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.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Magnus Archives Referee Starter Kit

Saphizzle

As something of a follow-up to my previous post on the matter, I'm doing more Magnus Archives stuff. Everything below has been statted up for Mothership. (For folks visiting for the first time, Mothership is PWYW so I will not be going in-depth on mechanics to save time and space. It's also a great game that you should read and play)

There are giant unmarked spoilers.

The Institute

The Magnus Institute (founded 1818, motto VIGILO OPPERIO AUDIO) is an academic paranormal research organization located in Chelsea, London, UK. The organization employs several dozen individuals, and its single building contains an extensive (though private) library, artifact storage, and archives of statements provided by the public. In the public's mind, the Institute is a dusty and obscure holdout of head-in-the-clouds academic occultists and crazy people with ghost stories, if it is thought about at all.

Sister organizations exist in the United States and China, being the Usher Foundation in Washington DC and the Pu Songling Research Center in Beijing.

Characters

Jonathan Sims

The Archivist

Resident cynic and paranoid. Decision-making skills often leave something to be desired.

Stats: Strength 30 / Speed 30 / Intellect 45 / Combat 35
Saves: Sanity 40 / Fear 40 / Body 35 / Armor  35 
Skills: Research +10%, History +10%, Languages +10%, Beholding* +15%
Stress Response: Gain 1d5 Stress every time Beholding is used.

Martin Blackwood

Archival Assistant 

Brews decent tea, writes terrible poetry. Tries to be everyone's friend. Not nearly as cowardly as he seems to be.

Stats: Strength 25  / Speed 30 / Intellect 40 / Combat 20   
Saves: Sanity 40 / Fear 35 / Body 30 / Armor 20
Skills: Research +10%, History +10%, Art +10%, Harmless Demeanor +15%
Stress Response: Gains 1 stress every time a companion fails a Fear save.


Tim Stoker

Archival Assistant

Ladies' man. Man's man. The man in general. Has got no patience for paranormal bullshit.

Stats: Strength 50 / Speed 30 / Intellect 30 / Combat  35 
Saves: Sanity 35 / Fear 30 / Body 30 / Armor  30 
Skills: Research +10%, Athletics +10%, Bar Fighting +10%, Flirting +15%
Stress Response: Can make a companion roll for Panic instead, 1/session.


Sasha James

Archival Assistant

The only actually competent one. Tends to remain behind the scenes.

Stats: Strength 40 / Speed 30 / Intellect 40 / Combat  35 
Saves: Sanity 30 / Fear 35 / Body 30 / Armor 25
Skills: Research +10%, Computers +10%, Official Connections +10%, Going Unnoticed +15%
Stress Response: Successful research rolls heal 1d10 Stress, 1/day.

Melanie King

GhostHuntUK

Failed Youtube star turned archival assistant. Constantly spatting with John. Mean streak. Scarily good with violence.

Stats: Strength 30 / Speed 30 / Intellect 35 / Combat 40
Saves: Sanity 35 / Fear 35 / Body 30 / Armor 25
Skills: Social Media +10%, Athletics +10%, Ghost Lore +10%,  Close-Quarters Combat +15%
Stress Response: After Panicking, all attacks are made with advantage until the end of combat.

Basira Hussain

London Metropolitan Police, Section 31

The detective. Forever putting the pieces together. Very close with Daisy. 

Stats: Strength 30 / Speed 35 / Intellect 45 / Combat  40 
Saves: Sanity 50 / Fear 45 / Body 30 / Armor 30 
Skills: Police Training +10%, Forensics +10%, Research +10%, Occultism +15%,
Stress Response: Allies gain 1 Stress when Basira fails a Sanity save.


Alice "Daisy" Tonner

London Metropolitan Police, Section 31

The resident hunter-killer. Fixes problems.Very close with Basira.

Stats: Strength 45 / Speed 40 / Intellect 30 / Combat 55
Saves: Sanity 25 / Fear 40 / Body 40 / Armor  30 
Skills: Police Training +10%, Intimidation +15%, Violence +15%,
Stress Response: All allies must make a Fear save when Daisy Panics.

Elias Bouchard

Head of the Magnus Institute

God, this man is the worst. You know that boss who tells you nothing and expects you to know everything? This fucker, right here.

Stats: Strength 25 / Speed 35 / Intellect 45 / Combat  35
Saves: Sanity 45 / Fear 35 / Body 30 / Armor  25 
Skills: Smooth Criminal +15%, Beholding* +20%
Stress Response: Can ignore a Panic roll 1/session.


Gertrude Robinson

Prior Head Archivist

Currently busy being dead. 

