Saturday, December 26, 2020

Mothership Extrapolation Game 2

There's been a lot more Mothership material published since the last time I did this post, so let's get rolling. Same principles as before: take a background detail, flesh it out.

For this I'll be using primarily Pound of Flesh, Gradient Descent, Dead Planet, the adventures found in Dissident Whispers, and some from the 3rd party itch bundle (ALCOR Station, Primeval, Dinoplex Catycylsm, Black Pyramid)

The Dino Gene Wars

Theme parks filled with reconstructed dinosaurs had a brief moment in the spotlight before fading into sad obscurity. This has not stopped those businesses clinging to life from attacking their competitors like crabs in a bucket. The crux of the matter is, as always, immensely stupid: the shitty first generation source genomes, despite being wracked with errors and scientifically inaccurate, are, for immensely stupid reasons, the only templates that can legally be called dinosaurs in advertisements. And since the ability to use the word dinosaur is critical to running a dinosaur theme park, the surviving parks are locked in a simmering war of attrition, constantly trying to one up their competitors within the tight boundaries the original templates will allow.

The Orange Catholic Bible

Initially a joke or a dedicated fan project, now pulled so far out of its context that it is take for real (if only as a curiosity). It has remained popular enough to spawn imitators, which follow a similar naming pattern and arrange / adapt its contents towards a different ideological end. Commonly found offshoots are the Green (ecological stewardship), Silver (cyber-enhancement) and Black (Redoubter).

Neo-Haram Anarchists

The name is intentionally nonsense, a way for teenagers to scare their isolated, conservative community. Not actually new, Muslim, or anarchist, as the name trademark and graffiti tag were scooped up by an investment firm over a century ago and have been juggled around between minor companies trying to take advantage of the branding of a defunct fake terrorist group that never really existed in the first place.

Lenin's Tomb

Following the Moscow Disaster of 2113, the tomb of Vladimir Lenin has been declared a quantum anomaly for its habit of appearing at apparent random in locations where it is extremely improbable, though not impossible, for the tomb of Lenin to be observed. Well over 100,000 other fragments and artifacts of what has been named Quantum Moscow (Москвант) demonstrating the same qualities are known and tracked, though none of the others approach Lenin's tomb in terms of dedication and size of fan club.

Model A Sleeve Series

Public domain gene clone templates. Can be found at any resleeving or exowomb facility. Given their commonality and the very simple modularity built into the templates, most Model A users will undergo additional cosmetic modifications. Model A sleeves comes in male, female, intersex, and neuter varieties.

The A Series has accumulated an dedicated online fandom over time, with the ten models given names and broad-strokes personalities for use in fanworks. They are, in order from A1 to A10 - Ai, Alice, Alexi, Ahmed, Anjali, Achebe, Achilles, Alfonso, Adelaide, and Angel.

Meatapede

Open-source splice of a variety of velvet worm. Common and cheap source of protein. Popular flavors include garlic and butter, smoky barbecue, cool ranch, [REDACTED AND RECALLED], blood sausage, roast beef dinner, teeth-kicker spicy, 

Megacorporations

(n) - A for-profit organization capable of dictating law within its sphere of influence.

  • ALCOR Fuel & Services (Fuel depots and waystations) - A well-earned reputation for being cheap, just shoddy enough to pass muster, and everywhere. Even so, fresh food and a warm bed is enough to give most spacers a sort of warm nostalgia for these tacky stations.
  • Anders-Klimt Mining Corp (Asteroid mining) - Known for aggressively assimilating mom & pop belter outfits en masse, and then legally salting the earth so no one can spring up afterwards when they move on to the next boom.
  • Anodyne Construction (Luxury Space Habitats) - None of the endless litany of tabloid controversy ever seems to stick to them for more than a week.
  • Armadyne Weapons Inc (Weaponry) - For when you need weapons that are cheaply made and poorly put together, but are priced and marketed like luxury goods.
  • Black Dawn (PMC) - War crime central. No one hires them unless they have several solar systems worth of plausible deniability.
  • Carter Tactical Concerns Ltd (Organizational security) - A company hired to manage all the other private military companies you have hired. No one (employee or client) can get in touch with management.
  • Cloudbank Synthetics (Androids and robotics) - Technically defunct, after MONARCH pink slipped the entire biological staff and a blockade was raised around the primary station.
  • Confederated Systems Inc (????) - The fuck do these people even do. No one knows. But that have immense amounts of money, big shiny ships, and are sponsoring goddamn everything nowadays.
  • Drax Corporation (Anything and everything) - A generalist and a scavenger, specializing in nothing but surviving in whatever economic environment it might find itself it.
  • Dyson Phytology (Foodstuffs and health supplements) - Has a reputation of being "the good company" purely through not having as catastrophic ethics violations as their competitors and rivals.
  • Emerald Horizon (Terraforming) - Brute force methods, tend to pack up as soon as the job is technically done. Have been expanding into mass seawater conversion techniques to get the leg up on competitors.
  • Exo-Credit Federated Union (Cryptocurrency) - Has a tendency to offer its services to the federal reserves and mints of struggling colonial nation-states.
  • Pandora Corp (Exotic neogenic livestock) - Markets itself as this artsy paradise for up-and-coming gene-engineers. Chews them up in endless crunch and never hires full time.
  • Pantech Pharmaceuticals (The biggest pharma) - Has a dedicated scouting fleet, just incase they stumble across an exotic biosphere in need of trademarking.
  • Salo-Mercury Biomotors Inc (Bioware) - A "disruption company" devoted to building biological alternatives to mechanical devices. While they have seen some success, they greatly overstate their market share, popularity, and quarterly profit statements.
  • SEBACO Mining Ltd (Ice and gas mining) - An old, old, OLD company. Can trace its operations all the way back to Saturn. Infamous in business circles for not being publicly traded - company is owned evenly by five individuals, one of whom is centuries old and was part of the original founding board.
  • Shikewara-Tarmec Corp (Orbital infrastructure) - A mind-bogglingly big holding company, so large that there is at least one incident of a corp-war breaking out between two subsidiary corps that didn't realize that they were both owned by S-T-C.
  • Sindec Alloyed Metals Corp - (Metal processing) - An early adopter of the "all-inclusive corporate ideology" package for its contractors, to great success. You can always identify a Sindec employee, on account of how they sound like they're from a cult.
  • Takahashi Advanced Genetics (Human gene-engineering) - Family-run zaibatsu that actually started off with half of a moral backbone. That evaporated soon after the founder died.
  • Tempest Company (PMC) - Old in the tooth. Will be hired out because of their history and record, but everyone knows they've been on the decline for a while now.
  • Vondrey (Prefab surface colonies) - A budget contractor for dome cities. Likes using disposable waves of slightly-modified workers to cut down on setup costs.

"Fat Baby" Nuclear Warheads 

Low-yield nuclear weapon built on the cheap, typically used by pirates and other Rim parties. Named so due to combination of ancient custom, the propensity to decal a laughing baby on the casing, and their common use as traps by attaching them to a wreck and setting off a standard distress signal.

Saturn Ale & Venus Whiskey

Technically, these are both made on a space station orbiting Neptune; Venus has been uninhabited for eight decades now, following the failure of the Revolution, and the entire Saturnian system was suddenly and unexpectedly replaced with a completely different gas giant and it's moons ("Paradox Saturn" or "Ops" due to a catastrophic warp core cascade event.)

'Old Country Mars'

An attempted tourism branding for the struggling Martian communities on the Tharsis Plateau. With the economic depression in the inner Sol System showing no signs of letting up, the Martian government has focused on drumming up nostalgia for the "pioneer spirit" of the early colonization waves (ignoring the fact that those first waves devolved into violent despotism or charisma cultism at best).

Gemini Echo Expeditionary Force

An immensely expensive and hyped-up military joint operation, traversing some 530 light years towards what was believed at the time to be signs of an alien civilization. 12 years later, the planet was found completely barren, and it was never certain if the readings were simply wrong or if they were deliberately faked for the sake of certain defense contractors. "Gone GE" has become slang for a job shoddily done in the years since.


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Insightful Experience

First off, I am terribly sorry to everyone who is excited for Lighthouse for my lack of work on it: as it turned out, 2020 has been a terrible year to write things that involve activist leftists barely surviving against the tides of the grand fascist deathcult. Wee too close to home, there.

But this post has also been sitting 3/4 done for months so it's high time I actually did something with it.

This idea first cropped up in a post I did a long while ago: this is an expanded version that will serve as the base for how XP will work in Lighthouse.

Design Goals

  • Encourage players to seek out new experiences in the game.
  • Serve as a form of lateral progression
  • Encourage players to roleplay differently according to how deep they are in.
  • Make it easy for veteran/newbie mixed parties and carrying characters between games.
  • Make it easy for referees to just make up shit.

Madman's Knowledge

    Insight is what serves as experience in Lighthouse, representing a character's accumulated interactions with the weird. It's gained whenever encountering a new manifestation of the paranormal - entity, phenomenon, location, etc - for the first time.

    Insight gain will typically default to 1 per encounter. 3 would be suitable for a particularly potent encounter, or for a string of minor encounters in short succession. 5 Insight for a single encounter should be reserved for only the most terrible and wonderful revelations and might not ever come up in a series of sessions.

