Friday, January 25, 2013

Deadlands, Part XXX

I was sick last session, so today's Deadlands replay is a guest post from Nicole at A Really Well-Made Buttonhole.

When last we left our heroes, they were just getting settled in at Sweetwater, AZ, city of the future!

Ruby, David, Jeb, and Father Seward are in the hotel room examining the "Richmond eggbeaters" from Ruby's husband.  They wonder what might arrive next.  Jeb, still at it with his new spyglass, sees a zeppelin come in and tie off atop the spire of the central tower.  He recognises a figure exiting – the lesbian who had come on to Rufina back at Brent's soiree in Richmond.  She exits with a great deal of baggage, but appears to allow no one other than her own porters to handle her belongings.  She enters into the tower and is not seen exiting.

Meanwhile, Rex and Rufina make their way down to The Well.  Throngs of people in various emotional states await their chance to enter; many are clutching mementos of loved ones, some are silently (or not so silently) weeping.  There is only one way in and out of The Well, and Rex and Rufina stroll right in.  At the bottom of the broad staircase that descends below the street level, an ornate arch acts as the gateway to the main attraction; on it is written Latin text which Rufina, having been studying, translates as, "Only The Forgotten Are Truly Dead".  Laid into the floor in a large ring and on the walls of the space is a shiny green material, likely stone, though none that either can identify.  To either side are metal doors, ahead of them is a balcony – empty at the moment – and a platform with a lone grand piano.  A mass of people stands within the ring, which is easily larger than the base of the spire at street level.  Standing on the far side of the archway, Rex and Rufina are unable to see what has them so engaged.  They agree to go one at a time, so Rex enters first.

He can see that every person around him is adorned with glowing green threads, going out in various directions, some connecting person to person, others going back out the entryway, others connected to ghostly green figures that mill about.  Oh yes, there are ghosts, or at least what appear to be ghosts.  They interact with each other, and sometimes with the living.  Rex notes that he also has green threads about him, but also a single golden thread that appears to have snapped off of whatever it had been connected to, and is wafting in an unfelt breeze.  When he attempts to touch his strings, his hands pass right through.  He sees a man watching him, obviously because of the gold thread.  The man parts from the crowd, approaches one set of metal doors, knocks, speaks a few words, and enters.  Rex asks Rufina if she'd like to see her children, and leaves the circle.

Rufina notes much of the same, and she has several green threads going back out the door in the direction of the hotel, as well as connecting her to Rex.  She also has one off-coloured thread, although hers is not gold but ochre, also going back out the door in the direction of the hotel.  Rufina hears faint childish laughter – strange, as none of the other spectres make sound - and sees her two eldest children run through the crowd, holding hands.  They do not notice her.  She waits, but does not see her youngest child. As she is also starting to attract notice, they leave.

Back in the hotel, Ruby receives a note from Duchess Abigail stating that dinner will be at 7:00 sharp in the penthouse suite, and to bring something nice to share with the other guests.  Vexed by this important social responsibility, Ruby writes back for clarification and receives the reply that, if it is "a delicious vice", she should provide for at least twelve persons.  She and David send a note to the concierge requesting fine chocolates and liquors.

Shortly thereafter, Rex and Rufina return and describe what they saw in The Well, including the suspicious man.  They wonder if The Well (whatever it is) sees into minds and is fueling something.

The concierge arrives to take the order for chocolates and spirits, and divulges that Ruby and David are the only guests – the Duchess is a notorious epicurean (to be diplomatic) and always asks guests to bring ample provisions.  Jeb offers his jug of Carolina mountain rotgut, as Ruby had wanted to bring something representative of the South since the Duchess had been so tickled to meet a Southern belle.  The concierge is flustered by this, but complies.

As there is a great deal of time to pass before the dinner, David and Ruby decide to indulge their Curiosity and see The Well for themselves.  Rex follows, to act as bodyguard.  Rufina and Jeb stay with the Father in the hotel room while he takes a nap.

