Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Disorganized Rambling About Monster Descriptions feat. SCP-173

Several other people have been doing monster manual reviews, and I thought that I would shake things up and do The Malleus Monstrorum, for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition.

This was, in retrospect, a terrible idea. It is a terrible book filled with repetitive, bloated writing, unless, boring monsters, and such an absolute creative inertia that it makes Wizards of the Coast look lively and creative in comparison. It is terrible.

So I'm going to review a different bestiary. Just one entry. And I am going to line-by-line it to show why it's a great monster write up.

The Thing Dan Values In Monster Writeups

Information in a bestiary should be heavily weighted towards what can be experienced, observed and directly interacted with. If there's no way a character could ever know a piece of information, it doesn't belong in the write-up. If there's no way to interact with the thing even remotely, it doesn't belong in the bestiary at all. If there are beliefs about the creature, there should be specification as to who believes it, and why.

Or in short, bestiaries are no place for omniscient narrators.

Buckle up it's time for SCP-173

SCP-173 by Moto42, is 234 words long. They're not going to win any awards for beauty or clever construction, but thankfully we are not looking into how nice it looks or how grammatically correct it is. We are interested in how effective it is at getting useful information across to the reader about this weird monster. And effective it is, for the rest of that site would not exist and would not have survived were it not for the fact that it was immensely effective.

Item #: SCP-173 

First thing in the article we get a very important implication: there are at least 172 other weird things that have been found and given a designation, co-existing in the setting. We have a scope (172 other things) and a mystery established from go (what are they?).

Object Class: Euclid 

This meant absolutely nothing at the time of writing, but has evolved into a awkwardly-named but rather intuitive system - object class does not deal in how safe or dangerous something is, but in how difficult it is to keep locked away. The terminology is unintuitive, especially when you get into the unique categories invented in later years, but the core 3 are worth paying attention to.

  • Safe = You can put it in a box and leave it alone without a problem. It is, as well as any anomaly can be, considered understood and controlled.
  • Euclid = You should stay on your toes and keep an eye out for anything amiss. Check up on it regularly after you put it in the box. You are working with incomplete information. This is, more or less, the "default" state of the anomalous.
  • Keter = You will need constant observation and active countermeasures to keep it from getting out of the box. it is actively undermining your attempts to keep it in the box.

This is a helpful framework because it is centered on the scope of potential interactions as they pertain to what the Foundation is interested in (keeping things in boxes) - the classification is focused.

Special Containment Procedures: Item SCP-173 is to be kept in a locked container at all times. When personnel must enter SCP-173's container, no fewer than 3 may enter at any time and the door is to be relocked behind them. At all times, two persons must maintain direct eye contact with SCP-173 until all personnel have vacated and relocked the container. 

In an SCP article, the procedures are often the reader's first glimpse into the weird shit as they go from outside to inside. If done properly, it provides an open door - reader starts to get an idea of what might be coming later - right here, we know that bad things happen when you stop looking at it, but we don't know what just yet.

Description: Moved to Site-19 1993. Origin is as of yet unknown. 

Ah, the good old missing preposition. But! Important stuff here. Whoever is writing the document has at least one storage facility, has been operational since the early 90s, and has no idea where this came from. But they're trying to find out - "as of yet".

It is constructed from concrete and rebar with traces of Krylon brand spray paint.

"Constructed" is an interesting word here - implying (though not directly stating) that there is a constructor. Or it could be construed more as "consisting of" - as the previous sentence said, no one knows where it came from. I have no idea how they managed to identify brand of spray paint, but that's a detail that supports that there is a creator. Tying this in with the last sentence, it's easy to assume on our end that the organization is on the hunt for the creator - whether or not that was intended is irrelevant, because it's written in such a way that the idea got planted without directly saying it.

SCP-173 is animate and extremely hostile. The object cannot move while within a direct line of sight. Line of sight must not be broken at any time with SCP-173. Personnel assigned to enter container are instructed to alert one another before blinking. Object is reported to attack by snapping the neck at the base of the skull, or by strangulation. In the event of an attack, personnel are to observe Class 4 hazardous object containment procedures.
Here we get the goods on the monster: the practical explanation of what it does. Comparisons to the Weeping Angels from Dr. Who have been made extensively over the last 12 years, and as far as anyone has been able to tell it was a case of serendipity and coincidence.
Personnel report sounds of scraping stone originating from within the container when no one is present inside. This is considered normal, and any change in this behaviour should be reported to the acting HMCL supervisor on duty.
Here's the first weird detail - it's doing something in there, and we don't know what. But we know that if it stops doing that thing that something fishy is going on. An implication of motive? Maybe.
The reddish brown substance on the floor is a combination of feces and blood. Origin of these materials is unknown. The enclosure must be cleaned on a bi-weekly basis.

I honestly love this part. The killer statue just leaks blood and shit everywhere. Why? Who fucking knows! The reason isn't important - the important part is that it burrowed into your head and engaged you, got you asking that question and thinking of potentials.

I love it. You could pluck 173 here and dump it into any game you'd like and you would have more than enough material to use it, because the concrete details of sense and interaction are all frontloaded. Even the information that's not explained and just sits in the background is nice and specific, so that if we want to use it to spin out the idea further, we have a place to start.

As a comparison, here's an entry from the Malleus Monstrum: the yugg, which clocks in at 369 words.