    Things that can grant Insight often, but not always, will be grounds for a roll to Keep Your Shit Together. That, as always remains up to the player and the circumstance. 

    Once you've gained Insight, you can spend it on Insights. This is not an ideal naming situation but I could not, for the life of me, think of a less confusing alternative. Work in progress, we'll cross that bridge when we get there. (edit: someone in discord recommended "revelations" - that is a good place to start)

    Each character will have a certain number of Insight Slots. These are where your purchased Insights go, as the name would suggest, and there will be 16 of them. Maybe 12, but probably 16. 

    Purchased Insights can include:

    • Special abilities
    • Skills
    • Items
    • Access to new areas, services, etc.

    And will fall within a small set of potential ways they can be used

    • Always works, no roll required (no stat value, obviously)
    • Always works, roll stat to determine if complication occurs
    • Roll stat to determine success / failure
    • Burn point > get effect, no roll required.
    • Burn point > get effect, roll stat to determine if complication occurs

    Purchased Insights will have two of four tags

    • Individual - Insight applies only to the purchaser.
    • Group - Insight applies to all players. Can be purchased by pooling points together.
    • Slot - Insight takes up a slot.
    • Free - Insight does not take up a slot.

    Standard notation for Insights would be the two relevant tags followed by cost ex: G-F-1 (Group, Free, 1) or I-S-5 (Individual, Slot, 5 cost)

    Insights can be cycled out and replaced by paying an additional 2 Insight.

    Insight can also be spent to increase a character's stats.

    • Roll d20 for each stat. If you roll over, increase the stat by 1.
    • This costs 2+X Insight (X = the number of times you have rolled for stat increases)

      Insight Thresholds

      As a character fills up their Insight Slots and becomes more and more in-tune with the Underworld, they will drift away from mundane surface life. This is not an insanity mechanic - more of a "reconsidering your priorities" mechanic. 

      When you fill up 25% and 75% of your available slots, take -1 to your surface Contacts and gain +1 to your underworld Contacts

      When you fill up 50% and 100% of your available slots, treat your Spirit score as -1 for all interactions with people on the surface, and + 1 for all interactions with people in the underworld.

      It should be noted here that "surface" and "underworld" should be read as "ignorant" and "in the know" rather than a strict reference to physical location.

        The Cost Reference Table

        I want the relative power of basic Insights to have a stable relationship with cost, for ease of making up ones off the cuff during play. So an Insight with value X will cost Y. I don't have it set up in a way I like, and if it doesn't work out I can always go back to very rough guidelines similar to Insight gain.

        Right now, it's set up as follows.

        • 1-cost Insights are very basic, and will generally not have a value associated to them.
        • Paying 3 would get you an Insight of value 10. 5 would get you 12, 7 would get you 14, 9 would get you 16, and 11 would get you 18. There might be tiers for 13 and 15 cost Insights as well.

        Like I said, very rough and irregular at the moment. But it's something, at least. best can be hoped for for the lid of this dumpster fire year.


        Friday, December 18, 2020

        Dan Reviews Books, Part 6

        Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 

        Bit of a short post this time, but Dangerous Visions is large and worth the discussion, at least.

        Sorcerer of the Wilddeeps, Kai Ashante Wilson

        Excellent novella. The world is sketched out in vibrant living color and sound. It is alive, resembling but nor mirroring our own, spiraling outwards to imply things much vaster and greater that are of no concern of ours here and now but are nonetheless interesting enough to remember. Variances in dialect pull immense weight in characterizing the brothers, giving glimpses of backstory where the narrative has no time to dawdle. 

        My one concern is the very end, which is both incredibly sudden and quite disorientating - intended, clearly, but I am never a fan of having to re-read the ending of a story to make sure that I have the sequence of events correct.

        The Secret Tomb, Maurice Leblanc

        On hiatus, potential DNF at 44%

        The more I reflect on this book, the less I know what to say about it. It's a nice little adventure story, bonus points for a story of this time period,having a leading lady who is an active protagonist. Double bonus points for how she goes waltzing up to the fairground shooting range with the big rich muckamucks and nailing six bulls-eyes with a rusty revolver and ending it with an advertisement for her circus. That's some goddamn S-tier hustle. There's a mystery and a hidden treasure and a bunch of war orphans in a traveling circus and it has all the pieces of a nice little entertaining story. 

        So I don't really know why I stopped. Perhaps it felt like there were too many coincidences, or it was dragging its feet just a but too much. Couldn't say.

        It would be nice if Leblanc could figure out how old the main character is. When first introduced she's described as 15-16, but then we are given her birthday and she's 19 for a couple chapters before apparently being in her early 20s. The chronology is whack.Part of that gives it a certain timeless feeling (it supposedly takes place in the 1920s but it feels like almost a century before for most of it.

        Night Watch, Terry Pratchett

        Reading this book in 2020 is...certainly something. The good kind of certainly something, when you find a book that was not written specifically about the events of here and now, but it remains relevant because it is dealing in truth.

        It's also damnably hard to review in 2020, a year where it well and truly sunk in that we are living with Lord Winder, that the Unmentionables are afoot, that Snapcase will not save us, that our own Glorious Revolution is a delicate thing.

        Damnably hard to review. If you were there, you know, and if you need to ask, you weren't there.

        Night Watch is a book about police that extols the virtues antithetical to the idea of police, and it's a book about revolution that knows the difference between The People and the folks you'll actually be dealing with. In typical Pratchett fashion, it is a book about people being people. Good, bad and otherwise. It does not fall to despair. The Republic of Treacle Mine Road lasts for a single night, but it was not for nothing.

        (It's also about time travel and probably the only such novel I can really get into because of correctly using quantum to avoid loops and paradox silliness) 

        I do think that the time monks might have aged a bit poorly  - even calculating in charitable interpretation - but I do still like the gag about them being the "Men in Saffron".

        Good book, very good book. 

        How do they rise up, rise up, rise up...

        Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison

        I do not recommend reading Dangerous Visions. Let it sit in your mind as a great unknown, some hidden masterpiece that you just cannot quite find a copy of, filled with movers and shakers.

        As it turns out, the book is mostly introductions, followed by short stories of mostly middling to poor quality, with some outliers in both directions. Many of these stories have not aged particularly well, and the least dangerous ones tended towards the better quality.

        The story-to-story flow is incredibly awkward; the collection starts with one of the weakest stories, blows its load on shocking imagery in the first third (interrupted by an interminable and incoherent 80 page novella by Philip Jose Farmer), and then proceeds to introduce gradually better stories. The collection makes its first impression with repetitive shock value attempts that don't particularly say all that much: Some things are simply too radical for Dangerous Visions. Like addressing race (exception being "The Day After the Day the Martians Came") or maybe treating women with a modicum of respect, or maybe trying to do something that isn't sexual assault. 

        It is a cultural artifact first and foremost.

