Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Fun with Linneaus II

Last year I brewed up a post where I made a bunch of monsters based on cobbled-together scientific names. Now that I'm halfway through The Book of the New Sun the itch has struck again, inspired by Wolfe's love of archaisms and his own Greek and Latin rootwords.

For this installment, I'm expanding beyond creatures and applying it to whatever makes sense for the name.

Acanthomata ("tumor back")

Stoop-backed from the weight of the bulging, pulsing growths that weigh down its spine. Head bowed to the ground, as if in prayer. Yellow eyes burning with the fervor of endurance.

Apulmon ("without lung")

A wizard's homunculus, grown for manual labor in orbit. Paper-thin bones. Shiny black mosaic scutes shield from radiation, solar sails fold against the back when not in use.

Arsenasthenia ("male weakness")

A terribly polite way of saying "vulnerability to being kicked in the dick."

Bidactylocide ("two-finger killing")

A martial art capable of killing a man using only two fingers. Each combination might cause death through a different means - explosion, implosion, liquification, excrutiation, exsanguination, etc.

Electrocrinus ("amber lily")

A rare water flower with petals of fossilized sap. Ancient insects can still be seen inside. Coveted for its conductive properties, used in a variety of folk medicine traditions.

Endodynamodynia ("internal power pain")

A medical condition caused by an inbalance of mana within a practitioner of the thaumaturgical arts. Symptoms include swelling of the lymph nodes, persistent headaches and light-sensitivity, bright discolorations of yellow, blue, red, and octarine starting at the navel and spreading outwards across the abdomen, excessive flatulence, and agonizing pain in the gut when attempting to cast a spell. The condition is not fatal, though any graduate student who's come down with it will argue otherwise.

Glaucoglott ("blue-grey tongue")

A vast salamander thing, twice as long as a man is tall. It can never completely reel its tongue back into its mouth, and uses the bright and flicking tip as a lure for creatures along the shoreline.

Homohippus ("man-horse")

The body of a horse, the legs of a man. The skull is twinned: a tilt of the head up or down reveals one face, and then the other. One neighs and whinnies, the other screams and stops only when it passes out.

Lacrimognosis ("tear knowledge")

With certain secret alchemical reagents, one might gather and consume the tears of another to gain insight into their lives and loves.

Lactolestes ("milk robber")

Its truest form is a sort of fat lamprey with a dozen stumpy legs. It may lull its prey into believing it to be their infant, thus nursing on stolen goods while the true offspring goes hungry.

Magniporphyrhino ("great purple nose")

An ape with a shaggy grey mane. Its face is flushed red, and the bulbous protruding nose a brilliant violent. Males will inflate this mighty shnozz to attract females during the mating season, an act terrible to behold.

Nocinax ("pain king")


Octodon ("eight-tooth")

The teeth like shovel blades, each on its own mandible and arranged in a circle, fit for burrowing through soil and stone. It is blind and ill-suited to the light and nosie of the surface, but its skin contains many valued anticancerous unguents.

Osteopsy ("inspection of bones")

A divinitory practice, now banned by the new government. In it, one who wishes to have their future read will offer up a bone or bones, from the tip of a finger to an entire leg, to their shaman. The offering will be presented to sacred flesh-stripping beetles, and the cleaned bone will be placed in the fire until it cracks and can be read. If the proper ceremony is made, this prediction will always be accurate. The larger the bone, the more detail can be gleaned.

Spondylscolio ("twisted spine")

Thin and lizardly, coiled up like a spring. Can stick to walls using the gripping pads of its feet and launch itself great distances. Beloved for their cheerful chirps and eating of pest insects.

Striatocetus ("striped whale")

A cachalot named so for its bands of pale grey and deep blue. Known to launch itself out of the water to do battle with its favored prey, the pelagic sky-squids.

Tachystomy ("swift creation of a circular opening")

A finishing move in martial arts: punching a clean hole out of a target with a single blow.

Tritympani ("three eardrums")

Like a three-armed starfish, with a taut membrane between each arms. Arboreal, use vibrations of their membranes for simple humming and buzzing calls, and to attract insect prey.

Umbilicodendron ("umbilical tree")

A tree that is too much like a spine, with leaves too much like teeth. Meat-rope branches dangling down to raw red fetal-curled forms by the yellow-grey roots. They stir. Ride faster.

Xenula ("small foreign thing")

No bigger than a marble, but clearly alien in substance. Flit away from contact. Scrawl signs in the dirt. They may very well think.

Xiphzymy ("fermentation of swords")

Ritual preparation of dueling swords, where the chosen blades are steeped in a mixture of goat's milk, wild honey, and alcohol.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Play Report: Operation HYACINTH

So I ran Delta Green for some friends off-line. It was my first time as Handler and their first time playing it, and it ended up all right. We all had fun.

But I'll be damned if I can write up an interesting play report out of it. I'll try, but much of it feels redundant. This ties into my bigger comments regarding Delta Green as a system, which will follow.

At the opera tonight we have:
  • Chris Redfield (Special Operator) 
  • Talia (Anthropologist)
  • Bo (Engineer)
  • Darren (Federal Agent)
  • Odin (Special Operator)
  • James (Federal Agent)

Operation HYACINTH was stitched together out of two of the 2018 shotgun scenarios (Rendezvous in Rama and Peak DHOLE), which worked pretty neatly together. The team had two main objectives:
  1. Take an inventory of the items left in the long-abandoned Camp House and call in a cleanup crew to secure them.
  2. Agent Portland, to vanished. Last contact was a message he left with his case officer: "I've got to stop O'Rourke." (This was the party's official cover)

[Aside] I am terribly proud of both my manila-folder conspiracy file referee screen and how the case officer summoned them all to an Italian restaurant for a fake birthday party. She even had a hat. [/Aside]

The Junkyard

A bit of a chat with the Fairfield sheriff's department revealed O'Rourke to be the old drunk who lives in the junkyard. The team apprehended and subdued him in the middle of a murder, but were unable to save the victim, one Michael Mendoza. O'Rourke refuses to talk and seems intent on killing himself before capture. Odin sleeper holds him into submission and ties him up, but not before realizing that the spiral-shaped eyes carved into his skin begin to blink and swivel towards him.

The group investigate the junkyard further. In it they find his mobile home (ransacked: they find a bunch of cassette tapes, a diary, and a copy of View from a Height that had been duct-taped shut. The back cover has a sticker reading "From the library of Jurgen Leitner") and two rows of powered refrigerators (containing the eyeless corpses of Agent Portland and eight other people). Some tire furrows leading out into the woods but are not followed.

Team calls in the case officer and explains the situation. Officer tells them to kill O'Rourke to keep him out of custody and keep looking for whatever is behind this. No further explanation given, and Odin doesn't need one to shoot him.

Team calls the sheriff to come clean up. Story is simple: serial killer, shot in self-defense. The agents do not identify agent Portland, to keep their cover story viable. Some failed bureaucracy checks mean that filling out the paperwork takes the remainder of the evening and it is well after dark when they take off to Camp House.

Camp House

In the car, Chris and Talia are able to skim the diary and pick out that there have been multiple authors, writing about some creature too fast to view.

Camp House is an tiny cabin on the lakeshore, surrounded by a chain-link fence. A bit of reconnaissance shows a space to climb over, though the height and the dark means that nearly everyone makes a clumsy, injurious attempt at getting over. They sneak in the house through the bedroom window and after a quick sweep, head down into the basement.

One wall of the basement has collapsed inward, torn open by an explosion. A bunker hallway extends into the darkness. An oppressive aura settles upon the team. In the distance they hear a thudding beat and whining hum, steadily growing louder as they explore.Within those rooms, the team happens upon...

Items Found Within the Bunker

  • VHS tape labeled "Do Not View. Chinese scribbled on it reads "The fat lady sings." (x)
  • Disk of red stone engraved with a spiral of unknown characters. (x)
  • Hardcover copy of The Hanged King's Tragedy. (x)
  • Framed painting: "Still Life of Piles of Meat".
  • An algae-choked fish tank containing a sea slug and a silver bell.
  • Clay tablets arrayed with series of dots in rough pentagons. (x)
  • Silver consider with an inset triangle of USB ports. (x)
  • Severed right hand with bright red skin. (x)
  • A blue pellet labeled "alzabo extract". (x)
  • A King James Bible with heavy fungal growth. (x)
  • A leather-bound book stamped with a sun disk, in calligraphy of an unknown language. (x)
  • A fuligin cloak and mask. (x)
  • Wooden crate; customs stamp states it contains human souls, received in London May 1892.
  • Cracked black mirror, engraved with the word "FLAGA". (x)
  • Series of mason jars containing cuttlefish in formaldehyde. 
  • A rifle with strange organic protuberances where the bullets would normally go.

They proceed to steal everything marked (x) because what the case officer doesn't know can't hurt her.

