Sunday, June 30, 2024

Worlds of the System

    There are dozens of intelligent species in the System, but only a handful have a significant presence in interplanetary space. Producing spaceships requires the kind of highly-developed orbital heavy industry that few planets possess. 

    (Most) spaceships are moved by chemical rockets which operate by destabilizing metastable metallic hydrogen. This metallic hydrogen is harvested from suspended clouds of particulate in the atmospheres of Eos and Phaethon, two of the System's gas giants. The "mining" procedure is very safe, in modern times, and can be performed almost entirely by unmanned aerostats. Collecting the fuel is what's dangerous — piracy abounds, and an oxygen leak in the fuel-rich atmospheres of the gas giants will result in terrifying firestorms visible from orbit.

    Control over fuel production is control over the System. This has been conclusively demonstrated in the fifteen years since the end of the Second Battery War. At the beginning of the hostilities, Lith and her allies — the Sylvans of Satanazes, the mercenary armies of Koss, the theocrats of Pure and an engineering corps of callow Avian idealists — were opposed by fleets of pirates, rebels, adventurers, mafias, industrial magnates, technological adepts, factions in their own parliament, and the obscure influence of Phobos. The suggestion that fuel production might be entirely annexed and nationalized by one planet inspired strange alliances. Civil conflict erupted even on planets not officially engaged in the Battery War; Lith's brutality in seizing or destroying all foreign stores of fuel, even those in civilian hands, was matched only by their enemies' determination to recover it first. For a time, interplanetary trade was disrupted by the fact that no cargo could be as valuable as the engine that moved it. The capital of Lith was blockaded for two years and its space elevators were sabotaged. Holy sites across Pure were destroyed, some by orbital strikes, others by suicide attacks. Hundreds of stations throughout the System were bombarded by either or both sides. Millions were killed.
    But the Second Battery War could only ever have one outcome. Early supply issues led inexorably to later military catastrophes, and when Lith succeeded in monopolizing production, those who had opposed them found the gates of heaven closed and barred. Fuel is monitored now, and its disbursement tracked. Of course, some slips are still made, despite all of Lith's precautions — piracy abounds, after all, and a small-time operator may grow desperate enough to sell her scrip to a friend with dire need and deep pockets. But the era of the Free System is over. There are no fleets left to check Lith's ambitions. Opposition to the hegemony, where it exists, now takes subtler forms.

Sizes are illustrative; the planets are depicted ~two orders of magnitude larger as a visual aid.


    Ava is a gas dwarf with a rocky surface. Its atmosphere is dense, foggy and cold, but full of volatiles the Avians synthesized into the first rocket fuels. In prehistoric times the members of the Avian species fought for access to higher nests farther up the rocky mesas and pillars which make up the landscape, where their eggs would be protected from shuffling ground-based predators. It's a common evo-psych Just So Story that this behavior is what drove them ever higher, building homes and towers, and eventually ships to take them as high as anyone can go; interplanetary space.
    Avians follow a strict caste system. All Avians are hexapods; those whose third pair of appendages are feathered wings are Scholars, those with bat-like wings are Soldiers, and those with monstrous oversized hands are Servitors (nowadays called Workers due to a social-justice fad sweeping Ava). These traits don't breed true; Scholars have an equal chance of having children who are soldiers or workers. Because of this, Avians do not form biological family units. All Avians are raised by the state.
    Scholar-caste Avians are the largest and (according to the majority opinion of Avian scientists) the smartest. They occupy choice spots in the bureaucracy of Avian governments, and are the most visible caste off of their homeworld. They like to say they have the temperaments of "ambassadors" and "architects", but more accurately they are "meddlers" and "enablers"
    Soldier-caste Avians are the smallest, and since Avians are the smallest space-faring species this makes the soldiers very small indeed. They often serve as pilots of small craft and are by far the most numerous caste off of their homeworld.
    Worker-caste Avians are the strongest, though not as gifted at war or politics as the others. There are just as many workers as any other caste (or more, considering the mortality rates of fighter pilots) but since they rarely leave Ava you wouldn't guess.


    On the topic of "meddlers" and "enablers": when Avians first invented interplanetary travel, they visited every world with a species that could talk and made a simple offer: give them half of the money on the planet, and they will build a space elevator. This led to the First Battery War almost immediately.
    But still, almost every captain in the System has at least one Avian officer. Their intuitive understanding of the dynamics of space travel and the mechanics of a ship's engine make them invaluable additions to a crew.


    Purity is a young and volcanically active terrestrial planet controlled by a theocratic world-government. There's a stark divide between the city-dwellers who submit to the theocracy (and by extension Lith), the wastelanders who are one step from being completely feral, and the space pirates who acknowledge no authority except their god and their guns. The Pure are a little insectile and a little reptilian, with high population variance in types-and-placement-of-limbs. Some have spider legs, some have additional arms, some have bat wings, some have clawed pedipalps.
    Their god, Pure, is the six-armed guardian of the Gates of Death and judge of mortal souls. In one hand he holds a toothy spear and in another a barbed lash, in a third the keys to Hell, in a fourth a lantern whose light reveals honest men, in a fifth the great and heavy book where your sins are recorded, and with a sixth he turns its pages of smoking brass. Fond of fighter-pilots and infantry. Hates snipers and landlords. Pilots of all species wear his symbols as lucky charms.

Lucky Charms

    Lith's state religion is the Communion of Measure, or the Compassers, depending on your translation. They have accepted and absorbed the gods of other worlds, though they renamed them after their planets in the process. The gods obviously favor Lith over their own people, and a wise businessman never misses an opportunity to capitalize on a positive relationship.
    Non-Lithians are not as eager to adopt the mores and tenets of other cultures. The one general exception to this rule is the god Pure. All spacers are afraid of "dying cold" — to run out of food, out of air, to be pinned under rubble or impaled on flotsam and die of thirst, to bleed out slowly, or (the unnameable terror) to float off into the dark with no tether, no radio, no jets, in a suit topped up with oxygen, and nothing at hand sharp enough to cut your tubes, or sturdy enough to break your faceplate. Superstitious spacers wear Pure's octagram and hope it guarantees them a hot death.


    Satanazes is an unmapped and untamed world. Woses, the males of the dominant species, are obligate carnivores, in that they are obligated to eat animals: when they see an animal, they eat it, even if that animal says "wait please I'm an ambassador I just want to talk please aah". The only creatures that Woses don't immediately reflexively attack are the Sylvans, the females of their species. When circumstances demand that they communicate with others, they do so through the intermediary of their many wives. When circumstances demand that they communicate in person, they show up wearing Scary Attack Dog gear with sturdy chains their wives hold like zeppelin anchors (picture a conversation with a bus-sized tiger that tries to jump on you every few words, held back by half a dozen catgirls). Lithians occasionally try to Weyland-Yutani an adolescent for scientific study, an endeavor with a 100% catastrophe rate.
    As for the Sylvans, at birth there are roughly three of them for every Wose, but as the males grow to adulthood, establish territories, and fight each other for status that ratio increases to more than 10:1. The Woses simply can't keep up with the demand, and so many Sylvans seek both employment and romance off-planet. Many Lithians have problematic attitudes about them.

Painted Tongue

    The Sylvans have a complex tradition of body modification and decoration, which in these days of interplanetary travel has both spread to and been influenced by the other worlds of the System. Piercings, especially facial piercings, are unsuited for spacesuits and breathing tubes, so many Sylvans have brightly-colored but meaningless tattoos splitting their lips or brows, or across the alars of their nose. They think little of clipping their own ears to better fit their helmets — Sylvans heal rapidly, even from serious disfigurements.
    Those who wish to be genuinely outre (which is most Sylvans) must go to more drastic lengths: false teeth of gold or surgical steel or black ceramic, auxiliary lenses, needles of magnetized neodyme in the fingertips, carbon filament knitting sheathing the ribs. A symbolically important modification, rarely imitated by other species, is what Sylvans call umineko: to gnaw off the tip of one's own trigger finger, declawing it, and making it possible for them to handle guns designed for other species.


    The Koss homeworld is a freezing ocean planet. They were a happy, peaceful people once; tubby walrus-frogs well-suited for their place in the ecosystem, content to swim and sing and live off of kelp and anchovies for a million years more. When the Lithians noticed how big and brawny they were, and beamed them up, and taught them how to make war, the Koss discovered that they were good at fighting. They enjoy it so much that the majority of Koss adults off-world are employed as shock troopers and policewomen to this day.


