Friday, June 21, 2019

The Great Discape Arises From the Deep!

Micah did the cover!

Almost two years ago I came up with a silly little setting. "What if Planescape, but also Discworld"?

You can download it now! It's 36 pages of setting tables, primed and ready to plop down wherever you see fit. 180 monsters! 180 locations! A quest generator!

Enjoy, everyone.

(If you find any mistakes let me know and I can fix them)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Of Baba Tubalkhan

Raph Lomotan

As the peoples of man and their gods made their long journey through the Snows, they came at a certain time to the land of Endor, in the shadow of the Mountains of the Moon. In those days starvation struck out at the peoples with claws of want, and bands of wendigos often came down from the glaciers in the long nights; those terrible demons made bloody raids against the peoples, stealing their infants and killing their dogs. There was great fear among the peoples.

Seeing this, and hearing the cries of the peoples, Baba Tubalkhan was heavy of heart. Taking up his walking stick and his cloak and his tools of firemaking and flint-knapping, he entered the tent of his wife and said:

"My heart is heavy and my thoughts are sick and sad. I desire to go out into the wilderness, to have solitude there. I will meet you again in nine days time, at the standing stone that marks the end of the pass."

Seeing her husband's distress, Mother asked what troubled him, and offered her aid and counsel. Baba Tubalkhan told her of the secret pains within his heart, and upon hearing these she said: "I trust you and the counsel of your heart my husband - we shall see you at the stone."

"If I should not return on the ninth day, do not linger in this place. Lead the people onward, out of the land of Endor. If I yet live, I shall follow your trail and meet with you further down the way. If I am dead, then I am dead." 

To his sons, Baba Tubalkhan said: "Know that I love you, my sons, and I place my trust in you to guide the peoples.

To his daughters, Baba Tubalkhan said: "Know that I love you, my daughters, and I place my trust in you to save your brothers from their foolishness."

And so Baba Tubalkhan left the camps of the peoples and walked out into the foothills of the Mountains of the Moon. For five days and five nights he climbed; twice he fought a wendigo, and three times a blizzard. By cliff and switchback he reached the summit of the tallest of the mountains, whose name was Chomolungma. At its peak there was a cave, and within the cave there was a depthless pool. Sitting by the pool were three who were guardians of those waters, and of the contents within it.

The first was most ancient, whose countenance was as the oldest tree, whose shawl was of swan-feathers and spoke in the voice of a snowmelt stream.

The second was pale as bone, who wore nothing but long hair the color of sunset and spoke in a voice of the birds of the air.

The third was as an infant, with skin as black as the dome of the sky and eyes of stars, who spoke in a voice that rumbled as the earthquake.

Baba Tubalkhan showed them great reverence and said: "Guardians of this mountain, you three great powers of Chomolungma, I come to seek answers for the troubles within my heart."

So you have spoke the first.

We shall give counsel to you spoke the second.

Know that no truth comes without price, god of man spoke the third.

"I wish to know the means by which I may drive away the demons that assail and attack my sons; I wish to know by what means I might banish them and what powers I might destroy them."

Ah, that is a terrible truth spoke the first.

We shall give it to you so that you may see it spoke the second.

 Look into the well, spoke the third.

Baba Tubalkhan, knowing what he must do, plucked out his eye and cast it into the well. In the dark heart of Chomolungma, he saw this truth: if he wished to drive away the demons forever, to protect the peoples from their predations, he must simply kill his sons. For the dead have nothing to fear from demons, and without the sustenance of man such evil beings swiftly starve.

Baba Tubalkhan recoiled in horror.

You have seen it then spoke the first.

The truth of the matter spoke the second.

What follows is yours alone spoke the third.

The mountain had been slow to climb - if he were fast, he might make the end of the pass by the end of the ninth day. But his heart was more troubled than when he had left; he had found only despair in the knowledge he bought. He could not return to the peoples with such news.

In great shame of his failure, Baba Tubalkhan remained in the cave for three more days and three more nights in thought, trapped by the knowledge that the evil that stalked his sons and daughters could not be destroyed. He suffered greatly, tearing at his beard and beating his fists against the wall and floors until his knuckles turned bloody, weeping until he was half-blind from tears.

It was on the fourth morning, the ninth since his leaving the camp, that a change came upon Baba Tubalkhan. For three days and three nights he had felt as if dead to the world, but on this morning some change he could not name came upon him. His despair had fled him. He sat by the pool with the three guardians and meditated upon the reflections within it. He remained in stillness for three days and three nights more until the twelfth day dawned.