Stats: Strength 25 / Speed 35 / Intellect 50 / Combat 35
Saves: Sanity 50 / Fear 40  / Body 20 / Armor 35
Skills: Research +10%, Little Old Lady +15%, Night at the Opera +15%
Stress Response: Can reroll a Panic response 1/session.

Gerard Keay

Goth Sorcerer

Just for once he'd like to go somewhere, anywhere, where he doesn't get dragged into this shit.

Stats: Strength 35 / Speed 30 / Intellect 45 / Combat  35 
Saves: Sanity 30 / Fear 50 / Body 30 / Armor 35
Skills: Occult +10%, The Dread Powers +15% 
Stress Response: Will start blasting heavy metal music for 1d10 minutes on a failed Fear or Sanity save, deafening everyone else.

* "Beholding" indicates drawing on the power of the Eye to gain information either through compulsion of another party (ie a question they cannot resist) or through simply pulling the information out of the universe.

planetsandmagic

The Powers

Do not treat the Powers as typical Lovecraftian old gods. Imagine fear translated into metaphysical forces, constantly shifting and reacting, combining and conflicting. Most are very, very old. Some predate humanity. Some are new. Some are evolving. Some slouch towards Bethlehem to be born. All will overlap.

Each Power may manifest in a great many forms, as different as the hand from the stomach. The books seem to be the most stable, and can provide some functions usable to humans (often at great peril - the Powers are not controlled, they are fed and channeled.)

A Ritual is the means by which a Power, through actions of human servants influenced by it, can overpower all the others and reshape existence according to its nature, so that it might more fully manifest.

I took some liberties here, filling in gaps so that all the Powers get equal representation as far as usable goodies, as well as drawing some of the "true names" from this reddit thread. (Translation: some of this is lies I made up that will be marked with an * and get replaced when/if better information comes around.)

The Web / Mother of Puppets / I-Am-Not-In-Control*

Wheels within wheels, spinning and weaving.
  • Followers: A few solitary actors that tend to draw large groups of people together as prey. Most notable of these being Raymond Fielding, of the halfway house on Hilltop Road.
  • Monster*: Jorogumo
    • Not actually an anime spider lady.
    • Is actually a bootleg VHS tape with three episodes of a show about an anime spider lady, with shitty bootleg subtitles.
    • With legs.
    • Hits: (20) 5 / Speed: 80 / Instinct: 30 / Attack: 1d10 bite
    • Special: I Need to Know! - Upon being bitten, the target must make a Body save every day to resist wasting all their time on an internet rabbit hole trying to dig up the source of this show and the location of any other tapes. Nothing else abnormal happens, until the starvation and dehydration set in.
  • Artifact:  A zippo lighter, engraved with a spiderweb. Always seems to be on hand when you need it.
  • Book: A Guest for Mr. Spider - Readers will be unconsciously drawn to an abandoned house, knock twice at the door, and you can guess the rest.
  • Aspects: Drawing things together into danger, webs, spiders, traps, loss of control, manipulation, the film industry.
  • Ritual: None. The Web draws others into action against each other, and so prefers the world-as-is.

The Eye / Beholding / I-Am-Being-Watched*

I SEE YOU.
  • Followers: The Magnus Institute, whether they like it or not.
  • Monster*: Infestation of Eyes
    • They grow like barnacles in the corners of the room and hidden nooks outside, blinking away when you catch sight of them.
    • Hits: NA / Speed: NA / Instinct: NA / Attack: NA
    • Special: And I Get No Privacy - Those affected by an Infestation of Eyes will become insistant that they are transmitting information to a hostile party. With each failed Sanity save (1/day), gain an additional point of Stress (starting at 1, cumulative).
  • Artifact: A stone eye in a velvet bag that shorts out CCTV and other electronic observation.
  • Book*: Bird Watching for Dummies - The reader will find themselves watched by a string of increasingly exotic and numerous but otherwise mundane birds.
  • Aspects: Panopticon, loss of privacy, perpetual observation, the revelation of secrets.
  • Ritual: The Watcher's Crown. Nature unknown - it has never before been attempted. Would clearly have something to do with the Archives. Potentially centers on complete knowledge / mastery of the other Powers.

