Gods and Mortals

Another post in the same week? Bloody Hell, I must have too much spare time on my hands…

Anyway, in this post I’d thought I’d share some images I’ve managed to successfully create used StarryAI for the Rushlight rules. I seem to be getting the hang of using this software, although sometimes the prompts you put in don’t always bring back what you intend, but DO generate an image that can be used.

The FAQ’s for the App states, “You are the copyright owner of your creations as long as you have the right to use any initial images used in generating the creation.” As all the images I’ve generated have been via the App without using a base image, I am assuming that this means the below belong to me – which is quite cool.

So, without further ado, let me introduce you to a couple of important NPC’s for the World of Rushlight, as well as the gods that were mentioned in my last post.

This is Sir Gideon, current Master of the Knights of Helios in Mourne. A straightfoward and somewhat humourless man, Sir Gideon is a master combatant, although those who face him sometimes underestimate him, due to his age.

This is Lord Eldyn, the current ruler of the city-state of Port Eidyn, which whilst physically located on the east cost of Norland, is not actually part of Norland. In Port Eidyn, anything can be bought or sold… as long as you have the coin. Lord Eldyn oversees the running of this port city, ensuring that it remains neutral in any conflicts. It is alleged that he has formed a pact with a Storm Hag to protect the port from those who would plunder its wealth. Whilst no proof of this exists, the number of hostile vessels that have been wrecked off its shores does lend some credence to this rumour…

As you might have guessed, tis is Helios, Lord of Light, the primary deity worshipped in the civilised lands.

And this is his sister, Selen, the Silver Princess, goddess of the moon and patron of those who hunt the evils that stalk the night.

Next up, the four rebellious deities that were banished by Helios and became known as the Whispering Gods.

This is Cyrene, Muse of Ruinous Obsession, Goddess of Forbidden Knowledge.

Kaustos, Lord of Fiery Destruction, God of Slaughter.

Mavia, Lady of Discord and Insanity, Goddess of Madness.

And finally, Morbus, the Plague Lord, God of Pestilence.

The two mortals were one of the four images initially generated by the program, but the initial images generated for the six gods were almost but not quite right. What I did with these was to choose the best of the four initial images, then use the ‘Evolve’ function, which generates a further four images based on the image chosen – so kind of like variations on a theme. The images above were the ones that I felt best represented the deities concerned.

The World of Rushlight

As I’ve been beavering away on the background for this setting, I thought I’d share a little more of the history of this world, events which occurred prior to the current age. Let me know what you think!

Many centuries ago, a civilisation arose, centred on the Aurassic Islands to the North of the Isle of Mourne. It was a civilisation of great scholars and brought forth an age of great prosperity and learning.

The primary deity worshipped by this civilisation was Helios, the Lord of Light, and the people of this civilisation called themselves Solarians, in honour of their god.

However, the volcanic islands that the Solarians occupied were not blessed with much in the way of natural resources and as the less civilised lands to their South were inhabited by warring tribes of barbarians, trade with these lands was all but impossible.

Aurelian, leader of the Council of Sages, proposed that as the barbaric people of the South refused to trade, and did not realise the benefits this would garner them, perhaps their resources should be taken by force.

This did not sit well with the Council, as they had always promoted the idea of diplomacy over aggression, but Aurelian’s arguments began to sway the more power-hungry members of the council.

Whether Aurelian was influenced by one of the lesser gods of the Solarian pantheon, whispering in his ear as he slept, is unknown, but Aurelian plotted behind the scenes and began to subtly discredit those who opposed his views. In cases where this was not successful, he employed more direct means and a spate of ‘accidental’ deaths occurred, until his will was unopposed.

Aurelian then declared himself the first emperor of Solaria and thus rose the Solarian Empire, borne of blood and violence.

The Rise of the Solarian Empire

The Solarian Empire spread southwards from the Aurassic Islands, initially occupying the Isle of Mourne and imposing its rule on the peoples of this land and taking their resources as their own.

However, this was not enough for Aurelian, and his eyes fell upon the greater continent of Ortania.

As the soldiers of the Solarian Empire were highly trained, dedicated and many, bolstered by the conscripts from the lands it had conquered, the Solarian legions invaded Ortania, slowly but surely increasing their hold on the lands of men, until most of the continent was under their control.

The Seeds of Destruction

The Solarian Empire held sway for many centuries, occupying Mourne and much of Ortania, ruled by a dynasty of emperors from the capital city of Heliopolis, on the largest of the volcanic Aurassic Islands.