The approach is much the same, and Ruby enters the circle first.  She notes that she also has an ochre string, but this one goes straight up, and moves as though connected to someone pacing about the floor above her.  Looking around, she sees her parents speaking to her brother John Michael Patrick, no longer the vampiric beast.  As with Rufina, she does not hear sound from most of the spectres but swears she hears a murmur of speech from her family.  John Michael Patrick looks up, makes eye contact with her, and smiles; her parents take no notice, and the group quickly dissipates.  Ruby wanders around, looking for Jake, and at one point turns around to come face to face with her brother, startling her greatly.  He holds his hands up and mouths, "I'm sorry," before dissipating.  She chokes out a quick, "I forgive you", before making a beeline for David.

Behind Ruby, David and Rex spy the Doctor – the same thin, gas-masked figure from the statue – on the balcony above the circle.  The man who had noticed Rex and Rufina before is also present, and he points out the trio before both men leave the balcony.  David takes a quick chance to enter the circle himself, noting that he also has an ochre string that goes straight up like Ruby's.  Satisfied, he leaves, and he and Ruby walk purposefully back to the just as the Doctor enters the main floor and begins to follow.  Rex holds back to confront him.  Trying not to be too obvious, Ruby looks up hoping to catch Jeb's eye as he watches through his spyglass.

It works.  Jeb alerts Rufina, who attempts to wake Father Seward, but he appears dead, more so than usual, and does not rouse.  It is almost as though whatever spirit had been in him had simply left.  Only after a lot of shaking and shouting, and Jeb poking him in the leg with his knife, does the Father violently come to.

In The Well, Rex is approached by the Doctor who asks to see his golden thread. Rex obliges, and is alarmed to see that when the Doctor waves his hand at it, it responds. The Doctor notes that another man, also named O'Malley, had been in some days before and also sported this thread, similarly severed. Rex does not betray his relationship to what he assumes to be his late cousin. The Doctor presents Rex with a business card with embossed abstract Grecian columns. It merely reads "The Doctor". He invites Rex and his compatriots to dinner that evening, but learning that there are already plans, says that they will dine tomorrow, but should still try to make it to a very special performance of sorts this night in The Well, referred to only as "The Artifice". Rex is cautioned to take care with the card, as few are privileged enough to have one.

Ruby and David arrive back at the hotel first, as Rex takes a very roundabout way, hoping to throw off any pursuers.  He also stops to purchase a knife.  Once everyone is back, Rufina and Jeb inform them of Father Seward's disinclination to wake, and wonder if the spirit of Rufina's husband takes his leave of the Father's body occasionally.  Ruby and David describe their experiences, and Ruby confesses that she was hoping the ochre threads were to Jake, although she did think also of the spirit within Seward.  David suggests it could also be Cobb.  At this, Ruby declares that she is going to bathe and get ready for the party.

While she bathes (in lavender-scented water straight from the tap!) and dresses, Rex tells the group about his Doctorly encounter, and the invitations that have been extended.  It is decided that he will attend the performance that evening, but no one else will go as they are worried about what could happen if they are all together with their odd coloured threads.  Looking outside, they also notice that after sunset no one leaves the well, although many still attempt to enter.

Soon the gift basket is delivered, and Ruby and David ride the elevator up to the Duchess' penthouse, which takes up the entire upper floor of the hotel.  The Duchess is as promised, a bon vivant of the highest degree.  She is good company, although quickly gets into her drink.

As the evening wears on, the Duchess does state that she is going to a grand show that night in The Well and insists David and Ruby accompany her.  The show to be seen is a woman from the East, who was badly burned in the San Francisco fire.  The woman is called Mandragora, and it is said that she can manipulate the threads, and that she can make the fleeting spectres remain for a significant time.

While she goes off to dress, Ruby and David send a note down the pneumatic tube to the others, informing them of what they have uncovered (Rufina and Father Seward make note of the connection to the mandrake root and its mystic and symbolic meanings) and let them know that the plan to have only Rex present at the show has changed...

