Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Ungreya


This is their second time through.

A million years of dynasty, brought to a halt when their empires ran into the temporal kingdoms of the elves at the end of recorded time.  Older than the universe that cages them.

Refugees into their own history, then, a fragmented retreat that left them crippled and ignorant.  A crash landing into pre-history: spaceships cracking their spines on the teeth of mountains, burning cycads, and a decade of dust that blinded the sun.

So they say.

All of their treasures (constellations of mirrors, weaponized languages, omniscient birds, artificial suns, liquid syringe-worlds) were scattered when they hit the ground (like Judas when they cut him down).

The only treasure that they kept was the treasure that they couldn't throw away: their blood.

Sixteen billion bases of genetic foam, unassembled and unruly.  Lacking the epigenetic leashes of post-singularity medicine, the genetic gardens grew wild.  A cancer of the genome; protein-coupled cascades of maladaptive engineering.

They've tried evolving, and they've tried dying, but their genes will not allow them to do either.  

All of this knowledge has been passed on for millenia, scratched out in the dirt in the shadow of their mother's belly.  They know this, and they know that information cannot survive that long.  They know how inaccurate oral traditions are across long periods of time.  But it is their history, and it's the only one that they have.


Adulthood is bestial, and so they avoid it.

Their maturation is marked with an immense decrease in intelligence.  It is death, as far as they are concerned.  To devolve into a beast is to die--it is the cessation of Self.  As soon as one of them grows old enough to forget their name they are cast outdoors, where they live like beasts.  Beds are only fit for those who know enough to name them.

Sexual maturation is the ultimate abomination.  Copulation is disgusting, a vector for disease and pregnancy (which are not so different in their mind).

The Brutishness of Adulthood

And yet, the adults are not mindless; they are single-minded.  Memories of childhood have been subsumed in martial contemplation.  There is no need to know the names of things when you know how to destroy them.  And above all is an overriding urge to protect their children and keep them save.  

They respond to cuteness--they obey it the same way they obey gravity.  The instinct was instilled in them with all the force and subtlety of a warhammer.  Ducklings are cared for.  Bulls are torn apart with their bare hands.  They keep cats.

It is not clear whether they understand that they are actually ruled by their children, or if they know and simply don't care.

They sometimes fall into the blood-sickness, as their bloods struggle to re-assert themselves.  Along one pathway, their genes code for hypercerebral elites.  Along another pathway, their genes code for hypertrophic super-soldiers.  And without any epigenetic modulators to reign over this melee, the tide swings back and forth, but finally turns irrevocably at puberty.

They haven't forgotten much.  A full-size brain still sits behind the grossly thickened plates of their skull.  (Their skulls are the strongest part of their body.  An elephant could stand on their head and it would not crack.)

By the time they are banished into the kennels, they have long since stopped caring about their bed.

The Cruelty of Children

Pre-adolescence is a difficult time.  Each one is a genius, by our standards, but they have only a decade to learn and to act.  (The adults do nothing but fight, fuck, and pet their cats.)

At the age of one, they are speaking and arguing.  At this point, they can be taught calculus, but not grammar.

At the age of two, they have friendships and ambitions.  They've divided into cliques.  They shun the fashions of their older peers.

At the age of three, they are wrapping up their education.  They are better at chess than you are.  They attend art shows.  They sleep with stuffed animals: hippos, cats, sheep, parents.


They rule most of Yog, the city at the center of the Madlands.  (All of the races of the Madlands practice slavery, and they all have different reasons for doing so.)  

You may even spy a few as far away as Charcorra, the gateway to the Madlands.


Sometimes, everything I've said so far is enough to explain their society.  Brutish, idle adults and a desperate ruling class of children slipping to the grave of puberty.  They tend to wage war on their neighbors.

A second type of Ungreya society is this: the children have found a way to retard and manipulate their adolescence.  They never grow up.  It's a sort of twisted neoteny, where they are sexually and intellectually mature and yet continue to look like children.  (Rejoice, ye pedophiles.)  This type of Ungreyan society relies on poisons and insects, both of which hold positions of immense practical and symbolic importance in their societies.

They usually refuse all attempts at diplomacy, except those conducted by children. Likewise, visiting adults of other species are not allowed to wander around freely unless escorted by a child.

And there is even a third type of Ungreyan society: the aristocratic fetuses.

The Tyranny of the Unborn

As soon as a society decides that maturation is abominable, there can be only one logical conclusion.  Their utopia has a form, even if they haven't achieved it yet.

They call themselves the fetati, they for whom birth signals the end of their lives.  It doesn't matter how they achieved it.  They have found immortality by delaying their own births.

And so they live inside their mothers.  And when their mother ages and grows frail, they move into another.  (I'll leave the details to your imagination, except to say that the process is simple, direct, and messy.)

They see through their mother's eyes and speak through her mouth.  They experience life through her skin, a billion trembling nerves pressed against the surface of their placentas.

To be born is to die.  For those who are full citizens, birth happens only through accident or punishment.  Once they are born, it is the end of their life.  A funeral is held for the deceased.  The protestations of the newborn are ignored.  They are now a beast, a practitioner of slovenly biology: mastication, digestion, defecation, riddled with disease and suddenly mortal, an exile from amniotic Olympus.

They are all vegetarians, even the adults.


Because why not.

Ungreyan Adult

HD 3  AC leather  Sword 1d8
Int *  Move 12  Mor 12

*For things related to combat, treat their Intelligence as if it were 16.  For everything else, treat their Int as 4.

Adaptive -- After an Ungreya Adult attacks or is attacked, it gets +1 to attack, AC, and damage.  This bonus stacks up to +5 and lasts for 10 minutes.

Ungreyan Child (Creeper)

HD 2 (HP 1)  AC as armor  Dagger 1d6 + poison (1d6)
Int 14  Move 9  Mor 2

Scream -- Once every hour, an Ungreyan Child can scream.  Everyone who hears it sees a tiny black speck appear in their vision.  These specks last until the next day.  The next time they take damage, they take +1 damage for every speck in their vision, and the specks disappear.  Ungreya and their servants are immune to this effect (through years of exposure).  Outdoors, the screams carry for a mile.  Indoors, the screams carry through the entire floor of the dungeon.