However, trouble was brewing.

Emperor Magnus had stated that the sun would never set on the Solarian Empire, as it was blessed by Helios himself, and therefore the worship of any god other than Helios was declared heresy.

As the emperor’s word was law, there followed a period in which the worship of gods other than Helios was brutally suppressed.

Whilst most of the populace bowed down to this, the worshippers of the moon goddess Selene merely removed themselves from public view, continuing their worship and practices in secret.

Some of the lesser gods of the Solarian pantheon approached Helios, arguing that this monopoly of worship was unfair and would diminish their powers. Helios listened to their pleas, but was proud of what his worshippers had achieved.

‘Look at what my followers have created,’ he said, ‘An empire that spans the World. What have your followers done of note? Nothing that compares to this. Had you been less afraid to employ you godly might, you might not now be in the position of losing it.’

Kaustos, Lord of Fiery Destruction, gathered together a group of disaffected lesser gods, stating that unless something was done, they faced extinction, as their powers would dwindle as their worshippers turned away from them. As the Solarian Empire was the seat of the Church of Helios’ power, he reasoned that its destruction would break Helios’ hold, allowing the populace to worship whichever god they chose.

Whilst many of the gathered gods balked at such extreme measures, a handful were swayed by his rhetoric – Mavia, Lady of Discord and Insanity; Morbus, the Plague Lord; and Cyrene, Muse of Ruinous Obsession.

Realising that Heliopolis was not only the wellspring of the Church of Helios, but also the lynchpin that held the Solarian Empire together, they chose this as their target. As Helios kept a careful watch upon his favoured city, they knew that they must be subtle with their machinations, starting small, to ensure that once Helios eventually realised what was happening, it would be too late to prevent it.

Morbus descended upon the continent of Ortania, infusing part of his essence into the smallest of agents – the humble flea. Thus, the plague known as the Yellow Death began to spread across the land, carried unwittingly to other shores on the backs of rats.

Cyrene then began her part, posing as a well-travelled scholar returned from distant lands, carrying with her ancient tomes of arcane knowledge – knowledge that she speculated may hold the cure to the Yellow Death. Of course, this was merely a ruse, as the books contained forbidden lore, lore that corrupted those that read it, causing them to believe that the ends justified the means, no matter what the cost.

Mavia manifested as a courtesan, whose ethereal beauty caught the eye of the Emperor, and was soon sharing his bed. She shared the supposed rumours and gossip that she had overheard, causing the emperor to become paranoid and fearful that those he considered his trusted advisors were plotting to overthrow him.

And whilst these individual strands began to weave together, Kaustos laboured beneath the ground, using his powers to reignite the long-dormant volcano that cast its looming shadow over the great city of Heliopolis.

The Fall of Heliopolis

Disease ran rampant through the Empire, finally reaching the streets of Heliopolis, where the dead lay where they fell, their bodies covered with weeping yellow sores.

The emperor, having dispatched assassins to rid himself of his perceived enemies, had finally succumbed to madness and locked himself away in his palace, refusing to acknowledge that any problems existed beyond its walls.

Those sages who had searched within the forbidden texts, believing they had discovered a cure, rashly performed a sorcerous ritual to restore those who had perished to life. And the dead did rise, as unliving abominations who stalked the streets, preying on those who still drew breath.

And above the city, ominous clouds of smoke rose from the mountain…

The priests of Helios cried out to their god, asking why he had forsaken them. Helios looked down, shocked not only by what he saw, but also that he had failed to notice it sooner.

Realising that these occurrences were not of natural origin, Helios descended from his throne into the city that bore his name.

Extending his senses, he caught the scent of godly power, and stalked through the streets, seeking those who had wrought this damage.

The three conspirators, sending his presence, retreated beneath the mountain, joining Kaustos in the fire-lit chamber.

Helios confronted the rebel gods below the mountain, entreating them to end their destruction, but was rebuffed.

Tremors shook the city of Helipolis, as the gods unleashed their powers upon one another, seeking victory. However, the mortal plane was not meant for such displays of godly might, causing the now-active volcano to erupt with such magnitude that it not only destroyed Heliopolis, but most of the island on which it stood, leaving nothing behind except for a smoking caldera.

The Retreat of the Gods

Whilst Helios had emerged triumphant, much of his godly might had been expended in the battle.

