Monday, September 21, 2015

Tabletop & LARP RPGs Advice & Inspiration

Because I don't have nearly enough to do, I recently took over the Tabletop & LARP RPGs Advice & Inspiration group on Facebook from Patricia Willenborg.  It's already sitting at around 200 members, but could always use more, particularly people who have advice to offer.

Come check us out, would you please?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The West That Never Was: Harmonia

So I'm currently reading The Remarkable Life of John Murray Spear: Agitator for the Spirit Land by John Benedict Buescher, possibly as preparation for an Unknown Armies game I seem increasingly unlikely to run.  (It would also be an excellent resource for anyone running a God-Machine Chronicle game.  The idea of John Murray Spear as a mortal cult leader — or even a stigmatic — contacted by angels of the God-Machine would be a pretty rad time.  Astute observers might also note Spear's frequent dealings in Lovecraft country, and disturbing parallels with the Nyarlathotep avatar the Tick-Tock Man.)  You can read a basic run-down at Wikipedia or other sources, but as a very brief background, John Spear was a New England Unitarian minister in the mid-1800s who became heavily involved in prison reform, equal rights, and suchlike.  He eventually became active in the Spiritualist community, and claimed he was being contacted by a bureaucracy of spirits (including several famous figures from American history, notably Ben Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and George Washington), entities who were giving him instructions to build a new America on spiritual principles.  He built a god-machine (that was either destroyed or never worked, evidence is unclear), he built model communities based on spiritualism and socialism, and basically did the messianic occultist cult leader thing.

After the destruction of the god-machine, Spear's activities continued with the conception of what would be an ideal city, a New Jerusalem run by mediums in constant communion with the spirits.  It would be an enlightened, socialist society called Harmonia.  The spot was in Kiantone, on the site of an old spring.  (Spear and his followers believed the spot had mystical properties left by the machinations of an ancient race.)  It only met with limited success, but the plan was to build the city according to the symbolism of the human body (most of Spear's creations follow anatomy in some way).

Of course, as awesome as all that would be as background for a modern (or historical) occult horror game, I was immediately struck by the timeframe.  What if this were in the Wild West rather than New England?

What if it were in the West That Never Was?

(Note: As per the theme in the first West post, I'll reference spell names from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but similar spells are available in pretty much every fantasy RPG.  If you want to do that Boot Hill/AD&D crossover, just look for the appropriate AD&D spells and go from there.)


Population 1,020

Harmonia is a mixed theocracy-magocracy, a community primarily run by clerics and magic-users.  However, only the day-to-day operations are actually performed by mortals; the true work is done by the spirits.  The local government makes heavy use of Speak with Dead, Commune, and similar extraplanar communication spells (alternately, the entities they contact are willing to come to them).

The town is completely without mundane defenses, as the government is entirely pacifistic.  They instead rely on faith and the guidance of spirits to avoid external threats.  (It's entirely possible that some manner of "guardian angel" guards the site against interlopers.)  As expected, weapons are not allowed in town — travelers must either divest themselves before entry, or turn their weapons over to the townsfolk, whereupon they will be destroyed.  (Note that if travelers just drop their weapons outside town, the townsfolk will gather and destroy them.  If the travelers do something clever, like burying their weapons, but they look like the sort to carry weapons, the townsfolk will use Locate Object to find them, excavate them, and destroy them.  They're pretty thorough, although it might take a few days to locate well-hidden weapons, so the PCs might be able to recover them.)

The town is built on the site of an ancient healing spring; access to the spring is free, but monitored so that no one tries to pollute the well.  A single drink of water will cure the most serious ailment affecting the imbiber, as per a Cure Disease, Cure Light Wounds, or Neutralize Poison spell.  (So someone who is diseased, poisoned, and wounded would need at least three drinks to be fully healed.)  The water can be bottled, but loses potency after a day away from the well.

The head of the town is the Reverend John Spear, a spiritualist and minister from Back East.  Now in his sixties, he was an adventurer and rabble-rouser in his youth, and is a 10th level cleric.  He has a family Back East, although they do not live out here as they do not understand his spirit communion.  (His daughter, Sophronia, participated in his spiritual explorations, but she died of brain fever a couple of years back.  He still communes with her, however.)  He is tended by a council of mediums, low-level clerics and magic-users whom he provides with scrolls when resources allow.

The townsfolk do not use wealth among each other, but when dealing with the outside world, they gather their wealth through the use of the Locate Object spell.  (Gold mining is a popular profession, as is a certain level of dungeon delving.)  They will sell general goods to outsiders for nominal fees (use the standard rural values; at the DM's discretion, prices may also be lower for some goods), although they sell any found treasure and treasure maps at normal (but relatively fair) values.

If your game uses Cattle Punk tech as described in the first West post, it is available here (although weapons never are).  Also note that if you are just running traditional D&D, you can strip the Western elements and Victorian-level technology with no trouble.  (The more technology available in your world, though, the more steampunk they get; they're all about the divine essence as a New Motive Power, an advanced engine that powers the world and whose power can be harnessed by mortals.)

Note that the nature of the spirit entities that guide the townsfolk is left deliberately vague.  Spear certainly thinks they're angels and spirits of the dead guiding the town to a glorious future, but they could be anything: ancestors, aliens, angels, demons, devils, the ghosts of the ancient race that enchanted the spring, gods, psychic projections of Illuminated masters (or aboleths or illithids), spirits of the Duvan'Ku, the weird entities summoned by the Summon spell, or any other entity of the DM's choosing.  The creatures chosen will naturally influence the town's goals and general feel to some degree.

Students of popular culture and science fiction may also note that "Harmonia" sounds suspiciously similar to "Harmony," the name of the Wild West version of The Village from The Prisoner.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Revised Map of the Sorrowfell Plains

So I finally made an actual document on all the named settlements of the Sorrowfell Plains.  It's on Google Drive for any and all interested parties, although there are spoilers for some of the smaller settlements, so if you play in one of my games, you may wish to avoid it.  Consider it a very brief gazetteer of the Sorrowfell Plains setting.  Check it out:

Sorrowfell Settlements

The settlement write-ups correspond with the settlements on the revised Sorrowfell Plains map, made in Hexographer.  It also contains spoilers, and it's a pretty big image, so I also threw it in Google Drive:

Sorrowfell Plains (revised map)

And just for completion, you can also check it out here:

Click to enlarge
Note that the Tower of the Archmagus in last week's treasure map sits where Duchy Jepson resides today, in Hex 90.28.  You can probably determine the rest of the points on that map using this one.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Map

One of my PCs in the Dungeon World game has gone looking for trouble, so I have trouble prepared.  Assuming all goes according to plan (which is a notable assumption in this group), the Terrible Old Man has a treasure map to some long-forgotten treasure.  The treasure will go unrevealed until the PCs speak with the Terrible Old Man, but for the time being, the treasure map may be useful.  I made it in Hexographer; it's based off a revised version of the Sorrowfell Plains map.  Interested parties might be able to use it in their own campaigns, if you need a random treasure map; I tea-dyed parchment-looking cardstock and burned the edges to give it a weathered look.

Click to enlarge.

