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.