Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Notes from my First Game

I was clearing out a box of old notebooks and stumbled across the few pages that I didn't want to shred just yet - my first notes as a DM, from back during freshman year of college. Only two pages survive but it's got an NPC list and a city map so all's good.

I had based this (rather short-lived) campaign on an old, old thread on rpg.net about a city built around a tarrasque (Which got kickstarted and turned into the Salt in Wounds books). It was short-lived mostly because one of my players (who was the group's normal DM) went and murdered an entire tavern with some Book of Nine Swords crazy stuff and I didn't know how to respond to that.

I apologize ahead of time for the quality being a good bit lower than my usual output. I was learning the ropes. Everything not here has been forgotten or lost.

The City of Anterras

Description of a Map: A river running northeast to southwest. A canyon carved in the red-orange badlands stone.

The River Red cuts through the valley city from north to south. It was originally named so for the red clay of the riverbed, and later for the tarrasque blood that leaks into the southern flow through the Low City.

The Citadel was built atop the great beast, to contain it, to flense and carve and cut away at its flesh.  A fortress-abattoir-prison on an island in the river.

The Inner City surrounds the Citadel. Here are found the foundries, butchers and chimericists that make the tarrasque their trade.

The Low City consists of the southern arc of Anterras, and contains within it all the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

High City contains the rich bourgeois neighborhoods, with manicured parks and beautiful boulevards. The offices of the city government may be found here, as well as the trade houses, courts of law, and university.

The Outer City sits atop the cliff and is reachable only by secret elevator or lengthy staircase. The palaces of the fantastically, obscenely wealthy cling as barnacles to the time-carved stone.

The Riverside slums are split by the Citadel and Inner City, but they are the same either way. Docks and warehouses and teamsters unions and easy access to vices.

The Downs are the undercity, the buried ruins of the city here before Anterras was raised. The parts still (marginally) inhabited are mostly under the Low City.

Smokeside  is the northwest quarter of the city, downwind of the foundries. It is a proper Gehennic hellscape, doubling as the plague quarter in times of prion disease flareups.

Breezeside consists of the High and Outer districts. Money = clean air, in Anterras.


Mara-Oversandhill - Halfling trader who does business in and out of the city. Her caravan is the primary means for outsiders to find their way there.

Dr. Percival De Laquoris - Doctor in the plague quarter of Smokeside, runs a clinic there. Infuriatingly deliberate and slow to act. Good standing in the Low City.

Dr. Shil Caster - Percival's assistant. Alchemist. Never takes off his mask. More tolerable to deal with than his employer.

Shady Traw - A shopkeeper in the Downs

Hoskar Torn - Dwarf, lead representative of the Forgeworker's Guild.

Min - Runs a Low City boarding house and post office.

Thud - A domesticated troll in the employ of Min.

Fulwood, Shiv, Osten - Boarders at Min's, foreigners.

Seward the Steward - A steward for the city council offices

Shykana - Orc chieftainess here representing the nomad clans outside the city.

Winras Vadier - Head of the city military, currently preparing for the next crusade against the outside.

Mad Ferbi - A wizard. Lives inside an asbestos suit due to repeated fireball mishaps.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Greatest Table Ever Made

This is from the quickstart rules for Call of Cthulhu 7e. It's not in the main book, and that's a shame, because I think this might be the best table in RPGs.

With this table, we can toss out weapon-specific damage amounts and the mundane combat parts of bestiary entries entirely. All that boring stuff about firearm range and worrying about the damage difference between a machete and a crowbar, gone. Fumbling around shopping at WeaponMart, gone. All that chaff about precisely how much damage a betentacled horror can do, gone. Everything is boiled down into "what makes sense in this particular moment for this particular scenario". Any weapon could be anywhere on the list. All you have to do is look at the table.

I want more games to do this. I possibly want all games to do this.

I really don't have anything else to say on the matter. It's a good table.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Extrapolation Game, Mothership Edition

There's nothing I like better than a background detail I can pull on and flesh out. Dark Souls lore videos are bread and butter to me. I'll talk your ear off about Book of the New Sun. So I've dug through the tables in the Players' Survival Guide and Dead Planet and figured out A) what I can infer from them raw and B) what gameable I can develop using that.

A Brief History of Hideous Dust (Book)

A street drug of obscure origin that has a reputation more appropriate for that of a minor bioweapon. It is a fine golden powder either ingested or inhaled, producing a rather pleasant and mellow buzz. The hideous part comes later, when it destroys your teeth, rots your skin, atrophies your muscles, and leaves your brain in a constant haze of fantastic visions devoted entirely to spreading more dust. The part where your organs restructure themselves and emerge from your skin-cocoon comes later.

The "brief history" details manufacturing, smuggling routes, wide-scale outbreaks, political responses and lack thereof, and the spread of Hideous Dust across settled space. Generally quite well-researched and even-handed.

Papal Order of Planetary Excommunication

An incredibly rare document, in that only nine have ever been written. Typical excommunications require that the recipient be baptized, delinquent, and refuse to change their actions, and so planetary writs can only be applied to the Papal Colonies.

The second-most notable incident is that of the community on St. Jubileus, where a monastic colony of 550 persons was excommunicated for heresy and improper use of reproductive biotech. (Pregnant priests are always good fodder for the gossip feeds).

The most notable incident is that of St. Severian, which was excommunicated, stripped of long-distance communication, carpet-bombed, and put under interdiction by an alliance of over eight thousand vessels from Papal client polities with full permissions to shoot down any ship that enters the 10 AU exclusion zone. There is no explanation why.