        1. "Evensong" (Lester del Ray) - Inoffensive and tepid. If you are gonna attack and dethrone God and reach heaven through violence, put some pizazz in it.
        2. "Flies" (Robert Silverberg) - There's shock, but it doesn't really go anywhere. And because it doesn't go anywhere the shock is lessened after the initial reading to a rather forgettable paste.
        3. "The Day After the Day the Martians Came" (Frederick Pohl) - While not, I don't feel, one the best-written of the stories in terms of quality, it is the only one - the only one! - that has the cajones to deal with race in America.
        4. "Riders of the Purple Wage" (Philip Jose Farmer) - Fuck this story. A raving, incoherent nightmarescape that coalesces into the sort of shape that makes you feel better off when it was gibberish. Up its own ass far enough to inspect the back of its throat. Also, sexual assault played as comedic.
        5. "The Malley System" (Miriam Allen deFord) - I can see where she was going with it - there was something being said here. That said, I don't consider it particularly effective in the end, and the opening is certainly going to put a lot of folks off their lunch for very good reason.
        6. "A Toy For Juliette" (Robert Bloch) - The kinda clever twist at the end (Surprise! It's Jack the Ripper!) makes sense as the follow up to "hey the main character is a sadist who rapes and murders loads of people for fun", but recognizing the narrative appropriateness doesn't mean I like it.
        7. "The Prowler at the City at the Edge of the World" (Harlan Ellison) - Sequel to the above. I sure hope you like gore because holy shit there's a lot of gore in this, in very specific detail. The worst part is the afterward, where Ellison tries to pull the "but it is YOU, the VIEWER, who is the real monster!" bullshit.
        8. "The Night That All Time Broke Out" (Brian Aldiss) - A generally serviceable, if a bit muddy in presentation, little short about time becoming a home utility, and the disastrous side effects, utterly ruined by Aldiss deciding that an offhand reference to the main character being a sexual predator was something he should add.
        9. "The Man Who Went To The Moon - Twice" (Howard Rodman) - Hardly even science fiction, but it channels the Bradbury school of short story, and for that reason it has aged particularly well compared to others. It is a nice, mild little story.
        10. "Faith of Our Fathers" (Philip K. Dick) - This story, unlike many of its colleagues, actually captures and maintains a sense of tension and forward movement throughout. It feels like a branch story of Man in the High Castle, so there's a guide if you will like it or not. Also, the only story in this collection that deals with God in a way that did not immediately initiate eye-rolling.
        11. "The Jigsaw Man" (Larry Niven) - A not-bad story, made utterly hilarious in hindsight. It reads like a Fox segment describing socialized medicine.
        12. "Gonna Roll the Bones" (Fritz Leiber) - More of a folk tale than a sci-fi story, but entertaining enough (sans the racism part). But it's got a nice seedy casino and a lot of technical language about shooting dice.
        13. "Lord Randy, My Son" (Joe L. Hensley) - Was this the first "messianic figure is intellectually disabled child" story? Maybe it was more shocking back in the day.
        14. "Eutopia" (Poul Anderson) - Anderson builds an excellent alternate universe (two of them, actually) in a limited space, and gets a golden Good Noodle Star for having the setting actually inform the shocking twist at the end in a logical manner, and a second one for having a twist that actually holds up over time. (The twist ending, of course, being that since the main character comes from a timeline still dominated by Hellenist culture the Nikki he is returning to is...
        15. "Incident in Moderan" (David Bunch) - Not much here. Short. Good absurdist imagery of a plastic landscape ruled over by robots engaged in forever war for the hell of it. Not much to say beyond that. it's gonzo, it's neat, I will remember it.
        16. "The Escaping" (David Bunch) - Incoherent nonsense.
        17. "The Doll-House" (James Cross) - Lots of goodreads reviews compare this to a Twilight Zone episode, and I agree with that. Decent story, all around. The burjwazee prove once again the tools of their own self-destruction, when their problems could be mitigated if they just stopped fucking consuming for five goddamn seconds.
        18. "Sex and /or Mr Morrison" (Carol Emshwiller) - I spent essentially the entire time trying to figure out if the narrator actually existed (it was quite muddy). Also got some real big TERF vibes from author's note at the end. The existence of Deviantart really takes the wind out of the sails here.
        19. "Shall the Dust Praise Thee?" (Damon Knight) - I actually really liked this one, but the idea that a story about God having to cancel the apocalypse because humanity nuked itself into oblivion beforehand is a dangerous and daring vision instead of a nice little punchline is baffling.
        20. "If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" (Theodore Sturgeon) - I skipped the ending of this one, though I already knew what it contained from osmosis. Dangerous Visions has finally provided something that warrants the name.
        21. "What Happened to Auguste Clarot?" - This was a nothing story. I guess there was a twist, but it was a nothing twist, and felt like a joke whose cultural context has been entirely lost. Like finding some obscure riddle in hieroglyphs - you know the words and what they mean, but the punchline makes no goddamn sense.
        22. "Ersatz" (Henry Slesar) - Imagine you are writing for a collection intended to push the envelope, in the genre built upon the vast potential of human imagination, and the most shocking thing you can think of, the most daring and envelope-pushing and drag-the-medium-kicking-and-screaming-into-the-century-of-the-fruitbat is garden variety transphobia. Not in the sense of peeling off the mask and going "hey, this whole transphobia shit is terrible and inhumane, fucking stop" but just "what if I, me myself, and this story, was transphobic." It would literally be a more dangerous vision if it was less bigoted!
        23. "Go Go Go, Said the Bird" (Sonya Dorman) - Imagine The Road, but shorter and you don't have to wade though Cormac McCarthy doing whatever it is that he does. Snappy, haunting, and horrific.
        24. "The Happy Breed" (John Sladek) - Automated systems controlling our lives with the intent of making us happy accidentally infantilize the species. Decent enough, I suppose.
        25. "Encounter With A Hick" (Jonathan Brand) - Another  terribly low-quality "but what if God was actually X" story, which, like the others, does barely anything with the science fiction and absolutely nothing with the religion aspect beyond the most superficial and bleaugh.
        26. "From the Government Printing Office" (Kris Neville) - Mixed feelings on this one. On  the one hand, it's POV of an infant and goes into the idea of how children are taught poorly at a young age into forgetting their curiosity and how parents do not foster meaningful teaching. On the other hand, there's something in there about this being a future where children are taught by being shitty to them and that really didn't need to be there A because the parents were just normal shitty and filled the same role and B it's not developed at all, because the POV is of a toddler.
        27. "Land of the Great Horses" (R.A. Lafferty) - "What if the Romani diaspora was because aliens stole their homeland for study, and now they've returned it?" Gets points, at least, for actually using the proper name for the people, though not all the way through. 
        28. "The Recognition" (J. G. Ballard) - A Twilight Zone episode with a terribly predictable ending. Not terrible on the whole, though not terribly engaging either.
        29. "Judas" (John Brunner) - What if a robot founded a religion on itself? Another bloody bland take on religion, though likely the best one besides the PKD story. Still, it's amazing to get this look into an era where there was just...total lack of creativity when dealing with a topic of immense breadth, depth, and weirdness.
        30. "Test to Destruction" (Keith Laumer) - This one has a nifty premise (man is under dual mind probes, one from aliens and one from fascists) that is marred by some truly atrocious dialogue writing.
        31. "Carcinoma Angels" (Norman Spinrad) - Another recipient of the one-sentence what the fuck award. The main character comes across as something of a sociopath from go, but it's limited to just being nigh-robotic in his ability to take advantage of business situations. Then he gets to the point in his life when he wants to Do Good (capitals in the story) and then quote "organized a birth control program that sterilized twelve million fecund Indian women" excuse me what the actual shit. You were doing perfectly fine with the story of a man who succeeds at everything in his life facing the undefeated foe of cancer and then...what. Why. It's just a throwaway sentence! A fragment of a sentence! The core of the story arc is entirely intact without it! Why is it here?
        32. "Auto-da-Fe" (Roger Zelazny) - Finally some good fucking food. There's no big idea or moral lesson to be had, here. Just a short story of a future matador who, instead of fighting bulls, fights vintage automobiles. By concept alone, I give it top billing. Finally. Some good fucking food.
        33. "Aye, and Gomorrah" - The premise is rock-solid: first-generation spacers are neuter in both gender and sex, due to the modifications they undergo to be able to survive in space. This has led to a subculture of fetishists back on Earth, that the spacers must the navigate. So you've got a main character who is, through no doing of their own, stuck as a sort of perpetual outsider among people who care about them only as an object, rather than as a person. The fact that Delaney is a queer black man writing science fiction in 1967 clearly, obviously, has absolutely nothing at all to do with this.

        Of the entire collection, I would only recommend , "Faith of Our Fathers", "Eutopia", "Go Go Go, Said the Bird", "Auto-da-Fe", and "Aye, And Gomorrah" as stories worth reading on their own.

        Ventus, Karl Shroeder

        In progress at 24%

        I love finding a free ebook I have never heard of and being pleasantly surprised by it, which has been my experience so far with Ventus. It's the sort of sci-fi that wears the dressings of fantasy of the era (here is our young male lead of humble beginnings and not that much characterization who has stumbled onto Great and Terrible Portents of a Wider Plot), before pulling off the sheet and revealing the sci-fi elements (the nanoswarms used to terraform the planet went haywire and didn't recognize the colonists, so there's a wild, uncontrolled machine ecosystem on the planet and the swarms will wreck any machines they don't like / didn't make). There are nifty little moments, quite regularly, that go a long way to making it a nonstandard setting in both genres. Pacing is brisk, writing quality is overall quite good, and I find that it does not make its 600 pages burdensome. Big recommend.

        Monday, December 14, 2020

        10 Bestiary Entries

         @DeeEmSteve of Asians Represent gave my post on monsters a shout-out on an actual WotC stream, and I feel compelled to burn all of this mainstream success in a pyre on a severe time delay, in an overly-ambitious post that mostly spins circles and accomplishes nothing.

        So that's precisely what I'm going to do. 

        I have a reputation to uphold.

        This post has gone through an immense number of revisions and scattered thoughts and will assuredly not be the last time I delve into my thoughts regarding bestiaries and magical creatures. There is at least one other post in this, maybe two and potentially even three. For now, it's just going to be ten creatures (pulled from a much larger list) written up in a format that I consider more in line with what i want out of a bestiary (sans art, editing, and probably a total overhaul).

        That's the thing, innit? Find a good idea you like and you drive yourself mad in the editing.

        Agnathic Master

        Enormous jawless fish, completely blind. Osteocoderms that grew to intelligence, then to mastery of the magical arts, and finally to the cold detachment of the immortal. Consider themselves the summit of earthy life, and will use their considerable arcane power to mentally dominate and enslave life within their domain. When they consider humans at all, it is as a convenient pack of monkeys to enthrall as part of their eternal game of 5D speed chess against the Elders, Mi-Go, Yith-spirits, and each other.

        They've survived four mass extinctions so far, and they will assuredly survive the fifth.

        • Habitat: The abyssal ocean or cthonic water bodies.
        • Behavior: Expansion of personal territory, projection of power against other beings.
        • Interactions: It is immensely unlikely for players to ever encounter an Agnathic Master directly. Instead, they are much more likely to come across a settlement either under the thrall of a Master (and thus working on a project of the Great Game), or the ruins of such a settlement after it was either dismantled by an enemy or abandoned after its success. Such settlements will be characterized by intrusive, alien architecture of no apparent outward purpose that lights up like the Trinity Test to Detect Magic.

