Category Archives: Chronica Feudalis - Page 2

Chronica Feudalis reviewed on The Voice of the Revolution

Listen as Brennan Taylor and Ryan Macklin discuss Chronica Feudalis on the latest episode of The Voice of the Revolution. Be sure to stick around til the end when Brennan talks about kicking off his Anglo-Saxon era Chronica campaign. Good stuff.

Listen here.

Phased Character Creation

One of my favorite features of Chronica Feudalis is how quick and painless the character creation is. If you come to the process with a character concept in mind, the whole thing can take only a few minutes.

But in reading over Diaspora over the last couple of weeks, I find myself reminiscing over one of the key concepts of FATE that didn’t carry over into Chronica’s design: phased character creation. For those of you who are not familiar with this process, introduced in Spirit of the Century*, each player writes a paragraph of background material for each of several periods (phases) in their character’s life. These paragraphs then serve as inspiration for the character’s aspects.

So, I’d like to present an alternative protagonist creation method for use with Chronica Feudalis. This method utilizes three phases. In each phase you will write a paragraph about your character’s background, pick one mentor (and apply those benefits), and write one aspect (and, optionally, one background).

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Chronica Feudalis at Con of the North

If you’re in Minnesota, or head up (/down/sideways) here in early February, make sure to sign up for the Chronica Feudalis demo at Con of the North. I’ll be running the “Warwick Castle” scenario starting at 10am on Saturday, February 6th. It’s four hours of medieval politicking and maneuvering culminating in a brutal melee tournament that will quickly introduce you to the game rules. I’ll be providing all the necessary materials.

To register or to learn more about the convention, please visit

[CFMS] Scale of Play

Over the last couple of days we’ve talked about how the manor system scales size and time. But there’s one more scale-related facet to explore and that is the scale of play-styles.

There are many ways to play the Chronica Feudalis Manor System. Largely this is because there are many elements that can scale in complexity based on how interested you are in the element. If the tenants of the manor are villeins who work on your demesne, then you roll each season to see how they do with their farming / fishing / sheep herding. If they are free peasants, you roll nothing and just collect flat rent payments from them every year. The choice between the two has as much to do with the play style you’re interested in as anything else. If you’re interested in mining and lumbering, you can hire laborers to do these tasks for you or you could just buy the materials outright and avoid the hassle.

And because of the way that the system scales in size and scales in time, you have some choices in this regard. Are you telling the story of a family of peasants working one virgate strip of land – because the system can do that – or are you telling the story of several wealthy barons, each with their own manors, because the system can do that too. Or maybe each player is a peasant with their own virgate or perhaps all the players collaborate on running one baron’s manor. Are you playing with the manor system as a framework for your adventures or are manors something that work in the background of your role-playing focused campaign?

So what’s the problem? Lots of choices and scalability are good things, right? Well the issue that comes up now is how do I write this? At any one decision point, I feel the need to spell out not only all the various options, but also how each previous decision impacts all those option. Choosing between villeins and free peasant tenants is a different choice depending on weather you are playing the tenants or the lord.

My decision – for the moment anyway – on this issue is to create a default play scenario and write the manuscript targeted at that play-style. The scenario will likely be the one that most engages with the rules. It’s not that this play-stye is any better than any of the other options, it’s just that it hits on nearly every eventuality. Likely we’re talking about a knight’s fief (allows you to see every facet of manor life but still gives you room to grow) with the players sharing responsibilities of running the one manor (to illustrate how responsibility sharing can work) that uses the manor system as inspiration for short, episodic adventures (so that we can explore epic time-frames of castle building and generational play). I will of course hint at and imply the various other play options – probably including a section that introduces several of them – but it seems like it would make the writing of and learning of the system too muddled if I map out each path linearly through each chapter.

[CFMS] Scale of Time

Yesterday I tackled issues that deal with the scale of size in the Chronica Feudalis Manor System. Today, let’s get into the issue of time.

How do you match the hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute urgency of adventure stories with the long time-frames needed to see results come from your manor? Ploughing and planting fields will take up a full season. Then it takes almost a year (from the autumn planting season) before those crops are ready to be harvested. Building something like a church could take a few years. Building a castle or a cathedral takes decades.

The solution here, if you really want to engage with the manor system, is to let the manor system frame your adventures (and fortunately games like Pendragon have paved the way for this option). You’ll start play using the manor system and end play using the manor system. In the meantime, you will have periodic and distinct adventures. What I mean by distinct is that no urgent plot threads are left dangling. Are you really going to let five more years go by if your spouse is still held hostage by your rival?

