Sunday, November 4, 2018

Earth Elementals and Gargoyles

On Centerra, everything is alive, to a greater or lesser extent.

Every mote of dust has something of a soul.  It would be a stretch to call it sentient, and yet even even that speck has something of experience, of a felt history.  (These micro-minds are what goblin filthomancers rely on.)

Humans have an easy time personifying fire, wind, and water.  Even a simpleton can often divine the intentions of these things.  The wind can be playful.  The sea can be angry.

The lives of stones are rarely given a thought, and yet they exist, just outside of the light of our cultural campfire.

Two things prevent humans from appreciating the stories of stones.

First, the life of a stone is very slow.  So slow that it is almost impossible for us to appreciate it.  A grain of sand will be born, incorporated into a sedimentary rock, and eroded an average of six times before it is truly dead.  This takes hundreds of millions of years.

Larger stones have even slower lives, and slower minds.  The Fighting Mountains have been locked in a deadly melee for almost a million years.  For them, this is a frantic struggle.  To us, it is scenery.  (This hasn't stopped the local monks from studying the mountains' actions, however, and learning kung fu from them.)

Far beneath Clavenhorn, at a place called the Second Omphalos, the Church operates a system of tubular "bells" that penetrate deep into the planet's crust, along with a separate system of parabolic caverns that grow a certain type of crystals, their growth visibly affected by telluric currents and the subsonic groans of the tectonics plates.  They are talking to the planet, at a rate of a single word every century.  Her name is Phosma.

Second, the life of a stone is inverted.

They are born huge, powerful, and wise.  Cut from the magma and shaped by the subtle designs of the planet herself, the mountains rule over their brethren.  (Every snow-capped peak is a crown, and that is why Centerrans never tread on the mountaintops.)

As they age, they dwindle, crumbling into feebler boulders and grains, each only a fragment of that molten wisdom which once fattened and instructed them.  Of all the secrets of the deep earth, the youngest stones know the most.

Compared to us, their senses are dulled.  They operate on a slower timescale, and their only sense that truly overlaps with our own is touch.  (Sound is approximated through long periods of resonance.)  Truly, you could dance atop a boulder for a month before it noticed you.

by Yefig Kligerman, for God of War

Earth Elementals

I bet you're only interested in how to fight one.  You brute.

I've already written about how you would fight wind.  You must trap it, smother it, chain it.  Immobilization and death are synonyms.

And fire elementals are destroyed as directly as you might think--you must deprive them of their fuel, or of their oxygen.  Little else can damage the inferno.  And yet this is complicated by the tremendous energy of a fire--it's capacity to throw embers, suck wind, break windows, and escape into the forest where it can become unstoppable.

Earth elementals are an aberration among their brothers.  Usually born from some great insult or fear, many are created specifically to fight mankind, which is now slowly becoming recognized as an existential threat.

Compared to other earthen creatures, they are blindingly fast, and absolutely suicidal in much damage they do to their own bodies in the process.  They are similar to a human who could run 100 miles an hour, even as their tendons snap and their skin peels off from the cruel velocities, which their substance was never meant to take.

Earth elementals are most often made form quartz.  It has the extreme durability that their berserk metabolisms require.  Other elementals are made from similarly durable rocks: moissanite, chrysoberyl.  They throw themselves into their tasks with suicidal intensity, grinding themselves into dust in the space of only a few hundred years--a heartbeat among the mineral spirits.

Compared to humans, an earth elemental moves at a crawl.  A man with two broken legs could pull himself faster than an earth elemental's sprint.

A small earth elemental (the kind that you will encounter in a dungeon) is going to be 3 m tall and weigh 10 tons.  They will have the "lower body" of a tank, or perhaps something like a many-legged tortoise.  It's "upper body" will be something of the body plan of a crab, with broad arms ending in crushing claws.

The arms move a good bit faster than the legs, but still extremely slow by our standards.  An earth elemental trying to crush a human is comparable to a human trying to catch a flying mosquito with their bare hands.

You are safe from them as long as you stay out of melee range.  You will not be able to chisel them to death unless you get inside melee range.  A fight with an earth elemental will likely be a running battle, crossing many rooms of the dungeon as you find ways to wear down the implacable stone.

