Krendel - Settings Explained

Welcome to the next post in our series on making Krendel go. It’s like a pull-me-back-and-go car, only with more parts and fewer wheels. Here’s the list of subjects, which I’ll update with links as things get written.

WARNING: This post became insanely long!

The chapter on Building Your Game is surprisingly short, only 5 pages. It starts on 135, after all the character stuff is finished, but it describes stuff you, as the Game Master, should do first. I feel it’s probably one of the best chapters in Krendel, and much of what it discusses is actually system agnostic.


The original plan included publication of a third book: Krendel Settings. This would showcase three [mostly] fully developed settings. Meanwhile, the pertinent information for setting development as it pertained to characters was encased in the Settings and Characters chapter (now just Characters). As the timeline for development developed, that book got axed and something had to be done. So the setting development information was expanded upon and made into its own thing. It was positioned next to the Encounters chapter because one flowed readily from the other. The artwork for that third book also got shuffled in; in fact the cover art for it is the art for this chapter. It’s a man and a woman gazing at the worlds they could explore, and that, I feel, encapsulates a lot of what Krendel is about.

Using the Book

The first section in this chapter is really the only thing you need to do early, but it’s possible that you don’t need to do anything. If you use a ready-made setting, then most of the work is probably already done.  If you haven’t already made your setting, then sit down with your players and start talking.

Start with the basic premise that you worked up in your Gamer Contract and ask questions. I list quite a few in the book, but that should in no way be seen as a limit. As I mention in the book, if it is something of interest to you, ask, no matter how trivial it is. Something else I say is that you should not stop at “wouldn’t it be cool if?” Always follow up with “why is it this way?” and “how did it come to be?” These latter two questions help ground the setting in a reality that makes, at least, internal sense.

Some of the key questions include:

  • What species exist and which are available to play?
  • What cultures exist and which are available to play?
  • What power methods and styles are available and are they limited to particular societies or location?
  • What technologies are available and are they limited to particular societies or location?

There’s a lot more, and I’ll try to hit all the example questions from the chapter in my example at the end of this post. For now, let’s focus on these four because they drive other mechanics.

What species exist and which are available to play? I hope the ramifications are obvious =). Beyond just setting up your starting stats, such as Health, Strength, and traits, species will no doubt influence culture. If you have a fantasy setting with humans and orcs, you may restrict the PCs to only orcs. Why? Because the orcs and humans are at war with each other or this game starts with orcs growing up in a ghetto of a major human metropolis. Is there some prejudice that exists between the species that you are trying to play up in the game or is this just being done to help the players get in the mindset of “the other”, but they can play human later on too? Lots of things can spawn from this question beyond simple starting stats.

What cultures exist and which are available to play? Available cultures and subcultures will no doubt be influenced by species. It happens here on Earth just based on the melanin content you have in your skin, your gender, your wealth, or your age. Mechanically, this will limit your available backgrounds, skills, powers, and equipment. The Game Master find feel it is appropriate to the setting that someone from the slums cannot start with the Science skill, same with someone from a tribe of “savages” or someone from a culture that has purposefully turned its back on science. Maybe in this society the orcs develop lion like social structures where the women outnumber the men and serve as hunters and warriors and where the men are expected to keep the household. Suddenly it makes less sense for the male orc to take a soldier background or a female orc to take a cook background. Above all, please, please, please do not equate species with culture. This happens all the time because people are lazy and use species as easy stand-ins for cultures.

What power methods and styles are available and are they limited to particular societies or location? This one is kind of a biggie, but it’s also surprisingly easy once you get into it. In other games you may ask “what classes, professions, or archetypes can I play?” It’s like that, but more versatile.

First, again, what are power methods? They are collections of abnormal abilities. In other games you might think of them as the structure for classes. Wizards would only get Arcane powers, priests Faith powers, and soldiers some selection of Core powers. In Krendel it’s all much more free form. We’ll talk about them more in a later post. For now, just think of them as “awesome stuff PCs and NPCs can do”.

Now, think about what power methods you want in your world. What fits? A near future noire setting will have a drastically different power set up than a fantasy setting, which could have almost anything. Wizardy? Check. Faith? Check. Alchemy? Artifice? Bard songs? Psionics? Checkity check check. Some power methods may not look like they would work at first, like implants. Cybernetics isn’t really a fantasy thing, but what about a magically forged replacement limb? This is part of where styles come in.

