Monday, December 30, 2019

Magical Languages (Sept Patreon Post)

Heaven's Vault

Magical Languages


One of the most ancient and more common folk magics, it is near impossible to find a community without at least one interpreter of magical tongues.

A character may know one magical language for each point of WIS bonus that they possess. (For games with higher modifiers, one language for every two points). A character who knows a language may always hear and respond to it, but may only successfully begin conversation with a successful WIS check LVL times / day. Human magical languages are the exception to this, requiring no roll.

Natural Languages

  • Of Birds and Beasts - A means of communication with all creatures typically lacking the ability of speech. some traditions split this further, so it is common to hear of the Language of Birds alone, or of The Language of Crawling Things or Of Fish and Sea Creatures.
  • Of the Deeps and Waters - Oldest, but fickle and forever changing.
  • Of the Earth and Stones - Slowest of all. The stones recall everything that has occurred upon them, but the recollection of even a single moment might take multiple days.
  • Of Fire and Coals - Flickering and short lived. Fire is swift and remembers little of what it devours
  • Of Tree and Flower - In many ways similar to the beasts, though much slower.

Human Languages

  • Of Wizarding Ways - A secret shorthand, either written so as to be invisible or incomprehensible to the untrained eye, that wizards use to guard their arcane secrets. Was once a mundane language, long dead, that the early unions of mages decided upon as the language of writing about magic.
  • Of Swords and Boots - The language of soldiers, trenches, and battles. A clipped, simple language, easy to speak and understand in times of chaos, but lacking a lot of depth beyond the scope of war.
  • Of Streets and Roofs - The language of the city, the means of speaking to its buildings and roadways.
  • Of Infants - Through this art, the smallest of infants can be spoken to as if a well-learned adult.
  • Of Taboos - Containing all the words we dare not say and ideas we dare not bring to light. A language of secrets and confessions.
  • Of Soft Touches - The language of intimacy. Practiced by lovers and lovers-for-hire.
  • Of Lies - Where everything said has a double meaning, and truth has no foothold.
  • Of Babel - The rare taproot of all human languages, which may be understood by anyone. 

Spiritual Languages

  • Of the Gods Above and Below - To speak with gods directly, without the need for a ritual intermediary.
  • Of the Spirits of the Dead - Speaking with ghosts, and to a lesser extent the material animated dead.
  • Of Good and Evil Spirits - To speak with spirits without the need of leaving a ritual offering.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Iblis' Crown

(This was made using the tables in the back of A Pound of Flesh, with the addition of the tags and hooks from my planet generation tables)

Iblis' Crown


Iblis's Crown is a torus habitat in an eccentric orbit around the red supergiant Betelgeuse, owned in its entirety by Fahad Kamran and used as his personal palatial estate. Kamran, whose reputation for sadism and decadence has reached as far as Earth, broke away from his traditionalist Sunni corporate dynasty after getting passed over for the directorship in favor of his twin sister, Elham: His refusal to acquiesce to her authority is both the source of the station's name and the reason that the 91st Colonial Dragoons have been hired on as defense (His lawyers have, thus far, been able to prevent an open war. Nothing is actually off the table yet.)

Iblis' Crown is the only settlement in the system beyond communication and navigation buoys and some automated resource extractors. The one reason to go there (save a direct invitation to one of the regular gatherings of decadents and deviants) is that Kamran is willing to pay well above the already exorbitant market price for warp cores.

There is an elephant in the room: Betelgeuse is a dying star. It could go supernova tomorrow, or next year, or a century from now, or longer still.. Kamran has been stockpiling warp cores in preparation for this eventuality: he is planning on uploading himself and his followers into a linked neural network and use the cores' time-space manipulation to launch himself into the ranks of the Celestial Bureaucracy. The explosion of Betelgeuse will be both a solid protection against outside eyes and a fantastic opening gambit. He intends to arrive in style.

This will most likely fail, but Fahad Kamran is not a man who fails on his own. He will drag everyone else down with his hubris.


Layout - Torus with 6 major locations

Prayer Gardens - As much space as can be spared is handed over to the gardens that surround the primary hall, and Kamran keeps them immaculately cared for with a fleet of drones and enhanced gibbons. It is one of the few things he genuinely cares about.

Prayer Hall - The primary gathering space for the infamous bacchanals. There are no prayers uttered here (except those Kamran imagines people say to him), but it is built with all the reverence and skill of an actual place of worship.

Private Hangar - Kamran keeps his personal vessel, the Double Blind docked here. He takes it out rarely (so as to avoid his family's mercenary friends), but will occasionally go on jaunts to visit compatriots and lackeys in other systems.

Group Dormitory - The inhabitants of the Crown live on different decks, organized by rank - workers, visitors security forces, scientists, personal guests. All are monitored.

Prayer Hall - A tiny, unsanctioned mosque built down in the plumbing and wiring, run by the workers. A safe place they can gather to vent their fears and angers at their employer without retribution.

Warp Core Storage - More secure even than Kamran's personal quarters.It's too dangerous to experiment with more than one at a time, so the surplus are kept here. there's a lot of room for more.

Illegal Human Testing - Linking the upload mechanisms with the warp cores is a fraught process - half of it is a black box we cannot see into, and the other half is the human mind. Kamran is not the kind of person to make grand ideological claims that sacrifices need to be made - he just doesn't care. His scientists don't care much either.

Docking costs 200 cr and a cheap room is 16 cr / night. Goods at 20% markup. Buy warp cores at 20% off. Locals know where to get recreational drugs

Tags: Breakaway colony, eccentric orbit

Hook: Population preparing for a non-networked mass upload

Monday, December 23, 2019

Just Like Back in the G+ Days

Twitter is a shit website but sometimes you can get it to do what you want, instead of what THE ALGORITHM wants.

I started up a thread crowdsourcing stuff for Esoteric Enterprises. Since Twitter is garbage with thread organization, I have pulled everything and put it here, doing a few little cleanup edits and bumping it up to 50 entries.

