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Zephyr: An Anarchist Roleplaying Game Of Fleeting Identities

Created by Federico Sohns

Travel across the wandering, sentient landmass of Ophoi on a strange journey to fulfill sacred obligations and find your way back home.

Latest Updates from Our Project:

Zephyr Update #9 - FUNDED! & The Four Step Ladder
over 1 year ago – Sat, Feb 18, 2023 at 06:28:34 PM

WE DID IT!

Zephyr is going to be real!

This game funding means a lot to me. Mentally and creatively I've lived in the land of Ophoi for so long now. Back in 2020 I was finishing writing Xanadu and I recall escaping into Zephyr writing so I could write about trees and meadows and fresh air, I conceived of one world as a place of rest from the cold of my previous fantasy world. Materially speaking, most of the work for Zephyr was done the last two years while living on a long term, non-renewable visa, without full knowledge if I'd be able to finally settle here and allow myself to continue living off of my passion. Now that we are funded, if all goes well this month, I might be able to finally set up the company in Japan and get a renewable visa! 

I wanted to tell you all this because often I think the conditions on which we make games are blurred and so everything that transpires and intersects with the process of making games doesn't get much airtime. These struggles are as much part of the game as the themes I've chosen to tackle, and thanks to your contribution I'm much closer to having a more stable life that can continue to pursue this passion :)

So once again, thank you kindly, muchisimas gracias, 誠にありがとうございます!

Back to the game then! I want to talk a bit about the Salt States, the main antagonists of the game, what role they play, the rules that concern them, and a sneak peak of things to come :)

The Salt States originated in an isolated tract of land that was subsumed into the creeping shadow of two mountain ranges, one from the Cyan Plaque, and one from the Magenta Plaque. The communities of this region depended on using salt to preserve foodstuffs through the prolonged winters of the bowing season, and so used it as a medium of exchange between them. At some point though, a particularly long winter saw a few groups turn to attacking others, stealing food reserves from others. The victims of such raids sought refuge in the south, clumping together and finding themselves suddenly in the company of strangers. It was in this context that salt - which used to be a medium of trade strictly used outside of the community, to be exchanged with those in he outside - turned into everyday tender.  

The reduction of everything in the sphere of consumption and creation to a measure of weighted salt created the conditions for the debt society of the Salt States. Although the story is longer, the end result was that a new order based on extraction of salt settled in the Grand Valley at the epicenter of Ophoi. These societies started fashioning masks, and thus reproducing life itself through the medium of salt. Because of this, you could say life itself developed a fixed, accountable value, and thus the ultimate transformation of these communities into extractivist societies was finalized.

Today's Salt States are a group of statelets, each with their Salt Lord commanding legions of "newloans" (the newborn state subjects, which are conceived as living debts from birth, and need to repay their very life with years of toil within Ophoi's entrails mining salt) as well as thousands of enslaved Windfolk working the wheatfields beyond the walls of the central urban sprawl. Subjects under the yoke of a Salt Lord remain nameless until they can repay their own life debt, moment in which they can finally purchase a name for themselves and start their life as a freelancer. 

The belief that unites most people under the Salt States is that of the Four Step Ladder. The symbol is taken from the upper part of the meagre wooden ladders used to descend into the innards of Ophoi in search for salt, and signifies the possibility of social ascendance, and the need to fight for one's own lord and their primacy above the rest. The Four Step Ladder is addressed when praying for the Final Jubilee - the moment in which one's own lord will ascend over the rest as owner of all life, and will then cancel all debts and set everyone free. The yearning for this utopian vision is what drives many to fight for their lord in blind belief that - once they do claim property right over everyone in existence - they will proceed with magnanimity in abolishing the very system everything is built upon.

There is much more to talk about the interaction between Salt States and the shatterzone, and how Windfolk regard the States. The one thing I want to zoom into a bit is two bits of rules that tie into what happens when you run into a Hero of the Salt States.

Mechanics-wise, Windfolk need to make sure they can get away from Heroes as quickly and safely as possible. Narrators take a number of random tokens in their hand equal to the Courage of the Hero they are facing. 

Then, the group must present between 1 to 4 tokens, all of different colors, to face off against the Hero. These tokens can come both from their Windfolks' Constitution  (signifying that they are pushing themselves physically to escape) or from their Region (signifying the use of the environment to escape). Then, the Narrator reveals one of the tokens they grabbed before. If the color coincides with the color of one of the tokens offered by the players, they narrate the first sequence of their escape, and continue onwards until no Courage tokens are left.

If at any point the players fail to match one of the Courage tokens, one or several of them is bound to suffer Heroic Violence. This is one of the main reasons why you'll almost always want to escape from Heroes: the way violence works is different from normal, natural violence in which you just lose tokens from your Constitution.