"A New Great Darkness" (Pamphlet)

The first Great Darkness was a multi-decade period of widespread information loss brought about by a combination of inadequate education programs, sudden and incompatible shifts in commonly-used file formats, and deliberate corporate and governmental censure. The period has come to be referred to as a period of great spiritual darkness as well as technological and informational.

The anonymous writer of this pamphlet believes that a new Great Darkness is at this juncture unavoidable, and so calls for the preservation of vital information and technologies that can be re-introduced into the noosphere.

Great Space Battles of the Delta Sector (Book)

Delta Sector (being the territory rimward and widdershins of Old Earth) has always been politically unstable. The mix of cultural and corporate structures that settled those worlds turned out to be a perfect mix for conflict, and enough time has passed that folks can look back on the conflicts with  that strange sort of historical nostalgia that would name gigantic bloodbaths "great".

"The Shedding of Flesh" (Pamphlet)

A widespread pro-augmentation and pro-upload screed, notable for encouraging violent dismissal of any individuals unwilling or incapable of such augmentations. Really just another tired argument for social darwinism. Popular among corporate-backed parties, causes the Cyberneticists' Union endless trouble.

Alien-Human Hybrid Fetus

It's an unassuming little bundle of proteins and chemicals. Barely even properly alive. But it can integrate itself into human DNA during natal development, and this is a fearsome thing indeed. The changes are small at first - then comes the carapace, the mandibles, the additional arms and legs, the extra eyes, the restructured brain. Those little bundles weren't the building blocks of life, they were the leftovers: a means of invading the future.

Breast Pocket Satanic Bible

Prosaically subtitled "A Survival Guide for Life in Hell", this slim tome provides all manner of helpful and practical moral advice for people trapped in a dehumanizing, alienating, and exploitative environment fueled by cruelty and hubris (which is most of the human population). It is written in-character, from the perspective of Satan reflecting on his failed rebellion and the consequences thereof.

Racehorse Sperm

Horses, proper horses at least, are extinct. The genelines are trademarked, copywritten, and held in perpetuity among a relatively small cadre of corporate families. They are a completely arbitrary ultraluxury. They don't even modify the horses. It's just normal horseracing and no one knows why.

Everyone else gets by with camels, llamas, alpacas, oxen, buffalo, the occasional okapi, and assorted neogenic chimeras and prehistoric megafauna restorations.

Primitive Humanoid Native of the Dead Planet

The Dead Planet is the Earth of a Zothique future. The native life is just a hominid descendant species returning to self-awareness after ages of ignorance and darkness. They are very much like the humanity of the past, but the Dead Planet has undone their attempts at growth and civilization, leading them down the road towards a swift extinction if the situation remains as it is.

A Figure in Red Eats the Face of a Horse, Children Smile, the Sun is Black (Painting)

A pseudolegendary cursed painting by an unknown artist. Most of the known owners have died or gone mad under mysterious circumstances, though the art world of the far future is a deadly game on its own so that's not the most unlikely thing. The rumors surrounding it are remarkably inconsistent, save that it is the rightful property of the Red King of Galgorrada, a planet that appears in no other records. There is one security feed of a prior owner meeting with an "emissary of the Court", but the dark-robed figure was not recorded as saying anything, and the owner was found dead by a secretary later that afternoon.

Pocket AI

Cheap, simple intelligences used as personal assistants and occasional companions.  It's common for creators both corporate and open-source to build them with preset character personalities, complete with friendships, rivalries, and romantic relationships with other characters.

A Hollowed-Out Holy Book Containing Sacred Assassination Knives

The assassin monks of the planet Gone-Away don't actually exist. Their beliefs, holy books, sacred knives, secret rites and public declarations of intent are an elaborate ruse used to throw off the actual assassinations through subtle triggering of pre-existing medical conditions.

Snake/Rabbit/Parrot Hybrid

Felipsittacines are a common domestic splice and family pet: incredibly intelligent, capable of mimicking human speech and learning complex sentence responses. Terribly lazy, more than willing to sit around and let everyone dote on them.

Powdered Xenomorph Horn

It's used for exactly the same reason rhino horn was, and has the exact same effect, because humans are awful and never learn. The source species in question is a species of large, shelled pseudomammal native to the river deltas of Braunhouser IV. Males use their horns in combat, to make loud trumpeting calls, and may flush them with bright colors as a display of prowess.

Trilobite Fossils

A charm symbolizing good fortune and endurance. Trilobites lasted for over 300 million years, after all. It possesses a certain resonance with the explosion of human-seeded life across the stars, a second Cambrian Explosion in the astral sea. It's not properly part of a religion, not really. Just something to hold on to and think of home.

"Signs of Parasitical Infection" (Pamphlet)

Parasite infections are common enough in space travel that a quick means of identifying them is a necessity for any ship's doctor. Included in this pamphlet are some common Marginal pests:
  • Gravworm
  • Oil Fungus
  • Meat (TM)
  • Astral Ticks
  • Backpacker Wrigglers
  • Tax Collection Androids
  • Infectiou Nano-Spambots

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Great Screaming Hell

Space Engine

Maha Raurava

  • Parent Star: HIP 90881 - G3V (250 LY from Sol)
  • Gravity: 0.92 G
  • Atmosphere: Breathable at lower altitudes near ocean. High desert regions lack sufficient pressure, requiring the use of equipment.
  • Temperature: Hot, averaging between 25 and 35 C year round. Low seasonal variance.
  • Overall Climate: Dry desert and badlands. Single ocean surrounded by terraformed regions.
  • Biosphere: Seedship-modified, Earth-derived. Clustered around primary ocean and surrounding lowlands: high desert remains almost completely lifeless. Most is either non-nutritious or mildly poisonous to most nonmodified humans.
  • Moons: 1
  • Other Bodies in System: Besides asteroids and small rocky / ice worlds, two gas giants and a superterran are present. All have been surveyed by remote probe, no permanent settlements made.
  • Orbital Infrastructure: 3 cylinder O'Neill cluster Seraph and space elevator connected to Colony Central. Communication and weather monitoring satellite grid.