        Alfar

        Ancient, inbred nobility of misty kingdoms beneath the hills and beyond the grip of time. Translucent, blue-veined skin stretched painfully over thin bones. Eyes of solid black. Obsessed with minute laws and decrees, and delight in the cruel punishment of infractions. They come to steal children, replacing them with simulacrums. They hate iron, fire, writing and song, and seek to erase all four from the hearts and minds of men.

        • Habitat: Entrances to the Courts may technically be found anywhere in the world, but the Alfar prefer to emerge in cold, wet environments. They will avoid areas of high population density, especially if they have been consistently inhabited for long periods of time, though the only way to completely block their entry is high industrialization, which brings with it its own problems.
        • Behavior: The cruelty is the point. They destroy lives for their own fleeting amusement. The tradition of stealing and replacing children began purely as a way to cause grief for individual families - the community paranoia and the subsequent murder of neurodivergent children was, for them, an unseen but welcome bonus.
        • Interactions: Either the alfar have chosen a victim to torment, or a victim has stumbled into their grasp. For the former, they prefer to gradually strip a victim of their health, resources, relationships, and mental state until they are destitute in all categories. They will go out of their way to prevent the victim's death until the very end, to stretch out the entertainment as long as possible. For the latter, they will typically enforce some geas or other entrapment on the victim before they go back out into the world. Sometimes they will offer the victim a deal to escape their conditions - the terms will be lengthy, labyrinthine, airtight, impossible, and binding. If a loophole can be found, they will be forced to cede the case. They will not like this. They will remember it.

        Bonnacon

        A bovine with curling horns like a ram and a long, red-brown mane. When startled or threatened it will violently expel burning feces at the threat while making its escape, a trait which makes them unpopular animals on the whole but very useful when it comes time to fertilize a field.

        • Habitat: Temperate and subtropical grasslands when wild; any when domesticated.
        • Behavior: As typical of a grazing animal. Skittish and not generally fond of humans.
        • Interactions: Meat tastes of slightly gamey beef. Leather is heat-resistant. Feces are flammable even when wet. Can be weaponized if a player character decides they want to try the ginger trick.

        Mari Lwyd

        A spirit of midwinter, manifesting as a tall figure in a white robe with a skeletal horse's head. Will appear at the door of the home and demand in song a gift of alcohol and food, and will only depart if the inhabitants of the home can out-sing it - otherwise, it will continue until either dawn arrives or patience runs out.

        • Habitat: Winter holidays - Yule, Saturnalia, Midwintermas, Hogswatch, etc.
        • Behavior: Despite its frightening appearance, it is harmless and filled with good cheer. It desires only booze and snacks. Actual singing ability varies by individual spirit.
        • Interactions: If the players have any holiday cheer in them at all, they are a wonderful excuse to go carousing and to roll upon the tables of "what the hell did I do last night when I was drunk?"

        Cacopithicus

        Ratty red-brown fur smeared in shit. Fingernails curved like snail shells. Teeth set in gums like maggots in a side of beef. Crusty black eyes, dribbling snot and spit. An amygdala-dominated brain with a stunted neocortex flooded with testosterone. Everything bad about great apes with none of the good parts.

        • Habitat: Any temperate, subtropical, or tropical environment. Prefer high hills or mountainous regions.
        • Behavior: Typically lurk in their hideaways until struck by a fit of frenzy, when the pack will sweep down from their caves and nests and visit ruin on the countryside. What they can kill, they will kill. What they can eat, they will eat. What they can break, they will break. They show no partiality. If they can't kill, eat, or wreck, they will do their best to injure, gnaw at, and damage.
        • Interactions: The true threat of cacopithici is memetic. Populations beset by cacopithici packs will find themselves vulnerable to increased xenophobia and aggression towards their neighbors triggered by the presence of creatures so closely related to humanity that are so foul without any evil influence.

        Golem

        A humanoid shaped out of clay, animated by divine power through the ritual intermediation of a priest. Being an imitation of the creation of man, as made by a less-skilled craftsman, golems do not possess volition or speech (though a golem developing these traits over time is not out of the question, especially if there is an important moral lesson to be taught.)

        • Habitat: Localized to the area of its creation, unless otherwise directed.
        • Behavior: A golem's actions are determined by the animating words engraved upon them, and they will carry out those actions until redirected, disassembled, or they come into volition. Typically they will be used as laborers or guardians. A golem whose words have worn down or been improperly altered will go rampant. Emancipated golems, whether by their creator or though happenstance, will typically settle down to peaceful, contemplative existences, often attaching themselves to a family or community.
        • Interactions: A golem may be reduced to dust by the removal of the animating word engraved upon it. Rampant golems whose priests are long dead are typically reason to call in aid from specialist priests and their retinues. The creation of a golem is a difficult process, but within the capabilities of player characters who have sought out an appropriate teacher or tome.

        Ghoul 

        Hairless, scabrous grey humanoids. Nocturnal corpse-eaters. Either emaciated or corpulent.

        • Habitat: Undercities, catacombs, the tunnels beneath battlefields, cemeteries, and abattoirs.
        • Behavior: Generally solitary, though larger packs can form with an abundance of food. No fear of death or age (as neither applies), a purely sarkic view of other beings (that is, you are not a person, but a piece of meat engaged in a temporary period of animation), and an unshakably gluttonous worldview. Will enter a state of estivation if the local corpse supply is low.
        • Interactions: Typically the first sapient inhabitants of the underground players would encounter, and generally one of the safer ones. While not particularly friendly on their own, they are willing to trade just about anything - information, access, items, spells, services - in exchange for corpses. Fresh preferred over rotten, mummified desired above all.

        [Minotaur]

        An entity of unknown countenance, recorded only as the growing paranoia of, and thereafter the absolute assurance of, the presence of a dangerous being just beyond perception and drawing ever closer.

        • Habitat: Mazes, labyrinths, dungeons, liminal spaces - any enclosed area where it is easy to become lost and isolated. 
        • Behavior: N/A - [minotaurs], being an effect without cause (as best they are understood by scholars), cannot be said to have patterns of behavior.
        • Interactions: Individuals under the sway of a [minotaur] will become increasingly paranoid that they are being stalked, and will descend into increasingly irrational behaviors in attempts to escape whatever structure they are within. They will lash out at companions and attempt to split away from groups, but will find themselves incapable of successfully navigating the structure. This effect had led to reports that a [minotaur] can expand and reorient its host structure in violation of mundane physics, though these reports have all been made by individuals under the mental influence of a [minotaur] at the time of observation.

        Angel

        Beings of primordial fire, servants of the now-deceased Monad. Angels Their ranks have been split into three factions since the breaking of the throne and the vacating of heaven: the apostoloi, who hold on to their duties as messengers of divine will and enforcers of Law; the egregoroi, who have dispersed through the world and adopted mortal communities to lead and teach in secrecy; the hylics, who have descended utterly into the pleasures of flesh and matter.

        An angel outside of their body is indistinguishable from a small nuclear explosion that can talk.

        • Habitat: The ruins of heaven: else, scattered throughout the world.
        • Behavior: Obsessive and absolutist, each angel is gripped by a catastrophic existential crisis now that God is dead, which they will seek to fill with varying degrees of success and desperation. Those that have failed to rediscover and purpose will decay into singularities of despair, unable to die and unwilling to act. 
        • Interactions: 
          • Apostoloi have precious few messages to share anymore (save the equivalent of the divine lost letter office), and so will typically be found punishing mortals for violations of the Law as they knew it in the days Heaven was intact. They do not respond well to insinuations that circumstances might have changed.
          • Egregoroi keep to themselves (as their existence is loathed by both other parties), tending to their isolated communities but not always quite understanding that folks might have moved beyond the need for continued instruction in firemaking, ironworking, astronomy and cosmetics. Still, some have valuable secrets to teach (fragments of the Imperishable Name, typically) and their flocks will tend to them long after they have run out of things to teach, out of gratitude for a better than odds chance at good harvests and safe childbirths.
          • Hylics spend their time feasting, fucking, fighting, and overall trying to numb themselves into forgetting what they have lost. They favor large cities, preferably ones steeped in wealth and a certain amount of societal corruption, to home their courts.

        Martian 

        Inhabitants of the planet Mars, come to Earth as part of a failed invasion. The Martian Masters proved susceptible to Earth bacteria, and with the leadership of the invasion force so decapitated, the enslaved Red and Green Martians  

        • Red Martians are the most numerous and the most akin to humans. They possess sleek rust-red and tawny fur and a thick layer of blubber to insulate against the cold.
        • Green Martians possess four arms, pale green skin, shaggy white hair, and prominent tusks.
        • Master Martians are the rarest: huge black cephalopods with bioluminescent, lanternlike eyes. They are of a much older lineage than the Red and Green Martians, almost a parallel of the Agnathic Masters in outlook (though not in power).

        Martians born on Earth are better adapted to lower climes and higher gravity, and are shorter and more muscular than their Barsoomian cousins, though they still overheat easily and tend towards health issues in the heart, bones, and joints.

