Tuesday 30 April 2013

Butchering the Descent

Jeff Long’s ‘The Descent’ is a good book and very good if you play RPG’s. You should read it.

Long subscribes to the Neal Stephenson school of writing. If he has a good idea during writing, he puts it in the book. If there is no room, add more pages. This lead to books with lots of stuff. Stuff may be frowned on in some literary circles. Fullness is not really respected as an artistic choice. But we don’t need to care about that.

It has at least two campaigns and one adventure in it, probably more. I will now proceed to ruin it for you. So if you believe me when I say you should read it then stop reading now because what follows will fuck up an otherwise pleasant experience. Only keep reading if you are sure you are not going to read the book and you just want the RPG-able elements cut out like a clumsy butcher. Of if you didn’t believe the first part?

Last chance, stop now...

Campaign One

Profiling the Devil

The PC’s are brought into a search. The subtlety of the introduction depends on the skill of the DM and the motivation of the players.

Someone is trying to profile Satan. Who is a real dude that you could actually meet. Not a supernatural force. This person, or group, needs your help. They think the devil walks the earth and no-one believes them. They are willing to pay.

You do this by finding evidence the devil left behind, recording and collecting it. You may invade ancient sites, break into vaults beneath the Vatican to raid its secrets, seek out warlord in the darkest corners of the earth who say they have a contract with the devil, assaulting an orphanage where the cellars lead into the caves beneath and guards ring the outside to prevent whatever is inside escaping.

So the PC’s mission after mission, find all this stuff, they piece it together. If they didn’t believe in it to begin with they certainly will now.

An immortal genius banished to the underworld. A brilliant leader, politician, strategic genius, liar, demagogue, master of disguise, sometimes able to change his shape, or at least inhabit new bodies over the years.

Someone who has lead great and terrible empires stretching back into pre-history. Someone who has managed to hide or destroy almost all evidence that they exist. You don’t know what they look like or where they are. You are hired to build a psychological profile of the devil. The face and name may change, but the patterns of behaviour may not, and these could be valuable weakness if you intend to fight him.

 Creating and secreting devil-evidence would be a pleasurable piece of campaign prep I think.

Then, they realise something is wrong. Someone is following their footsteps. Witnesses die in accidents. Sites are smashed, carvings broken, museums burn. You try to warn the people who hired you that the devil is on their trail, but you arrive too late to save them. Then someone starts hunting you.

(The secret is that your employer is the man he hired you to find. He used you to trace all evidence of his existence, then destroyed it behind you. How and when and if the PC’s work this out is up to them)

Campaign Two
Colonisers of the Underdark

Billionaire Underdark-Magellen-wannabe wants to cross a major ocean underground. He needs troops, scholars, porters and Problem Solvers/Scouts.

The expedition has two leaders. The billionaires nephew, a soft-faced Creep. And a HardCase General played by Stephen Lang.

The expedition will be supplied by dwarven mega-drills dropping supply pods at specific points along your journey as specific times. Get there too late and the underdark dwellers will get the stuff, or you will have to fight them for it.

The Creep is laying a series of ‘message transmitters’ during the expedition which can be used to call for help in an emergency. They can only be used once and he will refuse to activate them in anything but apocalyptic circumstances. Only he has the magic doohicky that activates them.

In fact the ‘transmitters’ release a deadly plague that has been created to kill every living thing that has not specifically been inoculated against them. Only he has been inoculated. Billionare bastard guy means to de-populate the Underdark and turn it into a new empire for him only. If this guy ends up in enough trouble, he will use the device to kill everything. Up till that point he will keep you alive as he needs you to get out.

Hardcase General is slowly going insane. You will carve your way through the dark at the head of an army. Half way through, as the supplies get low, he will leave the porters to be consumed. It is evident that this was part of the plan from the beginning. A week after that he will abandon the  scholars at the shore of an underground sea, taking all the rafts. A week after that, the remains of his army will be cornered in the ruins of an abandoned city and crucified by the dwellers of the Underdark.
Of course none of this has to happen, it depends what the players do.

The Adventure

PC’s hired to guard spiritual minded idiots on journey to holy mountain.

Trapped in mountain cave by blizzard mid-way. Snow falling blocks the entrance.