Heroic Violence is systematic. It comes from a system of beliefs, its is dealt methodically and with intent, and so it has a completely different mechanical implementation in the game:

That's where I'm leaving it at today! Once again, thank you so much for helping make the project real. I'll be making one more update before the campaign ends or right after it does, and then continue in a more spaced out manner as with my previous projects. Feel free to ask any questions, and to partake in our discord server if you want to (and promote the KS before it ends if you feel like it!)

Best wishes,

Fede

Zephyr Update #8 - Hunting High & Low
over 1 year ago – Thu, Feb 16, 2023 at 08:21:31 PM

Hey kinfolk!

We are on the last 4 days of the campaign, and we are hitting 93%! Yay! We are so very close to get it funded, and for sure with the usual final surge of backers we'll make it there and some. I can't wait to see y'all showing off your stories and the way you play with the mechanics of Zephyr!

For this one I want to show off the gliding mechanics of Zephyr. I think I mentioned before that, in Windfolk society, each clan is seen as bringer of a particular gift that has improved life across the shatterzone. The Wind Clan's gift in particular was the technologies of gliding - literally jumping onto huge fans and surfing the Zephyr winds!

Gliding is known by windfolk to be a very dangerous affair if you don't know what you're doing. While anyone can hop on a board and dive out into the abyss, doing so without guidance and not a single associated technology is borderline suicidal. However, there are technologies that allow for one experienced glider to guide their party's flight if they are well equipped (so while you can perfectly have a party built for squad-gliding, it is not a requisite in order to take everyone to the skies!).

So what does gliding look like?

While of course you can take to the skies to pretty much do anything cool you might think about, be it hunt, make a quick escape, show-off, etc., the main use of gliding is to travel a great distance in a short amount of time. Gliding depends on the tokens found in your region, and your capability of turning some or all of those tokens into Currents (basically, tokens you can use to empower your gliding). For starters, you get 1 Current only for launching yourself into the air. Then, you can add up to 2 Currents if you are jumping off from a high enough place. Afterwards, depending on the Weather (which you determine at the start of the session), you may be able to get more Currents. And of course, some technologies (and maybe a special fan) can get you more. 

Once you have all Currents, you take them in your hand and let them drop and scatter over your regional map. You should also place a marker that tells you where you are currently:

In the above example, you can see the little woodcarve figure tracking where I'm at (at the summit of Hollowpeak) and where the Currents scattered. Then, I can target a Current to determine where I'll be headed on a straight line. There's a base difficulty to make the flight, which can become more difficult if I'm further than three thumbs away from my target. To counter that, I can spend other Currents, each of which makes my Gliding reveal easier. Once we got a difficulty set, we make the Reveal, and if we succeed, we arrive at the location targeted. Yay!

It gets cooler than that though. While I can now safely land where I arrived, I can also continue my flight and head towards a different scattered Current. The Reveal is easier now since I'm already in the air - just swerving into another Current! In the example above, I pick the yellow Current below, and discard it to head in that direction. Again, I can spend any Currents in play to make that Reveal easier.

Now, you might be asking "ok but where's the risk Fede?". If you glazed through the Gliding mechanics bit in the rules chapter I uploaded, you might be in the know! If you fail the Gliding Reveal at any time, your Windfolk will have to make a forced landing. A forced landing is a special kind of Reveal in the Narrator takes a random token in their hand, and then you take up to three of the remaining Currents, all of a different color. You both then reveal them, and if the color the Narrator picked is not among the Currents you picked, your Windfolk dives into their doom. If you do have the color among your Currents, they basically crash but survive with only those tokens left in their Constitution.  

This is why Gliding is some scary shit - you need to really make sure you're facing good odds, evaluate how you'll be pushing your luck (since your life is on the line) and always consider what Currents you use during your flight to make sure you have at least three different colors on the board in case you have to make a forced landing. The first death we ever had in the playtest games was exactly because of a failed Gliding Reveal!

Gliding is really fun, and there's plenty of technologies that make it cooler, and even allowing you to do stuff like glide-hunting and the like! I really look forward to hearing stories of epic flights and tracking the longest recorded flights in the playerbase.

That's all for today, I'll be continuing to push the game for the final days, and will see you around on the next update. Peace out!

Fede

Zephyr Update #7 - Weaving Society
over 1 year ago – Tue, Feb 14, 2023 at 07:51:56 PM

Hi kinfolk!

Yesterday we had a cool push that got us past the 80% line, so hopefully we can continue to build momentum and fund within the next couple of days. Thinking about making Zephyr real takes me to think about everything that makes the game, and what people are going to enjoy the most, and among those I think Patterns are a pretty big one - so I wanted to talk about them this time.

