Tuesday, October 30, 2018


Final Fantasy VIII

As my Holy Selmat game involves a lot of religious archaeology, I expect there will be a couple of times when the party is investigating a generally unimportant tomb. Getting ahead of this, I've come up with a few interesting-but-short tombs that can fit almost anywhere in Selmat. I also have a couple of war camp ruins that would be at home in the battlefields around the city of Gath. Each bullet point is its own room/area.


  • Tomb. Rows of dead clutching holy symbols. Bas relief of a warrior, holding out a sword. Blood on the sword pulls it back, an intricate mechanism, into the next room. Dried blood on floor/blade.
  • Bookshelf, all rotten. An altar. Blood spilled on it is designed to flow and pool underneath in the next room. Stairs leading down. There is a confused, ancient, hostile familiar.
  • The indent of a female form in the ground. Heaving half-formed venous. Will love and serve anyone who feeds it enough blood to fully form. If attacked, will defend itself, confused.


  • Frames of petrified wood on a hill. Once a great forest of tents.
  • In the center, the confusing remains of a thing of bone and tin. Once contained a demon, now inhabited by the demon. Rows of iron-tipped spikes swing out at PCs.
  • Stone ruins, once the command’s HQ. Some old but masterwork armor, a little model of armies. Inhabited by a murder of vultures, who are in the process of eating the aardwolves who used to live here.
  • Adjunct’s tent, now a frame of petrified wood. Stone tablets describing the capture of the demon (written in antediluvian.)
  • Barracks tent. Mostly picked clean.

Cameo Creepster


  • Basic catacomb. Families buried together. Clearly marked door to tabernacle for the dead.
  • Behind door stands a skeleton who will close it after the first person enters it, then attack after quickly wedging a doorstop. Simple altar, shrine. Door to left and right.
  • Left door leads to squat library, with water constantly falling through the middle of the room, shining if there is any light. One intact random tome.
  • Right door leads to a large sarcophagus, guarded by dozens of skeletons fused together in some kind of bone wall. Within is a thin layer of gems and bottles of wine. Opening unleashes dangerous gas.


  • One large shrine incorporating a corpse, looking out with pearls for eyes. Pulling the left pearl pulls a wire behind the skeleton that parts a section of wall to reveal an old, but masterwork sword. Its pommel is poisoned, but the poison is dried so that it comes out when the wielder’s hand sweats.
  • Left door. A series of reliefs depicting daily life. A small coffin containing a dog.
  • Right door. Large description carved in wall in Selmati, describing how they were saved by a certain kaf-tsadhi, and want history to know of their goodness.


  • A wall of recovered junk used to obscure this place from the gaze of Gath.
  • A pile of rubble. In a crevice, a hermit sorcerer who babbles incoherently and blasts people with embery goo. Has a scroll of some weird scroll like speak with locks or forget item.
  • An old campsite. Some rotted food, plus a sack of lentils. A dead body, picked clean by hyenas. A pitchfork.
  • A broken chariot with a small bag of jewels in it. Covered in fire ants, whose nest is only ten feet away.
Torstein Nordstrand


  • Chamber with a shrine to the prophet Tizrah. Some coins and simple offerings.
  • Sarcophagus containing a gigre user. Murals on the wall show scenes of leisure in gigre dens and acts of public charity. In pots by the sarcophagus, there is expired gigre. Smoking it would make you terribly sick and roll on your favorite mutation table, but a good craft (drug) check can show you how to create that particular form of gigre. It gives a practitioner normal paladin abilities, plus the ability to transmute metals, but it has the following commandments: must do favors when requested on holy days, must shun lawyers, cannot commit violence against animals, miserliness is a mortal sin.
  • Two bodies, now home to a giant bat creature and its shrieking spawn.


  • Two statues, a small soldier, unarmed, with a plowshare at their feet, and a cat standing at attention.
  • An inscription on the wall, in Selmati. It is a diatribe against the use of iron weapons.
  • The body of a child, with several gold jewels and expensive items set around it. The child was slain by an iron dagger

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak

William Blake. A crisis bears witnessing

When the world was being formed and focused, God required witnesses to look over the mortals to come. So was placed the city of Gath, perched on an island over the deepest lake in the world. So were made the dwarves of Gath, who see for God.