Every power method other than Core has a selection of styles. These are mostly flavor that you use to tailor a power method to your setting. So you aren’t choosing to include the Psychic method so much as you are selecting psionics (I think, you die), mentalism (think Victorian era spiritualism), and/or psychotropy (drugs fuel powers, ala Dune or The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch).  Styles may have slight mechanical tweaks as well, but the fundamental point of them is to help you tailor the power sets you want to your setting.

Given the options available (11 methods across two books, plus their styles), it can seem a bit daunting. I like to think that if you have a firm idea for a setting in mind that the selection process becomes pretty easy. Still, to help out, take a look at this older post. It examines a good handful of popular settings and the power methods you could use to make them.

What technologies are available and are they limited to particular societies or location? This is the last big question with serious ramifications on the characters. Do they have access to an Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator or are they stuck with swords and clubs? Do their neighbors have better gear or worse? Are magic items everywhere or very rare? Consider the powers you want to include and make sure the technology supports them in an appropriate way. Something to bear in mind is that many characters can wind up being defined, at least in part, by their equipment. What would Legolas be without his bow or Gimli without his axe?

Why do this?

Having a ready-made setting is really easy, and it can excite your imagination. I mean, heck, I still absolutely adore Ravenloft, Vampire: Dark Ages, Changeling: the Lost, and others. So why bother with the above method that Krendel walks you through? Good question; I mean, that can be a lot of work.  So maybe we should ask if it has any inherent advantages over a pre-made setting? The answer: Absolutely.

When folks come to the table and there is a ready-made setting, everyone comes with preconceived notions. They might not remember everything or have a personal theory about the story that influences them. Maybe they haven’t read a particular supplement or haven’t kept up with what’s what. Or they may know nothing about the setting at all! I’ve seen these issues crop up a lot, like in every modern urban fantasy larp ever. This creates incongruities with everyone’s expectations, which can, in turn, cause friction and not so fun discussions debating whether or not something is appropriate well into game play or after someone has their heart set on a particular character concept.

On the other hand, if all of you come together and create the setting though shared discussion, then you are all on the same page. Sure, the Game Master will make up some stuff behind the scenes, but, on the whole, your expectations of the setting will all be the same or at least very similar.

Additionally, there is an immediate buy it to the setting. After all, you’re no longer using someone else’s setting, it’s your world now. You helped make it. That sense of ownership can be a powerful thing.

Power Centers

Primarily used when running scenarios, you may also want to consider some of the major power centers of your setting. The short version is that a power center is something that affects the setting. Yeah, that’s broad. A power center could be the Emperor of Ravishan, Ravishan itself, The Fungal Forest, Hilmang the Grinder (deity), or similar. Person, item, place, social group, disease, etc., if you can put a label on it and it impacts your setting, then it’s a power center. They can be friendly, antagonistic, uncaring, whatnot.

The rules for power centers are pretty simple, just give them a name and then define their concept, objectives, reasons, disposition, tools, schedule, domain, and the results if they achieve their objectives. This is just text to help you decide what they are doing off screen and how they react to the player characters (if at all). It can also provide great flavor to the setting if you can tell the players a bit about the rivalry between the Red Lady’s House Karithay and the Emperor’s House Quintin. Krendel Core 139 is a great place to find more information about power centers, but I’ll also sketch one out in out example setting.

Setting Example

Last post I may have dug myself a hole when I came up with this setting, but let’s see what I can come up with based on:

“Cyberpunk dystopia. Space based transhuman database society separated itself from the rest of Earth but still tries to control things. Characters will be agents downloaded into bodies and sent to Earth to protect their society’s interests.”

Zounds. Well, we have the basic description down, so let’s run through the sample questions on pages 135-136 of Krendel Core. This should help flesh things out.

What species are available for play? - The PCs all begin play as neumans. They are human consciousnesses that are downloaded into artificially grown bodies. While these share many physiological similarities with humans, they are naturally superior in most ways. However, most neumans are only practiced in a digital environment. As a species, they have a trait that the first time they try something new in their new body they suffer a -1 penalty. Humans also exist, but they are the remnants of what is left on Earth. The neuman PCs will be interacting with them and new PCs after start can be human.

What other species are present? In addition to humans and neumans, there are sentient robots and some devolved humans, notably jenka, that stalk sunken cities and old subway labyrinths. Most other life from modern Earth can probably be found, if it’s not extinct.

How do the species interact? Neumans hold themselves a superior from the humans and tend towards outright hostility towards the idea of sentient robots, who are the only competition they might face in the digital landscape. Humans are much like humans today; though they are scattered all over the globe there are a lot fewer of them due to a great war. Where they can resent neumans they also recognize that the neuman often come with and trade or abandon artifacts of superior technology than what they commonly use. Sentient robots keep to themselves; they are often blamed for the great war. No one likes jenka, kill on sight.