One danger of exploring an Ungreyan dungeon: once they know you're there, they'll begin screaming every hour.  After the players have a few specks in their eyes, every combat becomes a lot more threatening.

Ungreyan Fetal Aristocrat (Fetati)

HD 0  AC none  Bite 1d4
Int 14  Fly 3  Mor 2

Fetal Domination -- A fetato (singular form of fetati) can see through the eyes of it's pregnant/pseudopregnant mother.  The mother automatically fails her saves against the fetato's spells.

Suffocation -- A fetato dies after 1d6+4 minutes outside of a womb.  (And remember that they travel with their placenta.  Otherwise none of this makes any sense.)

At-Will Spells: dominate person (only one domination at a time), telekinesis (duration = concentration).

Spellcasting as a wizard of whatever level you want.  Example spells: scry, invisibility, wave of mutilation (basically cone of cold that does slashing damage), wither (target loses half current HP, save for half), cure light wounds.

Note: Their psuedopregnancies aren't limited by species.  To answer your next question, a hippo can hold about eight; a horse about four (although they prefer to have more room to stretch).

Monday, August 8, 2016

Guilder, the City of Green Brass

antikythera mechanism
Out-of-work harpooners, clad in whale leather and shivering from sea-curses.  Salvage divers selling more warped brass machinery, pulled up from the Brass Coast. Inventors looking for volunteers to test their latest diving machine.  Anchovy sandwiches.  This is Guilder.

You'll find a few frustrated biologists, too, huddled over anatomical charts and cladograms.  They are trying to classify the whales.  It is a foolish task; all whales are unique.  (And all lantern oil is made from them.)

Although the harbor is a rotting nest of wood, brass, and barnacles, a great deal of money and patronage flows through it.  Whaling supplies so many of the things that the nobility desire.   Corsetmakers have a small but powerful guildhall where they attempt to secure contracts for high-quality whalebone.  There is a fortune in whalebone.  Men have been killed for a handful of piano keys.

Raggedy perfumers scheming away in odorous basements, attempting to invent a scent that will make them rich.  A corpse cooling in an alleyway, ambergris still sticky on her fingers.  Corset-makers looking to secure a supply of high-quality whalebone. 

The Sharkery makes sure that all of the whale parts are accounted for (as whale parts are always in high demand among necromancers).  They also ensure that the city's fleet of feral sharks remains numerous and well-fed.  Sharks are their first defense against those despoilers of the seaways: merfolk.

You'll see many shark fins out in the harbor, and see many shark tattoos on the sailors.  (Sharks are our wild-hearted allies, in sharp contrast to the doglike cruelty of dolphins and their merfolk masters.)

The prison floats outside the harbor.  During low tide, the prisoners can stick their heads up through the bars and take a few gulps of air.  Between the crests of waves, you can see their slick heads bobbing like seals.  During high tide, they survive with the help of bamboo snorkels (that must be purchased by their family members on their behalf).

The Tyranny of the Blind

There are no rocks, but there is a lighthouse.  

The lighthouse is not a guide, but a warning.  It is rumored that the fires of the lighthouse drive away Oolok, the Long-necked Seal.  This may be a lie used to maintain the lighthouse's privileged status.

The lighthouse is the oldest and the tallest building in Guilder.  It is made from the same brass that litters the floor of the harbor (and indeed the entire continental shelf).  The walls of the lighthouse are not vertical, but instead stacked like a steep ziggurat.  And it is is not just the lantern at the top the rotates--each floor rotates slightly faster than the floor beneath it.  You can tell what time of day it is by the facings of the exterior walls.

The lighthouse is run by the blind.  The Lighthouse Keeper is the de facto ruler of the city.  (The "king" of Guilder is kept imprisoned in the lighthouse.  When the king dies, the Lighthouse Keeper elects a new king and imprisons him in the lighthouse as well.  This is because of several old laws that once made sense.)

They have given up their sight in service of their lighthouse, and in the service of their philosophy.  They believe that light obscures more than it reveals.  For example, sight gives you misleading impressions about a person, depending on whether or not they are especially attractive or ugly.  The blind have no such weakness.

You can join them if you wish.  All it requires is for you to put your bloody eyeballs in the hands of one of their proselytizers.  You will be inducted into their ranks and given the opportunity to purchase some scrimshaw spheres to fill your empty sockets.  

Their most powerful members are blind, but are locally omniscient.  They do not have supernatural senses, and navigate the world with walking canes, or (much less commonly) with sorcery.  They employ dogs as their guides.  (Or cockatrices, when the lighthouse is under attack.)

The lighthouse does not burn anything.  Light is routed from the basement up into the prism at the top.

The basement of the lighthouse is full of light.  It becomes brighter as you go deeper down.  After a few levels it is bright enough to blind you through your eyelids.  Further down, it is bright enough that you will burn to death before you reach the next level.  (It is speculated that the blind navigate it through the use of a garment made from mirrors, or perhaps reflective mithril silks.)

There are other lenses for the lighthouse.  The smoky lens does not shed light, but instead mutes it.  When the smoky lens is inserted, all light within line of sight is muted, and the entire city is plunged into darkness.  Visible light is only possible inside well-shaded buildings, with the curtains drawn and a lantern lit. 

"long-necked seal"

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Outsider Psychology

I've written about Outsiders a few times before.  I don't mean outsiders like angels and demons.  (Those things are part of the normal moral/ethereal ecology of Centerra.)

I mean proper Outsiders, from outside the narrow banks of time and space.  Things that have slipped in when no one was looking.  Things that don't make sense, or at least not any sense that we can comprehend.  They are disruptive to the setting--they spoil it.  They ruin the logic of it.  They expose inconsistencies.  If it were a TV show, they would break the fourth wall, or spoil the ending of the series for everyone.

Anyway, this post has 4 points to make.  The first two have already been established (or at least strongly alluded to) while the last couple are novel.

This is not canon.  (There is no canon.)  But the existence of Outsiders seems to imply a few things.

1. The things outside our own universe are much, much bigger in every way: time, space, and significance.

Our universe stretches from big bang to its inevitable heat death, spans a few billion years.  The time scale outside that extends for trillions or quadrillions (depending on how you count the cyclic parts).