They have been made to last until the end of the Earth, and their hairs are starting to grey. Mostly they stay in Gath, sending out individuals to witness important events. Almost every battle in the history of Selmat was fought within sight of Gath so that God may see it, and by this point the lake is surrounded by ruins and corpses. It is said that they make iron weapons from the blood of those centuries of slain, and it is true. Within the city, the dwarves mostly just tell each other stories so that they may be remembered forever. For fun, they also like to share satires of centuries-old events

Hubert Robert. Out of the View of God
The Biritists of Selmat honor the dwarves, and to see one is more rare than to see an angel. Kings send messengers to Gath to request the presence of a dwarf for historic events, and these requests are often granted. Noryists, fearful of the pantheon from which their god was exiled, are likewise fearful of dwarves.

This is perhaps wise.

Karl Kopinski


Witnesses are like bards but less musical. They use wisdom instead of charisma for all the "bard" stuff, and their performances are states of perfect recall triggered by the crush of history. 
Witnesses get +1 to knowledge skills for every fifteen years they've been alive. This is somewhat impressive for PCs, but makes knowledge checks auto-successes for dwarf witnesses, since they are as old as the world itself. (Dwarves are not a PC race in Holy Selmat.)

Smart players will note that they have perfect recall of events that take place while doing a witness performance, and perform during events that they want to remember, which I think makes a lot of sense. One of the books I read in anticipation of running Holy Selmat was Green Ronin's TESTAMENT, which included the psalmist class in a similar niche to the witness. This one is a bit less bardy that the psalmist, and a bit less... specific? 

The Same Ten Elements

James Jacques Joseph Tissot
Meaningful choices requires knowledge. Why should we go to place X instead of place Y? As soon as we know even one thing about one of the places, our choice becomes more meaningful. "Place X" is a city" helps, and "place Y is where your father's killer was going" helps. In large part, the knowledge that makes choices meaningful is basic knowledge of tropes or simple facts. We know generally what a wizard is, and what confronting one might entail. We know generally that things which are far away take longer to get to, and it's faster to ride a boat over water than over a desert.

But another source of knowledge is the particular knowledge of a specific thing. Your players might start out knowing that Ckem-Sudam is a city, but after they've collected rumors about it, visited it five times, and encountered dozens of its important residents, they now have particular knowledge of Ckem-Sudam. They have more information, which means they have greater ability to make choices which surprise you, clever choices, meaningful choices.

I'd go so far as to say that repetition of elements is required for a good role-playing game. Repetition creates the context needed for players to do better than guess what effect their characters' actions will have. Constantly return to the same places or kind of places. Constantly revisit the same characters or kind of characters. Constantly refer to the same kinds of technology and magic. Even abstract themes like justice, piety, and desperation bear revisiting and variation.

There are three main religions in Holy Selmat, one of which accounting for 95% of the people the party will meet. The region is cut up into nine cities and their outlying area. If there's some strange race, it can be found in at least three places. There are maybe 200 saints, but my "random saint" table looks like this:

Random Saint (d20)
1-10 Sainted Elijah: First prophet, converted along the river Levi
11-15 Sainted Tirzah: most recent prophet (still pre-split)
16-17 Sainted Miriam: received the commandments. Rode a horse.
18 Sainted Yeshua: won a battle at Gath
19 Sainted Michael: defeated Moloch at Algol
20 Sainted Ehud: studied new Gigres

It follows Zipf's Law: the frequency of any element is inversely proportional to its rank. 

Each entry in my random religious texts table refers to some city or prophet or other extant element. My Holy Selmat rumor table entries all refer back to some extant element. I want to hit on these elements repeatedly, so my players will develop in-depth understandings without having to have every fact exposited to them from the beginning. 

Monday, October 29, 2018


Art by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

In Lou Keep's The Use and Abuse of Witchdoctors for Life, he describes the real life use of substances called Gri-Gri:

"In 2012, the recipe for gri-gri was revealed to an elder in a dream. If you ingest it and follow certain ritual commandments, then bullets cannot harm you. The belief is puzzling, inasmuch as bullets did seem to keep killing people. More puzzling: not only did it survive, it was adopted by many neighboring villages, cities, and regions. 'Why?'"

The article then goes on to explain dynamics of social cooperation and talk about the value of believing things that aren't true, but that will not be the subject of this post. Instead, I want to talk about the use of Gri-Gri in Holy Selmat. It goes by another name, but its fundamentally similar. This is not a game of paladins but practitioners: individuals who create and use a holy drug, held to certain moral laws, in exchange for divine powers.

