Monday, January 22, 2018

Why Middle Earth is working for me, the Cubicle 7 supplements

There are two main things that "sold" me on Adventure in Middle Earth by Cubicle 7. The fact that magic is presented as subtle in the core books, and the quality of their supplements.

First most of the AiME contents is repackaged from their The One Ring (TOR) equivalent. What differs are the short sections of either AiME rules or new stuff like NPCs, Creatures, and items. The rest is duplicated from the original TOR version. Luckily the TOR stuff is excellent. But I have to put it out there so you are not surprised in case you decide to buy the TOR supplement AND the AiME supplement. The Moria Boxed Set will be the first Middle Earth product that new to both TOR and AiME. For the rest TOR is generally ahead on the release schedule but AiME is catching up.


Rhovanion Region Guide
TOR and AiME have a class of supplements that can be characterized as a region guide. Both games have a referee hex map that divide broad areas of Middle Earth into regions. One reason for this is that the hex map works hand and hand with the journey rules. Another is that it offers a useful way of  organizing the geography for supplement like this one.

This is a section of the referee's map for the Wilderlands in Rhovanion.


The reddish area are the place that are most  dangerous to travel in as the party found out last week when they were attacked by a swarm of black squirrels in the middle of the Heart of Mirkwood.

The Rhovanion Region Guide has three major section. The first covers the regions along the river Anduin, the second covers the regions of Mirkwood. Dale, Lake-town, and Erebor are not covered although the TOR supplement for these areas have been released. The last section are new adversaries found in these region. It includes NPCs like Gorgol, son of Bolg, and the more general like Hunter Spiders. Seventeen new foes are added plus numerous NPCs in the various region writeups.

Out of all the supplements this is perhaps the most useful.

Each region is given a general description. Has a section called combat scenery which is advice on where typical encounters take place. A description of the wildlife, and inhabitants. This is followed by a list of notable inhabitants. For example the East Middle Vales describes; Beorn the Shape-shifter (from the books), Turin the Tinker, Gelvira Pot-stirrer, Ennalda the Spear-maiden. The last three are original characters created by the author. Turin is a useful contact about the what going on. Gelvira runs a inn at the Old Ford which can be used as a home base by the PCs. Ennalda is a spear-thane of Beorn and is likely the person the PCs will interact most with if they associate with the Beornings.

Then the section goes on to describe notable places within the region. Which for the East Middle Vales is The Carrock (from the books), The Old Ford, The Isle of Strangling Tree, Beorn's House (from the books), The Grey Heath, and The Cleft of Storms. All of these provide interesting places to explore or have roleplaying possibilities.

Man it looks packed
It is and it isn't. While there are a lot of things described it isn't like my mini-region in Scourge of the Wolf where I provide a capsule description of a dozen settlement within a 25 mile radius. Each hex in the above map is 10 miles not quite the howling emptiness of Greyhawk's 30 mile hexes but large enough that even with what I described for the East Middle Vales you have to spend a day or so travelling to each site. And if you go outside of that, you are talking journey of a week or longer.

When you look at the below map for the East Middle Vales keep in mind that you are travelling two hexes (20 miles) per day by foot. That the only two "settlement" are The House of Beorn and the Old Ford with perhaps the Carrock when the Beornings meet there. Where are the Beornings? Read the description from the book.
While most Beornings live in isolated farmsteads, there are a few… well, towns would be an exaggeration. Call them villages, or steadings, clustered around trading posts or river crossings; one of the largest has sprung up in the vicinity of the Old Ford. 


I will talk about the other supplements in the next post.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Why Middle Earth has been working for me

Since the beginning of summer I been running a Middle Earth Campaign using Cubicle 7's Adventures in Middle Earth. My friend Tim's blog post reminded me that I haven't blogged on the campaign in a while.

One of the initial reason I was attracted to Dungeons and Dragon in the late 70s was due to my love of not only Lord of the Rings but the history that was revealed in the Return of the King appendices.

DnD offered me a way to take that love and actually turn into something more concrete than scribbles on a paper. Because Tolkien's history described realms rising and falling, naturally I was open for the players to do the same. Leading to me to be the referee that let players "trash" his campaigns.