Monday, August 31, 2015

There's Apparently a Level 1 in Dungeon Crawl Classics

After a couple of funnels ending in hilarity, we finally breached level 1 in rushputin's run of Escape from the Purple Planet.  We used the Purple Sorcerer Games funnel generator to make Earthmen of the Purple Planet, because if you're doing the John Carter thing, you might as well go all the way.  As is standard, most players experienced a reckoning of their 0-level PCs, although one of our players only lost his first character as we successfully escaped the prison complex.  He lost the street urchin, but still has a talking cosmonaut chimp, Pope Innocent XIII, and Rick Springfield Greenfield.

Here's my rundown:

Horatio duBois, displaced sailor from 1812, was frequently at the front, which meant he was the first to be captured and killed by the Maur.  Which is a bit unfortunate, as he grabbed one of the two suits of chainmail we found in the pits.  Oops.

Pop star Rebecca Black had a collection of wigs, a mace, and 7 hit points, but was unfortunately too slow to successfully avoid the rampaging strekleon in the control chamber.  She was impaled by quills multiple times.  She will look forward to no more weekends.

Mirabilis the Magnificent also met his end at the quills of the strekleon.  He bashed it with his mouldering old tome, which unfortunately found him close enough to get tangled in the beast's quills, like some sort of infomercial gone horribly wrong.  Proof that would-be wizards should stay out of melee combat.

The sole survivor from my four 0-level PCs was the British expatriate school teacher from turn-of-the-century Germany, Samantha Parkington.  She managed to acquire scale mail and a great glaive, cementing her transformation from school teacher to 1st level Warrior:

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Black Sun Deathcrawl

This is the bleakest setting I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

Black Sun Deathcrawl is a Dungeon Crawl Classics setting by James MacGeorge.  Imagine the unforgiving world of Dark Sun, the bleak pulp atomic horror of Carcosa, the dark fantasy of Dark Souls, the existential dread of Wraith: the Oblivion.

Black Sun Deathcrawl is worse than all of them.

Many years ago, the apocalypse happened.  The evil Black Sun became ascendant, turning the world to waste.  Its merciless rays have worn the world smooth and featureless.  Its wicked thoughts have taken shape as monsters that harry the few survivors, and push forth with the rays of the Black Sun.  The few survivors became the immortal and mutated Cursed, forced to eternal mutation under the harsh rays of the Black Sun.  The apocalypse was so total, even the gods have fled this landscape.  The only respite from the Black Sun is to dig.  Dig far underground in the hopes of escaping.

Of course, to dig means allowing the rays to penetrate the ground and eventually corrupt the entire planet.  By saving themselves, they doom the world.

It's a short zine, so you get only the barest flavor of the setting.  Fortunately, this means it does not stay overlong nor become tiresome.  Characters start as first level Fighters, but have already gained mutations from the Black Sun's corruption, and will gain more as exposure continues.  Death is not permanent, as characters return from the grave (bearing additional mutations!) within a round.  (Characters can die permanently if they run out of Hope, which replaces the Luck stat — committing suicide might be the only way to "win" at the setting.)  The only hope spot of the setting is that the Black Sun's gravity will eventually pull in existence around it and end its evil.  That's certainly small comfort to your PCs, of course — it could be millennia before that happens.

The zine ends with a sample adventure — the PCs dig into a city of dwarfs, but they bring the corrupting influence of the Black Sun with them, and are forced to flee deeper into the earth.  It plays a lot like the horror-march of Heart of Darkness or Apocalypse Now — you'll see a lot of horrific tableaus, some of which you can rage against but cannot fully stop.  Maybe you can save a life or two, but eventually, everyone becomes Cursed under the rays of the Black Sun.

I absolutely recommend it.  If any of the above sounds like something that interests you, get the pdf or pre-order from the next print run.

Monday, July 27, 2015


It's Gary Gygax's birthday!  The referee may include a preplanned encounter with fondue, a cask conditioned ale, and Gold & Mild cigars.  Alternately, the referee may roll 1d10 for birthday cake:


In the event of a random cake encounter, the day is usually arranged into three periods (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).  Cake has a 1-in-20 chance of appearing at any of these times.  This may be adjusted according to the referee's game milieu.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Free RPG Day 2015

I'm a little late with my report, but June 20, 2015, was Free RPG Day.  For previous reports, check out 2012 and 2014.

As with last year, places are limiting goods to one per customer, so I did most of my Free RPG Day business through Noble Knight Games.  Nicole and I did make the actual pilgrimage to place in the area, however.  Our go-to spot, Big Planet Comics, was out of the running, but we went to Comics & Gaming and 2nd & Charles.  Both of which had a fine showing; 2nd & Charles actually has an in-store event for the occasion, although we didn't have time to stick around.  We'll need to do so next year.

This year's acquisitions:
  • 13th Age/Night's Black Agents: Pelgrane is one of the regulars at Free RPG Day.  This dual product has two adventures.  For 13th Age, we have "At Land's Edge," featuring a suddenly-appearing island and the dungeon that spawned it (this apparently also acts as a prequel to the adventure, Eyes of the Stone Thief).  Night's Black Agents features a quickstart and the adventure "The Harker Intrusion," designed as a prequel to Dracula Dossier, and featuring the PCs trying to rescue a journalist asset before the vampires take her out.
  • Atlantis: The Second Age: A sword-and-sorcery RPG from Khepera, Atlantis takes its cues from the likes of Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith.  Its similar to d20, in that actions require a d20 roll, and higher is better.  The attached adventure, "Something Foul in Potos," has the PCs rescuing sailors from slavers and black magicians.  Classic pulp fantasy stuff.
  • Battletech/Shadowrun: Catalyst Game Labs makes a strong showing every year, typically putting out a Battletech/Shadowrun product as well as a Cosmic Patrol and a Valiant Universe offering.  (They did all of those this year, although I didn't grab Cosmic Patrol or Valiant Universe.)  Battletech has the MechWarrior PCs fighting mech-riding pirates; Shadowrun has a Mr. Johnson hiring the 'runners to kidnap a former employee.
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics Judge's Screen: A tri-fold cardboard GM screen for Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics featuring kickin' rad artwork and several relevant charts.
  • Hellas: Worlds of Sun & Stone: This science fantasy space opera RPG is also from Khepera and uses the same system as Atlantis.  It's based on classical Greece (!), and the attached adventure tasks the PCs with finding a noble's son who has ended up on a lonely prison planet.  They have to extract him without the guards or prisoners finding out.
  • Into the Dragon's Maw: Also from Goodman Games, this is a module for D&D 5e.  Like most of their modules, it can be set anywhere, but the names and places assume their house setting of Aereth.  The adventure details a Xulmec village that was under the yoke of a green dragon until a century ago, when their shaman went to the beast's lair and confronted it.  Neither shaman nor dragon was ever seen again.  The PCs investigate the situation for whatever reasons adventuring types might investigate an abandoned dragon's lair.
  • Through the Breach: This Fate Core game from Wyrd Miniatures is based off their popular Malifaux wargame.  There's a quickstart and an adventure wherein the PCs face off against the Resurrectionists and their Iron Zombies.
  • We Be Goblins Free!: The third module in Paizo's We Be Goblins! series for Pathfinder, this depicts the goblin adventurers from the previous two modules, having become goblin chieftains in the aftermath.  They're bored, and task their goblin villagers with finding adventures for them to complete.  Naturally, this ends poorly.
Of course, running to the FLGS gave an opportunity to acquire some neat artifacts; I picked up some D&D miniatures from Comics & Gaming and a copy of Pinnacle's 50 Fathoms for Savage Worlds from 2nd and Charles.