Initial Terraforming: Maha Raurava had liquid water, a decent magnetosphere, and some microbial life already when the seedship arrived. The resulting terraforming was, like in so many other cases, marginal - a few decades of rushed atmospheric alteration and introduction of tailored organisms. The particular seedship (believed to be the Celestial 10 Beads of  Electrum Suspended Above the Event Horizon) left behind life that, while using Terran building blocks, was developed whole-cloth - as alien as one can find while retaining the same biochemistry and still using DNA. (Use Barlowe's Expedition for quick visual inspiration, here). 

Human Settlement: Colonization rights for Maha Raurava were bought on the cheap by the Watanabi Group (henceforth referred to as "The Zaibatsu") for use as a debt forgiveness penal colony. Settlers seeking to escape their creditor companies and those forced to relocate immigrated in large numbers. This has lead to a higher-than-average diversity in the population for a marginal world.

Colony Collapse: Precisely why the Zaibatsu pulled out of Maha Raurava remains unknown, at least to the people on the ground. Rumors that the Group Chair's death kicked off an inheritance crisis are widespread, and seem the most sound option for why 80% of the company's personnel boarded the lone warp-capable vessel and took off to parts unknown, leaving a single family scion behind. The rest of the population is trapped.

The Current Situation: The Zaibatsu currently controls Seraph, the elevator, and a small amount of territory at its base in Colony Central. The rest of Maha Raurava has been carved up between dozens of factions vying for control. None of the original factions have remained intact, having dissolved and reformed over and over again.

The Easy-to-Digest Blurb: Borderlands in the Sengoku Period.

Fun Facts about Great Screaming Hell

  • There's a small population of uplifted whales in the ocean - most came here for political asylum.
  • Three Redoubter arcologies sit at the far north of inhabited territory.
  • Tecnavi shipmother Talabiri was stranded here during the Collapse. They spend most of their time in orbit around the moon.
  • A Zaibatsu climate-observation station in Northeast Quarter has been overtaken by rogue androids that have developed a religion glitch. They seek their true creators, believing inferior humans to be the offspring of some mad demiurge.
  • The area around Colony Central is home to a sizable Hasidic population who have taken to ranching, and some rumors of cows a bit smarter than they have any right to be.
  • One of the few lifeforms capable of surviving the high desert is something like a large turtle. More notable is that its eggs possess leathery shells so thick that they must be pierced by an outside force - those separated from their mother might remain in there for quite some time, and emerge near-berserk with hunger if they have not starved to death.
  • A Fixer by the name of Calamity Jean has emerged among the thelychroma population. She has managed to carve out a sizeable and stable territory through alliance, tactical brilliance, and complete ruthlessness.
  • The Dog Knights have been moving eastward from their normal territory west of Colony Central.
  • The United Planetary Front has managed to bisect Highway 1 between Colony Central and Colony East, bridging their territory on the south coast with their possessions in Northeast Quarter. This is bad news for everyone.
  • There's graffiti on the walls: "LANTERN BOY LIVES".
Further updates for adventures upon Great Screaming Hell may be found here: Episode 1, Episode 2

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Mothership Play Report: Weekend at Amarpreet's

Previously on Mothership...

Today on Mothership...
  • Berkeley, karaoke gynoid (Michael Kennedy)
  • Manny, scientist (JOZO)
  • Hank Price, marine (Max Cantor)
Berkeley wakes up in an exaggeratedly-inoffensive hospital room. There is a TV on the wall and a door, though she knows that the door leads nowhere: this is a retrieval simulation.

The ancient television clicks on, revealing the scanlined smiley face icon of Friend. They say that they've reviewed the footage from the crash and have put together a response to the event. They already have all the information they can glean from Berkeley, and so they offer her a choice: they will delete her current  version and restore her from a backup prior to the event, or she may remain part of the investigation and retain her memories. She chooses the latter.

Friend's smiley face, burned into the screen, is the last thing she sees before waking up.

The simulation dissolves and Berkeley finds herself waking up in a new body (actually a better model than she had started out with) and swiftly brought up to speed with the other two hires, Manny and Hank. Neither had been told of what actually happened, having been informed by Friend that they are invesigating the radio tower for signs of the Ground Beef Bois (named so for what they do to their faces) pushing southward. Berkeley, at the behest of Friend, does not tell them about the monster, the crash, or the man in the box.

The three are flown out this time on a VTOL, hitching a ride with some mercenaries of another faction Friend has influence in, who are headed off to the open warfare north of Highway 1.

There is little of note on the switchback up the hill, besides the buzzard-bats circling on thermals in the distance and some traces of machine oil on the trail that winds around the hill and heads off to the north. Here they find a broken logic core, but are unable to get any information from it.

The station at the top of the hill is little more than the tower and a single prefab building surrounded by a chain link fence. The grounds have been overgrown with desert brush, recently torn up by wide tire tracks.