The disappointment of Iron Crown MERP
As the hobby and industry expanded I looked for material to help me with this. I found it easier to use things that were grounded in the medieval side of fantasy. Then layered the level of magic I liked on top of it, Harn and Ars Magica I found particularly useful.

During this time Iron Crown published their Middle Earth Roleplaying System or MERPS. I really wanted to like this RPG and their supplements but they paled compared to the quality of Harn, Ars Magica, and Pendragon material I had. Everything except for Pete Fenlon's maps which were great.

The main problem with the game and supplement is that they didn't feel very Middle Earth to me. Yeah they had the names, characters, and locales but they lacked that spark that Tolkien infused the books with.


Over the years I collected two dozen MERPS books which remained unused until I gave them to a friend who really like the game and Middle Earth in the early 2000s.

During that time Decipher released the The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game. Then Cubicle 7 released The One Ring RPG. I looked at both and felt they were more interested in having the referee tell Middle Earth stories to his players rather than helping the referee bring Middle Earth to life as a place for the players to experience.

I know a subtle point but to me the distinction is important. When I referee I am not into telling my stories. My goal is to bring a setting to life so that the players felt they actually visited another place and did interesting things that were fun.

Adventures in Middle Earth
Then came along Adventures in Middle Earth also by Cubicle 7. I wrote a review of the first book in this post. Because it was rested on the foundation of DnD 5e, I knew that there was a limit to the amount narrative mechanics it could have. After reading it, I was intrigued because of how they reworked the classes, eliminated DnD style spell,  and turned feats into virtues More than just a Middle Earth RPG, it was a very much a low fantasy RPG using the mechanics of DnD. And completely avoids the issues I had with MERPS which to me always felt like DnDish fantasy, routed through Rolemaster, dressed in a thin Middle Earth outfit.

So I wanted to run it to see how it played, and so started a campaign. I started buying the supplements. It is in the supplements that Cubicle 7 kills it. It doesn't matter if it is the AiME version or the ToR version they make killer supplements for ANY Middle Earth campaign. And the stats are presented with light enough touch that they are easily adapted to your RPG of choice.

And their initial focus on setting the RPG in Wilderlands is brilliant. In the Return of the King appendices we know shit went down in the Wilderlands, both Dale and Erebor were attacked by the forces of Sauron. We get a paragraph of details and that it.

This means that a Middle Earth campaign can be set during the time period of the Lord of the Rings where the players are truly the heroes that matter. The members of Fellowship of the Ring may have ultimately ended Sauron and the war but dozens of other locales has their own struggles and victories. To be specific the various ToR and AiME products are all set between the Battle of Five Armies and the beginning of the Lord of the Rings novels.

The actual supplements are some the best adventures and campaign guides I seen outside of Harn, Pendragon, and Ars Magica. They range from regional supplements, books of adventures, to a pendragon style grand campaign spanning decades. And when they expanded to other reasons like Rivendell, Rohan, and Bree, the authors done a great job of opening enough of a crack that what the players do matter but still make the events of the novels plausible. For example Rohan regional supplements (Horse Lord of Rohan) and the associated adventure book (Oaths of the Riddermark) all focus on helping Thengel, the father of Theoden, the King of Rohan from the novels.

Next up is a Moria boxed set which I can't wait to see. It been a while since I bought into a RPG line wholesale and Cublicle 7 has earned my dollar.

The Campaign
I will blog more about what I am doing in my AiME campaign but I want to point out one thing. The biggest difference I am noticing is the pacing of in-game time. At first the alternating cycle of fellowship phase and adventure phase seemed seem too much like a straight jacket akin to the metagaming mechanics that other games use to in a vain attempt to create a "narrative" in the campaign.

But then I found it makes for a great way of abstracting the downtime between adventures. I am always a fan of what most hobbyists call down time activities. For example in my Majestic Wilderlands Thursday campaign  one player is always using the magic item creation rules, while another is busy lining up trade deals.