Earth elementals are intelligent and capable of speech, but you must talk to them very slowly.  About one word ever 10 minutes.

LvlACGrab x2
Mov snail  Str 24  Int 10  Mor 10

Any attack against an earth elemental is going to hit it.

Explosives deal full damage.  Pickaxes deal 1d6 damage.  Bludgeoning weapons deal half damage.  Pretty much everything else (including lightning and acid) deals 0 damage.

Each turn, it tries to grab two adjacent enemies and crush them to death.  The earth elemental attacks with a -10 penalty to its attack.  On a hit, a target is grabbed.  If the target is still grabbed at the beginning of the earth elemental's next turn, the earth elemental automatically deals 4d6 damage to them.  It can then drop them as a free action or throw them for another 4d6 damage.

They can move through one dungeon room every 10 minutes.

some Notre Dame gargoyles by Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc

Gargoyles


Like humans, stones are also susceptible to demonic possession.

Gargoyles do not appear to be made from stone.  They are cold-eyed beasts that spend a millennia carving a body for themselves, and another millennia digging themselves free from whatever vein spawned them.  No two appear exactly the same, and yet they tend to favor the same features, sculpted accord to terrify the primeval mammal at the heart of man.

Powerful shoulders, low-slung jaws, talons as thick as a shovel, and spiked tails are common.  Many of them wear wings to honor their Satan, although none of them can fly.

After the Church successfully invaded Hell in 788 TFM and overthrew Satan, many demons were forced to take the Oaths, becoming devils.  Gargoyles were included in that number, and to this day a great many of them have been installed on cathedrals, in order to serve as guardians in the cathedral should ever be attacked.  (They are usually awoken by ringing a certain bell, within the church.)

Many gargoyles chose their bodies before they had a chose their purpose.  Many are insecure about their lumpy, plodding bodies that would built to terrify uncivilized, brute humanity.  Many are ashamed to sit beside the carved angels of a cathedral's walls, and can only be glimpsed lurking in the recesses.

HDAC plate  Atk 1d12
Move human  Climb ape  IntMor 12

Autopetrification -- In place of a move action, a gargoyle can turn from flesh to stone, or vice versa.  Their senses are dulled while in stone form.  If killed, a gargoyle instantly turns into stone, trapping any piercing weapon that was used to deliver the killing blow.

Friday, November 2, 2018

d100 Mutations

After a great deal of research, discussion, and computer-aided simulations, I have discovered that the best mutation is a lobster-claw arm.

I then turned my attention to writing the best possible mutation table, which I've posted


and now I'm going to talk about the design process because that's what you do with a blog.

So, Mutations. . .

Mutations are very OSR, because they're (1) random, (2) impactful, and (3) modular.

(1) Yes, you could make a mutation table that was small and/or linear.  Like a mutation track for turning into a fish man.  But they're usually random, with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of entries.  Mutations are essentially chaotic, a fact supported by both biology and Warhammer.  The less predictable mutations are, the more genuine it feels.

(2) And while mutations are often cosmetic (new skin color), others are very impactful, conferring new abilities or slaying characters directly.

Most games "play to find out"--we roll dice during combat to for the sake of emergence--but games vary in how impactful they are.  Some games limit you to the boundaries of the arena, while others are happy to let you kill your characters, turn important NPCs into bee swarms, and/or sink a continent.

Those two traits (random, impactful) are also shared by the the Deck of Many Things.  People who hate the Deck of Many Things also tend to hate random mutations, because both can derail an expected adventure so quickly.

(3) And mutation tables tend to be modular.  They aren't bolted onto any other subsystems, and don't usually depend on a particular setting.

People have written some good ones: slack ratchetScrap PrincessSkerples


How Big Should a Mutation Table Be?

A small mutation table (< 100 entries) will tend to have more good entries, and less chaff.

A large mutation table (> 100 entries) will tend to feel more random, and have enough variety to please Nurgle.

That's basically my justification for writing a d100 table.  I'd love to write a d1000 table, just for the bragging rights, but around 150 entries I started found myself writing down some mediocre entries.  There's a sweet spot, I think.

