Wednesday, May 30, 2018

OSR: Snake Wizard

Not this
Or this
Or this
There we go
When I was first able to get my wife to play RPGs, she played a conjurer wizard who was obsessed with snakes. He was a reasonably nice wizard, he just didn't understand it was weird to keep the desiccated remains of your master in your basement, collect all of your shed skin, and invite snakes to cuddle in all of the camp sleeping bags. He was also entirely certain that his goal in life was to rend open the Plane of Snakes and drown all of biped civilization in a sea of serpents. It was for the good of us all. This is for you Choraster the Wise.

If you are going by Skerples' estates, these guys are Outlaw wizards, because no one wants to be around a wizard who smells like snake musk and keeps an actual snake in their trousers.

Edit: Taking some feedback from Skerples of Coins and Scrolls. the original 2nd Cantrip could break several economies (especially the food one as he pointed out) so I'm making a change here.

School: Snake Wizard

Perk: You are immune to snake venom. If you can smell something, you can taste it too.

Drawback: You are cold blooded and must either spend an hour sunning each day or otherwise be kept warm or you will be unable to restore HP via lunch.

1. When prone, you can slither and squirm at full speed provided you don't use your hands.
2. You can cause a harmless non-venomous 1 HD (1hp) garter snake to crawl out of any logical location ( from a hole, around a doorway, in an unattended boot etc.) It is not under your control and, if questioned, is admittedly a little confused about its whereabouts.  You begin with a snake familiar who is ultimately loyal to The Serpent. In any instance where the familiar would be killed, you may call upon another but it will be the same snake and may invoke a Curse or Mutation for your dereliction of duty.
3. You can swallow anything that is less than the circumference of your neck without difficulty.

Hm, maybe...

Snake Wizard spell list

You automatically get the "Speak with Snakes" spell at level 1. Roll for your other spell normally.

1. Speak with Snakes
R: 0 T: self D: [dice] minutes
You can talk to snakes and they can talk back. Small snakes know about grass, dirt, and rodents. Larger snakes know about people and may even be able to tell them apart. Really large snakes, the dangerous ones, know all sorts of things. Snakes will generally treat people who can speak to them with mild curiosity and bemusement.

2. Magic Misssssssile
R: 200' T: creature D: 0
Target takes [sum] + [dice] damage, no Save. As a Snake Wizard your spell is a magic snake that you pull out of your sleeve and throw like a goddamn javelin.

3. Snake Eyes
R: 30' T: creature D: [dice] rounds
For the duration of the spell, the target is branded with a stylized snake eye and is unable to roll above a 1 on d6's. This can be used, for example, to make sure MD are not exhausted at the expense of power or it can cause weapons to deal minimal damage.

4. Gift of Fangs* Shamelessly stolen from Skerples
R: touch T: [dice] weapons D: 1 hour
Weapons you touch become venomous, dealing an additional 1d4 damage on a hit.

5. Shed Skin
R: 0 T: Self D: 0
You shed your skin in 1d6-[dice] rounds and restore [sum]/2 HP. This process, however, leaves you naked and disarmed. Your shed skin is whole, similar to that of a snake, and can be kept or preserved.

6. Boa Constrict
R: 30' T: 1 Creature D: [dice]*2 rounds or [sum] rounds
One or both of your arms transform into massive boa constrictors that extend towards the target creature. They must save or be paralyzed for the duration of the spell. If you use both arms, the spell lasts for [sum] rounds but you cannot use your arms for anything else (including casting.)

7. Snake Ball
R: 60' T: [sum] HD of Creatures D: [dice]*2 rounds
You summon forth a massive illusionary snake mating orgy ball which immediately starts rolling towards your targets. Targets must Save versus Fear or immediately retreat. The ball's speed is your Movement and will follow the targets for the duration of the spell.

8. Snakes to Stairs
R: Touch T: Point D: [sum] minutes
You call upon a [dice]*50' long snake to anchor itself between yourself and a point within its reach. It will bend its body into something akin to stairs, allowing it to support [sum] human sized creatures. It will not move from this point and will not take part in combat. It has [sum] HP and all attacks automatically hit.

9. Sticks to Snakes
R:0 T: Sticks or Snakes D: [dice]*2 rounds
You transform [sum]/2 sticks or stick-like wooden objects into 1 HD snakes (damage 1d6, armor as leather) with a [sum] chance of each being venomous (Save vs Constitution or +1d6 poison). You can also reverse this spell and turn [sum]/2 HD worth of snakes into sticks. A snake of 3 HD or more turns into a 1d8 damage Staff. A snake of 6HD becomes a 1d8 damage Staff that deals additional poison damage as above. Ever 3 HD above this adds +1 to Attack.

