Monday, August 14, 2023

The Great Hill Cantons 5e Experiment Begins: Marlinko Backgrounds

I still love the old ways, you can pry the increasingly deviant BX/OSE/LL subvariant of HC house system from my cold dead hands. But dammit has playing Baldurs Gate (purple-skinned Roy Kent being my own PC) got me at least wanting to experiment with a slimmed down, house ruled to death 5e as my next mini-campaign reboot of things Hill Cantons-y. 

So on that note, here is part 1 of Hill Cantons 5e Backgrounds starting with dear, dear Marlinko. A host of Marlinko Cantons backgrounds are next and they will be the usual mix of the weird and/or stupid. 

Marlinko Cantons Backgrounds

First and foremost a Marlinkan takes their identity from their contrada (even villagers in the Canton have their “team” in the city). All native Player Character Marlinkans thus must roll (or choose if one must) a contrada background before taking another background. The contrada background is in addition to a character’s standard background, but may also preclude some standard background choices.

From FDM: The four contradas do not reflect merely geographic or class divisions, but have deeply embedded cultural and psycho-geographical lives of their own. Each contrada organizes its own festivals, keeps its own histories, and pays fearful homage to the abstract-featured idol of its own unique “town god.” 

Each contrada also maintains its own contrada hall, a large, well-maintained, ceremonial gathering place where it keeps a collection of its own unique banners, ceremonial regalia, historical tapestries, mummies, and most importantly, the various trophies it has won in the single most important city-wide bi-annual event: the great chariot race that headlines the Ebon Horse Fair. Throughout the year, contrada trainers keep their chosen condemned convict-jockey revved up and ready for the Black Race. It is well that they do, for the losers are hanged while the winner earns a contrada trophy and freedom!

Roll d6

1-2 Svině (Golden Swine) Contrada

3 Soudce (Yare Domesman) Contrada

4-5 Obchodník (Mendacious Mercator) Contrada 

6 Včelar (Sullen Apiarian) Contrada

Svině (Golden Swine) Contrada

The northeastern ward, with its tusked, dolorous, golden boar's head banner on a field of teal, is by most accounts a benighted slum. It has two saving graces: 1. that most guilds and high offices maintain their halls in its precinct–if not their homes– (including the Rada's large council hall) and 2. that it holds the most trophies for Black Race wins. 

Skill Proficiencies: Deception or Sleight of Hand

Tool Proficiencies: Manual Labor

Languages: Svinish (contrada dialect/slang)

Equipment: Teal and gold contrada surcoat, simple, Jaunty Cap, Tiny amount of hruz paste. 


Forbidden Backgrounds: Noble

Soudce (Yare Domesman) Contrada

The southeastern quarter is (despite its rather dramatic banner displaying grotesquely fat red demonettes piloting finned sleds) a sleepy and mundane section of the city. The houses of quietly prosperous craftsmen and the shops of the middle ranks dominate the ward. 

Skill Proficiencies: Insight

Tool Proficiencies: One type of artisans tools

Languages: Soudci  (contrada dialect/slang)

Equipment: Grey and dull red contrada surcoat, burghers hat, set of workman’s tools

Forbidden Backgrounds: Anything vaguely criminal

Obchodník (
Mendacious Mercator) Contrada 

The southwestern contrada of the city, with its great golden seal depicting a grasping human hand styled in mauve and silver, oversees most daily business in the city. The sprawling, bustling South Market with its countless booths and scams is the commercial heart of the center.

Skill Proficiencies: Deception or Persuasion 

Tool Proficiencies: Calligrapher's supplies, Cartographer's tools, or Navigator's Tools.

Languages: Obchod (contrada dialect/slang)

Equipment: Mauve and silver contrada surcoat, stack of blank contracts in vellum.

Forbidden Backgrounds: Charlatan, Mountebank, Huckster

Včelar (Sullen Apiarian) Contrada

The Northwestern Quarter, with its great yellow-and-black beehive and mopey deodand emblazoned banner, contains the greatest concentration of affluence and easy living in the city. The great painted-plastered town-manses of the wealthy dominate the coveted plaza and avenue fronts in this part of town. 

