Wednesday, December 25, 2019

That Old Silk Hat

And now, a bit of Christmas magick: an artifact for Unknown Armies, third edition.  Enjoy!

That Old Silk Hat

Power: Significant

Description: That Old Silk Hat is usually treated as a joke or urban legend (it seems soundly ludicrous to think the holiday song "Frosty the Snowman" holds mystical significance), but some checkers in the occult underground claim it's an actual thing.
     That Old Silk Hat appears as an old, unassuming, and somewhat battered top hat, made of cheap felt.  Any story depicting it usually indicates it's found in the garbage or has been otherwise abandoned — it usually smells like refuse, and is occasionally described as being crusted with blood.  The stories claim That Old Silk Hat rarely stays in one place for long, as misfortune tends to befall those who use it.  It won't be long before it shows up in some dumpster, or abandoned basement, or forgotten corner of someone's garage...
     Chargers in the know claim there are many such hats, each with a limited number of uses.  In that case, the magick is not in the hat, but in the ritual that empowers them.  The chargers who tell such tales claim a ritual to empower That Old Silk Hat is a significant one, and requires the ritualist to murder someone and entomb them in a snow effigy.  The hat placed atop the snow effigy is then empowered as That Old Silk Hat.
     (Such a ritual would probably take 2 significant charges, and would empower the hat for a number of uses equal to the sum of the dice.)

Effect: When That Old Silk Hat is placed on a mound of snow that has been sculpted to resemble a human shape (typically at least given a face and rudimentary limbs, although most people who receive That Old Silk Hat are under explicit instructions to make the snowman "as lifelike as possible;" some of them are quite elaborate), the hat summons the nearest demon to animate the snowman.
     While demons are always hungry for experiences on this side of the Veil, That Old Silk Hat does nothing to make the snowman stronger, or grant it significant structural activity.  As such, snow golems animated by the hat are pretty fragile, and will still melt if the ambient temperature gets too far above freezing.
     As a result, demons are usually pretty annoyed with being trapped in a snow-body.
     Still, it beats being on the other side of the Veil.  Clever (and stupid) checkers can use this to communicate with demons, and particularly smart ones use this as a negotiation tactic; after all, a summoned demon probably needs the occultist to enact any particular schemes it has in mind, so it allows a would-be demonologist to negotiate from a position of strength.
     While in a snow body, a demon's wound threshold is only equal to 20% of its Urge (round down), and it only deals an amount of damage equal to the tens place of the roll when making hand-to-hand attacks.  When a snowbound demon makes a melee attack, it takes the same damage itself as it shakes its snow body apart.  A snow-body only takes hand-to-hand damage from guns, although any explosions or sufficiently large trauma will probably deal full damage.  (When in doubt, the snowman is fragile and probably just falls apart.)  If you're tracking movement, snow-bodies can typically only move at half-speed (check out "Running Around" on page 63 of Book One: Play), and take 1d10 wounds if they move at full speed.  Likewise, if it's too warm outside, the demon can take anywhere from 1d10 wounds per hour to 1d10 wounds per minute.  (Although the degradation of a snow-body in high temperatures is ultimately up to the discretion of the GM.)
     A would-be snow-sculptor can potentially heal a snow body by re-packing the snow, restoring a demon's full wound threshold with a few minutes' work.
     A demon is released when its snow-body is destroyed or when the hat is removed.  Sensation-junkies they are, however, no demon will willingly remove its own hat.  (If, as some stories say, That Old Silk Hat has limited uses, any given found hat probably has 1d10 uses.  A single "use" ends when the demon is banished; there is otherwise no time limit.)
     At the GM's discretion, a particularly skilled snow-sculptor might be able to make a sturdier-than-normal body.  If a character has an Identity uniquely suited to building a particularly-sturdy snowman, then the snow-body has a wound threshold equal to the character's roll or 20% of the demon's Urge, whichever is higher.  Likewise, such a snow golem might deal additional damage on a successful Struggle roll, such as dealing half standard hand-to-hand damage, whole damage, or even weapon damage (for a sculptor adding sticks and knives to the snowman's construction).  Such a snow golem might even maintain its integrity when it makes hand-to-hand attacks.
     It is exceedingly unlikely someone could make a snow sculpture sturdy enough to use a gun, but who knows?
     A character living in a cold climate or otherwise with access to a sufficiently-large, frozen place could potentially keep a single snowbound demon around for a long time, if they so chose.  It's possible that a particularly demented charger has a demonic snowman familiar stashed away in an old restaurant freezer somewhere.