What make AiME fellowship rules nice that they are not all meat and potatoes activities (trade, crafting, training, etc). About half of them are what I call pure roleplaying focused on interacting with NPCs. Here is a partial list.

  • Gain a Cultural Virtue
  • Gain an Open Virtue
  • Gain New Trait
  • Heal Corruption
  • Influence Patron
  • Meet Patron
  • Receive Title
  • Open Sanctuary
  • Recovery
  • Research Lore
  • Secure a Supply of Herbs
  • Tend to Holding
  • Training

Added to this are version regional undertaking. For example a couple of sessions back the PCs made friends with a group of Woodsmen living next to the Old Ford across the Anduin. That settlement has a special undertaking called Guard the Old Ford. Which offer the possibility of earning a bit of rare coin from the tolls levied on travelers.

Wrapping it Up
Again I am having a great time and now that I have several months under my belt I will be posting on some of the interesting things I learning running a Middle Earth campaign.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The many maps of the City State of the Invincible Overlord

Sales of the City State of the Invincible Overlord color map has been good, with 100 copies sold so far. I ordered another copy of the map for myself to see what it would take to assemble into a single map.

I started by dabbing some two way glue on the overlapping areas. Once it turns clear it act like sticky tape. I can carefully pull apart the two maps and adjust the alignment. Once I got it right. Then I use clear packing tape make a solid join. After I got all four maps together and taped I took it to Staples and got the map laminated.  I was happy with the result but look forward to the day RPGNow gets posters added to the paper sizes they support for print on demand.

While doing this, I was reminded of how many times I dealt with different version of the CSIO Map.

So I pulled them all out and took pictures with my lovely wife Kelly Anne.


The one on the right is the color map joined together and laminated. The one in the center is the original map I got in 1980. As you see the color map is slightly longer but the same width. The one on the left is the map for the Necromancer Games version of City State. I didn't draw that one but did proof it for the cartographer.


The above is a photocopy of the original no name city map drawn by Bob Bledsaw. I used to double check the original printing. The offset printing process required the original handdrawn map to be photographed to the paper size which causes a small loss of detail.


Around 1986 my CSIO map was getting worn as you can see in the first photo. And the setting was developing into the Majestic Wilderlands. I was studying for a geography minor so had access to light table and a set of technical pens and rules I had to buy for class. So I put the original map on a light table, a piece of vellum on top and proceeded to draw. 

Here a closeup of that map


Then around 1993 I bought a copy of CorelDRAW 4 as well had access to a HP 12" by 12" drawing tablet. When I drew the hand drawn map, I drew just the ink line (walls, buildings, shorelines). Had it photocopied on a blueprint copier and then added the color detail. 

I still had the master I photocopied off so I had it reduced to to fit the table and used it make a rough sketch of where everything was located. Then built the map up layer by layer to the below result. 


This was my first major map drawn using CorelDRAW. Which after much practice led to the below.


At some point I will modify the Majestic Wilderlands version of CSIO to this style. 

Hope you enjoyed this. Those of you attending Gary Con (and later North Texas Con) will be able to purchase the maps at the convention from Jon Hershberger and the Black Blade Publishing crew. In addition to the map themselves I am sending the following cover sheet to use in the packaging.



Monday, January 8, 2018

OBS Community Content Program is terrible (with one exception).

While I talked about the issue of One Bookshelf's Community Content before, +James Raggi's reminded me to that people still are largely unaware of what going on.

A few years ago Wizards and One Bookshelf (DrivethruRPG and RPGNow) got together and created a community content program that on the surface offered the following deal

We will allow you

  • To use anything from Forgotten Realms 
  • The published DnD 5e Book 
  • Use any content posted to this program including templates and art.

Provided that

  • You give additional 20% cut of the revenue over what you would get for an OBS listed product.
  • that you can only post the content you create for this on this site, 
  • that the only rules you use are DnD 5th edition
  • that the only setting used is Forgotten Realms
  • That you adhere to some content guidelines.

Now most folks zeroed in on the additional 20% cut. But I never cared about that. If I really wanted to release a Forgotten Realms products for profit my chances of securing a license from Wizards was effectively zero. So the cut seem reasonable especially I don't have to go through any lengthy approval process.