The real gem, however, was the 2nd and Charles find Suppressed Transmission from Ken Hite for Steve Jackson Games.  I was totally unfamiliar with his column in Pyramid, and so this was an incredibly pleasant surprise.  Collecting several articles from his column in Pyramid, Ken Hite's Suppressed Transmission details alternate history, hidden occultism, and the Weird as pulled from history and delivered in bite-sized nuggets for gaming.  It's so phenomenal I grabbed the second volume within a week or two of buying it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Review: World Wide Wrestling

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to play World Wide Wrestling: The Roleplaying Game by Nathan D. Paoletta.  (I've previously encountered the author via Annalise, although I've only skimmed it.)

Professional wrestling is not a part of my background, but I know a fair number of people who enjoy it.  (By-and-large, they're gamers, and they like wrestling for the same reasons they enjoy role-playing games — action and soap opera, in equal measure.)  As with a lot of things, I've absorbed portions of it via osmosis — time spent around friends who watch wrestling, jaunts on TV Tropes or Wikipedia, and the inevitable absorption of pop culture detritus that all minds accumulate.  I probably should have done a bit more research beforehand, but this isn't a terrible game to enter cold.

World Wide Wrestling is an attempt to model professional wrestling in all its chaotic glory, both in and out of the ring.  It is a *World game — Powered by the Apocalypse, as they say — putting it in the camp with Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Monsterhearts, and the like.  The mechanics should be familiar to those familiar with *World games, but I'll give a quick run-down:  Your actions are governed by a list of broad "moves" that define what you can do.  If there's any certainty or randomness involved, you roll 2d6 + some stat.  You fail if you roll 6 or lower, get an incomplete success with a roll of 7-9, and completely succeed on a 10 or higher.  In addition to your stats, you have bonds with your fellow PCs; these bonds form the core mechanic, as increasing your relationships to other PCs is the primary means of leveling up.  It's a fast, light system designed to simulate narrative reality.

Of course, it's been hacked from the core system.  You have four stats: Look (how well you perform), Power (governing feats of strength), Work (how skilled you are at the technical aspects of wrestling), and Real (how well you balance the role you're playing and how good you are at breaking kayfabe and making it work).  You're still trying to improve those relationships (called "Heat," and working almost exactly like Hx from Apocalypse World), but improving your relationships is a direct result of working with a person (be it in a match, cutting promos, whatever).

The biggest change is the wound and advancement system.  You can get injured — accidents do happen — but you're not going to die in the ring; injuries just take you out until you heal.  Instead, the "health" and "experience" mechanics are folded into a single system, called "Audience," which measures how well-received you are by the public.  Certain factors (like increasing your Heat with another wrestler) increase Audience; when you hit Audience 4, you gain an advance (which lets you take an additional move, increase a stat, or gain some advantageous relationship like a manager or tag-team).  If you end an episode at Audience 0, though, you're fired (character "death," essentially).  There are a couple of other methods to gain advances, but that's probably the most straightforward and common one.

The Gimmicks — "playbooks" in other *World games, and character classes in other games — are all wrestling tropes, and focus as much on the actual actor and the wrestling character the person portrays.  (As an example, the playbook I'm using is "The Wasted" — a drug addict, you're pretty adept at flashy stunts in the ring, but you're also a walking threat to kayfabe when you're using.  Which is frequent.)

One of the other differences is the increased import of player-versus-player in this game.  Succeeding at a wrestling maneuver grants bonuses, but also grants narrative control.  Narrative control typically shifts back-and-forth a couple of times during a match until the GM calls for the finish.  As per pro wrestling, outcomes are fixed (although some unruly types can "throw" matches, as happened in the first match), but it is still possible to grow one's audience even if one "loses."

As with other *World games, the GM doesn't roll anything.  The hot potato of narrative control passes as normal, but if the PC loses, the GM accepts it and narrates for a while before returning narrative control to the player.

Amusingly, most of the players present had limited wrestling knowledge, but we still seemed to get into the swing of things as the game progressed.  (Most notably, the quickstart has a list of wrestling moves on pages 8-9.)

About the only complaint about the system is the back-and-forth of the narrative.  The fact that poor dice rolls can prevent a player from describing actions is a bit of a pain, although "narrative control" could just as easily mean collaborating with your opponent and holding final veto rights.  I'm guessing it varies among play groups.

All-in-all, it's the kind of quick, story-driven play I've come expect from *World games.  It seems like a solid system for the genre, likely better than trying to model it with d20.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Savage Worlds: Star Trek

(If you want to skip the rambling, I made a bunch of Star Trek races in Savage Worlds.  You can cobble the rest of the setting together with Memory Alpha, Savage Worlds Deluxe, and Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion.  Go check them out.)

So Nicole and I have been watching a lot of Star Trek recently, because we somehow have it in our heads that we're going to devour the entire franchise.  (Coincidentally, just in time for the 50th anniversary.  For those of you playing along at home, we just re-watched The Search for Spock last night, so we're not very far yet.  Just wrapping up Original Series.)  While there's maybe a 5% chance of this being relevant, I was somehow bitten by the bug to devote headspace to Star Trek.

I haven't read a lot of the official role-playing materials for Star Trek — I've glanced at one of the official The Next Generation core books, and I've got some Star Fleet Universe books floating around — but I did really enjoy Goblinoid's take on Starships & Spacemen.  I don't really have an idea in mind beyond "Here's a sector — map it!" so I've never done anything with it.

Having also recently absorbed all of the Mad Max franchise, I was contemplating the prospect of high-octane insane post apocalyptic action set around the Eugenics Wars or World War III.  (Could you imagine Gary Seven versus Immortan Joe versus Khan Noonien Singh versus Lord Humungus?  That's some straight-up Planet Motherfucker-level shit.)  And while a combination of Starships & Spacemen and Mutant Future could certainly handle that, it just didn't seem right somehow.

Enter Savage Worlds.  I picked up Savage Worlds a while ago, and even read it, but never really did anything with it.  But somehow it clicked as a likely candidate to run Star Trek.  So, I made a bunch of Star Trek races in Savage Worlds.  If I never use them, hopefully you will.

Savage Worlds: Star Trek Races

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dapimancy (New-Wave Videomancy)

People watched television the same way for over half a century, but newer generations are more accustomed to watching their television shows on-demand, and frequently in a single sitting.

Within the last ten years or so, a shift has occurred, with a couple of would-be Videomancers showing behaviors less influenced by the old-school of being beholden to the television schedule, and closer to the custom of binge-watching.

Those who have encountered the occult underground call their new school "Dapimancy" — after the Latin word "daps, dapis" referring to sacrificial banquets — although some occultists derisively call them Truphemancers (after the Greek word for effeminate luxury).

So far, Dapimancy is just a minor school — nobody has quite figured out how to get significant charges for it, but just give it time.

aka Binge-Watchers, Bingers

The Videomancers are rubes, Marx's opiate-drunk cultists suckling at the teat of organized entertainment.  You're a monk, a hermit, who goes into seclusion and returns enlightened.  Your living room is the poustinia, your couch is your sajjada, your Netflix account is your gospel.  You retreat into the wilds so that you may bring wisdom back to the world with you.