We cannot escape the walls of our universe, because there are no walls.  It wraps back in on itself.  To escape this universe would require more energy than the universe contains.

To continue a previous analogy, we are bacteria in a Petri dish.  The greatest bacterial heroes cannot see past the walls of their home, and our greatest works will not survive the experiment.

2. Human souls have a history prior to their conception.  It is much longer and much more important than everything that happens after conception.

Before you were plugged into your mother's endometrium, you were someone else.  Someone with a full life, with triumphs, failures, friends, and enemies.  Because that life occurred on the extracosmic scale (see above) it is too large to fit in our brains, and what little we remember is too complex to be understood.

This life is a reduction of what we once were.  It's stuffing the soul of a human into an ant, or perhaps an amoeba.  What is retained?  What can an ant-brain know of its previous life?

That is why the Awakened are so furious to see us clinging to our ant-lives.  Looking at us, they can see the creatures we were, before we were reduced to simpering idiocy by the machinations of cruel sperm and scheming egg.

A trillion-year friend reduced to a simpering, traitorous idiot in only a few decades.  (Less than an eyeblink, for some.)

And while our life here is short, the universe traps our souls for far longer.  And while we are here, we are not out there, where there are much more important things to do.  It represents a neglect of duty, as if we were emperors who refuse to stop playing tea party with stuffed animals while the kingdom burns down around them.

No matter how important our troubles seem, or how important our achievements, they are utterly dwarfed by the greater multiverse.  Centerran wars leave hundreds of thousands dead in the mud.  Wars in the multiverse leave quintillions of souls banished to the coldness between the stars.

(Fractals are a theme in Centerra.  If you zoomed in on a grain of sand, you would find tiny kingdoms of dust mephits fighting and dying amid the milliseconds, vying for control of a square micron in multigenerational wars that last entire seconds.)

Anyway, there is a third business to this business, one that involves the multiverse.

jose segrelles
3. All quantum events spawn a parallel universe of the opposite result.

Or to put it another way: whenever a coin is flipped, it creates two universes: one where the coin comes up heads, and one where it comes down tails.  (Don't tell me that a coin is too big to be influenced by quantum events.  I don't want to hear it.)

A lot of coins are being flipped all the time.  A lot of coins.  Every nanosecond, a billion universes are branching off from our own.  (And our own universe isn't special.  It's just another branch like all the others.)  And another nanosecond after that, each of those billion universes spawns off another billion universes.

Whenever you roll a d6 and get a 6, you create five more universes, one for each other result.

Whenever your mother dies of the plague when you are five, somewhere there are a billion billion other mothers that lived to happy old age.

Whenever your father sits back in his chair and licks his thumb before carefully turning the page of his hymnal, there are a billion billion other fathers who are burning alive, caught in the fire that started after they dozed off and dropped the pipe on the carpet.

Everything that is possible has already happened.

This is because a great deal of unlikely things are possible all the time.  How many chances do you have every day for a once-in-a-million experience?  (A lot.)  They don't happen to most of you, but they certainly happen to at least one of you.  And that lucky one goes on to spawn their own nested set of a billion billion universes.

This is a lot of mass and energy, but its not infinite.  And of course, the parallel universes don't interact.

Unless you are an Outsider.

4. Outsiders span the parallel dimensions.  For the most part, they can't move anything between universes except knowledge.

Each Outsider is dimly aware of all of its local parallel selves--those who are separated by only a recent branch in the timeline.  It's a fuzzy, ever-changing qualification, but it works.

So when an Outsider enters combat and makes an attack roll that has a 75% chance of hitting, they can see 15 slightly different universes where the attack hit, and 5 universes where the attack missed.  One of those universes is their own, while the other 19 are their local neighbor-selves.  And each of those universes will have it's own branches (for different results of the damage die, for example).

This awareness gives them a different sense of perspective than us.  Since they spread across a billion universes, fighting a billion (non-unified) foes, they don't mind losing a few battles in order to win the war.

They don't think like we do, in terms of life and death, winning and losing.  They think in terms of percentages.  This fight is 94% victorious.  That poisoned killed 25% of me.  I devoured 99.9% of her bodies.

It is very hard to die permanently in the multiverse, since if it is at all possible for you to be alive, you will be alive somewhere.  The only cost is influence (more on that later).

In combat, an Outsider might stand perfectly still and allow you to hit it.  It is learning how hard you can hit, and how much damage you can do.  It will use this information to triumph against you in a billion other worlds.

In combat, an Outsider might flee even though it seems to be winning.  It needs to scout out another room so that all of its billion twins can use that information in their universes.  It's already pulled your brains out of your sinuses in a billion universes; it can afford to squander this one, since the other billion selves need a piece of information more than they need one more negligible victory.

In combat, an Outsider might hurl itself at you, nearly suicidal.  Again, it is not trying to defeat it, merely learn from you, so that all of its other selves can triumph in their respective universes.

And when you talk to an Outsider, be assured that each of the billion Outsiders is asking you a different question.

One will ask you what your name is.  Once you answer, they will all know.

Simultaneously, in a different universe, another Outsider will ask another you where you are from.  Once you answer, they will all know.

Simultaneously, in a different universe, another Outsider will ask another you what you are doing here.  Once you answer, they will all know.

That's three questions.  There are still 9,999,997 other Outsiders asking questions.  Is it small wonder that some of the questions they ask seem nonsensical or trivial?

So when the first thing they say to you is, "Lettuce or Cabbage?", rest assured that it is not a trivial question.  They've already asked you all the important questions in parallel universes and gotten their answers.  They're just going for completion.

Talking to an Outsider is enormously one-sided.  A billion humans ask a billion questions to a billion Outsiders, but its the same question.  A billion Outsiders ask a billion questions to a billion humans, and each one is different.  The human learns one thing.  The Outsider learns a billion (including whether you prefer lettuce or cabbage).

This is why people say that Nobodies or slaad are insane.  (Slaad are the closest thing we have to "naturalized" Outsiders.)   Humans see only the battle in their own house, and miss the war consuming the city.

It is not insane to allow themselves to be struck dead.  They will kill a billion of you with the knowledge they gain.