10. Snake Charming
R: 50' T: [sum]/3 HD creature D: [dice] hours
The target is put into a blissful semi-conscious daze, treating nothing around them as a threat and acting much like a sleep walker. Doing any sort of damage will break the charm, but, for example, holding a blade to their throat will not.

Emblem Spells

11. Avatar of the Serpent
R:60' T: Point D: Varies
At a point you designate, you call upon an avatar of The Serpent (the Ur-snake, the Snake Elemental, the Hissing God, whatever). The Avatar is not under your control, but is also not immediately hostile to you. The size, HD, and damage of the snake depends on the [sum] rolled:

1-7: person-sized, 2 HD, 2d6 damage
8-12: ogre-sized, 4 HD, 3d6 damage
>12: Jafar at the end of Aladdin-sized,  6 HD, 4d6 damage
24: like-holy-fuck-Jörmungandr-sized, 10HD, 6d6 damage, what-have-you-done?!

The Avatar will either strike once or constrict one target for [sum] duration before vanishing. Investing 4 or more [dice] into the spell makes it permanent. Good job bringing back the Snakeman Empire buddy.

12. Plane of Snakes
R: 100' T: area D: [dice] rounds
At a point you designate, you rip a hole between this world and the Elemental Plane of Snakes. For [dice] rounds, [sum] 1 HD snakes (1d6 bite, Save vs Constitution or +1d6 poison, armor as leather) pour from the rift attacking everything in sight. Everyone but you and other snakes must Save vs. Panic. You do not have control over these snakes and, when questioned, speak only in cryptic riddles as the only understand reality through the lens of all things being Snake. Investing 4 or more die results in the rift to the Plane of Snakes being open for [dice] days instead.

Technically, a Snake Witch. 
1. MD only return to your pool on a 1-2 for 24 hours
2. A snake craws from your sleeves and bites you for 1d6 damage
3. Turn into a giant snake for 1d6 rounds and immediately draw the focus of all hostile combatants.
4. Suddenly shed all of your face skin (including your eyes), blind for 1d6 rounds as it flakes away
5. Arms turn into lethargic snakes for 1d6 rounds, disarmed and unable to retrieve items.
6. Sneeze out snakes for 1d6 rounds, unable to take other actions.

1. You can no longer slither or swallow like a snake, this is a sad day indeed.
2. You can no longer speak to snakes and when they are summoned, they are immediately hostile to you.
3. The Serpent, incarnation of Magic and Snakes, blesses you with Snake. And by that I mean the picture below is now you.

Can't get any better than this.
You can avoid this fate by opening a permanent gate to the Plane of Snakes or by unhinging your jaw and swallowing the phylactery of a powerful Snakeman Lich-King. 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Witch Stole My Name!

Witches, amirite?
So you are just doing your adventuring thing, having some fun in a bog or a dungeon or some random cave, and suddenly this ugly mug pops up and steals your name. Shit! You were thinking, oh yeah no way that could happen. After all, someone needs to hear you say it. Or know your Four Causes, right? WRONG. Witches don't need none of your fancy philosophies or your Crisis Energy or your nonsense about Kings. They sit outside of the rules because they are, fundamentally, servants of chaos. Now this doesn't mean they are all evil, nay. They fill an important magical niche in the world, they are the metaphysical exception that proves the law. For how could you ever have the law in the first place without the exception?

In any case, while we were waxing philosophic there, the witch has not only stolen your name but has left you with a new one. How kind. Only, it is something like Zoosmell Stinkpits or Jerkface McGee or (ohgodno) Todd. What're you going to do?! Well there is a variety of options. You could always find her and try to force your name out of them, but really when she already has your name the direct approach is probably foolish. You could go to a Wizard and see if they could somehow restore your name, but good luck there, they'll probably charge you a literal arm and a leg. The best way is to find another Witch. That's right, you heard me, another Witch.

The face of your savior.