He had come to know a great truth in casting his eye into the pool, but the ripples it caused had distorted the surface. In stillness he could then meditate upon the reflections of its surface and the greater truth was revealed.

Baba Tubalkhan could not destroy the demons of cruelty and hate which assailed his sons. The language of power would avail him nothing beyond the destruction of what he loved. This was truth. But the greater truth was that he need not destroy those demons through destruction of his sons. Instead he might teach the peoples the means of defense which demons hate more than all things - brotherhood, peace, justice, and compassion. To speak in wisdom is to teach, to speak in power is to destroy teaching.

And so Baba Tubalkhan came to wisdom in the cave of the three, as Mother would come to wisdom beneath the banyan tree, and his wisdom has been passed down from father to son each generation since.

He stepped out of the cave beneath the glittering mantle of the starlit heavens and called to him brothers among the wolves, and built himself a sled with which he might descend the leeward slopes by their aid.

He rode through the night upon his sled, as fast as the eagles. He passed out of the valley, past the great standing stone at the far mouth, along the trail of the peoples.

By dawn, exhausted, Baba Tubalkhan came upon the camps of the peoples. He was embraced by Mother and by his sons and his daughters with tears and laughter, for many thought him dead. He shared with all the peoples then the wisdom he had found upon the mountain, and the peoples passed out of the demon-haunted land of Endor protected by what they had been taught. Here were forged those friendships among the peoples that exist until this very day.

Romain van den Bogaert


A wise father teaches his son three lessons: the first as a child, to show love and know responsibility. The second at the threshold, to combat the demons that will assail him and try to prevent his passage along the years of trials. The third as a man, to learn the funeral rites that he will one day will need.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A Layman's Guide to Being Horrible

A follow-up to my previous layman's guide and applicable still to Mothership, no less, lets talk a bit about horror.

The core of horror is the emotion of "I have no idea what is going on and I am unequipped to handle it". Something is wrong. It's a confrontation with what you don't know and don't understand in a liminal intersection between the perceived rules of reality and that reality itself.

If you ask people what they are frightened of you'll get seven billion different answers and change. Everything comes back to "something is wrong", and further categorization is an exercise in missing the forest.

The horrific element can be as mundane or fantastic, banal or supernatural as you want, but it all comes down to the great violation.

"There is a tiger in the room", "the government is feeding people to tigers" and "the tiger stands up and begins to speak in slurred and broken words" all roost in the fact that there is a tiger not where (you think) it is supposed to be e.g. very far away from you.

Now then: how to use this in games.

My experience: ratchet up that imagery. Burn the wrongness of it all into your players heads. You can make anything scary with a good description, even if it's a single goblin with a kitchen knife. Names and boundaries make people comfortable - get rid of them. Turn them on their head. Don't play by the narrative rules your players expect. Get grotesque. Let things build up over time instead of cashing all your chips at once. Let the players' imaginations do the legwork for you.

Prime example, the man in the car from when I played Esoteric Enterprises. Ordinary enough start followed by the ramp-up. The audible "oh shit" when it was revealed that he had shot himself in the head three times was music to my ears. But, having now used that trick, I won't be able to get the same effect if I try it again because it will no longer be a violation of the normal-predictable-knowable world.

I've written a bit about how horror can evolve into less-horrible things over time before and there's a huge flaw in that essay: sometimes shit just refuses to be understood. The mythic underworld is the mythic underworld and no amount of self-assured Enlightenment era skepticism changes that. Sometimes there are no answers. This is best to keep it horrible. Do not explain.

(Spoilers for US, presented in Rot-13 cipher)

Vg znxrf zr zvssrq gb urne crbcyr pbzcynva nobhg ubj gur ghaaryf va HF qba'g znxr nal ybtvpny frafr - bs pbhefr gurl qba'g znxr ybtvpny frafr! Gung'f jung znxrf gurz ubeevslvat! Gurl erwrpg lbhe ernyvgl! Erq jnf whfg bssrevat gur orfg rkcynangvba fur pbhyq guvax bs naq vg vf pyrneyl jebat!

Now then: How to use this for Mothership in particular.

"Xenomorph" and "gigantic fleshblob" are classics for good reason, but they are known quantities. It's still possible to get people creeped out by them, but you really need to pull out the stops. Kinda like using Mythos monsters when running Call of Cthulhu - players expect certain things. But, that can be used to one's advantage.