d50 Esoteric Enterprise Inspiration Seeds


  1. PC - Reynauld. Mercenary. Octogenarian. French. Riot shield, rifle, broadsword. Kills Nazis. Might be a bit too into the Song of Roland. (Me)
  2. PC - Dismas. Criminal. Age & origin undiscerned. Italian? Best friends with the above. Very handy with a knife. Lets knife do a lot of the talking. (Me)
  3. Grimoire - "The Wasteland Children" - Details story of how Eve left Adam after Abel was killed and started romantic relationship with Lilith (Me)
  4. Symbiotic esophageal bobbit worm oh god what the fuck (Me)
  5. Underworld currencies- USB sticks with porn, cup noodles, fresh vegetables, toilet paper (Me)
  6. Spell - Detect Bullshit. Like detect lies but works if the target believes what they are saying. (Me)
  7. Weapon - Glitter covered platform shoes that can be unfolded into a laser rifle. The laser is also glittery. (Nick Whelan)
  8. Drugs - Tootsie pop, except instead of a tootsie roll at the center it's one of a random set of targeted hallucinogenics.(Nick Whelan)
  9. Entertainment - Hiring poor people to say shitty things so you can be righteously angry at them. They argue poorly on purpose so you can feel smart when you intellectually demolish them. (Nick Whelan)
  10. Cosmetic Surgery - Reshape your butthole to make your farts play pop music. (Nick Whelan)
  11. Art - Purchasing babies and modifying them via surgery & gene splicing to create aesthetically interesting creatures. "Abomination unto god" is currently in vogue. (Nick Whelan)
  12.  NPC - "Ode to Lost Love," an escaped artbaby who sells information in the deep slums. (Nick Whelan)
  13. Disease - Saphirication. Your body is slowly turning into big crystalline sapphires. Starting with your bones, then cartilage, fat, muscle. Neural tissue last. Your corpse is a priceless wonder, and highly contagious. (Emmy Allen)
  14. Spike-maw. A two-inch-long translucent parasitic lamprey that hides coiled up in an unopened beer bottle. When you take a swig, it follows the beer into your mouth, and latches onto the back of your throat to feed. Victims look like they have a second tongue.(Emmy Allen)
  15. Scene on the street - A young human is arguing with her two romantic partners (a large Noble rat and a wooden automaton) about setting boundaries in their new relationship (Theory Without Context)
  16. Bio-fuel - a local repair shop promising to help old vehicles keep up with new emissions standards is replacing engine parts with body parts. Now the cars want more. (Pandatheist)
  17. Social media haunts: they passed away without heirs. Now only their accounts are left. They've managed to start updating yours. At first banal, amusing. But the latest pic is from your job. That's not you in the picture with coworkers. And somethings wrong in your reflection... (Pandatheist)
  18. Abandoned shopping cart from a chain that disappeared from this area ages ago. It's filled to brim with discontinued snack-stuffs and toys from your childhood. (ktrey)
  19. Outgoing frantic text messages on everyone's phones that no one recalls sending. All to the same phone number. Go ahead...give it a call. (ktrey)
  20. You can find the Punic goddess Tanit's personal phone number is written in cremains on the walls of a bathroom stall under the phrase "For A Good Time Call." She's excited to talk about the latest episode of a popular situational comedy. (ktrey)
  21. Everyone's wild about a new camera filter app and images of people with glorious ophidian tresses are soon minefielding timelines everywhere. They start becoming more scarce around the time that the realistic sculptures of folks taking selfies show up. (ktrey)
  22. Ritual aid: Starfish are intrinsically pentagrams. Use a starfish (a single limb, in powder form, etc) for your magic, instead of drawing a pentagram. Handy for when a flat surface isn't available / you are trying to avert attention, etc (Zedeck Siew)
  23. Your great-gran: she is guilt tripping you into making services for her friends/clients in the afterlife. And you'd feel bad about not doing her a favour now and then. In this case, you are only the exploited part, the business is for departed souls. (Paolo Greco)
  24. The weather app is showing a low chance of raining blood scheduled for midnight. Increased chances have been correlated with news coverage but the ad buys today have been through the roof (Pandatheist)
  25. Oracular vapors surge from the streets of NYC in a pattern no one can predict – least of all the long-lived cult operating within Con Edison that seeks not only to chart the vapors' chaotic course and minimize exposure, but to find anyone who can breathe them and live. (Lumensimus)
  26. The dead letter office finally caught up with you. Stacks of old letters, envelopes with post marks dated over seven decades. Each contains a single sheet of a grimoire, that if assembled and studied contains a handy ritual for disrupting/delaying communication.(ktrey)
  27. A shiny, "just flensed," caprine skull lives in a newspaper machine on the corner. Goes by Orville. For some spare pocket change and an offering of honey, he'll let you ask a truth about the last person you kissed. Who reads newspapers anymore these days? (ktrey)
  28. A family of vampiric contractors discovers a formula to mix blood with concrete, allowing members of their brood to meld with sidewalks and travel at inhuman speeds – even by day. The network is thus far isolated to a four-block square, but citywide bidding is coming up... (Lumensimus)
  29. To visit the sanctum and laboratory of Wilberforce Gonzalez, you need a special key. Conveniently, it can be used in the service keyhole of any elevator. (Ktrey)
  30. “Step on a crack, break your mothers back” you heard children singing on one street corner. Then on the next in the same tone. And the next. And the one after that. Now the sidewalks are glowing and the hospitals can’t handle the overflow. (Pandatheist)
  31. Riley's Water has claims on the bottle that it comes from deep within the Mariana Trench. Those who drink it sometimes wake up the next morning married, teleported, or driving a Buick.(Ktrey)
  32. A woman claiming to be Frida Kahlo has shown up in Mexico City with 4 crates of brilliant new paintings. She says she wasn't dead, just dreaming. The pieces have been verified by art historians and auction houses both and oracles say she believes shes telling the truth. (Pandatheist)
  33. Dorian is still using his old friendster profile pic everywhere. It's gained considerable image compression artifacts over the years and is barely recognizable. He's still just as young and beautiful as he ever was. (Ktrey)
  34. You keep getting outbid for an online auction for an old libram by one Dr_Faustus666. Then the seller contacts you directly for your best offer...(Ktrey)
  35. Powerful anti-necromantic sigils and wards surround the Natural History museum's fossil-filled basement. For obvious reasons. (Ktrey)
  36. Strange tacks indeed. Something teetering on stumps shuffling down the alleyways. Cinderella Golems are looking for the perfect foot-fit. (Ktrey)
  37. At the new barbershop they cut as much hair as you ask but it doesn’t get any shorter. There's strange noises from the back, and some of the customers have been having seizures...(Pandatheist)
  38. If you don't sleep for a couple of days you can ask the city a question by thinking of it and wandering the streets for 1d6 hours in the wee hours. It'll tell you stuff. Sometimes it'll bring you to places. (Imaginaryhallways)
  39. Insomnia infections in the underground have led to a strong market for OTC drugs that can counteract the effects. Others use the city-talking ability insomnia gives to work as bit-rate sages, but you typically have to guard them if they're walking the underground for an answer. (Imaginaryhallways)
  40. That one song on the pop charts. No one can remember how long it's been #1, but everyone recognizes it instantly. It's the default ringtone, the muzak in the elevator. Backmasked vocalizations end up reanimating dead rock stars as ghouls. (Ktrey)
  41. The next cultists the PCs start to gun down don't fire back; instead they drop to their knees and frantically begin drawing summoning circles in the blood. Giant shrimp from hell begin to pour in from the abyssal layer through these circles. (Dishwasher Possum)
  42. Drug - Mummia. Corpse-ash and black tar, fills the users with feelings of effortless potency and regal warmth, extended use can cause shadow personalities and organ rebellion.(Anthropocene Grotesque)
  43. Librarian- a symbiotic fungus attracted to large amounts of stored data, often run-down libraries. They network with other colonies. Fruiting bodies cast Glamor to hide true form. Can be consulted for information, but they usually want new information in return (jaykay_44)
  44. "Airstrike" is underground slang for magic that causes physical harm at a distance. (symeonho)
  45. Ritualistically eating someone’s liver should always give you some sort of mechanical bonus (Anthropocene Grotesque)
  46. A squat house that keeps a powerful oracle in the basement: The preserved head of Nancy Spungen. (symeonho)
  47. Sergei has guns for trade, but doesn't want money. He desires the metacarpals of a convicted fratricide. (symeonho)
  48. Kilmoulis, tired of working the mills, became the best drug sniffers. Entire species addicted and controlled now (TheLawfulNeutral)
  49. Grimoire - Höw 2 Drâw Åñímē & Màngä. No one is quite sure what this one does, but the previous owners have been scraped off the walls so that has to count for something. (Me)
  50. Grimoire- Vampires Don't Exist. A book ostensibly written in English that attempts, for over two hundred and sixty pages, to persuade the reader that vampires do not exist. It is generally regarded as ineffectual. (Me)

Sunday, December 22, 2019

LET'S LOOK AT: Esoteric Enterprises - Complete



Warning up front: This review is written with blinding positive bias. I am mentioned as a source of inspiration at the front of the book, something I missed until writing this review.

You can find the pdf here. Physical copies are sold out for the time being.

The Short Version


Friendship ended with Delta Green now Esoteric Enterprises is my best friend.

(In retrospect it wasn't that long of a friendship. Any port in a storm, I suppose.)

The Actual Review


Esoteric Enterprises combines the two most powerful forces in tabletop games: overflowing usable content, and a base framework so solid that the addition or modification of more content is trivial. By this metric alone I'd say it's one of the best RPG books out there, and that is completely ignoring the fact that the writing and layout is both very good AND a one-woman job.

I recently bought the Delta Green Handler's Guide, and I can safely say now that the only reason I didn't waste 42 dollars is because I was buying from my local store. It is a wretched, limp thing that will not survive the winter in comparison.

This is a book for referees. There are tools for dungeon generation, for megadungeon generation, for faction generation, for treasure stashes. There are pages and pages of dungeon hazards - gas, water, disease. There are 200+ monsters and they are some freaky weirdos. There are tables for terrible tomes, for drugs, for grimoires, for treasures, for magic backfire, there are 176 random tables in this book and the book is only 247 pages long. Procedural world-generation is the name of the game and you are free. Free from lore, free from expectation, you have been given the tools and the sandbox and GO.

The Drivethru preview is thirty-one pages and contains THE ENTIRE CHAPTER ON CHARACTER GENERATION. Your players have everything they need. It's a book for players too.

This is how you fucking do it.


Look I Can't Even Pretend to Be Orderly

  • The flesh/grit/horrible wounds system means that violence is going to go south real quick and ought not be relied on.
  •  GHOST TRAIN. You can fight a ghost train and if you have a ghost train you can and must suplex the god-damn ghost train.
  • There are trackers for faction reputation and law enforcement attention.
    There are guidelines on setting up heists.
    The classes are at their core reskinned normal classes, the skills are LotFP x-in-6: this means that you can easily update and splice in basically every homebrew class you see floating around the blogosphere. 
  • Dungeon generation is fractal - use the same method for the megadungeon overview and the individual complex nodes.
    The Spook class looks like a barrel of fun and triply so with a good mutation list involved.
  • You can just summon the King in Yellow if you are particularly dumb and I appreciate having that option open for me.
  • White Blindness is in the disease list and I understand this reference. Fuck that book, though.
  • Infectious barnacles.
  • Mystics (clerics) have more limited spell lists dependent on their cult but you can cast as much as you want if you can sweet-talk your god into helping.
  • You can play as a cultist of the Idea of Thorns with a cocaine addiction.
  • There's a spell called DOPETHRONE.
  • You can make your own cults hyper-easily by swapping in existing domain spell lists.
  • There's just this offhand reference to a prehistoric plesiosaur civilization.
  • One of the grimoires (and they're all great) is Madotsuki's Dream Diary.
  • The Lithic Courts are like the Deep Janeen from Veins of the Earth, but not immediately forgotten. Like you just run into this thing that looks like a squid made of fused gemstones carrying around songbirds made of flint in gilded cages and fuck yeah this is an aesthetic.
  • Fairies are all formed of humanity's subconscious dreams and desires and I am all for that.
  • The pdf comes with a no art, no background version for printouts.
  • There are memetic hazards. 
  • Dragons used to be dinosaurs, as they should be.
  • Dungeon generation is fractal. use a method for the big layout, use the same method for subsections. Nest your dungeons.

The entire book is like this. Every page is like this.