        • Habitat: The lowlands and canal-country of the planet Mars. On Earth, they are limited to mountains and the high steppe, where the temperatures and air pressure are more to their liking.
        • Behavior: Most Red Martians have found themselves liberated from their enslavers, and so have begun to rebuild their civilization through the cultural fragments that they kept alive. Green Martians have maintained the martial culture imparted to them by the Masters, though now for their own glory. Master Martians are distant, dispassionate, and cruel - they consider other beings to be possessions at best, and meat the rest of the time. They stew in their sterile saltwater tanks, attended to by their few remaining captives. Consumed by hate, but impotent.
        • Interactions: Red Martians have adapted best to life on Earth - one can visit their mountainside cities, and find it no more disconcerting than any other foreign culture. Warbands of Green Martians ride across the high steppe on their thoats, raiding and plundering neighboring settlements and each other. The frozen fortresses of the Master Martians contain vast (though well guarded) treasure vaults, containing pristine artifacts of their ancient dynasties. Broken remnants of the invasion can still be found on the black markets around their invasion sites: stunted red weed plants, black smoke canisters, and scavenged mechanisms from tripods war-machines.

        Thursday, December 10, 2020

        Class: Sword that Cuts Heaven

        I'll stop basing things on Auntie Maya when I am DEAD

        Class: Sword That Cuts Heaven

        I have no idea if this class even works. Who even knows. What's a class. I'm just going to ignore HP and Saves this is absurd enough entirely on its own. High level fighter, can't increase HP by leveling up or something. Whatever. Fuck levels.

        Once a Generation

        Only one player per campaign can be a Sword that Cuts Heaven. If the character dies, another one cannot be taken (though if a player leaves, the character may of course be adopted by another player).

        Vow of A Quiet Life

        You have sworn yourself to a life of peace (and usually isolation). You may draw your weapon to kill only under very specific circumstances. Note that this is not what must be fulfilled in order to enter combat, only what must be fulfilled to kill someone. Make it limited and specific. Ex:

        • You have named enemies of great power.
        • There is an individual you are sworn to protect above all others. 

        In both cases you still need to try an alternative first before delivering killing blows, whether by words or nonlethal combat.

        A Crude Tool to Create Ghosts 

        You deal damage in HD. This is not a mistype. Your damage die remains the same for whatever weapon you choose, it just jumps right over hit points. Morale rolls will be made.

        Farewell to Arms

        Successful attack rolls made against antagonists who have not triggered your Vow do no damage, but will instead disarm them of their weapons. This can also be used to strike projectiles out of the air.

        There is Another

        The Sword That Cuts Heaven has no shortage of enemies, but this one stands above the rest. They are your equal, and wish to see you dead.

        The tracker begins at 1-in-100. It will increase by 1 for every time the StCH is seen in combat, (whether or not anyone is killed), by 5 if they kill an enemy in combat, and by 1 each in-game day after the initial combat.

        1d100 is rolled each game day. If it is is ever under the tracker, the Enemy knows of your location and will be upon you in 1d10 in-game days (or next session, whichever is more relevant / fun)

        The Enemy is another Sword That Cuts Heaven, with the same mechanics.


         

        Friday, December 4, 2020

        The First and Last Dynasty of Mu

        I don't think it's a terribly contentious opinion that attempts to turn the Lovecraft Mythos into a Theogony-styled family tree are immensely dumb and undermine the entire damn point of the exercise.

        This means, of course, that I am compelled by an unseen force to make a post remixing that very concept, because I am an idiot who deals in idiot ideas.

        Because, you see, nonsensical tangled family trees are terrible for cosmic horrors, but really good for debauched nobility, and who doesn't love some debauched nobility for villains.

        Family Line of the First and Last Dynasty of Mu

        Diagrams.net saves the day yet again

        Aza

        Ancient and decrepit god-king of Mu. Blind, deaf, and trapped within his own decaying mind. In his waking hours he must constantly be attended by flutists and drummers playing soothing songs, and at night he thrashes around wildly in the grip of his nightmares.

        The Dawn Queen

        The left-hand wife, who wears the robe and veil of argent. She has not spoken since Aza blinded himself and has refused to sit at his side in court since then.

        The Dusk Queen

        The right-hand wife, who wears the robe and veil of fuligin. She tends to Aza in his ravings, making sure he does not injure himself, and is always seen at his side in court.

        Sothoth

        Has taken up the role of the ruler of Mu - regardless of what the Bastard claims Aza's wishes are. A cold and distant man, who would much rather let others do the job of ruling Mu while he simply holds the title. Consumed with his studies of astronomy and astrology, caring nothing for law, war, taxes or infrastructure. Rumored to have sired a son with a smallfolk sorceress.

        Shurath

        The queen-mother of Mu, upon whom much of the practical matters must fall. She loathes every moment of it, loathes her husband, her father, her children, the rest of the court all in turn. These emotions are repressed, as so much is, beneath a veneer of either quiet reservation or doting maternalism. When it leaks out, it is in moments of incredible cruelty.

        The Bastard

        The vizier of Aza, who interprets his mumblings and ramblings into decrees. He is hated by all, for he takes clear delight in undermining their schemes and foiling their desires. Most of the others think him to be a charlatan, a bastard son of Aza's born of some unknown woman. He has remained in the court purely out of the fear that the claims he makes of Aza's favor are true.

        Hastur

        An ambassador from the distant court of Carcosa, on behalf of the King in Yellow. He remains distant from court affairs, appearing only for diplomatic matters and occasional trysts with Shurath. He remains as an alien in Mu, performing the customs of his distant home even after all this time.

        Itha

        A viscous, cold-hearted cannibal, whose greatest pleasure in life is to pluck smallfolk from their homes and cast them into the wilderness for him to hunt and devour them. He cares absolutely nothing for the court, nor has shown any desire to seize his Carcosan birthright.

        The Blasphemers 

        Precisely who these individuals are, if they are indeed two separate persons or if they exist at all, is an elusive truth. Their existence is surmised by its absence -  a string of violent removals of someone from court records - all statues destroyed, all cartouches chiselled out, all engravings defaced. They are referred to as the twins Yeg and Nub (or Yegnub), but this merely means something cast aside or a piece of trash. Their place in the family tree is heavily debated.

        Tulu

        Heirophant of Mu, who leads in the worship of the Eyeless Sun and its scion the god-king. An ambitious man with enormous ego, and the only one of the court to interact at all with the world outside the palace. The smallfolk of Mu know and recognize Tulu - Aza and his wives and children are vague and far away. He is obsessed with dreams and their influence on art, and spends freely from the coffers to sponsor artisans who can bring form to his visions.

        Kasso

        Vanished primary wife and sister of Tulu. Was sickly and rarely seen in public or at court.

        Tosa and Tolhu

        Twin daughters of Tulu and Kasso, who were locked in the Red Prison and whose names were stricken from the record for crimes unuttered. They were quite rebellious in their time at court, respecting no individual nor tradition.

        Idya

        Secondary wife of Tulu, of whose history very little is known. Rumors abound.

        Ghatan, Thoga, Zotho, and Thyll

        Three sons and a daughter of Tulu and Idya They are, to the last, ambitious but untested, and have yet been able to amass the resources, power, or plans to do anything truly radical, yet. But soon. Soon.

        • Ghatan was disfigured in a duel. The smallfolk consider his gaze to be lethal.
        • Thoga is enormous, bearded, and one-eyed.
        • Zotho is...I've got nothing. I literally have nothing for this dull, dull motherfucker.
        • Thyll is beloved of Tulu and has been taught in secret rites to assist him in usurpation of Sothoth once Aza finally dies.


        Thursday, December 3, 2020

        Space Politics: The Setting

        My thoughts return to my space politics story, and I found myself a bit stumped because I had, foolishly, left a very important part out: the actual setting of the damn thing. I had kept it all rather vague, and as the scope expanded outward and I started bringing in elements of the colonies and the war, there was nothing actually there to go.

        So I've fixed that.

        As with the plot and characters, the setting is entirely legally distinct. The best kind of distinct!

        As a refresher, there was a brief period of political unity on the Homeworld, which lead to a busy period of expansion into the solar system, which then eventually triggered a war between colonial corporate seperatists and the Homeworld, which ended in a Pyrrhic victory for the Homeworld that provided easy prey for the growth of fascism, and we ended up with the Tyranny.

        The Solar System

        [Molten Rock] - A small, molten world, just barely far enough away from the sun to maintain its own orbit and just big enough to prevent the solar tidal forces from pulling it apart. Got one flyby probe mission in the pre-War days and hasn't been touched or thought much of since.

        [Airless Rock] - A burnt, airless dwarf planet. Settled during the Expansion. The research stations and mining facilities were converted into work camps by the [Tyranny] after the War, and used for political prisoners. By the time of the story in the previous post, the [Homeworld] to [Airless Rock] route is the only remaining interplanetary travel route

        [Pressure Cooker] - A very hot terrestrial world with a very dense atmosphere. So dense, in fact, that the boiling point of water is increased enough so that liquid water can still exist on the surface. Possesses its own exotic ecosystem. A colony attempt was made during the Expansion. (Turns out it survived, though radically changed - the [Colonial Emissary] mentioned in the story post is from this settlement.)

        [Homeworld] - A temperate terrestrial world, home of humanity. It possesses one moon, which was settled in the Expansion and abandoned during the War after fighting reached its surface.

        [Cold Desert] - A cold, lifeless terrestrial world with a thin atmosphere and shallow, brackish seas. The most well-established colony and the inciter of the War. Settlement infrastructure was devastated during the War, but the Homeworld can confirm that there are still inhabitants there. Two small moons of little importance save as transit stations. The wreckage of most of the Homeworld / Tyranny spacefleet is either in orbit or junked on the surface.

