Today I’m getting back to basics: getting more lore into your game. Rather than some of the more philosophical articles I’ve done recently, this one is all about practical examples. I’m going to return to the village of Anactoria in southern Ustalav for this example. I’ve talked about Anactoria before, as it’s the setting for my Pathfinder Society scenario “The Maid of Anactoria” which was developed from a couple of sentences in the campaign setting. You can hear more about my unpublished version of Anactoria in Young and Adventurous, as the Know Direction crew plays through that scenario.
I’m going to use the village of Anactoria and its existing lore to develop a campaign concept and character creation guide. We’ll pretend that I’m starting a brand-new campaign that will begin in the village and take place in and around southern Ustalav.
So, what does Anactoria have going for it? First, it’s small – a couple hundred people all in – a manageable starting point for a homebrew campaign. Second, it’s in the Immortal Principality of Ustalav, which got a full book (Rule of Fear)in the first edition campaign setting and lots of interesting updates in the second edition. So, there is lots of campaign lore and adventure hooks to draw on that are nearby.
What lore is there about Anactoria that we can draw on? Well, there’s pretty much two things: peat bogs, and a bog mummy known as “The Maid of Anactoria”. Anactoria cuts peat out of the bogs which is shipped all over southern Ustalav as a cheap, reliable fuel source. A couple of generations back, one of the peat cutters found a bog mummy – the “natural-preserved corpse” kind, not the “undead horror” kind – and put it on display in his house. With the village being on the road from the capital city of Caliphas to the western reaches of Ustalav, there are always curious passers-by willing to drop a few coins to see the thing.
(There’s a bit more in the adventure mentioned above, but we’re going to assume that the events of that scenario haven’t occurred yet – we might use it in the campaign later on. So we can pull some NPC names from there, but none of the events yet.)
The Player’s Guide: What the Game Will (and Won’t) Be
For a new campaign, I like to create a player’s guide that provides background as well as character creation rules. In this book, I’d put the village’s stat block and some background, a map of the region immediately surrounding the village, and a list of significant locations – the inn, the general store, and so on. (Ideally, I’d also include a map, but we’re going to save the map for a future article.)
Let’s start with the stat block. These are pretty easy to put together following the template in the Gamemastery Guide – I decided to keep the village’s alignment neutral, since most of its citizens are followers of Pharasma. I imagine the village began as a largely-human settlement of several families, almost like an extended plantation, but being on the road and attracting tourists would change up the demographics somewhat. These decisions are important, since they tell your PCs what sort of treatment they can expect if they choose a common or uncommon ancestry. I also wanted to pull some ideas in from the Ustalav sourcebook Rule of Fear. Anactoria seems like the perfect place to have a small, secret cult operating under the radar, so I included the Old Cults as one of the Religion entries.
Anactoria Settlement 0
Peat-farming village with an unusual mascot
Government council of elders
Population 210 (70% humans, 10% halflings, 7% half-elves, 2% half-orc, 5% other)
Languages Common, Varisian
Religions Desna, Pharasma (Old Cults in secret)
Threats undead incursions from the Gravelands, competing interests in the Maid of Anactoria,
fey presence in nearby bogs
The Maid of Anactoria The village’s local celebrity is a bog mummy recovered from the peat
bogs northeast of town. Dubbed “The Maid of Anactoria”, the preserved corpse is on display
in a private cottage where curious visitors “donate” to view it. The Maid is rumored to shed
healing tears and whisper prognostications on occasion, although this has not been verified as
anything other than local superstition. Fragments of other bog mummies occasionally turn up,
suggesting that there may be more in the bogs awaiting discovery.
Annika Domiri (NE female human merchant) store owner and primary employer of the village
Doryn Fieru (LE female half-elf constable) sole law-enforcement official and secular authority
Mother Belchescu (N old female changeling priestess of Pharasma) Pharasmin penitent and
influential member of the council of elders
Pietr Tornescu (N male human entrepreneur) retired farmer and owner of the Maid of Anactoria
Character Creation Guide
Now that the village has some detail, let’s think about the PCs. For my purposes here, I’m going to assume that the PCs are either locals or at least long-term residents of Anactoria. PCs could of course be outsiders instead, but if a player wants to take on that role they’ll need to come up with a story of why they came to Anactoria. (“We were born here, what’s your excuse?”)
The Core Rulebook and Advanced Player’s Guide have lots of appropriate choices for villagers: Acolyte (Pharasma), Cultist, Farmhand, Farmsteader, Herbalist, Hermit, Laborer, Merchant, Raised by Belief (Pharasma, Gozreh, or Urgothoa), Refugee, Scout, and even the Undertaker background from Guns&Gears seem like they’d fit well. There isn’t really anything that would represent the main employment of most of the villagers, though: cutting peat, which is a mix of physical labor coupled with hours spent outdoors in all weather. Let’s make a custom background just for fun:
Peat Cutter Background
You grew up cutting and hauling peat fuel out of the bogs and moors where it is formed. You spent long days exposed to the sun and wind,Whether you left that life behind for good or are merely away from home for a while, your calloused hands mark you as a person accustomed to a long day of honest work.
Choose two ability boosts. One must be to Constitution or Wisdom, and one is a free ability boost.
You’re trained in the Nature skill, and the Labor Lore skill. You gain the Hefty Hauler skill feat, even if you do not meet the prerequisites.
This background kind of straddles the line between Laborer and Herbalist, which capture the flavor I was looking for. Hardly great design – it’s just mashing up things so they fit your location a bit better.
So, now we have a settlement stat block, and some appropriate guidance for character creation in terms of ancestry and background, all essentially extrapolated from the lore available about the village. Next time we’ll look at some other elements of the campaign guide, including rumors, adventure hooks, and subplots.