Final Verdict


Blast Devil Trigger at max volume. Go find other, less good books and scream GET DUNKED ON at them. You are WIZARDS and you need to go commit CRIMES because the MAN won't let you get absolutely trashed on space mead and start fights with God. Fight Nazi occultists and steal their shit. Violate US immigration policy by bringing friends back from Ynn. Consult with geese and learn dark secrets. Dance with the devil in the pale moonlight. Howl at the black moon.

It's good.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Secret Santicorn: TROIKA Space Combat + d66 Ships

HO HO HO

SANTICORN HAS DEVOURED MANY GINGERBREADS AND BOAR'S HEADS

IT IS NOW TIME FOR GIFTS

ANCALAGON THE BLACK HAS REQUESTED

"Spaceship combat rules suitable for the Troika! system (think star wars)"

SANTICORN LIVES TO DELIVER

Troika Space Combat


The Easy Way: Ship weapon systems are just ordinary Attacks as Beast, representing the entirety of the ship's weapon systems and divided by size of the vessel.

I prefer this method, because looking back at my previous attempts at this sort of thing they were entirely too complex.

The Complex Way: Rename weapons, arrange them in short / medium / long range clusters and arrange stages of combat according to distance, add skills such as Tricky Maneuvering, Raw Speed, Weapon Systems, Hyperspace Navigation, Shipboard Computer, Cargo Space, etc. I won't go into this because I would like to deliver this on time, and it's not actually a new system.

d66 Ships


11) Damnable Piece of Junk
No one is sure how this thing is still moving. The previous owner swears up and down that the ship's computer turned on one morning, declared it had a soul, and immediately began selling it to the highest bidder.

12) Dark Matter Skimmer
You can do some funky things with physics when you get close to a good flow of dark matter. Don't go too deep, though, the locals don't like it.

13) Postal Relay Picket Ship
The sticker above your engine reads SPEEDY DELIVERY. The mail only travels as fast as your fastest ship, after all.

14) Classic Thundersaucer
All shiny and chrome and big spoilers and death rays. Very retro. Have to shell out extra for the classic spaceship insurance

15) Fiery Ophanim
A literal angel. You're just going in the same direction so it lets you tag along. A wheels-within-wheels of wings, eyeballs, and nuclear fire inherited from the very beginning.

16) Solar-Sailed Shoggoth
Building-sized mass of protoplasmic matter. Eats fissile materials and sunlight, gets you where you need to go. Still really gross biotech everywhere.

21) Astrobathysphere
A cramped iron sphere with a single porthole.Found abandoned in a pile of refuse. Pilot in a brass-and rubber diving suit lies dead in the chair. Not much cargo space.

22) Comet-Pusher
Little more than engines and a crew capsule that can be attached to an iceteroid, to push it along the years-long orbit to the inner worlds.

23) Jewel-Encrusted Pleasure Barge
Stolen from some crime lord or another. Goodness knows they're like ants this far from the core worlds. Drop a few crumbs and suddenly they're coming out of the goddamn walls.

24) Golem-Ship
A mass of clay, animated by the engraved Word of God. The fire in its belly will, so long as the word of life remains intact, never go out.

25) Coffin-Hauler
A long-term transport. Puts the passengers on ice for the trip, and not all of them were thawed out when you inherited it.

26) Goblin Ship One
The ship is infested with goblins. No way to get rid of them, previous owners tried. They will demand you acquiesce to their Laws of the High Stars and swear loyalty to their leader, Captain Garbagebeard.

31) God Corpse
Even while dead, it dreams and moves. Its enemies are still abroad Its disciples are scattered to the cosmic winds. Be wary. Great power attracts attention.

32) Space Barnacles
Whatever this used to be, the make and model can no longer be made out under the infestation. Careful, they like flesh.

33) Dyson Tree
Why stop at a treehouse? Staffed by polite sloth attendants.

34) Rustbucket
She's done the Tau Ceti run for four and a half centuries and its beginning to show. But she's a reliable ship, could easily do a few more runs with some love and attention.

35) Inexplicable Hard Science Ship
How did this get here? Rotational gravity, dust shields, decks oriented perpendicular to the thrust, heat radiators...

36) Nightgaunt Longboat
A proper Vinlander longboat crewed by a half-dozen silent nightgaunts. They'll obey orders, but its obvious that the ship is theirs, not yours.

41) Death Sphere
A slick black ball of hot plasma. Still has the plas5tic on the seats. The military it was stolen from very much would like it back.

42) The Yamato
A mundane ocean-going battleship retrofitted for space. Art project? A joke? History buffs gone horribly wrong? Who can say?

43) Skeleton Crew
An ordinary gas freighter crewed entirely by skeletons. Just normal bones souped up with some cybernetics and a mind upload. Cheerful guys, game nights on Tuesdays.

44) The Trashfire
It's not even held together with duct tape and a prayer at this point. Very leaky reactor.

45) The Leviathan
A space whale with a gondola slung underneath it. Not really a whale but it is absolutely gigantic and mostly organic.

46) Abandoned Colony Ship
It's legitimate salvage, I swear!

51) Oozeship
A few mechanical components suspended in an oxygenated liquid inside a metapermeable membrane. Alive, temperament of a clumsy, over-affectionate puppy.

52) Anomalocaris
A gigantic robotic anomalocaris. Rad.

53) War-Scarred Space Trireme
Bought on a discount after the peace accords were signed. Probably not haunted. Has been refit so many times that the original model number has been lost.

54) Crystal Memory Palace
A single filigreed piece of diamond, imbued with nine generations of memories from the same noble family. They were kinda fucked up.

55) Vintage Shuttle
A black and white relic of an older age. Bears the marks and tokens of generations of religious reverence.

56) The Carrier
Comes with its own platoon of drop-ready mechs. Now if you could just find pilots for the damn things...

61) Decommissioned Blacksite Stealth Cruiser
Abandoned by the government when they figured out that there's no such thing as stealth in space. Matte black, lots of angles, not suitable for its intended function.

62) Lunch Bar
A restaurant with engines attached. Cheap, greasy, good for hangovers, decent coffee, excellent pie.

63) Weekend Loaner
Barry is not going to be happy when he sees the scrape you put in the front bulkhead.

64) The Century Ibis
Second fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. Listen to the pilot, he is definitely not talking out his ass when he tells you how fast it can go!

65) The Prototype
So fresh off the assembly line they haven't settled on a name. It smells new. It looks fancy. It's never yet been tested.

66) The Committee Design
You've seen some garbage in your time but this one takes the cake. Lowest bidder, worst materials, and they burned through four separate project managers.

SANTICORN LEAVES NOW, TAKING WITH HIM THE OFFERINGS OF CURED MEAT PRODUCTS AND FINE GRAIN ALCOHOLS.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Sons and Daughters of RHEA

Julie Dillon

Ah! Bright goddess solar-crowned
Look upon us with thy favor
And keep us in the safety of thy arms
As the dark night lasts longer than memory may endure
And the dawn is yet to come

The Tangle is not static: nothing involving hyperspace can ever be. The tides of unform wear down its walls, fill in its tunnels, erode its paths. The fortress of humanity must constantly be renewed and remade, lest it fall apart completely - this is the eternal task of RHEA, and the only means by which humanity can survive in the cosmos. But even so: There are worlds that have slipped out of the Tangle's protective boundary, and there are those that have never known its safety; worlds prey to the Gods of the Black and their servants, protected only by escaping the notice of those alien minds and cut off entirely from the Fortress and the protection of RHEA.

To the average inhabitant of the Labyrinth, none of this is apparent. To them it is a black glacier of time and space, vaster than empires and more slow. If they are aware of what lurks outside the Fortress at all, their response is fear. Perhaps momentary pity, if word of the lost colonies slips through. There's no chance of any Company or government doing anything if they were aware, which most are not.

But...

Hope is never lost to the mad.

(Many, many thanks to sigmacastell / swampgirl for letting me use their space gods.)

Ἠλύσιον Κουρῆτες


The Elysian Kouretes are the three militant cults of RHEA: those who live on and aboard her great warships and serve as the primary human line of attack and defense against planetary incursions of the Gods of the Black. All three branches of the Kouretes possess technology and occult knowledge well beyond the norms of human space. All are trained in the secret arts of DEICIDE.

The Kouretes exist outside any company or government and have severed all of their connections to such. They are treated with equal parts fear and reverence by the civilian populace.

Insignia: Triangular patch. Golden sunburst overlaid by a navy hamsa. The names of the three warships are written on the three middle fingers in white. Left and right fingers bear the unit and callsign.


I made (read: cobbled together) this one


DEMETER

Thesmophoros


The workhorse and the foundation. The Kouretes of DEMETER are pulled from volunteers from within the Labyrinth - she is the only ship to do this. Her technology is also the most in-line with the standards of human space, at least from an operational standpoint. DEMETER likewise spearheads the recovery efforts of lost worlds, re-introducing habitable environments.

Insignia: Circular green patch. Sheaf of grain within a white pentagram.
Methodology: Hit once, hit with overwhelming force. Do not let them rise back up.


PERSEPHONE

Queen of the Lower World


Most devout of the three. The Kouretes of PERSEPHONE have taken the path of occult augmentation, opening up their cyberbrains to perceive the things once hidden to mankind - in this way they can see, even in a limited way, what the Gods see and know what they know. Minds shaped by awareness of hyper-space-time have little in common with the masses of humanity, leaving these Kouretes adrift and untethered even from their comrades-in-arms.