But there is a huge downside that really kills this for anything but a very narrow range of products.

From the license you agree to when posting a work to the DM's Guild or any other community content program.

5. Rights You Grant to OBS
(a) No Reversion. Due to our licensing arrangement with the Owner and the collaborative nature of the Program, you are granting us broad licenses in your Work and your User Generated Content included in your Work, and the rights to your Work will not be reverted once it is published in the Program. You will have the ability through online tools at OBS websites to stop public display and sale of your Work on OBS marketplaces, but not to stop the sale of works of other authors in the Program even when such works use your User Generated Content that you originally created in your Work and thereby became part of the Program IP for other authors to use.
(b) Exclusive License to your Work. Effective as of the date you setup your Work through the Program on OBS’s website, you grant us the exclusive, irrevocable license for the full term of copyright protection available (including renewals), to develop,
license, reproduce, print, publish, distribute, translate, display, publicly perform and transmit your Work, in whole and in part, in each country in the world, in all languages and formats, and by all means now known or later developed, and the right to prepare derivative works of your Work.
(c) Exclusive License to all User Generated Content in your Work. Effective as of the date we first make your Work available through the Program, you grant us the exclusive, irrevocable license for the full term of copyright protection available (including renewals), to all User Generated Content included in your Work. You agree that the User Generated Content is available for unrestricted use by us without any additional compensation, notification or attribution, including that we may allow other Program authors, the Owner and other third parties to use the User Generated Content.
So pretty scary right? But I still think it fair for something based on another person's IP but then this one phrase.
and the right to prepare derivative works of your Work.
This in conjunction with the use of Exclusive license kills the use of Community Content for any original settings or content. If I had released Scourge of the Demon Wolf on the DM' Guild first, by the terms of this I couldn't prepare a Swords and Wizardry version with different art, layout, and trade dress. Because that would be a derivative work of the 5e release.

Granted I am not sure what would happen if I did the reverse. Release the Swords and Wizardry version first and then the 5e version on the DM's Guild. Likely I would just kicked off and the product listing dropped. Anyway by that point you need the advice of a IP attorney anyway.

The prudent course is to avoid the use of any Community Content unless your work only makes sense for what they offer.

The One Exception.

The Community Content program vary in what they share. Broadly they all offer access to a set of rules. Some also have setting. The one expection is if you want to write something for a setting. For example if you want to write something for the Third Imperium then the TAS program will work for that. Unless you know Marc Miller well enough to secure your own 3PP license for the Third Imperium or get a work approved at Mongoose or another 3PP licensee this is the way to go get Third Imperium material published. The same for the DM's Guild and Forgotten Realms or Ravenloft.

Some, like Cortex Plus are rules only. My view that these are bad deals taking advantage of their fanbase.

Conclusion
As mentioned in my previous post on the topic, the problem is bad enough that for the first time the Traveller 3PP community felt the need to make the first Traveller retro-clone, Cepheus. Unfortunately fans of Cypher, Cortex and other don't have that option. My opinion is that OBS and the publishers are unjustly enriching themselves for the community content programs that only offer access to rules. That the no derivative content clause is predatory especially for novice authors and that publishers and OBS should be ashamed for including it.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Kellri's Wilderlands Index

Kellri is a longtime blogger and writer who has contributed a number of useful Old School References, notably CDD #4 Encounter Reference.

Yesterday he released the Wilderlands Index a spreadsheet that summarizes nearly all of the original Wilderlands of High Fantasy material. It is an outstanding reference if you are using the Wilderlands for your campaign.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Medieval Life in Action Part 2

Part 1

This part 2 of a series detailing how I incorporate medieval history into my Majestic Wilderlands. One debate that been around since the beginning of the hobby is how "realistic" are the medieval elements of a fantasy campaign especially one using the Dungeons and Dragon rules (various editions). Most of these debates tend to devolve into people talking theory. I figure it would be useful to show actual play example using a campaign I ran two years ago using Dungeons and Dragon 5th edition. The campaign was continuation of a previous campaign using the excellent Lost Mine of Phandelver found in the DnD Starter Set. I re-skinned the adventure slightly by setting in the Majestic Wilderlands instead of the Forgotten Realms.