At the final room the team is greeted by a vision of a man frozen in the moment of suicide. Chris freaks out and blows the corpse away with his shotgun. When he and Darren go closer to investigate, both of them witness the man's final moments of life. A voice behind them says "I've already called them" and the trigger is pulled.

The final room has nothing but a burnt chair. The music is muffled here. As the team turns to leave, there is the soft but unmistakable noise of something falling from the ceiling behind them and moving about. The piping is deafening.

There is a swift battery of fire but the blobby pale betentacled thing plays on. Chris, Darren, and James hit their breaking point. Chris gets smashed by a flailing tentacle, but survives the blow. The team books it out of Camp House, dives into their cars, and tears out into the night. They call the case officer, explain everything but the stolen goods. Cleanup will handle it. Return to the Portland case.

Before they get back to the hotel, they can see the fire glowing above the trees at Camp House.

Chris Redfield Has a Crippling Sexual Attraction to the Morbidly Obese

The VHS was clearly labeled "Do Not View", but Chris had hit half of his original sanity by the end of the session. What he got was some grainy footage of a strip club interior and an 800 pound woman straight-up eating a dude and dancing her way out of there way faster than even normal-sized people are capable of.

So yeah. He's a bit fucked up now.

[Aside]This was Y'golonac in the original shotgun but I subbed in the Bloated Woman for absurdity's sake [/Aside]

Some thoughts on Delta Green as a whole:

There's a lot of stuff I enjoyed. Stocking a room full of crazy bullshit (how many sources can you name?) and dangling mission threads like so many fish-hooks. Character creation that was straightforward enough that I was able to get the players (who generally don't play RPGs unless I am running something) to make their own characters instead of premades. Players exploiting their Bonds to get illegal goods. Players embracing SAN loss as a reason to go outrageous. All good and great. This genre is my wheelhouse.

But the game still feels 15-20 years behind. It's good for what it is but if I think I'd much rather do something with Esoteric Enterprises purely on the grounds of the amount of material I can hack into it and the ease of making more. DG is fun, but gigantic statblocks and unreadably dense scenarios are the standard - and the shotgun scenarios only sometimes alleviate this. I still had to edit them down into one-page formats.

Not a fan of how the game lends itself to "Can I use [skill name]" either.

My quest continues.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

An Evening at the Jasmine Dragon


Owned and run by the man once called the Dragon of the West (and now known to all just as Uncle), the Jasmine Dragon is an upscale tea shop tucked deep in the city center. The shop has a much broader clientele than what would be typically be expected for the neighborhood - Uncle throws the doors open to friends old and new and certainly isn't above helping folks out when they need it.

"Have you heard? Judge Dee is in town to investigate..."

  1. The brutal murder of a gifted young painter.
  2. A newlywed bride, dead of poison.
  3. Theft of expensive silks bound for the capital.
  4. A break-in desecration at the local shrine.
  5. Three men claim the child is theirs.
  6. A reclusive scholar found strangled in a locked room.

The old man at the pai sho table...

  1. Has two teeth and cataracts, is half deaf, and he keeps winning.
  2. Has gone 0 - 45 today, but he's still sitting there with a smile.
  3. Has a buffalo-snake tattooed on his face. Always pauses before responding.
  4. Has been gambling away a fortune without a care in the world.
  5. Has a beard that reaches his ankles and claims to be 140 years old.
  6. Is some nondescript scholar with glasses. Certainly cheating, but how?

 Special brews on the menu include...

  1. Iron Goddess of Mercy
  2. Monkey's Elixir of Immortality
  3. Dragon's Dance Oolong
  4. Yu Yan Special
  5. Camel-Yak Milk Tea
  6. Air Monk's Breakfast Blend

Urgent News! Great Aku, Master of All Darkness, is...

  1. Unleashing unspeakable evil!
  2. Tearing open a portal in time!
  3. Flinging his enemies into the future!
  4. Telling stories to a group of children!
  5. Hiring even more bounty hunters!
  6. In a slump and depressed! He is simply too good at winning!

Class: Elemental Bender

HD: d6
Armor and Weapons: Varies by specialization.
  • Water - No armor, simple weapons. Add Level/2 to AC. Bending attacks do d6.
  • Earth - Light and medium armor, light and medium weapons. Bending attacks do d10.
  • Fire - Light and medium armor, light and medium weapons. Bending attacks do d8.
  • Air - No armor, staffs. Add Level/2 to AC. Bending attacks do d4.
Elemental Arts:

Minor use of bending can be done without a roll. Attacks and skill checks are made with the addition of a deed die, as featured in the DCC fighter. When 3 or higher is rolled on a successful attack or check, the deed succeeds.
  • Level 1: d3
  • Level 2: d4
  • Level 3: d5
  • Level 4: d6
  • Level 5: d7
  • Level 6: d8
  • Level 7: d10
Each discipline has an advanced form learned at level 3 and a master form learned at level 7. Advanced forms use a deed die one step lower than normal. Master forms use a deed die three steps lower.

Optional: If you want to add chi dice (they work like glog dice, burn out on a 6) and get a good idea of how much can be manipulated at once, I shall steal from Mateo.

  • Level 1: (1d6) Palm
  • Level 3: (2d6) Bucket
  • Level 5: (3d6) Truckbed
  • Level 7: (4d6) Bedroom
  • Level 9: (5d6) Barn


  • Advanced - Healing
    • You may use Cure Wounds as a cleric two levels below you.
  • Master - Plants 
    • You may control the water inside plants. Works best in wet environments.
  • Master - Blood 
    • You may control the blood inside another human being. Requires a full moon.


  • Advanced - Tremorsense
    • You can detect vibrations within 50 feet if you have bare-skin contact with stone or earth.
  • Master - Metal
    •  Becomes more difficult the more refined the metal is.
  • Master - Lava
    •  I shouldn't have to mention how excessively dangerous this is.


  • Advanced - Breath Control
    • You can create flame and adjust the intensity of fire through breath alone.
  • Master - Lightning
    • You may generate and redirect lightning bolts.
  • Master - Combustion
    • You may fire an explosive projectile from your forehead.


  • Advanced - Flight 
    • So long as you have something to glide with, you're a leaf on the wind.
  • Master - Sound
    •  You can create and muffle sounds.
  • Master - Vacuum
    •  You can create bubbles of vacuum, centered on yourself.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Three Miniposts

My muse is a fickle one. An idea will possess me for a brief and brilliant moment, then vanish. Drafts will languish untouched for months and when i finally return the excitement that once possessed me has passed.

Here's some of that brain-detritus: unfinished, incomplete, fragmentary.

Playing Around with World States

You know how Zelda has the Dark World? It's like that. Take your map and add a new plane on top of it as a new layer. If there's a city in that spot, there's still a city there now, but it's changed according to whatever plane the adventurers find themselves on. If there's a mountain there, there will continue to be a mountain there.

It's a sort of hyper-dense Planescape, expanding deeper instead of outwards. Your map can be far smaller than it would be normally but contain more content. You can have fun with portals. Puzzles can cross worlds. You can get more material put of prepping one map and just adding variants. String together modules.

Binding of Isaac: OSRbirth Double Plus Platinum God Edition

It had to happen eventually. I've sunk too many hours into these games to avoid it. And thanks to Nick over at Papers & Pencils and his Legend of Zelda ruleset, it may now come to fruition, even in this unfinished state.

If the stars could not possibly get more aligned, there's a multiplayer Binding of Isaac card game out there that has mechanics that can be hacked into the aforementioned Zelda rules, plus the rules and all the cards are just listed on the official site.

1 heart = 2 HP
  • Soul hearts cannot be replenished. When they are gone, they're gone.
  • Black hearts are like soul hearts, but upon depletion do 2 damage to every enemy in the room.
  • Bone hearts have 3 HP each. After taking a 3rd point of damage (if it has not been restored), it shatters and is permanently lost. 
  • Isaac - 3 hearts - The D6 (reroll an item)
  • Maggie - 4 hearts - Yum Heart (gain 2 HP)
  • Cain - 2 hearts - Lucky Foot (1 point of luck)
  • Judas - 1 heart - Book of Belial (+1 damage to attacks in this room)
  • Eve - 2 hearts - Whore of Babylon (gain +1 damage when at 2 HP or less)
  • Samson - 3 HP - Bloody Lust (gain +1 damage after killing 5 enemies and taking no damage)
  • ??? - 3 soul hearts - Poop (hide behind it for 1 armor)
  • Azazel - 3 black hearts - Flight, short brimstone (gain +1 damage / turn of charging)
  • Lazarus - 3/1 hearts - Resurrects with 1 heart after death, leaving 1 damage blood trail.
  • Eden - Random, up to 3 of any combination - 2 random items
  • The Lost - 0 - Flight, spectral, Holy Mantle (negates 1 attack / room)
  • Lilith - 1 heart, 2 black hearts - Incubus (Familiar), Cambion Conception (gain new familiar each 15 points of damage)
  • Keeper - 2 coins (1HP each) - Wooden nickel (gain 1 penny)
  • Apollyon - 2 hearts - Void (permanently trade item for stat boost)
  • The Forgotten - 2 bone hearts / 1 soul heart - Physical form has club only. Spectral has tears.