However, realising that his own pride and hubris has caused this chain of events, he made a vow that he would protect his people, his world, from these rebel gods for eternity. He gathered the remnants of his power about him and banished the rebels gods outside of existence, imprisoned forever more beyond the realm of Man.

This took a heavy toll on him and he returned above much diminished, no longer able to manifest upon the mortal plane.

These rebellious deities – Kaustos, Mavia, Morbus and Cyrene – whose names were soon lost to antiquity, became known collectively as the Whispering Gods.

They wait beyond the walls of existence, sending dreams through cracks in reality, to those minds receptive to their will, their only goal to escape from their prison and wreak dire vengeance upon the world of Man.

Electric Dreams

Strangely, two of the blogs I follow have both recently posted regarding the use of AI generated artwork – namely Harry over at War Across the Ages and Dave Morris (he of White Dwarf, Dragon Warriors – amongst many other things – fame) at Fabled Lands.

Now, whilst I do consider myself a “reasonable” artist (i.e. things I draw usually look like what they are supposed to), people won’t be banging down my door for an original Winstanley.

Having seen what could be achieved utilising an AI art program, and based on Harry’s recommendations, I decided to download and give StarryAI a try, as the rules I’m currently adapting could do with some artwork.

What you have to remember is that StarryAI is a computer program, so the more ‘prompts’ (i.e. instructions) you give it, the closer to what you want you’re going to get.

For example, if you put in ‘Medieval pirate port city,’ which I thought was pretty straight-forward, you get this;

Which, whilst cool, wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

However, one you get the hang of what kind of input the program needs, you can get closer to what you want.

So, in the Rushlight settting, the Whispering Gods can imbue mortals with some of their power, creating avatars that can act on their behalf.

The avatar of Kaustos, lord of fiery destruction, for example, is known as the Burning Knight.

Now, as I ideally wanted a medieval style illustration, my prompts were ‘evil burning knight, medieval illustration, woodcut, Gustav Dore.’ Of the four pictures I got back, the one below was the best;

Having seemed to have got the ‘prompts’ right, I tried for the Avatar of Mavia, lady of discord and insanity, more commonly known as the Pied Piper. Of the pictures the program returned, the one below struck a chord, although the piper doesn’t appear to be piping;

As I said to Harry in the comments on his original post, whilst I can see the utility of using such programs, I can’t see it ever replacing human artists. An AI can compare various pieces of artwork accessible on the web and create art that apes this, but lacking imagination or a human perpective, they’ll always be something not quite right about it.

However, if you’re writing a Call of Cthulhu adventure and what some unique and slightly disturbing artwork for free, StarryAI has got your back;

Lost at Sea?

For those who regular visit this humble blog, you will have noticed that my last post was on 1st November 2022. Now whilst some (I’m looking at your, Keith) may be of the opinion that my absence relates to battling Tharks in the skies over Barsoom, clad in little more than a a leather posing pouch, this is not the case.

Yes, I may have been on board a ship during the month of December and yes, at one point I did have a sword in my hand, but this was on the Atlantic and there were no green entities on board (other than those people experiencing mal de mer as we traversed the Bay of Biscay).

And no, it wasn’t a pirate ship either…

And no, I wasn’t starring in a period crime drama, where a well-dressed, middle-aged man solves supernatural crimes, using his extensive library, no matter what the picture below would suggest.

I was actually cruising around the Canary Islands for the Christmas and New Year period, a a guest of my father-in-law, who had decided to take us all away for the holidays.

Prior to leaving for this long-anticipated break, my daughter was involved in a car accident, the end result of which was that the insurance company wrote it off as a total loss. Fortunately, she was uninjured, but the car, not to put too finer a point on it, was fucked. Whilst I was provided with a hire car, a hideous Citroen C3 that drove like a brick, due to the upcoming holiday, sourcing a new vehicle and gathering the necessary finances would have to wait until I was back in the UK in the New Year.

Understandably, hobby-time was limited, hence that lack of posts.

However, I haven’t been completely idle when it comes to hobby-related pursuits. Although no paints, brushes or miniatures have been touched so far in the New Year, I have been busy adapting the Romance of the Perilous Land rules to a different setting. As the author of these rules had posted various addendum to the published rules on his blog and Osprey had issued an errata sheet, I decided to consolidate ALL of this information into one typed-up document, then alter the setting to one that suited me better.