You see, Witches do not have names. When they make the pacts with whatever force gives them their power, they sell their name away. This is all well and good until you need to introduce yourself or sign for a package or vote. So, they steal names for their own use and give you their old ones. However, it has, over time, become something of a competition. Each witch wants to have the best name. Now it might be up to individual tastes for some lone witches, but every year at the Witchmoot, bragging rights and respect always go to the witch with the undoubtedly best name. This is why Goldan Gorandi Dallie Kantar Frentsasu Sensinda III has held the title of Archwitch for the past fifteen years. And why the queen of a distant foreign country is named Dumpy Dan.

It might take a few tries before you meet with a witch that gives you a name that you like, especially if you are a Todd. It is all about what is in vogue and sometimes trading down in the hopes of eventually trading up. On the positive side though, you might get a little something from your new name. Escape from a curse bound to your name, cast out a disease that could have sworn it was infesting a Lillian and not a Jim, or even find that your new name has a bit of magic in it!

Sen is a better name than Carrottop, right?
Whenever you meet a witch and she's on the lookout for a new name, roll 4 times on this chart and see what you end up with. Or just look up what celebrities are naming their kids nowadays, eugh....

First Name
Middle Name
Last Name
Roll on the Supernatural mutation chart!
Hope you like nose warts! -d4 Charisma
Were your teeth always this crooked? Gain 1d6 bite attack, 50% chance to miscast spells
This name is cursed! Roll on GM's favorite curse chart!
Healed of all curses and diseases
Wanna talk to birds? Well you can now, too bad they mostly just want sum fuk.
MarySueMoonbeamYou weigh as much as a goose! You cannot sink in water and act as though under constant Feather Fall.
FlintBrickSquat-thrustYou can regenerate 1d6 damage twice a week. You can also do d4 damage to yourself for 1 ration.
MisterDoubleUniverseGuess what? Your nipples now glow with the strength of a bullseye lantern. You're welcome. 
Gain 1 magic die and roll for a spell on a list of your choosing. You are now a spellcaster. Woopty-doo.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Within the Axebitten Woods

Furtive Goblin's setting, tentatively called the ITU universe, is, for the most part, rather low magic. There is a mean old hedge wizard that we've met and there are some fantastical beasts such as the Blood Wasps and the Zood. However there is one place that has known the stench of truly foul magics, though the truth of this horror is little known to outsiders. For, you see, it is not for the foul creeping rot that loggers and farmers stray from the Axebitten Woods, but for the Wood's protectors.

A Wendigo, but close enough!

The Longfolk are whispered of like boogeymen among the homesteaders of the Reossos basin. Twice the height of a man, but with bodies disturbingly gaunt, distressingly stretched and clothed only in blue-grey ash, they haunt the forest beyond the Axebite, a massive cleft of wasteland that cuts deep through the woods. The men of the Reossos basin only catch glimpses of movement in the dense forests beyond the Axebite, for any that step beyond their border finds themselves pin-cushioned with arrows the size of javelins. In fact, anything crossing the border is unerringly shot down, be it man, beast, or bird. Even insects do not seem to escape the Longfolk's notice, as they are pinned to the trees as though stuck by an expert lepidopterist.

Imagine this, but it is you.

Unbeknown to the men beyond the woods, the Longfolk take these measures to protect them. For in an era long forgotten, something arose within the woods. A foul corrupting essence. A metaphysical cancer that consumes, profanes, and drives mad all those who fall under its touch. Fruit rots from within, trees slough off their bark like decayed flesh, animals become ghastly cannibalistic beasts. The once peaceful Longfolk adapted, giving up culture, trade, and joy to combat the corruption. They took up mighty axes and strong bows, they hunted and they purge with fire. Their bodies became stained with the ash of the cleansing fires. Their bodies distorted, growing longer and longer, so that they may increase the reach of their axes and the draw of their bows. 

Probably what we'd be getting if it were not for the Longfolk
So how do we use the Longfolk for out own means?

Although they are, ultimately, our defenders, they are nonetheless as Furtive Goblin presents them, an antagonistic force. They do not communicate in a tongue we know and most often we only see them as a fleeting presence before a 4 foot long arrow flies through our chest. While I guess there is a possibility of a rogue Longfolk working as a race or a race-as-class, I feel they function better as a mysterious and dangerous obstacle more than as a PC resource.

The Longfolk

"In legend, the Longfolk slay indiscriminately, mutilate the corpses, and burn the remains.
In fact, the Longfolk kill cautiously, neutralize the corpses, and purify the remains with fire."

