Friday, April 14, 2023

Crystal Frontier - Ongoing Campaign Note: Templars of Blackacre

To the North and East of the Crystal Frontier, beyond the Bay of Fallen Stars or across the Maiden Tombs over the Road of Dead is the Province of Blackacre, sometimes known as the Blackmash. Grey salt marshes rising from the Silt Straights and beyond deep, wet forests of colossal evergreens and ancient malice. Blackacre was the last Imperial Province settled, and never much beyond wilderness. A wealth of lumber, fish and the rare dyes of found in the vast tidal pools along its shores provided impetus for settlement, but the climate, old sorcery and (according to heretic scholars and false prophets) the dogged resistance of the “old people'' who once lived in its forests has made it difficult to find voluntary settlers. The majority of residents in Blackacre are prisoners or the descendents of prisoners, sent to toil in the lumber towns fisheries and dye pools.Even the Imperial soldiery abhors Blackacre, long considered a dangerous punishment posting, and its 5th “Battle”, the Larks, who have been charged with Blackacres’ defense since before the rise of the Successor Empire, now exist only as a few hundred residents of canal and border forts subsisting on transit taxes. With the typical logic to Imperial governance, Blackacre, one of the few provinces that produces a surplus of wealth, trade goods, and raw materials is almost devoid of official protectors and most in need of them. The shores of Blackacre are directly across the murky shallows of the Narrow Sea from the Mud Isles … the Ghoul Kingdoms, now almost united under vile White God.

Bickering over resources between the elite of Dawn Rill and the Imperial Cult, mean that no colossi or lesser war machines have been redeployed to Blackacre, and the Cult’s fear of increasing the power of the military means that recruiting the 5th up to strength cannot even be discussed. Instead Blackacre’s coasts are protected from the raft fleets that come each autumn to reave and kidnap by penal templars. Sects of “Sword Saints”, devoted to Emperor Isacco Hydria, saint of tribulations and protector of the imprisoned, falsely accused, and repentant.

From five huge monastery-prisons, geomantically sculpted spires of sea basalt, and numerous smaller gaol hermitages, the penal templars watch the sea. An army of fanatics and felons that defend the shoreline’s dyers and fishers, but also extract dues and taxes in the form of food and raw materials. Those who have lived in the spires describe them as hellish. A cruel hierarchy, layered from top to bottom, where the newest prisoners or those of the lowest status live on a diet of kelp and barnacles in the half flooded galleries at the base. The cold seas seep and flood regularly into these dark vaults and the threat of drowning is as constant as that of the predatory gangs. Children of the galleries and the strongest fighters who survive the yearly gladiatorial contests are allowed into the dry stone above, where thousands of rock cut cells are home to a cruelly excessive creed of asceticism and martial training. When the training monks deem these unfortunates properly tempered and disciplined, they become part of the templar host, and move up to the temples, meditation halls, arenas, refractories, training halls, forges, and armories of the spire’s upper levels.

Like the Successor Empire, the Templars themselves are a faction ridden and fractious lot, prison gangs given divine sanction. Each of the spires is ruled by a single sect, and recently the five have begun to fight among themselves over doctrine and tribute leading to both less protection for Blackacre’s toilers and an expansion of the number of templars at the cost of training and devotion. Escape and desertion, once unthinkable, have become common, as has the practice of some sect masters sending warriors on “furlough” to prosecute the worldly affairs of the sect or even selling their services as mercenaries.

The Five Spires from the Border of the Crystal Frontier east along the coast to the sudden cliffs that mark the border of the Blue Meadow’s Province and a military fortress of the well equipped and funded XXII Fulminata: The Serene Mountain, The Island of Sorrows, The Drowned Twins, The Broken Chain, and The Sea Bastion.

Of the Sects that control the prisons, three prominent ones exist: Conservatives, Radicals and Redemptionists.

The conservatives are traditional in every respect, servants of the Imperial See, led by appointed Capitol priest-wardens. Conservative sects focus narrowly on the templars’ ancient duties, to chastise the sect’s members and other Blackacre inhabitants for their (or their ancestors) crimes, and protect Blackacre from outside threats so that the See can continue to extract wealth from the province. The citizens of Blackacre have a conflicted relationship with the conservative sects, as they can be counted on to fend off cannibal raiders, but their own taxation methods and “justice” are often akin to raids themselves. They have trouble maintaining their numbers because of the rigors of their discipline, length of their training process, tendency for their priestly leaders to waste templar lives in war, and lately because of desertion.