Religion As Alignment

Some time ago now, I caught an NPR segment (or was it a completely unrelated podcast? I honestly don't know) that broke down religion into five core questions.
  • How am I here? (The cosmological question)
  • Why am I here? (The existential question)
  • Why do bad things happen? (The problem of evil)
  • How do I know right from wrong? (The morality question)
  • What happens when I die? (The afterlife question)
You can see the random tables practically generating themselves.

The answers to those questions becomes alignment. It's social alignment, it's cultural alignment, it's political alignment, it's incredibly important when dealing with the relationships between large groups of people. If you are dealing with people, you can't escape it: atheism doesn't mean that religion disappears, it just means that the answers to the questions come from different sources.

So the religious alignment chart ends up turning into a nifty little spreadsheet (James Young over at Ten Foot Polemic already did something like this years ago) where you can easily see what the general relationship is between two religions. To whit, I say there are four relationships:
  • Peaceable
  • Neutral
  • Dislike and Distrust
  • Open Hostility
But religions themselves have alignment of their own. I shouldn't have to go into detail on all the issues with defining gods (and their followers) as objectively lawful or good or chaotic or evil, but the idea of using a short hand to determine where a religion sits shouldn't necessarily be thrown out with the bathwater. It just needs a little edit.This part is helpful for people who are running 5e for folks who have yet to come out of the shallow end of the pool, I suppose.

The Law / Chaos axis is replaced by one representing organization, hierarchy, and orthodoxy.

The Good / Evil axis is replaced by one representing a religion's social acceptance.

So a religion previously labeled as "Lawful Good" now becomes "high organization, high acceptance". It might be awful as hell, but this alignment chart doesn't care about that.

Both of these factors can change according to where and when the religion in question is situated.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Adapting the SCP Wiki 2: Groups of Interest

(It won't fit on the page, but the art that should go here is by Zhange000)

We're back! In the previous installment, I went and featured bunch of items and monsters for use in Esoteric Enterprises. Here I'll be running through the various groups of interest - what they want, how they operate, and how players would generally interact with them.

I'll be writing with the presumption that EE players are all on the fringes of the supernatural world and don't belong to any particular faction. Several of the groups listed would be very easy to play as, though, so adjust to taste.

As with anything on the SCP wiki, most of these groups have a downright ludicrous amount of material written for them, and everyone interprets them differently.

Emmy's "Law Enforcement in Esoteric Enterprises" post is necessary reading and will need only minor adjustments when it is applicable.

Gorich from the Discord server was a great help organizing this and providing feedback

Major Organizations

High organization, wide scope. 
These are the big players. Their reach is global, their members number in the thousands, they have deep pockets, politicians and CEOs by the short and curlies, and enough skeletons in the closet for a necromancy convention. They're recurring features of the world and players can expect to deal with them regularly. These are the guys who show up to fuck you up.

The Foundation

The biggest kid in the sandbox. A sprawling leviathan of uncertain origin, the underworld's version of a bank too big to fail. Devoted to the capture and collection of anomalies, both to prevent knowledge from spreading to the world at large and for study of the paranormal. They are extremely reluctant to actually use anomalies in practice, due to some disastrous incidents in the past and a very conservative outlook towards the paranormal.

Using it in play: The arrival of the Foundation on the scene is an instant complication. Sure, they might be able to help you out of a pickle, but they'll also confiscate all of your cool magical shit (and any Spooks in the party) and put you on a watch list. Escaping the scene without getting caught easily becomes the order of the day. The announcement that the Foundation is on the way should be a call for grabbing whatever you can and getting the hell out of dodge, and there's no guarantee the players will ever be able to go back to the location after it's been secured.
  • Field Agents will be as plain clothes officer.
  • Mobile Task Force operatives will be as riot cop, fire team officer, and police marksman. 
  • Field Agent Specialists are as MIB field agent.   

The Global Occult Coalition

A UN task force formed in the wake of the second World War to combat the paranormal, consisting of 108 member organizations pulled from all the major powers. They are much more willing to experiment with the anomalous than the Foundation, embracing both weird science and occultism - but only so long as it can be controlled. Threats are dealt with succinct, overwhelming violence.

Using it in play: The GOC functions similarly to the Foundation: sweep in, make sure that everything is either under control or dead. Spooks in the party will be targeted, and any occultists or mystics they can find in short order behind them. Parties that have accumulated significant paranormal resources will not be given a chance to explain themselves.
  • Assessment Team - As plain clothes officer, possess advanced reconnaissance and surveillance equipment.
  • Strike Team - As riot cop, fire team officer, police marksman, MIB Field Agent, MIB paladin, with accompanying support from occultists and mystics. Equipped with the best equipment the modern world can provide. Drop in a helicopter APC if they really want to break stuff. A tank is not out of the question if things get really bad.

The Horizon Initiative

An alliance of secret religious societies, primarily those of assorted Christian, Jewish, and Sunni Muslim traditions. Originally founded to study religious relics and counter cult activity, the organization now finds itself torn between upholding its ancient traditions, and the realities of the paranormal world. Minor cults and mystic traditions more rooted in the anomalous world have begun to make inroads as well as the old guard dies off and new discoveries of the true nature of the universe are made. The Initiative attitude towards the paranormal is on a case by case basis: use, destruction, or leaving well enough alone as circumstances dictate.

Using it in Play: As the Initiative has a more focused aim, their interactions with players will generally happen when the players are mucking around with relics and cults. If they haven't made a threat of themselves, they probably have nothing to worry about.
  • Scribes - Tend to be buried in their work. Most neutral faction. Noncombatants, but may possess grimoires and a few spells.
  • Shepherds - Mostly normal folks out in the field. Lean more liberal. As plain clothes officer or mystic of Judas Thaddeus. 1d4 minor magical items per team. 50% chance of blessed weapon.
  • Wolves - The militant arm. Ultraconservative zealots on a short leash. As MIB paladin, can cast Dispel Magic, Protection from Weapons, Magic Blade, and two other spells. All attacks count as holy and magical.

Church of the Broken God

Religious organization seeking to escape flawed and ruinous flesh through machinery. Seek to rebuild their god MEKHANE and achieve apotheosis through it. Three main denominations:
  • The Broken Church - The oldest branch, from which the other two are derived. Headed by Robert Bumaro, the man responsible for revitalizing the Church in the 20th century.
  • Cogwork Orthodoxy - Remake themselves according to "Standardization". Deliberately invoke outmoded technology: steam, clockwork, so on. Tend to make loud ticking noises. Hate electric and digital devices. Call their god MEKHANE.
  • Maxwellianism - The modern reform branch, embracing computation and networking as part of their worship. Call their god WAN, seek to rebuild it through mass networking of transhuman digital minds.
All branches of the Church demonize the Flesh and will wage war against the Sarkists at whenever the opportunity arises. 

Using it in Play: The CotBG will generally ignore players, unless they were to come in contact with a piece of MEKHANE or have been dabbling in Sarkism. Otherwise, they will evangelize (mostly Maxwellists through social media) and leave minor players alone. Recovering a piece of the god and returning it to the church

Sarkicist Cults

Loose collection of cults centered on Yaldabaoth (referred to as The Flesh by the Church of the Broken God), an old and terrible god of meat and matter, blind and mindless progenitor and destroyer of all life. Sarkicists do not worship Yaldabaoth as a rule, instead feeding off of its power as parasites. Seek apotheosis through bodily augmentation, ritual cannibalism, bloodline purity, blood sacrifice, and theophagy. Two main variants:
  • Proto-Sarkicism - Remnants of ancient cults, practiced now only in isolated Eurasian communities. Secretive, anti-modernity, ruled by superstition and taboo.
  • Neo-Sarkicism - Modern variants that have shed many of the ethical strictures of their older counterparts and embraced the technologies and cosmopolitan customs of the modern world to further their own power.
Sarkicist Cults either do not know or do not care about MEKHANE and the Church of the Broken God.

Using it in Play: The Flesh does not play nicely. We're talking "airborne cancer", here. A major emergence will be enough to make other organizations set aside their differences to wipe them out. From the players' perspective, the Sarkists provide all manner of horrible monsters to fight, horrific realizations when a new cult is stumbled across, and a looming threat.

Minor Organizations

High organization, small scope.
These groups are either small, defunct, background, or otherwise limited in scope. They generally won't recur unless one actively seeks them out, or players are remaining in the same neighborhood.

Alexylva University

An extrauniversal university from a much more Greco-Roman timeline. Keeps losing its mail somewhere in Tennessee.