It is not insane to flee from a combat that they are winning.  They have already triumphed a billion times, and this will allow them to gain some small knowledge.

It is not insane to ask strange questions, like "What color was your mother's horse?"  They have already asked a billion questions.  (That's how they learned your mother rode a horse.)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

3 Locations in Synthexia

The Block Party

A city block flies through the air.  It fires confetti from its cannons, and sewage drips from it's exposed sewers.  Lasers and strobes flash through the steam that streams over its cracked streets and broken windows.  It always seems to be collapsing, and yet never quite falls apart.

Up close, you can see the people.  They dance in the streets.  Half of them are immobile mannequins.  Inside the shuttered buildings, exhausted people attempt to get some sleep.  They trade earplugs; there aren't enough.

Every so often, a hover shuttle drops off a load of supplies and some new offerings, and those offerings who have been there for a year are free to leave.

The reason for this whole charade is Cthulhu, who squats at the center of all of this chaos, trying to get drunk on mimosas and chatting up Art majors.  The floor is covered with red cups, but beneath that, human bones.

Cthulhu woke a while ago.  He knows what the score is.  This is sort of a gentlemen's agreement--to postpone the apocalypse in exchange for something more interesting than the endless void.  He's immortal; what does he care if he destroys the world now or in a few millennia?

At first Synthexia sent up entertainers.  Magicians, musicians, and philosophers.  But Cthulhu doesn't really care about the details of our meaningless mammal chirping.  He only cares about the spectacle.  And so the party decayed into its present state.  The budget dried up.

Every so often, the party will raid other settlements, just dropping out of the sky, leaving behind puerile vandalism and petty theft.

Party People
HD 1 humans.  Immune to sleep.  If six or more of them start dancing, it functions as irresistible dance cast on everyone within 100'.

Always accompanied by a Babe, who does all the direct talking to Cthulhu, while the philosophers scribble in their notebooks.  Each philosopher is a level 1 wizard.  They have spells from both wizard and warlock spell lists.  Led by Mimecris Olivine, a level 4 wizard.

Regulate the party.  Most of them are second and third generation party people.  They've never left the party, and so they know no other life.  They lack the dance ability of regular party people, and can instead challenge people like knights.  They are led by Chadwick Skybreaker, a level 7 barbarian.

Well, Cthulhu's here, so there's going to be mutants, of course.  [d6]: 1 fused with keg, 2 junky with hypodermic teeth who is looking to feed the sickness or share it, 3 one-person orgy, save vs pheromones or be subsumed into its copulating mass, 4 hollow man can turn you into a mannikin like itself, with no major effect except that you die as soon as someone tells you that you are a mannikin, 5 head is actually a small gibbering mouther, 6 drill hand.

Party Animals
Basically people in mascot costumes, except without the people.  Plush golems ordered to perform comedic pantomime.  Occasionally activated by their controller, the Comedian, who employs them towards swift and deadly ends.

Most of them are here hoping to fight Cthulhu.

by ben brown
The Filers

Black monoliths that dim the light.  The sun fades, but the reflections on their metallic sides does not.

They are giant filing cabinets.  They are AIs, created long ago to assemble all of the information in the universe.  They are slowly accomplishing this goal.  They are larger on the inside than on the outside, containing mazes of paper.

When people think about the Filers, most of them picture the bureaucratic zombies, but they have other servants, too.

Origami Golems

Beware the tigers.  Their wizards can turn you into origami.  Only by being safely unfolded (requires 3 successful Int checks, crit fails indicate tears) can they be restored to normal.  Entire cities are imprisoned inside folios.

Words Without a Matrix 

Neon letters that flow across surfaces without ever belonging to any of them.  Memetic piranhas.  Each round, increase the list of words that the players (not characters) cannot say.

Bureaucrat Zombies

These are the hands of the Filers in the world.  They are made from captured people (always alive, dead will not do at all) who are brought into the Filers and transformed via a process that is not entirely understood.

They are mindless, except for the will of the Filer that created them.  Their heads are stuffed with words--papers and orders and Form 5820 For Cerebral Requisitioning.  Their mouths are replaced with locks.  If the lock is picked, their mouth reappears, they vomit out all the papers, and return to normal.  If someone attempts to pick the lock and fails, they collapse into a loose pile of forms that, when taken together, contain all the major details of their life (e.g. marriage license, pharmacy receipts, school reports of their illicit conduct).

They are a hive mind.  They work to investigate the world at the behest of the filers.

Towards this end, they travel the nearby area--but only within 33 miles, as this is the effective range of the hive-mind.  (If removed, they are still mindless zombies loyal to the Filer, and will attempt to return to it).

What is their mission? [d6]

  1. Here is a form.  Everyone must fill out this form.  The form takes 11 hours to fill out.  Anyone who does not will be assimilated.
  2. Every surface must be touched.  Samples of every material must be taken.  Each person has a 50% chance that the bureaucrat zombies will require taking one of their items (chosen at random) back to the Filer to testing.  It will be returned in 60 business days.  Failure to comply results in assimilation.
  3. Everyone must move their settlement 19 miles to the northeast.  Failure to comply results in assimilation.
  4. Everyone must offer 77 people as tribute to the Filer.  The zombie population needs resupplying.  Failure to comply results in assimilation.
  5. All books must be confiscated.  Buildings will be searched for hidden books.  Failure to comply (finding a book in your house) will result in assimilation.
  6. Everyone must comply with a memory wipe.  The memories will be assimilated with the Filer.  They will not be allowed to keep a copy of their memories (total amnesia) but for a small fee, the Filer will sell them a summary of their memories and identity.  Failure to comply will result in assimilation.

Dragon Road and Highway Nine

There are no dragons, although you will drive through the ribs of a jormungandr at one point.

Blasted and baked, a pitted and maddened road that goes through wasteland and canyon and volcanic hill.

They reproduce through car crashes.  The larger the crash, the larger the infant.  Their leader is Columbia, named after the space shuttle that crashed into rush hour traffic in the year 29001.