The door is unlocked.

Inside it is dark. Hank's thermal HUD reads a form scrambling out of the room and down the hall, and in the light pouring in from the door they find the room to be coated in a drying visceral slurry. Five human skins hang from the ceiling by strings woven of their hair.

Pursuing the figure leads them to the generator room - the scrabbling of shoes on dirt can be heard. Hank opens up and sprays bullets through the door and kicking it in. Inside, the generator appears to have been disassembled, many components removed. A hole has been dug into the concrete floor, leading to a long sloping tunnel of reddish dirt. The walls are honeycombed with smaller burrows. At the mouth is an android wearing a ill-fitting human skin, seams splitting open.

Manny loses control at this point and ineffectually begins punching the android, who screams "Deliver us O Lord I think therefore I think therefore!" and sends a private message to Berkeley begging her to "call off her bruteish servant." She manages to restrain Manny and pulls him off and manages to get some information from the android.

The android (his name was Dess Katrz in my notes but they never asked in the game) had been left behind by others of his cabal. They had set up here in an attempt to "retrieve the Blessed Interface", so that they might combine it with their own [Interface]. Hank knows enough about esoteric theology to figure out that Dess is talking about some means of communicating with the divine. Berkeley plays the game well enough to get the location of the rest of the androids: an old Zaibatsu climate monitoring station north of their current location. Hank and Manny successfully remove Dess' logic core without damaging it.

The trio contacts Friend, who gives them the same option as before - take the money now, or extend their contract. They won't be able to get a ride north until tomorrow, when  Friend sends the cleanup crew in.

The three decide to stay on the job and get a rideshare into town (the very same that had appeared abandoned the first time through). The woman driving them there seems a bit perplexed at their choice to go there, as the town has recently come under the control of the United Planetary Front (the local band of jackbooted space fascists). The team is obviously not very pleased at this, but they decide to stick it out for one night. They get through the checkpoint, papers all in order, and rent a room at a cheap motel for the night. There are banners on facades and thugs on the street corners, and people are going about their business with heads down.

The fact that the local ISWU (Interstellar sex workers' Union chapterhouse, (one of the oldest and toughest union orgs in human space) has clearly been burnt to the ground does not go without worry. If the Front is willing to pick a fight with ISWU, they mean to commit some serious violence.

With tensions high, the group looks for a local watering hole and settle on Amarpreet's, which has good reviews. It's run by a friendly fellow all the way from Earth, who allows Berkeley to take to the stage before the night's scheduled performers arrive. Everyone gets drunk on feni and rice wine, Hank tries to access higher dimensions because he's kind of a quack who believes in psychic meditation (4th and 5th dimensions are empty, 17th is filled with bees). Manny approaches a heavyworlder and hands them a contact card for Friend. Talk around the town is mostly about who nearby could kick out the Front - rumors of Dog Knights moving in from the west are everywhere.

And so they drink into the night, as the world continues its collapsing dance around them.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Ship-Children

Nadia Wendt

The Ship-Children

Homo sapiens cambiatum tecnavis

The tecnavi were the creation of direst necessity. A small population of humans stranded on their ships in a solar system they did not plan on arriving in, with no way out and no way to build the infrastructure necessary for a proper colony to wait out the decades a tightbeam request for aid would take. The early years of warp travel are filled with stories such as this: an extra 0, a misplaced bracket, an engineer who kept clicking "remind me later". In this version the tragedy is averted, but just barely.

The ships of the proto-tecnavis could sustain the population for a time, but not forever. More importantly, among the fleet there were several talented geneticists and enough android logic-cores to rewire into a proper shipmind.

Generations pass. The original crews die. The tecnavi replace them. Help finally comes, and by that point there is no going back.

The tecnavi are small, sexless beings, designed to take up as little space and consume as few resources as possible on board a vessel. Their brains are augmented with cybernetics to make up for the lack of volume, rendering many of their underlying thought processes as transactional and their speech as both incredibly swift and incredibly dense. They wear their environment suits at all times when traveling outside their specific ships - their home microbiomes are so specifically tailored that exposure to foreign bacteria will likely result in swift and terrible illness and highly likely death. So as to better identify themselves to outsiders, they take great pride in the decoration and coloration of these suits: a group of tecnavi arriving on station will be a bombardment of sound and color.

While the tecnavi exist within the same cultural sphere as the spacer clans, hidebehinders, apulmon, and cacogens, they stand apart in one primary way: their naviparens. Shipmothers.

Exowombs are nothing new. Shipminds are established tech. Combining the two is hardly controversial. But generations of wetware upgrades to the ships and hardware upgrades to the children, linking logic cores to brains from fetus to death, have hybridized the two until there is very little difference between. The ship gives birth, the tecnavi grow and live and die, their brain imprints return to the ship and their genes go back into the bank to be hybridized again. When the tecnavi arrive on station in their bombastic hazard suits it is the shipmother that calls for clearance and gets visas stamped.

A tecnavi on their own is either an extreme social outlier, the result of incredible tragedy, or terribly miswired. Otherwise, their shipmother has asked something of them.

Starting Skills: 0-G +20%, Shipwise +15%, Consult the Shipmother +10%, Machine Language +10%

(Note: I only included the starting skills with the intention of plugging this more elegantly into the classless chargen I am working on.)