Using it in Play: Players are unlikely to interact with Alexylva University unless they mistakenly get a package from the Department of Natural Philosophy.

Ambrose Restaurants

A chain of fine-dining restaurants appearing across the multiverse. Franchises vary in appearance and menu depending on location. Non-hostile but deeply entrenched in the anomalous. Will pack up and vanish when threatened by an outside force. Known to cater to MC&D and occasionally bring in Herman Fuller's Circus for entertainment.

Using it in Play: Local branches of Ambrose Restaurants can serve as meeting grounds for those who have gotten deep into the paranormal. A good way to keep up with appearances and meet with contacts.

Anderson Robotics

A small, Portland-based paratech company specializing in anomalous AI, cybernetics, software, and robotics. They will readily do contract work for other groups in need of anomalous tech.

Using it in Play: Direct interaction with Anderson Robotics is unlikely. Players will more likely than not run into their products in the hands of other parties, or perhaps seek them out when the team doctor decides that cybernetic enhancements are in order.

The Chicago Spirit

Organized crime syndicate founded by Richard Chappell in 1895 and dissolved in 1938 after Chappell's capture. Has seen a resurgence through the "Chicago Spectre" since 1990, though it is unknown if there is a direct link beyond the name.

Using it in Play: The Chicago Spectre would be equivalent to higher-level EE players, and so can be brought in as a rival party competing for the same treasures.

Church of the Second Hytoth

A branch of an extraterrestrial religion (Orthothanism). Mythos focuses on aiding a godlike being (Rakmou-leusan) from a previous universal iteration (The First Hytoth) against their great enemies (Voruteut) through offerings of blood and vital essence. Human practitioners are often skilled occultists and theurgists, and have some limited contact with extraterrestrial practitioners.

Using it in Play: The Orthothan Church would be the party's primary means of contacting any extraterrestrial beings, though the first difficulty would be finding the group and gaining their trust.

Dr. Wondertainment 

Creator of whimsical and often dangerous anomalous toys. It is uncertain whether Dr. Wondertainment is an individual, a company, or the head of said company, and likewise uncertain how aware it or they are of the dangers of their products.

Using it in Play: Wondertainment toys can be stuck wherever one wants, and the Little Misters series can be used as random encounters. Otherwise, players might stumble across Isabel Wondertainment and her assistant Emma (and Jeremy the corgi) in the midst of their own adventure.

The Factory

Secretive manufacturer of mass-produced anomalous items. Raids on production plants have found products and workers, but no sign of leadership.

Using it in Play: The Factory exists primarily in the background. Items bearing its stamp are generally dangerous (but not immediately so) to the consumer.

The Fifth Church

Mystery religion popular among west coast entertainment elite and hidden cults in the deep south. The tenets are so heavily coded in verse and poetic language that they appear as gibberish to outsiders. Are they communicating with stars? Shedding their mortal bodies and ascending beyond this vale of tears? Are the patterns they weave the path to the transcendent? Or are they just to religions what clowns are to people?

Using it in Play: Fifthism is infectious. Those who start studying it will need to make regular saves to resist its influence. If too much of it builds up in a person there's no going back, it's all gibberish and starshine from hereon.

GRU Division P

Rendered officially defunct by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Most of their projects vanished along with the remaining members, filtering down into the paranormal underworld out of the eyes of the Foundation or GOC. The paranormal world's equivalent of an unexploded landmine, just waiting to resurface.

Using it in Play: Ex-GRU-P members are always good leads to find hidden artifacts. Likewise, a GRU-P project dug up by some other underworld party is always a cause for concern.

Herman Fuller's Circus of the Disquieting

A traveling show filled with all manner of bizarre beings and freakish sights. The circus itself is notoriously difficult to find - most interaction comes from members or equipment that have been left behind after shows. Currently led by the Man With The Upside-Down Face and Icky the Magic Clown.

Using it in Play: Random encounter. There wasn't a circus here yesterday, now there is. There was a circus here, it's gone now.

Imperial Japanese Anomalous Matters Examination Agency (IJAMEA)

Japan's once-official counter-paranormal organization. Founded during the Meiji Restoration, dissolved in 1945, absorbed by the Foundation and GOC. The modern iteration is a network of autonomous cells, many of which are family lines themselves, and the occasional radical holdout.

Using it in Play: While geographically limited, IJAMEA cells can serve as friendlies for players avoiding the Foundation or GOC.

Manna Charitable Foundation

An interfaith non-profit humanitarian organization. Their desire to help often outweighs their knowledge of the paranormal, which has lead to several incidents of disastrous consequences.

Using it in Play: Manna Charitable is always hot on the heels of disaster, and has an unfortunate tendency to make things worse. If the players themselves are responsible for the disaster, all the better.

Marshal, Carter, and Dark

An exclusive club and auction house for the rich and depraved. Centered in London, but representatives might be found wherever wealth accumulates in amounts worthy of their notice.

Using it in Play: MC&D representatives will always be willing to purchase artifacts from and extend lines of credit to the players. Their auction houses are also perfect opportunities to do a black-tie heist job.

Office For The Reclamation of Islamic Artifacts (ORIA)

Iran's secret anti-paranormal office and the primary anti-paranormal organization in the Middle East and Central Asia. Close ties to the Iranian government and the djinn of House Asfeneh leave the organization in a precarious position.

Using it in Play: ORIA fills the role of the Foundation within its territory, though has fewer resources above the level of normal field agents.

Prometheus Labs, Inc

The first major paratech company. Dissolved in 1998. Most of the projects and personnel were absorbed by the Foundation and other groups. Those that remained either faded into obscure retirement or made desperate attempts at continuing development of their projects.

Using it in Play: Players will most likely interact with Prometheus Labs through discovering lost projects or through old personnel who managed to avoid death or recruitment.

Shark Punching Center 

An alternate-universe version of the Foundation that has devoted its entire pool of resources and the acquisition of paranormal objects towards punching sharks.

Using it in Play: Random encounter. Is there a shark around? Can be real, could be a toy, a painting, could be something that vaguely looks like a shark. Some absolute lunatic comes in from nowhere (bursting through walls as needed) beats the shit out of it, and runs off. Crafty players might weaponize this, or attempt to stall and get information. If they do, take them down the rabbit hole.

Unusual Incidents Unit

The official response of the US government to the paranormal. This tiny, woefully underfunded office of the Federal Bureau of Investigations serves as a punchline to most other groups and rarely deals in with any major anomalies, but they've kept at it for decades now and will occasionally be drawn into Foundation and GOC operations.

Using it in Play: UIU only ever handles small incidents and so its field agents can serve as antagonists or friendlies for low-level groups new to the paranormal world.

Wilson's Wildlife Solutions 

Publicly-funded wildlife service based out of Boring, Oregon. An official relationship was made with the Foundation in 2008, allowing WWS members to be brought in for the care and keeping of anomalous fauna under Foundation control.

Using it in Play: WWS can be treated as part of the Foundation for purposes of player interaction, though they'll generally be friendlier towards players than their mainline compatriots.

Clandestine Groups

These hardly count as an organization. No obvious leadership, no coherent motives, more of a collection of ideologically-aligned individuals. Players will rarely encounter more than one or two individuals at a time, but they. Low organization, wide scope.

Are We Cool Yet?

Anomalous artist collective, linked through their love of high-visibility installations featuring the phrase "Are We Cool Yet?" or something close to it somewhere in the project. 

Using it in Play: Rogue art installations can serve as encounters or items, and the anartists themselves are good contacts and go-betweens for players. There are plenty of non-AWCY artists in the underworld, too.

Chaos Insurgency

The Red Right Hand split off from the Foundation in 1924 and have been running a guerilla war to topple the Overseer Council since then, believing that their meddling in the unnatural has set the world on the path of paranormal rot. They have no qualms about extreme measures, and will use whatever paranormal powers fall into their hands to do as much damage as possible to the Foundation.

Using it in Play: CI operatives are a treasure trove of paranormal treasure and excessively dangerous. If they bring the players into an operation, it will be to be disposable. If players get into a fight with them, someone or someones aren't coming home: if no one dies, you are running it wrong.

Gamers Against Weed

Some insufferable online web inhabitants who do a lot of ironic hipster shitposting and occasionally make anomalies.

Using it in Play: Players who know their way about the memeosphere might be able to forge connections worth some information among members of GAW.

Oneiroi Collective

A hive-mind of dreaming beings, human and otherwise. Physical manifestations are always directed in such ways to benefit the dreamscape and the dreamers that are a part of it.

Using it in Play: Physical manifestations may be used as rare random encounters.

Serpent's Hand

A network of pro-paranormal individuals operating out of the extrauniversal Wanderer's Library through a network of Ways (spatial shortcuts and passages between universes). Anyone affiliated with the Hand will be skilled with magic and have an array of occultist and mystic spells at their disposal. They are opposed to the Foundation and even more to the GOC. The leaders of the group are a shifting cabal called the Nest; recurring members include a bipedal female bull moose, a patchwork man, a satyr, and "the silver woman".