The End / Terminus / Moment-Of-My-Death*

Death needs no introduction.
  • Followers: Those undying avatars of the End go about the world as reapers of souls, and may only quit their task if beaten at a game. They are terribly good at games.
  • Monster: A Corpse
    • Hits: 0 / Speed: 0 / Instinct: 0 / Attack: 0
    • Special: "The Moment You Die Will Feel Exactly the Same as This One" - If approached, the corpse will momentarily animate and whisper the above phrase to the investigator. Character is now incapable of fear and can no longer make Fear saves, but their Sanity save is reduced by half.
  • Artifact*: One tablespoon of black hole, suspended
  • Book: Book of the Dead - The skin of the freshly dead is inscribed in Sanskrit, dried, and sewn into the book. Their spirit then resides there, and may be called forth by the reader.
  • Aspects: Death, dreams, complete and irrevocable ceasing.
  • Ritual: None. It has no need of it, as the difference between a universe where everything dies and one without life is academic on the grand scale.

The Stranger / Something's Wrong* / I-Do-Not-Know-You

If I'm me, and you're me, who's the real me?
  • Followers: Fake people, hordes of them, made of wire and plastic and sawdust, pretending to be human, culminating in the freakshow of Nikola Orsinov's Circus of the Other.
  • Monster: The Anglerfish
    • A pale figure bobs in the shadowed alleyway. "Can I have a cigarette?"
    • Hits: Speed: Instinct: Attack: See below
    • Special: Drag Into the Dark - A swift tendril lashes out from the shadows and will drag the victim into the dark on the next turn. A successful Strength check will grant an additional turn of resistance. The tendril may be cut easily. If the target is taken out of sight of their fellows, the character is lost, and will be encountered some time later as a doppelganger.
  • Artifact: The hide of a gorilla,taken from Carthage before its destruction. the oldest piece of taxidermy in the world.
  • Book*: Metamorphosis - Something about the world is drastically different when you wake up next, and no one else seems to think it unusual. It changes every morning, and keeps getting more outrageous.
  • Aspects: The familiar made wrong. Circuses and dancing. Skin and costumes. Taxidermy. Absurdity.
  • Ritual: "The Unknowing" - A dance hosted by a Mechaical Turk in a wax museum. All participants ought bring a new skin from home.

The Desolation / The Lightless Flame / There-Is-Nothing-Left*

Some men just want to...you know the rest.
  • Followers: A small band of cultists dedicated to destroying the lives of people who have unrealized potential. They're all a right buch of assholes, believe you me. More than willing to directly attack the servants of other Powers.
  • Monster: Jude Perry
    • Short, muscular Asian woman with short hair and a back tattoo of a man burning. Is probably getting off on all this.
    • Hits: (4)40 / Speed: 30 / Instinct: 40 / Attack: See below.
    • Special: Flesh Like Wax - No save. Jude can melt and reshape her own flesh or that of someone she is touching.
    • Special: Unbearable Heat - 2d10 direct contact, 2d10 / turn radiating.
  • Artifact*: A briefcase filled with the charred manuscripts of brilliant works never written.
  • Book: A small red book containing prayers and rituals of the Sumerian demon Asag, training one in the ways of Desolation.
  • Aspects: Sudden, catastrophic loss of what is and what can be. Fire without benefits. Pain.
  • Ritual: "The Scorched Earth" - What it says on the tin. Requires a messiah born and baptized in fire.

The Buried / Choke / Too-Close-I-Cannot-Breathe

It is all pressing down, there is no way out.
  • Followers*: As they rise in the cult's ranks, they move to smaller and smaller cells. Eventually the cell is packed with dirt and only the breathing tube remains.
  • Monster: Lost Johns' Cave
    • Hits: (1)5.972 × 10^24 / Speed: 0 / Instinct: 100, Attack: It's going to squish you. You have 1d10 hours to live.
    • Special: Veins of the Earth - In lieu of character death, the referee may elect to change the game entirely by bringing in material from the book of that title by Patrick Stuart.
  • Artifact: A rough coffin, chained and padlocked, engraved with DO NOT OPEN. Within is a carved stone staircase, leading deep into the earth.
  • Book: DIG - Compels the reader to dig downwards, by whatever means are available to them.
  • Aspects: Being buried, drowned, overwelmed - by earth, water, debt, etc. Claustrophobia.
  • Ritual: "Sunken Sky, Forever Buried" - A pit opens up in the earth. It is ignored by everyone, but everyone still walks down into it and lays still.