A body. Naked, male and dead.  In the lotus position, facing the light from the entrance.  Normal human, went missing 40 years ago. Has tattooed over his body, by him, his life story, tales of enslavement, adoption and conversion by an underground race. Across his chest, from nipple to nipple ‘my name is Isaac’
Idiots start to go missing. PC’s investigate and find, in order of dept-
-Trail of gold coins, ancient, different kinds from different ages, clearly left in place for many years, evenly spaced, leading into the darkness, very obviously a trap.
- Abandoned idiots gone crazy.
-Bits and pieces of idiots
-Blood sprays on white stone
-Leathered remains of ancient army of famously dangerous warriors, hung and dried above an abyss.
-Undisturbed sand mandalas of deep complexity.
Isaac wasn’t dead. And he’s not on your side.

And all the other bits and pieces I can remember right now

Giant pile of war dead from an awful massacre. PC’s hired to guard the pile as is evidence of terrible crime and may be covered up. Something is disturbing the dead and carrying them away. No tracks. Its burrowing up from below.

Plume of nitrogen from mass grave so thick it kills birds and rots trees. Suffocated investigators. Down helicopters by stopping the engines.

Ancient city, terracotta army. Channels of mercury and phosphorescent stuff. Tall thin tower in the centre. Climb the tower, just enough room for one person to stand up. Meditate without passing out and the mercury and dye lines resolve into a 3d map of the Anticontinent. The earth crust under the ocean, seen from below. Showing the reach of a lost empire.

An archeo-site exposed by a terrorist blast, illegal to investigate but can only do so so long as a war rages around.

A corrupt hospital for the aged poor. A deamon girl who hunts there, chewing the soft tissue from the feet and calves of the terminally ill and bewildered. The girl still less evil than the hospital authorities.

A nation declaring war on hell.

An elevator to the underdark that can drive you insane.
A underground lost city slowly being consumed by flowstone. Obsidian towers breeching the white rock. At its centre, and untranslatable library of forgotten knowledge.

Colonial Underdark frontier towns with arc-light walls. Moneygrubbing wild west miners vying with mutated military personal and warped underclass.

Osteocysts. Going underground for long periods changed your physiology. It poisons you or wakes up old genetics. You grow horns and get generally weird. So if your nation declares war on hell, you end up with a lot of freaky veterans.

Saturday 27 April 2013

You Mekless Knave

I have been inventing a Space Faith for my Space Knight.

I like my space knight. He is a little bit stiff and a little bit shallow. Not much sense of the numinous. This means we have to see brief glimpses of a deep and tragic faith through the casual behaviours of a rather quotidian man who happens to belong to it, which is a nice tension to play.

And when I say inventing I mean I have been trying to come up with cool things to say and got carried away and invented, or deepened and least, a made-up religion. As usual I started writing and just kept going till I ran out.

Pendragon is full of Christianity which is fine and appropriate because it’s Pendragon. Our Pendragon is on Mars, so, as extra faiths we get Mars-Worship, kind of like animist worship of the planet itself, and Ancestor Worship, which I imagine as a bit like Science-Confucianism.

Except our ancestors actually built Mars, it’s biosphere at least. A better excuse for worship. Now they are gone and we remain.

I think whatever happened to western culture after rome fell and we had to walk around for centuries knowing that we could dig art out of the ground that was better anything we could make. Whatever Ibn Khandun means when he talks about the monuments of the ancients and says that 'we cannot even pull down their ruins' to steal the materials. We lack the capacity even to scavenge what they left behind. Whatever that means, whatever it does to a culture to live through that. This would be worse.

I think our symbol looks a bit like this.

So I started with an Oath. It’s always good to oath something.

"Red earth break these bones
Green sea drown this tongue
Black sky and all your stars
Fall forever on Mars
Should I fail this trust
As I live, it shall be done"

Some one-liners for as-and-when swearing stuff.

"By the wounds of science!
By the ancient hand of man!
By the dreaming Fathers of Mars
Sky Mother forgive me
Dreaming Fathers hear me now!
By the Eye of Earth"

Because it is like an eye, visible in the night sky as a distant bright dot in the same way Mars is to us now. Except they know that humanity came from there. And isn’t going back. That’s a lot to think about looking at a light in the sky.

I kind of made Earth the feminine principal in Mar Ancestor worship. The distant cradle.

And sometimes things go very wrong-

"Old ones I beg your forgiveness
I have forgotten your voice
Your music and your sounds
I hear you not
Old ones I beg your forgiveness
I have forgotten your faces
Your colour and your form
I see you not
Old ones I beg your forgiveness
I have forgotten your language
And lost the tongue of your machines
They hear me not
Old ones I beg your forgiveness
I have failed your creation
The field dies in my path
The sea battles the black sky
And the tempest forgets his course
Old ones I beg your forgiveness."