In the last part I gave a general overview and some general advice. This post is about the first session of the campaign and the medieval elements I incorporated and why. One of my players +Douglas Cole kept a detailed journal over on his blog Gaming Ballistic.

My Account
Doug's Account

Background
Doug made a Paladin of Veritas the God of Truth. The religion of Veritas or the High Lord is associated with the Sylvan culture of the Elves in the Majestic Wilderlands. In the region where the players are adventuring, in there are several cultures that define how NPCs behave. The feudal cultures of the Tharian Horse Lords, and Ghinorian (chosen of Mitra). Along with the Sylvan culture of the Elessarians (Celt like with druids) and demi-humans (Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Halflings, etc).

One aspect of the Sylvan culture is that is tracks closely to the D&D default of the adventuring party of a kalidoscope of races. This makes it easier for a newcomer to roleplay as a member of this culture. For Doug it had the benefit being somewhat distant from where the campaign was taking place. So it played into Doug not knowing the setting as well as the other players.

Paladins in the Majestic Wilderlands are respected and feared. Respected because they are divine agents of their god. Connected to the deity directly as their agent. Feared because as divine agents they are sent to where there are problem. Their active involvement in a region means somebody in trouble and it could be them. There also tensions between paladins and the political and religious hierarchy. While paladin respect the rule of law and those who hold position, in the end they answer only their god.

While paladins are more recent myth than historical religion always enjoyed a privilege place in society. Typically it was woven in tight with the secular half with the the sovereign acting as King and Priest. The advent of Christianity meant, among other things, the role of King and Priest were separated and turned into parallel hierarchies. In Western Europe particularly, the head of the church, the Pope, contended with Kings over who had the final say. Eventually the Kings won the war, but during the 12th and 13th century the Papacy was ascendant.

Overall the Majestic Wilderlands was polytheistic. Behind the scenes there was only ten major divine powers. However when translated through local culture and its history this resulted in a complex melange of religions. The storm god, was known as Thor to the Skandian Vikings, but in the south to the Ionian barbarians he was Mantriv the Thunderer.

Out of all the cultures, the Sylvan culture led by the Elves were the most aware of the true nature of the divine powers of the world. They viewed as enlightened beings of power imparting great truths through their teachings. The leader of these powers was Veritas the High Lord who name means Truth. Paladins of Veritas main purpose is to promote harmony among the races and to deal with threats to that harmony. The clerics of Sylvan cultures call themselves the Trehaen or teachers. When I use D&D as my rules they are based off the Druid and Ranger class.

The regions that the campaign was set there are two other important religion. First is that of the Ghinorian who arrived a millennia ago from the south. They believe themselves to be the chosen people of Mitra the goddess of honor and justice. I always depicted them as a faux Catholic Church and much of the details are taken from or inspired by the historical medieval church with a dash of Judaism. The Church of Mitra is often the religion my players "get" right away. I deliberately play with the stereotypes people have of the medieval church in the details and in the roleplaying.

The next important religions is that of the Tharian Horse Lord. They swept in from the west 200 years ago and conquered the City State of the Invincible Overlord a century ago. They believe in a High Lord however unlike the Elves their focus of worship is directed to a concept they call the Lars. They believe each clan has a council of dead ancestors established by the High Lord to guide the clan and its members. The clerics are those in charge of the proper ceremonies to honor the Lars and perform auguries to seek counsel with the Lars in the clan's time of need. I was inspired by the religious customs of China and Republican Rome. In creating this.

Again I said in my previous post was important about all of this is how the influenced the behavior of the NPCs the PCs encounter. The Tharian norm is do right by their ancestor. The Ghinorian was to live by the code that Mitra teaches, the Sylvans desire harmony between all.

