Sunday, 24 July 2011

Describing the World: A Glossary of Architecture

This post is being compiled with the intent of expanding the vocabulary of the Referee in describing buildings and their features, in order that they may have a deeper pool of vivid descriptions to draw from, other than "door," "window," "floor," or "ceiling."


Aisle - subsidiary space alongside the body of a building, separated from it by columns, piers, or posts.
Apron -

  1. raised panel below a window or wall monument or tablet.
  2. open portion of a marine terminal immediately adjacent to a vessel berth, used in the direct transfer of cargo between the vessel and the terminal.
  3. concrete slab immediately outside a vehicular door or passageway used to limit the wear on asphalt paving due to repetitive turning movements.

Apse - vaulted semicircular or polygonal end of a chapel.
Arcade - passage or walkway covered over by a succession of arches or vaults supported by columns. Blind arcade or arcading: the same applied to the wall surface.
Arch - a curved structure capable of spanning a space while supporting significant weight.
Architrave - the moulded frame of a door or window.
Arris - sharp edge where two surfaces meet at an angle.
Articulation - articulation is the manner or method of jointing parts such that each part is clear and distinct in relation to the others, even though joined.
Ashlar - masonry of large blocks cut with even faces and square edges.
Atrium - (plural: atria) inner court of a house; in a multi-storey building, a toplit covered court rising through all storeys.
Attic - small top storey within a roof. The storey above the main entablature of a facade.


Bahut - a small parapet or attic wall bearing the weight of the roof of a cathedral or church.
Baluster - small moulded shaft, square or circular, in stone or wood, sometimes metal, supporting the coping of a parapet or the handrail of a staircase; a series of balusters supporting a handrail or coping.
Barrel vault - an architectural element formed by the extrusion of a single curve (or pair of curves, in the case of a pointed barrel vault) along a given distance.
Basement - lowest, subordinate storey of building often either entirely or partially below ground level.
Basilica - a large roofed hall erected for transacting business and disposing of legal matters.
Batter - upwardly receding slope of a wall or column.
Bays - internal compartments of a building; each divided from the other by subtle means such as the boundaries implied by divisions marked in the side walls (columns, pilasters, etc) or the ceiling (beams, etc). Also external divisions of a building by fenestration (windows).
Bay window - window of one or more storeys projecting from the face of a building. Canted: with a straight front and angled sides. Bow window: curved. Oriel: rests on corbels or brackets and starts above ground level; also the bay window at the dais end of a medieval great hall.
Belfry - chamber or stage in a tower where bells are hung.
Boss - roughly cut stone set in place for later carving.
Bossage - uncut stone that is laid in place in a building, projecting outward from the building, to later be carved into decorative moldings, capitals, arms, etc. Bossages are also rustic work, consisting of stones which seem to advance beyond the surface of the building, by reason of indentures, or channels left in the joinings; used chiefly in the corners of buildings, and called rustic quoins. The cavity or indenture may be round, square, chamfered, beveled, diamond-shaped, or enclosed with a cavetto or listel.
Bond - brickwork with overlapping bricks. Types of bond include stretcher, English, header, Flemish, garden wall, herringbone, basket, American, and Chinese.
Boutant - type of support. An arc-boutant, or flying buttress, serves to sustain a vault, and is self-sustained by some strong wall or massive work. A pillar boutant is a large chain or jamb of stone, made to support a wall, terrace, or vault. The word is French, and comes from the verb bouter, "to butt" or "abut".
Bracket - weight-bearing member made of wood, stone, or metal that overhangs a wall.
Brise soleil - projecting fins or canopies which shade windows from direct sunlight.
Bullseye window - small oval window, set horizontally.
Bressummer - large, horizontal beam supporting the wall above, especially in a jettied building.
Bulwark - barricade of beams and soil designed to mount artillery. On board ships the term refers to the woodwork running round the ship above the level of the deck. Figuratively it means anything serving as a defense.
Buttress - vertical member projecting from a wall to stabilize it or to resist the lateral thrust of an arch, roof, or vault. A flying buttress transmits the thrust to a heavy abutment by means of an arch or half-arch.