Jamming Spells in the Nine Hells

Another random update lacking in substance.  This time, I happened to find a couple of fourth edition treatments of the much beloved/reviled Giant Space Hamster from Spelljammer.

Here's one from d20 Monkey as part of an article on people playing D&D BadWrongFun:

And here's another from David Flor (this time in pdf).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dungeons & Dragons Classics

So they finally did it.  Wizards of the Coast released its back catalogue on pdf, meaning that you can now purchase and download materials from all editions of Dungeons & Dragons.

It's formatted basically like DriveThruRPG/RPGNow, so the format should be familiar to most gamers.  (Unsurprisingly, Dungeons & Dragons Classics is part of the DriveThruRPG/RPGNow system, and you can use your login information to access it.)

Go ahead and check out Dungeons & Dragons Classics.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Potion Miscibility in Rockulon Prime

I'm going to go ahead and say that nobody should watch this.  Wizards get sick and things get nasty.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Æon Trinity

Have you heard the news?

In addition to re-releasing classic World of Darkness materials, White Wolf (or, more accurately, The Onyx Path) has announced plans to release an updated version of the Æon seriesTrinity (originally named Æon), Aberrant, and Adventure!

For those who don't know, the Æon Continuum is a series of science-fiction games set in an alternate Earth.  Trinity depicts the efforts of humanity to recover after a devastating war with superpowered humans known as Aberrants.  Transhumanism, cyberpunk, space travel, and suchlike are all themes that get used; the default player characters are exceedingly powerful psychics known as Psions.  Aberrant is a superhero game set in 2008, depicting the Aberrants (or novas, as they are more properly known) before they all go insane and try to wage war on humanity.  Adventure! is a pulp-era game set in 1924, and depicts the origin of these superhumans in the twentieth century when their powers are just starting to develop.

Anyway, if that sort of stuff interests you, you should check on the blurb on the Onyx Path blog.

Friday, January 4, 2013

On the Subject of Rockulon Prime

So, roughly a minute ago, I posted a thing about Rockulon Prime.  What is Rockulon Prime?

Well, Rockulon Prime comes from a couple of sources.  First, E. M. Lamb from Malleus Blogstrorum wanted to cameo as a ridiculous rockin' wizard with a Spelljammer van in my ongoing 4e game.  We had something between Heavy Metal and this picture in mind when we contemplated this arrangement.

Second, my friend Tini loves AD&D 2e.  I've had this idea of running something for a while for this very reason.  She has a particular soft spot for Spelljammer.

Third, I started several of my friends on playing Planescape: Torment.  One of them was unfamiliar with the Planescape setting and expressed an interest in it.

While playing The Giovanni Chronicles, the topic of Spelljammer came up and people expressed an interest.  So I've been quietly assembling campaign notes for a starting point that can then be turned into a Spelljammer sandbox kind of thing.

That starting point is Rockulon Prime.

The current idea is that characters can be native, or from another campaign setting.  You got to Rockulon by portal, spelljammer, or Ravenloft mist.  I honestly don't care how you got there.  What matters is that you're there, and might be interested in leaving.  So, when you get your hands on a Spelljammer, you're prepared to go out and about with it.

But until then, you're on Rockulon Prime.

What I wanted from Rockulon Prime was an internally consistent and logical world that heavily relies on the tropes of '80s fantasy and heavy metal — something that you would doodle in a notebook that you'd have to hide before your mom got you for supper.  However, I also wanted it to make some degree of sense so that it would make sense in a greater setting.

Anyway, the main thrust of this article is that there are some rules.  Despite using 2e, I'd probably just crib rules for weird future weapons and vehicles from Mutant Future.  Mutants will also be playable as a race/class, using the appropriate information from AD&D, Mutant Future, and Labyrinth Lord.