So, how can adventures be inspired by the manor system? Well, we talked about hardships the other day: these are temporary aspects that can be compelled whereby you turn whatever obstacle your people are facing into a problem to be solved. Also, the GM can always compel the lord’s aspects. To be a lord, you either have to be a noble (which implies some obligations that might be the impetus of a compel), be a knight loyal to a noble (which has its own compel-worthy obligations), or hold some high office in the clergy (which again is full of obligations).

But another source of inspiration is having a rival manor run by the GM. What happens when the rival needs a resource that the player manor has? Or vice versa? Are deals made? Are raids planned? Do the two factions go to war? Conflict breeds stories, and conflict on the manor level can instigate adventure after adventure.

[CFMS] Scale of Size

The manor system presents a few big design issues that seem to orbit around the concept of scale. I’ll be talking about these over the next few days. My first issue has to do with the scale of size.

How can you represent a few acres of farmland and an administrative division of a county in the same system? How can you represent a single family of people and a full town of people in the same system? How can you represent enough stone to build a modest home and enough stone to build a cathedral in the same system?

Anything that needs to be measured in the manor system is measured in step-die ranks: d4 through d12. That’s five distinct measurements to use. Five measurements does not give us much to work with if we use a linear system:

  • d4 – 10 people
  • d6 – 20 people
  • d8 – 30 people
  • d10 – 40 people
  • d12 – 50 people

So the obvious next step here is that each step should increase exponentially in what it represents. The purse in the core rules already works this way. Each step is worth two of the step below it. Two d4 purses can be combined to form a d6 purse. If we use the same 2:1 ratio for population sizes, we get the following:

  • d4 – 10 people
  • d6 – 20 people
  • d8 – 40 people
  • d10 – 80 people
  • d12 – 160 people

This is much better – we start to get the sense that each rank tells a different story. A d4 is about a (large) family. A d8 starts to be a pretty big crowd. A d12 is a good sized work force. But you would still need a lot of d12s to fill up a town. You could make each rank represent more, but then you loose the smaller end of the scale.

So my next step is to increase the ratio. This is what we get when we use a 4:1 ration of one step to the next highest:

  • d4 – 10 people
  • d6 – 40 people
  • d8 – 160 people
  • d10 – 640 people
  • d12 – 2560 people

And now we hit the sweet spot for what I want each step to represent. When they fight, d4 populations can get involved in skirmishes and d12 populations are clearly at war. The numbers just feel right.

The downside is that keeping track of this just got a lot messier. If you have three d6 populations of people it’s not quite enough to combine into a d8, but it’s still significantly more than one d6. So now a particular measurement is tracked using three dice instead of one. Now if a d4 population leaves that 3d6, you end up with 2d6 and 3d4 people. It all turns into a strange decimal system of dice. Like I said, it’s messy.

I sometimes play around with the idea of a 2:1 ratio of dice conversion but keeping the 4:1 ratio of representation. Would it be okay to combine two d6s of 40 people into one d8 of 160 people? There’s a big disconnect there, and while it could be explained away as an abstraction, it feels strange. Where do those other 80 people come from?

For now, I’m sticking with a strict 4:1 ratio. But this is something I keep coming back to trying to find a cleaner, more elegant solution to.

Check back tomorrow as I bring up scale in another dimension: the dimension of time.

Why Don’t You Just Tell Me What Mentors You Want

I’m doing some research on various medieval cultures and time-frames for a few, free PDF supplements for Chronica Feudalis. I’m putting together mentor lists for each of these groups – like horse archers for the Seljuk Turks, housecarls for Anglo-Saxon England, and poets for the Almoravids and Almohads – and I want to make sure I’m not leaving out anything that you think is necessary.

Here are the cultures I have on tap:

  • Almoravids and Almohads
  • Anglo-Saxon England
  • Byzantine Empire
  • Seljuk Turks
  • Vikings

So, to make a character who is part of one of these cultures, what mentors would you need? Please feel free to leave your answers in the comments of this post. Thanks.

[CFMS] When Bad Things Happen

When you are running your manor, you’ll be making a series of dice rolls. You’ll be rolling to see how many crops you plant or harvest. You roll to exploit your resources: cutting down trees and quarrying stone. You’ll roll to turn those extracted materials into structures like castles, bridges, and churches.