What cultures / social groups are available for play? Neuman society is based on a large orbital platform unoriginally called The Ark and is a reflection of the diversity within humanity today. All faiths and cultures continue to exist. All neumans are expected to contribute their processing to the collective, and in this way earn things like free time, greater memory space (so you can have a greater collection of clothes, or digital home or whatever), or access to elite servers that function at higher speeds or have special properties. Those that don’t meet the required contribution to society are essentially put on a tape drive. Cold storage. Not dead, just not active and unaware of the passage of time. They may be reactivated for ground missions. The most common crimes are data theft and memory theft (e.g. partitioning memory to set up private servers).

What other cultures / social groups are present? Humans are mostly like humans today, somewhat more advanced tech but mostly reduced to city states and small countries due to tracks of irradiated wasteland. These societies can reflect any number of modern day societies and/or values or go into Mad Max land in the extreme. The robots remain a mystery. When they pop up it is usually to trade technology.

How do the cultures / social groups interact? Most humans trade with each other, realizing that mutual survival relies on it. They also usually cooperate with neuman agents as The Ark generally pays pretty well, even though its agents are pretty much always arrogant and can be quite ruthless with humans. Some forget that humans don’t have memory backups like they do.

What are the education systems? Neumans are no longer born. Their numbers are therefore stagnant. This also means there’s no need for a formal education system. Additionally, memory space is limited, which means a neuman on the Ark can only gain so many skills and powers before they run out of allotted memory. To provide basic skills with a living body (e.g. how to eat, sleep, and get by without diapers), all neuman bodies have some level of bioengineered implants with basic functionality software. Most physical agents are sent with various skill and skill augmentation programs that they can use to offset what may be otherwise limited abilities. Despite this “education”, all neumans take a while to get used to having physical bodies. As digital being they have not experience hunger, fatigue, hormones, pain, and the like for a very long time. Most societies on Earth lack the infrastructure for public schooling, but study groups are still formed by generous individuals and faiths. GM NOTE: Maybe there are births among the digital populace, but such is just a mingling of the digital selves such that they produce true AIs. Would these AIs be considered aberrant, enemies, normal citizens, or second class citizens?

What power methods and styles are available? Alchemy (Esoteric Alchemy), Artifice (Esoteric Architects), Core, Implants (Cybernetic, Bioengineered), and Nanoswarm (Holoswarm). Neumans use all the methods except the cybernetic style. Humans have only limited access to Alchemy and Artifice without trading with neumans. Humans have no access to Nanoswarms, which the neumans will not trade under any circumstances. Although humans have access to Cybernetics, it is limited by the technology of the area. Humans also have not cracked the encoding on neuman memory software yet, or so it is thought.

What technologies are available? The Ark’s technology is so far beyond what you find on Earth that it can literally seem like magic (Nanoswarms). They can also pull down power armor and advanced vehicles or perform orbital bombardments as needed. Humans have everything you’d find on modern Earth, plus a few iterations beyond. Some higher tech can exist and may also be salvaged from ruins of old Earth. Most tech centers were destroyed in the great war. GM NOTE: Will the Ark have established a planet side facility for transport of lost tech back to the Ark or will agents have some sort of portable device?

Where is it geographically located? The Ark is one central space station in orbit over Earth with several ancillary satellites for observation and bombardment. It also has remote facilities manned by digital citizens operating throughout the solar system for mining resources or collecting solar energy. Earth is Earth with more craters and wasteland. The initial scope of the campaign will be central Asia, something in old Kazakhstan needs to be investigated.

What is the geographical scope? See above. The initial adventure at least will take place on the Ark and in Kazakhstan.

What physical barriers are there? Earthside there are many irradiated zone. Where neumans can tolerate more radiation than humans, there are areas that even they can’t go without protection. However, the biggest barrier is the distance between the Ark and the ground. The PCs are dropped to Earth and told pick up will occur upon completion of the mission. GM NOTE: In fact, the PC’s bodies have a built in biological kill switch that is triggered when their mission is done and there is nothing more for them to do. Their original selves remain in storage (or active duty) and their viability for future missions evaluated. Each time they are sent to Earth will seem like their first with the same promise of being returned to digital society rather than storage when they are done. This is included just to illustrate how a GM might keep certain setting facets secret.

What do people see when they look up? The Ark can be seen as a light moving overhead at night. Otherwise, you can see more stars as there is less light pollution.