Then for some reason I started thinking about love and marriage. It’s Pendragon after all and the Feudal family unit is your real character.

"Eye of Earth, our mother, our home
You have watched me in your dance
All we are was born of you
Life giver, star-seed, creator of us all
You hang now beyond my reach
Or the reach of my fathers
You made me and guard me
We know you still
The cradle and the hand
The builder of the flesh
Helix-weaver, bone-mason, maker of us all
I turn from you, I must
You are rebuked
Another I have found
Her eye is brighter and more constant
She is with me under sun and stars
Her dance is with me, not the sky
She has re-made me
She is the weaver of my daily thread
My hours, my moods, my silences and calms
She is my architect, she is my design
She is my passage and return
We make anew what made us first
The thread is long"

And then some straight up-curses, to be delivered in whole or part

"I curse you
Enemy of Man and Earth and Mars
You are no true knight
You broke your bond
Your heart is the black between the stars
You failed your Lord
Your voice the hiss of empty frequencies
You failed your blood
Your arm is weak, it’s actuators shake
You mocked your god
Your rounds burn in their barrels
Your missiles hunt like cows
Your beams refract in mist
Your magazines click dry
Outlaw. Tracked scavenger. Footless brigand.
Dustbiting bastard. Mekless knave.
Water-word, honourless man.
You shake the Dreaming Fathers in their sleep!
Your Thane is Chaos
Herald of a Tattered Lord."

Saturday 20 April 2013

Kamikaze Librarian

 Extra class thing based on the LOTFP ruleset. 

The idea and one or two of the entries yanked from Zak Smiths Fighter, Wizard and Thief

Its this-

 Plus this-

No shields, no plate mail, Its Kamikaze Librarian.

 This can be applied when you level up to either .
A Specialist; when you level up add  d6 Hp,  or
A Dwarf; add d6 Hp

And also, roll twice on the table below for each level gained.

(All references to books can also count for equivalent cultural artefacts, paintings, sculpture etc, so long as it makes sense in context.)

(Elves and Halflings cannot be Kamikaze Librarians, they are not Punk enough. Elves are Disco, Halflings are Folk.)

1-15 A dull day out indeed, add 2 skill points if a Specialist, if a Dwarf, either roll a d10 for hitpoints, or add one skill point to any skill of your choice.

16-30 RAAAAAGGGHH!!! Either +1 to hit (continual) or attacks equal to your level for one fight per game or one extra move action whenever you like, so long as you use it to get into melee combat with something bigger than you.

31-50 I have a book on that… Name a book, its contents and subject. You own it. Once per game you can use it to add your level to a roll regarding something relevant to the subject of the book.

51-52 Bookzerker. If a book (or equivalent cultural artefact) is in immediate danger of destruction, then you gain +1 to hit AND +1 attack AND +1 move action for each item that is threatened, up to 1/2 your level (rounding up . So a level 10 bookzerker gets +5 things they can do and can decide each as they wish. Only in effect while the item is in danger. (If you deliberately put it in danger then fucking shoot yourself, don’t play this class.) If you roll this again, add one to your total  of actions each time.

53-54“It belongs in a MUSEUM” Once per fight, as a free action you can grab an item of cultural/historical significance from someone adjacent to you. No roll or penalty. (Significance, i.e.  A Sword, no, but The Sword Of The King Of Tazadun, yes.)  roll this again and on a dex test they didn’t notice, 3 times and they definitely didn’t notice plus you get a free move action.

55-56 Bookclub/ Scrollknife You can roll up any scroll and turn it into an impromptu D4 weapon Jason-Bourne style. A book likewise. A big book you need two hands for becomes a d6 weapon, though that is less of a surprise. If it’s a magic book or scroll then the dice ‘explodes’ on a max roll. Add a die size every time you roll this result.

57-58 ‘Oh..  My… God’  The daVinci Mode. This carving on the wall, detail on the cup, marginal note, the sculptures eyes, concerto’s notation, the temples alignment, THE RAYS COMING FROM THE STAFF. It breaks the whole thing open, now you see what’s really going on. Once per game you can talk for exactly thirty seconds, no more, without pause or prep, about some detail you have found and how it REVEALS EVERYTHING. If the DM and players buy it, then can re-write reality equivalent to a limited wish spell. It must make sense in the context of the game.