Scrap Princesses
There are many scrap princesses here.  (The lowercase kind.)  There was a scrap queen once but they ate her.  Each of her daughters now wears one of her bones somewhere amid their bodies of hub caps, broken CD fragments, and torque converters.  They kludge each other from the wreckage.  Golemoid amazons.  If you are nice to them, they might kludge you something, too.

Cult of the Machine
They replace their chests with engines so that they can drink gasoline like the cars they worship.  Each one builds a car.  Each car is a temple unto themselves.  Each car is their home.  Each car will be their tomb.  They die if their car is destroyed before their flesh-body is; this is a great desecration.

20th century muscle cars possessed by the spirits of horses.  Most people think that they are living cars.  They can transform and join together.  Prized by the Machine Cult as mounts/tombs.  They will pause whatever they are doing if offered a high-stakes race across the wastelands.  They will cheat, because they are evil.

Jetboys and the Bastard Crawler
Sort of like jawas, except that each one is actually a small jet.  

The Tar Pit
This is where gasoline comes from.  Staffed by paleolithic mummies, tar snakes, and undead mammoths.  

Dust Kings
Kings of the crossroad.  Sorcerers all.  The more you know about them, the more powerless they become against you.  If you learn their name, they dissolve into dust, and all will forget that they ever existed, except for you.

by barry smith

Making Bets on Reddit

Synthexia got mentioned on reddit today and I am suddenly nostalgic for it.  That was a good burst of creativity from the DIY thinkosphere.

We should do another crowdsourced hexcrawl.


despite not having lasers or crystals, this is one the most Synthexian pics I have
by Pascal Blanche
Super Ultra Mega Men

Flying through the air.  Punching each other through walls.  Only stopping for monologues.

HD 8  Armor plate  Punch 2d6
Fly 18  Int 10  Morale 7

Super Ultra Mega Power -- Str 18.

Super Ultra Mega Laser Eyes -- 5d6 damage.  200' range.  Usable only when bloodied.  Usable once every 1d4 rounds.

Super Ultra Mega Contagious -- Anyone who is hit by a Super Ultra Mega Man's punch or laser must save or gain all the powers of a Super Ultra Mega Man.  They roll new HP immediately (8 HD) and use it in place of their own, unless that would lower their HP.  Then, they must make a second save, or become obsessed with fighting other super ultra mega men (as charm).  They lose these powers after 12 hours elapse without fighting another super ultra mega man to the death.

Discussion: Yes, you can infect yourself with super ultra mega fever and punch through walls, but be aware that everything you punch is also going to turn into a super ultra mega thing if it survives.

If a PC becomes infected with super ultra mega fever, the best bet is to either let them kill all the other super mega

Story Hook: Where did the first super ultra mega man come from?  Surely there's a magic item worth having.  Maybe a dragonball.

pascal blanche is still amazing
Prism Wizard

When you encounter the prism wizard, ask all of your players what colors their characters are wearing (if you don't already know).  Or better yet, give them some colored pencils and make them draw themselves while you go chug a beer.

HD 4  Armor none  Staff 1d8
Move 12  Int 16  Morale 5

Selectivity -- A Prism Wizard has several abilities that begin with the word 'Selective'.  He cannot choose the same color for more than one of these abilities.  No duplicates.  He can change one of these colors per turn as a free action.

Selective Invisibility -- The rainbow wizard is invisible to characters wearing a certain color.

Selective Invulnerability -- The rainbow wizard is immune to damage from a certain color.  (Usually steel grey.)

Selective Telekinesis -- The rainbow wizard can use telekinesis at will on things that are a certain color.

Spells -- prestidigitation (at-will, used to change the color of things), prismatic spray, mirror image, scorching ray, freezing ray, illusion

Wants [d6]

  1. Wants your help in defeating the carnivorous nega-rainbow of the Starry Abyss.  (HD 10, basically a reskinned beholder with darkness abilities instead of an antimagic cone.)
  2. Whats the most common color your players are wearing?  The wizard wants all items of that color. Because they (a) belong to him, (b) offend him, (c) are an illegal hue (equal chance of each).
  3. Wants you to wrestle one end of a rainbow to the ground while he runs to the other end of it in search of gold (which he will share with you).  Rainbows have the stats of giant serpents with hypnotic and blinding abilities.
  4. A crystal sword.  His prism is looking shabby.
  5. Someone to become his apprentice.  He is lonely ever since his unicorn died.
  6. To Kill Strobos von Dubstar, or at least embarrass him.

Rainbow Shaker
When shaken, it releases a wisps (or their superior replacements).  Each is HD 1, Int 10, and is completely obedient to you.  Each one has a single attack that does 1d6 damage.  Each one lasts 1 hour or until it attacks (which causes it to dissipate).  The wisps emerge from the shaker in this order.

1 - Red wisp, fire damage.
2 - Orange wisp, force damage.
3 - Yellow wisp, lightning damage.
4 - Green wisp, acid damage.
5 - Blue wisp, ice damage.
6 - Indigo wisp, psychic damage.
7 - Purple wisp, 2d6 necrotic damage to everything in 20', save for half, no one can see colors for the rest of the day.

if I ever run Synthexia, I'm giving everyone a mecha
this art is by pascal blanche
Sonic Reverberators

Slaves from the flesh vats.  Tiny heads except for their massive, conical jaw.  They eat a liquid diet, poured into their mouths by their masters, the microbasilisk handlers.  

Together, these two creatures are responsible for throwing parties for Sad Ivory.  (Parties are constant, because there are so many people who want to cheer the Sorceress queen up.)  The reverberators play the music and the microbasilisks create reflective surfaces for the laser golems to dance through.

HD 2  AC chain  Subsonics 1d6 (15' cone)
Move 9  Int 3  Morale 12

Subsonics deal 1d6 damage in a 15' cone in front of the reverberator.  Crystal objects in this area must save or shatter.  Creatures hit by two more more subsonic reverberations at the same time must save or spend the next round nauseated (can move or attack, but not both).

Microbasilisk Handlers

Sexy young people dressed in sequin underwear and little else.  They wear mirror shades (+4 to resist gaze attacks, -2 to attack unless in a brightly lit area) and fanny packs.

You won't fight them unless you are somehow getting in the way of a party that they're trying to put on for Sad Ivory.