How Lethal (and Beneficial) Should a Mutation Table Be?

That's a great question.  I originally had it right in the middle: 30% good, 40% neutral/cosmetic, and 30% bad.

I went on to split the bad into 20% bad, 10% lethal, because I really like the idea of someone losing their ability to breath air in the middle of combat, or burning a hole through the floor as they die painfully.

Mutations should be rewarding enough for players to be tempted, and dangerous enough for them to be reluctant.

So if the worst possible result is basically just death, how good should be best result be?  Originally I had a couple entries that were basically just superpowers.  Those have been toned down or removed.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

More Government in Centerra

This is a continuation of an earlier post.

Dungeonocracy: The Revanwall Kings

The tribes of the Revanwall coast are pagans who worship the Revaydra, a living mountain.  During times of peace, the mountain dwindles.  The sides become smoother and the stones fade to blue, and mosses grow over the summit as the altitude drops.  Dreams stop appearing to the tribe's shamans.

During times of war, the mountains swells and darkens.  New peaks grip the sky like claws, and dark clouds die in its grip.

Every king of the Revanwall tribes is given back to the mountain, buried in a cave near the peak which is believed to swallow him.

After the king is swallowed, all the caves on the mountainside slide lower, and the dungeon inside grows.  The dungeon grows a new level, that corresponds to the newly buried king.  His body becomes the dungeon, and will tend to follow the shape of the king's body.  For example, the level that appeared after the death of Ivak the Legless was said to be smaller than average.

Each floor is stocked with the trappings of the king's life.  Scenes are recreated, and people from their memories are imitated (sometimes well, sometimes poorly).  Enemies, both real and imagined, are recreated as well.

Somewhere in the dungeon is the crown.  It is never on the floor corresponding to the dead king, but always somewhere deeper.  Whoever returns with it will crown the next king.

It is customary for each tribe to allow their neighbors time to explore the dungeon in order to find their crown.  But there have been times when multiple tribes have plumbed the dungeon simultaneously, during honorless wars, or when two kings have died at the same time.

It is less chaotic than it seems.  

Generally, all the tribes work together to keep outsiders away from the Revaydra, and only allow one or two parties in at a time.  The mountain is sacred.

Furthermore, it is very difficult to find the crown without a good knowledge of the dead king's personality, his life history, and where he would think to hide a crown.  Because this sort of knowledge tends to cluster closely to a particular tribe, outsiders have an even more difficult time making progress within the great mountain.

Large armies, and those who show disrespect to the mountain, are swallowed by the steep jaws of the mountain.

by Timofey Stepanov

Pure Plutocracy: Bar Chakka

The Beastfolk have a simple form of democracy.  One gold coin, one vote.

Voting is held at the Cloud's Fountain, a natural spring inside the royal compound.  Once the exact terms of the vote have been decided on, and the vote has been pared down into a single yes/no question, the vote is held.

Voters walk down the dock to the middle of the Fountain, display their gold to the authenticators, announce their vote to the tally-beasts, and then throw their coin into the Fountain with as much pomp as they can muster.

There is applause.  There are jeers.

If a great amount of gold is deposited at once, it may take a very long time for all of it to be authenticated and counted.  This has happened for votes in the past, when there is a high amount of public interest.

Voting days are also festival days.  Many have traveled across the island in order to cast their coins into the Fountain.  What else will they do?

The Cloud's Fountain also functions as the vault.  It is deep, and even a talented diver can only bring up a small amount of gold with every dive.  The theft of any appreciable sum would require many divers working for many hours, which is as intended.

The money is not carefully inventoried; no one knows exactly how much lies at the bottom of the Fountain.  Embezzling smaller amounts is very easy, which is also as intended.

The king is an elk-man, Mad King Ketch.  Like his predecessors, his job is only to carry out what was decided democratically.  This is a auxiliary duty, as his job is primarily a religious one.

The beastfolk consider their system to be the best and most honest in the world.  All governments are ruled by money.  If you pretend otherwise, you make the process even murkier and dishonest.

Judiciocracy: Brynth

Long ago, Brynth's last king was strangled with the intestines of its last priest.