 

Sigh. It's the Yugg, Everyone


(Note: this first paragraph is offset in italics, separate from the latter two, as is the case with all of these entries, to give it a bit of "lovecraft protagonist zhenesequa")

It left a sticky trail, as though some monstrous snail had gone by. While slime was rapidly dissolving by the light of the sun, it was clear the thing was nearby. We did not have to wait long before it made itself known to us. Turning the bend of the hill, we saw a large and pale creature. 

Bloated and swollen, some four feet in diameter and over twelve feet high, 

Wait, wait wait wait hold up. It is three times taller than it is across, making it very thin and narrow (which is neither bloated nor swollen).

it reminded me of a great worm or slug, and had a large circular mouth, ringed with horn-like teeth that recalled a hagfish or lamprey eel. 

From the image, you could have cut all these down to slug

About its head and mouth were numerous tentacles, some rudimentary and some up to two feet in length. Its smell brought to mind rot and dead things.
Blah

These large, pale, and gray worm or slug-like creatures 

Info that we already know!

dwell almost exclusively in the depths of the Pacific Ocean, although there have been reports of them crawling upon land. 

A) How do you know that B) Neat! They're super-resistant to pressure changes C) No information to follow is linked to either environment. D) Whose reports?

They are intelligent and have a society of sorts, 

There is absolutely nothing in the rest of this description that implies this. We're being told things that have no supporting evidence.

but it is unknown whether they are native to Earth or arrived from somewhere else. 

Okay, another unknown origin like with 173. Primary divergence - This one spends time offering hypotheses on its own, instead of letting the reader come up with an idea themselves, but those hypotheses don't have any supporting detail at all to push the reader one way or another - there's no implication involved..

Some believe they arrived from another planet to pay homage to the Great Old One known as Zoth-Ommog, believed to be imprisoned in the deep ocean around Ponape (now Pohnpei). 

Who believes? Also, can we please get over Lovecraft's "the islands of the South pacific are unspeakably horrible and strange", it is in fact Current Year Argument. You know what's horrible in the Pacific Ocean? The great garbage patch.

Also...sigh. Let me wiki this.

Zoth-Ommog is Cthulhu's third son, introduced by Lin Carter in his Xothic Legend Cycle.

Okay good to know.

Certainly, yuggs have been encountered in this region and do appear to have some form of connection to Zoth-Ommog. 

We go from "certainly" in one clause to "appear to have" in the next. We have confirmed "yugg live in a region" as concrete information. The latter half is just...come on.

Is it difficult to depict religious practice in giant slugs at the bottom of the ocean? About as hard as saying:

"The ocean floor temple complex near [location] resembles those of other nonhuman Tulu cults in the Pacific. The prominence of mosaics over tactile representations indicates it was initially constructed by pelagic deep ones and inhabited by the abyssal yuggs at a later time."

There. Did your job for you. That one's free, Chaosium.

Alternatively, or in addition to, many yuggs may serve (or have once served) Ythogtha, the Old One said to be imprisoned in the Abyss of Yhe.

Ah, "said to be". By whom? Not to mention that they only "may" serve the god that may or may not be there.

Wiki again: Ythogtha is Cthulhu's second son, introduced by Lin Carter in his Xothic Legend Cycle.

I do not think I like Lin Carter.

A few tomes claim the yuggs have a high-priest called Ubb-lor, whose enormous size sets it apart from the rest of its kind. 

I love how the primary trait of the high priest is size. "I'm sorry, in order to become bishop you must first become HUGE" 

Also, note again - we don't know what tomes, those tomes only claim, and that is not a name that came from the local human cultures so who the hell knows where that came from.

It would be consistent with the legends if Ubb-lor, and the other yuggs were not only attending to Zoth-Ommog but also working toward some scheme to free the Great Old One.

What legends? Whose legends?  We have no evidence to suggest that they have any connection at all! You said yourself that only some people believe this (ie no conclusive evidence) and that there only appears to be a connection (no conclusive evidence!)

If it's going to show up in a game, there needs to be something concrete to interact with! This statement is bullshit in universe because its a bunch of Miskatonic tosspots declaring whatever comes off the top of their head about topics they know nothing about, and it's bullshit out of universe because the book that is supposed to give me material to use in my game has given me no such thing.

In a similar manner, would the yuggs devoted to Ythogtha aim to serve and achieve that Old One’s freedom. 

You just said the Ythogtha cultists were purely hypothetical.

Diving and swimming in yugg infested waters is not advisable, and those boating around the Caroline Islands should take care. 

Reports of missing boats and swimmers are common.

I feel like there's a considerable amount of perfectly normal disappearances going on. This might be projecting.

Whether the yuggs are taking humans for sacrifice or for some other purpose remains a mystery.

argh

So, what have we learned?

The concrete details of the yugg (very big deep ocean slugthing in the Caroline Islands that will eat you) are overwhelmed by filler hypotheticals. It might be this. It is believed to be that. On and on. Where, SCP-173 provides details based on direct observation of the statue. The yugg entry is not only primarily conjecture, its conjecture without basis. Sure, I could go and fill in all those blanks with details, but there's no springboard, no itch to solve the mystery. it's a pain, a chore, busywork to make the thing usable. You can't drag and drop this monster, even in its own setting.