I'm also planning on instituting a rule to support the genre.  Since the reality inside different crystal spheres can be different than other realities, there is a strange quirk in the Rockulon system: strong, attractive warriors have less need of armor.  (Think of every metal album cover or fantasy comic book you've ever seen.  The overwhelming message is that badasses and hotties don't need to wear armor.)

In rules terms, any character in the warrior group (fighter, paladin, ranger, etc.) benefits from an additional AC bonus from exceptional Strength or Charisma.  This bonus duplicates the Defensive Adj. column on Table 2: Dexterity on page 20 of the AD&D 2e revised Player's Handbook except that characters never take penalties for low Strength or Charisma, and this armor acts as natural armor as described on page 102 of PHB 2e revised.

Relevant information is repeated below.

So You're Hot Shit on Rockulon Prime

Warriors with a Strength and/or Charisma of 15 or higher benefit from a natural AC bonus.  As with any natural AC, the character may still benefit from armor that improves his or her armor class.  As such, a character with a natural AC of 7 doesn't receive any benefit from wearing leather armor (AC 8), but does benefit from wearing scale mail (AC 6) or splint mail (AC 4), for example.

Characters improve their natural AC according to the following chart:

Rockulon Prime

Excerpts from the lecture "The Straight Shit on Rockulon Prime" delivered by Dr. Karl Satan, natural philosopher and space-wizard holding dual Ph.D.s in metalphysics and wizardology, as delivered before the Arcane Brotherhood, Guildhall Ward, Sigil.  As the name suggests, Dr. Satan's penchant for profanity occasionally becomes apparent; most attendees are fairly certain he was in some state of inebriation throughout his presentation.

The esteemed Karl Satan, Ph.D.

People who talk a lot of science shit say there's a multitude of crystal spheres in the universe — I've heard a septillion.  Of course, dudes with the kind of time to count a septillion stars don't get laid often, do they?

Those in the know would know that most of those spheres and the planets around them are boring as hell.

Rockulon Prime was probably fated to be the same.  Maybe the gods would intervene and seed the planet with life, maybe an advanced race would do the same thing.  Hell, maybe the whole shebang would self-organize into living systems.

The intervention of the Space-God!

Instead, we received the Space-God.

Some claim to see the Space-God in their dreams.

The nearby Blood Nebula — possibly an incursion of the Galaxies of Blood in our crystal sphere — probably vomited forth the Space-God's Corpse.  The Corpse crash-landed on Rockulon Prime.  Maybe the native microflora overtook it, maybe the God's own parasites started to feast upon it.  Who the fuck knows?

We do know that the little beasts began to grow.

The residual magical energies from the Corpse of the Space-God mutated life to fit new forms; we're all descended from the soulstuff of the Space-God.

Plants and dumb beasts evolved first, most notably the Hell-Maggots that are thought to be some of the most ancient life on the planet.

A small Hell-Maggot

Hell-Maggots can be found everywhere on Rockulon Prime, typically underground, but are most heavily concentrated in the Sea of Maggots, feasting on the Corpse of the Space-God.

The truly big monstrosities lurk in the vicinity of the Corpse of Space-God.

The first sapient race to evolve from these monstrosities was probably the drider.  As the adult form of one of the varieties of Hell-Maggot, the driders began to form their own civilization.  So suffused were they with the Space-God's cosmic energies that their mutations continued.  A subrace of driders appeared, known as the drow.

The drow are better than you

These aren't the pussy, angsty, emo drow of some worlds.  These drow are fucking metal.

I should probably explain that term, shouldn't I?  We understand life and much of our material resources to come from the bounty of the earth, from the Underdark.  The most abundant substance in the planet is iron; as a metal, it is one of the most stable and least reactive, and pretty damn important to our industries.  Metal is our lifeblood.  So, when something is a great goodness, we define it as metal.  We recall the strength and utility of metal, as well as its sublime beauty.  It's hard to describe the concept of metal to one who is not from Rockulon Prime, but understand that metal is quintessential.