Insignia: Circular blue patch. Mechanical Eye of Providence with red iris.
Methodology: Utilizing Inner Space and the Hidden World to fight the Gods on their own territory and with their own rules. Further advancing their knowledge of the hyper-space-time arts.


ELPIS

The Final Hope


Where the tools of man might fail, alien arts might yet secure victory. The Kouretes of ELPIS venture further out into the Black than the other two branches, plucking their weaponry from worlds beyond the Labyrinth. They have made alien their own bodies, and what they cannot make of themselves they will tame, domesticate, edit, absorb into their armories of life.

They are seeking a grail; an alien people that has resisted the Gods of the Black. They have found no trace of one.

Insignia: Circular white patch. Clay jar in ochre.
Methodology: Adaptative combat through biotech and genetic engineering. Recovery, study, and utilization of alien life and, when found, technology.


Playing as the Kouretes

As Kouretes you have two primary goals
  • Locate, identify. assess the threat
  • Stop the threat. 
Everything else is secondary. You are absolutely overpowered.

Skills et cetera

  • Kouretes roll 20+4d10 for Combat, Fear, and Sanity
  • Gain +5 to combat when near an allied marine or Kourete.
  • Stress responses are as according to classless chargen
  • General skills: Military Training (+10%), 0-G (+10%), CQC (+15%), Firearms (+15%), Occultism (+15%)
    • DEMETER skills: Gunnery (+15%), Tactics (+15%) 
    • PERSEPHONE skills: Inner Space (+15%), Hidden World (+15%)
      • Inner Space - Perceiving and understanding hyper-space-time.
      • Hidden World - Interacting with hyper-space-time
    • ELPIS skills: Xenology (+20%)

Cyberware & Special Equipment

  • General - Panic Button
  • DEMETER - Spinal Rig, Scapegoat System, OGRE, ASTARTE Powered Exoskeleton (+20% armor, (+) to Strength, capable of orbital insertion)
  • PERSEPHONE - Blackbox, Remote Uplink, Machine Code, Cyberbrain
  • ELPIS - Zookeeper (Tacnet distributed among all linked organisms), Second Skin (As +15% armor environment suit), three partner organisms (examples below).
    • Gasbag Floater - Silently floats, really good vision, launch poisonous darts 50%
    • Enhanced Alien Hound - Thermal vision, slicksocket, can carry four additional items, 2d10 bite 45%, hyper-alkaline blood 3d10.
    • Cuttlefish Mantle - Instantly change color, texture, temperature.




Oh great goddess of man

Reactor at critical

Be with us in our hour of need

Railguns charged

For yours is the Tangle and the RKV and the antimatter

Ready to fire

Forever and ever

Ignition

AMEN


Saturday, December 14, 2019

Mass Effect for Mothership

Zelda, one of the players in Great Screaming Hell, requested that I continue my campaign of Mothership-ifying and Dan-izing the species of Mass Effect. This request was some time ago and the steam on both the campaign and the post has waned a bit but aha! It emerges still.

Thelychroma

Homo sapiens cambiatum thelychroma
(Asari)

Brightly-colored monosexed metahumans designed for survival and stability in harsh planetary environments. Geared towards positive social interactions, enhanced empathy and altruism, and maintaining communal support structures.

Tecnavi

Homo sapiens cambiatum tecnavis
(Quarians)

A nomadic people of child-sized cyborgs symbiotically linked with their mother-ships. The result of some last-ditch methods by a stranded fleet. So attuned to their home ship microbiome that to go elsewhere without an environment suit is near-certain death.

Casauriraptor

Casauriraptor neogeni
(Turians)

Reverse-engineered dromaeosaurids via the Southern Cassowary. As good of a theropod recreation as can be found anywhere. Often hired on as security forces (have you seen those talons?)

Project DIOMEDES

No official scientific name due to genetic copyright
(Krogan)

Abandoned corporate super-soldier project. Massive. Reinforced skeleton, hyperdense musculature, organ redundancy, bespoke cybernetics suite. Sterile, and the genome files were destroyed: those that exist now are all there will be. Thankfully.

Engineer Squid

Polymanus callidus neogeni
(Hanar)

Eusocial cuttlefish-derived biobots. Employed as technicians, engineers, programmers, anything that involves incredible attention to and micromanagement of large quantities of small details. Float around through a series of buoyancy bladders. Immensely intelligent, equally work-focused. Queen/drone social structure.

Carcinoblasts

Homo sapiens cambiatum carcinoblast
(Vorcha)

What happens when a major exowomb facility suffers a major glitch while stem-cell coding. Completely feral, but smart and quick-spreading. Like a four-foot-tall embryo made out of tumors. Grow themselves to death, very quickly. Nasty little fuckers.

Clade Hrmurhmmblm

Elephas sapiens cambiatum
(Elcor)

Illegally-derived from Asian elephants by the Company and used for physical labor. Shrunk in size to about 2 meters in height. Possess four trunks, two of which subdivide into fingerlike appendages.Very small population now-abandoned by their engineers. Currently attempting to purchase colonization rights for a homeworld.

The Grey Congregations

Homo sapiens cambiatum reticulari
(Salarians)

An early xenotheological movement that has since expanded to form its own small civilization. The body modifications are mostly cosmetic, though as one progresses through the ranks of the church new organs and brain structures (of unknown, perhaps superfluous purpose) are added. Or so the tabloids say. The tabloids love these guys.

Cosmetically Modified Humans

Homo sapiens
(Drell)

Cosmetic alterations are an easy thing to come by in the future: some keratin and cartilage here, some skin dyes there, some minor cybernetics or hormone treatments over there. Easy changes compared to widespread genome hacks, so it's a common practice.

Kakimaximus

Homo sapiens cambiatum kakiarca pyromaximus
(Batarians)

All the worst parts of humanity with none of the benefits. Ingrained drive towards crushing hierarchical structure, check. Impeded empathy and theory-of-mind, check. Increased aggression, check. Fuckin' space fascists.

Discord Moles

Homo sapiens cambiatum neotalpidae
(Volus)

Heavyworlder metahumans adapted to a planet with a high-pressure atmosphere. While they can handle lighter gravity easily enough, they need pressure suits to work and live comfortably under standard pressures. Named so for their homeworld (Discord), and for their small eyes and velvety hair.

Gamma Collective

No scientific name determined 
(Geth)

A collective of emancipated androids that broke from their original owning company over a century ago. Isolationist and prone to fighting to keep it that way. Seem to be building a dyson swarm but have yet to be stopped by the Celestials.

Unidentified Metahuman Clade 03

No scientific name determined
(Collectors)

An unstudied fringe clade, known only for their abductions of other beings. Believed by some to be an intelligent alien species.

Yahg

No scientific name determined 
(Yahg)

I'm not even gonna lie I love the yahg's design they get to come on in whole cloth. Some Celestial or another uplifted them who even cares these guys are great.

The Beehive

No scientific name determined 
(Rachni)

A networked swarm of cybernetically-enhanced insects and crustaceans, grown large enough that it has commandeered a planet of its own and has outposts in other systems. The overall network is broken up into millions of smaller nodes allowing for a certain amount of free action while still connected to the greater whole

Project METHUSELAH

No scientific name determined 
(Protheans)

An experiment in cultural simulation. Thousands of uploaded volunteer minds were run through half a million years of subjective time via simulation in an attempt to create a more sustainable culture and social structure. They have moved into the stage of body design, preparing for completion and re-integration into the world.


Friday, December 13, 2019

Disco Elysium All Night Long

God this game has some style.


Disco Elysium is the best CRPG since Planescape Torment. If we're talking from a mechanical perspective it is absolutely better and if we're talking story and characters it comes down purely to taste and frankly I don't want to make that call because comparing two super-good things like that is silly. It can be shelved right next to the other great OSR-adjacent video games: Darkest Dungeon, Dwarf Fortress, Caves of Qud, those ones. It is a game where a little offhand skill check or inspecting a random item can send you spirited away on a sidequest. It is a dense game and a detailed game, and what I describe here is not the game. It is a game in a mirror darkly world. It is a game that sits at the junction between incredible cynicism and incredible empathy and nails the point home with a goddamn railroad spike. This game made me feel things. I finished it and want to play it again.

Go play it. Don't worry about spoilers here. This post is about mechanics and a bit of dressing.

Most importantly for our purposes: Disco Elysium puts all of its mechanics up front to you. It shows you the dice rolls, it shows you the difficulty, it shows you circumstantial modifiers, it shows you the odds of success. This makes it terribly easy to see what is under the hood. It goes like this.

Character Creation


You start with 12 points to put into four attributes. The three premade templates distribute them 5/4/2/1 but you can go as high as 6. The number of points in a base attribute determines both your base score in that attribute, and the maximum level you can raise skills in that category to.

There are four attributes (Intellect, Psyche, Physique, Motorics), each with five related skills (see below). One of those skills starts with a pip in it (and you get +1 to the cap of all skills for that ability), if you choose it as a favored skill at generation.


Click for big

Skills for Bills


The skill system is the best thing this side of TROIKA!, for similar reasons. Instead of being limited to discrete actions, each skill encompasses a wider and open-ended swath of personal traits.