Radical templar sects believe that the templar orders should regulate and control themselves, govern the Blackacre to build its power and population rather than to enrich the Imperial priesthood. They refuse to accept leaders from the See, relegating those sent to advisory positions, and are led by councils of templar captains with support from their own templar priests. The Radical monasteries have entered the Empire’s power games, taking mercenary contracts (primarily with the Priesthood) and taken to arming and raising militias in the coastal towns they control

The Redpemptionists of the Broken Chain Monastery (once the Emperor’s Chain Monastery) have been recovering from near annihilation by a Mud Isle’s fleet for the past 20 years. They have grown reflective and deeply devoted to a particular interpretation of the teachings of Sainted Emperor Hydria, and emphasize the redemptive power of suffering. This view is increasingly popular in the interior lumber towns as well, as the templars send preachers and missionaries to spread their creed. Their undisputed leader “The Templar General” politely refuses representatives from the Imperial Cult, but has yet to break entirely with the See or the doctrines of “generational punishment” and “ancestral crime” that underpin Blackacre’s governance and carceral dogma. To do so of course would threaten a civil war in Blackacre as it breaks with the rigid interpretations of the carceral dogma, and worse, end the transfer of enormous wealth extracted from the labor of Blackacre’s bonded inhabitants to the Imperial Priesthood. Such a war would be a disaster, and almost certainly end in the destruction of Blackacre and wholesale consumption of its inhabitants by the Ghoul Kingdoms, but the redemptionists seem to care little, believing that any such suffering is a purifying test from their god.

Serene Mountain (radicals)
Colors: Blue and Grey. Symbol: The Four Walls (Five Dots)

The South Westernmost Monastery Spire, where the Northern Maiden Tombs meet the sea. The Council of captains rules here, and has since the spire accepted three elite Kosse Sildarian battalions who fled over the mountains to escape the vengeful army of the Warlock King. As the furthest from the Mud Isles, raids are relatively rare and the Serene Order templars have less need for local defense, they face tens or hundreds of ghoul raiding rafts, not the thousands that sometimes cross at the narrows near the Broken Chain or the Isle of Sorrows. Serene Order templars are furloughed for mercenary contracts regularly, even for things like caravan protection or garrison duty, and the monastery has rapidly become the most worldly, trading its own resources and tithing only gold to the church. Much of the order acts like feudal nobles, with families of small units of templars distributed among fortified manor houses or “sacellum” along the coast under a charismatic leader and responsible for the protection and taxation of a small number of specific villages. They send their children to allied families or back to the Monastery for training and will answer the Templar-Abbot’s . Other Kosse Sildarian traditions have also taken hold here: chivalry, peasant levies, military matriarchy, plate armor, straight two-handed swords, and even cavalry (with horses bought from the drovers of the Crystal Coast).

The Drowned Twins (conservative)
Colors: Black and White. Symbol: The Towers (Vertical Bars)

Strict and devoted to the old ways, The Templars of the Twins are armed and armored in the manner of ancient gladiators with half armor, tridents, decorative crests, spiked shields and curved daggers. They war against the world and make division over the most minor difference and every distinction is a reason to fight for dominance and tribute -- no discussion with them can end without bloodshed. Even the two towers of their monastery are in conflict: one is exclusively male and the other female. The residents do not speak to each other; the bridge between is a sight of nightly ritual combat. They remain close to the See largely to assure the flow of new prisoners, but despite the Twins’ pugnacious strangeness they bring war to the enemies of the Imperial Creed with an obsessive ferocity and have no need for encouragement.