The Situation
The current dynasty and most of the nobles of the City State are Tharian Horse Lords. While top dog their culture has a serious issue. They are vastly less sophisticated than the Ghinorians and Elessarians (Sylvans) they conquered. For the past century they been playing catch up as they have little in their culture to handle complex economic transactions or handle the rule of thousands living a city as opposed to several hundred clansmen. Over time many Tharian became disillusioned and turned elsewhere for answers. The most popular of which is the martial faith of Set the Dragon God. Set and Mitra are rivals and their respective religions despise each other.

Fifty years ago, the current Overlord's father was having political issues, mostly with the Ghinorian merchants and the few nobles that remained. During that time a Set Mission arrived from the south. In a deliberate snub to the Ghinorians in City State he granted permission for the mission to build a Temple of Set right next to the Cathedral of Mitra. However what started as joke, turned into something more. The worship of Set grew in popularity among the younger generation of Tharians. They were attracted to a religion that advocated a warrior ethos similiar to their own, emphasized that the strong had the right to rule, and was sophisticated as the Church of Mitra in having an answer to many of the problems they faced.

Again how this translate to the player level? Mitra versus Set thanks to Conan and Jaquay's Dark Tower is an enduring trope in tabletop roleplaying. So most when hearing Mitra and Set know that they are not going to like each other. That Mitra is the good guy in all this and Set is the bad guy in all this. This dynamic was always been part of how I ran the Wilderlands. I loved the Dark Tower adventure and its background. It quickly became incorporated in my take on City State with the Hellbridge Temple being dedicated to Set, and instead of there being three central temple each dedicated to a different god, I made it the Cathedral of Mitra. Most of my players expected good clerics to be kind of like Catholic priests so this all reinforced each other.

The Set versus Mitra conflict has been a central dynamic since the first campaign I ran in the Wilderlands. I had campaigns where the players were on the side of Mitra and campaign who were on the side of Set. By the mid 2000s the consequences of all these campaigns was that City State and the territory the Overlord controlled was about to be torn apart in civil war.

The campaign that Doug became part of is where it happened.



The First Game
When D&D 5e came out we all wanted to try it. I really like the Phandelver adventure in the boxed set so volunteered to run it. In case it grew into something more, I took it out of the forgotten realms and set in the Majestic Wilderlands. I located it in a frontier march the City State maintained on the borders of the orc infested forest of Dearthwood. Outside of a few reference and custom maps I pretty much ran the first part of the campaign straight out of the book. I ran this part from July 2014 to October 2014. The players were successful in completing the adventure and won the respect of the town.

Then after the New Year everybody wanted to play 5e again. So I started where we left off. Only this time the long build up to civil war was about to explode

The last time we played 5e the players successfully dealt with the Black Spider in the Wind Echo caves and were heading back to Phandalin. They were gone a number of days and in the mean time a messenger arrived from the Mitran rebels in City State that the time to overthrow the Overlord and his nobles was at hand. The leader of the miners, Halia Thorton, was an known adherent of Set. And previously Sildar Hallwinter I made a Black Lotus Agent. The Black Lotus is the Overlord's secret police.

Sildar could see the pitchforks being pulled out and got the miners out although it was too late for Halia. Sildar, his group, and the party met each other on the trail, got attacked by a random patrol of orcs, and a few round into the fight the rest of the PCs showed up.

My inspiration for figuring out how the rebellion would play out is reading the accounts of various peasant revolt throughout the Middle Ages and the Reformation. Like Wat Tyler, the Hussites, and the Peasant War in Germany. When reading about these I tried to imagine why people were acting the way they did. And when it came time for me to use this in my campaign, how would those same beliefs and feeling play out in the particular circumstances of my campaign.

For the Ghinorians, they been in a culture shock ever since the Tharians conquered them. The fact they are now starting to worship the deity they despised the most was the final straw. For Wat Tyler and his group it was also the intersection of several things, the economic disruption of the Black Death, the high taxes, the regency of a young king (Richard II) all combined to form a powder keg that exploded in 1381.

Thinking about the reason for my own civil war allowed me to come up with a multiple intersecting reason for why NPCs acted the way they did. Some are fighting because of economic, some out of religious beliefs, other have a personal grudge against the Tharians. It makes the situation more interesting, more believable, and gives the players more choices on ultimately what they decide to do or not do.

