Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Hate People

The iron god made dwarves and the forest god made elves and the war god made orcs and the illusions god made gnomes and the logic god made modrons and the snake god made snake people and the fire god made fire people.

And then there was The Hate God.

The Hate God made Hate People.

They didn't make evil people, because they made people who hated evil. They just didn't create good people, per se, because they created people who hated good. They made the Scoren.

Scoren are beings made for the biological purpose of hatred, as sure as they are created to survive and reproduce. Different Scoren hate different things. When you are born, you are born into a First Holy Hatred. This is usually adopted by a community through necessity, from isolation or proximity to a kind of hazard. Like a Scoren village in a forest may have "forest" as their First Holy Hatred. Much of life in this village and the work of the day will be concerned with beating back the forest, cursing the forest at prayer, gritting and screaming about the forest in the street, and championing anything which blights the forest, even if it blights your crops as well, even as you starve to death...

Except you won't. Because your First Holy Hatred sustains you. This is part of why the Scoren never leave the forest: hate provides, and the harder you hate the more robust and excellent a physical specimen you are. Food is YUMMY. Water is REFRESHING. But hate and air are all you really need in life.

At this point.

When you reach the Age of Rage (which is determined by your physical development at puberty really but custom varies by community) you come into your Vendetta. You don't choose this, and it may make your life very difficult in your current community (getting ahead of this, other Scoren are a common Vendetta of Scoren). The develops independent of you, and denying the nature of your hate (for sunshine, for tall people, for dwarves, for war, for purple) makes you actively sick and can kill you. You may have to leave home when this happens because you have to find the nature of your enmity and incorporate regularly hating it into your life; in fact, one of the holy duties of hate priests is to help a young person discover the nature of the hate within. This gives you the built-in resolve of a berserker, so that you may endure a great amount of pain, wounds, or disease by sustaining yourself with the healing power of hatred. It doesn't give you any cool magical powers though.

At this point.

This is when many Scoren begin their apprenticeships. In addition to any formal guild or trade training the receive, they apprentice themselves in hate, choosing a rancorcerer of a study of their choosing (hatred of the sky, hatred of drow, hatred of the country next door). They spend five years immersing themselves in all aspects of that which they've chosen, hating as hard as they can every day, their ire being guided and shaped by their masters. At the end of their apprenticeship, their master piece is internalizing all the hate they've learned and turning the gift of the Hate God to their advantage. For example, someone who hates water can swim in it without breathing. Someone who hates fire can burn without being consumed. Someone who hates the ground can hover. So on.

This ability starts off weak but becomes quite powerful as their hate builds and their understanding of the Hate God and his ways deepen.

Scoren are a very practical people. Because they are kind of born with a deadly addiction that also frees them from the concerns of much of agrarian society, they want to make certain that everything has a specific purpose or will speed them to some specific end. They don't make statues, except as hate fetish items. They don't have the same relationship many of us do with necessity but that doesn't mean they spend their time on frivolous things.

That said, they are a curious people, always interested in learning new things, since it may deepen their existing hatreds. They find devotion to other ideals and emotions bizarre and are skeptical of religions which teach love or forgiveness. They are skeptical of anybody driven by only altruism or pragmatism and not a holy hate. Particularly because, since their powers grow in connection with their god/fire of their ire, they are a very ambitious people, always hoping to rise to greater strength through darker hates.

Scoren stand about 5' and are generally ostentatious in dress, because they consider clothes the people around them hate to be haute fashion. Their hair as a people is fair and wiry, and they can be spotted at a distance by their deep, deep-set eyes. Scoren typically don't become adventurers unless their apprenticeship has been completed and they have their eye set on some higher prize of power or something bigger to find and hate. A common Masterpiece of Scoren seeking this lifestyle is hatred of light crossbow bolts, which they may "fire" away from them without use of an actual crossbow.

They can be swayed to a cause with an impassioned fury, because they find pedestrian hatred exotic, inventive, and sexy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

You Can Dwarf If You Want To

Some are quick to point out when explaining DND or other RPGs to new players that when we say "Race" we don't mean race, we mean "Species," and this is true and not true. At one point the Irishman, the Dutchman, the Greek, were discussed as discreet manner of beings, not just a subset of humanity but in the manner that homo erectus was sort of human but a different creature. There were people who'd sooner their offspring breed with the horse (a different and lesser manner of creature) than a Swede, to say nothing of a Moor or a Mongol who were looked on as practically space aliens at some levels of Western culture. These were considered different animals, at least colloquially, perhaps equal but by God different. Of course, no, nobody is asking whether you want to play Swede, Jew, French Canadian, or Nigerian when they mention Race in a RPG, just like they're not asking if your character is Latino, Pacific Islander, Melungeon, nor am I championing a return to that kind of nonsense thinking. They're describing a (race-as-) class of beings completely alien to humans.

Except they're not, are they? They're describing broad caricatures of specific KINDS of humans, or suites of qualities write large with a culture extrapolated in the aftermath. This is the problem a lot of people have with, not even the WORD race, although that, too, but the typical D&D races. The Orc as barbarian savage inherently-evil other, dwarves and tieflings as warped interpretations of Jews, the perfect and blameless English aristocracy that gets to use all weapons and armor AND magic because they're just so great, so forth. To me it's as simple as saying to yourself "Well orcs and gnolls aren't black people and dwarves aren't Jews, moving on, what cool stuff can I do with a character who acts this way" because it's up to you what kind of game you're playing at the end of the day but it's enough to wreck the experience for some people, I've read.

When I was working on putting XXR together one thing I did not want to do, and one thing Deadlands and some other weird west things do and which is maybe the biggest difference between the two, was that I didn't look at every convention of the western genre and think about how to put a fantasy/horror spin on it. I went the other way, thinking about everything I'd want to throw in to a big high falutin' sword and sorcery campaign, and then beat things up until they reminded me of a wild west convention. Since BX was my original starting point this meant elves, dwarves, hobbits, and orcs were in the offering, and the worst thing I could think of was just turning them into different indigenous American tribes. There are other things to consider, too, when developing or modifying an existing 'demihuman' race, and I did want the west to be huge and terrifying and remote and unknowable which I can't get if everyone is monsters.