Remember when we talked about Obligations? That time, I briefly mentioned that Windfolk tend to carve and give fetishes when establishing those obligations. Fetishes are small woodcarved figurines that are shaped in the image of the gifting Windfolk, and are wrapped in a linen roll - the end of which has a knotted needle, stored in the inside of the fetish:

These fetishes partake in the magic of Windfolk obligations, since the needle stored within cannot be removed before the obligation is fulfilled. In the character sheet, that's why they show up in the space to write down your Obligations!

When you do fulfill an obligation though, the needle can be removed, and so you can use it to weave a Pattern. Patterns hold a very special power and significance since they represent mutual aid, the reciprocal enrichment of windfolk lives through the fulfilment of obligations. When woven into your windfolk's scarf, you are essentially weaving the very stuff by which windfolk society is realized!

So, how does it work mechanically?

The book comes with a wide selection of patterns to choose from. Each pattern unlocks a certain power, which generally has to do with your scarf, and that tends to have different levels of intensity. Here's an example:

When you choose a Pattern, you have to first check its shape, seen above the name. This is important, since the Pattern is supposed to be drawn in the empty white space between your Bonds and the rest of the character sheet:

This Ancestral Coccoon pattern has a lenght of 5, since it passes through 5 holes. Your length of thread available is limited by the Oi of your fulfilled Obligation (basically, the bigger the obligation you fulfilled, the more, longer Patterns you can weave!).

Once the pattern is chosen, however, picking where you place it is important, since patterns draw power from your Bonds. For example, this pattern is connected to two Bonds (one about cooking, and another one about some place called "the valley"):

How do you use your patterns then? Simply put, you just evoke a chosen feeling - that is, you spend the CMYK tokens of that feeling, for example, 1 yellow, 1 magenta, and 1 black for Love. Then, you check the total intensity of Love across your woven bonds (in this case, you have Love 3 for Cooking plus Love 3 for The Valley, so 6) and trigger the corresponding Pattern effect for that intensity.

Of course, building those bonds of love, longing, etc. takes time and many tokens! This is why there's a challenge there in how you fit patterns and interweave them to make the most out of your established Bonds. Not to mention the fact that there are more complex Patterns that have vastly different effects depending on the Intensity, so you might benefit from having differing intensities across linked Bonds - so that evoking Sorrow gets you one effect, evoking Rage gets you a different one, etc.

Patterns are maybe a bit finnicky to convey but I find them super fun to experiment and play around with, and I'm making a comic page to explain it graphically in the book so that their mechanics are accessible for players :) I'm super looking forward to seeing how y'all weave yours across your adventures!

See you on the next one,

Fede

Zephyr Update #6 - Hunting & Cooking
over 1 year ago – Sun, Feb 12, 2023 at 10:23:33 PM

Hi kinfolk! We are out of the weekend now and entering the last week of the campaign. For those who are new to Kickstarter, the last few days tend to mirror the first few days, and given that we are edging into 75% now I'd expect these last few days to take us over the funding line and (hopefully) give us a healthy margin over it :)

Today I wanted to talk about two of the main subsystems of the game, namely hunting and cooking! Like we've been saying, tokens can be spent in several different ways, both to help you succeed at reveals, as well as to evoke the bonds that build up your characters' identity, utilize the magic of patterns, not to mention the fact that tokens are your very life energy - which you lose if you get hurt. How do you get those tokens back?

Hunting is likely to be the main way you get those tokens back. Same as Windfolk, all living beings have a Zephyr constitution, which in the game indicates the kind of nourishment you can get from them:

A hunt, however, has a very particular place as ritual in Windfolk society. Like many other things, hunting is seen as the establishment of an obligation that needs fulfilment. Knowing of how painful life and death can be in the sentient landmass, Windfolk focus on killing their prey in one shot, dealing death quickly and decisively - sparing prey from a prolonged death later on. If the hunter cannot do this, or if their shot misses, it's for them a clear sign that the prey does not consent to their life ending at this point. 

Furthermore, there is also a sacrifice involving hunting in Windfolk society. This sacrifice is called the Shedding, and involves letting blood out when taking a shot (meaning that, if you are going to make a Hunting Reveal in game, you need to discard a token). This isn't an "exchange of blood" by any means; it's a way to imbibe the idea that, if the hunter were to bleed others indiscriminately, they would create a world in which the hunter themselves could be bled out in such uncaring way the day after. 

Windfolk hunting tools are thus woven with braided brambles at the handle, helping do the shedding when the time comes around.

The actual mechanics for hunting are, after that, quite simple - needing to add Harm equal to or higher than half of the prey's Constitution tokens. Adding to Harm depends on several factors (your tool, tactics used, effort spent, technologies employed, etc.)

Leaving hunting aside, I also wanted to touch briefly on cooking, since I think the mechanics for this are quite fun. What is cooking, after all, if not some basic chemistry meant to break down and ease-in nutrient intake? In Zephyr, this is the same.