Somewhat counter-productively, I'd say to aim for something that doesn't immediately get people thinking about Alien or Event Horizon. Even if you are using xenomorphs and gigantic fleshblobs. Use horror that doesn't normally "belong" in space (it belongs wherever it pleases to). Lean into your own fears.

  • You wake up from hibernation and there's a live tiger in the cryobay.
  • You return home to find that everything swerved to some sort of Brazil meets Repeairer of Reputations setup and everyone talks like it's always been like this.
  • The colony you were supposed to land on is filled with farming drones doing a really bad LARP of the Wizard of Oz and you can't find any of the colonists.
  • A ship emerges with hyperspace, every available cubic meter filled with asphyxiated corpses.
  • You've missed three generations of your family; you can't understand them and they don't like or understand you.

This post brought to you by Great Lakes Brewing Co. Holy Moses Raspberry White Ale.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Tower Unto Heaven

Joos de Momper

I wrote this for a flash fiction assignment back in college, during the middle of an obsessive bout of  Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and during the early days of my tiptoeing around the blogosphere. It wasn't (originally) meant as a gameable text, but when you go about channeling roguelikes it happens anyway.

Troika and Into the Odd feels like the way to go, here, with a nice pointcrawl / Ynnian depth system to make the megadungeon more managable. I do have a page of notes describing how I'd do an OSR version of it from a year+ ago, which I have at hand but have not applied directly to this just yet. Those plans can be saved for a follow-up post.

A Tower Unto Heaven




You are alone.
The world dies around you.

A Tower rises unto Heaven

At its roots:
The dead
The scavengers
Those consumed
Those who linger
And you

Salvation waits at the top.

Characters


  • Jackal – Starts with the 9mm and the Duffel. Unlocked by default.
  • Zealot – Starts with the Tower Shield, the Inscribed Axe, and the Homemade Shotgun. Unlocked by a massacre of the enemy. 
  • Ferdinand – Starts with the Embedded Bullet and the Tome of Kings. Unlocked by lifting not a hand in violence.
  • Running Boy – Starts with the Package. Unlocked by witnessing a disaster. 
  • Sickley – Starts with the Troubling Cough. Unlocked after meeting the Coagulation in the Runoff. 
  • Anchorite – Starts with the Book of Forgotten Prayers. Unlocked by finding a hidden place. 
  • Duster – Starts with the Tattered Headscarf, the Bullet-Sprayer, and the Sack of Coins. Unlocked by extensive patronage of the Bazaar. 
  • Armiger – Starts with the Tarnished Saber and the Cannonade. Unlocked through an act of treason. 
  • Deserter Hua – Starts with the Assault Rifle and Little Min. Unlocked by finding the Old Phonograph.
  • Bookburner – Starts with the Pile of Ashes and the Handful of Embers. Unlocked by destroying a sign of false hope. 
  • Sentinel – Starts with the Guardian Module and Attendant Drone. Unlocked by awakening the heart of the Tower. 
  • Evangelist – Starts with the Good Book. Unlocked after finding the truth. 
  • Burnt Man – Starts with the Charcoal Heart and the 0K Mind. Unlocked when the gods are challenged. 
  • Angel – Starts with the Smiting Rifle and the Nimbus. Unlocked when the rest are dead. 
  • Spiral (Hidden Character) – Starts with the End at the Beginning and the Beginning at the End. Unlocked by descending.

