This is a hack with specific goals: it depicts an exilic state in which all the wealthy and artisan natives have been kidnapped, it fuses dungeoncrawling with proselytizing and theft play, and four is the number.
Before we begin, the Numeri:
1. about one
2. about four
3. about sixteen
4. about sixty-four
FOUR DEVASTATING JUDGEMENTS
The Nation Gripped-By-Dek is the source of the four headwaters, and four were the sins it committed: war-sport, outrages against the priesthood, greed for public spaces, and idolatry of the spheres. Dek raised the great empires Gate-Of-Stars over them to oppress them, and rendered four devastating judgements: the sword, famine, dangerous animals, and the plague. She made Gripped-By-Dek a wasteland, and the empire stole away its rulers, its makers, its priests, and its masters. Now only there is only a remnant. The communities are sixteen:
Gripped By Dek
1. Dek's-Bounty. Destroyed by famine. Once homesteads and clemency were granted here. The children of thieves become murderers to eat.
2. Plains-Of-Gold. Destroyed by dangerous animals. Prophets retreated here from persecution. Their bones are gnawed clean.
3. Gate-Of-Stones. Destroyed by the sword. The ranks of the tribe tasked with defending the western passes swelled with strong men. Mutiny gripped their hearts before the sons of Gate-Of-Stars even arrived.
4. House-Of-Dek. Destroyed by the plague. Survivors weave bells into their tentflaps to warn others away. The buildings are full of victims.
5. Dek-Trust. A wasteland and a jungle. The two graves of First-Father are found here.
6. Dek-Carved-These. Pastures and canyons where horrible things are keep corralled by holy statues.
7. Hope-Anew. Their law was cruel. Their scholars were cruel. Their robbers are kind.
8. House-Of-Multitudes. Wheels and wheels lay empty. Every kind of useful person was here.
9. Teeming-With-Power. Mines for iron, for sard, and for gold all make excellent graves.
10. Treasures-of-Treasures. The original temple was destroyed when Dek herself departed.
11. Dek's-Glory-Displayed. Admittedly, this one was pretty terrible beforehand.
12. Soothing-Graves. Once a neutral space for the living to meet the dead. Now the dead mourn the missing.
13. Eight-Hills-Bundled. A city now inhabited by the sons of Gate-Of-Stars. Artists and beauties are brought here.
14. Dek's-Outlook. A city that the sons of the Gate-Of-Stars have failed three times to inhabit. It was always a hostile place.
15. Countenance-Of-Dek. A city totally abandoned. Wanderers trade their lives with each other, or visit the homes of the missing.
16. Response-To-Dek. The city of cities. The base of the empire here. Some of the great treasures remain. A figurehead king is carved from wood. Swords are honed. Famine is flirted with and enticed. Dangerous animals are prepared to grace the arenas of the distant capitol. Even here they fear the plague.
17. In a Realm-Of-Rubble, the sons of Dead-Nations hold court.
18. Under the Sea's-Unquiet, there is a costly tranquility.
19. The top of Terrible-Mountain is the bottom of another.
20. Kine driven off in sacrifices find their way to the Many-Exiled.
Many tombs and ruins are Gripped-By-Dek, and in time they will all be despoiled by the empire. Refugees and strangers wander, and in time any communities they make will be dominated or scattered by the empire. The face of Gate-Of-Stars is rough and brutal here, but they think of their home as a liberal, fair-minded society protected by their diligent cruelty here and elsewhere. Anyway, they have been duped by Dek and will suffer a great fall.
The empire and the remnants in the cities use golden currency, usually in fragments of golden rods. The remnants elsewhere prefer bartering and gifts. This will be described in more detail in a later article, and each community will have different wanderers at different times, including mysterious traders who sometimes also appear in dungeons.
There are four lots to those who remain: soldier, spy, shepherd, and seer. They correspond to the four devastating judgements, and the four cities, and the four sins of Gripped-By-Dek. Of the sixteen breeds of weapon, the soldier is familiar with all eight, the spy with all four, the shepherd with all three, and the seer with just one. They will be detailed in a later article, but if they are not handy you can use a fighter, thief, ranger, and wizard/cleric.