Despite its wealthy cast, the contrada has a deeply-ingrained inferiority complex--due in large part to its century-long losing streak in the Black Race. The loss has become a self-fulfilling prophesy in recent years, as convict-jockeys regularly commit suicide rather than serve out what they consider to be a foregone death sentence. Roving gangs of youths from respected families are quick to draw rapiers against any slight, as if to compensate for the wound to their civic honor. 

Skill Proficiencies: Persuasion or Intimidation

Tool Proficiencies: Gaming set

Languages: Vče (contrada dialect/slang)

Equipment: Black and gold contrada surcoat, codpiece, rapier, IOU from a commoner worth 1d4x10 gold suns.

Forbidden Backgrounds: Anything vaguely criminal or commercial. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Kezmarok, Counting Houses, and Amazon Battle-Barges: Recent News from the Hill Cantons

 And now the news from the Hill Cantons…

The great half-ruined southern metropolis of Kezmarok is back in the shouted news of Cantonal town criers with recent developments. Not only is the lost lower half of the city back from its sojourn in a fell pocket dimension, but the eternal host of Turko-Fey is back at the gates and resuming the long half-millennium siege of the city–though from more distant positions. Contracts are once again being offered for “bonders”, paid rough men of the Hill Cantons.  

But bonders are also not the only ones in demand for immediate employment, the Zem-renowned great hostel Duke Mraz’s Folly, is seeking ruffians, hedge mages, procurement specialists and other so-called adventurers to clearing out the “Back of the House” of Tihomir’s Great and Evermore Abalienation, its satellite location on the Isle of Foosz. Applicants should be warned that Zdenko the Scarificator, hostel chain domo/manager, is “no casual tavern thug roustabout but is paying detail-oriented attention to the large walled off section in the “more secluded” regions of the large structure.  Advance payment will be made to the order of two pounds of hruz hruz (Duke Mraz’s premium hallucinogenic mollusk paste). 

Back in Marlinko, the newly-rebuilt Golden Counting House is back in business after a horrific and tragic fire that swept Svako’s Square in the Mendacious Mercator contrada three years ago. Usual night hours of service are naturally to be observed. 

Hisfytla the newly-crowned queen of the Amazons (western branch) is holding a lavish contest in which outlanders are invited to captain large combat barges “long-term leased” from the Eld in a battle of wits and valor. Qualified contestants will be supplied with a barge and crew of male-helots. The winners are promised a 2,500 silver “balsaccs” (extremely-large Amazonian coins worth 5 of your masculine tainted gold suns) and magical accouterments worthy of your ranked status. Losers will be granted special lifetime entry-level positions in the Regal Torture-Harem. 

Long live the Vy-Queen!

Monday, January 9, 2023

News from the Hill Cantons, Both Real and Fictional

A quick update on my personal Ahabic project, the Slumbering Ursine Dunes Omnibus, TLDR version: the alpha version is going to be released today exclusively for my long-suffering Patreon backers, Hill Cantons players, and the usual frauds/ne'er do wells/vagabonds I associate with.  (Never fear the print version and final PDF in its full Bilibin-ish, Lukaesque, Kalinite glory will be coming in a few months when Radegast permits the crowdsourcing to begin). 

It lacks some art in the design holes but this is essentially its final form content wise and will be more or less what one sees when the hardback edition (and it will be in glorious high quality because that's what I want for myself selfishly).  It's wild to think that the entire Slumbering Ursine Dunes series kicked off with a modest wee kickstarter in 2015 will finally be coming to an end point. I never expected to see a few, too easily promised stretch goals launch five books of material but here we are. 

And guess what? I am actually running the Hill Cantons campaign again after a few years of the players being lost in eternal slumber deep inside Revoca Canton's infamous mesa (ruled by of course The Wizard of the Mesa). I have a whole new notebook of material burning a hole in my bookshelf and in need of playtest so hmu if you are a long time reader and always wanted to play online in said campaign. 

And now the real news of the Hill Cantons...

Yesterday's bi-lunar eclipse has caused quite a commotion in the cantons. Vast shadowy winged metallic beings were seen by some winging their way along the porcelain dome of the heavens moments before, leaving some to wonder if the two disks had been stolen from their metal tracks. 

Boumila the Bountiless has returned from a far voyage on the stout if strangely-named caravel, the Flux of Doom. The crusty sea-lass spins wild tales of the land of Cockaigne where the plum brandy runs in streams, halushky grows on trees and where no dice are rolled for saves. She is hiring for her next voyage.