    One half of a Koss contract slightly resembles a vacuum tube, though the low-density nacreous boron ceramic (LNB) shell is much more durable than glass or wire. Mated, the two halves reveal fine-detail legalisms, which typically begin with the religious formula "It appears that she who bears the one part of me owes five years" (or whatever length) "of armed service to whosoever bears my other part, howsoever it be obtained". The Koss regard these trinkets with fatal seriousness. Treasure-troves of legend often include the "rash boon", a contract of indefinite length promising the bearer arbitrary service from a hero, though this practice is not historically attested. 


    Lith is a desert planet very close to a powerful star. The biosphere is limited, and irritable. Lithians themselves are horned and bat-faced humanoids with long gangly arms and stubby powerful legs. Their skin is slightly-luminescent lavender in the visual range, and mirror-bright in higher EM bands. None of this is important information; what matters is that they won the Second Battery War, and the System is theirs.


    Lith's enormous industrial capacity is sometimes tapped to support grand Parliamentary hazards. Some are moderately successful, though rarely to the degree promised, and never enough to justify the enormous cost in blood, treasure, and the time of engineers.

  • Emitter Bloc
        A swarm of power-collecting nodes orbits the sun closely; each of these sends a beam of directed energy up to the swarm of control nodes which orbit the sun at a distance; these in turn direct powerful masers and lasers towards innumerable reflectors, retransmitters, beam expanders, radio arrays, and both manned and unmanned deepwater installations. The Lithians use the Bloc to secure and obscure communication. Recently (or not so recently — secret projects are hard for outsiders to keep track of) they have even begun using it as a form of propulsion for stealth probes, which can be precisely maneuvered by limited bursts of energy caught in retractable sails. If you had the correct access codes, and a compatible sail, you could use this system to travel anywhere in the System you wanted, at impossible speeds, using no fuel, while remaining no more conspicuous than any piece of lifeless space-junk.
        The notion that the Bloc could be used to destroy a planet is, of course, absurd. The energy requirements, the wear and tear on components, the fact that the planet-destroying beam would have to be bounced off of a series of large mirrors — impossible. But you should still try to avoid driving your ship into one of those emissions.
  • Mechanical Intelligence
        Sailors tell tall-tales of machine-minds going insane and turning against their masters. The engineers who build the devices know this is a fundamental misunderstanding. A "mechanical brain" is nothing like a brain; it has no volition and no agency. It is a clockwork device to calculate orbital trajectories, intersection ranges, and other matters which would be slow and imprecise for a (non-Avian) pilot to calculate by hand. It can only turn against its masters in the way of all machines: by failing, like a jammed gun or a leaking oxygen tube.
        Still, Parliament dreams of a machine-mind that can not only calculate but decide what must be calculated. Then the grim-faced Avian engineers would be made obsolete. Perhaps Lith would be able to exploit Ava's greatest secret: the Sewing Drive, which allowed Avian freedom-fighters of the Second Battery War to cross the System faster than transmissions that warned of their approach.
        The engineers, for their part, have never provided such a machine.
  • Company Loyalty
        The B.S.L. Hand That Feeds is a research vessel in orbit around one of Satanazes' dead moons. Two years ago they began experimenting with a new non-invasive transcranial magnetic procedure on their stock of Woses. Their first few attempts led only to aneurysms, partial lobotomies and fatal grand mals, but yesterday they had a breakthrough: if a certain portion of the amygdala can be targeted and electronically destroyed, the Wose loses its hostility to non-Sylvan life. There appear to be no other side-effects of the procedure.
        The lab crew are now split, evenly, on the question of what they should do with this knowledge. But how can there be an argument against applying it to the entire male population of Satanazes? The primary cause of mortality among Woses is death at the hands of another Wose. Surely, say one half of the team, this treatment is as ethically straightforward as a cure for cancer — or for suicidal impulses, if you prefer. There's no moral value to being brutally murdered by an apex predator, no matter how romanticized or natural your life might have been.


    Phobans [or Phoebans, my notes disagree] come from Phobos [or Phoebe, ditto], a debris field orbiting the dead twin of the System's sun at an extraordinarily far distance. Their homeworld's star was stillborn, deprived of essential stellar material at birth and ripped apart in the formation of the System
    The Phobans are used to darkness, crushing gravity-shocks, and the near-silence of trace atmosphere. When they visit other worlds they wear protective, concealing garments, and speak very little through the medium of crackling radio.
    They have hated the Lithians since they met them. Phobos is the sole polity of the System which never officially agreed to the armistice which ended the First Battery War, though hostilities ended generations ago. It takes months or years to reach Phobos by rocket, and dozens of hours to contact it by radio.


    A spaceman who visits enough far-flung stations will see symbols repeated in unlikely places. Even in the high, high wilderness, out past Phaethon, you'll see the tags, badges and seals of the same distant gangs, regiments and academies painted on the walls or chipped into the paint.
    One motif is the "midnight sun", a yellow disc on a black field. For those who can put aside the victories and defeats, the profit and the loss, it symbolizes the freedom Lith promises: freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom of self-expression — nothing like the freedom of the Free System. It might appear in a rewinding station to mark the speakeasies of the counter-revolutionaries, or on a mining base to show the way to a supply cache, or it might be found on a distant asteroid, a hundred million miles from Lith, over a mass grave.
    For their part, the Phobans hate the symbol (and for this reason it's sometimes used as nothing more than an expression of anti-Phobos sentiments). They have no fondness for the Sun. It's no brighter than any other stellar object in their homeworld's sky, certainly not bright enough to dispel the permanent gloom, or disperse the clouds of carbon dust which shield the surface from the hateful stars.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Kissing Death's Mouth (Class: Contender)

Better off shedding your own blood on the ground
Than shedding your self-respect on a court's floor.
Better off worshiping foul idols than a man.
That is my teaching. Heed it and endure.

        - Gorgani

    This is a hack of Locheil's excellent Duelist. At the end of the post I was challenged to come up with five new styles. Well, by the time I got around to it everyone had already invented all the good styles already. So we'll take things in a different direction: kungfu. I like the model of "monk" I used in the 5e Monk conversion. Let's take elements of that class and create something new.

I was looking thru DeviantArt to find a good picture for this post, but it's all AI slop nowadays. Crazy times we're living in. Anyway, I got to thinking, "I don't need someone's poorly-generated image of a judo woman foot pic, I need some cool kungfu movie shit," so here it is. Badass.

    Campaign premise: There are 6,524 spaces available in Heaven. Once a generation, there is a brutal competition to determine the greatest living kungfu master. The winner contests with each master already in Heaven, starting from the bottom, working his way up. Some of your teachers are up there, or your teachers' teachers.

    Those who train to win the right to challenge Heaven are called the contenders. In the years leading up to the competition, contenders wander the whole world, seeking adventure, friends, experience, lost scrolls of forbidden techniques, and all the other things that make life worth living.

Here's my "grappling procedure". We're operating under the assumption that when you are "grappling" with somebody, you don't have them in a headlock on the ground (if you did the fight would already be over), but rather, you're all up in their business, standing in their 5' square, generally being a nuisance.

Class: Contender

    You're a student of kungfu, who wanders the earth seeking to becoming the greatest martial artist of your generation. If you are successful you will be given the chance to earn immortality and immortal glory. Even if you're unsuccessful, you're sure to go down as a legend, or at least a cautionary tale.

    As a contender, you may wear light or medium armor, and use kungfu weapons such as staves, nunchuks, cool katanas &c.