In fact, kings are despised in Brynth.  Their citizens are known to be powerfully patriotic, and take a large amount of interest in their own governance.

Priests are likewise scorned in Brynth.  If the gods are a concern for every citizen, then religion is certainly something that is worth administering personally.  Religion is just another civic duty, and an honorable one.

The government is built entirely from the judiciary.

There are different types of judges.  Some are elected, while some are appointed by other judges.  

Judges make rulings on cases.  These precedents become new laws, and so each old law spawns new ones.

Brynth is also famous for its legal system--it is strictly gladitorial.

Cases are argued by barristers, a specialized caste of warrior-lawyers.  The judge hears both sides and then makes a ruling, informed by precedent.  The stronger case is given advantageous terms in the ensuing gladitorial combat, while the party found to be at fault begins at a disadvantage.

In the most severe scenario, a murderer will be blinded and emasculated before fighting the victim's family in the arena.  In a case where the case is less unambiguous, one party might begin armed with a dagger, while the other begins with a spear, a sword, and a shield.  The judge decides the terms of the combat.

When possible, the combat is made to suit the crime.  Liars are strangled, conspirators are forced to fight with hoods over their heads, and traitors are forced to fight against their own loved ones.

Its practitioners describe the system as fair.  No one describes it as kind.

Barristers often stand in for their clients, during these fights.  Aside from the accused, they are the only ones allowed to do so.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Social Challenges

Why Do We Need Rules For Social Challenges?

We don't.

Social encounters in D&D work nicely--you can model them at the table by talking to each other.  You don't need a rule system to know how to talk, negotiate, or make threats.

This is a very different from combat, which can't be emulated at the table (unless you are prepared to crawl over your minis and wrestle your DM), which is why combat requires a robust system of resolution.

However . . .

I still think there is a place for social challenges, specifically for cases that involve (a) an extended persuasion attempt against (b) who must be convinced on multiple points.  These types of social challenges sometimes feel too complex to be resolved with a single conversation--there are too many small considerations, and a single DM ruling can feel arbitrary.  A formal system for resolution can allow for a numeric description of progress and can add legitimacy to what might otherwise feel like DM fiat.
This is a rather narrow scope, and that's okay.  I can expand it later.

Why Combat is Great

Across different systems, combat is usually broken up into a pattern that is repeated every round.

1. We consider the state of the system.  How much health do we have?  How tough is this vampire?  How many potions do I have left?  Can I trick the vampire into the sunlight?

2. We make decisions based on that information and roll some dice to determine the outcome.

3. The DM describes the results of the dice rolls, then the series repeats.  A player loses 8 hit points.  A goblin dies.  A spell is expended.

This cycle of information gathering followed by decision making is the beating heart of an RPG--any RPG.

You formulate a plan, act on that plan and then (and this is important) change your plan if it does not seem to be working.  The status of your combatant (and thereby your chance of success) is calculated through discrete factors like hit points, which are important for players to know, in order to make decisions and schemes.  (This is true even if enemy HP is given ambiguously, e.g. "the goblin appears to be almost dead".)

Good rules for a social challenge should be designed according to similar considerations.

painting of Vercingetorix by Lionel Royer
Social Challenges

You are trying to persuade an NPC.

The NPC has Patience.  Every round that you stay in the social challenge, you risk depleting it further.  Once Patience reaches zero, the NPC has run out of patience and you have lost.  Patience is comparable to player HP.

The NPC has Opposition.  Every round that you stay in the social challenge, you have the chance to make arguments, which will deplete your opponent's Opposition.  Once Opposition reaches zero, the NPC acquiesces and you have won.  Opposition is comparable to monster HP.

After each round of the social challenge, the players have the opportunity to assess how things are going and choose what argument they want to use going forward.  You can decide whether you want to communicate the two scores to your players directly ("The dwarven king has 3 Patience remaining.") or obliquely ("The dwarven king is tapping his foot, looking annoyed.")

I'm lean towards a full disclosure of the two numbers, since more information helps players make better decisions.  (It's about as realistic as a player knowing their own HP total, and besides, humans are already decent at determining if they are persuading someone or merely annoying them.)