Dapimancy forms a middle ground between Infomancy and Videomancy — you take the same inputs as Videomancers, but you remix them like an Infomancer.  You accept the truth of television at your own pace, not based on the dictates of some production staff with no knowledge of your personal truth.  If Videomancy is the Catholic Church, you're Martin Luther nailing your theses to the wall.  You're Thomas Jefferson, taking his favorite pieces of the Bible and making the good book his own.  (Of course, Elvis did the same thing, too.)  The gauntlet has been thrown, and the networks and cable companies — those long-standing monoliths holding television hostage — are running scared.  You're bringing television to the people, one marathon at a time.

The central paradox of Dapimancy is still caught up in the tension between the isolation of television watching and the commonality of the experience, but it turns it on its head by letting you make your own truth.  We're all watching the same shows, but we watch them according to our own schedule on our own terms.  You're free to indulge whenever you want, but when you start, you cannot stop.

Dapimancy Blast Style
Like Videomancers, Dapimancers have no blast.  However, there are persistent rumors that some Dapimancers have determined how to inflict fatigue and health problems on their victims — just like they've been sitting too long, letting their arteries clog and their muscles atrophy.

Like Videomancers, Dapimancers charge up by watching television.  Unlike Videomancers, they can watch whatever they want, as long as they carve out chunks for it.  You don't have to catch every episode of Game of Thrones as it premiers on HBO, but once you start watching it, you'd better have cleared your schedule, because you're in for the long haul.

Also, once Dapimancers are on a kick, they're on it until it's done.  Once you start watching Game of Thrones, you can't intercut episodes of Dexter.  It garbles the nuances of both shows.

Generate a Minor Charge: Spend six hours watching your current program du jour.  You can take small breaks between episodes for food and the bathroom, but you'd better plan carefully.  (A truly knowledgeable lord of the occult underground might notice similarities between this and Charismatics from Thin Black Line, page 17-19, but it's doubtful anybody has that much on the ball.  With the probable exception of the First and Last Man.)

Generate a Significant Charge: Currently unknown.  Maybe a specific pattern is required, or maybe it's just a time thing — binge-watch for a week straight, or something.

Generate a Major Charge: Currently unknown, although dukes in the know suspect that starring in a program might do the trick, just like regular old Videomancers.

Taboo: Once you start, you can't stop.  Interrupting a marathon robs you of all your charges.  As with Videomancers, this means that power outages can royally screw you over, and anybody who knows you're charging can schedule a home invasion and rob you of your charges.

Random Magick Domain: Like Videomancers, you understand people and events through observation, as well as adapting oneself to expectations.  It's perfect for spies and voyeurs.

Starting Charges: Dapimancers start with 5 minor charges, just like Videomancers.

Dapimancers have the same minor formula spells as Videomancers, as seen in Unknown Armies (second edition), pages 160-161.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Early Modern Unknown Armies Masterpost

Since I've been planning to reboot my modern Unknown Armies game (hopefully we're having the first session tonight), and so I've been thinking about the early modern one a little bit more.  (There's now even an early modern Unknown Armies tag on this very blog.)  I didn't devise a ton of content for it, but I did make enough that sometimes I look at it and wonder.

Naturally, all this stuff relies on knowledge of Unknown Armies and the sourcebook The Ascension of the Magdalene.

So, without further ado, have some stuff that I'm unlikely to use again:

Early Modern GMCs: These include historical figures such as Gaspar Graziani and Jan Mydlář, as well as the wholly fictional Divus Giovanni Vabalathus Sarotosia Nibelung (based on the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the infant bastard son of Don Juan de Austria).  I was going to provide a writeup for Laurentius Dhur, but the game folded before I got that far.

Encounter Tables: An encounter table suitable for early modern adventuring.  I never made a Special Encounter subtable, so you can put your own weird events there.

Factions: A series of early modern factions written in the style of the faction lists in Unknown Armies (second edition), pages 84-85 and 204-206.

Also, Previously on the Blog:

1610 UA Money Conversion Chart

UA Conversion Notes for Willibald Schwartz from Better Than Any Man

UA Conversion Notes for Dittmar from Better Than Any Man

Durandal, sword of Roland

Shakespeare's The Tempest (rough draft)

Lamentations of the Unknown Armies

And this probably would be incomplete without the Random Shakespearean Insult Generator

Friday, May 15, 2015

Lamentations of the Unknown Armies

So a while back, I ran an early modern Unknown Armies game, which you can read all about in the early modern Unknown Armies tag.  All the early modern Unknown Armies rules are cribbed from The Ascension of the Magdalene, an adventure set in 1610 Prague and part of Atlas Games' Coriolis imprint, wherein they dual-stat adventures for their house rules and d20.

The main problem I found is that Unknown Armies' sleek and fast ruleset bogs quickly when archaic weapons get involved.  Simply put: their archaic armor rules suck, because they require way more bookkeeping than anything else in the game.  And they slow down combat significantly, because hits now do way less damage.  (As I write this, I wonder if archaic armor ought to just impose a flat negative shift on enemy attacks.  Or, even better, it works thus: When taking damage from a melee attack, a wearer with light armor ignores the lower die, and a wearer with heavy armor ignores the higher one.  So, if some dude punches you and roll an 18, somebody in light armor takes 8 damage, and somebody in heavy armor takes 1 damage.  Armor can still knock off weapon bonus damage if you want, but I'd keep it as a flat -3 and -6 rather than tracking what damage type it is.  Less bookkeeping is superior to more in Unknown Armies.)

So, instead of adapting D&D to Unknown Armies, I've been thinking about going the other way and adapting Unknown Armies to D&D.  Specifically, the other early modern variant — Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  It already has fast combat resolution and early modern flair, including guns and early modern armor.

Rules Tweaks:

For Lamentations of the Unknown Armies, there are only three classes — Fighter, Magic-User, and Specialist.  Magic-users can use both cleric and magic-user spells.  To offset rarer healing, and keep with UA's typical action economy, maybe there's a First Aid or Heal skill for Specialists — using it just after a battle lets you heal a hit die roll's worth of hit points, and the rest gets healed by natural healing.

If you want to port the Madness Meters over, everything works just the way as it does in UA2, Chapter Five: Madness, pg. 64-71.  Stress checks are Wisdom checks — roll a d20 against Wisdom.  If you get lower than the stat (or equal to it), you gain a Hardened notch.  If you get higher than the stat, you gain a failed notch, and panic, paralysis, or frenzy as normal.  (There probably aren't many therapists about, but if you can find a sin-eater of some sort around, the Referee can give them a score between 1-20 to act as a psychotherapist.)

Avatars bear special noting: an Avatar path is a new ability score, from 0-20.  Most people start with 0; your Referee might allow you to start with a couple of points in it if you want.  (Maybe you can sink Specialist points into the Avatar ability?)  If you seek the Avatar path in-game, it takes nine in-game weeks to gain the first point, and another five in-game weeks to gain the second point.  Once you hit two points, you gain another point each time you level up.  If you break your taboo, you make a taboo check.  Roll 1d20 — if you roll equal to your Avatar score or below it, you lose a point in your Avatar ability.  If you roll above your Avatar ability, nothing happens.