(Just to put the icing on the cake of this directionless ramble, I kept getting reminded of episodes of The FPlus that involve aliens or the supernatural while reading the yugg entry - just these breathless, immensely detailed webs of stuff organized entirely by seemingly jumps between topics with no supporting structure beyond the initial conjecture.)

Sunday, February 28, 2021

10+20 Setting Questions for Sci-Fi Games

Michael Prescott recently had a post about the dearth of sci-fi games getting played on a broad scale. I agree that this is a crying shame, and attribute it to the fact that fantasy requires very little buy in (misremembered history and a bit of TV will suffice for even absolute newbies) while sci-fi comes with significantly more moving parts and potential expectations and concepts that need to be dealt with.

So to aid with that, here's a questionnaire.

Luther Gutekunst has beaten me to this (by a significant margin!) with a practical questionnaire of his own, so I will be writing questions that attach neatly to him own without reduplication.

Luther's questions are:

  1. What do PCs do?
  2. What's the setting's scale?
  3. What level of tech will PCs generally have?
  4. What's the highest level of technology?
  5. Are there any psychic abilities, superpowers, etc?
  6. How do I improve my character?
  7. What's the most important faction in the area?
  8. Where can I get normal equipment?
  9. Where can I get illegal / dangerous equipment?
  10. How do I heal myself?

My additions are:

  1. What miracles (clear deviations from what is possible in reality) exist in the setting?
  2. How do people get from A to B? What is it like in terms of speed, scope, accessibility?
  3. Where do people live, in general?
  4. What is the average quality of life like?
  5. What are the points of conflict in this society? 
  6. What are some commonplace technologies players will interact with?
  7. What's something that technology has fucked up?
  8. What's something that technology has fixed?
  9. What are the most valuable goods and resources?
  10. What are the most valued personal beliefs?
  11. What goods / behaviors / beliefs are banned?
  12. Who enforces the structures of power?
  13. Can PCs own a ship normally, or will they have to steal one?
  14. Does alien life exist? What's its scope? Microbial? Rare, common, exotic? Sapient? 
  15. Can AI be made or become conscious?
  16. Is it possible to digitize and upload a mind?
  17. Who counts as a person?
  18. Who is this future for? Who survived, who benefits?
  19. Who has been excluded? Who suffers, who is exploited?
  20. What's the overall tone like?

 

If you've got more, list them in the comments (or even better, make your own posts for them!)


 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Class: Sword Devil

Lochiel


I found our sword-demon a short distance from camp, sitting atop a low stone wall from which he could watch the entire valley. The ruins below were by then cloaked in shadow, save the remaining belltower.

"What do you make of it?" I asked him.

"I've seen two war-wights in the last hour, or the same war-wight twice. They're getting antsy."

That itself wasn't surprising news: Linus and Berenike had estimated the same when they did their scouting run during the safety of daylight.

"Do you think it will be a problem?"

"Not if I get to 'em first." His head swiveled like an owl's, bright teeth gleaming. "If it's just the one, or two on their own, no trouble for you lot. But, could be that there are more of them down there, or a graveraiser leading them. Then it'll be plenty of trouble." Swivel back to watching the valley, gold eyes aglow in the dying sunlight. "For you, of course. If they get to you first. I don't think they will."

He left the "because I will have already killed them" unspoken, treating it as a given. Such was the way of a sword-devil. I gave him my assent and left him to his business - he had told me enough.

As I walked the path back to camp, I caught traces of singing from behind me, accompanied by the steady punctuating rasp of a whetstone.

"Awé dékapitoré, tu joyeu dé bastardé Mor."

Class: Sword-Devil

Third of the nine ranks of devils, and the most common to be seen outside of a diabloarium. Their domain is violence by means of sharp edges, and their home is the Flensing Tower.

Sword-devils are driven above all by their desire to master the blade-arts, compete against their kin, and usurp their father-mother Azazel, megaduke of bladed instruments. This makes them remarkably straightforward among devils, as they have long understood that humans are good at inventing opportunities for violence without any effort on the devil's part. For this reason they are commonly found in the company of soldiers, cutters, and venators.

Their skin is typically grey or blue, and their eyes white or gold. They tend towards glee in their work, and either sleepy indolence or jittery impatience when there is no violence to be found. They do not hate. They will fight anything, but adore fighting particularly skilled or novel opponents. Better yet, other sword-devils.

**

Bound By Rules - During character creation, the players should decide which one of them is the bearer of the contract. This character can be the original summoner, or might simply be the person who the contract was passed to. Contract scrolls might be found as treasure out in the world (an excellent way to introduce a replacement character mid-session).

Live By The Sword - Sword-devils cannot die. Not properly, at least. Should they lose all their HP, they will dissipate into a roiling cloud of oily smoke. They may be resurrected from any corpse human-sized or larger (erupting from it in a most impressively gory display) through a magic user casting their contract scroll, using either spell dice or a spell slot of level = the sword-devil's hit die.

No Shield Shall Stop Me - Your attacks against non-supernatural entities ignore AC bonuses granted by armor. Armor will reduce damage by 1 (light), 2 (medium) or 4 (heavy) instead.

Blade-Arts

The blade-arts work like magic dice - you get a d6 for each level up to 4. You may roll any number of these during your attacks, choosing effects from the below list in any combination. Dice devoted to one effect cannot be used for another. Dice that come up 4+ are removed from the pool until after a long rest.