Monday, December 9, 2019

A Land of Frozen Horror

Allegedly, I sometimes run a blog.

Shoe Skogen recently asked what I was working on, so I might as well show everyone.

One of my D&D 5e games was set in a brutal, frozen waste, but the PCs ran afoul of a local organized crime syndicate and escaped via the Gardens of YnnAs written, the player characters emerge in a random place (which might be the place they just left), but I figured my players would balk if I threw them into whatever randomness I wanted to run, so I gave them a choice.

I received the following two requests in response:

1) An arctic place, like Icewind Dale (this from the ranger with the arctic specialization)
2) Ravenloft (this from the wizard playing the spooky necromancer)

I figured, why not both?, and so was this cursed arctic land born. Here is the map so far:

Click to enlarge! Starfield hexes represent the Mists of Ravenloft.
As per standard Ravenloft, the land is cursed, tied to the Fisher King-like monster who rules it. In this case, our would-be Strahd is a ruler combining aspects of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Joseph Stalin: seeking to modernize and Westernize his land, he turned to greater and more dangerous technologies until the ensuing magical catastrophe destroyed his glorious utopia.

Where a sensible ruler might decide to scrap that experiment, our darklord instead decided that his attempts to modernize his city failed because just wasn't ambitious and ruthless enough.  That's how his realm was sucked into the Domains of Dread, cursed by the ambitions of one man. (And doomed to repeat the same cycle time and again.)

In the interest of avoiding yet another European fantasy world, I'm instead drawing inspiration from Inuit, Mongolian, and Siberian sources. I also have Skerples' Magical Industrial Revolution fresh on my mind (as you might gather from the "industrial magic city rapidly spiraling into disaster" setup), which likewise pushes me to draw material from dungeonpunk settings such as Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica languishing on my shelf. In addition to whatever other weird or spooky content I include in this game. (It's given me yet another excuse to delve into my 2e and 3e Ravenloft collection, which always brings me joy. And to revisit A Kayak Full of Ghosts, which you should absolutely read.)

Gearing up for a conflict between traditional cultures and industrialized ones, five main factions emerge:

  • The Khan, darklord and architect of the Cosmic City, rapidly leading his land to another cycle of industrialization and destruction;
  • the Church of Ezra, formerly a powerful political entity that oppressed the traditional religions of the native peoples before the Khan determined the Church comprised dangerous political rivals and purged them;
  • the druids and other followers of the Old Ways, attempting to desperately hold on to their traditional way of life;
  • the poor nomads and townsfolk stuck in the middle of this grudge match;
  • and the Idea of Thorns, which my players accidentally brought from the Gardens of Ynn.
A handful of interesting locations include a ruined port city that is the current stronghold of the Church-of-Ezra-in-exile, a crumbling factory upon the coast, a university thoroughly infiltrated by a secret society of sorcerers, the Cosmic City itself, the occultum mines on the far side of the continent, and the railway that joins the city and the mines (which is choking out the settlements that used to rely on traffic along the Khan's Road for survival).

I'd say it's more overtly political than some of my games, but then again, I'm also running a modern occult game about LGBT+ activism and the examination of violence as a public health concern, and another series of fantasy games where the central antagonist is an allegorical American nightmare. So at least I'm consistent, right?

When the setting is a little more developed, I might try to put it somewhere if I can navigate the thorny issues inherent in Hasbro's intellectual property copyrights. Or perhaps it will be yet another meditation on transience, a piece of art that exists only in the meeting of the minds at the table.

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