        [Oceanic] - A large (3EM) waterworld with a collection of small, rocky moons - mostly captured asteroids. Most settlements were in orbit (and destroyed during the War). Surface ones remained intact, but they've got no way offworld, as far as anyone knows. This planet is notorious for being the hinge of the campaign that decapitated the colonies on [Cold Desert], where [Right Hand] led a fleet to attack from behind

        [Gas Giant 1] - Site of some light colonization - He3 mining in the upper atmosphere and some settlements in the ring and the moons. Remained out of the War due to distance. With no one to sell to, things have been rough. Very rough.

        [Gas Giant 2] - There's potential that this planetary system was settled, but it would have been during or after the War, so it remains completely unknown to us. Long-distance telescopes have picked up a moon of an unusual green color.

        [Titanian] - A frigid, distant world with a discernible atmosphere. Seas of liquid hydrocarbons.

        [Rogue] - More speculation that anything else. A terrestrial world (or so believed), jettisoned from its home system long ago and caught at the very edge of this one.

        So there you go. As with the other post, this is all very loosey and I very much want to hear your thoughts on things I missed, things that could be added or changed, and potential places this could go.

        Wednesday, November 18, 2020

        The Road to Pandemonium (+ A Bonus Poem)

         

        Carl Ludwig Beutler

        I had floated the idea of a pilgrimage hellcrawl using Ultraviolet Grasslands some months ago.

        The good news is that this is that post.

        The bad news is that this post is unnecessary. UVG in its default state requires so little actual modification for a proper hellcrawl. Just minor changes in aesthetic and name. My original plan of having lists of find and replace terms is undone by the sheer amount of material that does not need anything changed at all.

        But, people want the post, so the post they shall have.

        Phlox of Whose Measure God Could Not Take beat me to it.

        This Hell is not the Hell I have written of before.

        The Climate of Hell


        The infernal regions are dominated by two primary biomes.

        The Highlands are frigid desert plateaus, stripped nearly bare by biting winds and oxygen deprivation. A few hardy species can cling to life up here, but even then it is mostly razor-edged bone grass. The Highlands are the only source of clean water in hell (though it still has a strong sulfuric taste), and those oasis springs are the only way of surviving long-term in the region.

        The Lowlands are unbearably hot, humid, and muggy. They are choked with fungal forests, corpse-mud fields, and dark, slow-flowing rivers. The air is heavy with spores and the omnipresent smell of rot. Here is where the bulk of the population of Hell is found. Life overflows here, and all of it in some way is dangerous.

        The soil of Hell is scab-red and chalky, though in regions of great erosion bands of white, purple, orange, dun, and deep brown can be seen. It can harden into the consistency of concrete if water is added and it is swiftly baked dry. Close inspection will reveal fragments of compressed bone throughout; particularly dense deposits of the damned will be compressed into opalescent soulcoal.

        The water of Hell is dark and thick with scum. A greasy sheen lies atop it, no matter how many times it is boiled or filtered. Even in its drinkable states, it is unpleasant, and bears an overwhelming taste of sulfur.

        The sky of Hell is an angry red bruise, lit by the artificial sun Ixion. The black clouds grow thicker and last longer into the day as one approaches the Black City. When the clouds clear, it is possible to glimpses the corpses of angels, fallen and lawful alike, hanging in the emptiness between the crystal spheres.

        The Peoples of Hell

        Humans from Nations Beyond

        Hell is, technically, unclaimed territory in these days. Nations of the outside world send their armies and agents into Hell, prospectors attempting to make it rich, the desperate come in droves for there is nowhere else to go.

        Humans damned to Hell 

        There aren't many any more. The last damnation was long ago, and those who bear the yoke will, in due time, grow so old and slow and still that they will cease animation entirely and sink into the ground to be compressed into soulcoal.

        Humans born in Hell

        Not much different from humans from nations beyond, save for their cracked grey skin and ember-colored eyes.

        Parahumans

        Exposure to Hell's environmental magics can lead to drastic changes in form and mind if one invites in the local powers. The most common ones are those inhabited by multiple demons working together as a sort of collective-mind.

        Vomes

        The original inhabitants of Hell, before the angels cast from heaven came.

        Demons

        An incredibly indirect term. Can be used interchangeably between actual fallen angels (rare), vomes (inaccurate) or the malicious spirits of the dead (probably the most accurate).


        The Pilgrimage

        There is a black sea where the corpses of the fallen angels rest. On a spur of rock jutting out over that depthless water, there is a tiny chapel of Our Lady. It is the sole place of true rest in all of Hell, the one place of respite and deliverance from the weight of the world. But the way out is through. To reach that sanctuary, one must journey to the very center/end of the world - The Black City of Pandemonium.

        Pilgrims will start in the city of Pilgrim's Progress, in the east of Hell along the coast of the Basin of Dis. The climate is mild enough here, the wall thick enough and the cats vigilant enough, to maintain a city-state of some size, though it is as far away from Pandemonium as it is possible to be. Some semblance of life as it was before Hell is possible here.

        Once pilgrims pass through the Wicket Gate just outside the city, they can truly say that they have begun their journey.

        From here, the hack is primarily a matter of find and replace names and aesthetics as you see fit.

        The Pilgrims

        1. The Knight  - Scarred veteran of the Order of St. Lazarus.
        2. The Squire - The Knight's son. Head-in-the-clouds idealism.
        3. The Yeoman - Laconic hunter in the Knight's employ. Addicted to 4-Thieves Vinegar.
        4. The Prioress - A commanding figure. Romantically connected with the Friar. Pregnant.
        5. The Nun - Assistant to the Prioress. Niece of the Priest. Tired of being pushed around.
        6. The Priest - From the far north; a foreigner twice over in Hell. Uncle of the Nun.
        7. The Friar - Romantically connected with the Prioress. Knows what lies ahead.
        8. The Merchant - On the run from a past they will not elaborate upon.
        9. The Florentine - A neurotic poet of dreamlands and phantasms.
        10. The Sergeant at Arms - Eyepatch. Cigar. 3 bars and a crown on the sleeve.
        11. The Canon - An ordinary church bureaucrat, a dabbling alchemist and occultist.
        12. The Physician - From far away, taught by books most scholars thought lost.
        13. The Maid - Instructed by angels to pick up a sword.
        14. The Cook - Shady, shady fellow. Best not ask where meat comes from, in Hell.
        15. The Wife of Bath - Four ex-husbands, on the hunt for a fifth.
        16. The Miller - A large, crude individual, more clever than he lets on.
        17. Hanged Man - Killed three priests, escaped three nooses.
        18. Ratcatcher - Wherever there is plague or hunger, a ratcatcher's services are always is demand.
        19. Summoner - Laughably corrupt and obnoxious. Court summon, demon summons, package deal.
        20. Confessor - Exorcist and investigator. Dour. Silent. Waiting for someone.

        Bonus Poem

        Included because it is tonally relevant. No title that I could find, would have been initially written in 2014 for an assignment. Original version lost, though I don't think edits were made to the copy and the only changes I made from that to this are restructuring one line and replacing another. I know the assignment involved writing something using lines from other sources but I'd be damned if I can recall which ones I picked.

        **

        Fairest flower of gloomy Dis

        in a gown of phoenix feathers

        putting gunpowder in her tea

        sitting on blue weirwood steps

        on a slum-town stoop

        watching the doughboys clean up the river

            of sludge that flows through the Cut

                where the barnacles and bonebriars and firelillies

                    and flesh-bulb trees

                crowd around clap-board shacks and

                squat brick shithouses and

                canopies of shed-armor from the backs of

                warbeasts.

        It is today that she polished her horns and

            painted herself red-on-grey

                and put a lily in her hair

                    as the doughboys clean up the river

                        that flows through the Cut,

            though the fumes would burn through their lungs

            if they ever took off their masks

                so even if they might be good men

                a long way from home

                she has never seen their faces

                though they always take time to wave as

                they pass by on their way to clean up the river

                    that flows through the Cut.

        **



        Saturday, November 14, 2020

        d20 Anomalous Media

        *1*

        "Family Reunion 1994" - Damaged VHS tape. Contents unrecoverable for the most part, save a seven-second interval. Four adults seated at a picnic table are startled from their seats by a fifth, running into the frame from the right.

        Woman 1: What?

        Man 3: It's in the woods!

        Unidentified Voice 1: [Indiscernible]

        Woman 2: [yelling] Shit!

        The cameraperson swings the camera towards the tree line to the left. A vague grey shape can be seen in the distance, as well as a smaller shape believed to be an adult wearing a yellow shirt, but the camera's movement and poor focus renders the scene indiscernible for the half second it is on screen.

        *2* 

        "The Subway Manuscript" - Untitled handwritten manuscript recovered by late-shift worker at a Subway restaurant in Newark New Jersey in November of 2010. ~446000 words, classical Arabic, describing an immense and elaborate personal cosmology through the form of erotic Supernatural fanfiction.