Backfoot Style - A sword-devil's base AC is 10. They will gain +2 for each unburnt blade-die they currently have at their disposal.

  • Gain +[DICE] to hit
  • Deal +[Sum] damage
  • Teleport within [SUM] x 5 feet (line of sight) to make an attack as bonus action
  • Gain a specific damage type (auto burn die)
  • Gain an additional attack (auto burn die)





Thursday, February 18, 2021

A Brief Taxonomy of Fantastic Beings

My long-fermenting bestiary post is delaying itself by sheer length, so I am splitting it up into the taxonomy, and the creature list itself. Prior posts in this series:

I have mixed feelings about Gygaxian naturalism. On the one hand, I find it stifling and artificial, without grace or freedom - I am STILL salty, years later, that a 5e DM didn't allow me to use "Speak with Animals" with a Cloaker because, despite clearly being an animal, it is described as an aberration. 

On the other...science is fucking great. I have forgotten more about the classifications of dinosaurs than many folk will ever know in their entire lives

Thankfully for my purposes, Gygax was a terrible naturalist and his nonsense can be tossed aside in service of something better.

The Taxonomy

As with any good system of taxonomy, it's best to treat this as an in-universe artifact. Something that wizards get in arguments over during faculty luncheons. Fists can and will be thrown.

**I**

On the Laws of Material Necessity

  • Lex Famis - That a being possesses the need for nourishment so as to live.
  • Lex Excrementi - That a being is subject to processes of balance, that what goes in shall go out.
  • Lex Sexum - That a being possesses the drive to generate more of its kind.
  • Lex Mortis - That a being shall, in time, cease and die.

Some scholars expand this to seven or even ten laws, but four will suffice for our purposes. 

Or, in short: It eats, shits, fucks, and dies.

**II**

On Cogitatium

Cogitatium is damnably difficult to define, and great amounts of ink and blood have been spilled over figuring out precisely what it entails. Wizards rarely agree on topics, and on this one they agree least of all, for wrapped up in the question of "what is cogitatium?" is the greater question of "who is a person?"

Classically, cogitatium is considered to be "the possession of a rational mind." Modern scholars have mostly abandoned this reductive definition, on the grounds that using humans as a baseline for rational behavior is some dumb bullshit, and that whoever came up with that definition had never actually interacted with another human being in all their life.

In the modern age, two schools of thought have emerged.

The first is a nuanced approach, the mind along a great spectrum where cogitatium and the mes animalis are intertwined and inseparable, stretching up and down a scale of complexity, and whose component traits likewise exist along their own gradients.

The second school of thought is that cogitatium is the ability to perform immensely stupid behavior and brag about it later.

(Lexi on Discord had an even better one: "cognition is when you can have a choice between multiple options and choose the worst, typically out of spite, guilt, or love". Deus ex Parabola had "the ability to choose suboptimal behavior", which is also great.)

**III**

On the Varieties of Life and Beings of the World

Categorization is a great way to start nerd fights. The divisions of life are forever debated in the halls of wizarding universities. This is one of the more common schemas in use. (Come up with your own! I would very much like to see them.)

  • Bacteria - Simplest of all material life, invisible without the aid of instruments. Often manifest in the form of diseases. 
  • Plantae et Fungi - Vegetative life. 
  • Animalia - Material beings subject to the Laws. Members tend to have a secondary classification added on (Vermes, Limus, Arthropoda, Crustacea, Mollusca, Pisces, Amphibia, Reptilia, Dinosauria, Aves, Mammalia, Etcetera, Alienae) and may have a tertiary label applied as well, which include:
    • Domesticia - Domesticated animals.
    • Fera - Wild (that is, dangerous) animals.
    • Sophi - Animals possessing traits of cogitatium, but have yet to come into its fullness.
    • Paradoxa - Animals that fit into no other category or violate one of the Laws. This is a very vague label and tends to be applied according to foppery and whim.
  • Gentes Mundi - Material beings subject to the Laws and possessing cogitatium. 
  • Gentes Alienae - Material beings that, though they possess cogitatium and are subject to the Laws, are radically different in how they fulfill and express these qualities, respective to the animalia and gentes mundi known and studied in the world.
  • Sagani - Material beings that possess cogitatium, but are freed from one or more of the Laws of Material Necessity. While they may often display language, material culture, craft and likewise (setting them apart from animalia) their cogitatium displays a tendency towards less wild swings of volition.
  • Animae - Spiritual beings freed from the Laws entirely. They might take a material form as a temporary projection, but they are not bound to this incarnation. While animae may be communicative, they do not possess cogitatium and will act according to their predetermined nature.
    • Split into possessive spirits (tenerae), manifesting spirits (incarnatiae), and numinous spirits (numinae).
  • Automatae - Material beings that are animated by an outside force, but possess no life of their own and never have.  
There are five additional categories that might be applied in addition to the above.
  • Lusus Naturae - A category for beings and clades of beings that are related to another, but drastically different in physiology or behavior from what is held as the default clade.
  • Sine Mors - Material beings that have died, but have since been animated by an outside force (typically an anima).
  • Monstrum - A contested definition. Typically held as a being whose existence is a direct and persistent threat to humans without additional outside impetus.
  • Contentia - Beings whose taxonomy is subject of heated debate among scholars. This will usually be along the lines of sagani vs animae. Entries labeled contentia will include the most commonly-used definition. 