The Flesh / Corpus* / I-Am-Meat*

Meat is meat, meat is me.
  • Followers: Famine-thin, grotesquely fat, malformed with misintent, or all of the above. Don't tend to see humans as that big of a deal compared to any other animal.
  • Monster: Some Pig
    • It ate all the other pigs. It just keeps getting bigger. I think it just ate a clown...
    • Hits: (2)50 Speed: 10 / Instinct: 30 / Attack: Get This Pig Off Me or 2d10 bite
    • Special: Get This Pig Off Me - The pig tackles an individual and pins them to the ground, dealing 2d10 damage per turn and not moving without some serious force applied to it.
  • Artifact*: Three garbage bags filled with human fat. Those near have a mild compulsion to start eating it.
  • Book: The Boneturner's Tale - Allows the reader to remove the bones and reshape the flesh of both themselves and others. Has a tendency to make other books bleed.
  • Aspects: The grotesquity of the body, cannibalism, repurposed Eucharistic symbolism
  • Ritual: "The Last Feast" - The feeding of thousands of tons of meat to a pit beneath the ruins of an ancient gnostic temple.

The Lonely / Forsaken / There-Is-No-One-Here*

I'm so lonely, Mr. Lonely, I've got nobody...
  • Followers: The Lukas family and associates. A paradox, where the social ties of family and religion are inverted and sterilized, drained of any connection or warmth.
  • Monster: An absence of a thing, far out to sea. It demands sacrifice. It doesn't exist. Get off the ship before it gets here.
  • Artifact: A chunk of space debris harvested from Point Nemo.
  • Book: A Disappearance - A quick glance may render someone invisible and undetectable for a time. Longer than that risks wiping them out of reality entirely.
  • Aspects: Isolation, being forgotten, being left behind, fading of social ties.
  • Ritual: Whatever it is, the Lukases aren't telling us anything. That is very, very dangerous.

The Vast / The Grand Scale* / It-Is-Too-Big*

Enjoy sky blue.
  • Followers: Occasional lone adherents like Simon Fairchild or Michael Crew, who tend to tend to take some bizarre enjoyment in feeding people to the sky.
  • Monster: If you want to try and fight the sky, be my guest.
  • Artifact*: A sealed jar containing air from the ISS. Is always further away from you than you think.
  • Book: Ex Altiora - Generates an intense feeling of vertigo that the skilled reader may turn on others. Stinks of ozone.
  • Aspects: Open space, incredible size, impossible heights, open ocean, man's insignifigance.
  • Ritual: Unknown.

The Slaughter / Kill Kill Kill* / We-Are-Turned-Into-Corpses*

YOU HAVE HUGE GUTS! RIP AND TEAR!
  • Followers: Those who delight in death, who seek to do violence and to inspire violence.
  • Monster: The Piper
    • The War itself. No taller than a man. three faced - one to play its bone pipes, another to sing its dying screams, another to vomit forth soil and blood. A tattered coat atop a burned and flayed body. A panoply of arms weilding weapons, raised in supplication, saluting.
    • Hits: (3)100 Speed: 50 Instinct: 70 Attack: Death by the Bullet x2 (as any firearm), Death by the Sword x2 (as bladed weapon), The Whine of Daemonic Piping
    • Special: The Whine of Daemonic Piping - Target must make a Combat roll. If they succeed, they must save vs Sanity or will be led off to No-Man's Land on the next turn.
  • Artifact*: A stone caked in the blood of a Sahalanthropus. Deals 10d10 very messy mDMG. 20 ft AOE.
  • Book*: Knee Deep in the Dead - Inspires immediate and brutal violence in all present, growing in radius and intensity until the book is inevitably torn asunder.
  • Aspects: Unthinking, indiscriminate violence. The music of combat. Approaching pain.
  • Ritual: "The Risen War" - The lost ship Nemesis rises from the deep to take on more men broken by war. Once abroad, they shall fight each other to the last until the ship is destroyed in glory.

The Corruption / Filth / I-Am-Unclean*

There is a wasps' nest in my attic...
  • Followers: Patient Zero, Typhoid-Mary types, the sources of particular pestilences.
  • Monster: Jane Prentiss
    • Was once a cashier in a new-age shop. Now, an object lesson in trypophobia in a tattered red evening dress. Filled with worms. Oh god, so many worms. 
    • Hits: (3)30 Speed: 40 / Instinct: 60 / Attack: See below
    • Special: Wormsign - Prentis brings her swarm with her. If unprotected, Body save to remove the worms before they burrow too deep, taking 1d10 damage. Failing is 5d10 damage / turn. The swarm in any given area has (1)100 health. A CO2 fire extinguisher acts as flamethrower against worm swarms.
  • Artifact: A medical scalpel covered in virulent infection vectors that cannot be cleaned.
  • Book: A Journal of the Plague Year - Rots everything in its presence, to the point of collapsing buildings.
  • Aspects: Filth, decay, disease, corruption, insects, fungus, worms, unclean-ness.
  • Ritual*: "Unclean, Unclean!" - Sacrifices are bathed in maggots, offered to swarms of rats, worked to death building a landfill pyramid upon which will be broken open a lab sample of smallpox.