        *3*

        "Real Spiritualist Vampire Alien Spirit Psychic Secret Psychic Truth" -  Angelfire website recovered from private archival. Contents are, on the whole, incoherent nonsense, save for a section that accurately predicts (though does not name) the papal elections of Benedict XVI and Francis. Further investigation and extrapolation has indicated the document contains further predictions, including a five-month period wherein 14 different pontiffs are elected, one reference to giving birth on the high altar of St. John Lateran, and cutting off mid sentence after the 2088 election.

        *4*

        "The Exorcism of Emilia Brown" - CD-R with 16 music tracks. Single male vocalist playing acoustic guitar. 14 of the songs are connected to the titular event, describing the circumstances, lead-up, and event from different character perspectives. Track 15 contains two minutes one second of crickets and rustling grass. Track 16 consists of a low polyphonic drone (judged to be asemantic) with no musical accompaniment.

        *5*

        "three Deer Decomposing on An Ugluy (Sic) Couch" - 83 hours of sfootage of three adult deer, deceased, decomposing on top of on a sagging, foam-green couch. Shot on stationary camera. The glow of a television illuminates the scene, through the entire length of the recordings, but the screen cannot be seen from the camera position and the audio is muddled and indiscernible. At 54:09:34, heavy footsteps can be heard from off-camera, accompanied by clanking chain and the slamming of a screen door.

        *6*

        "The Invasion of Elwood City" - Two-episode arc of Arthur detailing the arrival of a virulent alien organism in Elwood city, and the subsequent quarantine and evacuation. Despite subject matter, presentation and characterization do not radically differ from typical episodes. The "Now For A Word From Us Kids" interstitial of both episodes is replaced with static.

        *7*

        "The Spearpoint Video" - Field recording of paleontology dig. All speech is in Mandarin Chinese. Unidentified researcher points out the exposed femur of a juvenile sauropod, then focuses on what is clearly an obsidian spearpoint embedded in the fossil. Researcher calmly says "Listen closely, wait, and do not forget." before walking away from the digsite and out of sight over a ridge. Camera turns to watch, but operator does not follow.

        *8*

        "IhaveSeentheDoor" - Defunct Youtube channel. Only remaining evidence are screenshots dated to August of 2007. Channel description presented as "Readings from the Book of Gaub." Four videos are listed, all with <100 views: "Misaligned Components (Revised)", "The Delegation to the Court", " I Have Seen the Door" and "Teeth".

        *9*

        "Crisis on the Cursed Planet!" -  Episode of Captain Video and His Video Rangers centered around a space colony beset by an alien creature that devours memories. As the settlers lose their memories they grow increasingly paranoid and aggressive towards each other until fighting breaks out and the colony is destroyed. Episode ends with a new colony being founded as the creature watches from afar. Episode contains spliced-in western footage to pad for time typical of the series.

        *10*

        "The Drive Home" - 48 minutes of dashcam footage depicting a solitary drive at night. No oncoming traffic or signage is seen for the entirety of the footage. The driver (believed to be a man of middle age) speaks occasionally. Twice in French and the rest in Norwegian, with topics including repairs to a workshed, a new prescription for blood pressure medication, and complaints about American tourists.

        At 43:20, the driver pulls over to the side of the road and exits the vehicle, leaving the engine and lights on. At 46:34 he emerges from the woods dragging a struggling nonhuman entity (seen to grow and absorb at least five limbs during this time) and shoots it four times with the revolver he is carrying. Entity lets out a long, sonorous wheeze. Driver fires two more shots and drags now-still entity out of sight. Dull thump heard, presumed to be the corpse heaved into the bed of a truck. Driver returns to seat and shuts off camera.

        *11*

        "The Dead Men" - Three heavily-damaged 10-inch 35 mm film reels. Reconstructed segments are primarily from the middle of the film, which portrays a military campaign against an unnamed, implacable, and seemingly inhuman enemy force, with characters hoping to rech a fortified city on the other side of enemy-held territory. Setting appears primarily late medieval period but has no direct reference to any historical places or people - all notable cultural markers seem to be diegetic. Characters are all either soldiers or camp followers in an ensemble cast. No actors can be identified. Brutal depictions of violence. Uses a constructed language for all dialogue, accompanied by English subtitles throughout. Estimated full run time 2 hours 48 minutes.

        *12* 

        "[REDACTED] Chinese Food Stuffing On Back Porch" - Amateur fetish video linked to a terminated Clips4Sale account. Majority of runtime is taken up by recitation of the complete Secret Gospel of Mark in Koine Greek.

        *13*

        "Sermon 54" - Audio cassette tape of American Evangelical preacher performing revival service. Peppered throughout with references to recent events that do not match with consensus chronology, including "The Great Clean-Coming of '74", "Josiah who ate the Serpent", "Casting Down at the Sin Market", and the election of the Lord of the Flies to position of President of the UN General Assembly.

        *14*

        "The Sphinx" - Footage of an enormous black cat-like creature with an androgynous, bright red human face, grooming itself. The surrounding room is dark, but it can be determined that it is sitting in a corner on top of a pile of books, with shelves on either wall. At the end of the 3 minute 10 second video, the creature will present one of 108 different riddles to the viewer.

        *15*

        "frog_fractions4.exe" - 1.3 TB executable file found among the former possessions of one [REDACTED], who had taken up a solitary ascetic life in a mountain cabin some six months before discovery of the file.

        *16*

        "Lavender Town Anomalous Experience # 458" - A Pokemon Blue cartridge containing a multilevel subterranean complex beneath Lavender Town. Total extent unknown, maximum depth reached is level 43. All wild Pokemon encounters are portrayed with the ghost sprite, each with a unique type combination and moveset. Trainer encounters are difficult and likewise feature nonstandard mechanics.

        *17*

        "Lupae" ("The Wolves") - Papyrus scroll recovered from the villa of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus in Herculaneum, containing a period-appropriate adaptation of Mean Girls for the stage. Specific cultural references have been exchanged for more appropriate content and stage directions have been added, but the remainder of the work remains intact.

        *18*

        "2020 RNC Video Hijacking" - Unidentified woman wearing a rubber rottweiler mask sits in swivel chair, feet on desk, playing a Nintendo Switch. Second woman's voice heard from off screen. lines in angle brackets was later identified as a mix of Ojibwe and Uzbek.

        Woman 2: <The camera's on.>

        Woman 1: <You sure? Doesn't look on.>

        Woman 2: <Little green light, right near the bottom.>

        Woman 1: <Ah, shit, there it is.> [Looks at camera, clears throat. Sings in English while clapping hands, to the refrain of the Battle Hymn of the Republic]: "It's a motherfucking brown note, it's a motherfucking brown note, it's a motherfucking brown note, I hope you brought spare pants!"

        Versions of the video taken from live newscasts of the event include the mass expulsion of fecal matter by all present. 

        *19*

        "Autopsy.mov" - Video file of three doctors operating on cadaver of adult male. The following organs are removed from the cadaver's abdominal cavity over the course of the footage: four lungs, five livers, eighteen kidneys, three gallbladders, three spleens, one pancreas a stomach, an estimated 45 meters of intestinal tract, and a heart containing a second trimester human fetus.

        *20*

        "Episode ####" - Episode of Sesame Street wherein Big Bird, Grover, and Snuffy investigate rumors of a stranger who has arrived in the neighborhood, described as being very tall, very thin, wearing a very nice suit, and not having a face. The being is seen in the background of multiple scenes prior to its full reveal, where the trio come to realize that they have nothing to fear from the strange, tall man. Content is generally tonally consistent with non-anomalous episodes, save an instance where Big Bird emphatically reinforces the importance of knowing your family's fire plan, not wandering in the woods at night, and always asking before taking photographs of strangers. The tall stranger remains silent throughout the episode, though other characters act as if they can hear him speak.

        While the tall man is clearly a puppet, it performs several maneuvers (including one scene where it must contort itself through a doorway) beyond even the ability of the Jim Henson Company.

        Friday, November 13, 2020

        Play Report: Ironsworn

        Third of my solo game experiences is Ironsworn. (See also Barbarian Prince and 1k Old Vampire.)

        For my first run-through, I am playing things rather by the book (ie, not doing anything crazy with the setting). These printouts were an absolute lifesaver and I absolutely recommend you use them if you don't have a hard copy of the book, and maybe even if you do.

        Prenthetical roll notations should be read as ([Move type] d6 + modifier vs d10 & d10). The goal is to have the d6+ modifier be higher than one or both of the d10 challenge dice.

        Preparations

        I will be playing Garum, a fisherman from the barrier islands and a descendant of the Red Heron family that was part of the great exodus from the old country four generations before.

        I only settled on two Truths for this demo run

        • There was a mass exodus from the Old World during a period of societal collapse. No ships have crossed the sea for the last three generations.
        • Civilization is mostly small village circles

        I have 5 Health, 5 Spirit, 5 Supply, and 2 Momentum. My assets are:

        • Skirmisher (Good with spears)
        • Waterborn (Good with boats and aquatic things)
        • Storyweaver (Good with storytelling and oral history)

        Beginning the Quest

        Garum has heard from some of the other fishermen of a shipwreck further down the barrier islands - a vessel of a kind no one has ever seen before, flying under the image of a red heron.

        We open when Garum lays eyes on the ship, half-shattered and torn by the sharp rocks, but high enough up that the waves and tides can't yet dislodge it.