Skills: 1. Police investigation 2. International diplomacy 3. Humble farmwork
Starting Equipment: Gi, headband (color of your choice), fingerless gloves, footwraps, unfortunate haircut, and 2 goofy kungfu weapons (see list at the bottom of this post)
  • A Vigor, Chi, Style, Extra attack per round, +1 to-hit
  • B Like a Monkey, +1 to-hit
  • C Channing, Extra attack per round, +1 to-hit
  • D Like a Dragon, +1 to-hit

    While not wearing armor, you add [level]+2 to your AC, representing your dashing charm, fancy footwork, and cool kungfu stance. If you're hobbled, sunk in mud or tied up, you don't get this bonus.
    When you reduce someone to 0 hitpoints, you can choose to non-lethally embarrass them — for example:
  • Clap a paper-mache dragon head over their entire upper torso
  • Trip them so they fall through drywall 
  • Kick a spinning broom into their legs 
  • Smack 'em with a ladder
  • Throw them down a staircase
  • Kick 'em in the balls so they stand stiff with wide eyes and fall down
  • &c and so forth
    This removes them from combat in a kind of "Chan Ka Kui bowled that guy offscreen and he's no longer a problem" way, and onlookers and guards like it a lot more than you maiming people.
    All contenders have a pool of chi which they use to fuel their kungfu. This chi takes up slots in your inventory like exhaustion; just like exhaustion, you take a point of damage if something would occupy the same slot. When you take an hour to calmly and silently meditate (nigh impossible to do in a city), you may fill as many inventory slots with chi as you wish.
    You may spend a point of chi to: leap 20' horizontally, reduce incoming weapon damage by 1d6, treat a fall as if it was 10' shorter, upgrade an unarmed attack to deal 1d6 plus your highest modifier damage (it's your job to explain why intelligence makes you punch better but it shouldn't be hard. You're a smart kid), make a pair of unarmed attacks immediately after making any other attack, or whatever cool shit you can get your DM to permit. You may only spend as much chi in a round as you have [templates] as a contender.
    Pick one of the Styles from the end of this post. You know two of its techniques, stances or lessons; your choice in whatever combination you like. Each time you gain a level of contender or spend a season training, you learn two new techniques, stances or lessons from any Style you know. Learning a new Style requires a season of tutelage and study, usually under a master, but perhaps from an ancient scroll or a talking waterfall or something.
    Techniques are active moves that replace or improve an attack. Using a technique against intelligent enemies costs a point of chi for each time you've done so in the current fight, since it takes more skill and power as they grow wise to your tricks.
    Stances are passive and have constant effects. You can only be in one stance at a time, but you may change your stance at the beginning of each round in combat.  
    Some styles might have lessons, which are permanent changes to your character that may be useful in combat or outside of it.
Like a Monkey
    You are very physically fit. You can keep your balance perfectly while running, jump your own height from standing, slide down banisters without falling over, pull yourself up by your fingertips, climb anything it’s possible for a human to climb free-handed, and do sick backflips.
    If someone uses all of their attacks against you and does no damage, they are stunned for a round.
Like a Dragon
    Your damage is doubled versus enemies with fewer HD than you.

Parable of the Tiger and the Heron

    Many years ago two brothers, the Tiger and the Heron, argued over who was the better hunter.
    The Heron said: "My technique is perfect. I stand in the sun, motionless, until prey approaches; then I strike. I wait until victory is certain and so I am always successful. That makes me the better hunter".
    The Tiger said: "Nothing escapes me except what I allow. When I see something I want to kill, I kill; when I see something I want to eat, I eat. I walk in the dark forests freely, because nothing in the darkness is more terrible than a tiger. That makes me the better hunter".
    Because they couldn't decide who was correct, the Tiger and the Heron agreed to use the other's tactics for a year, to see for themselves which was better. This was a dangerous time to be alive.

Ψ - Bronze Tiger

    Students of this school train for both control and power. They perch on pillars like the statues their school is named after for days on end to practice stillness, and strike hard objects — first trees, later stones — to thicken their knuckles and increase their strength. Devoted study so damages the hands of Bronze Tigers that their fingers no longer close; this is called "gaining your bronze paws" and none are considered masters of the style until this happens. They rarely use weapons.
  1. Stance: Pillar-Form Body
    Your skin shines like metal. When an enemy attacks you, each of their damage dice come up as 1.
  2. Technique: Steady Hands
    You may meditate for up to [level] rounds before using this technique. For each round spent meditating, your next blow rolls damage an additional time and adds it to the total (e.g. if you spent one round meditating, and hit someone for 1d6+2, you hit them for 2d6+4 instead)
  3. Stance: One-Legged Silhouette
    A creeping dread fills the hearts of those who wish you ill. The first time someone attacks you in this stance, you drop out of it and immediately attack them first. 
  4. Lesson: Growing Lethargy
    You may fall asleep instantly in any position, and you wake already leaping to strike. Your fists damage doors, chains and other obstructions as if they were sledgehammers.

Ψ - Umbra Heron

    Students of this school wear dark clothing over their entire body. Mottled patterns and silhouette-disrupting ribbons and feathers make them hard to see until they are near. Their school teaches indirect methods of attack and defense; it is said that the Umbra Herons would be more famous if they were less effective, because their enemies often die before realizing whose path they have crossed. Their favored weapons are the garotte, the blowgun, and the concealed blade.
  1. Technique: Reaching Shadow
    Weapons in your hands are longer than they first seem. When you miss an attack, you may immediately reroll it.
  2. Technique: Striped Shadow
    While in darkness, you may declare that you have disappeared. At will, you may step out of the darkness, or you may come leaping out of it to attack a target who isn't holding a light source.
  3. Stance: Flock of Friends
    Everyone within one kilometer sees fluttering shadows moving rapidly on the edge of their vision. Mooks (NPCs without names or class levels) and animals check morale to approach you. 
  4. Technique: Stalking the Midnight Forest
    When a creature you see takes damage from a physical object, you may declare that at some point you had secretly applied a dangerous contact poison to that object. They take an additional 1d8 damage.

Parable of the Strong and the Weak

    Many years ago an army of bandits threatened a town in the mountains. Facing engines of war and bristling armaments, the villagers gave themselves up as lost. Then the greatest contender of that generation, Agafya the Inert, appeared. She sublimated the chief with one blow, then tore through the rest, opening up flesh and crushing bones until not one was left alive.
    Before she left a young man approached her to ask how he could become as strong. Agafya tore a heavy iron wheel off an engine and gave it to him, saying "Strike this until your hands break, let them heal, and continue striking. Repeat this until you're strong enough to rip the wheel in half". But she was only joking, because she didn't believe he had the moral strength to become a contender.

Ψ - Iron Wheel

    A common-blooded school, developed by a rice farmer at the behest of the Bronze Tiger who saved his village. It lacks the storied histories of other schools, but nevertheless its students have a reputation for incredible physical feats and a willingness to endanger themselves. They wield iron-capped staves or snatched-up farming implements.
  1. Stance: Trembling Strength
    You are never visibly weakened or exhausted in this stance, no matter your condition. Add your [level] to your AC and to-hit.
  2. Stance: Machined Blows
    Your movements are regular like clockwork, each more perfect as the last. For every successful attack you've made this combat, you deal 1 point of extra damage.
  3. Technique: Kinetic Capacitator
    For one round, you have 30 strength.
  4. Technique: Superior Spring
    When you strike a target, throw them 20' backwards.

Ψ - Cruel Animal from Hell

    This style was developed by the Kings of the Unfinished World. Kings are great, but their enemies are many. You don't need a martial art to defeat someone half your size; Cruel Animal from Hell is a martial art for defeating four or five someones half your size. How best to use your advantage to subvert and overcome theirs?
  1. Technique: Sharp Reply
    Take a full turn immediately, ignoring initiative order and the preparation of your enemy.
  2. Stance: Mirror Plate
    When you have someone grappled, and you are struck by an attack, you may make a MOVE check against that attack's to-hit. If you beat it, the grappled character receives the attack instead of you.
  3. Technique: Strong Fingers
    If you land a critical, tear out your targets eyes. They roll off-screen screaming and bleeding, and their friends check morale.
  4. Technique: Head Cracker
    If you have someone grappled, you may throw them up to 10' as an attack. If the attack is successful, the grappled creature and the target both take 1d6 damage and fall to the ground in a tangle. If you miss, the grappled creature falls to the ground anyway.

