Monday, October 23, 2017

Time and Tech for CaBH + Forte and the Rust Belt


Generally, unless specified, the nations of this world as a whole have a tech level roughly analogous to what we have now, with different countries or regions corresponding more to say an impoverished state (so the tech levels in the definitely-not-ghettos-why-would-you-ask in Johannesburg) to an ultramodern upper class one (Akihabara or Silicon Valley). Broadly speaking most people have access to a phone, of not a cell phone, though exact tech will vary.

Chevalle, for example, has a kind of high-tech-60s-to-70s, Archer-the-tv-show aesthetic of outdated Soviet style machines made to work for the modern world through great effort. While there is not a Japan or USA in this world per se the kind of culture we enjoy with our technology would be a step or two beyond what we have now, about the advancement level we'd be if everyone's Alexa was instead Deep Blue and that's about it. There are, as detailed below, exceptions.

Where Feng Shui is concerned when it comes to technology the key things it's concerned about  is time period or Juncture, and even this is 90% concerned with what kinds of guns you have access to. The remaining 10% is focused on whether you are stuck with a horse or can have a hoverbike. For our purposes we'll need to flip those numbers. First things: as FS assumes a default swath of proficiencies implied by your Type, CaBH assumes any racer proficient with their own Vehicle no matter the tech level of their background or the vehicle involved. Since the appearance and description of these will vary pretty wildly that's...good.

Apart from that there's nothing especially preventing a character from 1350s Mongolia from picking up an AK47 and figuring it out. It'll just take different rolls until enough practice is under their belt to imply proficiency, and this is using action movie definitions of "enough practice" where random dishwasher Jackie Chan can effectively use a bazooka when he needs to.

An exception to this is what the game dubs Scroungetech, weapons and body-modifications designed using machines from the far future designed to warp reality to the same extent as magic. The default setting's Scroungetech stuff is in flux due to plot shit, like the future blowing up and being run by monkeys. For us, though, Scroungetech simply represents a technology that is beyond. Perhaps it comes from a pocket of AI-assisted potential, or was designed with help from the future in some kind of Contact-cum-Looper situation. It might be the result of some kind of unique Holtzman-Spengler genius, or the kind of strange Tesla machines Lovecraft had in mind when he first wrote Nyarlahotep, technology created with understanding outside our world which allows for impossible things...

Very few Types make use of Scroungetech as a core component. If you're one of these Types you are either from one of the following places or your transformation was rooted there. Just finding such devices in the world, however, may not carry any geographical significance. It could have come from anywhere and, with some trial and error, is anyone's to use. People from high-tech nations will just have an edge, is all.

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Forte is a kingdom with one foot in tomorrow. The seat of all technical advancement and medical breakthrough is one where every man is just a bit machine and every machine is just a bit man. AI capable of a level of independence, bio-assisted computing, smart prostheses, and other advances mean every person you speak to in Forte may be several "people" with their own identities and ideas. Forte is a futuristic paradise in many respects but at the cost of uniform participation as a requirement of citizenship - those who wish to abstain from any form of Communion or who see Derived Beings as inherently lesser are not punished except by forced emigration, before which any Fortean 'assistances' are removed. They share much of their gifts freely with other nations but require both a share-back guarantee for other advances and representation within that local government - an ambassador who is themselves a whole embassy. Tracking their leader is nearly impossible for someone unconnected to their framework so dealing with any sort of department head or group spokesperson should be dealt with as if dealing with Queen Victoria herself.

Dumesk was once a nation rich in all manner of natural resources. Many of those were stripped in preparation for a secret war which never ended up happening anyway, the Thrilight Krieg, for which neutral Dumesk was a seat of production for many nations. Abandoned factory and housing complexes nearly cover Dumesk now and she has little left to sustain her people, bartering with the leverage of incalculable debts racked up by other nations. Its head woman, affectionately known as "Babushka Brunn," has turned the processing power and monolithic thinking engines which fueled her nation's drive to its current state to a new task: developing infinitely within. Other nations can tap into the richer "metaverse" Dumeski peoples enjoy with some great expense or effort but here even the least citizen is able to neuromance with the best of them, creating marvels impossible in physical space into which the wind-snapped citizenry escapes. They call it the Square, a nation increased by its own power, but everyone else on the planet calls this anti-apocalypse world "Dumesday."