What I decided to do was to just transition things back to where they started: looking at these 'races' as kinds of people...looking at race-as-CLASS, basically, and determining what kind of people exist in wild west stories which fit that description. I then wrote up Classifications for some of them, although I fudged elves by making them Agarthans with the magic of hell and took a cue from the way the Aztec empire has been romanticized and just draped every single thing in their culture with gold. Especially hell.

BUT.

If you want to play something weird and fucked up in a XXR game then that's fine with me. I've got a starting place and tone but we can go anywhere from there. That's the game. And if that extends to being a bog-standard fantasy critter then so be it, I am game. However, whether I'm running XXR or a more traditional D&D style game, like say a 5e one shot, here's some things that are universal with me. (Unless you bring a FLAILSNAILS guy but then interdimensional travel is assumed so you can play by whatever rules.)

  • Cliche is fine to a real extent. If you want to play a dwarf but you don't want to mine, or craft or forge, or drink, or care about honor or clan or family or tradition, or care about gold or gems, or act gruff, or DRINK, then isn't that clever and novel and so special but then you're not a dwarf. You're a pile of stat mods and abilities you wanted for your guy. You're asking to be this very specific thing and then avoiding being that thing but you want all the bonuses for that thing. So nah. Be a dwarf or don't be a dwarf. Same for everybody else.
  • That said, don't be boring. Have an angle on it. Have insight on it. Or more importantly come to PLAY it, like playground play it. "Orc" isn't a character high concept but that's not a problem if you're willing to go the extra mile and really ORC IT UP at the table. This is a party after all, let's act like it.
  • Be young old male female whatever. It'll change some decisions I make but I'm not going to punish you for it.
  • ORCS are not Klingons. They are ORKS. Like 40K orks, as in a race of Hulks. Hulk doesn't only smash, Hulk just like smash and hard stop Hulk when Hulk get going. They're not dumb but they only care about certain parts of speech. Their language is both direct and fatalistic. They are strong, they central casting for a biker movie or a British pub, and they are Shrek skinned. Hair is cut according to station and caste in society, i.e. never fuck with a hairy ork because they're rich/powerful/badass. They have 100% allegiance to whatever orklave they find themselves in at the time but they generally follow their bliss. Different ork bands and cities are always doing something active and weird and exciting and orks just migrate between their personal points of interest.
  • DWARVES are not universally Scottish like many people in the US run them. Dwarves talk like Boris Badenov and while not being offensively cartoon Russian have similar artistic traditions. There are male dwarves and female dwarves and some young dwarves and old dwarves but dwarves age 1/4 the speed of humans. This is because dwarves are undead. Dwarves are spontaneously generated from deep rock and stone every spring, beginning toddler-age, and then dig their way out into caverns or to the surface. Every winter all the dwarves die, their body is absorbed by the earth, and then they grow again in the spring. This fills dwarven life with asskicking because they have to clear their kingdoms and tunnels of squatters every year. (I say kingdoms, but there is truly only ONE dwarf kingdom, just so spread out that it seems like a bunch of remote city-states. Like Canada.) Dwarves do the nasty, sure, but only for fun. This also means that Turn Undead works on dwarves, but only to Turn never explode.
  • ELVES come from the final elf city, Arcis Enumre, which is itself a magical engine which burns the elves' history and heritage in a dungeon-shaped furnace beneath itself in order to extend the longevity of the elf kind farrrr beyond where they should have gone extinct. Each tier of the city exists in a different time sphere, stretching into the future, and the tower at its middle extends to the end of time. Elves have no souls (because they burned them) and cannot be raised from the dead, though they can lapse into living undeath. They are partying on the Titanic and have even lost the ability to talk to their own gods, and rely on other beings to parley with them and interpret their whims.
  • HALFLINGS are all cowboys. This is independent of XXR, but it applies there, too. They're the little guy who elect a sheriff or marshal to help defend them and keep order, they're adept in the wilderness, they're hospitable drinkers despite their suspicion of outsiders, and they'll shoot you in the back of the head if you start trouble and put a picnic table over your remains so the party isn't interrupted. Any halfling I ever run or play is going to have some manner of rustic hick southern accent. Y'all.
  • GOBLINS have more to them and are an article to themselves, but until I put the hyperlink here short version: they are not small orcs or Joe Dante Gremlins, they are the worst things, part cockroach part vampire and they are just the worst.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Sketches From When I Couldn't Sleep

Memory is a tattletale. I saw a sunrise bone and black. I recalled a man as a vessel, a collection of them, moving shapes like a tower of cups, swirling and threatening to collapse as he moved, waiting. I remember his thinness, his paleness, The King Of Where He Should Be. His scepter was more of a crutch, and was part of the ground, and became sky. I remember the shuffling and the deep big horns that the meat men play. There were slices in the air and out of these came armies and parties and fireworks and sisters and never wanting to break your own heart and burning powder and shouting and valleys filled with screams. Ash of grass. The shroud you wear for the horizon.

There was a dark and aching something underneath the car. I did not approach, not because I feared for my safety, but because I did not want to fall in, to let my life become adjunct to the dark, to commune with its need, and it was need. I wanted to remain myself. I wanted control. And so we watched until the sun came. It silently howled at us, growing exponentially louder toward dawn, until all that was left was my own self judgment where the car should be. He's still there, and I would avoid him all the time except that I need to know whether he's still there. He is, though. So I ignore him.

I remember screaming apart. I didn't trust myself at the time and nothing existed right or at the proper speed or timbre. I wanted to help, and they needed the story to be that I broke, so I did, and sometimes I believe "so I did" and sometimes I believe I just did and sometimes I worry how many layers there are before I can just sleep now.

It will fall hard when I am silent. Without my grasp everything will slip out. I want to be a dancer but no I don't. I just want to dance the best dance and nobody ever know it.
----
I lay awake tonight thinking on a volcano as a great parasitic crustacean of an elemental earth form, a towering muzzle. Inside it is ringed with jagged edges like teeth, constantly shifting as it foams fluid stone. It's eating the sky. Outside of the mountain are sacred ropes, holy base camps, where the death people climb. Green priests shouting toxic smoke at the heavens, eating only ash. They want darkness. They want the heat of the sun on earth. The very air thins as you go higher, consumed, bleeding a thick black noxious blood. Kill it. Kill the sky.