The Dark / Mr. Pitch / I-Cannot-See-It*

Most of everything is dark matter - light is a fleeting aberration.
  • Followers: The People's Church of the Divine Host, a cult that fragmented and went into hiding after the disappearence of its leader, Maxwell Raynor. Symbol of a closed eye with four vertical lines (eyelashes). Love them some creepy rituals.
  • Monster: The Thing in the Dark of the Night
    • It goes unseen. It is perhaps the size of a bear.
    • Hits: (5)25 / Speed: 40 / Instinct: 60 / Attack: 4d10 mauling
    • Special: Something Wicked This Way Comes -  The Thing's approach will be heralded by every light source in sight burning out and all water going stagnant and brackish.
    • Special: Shroud of Night - All attacks made against the Thing are at disadvantage.
  • Artifact: A wardrobe that no light may be shone into.
  • Book*: The Book of Black Pages - A sort of scripture, that may summon forth a darkness no light can penetrate and summon forth the entities that lurk within.
  • Aspects: Darkness, blindness, secrets, the unknown, stasis, dark water.
  • Ritual: "The Extinguished Sun" - Involves a pilgrimage to Ny-Alesundled by one Mr. Pitch, to see the solar eclipse there.

The Spiral / It is Lying / It-Is-Not-What-It-Is

Where did I leave my copy of Uzumaki?
  • Followers: The Spiral does not have followers proper: instead, those exposed to it will eventually become extensions of it, or rather, it will become them.
  • Monster: Michael, the Distortion
    • Something that looks not entirely unlike a person. Blond, curly hair. Always looks like its seen through a distorted window. It doesn't have a name, but can call it Michael, or Gabriel, or Helen. The arms are too long, and the fingers have too many bones in them. Can just pop out of nowhere. Makes you feel like you're going mad just talking to it.
    • Hits: (4)20 / Speed: 65 / Instinct: 65 / Attack: 2d10 waggly-knuckled monstrosities
    • Special: Man Upon the Stair - The presence of a Distortion triggers 1d10 stress / turn.
    • Special: A Door to Nowhere - Doors cease having the usual effect and may open anywhere, or nowhere, or may appear and disappear as willed. The other end might be an endless paradox-fractal hallway, another domain of the Spiral.
  • Artifact: A Ming vase glazed with blue fractals. Items of the possessor's regular go missing, and no one else will remember there being anything at all.
  • Book*: Untitled book of asemic writing - Reader's capability for symbolic thought is broken down and replaced with an alien logic.
  • Aspects: Loss of ones' senses, the unreliability of memory, disassociation, the twisting of things
  • Ritual: "The Great Twisting" - The construction and opening of a labyrinth door in Sannikov Land.

The Hunt / Pursuer* / It-Is-Chasing-Me*

Perhaps the oldest of all. Now think, you're set to hunt and kill to your heart's content...
  • Followers: Devoted entirely to the chase and terribly good at it. Some of the few who can permanently kill an avatar of another Power.
  • Monster: Vampire
    • A pale imitation of a human. There are not many, they do not feed often.
    • They cannot speak and do not have lungs. They will still make themselves understood.
    • They do not think, not more than an animal does. Human actions are all imitations.
    • Burn terribly easy if they have not recently fed (or if they have not had time to digest).
    • Hits: (3)15 / Speed: 45 / Instinct: 30 Attack: 2d10 claw or 1d10 piercing tongue
    • Special: Exsanguination - After a successful tongue attack, the vampire will drain 4d10 damage worth of blood on its next turn if it is not removed from the victim.
  • Artifact*: The bullet that will kill the last elephant.
  • Book: The Stalwart Hunter's Almanac - The reader shall be injured in the manner that they read (Unless they can fight off the assailant)
  • Aspects: Pursuit, chase. The animal fear of the predator.
  • Ritual: "The Everchase" - Explorers seeking impossible places, forever hunting and being hunted in the depths of the jungle. Due to the nature of the Hunt, this ritual can never reach its conclusion.