There are four paths one may walk: that of a remnant man, of a remnant woman, of an imperial man, or of a cambion. A remnant man resists famine and sees the ghosts of those he might slay. A remnant woman has taken on a womb, drunk from the waters of life, and been indoctrinated into the Sorority; she resists plague, gives birth, and understands names. An imperial man resists the sword and can subvert many of the curses found Gripped-By-Dek. A cambion is a demon imbued with a sympathetic mind; they resist dangerous animals, and are immune to their own fires. To resist a judgement means that if it would kill a character, they may roll a d4 and only suffer any harm from it on a result of one.
A remnant man can become a remnant woman, a remnant woman can become a cambion, a cambion can become an imperial man, and sometimes even an imperial man can become a remnant man. Imperial women exist but are not here featured.
Everyone has a name. A remnant has a common name, made of a noun or a short phrase like "Sheer" or "Dek-Cannot-Hear-Me", perhaps shortened to "Cannot-Hear." An imperial man has an esoteric name with an archaic meaning which is obscure in the land. A cambion chooses their own name, which usually follows one of these two forms but is somehow worse. Remnant women understand names; their full form, where they came from, and whether they are apt.
Each player character comes from a family. At least one family member still remains Gripped-By-Dek, and at least one is in Gate-Of-Stars. The player should decided something about who they are and what the family is known for. If their family background applies to an action they attempt, it is more plausible that they will succeed.
Each player character has a certain amount of size, quickness, skill, and lore. They roll 4d4 for each of these in order, then if wished can switch two around so the highest is size for the soldier, quickness for the spy, skill for the shepherd, and lore for the seer. After that, they may switch two around so the lowest is size for the remnant man, quickness for the remnant woman, skill for the imperial man, and lore for the cambion.
Each player character has four hit points and sixteen inventory points.
Gripped-By-Dek is a pointcrawl, and all journeying will encounter the impoverished nation's judgements. For a journey, the DM will roll 4d4 and line them up. The first d4 indicates the degree of famine. Each character takes that much damage unless they ameliorate it with food. The second d4 indicates the amount of hostile warriors (see the numeri). Hostility usually doesn't take the form of attacking at first sight. They might demand a toll or interrogate or press-gang the party if they have the numbers. If not, they will make trades and offers and false rumors. The third d4 indicates the heaviness of plague here. It is the chance-in-4 that interacting with someone or with an infected place will inflict one damage on the characters. The fourth d4 indicates the amount of dangerous animals (see the numeri). They are not necessarily hostile, but guard important places or harry wanderers. Slaying a dangerous animal always provides food from its flesh and some other boon.
Also on the journey will be wanderers. The DM will have a table for wanderers, for ruins, for warriors, and for dangerous animals. This plus the procedure above may sound like a lot, but remember this represents an entire journey and can be prepared quickly. If it takes thirty minutes or two sessions, it is doing good.
It is likely that a party will sometimes run out of food. It is sometimes safely available in communities, and always available to those willing to take their chances in the wilderness. When scrounging to survive, the DM will roll 4d4. The first d4 indicates which of the above travails to afflict them with: famine, the sword, plague, or dangerous animals. If famine is rolled, no food is found here. Otherwise, use the second d4 to represent the threat encountered in finding food as above. Use the third d4 on the numeri to determine how many rations of food are found. Use the fourth d4 to determine how much damage is healed by each ration. When encountered, this food will only last another day.
Here I take a break from the d4s for the love of how other dice roll. Combat is perpetrated by the d20. Rolling a d20 and trying to get equal to or under a certain number is called testing that number, like how you might test your size or quickness or even inventory points filled.
Combat is separated into rounds. If someone is taken by surprise (i.e. they were not expecting hostility), they don't act in the first round. If they would die in this first round, they get to test their LORE to recognize the circumstances of their prophesied downfall. On a success, they get to try to dodge or parry the attack that would kill them.