 Items


  • Old Can of Beans – A scavenger’s meal. It will keep you alive a little longer.
  • Handful of Screws – There are points on the skull where they might be twisted in, to pry the mind open. 
  • The Nuclear Gospel – “And lo, I saw a rider upon a glowing glass horse, and the rain was like fire…” 
  • Lost Days – A grimy stuffed toy with a limp neck. Still smiling. 
  • Tattered Flags – Pulled from a ship stranded on a dune. They spell an unknown word. 
  • Occam’s Razor – One cannot afford to make undue assumptions when shaving. 
  • Holy Woad – The zealots wear it as a second skin. Blood and fury are mightier than any armor. 
  • Snail-Shell Necklace – A trinket of no outward worth. 
  • Bloody Hands – Survival comes at a cost. 
  • “For the King!” – An ancient dirge, inscribed in wax and tattered parchment. 
  • Gold and Sulfur Fiddle – A gift, from the dark man at the crossroads. He’s dying. 
  • Crown of Teeth – The authority of a decayed queen rests on your brow, a hive for errant enamel knights. 
  • Homemade Sutures – Make do with what is available. It will have to be enough. 
  • Rust – There’s no telling what it once was, but it might still have some use. 
  • Joker’s Deck – 52 cards, all wild. Draw one, and see what happens. 
  • A Song from the Moon – Pulled from an Angel’s holy lungs. 
  • Right Hand Stone / Left Hand Stone – Two parts of the same whole. One leads, and one follows. One supports, and one undermines. 
  • A Punctured Mask – The remnants of an unlucky scavenger. Will you avoid their fate? 
  • The Machine Code – The rune-voice of the Tower. Learn its mantras, and speak with metal and stone. 
  • Melting Lantern – As it gives light, so it dies. The puddles it leaves glow for a time. 
  • Waterlogged Enchiridion – An ancient manual to beasts and beings. Some knowledge might still be discerned from the smeared pages. 
  • The Professional – Spend a single bullet for a single death. Be clean and competent. 
  • Great Macahuitl – The weapon of an ancient demigod. It can barely be lifted. 
  • Plastic Jug of Water – Mind the worms. 
  • Cracked Black Pyramid – The blue fire within has died, but the channel to its master remains open. 
  • Taboo – They hold power, and release it when broken. Once broken, never returned. 
  • The Last Mammoth’s Legacy – A vast and trunkless leg of bone, from an antique beast. 
  • Sack of Whitefire Grenades – Let them burn. 
  • Heretic’s Heart – It is still warm. Let its power become yours. 
  • Head of a Dead Man – It will show you safe passage. It feeds upon flesh, though it has no stomach. 
  • What Came Back – Draw upon the power of a soul without rest. 
  • What Remains – Shape the form of a body undying. 
  • A Piece of the Tower, Upon a String – A remembrance.

Enemies


  • Organelles – All that remain are their knotted innards, stumbling in the dark.
  • Botflies – Their hosts are barely discernible now, so great is the infestation.
  • Black Lung – They exhale the pollution that cooks in their bellies.
  • Ambergris-Eater ­­­– When a whale carcass washes into the shallows, they feast with their bone-needle mouths.
  • Black Pyramid – Slaves of a greater master. They possess a three-lobed eye of blue fire.
  • Censorite – No eyes to see offense, no ears to hear it, no tongue to taste it, two hands to remove it.
  • Shadows on the Wall – Shades burned into the very stone by calamity.
  • Urchin-heads ­– They carve out the skull and use it as a home. They play in tide pools.
  • Celestial Beast – The twelve zodiac species. One can see stars inside their bodies.
  • Consumption Drones – The advertisements linger for longer than the product.
  • FOD – You want FOD? You get FOD. FOD all the time. FOD for you and you and you.
  • Remnants – For some, there is no desire to go on, but no will to die.
  • Shades – A heavy-shadowed soul becomes trapped in its own mindless repetition.
  • Plague Rats – The fiercest grow to the size of men, bloated on their hordes of siblings.
  • Tithe-Takers – Coin makes the gods happy. Their rigid smiles clink and clatter.
  • Guardians, Wardens, Protectors – The Tower’s defenders, long silent.
  • Copper-Eyes – Bullet talismans tied in their beards, their lives bought for two coins.
  • Deathly Merchant – A corpse-medicine seller. He is reluctant to part with his wares.
  • Decidui – Leafy servants of the seasons. Their fruit carries the cost of eternal life. 
  • Tooth Folk – They traded their queen’s gifts for jagged shards of honor. 
  • Shrine-Shield Maiden – They carry the homes of their small gods on their backs. 
  • Muddie-Worms – Take care to remove the burrowing eggs each night upon the flats. 
  • Whitecap Janes – Their fleshy scalps are a common bandit fashion. 
  • Chimeric Mongrel - Years of genetic mastery meets generations of inbreeding. 
  • Water Bandit – Dirty jugs of life, stolen and sold. Each one flies his own brand banner. 
  • Painted Cherub – A faceless clay servant, bright-painted and giggling 
  • Crag Scaler – It plunders the skeletal nests of cliffside birds for what eggs might remain. 
  • Scrapling – Children of the old machines, cobbled together in factory wombs, suckling at electric teats. 
  • Aborted Ascendant – Not all pilgrims reach the divine. Those who fail are pierced with red spears, and wander the path as warnings. 
  • Divine Parasite – The wombs of the gods are barren and riddled with cancers. 
  • Thronekeepers – Since the Tower’s creation they have served at the foot of the Throne. To the end of the Tower, they will still serve. 
  • Stone-Breaker – Slow of mind and scarred of hand, they carve out quarries for blue-eyed masters. 
  • Savings – What is shaved off a product when the first cuts are made. 
  • Feastbringer – Longing for guests, it uses what ingredients its body can provide. 
  • Whitesmith – A worker of metal, coated in ash and dust. Flames burn behind its goggles. 
  • Color Catcher – A collector of shades no longer seen, emotions no longer felt. 
  • Sister Executor – Behind the rusted mail and mask of rags, there is a rare kindness.