So, our drow developed grand civilizations and advanced technologies.  Most importantly, they developed magic, including the Maglaban Chambers which wizards still use for wizard's duels today.  As one of the first races, there were few other sapients to subjugate, so they made their own.  Drow are probably responsible for most sapient life on the planet, most likely beginning with the bullywugs or troglodytes.  Their experiments on frogs and lizards yielded the creatures, eventually spawning lizardmen and yes, even dragons — for some reason, the ancient drow experimented on drakes and uplifted them as mounts and slaves.

A drow sorceress with her mutant experiments.

The drow created a vast empire that conquered the entire world, making use of magically-created slave races to cater to their every whim.  Their experiments continued as they began to uplift the primitive apes of the savage jungles.

Of course, with nothing left to conquer, they turned on each other.

The drow go to war.

One faction tried to grab territory, the other resisted, and war was upon the land.

It was brutal.  It was bloody.

The drow are believed to have created some of their mutant ape races, such as the savage white apes, as well as hybrids such as the dragonborn and the vat-bred orcs and their goblinhobgoblin, and bugbear kin.  The trolls were almost assuredly bred as an engine of war, as were various other creatures too numerous to mention.

Drow society was so advanced by this time that their magic and tech was devastating.  Other worlds have things such as blood rock or godsblood or bloodstone (or even the gemstone known as "bloodstone"); our Bloodstone is cast-off detritus of the Space-God, and the crystallized crimson rocks have magic powers.  The drow used them and their magics to make very effective weapons.  Whole portions of the world were turned into blasted, wasted hellholes.  Many of these are still dangerously toxic, spawning mutants and all manner of abomination into the world.

And you still get douchenozzles like this questing in the Wastes.

Records from this time are still spotty, so we don't quite know the order of things.  We know the schism among the drow led them to acquire various territories.  The classic drow were forced underground, and their various descendants would eventually evolve into the elven subraces of today.

Elves are still among the most ruthless predators of Rockulon Prime.

Around the same time as the conclusion of the Drow War came the first threat from Outside; the aboleths.  We're not entirely sure if the aberrations came by some manner of spelljammer, or if the magical energies of the Drow War opened gates to Outside, but the aboleths arrived to take Rockulon Prime for themselves.

Many of the sapients of the sea, such as kuo-toa and sahuagin, were likely created by the aboleths as part of their bid for takeover.

Much as the drow, the aboleths gladly used slaves to aid them in their goals.

Of course, the aboleths didn't win, probably because giant fucking fish suck at fighting on land.  Weakened and in decline, the elves still managed to fight off the aquatic creatures and force them to back the fuck up.  Of course, whatever channel to Outside had been opened would never close.  It wasn't long before illithidsbeholders, and other aberrations appeared in the Rockulon Underdark.

As many slave species revolted during the Drow Wars, the elves continued their experiments with apes, crafting such kin to them as the dwarves, halflings, gnomes, and yes, the humans.  Weakened and fractured by centuries of warfare, however, the elves could hardly maintain their new slaves, and after a scant generation or two, the new creatures revolted and found themselves out in the world.

And what a beautiful world it was.

The land was sick, warped by magic and irradiated by blasphemous technologies.  Using secrets plundered from the vaults of the elves, the new races banded together to survive.  Survival was pretty tenuous in those days; the world was still full of arrogant elves, mutants, aberrations, and monsters of all types.  Still, within several generations, the dwarves had built a stable civilization that would grow into the grand Wraithsmasher Empire.

The dwarves are a most capable race.

The dwarves never hit the grand expanse of power the ancient Wormwarper Empire of the drow achieved, the Wraithsmasher Empire succeeded in unifying several races without enslaving them, and bringing civilization to lands untamed for centuries.

Of course, the secret to the Wraithsmashers' downfall lies in the name; the Wraithsmasher family of dwarves specialized in fighting undead and planar outsiders.

He who fights monsters and all that.