Ψ - Lizard Silat

    A simple style which deemphasizes striking and the use of weapons, and instead turns its entire focus to locking, holding, clinching, tearing and twisting and crushing. A common form of training for the students of Lizard Silat is to float face-down in water like a corpse, which in theory trains their brain to require less oxygen. If a fight comes down to two contenders throttling one another, as it often does when this style is involved, the winner will be the one who doesn't need to breathe.
  1. Technique: Clipped Tendons
    When you beat someone in a grappling check, they take the difference in your two rolls as damage as you brutally yank and twist their joints out of socket. 
  2. Stance: Boiling Oil Ujian
    The great king of Lizard Silat, the crocodile, demonstrates that you do not need functioning hands to master grappling — and pain is merely pain. While in this stance, you may escape or take control of a grapple by taking 1d6 points of strength damage, and you may escape or take control of a pin by breaking one of your arms. 
  3. Lesson: Great King of the Riverbank
    The little birds trust you, and will fly down and land on your head and share gossip about the goins-on of the world. If you ever hurt a little bird, for any reason, you lose this lesson forever.
  4. Technique: Sacred Jaws
    While in this stance, your teeth are an unarmed, massive weapon.

1d6 Goofy Kungfu Weapons:
  1. Pair of Nunchuks. Light weapons, but you may add your dexterity bonus to to-hit and damage. If you roll a nat 1 you bonk yourself on the head and the perineum simultaneously, dealing normal weapon damage.
  2. Pair of Sais. Light weapons. If a melee attack roll hits your AC exactly, you catch the weapon, and may make an opposed MOVE check to tear it out of your opponent's hand.
  3. Katana. A medium weapon that uses wisdom bonus in place of strength.
  4. Meteor Hammer. A heavy weapon with 15' of reach, but deals medium damage to targets at 10' and light damage at 5'.
  5. Set of ten Throwing Stars. Can be thrown 20' for 2 damage. Stack 10 to a slot.
  6. Horse-Killing Spear. Massive, and very very long.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

20 Soulslike Bosses

In imitation of a friend of the blog.

Source: Solid City, by Paul Klee

  1. Wretched Mockery
    Two identical statues, wrought images of your g_d, joined ankle to ankle, wrist to wrist, crooning in a twin voice, "Don't you recognize me? I've been thinking about you every day I've been gone."
  2. Hellbreaker Refugee
    He killed the sailors who pulled him from the sea, and the beachcombers who found his wreck, and soldiers who came to investigate the strange lights and song. There is no crime he would not stoop to, because there are no punishments left to menace him, save that which he is already sacrificing everything and everyone to flee. 
  3. Incurious Manufactory
    Every conversation with him went poorly. Everything had to be about light; its properties, its influence, its limits. In a world like ours, men so devoted to knowledge should count themselves lucky if they are ever allowed to die.
  4. Ten Lords Aulus
    His arguments proved conclusively that his neighbors owed him enough koku to feed a city, a suit beyond the dreams of avarice. He was left a fraction when they walled him in his own granary — a large fraction, yes, but surely, surely, not enough to feed him for all these years.
  5. Heinke, Oubliette Crawler
    "What a fine piece!" Heinke said to himself, "and they just left it down here? Perhaps my employers don't even know what they've got..."
  6. Horse-Faced Serpent
    The horses of Icorn are as large as houses, and mightier than ships. But not every behemoth that basks in the sunlight and snaps up crocodiles in its jaws is a horse.
  7. Sporulating Army
    "And what of the spiders who lived under that hill, the kindly ones who would weave clothing for the poor, and lived only on the potherbs and the mushrooms they grew in their caves, and would not even drink blood?"
    "They found that there is more in the dark than men have forgotten, and that not all of creation is a kindness."
  8. Gutter-Born Kensei
    He has it — the power — the madness. Look in his eyes. Sometimes they glow with light like gold that burns.
  9. Zedek the Cupbearer
    Once there was a good servant, and he was so beautiful that his master placed him in the heavens so he would be admired for all time. But beauty fades, and gratitude fades, and heaven is a cold and lonely place where it is not lit by the stars. 
  10. The Glorious Compact
    They swore with blood and ink that they would each discover a great secret, and each would share his discovery with his brothers, and so together they would know all things. But if they all meant to keep that promise, why does each member of this ring of dancers have a knife stuck in the back of his neighbor? 
  11. Braquemard, Author of the Lilac Sutra
    In the days when the Aeshe (pbuh) traveled between the cities, preaching the Way, he had many followers. Some recorded his teachings, even those they didn't understand. You don't need to understand the Way to master it. The wicked, the greedy, the arrogant; the Great Sage came to instruct them as well.
  12. Seven-Faced Nurhage
    What hot shame the seventh apprentice must have felt! To hear your master say "You have the skill, and you have the knowledge, but you lack the beauty to share in my immortality", ah! 
  13. Headless Oksana
    Wise ones say that the dead did not always rise from their graves, as they do now. Does that mean there was some night, after the end of the old order, before the beginning of the new, where a murderer might have been punished by his own hidden crime? 
  14. Alive, son of Awake
    Do you say to yourself, "I am the inheritor of the world, I am descendant of Ka"? But G_d could create descendants of Ka from these very trees. You are not safe, even on a far isle, hidden from the rest of mankind. You may not even be alone.
  15. Emperor's Librarian
    "Live unknown if you would realize your ends.
    Follow the advice of your common sense.
    Good men are their own worst enemies.
    Oblivion is the reward of merit.
    In all the world, good and evil,
    joy and sorrow, are in fact
    only aspects of the void."
  16. Magalis, Lunatic Poet
    To eyes that see only shades of light, the moon is a dark stone, moving along the ringing grooves of the firmament. But if your eyes could discern lumines of dark you would see a beauty that was hidden even from the g_ds. Don't meet her gaze.
  17. Thief of Joy
    "Passed from hand to bloody hand, until it reached mine. What else besides a cursed sword could have driven me to do these things? You have to believe me, it whispers, I'm not just another innocent victim. Kill me! Let it end, I've done nothing wrong! But when I'm dead, you have to promise... you have to promise you'll take it from my body" 
  18. Sunblind Zamburakchi
    An army set out one autumn morning to see if the lands to the North were full of gold. The rest of their story is long, and hardly worth recounting. Did their loyalty to their commanders extend beyond the border? Did the locals welcome armed strangers warmly? Are the streets of This paved with gold? What do you think? 
  19. Royal Death Weasel
    Fed on the finest sweets. Shampooed every day. Wrapped in silk pajamas. Then there were tunnels dug beneath every room, for the weasel. Then there were hasty graves dug in the palace cellars, for the missing servants. And still it grew.
  20. Cage, 50 Yarrow Stalk Composer
    "Lightning is born from heaven, music is born from the stars." The audience shifts and mutters. "Hierarchy is the nature of the world, music is the nature of time." Someone works a hand free, and tries to pull the hood from their face.

Monday, April 29, 2024

A Rough Sort (Trio of GLOG Classes)

    Got a couple of classes rattling around in my brain. Thought I'd publish them here, so at least someone might get use out of them.

"Chocolate"! AI generated, with a watermark from some sleazebaggianos... and yet, still "chocolate".

    The Thieves World series consisted of sword-and-sorcery anthologies of stories written by some of the most influential fantasists of the 70s and 80s (including the never-more-than-just-out-of-frame Marion Zimmer Bradley). They were mostly pretty terrible books, containing mostly pretty terrible stories — at best, they reach the height of "pastiches of Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith" and at the worst they're about the unshakeable love between an author-insert and a prepubescent. I've read the first two out of twelve collections, and there have already been 3 or 4 stories where a man infiltrates a wizard's house by sneaking in through the hidden escape route backwards (like in Rogues in the House, January 1934, a story worth reading). But I take real joy in crummy, crime-ridden fantasy cities, and because my current weekly game has taken the party to one (and stuck them there for a good while) I've been scaring up brain-fodder.

    The connections between Thieves World and 1980s fantasy tabletop gaming is obvious, worth discussing, and has been discussed elsewhere in long essays and shit. Go read those if you're interested; I'm only here to post some classes.

    I suppose I have one thought to share with you, a bit of Theory before the content. A common thread in the GLOG is the idea that the class is the primary medium by which the player understands the world. Vivanter has a post about class selection as the way players signal what kind of game they want to play. I couldn't find this post in time for publishing, but I've read some good posts (possibly from Grognardia?) about how Jack Vance and other sword-and-sorcery authors used throw-away references to strange peoples, secret cults and far-off lands to good effect, giving the impression that their worlds were much broader and deeper than they probably were.
    Here's that thought I promised you, reader: you don't need to write any "lore" or "setting info". You don't need a timeline, and you hardly ever need a map (unless the map is cool). The classes can speak for themselves. In Thieves World each new weird guy — Shadowspawn the witch-blood burglar; Tempus the murderously sociopathic avatar to a host of gods; Lythande the magical pedophile (written by Marion Zimmer Bradley); many more — expands and deepens the setting exponentially. Just come up with good ideas! That's all you need!