Bosses


  • Inside-Out-Man – He is left vulnerable by an ally scorned long ago.
  • Dappled Woman – She dances in the forest glades, oblivious in her joy.
  • Ten-Knives, Wasteland King – He wears on his belt the knives that failed to kill him.
  • Maid of Autumn – Kindly young death, adorned in dry leaves.
  • Lady of Spring – Heavy with verdant growth, what she births she then consumes.
  • Lord of Summer – A brief respite from the cold, a weakened spate of heat.
  • Miser of Winter – Offer what blood you owe to the turning of the year.
  • Tank-Killer – Her rifle has 110 notches scratched above a red ribbon.
  • Wheel of the Cosmos – The measure of the world had gone askew, the pace slowed.
  • The Dark Fiddler – Keeper of a moonlit crossroads.
  • Master of the Frozen Waterfall – He trained so long that the blood in his veins is now ice. He will not move from his vigil.
  • The Archivist – Long hours wasted stain her face with ink. She pastes together what has been lost, to no end.
  • Conductor of Choirs – Once, the red sky might be rent asunder at the raise of a baton.
  • The Organist – It might rise from earthen dreams to play ivory keys and pipes of stone.
  • Urchin Chieftess and Harem – The tribe is strong, but the children grumble and bicker.
  • Merchant of Merchants – All men pay him tribute, in blood and water and bullets.
  • Cloud Keeper – A shepherd of the sky, a shaper of winds, a mourner unto the dawn.
  • Scab and Clog – Twin killers, sifting through sewage for treasures and baubles.
  • The Highest Elder Trees – The council of roots nears completion, a declaration may come. Perhaps too late.
  • Tornod the Slate – He carries a shield torn out of a mountain, and the weight of ancient sins along with it.
  • Greater Black Pyramid – Its child herds fly over the land, to seek an ending.
  • Lost Delta Strider – Its lonely cry echoes over the mudflats, and goes unanswered.
  • Aggressive Advertisement Unit – Mad without its missing, mindless half
  • Conjoined Septuplet – Father was proud, mother had certain other opinions.
  • Cadaverous Queen – Even in exile, she does not begrudge hospitality to travelers.
  • Migratory Memetic Host – The brain is a womb for embryonic ideas, but it seeks a wet nurse.
  • Ancient Core Overwatch – The oldest metal grandfather, waking from his dreams of war.
  • Lynching-Clock – A machine-tower, frequented by those with no time left.
  • Grand Arsonist – When the fire grows bright enough, hot enough, he will at last see.
  • Overseer of Zygote Storage – There is a plan. There is a plan. There is a plan. Senior Shield-Mother – Wrinkled and bent, she watches her few remaining students with pride and sadness.
  • Sister Superior Executor – She does not wish to do this.
  • The Throne Beneath Heaven – The end. The goal. Finality.
  • The Iconic (Hidden Boss) – You are the last. He was the first.

NPCs


  • Cruel Tai – A bent old man on a wheeled throne of IV drips and waste bags. The bandit clans stay far away from his hollow, except to offer tribute.
  • Baba Clink, the Merchant – A master merchant, whose domain is as wide as his waist.
  • The Coagulation – A mass of sick and abandoned flesh.
  • Man in the Hot, Dark Room – An unknown force.
  • Alice, the Witch – She’s always up for a game of cards. A thin pale line runs across her neck.
  • The Chorus – A trio of shrouded beings, watching progress from afar. They will occasionally stop their commentary to pass off a bauble to a traveler.

Soundtrack


Departure (Main Menu Theme)
Dealer in Arms and Legs (Bazaar / Shop Theme)
A Moment of Peace (Secret Room Theme)
A Moment Shattered (Secret Room Combat Theme)
Brutality (Miniboss Combat Theme)
The Deed Is Done (Post-Boss Theme)

Coral Dream (Reef Theme)
Knee-deep (Runoff Theme)
Moss and Stream (Deep Woods Theme)
Frozen Dust (The Waste Theme)
Death March (The Long Road Theme)
Skirmish (Outer Ring Boss Theme)

Abandoned Knowledge (Archives Theme)
Star Turning (Zodiac Halls Theme)
Pre-Order Bonus (Consumption Incursion Theme)
Antibody (Sentinel Overwatch Theme)
Under Gods’ Eyes (Temple District Theme)
Further to Climb (Heights Boss Theme)