The original setting for Romance of the Perilous Land, as described in my review here, is a fictionalised version of “folkloric Britain” where both Robin Hood and King Arthur exist side-by-side. This mash-up, whilst interesting, didn’t quite do it for me. My initial thought was to adapt the rules for the Ravenloft setting, but this proved problematic, as new rules would have to have been added to take into account the genre of the setting, as well as the addition of flintlock firearms, as a fair few domains of the Core are Renaissance level, whereas RoPL is firmly medieval in flavour.

As RoPL also has no direct analogue for the Christian church, as the occupants worship gods derived from Celtic mythology, those scenarios that feature large religious institutions such as abbeys, monasteries and the like could not be used, as these do not exist within the Perilous Land.

So, in order to utilise my existing catalogue of medieval-flavoured scenarios culled from various gaming magazines over the years, I decided to create my own setting, which is a fictional version of medieval Europe, with analogues for the major powers around at that time. However, as with most things I do, there is an element of lurking darkness, represented by the Whispering Gods.

These entities were once worshipped as gods by denizens of this world, but were banished to the spaces ‘beyond’ by Helios, the primary god of this world, after their machinations caused the destruction of the Solarian Empire, the primary centre of Helios’ worship.

But whilst they are imprisoned and their power diminished, they seek to return to the mortal realms and finish what they started. Their dreaming forms inveigle their way into the minds of susceptible folk, promising them power, riches, whatever they want, in return for helping them to break the chains that imprison them. Should they secure their freedom and walk the land, this would result in an apocalyptic event of unprecedented proportions.

Whilst I am still working on the minutiae of the setting, I thought I would provide the Introduction I have typed for this setting to give some flavour. Enjoy!

  A lone piper plays in an isolated shepherd’s hut, surrounded by swirling female dancers. As they turn, their skirt hems lift, revealing the cloven hooves of deer. The piper prays to his god for the strength to continue playing until dawn, as if he falters, he knows the baobhan sith who surround him will claim his life…

  A black-clad figure stealthily creeps through the dim interior of a chapel dedicated to Selene, eyes focused on the silver chalice resting on the altar. His movement ceases as a grinding noise reaches his ears and he raises his eyes to the rafters, starting in horror as the gargoyle carved into the pillar slowly turns its head towards him, then begins its slow descent to the ground…

  An armoured knight pauses in a shadowed glade, as furtive movement in the bushes surrounding him catches his attention. Drawing his sword, the knight prepares for battle as several stunted forms, armed with a variety of  gore-encrusted weapons, emerge from the undergrowth, each one wearing a pointed red cap…

  A lone robed traveller, walking the rolling hills of Cambria, rounds an outcropping to come face-to-face with the scaly bulk of a wyvern. As it stalks forward, tail whipping, he carefully reaches into the pouch at his waist, using the stick of charcoal to inscribe a rune upon his palm. After a swift incantation, fire blooms in his outstretched hand, ready to be cast in the face of the oncoming threat…

  The is the world of Rushlight, a place where magic can be wielded by those who know how to tap into the Weave, brave knights ride across the land upholding the oaths they have sworn themselves to, and crafty thieves slip through the shadows seeking to fill their pockets at the expense of others.

  But whilst it is a land of adventure, where those who hear the call can ascend from lowly beginnings to become a hero whose name is on the lips of all across the land, perils both mundane and supernatural lurk in the shadows.

  The fey denizens of the Otherworld regularly cross into the mortal realms, sometimes merely playing mischievous pranks on those whose paths they cross, but on other occasions spiriting away their victims into the Otherworld for reasons known only to themselves.

  Brutish ogres, vicious redcaps and wizened hags lurk on the outskirts of civilisation, preying on those villagers who fail to take the necessary precautions when venturing into the wild.

  And those who have been seduced by the veiled promises of the Whispering Gods seek to free their imprisoned masters, not realising the implications of unleashing these unnatural alien beings upon the world.

  These are the threats that face the common folk of the world of Rushlight and it takes a particular type of hero to stand against them. For those who take this calling, the rewards are great, but so is the danger they face.

  Do YOU have what it takes to stem the tide of darkness that threatens the land?

  You are about to find out…

Character Building

His name was Weaver and he claimed that he was merely a travelling herbalist.