HD 3  AC leather  Spiked Shield 1d6
Move 12  Int 10  Morale 7

Microbasilisk -- In their right hands, microbasilisk handlers hold a device that looks like a lantern.  Inside is a microbasilisk.  If the handler holds the lantern open (a standard action), the microbasilisk inside looks at the nearest object, which begins turning into crystal.  If the nearest object is a creature, they get a save to resist, but if they fail, they roll a d6 to see what body part turns into crystal.  [d6] 1 left arm, 2 right arm, 3 left leg, 4 right leg, 5 head, 6 whole body.

Crystal limbs can still move normally.  They are also temperature resistant, but sonic damage tends to shatter them.  They do not heal on their own, and require a crystalsmith to repair if they are damaged.

What's In the Fanny Pack? [d6]
  1. Party drugs.  Mostly uppers.
  2. 1d4 microbasilisk eggs.
  3. A crystal communicator.  It only calls other microbasilisk handlers, though.  One number listed as "Emergencies Only" goes straight to Sad Ivory.
  4. Sugar skulls and taffy rations.
  5. Bottle of water.
  6. Strobe light.  Battery will last 1 hour.
DM Discussion

If you want to take it easy on your players, make sure that they learn that the handlers turn your limbs into crystal and the reverberators shattter crystal BEFORE you spring combat on them that includes both opponents.  

Or don't.  I mean, they'll figure it out really quickly.

by p b

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Caster Differentiation and Spellcasting Mechanics

I've given a lot of thought to casters.  I want them to feel different from each other.  Not just numberwise (wizards get +4 flarp while sorcerers get -2 flarp, etc) but with their own subsystem.

When I wrote the martial GLOG classes, I tried to do the same thing.  Assassins get damage bonuses the more facts they learn about an enemy.  Fighters track the number of kills they get with each weapon.  Rangers keep track of the largest monster they've killed.

Of course, the real place for subsystems is with magic users.  So that's one goal.  The other goal is to have them function very differently from each other, in addition to feeling different.  It's possible to have two convoluted subsystems that both take different paths to arrive at "3d6 damage, save for half".

So, here's what I've got:

Wizards are the most flexible.  They can learn and cast all the spells in the game.  Somewhat conservative.  Benefit the most from having time to prepare.

Sorcerers are the longest lasting.  While they can cast the most spells per day, they also have the narrowest selection.  They are hosts for their brain's spellhive, so they probably have the least control over the development.

Warlocks are the most powerful.  If it comes down a single spell, they can crank it up to 11, overchannel, and mop the floor.  They'll pay for it in blood, of course.

Clerics are the most reliable.  There's no difference between clerical magic and arcane magic--spells are just one of the many blessings that clerics receive.  The difference is that clerical spells aren't routed directly through the cleric, they're handled by heavenly powers who filter out a lot of the risk.  They have the support of a powerful familiar/patron, but they pay for that, too.

Saints are the most improvisational and the ones that hew closest to the divine.  They don't have spell lists, and instead call for miracles, which is a bit of a crapshoot modified by how close the requested miracle is to the deity's portfolio.  (Honestly, the whole thing sounds a bit dodgy, and I may scrap it.)

by Austen Mengler
The Casting Mechanic

I'm going to draw inspiration from WFRP, D6 Fantasy, +Mateo Diaz Torres, and the system I used in my earliest Eldritch Americana system (3d6 + mods vs DC, bad things happen on doubles or triples).

So wizards get 1 magic die per level.  At level 1, they have 1d6 sitting in their magic pool.  At level 4, they have 4d6 sitting in their magic pool.  (Class abilities max out at level 4 in the GLOG.)

Whenever they cast a spell, they can roll any number of dice from their pool. The dice are tallied, and any dice that come up 5 or 6 are depleted.  Depleted dice are removed from the pool, and not replaced until the next day.

The sum of the dice must meet a certain threshold for a certain effect.  Roll well, and your spell might be more powerful, similar to how DCC spells vary in power whenever they're cast.

  • Level 1 spell = 2.
  • Level 2 spell = 8.
  • Level 3 spell = 14.
  • Level 4 spell = 20.

Doubles on the dice signify chaos.  Triples signify corruption.  Obviously, you can't get doubles unless you roll at least two dice, so level 1 casters are safe.

Also, spells can fail if you only invest 1 magic die, but not if you invest 2 or more.  The threshold for reliability is the same as the threshold for chaos.

Let's do math!

With 1 Magic Die = 17% fizzle, 83% cast at level 1.
With 2 Magic Dice = 58% cast at level 1, 42% cast at level 2.
With 3 Magic Dice = 16% cast at level 1, 68% cast at level 2, 16% cast at level 3
With 4 Magic Dice = 3% cast at level 1, 42% cast at level 2, 50% cast at level 3, 5% cast at level 4

This seems about right.  A level 1 character's spells are going to fizzle 1/6th of the time, which sounds appropriate.  And higher levels character's will be discouraged from casting spells with only a single magic die invested--just invest another die and remove that horrible failure chance.

A level 2 character's spell is somewhere between a level 1 spell and a level 2 spell.  Yes, this means that a level 2 wizard can potentially cast a level 2 spell, but whatever.  That single spell might deplete all their dice for the day.  An increase in average power is balanced by unreliability.

A level 3 character can throw down all of their magic dice to cast a level 2 spell 68% of the time.  That's right in the middle.  Perfect.  They'll probably have one or two dice left over, which means that this is comparable to the 2/1 of vanilla D&D.

A level 4 character can throw down all 4d6 of their magic dice to cast what averages out to a level 2.5 spell, which also seems about right.  If they conserve a little, this is also roughly comparable to the 2/2 casting scheme of a vanilla D&D wizard.

These d6s also map pretty well to fireball damage.  A level 3 wizard can invest 3 magic dice to drop a 3d6 fireball (which is sort of like a fireball cast at spell level 2).

Wizards get safety casting.  Once per day, they can replace one of their rolled dice with a natural 1 (as if it was rolled).  (This is useful to avoid doubles/triples or to prevent a die from becoming exhausted.)

Warlocks get power casting.  Once per day, they can replace one of their rolled dice with a natural 6 (as if it was rolled).  (This is useful to avoid doubles/triples or to meet the next threshold for a spell.)