Using it in Play: The Hand are natural allies to a party that has gone deep into the paranormal and embraced the wily ways of magic. Fostering good relations with the Hand might allow access to the Ways, or even the Wanderer's Library itself.


Sometimes a single person is enough to be classified as an entire group.

The Black Queen

The infinite alteruniversal iterations of Allison Chao, daughter of a prominent Foundation scientist. Operates out of the Wanderer's Library, known connections with the Serpent's Hand. Most active iterations hostile to the Foundation.

Using it in Play: A random encounter within the Wanderer's Library, who might task players with assisting her in a raid on the Foundation.


Might be a person, might be a lot of people. The nondescript figure you're sure you recognize, who appears at portentous times and disappears just as swiftly.

Using it in Play: Random encounter. A moment of help, a warning, a portent of things to come.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Mother Stole the Background Kits #3

Johasnes Helgeson

Previous posts 1, 2

Table 3: Knightly Orders

1. Order of the Sable Maid

Defenders of the weak, enemies of the wicked.
  • Greatsword (d10, 3s)
  • Chainmail and Tabard (14ac, 3s)
  • Holy Water
  • Anointing Oil

2. Knight of Autumn

Followers of the Folk of Fall.
  • Sword (d8, 2s)
  • Gambeson (12ac, 1s)
  • Shield (+1ac)
  • Spell: Grow Mighty Oak (Magic Acorns)
  • Cloak of Leaves
  • Bottle of Goblin Moonshine

3. Knight Embryonic

Justice will not wait for birth.
  • Warhammer  (d10, 3s)
  • Elaborate Plate Armor (16ac, 5s)
  • Helmet (+1ac, 1s)
  • Spell: Aura of Safety

4. Crusader

The front line against Hell.
  • Sword (d8, 2s)
  • Plate Armor (16ac, 5s)
  • Battle Standard
  • Shield (+1ac, 1s)
  • Helmet (+1ac, 1s)
  • Spell: Turn Demon (Blessed Scroll)

5. Lantern Knight

By our light, the path in the dark.
  • Sword (d8, 2s)
  • Brigandine and Cloak (13ac, 2s)
  • Lamplighter + Snuffer
  • Lantern
  • Flask of Oil

6. Leper Knight

They shall not die timidly.
  • Sword (d8, 2s)
  • Mask and Bandages
  • Shield (+1ac)
  • Healing Balm
  • Terrifying Visage

7. Red Witch

Blood red in tooth and blade, life and death.
  • Barbed sword (d8, 2s)
  • Blood-Soaked Rags
  • Spell: Blood-Lore
  • Spell: Frenzied Lust for Violence

8. Incense Knight

Such sweet smells that rise up to the gods.
  • Censor-Mace (d8, 2s)
  • Bag of Charcoal
  • Tin of Incense
  • Half Plate (14ac, 4s)
  • Helmet (+1ac, 1s)

9. Gunpowder Knight

Sworn by Colt and Winchester.
  • Revolver (d8, 1s)
  • Repeating Rifle (d10, 2s)
  • Spell: Quickdraw (Coat of Arms)
  • Powder and Shot

10. Harmatean Knight

Know thyself, and know thy demons better.
  • Axe
  • Shield
  • Brigandine
  • Spell: Summon Demon
  • Spell: Chain Demon

11. Legio Ultimo Marine

The last of Darvatius’ finest.
  • Spear (d8, 2s)
  • Segmentata (14ac, 3s)
  • Helmet (+1ac 1s)
  • Shield (+1ac, 1s)
  • Short Sword (d6, 1s)
  • Sling (d4, 1s)
  • Field Ration x1

12. Knight of Cordyceps

Chivalry is an effective quarantine.
  • Longsword (d10, 3s)
  • Half-Plate and Cloak (15ac, 4s)
  • Spore Pods
  • Spell: Cloud of Spores
  • Spell: Creeping Mycelium

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Unironic Use of Fake Jacobean Speech

E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros ends on a pristine moment of horror: the four protagonists are granted a wish by the gods, and they wish to endlessly repeat the brutal four-year war they just finished fighting, forever.

This book was written in 1922.  There are no signs of satire.

(This is where I plug Jack and Kate over at Bad Books for Bad People, they have a great episode all about this).

Anyway! Games. Whilst unspeakably horrifying to any human being even remotely on the spectrum of decency, the cyclic forever war is damn good gaming material. So for that purpose I shall use it.

War, huh? What's it good for?

The two main belligerents in the Ouroboros War are Demonland (led by the Lords Juss, Spitfire, and Goldry Bluszco) and Witchland (led by King Gorice XII). Everyone seems to be human for whatever reason.

Witchland has a bunch of minor client nations allied to them (Goblinland, Pixieland, Impland, etc. All of varying reliability), at least one competent political advisor, and a black magician. Demonland tends to field Big Strong Distressingly-Aryan Big Strong Men What Fight Good And They Are The Best And Noblest Because They Are Big and Strong And Also Manchildren.

Actual foot soldiers? Ha, fuck them, they don't matter in this story. All the actual consequences of war get a single sentence.

The important thing is that everyone remembers what happened in the last loop. The world state resets, the dead are now alive again, but no one forgets. Each time it will be different, but the end result will always be the same.

Everything Old is New Again

Game premise: You are all soldiers and peasantry who have been on the receiving end of the Ouroboros War for 3 / 5 / 10 / 20 / 50 / 100 cycles. You are engaged in a desperate attempt to stop the cycle and depose the Lords, if possible. By now you know that Juss' queen, Sophonisba, is responsible for the hell the world finds itself in. She called upon the gods, and they answered her. Perhaps she can call upon them again, if she had a conscience.

But she is always in the presence of the Lords, and that is a great problem: the Lords are either at the head of their army, or wandering around in the wilderness halfway around the world. Defeating them in direct combat is unlikely, given how Big and Strong they are. There are potential allies to be found in certain members of the court of Witchland (though that nation is likewise filled with meatheaded manchildren) and perhaps among the minor nations, but that must be saved until the cycle is broken. Killing the Lords now will do nothing but give Witchland the round.

It is likely that you will all die. This is only a temporary problem, because you will return in the next cycle with all the knowledge you gained the last time.

Edit: And then Dark Souls Happens

Type1Ninja in the OSR Discord said that my description sounded a lot like Dark Souls III. Lords of Cinder constantly perpetuating a cycle, rejected nobody ends up either perpetuating or ending the cycle. Aesthetically, Souls games are the polar opposite of The Worm Ouroboros, which can only mean that the interaction and synthesis of the two is a great idea.

Monday, February 18, 2019

An Account of Inherited Books

You can learn a lot about someone by their bookshelf. These were once my dad's, and now they have passed to me.
  • The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco
  • The Annotated Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  • The Annotated Alice, Lewis Carrol
  • Histories, Heroditus
  • Beowulf, Norton Critical Edition
  • The Aenead of Vergil, trans. Rolfe Humphries
  • Private Life in the Fifteenth Century, ed. Roger Virgoe
  • Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, Norman Cantor
  • Civilization of the Middle Ages,  Norman Cantor
  • Castle, David Macauley
  • In Praise of Folly, Erasmus
  • The Black Death, Philip Ziegler
  • The Travels, Marco Polo
  • Spells of Enchantment: The Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture, ed. Jack Zipes
  • Leonardo Da Vinci: the Complete Paintings, Pietro Marani 
  • The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee, trans. Robert van Gulik
  • Judge Dee at Work, Robert van Gulik
  • The Emperor's Pearl, Robert van Gulik
  • The Chinese Gold Murders, Robert van Gulik
  • The Chinese Bell Murders, Robert van Gulik 
  • The Lacquer Screen, Robert van Gulik
  • Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse
  • Second copy of Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves
  • Mulliner Nights, P.G. Wodehouse
  • The Feudal Spirit, P.G. Wodehouse
  • Aunts Aren't Gentlemen, P.G. Wodehouse
  • Cocktail Time, P.G. Wodehouse
  • Luck of the Bodkins, P.G. Wodehouse
  • The Man Upstairs, P.G. Wodehouse
  • Very Good, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse
  • The League of Frightened Men, Rex Stout
  • A second copy of The League of Frightened Men
  • Please Pass the Guilt, Rex Stout
  • Plot it Yourself, Rex Stout
  • Representing Reality: Readings in Non-Fiction, John Warnock
  • Sister Wendy's Grand Tour, Sr. Wendy Beckett
  • Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers
  • Hush Money, Robert Parker
  • Jack, Knave, and Fool, Bruce Alexander
  • Murder at the Vicarage, Agatha Christie
  • Noble Radiance, Donna Leon
  • Acqua Alta, Donna Leon
  • The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
  • Valediction, Robert Parker
  • The Lies of Fair Ladies, Jonathan Grant
  • Armadillos and Old Lace, Kinky Friedman
  • Murder at the ABA, Isaac Asimov
  • Fletch Reflected, Gregory Mcdonald
  • The Road to Rhuine, Simon Troy
  • The World of Giotto, Sarel Eimerl
  • The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe
  • Style (3rd Ed.), Joseph Williams
  • The Well-Tempered Sentence, Karen Elizabeth Gordon
  • The Transitive Vampire, Karen Elizabeth Gordon
  • Citizen Sherman, Michael Fellman
  • Atlas of the Civil War, Time-Life
  • The Pythons, the Pythons
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus DVD box set
  • 2 daily calendars compatible with 2020 and 2026.
  • Several books of crossword puzzles, partially completed in pen.
  • A wooden mask, laughing. 
  • Desk sign: "English Department: Sentences diagrammed, infinitives split, participles dangled, while you wait."
  • A finger painting I made in preschool. 
Now if I can't make an adventure or ten out of this list I might as well just quit this whole RPG thing. To avoid this grievous disappointment, here is the skeleton of a campaign come up with on the fly. Given the nature of most of the books on this list, this would probably be best suited for BRP or GURPS.

