While the continent of Ilethra can be explored from a multitude of angles, the principal course in Knights of the Black Lily is to play as a wandering outcast, generally referred to as a Misfit by other Ilethreans. Although being a wandering adventurer is hardly new and innovative in fantasy role-playing games, even when discounting the game’s focus on human stories, the premise of KOTBL serves to create a particular challenging situation for the players: playing talented characters at the barrel bottom of an inescapably hostile fantasy world.
Being recognizable to most citizens on plain sight, the cards are stacked against the PCs in Knights of the Black Lily: any social interaction, except for Intimidation, is performed at a significant penalty for the PCs, as store owners slam their doors shut, potential love interests wouldn’t even turn their heads to give them the time of the day and any employer may deem them expendable. This premise serves a two-fold purpose: first, it ramps up the challenge for the players, as they simply cannot weasel themselves out of every situation with ease (and bullying is just not always possible in a fully militarized world). Secondly, it is bound to create interesting predicaments: firstly, because the PCs constitute the perfect scapegoats and, secondly, making the people that are in need of their services repeatedly torn between those needs and the social stigma incurred. The latter for good reason: any NPC who is known to associate with Misfits incurs a Social penalty him- or herself.
This social stigma associated with Misfits is rooted in the widely-held belief that they bring the special attention of the dark gods with them wherever they go, earning the Misfits the dubious honor of being dubbed The Eye of the Gods. Partly superstitious, partly founded in truth, such special attention by divinity is rightly feared by most Ilethreans – from lowliest beggar to the highest lord. Only the sinister clergy of the Dark Pantheon and the various knight orders seem to be accustomed to, and even relish, the scrutiny of the dark gods.
Their situation also creates an interesting dynamic among the player characters: will they band together for a common goal or will they squabble over the scraps that society has reserved for them? It bears repeating at this point that Knights of the Black Lily does NOT require players to work against each other. But they can, if they are thus inclined, explore conflicts that run as briefly interspersed sideplots to the main adventures. Furthermore, depending on your GM style of running a fantasy campaign, your players might find it much harder to escape their place in society than in other games: gold piles are neither as easy to find nor as richly stocked as your players might expect them to be. Worse than that, wealthy buyers for valuable artefacts are equally rare – and usually ruthlessly backed by many, many men under arms. Escaping their status is meant to be as much of a struggle for your players as for their characters.
Finally, having the player characters be part of a caste of outcasts sets up a good excuse for having them dressed and styled more fancifully than commoners. Certain select elements of modern subcultures, in particular, can be introduced into a fantasy setting like Ilethra without clashing too hard with medieval fashion but fusioning into something new and exciting! Given the overall gloom and doom of the game, the future, just like the past, seems to be black…
In the next installment of this multi-part series on the background of Knights of the Black Lily, we will be looking at Ilethrean society overall. Be sure to not miss it, as it will central in defining context, style and tone for everything else to follow in this blogpost series!