The Wraithsmashers became an infernal bloodline.

The Wraithsmasher Empire didn't truly collapse — not right away, anyway — but they did become corrupt bureaucrats and demon-worshipping shitheels.  Deals with infernal creatures were established, and pretty soon, the ruling dynasty was replete with maeluths, dwarves with infernal blood.  Tieflings and wisplings — fiend-touched humans and halflings — also appeared among their retainers.  Just when it appeared that the whole of Rockulon Prime would go tumbling into the Nine Hells or the Abyss (thought by scholars to be the ultimate goal of the corrupted Wraithsmashers), internal conflicts wracked the world with war again.

Although these conflicts were not as destructive as the Drow Wars of antiquity, war was total.  Any race that wished to grab for glory or settle an old conflict leaped into the fray.

After nearly a century of war, all was finally silent.  Most races on the surface were in decline, their numbers low, and they teetered on the brink of extinction.  Most of the infernal lineages were pushed elsewhere, into dark corners or their home realms.  The world was silent for a time, and sapient life was again a precarious thing.

Some artfag probably captured this shortly before being devoured by cannibal mutant halflings.

Of course, with their short lifespans and compressed reproduction time, this allowed humanity to take control through sheer numbers.

The teeming throng of humanity, brought to you by copious fucking.

It's the same sort of boom-and-bust cycle we've grown accustomed to on Rockulon Prime.  The historians keep track, but otherwise, the human dynasties tend to change hands way faster than those of the demi-humans.  There's more variety now — the dwarves and elves have their own homelands, the few remaining dragonborn lord over their degenerate kobold kin while ultimately owing fealty to the dragons, the mutants claim territory in the Wastelands, and the various other subraces hold sway in their own spheres of influence.  Presently, the grand empires of yore are gone, but humanity is definitely the most notable force on Rockulon Prime, and the time is ripe for another ruling power to rise.

But if the yuan-ti hybrids take over, seriously, fuck those guys.

The landscape of Rockulon Prime is currently dotted by a loose confederation of city-states joined by the old highway system.  Despite the lack of large-scale organization, much of the infrastructure of the old empires remain; as best as we can tell, we're more technologically advanced than other worlds we have encountered.  We've got gunpowder, steam, and internal combustion, but they have yet to match the efficiency of magic.


Magic is still more versatile, and more intuitive to those who understand it, although tech tends to be more intuitive if you don't know magic.  Why use a gun which requires constant maintenance when you can launch a magic missile or a fireball that replenishes as you study and rest?  Why use a gas-guzzling van when you can ride a nightmare that only needs a small amount of feed?

Although it's harder to listen to your 8-track on a nightmare.

Of course, us magic-using types combine magic and tech.  Enchanted guns are pretty scarce, though they tend to be popular with adventurers if they can be found.

 Kickin' rad.

Some wizards have also combined the ancient magic of the spelljammer helm with the more recent automobile.

Seriously?  Wizards fucking rule.

Rockulon Prime still contains many of the dangers and features we have encountered on other worlds.  Outside civilization, roving bands of monsters threaten travelers.  Ancient ruins of fallen civilizations hold danger and treasure for those with the balls to face them.  Civilization ebbs and flows, but maintains a sort of dynamic equilibrium with the wild places.

And now, we close this transcript with images of Rockulon Prime:

We all start as apprentices.

But some wizards may progress to higher accomplishments of magic.

When the student is ready, the master will appear.

Evil wizards lord over petty fiefdoms.

Barbarians stalk the Wastes.

Although some evidence of civilization may exist in those borderlands.

Although not all settlements on the frontier are friendly.

Beastmen may be a danger in the wilds.

Some have even learned the metal mysteries of arcane music.

Of course, you should probably be a bit more worried about the mutants.

Fortunately, there are always those willing to defend the borderlands.

Especially since vast rewards lie beyond civilization.

Interested parties are directed to the subsequent post, On the Subject of Rockulon Prime.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

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