So, for example, the Lowland Armored Redshell would be a member of Animalia crustacea domesticia, and the blind olmfolk of the Duruland Caves would be Gentes Mundi (Animalia amphibia), Lusus naturae

**

The next post in this series will be the full list of beings, as I cannot find an excuse to delay any longer.

My eyes were clearly larger than my stomach.





Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Answering Setting Questions, Triple Deluxe Edition

For a setting I don't actually play games in, I will never turn down an opportunity to gab about Mother Stole Fire.

Via Lochiel (Nothic's Eye)

1) Which specific NPC do I want to piss off the least? 

Probably the White Queen and Black Queen of Tanniclen, they likely have the most personal and political power in the area in terms of practically making your day miserable. Now, the advantage here is that you have to get into the Old City in the first place - but if you can make it beyond the wall, you'll doubtlessly commit ample insult to the Queens just by being there and doing what you do, and they will find ample excuse to ruin your life afterwards with all the grace and sophistication of immortal noble sorceresses.

Given their isolation, actual meaningful details about the Queens are hard to come by, save the various designs of their body-veils. Their histories (and the nature of their relationship to each other), are a matter of intense (often lurid) speculation - thought that is all safely done outside their jurisdiction.

2) Which god should I want to piss off the most? 

Any of the Lords of Hell would suffice. Fuck them. Mammon in particular, as he seems to have come into prominence over the more directly warlike Lords in the wake of the War of the Bull. Thankfully, he is not subtle. Destroying his demons is good, stealing and distributing his wealth all the better.

3) What's the worst thing I could meet at a crossroads? 

Old Scratch, also called the Crooked Man or the Patchwork Man, is a very old demon of the Hespermont, predating Hell significantly. He preys upon desperation, offering gifts that are helpful in the short term, but will inevitably lead to self-destruction later. His favored appearence is that of a man in dark clothing, fine-looking but always a few generations out of style. Somewhere on his body will be a horrific injury - he will act as if nothing is wrong, moving without impediment even if limps are mangled and speaking clearly even if his jaw and throat are smashed.

4)What's the nearest thing that can utterly destroy me to your starting town? Or starting town equivalent? 

A demon. Nasty fuckers can show up anywhere (though they are, typically nastier and more common the closer you are to Hell.)

5) Is apotheosis open to my character? If not, why not?

Depending on who you ask, apotheosis has happened between zero and three times: DOG, Darvatius, and the Sable Maid. The ascension of DOG is generally agreed upon; Darvatius' is called into question on the grounds that Darvatius the man was killed long before Darvatius the Lord of Hell was first seen in Hell. The Sable Maid's case is complicated, and  is best described as a comparison to Catholic treatment of Mary - technically not a god, technically not worshiped, but when you've got a problem...

So no, asterisk. It is theoretically possible, but the criteria required to reach godhood are out of the scope of a typical game.


6) Do people in your world have souls? Why? 

Yes, but they are fragile, ephemeral flames. Without a living body to house and nurture them, they dissipate. Ghosts, necromany, soul-pearls, and the currency of Hell do not use souls proper, but their remnants, dregs, and afterimages.

It is possible to create a form of soul artificially, but this will be a motive soul - homunculi, even those few that possess speech, do not possess volition of their own. Considering the difficulty in creating them, they remain a curiosity

A devil is created when the soul is removed from a human (via removal of the heart) but the body's life is sustained through those certain sorceries (and of course undone if the heart should ever be returned to the devil in question)

7) Does jazz exist in your setting yet?

Yes. Blues and bluegrass, too.

8) What's the weirdest country/polity/region/area on your map? 

  • Llaphedon is an island covered in fungus jungle, filled with immortal mushroom people building an enormous black ziggurat
  • Amda long ago solved the constant squabble-wars of its kingdoms and principalities by mandating that kings may only marry other kings and heirs are adopted.
  • Ist fell into ruin when its rulers were devoured by manticores.
  • The Coast of Birds is named for several hundred miles of shoreline where one might find enormous statues of birds facing the sea. No one knows where they came from or who made them.
  • The Cinders is, as best anyone cal tell, an ancient exclusion zone caused by arcane fallout. The concerning part is how thorough its ontological hostility to life is.
  • The Magelands are soaked through with wild magic and are home to the only people who are magic instead of practicing it. It is encircled by the crumbling wall-arcology-city of Mund.
  • Wend is a xenophobic cultural and linguistic isolate and no one can quite figure out where they came from - the inhabitants have claimed to come from Atri-Thool in the Uttermost North, but scholars A) are pretty sure it doesn't exist B) are baffled why anyone would live in the Uttermost North to begin with.


9) Do guns exist yet? If they do, is there anything making them weird/different?

An ordinary person might see or use bolt action rifles and revolvers, and cannons are regularly used in warfare. Hell will utilize machine guns on occasion (which has lead to no one else adopting them). Simple enchantments on ammo (named and blessed bullets being the most common) are easy enough to procure. The gun saints of An-Hehm are the ones who get very creative and esoteric, and their devotion to the Gun Gods means they have something of a monopoly on exotic weapon types. 

10) Is there a divide between mundane/magical animals? 