    "Nobody knows how big Sanctuary [the city which the stories are set in] really is. Anytime any one of us needs a secret meeting place we just create one – Sanctuary is either very large or very cramped." - Lynn Abbey, author, co-editor of Thieves World

Wizard School: Three Primes

    When several factors beloved by the Lord of the Three Primes align in the life of a soon-to-be acolyte (among them the loss of all family ties, a certain bloodless interest in the human body, and a talent for dark magic), then the Black Book of Sal-Carrion may appear to them, bound in soft, creamy hide, lettered in red ink. Its secrets are cruel, and difficult to believe — but if you have the inclination, surely it wouldn't be so hard to disprove them.

Perk: By your education, dress and manner of speech you are recognized as a gentleman-medico. You're permitted to enter places that are usually forbidden to wizards, adventurers, or common surgeons. Highly-placed people trust your judgment, and seek your advice in emergencies. 
Drawback: Peasants and children makes a reaction check when they realize what you are. They may attempt to ward you off with an apple. 
  1. Once per disease you are infected with, you may attempt to pass it to another person who fails a save.
  2. When you spill blood, you may choose to have it disappear before it touches the ground.
  3. Given a bird and a windup toy, you may make one windup bird with 10 minutes of work.
  1. Abstemious Supply
    R: touch T: see description D: permanent
    The caster passes their hand over a target not produced or previously affected by this spell, revealing [best] extra doses, portions or slots of...
    1MD: any food or drink...
    2MD: or poison or drug...
    3MD: or potion or magical ingredient...
    4MD: or small creature or object. 
  2. Dirty Needle
    R: self T: n/a D: until dismissed
    Caster draws a light epee +[dice] from thin air. Those struck by the blade save v. disease or contract one of the following at random: blinding sickness, bubonic plague, cackle fever, filth fever, leprosy, mindfire, red ache, shakes, or slimy doom.
  3. Ant Haul
    R: touch T: creature D: [sum] hours.
    [dice] copies of the creature appear. They follow the original in a long line, mimicking its actions, and carrying its burdens.  If slain, or at the end of the duration, the copies curl up into a dry little ball. Each corpse may be boiled into 1 ration of unpleasant soup.
  4. Carrion Compass
    R: touch T: corpse or undead creature of [dice] HD or fewer D: [sum] miles
    Caster touches a part of the target, traditionally an organ or bone, and it begins to levitate. If the target was a corpse, their piece begins to slowly levitate towards the person they would most blame for their death (if murdered, this is typically their killer). If the target is an undead, their piece begins to slowly levitate towards its controller; if they had no controller, the piece levitates towards their resurrector; if raised as undead by some curséd tomb or battlefield or artifact instead of a necromancer, the piece levitates towards some curséd tomb or battlefield or artifact; if none of these things are the case, or if they were the case but the controller/resurrector/curséd tomb has been slain or destroyed, the piece burns to ash. 
  5. Face of the Devourer
    R: touch T: creature D: [sum] minutes
    Target's face gains a hideous new shape, such as a half-melted visage with insect legs instead of teeth, seeping pits instead of eyes, and suckered tongues dangling from its misshapen mouth. The face is different every time this spell is cast. This spell does not interfere with the target’s senses or breathing, though it might prevent the target from speaking. The face is so horrible that it triggers a morale check with a [dice] penalty in any creature who looks upon it, including the target if they glance in the mirror. When dealing with outsiders, the face instead grants a reaction bonus equal to [dice]. Additionally, the target gains a medium bite attack for the duration.
  6. Know the Enemy
    R: sight T: creature of [sum] HP or fewer D: instant
    Choose a target within range. Learn [dice] relevant facts about them (of the kind appropriate for Assassins, Monster Hunters or Gumshoes) instantly.
  7. Furious Rat
    R: n/a T: n/a D: see description
    Caster summons a rat with [sum] hitpoints and [dice] levels in Berserker to their hand. Once the rat is flung, it's go time.
  8. Placebo Effect
    R: touch T: injured or sick creature D: one day
    Caster mutters some mumbo-jumbo and target "heals" up to [sum] hitpoints and [dice] injuries, fatal wounds or diseases. All damage the target takes is doubled for the duration of the spell, or until they have received a total of [sum] damage (before doubling). Every time the target takes damage, a random injury, fatal wound or disease reasserts itself. 
  9. Woundweep
    R: 30' T: an injured creature D: instant
    Target saves or takes as much damage as they are already missing from their max HP (e.g. a creature at 6/9 hitpoints is now at 3/9 hitpoints). This process is excruciating. The damage cannot directly kill the target, but if it reduces them to 0 hitpoints they must check constitution or fall unconscious from the pain, and if they have sustained any injuries they must again check constitution or suffer that injury a second time.
  10. Retained Foreign Object
  11. Revolution
  12. [data not found]

Barbarian: Cloudskater

    Tall, thin, broad-browed, blue-eyed strangers come migrating in silk-tented hordes every few years. You don't see them much before dusk. They'll do most things for pay. They're barbarians, of course, but not the common kind, if common kinds there be. 

Skills: 1. Love songs 2. Siege engines 3. Armory maintenance
Starting Equipment: boltcutters (as medium, but must be used in two hands), blue lantern, crescent harp, silver medallion
  • A Little Shadow
  • B Close Encounter
  • C Memory of Drums
  • D Round Worlder
Little Shadow
    Your wear a silver medallion around your neck, which is a token of the Moon's love for you and of the protection she has granted your people. So long as you never show this token to her jealous lover, the Sun, your jump distance is trebled and you take only 1d6 points of damage for every complete 30' you fall. Should you fail to conceal the token, by mistake or malice, you lose this benefit and gain the ire of the Sun. His light will burn you like fire. This continues until you create or obtain a replacement token made from at least 1 slot of silver that has never been touched by sunlight
    While you are raging, your jump distance increases by a factor of 10, and you take 1d6 points of damage for every complete 100' you fall. Additionally, you may only fall 100' per round. 

Close Encounter
    You can spend a point of Rage to cause a willing person, or a roughly person-sized object, to rise into the sky on a beam of light. It is trivial to move out of the way of the light, so unwilling persons must first be pacified. Later, you can spend a point of Rage to cause that person or object to descend from the sky in the same manner. 9-in-10 that the same one comes down as went up. 4-in-6 odds nothing really weird has happened. 