HD: 5
Appearance: 10' naked androgynous grey humanoid, extremely disproportionately long limbs, carrying a massive bow and a long hafted ax.
Wants: to protect the Axebite, shoot outsiders, burn/cleanse rot
Armour: as plate
Move: 1.5*normal
Morale: 12
Damage: see below.

Longfolk only take 1 damage per die from fire based attacks.

The Longfolk work in 3 attack patterns:

Ballista Bow: From a range of 120' the Longfolk may fire massive arrows dealing 2d6 damage.

Long Axe: A wide, two-handed chopping arc dealing 1d10 damage and knocking target prone.

Cleansing Fire: The Longfolk are experts as creating incredibly hot burning fires, and given one round to prepare may create a firebomb acting as a 3rd level Magic-User's Fire Ball.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Four Causes and How to Exploit Them.

Aristotle held that there were four kinds of answers to "why" questions, these being the Four Causes. The Material Cause, the Formal Cause, the Efficient Cause, and the Final Cause. To fully understand something, one must understand all of its Causes. I'm going to take my limited knowledge of the topic, surely get half of it wrong, and then put it to work for the OSR.

So let's go through the causes using, say, a plain wooden table.

I'm looking at you, bub. 

The Material Cause of the table is the wood that makes it up. Now this might seem simple enough, you are merely naming the raw material of the object. However, on a deeper level, this is implying that the material effect (wood) always had the resulting form (a table) within it all along.

The Formal Cause of the table is its design. Better put by wikipedia it is the "the pattern or form which when present makes matter into a particular type of thing, which we recognize as being of that particular type." This is closely linked to the Theory of Forms (something I will absolutely explore elsewhere) which posits that the things we experience are merely shadows of some truer archetypal Form. Linking back to the Material Cause, the Formal Cause laid inert within the material cause, waiting to be unleashed. 

The Efficient Cause of the table is the carpenter who created it. This is the closest to "cause" as we traditionally know it. The carpenter causes the table, the painter causes the art, the sculptor causes the sculpture. But, keep in mind, that these efficient or agent causes are merely the vector by which the Formal Cause may be made manifest from the Material Cause. When the sculptor chisels a statue from a block of marble, the statue had been within the whole time.

Finally there is the Final Cause. This is the reason for which a thing is done in the first place. The case of the table is fairly simple, its final cause is to be used to dine upon, or to write upon, or to hold a vase of flowers, etc. This comes from the concept of Telos, of an end purpose. The case of the table is a extrinsic telos, it is a final cause imposed by an outside force (in this case humans). It is argued by Aristotle that natural things have an intrinsic telos, a final cause that is present in them all along. The intrinsic telos or Final Cause of an acorn is to grow into an oak. This necessitates either a Prime Mover and/or some kind of Plantonic Forms to assign this. The other causes are determined by the Final Cause, for it is, after a manner, the destiny of the object in question.

Aristotle: Philosopher or 10th level Wizard?!

So lets make this an fit into a RPG.

Many players of RPGs and, I would think, most folks in the OSR community are rather familiar with various magical and supernatural beliefs and systems. One that is very common is the concept of a True Name. In Wizards of Earth Sea, the True Name of an object is entirely how magic is worked. The inhabitants of the Archipelago only give their nicknames, for they know their True Names can be used against them. In various systems of Demonology, you may only command a spirit by knowing its True Name. King Solomon held his power over spirits by having knowledge of the 72 Names of God.

I posit that to absolutely know a True Name is to know its Four Causes. This makes the understanding of inanimate objects significantly easier. This is why any wizard can enchant any simple blade. Material: Steel. Formal: Sharp Weapon. Efficient: Blacksmith. Final: To do harm.

However enchanting something living is more complex and more temporary. You may charm a man, or cause him to grow into a giant, or change him into a toad. However in most cases this effect is temporary. This is because you only hold a portion of that True Name, only a few of the causes. Jim the Fighter's Material Cause is Flesh/Bone (or Clay if you will), his Formal Cause is Man, his Efficient Cause is his Mother and Father, and his Final Cause, who can say? This is easier with beings such as Devils, Angels, and Elementals, for they were crafted for known and documented causes. But for mortals, possessing in them true Free Will, their Final Cause is intricate, changing, and perhaps unknowable except by the greatest of minds.

Why are sheep such a Baleful Polymorph staple?