There's more of a gradient between more and less magical. Some creatures will have overt magical properties, some passive, some subtle. Is "turns you to stone" more or less magical that "thing that can fly but shouldn't be able to"? If the cows start up a crop circle ritual, is that or is that not magic?

Via Vayra (Mad Queen's Court

1) What class knows the most martial arts? Are they real martial arts like kung fu, or made up ones like krav maga?

In-setting: Ordinary folks might know a bit of river forms (read: tai chi) for exercise. Soldiers will likely know a bit of pankration (here being a particularly succinct way of dealing with a combat problem rather than wrestling). 

In terms of gameplay - adipomancer or adept are dedicated classes, fighters in general will be able to do things like grapples and disarms and joint attacks.

2) Can I start out having already made a deal with the devil or do I have to do that in game?

Oh yes, absolutely.

3) Do you want me to write an 8-page backstory? Can I write an 8-page backstory, if I want to? If I write something down in it like I'm the timelost princess of the brass city and the daughter of the sun and I commanded legions in the Hell War but was betrayed by my father's vizier but I don't know that, or that I'm elf conan and cooler than everyone else, will that be true?

8 pages is a bit more than I'd ever recommend for any game in any setting, but those two examples I can work with - offer things that are of the same spirit, tweaked for whatever setting happens to be on the table.

4) If I eat someone's heart, will I gain their powers? What about their brain?

Probably, also probably, and both will probably go horribly wrong for you, because that's how monsters tend to be made.

5) These classes are boring, can I be one from somewhere else? What about from a different system entirely?

Yeah we can figure out some conversion for it.

6) If I make a sword, which one of us gets to name it?

Player makes it, player names it.

7) Am I allowed to kill the other player characters? What would I have to do to be allowed to? Do I win if I kill them all? Actually, how do I win in general?

A question entirely too rooted in the specific situation at hand for this answer to be meaningful at all.

8) What language stands in for 'Common'? Or what are we all talking to each other in? Like the party, mostly, but also everyone else?

I have not figured it out in setting yet, come back later.

9) How do I learn how to talk to rocks? No not once a day just, like, normally?

I'm sure that the mouldywarps could teach you, if you have the patience for it.

10) Which kinds of wizards get to serve kings and live in towers and shit and which ones are run out of town or stoned to death in the streets? Can I be both? At the same time?

Both is good, typically because wizards in towers cause problems and sometimes these problems are solved by throwing rocks at them, so long as the problem is a wizard causing other problems.

Via Filth Pig (The Slopyard)

1. Is there Blood Magic? Necromancy? Can I start off with these powers or do I have to get them d-d-d-diegetically? Will these things get me hanged/drawn, quartered and burned over water/tortured/burned at the stake? Is your Necromancer working off the "divination from the dead" definition or is it cool?

The most common magic in the world is, technically, blood magic, on account that it's used to stabilize and mitigate menstruation. Every woman in the world can either perform it, or knows someone who can brew up the potion form.

Blood magic on the whole is less of its own category and more just "magic that involves this certain part of the body.

Necromancy is primarily practiced in the Necromantic Socialist Republic, which might get you killed in certain parts of the world but at that stage it's more just the easiest excuse. It is the cool kind, with skeletons.

You can start off with either or both.

2. Will my limbs get hacked off? Can I get new limbs? Do they have to be human or can I have monster parts? Is there a class that does all this or is it just an NPC?

If limbs get removed, your options are, from easiest to most difficult:

Simple prosthetic > advanced prosthetic > reattaching the arm > replacing it with someone else's arm > replacing it with a monster arm.

The last one would require a specialist fleshcrafter, the two before it would need either that or a lot of panacea potion.

3. When was the last plague in the setting and how soon can we expect the next one? Can we swindle people by selling fake plague cures? 

The Plague Years were roughly two centuries ago and there's no telling if or when there might be another one. Mundane disease outbreaks happen from time to time (certain cities in Acephavara can't seem to shake ghoul-leprosy), but on the whole the world is on the ball when it comes to containment and elimination of epidemics.

Fake plague cures will be sniffed out almost immediately, it's hardly worth the time of the swindle.

4. Cannibalism gives you: A) Kuru, B) Magical Powers, C) Full stomach, D) Yet Another Unexpected Twist ?
 
Funerary cannibalism, performed according to the proper rites, won't cause any problems. Moments of desperation, likewise. Consuming significant amounts, especially if you are killing the people yourself with the intention of eating them, is probably going to turn you into a horrifying monster.
 
So C -> A -> B/D


5. What's can't I do that isn't super obvious?

Hrm. Can't tell you off the top of my head, it's not super obvious to me either.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

100 More Planet Names for Mothership

The first 100 can be found here.

Our Next Port of Call Is...