Cantilever - an unsupported overhang acting as a lever, like a flagpole sticking out of the side of a wall.
Casement window - window hung vertically, hinged one side, so that it swings inward or outward.
Cella - the inner chamber of a temple.
Celerestory - an upper story of a building with windows above adjacent roofs.
Chapter House - a meeting place for the chapter or governing body of a monastery or a cathedral.
Chresmographion - chamber in Greek temples where oracles were delivered.
Cincture - ring, list, or fillet at the top and bottom of a column, which divides the shaft from the capital and base.
Cippus - low pedestal, either round or rectangular, set up for various purposes such as military or milestones, boundary posts. Occasionally funeral memorials.
Circulation - describes the flow of people throughout a building.
Coffer - a coffer, in architecture, is a sunken panel in the shape of a square, rectangle, or octagon that serves as a decorative device, usually in a ceiling or vault. Also called caissons, or lacunar.
Compluvium - Latin term for the open space left in the roof of the atrium of a Roman house (domus) for lighting it and the rooms round.
Coping (architecture) - the capping or covering of a wall.
Cornice - a projecting shelf along the top of a wall often supported by brackets.
Cross springer - block from which the diagonal ribs of a vault spring or start. The top of the springer is known as the skewback.
Crypto-porticus - concealed or covered passage, generally underground, though lighted and ventilated from the open air. One of the best-known examples is the crypto-porticus under the palaces of the Caesars in Rome. In Hadrians villa in Rome they formed the principal private intercommunication between the several buildings.


Dormer - a structural element of a building that protrudes from the plane of a sloping roof surface. Dormers are used, either in original construction or as later additions, to create usable space in the roof of a building by adding headroom and usually also by enabling addition of windows.
Dosseret, or impost block - cubical block of stone above the capitals in a church, used to carry the arches and vault, the springing of which had a superficial area greatly in excess of the column which carried them.
Dromos - entrance passage or avenue leading to a building, tomb or passageway. Those leading to beehive tombs are enclosed between stone walls and sometimes in-filled between successive uses of the tomb. In ancient Egypt the dromos was a straight, paved avenue flanked by sphinxes.


Estrade - French term for a raised platform or dais.


Gable - a triangular portion of a wall between the edges of a sloping roof.
Gablets - triangular terminations to buttresses.
Gadrooning - carved or curved molding used in architecture and interior design as decorative motif, often consisting of flutes which are inverted and curved.
Gambrel - a symmetrical two-sided roof with two slopes on each side.
Gazebo - a freestanding pavilion structure often found in parks, gardens and public areas.
Geison - forms the outer edge of the roof on the sides of a structure with a sloped roof.


Hip roof - a type of roof where all sides slope downwards to the walls.
Hyphen - a structural section connecting the main portion of a building with its projecting wings.


Jamb - a vertical element of a doorway or window frame.


Keystone (architecture) - the architectural piece at the crown of a vault or arch that marks its apex, locking the other pieces into position.


Lacunar - paneled or coffered ceiling, soffit, or vault adorned with a pattern of recessed panel.
Lantern - a small circular or polygonal structure, with windows all around the base, which opens above a larger tower or dome.
Latticework - an ornamental, lattice framework consisting of a criss-crossed pattern.
Lintel (architecture) - a horizontal block that spans the space between two supports.
Loggia - a gallery formed by a colonnade open on one or more sides. The space is often located on an upper floor of a building overlooking an open court or garden.
Lozenge - a diamond shape.
Lunette - a half-moon shaped space, either masonry or void.


Mansard roof - a curb roof in which each face has two slopes, the lower one steeper than the upper.
Marriage stone - a stone lintel, usually carved, with a marriage date.
Molding - decorative finishing strip.
Mullion - vertical bar of wood, metal or stone which divides a window into two or more parts.