Extinction / The Terrible Change / The-Future-Without-Us

A Power yet to be born.
  • Followers: None yet, thankfully.
  • Monster: Les heritiĆ©rs ("The Inheritors")
    • We do not know what they look like or what they do, only this: "There is nothing done in the history of humanity that deserves the things that come after us."
  • Artifact: A thumb drive containing ushankasdespair.exe - Seventeen hours of a man eating a computer and weeping and you have to watch the entire damn thing.
  • Book*: Shadow of the Anthropocene - Contains the histories of those alien civilizations that will follow humanity, and the unhappy endings of each one. Adds and removes entries according to some sort of quantum uncertainty.
  • Aspects: The destruction of the world we know and its replacement by another we have no part in. Mankind's self-obliteration.
  • Ritual: None, yet. Given the nature of this Power, its normal manifestations have the potential for catastrophic ends. Some of the other Powers and their avatars are willing to set aside differences to stop it from ever emerging.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Minidungeon: The Lighthouse on the Spur.

Blake Rottinger

Setup


A lighthouse on a spur of rock. Clean. Whitewashed. Attached to land by a sliver of beach that goes under when the tide comes in. The old trading post sits on the land side of the sand bridge. The village is over the hill to the north.

Arrival


Pouring rain, cold and driving. The trading post bears dark windows. A pole with distances and directions to faraway lands leans crookedly out in front. There is a standing bear carved of a single piece of wood. The door is locked.

What's unusual about the Trading Post?

  1. Nothing. Bare boards and empty cupboards. It looks like nothing has ever been stocked here.
  2. A foreigner in the cellar, chained to a support beam. Beside him is chained a corpse.
  3. A hastily-abandoned campsite. Military, by the look of the gear they left behind.
  4. Bricks of contraband tea. Many, many, many bricks of contraband tea.
  5. A hexagram burnt into the floor, surrounded by goat skulls.
  6. Misshapen blobs of flesh and hair, pulsating, humming.
  7. Forests of nails have been driven into every flat surface.
  8. It is a tropical jungle inside, centered on an embryo in amber.

The Keeper


A young, bespectacled man. Arrived only a few months back. Educated, solitary. Has admirers among the young women in town. Has been dead 1-2 days.

What happened to the Keeper?

  1. Hanging from the stairwell (F1)
  2. Collapsed at his desk, starved (F2)
  3. A nibbled and worried corpse, has lantern and rope with him (Cellar)
  4. Gone. Large bloodstain on floor (F1)
  5. Fried to a crisp. There is a crack in the lamp (Roof)
  6. Mangled in the rocks, impaled. Visible only at low tide (Spur)
  7. Died in his bed (F2, save vs contagious disease)
  8. Head smashed in (Cave)

Something Special

  1. Letters from his lover in the city, hidden in a book (F2 bookcase) 
  2. Dabbles in photography (Equipment in cellar)
  3. A clutch of salamander eggs in the hearth (F1)
  4. Taxidermied fish: large, fanged tropical, contains random spell (F2)
  5. Collection of tent revival pamphlets (F1)
  6. Ivory-handled pistol. "RG" carved in grip. (F1)
  7. Scrimshaw chess set, white demons and black angels. White is one move from reaching checkmate. (F1) 
  8. A map of the Eclipsed Sea (F2)

The Caves beneath the Cellar


Tight and coiling passages carved away by the drip drip drip of seawater. Lined with flesh-tearing cave-barnacles.


What is found in the Caves?


  1. A corroded skeleton, clutching a rusting heirloom sword.
  2. A locked treasure chest, too big to squeeze through the gaps.
  3. Glass bottles, all filled with messages.
  4. Sigils of chaos, carved into the walls, screaming back the sins of passersby.
  5. Carpets of red velvet worms.
  6. An oil lamp on a hook, burning bright violet.
  7. Distant, chittering laughter. High-pitched mutters of "Bebbyzyx is looking for shinies."
  8. Explosive glow-worms.

The Oracle


Something akin to a mermaid, living in the pool at the center of the caves. Slippery skin and wide eyes, gaping mouth and bloodred gills. She desires blood and fresh meat. She was not fond of the Keeper and his prying questions.

What does she say?

  1. Nothing at all - she readies to speak, but no sound comes out.
  2. A king is born, a mighty king come to reclaim his throne - but shall he be a tyrant?
  3. A year of interesting times, of fortunes reversed, the poor made rich and the rich made poor.
  4. The world will become cold and chrome, tubes and wires.
  5. Mild weather, light chance of precipitation in the afternoon, there is a coup afoot.
  6. I'm afraid your bones are filled with ghosts; give them to me and I can fix that for you.
  7. Bet on 53. Do not bet on anything else.
  8. Fuck that guy upstairs and all the noise he makes, I'm trying to sleep.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

LET'S LOOK AT: Godkillers, Ynn, and More!