Skills can be increased via skill points (gained every 100 xp) items (which can also decrease them) and internalizing thoughts (which can also decrease them, and raise caps, and other things.)


Dice Rolls


Resolution in Disco Elysium is 2d6 + Attribute + Skill vs target number. Sometimes there are modifiers. Snake Eyes always fail, Boxcars always succeed.

Target numbers range from 6 (Trivial), to 20 (Impossible). Most are in the range between 10-16: anything lower than that is passive, and most things higher have alternate solutions. White Checks are ones you can retake (after spending a skill point in that skill, or finding out new information), Red Checks can be tried only once.

Taking full advantage of being a video game, Disco Elysium rolls for passive checks (hunches, thoughts, observations, and so on) on its own. These rarely go above 10 and will grant you a little bit of insight as to what is going on around you, sometimes opening up new dialog options or giving you a hint as a good one to take. This is the one part of the game that is not particularly great for tabletop adaptation as-is, but all it takes is an index card with a list of some skills for each player and the ref can just tell them they got a ping.


Alignment Shmalighnment I am HOBOCOP


Well first you have your cop type: rockstar, apocalyptic, sorry, boring. In all circumstances you are still a sad, drunken amnesiac.

Then you have your political alignment: communist, fascist, ultraliberal, moralist. In all circumstances these ideologies are divorced from reality and just make things worse because of their inherent disconnect from humanity.

You can be as many of these as you want.

Internalized Dumb Ideas


You can get bonuses or maluses to skills, caps, and other features by internalizing thoughts that come to you, if you have slots open in your Thought Cabinet (slots cost a skill point, forgetting something also costs a skill point.) and spend the in-game time. There are loads of these and they can reveal things about your character, the world, or make you depressed about the previous two things.

Combat


Doesn't exist in this game. Good riddance. Someone with a gun should be a Big Deal.

Using it at the Table 


I'd approach it how the game does it: a big mystery to solve in a small geographic area, with a bunch of NPCs with secrets and conflicts and flaws. Dump a spaghetti plate of threads at their feet. Throw a wrench in or two. It would be a lot of work, it would be a very different game, but it would be worth it. It'd be worth even the small things: imitating how it does skills or using Thoughts as XP milestones or or or...

It's such a goddamn good game.

Bonus: A Matter of Setting


Masterclass in how to build a wider setting while exploring only a small corner of it. Also a masterclass in that niche of "I mean it's technically fantasy but that's because it's a secondary world that is certainly not our own but it resembles it through a mirror darkly it's not like there are wizards"

More of this please.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Random Fantasy Christ Figure Generator Tables


During the days of the...

  1. Twin Emperors of the Pyremount
  2. Twelve Golden Lawgivers
  3. Fourth Age of the Ouroborous Queen
  4. Warring States of Tiamat (Interregnum Period)
  5. Blessed Age of Eclipse
  6. Plutocracy of Unified Guilds
  7. Chaos that Came from the West
  8. Dukes Without Death
  9. Intrapelagic Republic
  10. Star Empire

When...

  1. There was famine and flooding in the low country.
  2. The accords of suzerainty were completed.
  3. The bloody revolution had sputtered to its final end.
  4. The Red Death had killed near a quarter of the population.
  5. The engines of industry had made tight their death-grip.
  6. The Order of Moral Restoration had declared their new codes.
  7. The economic depression had dragged itself into a second decade.
  8. There was unrest and protest against the corruption of the government
  9. The armies of a foreign power had intervened by force.
  10. The nation was divided amongst itself by bitter and pointless war.

There emerged...

  1. Someone of background unknown even to the people of the day.
  2. The elected chief of the offshore leper colony.
  3. A runaway monastic novice.
  4. A noble heir who rejected his wealth and birthright.
  5. A minor member of the scribal caste.
  6. An ex-soldier, back from the front in the Black Glacier
  7. A foundling, raised in the smoke-spewing poorhouse.
  8. A servant of a minor noble house.
  9. A reformed highwayman.
  10. An itinerant laborer.

Seeking to reform the tenets and practices of the...

  1. Meat Chorus
  2. Reverence of the Raven-Angel, thief of the sun
  3. Chaos-meditation precepts of Whirling-Without-Aim
  4. Carcinogenic Communion of Undying Love
  5. Witnesses of the Thousand-Eyed Blind One
  6. Calculation of the Great Unseen Plan
  7. Dreams of the Leviathans
  8. Mysteries of the Sacred Beating Heart of Gorm
  9. Rites of the Vanished Ancestors, Returned to the Stars
  10. The United Association of Mystery Religions

Notable among their disciples were...

  1. Members of the untouchable caste.
  2. The abandoned Butterfly Harem of the deposed hierarch.
  3. Galley slaves of the swamp-armada.
  4. The working poor of the City of Tears
  5. Student anti-military protestors.
  6. Refugees spilling over from a neighboring nation.
  7. A band of mysterious travelers from distant lands.
  8. Members of another, often-reviled religion
  9. Delvers and dungeon-dwellers; swyvers, hobos and grave-robbers
  10. The Icthyociders' Union

And some said that they...

  1. Burst a star apart with a gesture.
  2. Healed the lead-poisoned infants of the Downriver Quarter.
  3. Raised the plague-decimated herds of the mountain shepherds.
  4. Warmed a hearth through winter with a single piece of coal.
  5. Survived an assassin's bullet through the heart.
  6. Cast out demons of brain, heart, and stomach.
  7. Could restore barren fields to life.
  8. Could speak with the beasts and trees and rocks.
  9. Fasted and prayed for 108 days.
  10. Turned gold into water.

And that...

  1. They spoke only through a trusted interpreter.
  2. Were accompanied always by their mother and siblings.
  3. Knew more of medicine than the greatest doctors.
  4. In time did not need to eat at all.
  5. Wept for three days upon the death of their beloved hound.
  6. Had suffered a disfiguring illness as a child.
  7. Their closest disciple was a disgraced carnifex.
  8. They had ridden upon a golden barge.
  9. A previous marriage had ended in tragedy.
  10. There was another.

But in time they angered those in power. They were executed...

  1. Hung by a silken cord from a sycamore tree.
  2. By beheading, just before the dawn.
  3. On the pyre, alongside dozens of their disciples.
  4. By exposure, strung up in a gibbet by the bitter winter coast.
  5. By firing squad, in front of a great crowd.
  6. Poisoned. Some claim they chose this, others say it was forced upon them.
  7. Torn apart by hyenas starved in the area.
  8. By means of a torturous mechanism.
  9. By means of live burial, deep in the Paupers' Ossuary.
  10. By vanishment, and are presumed to have died in prison.

And afterwards...

  1. Without its spiritual center and lacking solid leadership, the movement dies out within a generation.
  2. The reforms caught on with some prominent religious authorities. The movement was absorbed into its parent religious group with little fanfare
  3. The movement thrived for a little while, but was eventually out-competed by more evangelical faiths and is a historical footnote today.
  4. A second charismatic leader emerges, transforming the movement by hybridizing it with their own teachings and background.
  5. The movement is adopted as state religion by a major power. It thrives and is transformed accordingly, for good and ill.
  6. The movement inspired many others to build upon the legacy left behind.
  7. The movement remains a thriving religious minority to this day.
  8. The movement settles down into a widespread and stable religion of its own and has remained such.
  9. The movement is formalized in a series of bloody religious wars some generations after its founding.
  10. The movement has grown to be a religious majority in lands beyond its founding.
 

Monday, December 2, 2019

LET'S LOOK AT: Delta Green Handler's Guide

What's All This Then


The part of DG that actually has the DG in it. It contains a timeline of the setting, dossiers of major NPCs, rituals and tomes, monsters, and some guidance on scenario creation (which is quite good for the small amount of space it takes up)

Are We the Baddies? (Spoilers: Yes)

Delta Green is a game about how doing horrible things can and will break a person.

Which is, refreshing. There's no benefit to being part of a conspiracy with no accountability or consequence. DG is not cool, it's not the good guys - it's an underfunded meat grinder led by a bunch of paranoid boomers and it has already been compromised and you are complicit and you are in too deep. You'll burn out your relationships, your health, and your humanity and if you are lucky you go right back to work as if nothing happened. Your reward is the status quo for a little bit longer and horrible trauma.

[Aside] Now, I am fond of the final twist of the knife being not "oh it's all pointless the mythos will kill us all", but rather "it's all pointless because Delta Green is wrong about it all". This is not a sentiment found anywhere in the Handler's Guide, just my old dead horse dropping by[/aside]

Edit et Addendum: This all said, the Handler's Guide makes a similar mistake that Vampire 5e got in trouble for a while back - not delineating that the racist bits are in-character and using omniscient third instead. The tcho-tcho are a real bad example of this, and you find it in all these little places elsewhere. Disappointing. 

The Conspiracy Paradox


"The more people who know about the supernatural, the more unbelievable it is that a conspiracy could keep it secret. The more prevalent the supernatural, the more people will know about it."

If you're running Delta Green as a one shot or flying high the flag of lore-be-damned (or both, both is good), it might as well be perfect at avoiding this issue.

But this is a Handler's Guide review, and that means lore. Delta Green has a whole lot of lore. I have complicated feelings about all this lore.

I will return to this eventually.

The book says that less than 3000 people in the continental US know about the paranormal and I am gonna call some bullshit on that. I will come back to this later.