Narthex - a low projection at the western end of a church, like a porch.
Niche - a recess in the thickness of a wall.


Oillets - arrow slits in the walls of medieval fortifications, but more strictly applied to the round hole or circle with which the openings terminate.


Parclose - screen or railing used to enclose a chantry, tomb or chapel, in a church, and for the space thus enclosed.
Pavilion (structure) - a free standing structure near the main building or an ending structure on building wings.
Pedestal (also Plinth) - the base or support on which a statue, obelisk, or column is mounted.
Pediment - a triangular space above a window or entrance.
Pendentive - a spherical triangle which acts as a transition between a circular dome and a square base on which the dome is set
Piano nobile - the principal floor of a large house, built in the style of renaissance architecture.
Pier (architecture) - an upright support for a superstructure, such as an arch or bridge.
Pilaster - a slightly-projecting column built into or applied to the face of a wall.
Plinth - the base or platform upon which a column, pedestal, statue, monument or structure rests.
Pinnacle - a pointed termination of a spire, buttress, or other extremity of a building. Pinnacles are sometimes ornamented.
Poppy heads - finials or other ornaments which terminate the tops of bench ends, either to pews or stalls. They are sometimes small human heads, sometimes richly carved images, knots of foliage or finials, and sometimes fleurs-de-lis simply cut out of the thickness of the bench end and chamfered. The term is probably derived from the French poupee doll or puppet used also in this sense, or from the flower, from a resemblance in shape.
Porte-cochère - a porch - or portico-like structure at a main or secondary entrance to a building through which a horse and carriage can pass in order for the occupants to alight under cover, protected from the weather.
Prick post - old architectural name given sometimes to the queen posts of a roof, and sometimes to the filling in quarters in framing.
Portico - a series of columns or arches in front of a building, generally as a covered walkway.
Pteroma - the enclosed space of a portico, peristyle, or stoa, generally behind a screen of columns.


Refectory - Dining room in a monastery.
Return - receding edge of a flat face. On a flat signboard, for example, the return is the edge which makes up the board's depth.
Revolving Door - an entrance door for excluding drafts from an interior of a building. A revolving door typically consists of three or four doors that hang on a center shaft and rotate around a vertical axis within a round enclosure.
Rib - an arch of masonry, often molded, which forms part of the framework on which a vault rests. 
Rib vault - a masonry vault with a relatively thin web and set within a framework of ribs.


Scriptorium - area in a monastery where books and documents were written, copied, and illuminated. 
Socle - low projecting base for a wall or statue
Soffit - The underside of an architectural structure such as an arch or overhanging eaves.
Spandrel - the roughly triangular wall space between two adjacent arches.
Spire - an elongated, pointed structure which rises from a tower, turret, or roof.
Squinch - a piece of construction used for filling in the upper angles of a square room so as to form a proper base to receive an octagonal or spherical dome.


Transom - window or element above a door but within its vertical frame.


Voussoir - a wedge-shaped element, typically a stone used in building an arch or vault.

Monday, 18 July 2011

L&T Session Four

Through a thick mist our adventurers sail, vision limited to a few scant feet. Vara mysteriously disappears overboard, vanishing into the fog, and the rest of the party chalk it up as some suspicious witchcraft. Then something hits the front of their ship, or rather, their ship hits something. Peering over the edge, Gremond spots a man in a longboat glaring up at him, one of his oars lost in the water when the ship hit him. He is soon aboard, and reveals himself as a rune priest of the north. He carries a spear and a shield and has several curious runes at his belt.

Sturloch orders the anchor dropped while this mist holds. Edward and Sturloch interrogate this new man, Caldwell, who claims to have simply followed his runes to this place in search of four adventurers. He wonders where the fourth (Vara) has gone.