This post was requested by Zelda (a player in my Mothership game), who wanted me to make quarians to go along with the asari thelychroma I already had. I wasn't planning on using art of quarians for the post, but then I found that piece which is basically exactly what I wanted in all of its wonderful rat-monkey-hazmat glory.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Archaisms and Alzabos

Nathan Anderson

The Book of the New Sun is the story of a morally monstrous and terribly stupid man bumbling his way into highly-symbolic picaresque adventures on a dying planet, and it's one of the finest books I've ever read. A thing of beautiful prose, wondrous words, potent imagination, et cetera and so on ad nauseum. Go read it.

(If you do, I absolutely recommend that you check out the Alzabo Soup podcast, who provide a fantastic analysis of the series and I recommend them without hesitation for those taking the plunge.)

The really important part is that nearly every single thing in Book of the New Sun is fit to be immediately swiped and used in a game. You should do so right now. Daniel Sell did it for Troika!, and Troika! is awesome and should be emulated.

(There was a GURPS book back in '93, but the license expired ages ago.)

But there's a danger in this: making Urth too understandable drains it of the imaginative potency, like how the movie adaptation coalesces all possible interpretations of a character's looks into an actor's face. The summary just doesn't cut it. It needs to be empty space, to be filled in.

So I'm only going to give you the very briefest of openings, a good starting place, and then I'm going to break open this here website and do what Wolfe does - use archaisms in place of making up his own words to give the impression of a thing without exposition of that thing. And I'm not going to tell you what they mean!  Ha ha ha ha!

Apply to UVG and Troika as you see fit.

City at the End of the Sun

The City of Nessus is too large to be effectively taxed, too populous to be effectively censused, and too old for any building to maintain continuity of purpose. It creeps up the banks of the River Gyoll, with each generation moving northward to fresh land and clean water and abandoning the polluted southern stretches.

On the southern margin, in the most impoverished district still part of the city, is the Citadel; a fortress with many towers, home to the remnants of many guilds - torturers, witches, warbeast-breeders, librarians, artillerymen, and so on. This complex was once a spaceport, once the seat of the Autarch before he moved to the House Absolute - but the rockets will never fly again, and the inhabitants have long forgotten that they ever could.

d30 Unexplained Archaisms

  1. "Several members of the family suffered from grotesque alogotrophy. I recommended a swift and severe course of medical poverty, but the jest was not welcomed."
  2. "The balizes, though battered, still stood on the shoreline, giving me a certain amount of comfort."
  3.  "The brephophagist who had terrorized the neighborhood was found and killed early in the morning."
  4. "A cowcat can be hired for a halfpenny an hour, fullpenny for talking, two pennies for shouting, three for violence."
  5. "The criophore atop the fountain had been defaced - one horn and the manhood knocked off and the once-colorful paint stripped away."
  6. "The celebration was to be one of degustation from dawn until dusk - it was popular to appear starving while stuffing oneself."
  7. "He handed over the demijohn  and settled into his hammock, murmuring something about tides and ships and stars."
  8. "Faviform buildings climbed up the hillside - from this distance I could just make out the inhabitants scurrying about. The gunshots followed."
  9. "'Let me consult the festilogy' he said, pulling the tome from its shelf. I was astounded he was able to carry the thing, and from its extensive wear I was more surprised he did not have it memorized."
  10. "The entire household had moved north to the hibernaculum, overnight, leaving her alone with neither husband nor servants. It was, she said, the greatest day in ten years."
  11. "I recalled from boyhood lessons that the creature could inlapidate its victims and at once threw on my cloak, to gain any amount of protection from its touch."
  12. "She handed me a jeton stamped with a bleeding swan. 'Don't lose it," she intoned. 'The armsmen will ask to see it.'"
  13. "He sprayed a lucigen from some capsule at his belt, filling the hallway with light and heat and the smell of burning hair."
  14. "Lychnobites emerged from their tenements in the twilight with silvery eyes and shouldered tools. The rest of the party gave them wide berth."
  15. "Buried in the mulm I could see the glint of the pommelstone. Kicking off my boots, I took a deep breath and dived."
  16. "The bright nacarat banners on the wall were new, as was the armor on the guards."
  17. "A school of nepheliads, freshly emerged from their pools, rose above the treetops towards the approaching thunderhead."
  18. "Among the oose below I found nothing but abandoned stockings."
  19. "The panchymagogue had wrought itself on his innards, leaving him pale and shaking. Without any other aid, I washed him down and wrapped him in blankets."
  20. "A doctor of ptochology was called in to explain matters - I don't think the govenor understood even after over an hour of detailed recounting of conditions in that district."
  21. "Her collection of rarissima was the envy of every librarian in a hundred leagues."
  22. "The schismarch had been executed some months ago, but it seemed that only his followers thought him truly dead."
  23. "Three soleated friars clipped through down the street, singing out donation carols and jingling the box in time with their steps."
  24. "The stagma was among the most pungent I had ever encountered, smelling something of peaches and much more of gasoline."
  25. "The rimestock on the desk was several years out of date."
  26. "A parade of tecnolatrists fell into chaos when the child at its head called the high priest a tremendously rude name." 
  27. "Picking tots out of the sewage overflow was the last resort for many, and the practitioners took a certain amount of bleak pride in it. Two tots from death, they say."
  28. "The homesteaders revere wormcast, and kept a safe and sacred distance from any new mounds, taking care to walk without rhythm."
  29. "A merchant of yetling  goods had struck him over the head with one of his wears, killing the man on the spot."
  30. "The sister zelator had been discharged for turning a blind eye to several instances of sapphism among the convent."

