also reached out to the many friends you’ve made through the years (knights, nobles, caravan masters and the like) to ask them what you should do.

The most likely course that seemed to emerge was the Arathian city-state of Ptolus. It lay on the coast of the Southern Sea, and for a few years now stories had drifted to your ears of fabulous treasures hidden in mammoth caverns and labyrinthine mazes beneath the city. There were even tales of an entire guild specializing in exploring those ancient places. If there was anywhere in the world where adventure and deeds of daring could be had, it seemed to be Ptolus.

You began laying careful plans – the type of careful planning with which you’ve approached everything in your life. But then things started happening very quickly: A letter arrived from a man named Ritharius.

Master Tor—

I recently shared the road with Sir Robilard of the Order of the Chalice, a man I believe to be our mutual acquaintance. He gave me to understand that you have recently become interested in a life of more interesting pursuits, and that you were pursuing inquiries into such matters.

It so happens that I myself have some small connection to these things, and would be honored to extend my introductions – upon Sir Robilar’s good report – for you.

I have a party of associates currently lodging at the Ghostly Minstrel in the Midtown of Ptolus. They have some need of a strong left arm, and if you were to present yourself to them before the end of Amseyl, I have been given to understand that they would have some employment for you in a direction you might find favorable. Their names are Dominic, Agnarr, Elestra, Tee, and Ranthir.


First Day of Amseyl

It seemed impossible not to accept such an invitation. Certainly no clearer path could have been laid for you. You rapidly finished your preparations, finished what little business still required your attention, made your proper farewells to your family, and – finally – selected your favorite mount (a true steed named Blue). On the 15th of Amseyl in the 790th Year of the Seyrunian Dynasty you set out. It took you four days to cross the Aliyan and reach the city-state of Duvei, but from there you made quick time upon the trade roads. You reached the coast of the Southern Sea on the 22nd, and spent a long time gazing out from the sea cliffs there. Then you followed the coast road south along the outskirts of Moonsilver Forest and across the plains south of there, until you saw the famous Spire of Ptolus crest the horizon before you.

On the 24th of Amseyl, you reached Ptolus’ North Gate, passing by the tournament fields that lay just outside the wall. For a long time you could do nothing but stare up at the almost unimaginable and utterly unnatural grandeur of the Spire, but you eventually focused your mind upon your task. Following North Gate Road took you down into Midtown, and from there you made your way by Center Street to Delver’s Square and the Ghostly Minstrel.

A woman named Tellith greeted you as you passed through the front doors of the inn. She said that Dominic, Agnarr, and the others had left early that morning, but were likely to be back soon. She directed you to the common room, and you settled down to wait…


All the orders of knighthood in Barund follow the Code of Law as laid down in the Book of Athor, adhere to the Martial Code as laid down in the Book of Itor, and honor the Seven Compassions as laid down in the Book of Crissa.

The Code of Law is your bedrock “thou shalt not” stuff: Don’t murder, steal, enslave your brother, and so forth. The Martial Code is your standard chivalric ideal: Face your opponent fairly and honorably.

The Seven Compassions are a bit more philosophically complex, and are also referred to in some commentaries as the Seven Cares. The compassions are of the self, the companion, the stranger, the task, the thought, the memory, and the true. In other words, care for yourself, for your companions, and for strangers. Take care with what you do, what you think, and how it shall be remembered. And if you can do all that, then you will know true compassion. (For most people, the Seven Compassions boil down to “be nice to people” and “think before you act”.)

Within these broad boundaries, the various orders will have their own eccentricities. For example, the Order of the Holy Sword (a minor order in the duchy of Anathor) is marked by a zealous devotion to the Deeds of Honor as described in the Book of Itor. (The Deeds are a collection of legendary tales, but can also be boiled down into a kind of “scorecard” or exemplar of heroic actions. “He lives his life by the deeds of honor” is a common saying in Barund.)

As may be obvious from the fact that their core ethos is drawn from the religious texts of the Church, the orders of knighthood have a strong religious component to their ideology. This prompts a quick discussion about religion in Barund:

The Twenty Year War triggered a religious schism within the Imperial Church. After Seyrun invaded Barund, the king refused to acknowledge the Edicts of the Novarch (as these edicts were closely associated with imperial power in Seyrun). An outright refutation of the Novarch, however, would have put the king on somewhat shaky ground: For six centuries, the Line of Kings has been recognized and legitimized as a divine bloodright dating back to the Holy Coronation performed by the Novarch in 127 YD. So what the king did, while continuing to acknowledge the Novarch as the Living Voice of the Nine Gods, was to declare the Novarch to have no secular or religious authority over the lands controlled by the divine bloodright of the Barundian royal family.

Now, the supreme leader of the Church in Barund has always been the Prelate of Barund. The Prelate of Barund, appointed by the Novarch, has authority over the regional prelates of the Church throughout Barund. The king of Barund, on the authority of his divine bloodline, promptly appointed his own Prelate of Barund. So, even today, there are two Prelates of Barund: One appointed by the King and the other appointed by the Novarch.




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