The Four fits nicely with GLOG's casting mechanic of a max of 4 Magic Dice. Many spells scale in power as you invest more dice, potentially representing a deeper understanding of the fundamental Causes behind the spells and behind the caster's target. Mishaps or Dooms could be caused by a corrupted or insufficient understanding of the Causes, thereby resulting in a casting. Including my spells as "What Ifs" idea, you are trying to force a change or an effect against this universe's Causes, Causes that have been assigned and Causes that show why a thing currently is as it is. By subtly changing them, you work magic, but the universe is by far older and more concrete than any single mage and thus the true Four Causes almost always reassert themselves.

Notice in the description of the Final Cause, I reference the need for Platonic Forms or for a Prime Mover. Well luckily in fantasy that is far easier to deal with. You may have your gods, or in Pathfinder you have Abadar's First Vault, an actual repository of Platonic Forms. In my case, I have the Kings who are at once the Prime Movers of the causes and the incarnations of the Platonic Form of objects all in one.

Perhaps I'll make a Wizard school that deals with this on a meta level. I'm sure you lot can think of a variety of True Name or Words of Power type connection here. But for now I'll just leave you with this image of Aristotle getting ridden by Phyllis.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Defixiones: or How to curse your enemies while poisoning the water table!

If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. At least, that is what people say. The truth of the matter is, if you want something done right, you usually hire someone better qualified at doing what you need doing. I'm not going to fool around with my furnace when I know a reputable HVAC guy who can do it for me. This is why when people need to curse someone, they go to one of those odd men or women in pointy hats. A Wizard knows just how to draw out pretty little designs onto parchment to entice the proper spell to do your word for you. Chances are, he or she went to school of this or, at the very least, has a lot more trial-and-error practice than you do.

But just as today there are folks who decide that after watching a few youtube tutorials, they are suddenly experts, folks have often decided to cut out the middleman. Why pay a man, who doesn't know how to shave himself properly, a bag of gold to scribble illegible nonsense when you could do that just as well for essentially free? And thus, we have the poor man's scroll, more correctly known as the Curse Tablet.

Not bad looking for a 2000+ year old negative Yelp review.

A Defixione, or Curse Tablet, is basically a plea to whatever local spirit to intervene in a manner on your behalf. Historical examples often include requests for love, money, and protection, but more often than not, of vengeance. In the Roman-British city of Bath, around 130 defixiones were uncovered and the vast majority of them requested the local goddess to beat up thieves, apparently public baths were a prime target for pickpockets.

A public bath, or a hotbed of criminal activity?!
So how does a Defixione work? I'm glad you asked. While there are various modifications and forms, the tried and true Curse Tablet functions follows a recipe.

Take one thin sheet of lead and write your complaint upon it. Say, for example, "I, Marcus Aurelius, have been wronged by Tertius Agelastus, who has slept with my wife, stolen my money, and called me a fool in the Forum. May Trivia remove his tongue, curse his mind, and shrivel his balls. Ablanathanalba ." Adding a few "barbarous names," or nonsense words makes it sounds more magical and convincing.

Roll up your sheet of lead and pound a nail through it. If you are feeling especially artistic, make a little clay figurine of your target and stab it with a few nail in the appropriate places. Terius here is getting stabbed in the head a few times and the crotch. It is also popular for the figurine to be tied up or shaped in a curled position to represent being bound. Good old sympathetic magic.

Finally, go to your nearest body of water (the public bath, the local well, a river, a spring) with any sort of significance and toss the whole lot in. Let simmer.

If Aurelius did things right, Terius is going to have a hell of a week.

Fuck you Terius!

Another popular addition to deal with thieves was to give the spirit/deity whatever the thief had stolen, thereby making it so the thief retroactively stole from the spirit/deity. Bad move friend.

So how can we tie this into the OSR?

As I've ranted, Spells are spirits of Possibility, or Magic-Brain-Ferrets. Wizards attract them by thinking right thoughts (like "drinking mercury is the path towards immortality!") and can then cage them in paper by illustrating those thoughts. Someone had to be the first person to write something down and have a spell decide to take root, so if they could do it, why can't you?

While time consuming and not assured by any means, it is worth a shot!

Body of Water
Spirit Strength
Extremely Profane
Very Profane
Mildly Profane
Genius Loci
Mildly sacred
Very Sacred
Extremely Sacred

The table above can be used by the GM to determine either the relative strength and personality of a local established water spirit or to randomly determine what the PCs get when they throw their Curse Tablet into some random creek. Profane spirits are more likely to respond to malicious intent while Sacred spirits are more likely to respond to beneficent intent. Inversely, Profane spirits are more likely to twist beneficent requests and Sacred spirits are more likely to punished malicious requests. Neutral spirits usually don't care one way or another, and are generally the least motivated of the spirits.