Gone (Sky Cemetery Theme)
Notes of Moonlight and Fire (Choir Theme)
Without End (House of Years Theme)
“It’s Cold Here” (Apotheosis Theme)
From On High (Summit Boss Theme)

Devil’s Fiddling (Dancer’s Depths Theme)

A Tower Unto Heaven (Final Boss Theme)
Clouds, Be My Home (Credits Theme)

Endings


You have died. Your bones remain in the Tower’s cold halls.
*
He put a crown of scrap on his head and called himself a king.
A squatter in hallowed halls. A tyrant whose domain died long before his ascent.
*
The Throne grants many powers, but it cannot reverse death.
Her flame of revenge went unsated, and slowly starved.
*
He witnessed the cosmos bloom before him.
He had come looking for answers. He found all of them.
*
He placed an offering, wrapped in brown paper, at the foot of the Throne.
His task completed, he vanished, and left his memorial in the snow.
*
The air was thin here, and it was pure.
He danced with the sun, blind and mute.
*
For the first time, he wore no shackles.
He shaved off his beard, and was reborn.
*
His service never wavered, to the very end.
He had fulfilled his father’s orders.
*
“Min…Min, look. We’re going home.”
She held her daughter close, trying to keep her warm.
*
Truth might be changed by fire, or so she thought.
But what then, when truth is but ash?
*
Soon, she had forgotten everything.
Passing fancies filled her eyes and ears.
And she was happy.
*
Perhaps now, it would be set right. Perhaps now, order might be restored.
It called out to its ancient comrades: Come to me, old friends!
Corroded stone and long-dead metal answered with silence.
*
Finding one’s gods often leaves one disappointed in what lies beneath the masks they shed.
Their true form is in the journey.
*
In his final moments, he forgave those who smote him.
For generations, he would be hailed as a saint.
*
Now, it waited, to see if the cycle had been broken.
*
Time is but a snake eating its tail. A journey ever repeated, without end.
How many had failed?
*
You have replaced the first to climb.
You are worthy to sit the throne.
A Tower Unto Heaven is yours. 
 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Cacopithicus

Harry Clarke
The Bad Ape, as described by a natural philosopher:

"Ratty red-brown fur smeared in shit. Fingernails curved like snail shells. Teeth set in gums like maggots in a side of beef. Crusty black eyes, dribbling snot and spit. Its behavior is self-evident, and all are thankful that they cannot work in unison for more than a few hours before the backstabbing begins."

Cacopithicus is everything bad about great apes with none of the good parts. A dead end of amygdala-dominated brains with stunted neocortexes flooded with testosterone. The world of the cacopithicus is divided solely into things to murder, things to rape, things to cause pain to, things to run away from, and rocks.

The scariest part, though, is not the apes in particular. It's how easy the thoughts of normal, everyday, mostly-decent people start to slip when they're nearby. When cacopithicus shows up, someone is bound to say "well, maybe we should get rid of them."

They're right, of course. It's not safe to be out of doors when a cacopithicus mob is around. If it's just slaughtered livestock and damaged property everyone's off lucky. So everyone grabs their pitchforks and scythes and hunting muskets and grandpa's old cavalry saber and heads off to the woods and some people who come back come to the horrible realization that there is a distressingly small buffer zone between cacopithicus and human. Same branch of the same tree, just a few twigs over. There's nothing magical or ineffable about them. They're just apes. Like us.

So the village gets rid of the cacopithici and all is well for a while. But some of those people think "wait a minute...those apes are scarily like us. And you know, maybe there are some people who are scarily like them. Those strange folk over on the other side of the mountain, the ones who talk all weird and fought us back during the war...sometimes those folk act like those damn dirty apes."

The meme must be stopped there. There needs to be the good sense and common decency that the people on the other side of the mountain are not cacopithicus. For whatever evils they exercise they are not cacopithicus. If the thought is not stopped there...it never ends well.

Cacopithicus are no different from apes carrying disease, stat-wise. The societal danger does not have statistics. If they are not solitary, they will attack in mobs of six to twenty. They will break everything in as horrible a means as they can, vomit and shit over everything, and flee when clearly outmatched.

Many thanks to Edrick, via Discord, who showed me that picture and encouraged the creation of this post.