The Social Interval

An exploration turn is 10 minutes, a combat round is 10 seconds, and a social interval takes as long as it has to.

Every interval follows the same basic cycle as combat.

1. The characters are free to attempt to gain more information.  If you walk away from a negotiation and then return later, expect to pick up right where you left off, albeit with 1d4 less Patience ("Didn't we already settle this?").

2. The characters are free to make their argument/offer/threat.  The DM decides how likely the argument is to succeed, then tells the players to make their roll.  Automatic successes and failures are common.  If the players have helped the dwarven king in the past, reminding him of their previous loyalty will soften his position--the only question is how much.  Similarly, everyone likes gifts, and everyone hates to be insulted.  Use your common sense.

3.  The players make the roll.  The DM informs the players of their odds before the roll, as well as her reasoning.  ("I figure goblins are easy to intimidate, so you succeed with a 14 or less.)

4.  If the persuasion succeeds, Opposition is reduced by 1d6 points.  If the persuasion fails, Patience is reduced by 1d6 points.  The die size can be adjusted up or down as you please, but something must be reduced every turn.

Roleplay every step.

An important part of this is the actual persuasion roll, in step 3.  The chance of success is based on the argument put forward, not on external factors, such as how much the NPC personally likes you, or your high Charisma.

Those types of external factors will affect how much Patience the NPC starts with, but once negotiation begins, they no longer play a part.  The queen will listen to her lover's propositions all night, but if none of them have any merit, she will agree to nothing.

Setting the Persuasion Roll

At it's heart, this is the NPC asking the players "Why should I do as you say?"

If something is certain to have an impact, it's automatic success.  If it is something that the NPC absolutely doesn't care about, it automatically fails.  If its something that you can imagine going either way, then you need to set a Persuasion that the players need to roll under.

Follow your heart on this.  A decent argument should have a decent shot: a 10-in-20 chance.

There is potentially an asymmetry to the information here.  You know your NPC, and the players don't.  They can potentially investigate their target before negotiating with them, but even if this step is neglected (an ambush), they can still learn about the NPC through conversation, or by observing how the NPC reacts to their earlier Persuasion attempts.

Setting Up the NPC

You should already know some facts about your NPC.  You should know (and have written down somewhere)

  • their desires and goals
  • their fears and shames
  • their values and agenda
  • their personal friends and enemies
  • their supporters and opponents (if political)
If you don't have anything decided for your dwarven king, you can always fall back on the generic.  

Setting Up the Patience Score

This is where personal appeal (rather than rational appeal) comes in.

Patience begins at 6 points, and is adjusted up and down according to circumstances.  There are three factors, which are usually worth not more than +/- 2 points each.

Who

Friendship is worth a couple of points.  Proven loyalty is worth is a few more.  If they frown as soon as they see you, reduce Patience by a few points.

How

The approach is important.  This is where players can make personal appeals, and where they can use their abilities to gain an ear.  A Charisma roll is the traditional way to open a negotiation, but other stats can be used, and even cultural elements (such as invoking an ancient right of parley).

When and Where

There is a bad time for everything.  An appropriate venue helps, while walking up to the king before he's had breakfast is worth a penalty.


Setting Up the Opposition Score

This is how much the NPC would rather say "no".

Opposition begins at 10 points, and is adjusted up and down according to circumstances.  This is a guideline, and when deciding how to adjust it, be sure to consider the following things.

Cultural Taboos. The fun thing about taboos is that they often have exceptions.  If no one is allowed in the Royal Crypts except priests, one of the PCs might want to become a priest before they ask the king for access to the Royal Crypts.

Pride/Shame.  There's a lot to be gained if you can phrase your request in a way that saves face for whoever you are asking.  No one likes to be humbled.

Direct Cost.  A resource that is immediately lost.  Money, items, troops, etc.  These are usually pretty obvious.

Indirect Cost. A linked resource that is spent.  Popularity, allies, patronage, risks, etc.  Allowing you into the Royal Crypts might anger the Imperial Cult, and that will have knock-on effects for the king down the line.