Say that we have managed to hunt the Wheatfiend I showcased before, and we have their body and its constitution (1 black token, 4 magenta, 4 cyan and 5 yellow). How do we eat that? Well, to be able to do so, we need to break down this huge 4 token combination into a combination of three tokens. Basically, one of the colors among those has to go. This makes logic sense since the known, digestible emotions of the windfolk are always three color combinations! How do we go about cooking it though?

The cooking reveal is very simple. Basically, after our characters prepare the fire, and start cooking, you take all those tokens in your hand, and discard one at random without seeing. Then, you check how many colors are left. If you still have four colors, you repeat the process. This means that there are ideal scenarios, and situations in which a cook-out can be better or worse. 

For example, if we end up discarding those five yellow tokens, we'll end up with 9 tokens left to distribute for the party. It might not be a very fulfilling meal for the risks taken. However, if we manage to cook out that black token, we'll be left with 13 tokens! That's on point. Generally speaking, cooking technologies give characters an edge in this process - allowing them to target and discard certain colors of tokens, as well as getting bonuses for what you get at the end of the process. This doesn't just affect the way you plan how your party will tackle food, but also what prey's they'll favor, which in turn might condition how they'll plan their route of travel (maybe following in a herd's footsteps?).

Anyway, I've written enough now! Hope to see you around for the next one, and thank you for the help in promoting the Kickstarter :) see you soon!

Best wishes,

Fede

Zephyr Update #5 - The Festivities
over 1 year ago – Sat, Feb 11, 2023 at 12:34:02 AM

Hello kinfolk!

We are going into the weekend now and I'm expecting to see some progress on the campaign during these two days, as folk get new emails announcing Zephyr and we continue the push on social media. The Campaign is edging 70%, and we are firmly in the mid-Kickstarter lull: For those who don't know, Kickstarter campaigns tend to have U shapes for funding, meaning most of the money we pick up is during the first and last 3 days! The good news is that Zephyr had a very strong start (considerably stronger than for my last game) and a lot of people signed up to back the game at the end, so we shouldn't have any problems not just funding but doing so quite comfortably. If you want to help out promote the game, feel free to retweet the stuff I tend to post at the Araukana twitter :) every bit helps!

With that aside, I want to continue to talk about the Zephyr system :) specially, since we already have seen how tokens work, as well how character get created, I wanted to talk about what tends to be the final stage of preparation before the journey - The Festivities, where Obligations are taken!

The Festivities are essentially the rites in which young windfolk, eager to embark on their journey, take in Obligations from folk of their community. In your games, this is the instance where not only the main goals of your party are determined, but also when you determine your characters Technologies, their initial spread in terms of talents and skills, and thus when you get to flesh out their role.

Generally, players can start either with their Obligations (creating your "quest") or from their Technologies. If you start with your Obligation, you have to choose different parameters for the quest (how long is the journey? how dangerous, who stands to benefit from fulfilling the Obligation? etc.) and check to see how much each aspect of the Obligation adds to your Oi Points. Oi Points are a measure of reciprocity, and you are going to use them later on to buy Technologies.

If you start off with your Technologies, you'd do the opposite - first check what you wanna get, add up the Oi Points, and create your Obligation with that in mind. But... How do you know which Technologies to get? There's like 50 or so!

Simply put, the ideal way is to pick what you think is cool, and what you think might fit the party well. It's a bit like when thinking of the classic "tanker, DPS, healer" model, but in this case you are thinking of cooking, hunting/gathering, crafting, and how different tasks for survival will complement each other. Maybe someone decides to be a dedicated cook and start adding up several cooking technologies, or maybe you split the responsibility so that one Windfolk gets tech for cooking big slabs of meat, while other specializes in soups and the like.

Here's two examples of cooking tech, featuring their Oi cost, a description of its effect, and background information:

One thing to note is that there are two types of technologies - Internalized and Externalized. Internalized tech is basically knowledge (the 50 or so listed in there), while Externzalized tech comprises special objects that are the result of very succinctly applied knowledge, artefacts that go out of the ordinary - what you could call works of art by all means. There is an important distinction between these and normal objects, because while everyday things can just be added to your bag without really asking, Externalized Tech carry a lot of emotional weight to them. The way they work is, in essence, you pick any object from the Storehouse section (where you have all the selection of items for your adventure) and start investing Oi points in it for added effects:

Once all technologies are picked, and the Obligation they are linked with is established, the players decide what equipment to take, how to distribute it among the group, and then they're good to go!

I think that's quite a bit for today! I will think of what we should tackle next, most likely we'll start looking into the subsystems and survival in Ophoi. Remember that the Technologies chapter and the Rules chapter samples are available to download for free on the Kickstarter page :) and that if you have any questions, you are more than free to send them to me or come in to the Araukana discord server!

Have a nice start of the weekend, 

Fede