The Isle of Sorrows (conservative)
Colors: Brown and Rust. Symbol: Blind Sorrow (Filled circle) 

Strictness and discipline, without end and for all. The lives of Sorrowful Order Templars are so bound in ritual and rule that their every moment and action is regulated, their creed believes that such an ordered and optimized life is the only way to prevent sin, fulfill duty, and achieve contentment. They will share their rules and the harsh punishments for breaking them with all they meet - rules for what, when, and how to eat, to stand, to sit, or sleep. For Templars of Sorrow the law has no meaning or greater purpose beyond itself, but that is sufficient, obedience, discipline and punishment are inherent goods and without them the world would fall into chaos. They are highly skilled, but unimaginative warriors, with little care for victory or loss as long as the drill is performed perfectly and the strategies employed can be found in the proper texts. Likewise their adherence to the Imperial Cult and See is absolute.The Sorrowful Order does not believe in the will of the gods or the holiness of the priesthood, but it believes in obedience even to weak or foul masters as proper and beyond question. The Sorrowful’s only seeming break with templar tradition is their maintenance of a fleet of shallow draft dromans and light galiots armed with fire pot throwers and archer’s towers. Small and handy enough to navigate the marshes and narrow sea, but well armed and fast enough to track and hunt raiding flotillas.

The Broken Chain (redemptive)
Colors: Olive Green and Grey. Symbol: Rupture (Dashed Line)

The Broken Chain is a tumbled and only partially reconstructed monastery, nearly razed decades ago by a huge Ghoul fleet under the 19th apostle of the White God, Zebedee. The monastery held, but at a great cost, and its survivors believe that the politics of the See and their old rivalry with the Isle of Sorrows prevented their fellow templars from lifting the siege. The Chain Order, now led by a single Templar General, have rebuilt rapidly and wildly, sending missionaries into the lumber camps and recruiting directly into the order, stretching their dispensation to take skilled laborers for the reconstruction of the half burnt spire. Likewise the Chain has been arming and training militia in the villages it controls into semi permanent formations that patrol the coast, taking over Templar duties. The Broken Chain is quite popular with the radical spires as its suggestions of freedom and permanent self rule for Blackacre, as their near heretical notions make the radical’s own goals seem moderate.

The High Beacon (radicals)
Colors: Blue and White. Symbol: The Light  (Line & Circle)

In the years of the Empire’s decline this once conservative monastery has drawn ever closer to the Blue Meadows and the XXII Battle. Built at the base of the great cliff that is Blackacre’s border, and sited of stone, the High Beacon is named by the lighthouse that tops its spire, and the constant glow of the forges within. The Beacon is a prison and a factory, its armories and forges are far larger than the other monasteries, and its roots delve into the coal-rich seams of Mount Ornithur providing endless fuel. As the armory of the Templar orders, the Blind Order has adopted an outward policy of staid neutrality, but this is only a surface appearance, they are as radical as any, but more subtle. The Beacon has not yet to armed their villages, and doesn’t operate trade caravans and mercenary companies, but indications of their split with orthodoxy can be seen in the adoption of military rank and tactics within the order, and field a wider variety of troops, including units of apprentice templars armed with pavise and arbalest. The Blind Order also sends significant numbers of Templars individually as “religious advisors” (arms-masters and instructors) to the military nobility of the Blue Meadows, and in small groups as “missionaries militant” (military advisors) to various Pine Hell confederations. It is said they are gathering allies to attack the Ghoul Kingdoms and kill the White God. Despite its martial focus, the Beacon maintains several unique devotional practices, the most notable being the “The Ordeal of Illumination”. In this special ritual, required to rise into the order’s leadership or military elite, templars stare into the magical light of the Beacon until it blinds them, searing their faces with mandalas of scars. Such blind templars are rare, and their prowess is not diminished by the ritual, though failed aspirants injuries have the expected results.

The Templar Orders are not soldiers, and their way of war has evolved from both solitary religious discipline and the close order scrum of prison violence. They generally fight as individuals, and are almost universally heavy infantry, fighting in loose order, with each templar seeking to perfect their sword art in battle. This style of fighting would make them inferior troops against formed and disciplined militaries, but it works well against large numbers of lightly armed foes, such as the seaborne raiders of the Ghoul Kingdoms, prisoner revolts even (in the distant and heretical to mention past) the forest dwelling Old People.