I am working on a whole list of possible curses and effects that these spirits may work for or against you, but I believe I can hold that off till another post. In the mean time, there are a broad number of quality curse tables out there to choose from.

Translation: May the waitstaff at Bucket o' Gyros never know true love.


Hail to the King, baby!

I was going to make this into an in-depth post about Creation and Royalty and fantasy religion. But then I realized that no matter how many times I tried to draft it, I was imitating without making it my own. It was YSUN mixed with Ymir or it was Zulin or it was The Authority or it was Brahman. And I realized that a good religion doesn't arise in a void, it developed over time as part of a bundle of beliefs and explanations. So I'm not going to give you TLN's Fantasy Religion, because TLN doesn't have a Fantasy Religion. I'm going to give you a bunch of errant thoughts and see where it takes us.

Everything has a King. Death has a King, Life has a King, Electromagnetism has a King. Water has a King, Oxygen and Hydrogen each have their King. Apes have a King, Snakes have a King, Waterbears have a King, Yeast has a King. Alcohol has a King, Sofas have a King, Shovels have a King, Clouds have a King.

The Kings are, for the most part, the ultimate and some cases the only example of something, be it a physical thing or a metaphysical concept. All things are differentiated and all things follow laws and the only thing that can enforce a law is a King, for they inherit the Divine Right to Rule. There was once only One King, but it was crushed and split under the weight of its own crown.

The Kings are not Gods. Gods are not things that rule, they do not enforce the running of the universe. Gods create and destroy and frolic, free of courtly duties and free from the law. Gods are Fools who remind the King why they rule in the first place.

The Kings are related. The aristocracy is inbred and vast, its alliances and marriages intertwined into a Gordian Knot. The Oxygen King and the Hydrogen King are grandsire to the Water King, the Water King claims to have sired the Life King but other Kings contest this. There is an Animal King and a Plant King and a Fungi King, each siring their own vast legions of lesser Kings.

There are many who claim to be the Human King, but you've never met the real one. Supposedly they and the other Sentient Biped Kings (like Elf King, Orc King, and Goblin King) run the show from some eternal tea party somewhere, but really they are all pretty busy making sure all your bodily functions run smoothly.

Sometimes the Kings fight, as is the way of Kings. The Human King has regularly combated the Animal Kings and current keeps a number of their Kings captive. Dog King and Cow King were among the first hostages, and though Human King would think otherwise, Cat King just takes advantage of Human King with the help of Toxoplasma gondii King.

Sometimes a King dies and their princelings vie for their crown. They fight in a grand and extended battle through many thousands of proxies, until one comes out on top. The other princelings continue their duties and their charades at kingship, and the whole thing is called Evolution.

You can be a King too. Go find the current King, kill them, and put on their crown. It is now your job to manage and defend your title. Of course not all Kings are are great at their job. The Thylacine King was killed a bit over a hundred years ago by some jerk named Benjamin Florentine and immediately drove the entire species into the ground.

Occasionally a King goes mad as they remember the time when there was One King and wish to unify once again. The King goes forth and kills other Kings and takes their crowns, they become Double Kings or Triple Kings or more, but down this path leads madness an instability. The Sentient Biped Kings stay hush about Human King who killed their brother, Neanderthal King, and secretly smelted their crowns together.

Long live the King!

To come? Class: Royal Aspirant, Random Table of Metaphysical Courtiers, Monsters: Killing Princes for Profit.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Crisis Energy, Probability Mining, and You

Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, courtesy of lipatov

I am an unrepentant fan of Perdido Street Station. Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, like most of China's characters, isn't the greatest beacon of morality you will find in fiction and this makes him feel so much more human as a protagonist. Furthermore I love The Scar, and its anti-hero/antagonist Uther Doul is a continuous mystery in a mystery that we can feel unfold through the eyes of Bellis Coldwine. But this is not a post about fanboying over these two characters, rather it is about the "sciences" that they each dedicate themselves to.