Meanwhile, Gremond lifts the anchor and the ship rockets forth in the windless mist. Edward dives for the helm, but too late. The ship crashes into the shore, snapping the prow in half. It begins to sink and Sturloch does his best to kill Gremond for his stupidity! He becomes even more hateful and the action has started him down a darker path.

The party makes it to shore (save for Vara), where a hail of snake-headed arrows flies from the mist. Sadly, one of the snakes takes Gremond in the throat, and its poison courses through his body in a matter of seconds. "Don't... forget..." He whispers, then falls to the ground -- dead.

Snake-men appear out of the mist and assault the party with bows and poison snake arrows. After a pitched skirmish, the serpents retreat into the city. Caldwell calls upon his runes to heal Edward's wounds. Merians, a race of aquatic humanoids with the lower body of a fish,  appear and beckon the party to the inner city. With them is a dwarf with a budding beard and an enormous pickaxe, who dives fearlessly at the serpent-men.

Caldwell discovers one of the merians to be a serpent-man, shapeshifted! The snake-man is cut down by the merians and they vanish into the streets. The party wanders along the main avenue. They are approached by a skittish girl who asks them to carry some precious pearls for her. Edward and the dwarf are unable to refuse, falling under the spell of their beauty. They take the pearls and the party continues on.

At length they come to a large plaza, in its center, a statue of a merian wielding a trident, its tail broken clean off. Chained to the statue is a ragged looking merian, his energy nearly drained. He warns the party of a Tzeejg sorcerer, and a snake-man with robe, cloak and scepter appears out of the mist. But the adventurers give him a deep wound and he flees into the huge basilica at the northern end of the plaza. They get the chained merian down, who speaks of the Serpent Queen and her reign over the city of Leviatha. The basilica looms before them, and the Tzeejg sorcerer lies within.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Learning From Our Mistakes: Non-Combat XP

So I was having a conversation with someone I randomly met on Minstrel Hall this morning, and they presented an interesting idea. What if characters got experience just for attempting the things their class does?

For example, every time a thief tries to use one of his skills, he will automatically get a small amount of experience, something like 7 XP. He might not succeed, but realistically he would remember why he failed, and therefore would gain a little bit of knowledge about what not to do again. This could work with many characters, such as a ranger's track ability, or even a magic-user every time they were to cast a spell. Add XP modifiers to the task attempted based on difficulty/level of the spell.

This could work well for a campaign that you don't necessarily want to be heavy on the combat end. It would actually encourage characters to behave more like their class. Of course, you would place requirements, such that the task be attempted in a legitimate situation (not just for the sake of the XP) and always have some minor consequence for failure.

It also makes monsters a hell of a lot scarier when they show up. A character that has been progressing without combat will suddenly be more reluctant to charge in blind and risk their character's life.

I'm not quite sure how to implement this yet, but I think this person may have been on to something. It might end up being a wildly different experience than your standard campaign, but it also might be quite interesting.

Additionally, I have always handed out XP for good role playing. I like to encourage that aspect of the game.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Personal Effects: Pistol Tripped

Technology in the Ruby Isles is dangerous at best. Especially to the ones using it. Best to leave such newfangled devices for the idiots foolish enough to fiddle with them.

Damage: 1d6+1
Range: 100 ft.
Rate of Fire: 1/2
Special: 1-in-6 chance to malfunction each time it is fired.
Notes: Pistols get a +1 to-hit at point-blank range. Ammunition is expensive, costing 1 gp per bullet.

Malfunction Chart (2d6)

2. Fires in random direction
3-6. Fires in 1d2 turns
7. Doesn't fire
8-11. Ball falls out (must reload)
12. Explodes (1d4 damage to wielder)

Sunday, 10 July 2011

L&T Session Three

Edward, Vara, Gremond and Sturloch decide to commandeer the abandoned galley and set sail to the south. From the crow's nest, Gremond takes one last look back at the blue tower high above the shore and see's a single flash of light from within. "The tower blinked at me."