I see that and it's a beginning and I know stretched out like a hand there's a big fun idea to be screwed with here but by the time I get up, get the dog settled, and get situated, it's gone. All I've got is a pale reflection of the original idea. Coleridge as fuck.
----
That was life with the hole. It wasn't gory or oozing or even sexual, in the same way that for most people a flower or Greenland aren't sexual. It was there where it shouldn't be, between the gut and heart. Wide, excavated, the skin perfectly folded like those little places on the leather arms of chairs all around the opening, disappearing immediately into a blackness which....was what and went where? Every morning the hole was there, every night it lingered, sometimes smaller, sometimes wider, sometimes - and there was no way to verify this, for reaching in only left the touch of static and ennui - it was deeper.

The things which crawled out of that hole were all small, though some were the size of kickballs and about as attractive. They had eyes, so imagining more of a face around them, impressions of personality, was easier. The true thoughts behind those beady and googly eyes may have been only hate and madness but they were pleasant enough and harmless as long as you watched them.

He became hungry. Soon everything tasted like yellow mustard, to the point where he hated even yellow mustard. He couldn't eat anything, couldn't rest, but he never died. He was sustained by....

He realized it must have been the creatures. They came and went and must...fill him somehow. The terror came of what he would be if more of them came out, more than ever, their little tree frog hands scaling his Farrah slacks. If they could put things in him they could take things out. Sometimes it was deeper.

He began to fear it always. He slept poorly and lived in a constant state of dread, until the dread, while becoming no less salient or searing, became boring. The pattern of his life was a painting of a scream. The rictus maw of his thorax. And he lived comfortably if not well in the terror, because at least the terror was his. This malfunction of the body was something he understood, at least in a naturalist's sense. It was not something anyone controlled.

It happened all at once that whatever rare element of homeostasis kept the comings and goings of the little homunculi in check failed. The antibodies buckled and like a firehose the little muppets, each stranger than the last, each departure more shockingly final, poured out of his waking wound and painted his tiny world with everything he wasn't and would now never be.

That was life with the hole. You saw right through him now. Somehow he waited, and wasted, but did not die. The hole grew wider, but he maintained his composure. He was weakened. He was empty. Even his fear was now gone and alien and living in someone else's trash bin by now. A shell on legs, ready to crumble like cigar ash, but safe, for now,
so long as nothing happened
so long as nothing happened so long as nothing happened
so long as nothing happened so long as nothing happened
so long as nothing happened so long as nothing happened
nothing happened nothing happened nothing happened
so long
so long
so long

So long.
----
Paper skin and hanging meat. No place holy, yet so sacred, since always. How many eyes? They all watch and loll, yellow rolling clouds. The world is flies. Little legs and vomit and larvae teeth and undulating eggs (HOW MANY EYES?). Every surface dances. The light moves. You are protected. You are loved. A thousand thousand thousand eyes lust. Just meat and time yourself. Time is a luxury the fuzzy light doesn't have but echoes of that lust through generations hum, warming the anticipation of trillions of mouths which are not mouths.

It is an orchard.
----
The pig nails in her hand bled into her blood. Rage and scream. The metal slicing metal keen of the tusked blade. Decapitation now. Revenge later. Her knee bone split against wet stone covered in chunks and beetles, crushed, into her blood.

His stride made silence, each cloven step a mountain split with lightning, each breath a butcher wind of decay and copper. She didn't see his eyes, held down by hocks and swollen oak. She felt the good one searching her wounds. The savoring.

A bed somewhere missed her warmth. A couple fellows. Melissa or Melinda or something. Bregganoch. His majesty. The bruise of her would linger and annoy. They would come and see the shade of her steel in the faces, the earth, the very walls of this place. Reflected in the eye of a god. They would see no small flesh thing, no cooling blood and sweat, no ragged scalp. The shape of her, footprint in pig shit.

Rage and scream. Into her blood.

Hell warm and impossibly wet it slipped around her, cascades of anticipation on its lips, closing her softly in the dark, stillness, rank. It breathed her in, and drew her breath out, and grumbled and gurgled.

They would not find her body. The would not find the shape of surrender. She gave little thought to salvation, only wreckage. She ignored the piercing tusks of her tormentors, so easy to reach. Gave no heed to the axe of the guardian. She needed a weapon.

Breaka chose god, and bit first.
----

They elected the goat and, at first, it was funny.

She built the lanterns herself, clumsily, little fire cages of rust and blood which her hefty husband hung in the boughs of the stillborn swamp.

The Ship of Apes screeched into the harbour without sail or oar, accompanied by a thundering sound like fingernails on bark.

She descended the stairs an etching of elegance, all covered in the finest ticks.

The evergreens shed all their needles white as death.

The creature was laughable but it emanated a confidence that this should kill them which was hard not to take seriously.

The skins of their palms caught in the leaves of the crop, and if you didn't know what happened here, didn't hear the screaming, the singing, you'd think a pink, rustling snow had fallen.

The church was slung low in the valley like an afterthought, or perhaps embarrassment.

"It doesn't *need* to climb trees."

She was pregnant, a widow these two years, and rotting in the ground since june, and a swan.
----

Crime rate in Dorwold spikes 9000%. City watch catches a criminal and executes him for his crimes. When they take down the body his mask slips off. It's an old artifact from the thieves guild, a mask which makes you appear as whoever the observer wants to see, good for seeming inconspicuous during an infiltration. If you get caught you are always someone who is supposed to be there. Watchman tries it on. Other watchmen beat him to death because he's a dangerous assassin the watch has been after for years.

Repeat.

With the watch occupied the guild ramps up its activities, which makes people more cautious. They arm themselves. The city leaders get the hang of what's going on eventually, but it takes a while, because showing the effect of the mask just creates new chaos, you're the duke, you're that bastard who owes me money, you're breasts.

Watch seals themselves off, suspicious of each other and the whole city by now. Word gets out. Whispers of goblins, faeries, demons. Your loved ones who are next to you right now are most likely people interested in robbing or killing or ravishing you. If you think they're not, that's the magic working.

Time. Fear. Beer.
Pitchforks. Torches.

Local regiments are called in to restore the order. Did you hear? Armies are massing outside of town. That's them. They've come. It begins.

Soon it's not even safe for the criminals. The town is dying. The power the guild spent to much time acquiring is worthless tender now. The guild is undone. The thief master was a fool to ever unseal that frankly *Stupid* artifact to begin with.