Session 1: Judge Dee and his lieutenants are confronted with the case of the "Laughing Mask Murders". Judge Dee, unsettled by the events, sends the wooden mask into the care of the Imperial Censors in the capital.

Session 2: Beowulf and his Geats come to the aid of Hrothgar, kill the monster Grendel and his mother. Great and wonderful treasures are found: among them, a golden mask with a terrible visage. All are taken back to Götaland.

Session 3: A short comedic interlude wherein Marco Polo and companions assist the Khan's men to solve a mystery. They are given the Laughing Mask as a reward, and it is taken back to Italy.

Session 4: The Plague has reached northern Italy. A monastery, spared of the sickness thus far, is struck with a string of mysterious deaths. All the while, the Laughing Mask sits in the main alcove of the library.

Session 5: Da Vinci's anatomical lessons get out of hand as the dead seem to leap up from the table. One of the corpses gets its hold on the Laughing Mask (Leonardo had acquired it some time before) and goes on a rampage.

Session 6: A band of Union soldiers separated from Sherman's main force find themselves lost in the Georgia backwoods, stalked by a monstrous being in a weeping stone mask.

Session 7: Sherlock Holmes is brought in to solve the theft of the Terrible Mask from the British Museum. While doing so he meets an old American soldier who shares the story of the Weeping Mask. The soldier steals the Terrible Mask and smuggles it over to America, for reasons unknown.

Session 8: Bertie Wooster and his butler Jeeves have a rather silly little adventure of no greater consequence.

Phase 9: Chaos is unleashed as the three masks are joined during Game 4 of the 1966 World Series. Yes, this is a JoJo reference.

Not half bad for off the top of my head. Had to finish it off with baseball, the old man was a gigantic Orioles fan and he'd at least be entertained by all the musical gags in JoJo.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Mother Stole Fire: Core Themes

Julie Dillon

Tristan Tanner over at Bogeyman's Cave had a post featuring the six core themes of his setting, with an invitation for others to do the same. I'm taking up the offer for Mother Stole Fire and putting a little twist on it - instead of six themes, I'll be going through six features of the setting and explaining the thought process behind them. (Michael Kennedy did a post on thematic worldbuilding, too, so this is a decent follow up.)

0. A Note

My favorite aspect of fantasy is that it's intrinsically a personal thing. Of everything I have written in my time writing things, this might be the most-so, which means I am both quite proud of it and constantly going "nooooooo I'm falling into self-indulgence i don't even know if this makes sense to anyone but me!"

1. Mother

She started as a pretty plain plain flipping of the script: mother goddess as active head of the pantheon. The theft of fire was a natural extension with plenty of precedent (Greek and Pacific Northwest myth as my two touchstones, though there are certainly more), and that was further synthesized with the development of firemaking as synonymous with the emergence of modern humans and the transition from the into the Holocene. And if fire was stolen, then it must mean that Mother is a trickster. The character builds herself from there.

I haven't written much about her husband Baba Tubalkhan, but he operates under the same principle. The name gives away a chunk of his lineage (and his propensity towards metalwork), but there's a smattering of Odin about him as well (the missing eye, given up for greater wisdom. Granted that could be a bit of Ra too. Maybe he has a really nasty cat.) Sky gods and sun gods and ineffable eternal principles don't have anything to do with actual people and tend to make bad parents, so he's the god of craft, good judgement, and wisdom. Actual dad stuff.

Mother gets top billing, but that's what happens when you RKV a dragon out of nowhere. Baba hates the spotlight anyway.

2. The Gods

They don't come down from Mt. Olympus to fuck chambermaids. They're not external cosmic forces either. Maybe it's better to say that the gods aren't real, but they are true. They're not things. They're not people. They're actions, verbs, reflections. The act is the image is the magic is the god. They don't have much to do with religion because religion is based in belief and gods aren't a matter of belief. A god with only belief has no power, has no being, it has nothing to reflect. These are personal gods, relatable gods, our gods. Stripped of dogma and strict hierarchies. Living and breathing and changing gods. Old gods, who encompass the breadth and depth of humanity as a whole. There's no god who will impose justice from the outside, only the god of the justice we live out.

Practically, this is a way I can have loads of gods without having to worry about all the mess of divine intervention or worrying about sources of magic. Organized religion in Mother Stole Fire is lightweight when it appears at all. Wandering mendicants and roadside shrines, a few assorted cults and monastic orders and so on. Nothing really big, and certainly nothing that gets mixed in with politics.

Plus I get to dig deep for obscure mythologies (which is fun) and continue with the theme of combining anything I can draw a connection between and use reader familiarity to draw people in.

3. The Folk

Elves have gotten a rough deal of late. With reality trapped in the attitude that the world is something that can be mastered / conquered / commoditized and a whole lot of modern fantasy removing wonder and awe with all with all the grace of a battlefield amputation, they've been reduced to pointy-eared fops writing melodramatic poetry about leaves.

I don't like that one bit. So I mainline the opening of Princess Mononoke and Shadow of the Colossus and Hellboy and make sure that the wild spirits of untamed nature are not forgotten. 

They're also the force that drives humanity in Mother Stole Fire to be far more respectful and more humble when it comes to treatment of the world around it: you must respect Pele, because she's a fucking volcano and you aren't. (Those who read my take on modern Lovecraft will already be familiar with my feelings on the matter of humility, but I do go on and on (as my old man used to say, "I'm the best at being humble!")

4. Humanity

Here's where things start pulling together.

Humans in Mother Stole Fire consist of five primary peoples (manu, idaltu, neandr, florin, lilu) and a panoply of cultures and societies within those peoples. I deliberately want to avoid homogeneity so I tend to fall into the "city states are the best states" camp. The sphere of human culture is wonderfully, dizzyingly diverse (as it is in reality), but at the foundation of it all is the bedrock of kinship among all humanity. Foundation is the wrong word: It's more like a web, all the connections between. No one stands at the center. There is no center. There are only the multitudes.

Which is all to say (as I have alluded to in other posts), Mother Stole Fire is a sight better off than we are. I mean, it would have to be, when concepts like the equality between man and woman and the universal dignity of the human person come about before agriculture and written language (and have remained ingrained due to positive feedback loop). Save Dis, there are only two authoritarian empires that ever had great sway in the world, and both of those have collapsed.

5. Hell

I'm terribly unsubtle when writing about Hell. It's the late-stage capitalism quarantine zone. Slate Star Codex's "Meditations on Moloch" in city-state form. It's every horrific thing pulled out from the past and wadded together in a hideous fleshy paste of suffering.

The important thing is that Hell is made by people. It's not an external force at all, and all those demons up all the way to Moloch are our doing. It could be undone if people thought to stop.

Terribly unsubtle. Matched only by my incredibly idealistic effort to stave off crushing existential depression by making Mother Stole Fire a setting where Hell has been contained.

6. Death

It's the end. Ghosts are just magical leftovers without any continuity of consciousness. Hell is just a city. All attempts to maintain one's being after bodily death will eventually fail. There are no gods of death, only of mourning. No one ever comes back, and everyone knows it. Mother clutches her stillborn child and weeps.

In other settings I might put an afterlife, but not here. It'd feel cheap to have an easy way out of the human experience. It wouldn't be true. We don't get takebacks, re-dos, or sequels, and so there's no good reason I can see to add them into a setting that's supposed to be about people.

It's the final reaffirmation of all the rest of the setting: We are masters of nothing and only momentary inhabitants of the world, but we are not alone. 

(Now's an appropriate time to link to this tumblr post regarding the spiritual nature of art and how that relates to mortality. And to say that the real motivator behind starting this blog was that moment of realizing my own mortality that sunk in after my dad died.)

