Thálassa - a Mythic Greek Age Cairn Hack

This is a great advice and also I was orienting myself on this track, since I wanted to introduce the use of amulets and talismans, which are absolutely of Egyptian origin.
Maybe the lower form of magic is a bastardization of heka (Egyptian magic), effective on small scale, enabling the practitioner to tap into that primordial energy source, but not fully understood and used only by reciting a short handed down list of spells.

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That’s a fun choice, I think!

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The ancient Mediterranean was extremely interconnected. To be honest, it would feel odd if you didn’t include influences from other cultures in the setting.

The real challenge will be to represent cultures as they are described in myth and not in history.
The globalization of the Bronze Age (which was also one of the causes of its downfall) is a fascinating topic, but one that I would address only if the perspective of the game were purely historical.
Instead I would like to represent the Mediterranean, its places and cultures as they emerge in myths. So we will have Ogygia, Pillars of Hercules, Scylla and Charybdis, Lotus-eaters, etc.

See the map below:


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The scythians are easiest to include, all you need is to toss in some burly amazons! :stuck_out_tongue:


Today I drafted the Principles of the World. What do you think about them?

Principles of the World

The Sea (hē thálassa)

  • The Know World mostly faces the Sea. It is a vast basin on which peoples of different cultures live and where the creatures of myth roam free.
  • The daring and the brave venture into its waters. In distant lands they go in search of the Prize and fortune and glory.
  • The Sea is dotted with wild and unknown islands, ready to be explored and despoiled. The mainland is for the most part unexplored and mysterious.

The Gods

  • Gods are real, they walk among humans. Sometimes they fall in love with theme, sometimes they are envious.
  • They are powerful and capricious, but not almighty. They are immortal, but they can be injured.
  • One can appeal to the deities to request their intervention. Often they will not listen, sometimes they will respond unpredictably.

The Demigods and Heroes

  • The Demigods are not necessarily the result of the union of a god and a mortal but some are, like Heracles.
  • Those who demonstrate strength, power, good family, and good behavior are termed heroes.
  • After death Gods may grant the apotheosis. When this happens the hero assumes the title of Demigod.

Aoidos and Myths

  • Myths passed down in literature are real history in this world.
  • Being passed down orally by the aoidos, there are conflicting versions of the same story.
  • It is possible to meet the heroes of myth. The odigoí is free to choose which mythical era to set the adventure in.

Eukhé & Goïteia

  • When one appeals to a god, they are a eukhé (prayer). Eukhé is the high and noble form of magic.
  • In Egypt, west of Lybia, the great priests practice heka (magic) that draws on primordial power through rituals and spells.
  • Importing some spells, which are passed down without fully understanding their function and power, some practice goïteia, a low and limited form of magic that has lesser effects than either eukhé or heka. Practitioners of goïteia are frowned upon and considered by most to be charlatans.


  • Around the vast Sea on mysterious islands or impenetrable forests are located labyrinths.
  • There are different types of labyrinths. Some are physically mazes built to imprison and protect. Others are networks of caves or palaces with complex geometry.
  • Those who face the dangers of the labyrinths will be rewarded with Prizes and other riches.

The Underworld

  • The Underworld is a real (but hidden to the living) physical place where the souls of the dead dwell. These are only shadows of the mortal that they were, with no sense of purpose. The Underworld has a complex geography it is crossed by rivers and inhabited and defended by creatures.
  • It is possible to descend into the Underworld with the rite of katabasis. The ability to enter the realm of the dead while still alive, and to return, is a proof of being a hero. The purpose of the descent is to recover a quest-object or a loved one, or with heightened knowledge
  • It is also possible to summon the souls of the dead with the rite of nekyia. In this case the descent into the Underworld will not be physical and will have the purpose of obtaining knowledge or prophecies from the dead.

Ooh, having setting-related principles for players is a great idea. I’ll take note of that for my own project.


As I said to you before — and I post here just as a reminder —, write down some principles for what are the characters.

For example,

Who are the Adventurers?

  • They are not Achilles or Hector. Rather, they are Ulysses or the Argonauts: they employ cunning over brute force.
  • The gods are capricious: sometimes they favour the adventures, other times they will play against them. (This is represented by the dice.) Accept your fate.
  • After all, they are humans facing monsters and other oddities.
  • They travel for glory and gold.

Learning so much from you guys hahaha

Very well done! The bullet points flow well, and clearly communicate the sense of what this setting is. Though I’d agree that maybe including a section making clear the players position in the world could be smart. I love how many hooks this leaves lying about. Maybe also include some sections on culture/what players can be.

This is covered in the backgrounds! I am still re-reading Apollodorus’ Bibliotheca to avoid being bland and uninspired, but I have already planned to separate the background into two sections: professions (what PCs do in life) and origins (where they come from/whose children they are)


I added this paragraph in the Principles of the World

Deeds & Labours

  • Characters are called to action out of obligation (labours) or to seek glory (deeds). They will often cross The Sea to accomplish their duties.
  • Whether they are demigods, heroes or ordinary people, they all have something in common: Fate is inescapable. The Moirai have already established the length of their thread. They accept it and face creatures and oddities with courage.
  • Characters prefer cunning to brute force. War is not a sport, after all. However, some times they will be arrogant and overconfident. This is called hubris and is punished by circumstances and the gods.

The first draft of Thálassa has matured enough to share it.
It contains all the rules, but is completely missing three important elements that I will be developing over the next few weeks:

  • Maps
  • Generation Tables
  • Bestiary

aside from these, I will eventually add a glossary, the gods descriptions, and appendix N

here it is the web SRD:álassa.html


Looks good. You can hide those table headers using custom CSS (see the Cairn repo).


I’ve been looking, but couldn’t find some specifics:

I’m really interested in what you say about the length of the thread being known. How does that interact with players/fiction/rules? I think that’s such an interesting twist to put on the “play to find out” exploratory nature of play. I’d love to know more.

Similarly, the epics have a really familiar structure, are you bringing that structure into any of the “adventures” or “modules”? Are there any rules that offer structure to the flow of play (phases etc), or is it a bit more free?

Just interested :slight_smile: No value judgements in either.

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In any way the odigos and players want! That’s not a mechanic, it’s a principle that reminds the inevitable Fate. In Ancient World there was not a true concept of “free will”. Every lifespan was pre-determined, but unknown. Romans elaborated this into the maxim “amor fati” (love/accept your fate).

Definitely, this part is still being defined but there will be a section with adventure generation tables.

No, this is it. I will not elaborate further the rules of ItO/WN/Cairn as I completely despise crunchiness and embrace freeform.
But I am thinking about the exploration sub-system. It will be not a hexcrawl though, maybe more a point-crawl with a certain amount of unpredictability.

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I think there could be a good balance between the “feel” of Epics and free play. Certain motifs (Minotaur at the end of a maze, Gorgon’s head to paralyze, etc) could still come up but I think perhaps letting the players subvert those tropes would be very interesting.

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yeah, I am trying to hinting a certain mood and atmosphere for the game but leaving a lot of “white spaces” both on the map and in the gameplay

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Last week I was on hiatus to complete the layout of the second volume of the Italian version of White Box and because of a bad toothache (I will have a surgery next week).
I’m working on the marine adventures system, but in the meantime I’ve been drafting out the Quest generator, you can find a first version here:

I will soon update the blog with the second part on the magic system, to keep track of the choices made.


Alas, these hectic days I couldn’t progress that much with the seafaring adventures system, but thanks to Bibliomancer Bot I fleshed out some Spark Tables

All these hidden pages will be integral part of the final version of the SRD