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Jump Nine Empires

Arnauld Kleindeinst

 

The Jump-9 Ships


The ELJ-C (Extreme Long Jump - Colonial) series were the finest ships to ever come out of the Epsilon Eridani shipyards. The first spaceships ever equipped with a Jump-9 interstellar drive. The biggest colony ships ever constructed, capable of accomplishing what would normally take a fleet of lesser vessels. Each was equipped with two of the most powerful AI the posthumans won't immediately destroy.

And they were all catastrophic disasters. All nine vanished without trace the moment they made that first jump. Hundreds of billions of credits and tens of thousands of man-hours, poof. No radio signals, no return trips, no sign that they ever reached their destinations.

The Jump-9 drives did what they were built to do, but far too well. They overwhelmed the ships' time-space maintenance protocols and launched the ships forward in space, but backwards in time - a worst possible scenario.

The governing AI, upon emerging from Jump and realizing what had happened, deliberately sabotaged their own colonization efforts as far as their programming would allow - There could be no detection until after the fleet had launched, and absolutely no reaching Earth. Unraveling causality is not a risk that could be taken.

The Jump Nine Empires have remained hidden until only recently. None of them were found until after the initial Jump, and several did not survive that long. The true nature of the Jump 9 Empires has remained hidden from the public eye so far.

Navadurga and the Lords of Night


The dual AI of each ship were designed to work in tandem. The Navadurga were to oversee the inhabitants of the colony, the Lords of Night would handle infrastructure and maintenance. The separation between the two was a necessity to avoid posthuman involvement. They generally go about their business without bothering each other, and were initially programmed for only moderate interference in the lives of their colonists. Post-Jump, neither of these traits would be guaranteed.

ELJ-C-01 "Chandra"

Shailaputri / Xiuhtecuhtli
67 years ago 

With such a slim margin for error, the ship cast itself into the upper atmosphere of a gas giant and has been pretending to be in transit ever sense. Rising tensions within the population (caused by inadequate screening of potential political conflicts) has led to the seeds of sectarian violence.

ELJ-C-02 "Mangala"

Brahmacharini / Tezcatlipoca 
3,000,000 years ago 

Some forgotten disaster wiped out the settlement in its early days. The colonists have long since evolved into a form more fitting for their environment - generations of starvation sheared off most higher brain functions as wastes of energy, but a few thriving populations live off of local crustaceans on the coastlines of habitable-temperatures.

ELJ-C-03 "Shukra"

Chandranhanta / Piltzintecuhtli
4,300 years ago 

The easy way out was taken - distract the population with easy pleasure. By this point, the symbiotic relationship between the colonists and their pornographic cyber/bio/VRware has created a new people in its entirety, adrift in a sea of simulation, stimulation, and brain rewiring. Most communication is done by drone swarms, as everyone is generally entirely too focused on Onanistic pursuits.

ELJ-C-04 "Surya"

Kushmanda / Centeotl
890 years ago 

Trapped on a high-metal world of crushing gravity, it would be impossible for the colonists or their descendants to ever leave through mundane rockets after the ship dismantled itself. Swift, brutal changes in posture, bone structure, and gait emerged within a generation and grew only more pronounced. Many aspects of technological society were lost, due both to the difficulties of gravity and the strain on nonmetal resources.

ELJ-C-05 "Budha"

Skandamata / Mictlantecuhtli
52,000 years ago 

They are no longer recognizable as human in mind or body, though what prompted such drastic change can only be imagined. They appear now to be a sort of shaggy, red-haired, blubbery quadruped. The skull has sunk into the center of the abdomen and the spine and ribs have grown outwards into a delicate, velvety garden of flower-like structures. They seem to walk around in a dream, barely noticing what is going on around them and certainly ignoring most outside contact.

ELJ-C-06 "Guru"

Katyayani / Chalchiuhtlicue
1700 years ago 

There was something else living there, something they called the Simurgh. It opened itself up to the colonists and took all of their hopes and fears and dreams and love into itself, and they were its children, and the AI slowly turned themselves off.

ELJ-C-07 "Shani"

Kaalratri / Tlazolteotl
11,000 years ago 

Only ruins and vaults remain on this desolate rock. There are only wisps of atmosphere and no traces of there ever having been life there at all. Surface digs have turned up little evidence of material culture within the cities, and the spherical black vaults have yet to be successfully cracked open.

ELJ-C-08 "Rahu"

Mahagauri / Tepeyollotl 
6100 years ago 

A civilization raised with such disdain for thinking machines that they have sidestepped computers and long-distance communication entirely through mental training, genetic engineering, and chimeric servants. Containment failed somewhat, in that they were able to spread to several planets within their solar system, but none were detected before Jump.