59-60 Alexandrian Fire Brigade. You are really good at stopping things (and people) being on fire very very quickly. Books, buildings, city states. It scales up if you have the time and resources.  Roughly one second for a painting or book,  Takes about 10 seconds per man-sized-mass-equivalent. 

61-62 Curatorial Expertise. You can tell when any organised group of physical things is out of place or other than it should be given the system in which it is arranged. Books in a library, statues in a row, paintings in a gallery, knives in a cupboard. There must be five or more things. Time taken to inspect is relative to the size of the grouping. It tells you nothing else about the thing, what it is or why it is there. Not people, unless they are arranged like objects to an abstract logic. The assassin in a dancehall, no, one of the red queens playing-card guards, yes.
63-64 An Angel of Formaldehyde. Give you a jar big enough and a solid place to stand and you could pickle the world. You can pickle any dead once-living thing you find. Assuming you have a jar big enough and the chemicals.  If you take it home, every day of study will grant you some piece of knowledge about the thing. Up to your level. (Base expectation is a vulnerability or a +1 to hit or damage). If you only have part of a thing then it might take you more time or more examinations to works stuff out proportionate to the chunk that you have. As you increase in level you can go back to your old specimens and maybe find new things about them.

65-66 An Axe to Smash the Face of Time.  Time is the enemy of Librarians, a book is a stony dam in the torrent of Lethe, a museum is like the Hoover Dam. If carrying an Axe in Tragic circumstances (i.e. witness to things being subject to inevitable loss) then you may enter a screaming fit and hew your Axe into the face of Chronos. Chronos is currently incarnated,( in the manner of Moby Dick) as the people/things pissing you off at this particular moment. (It’s an Ahab thing). The Axe will wipe their memories. By smashing their fucking brains out of their head. Every blow is to the head of humanoid enemies, d20 damage each time. One fight per game. Add one for each time you roll this. Any survivors suffer amnesia. If you are not carrying an Axe, why not? Not even a small one? A tomahawk? What kind of librarian are you?

67-68 Five Thousand Furies in the Teeth of the Gods. You know the names of 5000 furies from scraping for weeks through broken cuneiform script. Well you sort of know them, you kind of forgot most and they blur a little into one after a while. If you can point at a person (or intelligent monster) and name correctly the thing they have done that would enrage the Kindly Ones then the Fury of that particular act will plunger out of the heavens and fill you with divine rage. So long as you are trying to kill that particular person. Plus (=your level) attacks and plus (=your level) damage for each hit so long as you fight that person. Pass out for minutes =your level after fight is over. Once per game for every time rolled. 

69-70 An oath of bone, and eye of stone. Your word is as a rock, and that rock is for caving skulls. You may single out one opponent whose name you know and describe in sonorous pseudo-celtic or plastic anglo-saxon verse, exactly how you will kill them in this fight. If you score a critical against them in this conflict, and if at all possible, the oath comes true. Once per game per times rolled. 

71-72 Raw Punk Hair. You get a new haircut and it looks punk as fuck. You now stand out as an opponent of Authority. Anyone who has been oppressed by the Man will find it hard to distrust you. Anyone working for the Man will peg you straight on as trouble. (Who the Man is shifts relative to circumstances). Hair effect disappears with skull shaving or a helmet, but reappears once the hair grows back or helmet (or hat) is removed. You will not change the hair. Why would you? +1 CHA to those opposed to authority each roll. No-one suspects you are a narc.

73-74 Sharp Motherfucker.  You look like a detective in an off-kilter tv series, a teacher who reads Vice magazine, a social worker whose sister owns a boutique.  Kind of a low-level vaguely beneficial authority figure who dresses really well. Police will trust you. The mayor likes you shoes. If you ask about the crime scene people will just assume you are supposed to know. You going to that thing later? +1 CHA to authority figures each time, plus no questions at the door. (if you roll both Raw Punk Hair and Sharp Motherfucker then you will confuse the fuck out of people, you can decide how people take you, but you better act the part, you also look amazing).

75-76 Dewy Decimal Deathsong.  As your life bleeds from you, in a flurry of doomstruck blows you categorise the fuck out of everything you can see. Add your WIS and INT modifiers together. When at half hit points or below, you may have this many extra attacks per round, so long as you (the player) shout the category of each individual thing you are hitting as you (the character) swing. Once per game. Plus once for every  time you roll this.