Memory of Drums
    Every night you dream of war in heaven. Your visions are of ships of blue glass rigged with silver wire and morning mist, swords that burn, warriors slain without a touch by air too cold to breathe, bows and lances of light, starry horns blowing silent signals, and other beautiful things no one else can understand. In your waking hours you possess a sourceless knowledge of how to build, maintain and use inexplicable devices.
    Each inexplicable device has a cost in materials (listed generically, generally available in a city or a relevant workshop) and in sourceless knowledge. You have 1 point of sourceless knowledge per level. Every time you sleep, you may reinvest and redistribute any amount of sourceless knowledge, though your devices will quickly fail without your constant upkeep. 
Inexplicable Devices:
  1. Lightning Sling.
    Cost: 10x polearm, 1 sourceless knowledge.
    This inexplicable device resembles a bident with a crescent-shaped buttspike and two toothed blades, each canted about 30° off from where a single blade would be. A cumbersome massive weapon, capable of devastating scything blows, with significant reach. If held from the bottom with one hand in the crescent, the Sling may project a 20' thunderbolt that catches metallic objects and either violently pulls or explosively pushes them. May be used to grapple with armored targets at range, or to pick up medium or heavy swords (or other all-metal weapons and objects) and fling them 60'. 
  2. Lamplighting Knife.
    Cost: 10x sword, 1 sourceless knowledge.
    This inexplicable device resembles a rainmaker with a textured rubber exterior, about ten inches long and an inch in diameter. It rattles pleasantly when shook because it is full of lead pellets. When sharply flicked, as if getting blood off a sword, a 24" baton of liquid lead extends from one end of the device. This baton remains for one minute, and then automatically retracts and cannot be reactivated for an hour. Used as a weapon, this is a light club +2, and deals an additional 1d8 fire damage to creatures who aren't very heavily insulated. Mind the spatter.
  3. Reflective Stonebow.
    Cost: 10x crossbow for the weapon, 10x arrows for the ammunition, 2 sourceless knowledge.
    This inexplicable device resembles a heavy fiddle of some polished marble-like material, with long darts of black metal. When the darts are drawn across one or more of the weapon's four steel strings, they are launched with varying effects to a range of about 330'. You know how to produce the following effects, though others may be possible:
    • Slaying. All of the dart except its head burn up in flight. It inflicts 2d6 damage to one target. 
    • Frangible. The dart disintegrates into a cloud of shrapnel. It inflicts 1d10 damage in a 10' radius sphere, save for half.
    • Freeze Missile. Struck target saves or is rendered immobile for 1d6 rounds.
    • Marking. Dart burns to nothing in flight, leaving a trail of randomly-colored thick smoke that lingers for ten minutes. 
  4. Ascetic Shield.
    Cost : 10x shield, 2 sourceless knowledge.
    This inexplicable device resembles a flat disc of almost-transparent sky-blue glass, about 4'' in diameter. When attached to your arm (donning or doffing the shield takes half an hour), it grants you a +4 bonus to AC. When held over your head, it can bear about 800 pounds of weight comfortably without slowing or fatiguing you, so long as your arm is raised. If carrying more than 800 pounds, the shield violently explodes.
  5. Horned Helmet.
    Cost: as plate, 3 sourceless knowledge.
    This inexplicable device resembles a black glass sallet with long feathery antennae like a moth's. When wearing this helmet, you may broadcast thoughts to targets within 330' whose names you know. If you are struck with a critical hit while wearing it, the helmet peacefully explodes, and all creatures within 3280' besides yourself take 1d12 psychic damage. 
  6. Hippoere Lectern.
    Cost: 10x horse, 2 sourceless knowledge.
    This inexplicable device resembles those gizmos the Battle Droids are flying around on chasing Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace. It moves faster than a horse, and hovers 3' off the ground while in motion, but if [rider's Constitution score] + [number of occupied slots in rider's inventory, excepting chi] ever equals 21 or higher, the lectern violently explodes.

Round Worlder
    While raging, your personal gravity changes to the direction your feet are pointing at the start of each round. 

Rogue: Ratbastard

    In far-away cities your kind is often born, even in the best families. In this cold and dry foreign land you are practically unheard of. Suits you just fine. 
    A Ratbastard is like a Hellbastard, but with oily black rats instead of ink. Your kind seems to fall, inevitably, into a life of crime. It makes sense, I suppose; your blood is so much thicker than water. 

    You are a Rogue, with all that that implies. 

Skills: 1. Horsery 2. Foreign literature 3. Lies
Starting Equipment: set of ridiculous clothes, sword with two blades (medium), flask of cheese-flavored liquor (3 doses)

  • A Still a Rat, However Mutable My Form
  • B Veil of Rodents
  • C Inveterate Gnawer, Poisonous Teleport 
  • D All Bastard
Still a Rat
    Your veins are full of rats. These rats are dangerous criminals. You may surreptitiously nibble on things your fingers are touching — cheese, ropes, faces, &c. When you strike someone with a sneak attack and have a free off-hand, you may make an additional attack against them at +[level] to-hit for 1d6 chewing damage. 
However Mutable My Form
    Your veins are, as mentioned, full of rats. For every point of damage you take, 1d6 rats spill forth and flee. When you would take a fatal wound, you are instead dispersed into the local environs. You will reform [max HP] weeks later, less one day for each rat which escaped the fatal wound (not the rats that you've lost in general, those guys ran off to find cheese). Friends and associates are accustomed to you disappearing for months at a time. In theory it would be possible to permanently kill you by tracking down every rat that you have ever been and destroying it, but this is obviously impractical. 
    On your character sheet, write down "LIST OF FEARS". When something disperses you, add that thing to the list of fears; record the name of a person if it was a homicide, otherwise write down the hazard. You must pass a save vs. fear to approach that FEAR in the future. If something is on the list multiple times, you must pass multiple saves. Begin play with a FEAR rolled from the following list:
  1. Fire
  2. The Sea
  3. Cats
  4. Delicious-Smelling Food
  5. Something??? in a Wizard's Tower
  6. A Grue

Veil of Rodents
    You may willingly separate yourself into a teeming swarm of rats. They occupy at least a five-foot square, and at most a ten-foot square. As a swarm, you take 1 damage from most sources, normal damage from fire, and the maximum amount of damage from explosions, bursts of poison gas, &c. On your turn in combat the swarm may force any number of creatures standing in it to save or take 1d6 damage. The swarm may pass through any opening or tunnel large enough for a rat. If the swarm takes 6 damage or more from any source, you are dispersed. It takes at least a round for the swarm to reform into you, more if they're spread out (say, on the rafters of a feasting hall you've snook up into).
Inveterate Gnawer
    Your teeth, even in human form, grow continually. They are slightly harder and more durable than aluminum.
Poisonous Teleport
    Whatever area you are in always seems to be teeming with bright-eyed sable-furred rats. Once per round, you can disappear from where you are standing and reappear up to 20' away in a location a rat could have reached. 
All Bastard
    In your human form you have a prehensile tail and can squeeze into any gap your skull can fit through. As a rats, you can speak with your human's voice. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Random Encounters by Stephen Crane

    Stephen Crane was an odd duck. A well-beloved writer, poet and Darwinist, you can read about him on Wikipedia as easily as I did; and his poems are all in the public domain. It tickles me pink to read about how he wrote poems along the lines of "If G_d is real, He will have to answer to me!" and the reviewers of the nineties (the eighteen nineties) all said "this would have been pretty edgy 20 years ago, but now it's a little trite." Time is a flat circle.
    Among the things Crane wrote are a few poems that are personally dear to me. These poems are short, very short, often only eight or ten lines. A great work of art is probably going to have several "themes" and "motifs" and what-have-you. Novels have complex characters, plays have meaningful scenes, poems have multiple interpretations of their verses. Crane's short lines contain no such fripperies, no unneeded details or names or characters or scene-setting or timelines, nothing but the dramatic significance. They're a flash of insight, just a taste of a Theme that could itself take a thousand forms in a thousand other works. Because of this, they're also easily-metabolized seeds of pure inspiration. Each one could be a random encounter on the road, a faction in your setting, the conflict of a character, or a hex (if you're doing Hex24 as I and Velvet Ink are).

    N.B. like most were historically, these poems were written to be read aloud. Do so. Roll the words around in your mouth; why did the author choose these and not some other?

Source: Francis C. Franklin.

    P.S. I started out by writing down almost every one of Crane's short poems, but I had to cut for time. For each poem that made it, there are two more you can read online right now. These that I kept are the poems I think any DM ought to make something out of immediately, practically read-aloud text with no further alterations already. Imagine an old coot at a tavern speaking these words to the party, as he nurses his mug of cheap beer.

  1. Black Riders came from the sea.
    There was clang and clang of spear and shield,
    And clash and clash of hoof and heel,
    Wild shouts and the wave of hair
    In the rush upon the wind:
    Thus the ride of Sin.
  2. I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
    Round and round they sped.
    I was disturbed at this;
    I accosted the man.
    "It is futile," I said,
    "You can never —"

    "You lie," he cried,
    And ran on.
  3. There was a great cathedral.
    To solemn songs,
    A white procession
    Moved toward the altar.
    The chief man there
    Was erect, and bore himself proudly.
    Yet some could see him cringe,
    As in a place of danger,
    Throwing frightened glances into the air,
    A-start at threatening faces of the past.
  4. In the desert
    I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
    Who, squatting upon the ground,
    Held his heart in his hands,
    And ate of it.
    I said, "Is it good, friend?"
    "It is bitter — bitter," he answered;

    "But I like it
    "Because it is bitter,
    "And because it is my heart."
  5. Behold, the grave of a wicked man,
    And near it, a stern spirit.
    There came a drooping maid with violets,
    But the spirit grasped her arm.
    "No flowers for him," he said.
    The maid wept:
    "Ah, I loved him."
    But the spirit, grim and frowning:
    "No flowers for him."