  1. ‘Nnalubaale
  2. [Naming Rights Under Arbitration]
  3. [Quarantine Zone]
  4. Angeldown
  5. Atwood
  6. Avaris
  7. Awan
  8. Azura
  9. Bedrock
  10. Big Lake
  11. Bigrock Candymountain
  12. Bluegrass
  13. Cadaver
  14. Caladino
  15. Catastropé
  16. Colakmul
  17. Cuball
  18. Cybele
  19. Dead End
  20. Dholavira
  21. Dogwood
  22. Dougal’s World
  23. Dumpling
  24. Earth: The Interactive Experience
  25. Erewhon
  26. Erie
  27. Falling Water
  28. Firozkoh
  29. Foreclosure Ongoing
  30. Forrent
  31. Friars’ World
  32. Glitterstorm
  33. Gloamwald
  34. Godhead
  35. Grand Panama
  36. Grand Zanzibar
  37. Greenchapel
  38. Havana
  39. Hildegard
  40. Holocene
  41. Honeypot
  42. Hotpot
  43. Intuition
  44. Judith’s World
  45. Kenorland
  46. Klakwurk
  47. Koganusan
  48. Kokabiel
  49. Kumasi
  50. Lotus
  51. Lumbini
  52. Mahadeva
  53. Mara
  54. Miami Blitz
  55. Miasmata
  56. Micromegas
  57. Moth
  58. Murugan
  59. Namdaemun
  60. New Appalachia
  61. New Earth
  62. New Earth (TM)
  63. Newerfoundland
  64. Niani
  65. Nova Tierra
  66. Outer Limit
  67. Ozark
  68. Palatine
  69. Pavlopetri
  70. Pelagius
  71. Pòtoprens
  72. Qusqu
  73. Rao
  74. Rasputin
  75. Recursion
  76. Roko
  77. Rudramal
  78. Sagani
  79. Salaam
  80. Sappho
  81. Scarland
  82. Schrodinger's World
  83. Semele
  84. Shackleton
  85. Silmarech
  86. Smokehouse
  87. Spider’s Nest
  88. Sub Rosa
  89. Sunset
  90. Terra Incognita
  91. Terra Secunda
  92. Titivilius
  93. Topsy
  94. Troghome
  95. Truename
  96. Tulu
  97. Vaalbara
  98. Whisper
  99. Wroth
  100. Your Ad Here

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Three Dread Horrors: A Legend of Korra Post

A sequel of sorts, to this post. Brought about by the news that Magpie Games got the RPG license for the series.

God, this was depressing to write. But y'all on Twitter wanted this instead of the happy fixfic post and I seek validation, so here we go.

**

The Legend of Korra horrifies me.

It's not the "I have learned a new fact about wasps" kind of horror, nor the "fucking loud noise as something suddenly appears on screen" kind of horror. It is the horror that lives in oily voice that I have heard in the depths of certain long, dark nights of the soul. A near-guarantee that its presence is unintentional, but intention is outclassed by end result eleven times out of ten.

It took me some time to reach this conclusion. In fact, it took me until I started writing this post, and the revelation was enough to make me want to quit writing it. But, perhaps there might still be use for it. Good critique is rooted in the experience of the thing, and I certainly have an experience to share.

I have not rewatched LoK since it aired. I have no plans on rewatching it. The contents of this post are all just my own memory and some reference to episode transcripts, and might have corroded with time. I accept any corrections that might be made.

(A side note: There is a great deal of critique made in bad faith about LoK, rooted in sexism or queerphobia or the possessive throws of the nostalgia-daemon or good old fashioned kvetching. Fuck those guys and fuck the dissolution of the critique into nitpicking for internet points. But I do enjoy myself a good kvetch now and then (and I certainly have them for this series), and to avoid going down that road I will stay away from the (many, many) issues I have with little things (god fucking damn that stupid fucking platinum mecha with a laser cannon) and focus on three points in particular.)

Three dread horrors.

THE FIRST HORROR

In the second episode of the series - just at the beginning of her airbending schooling - Korra is introduced to a simple device used for footwork training: a series of rotating wooden gates. It's an introductory lesson used to teach footwork to novices.

Korra runs face first into them, repeatedly. Swiftly growing frustrated with her failures, she destroys the device in a fit of rage. To which her mentor Tenzin exclaims:

"That was a two-thousand-year-old historical treasure!"

The scene is meant to illustrate Korra's childishness, her impatience, her uncontrolled angry outbursts. All fine and good, those are character flaws, character flaws are good. We can work with character flaws.

But...

There's really no good way to put this, is there?

Korra just destroyed one of the few remaining artifacts of the Air Nomads right in front of the son of the only survivor of their genocide. Not even out of hate - She destroyed it because martial arts training was going slower than "instant mastery". 

Draw whatever real-life parallels you wish, there are certainly plenty that can fit in, and no matter which one you choose it's going to get really bad really fast when I say that the script forgives her. By the end of the episode Tenzin apologizes for being too impatient and strict. The tantrum is swept under the rug. The incident is never mentioned again.  

In some other story, this would be an inciting incident. The thing that puts Korra on the path to realizing "oh, I'm a huge piece of shit". It's not, here.

The show is, in its way, saying that it doesn't matter. Doesn't matter that Korra throws tantrums like an infant, doesn't matter that apparently Katara wasn't able to get through to her with any sort of meaningful mentorship, doesn't matter that the genocide of the Air Nomads even happened. Tenzin is being unreasonable about some wooden boards and dowels.

Tenzin is being unreasonable.

Doesn't matter that the entire nation is hanging on by the thread of a few surviving artifacts and the memory of a twelve-year-old, or that the man has three kids, a fourth on the way, a position on city council, and is trying to rebuild an entire culture off of next to nothing. 

He and Aang probably went out and found those gates together. 