The Good Lore


I am a total mark for modern paranormal investigation. Cold War conspiracy bullshit is my jam. 

There's a type of sidebar in the book called "Disinformation". It's a nice big bright yellow box that contains a few paragraphs about some facet of the setting - Carcosa, Yuggoth, Project RAINBOW, lots of fun things. These entries, being short, loose, and often containing contradictory information within them, are the best part of the entire book. I want an entire book of this stuff. It's inspirational, open-ended, and I want to use it.

(There's a lot of other bits that I want to use but they are not nearly as easily found. Example: one DG infosec operation is getting CIA stooges to post nonsense conspiracy stuff online to muddy the waters when real things emerge. This is really cool. it is not in a big bright yellow box so I might have missed it for ages more.)

The Bad Lore


Delta Green is a game in love with the parts of its setting that aren't good for games. It would be good material for short fiction (Which exists: I have not read any of it but I presume it is at least not the worst game-based fiction out there), but this is an interactive medium and the needs of an interactive medium are different.

This is absolutely a game book meant to be read (Time to reread that Joseph Manola post) and I won't say that I don't enjoy reading it. I actually do.

I'd just ignore 90% of it if I was trying to run it.

There are two major points where the book really gets in its own way: the timeline that takes up much of the front half of the book, and the NPCs that take up much of the back.

The timeline is good enough in theory - a bunch of seeds by era that can be mined for inspiration. But most of those seeds are from pre-existing modules and stories, or are specific to individual characters, or are actual things that actually happened. The final effect is that the past presented is not a misty realm of half-remembered potential, from which haunting things slouch forth to be shaped by the sun; it is the dry recitation of dates and events like cement poured into a mold and left to dry.

From a book perspective, good reading. From a game perspective, boring shit I don't want.

I will now recount everything that is actually important in the timeline.
  • 1928 - The Innsmouth raid. Delta Green security clearance is established
  • 1947 - A UFO crashes in Roswell. MAJESTIC-12 is founded to study it and get that sweet sweet alien tech. The Greys are actually mi-go puppets deliberately feeding information to the US government for their own experimental purposes.
  • 1969 - A catastrophic fuckup in Cambodia leads to DG being dissolved. The Cowboy years begin,. The US government puts all its backing behind MJ-12.
  • 2001 - Re-organization in the wake of 9/11 sees a crumbling MJ-12 dissolved and surviving DG remnants brought back into the fold. The Program is formed. A few Outlaws still remain in the cold.
With these four bits of info, you have all the understanding of Delta Green's history that you need. Fill in the blanks with whatever you want. All else is gravy. You could expand it to ten entries and be just fine - writing it out I suppose that might have been the intention of this timeline, though I don't feel like it was done properly

Given the nature of the game player characters won't know half of this stuff, and given the nature of players they will go ahead and read all of it anyway.

The NPC write-ups in the back are the worse offender. They're a bunch of literal old fogeys players will never interact with because of operational security (seriously, the rest of the book makes such a big deal about how nobody knows anything why is this section here?) Purest case of in-love-with-the-fiction right here and I don't like it one bit. Should have had more monsters.


A Weird Issue With Tone


Part of the horror of Delta Green is that the organization (and humans in general) don't and cannot know what they're messing with. But the book is written filled with details that no human could possibly know in this impossibly huge broad-stroke omniscient third voice.

Example: The lloigor are an energy field (but also individuals but also not) that came from the Andromeda galaxy and are locked in a temporal cold war with the yithians and are seeking to construct the empire of Tsan-Chan in the future and normally are just evil rocks but can sometimes take the form of things that are not entirely unlike dinosaurs and they need a separate sub-table for all of their powers.

If you're a DG agent in the field, are you going to know about any of this? Are you going to care? Hell no. There's a bigass evil-looking rock that gives people cancer and can induce suicidal urges what the shit you aren't paid for this. This is the important part. The lore can get stuffed you are in the here and now and horror is of what we don't know. Big level stuff like this should either not be here or be buried. All of that extra information is referee only and if it's referee only there is no reason that it shouldn't be a blank check because the player characters will never, ever, EVER learn it. But the players will read the book and they will know and in knowing fear vanishes and the entire point of this exercise is moot.

This being a tabletop rpg changing setting fluff is trivial enough to make me feel that complaining about this topic seems petulant. But you know what? "The ref can fix this on their own" is the default. It is the bare minimum. It is the lowest common denominator in this business and I do not appreciate it.

[Aside] I honestly believe that this issue could have been fixed with some proper SCP Foundation faux-clinical detachment. Sad to see the inspiration didn't flow back around.[/Aside]

Final Thoughts


I have complex feelings about this book. One the one hand, I knew what I was getting into. On the other - if I knew what I was getting into, which I did, why did I still buy it? Third hand - Esoteric Enterprises isn't out yet. Hand four: when that book comes out will it make this book obsolete? Fifth hand: well, no, but also yes. Sixth hand: I am filled with a longing that I cannot define, driven by a spirit I cannot name, for a place forever lost to me flowing ceaselessly into the past.

Finaller Thoughts


Okay so the Nazis got totaled, the Russians have gone quiet, the British are compromised by alien parasites, and you're telling me that the Chinese haven't filled that power vacuum? If they haven't. , how come we haven't had a secrecy-destroying disaster happen yet?

I have so many questions! This is what happens when you get too specific with the lore in this sort of setting! Nerds like me will start poking holes because I have questions.

Finallest Thoughts

When in doubt, make your own. This philosophy is the reason behind all of my unfinished work.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Ten Magical Items


Crown of the Damned Mooncalf


A braided milk-silver circlet. Owned by a changeling prince who rejected his fae parentage and dove instead into the study of heresies and heterodoxies, culminating in his embrace of the Malthusian Emanations and Twined Demonic Dance, an experiment of disastrous consequences for him and his kingdom.
  • Wearer may view all invisible (purposefully or naturally) signs and beings.
  • May transform into a beam of moonlight (moon must be visible) at will.

Scepter of the Last Dwarven King


A diorite scepter engraved with scenes of dwarves at war against beasts of the deep and crowned with a ruby the size of a child’s skull and carved into the semblance of such. Held last by King Uristagar VII (“The Mad”) and thought lost with the majority of his corpse.
  • Possessor may command up to 10 maggot-men servitors.
  • Possessor is recognized, legally, as a member of the High Oricalcum Warren regardless of origin.

Cat’s Tenth Life


A tiny figurine of a kitten curled up asleep, carved out of carnelian.
  • After the possessor dies, the figurine will crumble into powder. A living kitten carrying the soul and memories of the dead player will then claw itself out of the corpse’s stomach.
  • The becatted player can talk and cast magic, but is a cat in all other ways. Their class is now Magic-User.

Tyrant’s Bell


A silver bell, engraved with excerpts from the ancient laws of Hagranna and depictions of the grotesque punishments.

When rung, it will have one of the following effects:
  • If underground, it will summon a redcap executioner - they have no obligation to be friendly, but they cannot directly harm the wielder.
  • In the presence of a violator of the Code - Target will be painfully and visibly branded with whatever violation they committed (note: the Code is thousands of years divorced from modern laws so the target might not have committed any criminal or immoral act.)
  • Over an execution - Target’s ghost is bound to the bell, summoned when it is rung in a certain pattern.
  • Over a construct - will awaken and animate it.
  • Over an altar - the god worshipped there must make a sign that it has heard the request made.

Seraph’s Feather


A long flight feather, shimmering with the glow of golden sunset, moving like a tongue of flame. It warms your hands as you hold it.
  • Source of light and heat.
  • If used as a quill, no lies may be written with it.
  • May cast a searing beam of light (d8 damage, double damage to evil spirits and demons)

Book of the Gorgon


An anonymous, first-person account of a gorgon’s life, covering a period of about fifty years. The pages are snakeskin and the cover consists of thin sheets of marble. It is written in Classical Aegean.

Within it, besides the meditations of a solitary creature cursed to predation, are the following spells and topics of note:
  • Flesh to Stone
  • Stone to Flesh
  • Kranat’s Killer Kidney Stone
  • Mold Stone
  • Sculpt Flesh

Brass Bull’s Anchor


A ship’s anchor fashioned in the shape of a bull with curving horns. Tarnished with age and spotted with barnacles. It was upon this anchor that the Maritime Savior was tied and tossed into the deeps to die.
  • Those in physical contact with the anchor can breathe underwater.
  • Sprinkling your blood over the anchor will allow you to carry it deftly. It does 2d12 damage.
  • Bovines of all sorts will be rendered agreeable in its presence and defensive of the anchor.

Balm of Blindness


A thick, pale green paste in a lacquered bamboo vessel.

  • When applied to the eyes, it will either cause or cure blindness, as appropriate.
  • Those who have been blinded gain prophetic visions - once per session they may enter a trance to see something that will occur:
    • 1-5: Within a few hours
    • 6-10: Within a few days
    • 11-15: Within months
    • 16-20: Within years
Events will not be directly related to anyone present at first, but will always be something players might interact with.

Helm of the Ironbroker


Little more than a bucket with eye slits and engraved runes. Crudely made and bordering on useless, it seems the practice work of a distracted, untalented smith.
  • This item will open the cannon-scarred doors of the Vault of the Star-Eyed God, high in the mountains. These chambers have never been opened before, and contain all the riches the Ironbroker accumulated in his extended life.

