Beyond Dread Portals part 1 -The Empire of Ys

Beyond Dread Portals cover by Jon Hodgson

This is the first of a two-part “Beyond Dread Portals in a Nutshell”, looking at the setting.  Part 2 (coming tomorrow) looks at the system.

If you’ve not come across mention of Beyond Dread Portals before, its a completely self-contained game by Paul Mitchener, a burgeoning powerhouse of British RPG writing (partial credits Hunters of Alexandria, Age of Arthur, Starfall, Mythic Britain: Logres). Currently standing at 250+ pages sans art-work this is Dr Mitch’s post-D&D take on multidimensional fantasy adventure gaming.

Hoping to Kickstart this one, once I’ve cleared the decks of some outstanding work, probably either by the end of this year or at the start of next year. I’ve got a full draft of the game, which initially started off as Paul’s homage to Planescape, but mutated into its own thing. It’s a large fantasy setting, where a magical city-state of Ys sits at the centre of an empire of other worlds connected by magic portals (hence the title). Its also a ruleset – which I’m tagging as post-D&D. It takes D&D as its starting point and then cuts and adds to it to make the ruleset match the setting. The nearest analogy is I can make if that second wave of AD&D 1st edition settings (Planescape, Dark Sun, Ravenloft etc.) had been self-contained games with modified D&D based rulesets. Bear in mind Paul also takes into consideration 30 years of games design on top of that, although he does so in a way that isn’t jarring to the starting point.

So here’s a quick look at the setting: The Empire of Ys

What is the Empire of Ys?

Ys is a city on a ringworld. Although it has well-defined districts, these magically shift and change from time to time. It used to be human ruled Empire which aggressively conquered and colonised other worlds, using magical portals (the Dread Portals of the game’s title). Recently, Ys was invaded by the undead mega-fiend the Autarch, who now sits uncaring in the imperial palace, occasionally enforcing its will through the Guilds and the Noble Families, but otherwise allowing the empire to function as it did before without much interference.

The other worlds are:

  • A fallen colony world, whose portal is officially closed. A dark world of endless caverns, rich in minerals and metals (which initially drew the Ysians) but inhabited by monsters (which is why they left).
  • A well-established colony, the source of much of Ys’s food, controlled by playing off rival Kingdoms against each other.
  • At first contact a dead desert world full of ancient ruins rich with treasure. This is the world the undead Autarch came from.
  • Another colony world dominated by two factions, The Empire of the Lion and the Three Kingdoms.
  • An ocean world dotted with islands.

There is a system of Guilds that run various functions of the Empire.

  • The Guild of the Arcane.
  • The Army.
  • The Temples of the Six.
  • The Guilds of Headsman (Assassins).
  • The Society of Crafters.
  • The League of Explorers, who mount expeditions through the portals to the other worlds. All the player characters are members of this Guild by default, as well as one other.
  • The Black Rose. A merchants’ league.
  • The Steel Hand. An organisation of thugs, enforcers, bodyguards, general henchmen.
  • The Emerald Hand. Once a diplomatic and spy service, now stripped of its powers by the Autarch it appears a motley crew of knowledge-hungry scholars and performers.
  • The Five Noble Families:
    • The Acarni – as their name suggests they consider themselves to have a monopoly on magical matters. They are decadent powermongers who pretty much run the Guild of the Arcane.
    • The Lantari. Followers of the Goddess of Love and War they are practical and militaristic. They have a close association with the Army.
    • The Solari. Some say they are a house in deep decline after the banishment of their patron goddess Solaria (or Dawn) by the Autarch. Other say they are just plotting in the shadows.
    • The Telani. A rich house of merchants who prosper through the activities of the Black Rose.
    • The Valerii. Sinister and Machiavellian, they openly back the Autarch.

Overall the setting is a fantasy renaissance setting, where instead of ocean-borne trade the city-state of Ys profits from its business with the worlds it is in contact with through the magical portals. Without the regular edicts of the human Empire and the vague but fearful orders that occasionally come from Autarch, there is much political infighting between the Guilds and their agents.  There is a patronage system, and the player characters like everyone else will have a patron who will help them in return for support.

Next: Beyond D20 (the system that powers Beyond Dread Portals).

Christmas in July UK OSR picks

Here’s my personal list of picks from the UK publishers participating in DriveThruRPG.com’s Christmas in July sale.

Return of the Woodland Warriors by Beyond Belief Games
I loved the first edition of this simplified and tweaked version of Swords & Wizardry that only uses D6s and is suitable for children. The new edition has full-colour art which adds to the magic. Lovely cover by longtime D101 collaborator Peter Frian.

The Cthulhu Hack by Just Crunch Games
Rules light, courtesy of its use of the Black Hack engine, rules for Cthulhu investigative horror. It’s just been upgraded to version 1.5, which refines this already sharp ruleset. Oh and its supplements are also in the sale.

Mythras by Design Mechanism
If you’ve not got this behemoth of D100 goodness by now here’s your chance. As well as the core system, which is a complete thing and good to go running a wide variety of fantasy settings of various genres, all the formidable selection of adventures and setting books are in the sale.

My recommendations: Mythic Rome & Mythic Britain (including Mythic Britain: Logres, the supplement by D101 collaborator Paul Mitchener about the Anglo Saxons), and I’m going to use the sale to catch up with the Monthly Mythras adventures that I’ve woefully fallen behind on.

Crypts of Indormancy by Melsonian Arts Council
A nice self-contained, creepy as fuck adventure for Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Clockwork and Chivalry by Cakebread and Walton
The English Civil War as fought by Alchemical Cavaliers and Clockwork device using Roundheads.  One of my favourite settings of all time, and the D100 Renaissance system (an offspring of OpenQuest) makes me grin even more. Also check out the epic Pirates & Dragons, if you fancy a bit of fantasy Pirates in the vein of Pirates of the Carribean.

The Christmas in July sale is on until the end of the month over at DriveThruRPG.com, and all of D101 Games Books are participating with 25% off all pdfs.

Crucible of Dragons now available!

Crucible of the Dragons cover by Jon Hodgson

Crucible of the Dragons cover by Jon Hodgson

The long awaited Crucible of the Dragons for OpenQuest is now available via DrivethruRpg.com

A 260 page sandbox setting/adventure book for OpenQuest, but broadly compatible with other D100 rpgs, inspired by Ancient Greece, Clark Ashton Smith and Ray Harryhausen monster movies!