Godkillers

Post-Human Condition (Juan Restapo, Journeyman, Jamie Chestnut)
PDF and print purchased
Perused

What is it?: A post-cosmic-horror module set in Louisiana, using Open d6 rules and fantastic art.

God damn, this is how you do it. This goes right on the shelf of gold standard RPG books.
  • An entire module, setting, and rules, in less than 70 pages.
  • THAT ART. It's perfect.
  • Focus! Godkillers is focused to the extreme. Here is the scenario. Here are your premade characters, with their cards that give you everything you need including background information. You can run through this is one or two nights and have a complete experience. No being bogged down with character generation, or the grand scope of the world. It's almost like a board game in that sense. As an adult who has to wrangle irregular schedules and getting friends together, the appeal here should be obvious.
  • There was a bit of delay getting the second printing out. I was perfectly content to wait (for I already had the pdf), but the guys behind this went out of their way to throw in a handwritten note, a print, and a sticker.

The Gardens of Ynn

Emmy Allen
PDF purchased
Perused

What is it?: A crawl through a wild faerie garden plane and a great new pointcrawl system.

Gardens of Ynn has one of my favorite new means of making an adventure: the depth system. Think of it as something like a pointcrawl, but a touch more abstracted. Roll d20 + the depth level you are on now, find out what area you arrive in next. Each area comes with features and encounters. Don't like the level you're on? Go back to a previous level and re-roll when you press on deeper. It's clean, it's easy, and it's the kind of megadungeon I can really get behind. Big on scale, small on gribbly bits bogging down the middle of things. I want to see this applied to everything, especially a city supplement like Corpathium. It is RIPE for that sort of thing.

Stygian Library

Emmy Allen
PDF purchased
Perused

What is it?: Library of Babel, running on the same template as Ynn. I like it flavor-wise even a bit more than Ynn, but the core of it is the same, so this is a really short review. It's good, yo.

Black Powder, Black Magic vol 1-3

Carl Bussler and Eric Hoffman
PDF purchased
Perused

What is it?:  A trio of short zines for running DCC adventures in the American Weird West.

DCC zines are a special breed and I've still got no idea as to what makes the magic work, but it certainly does. Between the three volumes there are three new classes, a bit of setting fluff, a 0-level train robbery funnel (plus backgrounds), magic items, gun rules, patrons, and other goodies.

Black Heart of Paradise

Schwa Kyle
PDF purchased
Perused

What is it?: A casino station module for Mothership.

This is, as far as I know, the first 3rd party module for Mothership. It's a mixed bag.

BUT:  It's difficult as hell to read  - lots of text, text often small, fonts hard on the eyes, had to read through several times to get a grip on how everything relates to each other because of prior factors.

The ASCII is a good aesthetic touch (and clever way to save on art budget) but can be hard to parse. Lots of good tables, you could even use the movie prompts for other MS adventures.

Each segment / scene of the shit-is-happening part of the module fits on a single page, which is quite nice, but information presentation once again reared an ugly head. I'd need to write everything out just to keep track of it all.

So I remain of two minds. on the one hand, yay, more Mothership stuff, and there's stuff I can use! On the other, there's a whole lot that would be a whole lot of extra work to use.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Play Report: Lighthouse at the End of the World (Esoteric Enterprises 1)

Rick Shrieber was the kind of history teacher that came into class in chainmail, waving a foam sword about and shouting in Middle English. He had a plush Holy Hand Grenade he'd throw into his colleague's room across the hall. His car had a sticker that read "My other ride is Shadowfax."

And now he's dead. Pancreatic cancer.

Four of his old students piled in an hand-down Honda Odyssey to visit the viewing hours, in a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere in southwestern Pennsylvania. They were:
  • Gerard Valentine, a warehouse drone. 
  • "Sanz" Sanford Hernandez, a social worker.
  • "Cap'n" Jerry Clyde, proprietor of a  party boat in the city, the "Naughty Crab"
  • Ryan Grimmer - Occupation undefined.
Gerard and Sanz had kept in touch online in the years since, and ended up organizing the carpool. Capn' was pulled in after Gerard stumbled across him on the Naughty Crab during a pub crawl night. sanz, Cap'n, and Ryan were the Terrible Three, who quit their shitty fast food jobs during the summer of their junior year simultaneously by dumping a bag of ice over their shitty fast food manager. But all that is years past now.

The visitation goes well, as well as it could given the circumstances. It's late by the time they leave, and dark well before they are done grabbing something to eat.

The road is empty, dark, silent. Nothing but woods out here, isolated. It's late enough that the local NPR station is wrapping up the BBC news hour, ready to start its night program of Indian music.