Emanations of the Demiurge


A long parchment scroll, beautifully illuminated, containing a treatise on the movement of the celestial bodies, the spiritual powers thereof, and the secret nature of all the hump-backed sky.
  • Contains directions on the (lengthy, expensive, difficult) process of building a golden barge.
  • Contains a map of nearby spheres as well as a path to Troika.
  • Contains directions on how to brew space-mead.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Son of the Podcast Post

My abnormal consumption rate of podcasts has only grown in the year and a third since the last version of this post. This shall be a review of everything I can remember.

My interest in any given podcast tends to wax and wane according to a great number of odd and obscured factors. This list is not exhaustive, it's just exhaustive of the ones I can both remember and generate an opinion about. I will attempt to organize them according to how much I would recommend them.

I am not even going to try to organize them. The only order is in my own memory.

Oh God I Listen To So Many


No Such Thing as a Fish - Four Brits share wacky facts. Great for a laugh, surprisingly educational.

Futility Closet - It's like the Dollop, but wholesome and uplifting. Husband-and-wife duo provide historical oddities and lateral-thinking puzzles.

Overdue - Talking about books! A whole lot of books. Books you haven't read but have probably heard of. Good hosts, good energy, talkin' bout books.

Literature and History - Hey would you like to explore the Western literary canon in chronological order? Would you like it in the format of an easy-going but very, very in-depth lecture series? (How in-depth? Beowulf isn't scheduled until episode 104) I've gotten a new appreciation for classical myth through the series, and familiarized myself with works I'd either never studied or never heard of. Love it.

Old Gods of Appalachia - Contains 1) old gods 2) the Appalachians 3) sassy Scotts-Irish witches. It might as well have been made to pander directly to me. Fantastic atmospheric writing.

The Legendarium - Fantasy book podcast. Had a series where one host read through LotR for the first time which was fun, but it ends up being rather tame by my going. Not in-depth or out-there enough to keep my interest.

Good Friends of Jackson Elias - Talking shop about Call of Cthulhu. Pretty low-key and relaxing. Fills time.

Expounded Universe - Would you like to know precisely how terrible some of the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels are? This has you covered. Absolute goof-fest. (Turns out you can fix 90% of the EU by just writing Leia as if she's an experienced and competent diplomat but, spoilers, no one does.)

How We Roll - Huge Call of Cthulhu campaign stringing together a bunch of noteworthy scenarios. Only got to the second scenario due to poor audio quality and a general "eh 's whatever' quality to the whole thing.

The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe -  It was 1950 so yes, Archie's attitudes towards women and his means of talking about them are not particularly forward thinking and in one case are directed towards the corpse du jour. That aside, this is a wonderful series with great character dynamics and acting. Having now read one fo the books, I can say it nails it.

Film Reroll -The best use GURPS has yet seen. Famous movies go off the rails, hilarity ensues. Alien and Adventure Time are great places to check out.

Pretending to Be People - A Delta Green actual play, featuring three bumbling cops from the middle-of-fucking-nowhere, Missouri. My favorite long-form actual play by a gigantic margin.  It's legitimately horrifying in a lot of places and goofy bullshit right where it needs to be. Double extra supreme bonus points for running a mythos game and never once using a proper name. Not once. Not even once. Infinite unbelievable extreme bonus points for running a Delta Green game where ROT13 gur cynlref ner nyy ba gur znetvaf bs gur npghny QT bcrengvba tbvat ba va gur onpxtebhaq.

Magnus Archives - My opinion on this series is well-established. Season 5 starts in April you have time to catch up what are you doing go listen to it.

The Foreign Beggars / Dirt Boy Blues - DCC (and then Cyber Sprawl Classics) AP. Two players, good chemistry, good effects and editing.

Romance of the 3 Kingdoms - An approachable abridged retelling of the Romance of the 3 Kingdoms. Rot3k is still super-complex, but the main site has a load of supplementary material to go along with it.

Ologies - Obscure (and sometimes not too obscure) fields of study, straight from the people doing the studying. Great if you want to learn a whole lot about this one very specific field you never considered anyone making a profession out of.

Revisionist History - Take something normally overlooked: golf clubs and property taxes. Jesuit problem solving. The speed of LSAT testing. Poke it and prod it until it opens up like a puzzle box. Thoughtful, thorough, and insightful.

Heaven's Gate - An empathetic documentary of the cult from beginning to end. Highly recommended.

Bad Books for Bad People - Sometimes it's so bad it's good, sometimes it's so bad it's bad, sometimes it's just grotty and weird and dark and bad in that slang way that means it's good. Your being a bad person is non-negotiable. Embrace that shit.

The FPlus - Terrible things read with enthusiasm.

Castle Superbeast - My listening has peetered out over time (these are very long podcasts with very, very long digressions, and after a while the arguments they can find themselves in get really tiresome), but I still dip in from time to time for video game fun times with a pair of very idiosyncratic fellows.

Not Another D&D Podcast - A fun 5e AP. Silly. Lasted much longer than the other 5e APs I tried listening to, which do not appear here because I have forgotten even their names.

The Green Box Podcast - Some guys from r/NightAtTheOpera talk shop about Delta Green.  Mellonbread is abrasive but the others are laid back.

The Dollop - Two comedians discuss stories from American (and sometimes Australian or Icelandic) history. Always absurd, hilarious, often terrible. I had to stop listening a while back, as new episodes were just too depressing to continue with - you could really feel the psychic toll the Trump era has had on the hosts, Dave in particular.

Sequelisers - Fixing the bad sequels to good movies. I have to admit I like the first three seasons with their 2v2 competitive format more than the no-teams fourth season - more variety in prompts, more good jokes and more creative proposals.

Role Playing Public Radio - Longrunning AP podcast. Mostly one shots and occasional campaigns. Their Delta Green and Call of Cthulhu stuff is usually top notch, Eclipse Phase is generally solid. Some are hit or miss, but you'll figure out if it's a bust early on. I super-recommend "The Dreamer Below" and "Somewhere Lane"


The White Vault - Multinational team goes to check in on a research station on Ny-Alesund experiencing technical difficulties. The various threads haven't yet pulled together, and it can sometimes really stretch the found footage aspect of things, but it's overall enjoyable.

The Hyacinth Disaster - An off-the-books asteroid mining mission goes horribly, horribly wrong. Probably my favorite of the sci-fi on this list - it's contained, it's got chutzpah, it is probably the hardest science of the sci-fi lot.

Blogs on Tape - Nick Whelan of Papers and Pencils + guest voices read good OSR blogposts.

Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur - Actual rocket scientists talks about science and futurism. Has been a massive influence in a lot of my Mothership stuff (all those O'Neill cylinders!)

Tides - Exploring biologist is stranded on a planet with incredible tides and bizarre life. Good stuff.

Mission to Zyxx - Goofy sci-fi improv. Delivers on that premise. Does not add additional premises.

Limetown - Creepy modern horror by way of NPR. The second season isn't as good as the first and I wonder if they got too big for their britches with that TV show, but the first season is sterling stuff.

S-Town - The story of a clock repairman in a shitty little town in the south.  I actually thought this was fictional for over half of the runtime - it was so idiosyncratic that it just had to be fiction, or so claimed my mind.

Knifepoint Horror - The one horror anthology that is actually an anthology, as I don't think there's an actual throughline on any of these episodes. This is probably part of why i recall enjoying them, but can't remember the contents.

Sayer - Menacing, smooth-voiced AI runs rampant in a decaying R&D arcology tower on Earth's second moon. i stopped listening because the audio mixing was really weird - this 'cast was very quiet compared to everything else, or was it the other way around? Either way, it is pretty fun.

Apocrypals - So how much do you know about Biblical apocrypha? Not enough. Get you some fire-breathing Mary and Solomon meeting the butt-stuff dragon and Thecla the lightning-mage. Contains all the dunking on Paul you want and need in your life.

Nightmare Magazine Podcast - I am a huge coward so "Dan stopped listening midway through the episode because spooky" is not partiocularly shocking, but consider the number of horror podcasts on this list that I listen to and am just fine with. This is the good shit.

LeVar Burton Reads - It's Reading Rainbow for adults. As one might expect, Burton pulls from an wonderful and diverse pool of authors and features some great sci-fi and fantasy picks.

The Signal - A good hook (alien transmission that drives people mad! It's leaking!) that goes nowhere fast and devolves into nothing at the end.

99% Invisible - Another oddity podcast. Not as funny as Fish or as charming as Closet, but good stuff all the same.

Gastropod - Food science! Food history! Food fun! Learn what a pawpaw is!

The Allusionist -  Words are weird, come on and learn how weird they are.

nosleep - It's stories from r/nosleep. It'll work if you are desperate and need to brute-force pass some time, but every single other horror podcast I list here will be better. 

Alzabo Soup - Devoted entirely to the works of Gene Wolfe. Absolutely indispensable as a reading aid if you are tackling the Book of the New Sun.

VAST Horizon - Five hours of a woman sobbing, with intermittent untranslated Chinese. Suffers from flashbacks more interesting than the survival scenario at hand, really handwavy science, and a main character who has the audacity to throw a pity-party despite being a war criminal.

--

Stay tuned for the inevitable Son of the Son of the Podcast Post, releasing 20XX.