    Now, this is it —
    If the spirit was just,
    Why did the maid weep?
  6. "Think as I think," said a man,
    "Or you are abominably wicked;
    "You are a toad."

    And after I had thought of it,
    I said, "I will, then, be a toad."
  7. I met a seer.
    He held in his hands
    The book of wisdom.
    "Sir," I addressed him,
    "Let me read."
    "Child—" he began.
    "Sir," I said,
    "Think not that I am a child,"
    "For already I know much
    "Of that which you hold,
    "Aye, much."

    He smiled.
    Then he opened the book,
    And held it before me.
    Strange that I should have grown so suddenly blind.
  8. I stood upon a high place,
    And saw, below, many devils
    Running, leaping,
    And carousing in sin.
    One looked up, grinning,
    And said, "Comrade! Brother!"
  9. Many workmen
    Built a huge ball of masonry
    Upon a mountain-top.
    Then they went to the valley below,
    And turned to behold their work.
    "It is grand," they said;
    They loved the thing.

    Of a sudden, it moved:
    It came upon them swiftly;
    It crushed them all to blood;
    But some of them had the opportunity to squeal.
  10. On the horizon the peaks assembled;
    And as I looked,
    The march of the mountains began.
    As they marched, they sang,
    "Aye! We come! We come!"
  11. Friend, your white beard sweeps the ground,
    Why do you stand, expectant?
    Do you hope to see it
    In one of your withered days?
    With your old eyes
    Do you hope to see
    The triumphal march of Justice?
    Do not wait, friend
    Take your white beard
    And your old eyes
    To more tender lands.
  12. He was a brave heart.
    Would you speak with him, friend?
    Well, he is dead,
    And there went your opportunity.
    Let it be your grief
    That he is dead
    And your opportunity gone;
    For, in that, you were a coward.
  13. The ocean said to me once,
    "Yonder on the shore
    "Is a woman, weeping.
    "I have watched her.
    "Go you and tell her this —
    "Her lover I have laid
    "In cool green hall.
    "There is wealth of golden sand
    "And pillars, coral-red;
    "Two white fish stand guard at his bier."

    "Tell her this
    "And more —
    "That the king of the seas
    "Weeps too, old, helpless man.
    "The bustling fates
    "Heap his hands with corpses
    "Until he stands like a child,
    "With surplus of toys."
  14. Three little birds in a row
    Sat musing.
    A man passed near that place.
    Then did the little birds nudge each other.
    They said, "He thinks he can sing."
    They threw back their heads to laugh,
    With quaint countenances
    They regarded him.
    They were very curious,
    Those three little birds in a row.
  15. Bands of moving bronze, emerald, yellow,
    Circle the throat and arms of her,
    And over the sands serpents move warily
    Slow, menacing and submissive,
    Swinging to the whistles and drums,
    The whispering, whispering snakes,
    Dreaming and swaying and staring,
    But always whispering, softly whispering.
    The dignity of the accursed;
    The glory of slavery, despair, death,
    Is in the dance of the whispering snakes.
  16. There was one I met upon the road
    Who looked at me with kind eyes.
    He said: "Show me of your wares."
    And I did,
    Holding forth one,
    He said: "It is a sin."
    Then I held forth another.
    He said: "It is a sin."
    Then I held forth another.
    He said: "It is a sin."
    And so to the end.
    Always he said: "It is a sin."
    At last, I cried out:
    "But I have none other."
    He looked at me
    With kinder eyes.
    "Poor soul," he said.

    Bonus G. K. Chesterton prophecies and doom-saying:
  1. Deep grows the hate of kindred,
        Its roots take hold on Hell;
    No peace or praise can heal it,
        But a stranger heals it well.
    Seas shall be red as sunsets,
        And kings' bones float as foam,
    And heaven be dark with vultures,
        The night our son comes home.
  2. He reared his head, shaggy and grim,
    Staring among the cherubim;
    The seven celestial floors he rent,
    One crystal dome still o'er him bent:
    Above his head, more clear than hope,
    All heaven was a microscope.
  3. We came behind him by the wall,
        My brethren drew their brands,
    And they had strength to strike him down —
        And I to bind his hands.

    Only once, to a lantern gleam,
        He turned his face from the wall,
    And it was as the accusing angel's face
        On the day when the stars shall fall.

    I grasped the axe with shaking hands,
        I stared at the grass I trod;
    For I feared to see the whole bare heavens
        Filled with the face of G_d.

    Therefore I toil in forests here
        And pile the wood in stacks,
    And take no fee from the shivering folk
        Till I have cleansed the axe.

    But, for a curse, G_d cleared my sight,
        And where each tree doth grow
    I see a life with awful eyes,
        And I must lay it low.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Everybody Brings His Own Fire (GLOG Class: Mesmerist Pathfinder Conversion)

    "All schizophrenics are mad, and none are sane. Their behavior is incomprehensible. It tells us nothing about life and gives no insight into the human condition. There's nothing profound about it. Schizophrenics aren't clever or wise or witty — they make novel remarks, but that's because they are mad. When they laugh at things the rest of us don't, like the death of a parent, they're not being penetrating. They're not wryly amused at the simplicity and stupidity of the psychiatrist, however well justified that might be in many cases. They're laughing because they're too mad to tell what's funny any more. The rewards for being sane may not be very many — but knowing what's funny is one of them."
        - unknown source

    This is the second of my Pathfinder conversions, which I suppose I've been doing in addition to the D&D 5e posts. The Mesmerist is a strange fellow, somewhere between a Gygaxian illusionist and a creature from a nightmare. I like the idea of someone who... well, there's this common delusion, that the eyes of others aren't simple receivers but are somehow transmitting, that it's not enough to close your eyes, to not see its face, but that you must somehow close the eyes of the Basilisk. There's a man out there on the internet who doesn't believe that eyes "see light". He thinks light is projected out of the eyes. He's already answered your common objections, I'm afraid. There's nothing left to do but believe him.
    The idea that it's the being perceived, not the perception, that harms you, it's a bit alarming to me. "Not what goes into the mouth of a man, but what comes out of the mouth", and so forth. Goodnight, goodnight. Full credit to Eos at Nobless Goblige, who invented not only this class but also the d20 system and by extension all of Pathfinder.

Source: Absolute Reality, Joan Miro

Class: Mesmerist

    You are a huckster, a charlatan, a lunatic. You're a cold-reading liar, a soul-killed "psychic" who combines childish trickery with overconfidence with emotional abuse to achieve your wildest dreams. Those white-irised eyes have seen things that should have destroyed you, and have certainly damned you. Now that haunted gaze sees the sorts of things that make people think you're clever. Haven't you read The Snow Queen? You fools think cruelty is a gas, and that hardheadedness is the surest sign of wisdom. I tell you, I don't care how many screams you hear, I don't care how many anguished cries: death is a million times preferable to ten more days of this life. If you knew what was ahead of you — if you knew what was ahead of you, you'd be glad to be stepping over tonight.

    If you have at least one template of Mesmerist, you may wear light armor, and never fumble while using knives, clubs or staves. You gain +1 to reactions on odd-numbered levels, and inflict a +1 penalty to enemy morale rolls for every even-numbered level. The spells of the Orthodox Wizard count as being from your school.

Skills: 1. Bullying 2. Mechanical convection incubators 3. Addiction
Starting Equipment: Cheap suit (as unarmored), flask of holy water (3 doses), flask of fire water (3 doses), spellbook.
  • A Stare, +1 MD, roll for a spell
  • B Suggestion, Mind Palace
  • C Eyelights, +1 MD
  • D Domination,
    At will, you may stare at any intelligent creature you can see. The target is befuddled, and you may force them to suffer a penalty to any save you see them make equal to your [level]. This penalty is doubled for saves v. mind-altering effects. Once per round you may befuddle them such that they take an additional [level] points of damage from a melee attack. Finally, choose one stare improvement from the list below the class features.
    Targets never realize that you are staring at them, and do not remember afterwards. While staring you are not required to maintain unbroken eye contact — you may blink, or briefly glance away to find your footing or pick up an object — but you cannot read a text, scrutinize the workings of a trap, or do anything else that would require significant visual attention. The stare ends when you choose to look away or the target moves out of view for more than a moment. You can only stare at one target at a time, though any number of Mesmerists may stare at the same target.