If that *was* the thief master.
----

The shoes were the haunting thing. The smiles were antiques, the comfort bedusted, the light hollowpoint. An absence of orientation trickled out of a stained-red rag and filled the air with pennyfunk. The walls were tall, the faces around him were young, and he was all alone.

The walls kept going far past the paint. Those faces were yellowed and long dead. The claws on its feet moored the bed to the previous century with fixed iron. Smiles were pinned. More cobwebs and curtains kept out only clarity. The gray hung heavy. Maybe gray it was.

The shoes, then.

These were modern styles and foreign sizes. Some looked his size, but most...

The big ones weren't concerning. The little ones kept shrinking, and there were too many. Too many for what, who knows? Too many for anything. The room was more theirs than his.

They ached at him. They longed at him and regretted in his direction when he tried to look away. They gnawed in his stomach. The shoes, aye, the shoes were the haunting thing.

The bigger concern was the chain.
----

All the ribbons came loose and the mud was made of beer and dancing and the swan was full of fire and fire leaped and trumpets trumpets and blind men cried as the tableau was reduced to swoons and children went to bed early and the moon bled and oaths forsook and vows broken and trumpets trumpets while animals bowed and the wind surrounded and everything that could be the Devil was thwarted and rejoiced and trumpets and hosannahs and IS is what was, when the law fell silent, when the virgins shook, when the world forgot, when the screams were one scream

...on a Thursday.

On a Friday, smoke. And Hooks. On Saturday a feast. Sunday just rocks, rocks everywhere.

On Monday, trumpets.

No sleep. Trumpets.
----
The stars are all in pain. There is no orbit or firmament. Constellations are families, cities, kingdoms. There is only falling. There is exploding forever. There is no death yet. There is dying forever.

Only falling. Not always so. Once, there was a world, perfect and orange. Its seas boiled in the cool quintimoonlight. They brimmed with ancient skeletons and angry pods of proteins and neurotoxins. One million forty seven land masses pockmarked the complexion of this perfect life engine. On three thousand of these were eyes. One eye looked up.

Star.

There was a little, low room in a squat building made of polished compassion on a terraforming chrysalis deep in the heart of nothing much existing. In that room was a girl, as close as we can reckon. Tomorrow her head would be cut off and she'd become a woman. She understood what this meant.

Star.

In Kent a madman scrawls in a dirty book. He speaks the language of the universe. The morphine and the caterpillars told him. He had to make up new numerals that meant the oldest numbers. Now he knows that what we think of as constant change is actually static, that there are great shifts we only register retroactively, piecing life together in the stillness and writing in what must have been. But also what could have been. The universe works like thumbing through photographs and we accidentally created ghosts, God, and goodness leafing through our memories. Hold on a tick, that's not right, carry the four...

Star.

To ever truly know anything, any fact, yourself, to know the universe, is anathema. Knowledge is panacea to the cosmos but truth is curare. You are missed, perhaps, but you are gone. You are not you. You don't exist as you. Your truth burns. Your soul oxidizes in the vacuum, and that can't even work really because *STAR*

The heavens are hell. We made up angels but they were real anyway. Only falling.

Which Means It's Coming.
----

It thinks it's passing as human.

The room is filled with hardened men and women, some by soldiering some just by surviving. Nobody here is a stranger to fear. Nobody's a stranger to the horrible things in the world.

This thing comes in, see? Thing is the only word for it. It comes in to...let's say it's a bar. Into the bar. It walks in, but it doesn't walk right. It politely and gently closes the door behind it, but it doesn't do that right either. It's like every movement it makes is a little wrong in an obvious, alarming way, like if you saw someone close a door with several compound fractures in their arm, their noodly appendage slopping against the lacquer.

Not that this thing is just a LITTLE wrong, mind you. A golden garment more holes than thread hanging over it. Something approximating a lower jaw, rattling up and down, side to side, with no seeming match to the sound its mouth(?) is making. It's like it's made from pieces of things. Wicker, or cobwebs, or dried leaves, or insect parts. They hang in a mass in the shape of a bridal gown. As it moves, little filaments of things catch on different surfaces, stringing itself about the room. As it stands still, things writhe up, small skittering things leave its folds, and these probing tendrils slowly fan out, filling space, searching along each surface...

You know when you open a window in an old house and it hasn't been cleaned and it's a mix of dust and cobweb and exoskeleton and hair and vegetation? There's sometimes a big clump of that? Imagine that slowly unweaving itself in a glass of water. It's standing at the bar, since we said this is a bar, and it's ordering a drink.

Now it's talking in a voice you know. Not KNOW know, you've seen the guy it belongs to here before. The bartender knows him. Calls it by name. He's not sure of the play. And the thing just starts making small talk with the bartender like nothing's odd. It dawns on you, as it must have the bartender, that this thing  is something beyond what we know but we are also beyond what IT knows because it thinks this is working. It thinks you're fooled. It's jabbering your man sounds at this other man shape and it thinks you are lulled. It is impossibly alien and a little stupid. That's when you actually become not afraid but terrified.

Because now you can't feel fear. You can't just not show it, you can't let it sense fear, or smell fear. It's slowly filling up the space in the room. A piece is in your drink. Better not notice. Go on with your festivities. It can reach everyone and everything. You're all inside it and if even one of you does something, makes a wrong move, if Johnson tries to play the damn hero, if it suspects?

That's all your mind can fill itself with, the knowledge that you're helpless, that there seems to be no obvious end to this, and that if you think about all the terrible things that might happen or ARE HAPPENING then you and everyone in here may.....what?

And now the thing is looping back on itself. It's starting over parts of the conversation. It's saying things the bartender said, interspersed with perfect bars from the song being played on ever more entangled instruments. You're being touched now. Everyone is. The thing's speech breaks down into tapdancing Moses nonsense, and then into just sounds, and then guttural clenching...

In that moment there is a terror knowing you're trapped but outside of that bar, and that world, a different story is written. One that can't be appreciated in the moment, in the room, but which potentially makes the thing pale in comparison.

If it is not hunting it may be hiding. 