Crisis Energy is the energy of liminal states. It is both and neither kinetic and potential energy. It is the energy of paradoxes and transformations, it is the midway point between apples and oranges. A thrown rock is in a state of crisis. It doesn't want to fly, it wants to be sitting still on the closest gravitationally significant body. The longer it flies, the more crisis it is in. Grimnebulin figures a way to harvest this Crisis Energy as a self sustaining power source. Continuing the above example, Crisis Energy is used to make that rock fly. The rock, being in this state of Crisis, produces more and more Crisis Energy as it continues to fly, thereby providing the energy to keep it flying. It is a feedback loop offering unlimited energy, limited only by materials and imagination. After all, even Grimnebulin's Crisis Engine can't keep up in the end.

Probability Mining is something akin to a fantasy weaponized Schrodinger's Cat. Few people have not heard one multiversal theory or another that points towards a multitude of alternate dimensions. The Many-Worlds Interpretation, for example, posits that every action you make that involves any sort of choice or alternative results in the birth of countless new realities each representing every possible other alternative to that event. Probability mining takes this concept and runs with it, like a detached rail-car full of nitroglycerin speeding towards Tombstone (pop. 10000.) By essentially stealing from those alternate realities, an adept of Probability Mining can force those other Possibilities to instead be Actualities, or at least pseudo-Actualities. In the distant past, these techniques were used to craft many of the fanciful races of Bas-Lag (likely by modifying the possibilities of evolution) but was also used for sport, song, combat, and a host of other mundane tasks. We get a first hand look at it with the Possible Sword, Doul's favored weapon, that allows one to strike from every conceivable direction at once. When wielded correctly, this creates something of an inescapable blender.

Uther Doul and his Possible Sword, courtesy of Ashley Wood

Bas-Lag is filled with magic, but more often than not it is through a lens of science. Many RPGs, though, are not so limited. A spellcaster wants to fly, so they cast Fly. They don't need to worry about what is powering the spell, it just works. GLOG makes this a little more interesting as magic is no longer just some Vancian words, but is instead something like a metaphysical zoo. As Skerples of Coins and Scrolls put it spells are "spirit-ferrets, your spellbook is ferret jail, and your mind is a canon."

I posit that a spellcaster's mind is a matrix of Crisis Energy, a biological Crisis Engine if you will. It forces itself to believe things that are patently untrue, in order to create a tempting environment for "spell ferrets." These spells are, in turn, beings of Probability made manifest, living "What-ifs." What if I were flying right now? What if Jim was on fire? What if Aunt Gertrude could pull herself from the grave and eat people? These are things that are not actualities, these are things that reality as you currently know it has decided isn't happening. But you've just made them happen, by mining possibilities, you've created crisis. This is why more complex spells tend to last longer, the Crisis Energy is more self sustaining and more capable of resisting reality's grasp. It is easy for reality to wave away a ball of flame that exists for a tenth of a second, it is a lot harder for it to ignore Aunt Gertrude gnashing on Jimmy the Cultist's brain.

No Gran-Gran! No!

Introduction and the Fullsterkur

When I finally gave into to my urges and decided to start a blog, I asked my good friend Furtive Goblin what my aesthetic was. He stated, that my aesthetic was "extremely unpleasant." Given the internet nowadays, I feel like the bar for unpleasantness is rather high, though as such works as The Veins of the Earth, Into the Odd, and Gathox Vertical Slum gain in popularity, it seems that a certain amount of unpleasantness is just what people want.

I will admit now that I am no Patrick Stewart, or Arnold Kemper, or Skerples, or Chris McDowall   but I have a gonzo idea or two and the occasional bout of potentially gamified nonsense that perhaps someone would appreciate. I'm new to the OSR, but that is probably going to be what you'll see here most. To give a start, I present you with the Fullsterkur, my GLOG loveletter to Terry Crews.

The man hisself

Class: Fullsterkur
Starting Equipment: MUSCLES (Counts as a Medium Weapon with no slots)
Starting Skill: SWAGGER


You gain +1 STR for each Fullsterkur template you possess. Any time combat starts outdoors, there is a 2 in 6 chance that the Fullsterkur is distracted on the first round by the second Sun that only they can see.

You can choose to FLEX at the start of your turn. While FLEXING, your allies are empowered by your SHEER MUSCLY GOODNESS, giving them +1 to their Attack and +1 to their Save. Conversely, foes are filled with a TERRIBLE AWE at you bulging biceps and reduce their morale by 2. While FLEXING, you shed light as a torch and cannot use Stealth or retreat and must continuously shout muscle-related nonsense.