Opportunity Cost.  It might not cost the king anything to let you marry his daughter, but if he does, then he loses the opportunity to wed her to some other prince.  He loses the opportunity for a political marriage down the line.

Discussion

It's not hard to make variations of this.  Anything that is a multistep process where each step holds an ambiguous amount of progress.  If you don't want a "ticking clock" that indicates failure, use only one progress score.  Candidates:

Building a castle.  Progress vs Money (which depletes in a mostly-fixed rate each interval).

Researching a new spell.  Progress vs Danger.  A crude proto-spell is available at 50% Progress, representing a partial success in your spell breeding program.

Navigating a trackless waste.  Progress vs Supplies (which depletes in a mostly-fixed rate each interval).

Killing a Zondervoze.  A zondervoze is roughly described a city-spirit, composed of a large chunk of a city's population, which function as the zondervoze's "cells" without being aware of their role.  A single progress track might be appropriate here--every mass killing or deculturation event will bring a Zondervoze closer to death.  You'll attract its full attention from the first event, so there is no competing progress track for failure, since it will be trying to kill you at every turn.

The Heart of the Matter

Essentially any complex task can be broken down into 1 or 2 progress scores.

First archetype: a single progress score that you attempt to increase.  Each attempt (or time interval) brings a cost.

Second archetype: a pair of dueling progress scores.  Fulfilling the first one generates success, while the fulfilling the second generates failure.

You can layer a thousand complications on these simple constructs (and a thousand RPGs have done exactly that).  But I honestly believe that this is the beating heart of most tabletop RPGs.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Government in Centerra

Government

Societies have power structures.  There is usually a top and a bottom to this power structure, but all of this power and legitimacy ultimately flows from the people below them.  (At least until we start talking about robot armies.)

A prince is never going to be crowned without the support of the mob/aristocracy/army/pope, and those people are never going to support that prince unless they think that the prince can help them in some way.

Essentially, political power is never free.  It exists only within the boundaries set by the people who put you into power.  If you start to go against their interests, those same people will remove you.  Even a king has constituents, of a sort.

Writing Interesting Fantasy Social Structures

1. It should be interesting.  If it's boring, don't spend time writing it, much less running it.

However, even a generic kingship can be interesting (knights! political marriages! inheritance!) and those are the parts you should focus on.

2. It should be semi-plausible.  This depends on how gonzo/historical you game is, but spare a thought for "realism" when you're describing how the kingdom is ruled by an ordinary chicken.

3. The players should be able to affect it.  Tabletops are simply more fun when the players can interact with what is presented.

There should be methods for the players to incorporate themselves into the power structure, or at least to break a few teapots. 

Ideally, the disruption should be a natural conclusion of the governmental structure itself.  Good example: becoming a baron by finding the sacred chicken among a flock of thousands.  Less unique example: becoming a baron by assassinating the old baron.

from the Wonder Woman movie
Concubocracry: The Nothic Empire

Originally, the Empire was ruled by an emperor who possessed ultimate authority in wartime, but was limited in all other areas by his senate, who held veto power over many of his actions.

During the war against the frost giants and their client cities, the entire senate was killed.  (Many say that the Emperor allowed it to happen, or possibly even did it himself.)

Because the emperor requires a senate to have any authority, the emperor appointed an emergency senate: his entire harem.

Precedent holds strong sway in Noth, and that action codified itself.  Now, the harem is the senate, and the senate is the harem.  The two are interchangable.

Senators are elected by different subsections of the population.  Appointment is for 10 years, or until death.  The only people who are eligible to run as senators are those born of noble families (or at least adopted).

In actuality, senators are usually just representatives of their families, and act in their family's own interests (but not always).

A senatrix can also be appointed by the emperor at his discretion, up to a certain limit.  Many defenders of this system argue that this is a superior method--if the emperor wants to fuck someone, then he also has to listen to them. 

Additionally, since the emperor is required to make regular visits to the harem (in order to ensure a good supply of imperial offspring), the emperor and the senate have regular opportunities to interact.  And the emperor has an additional motivator not to antagonize his harem--they bear his children, and are entirely responsible for the health and education of those resultant children for the first four years of their life.  In a semi-medieval world where childhood mortality is common and smothering is easy, infanticide serves as another check and balance.