Weaponizing the Non-Weapons From Page B12

OoooOOOOoooh!
I don't like saying that people playing games unlike mine are doing it wrong or that not caring about the things I care about is a mistake, and yet I am compelled to express a....LOSS that occurs from an attitude of only passing interest to the non-weapon-armor-and-dogs section of most DND-ish equipment lists, at least from a lot of the players I encounter at work (and sometimes my own!). There are people who run much stricter, more hardcore games than I do, and I suspect that top-down micromanaging of equipment details (down to copper pieces and XP parts) on behalf of busybody DMs and min-max players led to a lot of the casual dismissal of the equipment list, hand in hand with the codification of skill and tool proficiencies as the editions did their unhaltable dance across the ages. At its worst your Fighter would have to choose between being the Fighting Stuff Guy and the Rope Guy because he only had so many points to spend.

That's the reputation anyway. That's what you hear from message board horror stories. It's nothing I've ever encountered. There does seem to be an ambivalence on my end though. I can understand it at Encounters, sort of, where so much in the details is hand-waived to expedite things in the time frame allowed, but conversation with regulars and walk-in betrays a "if it isn't a weapon or protection or magic then who needs it" atmosphere.

To which I respond, Luke Skywalker's utility belt and a broken pair of handcuffs are what make the entire second half of Star Wars possible as opposed to filling that time watching their corpses ash away in the Death Star's incinerators.

Peter Cushing fought the baddest bad guy ever with a series of broken sticks.

Every fantasy movie or western, do the villains shoot every citizen or stab every citizen OR do they just personally kill the few that get in their way while they light the entire city on fire? Fire does not give a fuck. And even without getting into shit like War-Ladders and Ball Bearings and Caltrops we find ourselves a lot of bad ass adventure fodder. While I wait on my overdue order from Alliance, here's a bunch of cool stuff you can do with just the bare bones equipment list from D&D Basic.

Backpack- 5g. Fill with rocks, swing. Empty, slip over enemy's head to blind. Fill with hornet's nest, throw.

Flask of Oil- 2g. Apply to stairs or landing or corridor juncture, remembering to avoid. Light and throw. Apply and light. Hold it in your mouth, spit at flame source held by another (save vs Breath to not burn face off).

Hammer, small- 2g. Even tools like this can be deadly. See Oldboy. If your base punch damage is 1, then base small hammer damage would be d2.

Holy Symbol- 25g. Worn as an amulet or necklace? Garrotte. Big and impressive? Use to bludgeon. Small and light? Throw. Shiny and metal? Use against demons, or file to a point.

Holy Water- 25g. Smash the bottle like Road House and give the zombies a Glasgow Smile.

Iron Spikes- 12/1g. Put at bottom of small drop (5-20') and push people onto them. Use against prone victim like Professor Abraham Van Helsing. Use to root tied/chained victim to one location, either to secure and incapacitate or leave until dead. Use to burn vampires and elves.

Lantern- 10g. Bludgeon. Use to start fires.

Mirror (hand sized)- 5g. Use against demons (your game's demons ARE revealed and repelled by their own reflection, right?) or to test for vampires. Break and use glass to stab.

Rations- Misc. Youuuuu could try to choke someone to death with them but really extra rations are just there to be poisoned and left for wandering creatures to eat and die.

Rope (50')- 1g. 1g?! Dude. Bonds. Nooses. Lariats. Nets. Tie 'em up and leave 'em for dead. Improvised bridle. Improvised whip. Torture scene from Casino Royale. Holding something heavy above a vulnerable position until cut. TRIPLINE. Tarzanning into an orc's chest cavity. Marking your path like Theseus. Tie a big rock to the end and make your own flail. Elaborate Scooby Doo traps. I could go on forever listing all the useful and dangerous ways to use rope without even mentioning securing containers or loads, or mentioning climbing. If you're not investing more in rope than you are in daggers then you're prepping to play a very different game from the one I'm running and most BX/oldschoolish people were designing.

Sacks- Misc. Tie creatures up in them and throw them down stairs or into rivers. Tie creatures up in them with other vicious, toxic, poisonous, or just mean-ass creatures. Fill with rocks and drop from height. See also Backpack.

Shield- 10g. Shields can't usually be thrown like Captain America unless your character is also preternaturally strong thanks to drugs. Bashing like a club or using two-handed to decapitate someone, or just gluing spikes or saw blades to it? Sure, go A-Team on it. Honestly just using it to help knock someone the hell down would be a great advantage. You'll lose your AC bonus from the shield when you do this, unless you have another shield in your other hand. You'll look like an idiot or a Mega Man bad guy (same thing) but it's better than nothing when improvising during an escape.

Thieves' Tools- 25g. Traps can be set or reset, guys, and a lot of people in prison have died from shivs a lot less sophisticated than a broken lock pick.

Tinder Box- 3g. Man you can start fires with this, why do I have to explain how useful and dangerous this is? Ogami Itto, man.
Torches (6)- 1g. SIX! Speaking of fires, torches are the best weapon. They can do a couple points of damage from whacking when they're blown out, sure, but they can set things the fuck on fire, dazzle or blind enemies in unlighted passages, and provide light, warmth, and scare animals. Best of all a spent torch = charcoal, so you don't even have to buy chalk! You WERE buying chalk, right?

Water/Wine Skin- 1g. Another great place to put oil, poison, or my personal favorite, SAND: a helpful dungeon exploring tool when finding your way and checking for footprints and an effective tool for temporarily blinding your enemies. Also treacherous to slip on when applied to stairs or slopes.

Wine (1 qt)- 1g. Sure you can poison it but I recommend offering it freely in order to weaponize your enemy's drunkenness. Getting captured with a lot of wine on hand is the first step to escaping from a tower filled with slitted throats.

Wolfsbane (1 bunch)- 10g. Okay first off that is way too much for Wolfsbane, you can grow that shit. You can find that shit. That shit growing all over the place and being everywhere is a big problem because, pro tip: it's not just super deadly for vampires and werewolves. You may know it by the name aconite or monkshood. It's poisonous as shit and can quickly be deadly. The best part is that, like you might expect if you peek frequently at Mother Nature's monster manual, it's gorgeous, so you can always keep some around as ornamentation and decoration and many people (foreigners, non-agrarians, or city folk) may be none the wiser.