What is the climate like? See any post apocalypse movie ever.  Tracks of wasteland, but the tropics and areas of high natural rainfall are bouncing back relatively quickly.

What is the history? Earth history, but sometime in the future mankind will figure out how to digitize itself and many will flock to this in a mass migration. The digital population commissions The Ark in order to leave the Earth and its petty squabbles behind. Shortly after they managed this AIs built by the nations of Earth started the great war, which nearly wiped out everyone in meat space. GM NOTE: The above is what has been reprogrammed into nearly all digital humans. In fact there was growing tension between digital humans and humans. AIs were developed to combat the threat of digital humans in cyberspace, and some humans threatened to use EMPs to wipe out the digital humans. The digital humans struck first, using their mastery of the digital plane to hack nuclear missile facilities and set the missiles against the nations of Earth. This is kept in the black archives and only known to the digital elite. Some humans figured out what was happening and tried to detonate nukes in orbit so the resulting EMPs would kill their digital adversaries even if they didn’t hit. Unfortunately, the Ark was too well shielded; though, they did destroy the Ark’s sister ship, which has caused the memory crunch faced by the digital populace. Humans today are largely ignorant of the truth; though, robots have been blamed for it by some.

Naturally, there is more to the history than this, but this is a fine starting place and addresses most details relevant to the campaign.

What are the population centers? The Ark. Kazakhstan wasn’t a primary target during the great war, so its survived pretty well. Half of Almaty is a smoking, irradiated crater from where its nuclear plant went critical, but its cybernetics factory is still intact, even if it doesn’t have the raw materials needed to fabricate more. Astana still stands, but it is mostly cut off from Almaty due to a radiation wall.

How big are the population centers? The Ark has at least a million digital souls aboard, many of which are in storage. Almaty and Astana were reduced to maybe one-tenth their original populations due to radiation and starvation, but both are regrowing.

How did the people get there? See above for the Ark. For Earth, survivors eventually flocked to the growing population centers for protection. Almaty and Astana survived more or less unscathed and after their people saw to their own security they started actively looking for healthy survivors knowing that their long term survival depended upon it, even if this meant kidnapping. The AIs tried distributing themselves throughout the net after the nukes launched. As networks failed, they were trapped in whatever system they found themselves

Who are the important figures? The Ark is ruled by a council formed of the original leaders of the digital revolution. Earthside it varies by community. The AI “Ramses” is a sort of boogey man figure for both digital personas and humans.

Why did I say I would answer all the questions? This is really long.

What structures (i.e. government, guilds, etc.) control the populace? The Ark’s governing body has absolute control over it and its digital citizens. On earth, governments range from dictators to warlords to republics to oligarchies. Whatever it takes to survive really. GM Note: maybe the Ark’s ruling body has been supplanted by an AI, maybe everyone on the Ark is really just an AI; they just think they were once human. After all, once you are downloaded into a computer there’s really no difference between you and an actual AI aside from origin. Will the PC bodies look like their digital avatars or will they be grown from a tissue sample preserved from when they were alive?

What resources, natural or otherwise, are available? In digital space, anything that you can imagine and program is available; though, memory space is limited. The Ark is largely self-sufficient, capturing asteroids for raw materials, but from time to time it may try to recover lost tech from the surface. On Earth, physical resources are scarcer. Availability will vary by community, but advanced manufactured goods, such as medicines and cybernetics, are only available in surviving urban centers or at a very high price. Basic weapons, such as guns, are readily available, but ammunition may not be.

What scarcities are there? Food and security are the main things wanted on the surface. In space, memory and lost tech that they want to recover from planet side.

What are the points of contention? See above for the major ones. Any other problem you could think people today would suffer could still be present.

What are the avenues of trade? Armed caravans travel between settlements. Neumans come with their trade goods and the Ark may be willing to drop additional trade goods… or rocks from space.

What modes of transportation are there? Same vehicles as on earth today, but more are electrical powered. Aircraft and hovercraft are rare due to their increased power consumption. Trains often don’t move due to damaged rails. Also horses, because duh. Neumans may bring landcraft or power suits with them.

What languages are spoken? We’ll say the digital populace agreed to all learn Chinese, English, and Russian. We will give all members of this society those languages, and literacy in them, for free.  In addition they are all literacy in Ark Computer, the programming language used for Ark systems. On Earth, the same language barriers exist as do today.

What customs are observed? Generally same as present day earth.

What religions are followed? Same as present day earth.

What do people value? Generally the same thing their base culture values. On Earth there is more emphasis on tools of survival: food, good soil, family, weapons, etc. On the Ark, memory and free time are most prized.