The senate is officiated by the infanta, who is elected from among the daughters of the previous emperor. 

The empress has no governmental power, unless her husband dies.  She is an understudy.

Necrocracy: Mondaloa

The peaceful, crumbling city of Mondaloa is ruled by the dead.  Not the undead, who are abominations in the eyes of Mondaloa (the deity that shares his name with the city), but the actual dead.

Seven ancient families rule the city, and each family has a Speaker for the Dead, who speaks on behalf of their honored ancestors.  Each speaker has a rank.  Their ranks are decided like this.

Each speaker must be buried alive and then resuscitated.  The people who bury the priest must be different than the people who dig him up.  Rank is decided by how high up the mountain you were buried.

In practice, the priest will walk up the mountain with his diggers, along with a specialized coffin and numerous mechanisms to survive the ordeal, both magical and mundane.  Once they have climbed as high as they dare, they dig a hole, bury the priest, and run back to Mondaloa. 

The team of exhumers waits for their arrival, and then sets out as soon as the last digger returns, like a baton pass.  The go to the point specified, and exhume their brother.  If they are swift, the city has a new speaker for the dead.  If they are too slow, the honored dead gain another member, and a small cairn is built.

In cases of real deadlock, the actual dead are summoned to settle things.  This is generally unpleasant for everyone involved, and the speakers will try to avoid this.

It turns out that when actual ancestors are consulted, they tend to be weirdly conservative about certain things, weirdly uncaring about certain modern concerns, and racist along lines that aren't generally recognized anymore.  They are also fairly pissed off at being brought back.

The city sends out sanctified necromancers, who seek to coax the restless dead back into their graves.  After all, that skeleton is someone's beloved grandmother, and deserves to be treated as such.

Agonocracy: Fangol

The horse lords of the Fangolian plains decide their leadership through a race.  Since the race crosses the territories of all of the clans, and since there are essentially no rules, clans can "vote" against enemy clans by trying to kill them.

These races don't happen often, since the horse clans are fiercely independent, and rarely see the need to unify against anything less than an existential threat.  And when they do seek to unify, they usually already have one or two candidates that they support, and so most clans don't even enter the race out of politeness.

One caveat is that it is the horse that is racing, not the rider.  As long as the horse crosses the finish line, alive or dead, that clan is the winner.  The riders usually wear masks to emphasize their own unimportance relative to their clan's horse.

Gamocracy: Tatzulon

All positions in government, from tax collector up to king, must be held by a married couple.  The reasoning behind this is that anyone who is unable to navigate a marriage is certainly unable to navigate a political office.

If one of the two people die, or if they divorce, they become ineligible for the position and immediately retire.

Infidelity also causes a divorce, even if both members of the married couple wish to remain married.  However, infidelity has a very specific definition in Basharna, and there is always the matter of proof.

Kleptocracy: Shangrilore

Shangrilore has one king, three dukes, and eleven barons.  The crowns can be inherited, but the noblest way to obtain a crown is to steal it.

Only a duke can steal the crown from the king, and so become the new king.  Likewise, only a baron can steal the crown from a duke.  Anyone can steal from a baron, as long as they first undergo a ritual purification at a local church, first.

Violence is not permitted.  Spilt blood stains the transfer, and a murder invalidates it.  A thief who kills someone on a botched attempt is a common criminal, nothing more.

The wearers of the crowns must engage in certain pilgrimages across Abasinia, and to Casmir, where they perform certain duties, such as blessing the fishing fleet and receiving blessings from the vestal virgins.  All of this travel requires them to wear the crown, and allows for many opportunities for thievery to occur.

Ranking among the dukes and the barons in determined by the method in which the crown was stolen.  Much more acclaim is given to those who obtained their crowns through bravery and brilliance.

When a crown is stolen, you must leave your own crown behind as proof.

Prestige is also gained by stealing things from your rivals.  The more outrageous the theft, the better.  Stealing things from people who can't afford it is considered a sin, as is the theft of money, gold, or jewels (unless you compensate the victim the dollar value of the item immediately).  In fact, things that are stolen are often immediately returned, usually in a respectful and/or cheerful manner.