In the distance, there's the flash of blinker lights. Sanz (for he was driving the van) comes to an abrubt halt, and the group file out to investigate. Gerard immediately calls 911, and through good luck has a decent connection.

The car had swerved off the road and hit a tree, though not enough to do major damage. The group creep forward to investigate: the driver's-side window is covered in blood. Sanz creeps around the front of the car, finding the driver duct-taped to his seat, left hand attached to the wheel and loose strips indicating that the right had been as well. In the front seat there is a footlocker, wrapped up in a bungee cord.

Gerard, his curiosity getting the better of him, wraps a hand in a bandana and opens the passenger door. Inside, he sees that the man's limp right arm is holding a revolver, and the back seats are filled with a jumbled mess of camping supplies: a tent, a propane stove, bags filled with convenience-store food, Snoballs and Slim Jims. The revolver has three of six bullets remaining: the man's head is a pulped mess (I described it akin to a cobweb made out of meat). There are no bullet holes in the window, or anywhere else in the car.

In the trunk the group finds more cardboard boxes, these filled with VHS tapes and stacks of DVD-Rs, labeled with random letter and number combinations. Gerard tucks one of the tapes into his jacket. Cap'n attempts to take the gun from the man, but is interrupted by a harsh, hissing voice.

"I wouldn't do that..."

The panic barely has time to set in before the lights of a car appear. The state trooper looks exactly like one would imagine: mustache, a bit of a gut, middle aged, straight out of central casting. A cursory inspection of the wrecked car shakes him, and he goes back to his patrol car to radio in to headquarters.

This is when the door of the crashed car opens.

The dead man tears out of the car in a sprint towards the police officer. Sans manages to grab a rock and smash it into the dead man's knee, bringing him to the ground. He tries to pin him there, as the officer brings out his gun, but the dead man's strength might be greater than he had in life. He shakes off Sans, leaps to his feet, and shoots the trooper right in the head.

"...Do it properly this time..."

The dead man shoves the revolver in his mouth and fires twice, and is finally still.

They steal everything in the crashed car, all the tapes and boxes and other supplies, and load them into the van. Both the trooper's gun and the dead man's revolver are taken - in taking the latter, the group finds an ID card for the US Department of Energy.

The solution is unanimous: DRIVE

As the van tears away down the silent road, the gang glimpse twin rows of men in suits, standing in the woods at the fringes of the headlight cones, heads turning to follow them.

Sans' house is closest (the original plan was to stay the night there and then everyone returns home come Saturday), and there is a terrible, tense car ride for nearly 20 minutes.

But they do not seem to have been followed: They arrive safely but shaken. Sans immediately begins telling his sister Sam (with whom he shares the house after inheriting it from their parents) everything that happened.

The door has barely shut when Gerard gets a phone call from a clearly-masked number. He answers, perhaps foolishly. A text-to-speech voice speaks:

"We can help you. Go to the church. Enter the door in the garden behind it, go down the stairs, and knock twice on the red door. Remain there until we come for you. Remove the batteries from your phones."


The gang don't waste much time. Sam is dragged along, and the directions are followed to the letter. By this point it's well past midnight.

The room behind the red door is small, concrete. There's a folding cot, a sink, a toilet with a shower curtain, a table with some magazines and a bit of food. One bare bulb.

Three hours pass.

Knock, knock

The door creaks open to reveal a tired-looking woman in her mid-thirties, wearing a sweatshirt. She introduces herself as Abigail, and in short order breaks the news:
  • The party is fucked - they've gained the attention of the people no one wants to notice them.
  • She's part of a secret civilian paranormal organization called Lighthouse.
  • Lighthouse is willing to help disappear the gang in exchange for their recruitment. There really isn't another option that involves a good ending.
  • For the time being the gang needs to get out of the way. 
Getting out of the way involves a journey to a place called the Stygian Library. Abigail removes a piece of chalk, draws a doorway on the wall while chanting in sonorous, bell-like tones, and the concrete unfolds to reveal a small candlelit room of mahogany and brass, smelling of books.

DM Comments


This was a load of fun to run, and the players had a blast. It was a bit railroady-cutsceney, enough that I am not entirely satisfied with the outcome and want to tweak the balance more in the future. But, on the plus side, next session will open up to normal freedoms. The setpieces were effective (and totally my jam in this genre), but they kinda overshadowed the players' abilities to act.

On another plus side, I did a lot more communal setting-building than I normally do (the teacher in particular) and the players got riffing quick.

Level 0 and the transition between normal life and the supernatural remains some of the greatest game material. Further refining it is a long-term progress.