When you roll well and win successes, your manor is doing well. You are rewarded with more materials and better productivity.

When you roll poorly and fail, you don’t generate materials and you don’t produce. And to keep the manor system from being just a game of numbers, we ask ourselves why? What caused the loss of production that season? And we make up some fiction to explain the cause of the failure. You lost crops because there was a rash of crows that ravaged your fields or you couldn’t make progress on building the keep because of the terrible weather that kept everyone indoors.

We codify these explanations as something called a hardship. A hardship might be famine, disease, a rash of crows, tumultuous weather, something that is making life on your manor hard and miserable.

You generate a hardship when:

  • You fail a roll.
  • You push your tenants: either by asking for more week work or demand higher rents.
  • You do not generate enough food to feed a population your are responsible for.

Hardships are a subtype of aspect: like a condition or injury. They are ranked and generally they will need to be endured the next time that population makes a roll. They sound like bad things, right? Well, they are bad things. Enduring hardships penalizes your dice rolls, leading to more failures, leading to worse hardships. But at the same time, hardships are good things in disguise. These are FATE mechanics. Aspects that work against you earn your manor Ardor points! Hardships are Ardor factories. Each time you endure a hardship, that’s an Ardor point you can use to invoke something later.

Besides being endured, hardships may also be compelled. This is one way in which we can transition from the manor system rules into the core role-playing rules. You have a hardship on the table: let’s say it’s a Terrible sickness that is rapidly spreading amongst your tenants. The GM can pay you an Ardor and compel the hardship to create an issue. The issue is some matter that has to be solved through role-playing; at the very least a conflict should be played out to resolve it. In this case, let’s say the GM compels the Terrible sickness hardship to create an issue in which neighboring merchants are reluctant to come to your town for a trade fair because they are fearful of catching the sickness. The protagonists must now convince the merchants to attend. Once the issue is resolved, the hardship goes away and we may return to normal manor rules play.

To summarize:

  • Hardships are created as the explanation for failed rolls or inadequate food supplies.
  • Hardships are endured, making future rolls harder. This earns you Ardor.
  • Hardships may be compelled in order to create adventure hooks for role-playing sessions. This also earns you Ardor.

[CFMS] Masters

In Chronica Feudalis, you pick three mentors – three experts who help to define your protagonist. Likewise, when establishing a new manor, you will pick a selection of masters. Masters help to define what part of manor business you are good at. Master quarryman, master lumberers, and master miners can help you win resources. Master masons, master carpenters, and master smiths can help you build structures and equipment. A reeve is a master husband who manages the manor’s demesne. Other master’s can give your manor access to take on some more flavorful ventures: beekeeping and ale brewing, for example.

Each master comes with a special kind of aspect called a profession. A profession is freely defined like an aspect but is trained and advanced like a skill. You can take a master as one of your mentors during character creation. Each master trains you in two skills and one profession, which you add in addition to your standard three aspects at a starting rank of d6. With a d6 profession, you are an apprentice. Advancing it to a d8 makes you a journeyman and increasing it to a d10 would make you a master yourself. You can include your level of expertise in the profession’s description (Apprentice smith or Journeyman stone-cutter) or define them in as flavorful manner as you would your an aspect (Clumsy carpenter or Perfectionist mason).

The professions of resident masters are aspects that can be invoked in the endeavors of a manor. Invoke your reeve’s husbandry profession to help bring in a good harvest. Invoke you master mason’s profession to build that stone bridge faster and better. Professions not only represent the expertise of that one master, but indicate the ability of his apprentices and laborers in the village who have trained and work under him.

You’ll only have a limited number of masters with a new manor (maybe two or three), so you’ll need to choose carefully among the available choices and pick which of many endeavors you want your manor to excel at. As play goes on, you can woe additional masters through role-playing to join your village and expand your abilities.

A Podcast and a Review

Listen to the sound of my voice! You’ll find that the latest episode of Voice of the Revolution features an interview with me, Jeremy Keller. Brennan Taylor quizzed me on the experiences of being a first-time game publisher and the process of creating Chronica Feudalis.

Meanwhile, over at RPGnet, a new Chronica Feudalis review has been put up. This one from the pen of C. W. Richeson. See his take on this medeval RPG of historical adventure.

Chronica Feudalis is, of course, available at IPR and the fine gaming stores that carry indie RPGs.