Wooden Pole (10')- 1g. You can find a 10' stick in the woods for free. Try it. Find a stripling, own a knife, boom: free poles. 10' poles can be sharpened or have daggers tied to the end (ROPE) to improvise spears. Their ends can be lit on fire to make Super Torches, or burn at both ends for whatever the hell Firelord is always carrying. When broken in two, congratulations, you have two batons/clubs.  When whole and unmodified it is a quarterstaff. In fact page B12 doesn't even have a listing for staff/quarterstaff/whatever so that's definitely what this is.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Hit Points Are Kung Fu

So a long time ago I did this article about how, while I never codify this or ask anybody to roll Stamina or anything, I kind of use the idea of the six Attribute Values as, rather Feng Shui-like, really setting the value for a suite of qualities. The Unofficial Eighteen Attributes.

Now let's randomly do a Google Image search for Hit Point shall we? First result:

i feel dirty hosting this why hello 1997 i remember you
Oh ho that is high LARIOUS.

Except of COURSE that's how it works, Black Knight has strong kung fu. It requires only the slight shift in thinking that comes with swapping the usable gameable term "Hit Points" for the more frou frou but also more accurate LIFEFORCE to see this pool as not representing, on a scale of 1 to 10, how hale a character is. Instead we're talking about the fundamental animating agent of the universe just to START. There's also survival instincts. There's conviction, there's the only good scene from Rocky V. Your Hit Points are an abstraction representing the wholeness of your mind-body.

The stronger your chi, the more powerful your lifeforce, the more Hit Points you get as a bonus. We base this on an ability store called Constitution, but then this is one reason I don't call that stat ONLY Constitution. The harder you work (more you level) on perfecting your kung fu, the stronger your chi (higher your Hit Points), the harder you are to kill. If you act like this means magical healing or Second Winds or whatever make less sense then brother you and I have watched different movies.

Still standing at 1HP doesn't mean you're Black Knight. It means you're Lo Mang. It means you have Invincible Armour.
It means that though you've taken all kinds of abuse and HURT your Inner Strength has not been overcome. You have withstood everything because of the fortitude you've acquired from discipline. This is also why the squishy classes are so squishy: it's not that they're inherently weaker, they just lack the discipline and the insight to build their Inner Strength because they busied themselves with other pursuits.

You have been hurt but you are not WOUNDED because your Inner Strength sustains your Lifeforce. But the thing about Toad Style is that there's always a weak point. Usually this is a literal weak point but it may be a psychological lever or an environmental pressure which finally cracks your mighty facade...even Superman must bow to magic, for example.

And sure enough, once that weak spot has been exploited, once all your reserved have been surpassed, you are like a softshell crab in the mouth of a crane, and you're done for.

This holds true whether you are down to 1HP or whether you only began with 1hp. Don't talk to me about low HP meaning you're weak, beat to hell, or an implausible kind of badass. One of the most hardcore fights I've ever run were between an entire basilisk and a 2HP hobbit, who got the basilisk down to 1HP and escaped unscathed. BECAUSE that little bastard had strong kung fu, which was evidenced when he dared to solo a basilisk at 2hp in the first place.

Kind Songs- Bird Magic

The main tool in the arsenal of all Kind are their Songs, which change the very nature of the world around them. Some songs are longer than others, and take a longer time to sing. These songs are usually more powerful than others. Some songs may not be chosen or rolled and may only be discovered and learned in play. Those are not represented here. There are even more powerful Songs trapped by the apes, lizards, pigs, rats, and others trapped within sticks and stones. These items must be acquired, and are highly sought after, and drive much of play.

Some Songs come only from the Furthest, made to speak to a Wind not your own, and those are rare and dangerous.

When you begin play, roll (Base Secrets) x (1d100). These are the Songs you begin play knowing. You can learn the Songs of others and you can learn Songs you discover in your explorations but you can never know more Songs than your Total Secrets value. You may actually elect to choose all Songs which you begin play knowing, but, if so, you may not learn any more during play. You still roll your Secrets Die in this instance to produce a Total Secrets value which some Songs require.

If your Song requires many rounds to Sing and you are interrupted before it is over, you must save against your Secrets in order to retain that Song. If you retain it and wish to Sing again, you must start over.

If you learn as many Songs as  you are able then you may only learn new Songs by Betraying an old song. You curse the Song and it will never return to you, in any form.

Some Songs may be Sustained for a number of rounds. Sustaining must be declared during the round you first Sing, and declared every round you are permitted to Sustain. If you are interrupted while Sustaining, you lose that Song. You have Failed the Song and it leaves you.

NOTE: Songs 91-100 may only be learned at the beginning of the game by rolling 91-100 and then rerolling, getting a result of 91-100 a second time.