No one knows who first created Gri-Gri. There are many myths. Four centuries ago, the Sainted Ehud created many new kinds, so it is at least that old. Six centuries ago, the Sainted Elijah was allowed into the city of Skarbor, whose seers were learned in the chemic, so it is at least that old. There are many kinds. Some chemists (who in other worlds would be anti-paladins) must follow commandments of cannibalism and desecration. Others follow other laws. The commandments of the practitioners are always inconvenient, and there are always at least three. Discovering a new skew of Gri-Gri is valuable treasure to a practitioner, not only because it might give them new abilities but because it demands different commandments.

If a practitioner lapses in their commandments, they are unclean and must purify themselves in a simple ritual. They cannot use their powers for at least 24 hours. Below are the "default" gri-gris used by the most important religions near Selmat.

Practioners of Occulat:
Must remain silent every seventh day. On all other days, must compose a verse or measure in remembrance. Must only eat seeds and meat. Indiscretion is a mortal sin. Additionally, you can see around corners but dead bodies are unclean to you.

Practitioners of Rektrine:
Must drink saltwater daily and only travel by starlight. Must keep a servant. Gullibility is a mortal sin. Additionally, you have an affinity with lions but the touch of a wolf is unclean and they will seek you out.

Practitioners of Noryawes:
Must obey all laws and break bread daily. Must mark yourself with the blood of a relative. Betrayal is a mortal sin. Additionally, menstruation is unclean but if you would become pregnant, you instead become more powerful for what the length of the pregnancy would have been.

Folk Beliefs in Selmat

Age of Conan: Unchained concept art

In Holy Selmat, the people are especially pious. Accordingly, I've made a rumor table to represent the cruft of folk beliefs, theories, and other idiosyncrasies that vary from town to town and person to person. If the party makes their goals of writing a holy book public, they will frequently be approached by Selmati with one of these "pieces of information" to include. I can also use this table to characterize any holy orders or secret societies they meet.

d20 table of Rumors and folk beliefs
  1. Elijah called all the dragons to Gath, fed them poison, and killed them.
  2. The diluvian sea is full of merpeople, including a sunken holy city that attacks heathen religions across the waves.
  3. “Occulat” was a creation by a Noryist trying to undermine the faithful.
  4. When Moloch was defeated, he fled northeast, empowering the cities far off from Selmat.
  5. Once the dwarves have witnessed all things, they will have a copy of the world they can feed to their god, which will have strange effects on ours.
  6. The dwarves guard the physical gate to the afterlife.
  7. Locusts spend seven years out of every eight in the afterlife.
  8. The Prophet Ehud invented Gigre— it was revealed to him in a dream.
  9. The prophet Tizrah had a child who went into occultation.
  10. You can become a demon by sacrificing your own children.
  11. Homunculi can be made according to the following recipe…
  12. Candles, swords, spurs, and bows were invented by Noryists in Dark Satanic Mills.
  13. You can ceremonially transfer your sins onto a goat.
  14. The Devil was sent by Rektrine to test us and is actually his monsoon lover.
  15. Hyenas are undead, and magical. Chosen by the prophet Cantar
  16. Mithral is a refined form of iron. It severs the soul doubly.
  17. God will send us a Messiah soon, and it has been foretold in the holy texts.
  18. God has sent us a Messiah. I met them.
  19. Elijah was killed by a vision he saw at the Mountain of the Fathers in the fiery waters there.
  20. Elijah came from the land of Nuf. That’s why he washed up on shore.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Goals for Holy Selmat

A message from Rektrine will go unanswered. Axel Sauerwald
  • I want to build up a lot of history for Selmat by staying to ~10 major locations and ~5 major prophets. Most of the things that happened, happened in one of those locations or to one of those prophets. These places are OLD.
  • I want to present these places as interesting to visit, that the PCs don't need to scratch their heads thinking "how are we going to learn about what we've come here to learn about?"
  • I want the political structure to reflect the concept of religious belief-as-social-institutions, and let the players make space for investigating religious belief-as-personal-philosophy or not.
  • I want there to be incomplete historical information from which players can extrapolate good deductions.
  • I want each session to be exciting and fun for the players, even if they're just going over books they found.