Sorcerers get natural casting.  Their magic dice are only depleted on a natural 6, instead of a 5-6.  (They get a lot more milage out of the same number of casting dice.  They're also at a lot higher risk for doubles and triples, but maybe their chaos/corruption tables aren't that bad?)

Clerics don't fuck around with any of this shit.  They get more many magic dice.  Their magic dice always deplete, and nothing bad happens with doubles or triples.  They can't spend more magic dice on a spell than their level (max 4).  I won't talk about them any more, since I have different ideas for them.

Anyway, you can already see that the themes of wizard/conservativism, warlock/power, and sorcerer/stamina are already emerging.  Good shit.

One hilarious effect of this system is that it means wizards can't prepare all of their spells at the beginning of the day, since some of their magic dice will be returning to them after they cast a spell.  Perhaps they can then spend 10 minutes to prepare any spell?  I imagine it going like this.

Level 2 wizard prepares a 2d magic missile.  Casts 2d magic missile (roll: 4, 6), which means that one of the magic dice is exhausted.  The wizard then takes a ten minute break with her spellbook and prepares a 1d speak with dead.

Which means that a wizard now has a good reason to haul their spellbook around with them, instead of leaving it at the dungeon entrance.  I love that.  Can we reinforce that bookishness more?

Wizard Ability: Book Casting.  A wizard can cast a spell directly out of a spellbook or scroll as if they had prepared it in the morning.  The spell returns to the spellbook/scroll in the morning.  Spells cast this way are always 1 magic die, and the wizard must have 1 magic die to invest.  This requires both hands (to hold the book) and the wizard always loses initiative.  If the wizard is damaged or disrupted while casting, the spell fizzles.

So now the wizard has a reason to carry around a big pile of scrolls.  And by leaving a die uninvested at the start of the day, a wizard can now cast any spell on the spot (albeit slower, riskier, and less powerfully than if they had prepared it in the morning).

Moving on.

Warlock Ability: Overchannel.  After rolling magic dice and summing the results, a warlock can choose to roll an overchannel die and add it to the sum.  They take damage equal to the result showing on the overchannel die.  The overchannel die can cause doubles and triples, as usual.  If the overchannel die causes a double or a triple, the warlock takes another 1d6 damage.

I'm not quite sure what to give the sorcerer.  I'm thinking beneficial mutation, related to what type of sorcerer they are.  Fire sorcerers become immune to fire and can eat anything flammable.  Fish sorcerers can breath water and talk to fish.  That sort of shit.

by Todd Lockwood
Sample Chaos Table

Here's the table for an enchanter.  Other wizard types will have other chaos tables.  Chaos tables are mostly bad, but occasionally helpful.

  1. You are made susceptible to charm.  Every command you hear functions as command (the spell).  By default, there is a 50% chance that language-using enemies are shouting something that can be construed as a command.  Lasts 1d6 rounds.
  2. You imitate another person or creature nearby, chosen at random.  You attempt to do whatever they do.  Lasts 1d6 rounds.
  3. You become empathic to all pain suffered around you.  Whenever a creature takes damage within 50' of you, you take 1 psychic damage.  Lasts 1d6 rounds.
  4. A random creature within 50' must save or you will both switch bodies.  Lasts 1d6 rounds.
  5. You immediately blab the worst thing possible.  You either tell the enemies about your secret weakness, insult the one enemy that can kill you, or embarass yourself horribly.
  6. You fall asleep, as the sleep spell.  Lasts until someone slaps you.
  7. You fall in love with whatever you are looking at.  (If this isn't already obvious, roll randomly.)  Lasts 1d6 days.
  8. All creatures in 50' are overcome with empathy, and will strive to talk over any disagreements.  Violence is impossible.  If you aren't in combat, the party will spend their time talking about their feelings and hugging.  The affected creature with the best Save rolls for everyone affected; save negates.  Lasts 10 minutes.
Sample Corruption Table

Whenever you roll on the Corruption Table, roll on the Chaos Table, too.  Go big.
  1. You gain 1d6 trauma points.
  2. You gain a random mutation.
  3. You gain a doom.
  4. You become an utter thrall, and will obey whoever has the highest Charisma as if you were affected by a dominate spell.  Lasts 1d6 days.
The first three entries are probably the same for all wizards.  The fourth is specific to the wizard's school.

by richard corben
worth clicking for a closer look

If you gain a doom, put a +1 next to the spell that caused it.  You now get +1 to the magic sum whenever you attempt to cast it.  Among other things, this means that you can now cast the spell with 1 magic die without any chance of failure.

Then you're done patting yourself on the back, this stuff happens.  

First Doom of the Enchanter: You become possessed by a random demon for 1 day.  This demon is based on [d4]: 1 lust and poison, 2 rage and fire, 3 gluttony and mutation, 4 ice and knowledge (lies).  The demon has no way to exit the body or manifest, but it is HD 8+1d6.

Second Doom of the Enchanter: You become possessed by a demon for a week.  This is the same demon as last time.

Third Doom of the Enchanter.  You become possessed by a demon permanently and your soul is devoured.  This is the same demon as last time.

Dooms are all school-specific.  A cthonomancer would eventually turn into a small mountain.  A biomancer turns into a cancerous mass.  A cosmomancer will eventually be abducted and impregnated by moonbeasts.

Dooms are meant to be a gradually rising meter for how fucked a wizard is.  This is why powerful wizards don't cast powerful spells all the time.  You get an apprentice to do that stuff.

If you survive the third doom, you're in the clear.  Dooms are designed to be a horrible, unavoidable death UNLESS the player actively seeks out a way to circumvent it.  In this case, the player will (hopefully) start looking for a way to kill that particular demon after surviving their first doom.

So dooms both (a) inspire players to go on personal quests to escape their doom, and (b) allow for character improvement narratively, away from the leveling system.  (I'm good at casting charm because the last time I cast it a demon burned it into my forebrain.)

You also stop getting those cute little +1s to spells, but whatever.  You escaped certain doom.

by Richard Corben

Sample Spells

Range: 50'
Target: 20' dia
Save: Half
Deals fire damage equal to magic sum.