  1. See- You see the Wind as water, as leaf, and you can see the empty places within it where nothing should be, whence nothing should issue. This Song shows you the invisible, the hidden things, anywhere in your current field of vision.
  2. Mark- You cause a message in the tongues of the Kind to appear on a suitable surface. You cannot Mark down a Song.
  3. Melt- A metal or stone thing in your sight and weighing less than you begins to melt. If it is an ape weapon or device it becomes unusable immediately. If it is a metal or stone creature it suffers your Base Secrets in damage and cannot Save again as long as you sustain. Sustaining destroys an additional kg of material in the same object each round, and Melt may be sustained a number of rounds up to your Base Secrets.
  4. Evade- For a number of rounds equal to your Base Secrets, you may take the maximum value of your Secrets Die on any Grace Save roll required of you.
  5. Echoes- You can identify the Songs which were Sung in any place you are since the current moon passed. You do not learn these Songs, these are only impressions.
  6. Control- A target creature with a language obeys one order you give in the next round. If you speak this creature’s language it gets -2 to save against this effect. This may be Sustained a number of rounds equal to your Base Secrets, and results in one additional order the target is compelled to follow, all of which are issued at the end of the Song.
  7. Master- A creature with a language must save against your Base Majesty or be your obedient servant for a number of days equal to the amount by which they failed the save.
  8. Listen- Things you can see clearly which have been touched by Song and in which Songs are snared sizzle and pop like a hot mountaintop; the greater the Song, the louder the noise, the warmer the heat.
  9. Tongue- You understand the speech and Marks of the lesser creatures.
  10. Dark- You shroud a radius of 2’xTotal Secrets value in starless black for a number of rounds equal to a Secrets Die roll result.
  11. Light- Your eyes shine like the Light and send beams of light out 2xTotal Majesty meters.
  12. Guard- You ignore your Base Secrets in Damage for a number of rounds equal to your Total Secrets value.
  13. Cast- Target the mouth of a nearby creature (or something mouth-like, such as the opening of a jar). Your voice and cries and Songs seem to issue from this mouth, though they and their effects originate from you.
  14. Strike- A target creature or object takes your Secrets Die in damage. You need not make your Secrets roll to Sing this Song.
  15. Stay- Declare a specific group of things, like “all strangers,” “all apes,” “all Sistren,” “all carrion;” these creatures may not approach you closer than your Total Wing in meters. This Song must be Sustained but may be Sustained without making an initial Secrets roll. You may cease Sustaining early without losing your Song, but if you are interrupted through other means you lose your Song.
  16. Fix- A broken thing, such as an ape weapon, weighing less than your Base Secrets value in kg, is restored, provided you know its original shape and understand its original purpose (though knowing how it functions is not required).
  17. Hush- A creature with a language cannot speak or Sing for a number of rounds equal to your Secrets.
  18. Chirp- A message as long as your Majesty in words is conveyed silently to one creature with a language you can see.
  19. Serve- The Wind herself serves you in an invisible body. She will not attack for you and cannot protect you but she will obey basic commands, lift things, manipulate things, etc, for a number of minutes equal to your Total Power.
  20. Preen- Your Base Majesty is considered to be halved for the purposes of your next save.
  21. Burn- Your body burns with a blue flame but is not consumed. Anyone attacking you physically must save or take 1 damage and catch fire, taking your Secrets Die in damage on their next round. On your next round, divide your Total Wing value +Base Secrets value in damage in any way you see fit amongst the available targets within your Total Wing value in meters. You are extinguished.
  22. Buzz- Designate a broad type of insect. You can see through the eyes of any within a  3x Total Majesty radius.
  23. Call- Summon a mundane creature with fewer Hit Points than you currently possess. That creature or its nearest approximation will appear in a number of minutes equal to your Base Majesty.
  24. Rest- Recover your Power Die in Hit Points.
  25. Lull- A living creature you choose falls asleep and will stay that way if unmolested for 2x Total Secrets in minutes. They gain 1 Hit Point when they awake, if they were asleep the whole time.
  26. Slip- A creature drops one carried or wielded item.
  27. Change- You take on the appearance of another of your Kind, or of another Kind. You do not appear to be a specific being, but you do not appear to be yourself.
  28. Strut- Make a Save vs Majesty. If you succeed, you may add your Base Majesty to your next Save.
  29. Stink- You can smell any wounded, dying, or rotting creature in 10x Total Power meters.
  30. Thoughts- Learn one thing which a dead creature which had a language knew.
  31. Bleed- One creature which was damaged in this round takes the same damage again.
  32. Soothe- One injured creature recovers their Power Die +1 in Hit Points.
  33. Cure- One creature has a disease, mutation, poison, or similar malady purged from its body.
  34. Enchant- Roll your Majesty Die. This number of creatures focus on you to the exclusion of all else for a number of rounds equal to your Base Secrets.
  35. Grasp- You can manipulate an object as if you held onto it, up to 3x Total Grace meters away. This may be Sustained to continue the manipulation, or you may Sing for multiple rounds before Grasp takes effect, multiplying its effect (You may have as many Grasps going simultaneously as times you have leveled, plus one).
  36. Distract- Designate a target to affect and any other thing- a PC, an orange, the clouds. The target’s focus will be on literally anything else before you in the next round.
  37. Clue- A spectral hare appears and guides you towards the most prosperous direction for what you seek.
  38. Guess- Next round after you Sing you may attempt two actions, but only the most successful one happens.
  39. Know- Learn one fact (or the answer to one specific question) about one being or object you control.
  40. Blank- A target being will forget everything which happens this round and next round.This may be Sustained for ten rounds.
  41. Bloom- A target plant grows a luscious fruit of your choosing, whatever kind of plant it may be. It will be fully grown and consumable in the next round. It must be a kind of fruit you have eaten.
  42. Still- For every 10 minutes you hold your position after Singing, creatures take a 1 point penalty to attempts to notice you.
  43. Mishap- A target creature will automatically fail against one action it takes or one action taken against it before the next moonrise. You invoke this Mishap whenever you want between now and then.
  44. Slow- A target being or object moves at tortoise speed for your Base Secrets in rounds.
  45. Challenge- A target being becomes fixated on you and will only attack you in its next opportunity.
  46. Claim- Invoke an object. You have a claim to that object and know the direction toward it for your Base Power in days. Afterwards, this effect wanes, your claim is forfeit, and you may not use this Song to claim the same object again. This does not need to be an object you can see or have specific knowledge of, but you must be aware of it, and it must be a specific item.
  47. Dust- There are creatures whose existence defies Eater, who walk where once they were still. Carrion. This Song destroys one of them of a Level equal to or lower than yours.
  48. Flee- Consider your speeds determined by your Wing not impeded by normal combat restrictions. If you attack or Sing this effect ends. Otherwise it lasts your Base Wing in rounds.