Implant Suggestion
    You may implant powerful hypnotic suggestions in the minds of friends and allies, and enemies as well if preparation is taken. To do this, you need to first develop the suggestion inside your Mind Palace, and keep it prepared there. You may keep as many suggestions prepared as you have [levels].
    To implant a suggestion you must make direct skin-to-skin contact with the target — a handshake is plenty, though a fatherly pat on the head, or a steady hand on the shoulder that ju-uu-ust brushes the neck with a pinkie or the collarbone with a thumb, will do just as well in different circumstances.
    When you implant a suggestion, it's gone and cannot be reused unless prepared again. You may only have one of your suggestions implanted in a creature at one time, but you may have any number of them extant.
Mind Palace
    When dreaming, drunk, high or otherwise in an altered state, you may project your mind into a construction contained within itself. This construction bears a stark resemblance to an old and comfortable country house, with creaky floorboards, narrow and crooked stairs, ugly paintings on the walls depicting yourself in various costumes, a quiet and somewhat dusty library containing every book you've ever read, a kennel containing your prepared spells, a study where you may prepare suggestions, a hall of statues and mirrors, a dining room set for a feast, and a grand atrium in the center which looks up at a black and starless sky. This is your Mind Palace, made just for you. It's quite empty — not the emptiness of abandonment, or of the open grave, but of anticipation, as if the whole place is holding its breath waiting for the honored guests.
    In the Palace, you may consider your schemes and plans, develop suggestions, prepare spells, read your books, or walk among your collections. The mind may move as the body rests. You can bring willing people to the Palace as guests by sleeping next to them, getting drunk from the same wine, high from the same chemic, etc.

    Study, training and introspection has made your gaze more palpable. Choose three stare improvements now.

    Your mind is as pure and clean as formaldehyde. Even the fools who once doubted you can't deny that for much longer. Gain the CR3 trigger When I next hear you speak and the CR5 effect , I will unflinchingly obey the next simple command I am given. immediately.
    When you and an NPC are off-screen together for more than an hour, you can declare that they have become your thrall. Your thralls behave normally, except they treat your opinion as their opinion, act on your suggestions as they would on their own ideas, and become very offended if someone suggests something negative about your character.
    Maintaining this level of constant control over someone is exhausting. You suffer a -1 penalty to all checks per thrall you control, and you lose at least as many inventory slots as they have HD (plus however many more if their nature is draconic or divine or so forth. DM's call). You may wish to invest in a nice walking stick.
    You may release a thrall at-will, and they will not recall the experience as being out of the ordinary, though it will take you at least a month to recover your vitality. Your thralls are not released upon your death.

Stare Improvements
  • Alluring. Target finds you fascinating, and suffers penalty to initiative checks.
  • Deceiving. Target's ability to detect falsehood fails them. They cannot pierce illusions, and they must save to disbelieve any lie not immediately disproven (no "the sky is green").
  • Disorienting. Target finds their own vision beginning to flash and darken, and suffers the penalty to to-hit rolls.
  • Disquieting. Target becomes oddly frightened, and must pass a morale check to enter darkness or deep water.
  • Oscillating. Target's vision swims, and they perceive only vague movement and colors past 30'.
  • Sapping. Target feels their supernatural abilities weaken, and suffers the penalty to [sum].
  • Stupefying. Target's hands grow clumsy, and they suffer the penalty to skill rolls.
  • Binding. Target's soul grows heavy, and they suffer the penalty to attempts to escape.
  • Dismissing. Target feels uncomfortable and has a desire to leave the situation.
  • Dying. Target knows they are doomed, and the penalty is added to all damage inflicted on them.

Developing Suggestions
    A suggestion has two components: the trigger and the effect. Learning new triggers/effects is one of the essential parts of becoming a more capable Mesmerist. Mesmerists may share any triggers/effects they know by visiting each others' Mind Palaces, and you will likely discover or invent more of them in play.
    Some more complicated triggers/effects require more knowledge of the target's mental state and so have an associated cold-reading number. To implant a suggestion with a CR, you must know at least that many interesting facts about the target. "Interesting facts" are interesting to the target: names of parents, names of children, place of birth, date of birth, significant regrets, major hobbies, occupations, details of love-life — in short, the sort of thing they would be delighted to hear a fortune-teller guess about them.
    Preparing a suggestion takes one hour, plus one hour per CR.

Example Triggers:
  1. When I next roll a save against a spell
  2. When I next experience a mind-altering effect
  3. When I next make eye contact with you
  4. When I next am in darkness
  5. CR1: When I next enter combat
  6. CR1: When I next become angry
  7. CR3: When I become angry
  8. CR1: When I next roll to use a skill
  9. CR3: When I roll to use a skill
Example Effects:
  1. , I will experience agony for one round.
  2. , I will add your [level] to the result.
  3. , my legs will go limp for one round.
  4. , you will be able to see through my eyes for 1 minute per your [level].
  5. CR1: , I and every intelligent creature within 30' will suddenly perceive you as being present.
  6. CR1: , my face will contort into a hideous and demonic mask, forcing saves vs. fear from all creatures unprepared for this.
  7. CR1: , I will gain 1d6 plus your [level] temporary HP.
  8. CR2: , I will enter a violent rage.
  9. CR3: , I will begin to levitate, gaining the ability to float at walking speed in any direction for one minute.

Mesmerist Spells:
  1. Unwitting Ally
    R: sight T: [dice] creatures D: [sum] rounds
    Caster's stare inflicts paranoia and confusion. Each target saves individually; those who fail become unusually aggressive and lose the ability to distinguish friend from foe. For the purposes of spells, abilities, flanking and backstabbing, &c, affected creatures are no one's "ally", everyone's "enemy", and never "willing".
    Affected creatures are still capable of tactical thinking and, perceiving themselves to be surrounded by enemies, will prefer to retreat. If trapped in close proximity to other creatures they will fight desperately to escape.
  2. Animate Rope
    R: touch T: a length of flexible cord, rope or chain no more than [sum]*10' long D: until dispelled
    Target rope lives. It is obedient to the caster's spoken commands, can climb as well as a large python, can stand half its length tall and pull itself up by one end, can knot or unknot itself, and doesn't mind being climbed. When not moving the animated rope is indistinguishable from normal rope, unless in very close proximity to fire, in which case it flinches.
    If cut, the longer piece is the animated rope until reduced below 5' in length.
    Animated rope can't tell people other than its caster apart, can't perceive anything except touch and its master's voice, doesn't understand that other creatures have senses other than touch, can't remember more than [dice] words outside of its caster's presence and is, of course, terrified of fire. Besides these restrictions it is an exceedingly dangerous assassin.
  3. Bungle
    R: touch T: a creature D: [dice] checks or attacks
    Target takes a -[sum] penalty to all checks or to-hit rolls, no save.
  4. Color Spray
    R: projected from self T: a 15' cone D: instant
    A burst of violent color erupts from the caster's fingertips. Creatures in the target cone save or are stunned for a round, falling prone and dropping any held items, then save again or suffer disadvantage on any sight-based checks for [best] rounds. Those with no sense of sight are immune to this spell. Creatures with more than [dice] HD are not stunned. If cast with more than 1MD,  creatures with 1 HD or fewer don't get to save.
  5. Fool's Gold
    R: touch T: [sum] coins, pieces of jewelry or other tiny valuables D: n/a
    Caster lays a curse on target valuables. Creatures receive a penalty to saves v. hostile magic equal to the number of these valuables they have accepted from the caster as payment for goods and services. Valuables given as a gift have no effect, nor do valuables slipped into a pocket against the pants-wearer's knowledge, though the caster may tip outrageously. This effect lasts as long as they keep the objects in their possession: creatures do not need to actually carry the valuables on their person for the effect to occur. Effect ends when target valuables are passed on to a third party.
  6. Blistering Invective
    R: voice T: creatures capable of understanding your tone, if not your words D: instant
    Caster utters a stream of foul language so obscene, menacing and blasphemous that those who hear it who have any reason to suspect it might be directed at them are physically harmed. All such creatures check morale: those who fail flee, and must also save or take [best] damage and be set on fire. Creatures immune to fire must still check morale, but creatures who cannot be intimidated are unaffected by this spell.