Avatar scores directly convert from the Unknown Armies book in 5% increments, so you get your first channel from 1-10 points, your second channel from 11-14 points, your third channel from 15-18 points, and your fourth channel from 19-20 points.  You have a chance for godwalker at 20 points, and if you're the godwalker, you choose your godwalker channel at that level.  (You probably want to check out Ascension of the Magdalene for alternate early modern Avatar manifestations.)

Given the humanocentric universe of Unknown Armies, and the general feel of the setting, certain spells, effects, and adventures probably aren't appropriate, although that's up to the individual Referee.  If you want to give characters the option to be a little more versatile, like in regular old Unknown Armies, let them multiclass.  (I'd recommend keeping XP requirements the same, so if you're a level 3 Fighter looking to become a level 4 Magic-User, your next level-up will require +4,500 XP, or 8,500 XP, rather than +4,000 XP.)  If you determine Magic-Users are the adepts of the setting, start them off with 1 Hardened and 1 Failed notch in Unnatural, and make them go through the same rigamarole (you have to go crazy in a Madness Meter) to become Magic-Users.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Slender Man for D&D 5e

The other day, I made a post about D&D 4e stats for the Slender Man, and Trey requested D&D 5e statistics.

Well, here we go.  Note that killing the Slender Man may not kill it, but instead banishes it back to its point of origin.  In such a case, further steps would need to be taken to permanently destroy the creature — there's a long-standing rumor that the Slender Man is some manner of psychic entity from the Astral Plane, and must be confronted on that plane to be permanently slain.

Unsurprisingly, this version of the Slender Man owes a lot of its lineage to Marble Hornets' Operator.  Like the Operator, this Slender Man is probably best used as an antagonist when the (low-level) PCs stumble across its lair or cultists.  It then performs weird, quick, blitz-style attacks, appearing at inopportune and seemingly random times to menace the PCs.  It usually aims to frighten or wound rather than kill, reserving murder for anything that seems truly capable of threatening it.  (Such as high-level PCs that come poking around its lair to put an end to it once and for all.)

The Dungeon Master probably wants to determine its agenda, if any.  It might have a goal that drives it (the fact that it occasionally dominates cultists suggests it seeks worship or validation somehow), or maybe it's just a hyper-intelligent beast that feeds on the fear its presence causes.  (Maybe it's even a psychic entity that requires minds to think of it, lest it winks out of existence.  It would certainly explain why areas and people tainted with its influence count as "associated objects" when it uses its teleport power.)

And at least a couple of cagers have suggested its ability to maze people, its penchant for dismemberment, its complete silence, and its odd locomotion suggest kinship with the Lady of Pain somehow...

The Slender Man
Medium monstrosity (plant), neutral evil
Armor Class 18
Hit Points 187 (25d8+75)
Speed 0 ft., teleport 30 ft.
Str 16 (+3), Dex 22 (+6), Con 16 (+3), Int 22 (+6), Wis 19 (+4), Cha 17 (+3)
Saving Throws Dex +11, Int +11
Skills Insight +9, Intimidation +8, Perception +9, Stealth +11
Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons
Senses blindsight 120 ft., tremorsense 120 ft., passive Perception 19
Languages telepathy 120 ft.
Challenge 13 (10,000 XP)
Grappler.  The Slender Man has advantage on attack rolls against any creature grabbed by it.
Nonterrene Consumption.  The Slender Man does not require air, food, drink, or sleep.
Shapechanger.  The Slender Man can alter its body proportions at will, extruding appendages or altering its size to Small or Large.
Sigma Radiation.  Any humanoid that starts its turn within 30 feet of the Slender Man must make a DC 19 Constitution saving throw.  On a failed save, the creature is poisoned for 1 minute.  A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, with disadvantage if the Slender Man is still in its presence, ending the effect on itself on a success.  If a creature's saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the creature is immune to the Slender Man's Sigma Radiation for the next 24 hours.
Teleportation.  Three times per day, the Slender Man can innately teleport as per the spell (PHB, pg. 281), requiring no components.  If the Slender Man is teleporting to its lair or to the location of someone it has encountered and is stalking, it is considered to have an associated object with regard to its destination.  (100% chance of teleporting on-target.)

Multiattack.  The Slender Man makes three tendril attacks.
Tendril.  Melee Weapon Attack: +11 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target.  Hit: 14 (2d8+6) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 19).  Until this grapple ends, the creature is restrained.

Legendary Actions
The Slender Man can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below.  Only one legendary action option can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature's turn.  The Slender Man regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.
Missing Time.  A targeted creature must succeed on a DC 19 Wisdom saving throw, or else take 13 (3d8) damage and become removed from time for 1 minute.  While removed from time, a creature disappears and is incapacitated.  A creature can repeat the saving throw, with disadvantage, at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
Slender Sickness.  One creature poisoned by the Slender Man must succeed on a DC 19 Constitution saving throw or else take 13 (3d8) damage, fall prone, and become incapacitated for 1 minute.  This effect ends if the creature is no longer poisoned.

The Slender Man's Lair
The Slender Man's lair is usually either an abandoned ruin made by humanoid hands, or a wooded area away from civilization.  (Frequently, however, this wooded area is poorly-traveled, but not so remote as to be unreachable.)  Even in woods, however, it frequently lairs among the detritus of civilization — an abandoned shack, a crumbling tower, a ruined fort.  The Slender Man encountered in its lair has a challenge rating of 15 (13,000 XP).

Lair Actions
When fighting inside its lair, the Slender Man can invoke the ambient magic to take lair actions.  On initiative count 20 (losing initiative ties), the beholder can take one lair action to cause one of the following effects:
  • The Slender Man targets any creatures that can see it within 120 feet of it with a fear effect.  Affected targets must succeed on a DC 19 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened by the Slender Man.  The creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.  The Slender Man can't use this lair action again until it has used a different one.
  • The Slender Man targets one creature that can see it within 120 feet of it with a mind-influencing effect.  The target must succeed on a DC 19 Wisdom saving throw or be charmed by the Slender Man.  The charmed target regards the Slender Man as a potent being capable of granting great enlightenment or power, and is inclined to assist it to further curry its favor.  If the Slender Man attempts to take action against the target, it can repeat the saving throw with advantage.  The charm effect lasts 24 hours, or until the Slender Man is banished, is destroyed, is on a different plane of existence than the target, or takes a bonus action to end the effect.  The Slender Man cannot use this lair action again until the charmed condition is ended on the initial target.
  • The Slender Man casts maze (no components needed; PHB, pg. 258-259) on one target that can see it within 120 feet of it.  While maintaining concentration on this effect, the Slender Man can't take other lair actions.
Regional Effects
The region surrounding the Slender Man's lair is warped by the creature's presence, which creates one or more of the following effects:
  • Trees within 1 mile of the Slender Man's lair become twisted and spindly.
  • Buildings within 1 mile of the Slender Man's lair become increasingly decrepit, and are frequently vandalized.
  • Creatures within 1 mile of the Slender Man's lair make saving throws against the frightened effect at disadvantage.
If the Slender Man dies or is banished, these effects fade over the course of a year.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Slender Man for D&D 4e

About three-and-a-half years ago, I wrote an article on the Slender Man, with a focus on using him in fantasy settings.

Well, guess what?  I used him in a fantasy setting.