So that's Mother Stole Fire, in a nutshell.

Julie Dillon

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Moon Beasts, Necromantic Republic, and the City of Dis


The Moon Beasts

Ships with tar-black hulls and fuligin sails descend softly from the moon: the men of Leng have come to trade.

They favor the ports of the Mare Interregnum and the city of Dis, but have been seen as far north as the border of Orca's territory and in some rare cases far inland. The wizards of Selene-Tranquility University believe they come from the far side of the moon, or perhaps the distant ulfire cities of the New Gods.

The Leng-menare short and swaddle themselves in heavy silk robes and wide turbans. Their four eyes are like beads of liquid coal and their wide, lipless mouths house splintered, yellowed teeth. They are not human. With wide smiles and bobbing heads they welcome you in, guiding you past displays of  beautiful jewels and precious gems, shelves overflowing with arcane items of eldritch import. Braziers of smoky, metallic incense sit nested among ranks of dribbly red candles.

They will accept gold and other valuables as payment, but find them dull and will rarely part with anything of value in exchange. They prefer to trade in people. They will never say the word "slave" (at least, outside of Hell and a few Darvatian and Acephavaran settlements), but they will take any human offered to them. They prefer nasty ones. Petty, violent, ignorant, monstrous men. So it seems, at least. They don't itemize what they look for, they will just bob their head and say "Yes, it will do" or "No, I cannot."

In the hold of each black ship is a Moon Beast: a pallid, bloated froglike thing, pink-red tendrils cascading down from an eyeless head. These are the true masters of the men of Leng, known to the unsuspecting greater world through scattered and contradictory eye-witness testimony and written off as horrible fancies or some monstrous beasts for sale.

The Moon Beasts revel in the pain of their prey and feast upon them as they will. They have grand transformative designs for the world; these visitations are the early stages, the first points of corruption. They make alliances with Hell. The foster the lies of the New Gods' existence, softening the populace's mental resistance to their conditioning. Dis gravely underestimates the threat.

They see a future of fattened cattle and killing floors.

Leng-men and their Runaway Slaves

  1. A pair of Leng-men seemingly marooned by their fellows.
  2. Slave: Murderous, cannibalistic, obese, narcissist.
  3. Slave: Dazed, amnesiac thaumonaut. Nightmares of an oily, sunless city.
  4. Slave: Amputated, lobotomized, can neither speak nor think clearly.
  5. Leng-man palanquin carried by two thralls. A third slave pulls a cart of goods.
  6. Leng-man corpse in a gutter: the skull has been cracked open, and the brain removed.

Objects for Sale or Trade

  1. An opalized skull, a froth of pearls oozing from the mouth and eyes and nose. Soft blue glow.
  2. A string of rubies in silver settings. When lifted to the light, one might see faces frozen within.
  3. Ten small cubes of dark, soft matter. One is apparently supposed to eat them...
  4. Bones, encrusted with crystals and emeralds. Make atonal flutelike noises when moved about.
  5. Books, padlocked and chained. Covers of blood-red vellum illuminated in gold and silver.
  6. A sealed vase of milky stone, hieroglyphs painted on in black columns. Something sloshes around within.


The Socialist Necromantic Republic

Necromancy is instantaneously and catastrophically disruptive of status-quo politics. Stirring fears of dark wizards sending armies of the undead out to pillage the countryside is a stable tactic among the ruling class, despite the days of those dread sorcerers sitting comfortably in the past.

No matter. Chaos breeds opportunity, and in the wake of the war against Hell about a century back (the very same where the Sable Maid faced Darvatius before the walls of Dis) a certain heterodox mage of the lowland plains began raising the remains of the recently dead and set them to working the fields of his shattered homeland. This was the beginning of the Republics.

Today, the inhabitants of those cities pass live a life of plenty and leisure, free to pursue whatever arts, sciences, or crafts they might desire. All that is asked of them is that they learn some of the necromantic arts so as to maintain their status as equals, and vote in their local council meetings, and offer up their bones to the Republic when they die.

As for the dead, they still work without complaint. They grow the food, they maintain the roads, they shovel the snow, they clean the streets, guard the walls, deliver the mail and so on. The SNR would have spread far further, were it not for the fact that it sits on the border of Hell's territory and must expend a great deal of resources to fending them off. The city-states of the Mare Interregnum have, as of yet, resisted alliance out of distrust and envy. The northern neighbors tend to look on them more favorably.

For those citizens of the SNR possessed by the wanderlust for places abroad, they will most likely be of the inventive necromancer sort.

Necromancers Abroad

  1. A vacationing necromancer couple and their three skeleton servants.
  2. An entire household, pulled about by a great amalgamation of elephant bones.
  3. A diplomat and his aides, off to sign a treaty with a nearby city.
  4. An inspection and repair team, doing rounds on the plantations.
  5. Traveling philosophers' circus and artisans' cooperative.
  6. A single skeleton, awaiting new orders.

Cultural Customs of the SNR

  1. The Day of the Dead is celebrated on the first of every month, with a grand celebration marking the new year.
  2. Only ever use your grandmother's knucklebones for dice.
  3. Those who slack in their responsibility to vote must wear a sign with the symbol for "serf" until the next voting day.
  4. Visitors must leave all their money at the gatehouse when they enter the city - it will be returned to them as they depart.
  5. Deceased individuals are referred to as alive, but have a unique pronoun.
  6. The archetype of the pasty, distant necromancer in melancholy dress is actually a stock character in comedies with no bearing on reality.
Marie Crazy Dove


Hell is a real place. It was the first city in the world, raised just as the snows were melting. It was a city built by those who rejected Mother and Father's teachings and said "why ought we who are powerful submit to the presence of those who are weak? Why ought they take what is ours?" And so they built in the savanna a city of red stone, and named it Dis.

The ages have passed, and from them have come the Lords of Hell. Mammon. Darvatius. The Forge Baron. The Worm. Moloch. And in the city the strong devour the weak, for the profit made on a brother's suffering will buy the assent of such men. Demons of all kinds infest the city as maggots in a carcass, and men are crowded there as insects in a hive. The enslaved masses war against each other for the scraps and favor of their overlords.

Hell is constantly trying to expand across the world through conquest and guile. So far it has been successfully contained.

Districts of the City Dis

  1. The Worm Pits - Sewage and refuse drains down to the lower levels of the city. Hordes of scavengers out for their daily meal
  2. Parade Grounds - Blocky, brutalist compounds that house the legions of Darvatius. Even the other Lords hesitate to enter.
  3. Witches' Gallows - Every leaning corner is home to a noose. The Witch-Hunter General presides in the central courthouse, and has grown so corpulent that he is incapable of presiding elsewhere.
  4. The Stacks - Tenement complexes curled around the Forge Baron's smokestacks, crusted over with layers of soot and grit.
  5. Worm's Armory - A knotted jungle of weapons of war and the victims thereof. Demons cavort in the bladed branches of firearm trees.
  6. The Market of Bulls - Where slaves are sold and sacrificed beneath the gaze of the vast idol of Moloch, which is kept aflame and fed at all hours.

Dispaterian Food

  1. Black Sheep - Carnivorous, with abrasive wool
  2. Long Pig - Bloated semihumans stretched out to ten or twelve feet. Will eat anything.
  3. Slurry-Worms - Thin, pale, live in shit. Staple food.
  4. Devil Dumpling - A single piece can nourish someone for an entire year, at the cost of several lives' worth of debt. Creditors aren't picky whose lives.
  5. Grut - A gnarled root tuber that grows in dark cracks of the undercity. Tastes like powdered glass.
  6. Soul-Sand - A mix of grit and dried blood, harvested from sacrificial altars. Can be baked into cakes with a bit of dirty, lead-heavy water.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

All Purpose Mad Libs Late Capitalist Scenario Generator

You better believe this is for Mothership.

1. [Company 1] releases [Wildly successful product]

2. [Company 2+], envious of the success of [Company 1], draws up plans for [Copycat product]. They completely abandon [Once popular product], under patently untrue claims that no one wants it anymore.

3. It is obvious to even casual observers that [Copycat product] will never reach the heights of [Wildly successful product] due to [Crippling oversight] and [Missing features] born of risk aversion and lack of any practical understanding of [Product field].

4. To make [Copycat product], [Company 2+] hires expendable contractors at low wages to fulfill [Task] under crushing deadlines. These contractors have no love for the company or their conditions, but are forced into service to afford [Necessary expense]. Many will die.

5. [Copycat product] is either a complete failure or otherwise performs below shareholder expectations, surprising fucking no one who has two functioning neurons. Contractors are terminated and development teams are closed, cancelling whatever good ideas they might have had.

5b. [Copycat product] is successful and [Company 2+] devotes all possible man power to iterating upon it. This inevitably results in failure.