77-78 Flynnsertion. One per fight, as a free action, you can grab a rope or curtain or chain or anything like that and freely swing anywhere it could reasonably take you. If you are swinging into danger, there is no roll involved. If trying to get out of danger, roll your DEX, unless you are carrying a book away from someone who shouldn’t have it. Once per fight every time you reroll this.

78-79lefthanded writer,  just ate lunch, hates his mother’  You can analyse handwriting, ink types, paper scars, all kinds of pseudo forensic bullshit. Reading any piece of handwritten text lets you describe/discover nouns and adjectives equal to your level about the writer. If you get it wrong (if the identity is already set in game) then the DM has to give you the correct word.

80-81 We Have Heard of Those Princes Heroic Campaigns. You remember these guys from somewhere.. When confronted with a high level noble, king, merchant house, church, guild or equivalent you can recall the real story as to where they come from, they source of their power, it rarely what they say it is. The DM must provide any and all information about this family/organisation. The information must be at least 100 years old. Once per game per roll.

82-83 Chomskarian Rhetoric. With an opposed CHA vs WIS roll and a long (an hour at least) conversation, you can use reductive logic, carefully chosen evidence and shocking confidence to  temporarily  convince low level members of any group that EVERYTHNG THEY KNOW IS WRONG. Up is down, black is white, THEY are US. Wears off after a day or so. Once per game per roll.

83-84 Divine Mandala Telephone. Pick a god of knowledge or writing from the setting or from real history. You know them. You don’t necessarily worship them. They don’t necessarily like you or owe you anything. But you know them and can contact them by making a complex mandala of special sand (takes d6 – DEX mod hours and no wind or interruption)

85-90 ‘dammn my eyes’ Your eyes are fucked, you now need glasses to see. Roll this twice and your glasses can see one thing normal glasses can’t (Infrared, ghosts etc) Add one thing for each time you roll this result. Make sure to clean them carefully after each blood-spattered brainbashing.

91 My Axe is my Bookmark. +1 Str to racial max, excess goes to Str or Con.

92 You are the steely-eyed one at the end of the bar. +1 Wis to racial max, excess goes to Int or Cha.

93 Reading pays off. +1 Int to racial max, excess goes to Wis or Cha. Note: You look no smarter.

94 You actually DO know what you’re talking about. +1 Cha. to racial max, excess goes to Wis or Int.

95-96 Cartographers guild party crasher You were at this party, with these map guys, you think, you were pretty drunk. Anyway they had this map that looked a bit like where we are now. Probably…  Player can close their eyes and draw, with pencil, and their off hand, one thing on the DM’s map. It’s probably there, or roughly there. Something like that anyway. Once per game per roll.

97-98 I only read the action scenes You actually read a prophecy about this exact event ages ago somewhere, actually you skipped most of it and you forgot how it ends but the death scenes were really specific. 2+ save against the next thing that would have killed you as you suddenly remember what it was. Of course now the prophecy is useless because you broke it. Once for each reroll.

99-100 Marcus Brody You have a Brody,

 an excellent, decent, civilised, knowledgeable friend at home. They consistently advise you no to go on adventures. They will never (no matter how much the Dm wants them to) betray you. If you make it home wounded or broken they will patch you up. They will look after your stuff while you are not around. If you are captured and they hear about it they will bravely (and stupidly) set out to rescue you. This rescue will, amazingly, considering how utterly useless they are at adventuring, be successful. As soon as you are rescued, the Brody will themselves be captured by someone horrible. Should you fail to rescue them, they will be killed. Who’s going to look after your stuff now you self-centred piece of shit?

And you get this

Another piece for the collection’ You have a place, somewhere, it’s safe. Like a small off the beaten track museum, library or gallery. You can keep your stuff there (reasonably) safe from DM interference. Name it.
For each exhibit of a type (sword, vase, picture, style, era, genre, author, smith.) retrieved and preserved safely by you. Once per game you may assess any item of that type. Roll a percentage dice.

-if the first d10 is under the number retreieved, the price, makup, creator, likely owner and any other mundane information within reason are known.
-if the 2 d10s, taken as a 2-digit number, are lower than the total slain, you know EVERYTHING that may be useful about that item. Including magical effects, strange conspiracies, likelt plot relavence e.t.c

Identicals or multiple mundane examples don't count, max is 90, collected after that just goes to bragging rights at your FLGS.

GMs are free to determine what constitutes a "type", Librarians are free to bore everyone by buying endless books in little second hand shops for no reason just to notch up, and the other players are free to have a little talk with them if they abuse these rights and perhaps should view them doing so as a nice little red flag.