The Crux of Eternity group suffered a near-TPK at the hands of some giants, and so I wrested an old, forgotten plot thread — another group was attempting to find a fey noble who was lost while seeking a legendary artifact — and had the remnants of one group run into the aftermath of the other.  They allied to continue their separate quests, but the fey noble was being followed by the Slender Man.

He's a difficult fight all by his lonesome, but he showed up with a couple of corrupt druids and their treant allies.  Anyway, without further ado:

Also: The Slender Man on Obsidian Portal
Also, in related news: we may be updating the Crux group to 5e.  I've enjoyed 4e, but the long, slogging combats are beginning to grate.  We'll stick with 4e for at least the next session, but I think we're going to try the switch in a session or two.

Edit: Interested parties may wish to see the Slender Man for 5e.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Unknown Armies Fan Club

So, to my surprise, myself and some of my associates learned there was not a dedicated Unknown Armies group on Facebook, so some friends of mine made the Unknown Armies Fan Club.  We currently primarily post weird news stories, although I hope that’ll change soon.  Come check us out!

And post rumors in my rumors section.  It needs some love.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Near-Future RPG — Courtesy of XKCD

So I recently came across this XKCD comic wherein a timeline is established according to Google searches.  It strikes me as a potential fake timeline for some future-setting RPG, and so is included here in all its glory:

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Artifact April #30: The Comb of Youth and Vitality [systemless]

The Comb of Youth and Vitality is an ivory comb with an opal set in the handle.  It always feels unnaturally cold to the touch, and its presence sets one's teeth on edge, like drinking a cold drink with sensitive teeth.

The first person to use the Comb of Youth and Vitality removes one year of age for every brush stroke.  This person instantly feels themselves getting younger and more energetic, and so can usually determine what is happening and stop before, say, becoming a child.

You're going to want to write down how many years the first person removes, though.

All subsequent users of the comb age that many years for each brush stroke.  So, if the first person removed twenty years of age, all subsequent users become twenty years older for each brush stroke.  Brush your hair in four strokes, and you're now eighty years older (and likely dead, if you're a normal human).  If your players like to tinker, it's likely at least a couple of them will try the comb, hoping that the effect will somehow skip a person or whatever.

After the initial use, the enervation effect lasts for a number of years equal to the years of age stolen.  So, if you lost twenty years of age, all subsequent users will gain twenty years per stroke for the next twenty years.  Then the comb "resets" — probably after a group of concerned do-gooders locked it away somewhere and it has been forgotten.

Just in time for another to use the comb.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Artifact April #29: The Sammas [Dungeons & Dragons]

[Dungeons & Dragons]

(With all apologies to the Finns, as the Sammas is another name for the Sampo.)

According to the legends, the Sammas is a large, ornate, ivory drinking horn, carved with magical runes, which is always full of water.  The legends are exceedingly hazy on its pedigree, although must suggest it was made by an unnamed craftsman to purify the River of Tears, grown corrupted by the blood of dead primordials, or that it was made to provide enough water for the craftsman's village.  (A few legends claim the Sorrowfell Plains used to be desert, and the Sammas is the vessel that made them the verdant plains they are today.  These tales also tend to claim that the dead god Sorg made the vessel.)

The important, common element is that a craftsman needed a lot of pure water, and so made the artifact.

The Sammas is similar to a decanter of endless water, in that it produces limitless water.  However, there is no variance to the amount of water — if poured out, it always pours at a rate of one gallon every six to ten seconds or so.  (One gallon per round, like the "stream" setting of the decanter.)  Unlike a decanter, though, this water is pure (and should likely be treated as holy water).  So pure, in fact, that it purifies things it touches.  Water from the Sammas will decontaminate food, drink, people, and objects as per the spells purify food and drink, neutralize poison, or remove disease (or their local equivalent in whatever game system you happen to be running).  It will also purify areas and people of various types of corruption, and possibly even throw off haunting or possessing spirits.

The main problem with the Sammas is its location.  It has been lost for centuries, and no one has yet determined its location.  It is commonly thought the be hidden somewhere in the Hoarfrost Ridge, far to the north, but it could legitimately be anywhere.  (It is thought that some shrines advertise a connection to the Sammas either as an attraction to bring pilgrims or as a trap for the unwary.)

The last person to seek the Sammas was the fey noble, Lady Graunwen, who departed with a retinue of elves to seek the artifact in the autumn.  Since her final message last winter, two search parties have gone to find her.  Neither has returned.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Artifact April #28: The Excision Shears [systemless]

The Excision Shears look like a rusty old pair of scissors — big scissors, like your grandmother would use to cut fabric.  They cut things, as well they should.

The fact is, they cut things really well.

Anything that can reasonably fit between the blades will get cut.  If it's too big, you can't get enough leverage to get started, but anything smaller than that is fair game.  As a rule of thumb, if you have to open the blades more than 90°, you're not cutting it.  You could cut a high-tension wire, but you couldn't get enough leverage to cut a car in half.

The weird thing about the shears, though, is the fact that they cut things that aren't supposed to be cut.  Like emotions.  If you cut your hair with them, you'll always feel better about the new haircut, because you simply won't have an emotional connection to the old one anymore.  Cutting that high-tension wire will always feel cathartic, because it never should have been together in the first place.  The new state always seems more natural than the old one.

That's not the only thing, though.  If you cut up a book, the new book seems more pleasing than the old one.  Nobody knows how far this effect spreads, although if you decide to play William Burroughs and use the cut-up pieces to make a new work, it'll probably be well-received.  (Maybe it's possible to drive a popular book back into obscurity this way.  Or maybe only the person holding the scissors will think the new version is superior.  Or maybe only the author loses the emotional connection.  Who's to say?)

The most disturbing usage of the scissors, though, is with modern photographs.  Cut up a photograph the right way, and you can make someone uncomfortable in their own skin, because they no longer feel the same connection to how they look at they used to.  Or maybe they think one of their features is now extraneous.  Maybe you'll drive them to self-harm, because that part needs to leave.  Or maybe they just grow lethargic and apathetic about it, they just don't care.

And of course, if you cut between people in a photograph, they'll lose their emotional connection with each other.  Maybe someone will use this to make enemies not hate each other so much, but it's always more likely that some vindictive sort will make lovers drift apart.  It's never a sure thing, and some people can resist it, but it's still going to make for a rough time in your life when those whom you hold dearest now seem distant and alien.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Artifact April #27: The Conveyance Mirrors [Mage: the Ascension]

[Mage: the Ascension]

(8-pt Artifact)

The Conveyance Mirrors are a set of objects created by Adeptus Astrum, the leader of a small, research-oriented cabal called "Gibil Esagil" in the town of Brady's Glade, NE.  (He hoped to use them to coordinate actions with another, larger cabal, although he was rebuffed.  It is, of course, entirely possible that he might try to contact another cabal to assist in Gibil Esagil's research.)  Consisting of two floor-length mirrors with Enochian glyphs carved around the frame, each mirror has a small panel on the right side of the frame, right about where a doorknob would go on a door.  This panel is marked with a crown, and if it is flipped open, causes the mirror to immediately transform to a portal connecting to the opposite mirror if and only if the other mirror's panel is also flipped open (this is a safety precaution to help prevent unauthorized travel).  Through this portal, one can travel across any distance to the opposite mirror.