        The ship sits broken on the rocks, out of reach of the waves and tides for now. The red heron of Garum's ancestral family He calls out in case there might be some survivors, but finds what he expects: nothing. The ship had been wrecked for over a week at this point and it's unlikely any of the sailors had survived.

        He attempts to bring his little fishing boat safely to the ship's side 

        (Face Danger 9 vs 5 & 6. Strong Hit, +1 Momentum, current 3) 

        and succeeds. He won't be able to for long, but long enough to search the ship.

        There is, unfortunately, not much left. The typical detritus of a ship, all tumbled around and broken. But, in the back cabin, he is able to find a family banner, a book wrapped in oilskin, a few trinkets, and a jasper idol of the red heron. He tucks these items away in his pack. He is intrigued by the book, but cannot read more than basic words in the local script - this calls for wiser eyes.

        Garum swears an iron vow to see these goods back to his family's home circle in the Havens.

        (Swear an Iron Vow 6 vs 4 & 1. Strong hit, +2 Momentum, current 5)

        But that is a very long way away.

        The first step will be to reach to coast. Whitebridge is the nearest fjord-circle and has a well-maintained road. Garum sets off immediately - it will be several days still. (This journey, crossing the sea from the barrier islands to the fjordlands, will take 5 steps to complete)

        (Undertake Journey 6 vs 6 & 1. Weak Hit, -1 Supply, current 4)

        Garum is able to reach a waypoint island, and attempts to push on and knock out another leg while the sun is still up.

        (Undertake Journey 3 vs 4 & 7. Miss. Pay the Price. -1 Spirit, current 4)

        A sudden squall forces him to remain on the islet and take shelter under an overhang for the night.

        (Make Camp 7 vs 5 & 3. Strong Hit. +1 Spirit, current 5, +1 to next Secure an Advantage)

        With the dawn, Garum makes careful preparation in reading the wind and weather.

        (Secure an Advantage 8 vs 9 & 7. Weak hit, +1 Momentum, current 6)

        And sets off

        (Undertake Journey 4 vs 1 & 8. Weak hit. -1 Supply, current 3)

        (Undertake Journey 7 vs 6 & 1. Strong Hit.)

        (Undertake Journey 4 vs 10 & 10. Critical Miss. Pay the Price. -2 Supply, current 1)

        On the last stretch, catastrophe strikes. A sudden squall drives Garum off course, and rough waves wash much of his supplies out into the sea. The goods from the ship remain intact, but 

        (Undertake Journey 3 vs 8 & 7. Miss. Pay the Price. -1 Supply, current 0. -1 Spirit, current 4)

        The storm does not let up, and Garum's nautical skills fail him. He crashes upon the rocky shore, with nothing but the oilskin bundle, his fishing spear, and his sodden clothing.

        Garum is now Unprepared.
        He attempts to forage for food in the storm's aftermath, but finds nothing

        (Resupply 3 vs 4 & 3. Miss. Pay the Price. -1 Health, current 4)

        After a few fitful hours of sleep, he heads south down the coast, towards where he believes Whitebridge to be.

        (Undertake Journey 6 vs 7 & 9. Miss. Pay the Price. -1 health, current 3.)

        Lost and starving, Garum stumbles through the hills

        (Undertake Journey 7 vs 6 & 6. Strong Hit. +1 Momentum, current 7.)

        But fate smiles at last, and he reaches Whitebridge. He is finally able to rest in safety and, pawning off a few of the minor trinkets that may not have any actual connection to his family, put himself back on his feet.

        (Sojourn 6 vs 3 & 5. Strong Hit. +1 Supply, current 1. +2 Health, current 5)

        The next day, Garum devotes himself to making more preparations for the journey. He tells of his quest to folks in the marketplace, to find sympathetic ears and to get guidance on the path ahead. His storytelling gets him many listeners.

        (Secure an Advantage 9 vs 3 & 8. Strong Hit. +1 Momentum current 8)
        But they are not all friendly. Local gossips spread word of the mad fisherman babbling on about the heritage of the Old World before Garum is able to even explore town that day, and he has to put all of his ability and focus into fighting away the rumors.

        (Sojourn 3 vs 4 & 6. MOMENTUM BURN. Strong Hit. +2 Supply. +2 supply. Current 5)

        With supplies replenished, it is time for Garum to set off on the overland part of his journey.

        But that's a different time, as this is the end of my demo play.

        Final Thoughts

        • Sweet baby Jesus and on his cute little tricycle why do I keep starving in these games.
        • I don't like how Momentum was presented - either I forgot that I could use it, or I was confused at what exactly happened when I did use it.
          • While writing this review I found someone on reddit saying that you can ignore the verbage of "cancelling challenge dice" when you burn momentum and treating your action die as = your momentum when you burn. This, I feel, is much more sensible as a descriptor.
        • I don't think I like the background vow element. This is likely just part of how it is framed, because it's both very large and not tied to any specific moves.
        • The lowest difficulty combat or quest doesn't divide evenly among the 10 progress boxes (as you mark 3 boxes per stage) and that annoys the hell out of me.
          • Edit: it was later revealed to me that it is not necessary to fill out all 10 boxes, a fact I likely would have caught had I been reading the normal pdf instead of the summary.
        • "Sojourn", should be renamed to "Business Around Town" or something like that.
        • There's no way (in the rules as written) to translate "boxes of progress" into time or distance on journeys. I defaulted to somewhere around half a day to a full day of travel. This would be alleviated if I was using a hex map and handwaving it to parasangs.
          • Honestly, having a set map feels like it would be a marked improvement in the proceedings.
          • I should have written up a map with waypoints.
        • Pettiest of complaints: I don't like the default setting. This will cease to be an issue in a short amount of time but I feel it should be said that part of my reluctance to actually play this game (other than the pdf size) was the faux-norse setting
          • However, I do very much like how the game gives a chapter for the player to determine the truths of their particular version of the setting, whether premade choices or their own devising, cleanly separated into important topics. This is good, more games ought to do this.

        All this complaining hides the fact that I actually very much like this ruleset and concept. It's very much in the strict, video-game like mechanics of Barbarian Prince, just approaching from a different angle. In some places I like Barbarian Prince a bit more (the set map), even with its clunkiness, but in others the dial slwings back to Ironsworn. It's good stuff, I would like to do more of it, with a few tweaks here and there. There's a lot of potential out there for setting hacks and playing around with lists of Truths. 

        Or playing around with the beta material for Starforged, the upcoming sci-fi version.


        Tuesday, November 10, 2020

        Class: The Wudu-Wasa (5th Public Conversion Project)

        (Diregrizzlybear suggested OSRfying 5e subclasses over on their blog. Lacking drive for any other posts, this is precisely what the chirugeon ordered.)

        BigMSaxon


        Class: Wudu-Wasa

         
        HD: d10 
        Saves: as Cleric
        Starting Equipment: Staff, sturdy clothing (as gambeson), medicine bag, oral tradition

        You are one of the forest folk, specifically one of those tasked with maintaining your people's relationships with the outside world. You wander between deep country villages both as doctor and shaman - setting bones, stitching wounds and delivering babies, but also dealing with troublesome spirits, tending to the shrines, and making sure that the great and delicate order of things is upheld. 

        Class Abilities

         
        The Big Picture: You have a deep knowledge of the environmental cycles and systems of your homeland, and can identify any living things within it. 

        Medicine Bag: You have at any given time (and know where to look for more), herbs for alertness, for sleep, for pain reduction, for disinfecting wounds, and for birth control. See Fungi of the Far Realms for other things you can add to your bag while tramping through the woods.

        You may also use the contents of your bag to perform Cure Light Wounds, but will need to dedicate time to replenish your supplies after each usage.

        Broad of Shoulder - You have item slots equal to twice your Constitution.
         
        Wood-Arts - You have an innate sensitivity to dedicated ground, the presence of spirits, enchantments, and the aftereffects of worked magic cast since the last sunrise or nightfall.
         
        To Go Unseen - You make make yourself  not invisible but easily overlooked in when in a forested area, tall grass, and with some effort a city or crowd. This ability does not make you invisible or prevent detection, but it will make typical passersby look past and ignore you. The effect will be broken with speech or sudden movements (attacking, running).
         
        Green Speech - You can be understood by animals and plants, though they cannot make themselves understood to you. 

        Spirit-Work - You can perform the summonings (calling forth) exorcisms (driving out), propitiations (appeasing), and channellings (inviting in) of spirits, according to the table below (stolen from Donn Stroud's The Lesser Key to the Celestial Legion)

        When attempting to perform any of these works, roll 1d20 + your current level. (No rolls are needed for a propitiation if you have the correct offering - you only need to roll if you are trying something else.)
         
        Any given spirit has (as per Arnold K) a sensory premonition, a manifestation, and a unique propitiation.
        • Ghost - The lingering spirit of a dead being.
          • Minor / Typical (DC 13), Major (DC 15)
        • Nature Spirit - Spirit of and bound to a place, ranging from geographic features to individual trees, stones, streams.
          •  Minor (DC 13) Typical (DC 15), Major (DC 17)
        • Demon - A chaotic unbound spirit.
          • Minor (DC 15), Typical (17) Major (18)
        • Herald - A spirit directed by the authority of a divinity
          • All (18)
        Using 1 unit of holy water or incense will give +1/+2/+3 to the roll, depending on quality. Knowing the spirit's true name grants an additional +3