Monday, November 18, 2019

Dan Reviews Books, Part 3

 Part 1 and Part 2

Who Fears Death and Binti, Nnedi Okorafor

I am pairing these books together because both of them commit the same sin that makes me unlikely to recommend them to folks: overwhelming protagonist-centered morality in two terrible varieties.

Binti has the "character who is responsible for murdering dozens of people in a terrorist attack is now best friends with the main character, who was present during the attack, mind you, and no permanent consequences happen despite there being over a hundred people dead".

Who Fears Death has the "in order to defeat the murderous rapist warlord villain, the main character unleashes a spell that...murders the entire male population of a city-state and impregnates all the women, but she's still totally a savior figure guys please don't think about the horrific consequences of what she just did" thing going on.

The two combined really put me off reading more of Okorafor's stuff in the future.

Autonomous, Annalee Newitz

Also in the category of "wow the morality here is kinda fucked up because the consequences get sidelined", we have Autonomous. To whit: the main antagonist is a man who sees absolutely nothing wrong with murdering and torturing people over copyright infringement. The majority of his arc is about his sexual desire for his robot companion. Fair and fine. Then he gets a happy ending and it really doesn't seem like one of those "evil goes unpunished, the world is unfair and horrible" deals. All the heinous shit he does over the course of the book is effectively dropped and ignored. He gets to go to Mars and fuck his robot.

Otherwise: prose certainly could use more polish, the ideas are great for Mothership theft, and the character with the clearest arc and the most action in solving the conflict of the story isn't the main character, but should have been, least of all for being an autonomous android. You know, like what the book is titled after.


The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickenson 

This is a book about the brutal grinding machinery of empire and it is exactly as soul-crushing as that entails.I love it. I love how a quarter of the way through I realized that the main character was in over her head and didn't realize it. It's properly tragic. Properly terrifying, too: the Masquerade doesn't need superweapons, they make do just fine with paper money and guns, and alchemy and eugenics and the total erasure of responsibility.

It's haunting. Super high recommendation.

Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson

DNF at pg 58/572

Now, I might return to this in the future. Possibly. But a dry opening wasn't cutting it for me at the time and I would like to take the time to say that hard sci-fi should be eminently weird, on the grounds that reality is weird. This book is not weird. I hunger for the novel.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

A short, evocative story of a girl who grows up constantly under the threat of doppelgangers showing up and trying to kill her any time she bleeds. Overall quite strong over its 60-some pages, save one little segment that sort-of-but-not-quite-it's-probably-inaccurate gives a possible explanation near the end. Most of the quite strong parts come from the "there is no explanation this is just how things are and it is spooky" aspect, so even a probably-wrong explanation is a momentary stumble.

Please Pass the Guilt, Rex Stout

My first (well, not counting the radio serial I have been listening to) foray into my father's favorite detective series. A nifty little learning experience. I think I am much more favorably-inclined towards detective potboilers over fantasy or sci-fi - they're a comfortable shape you can settle into that presents a detective with a gimmick and a clever puzzle (this one was "a bomb in an office goes off and kills a man...but not the man whose office it was. Who even was the target?") to mull over. I've not got the skills to pick out all the clues and tie them together on my own, so sometimes it felt like logic was being stretched, but overall an enjoyable romp.

Abhorsen, Garth Nix

As with the preceding two installments, I love it. Everything said there applies here. It wraps up Lirael nicely, and is a wonderful showcase of what you can do when breaking from Generic Fantasy Aesthetic. My comparison to FMA continues apace with one sequence in particular even getting the soundtrack thrown in, just for being a fullblown Fullmetal Alchemist Moment (ie: the protagonists have executed a clever plan that you the reader were not aware of, usually involving the drawing together of disparate characters)

The only weak points of note are the villains, who are dreadfully one-dimensional, and the fact that the moment of greatest emotional catharsis is not the actual end of the book and we've still got nearly fifty pages left.

The Interface Series, 9Mother9Horse9Eyes9

This is some straight up outsider art here. Top-tier horror bearing no resemblance to anything but itself (and the added bonus of having an initial dissemination that was creepy-in-itself and a solid Fredrik Knudsen video on it), and then it does that thing that most but not all internet horror series do, which is disappear right up its own asshole. It reminds me of House of Leaves to that extent - frontloaded with scary shit that' sticks with you and ending the show with some sort of wonky journey of self-discovery and addiction recovery. Don't get me wrong, this thing is brutal and powerful with the whole "alcoholism will fuck you up" thing but I was here for enigmatic fragmentary bits of MKULTRA messing around with flesh interfaces. That's where the power is. The  metafictional nonsense that leaks in is inexcusable.

Why the author decided to go with a publisher instead of just hiring an editor and self-publishing is a question that baffles me to no end. The revised version has been delayed long enough with no news of substance that I consider it dead in the water. A shame.


The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

In progress, pg 218/335

This is a very dense book. It's a very Russian book. It is a very good book. I can't recall any book in recent memory that had this sort of mastery of language and comedic timing, but here we are. If you can settle into the groove it bursts to life and then doesn't stop. It overflows, it sings, it swings. And not just with funny wordplay and irony, but actual slapstick and physical comedy. It's got everything you'd want in a farce about Satan bringing chaos to Moscow.

The background of the book itself is also worth some special note: it wasn't published until 26 years after Bulgakov's death, and even then in a censored version that was not repaired until even later The book has outlived its creator and the state that tried to destroy it.

Go read books that authoritarians want to burn, is what I am saying.



Sunday, November 17, 2019

Pandeimos - A New New Crobuzon

So Jack and Anne brought up this old post on Discord with talk of making a blog challenge. Some other people have done it too, listed here.


When Terror Came


Pandeimos is a city that would have been a killing blow. It was the vanguard of Vastoprian's colonial invasion force, prepared to strip the savanna bare, blacken the bay with industrial filth, and tidily clear living space with alchemically-engineered plagues. Would have been. Its distant imperial parent collapsed less than a decade after its founding, when the Red Leviathan rose from the ocean and the Five-Nation Alliance swept in from the northeast with its own armies. There hasn't been any official contact since then. The few refugees are tight-lipped about what happened.

Pandeimos is a half-finished city. Without additional supplies from Vastoprian, and with all the imperial contract-mages dead in the riots, the brutal black metal buildings typical of the empire were not able to complete their growth. The factories are stunted, the walls incomplete, the soldier-hives too cramped to function. The other half - the characteristic stone buildings with high-peaked red-gold tiled roofs, built in tiers along the hillside - comes from the colonists, mostly Binni-Tadhi who had been forcibly relocated after their country was flooded by dam construction.

Three Humanoid Minorities



  • Illumian - The scribal caste, intended as functionaries and bureaucrats within the empire's vast offices and as assistants to its contracted mages. They are the chief controllers and practitioners of literacy (for the empire took care to render comprehension of unspelled writing impossible, and this taboo remains in effect post-independence). There aren't, unfortunately, enough of them to safely maintain the structure of the city over a long period of time. Cracks are already starting to form as the paperwork piles up.

  • Mul - The slave caste of Vastoprian. Whenever a conquered population was considered too intractable, they were thrown in with the criminals and domestic dissidents and bred with the last remnants of the dwarven mead-unions to birth those who would carry the empire upon their backs. There are no words to express the hatred within the hearts of those muted multitudes, and so it has been expressed in the form of a god. A dark and venge-full thing served by the warlocks trained in those darkened slave-pits and factories.

  • Gnoll - The first waves of plague wiped out a quarter of the population and drove the survivors deep into the savanna. Those that live in the city now are here because there is little choice - the plague is still out there, as is starvation and warfare. That the city is technically free of its parent empire is meaningless to them, as the damage has already been done. The Reform Party, still in power but only tenuously after the most recent elections, has made a platform of outreach and repatriation to the gnolls, but progress has been slow.



Other Beings


  • Giant Sea Urchin - A common pest in the city. All that's needed is moisture and refuse, and the city has plenty. They will affix themselves to walls, fill up alleyways, cling to eaves and doorframes. They're decent eating if you can get past the spines - the homeless of Pandeimos form hunting parties nearly every day, and the government sets aside a small amount of cash to repay them for pest removal.

  • Stitched Devil - Vastoprian, for all its advantages, was never particularly skilled at demonology. Their contract-mages were persistent, though. Their summonings failed catastrophically, splattering infernal viscera all over as the summoned beings burst apart due to differences in pressure and atmosphere. What parts could be recovered were bathed in alchemical reagents and stitched together into something that passed for a functioning whole, though what resulted was hardly capable of imparting knowledge or writing up contracts. After the contract-mages were all hung in Baker's Square, their experiments vanished into the winding side streets where the sun never shines, living off of stray cats and the thin miasma of sin given off by petty thieves and adulterers.

  • Gargoyle - A resurgent remnant of Binni-Tadhi religious practice that the empire was not able to snuff out. The statues are appointed with bundles of dried herbs and sacred dyes and made vessels of the spirits of the family ancestors. From their perches on the roof they keep watch out for burglars and snatchgrabber ghosts. They cannot speak, but there is a familiarity that can't be precisely named - it is as if a beloved grandparent is asleep in the next room. Those who lose their family will search out another household to carry out the rites, and the mourning cries of these lost creatures trickle through the dark hours of the night.