(The mirrors are enchanted with a variation of the Correspondence 4 rote, Hermes Portal, although they are enchanted such that the rote is permanently in effect.  This is fairly vulgar, and so the mirrors should probably be stored in a sanctum, lest Disbelief and Paradox rear their ugly heads.)

If the panels are closed, the mirrors will not function.  If a mirror is placed facing a solid object, the object will block the portal, although a sufficiently strong character can certainly attempt to break the barrier to traverse the portal.

If a mirror is broken, both mirrors break and become inert, leaving behind eight pawns of Tass in the form of mirror shards.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Artifact April #26: The Lentic Helm of Lordship [Dungeons & Dragons]

[Dungeons & Dragons]

The Lentic Helm of Lordship is a strange and grotesque object.  Meant to be worn on the head, the Lentic Helm is a domed structure made of some manner of transparent gelatinous substance, rather like the flesh of a jellyfish, and held together by surface tension or some strange cohesion of molecules.  The back of the "helm," such as it is, bears several clear, writhing tendrils; these are purely decorative, but tend to unnerve viewers and wearers alike.

The Lentic Helm allows the wearer to issue short commands (maybe five words or so) that must be obeyed, rather like the suggestion spell.  Unlike suggestion, these commands can be harmful to the listener — "Strike yourself!" is just as acceptable as "Sleep!" or "Flee this place!"

Victims must make a saving throw vs. spells/magic/Will (with a +1 bonus for every victim beyond the first to be affected) or else carry out the instruction for one minute.

The origin of the Lentic Helm of Lordship is unknown, although Far Realm influence is suspected.  Some scholars even think that the Lentic Helm might be the work of the aboleths — as much a tool of control as a trap for the unwary who dare use it.  A few dark rumors even suggest that the thing is alive, and part of the aboleth lifecycle.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Artifact April #25: The Thief in the Night [new World of Darkness]

[new World of Darkness]

4-dot Relic

Durability 2, Size 0, Structure 2

Description: This small ring looks to be made of some dull, grey metal.  It is shaped like a crocodile looped over the finger, with the snout pointing outward slightly.  At the bottom of the ring are two seams, and it has a faint, powdery, green sheen to it.

Background: The Thief has changed hands many times over the centuries, but it is apparent that it is a copper ring shaped like a crocodile.  Some aspects of its design and history suggest that it may have come from Egypt, though it is just as likely that someone was trying to copy the design.

Some scholars suspect that the ring's history has something to do with the worship of Set, as it aids with travel, while others think it invokes Sobek to protect the wearer from watchful eyes.  Of course, it's just as possible that someone used the design because it looked pretty.  No one knows.


Forgettable (••••): The ring makes the user easily overlooked.  By twisting the ring once and rolling Wits + Stealth, the user becomes invisible — not to sight, but to the minds of others.  So long as the person does not draw attention to herself (by stealing objects larger than her Size or committing violence on others), then she continues to be invisible.  If she does draw attention, the invisibility ends.  Note that, unlike the typical power, she does not risk being forgotten or forgetting herself.

Unnatural Travel (••••): By using the ring's exposed edge to etch a mark into a substance, the user can make that mark into a portal.  The user can create two such marks and travel between them freely by spending 2 Willpower and rolling Wits + Manipulation.  On a success, she disappears from one location and reappears at another one minute later.  An exceptional success reduces this time to one turn; a dramatic failure causes the user to reappear at her point of origin one hour later covered in scratches and bruises (having taken four points of bashing damage).

(Curse) Derangement: The user finds it easier to avoid problems rather than facing them.  Using this ring, the user gains the Avoidance derangement until the next day or until she sleeps for eight hours, whichever comes first.

(Curse) Vulnerable: For four days after using the ring, the user is susceptible to magic.  Any supernatural powers used against her add +2 dice during this time.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Artifact April #24: Reading Glasses [new World of Darkness]

[new World of Darkness]

2-dot Relic

Durability 3, Size 0, Structure 3

Description: This looks like a pair of antique reading glasses.  The frames are tarnished, but the spectacles are otherwise unremarkable.

Background: The origin of these glasses is not immediately apparent.  The age suggests sometime in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, although the manufacturer, if any, is not apparent.  They are probably worth a little on their own, and definitely worth more to the right buyer who understands their mystic properties.


Knowledge Seeker (•): By spending 1 Willpower point, the character's next Research extended action task will be reduced from 30 minutes per roll to 5 minutes per roll.  If the time interval is not 30 minutes, assume it is reduced a comparable amount (roughly by a sixth).

Potent Success, Attribute (•••): By spending 2 Willpower points, the character's Academics rolls all gain the 9-Again quality for the rest of the scene.  This power may only be used once per 24 hour period.

(Curse) Vulnerable: However, meddling with alien forces does have its dangers.  After using the Potent Success power (above), the character becomes vulnerable to supernatural or magical powers.  For the next three days, any creature using such an ability on the character gains +2 dice to its roll.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Artifact April #23: The ChAOS Bomb [Mage: the Ascension]

[Mage: the Ascension]

(12-pt Invention)

The Chemical Acceleration, Orgone Separator Bomb, the masterwork of rogue Son of Ether Professor Vapor in tandem with fellow rogue Etherite Doctor Ferric, is a highly destructive superweapon.  The ChAOS Bomb is a stationary device which disrupts natural orgone flows through living organisms, reducing them to their base components.  The Bomb must be primed by charging the generator, which may be charged with a combination of mechanical, electrical, and bioetheric means.  In layman's terms, this device sends out a black wave of energy which disintegrates all living matter in its path.  This has the eerie effect of leaving behind small piles of dust surrounded by clothes and other personal effects of the deceased.  After unleashing its destructive wave, the Invention remains behind to be reused again and again (although it must be primed once again).

In game terms, the ChAOS Bomb uses Entropy 4, Forces 1, Prime 3, and Time 4 to produce its effect.  Entropy 4 and Prime 3 uses a variant of the Wither Life Effect to attack living organisms, dealing aggravated Pattern damage.  Time 4 allows the user to set a timer to delay the Effect; otherwise, she'll be caught in her own explosion!  Forces 1, if combined with Time 4, allows the user to set the device to blow if it receives a strong kinetic shock (such as being dropped from an airplane onto an unsuspecting city, let's say).  Use the damage and duration chart to determine damage as normal, spending extra successes for the area to be affected.  To completely vapourise a city the size of, let's say, New York City, the ChAOS Bomb would need to be primed with somewhere in the neighborhood of a whopping 35 successes at difficulty 9 on an Arete roll from the user, giving plenty of opportunity for enterprising do-gooders to intervene or for Paradox to engage in its natural state.  Paradox, in this instance, usually strikes as direct damage as the device malfunctions or explodes (or even if it detonates prematurely).  Unsurprisingly, the ChAOS Bomb is pretty vulgar, although it's just far enough within the realm of action movie science that a determined mage might be able to explain it away to a frightened populace and make it coincidental.  ("And just so you know I am serious, permit me a demonstration of the awesome destructive potential of the ChAOS Bomb!")

By the way, for those of you playing at home, in The Imperial City, the Order of Portoblax hoped to goad Doctor Ferric into using this weapon so that they could use the sacrifice of New York City to power their Portoblax summoning ritual from The Book of Summonings.  Fortunately, an alliance of Technocrats and Traditionalists stopped them from enacting that plan.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Artifact April #22: "Vienna in Wintertime," 1909 [systemless]

This watercolor painting is 50 cm wide by 64 cm tall.  It is a relatively pleasing, albeit unremarkable, work in the impressionist style depicting a relatively empty city street in downtown Vienna, Austria.  The sky is grey and everything is covered in snow.  A mother and child may be seen on the street, hurriedly walking in an attempt to get out of the cold.