I wonder, does Tenzin ever catch himself in idle moments thinking "I should give dad a call"?

Fucking hell.

THE SECOND HORROR

LoK's first season finds its antagonists in the Equalists - a movement of Republic city's disenfranchised  non-benders protesting against the gross inequality perpetuated by the bender-dominated government and bender-dominated police force (who, of course, do nothing to stop the bender-dominated criminal triads either) that has built up enough support and momentum that they have begun taking direct action, staring against the triads.

So, obviously and of course, it is revealed later on that the movement was founded and led by an outside agitator (a bender, no less) who was using them purely as a means to his own personal revenge, AND that it was funded and supplied by the local billionaire industrial mogul...

Replace the proper nouns and you have a FOX segment about Black Lives Matter. While BLM was not extant as we know it when the show was being written, it is not like conspiracy as a genre is terribly creative - this idea has been mad-libbed a hundred times over.

I can't tell if this was malice or incompetence. It could be said that the writers were simply not thinking about this when plotting the series. To that, I say, that the things that people do when they are not thinking are often very telling about their ingrained biases and values.While charitable interpretation asks that we consider a work as a piece effected by its time (and thus, when we return to it later, the author's views might have shifted since the time of writing), that is an explanation, not an excuse.

(Also the Equalist moment dissolves and is never featured again after said outside agitator is no longer in the picture. They get a token representative seat on city council and, as far as the greater story is concerned, are a solved problem.)

Special sidetrack segment: The Equalist plot is what I like to call "Antagonist Ideology Sabotage" - this is when the antagonist of a story is in the right. They are more justified in their motivations than the protagonist, and if they accomplish what they are trying to do the world of the story will likely be much better for it.

So, in order to maintain the status quo of the setting (and thus, not rock the boat of the industry they exist within), the writer or writers or producer or the suits sabotage the antagonist by making them so bloodthirsty that they simply must be stopped. Maybe there's some cackhanded moral about they had good intentions but you can't go about seeking change that way.

An excellent other example is in Black Panther. Killmonger is fucking correct, his anger is true and justified, so they decided to make him a murderer who wants to start WW3 and T'challa, who is not so angry, gets to be the hero for opening up a community center and peaceably doing not much of anything at all.

THE THIRD HORROR

At the end of the third season, the chain of reincarnation is partially severed. The Avatar will continue reincarnating forward, but can no longer reach backward - the older incarnations are gone. There is now only Korra, and when the next avatar comes around she will be the only counsel they will receive.

Thousands of years of human experience, millennia of lived history, all the memories of who we are and where we have been - snuffed out. Extinguished. And in the ashes of all those lives, now lost forever, is someone who has fallen in love with the owner of Ford - United Steel.

That's where we leave this series, the final note of the AtLA universe - the union of the world's balance-keeper and the scion of industrial capitalism. And without the elder incarnations to guide future avatars, with only Korra there, I see nothing but a gaping black hole where the future should be.

This is the final horror. The victory of liberal capitalism, gallivanting off into the future suffering no lasting consequences from the horrors it has spawned. Here's Amazon, Google and Tesla dusting off their rainbow flags for a month as they grow ever fatter off the exploitation of their workforce. The course is set, the path is clear, there is no way to avoid the path we here in the real world have tread. Here will be the world stripped barren, its water poisoned, its air polluted, its people devoured. Here is that final monologue of A Machine for Pigs, that desperate cry of "This is your coming century!"

The voice in the dark unfurls its smile, the one with too many teeth, and says "Ah, you fool. Did you expect anything different? Did you really think things would get better?"

And that's the end of it.

** 

There was a post written by Michael DiMartino (now gone but thankfully still archived) when Man of Steel was coming out, wherein he expresses his appreciation of the film's interpretation of Jonathan Kent as follows:

"The father represents any parent, or institution, or religion, or government that wants to prevent you (or me) from coming into our own and expressing who we truly are"

This was the movie, mind you, where Jonathan Kent gets angry at Clark for saving a schoolbus full of children.

You know why Superman is Superman? It's not the super strength or the blue pajamas or the alien thing. It's because Pa Kent was a good man. If Pa Kent is not a good man, then there can be no Superman.

And just like Zach Snyder's pizza cutter, LoK is a thematic betrayal of its source material. A complete one-eighty. Total negation. Where there was empathy, there is now the dismissal of suffering. Where there was hope, there is now only the mocking laughter of nothing ever changing. There is now only the halls of power now, and their Principle Act. (See, I knew you were waiting for me to drop M-L-CH in this essay but HA I have subverted your expectations by doing exactly that, only at a different time!)

No wonder Tenzin got done dirty. Hell, they did everyone dirty. Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, Zuko, Suki, Pema, Lin...shit they just did the entire adult cast dirty like that.

(God Pema got a perfect chance to shine and it got wasted on making her the butt of a joke. Come on the woman has four children, two of whom are ADD and three of whom know magic kung fu she knows how to handle high-stress situations.)

All for what, for the sterling and memorable characters like Mako, who was so boring that he inspired a bisexual awakening for two successive girlfriends and also became a cop, and that is his entire character? Or Bolin, the man who joined the fascists because we needed him to do something this season?

Honestly that summarizes the show pretty well. Korra and her friends the cop, the industrialist, and the idiot.

Sigh.

That's enough of this nonsense. Back to work on something less miserable.