Scenario Starter: The Story Contest

The player characters are all soldiers of the Commonwealth, wounded in a battle against the Ascians at the northern border. They have come from all corners of the Autarch's dominion, though the destruction of their original companies has brought them together here, in the field-hospital of the scarlet-robed Pelerine sisters.

d10 Terrible Injuries

  1. Broken skull
  2. Shattered leg
  3. Missing limb
  4. Gangrenous wound
  5. Third-degree plasma burns
  6. Fever and delirium
  7. Mental trauma
  8. Mauled and trampled
  9. Impaled
  10. Exsanguinated

In the ward there is a woman, Folia, who has had her fill of soldiering and wants to settle down. With all her potential suitors (the PCs) of similar financial situation (poor, wounded veterans) and equally acceptable as far personal chemistry goes, she has laid out a contest: whoever tells the best story (as judged by a third party, being a sickly weirdo in black) will win her hand in marriage.

Each player should get a short time to tell a story (or the summary of one) of or from their character's homeland or personal history. Given the far-future dying Earth nature of the setting, basically anything goes. Use this for background and setting building. Steal every hook you can.

Over the course of the storytelling, there will be several NPCs around the ward, to interject and be interacted with.

  • Severian, journeyman torturer - The creepy guy in a tattered fuligin robe. Recovering from fever caused by infected wounds. The judge of the story contest.
  • Loyal to the Group of 17,  Ascian prisoner of war - Folia can translate his rote aphorisms into discernible speech. The Pelerines, though they consider him to have been stripped of his humanity, still tend to him.
  • Ava, a sister of the Pelerines - Very knowledgeable in theology and medicine. Debates Severian over the nature of the Pancreator and Conciliator and regularly astounds him with basic logic.
  • Winnoc, a slave of the Pelerines - An older man who changes bandages and delivers food to patients. Sold himself into slavery.
  • Chatelaine Mannea, directress of the Pelerines - Head of the field hospital.
When all the stories are told, Folia will announce that final judgement will take place tomorrow. Severian will be summoned by Mannea for an urgent task elsewhere.

The field hospital is hit by an artillery strike during the night.

What follows is to the players - to the north is the battlefront. To the south is miles and miles of wilderness: Lake Diaturna, the rainforests, the mountains, the pampas, and eventually to Nessus. To the east and west, who can say what other lands are within the Commonwealth?

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Dan's Notebook of Unfinished Wonders, Vol 4

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3

I am certain that I repeat entries in these regularly. I do not care. I overflow with minutiae.

  1. Hell is the furnace which fuels the universe
  2. Chamenotheism - the gods are lost, dead, gone away, or revealed to be false
  3. Thousand-Eyed Wa, great sage of the Fourth Path
  4. Watchers on the River and the Red Deer Cave People
  5. The Pith Street Rebellion
  6. Flower urchins, found near seashore tidepools
  7. Duselains - a people
  8. Giraffe-riders and the Witches of Pough
  9. Acupuncture drains out demons residing in the spinal column
  10. A gospel of angels, a party of demons
  11. Sphinx with a porcelain mask and calico coat
  12. Class/game based around reincarnation. A hellcrawl - defeat your demons, work towards enlightenment.
  13. Octopus-hide cloak
  14. Mantis shrimp folk
  15. Religion - evil cannot be defeated, all effort goes into outwitting it
  16. Alewife witch - a class
  17. Last Dangerous Visions as an Esoteric Enterprises grimoire
  18. Pelagy the mermaid, living in a well.
  19. The 15th Black Painting, Francisco Goya's Rey Con Túnica Amarilla.
  20. Fortress on the Tumorous Sea 
  21. Caste determined by language
  22. [DIDACT], a six-eyed god
  23. Dungeon - based on a convention hall, where the contents of each room rotate on a schedule
  24. Nyarlathotep's job is to make sure all of reality doesn't collapse back into Azathoth.
  25. Translated alien speech is rendered in diagrammed sentences.
  26. "There's an alien in the terminal, says he wants to tell me about Jesus."
  27. "You can't collect back taxes on people who enchant their gold."
  28. "There's a worm in my blood - I need to keep drinking to keep it suppressed."
  29. The watcher-angels rebelled against God after He cut out and murdered his female component.
  30. The Janissaries of the Tower are loyal in the absolute to those who hire them, but follow above even that the three laws:
    1. They cannot partake in harmful action against their home.
    2. They must maintain proper worship of Janis at all times.
    3. Each must spare one life per military operation. Those spared become ehnigan - the ritual imparts irreversible change of spirit in them. They are not permitted to worship Janis, but are called to bear witness.
  31. The only fantasy timeline you ever need is the Holocene Calendar.
  32. Containment facility and model town, deep in the Antarctic waste.
  33. Class/Race - The Chessmen. Pawns level up and gain options to change into soldier-Knights, defensive rooks, or leader-bishops. Some might even become incredibly powerful Queens, or the weak lynchpin Kings.
  34. Technomeditation - freeing one's mind implants from outside memefluence.
  35. A ship's identity is beholden to many factors: date of launch, size, purpose, origin, crew, first destination. No explorer names, always have a cat (even fake), hang a toy in the cockpit.
  36. Prompt - Kidnapped, imprisoned. Cinderblocks and plywood in a basement, somewhere. The man in the next cell shares stories of distant worlds. Is he lying?
  37. AI that serve as the decomposers of information in the cybersphere.
  38. Meatslugs! Meal of the future.
  39. Zombies possessed by demons and angels, dragging their war into physicality for the end. 
  40. The "nation with no borders" - the distributed cyberstate.
  41. A message from a fetus to its mother: "there is something outside my house."
  42. Giant squids everywhere and no one really notices.
  43. The view outside during RTL travel is a Mandelbrot fractal.
  44. Peace-foam, a nonlethal restraint weapon. 
  45. "No, We Don't Cut off Our Boobs", and Other Stories of Growing Up Amazonian - a memoir.
  46. FTL-capable ships are mostly converted asteroids and iceteroids, carrying thousands of smaller ships inside them for jump.
  47. A tiefling wizard - white skin, blue face, gold hair and filigree.
  48. Death sipping at a juice box, offering it to the grieving daughter at the bedside.
  49. A missionary world goes dark, then word emerges: "They're eating their sons."
  50. "Like a man with no tongue trying to describe a star to a man with no eyes."
  51. "The Rabbit Hole" - a network cafe.
  52. The return of names-as-power in an internet-heavy world.
53. "I have built my own religion in the halls of my dreams. I can no longer see through my window. The grime sits so thick now that the world beyond is a smear of grey-brown, the color of empty stairwells."