Every player with a character acting in the round writes down their intent, doing up to two major actions of different types. The actions are resolved in the following phases: calumnies, missiles, maneuvers, melee, wrestling, flight, charges, magic spells.
To harm someone, they may try to dodge or parry, or else take one damage. If they attempt to avert the damage, test your size and try to do better than your opponent on their roll. Even if you fail your size roll, you still inflict harm if they fail their roll by a greater margin. To harm someone with your bare fists, you must first successfully wrestle them.
To dodge harm, test your quickness, with a -2 penalty for each attack targeting you beyond the first this phase. On a success, you take no damage, but get a penalty to dodge until your next turn equal to your quickness minus the amount you rolled
To parry harm, test your skill. On a success, you take no damage and can make an immediate attack against your foe if they are within your reach. Success or failure, you cannot resist other harms for the rest of the turn. To successfully parry a slingstone and strike home with your own is called "correcting the intention" and wins you the title of "Caroms-Lightning."
To turn aside hostile calumnies, curses, and other mental effects, test your lore. On a success, you take no damage. If you wish to turn the attack against the foe, treat it like parrying harm but with your lore.
Flight is always possible, though you may be pursued. If you are engaged with a foe, you must test your unfilled inventory points. If you are wrestling a foe, you must wrestle your way out first.
Each breed of weapon has its purpose. If you are not familiar with a weapon, you cannot put it to its purpose and it takes up an extra inventory point when you carry it.
cruciform sword (2) purpose: +4 to parry
sling (1) purpose: harm at range greater than 20 feet
spear (3) purpose: harm before other melee weapons get the chance, harm at range and from horseback
kukri (1) purpose: harm in a way that can't be healed except by an expert
halberd (3) purpose: harm before other melee weapons get the chance and from horseback, or thwart metal armor
flail (2) purpose: parried at a -5
fauchard (3) purpose: harm before other melee weapons get the chance and from horseback, or thwart nonmetal armor
billhook (3) purpose: harm before other melee weapons get the chance, or thwart weapons or shields
ideology (1) purpose: afflict the comfortable
smallknife (1) purpose: to be undetectable
cosmetics (1) purpose: to seem to be someone else, or to incite
poison (1) purpose: to harm on an expected timeframe and not be detected beforehand
staff (2) purpose: move men a little or animals a lot
snare (1) purpose: fully trap the quarry, do only as much harm as intended
fire (1) purpose: send the weapon where it is willed
gonne (4) purpose: thwart armor, confuse ranks, create a smokescreen, and reload quickly without jamming.
Armor lacks standardization. It has no pedigree and no dignity. These are only examples.
pitted leather-covered buckler (2) expend to negate a parry. Repair with a hammer, a fire, and an hour.
bolted barricade shield (4) expend to negate a ranged attack or parry. Repair with nails, wood, and an hour.
tinpot owlmask and cap (3) expend to negate an attack. Repair with hammer, fire, and two hours.
girded cord tunic (4) expend to negate a melee attack. Repair with reeds or fabric, and an hour.
brass shrine panoply (8) expend to negate an attack. Repair with a prayer over someone you've slain.
eager gauntlet (1) expend to negate a snare attack. Repair with a hammer, a fire, and an hour.
wire mane (3) immune to ideology. expend to negate a melee attack. Repair with copper, fire, and an hour.
Other equipment to be described in an expanded article on bartering.
They don't tell you this, but it's very loud outside in the country. Between crickets, wind, and the unkind shrieking moon you could not guess someone is coming upon you until you can see them. Assume anyone more than ten feet away from someone at night or behind an obstruction is undetectable. If you come upon someone carrying a torch, you have maybe one round to incapacitate or silence them before they call for help, but if you do you can definitely do that cool thing where you grab their limp form and silently lower it to the ground. Since combat is inherently incremental, the DM should exercise judgement in allowing PCs to simply take out lone and unsuspecting foes. One good way to do this is to ask the players to come up with a standard that will be applied for and against their characters.