To the distant west of Dumesk's capital it borders an old rival, Erlin. Erlin's progress has come largely through its mastery of the atom. They are chief when it comes to finding new and strange sources for the world's energies, though they don't always get things quite right. The consequences of this, lamentable though they are, also are inevitable. That's fine: Erlin excels at containment, making them powerful allies for SEDAN. Their society and politics can be a bit old fashioned and Chairman Holland, their effervescent elder statesman and executive leader, can be severe in the finality of his pronouncements. Nevertheless, Erlin is a place rich in transformation, discovery, and growth, not all of it planned.

South of Dumesk is what once was the Temple Sea, now something of a ruined heap of oxidizing scrap. When Thrilight Krieg was averted every nation began quickly looking for somewhere to offload its killdroids and death machines. Whoever dumped first is hotly debated but under the logic of "who will notice one more load" thousands of loads of advanced weapons and silver warriors were abandoned in the now-filled salt sea. It was actually a decade or more before the no-man's-land was noticed to be active - alive. Someone forgot to switch something off and a robo-nation made out of itself developed like a slime mold unattended. Since this was something of a no-man's-land already when the machines declared themselves the independent state of Ping their new neighbors decided to, well, roll with it...after all, they certainly didn't have the resources to fight Ping since Ping WAS their resources. The Clients of Ping modify themselves constantly, some serving as edifice one week and individual another. Peer, their representative to the rest of the world, has long reigned over an order of mandatory peace, these fearsome but gentle machines utterly lost without a manmade drive for death.

Finally, the tiny mountain nation of XXXThrill0 is little more than a series of volcanoes bound to endothermic industry. Constantly belching tons of black smoke into the world the small population here which hangs off the mountain faces in its black metal coffins are almost entirely concerned with maintaining mother nature's own imperfect boilers. Theirs is not an aspirational or forward thinking population but when it comes to Making The Thing Do The Thing few can surpass them. Their leader is the long-bedridden Count Dude, his advisor and voice in all matters of state the fearsome and canny Desdemona Troyer, and their most famous citizen....well, no one will officially say he hails from XXXThrill0 but we all know who we're talking about, don't we?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

REVIEW: ABANDONED ABADDON ABANDON by Illison Ozco and Monster


Stripped of their blood and limbs by the enemy, stripped of their arms and mail by the common scum, stripped of their reward eternal by victorious but strange gods, the dead inherit only loam. Murder, misadventure, disease, happenstance, age, these all find homes under consecrated circumstances. Not so the battle people. They are Carted, claimed and carried, to one apocryphal blind box canyon where they are planted like ragged roses line in line awaiting a torpor and flourish that time and rebirth can bring only. The damned have been sown for centuries in gravel and clay made redder than God by unceasing hours of bony-fingered determination. They have been lain up a store, like pickles of apocalypse. Apickleypse.

Poorest imagination will reveal the purpose for this charnel pantry - it will comes easily to lips if you attempt to describe it - but the when: when is this hellcrop due for a mortal harvest? At what hour comes the Reaping Which Stands? Well here is a fear long heeded by the cleverer nations: The Deaths Will Come For You When You Come Looking For It.

The city state of Nuydeqag did not get the magical memo. Young and starving they have set themselves as a kingdom upon the goal of the tallowed valley. A bid for power or an ill-conceived attempt at smiting a known and stationed evil in the name of a boring sky-dad, that much is unclear: Nuydeqagites (hey real quick piss off with these names Ozco) are merely carrot and stick to justify spiriting your cast to the brink of high stakes disaster in a strange race where nobody wins unless no party reaches their destination.

Other forces are...well, not on your side, but opposed to the Nuydeqagites, and you'll have to deal with those as well. There are also the mundane mad and the wild people of the hills, disciples of pacifist war gods in search of a cause worth blaspheming for, a veil breached only by watching dispassion and the strange deer-faced insects who linger past the fringes all waking perception. Die and become the danger. Fight and feed what's coming. Follow....but steer clear the Carter and his nine forms of finality.

Illison Ozco writes, Monster does the illustrations.

A word about ghouls -

Ghouls are not undead, they are simply of-dead. They are perhaps most traditionally, most respectfully, a type of being, or perhaps a shade which an uncareful man might pass through, becoming something not themselves but also not just Send More Paramedics. Closer to a Wendigo, but for once not a WENN-DIII-GOOOO.