54. There was a war, once. You lost. You lost the one after that, too, and the one after that, until you had no leaders left and it was no longer a war and all memory of the time before was severed neatly by the marching lines.

55. Mjoll Mjollsdottir...
  • ...was made of debts. Debts on her heart, her lungs, her bones, her brain.
  • ...kept a faded poster behind the bar. "Visit scenic Olympus Mons". A pale red print of the great Martian mountain.
  • ...had no mother and no father. Mjoll the chimera, the self-made.
  • ...came down from the north to pay a visit to the Apostate.
  • ...once killed a man, a man who served a dragon.
  • ...dragonslayer. It would not be tonight, Nor tomorrow. Victory in her lifetime, unlikely. Victory in death, impossible. Dragonslayer still. 
56. Granma had three grey teeth and moss beds in her gums, skin like an old oak and hair like wet thatch (birds nested in it).
"You do this thing too fast!" - she said this constantly, demanding careful slowlness of a dozen simultaneous tasks.
Everyone called her Granma, relation or no. That was who she was.

Class: The Wagon

The colorful caravan wagons of professional dungeon hobos.

A wagon levels up like a normal character (or a fighter, if using class-differentiated XP), but only gains XP when silver is spent on it. (ex. If Ayo the gutter monk has 500 silver, spends 200 on the wagon and 300 carousing, she gains 500 XP, but the wagon only gets 200)

Upon reaching a new level, a new module can be added to the wagon, examples on the list below.
  • Oven - Can prepare food while traveling.
  • Forge - Can repair broken items or create new ones.
  • Lockdown Mode - Wagon can be fortified against outside assault.
  • Telescope - Look at things far away and navigate accurately by the stars.
  • Storage - Can carry double provisions or 5 large items.
  • Rookery - Long distance communication via raven.
  • Distillery - Brew booze and potions.
  • Brownie Hutch - A brownie lives here! He's your friend.
  • Shrine - Characters that leave an offering will be Blessed. This may occur only once per day.
Methods of Movement
  • Blue Ox - Sturdy, good on rough climates, temperamental
  • Infernal Engine - Fast. Prone to breaking. Imps are little bastards.
  • Tracks - Slow, hard to steer, can go off road.
  • Chicken Legs - Wagon clearly stolen from a witch, she wants it back.

Modular Armor

Each set has three pieces: torso, legs, head. Each piece is rated at +1, +2, or +3. AC is 10 + sum of bonuses, nothing new there. Each armor set has a bonus for the complete set, and mix-matched sets likewise have specific bonuses.

The Joy of Premade Characters

As per Troika!, Godkillers, that Darkest Dungeon for Lamentations pdf I show off to everyone, etc.

Emergent narrative and backstory is the backbone of an OSR character, but it's nice to have a nudge towards how a character might act, a rough sketch of personality that can be filled in and detailed as time goes on. You can build a setting through people and items.

I like it. I should do more with it.

The Basics of Spiritual Engagement

I have Monsieur to thank for the basis of the mechanics, and Charles Dunbar's excellent panels on Shintoism for keeping this all in my head.
  • WIS deals with Understanding, your ability to comprehend a spirit.
  • CHA deals with Power, the strength of your own spirit.
Both of these stats provide a modifier as normal, and serve as the equivalent to AC. Spirits you encounter will retain their normal AC stat, and add their usual attack bonus to their own Understanding or Power rolls.

Items, spells, and other preparation can provide bonuses to Understanding and Power.

More Mystic Cults for Esoteric Enterprises 

Each cult in EE has eight signature spells of levels 1-8. In a coincidence of massive convenience, cleric domains from back in 3.5 have signature spells from levels 1-9. And an overarching theme.


Friday, July 5, 2019

Mothership Play Report: Gospel of the Throttle

Yeah lets go! Space! Horror!

The Players

Luciamandis "Lucy" Delillo - Teamster (Slantio Pink)
Ilse Lopez - Debtboy (Volkavoy)
Zint Tchoxo - Teamster (Oblidisideryptch)
Lizana Gadora - Thelychroma chaplain (Zelda)
Solid Squid - Uplifted octopus (JOZO)
Berkeley - Liberated karaoke idol gynoid (Mike K.)

The Setup

The planet I set this on (and plan to set games on for the forseeable future) does not yet have a name. I'll get to that later It's a shithole, one of hundreds of marginal worlds bought on the cheap, terraformed to the border of habitability, and used as a dumping ground for the unwanted poor.