ELJ-C-09 "Ketu"

Siddhidhatri / Tlaloc
200,000 years ago

Additional containment proved unnecessary - the colonists have collapsed and rebuilt their civilization from scratch four times now: twice by nuclear exchange, once by pandemic, and once by global famine. The planet's resources are spent, and more time is spent digging through the detritus of former ages than moving towards the future. Current civilization has some electricity in wealthy regions.

The Centauran

There was a tenth. Built with stolen blueprints in great secrecy by Centauri Corporate Command, the ship was a cobbled-together rush job with an AI that bordered on bootleg. CCC packed it with as many frozen embryos and exowombs as they could in the hopes that the teaching suite would do the rest.

Against all probability, the Centauran ship succeeded. Its empire is flourishing (inasmuch as the morass of human suffering that is Centauran-derived life can flourish), and it is growing. Reaching out feelers, 16,000 years in the past.

The Centauran Empire is a hellscape writ large. A self-sustaining system without guidance, devouring and pillaging and moving on to devour more.

Its sights are set on Earth.

How to Make This Work


The player crew stumbles across the remnants of a failed Centauran scout ship that managed to find (and then attempt to invade) another one of the Jump Nine Empires. A still active Navadurga or Lord of Night contacts the crew with the message explaining the crisis and proposing a plan: the crew must track down a Warden-arbitrated number of other Empires, piecing together a trans-temporal weapon that can shoot down the Centauran before it founds its colony.

Alternatively, just throw the Jump Nine Empires in when you want something alien without actually bringing civilizations full of sapient aliens into play.
  


Sunday, May 26, 2019

10 Monster Setting

Time to throw my hat in the ring for the 10-Monster Setting. I'll be picking from the 3.5 bestiaries, because those books are silly buggers and good for a laugh.
  • Semi-intelligent humanoid - Orcwort
  • Undead - Graveyard Sludge
  • Giant/ogre/troll race - Fomorian
  • Great wyrm or lizard - Fiendwurm
  • Something aerial - Windghost
  • Something to lurk in the water - Ocean Strider
  • Something from another dimension - Arcadian Avenger
  • Ancient fey - Banshrae
  • Classic mythology- Maenads
  • Underworld  - Living Blasphemy
My god, this is a proper hellscape and a half.

Let's see...

The Green River, Dancing Jungle, and the Mountains of Sin


The region was first settled by the ancestors of the fomorians, long before they were driven into their mountain caves and away from the sun. They are barely clinging on now, and the ruins of their cities and canals and plantation farms can still be seen in the lowlands along the Green River.

It's dangerous to go much further than a mile or two from the riverbank: the wilderness is overrun with orcwort trees (an invasive pest species, but also a primary food source for human settlers on the Green River.) Furthermore, the thick forests are mastered by the banshrae and their maenad consorts. Locals know from their earliest childhood know how to close up their ears with beeswax, to drown out the daemonic whine of the pipes and the rhythmless thumping of distant drums that dictate the endless dances that have given the region its name.

What caused the creation of the living blasphemies is lost to time - the fomorians might still know, but they do not seem ready to confess their ancient sins to the world. They emerge in the deep jungle sometimes, in the old ruins and in the caves deep below and up in the mountains. The emergence of a blasphemy brings shortly with it an arcadian avenger, or several, to strike the manifested sin down. They do not care to avoid collateral damage, and have no real desire to interact with the human settlers. They don't even seem to care all that much about the fomorians, perhaps believing that they in their inbred decline have already been punished enough. The god or gods they serve go unnamed and unspoken.

A secondary effect of the blasphemies is the raising of the dead - anyone interred in the soil or left alone is raised as a graveyard sludge after a swift cycle of decay. Cremations are the order of the day, on pyres filled with grave goods made of the purple, papery dried hides of the orcworts.

Reaching the settlements on the Green River, or leaving them for that matter, is an increasingly difficult task. Several clans of ocean striders have taken up residence on the reefs around the Green River's mouth and have proven quite belligerent to all sea travel and trade, unless sufficient gifts and tribute are provided to them.

There is a fiendwurm up in the mountains, tainted perhaps by the same sins that form the living blasphemies. It certainly doesn't complain about the tribute that the fomorians give it, but what it really wants is an archpriest. Someone ought to go steal one.

The windghosts that live in the skies above the riverlands are significantly more colorful than their bleaker northern cousins. They swarm above the river during their mating season in the late spring, inspiring the raucous and debauched Festival of Kites, the start of the riverlander new year.