A Ghoul is compelling when they are not just another thing that wants to eat you, or another thing which is dead and naked aggression, or another thing which is some kind of faerie or some shit. A Ghoul is compelling when they need to eat you. More specifically, primarily, they need to eat the dead, and not the recently dead either. The buried and moldering bone case where your snout gets all pinochled up. They have been pushed to this by desperation because even the fallen and ripening have been long cannibalized due to circumstance, or else set on by wild animals whose lives are relatively comfortable compared to a Ghoul's own. You must eat the dust, low thing. You must dig for poison, cursed shape. That is all that is left. A Ghoul is a one who in their need has become so base that in all aspects they are diminished but in a strange way hidden to the sight of the gods they have become...if not more, exactly, no, not more, then only ah... deeper. Leatherface was not a Ghoul, Gollum was. A Ghoul is not one who likes a nice long pig now and again, a Ghoul is that one guy from Lovecraft whose house was so old and shitty and he ate so many people that he went so crazy his house exploded.

They need to eat you because they see it in you, a glimmer of everything that was lost, and you are a map to them back to love and light. They will grin and laugh and seemingly delight in the hunt as they paw at you down corridors dark enough for their grayed eyes to tolerate. Giggling scratchers, theirs is instead a damned jog after the last lifeboat on the Titanic. They are sinking. They do not know you cannot save them.

Illison Ozco missed her chance to go insane on dat good-good radioactive cocaine thanks to growing up without a communist shadow looming overhead but she didn't let a little thing like that stop her. Naval hero and one of the only historical uses of the phrase "Polish Invasion" that isn't immediately followed with "OH SHIT," Illison came to the second generation of Adder Entertainment with something to prove. In word this was that Eastern Bloc mysticism and a century of light bulb jokes could still produce a new generation's Ivanov but, in practice, it was positing the entire Eurasian clash-up as a spiraling gravity bigger than nations and bad ideas, a weighty ink like the aforementioned HP's bottomless Massachusetts. This is most evidenced in Abandoned Abaddon Abandon, her third of five projects for the company, in the web of Ultimately Assured Destruction woven between the local state-nations. Also, the Carter himself serves as a sort of Uncle Creepy koriphyos-cum-Guy-Who-Pretends-To-Kill-The-Shark-On-The-Jaws-Ride. Trusting him is not foolish because he will betray you. Trusting him is foolish because evil always wins out the prisoner's dilemma of entropy and expecting anyone to have any effect on the grinding of galaxy wheels is like counting on a maggot to stop a volcano.

If your cast elects to follow the Nuydeqagites' trail on the road then you get to see a series of nations braced for murder-by-suicide and the opportunity to patch things up along the way as their communities fall to shit while the Big People pretend at plans. If your path takes you over the mountain then looping, interconnected concentric trails must be carefully navigated or you join the Snow, one of my favorite examples of ghost-as-geography in gaming history. Go through the mountains and you have a harder time than Gandalf's slowest-pitch adult league softball team, coming face to face with home-grown parasite purgatories who looked at the attempt to build a physical world hell and went "hey, let me on that titty." There's a good generator for these but they end up way gonzo and that's me saying that: I let people play a bag. The three off-the-shelf options are much better.

Actually, speaking of the Gore Chief, let's talk about Monster, the prog botanist whose art adorns these pages. It's minimal. It's spare. It's affecting. It's completely wrong. Monster's art for Abandoned Abaddon Abandon was famously mixed up at the printer with the art it had completed for the licensed Tazmania RPG that Warner Bros. planned to put out. That means that while Monster's strange interpretations of John Astin's forgotten resume are captivating they are entirely alien to the text, which gives them their own weird horror vibe. The proofs that escaped into the wild from the quickly-scrapped Tazmania book show something like a true Coleridge experience while also serving to underline the hubris in flying too low to the common denominator with this particular pitch. (I'll try a Spinning ability score, that's a neat trick!)

There's your meme history for the week: this is why the Gore Chief lovvvves pepperoni pizza.

Ozco did not actually collaborate with Monster again although its artwork graced three of her four efforts for Æ. Monster would go on to heights of its own with a little cam-pak we'll discuss next time. As for Ozco, her jet accident left her with limited manual dexterity and cataracts in her focus but she still serves as advisor and ambassador for the Red Raj series of books over at Pinnacle.

Final note: the doomed Æ miniatures line was never reborn to see Carter cast in pewter but a 3D printer file for a pitched Reaper commemorative protoype made its way online last year thanks to an enterprising Tattoo Society member (among whom, unsurprisingly, a figure like Carter has proved popular). You can download it here for free but any donations you make over on the right go to efforts helping to free Skinny Tim, still in prison from 2015's GenCon Gridlock event at the Marriott.