What made this particular situation interesting is that the players knew Phandalin and its inhabitants well from the initial 5e run. So to see the town they worked to protect tear itself apart involved some tough choices.

Part III

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Medieval Life in Action Part 1

In 2015 I ran a Majestic Wilderlands campaign using D&D 5th edition. One of players was +Douglas Cole  who blog frequently on Gaming Ballistic. He also kept a journal of his time in the campaign. Given the interest over in campaigns that are Medieval Authentic I figure it would help to show an example of actual play in a campaign where a lot of the material is drawn on medieval history.

Re-skinning History
One technique I use is re-skin history. I will take one or more incidents, change names, and make the background fit. Earth's history is incredibly diverse and easy to find stuff to adapt to a campaign if you are well-versed in history.

For example, Saladar, King of the Grand Kingdom (from Blackmarsh, Points of Light) just died and his only child surviving to adulthood is the Duchess Aleia. Alias was married Geran, Duke of Powin, part of the neighboring Kingdom of Gwyneed. However the Grand Kingdom is only two generations old. The seven realms having been united by King Aldric the Bold, Saladar's father, 50 years ago. When Aldric died, Saladar's older brother, Aldric the Red (II) took the throne but died in a hunting accident a few years later. As he had no child Saladar was crowned king. Unfortunately Saladar's eldest, Prince Edwin, died while patrolling the eastern borderlands leaving only Aleia as his heir.

However Barons did not like the idea of a Queen being in charge. Their hold over their estates throughout the seven realms was tenous and they desired a strong warrior king like King Aldric the Bold. Palanon was the grandson of King Aldric the Bold, however his mother was King Aldric's daughter so he wasn't considered as a candidate for the kingship until King Saladar died without a male heir. Palanon's supporters moved quickly as it would take two month for the Duchess Aleia to arrive at the capital of the Grand Kingdom. The royal treasury was seized and Palanon was proclaimed King just as the Duchess crossed the borders a few week later.

The Duchess Aleia was known for her fiery temper and wasn't about to give up. She issued a call for loyal supporters to gather under her banner. And with that call the Grand Kingdom was plunged in the era of the Chaos.

Now if you don't recognize any of this, this is a thinly veiled re-skin of the Anarchy period of England. Saladar is a King Henry I who lost his son in the shipwreck of the White Ship, leaving only his daughter the Empress Matilda. Palanon is Stephen the grandson of King William the Conqueror by his daughter Adela of Normandy.

But it not enough
OK so you made the above background and re-skinned it nicely. Right now it is useless vanity piece you wrote for your enjoyment. The only thing that makes it matter is how it defines the behavior of the NPCs that the PCs will encounter.

If you read medieval history a lot what drives things is the social webs that surround those in power. In one sense the Anarchy was two biker (or horse?) gangs (Matlida, and Stephen) fighting over turf with various allied gangs coming and going for their own reasons. So the next step one need to take is to define who does the Duchess Aleia know, do they support her (or not), and why. The same for Palanon. For myself I try to keep to the rule of the half-dozen. At each level I only focus on a half-dozen npcs. That way I can keep things in my head. The actual number should be whatever you are comfortable with keeping in your head. Some can to more and some need to do less.

For this type of background what will impact the players the most are retinue of the lowest ranks of nobles with land and power. Those who follow Barons, Sheriffs and the like. So sketch out Palanon, and Aleia, half dozen of their main supporters, and then of them pick a handful who impact the area the PCs are starting in. Then define their retinues and the NPCs that the players are most likely to encounters. Chancellors, Bailiffs, Captains of the Guard, etc. The retinue depends on their lord for privilege and survival so whatever whom the lord is backing they will back.

Finally this is the average, there will be exceptions and variants. But you have to have a norm. So keep a rough count of how often you make an major exception to the rule and if it exceed half of what your are detailing then quit writing up exception and go with mild quirks to add color. For example you defined a regions that has two Barons and five knights. No more than a single Baron and two the knight should vary greatly from the feudal norm in some way. The rest will have quirks to add color.

Part II