Our New Setting: The Impenetrable Taiga

Goodbye Bad Aachen, and hello to the Ural Mountain Range! Last time we ended our game with a TPK (total party kill) and in the discussion that followed, you all decided you wanted to keep on playing in the Russia wilderness.

Since you’re going to be developing new characters for the setting, here’s some things to consider:

1. The setting is brutal.

Like, exiled from civilization, winter’s a living hell, summer’s a bug-ridden hell, the mountains are nasty, the marshes are gooey, the woods are terrifying, and the whole region’s basically the stuff of nightmares.

Which is to say:

Characters who willingly go into such a region had better have a few points in the Bushcraft and Medicine skills, at the very least. There can be good character reasons for a lack of such skills: an exiled baron from Estonia or a fleeing courtier from Moscow probably would lack them… but most PCs in the region will have at least a little skill in these areas.

We will also definitely be using the encumbrance rules for LotFP, and I recommend you pay attention to the gear you have and may need. (Some of the mishaps of the last game session could have been avoided by the judicious use of those 50′ ropes you guys all carry around!) I’ll provide you with a sheet where you can note your gear and its locations, and track encumbrance, rations, ammo, etc.

Also note: Specialists aren’t necessarily just the LotFP version of the Thief class as found in classic D&D. The Specialist class can also be used to build a pretty good Ranger-type character (albeit with no spells), or a “Barbarian” type character with a lot of Bushcraft, climbing, and hiding skills.

Oh. and on skills: everyone can ride horses, but not everyone knows how to ride a horse into Combat. Horsemanship will be a new skill for that type of thing.

A Dagestani (Sunni Muslim) man, photographed (in color! Not colorized!) by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky in 1904.

2. Characters and Backgrounds

The setting is multicultural: Russia has always had many  ethnicities within its constantly-changing borders. In the mid-1600s, the Urals are just being settled by European Russians who recognize the Tsar. In fact, I’d say there are three broad subgroups of PC backgrounds to choose from, and your characters needn’t come from the same background:

  • European “Russians” who are part of the ongoing Western encroachment in the region of the Urals (includes Slavs, Russian Jews, Estonians, and even Ukranians living under the “protection”—if not outright political rule—of the Tsar of Russia).
Wrong period—look at the fancy guns—but this is close enough for a conception of European Russians.

  • Ural-Region “Locals” who live in land claimed by the Tsar, but who do not recognize his rule (Tatars, Kazakhs, Azerbaijanis, Nenets—or as the Russians call them, “Samoyeds”) and more.
Nenets people, known in Russia during the period of our game as “Samoyeds.”
  • Foreigners: Wanderers from the Far East, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, or Europe all have been seen in the region, though a given ethnicity becomes more rare the farther removed from the area its homeland is. (There are more Poles than Britons in the region, and more Uighurs than Han Chinese.)
Then again, Moscow had a Chinatown by the early 17th century, as this picture depicts, so…

Other: There’s one more unusual character option I’ll be offering, but I don’t want to say too much about it till you learn about it in-game. For now, just know, there’s something cool lurking in the Urals, and it will be offered as a character background option eventually.

3. House Rules.

I’m going to make a few modifications to the house rules for basic LotFP:

  • Skill Ratings aren’t everything: they provide a basic score, but all characters may attempt a roll on any skill, with a base chance of success being 1 in 6 (though penalties may obliterate that for extremely difficult tasks).
  • Players will be prompted to describe the Skill-based action undertaken: in other words, just rolling isn’t good enough. You have to roleplay it, explaining your character’s actions. The roll determines outcome, but can be modified by the quality of the explanation. The more plausible it seems, the more generous the bonus granted to the roll… but the converse is also true.
  • Characters are no longer automatically literate on the basis of their Intelligence ability score. Instead, a PC may choose between literacy and a second spoken language. The exception is Magic Users and Clerics, who are automatically literate but will need to choose a second language (because spells will typically be written in that second language).
  • Matchlock guns: a bag of shot holds 20 rounds, and a powder horn holds enough gunpowder for that many shots. (Note that powder horns are susceptible to exploding when exposed to fire, lightning, burning pipe ash, etc.)
  • When Magic-Users cast a non-prepared spell (risking a Chaotic Magical Surge), modifiers will be computed into the Saving Throw vs. Magic roll. I’m still thinking about what penalties and bonuses should apply, but it’s likely something like this:
    • the PC’s regular Charisma bonus.
    • -1 point for each quarter of the PC’s total hit points lost by the PC for the day (to a maximum of -4)
    • +1 per successful spell cast avoiding a surge that day.
    • +2 if the spell was memorized and already cast that day. (The indelible mark of the spell lingers for a time, facilitating this.)
    • -1 per failed casting or surged casting that day. (Some days, things just keep going wrong.)
    • -1 per week since the PC has cast the spell in question. (Familiarity makes casting easier.)
    • -1 to -3 if the PC is casting the spell under extreme stress: combat, pinned under a log, etc.
    • other penalties or bonuses, at the Referee’s discretion.

That’s it for now. I may add more to the House Rules section, but for now, that’s all I have for you.

I’m working on a set of Setting Background Knowledge PDFs for you, and I’ll try get them posted soon. (By the end of January at least.)

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