However, certain members of the party had seen him perform minor acts of magic and his pet crow appeared to be somewhat more intelligent than normal, so they believed him to be a mage…

Other members of the party had witnessed him slipping through the shadows, to suddenly materialise behind a sentry, and, after a brief struggle, leave the guard dead on the ground, eyes glassy and green foam dripping from the corner of their mouth. These party members assumed he was some kind of assassin…

Whatever the party believed, as Weaver would either launch into an elaborate tale that was clearly made up on the spot or merely smile, they learnt that if they came across an intricate, elaborate puzzle or trap, Weaver was the best person to deal with it.

Weaver was actually a 2E Bard, who’d taken the Riddlemaster kit and spent 2 additional slots on the Herbalism Non-Weapon Proficiency to allow him to brew some low-level poisons (with the agreement of the DM). He never used his bardic inspiration, because he was a bit of a self-serving, mercenary git. However, he was great fun to play and, unlike some of the party, when facing a rampaging red dragon, did not stand in the open on a stone bridge… so was able to tell the tale afterwards.

I recently came across his character sheet when having a sort out and thought it might be a fun exercise to see if I could recreate him using the Romance of the Perilous Land rules, as it does share some similarities with AD&D. However, as the RoPL Bard class features are all about performance and provide buffs for allies, debuffs for foes and minor healing (for some reason), the Bard class is not the best choice for recreating this character under this ruleset.

But if you select the Thief class, this gives you access to the full set of Thief class features (Sneak Attack at 1st lvl, Trapfinder at 3rd, Critical Stike at 5th, Disguise at 7th and Deadly Strike at 9th), a choice of Acrobatics, Bluff, Perception, Stealth and Thievery (choose 3 of 5), light and medium ranged and melee weapons and light and medium armour. Plus you automatically get a dagger, leather armour and set of lockpicks.

Now, if you combine this with the Assassin background from the Heroes of Avalon supplement (available for a very reasonable $2.00 here) you get Nature and Stealth skills as bonuses and get access to 5 talents that are only available to Assassins, including Poison Crafter, which allows you to “spend 10 minutes creating one poison with a single use” (there is a list of 5 poisons with specific effects within the supplement). However, if you take Magic Initiate at 1st level, rather than an assassin talent, this allows your character to “cast spells up to level 1,” which gives you the minor spellcasting ability that you would associate with the 2E bard.

So, we now have a 1st level Thief, with the Assassin background, who can cast 0 and 1st level spells, and when he hits 2nd level, will be able to craft his own poisons. This is basically what the concept of Weaver was when I tried to shoehorn him into the AD&D 2E rules, so RoPL actually made it easier to create this character. And there’s more…

Because the rules give an overview of each of the eleven kingdoms, based on my concept, I can easily slot him into the game’s background. So, Weaver (if that’s his real name) is from Lyonesse, and was trained by the Night Ward, a secret organisation of assassins that dispose of spellcasters in that land. Whilst King Meliodas officially denounces their actions, he privately appreciates their work (as he fears all spellcasters) and fails to crack down on their activity. However, when Weaver discovered his own spellcasting ability, he realised that if this talent was revealed, he would be the next victim of the Night Ward, so ran south. Finding Eastland to be a bit too lawless, he fled further south and ended up in Ascalon. Unfortunately, this was where he was caught and rather than compete in Hykaria’s death pits where criminals fight to reduce their sentences, is now working off his debt as an indentured ‘servant’ to Lord Talbot.

Now, once you have a character you want to play, you then start casting about for a miniature to represent them and having heard good things about HeroForge, I decided to see if I could translate the image I had in my mind’s eye of Weaver into an actual miniature.

So, this is the closest I could get to Weaver from my mind’s eye, so what will HeroForge charge me for having my own custom-built miniature? Let’s have a look…

$19.99?! And that doesn’t included shipping?!

Well, whilst it’s a nice idea, I think that’s a little out of my price range. However, as I am the Master of Web Fu and can generally find a figure to represent anything I want, I’m sure we can do better than THAT…

So, Dungeons & Dragons Critical Role Unpainted Miniatures Hollow One Rogue and Sorcerer Male, from Wizkids. Approximately a fiver (£5.00) for both figures, so I get a figure to represent Weaver for £2.50 and a weird sorcerer chappie to use elsewhere. Result!

And to be quite honest with you, I prefer the figure I found to the one I actually built, as it looks more like what I think Weaver should look like. AND I happened to find that my FLGS had one pack in stock, so I didn’t even have to pay shipping!

My Web Fu is Strong…