On board, Edward shoots the lock off the hull door and the party discovers some provisions, in particular a few large casks of wine. The skies are clear and sunny, and by nightfall the ship has made good distance, passing beyond the southern point of Nefk and into the Sea of Scattered Stars. Gremond spies a great black tree on the horizon, but the four travelers elect to deal with it in the morning, dropping anchor and turning in for the night. In the wee hours of the morning, Vara, on watch, hears the flapping of great leather wings, and the group comes under attack by a flying beast with the body of a lion, the wings of a bat, a spiked tail and the face of a feral human. It peppers the deck with spikes, narrowly missing the sleeping men. Vara manages to conjure several blasts of magic against the thing despite her exhaustion, but it is Sturloch who eventually downs the beast, hurling his pike through its neck while it flies. It falters and drops dead to the deck of the ship, where Gremond unwisely tastes its blood and Edward removes its tail as a trophy.

The next day the skies are clear again, and the party decides to investigate the island with the black tree. Upon using Edward's spyglass to get a closer look at the object, Gremond sees that the bark bleeds and there are runes carved in it. Sturloch immediately voices that they should continue on, consumed by his quest to find the serpent that killed his wife and convinced that this diversion will only slow his progress. Still, the rest of the party is curious. Gremond takes the rowboat to the island and explores the tree, discovering a strange cone-shaped rock before it. After much experimentation and the involvement of the rest of the crew, the tree is discovered to be a portal leading to three other similar trees and stones. The stones are keys and all four are pressed at once, though Edward must use both of his hands to do so, sticking one arm through the portal to the untouched stone, as Sturloch refuses to have a hand in such devilry.

As the four stones are touched, the sea begins to boil and the ground shakes, and from the water an entire city of living coral rises, draining rivulets of fish-filled water down slender towers and back into the deep. Beneath the city, a colossal, whale-like creature floats, and it is clear that the coral grows from and is supported by its back. Sturloch's mood is even further darkened by this revelation, declaring his party members foolish and self destructive for tampering with such magic. And now a city stands before them on the back of a demi-god. But it is Vara who tells Sturloch that the merfolk, who are known to dwell in cities of coral, may know the location of the Ophidian Grottoes, the legendary nest of the sea serpents that he so burns to find.

Friday, 8 July 2011

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Friday, 1 July 2011

Bardic Magic

I'll begin by saying that I am a huge fan of bards and once played a hobgoblin bard named Rook in a PbP game. But to me, something is missing from the bard class. How does their magic really work?

I realize that we are supposed to assume all bardic abilities related to the actual performance of music are magical, but there has always been a barrier there for me. I simply find it difficult to imagine myself fighting harder or better because someone is singing at the back of the room. What would they be singing that would spur me so? If it were real life, it would have to be a song I already knew, and one that I had a deep personal connection with. So how does the bard create music that touches every member of the party in such a way that they are all "inspired?" If anything, I would find such engaging sounds distracting.

As a professional musician myself, perhaps I over analyse these concepts about how a party gains +1 to-hit from the bard's ballad. Perhaps as part of the bard's magical ability, he can intuitively know which style of song will affect his companions, or even enemy monsters. Which brings me to another question.

If monsters are affected by a bard's music, is it because they have some crude form of music in their own society and therefore have an emotional relationship with the medium of song, or because they have never heard such sounds before and are overcome by wonder and awe? Or perhaps a bard's music has nothing to do with why listeners are affected. Perhaps it is simply the component or ritual used to channel their spells, in which case they might be considered inferior to illusionists and druids who can cast magic without producing sound at a volume that might make them vulnerable to enemy discovery.

If an enemy is deafened or some form of sound barrier is in effect, such as being underwater, are the bard's spells nullified?

What are your answers to these questions? What are bards like in your campaign? Are they simply vocal wizards, or is there an entirely different explanation for their abilities?