6. This cycle continues until [Company 1] fucks up and [Wildly successful product] is no longer wildly successful. The buyer base will move on to [Different trending product], and it repeats.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Mother Stole the Background Kits #2

Lady Arrowsmith

Previous Posts: 1

Table 2: Uncommon Kits

1. Shield Maiden

I am no man.
  • Axe(d8, 2s)
  • Chainmail (14ac 3s)
  • Shield (+1ac, 1s)
  • Runestones (Augury)

2. Flagellant

Pain purges sin, pain keeps Hell away.
  • Cat o’ Nine Tails (d6, 1s)
  • Heavy Scarring (+1ac, 1s)
  • Penitent’s Hood

3. Plague Doctor

Bring out your dead.
  • Dissection Tools (d6, 1s)
  • Treated Robes (12ac, 1s)
  • Sealed Mask
  • Censer & Incense

4. Whaler

Twenty years on the decks and docks.
  • Harpoon (d8, 2s)
  • Oilskins (12ac, 1s)
  • Rope
  • Jug of Grog
  • Scrimshaw Set

5. Frontiersman

A simple life in the woods; Clean air and solitude.
  • Axe (d8, 2s)
  • Heavy Furs (12ac 1s)
  • Musket (d10, 2s)
  • Ammo Pouch
  • Spell: Hermit’s Hideaway
  • Companion Hound

6. Black Amazon

Orca's laconic warriors.
  • Obsidian Greatsword (d10, 3s)
  • Whalehide Armor (13ac, 2s)
  • Jug of Hot Milk Tea
  • Ambergris Totem-Fetus

7. Shrine Keeper

Keeping the local Folk are satisfied.
  • Bell and Staff
  • Ceremonial Robes
  • Spell: Call Upon the Folk

8. Monster Hunter

Hunting the bumps in the night.
  • Monster-Bone Greatsword (d10, 3s)
  • Monster-Hide Armor (14ac, 3s)
  • Camouflage Shroud
  • Bottle of Musk

9. Collegiate Wizard

All that debt was worth it, right?
  • Robes and Hat
  • Spellbook
  • Framed Diploma
  • Spell: Levitate
  • Spell: Thaumaturgy
  • Spell: Wizard's Eyes

10. Veteran

Returned from the War, irrevocably changed.
  • Long Rifle (d10, 2s)
  • Bayonet (d8, 2s)
  • Ammo Pouch
  • Trench Shovel
  • Tinned Rations x2
  • Post-Traumatic Stress

11. Sanctioned Cambion

Evil beginnings do not mean evil ends.
  • Pistol (d8, 1s)
  • Ammo Pouch
  • Knife (d6, 1s)
  • Clerical Garb
  • Saint's Icon
  • Exorcist's Emblem
  • Holy Water

12. Bard

Pass the hat around.
  • Instrument
  • Knife (d6, 1s)
  • Colorful cloak
  • Spell: I Once Knew A Man...

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Mother Stole the Background Kits #1

Peter Klijn
Part 1 of 12 of starter character kits for Mother Stole Fire. These were written with Knave in mind, but could be applied to just about anything.

Table 1: Basic Kits

1. Red Hat Hobo

Have sword, will travel.
  • Sword (d8, 2s)
  • Gambeson and cloak (12ac, 1s)
  • Shield  (+1ac, 1s)
  • Lantern

2. White Hat Hobo

The brains of the operation.
  • Shortsword (d8, 2s)
  • Gambeson and Cloak (12ac, 1s)
  • Chalk
  • Grappling Hook
  • Iron Spike or Crowbar
  • Lockpicks

3. Witch

Practical solutions to practical problems.
  • Knife (d6, 1s)
  • Hat, Boots, Cloak 
  • Spell: Create Flame
  • Spell: Mend
  • Spell: Women’s Work
  • Spell: Call Upon the Folk

4. Hedge Mage

A bit of grandpa’s magic.
  • Staff (d6, 1s)
  • Rugged Clothing
  • Spell: Speak With Dead
  • Spell: Identify
  • Spell: Create Flame
  • Spell: Locate

5. Mendicant Priest

Let no child of Mother’s go hungry.
  • Walking Stick (d6, 1s)
  • Spell: Bless (Prayer Book)
  • Spell: Turn (Holy Symbol)
  • Letter of Introduction

6. Barber-Surgeon

Bones set, blood let, teeth pulled, leeches plied, beards trimmed.
  • Razor, Scissors, Pliers (d6, 1s)
  • Bonesaw
  • Jar of Leeches
  • Bottle of Whiskey
  • Needle and Thread
  • Ether (1 dose)

7. Hauflin

Little men of the forests.
  • Blowgun (d4, 1s)
  • Knife (d6, 1s)
  • Camouflage Cloak (12ac, 1s)
  • Spell: Stillness

8. Néandr

Old men of the mountains.
  • Atlatl (d8, 2s)
  • Heavy Furs(13ac, 2s)
  • Spell: Old Man’s Song
  • Hand Axe (d8, 2s)
  • Clan Totem

9. Idaltu

Eldest of the peoples, in the sunset of their golden age.
  • Sword (d8, 2s)
  • Sunsilk Robes (14ac, 1s)
  • Spell: Learn Name
  • Spell: Star-Dart
  • Poetic Map of the Heavens (In-progress)
  • Calligraphy Pen & Blank Scrolls

10. Lilu

Our cousins, the subterrene albinos.
  • Stone Knife (d6, 1s)
  • Sun Goggles
  • Radical Literature
  • Bottle of Firewater
  • Tobacco and Pipe

11. Amazon

The happy horsewomen of the Thermodon.
  • Spear (d8, 2s)
  • Chainmail (14ac, 3s)
  • Shield (+1ac, 1s)
  • Greatbow and Quiver (d10, 4s)

12. Lantern Boy

Here we go again.
  • Knife (d6, 1s)
  • Lantern
  • 10’ Pole
  • Flask of Oil

Friday, January 25, 2019

Class: Sanctioned Cambion

Max Gibson

Cambions have a long history with the church, for good or for ill. Rome's traditional open-door policy (established at the First Lateran Council in 1123) has meant that those cambion children not abandoned to the wilderness, aborted, or killed at birth nearly always make their way into the auspices of the church, up until only recent decades. While the pulpit loves upholding this as an act of charity and of undermining the influence of the Enemy, the reality is that it is mostly practical: cambions make very good exorcists.

When there's morally-compromising wetwork to be done, they send a cambion.

[Side note: Cambions are not half-demon, but the result of a cubus transporting sperm between a male victim and a female one (with relatively-rare cases of attack-triggered parthenogenesis). The supernatural properties imbued during transit grant cambions an instinctive awareness of demons and resistance to their influence, and a greater attunement to magic].

The last half-century has seen a paradigm shift in the cambion population. Where it was once near-unheard of to see one outside the church, it is now increasingly difficult to find one within it. Greater secular support and legal protections for both cambions and their mothers, combined with a more sympathetic public and a church embroiled in scandal, means that most cambions can support themselves on their own. Those who want to take up the traditional trade of exorcist tend to join secular organizations, as greater study of the supernatural has shown that religion has very little to do with the actual Powers that Be.

Many of those cambions who have left the Catholic church have joined together to found their own spiritual fellowship, the Red Circle.

HD: d8 (d6 flesh, d8 grit)
Saves: As cleric / mystic
Weapons and Armor: Cambions can use any armor and weapons.
XP: As cleric / mystic

Heritage Infernale: Cambions are immune to mundane fire damage, resistant to any damage inflicted by an embodied demon, and immune to seduction.

Ember Eyes: Cambions have grey-scale low-light vision. Their eyes glow in the dark like hot coals.

Leadfoot: Cambions are incredibly dense and heavy, as if their bodies are made of stone. They sink in water and cannot be moved or knocked prone except by significant force. (ie Creature HD > 1/2 cambion CON)

The Gitchy Feeling: Cambions have an innate sensitivity to the presence of demons and other spirits. This feeling can determine how many entities are present and how strong they are.

Applied Exorcism: There are three primary methods of exorcism at a cambion's disposal.

  • Blessed Lead: The cambion may prime bullets that will do triple damage to possessive demons. They may create and keep bullets equal to their level, each takes a full day to prepare. 
  • Drawing out the Devil: The cambion may entrap an incorporeal demon in an object. This follows the base mechanic of turning undead. If the cambion knows the demon's true name, they act as if three levels higher. 
  • White Sacrament: A lengthy ritual that allows a cambion and any allies to enter a pocket of hell, where they may strike at the blackened soul of a manifested demon and kill it for good. The cambion may sacrifice any number of hit dice (xd8 HP) as a bonus action to grant all allies the effect of Bless for that amount. All allied weapons are treated as holy for the duration of the Bless.  If the cambion is killed, the effect ends immediately and any survivors will be trapped in hell.