Picking pockets is lucrative work. It is an assumed competency of any PC that if they "bump into" anyone who isn't completely on their guard, they can get a general idea of what they're carrying and attempt to steal something with a test of their quickness. Most travelers wisely hide their coin-purse in a random part of their body, so more in-depth probing is required to find them.
Picking locks is lucrative work. It is an assumed competency of any PC that they can pick most locks with a little time or a test of their skill. Some locks are unpickable by normal means, but this will always have an in-universe justification and therefore a potential counter.
For a simpleton leper, climbing can often be a matter of luck. There is nothing new under the sun; it's all old and sagging in on itself and has hidden pitfalls or handholds ready to crumble. To understand the history of a building or geographic feature is a test of lore (or research), and those who know this can climb anywhere with enough time if left to their own devices. If circumstances force an adventure on the side of a high place, the player rolls a d4. On a 1, the character tests their size or is unable to climb in these circumstances. On a 2, they test their quickness or drop a random item and make a clatter. On a 3, they test their skill or take 1 damage. On a 4, they fall halfway along.
Even in this wasteland, there is something like law. The remnant decide legal matters according to their traditional schools of jurisprudence. These are enforced by curses that afflict those in contempt of court, and argued according to tests of lore, with penalties to the more extenuating side. Imperial forces, I am sad to tell you, prefer demonstrations of wit. They use aphorisms to argue where precedent is used by the remnant, and tests of quickness are appropriate here. When all else fails, they turn to the sword.
To seduce someone, you must guess their secret heart. The DM can roll a d4. On a 1, they either want to affirm their name's meaning or deny it. On a 2, they want to live up to their family's background or transcend it. On a 3, they either want to exemplify their highest stat or their lowest. On a 4, they just want someone exciting or virile. (For a rube, any of these approaches will work if it makes them feel special.) For a character who figures out and plays into this secret heart, they will do irresponsible things.
Grave-robbing is virtuous-- remember, if you can't secure your countrymen's grave goods, the empire will eventually seize them. Beware, when two people physically struggle with an important and powerful item, there's a chance this will trigger a Xiaolin Showdown.
Four kinds of normal animals remain in the wasteland: kine, weasels, crabs, and beetles. The most reliable kine we do not eat is the horse. No one knows how many breeds of horse there are, but it's probably a multiple of four.
Some know how to ride and care for a horse. The rest need to spend a day terrified and a night sore. To survive, a horse needs drinking water and much to graze on. In most conditions, there is a 4-in-4 chance to find enough water over the day and a 3-in-4 chance to find enough feed. Riders will need to keep horse feed with them. They also need a horse brush and pick, a blanket, and every month a new set of shoes and nails.
The return on this is a doubled travel speed, doubled move speed (and therefore the ability to harry foes from a distance with arrows), a clever companion, four extra inventory points, a draft animal, and the veneer of nobility.
Each horse has a level reflective of its quality. When a character acquires the horse, they have pool of horse dice that start at 0 and can go as high as that horse's quality. This loyalty is increased by unique acts of kindness to or care to the horse and decreased by cruelty. Each die is a d6 that can be spent on "horse tricks," feats of equine agility, strength, or bravery, like charging into battle or jumping a gorge. Rolling higher on the d6 indicates a better job. Rolls of 3 or less are lost. 1 die is replenished with every good night's sleep, or with every treat fed to the horse. The first time you feed a horse a treat counts as an act of care. When you increase a horse's die pool, you get a horse die immediately added to it.
Like a PC, horses have four hit points. Unlike PCs, horses are tenacious in avoiding harm. When something might harm either the horse or its rider, it targets the rider. Outside of snares and fire, the DM should apply the maximum benefit of luck to horses.
Like a weapon, each breed of horse has its own purpose. When you first get a pool of horse dice equal to the horse's quality (i.e. when you max it out), you learn how to put it to its purpose. Warhorses usually have purpose like "Get a free horse die when charging into battle."
TO BE CONTINUED
soldier, spy, shepherd, seer
Barter and merchants
Tables: wanderers, ruins, warriors, dangerous animals