Out of combat, FLEX fills bystanders with confusion, awe, disgust, or some other appropriate emotion thereby focusing an appropriately sized crowd on your MUSCLES. Bystanders must save or bob their heads in unison with your PECS. This may result in high strength bystanders challenging you to a FLEX OFF. Roll under strength until a victor is proclaimed, loser is Charmed until end of scene.

The handicrafts of civilization are no defense against your MUSCLES. Any object that has felt the hand of a craftsman will shatter* (as per the spell) under your fearsome unarmed might. For the purposes of this ability you had 1 MD per Fullsterkur template, which generate and are used up as a Wizard. Mishaps are on doubles, but you usually do not generate Dooms. Using BUILDING KICK! Against magical objects, this may have consequences.

In a surprise round, if you spend your action announcing your presence at full volume, you may double the effect of your FLEXING for the entirety of combat. However, the DM may immediately roll on the most appropriate Wandering Monster table as your shouting alerts everything nearby. They will show up in d6 rounds to inquire about the noise.

Once per day you may, through the audacious power of your muscles, you may force one of these effects to occur:
1: The Power of Two Suns: Invest your biceps with their glorious power, allowing you to do 1d10+STR damage until the end of combat
2: Aaaab-dominals: Your muscles can be flexed into impossible shapes, from additional limbs to mouths until the end of scene.
3: Block block bl-bl-block!: Negate all attacks targeting you until your next turn by literally slapping away any attack.
4: BLOW YOUR MIND RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE: Perform a feat of strength and awesomeness so powerful your opponent's mind cannot take it- they act as Confused and are unable to talk for d6 rounds.
5: OOOOOOOOOOAAAHHHH!: Scream so hard that all the clothes, equipment, and weapons of a targeted opponent are torn away and thrown 30’.
6: THIS ONE DOES DUMMY!: Anyone ever tell you that you can’t punch them because you can’t reach them? Well fear no longer! Your fists have range increments of a crossbow until the end of scene.

Anything destroyed or killed by you after dealing max damage explodes, deal d6 damage to everything in the immediate surroundings. If this damage kills a nearby foe, they must save or explode as well and so on. It is very impressive when punching goblins.

You are personally blessed by The Abatar, Lord of all Abs. By harnessing the true power of FLEXING, you are able to fight back Death itself. The first time each day that an effect would kill you outright or cause you to roll on the Death and Dismemberment table, your muscles instinctively flex to reflect the brunt of the damage leaving you at 0 HP instead. You must be able to explain this in terms of your muscular power i.e. catching a sword with your pecs, flexing off a constricting snake, reflecting a death beam with your shiny oiled traps.

1. You kicked too hard, idiot! Blinded and mute for 1d6 rounds while the dust of your victim chokes you.
2. You didn't kick hard enough, idiot! Target is unaffected, half your movement until you rest.
3. You kicked in the wrong direction, idiot! Affect a random ally as though you made a successful attack roll against them.
4. You kicked at the wrong time, idiot! The kick leaves your defenses open, reducing your Defense by 3 until the start of your next turn.
5. Wrong Kick, idiot! Your mighty BUILDING KICK downgrades to a mere roundhouse kick, leg sweep, or football kick, decreasing damage by a step and reducing the effects on terrain and items.
6. How'd you kick your own head, idiot?! Target yourself with BUILDING KICK!

*Shatter as formulated by Skerples:
R: 50' T: creature or object D: 0
Target take [sum] force damage. If the target is made of inflexible material, such as stone or glass, the target takes [sum]x2 damage instead. Save for half damage.

Notes on the Fullsterkur:

Old Spice tried to make a Gentleman class for Pathfinder. They went wrong in all possible ways. This is my answer, this is Terry Crews bottled in a neat RPG package. He is loud and powerful and might just make everything worse by being there. But you cannot help but stare.

The term "Fullsterkur" comes from a Strongman challenge in Iceland. The Húsafell Stone began its humble life as the door to a goat pen, a  186 kg (409 lbs) door. For hundreds of years folks have tested their strength by lifting the Stone and carrying it around the 50 meter perimeter of the goat pen, thereby earning the title of "Fullsterkur" or Full Strong. Now I know the difference between a body builder and a strongman, Terry's physique being more in the earlier category, but Full Strong just seemed terribly right for this. This is a class for the person who wants to be Major Armstrong, Terry Crews, Charles Atlas, The Great Gama, and other highly eclectic manifestations of muscle. And there is nothing stopping you from being Laverie Vallee or Josephine Blatt either!

Soak it in