What do people wear? Whatever they can find on Earth. Whatever they want (and have memory for) in digital space. Neumans get outfitted with high tech armored uniforms that make them stick out like a sore thumb in a crowd of Earthers.

What do people eat? Digital people consume electricity and memory. Neumans are deployed with nutrient rich paste like rations. On Earth though you really just eat whatever you can find. Neumans have it easier since they can digest lightly irradiated food without negative side effects, which can cause some human to view them as monsters.

What do people live in? Ruins, tents, whatever they can find or build. Neumans usually use whatever vehicles they brought with them and get some rapid deployment air mattresses and super thin but very warm Mylar like blankets.

What recreation do people indulge? In digital space, it’s totally up to your imagination. Where you might think that people get tired of some things really quick, if a digital self enjoys something, then they typically delete most of the memory of it to both free up memory and allow them to experience it for the first time again. Earth side, it’s whatever you can find, typically conversation, drinking, companionship, and simple games using cards or dice. The focus is usually on survival, not luxury. In larger settlements there may be enough job specialization to allow for actors to put on a play. Areas with more tech may have access to pre-war vids and music.

Daaaaaang that got long, but it also gives a real good snapshot of the setting. There’s still a lot of room for the GM to develop this, especially ground-side where the [initial] PCs will have had no previous experience.

No, that was a lot of questions, and you can see that some were more relevant to the setting than others. That’s going to happen with any setting, but starting with “Its Earth…” allows you to skip a lot. You don’t have to ask everything, just that which is important to you.

You can also see how some questions largely repeated answers as they overlapped, but others provided new bits of information. I actually felt I had a solid grasp of the setting after the first couple. Then I got to education system, which caused me to rethink some things and spawned even more questions. Somewhere down the line I got to the question about barriers, which forced me to think about how an adventure might end. The history and structure questions started raising some great ideas for mystery and issues of identity that may come up. As more questions came up I rationalized how truly stagnant such a digital society could be since there are no children, at least not in the sense that we know. Anything new would truly be an AI.

So again, if the question is of interest to you, then ask. Ask ask ask.

Oh yeah, I did say I’d work up one other example…

Power Center: The Ark

  • Concept: Orbital Digital Oasis
  • Objectives: Destroy the remnants of the AIs. Recover lost tech. Generate more memory resources. Eventually explore the universe; the first step will be making a new ship and copying a crew of digital elite with loyalty re-coded into them to go.
  • Reasons: AIs are considered a threat. The Ark’s sister station, Yggdrasil, was destroyed, but all the digital persons aboard were able to transmit themselves to the Ark. So the Ark has maybe half the space it needs. Assuming they are immortal so long as electricity flows, what are you going to do? Let’s see what’s out there.
  • Disposition: Aloof and unforgiving.
  • Tools: Neumans, high tech gear, powers unavailable below (expanded Artifice, expanded Alchemy, Bioengineered Implants, and Nanoswarms), mass drivers, whatever else you want to imagine.
  • Schedule: The first three objectives are on an “I want instant gratification, and I want it now” timetable. The first extra solar system exploratory ship will depart in about nine years, but there may be intra-system ships that a digital self can go zooming around in.
  • Domain: The Ark is a space station in orbit over Earth. The Ark is the only [known] superpower left in the solar system. It doesn’t have a [known] presence of any substance on Earth; though, it can deploy neumans just about anywhere or otherwise exert destructive might via mass drivers. 
  • Results: If it continues on course unabated it eventually establish a new Earthside facility for digital personas to “process” survivors to a digital self. This will likely lead to the extinction of the human race as a physical species. It will also launch copies of itself to the stars and no doubt stir up trouble.

Most of what is said about the power center here came from the write up of the setting because this particular one is so central to the setting. Answering all of those questions made it so the power center practically wrote itself. A couple of other details were added to address long term goals beyond the scope of the scenarios that are being set up because they help ground the world, making it seem more real. You could also break down the power center into fractions within The Ark.

Of course, since The Ark is pretty much just a faraway patron, the PCs won’t interact with it much. When you start thinking about your scenario, the power centers will look more like the crime lord of Astana, the Cybernetics Corporation and now defacto government of Almaty, the jenka in the tunnels, the AI in the secret decommissioned military base, Winston the Rumormonger, and the like.

I hope this little tour helps you understand how to build your setting with Krendel. Frankly, the guidelines can be applied to any game system. You just have to change how you approach the question of power methods to reflect however the other game system lays things out.