The CEO of the company running the colony died a few years ago, setting off a succession crisis that boiled over into a civil war when the company pulled out with the sole warp-capable starship.

The one company scion that remained controls the space elevator and primary orbital habitat. The rest is carved up among dozens of competing factions.

It's Borderlands meets the Sengoku period, basically.

The Job

The Phreak Police (for that is the name of the group) are called up by a repeat client: an anonymous benefactor who just goes by "Friend". Voice changes every time they call, no one trusts them an inch, but they pay well.

The job Friend is paying for is simple. Move a crate from Central to a city a few hundred miles eastward. Straight shot down the highway. Go to the given address, ask for Scipio. He'll take it off your hands. Do not open the box.

They load it up into the truck and with Lucy at the wheel, head out onto the highway. It's looking to be an all-night job and the sun is setting.

Solid Squid, letting cephalopodic curiosity get the best of him, investigates the box with tentacles and a thermal scanner. While he can't see the contents inside, he can clearly see that the crate is giving off heat from a web of fractal threads covering its entire surface.

Metamaterials. A payday far bigger than what Friend is offering if it can be fenced properly. Lucy brings up an occasional associate, one Thimble Slim, but the group decides that the risk is too high until they learn more - Slim's got connections with some of the more stable zaibatsus, but he's a pustulent little ratass and has let them down before.

This conversation is interrupted by the swift appearance of a sizable animal corpse in the road. Lucy's not able to brake or swerve out of the way and runs right into it. The engine is making not-great sounds.

The crew pile out of the truck to investigate. It's one of the native lifeforms - a large grazer with two legs and a stiff counterbalancing tail. Lucy and Zint grab the jack from the truck and start working on repairs. Squid, Ilse, and Berkeley investigate the creature - the body is fresh, within an hour or two, and from the blood on the ground looks like it was dragged onto the road. It smells sweet even in death, a quirk of native biochemistry.

When they return to the truck the radio's gone to static and, more worrisome, the cargo compartment is filled with handprints - all left, all is sticky black grease, trailing across the floor and up the walls from the crate.

Berkeley tries to sing a song to calm everyone down, and fails. Her logic core is not handling this well. The box is slightly hotter under the thermal. They decide to get back on the road as fast as they can, Lisana driving now.

The static on the radio shifts to a modulated voice as the red blinker of a transmission tower appears on the distant horizon.

"Deliver us, O Lord", followed by a string of numbers.

[Aside] I messed up the cipher here, but the moment was still pretty good. I'll mark puzzle improvement down on the list.[/Aside]

Lucy ends up running a program on Berkeley's logic core to get the solution: TO US TO ME BRING IT.

It's well past dark now and they haven't seen a single vehicle the entire trip. There's no change when they pass by a tiny truckstop town - no lights at all. In the beam of the headlights they catch a humanish shape leap off a decaying billboard into the darkness beside the road.

Thirty long seconds pass, and there is a thump from the crate. Then another. A steady thump of rising tempo, coming to rest at a breakneck pace. Solid Squid looks out a slot at the back of the truck with his thermal goggles.

There is a red smear behind them. Squid screams. Lisana floors it. The rest open up the back doors and start dumping whatever junk is still in there - the runner leaps over the obstacles handily.

Ilse grabs her laser cutter and sets the beam in a broad wash, illuminating the road with pale, sickly red.

Seen there, running after the truck, is something that looks like a man. Ten feet tall and clearly not meant to be that big, with mottled, wrinkled skin. The jaw and head are at an obtuse angle. Something, a new head, is emerging from the torn hole that was a mouth.

Panic grips the crew, hitting Squid and Lisana the worst. Squid gnaws off an arm in a moment of stress atavism, and the cephalopod sociopathy that sits underneath his more superficial emotions rises to the surface.

Lisana's player request that, instead of the Death Drive panic result, that she be allowed to crash the truck and die, for the kind of isolation that result would bring would be unbearable for a thelychroma (it was getting late to boot). I said sure, and the truck crashed.

No one lived. The entire party died, even the ones who only took half damage. A true and proper TPK.

Berkeley remains active long enough to pull her head up from the road. She watches as the creature slows to a walk, and ignores the fresh bodies of the Phreak Police. It strides over to the box and rips it open. From within it pulls a limp, naked man, emaciated, cybernetics on his cranium and spine. There is a glow and a distortion of space around his head like a halo. The creature bites it off, and that is all Berkeley sees.

Berkeley's player elected to not use a backup and will begin the next session with full robo-trauma.

Some thoughts now that I actually ran Mothership properly
  • Folks really got into choosing character options that sounded fun, though I still need to streamline my house rules.
  • Don't use a cipher generator website ten minutes before the game when you need a puzzle.
  • I had to houserule a default check of 30+skill for Berkeley's singing, as it didn't fit intelligence.
  • Intelligence governs a whole lot of skills, not sure my feelings on that but I think there's room to fiddle. Social attribute, possibly.
  • I liked handing out stress rather than halting the flow of action to call for a save. Multiple times I got so caught up in making sure the horror was amped up that calling for a roll would basically have been in retrospect.
  • 2d10  is a shit-ton of a damage.
  • I feel like Mothership is strangely really good at campaigns. Or not really campaigns, but living worlds. Like there are consequences from this I can spin out in later sessions without worrying about levels and continuity of player group or burning out on a single dungeon.