  49. Scratch- You vomit brambles at a target. It suffers 1 point of damage, and 1 point each round until all the brambles are removed, for your Base Secrets in rounds.
  50. True- Compel one being to answer you one question truly. The question is composed as part of the Song, so they answer immediately.
  51. Lie- A target being will believe your next several lies, equal to your Base Majesty.
  52. Push- With a flap of your wings your cry blows everything in a cone in front of you (Total Grace in meters wide) back for your Total Grace in meters.
  53. Turn- One target being must run away from you for your Base Majesty in rounds.
  54. Fear- All enemies you can see suffer a 1 point penalty to all actions this round and next round.
  55. Hide- Keep one creature without a language or one object from being noticed for this round and next round.
  56. Scar- One wound delivered this round will not heal, not without a Song or an object wielding similar power.
  57. Parts- You may augment one body part of one target to look and function like a different body part, or a body part from a different creature. Creatures with a language will revert to their normal form in your Total Secrets in rounds.
  58. Breath- Airborne toxins will not affect you and you may remain underwater. This effect lasts for your Total Power in minutes.
  59. Sight- See through the eyes of one creature you see until the next time you two look in each other’s eyes.
  60. Shew- A creature may see through your eyes until the next time you two look in each other’s eyes.
  61. Blind- Takes four rounds to Sing. Target creature can no longer see.
  62. Deaf- Takes three rounds to Sing. Target creature can no longer hear.
  63. Rake- Takes four rounds to Sing. You claw at a target creature, who takes your Total Power in damage. The target may not save/damage is not reduced by armor.
  64. Steal- Takes two rounds to sing. Target a specific object beyond your reach, or which is possessed or worn by another being. The round after you finish, that object appears in your possession (in your grip, about your neck, whatever appropriate).
  65. Hide- Takes four rounds to Sing. An object or being you pass over as you Sing the final round becomes hidden from view, invisible.
  66. Vanish- Takes five rounds to Sing. You disappear from view, invisible.
  67. Recall- Takes eight rounds to Sing. A Song you Betrayed returns to you, but you must appease it by sacrificing (as Failure) your ability to Recall.
  68. Tool- Takes three rounds to Sing. A device, ape weapon, or non-living object appears in your grasp, vanishing after next round.
  69. Stow- Takes five rounds to Sing. An object or device in your possession is secreted in a hole in the Wind whose hiding place only you know.
  70. Get- Takes two rounds to Sing. A Stowed item, or an item you have freely given, returns to you.
  71. Heal- Takes six rounds to Sing. Target yourself or another being. Their hit points are restored to full.
  72. Shape- Takes six rounds to Sing. Target a creature without a language. They resemble now another Kind, though their statistics remain unaltered.
  73. Change- Takes six rounds to Sing. Target yourself or another Kind. They may take the form of another Kind, even mimicking a specific being. They may also take the form of any other living being.
  74. Stop- Takes six rounds to Sing. You stop time, briefly, but long enough to cause trouble. You may take 4 actions in the round after you finish singing.
  75. Blink- Takes a number of rounds equal to your Base Grace to Sing. Choose one point you can see, no more than 10x your Total Grace in meters. You transport instantly to that spot.
  76. Roost- Takes 10 minutes to Sing. Transports you and everything you’re carrying back to where you woke up this morning.
  77. Rise- Takes 5 minutes to Sing. A being you personally killed rises, willing to serve you. Save using Eater’s Eye against your Secrets to avoid angering Him. THIS IS A RARE EXCEPTION TO THE RULES GOVERNING EATER’S EYE.
  78. Curse- Takes 5 minutes to Sing. A place, object, or being may be cursed. Curses relate to specific actions or circumstances, like speaking a word, crossing a floor, or wielding a weapon. When the conditions of the curse are met, the being who invoked the curse loses 1 HP permanently from his Maximum Hit Points. This effect lingers on that which is Cursed.
  79. Alter- Takes four rounds to Sing. Target gains a mutation. If you sing for eight rounds instead, you may CHOOSE the mutation.
  80. Wipe- Takes 5 minutes to Sing. Choose a being with Songs, or an object which traps a Song. The Songs are freed, as Failed, and leave the vessel.
  81. Trill- Choose a Song that was Sung or finished in this round which can be Sustained. Your Song Sustains that one for a round, allowing the Kind who first Sang time to take a different action before picking up their own Song again.
  82. Prepare- Choose a powerful Song you know. Singing Prepare prepares that Song’s effect should you ever be killed. You may not otherwise Sing this Prepared Song.
  83. Sight- Declare a moving image of your own devising. That image appears for this round and the next round. There is no upper limit on Sustaining this Song, and for each additional round you Sing you may add another detail.
  84. Mimic- Choose a Song used in this round. You echo this Song without understanding. You do not retain memory of it, but its effects happen again, only this time anything targeted by its effects may not save.
  85. Betray- Choose a Song you know. You lose that Song forever. Choose your largest die. Divide damage from the maximum value of that die between as many creatures you see as you wish.
  86. Soar- You may attempt your next 3 aerial Manuevers without saving.
  87. Addict- Reduce your Hit Points by 1 for each member of your Flock. They will now save to remain loyal to you using your Majesty Die.
  88. Prey- You know whether any creature you can see is more powerful than you or less powerful than you.
  89. Shadow- Your shadow leaves you and can take any action but speaking or Singing, when you act but in addition to your actions. It can be hurt like you, and reduces your Hit Points when hurt. You join again by touching your shadow.
  90. Screech- Roll your Majesty Die. That many creatures within earshot takes half your Base Power in damage.
  91. Moon- You and everything you are looking at vanish from this time and place, re-appearing in this same place under the dark of the next moon. YOU MUST REROLL TO GET THIS.
  92. Death- Choose one creature or object with fewer Hit Points than you. That creature dies, or that object is destroyed. YOU MUST REROLL TO GET THIS.
  93. Life- Choose one dead creature. That creature comes back to life with your Base Majesty in Hit Points. YOU MUST REROLL TO GET THIS.
  94. Summon- Choose a creature with fewer Hit Points than you. That creature appears. YOU MUST REROLL TO GET THIS.
  95. Thing- Target yourself or another creature. They take the form of any living creature you wish, whether some Kind or ape or lizard or whatever. Takes 5 rounds to Sing. YOU MUST REROLL TO GET THIS.
  96. Storm- A raging hurricane centers itself on your position and lasts for a day. Takes 1 hr to Sing. YOU MUST REROLL TO GET THIS.
  97. Rot- You are saved from Eater’s grasp for the rest of the day but you will die at midnight. YOU MUST REROLL TO GET THIS.
  98. Time- You transport yourself and only yourself to another time in the place you are in. This can be abstract (before the fire) or very specific (in ape terms, June 3rd). YOU MUST REROLL TO GET THIS.
  99. Eater- Roll Eater’s Eye. This DOES count as the one use per session. If you roll less than your Total Secrets on the die, Eater appears and sets upon a target you designate, claiming them. If you roll within the opposite of your Total Secrets (say if your TS value is 10, then rolling 91-100) then he claims you. If you roll in between, he appears and may be negotiated with. YOU MUST REROLL TO GET THIS.
  100. Wish- You have your Total Secrets in seconds to describe one fundamental change you wish to make in the whole of the world. This is effectively limitless. This song leaves you once sung. YOU MUST REROLL TO GET THIS.