Two things make this painting interesting.

The first is the painter's signature.  Handwriting analysis confirms that it is not a forgery; it reads "Adolf Hitler."  No such painting is known to exist; indeed, the 1909 date coincides with the period in which Hitler had been rejected from art school and was nearly penniless on the streets of Vienna.  It is exceedingly doubtful he would have had the resources to afford a canvas and painting supplies.

The second notable characteristic is a small, metallic, blinking box on the back of the painting, attached to the backing board on the frame.  This box appears to project the electromagnetic field surrounding the painting, extending from the box in all directions to a radius of 40 cm.  This force field is incredibly sophisticated, and has yet to be disrupted by any known means.  Contacting the force field with bare flesh produces a numbing, tingling sensation that disappears as soon as contact is broken.  The painting levitates in the center of this force field, and anybody wishing to move it will probably find rolling it to be the best option.

It is likely for the best that the energy field around the painting cannot be disrupted, as it is the only thing separating our atmosphere from the antimatter air bubble and painting within.  Contact between the molecules of our universe and the antimatter molecules inside the energy field would prompt an immediate and violent reaction, probably somewhere on the magnitude of the 50-megaton Tsar Bomba detonation, if not more.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Artifact April #21: SYNTHESYS.ARC [systemless]

The SYNTHESYS program is found on a series of twenty 5.25" double-density floppy disks with 360 KB storage capacity each.  Each one is marked with a piece of masking tape, and written in Sharpie, labeled "SYNTHESYS #" followed by a number between one and twenty.  None of the disks are missing.

Nobody has enough records to determine the origin of SYNTHESYS, but all evidence suggests that the program would have been created sometime in the mid-1980s, most likely as artificial intelligence experiments regarding expert systems.  The storage medium suggests an old IBM PC.  However, nobody has been able to determine a specific creator, whether that might be an academic institution, a company, or an individual.

When SYNTHESYS #1 is inserted into a floppy disk drive connected to a computer (a difficult proposition these days, although certainly not impossible), and if someone runs SYNTHESYS.ARC, the program will attempt to install on the computer's hard disk (or possibly the RAM if it's one of the older computers without internal storage).  It will prompt the operator to insert the disks in sequence, until all twenty have been installed.

Installing this program irretrievably crashes the hard disk; any time the computer attempts to boot, it will attempt to run SYNTHESYS and crash again.  (If the program is forced to install itself into RAM to execute, it will be deleted when the computer is shut down, just like anything else.)  Unfortunately, the data on the computer is now irretrievable: any attempt to connect the hard drive to another computer and read it will activate the SYNTHESYS program, which will install on the new system and crash it.

Strangely, attempts to load the pieces of SYNTHESYS without installing or inflating them seems to have the same effect — if all twenty SYNTHESYS.ARC files are found on the same system, the first somehow forces the computer to decompress them and crash in the process.

Programmers who have had the opportunity to look at pieces of the program, or have tried to run it in some sort of controlled, virtual environment, have noted that it appears to unpack an extremely sophisticated artificial intelligence program, which crashes any computer onto which it is installed because it is simply too big for the computer to handle.  Nobody knows how the program operates given a rough storage capacity of 7 MB — especially given that it appears to expand to fit the storage capacity of any computer onto which it is placed — but there it is.

SYNTHESYS typically also crashes computers too quickly to upload to any networks — the partitioning of network architecture is enough that the program crashes the first computer before spreading anywhere else.  (It's entirely possible that people have uploaded pieces of the program to their home systems or to cloud storage, but if the whole program ever exists on a single system somewhere, it runs and crashes that system.)

For now, it's just a curiosity, and an excellent sabotage tool if you can get into direct contact with the system you want to render unreadable.  (You'll also need to connect a 5.25" floppy drive to the system you want to sabotage, although that's doable.)  Of course, that's just because nobody has ever tried to load SYNTHESYS.ARC on any of the arrays with more than 1 PB of storage space — if somebody takes it over to one of the big data installations like Google or Facebook, or IBM Almaden's 120 PB storage array, or Cray's Blue Waters Supercomputer whenever that one's done, then the program will have enough space to finally run...

Monday, April 20, 2015

Artifact April #20: Shakespeare's The Tempest (rough draft) [Unknown Armies]

[Unknown Armies]

There was a buzz going around Europe's occult underground in the early- to mid-seventeenth century that somebody uncovered an early draft of Shakespeare's The Tempest before it was edited for publication.  (Although the references to it occur right around the time scholars think he wrote it, so it's entirely possible that the early draft started circulating in the occult underground before the play came out.  Then again, it's not like these things are exact.)

Dukes who claim this story is true claim that the original play was less an allegory and more an occult history — the original Duke Prospero was a thinly-veiled Lodovico Lazzarelli, who instead of dying in 1500, retired to some weird island Otherspace that was supposed to be Avalon.  (In this scheme, Sycorax was an immortal Morgan le Fay, served by a legion of Romani hardcases.)

Nobody knows what became of Lazzarelli or Morgan or anybody else — although some of the stories in Europe at that time suspect the House of Renunciation got to them first — but the crux of The Tempest is that Lazzarelli renounced magick and then left the island, leaving his library and artifacts (and Ariel, for that matter) behind.

Now I'll admit this whole thing sounds pretty sketchy, and maybe it's even a more recent hoax, but there's a little corroborating evidence — apparently somebody found some old plans written by Fausto Veranzio and commissioned by Louis XIII for a clockworker device to find the island.  (Apparently, one of the plans was to incorporate Durandal in the design, operating on the belief that it's Excalibur and would sympathetically point to the place where it was forged.)

If we can find those plans, I bet we could hire Knezevic to build 'em.  What do you think the odds are that the island is still there?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Artifact April #19: Durandal [Unknown Armies]

[Unknown Armies]

Power: Significant
Effect: The sword is one-handed, but deals +9 damage.  Furthermore, it deals firearms-style damage (the number on the dice, not the sum) to anybody who is a foe of the Catholic Church.  (Or at least, it did back in the 17th century.  Who knows what would count as a foe of the Church these days?)
Description: The sword is a rusty old Frankish-style one-handed sword that looks like its been knocking around Europe for the better part of a millennium.  (It has.)  A gold inlay in the hilt supposedly contains saints' relics, although it's apparent that nobody has ever had the guts to check.  (Either you risk the wrath of God or you risk ruining the artifact, neither of which sounds like a good idea.)
What you hear: Old rumor suggests that this is the no-shit Durandal, sword of Roland.  (Dukes in the modern occult underground think that's probably a load of horseshit, but who knows?)  Rumor has it that the sword belonged to some long-dead cabal called "The Footmen" back in the 17th century — specifically to their mystical leader called "the Last King."  Of course, all references to the The Footmen disappear before the Thirty Years' War, and nobody knows what they were trying to do.  Occasionally, Durandal shows up in a private collection or at the Swap Meet, but nobody pays a lot of attention to it because how do you authenticate something like that, anyway?

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