Range: 200'
If you succeed on a ranged attack roll, you deal fire damage to the target equal to twice the magic sum.

Range: Touch
Duration: Magic sum / 4
You gain Fly 24.

Humble Hut
Range: Touch
Duration: 8 hours
You stack two stones atop each other and they grow into a hut.  This takes ten minutes.  Hut is 10' in diameter.  [8 or more]: Cabin is 20' square and has a locking door.  [14 or more]: Stone house has four 10' square rooms arranged as you please (possibly stacked into a tower), with arrow slit windows and a locking door.  [20 or more]: Castle built to your specifications; has a drawbridge and moat.

Range: Touch
Target: Object or creature
Duration: Rounds equal to magic sum
Target turns invisible.  Effect is dispelled if target moves or makes an attack roll.  [8 or more]: Effect is no longer dispelled if target moves.  [14 or more]: Effect is no longer dispelled if target attacks.

Magic Missile
Range: 200'
Save: None
You fire one missile per magic die, which unerringly hits its target.  Each magic die is a missile, which deals 1d6+1 damage to its target, each chosen independently.

Power Word: Kill
Range: 50'
Target: Creature
Save: None
If the magic sum is equal or greater than the target's current HP, it dies.

Summon Ix
Range: 50'
Duration: Magic Dice
An Ix is created at the point you designate and obeys a single command given by you at the time of its summoning.  The Ix is HD 1.  [+6]: HD +1.

Range: Touch
Target: 1 creature per magic die
Duration: 2 hours
Target creature gains the ability to breath water and loses the ability to breathe air.  Unwilling targets are allowed a save to resist, and another save if/when they lose consciousness from asphyxiation.

richard corben
click to embiggen

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Where the Elves Go

There aren't very many high elves in Centerra.  This is because Centerra is small and boring and it is impossible to do anything of any consequence there.  They leave for the same reason that people leave the small, bucolic towns of their youth.

The only folk left behind are their simple, impoverished cousins, the low elves (which is the only kind of elf that most people know of).

Where do they go?

Well, some go into space.  Head out far enough and you'll be sailing across the Astral Sea, bound for much more interesting destinations.

The Astral Sea

You can escape the planet's gravity well with a wizard rocket, by catching the Cat's Tail (a space elevator that dangles across the sky sometimes), or by walking to the moon.

Once you get past the orbital habitats you'll hit the astral sea.  You'll need a ship for that.

The surface of the astral sea is just a gravity plane.  If you drop an item off the side of your ship, it'll fall down to the level of the astral sea and just bob there.  There is usually air there.  Sailing on the astral sea is actually easier than sailing on the ocean, since your ship doesn't even have to be sea-worthy.  It just has to have mass.  You could sail on a boulder (and people do).

If you roll your ship hard enough, you'll roll it upside down.  You can sail upside down just fine.  In fact, a lot of astral ships have another upside-down ship on the bottom of them, like a ship sailing across the surface of a mirror.

The only expensive piece of equipment you need to sail on the astral sea is astral sails.  These are differently colored sails that are attracted or repulsed the light of certain, known stars.  There is wind in space, but sailing by starlight is more reliable.

As far as I've described, the astral sea is flat--a plane that the solar system floats through.  But farther out, the topology becomes more complicated.  Like space itself, the astral sea is only locally flat.

Farther out, it wrinkles into ridges and walls, holes and pillars.  You may find yourself sailing up a pillar of astral ocean in your journey to an astral "ceiling" a million miles above you.

It frequently resembles sailing across the surface of a very complicated spider's web.

pictured: the surface of the astral sea, the astral weave
sailors in space often pray to lolth

Of course, not everyone in space cares about the astral sea.  (See also: liches in their airless, flying ziggurats, or asteroid golems and their attendant homunculi.)

Temporal Kingdoms of the Elf Lords

Centerra is a filthy backwater.  The elves would go into the past, before it was all ruined, except that the past is full of fucking dinosaurs chewing up the time line, and the past is ruined, too.

There is a hour and a date.  It is in our future.  And when we reach it, a million million elves will materialize and kill everybody.  We don't know exactly how, because the event is not survivable.

And then the elves set up their temporal kingdoms, which extend not across space, but across time.

The mightest elven kingdoms last millenia, sculpted subrealities designed for a particular vanity project.

The smallest elven kingdoms might only last for a single morning, or the time between sunset and night.

There's a million million elves, but it's really just one elf.  How?  Just go back 60 seconds back in time, stop yourself from going in that time machine, and then the two of you go back 61 seconds in time.  Repeat until you have enough copies of yourself to make an army.

That's actually a good description of what a temporal kingdom is like.  The same one or three elves, looped over each other continually and infinitely until the entire universe is populated with them.  They are all immortal, and so every elf you see is just a different elf in a different stage of their life.

The servant elf is the same as his master, only a trillion years younger.  (Because of time loops, nearly all of the elf lords are many times over than the universe.)  Or perhaps the elf being tortured is the same elf, 600 years younger, being punished by her older self for her youthful indiscretions.

And the elf mason who builds the castle is the same as the master of the castle, already moving into the finished rooms.  She just has to spend another millenia building the castle before she can enjoy it herself.

There are schedules.  Moons are replaced with clocks.  Numbers are tattooed so that everyone can keep track of everyone.  Memories are wiped, simulated, and restored.

And of course, if you ever kill one, you upset this entire teakettle of a timeline.  Even interacting with one is dangerous, since it forces the entire universe to reset it's causality every time something is substantially touched.

Fighting a temporal elf-lord is a lot like rerolling the encounter every round.  Kingdoms rise and fall outside the window.  The sun cracks, vanishes, and is replaced with a golden, lobotomized mega-elf.  Your opponent becomes old, then young, then a trio of gender-swapped clones.  The walls swim and decay.

And if you ever kill the elf-lord, the kingdom vanishes, because it was never visited by its builder.  The land is untouched, and the castles (the mile-high crystal spires with literal stars caged in their minarets) are gone.  And you have only seconds before the adjacent temporal kingdoms take notice, and their timelines come rushing in.

magnified a millionfold
as if god was a narcissist obsessed with beauty and novelty