An example of a prestigious theft would be to steal your rival's distinctive clothing, alter their calendar, and then show up to their appointments while prancing around and mocking them, while your rival shows up an hour late for all of their appointments.  Classic.

Geriatrocy: Elvish Cities

Elvish cities are often pure democracies, decided by a straightforward vote.  Each person's vote is proportionate to their age, so an 80-year-old man casts twice as many votes as a 40-year-old.

Elves pride themselves on their wisdom and fairness, and justify this rule by saying that age is wiser than youth, and so the extra voting power is deserved.  In practice, this usually just means that younger elves get little representation, to say nothing of the few humans who sometimes live in elven enclaves ("half-elves").

Elections follow a rolling total, with votes coming in until a clear victor is determined.  This process takes as long as it must, and sometimes it takes years for wandering elves to return home and cast the deciding vote.  Sometimes children and babies are dragged to the ballot boxes when a vote is especially close.  And of course, sometimes the vote changes as people's age's change or certain voting members die.  (Consider an 80-year-old opposed by two 40-year-olds--the younger cohort will have a distinct advantage next year.)

Dead (and undead) are not allowed to vote.  Resurrected elves are allowed to vote, and vote at their full (calendar-calculated) age.  And in fact, sometimes especially ancient elves will commit suicide in order to leave some mileage on their bodies, so they can be resurrected at a later point in order to influence future politics.  (You cannot be resurrected if you die from old age.)

Elves from the temporal elven kingdoms at the end of time are from a different class of elf, and do not mix with the "low elves" of Centerra, which simplifies matters for the elves who are not stuck with the task of calculating the age of elves who have looped through the timeline so many times that they are several times older than the universe.

Lottery: Great Zyro, Worthless Zyro, Ziga, and Manamar

Exactly like what it sounds like.  Everyone's name is put into a hat, and then a name is drawn for every single position available.

This is includes the expected governmental positions such as master of ships and high priest, but it also includes unexpected roles such as village idiot and bandit.

Bear in mind that this madness only encapsulates the Zyroleans who live on land, who are already considered to be mad.  All proper Zyroleans live aboard their ships, and follow proper naval laws.

Magocracy: Meltheria

Whenever one of the high mages dies, his surviving family picks his successor, who must be from outside of the family.

Of course this leads to some biased judging, since the departing family seeks to install a high mage who is sympathetic to their goals, but everyone likes to pretend that the judging is unbaised.  Because of this, flagrant partisanship leads to angry mobs and a legitimacy struggle.

The successorship competitions are always public, and they are always spectacular affairs, usually a blend of scholarship, showmanship, and raw magical power.

They also tend to be crowd-pleasers.  A popular display might be a parade of animals made of cake, who march through the city until they are eaten by the populace.

Each of the high mage's rules over one of the city's towers, and each tower has a different focus, from warfare to history.  The performance is expected to conform to the theme.

Some towers are more stable than others, with the position of high mage being traded back and forth between two or three families for centuries, while other towers are more chaotic.

Government in Exile: the Anti-Pope

A generation ago, a long-festering schism within the Church finally spilled over.

The Church was split between the conservative Orthodox faction that wished for the Church structure to remain as it was, and the Reform faction that believed that the Church had become too corrupt and worldly, and would be better if it fragmented into smaller, decentralized churches.  It's opponents simply said that the Reformers were seeking to seize power for themselves, and had no moral motivation.

Both sides accused the other of being illegitimate, and both appointed their own Pope.

With strong support from allies in Noth, the Orthodox faction eventually triumphed over the Reformers.  Most recanted.  A few were tried as heretics and killed.  And some fled the city of Kaladon and the Church that they saw as corrupt.

The who became labeled as the False Pope, or Anti-Pope, was a cardinal named Odrial.  He was immensely popular in the north, which is where he fled.

He is believed to be hiding out somewhere in Guilder or Gafferdy, still preaching his doctrine in secret masses.  He is the most dangerous heretic in the world, and is known to have a small circle of anti-priests and anti-paladins.

Map of Centerra

Here's an updated one, in case anyone is interested where these places are located relative to each other.