L&T Session Two

By dawn, the sky lightens to a dull grey and a sprinkling of mist hangs in the cool air. Edward, Sturloch, Gemond and Vara row on into the afternoon in their little boat, following the coastline. Presently, the cliffs to the north recede, forming a small curtain about twenty feet in diameter. Gremond points to a glittering object halfway up the cliff, in the mouth of a small cave. Edward and Sturloch row the party over to the foot of the cliff wall.

After a brief discussion, Gremond the scoundrel ties a rope about his waist and deftly scales the cliff, finding handholds where no normal man would have found any. At the top he discovers the object of his pursuit - a glimmering ruby the size of a man's fist, sitting atop an oddly-shaped boulder. Excitedly he moves to fasten the rope about the boulder so that his companions can join him, but suddenly it gives, shedding flakes of rock and spreading a pair of massive stone wings. From the creature's stony mouth it lets forth an ear shattering blast of sound, and Gremond is immediately deafened.

The creature leaps from the cliffs and dives at the rowboat, thirty feet below. Edward fires his pistol, striking it in the wing. As it swoops past it buffets Sturloch, but the party manages to score a few hits on the thing. From above, Gremond drops the ruby into the boat, and the creature, which the party realizes is a cliff bat, a coastal creature that hoards shiny objects, swoops around and dives for it, alighting on the edge of the rowboat. Sturloch scores a decent hit on it by launching his pike as it approaches. 

Sturloch repeatedly attempts to chuck the ruby overboard in an attempt to pacify the cliff bat, but Edward is loath to part with such treasure and desperately tries to stop him from succeeding. The serpenteer hurls the gem out over the sea, but Edward miraculously snatches it from the air just before it floats out of reach. As the cliff bat rears up for another attack, the wench Vara surprises everybody and unleashes a blast of purple magic from her hands, shattering the creature and reducing it to rubble. The pieces scatter into the sea like drops of rain.

With the ruby intact, the party weighs anchor and sets out again, following the coast southward. Sadly, Gremond still hears nothing, deafened by the cliff bat's shriek. The sky dumps sheets of rain onto the earth and the party seeks shelter for the night. Vara peels some potatoes. Edward hears a strangely pleasant wailing resounding from the cliffs during his watch. "Sirens..." By morning, Sturloch's wounds are healed and to his joy, Gremond is awoken by the sound of crying gulls. For the rest of the day and night, the rain is relentless, but the party makes the most of it and fill their waterskins with the fresh liquid. 

On the second night, they stumble upon the remains of a wrecked ship. They pause briefly to explore it, and Edward recognizes it as a merchant vessel. Sturloch and Gremond climb aboard and begin a search. The hull is flooded, and Sturloch lowers Gremond by a rope to peer into the water. He sees a massive hole in the bottom of the hull, and a large chest sitting precariously at its edge. He swims over for a closer look, but a long, dangerous shadow appears in the dark. Frantically picking the lock avails nothing, and a hammerhead shark lashes out at Gremond, who barely dodges, driving his dagger into its thick cartilage. Sturloch feels the rope twitching spasmodically and gives a great heave, pulling Gremond from the water in one powerful motion. The party reluctantly leaves the ship and its treasure behind. They have no luck finding shelter for the night. 

Mist rolls along the water the next morning. The cliffs change, growing dark and impossibly high, marred with pockmarks where some gulls nest. Rain still hammers the world, on through the afternoon and into the evening. It is during the early evening that the party hears a chorus of male voices singing. They spot a vague ship in the distance to the east, but keep silent, fearing pirates. They slip by without incident.

The next morning, the sun shows itself at last, glittering on the waves. A rocky beach opens up to the west, revealing a crumbling stone staircase cut into the cliffs that rises up and up into mist. High above the beach, a shining blue spire disappears into the clouds. On the beach they find a galley with red sails, its crew absent. A quick search identifies it as a war galley belonging to The Arm of the North. It doesn't take long for Edward and Sturloch to devise a plan that involves stealing the ship and hunting down the sea serpent that killed Sturloch's wife. But where is the crew, and what lies within the blue spire at the top of the stone stair?