The majority of templars wield the estoc, a piercing sword with a basket or bell guard, derived from civilian dueling weapons, but lengthened and reinforced for the battlefield. All templars wear the cinquedea, a long dagger, five fingers wide at the hilt and narrowing to a triangular point. A few templars, especially champions and leaders, will use other weapons, two handed mauls, axes and flails being the most common. Fighting with estoc and cinquedea (often even wrapping the dagger hand in a heavy cloak to conceal it in the manner of a demes’ bravo) is the traditional martial art of the Templar Orders, and unlike urban toughs, templars wear heavy armor to protect themselves in a swirling melee. Templar armor is usually thick, chain reinforced and ring riveted steel lamellar, which is far cheaper, easier to produce and repair then plate armor but still provides significant protection at the cost of greater weight. With heavy armor worn over quilted arming clothes, wrapped in decorative chains, and by a pointed, masked helmet, Templars are able to wade into melee and fight multiple lightly armed enemies, the dagger protecting them from being overwhelmed in a grapple, and grueling training to making up for the great weight of their armor.

The signature weapon of the Templar Orders, cinquedeas also have their roots in dueling and civilian arms, as a popular weapon of the Empire’s urban Demes over six centuries ago. Like civilian examples, the cinquedea of the Templar Orders are decorated, with engraving or enamel art on the wide blade. Unlike the rest of their kit, the Templar Orders’ cinquedea, even in the most conservative of monasteries are entirely unique and a rare space for personal expression and display with decoration ranging from devotional verses or prayers in somber blackened silver (many Templar cinquedea are blessed and silvered weapons) to garish imagery of cartoonish violence or crude jokes inlaid in gems and gold. Even when they are crudely made (Templars who have risen from the prison depths often carry weapons they made or obtained their as a mark of their past) or the decoration on them is distasteful and boorish it is a grievous and dangerous insult to say anything except the most positive things about a templar’s dagger. The must unbalanced weapon hammered from barrel iron and glued to its driftwood handle with pitch must be complemented as having “primal nobility” or as “beautiful in its functionality” if one wants to avoid a duel or killing.

The Templar Orders of Blackacre are a strange but effective way to protect the prison province, but as with most of the Empire’s provincial institutions, their very effectiveness has stretched them thin, offering wealth and power for the grasping, ever hungry capital. To survive these demands and strengthen their position, the Templar Orders fill the void left by the collapse of other Imperial powers: the military, the sorcerers’ college, the nobility and the factorial federations. They are on the cusp now. Rule of Blackacre by the Orders, or collapse into internal conflict seem equally likely and it is entirely unclear if even the status quo can prevent the prison monasteries from being drowned under a hungry waves of fanatical invaders from swampy Ghoul Kingdoms across the Narrow Sea. In these confusing times, it is not uncommon to see templar deserters or possibly furloughed agents among the freebooters and desperate chancers of the Crystal Frontier.


  1. Great stuff: I want to know more about those ghouls.

    Also: Starstone [legendary 1E adventure] is now knocking around the interwebs as a pdf , try tracking it down

    1. 1D6:

      1. The Ghouls of the Mud Isles are cursed revenants: stinking, unliving hordes. It is a land of the dead.
      2. The Ghouls of the Mud Isles are a small people, lean, and used to hardship. They paint themselves in white chalk, wield weapons of stone and steal craftspeople, children, and livestock.
      3. The Ghouls of the Mud Isles worship the White Son, a horrific dead god, with a face of bone. They plunder people, books and art to feed to pour into the maw pit at the center of their mire drowned city "Nynnodon"
      4. The Ghouls of the Mud Isle have a prophet an a God now, the "White God" a god of words and knowledge, and they say only his words are true, seeking to destroy all others.
      5. The Ghouls of the Mud Isles are Ice Hellsmen in disguise, pale necromancers seek new victims, but are wary of overplaying their hand.
      6. The Ghouls of the Mud Isles aren't human. They are hairy beasts, more goat then anything. They breed like rats and hunger pushes them across the Black Mirror every year like locusts.

  2. Cool stuff. I always dig your maps.

  3. So good to see the Blackmash lives! I like this take.


Old Games

Let’s talk about old tabletop roleplaying games - specifically the kind of games played in the 1980’s and recently depicted in the nostalgia...