Friday, July 1, 2022

I Shall Build a More Peaceful World (GLOG Class: Martial Artist)

I wrote this class for my Seas of Sand game, so the locations and setting details are in reference to that. Mechanics are for a version of my Carolingia hack modified for the setting, but they should work for most systems with minimal adaptation.
 
Starting Equipment: A weapon used in your style, I have no idea what else but this class has been basically finished for more than a month so fuck it.

Skill: Wrestling
 
Damage: 1d8

You gain +1 HP for every second template of Martial Artist you possess.

A: Artistry, Style
B: Lash Out, +1 Technique, +1 AD
C: Branch Out, Intimidating Foe, +1 AD
D: Master, Signature, +1 AD

Artistry: You have a pool of dice, called Artistry Dice. You start with 2 of these dice (only one, if you're wearing armor or using a shield), and gain more as you level up. They may be d6s, d4s, or d2s, depending on how you're using them (see Style). They are depleted when you roll the maximum value, and return after a good night's sleep. You may add the sum of your rolled AD to attack or grappling rolls after seeing the initial result, and may add them to your AC after seeing an enemy's attack roll. You may also roll AD and add the total number of AD rolled to a damage roll after seeing the result. AD may only be used to attack when unarmed or when using a weapon favored by your Style, and may not be used to defend when surprised

Style: You are a practitioner of a style of martial arts. Each art has several components: a skill it gives you proficiency in, AD sizes for Attack, Defense, and Grappling, weapons it allows you to use with your AD, some favored moves (purely flavor), and several Techniques. You automatically learn the Basic Technique of your Style, and may learn others with practice: one month of daily study with a master for the first Technique you learn from that Style, two months for the next, etc. You also gain a Technique for free at B template, which doesn't count towards your learning time.

Lash Out: Once per round, [templates]-2 HD worth of enemies within striking range of you must Save or die (or be incapacitated or flee, at your discretion). The first enemy with <1 HD you use this ability against each round counts as 0 HD, but all further <1 HD enemies count as 1 HD.
 
Branch Out: With a month of study with a master, you may learn an additional Style. Alternatively, you may create your own new Style with a month of practice. In either case, you also learn the Basic Technique of this Style. You may, in the future, learn or invent yet more Styles, but it will cost you 10,000 XP each time.

Intimidating Foe:
When you attack an enemy, they must make a Save vs Fear or become frightened of you for 1 minute. Whether they saved or not you cannot use this ability on them again during this combat.

Master: You do not need to study with a master to learn Techniques, instead you need only practice alone. Wherever you go, 2d6 students will be willing to study with you, or even more as your fame grows. These students become Level 0 Martial Artists with a month of training even if they do not adventure, Level 1 with a year, Level 2 with 5 years, and Level 3 with 20 years. They are willing to support you financially and are willing to risk themselves physically for you, although they may grow rebellious if ill-treated, and particularly skilled individuals may eventually challenge your authority as master.

Signature: Learn the Signature Technique of one Style you know. You may, in the future, learn Signature Techniques as you learn Techniques.

Styles

 
Yuqatil:
A brutal unarmed martial art practiced in heroic trials in Zeghzouyan.
Skill: Wrestling (this bumps you up to Expert right away)
AD Sizes: Attack d4, Defense d2, Grappling d6.
Weapons: Cestus, sap gloves, and other fist-load weapons.
Favored Moves: Punches, gouges, throws, knees, elbows, chokes.
  • Basic Technique: Feats of Strength. You may use your Grappling AD for any non-combat rolls that use Strength.
  • Technique: Backbreaker. If you win an opposed grappling roll, your damage against that target is doubled the next round.
  • Technique: Eye Gouge. You may take a -3 penalty on an attack or grappling roll; if this still hits/wins, your opponent must Save. On a failure, they are permanently blinded. On a success, they are blinded for one round.
  • Signature Technique: Infallible Takedown. Enemies wielding weapons do not get to make free attacks against you when you go in for a grapple.

Mamarun:
This style, practiced in the ascetic fighting pits of Qaam Maal, focuses on high kicks and staves.
Skill: Theology
AD Sizes: Attack d6, Defense d4, Grappling d2.
Weapons: Staff, spear.
Favored Moves: Roundhouse kicks, spinning kicks, blocks as strikes against the limbs.
  • Basic Technique: Headhunter. If you spend a round preparing, the next round you may loose a mighty kick, which, if it hits, forces the target to Save or be stunned for a round.
  • Technique: Best Defense. If an attack misses you after you used your AD to increase your AC, the attacker takes 1d4 damage (if unarmed) or must Save vs being disarmed (if armed).
  • Technique: Fighting Retreat. You may make two free attacks, rather than one, against enemies who attempt to grapple you.
  • Signature Technique: Crippling Blows. You may add [sum] instead of [dice] to your damage rolls when using AD.

Alriyadia:
The ancient martial art of Layoumlayla, which uses quick movements and acrobatics to escape harm.
Skill: Acrobatics
AD Sizes: Attack d2, Defense d6, Grappling d4.
Weapons: Sword, polearm.
Favored Moves: Sidesteps, head movement, jabs, spoiling kicks, joint locks.
  • Basic Technique: Foot-Dance. You may roll AD to jump 5*[dice]' in the air, wall-run 20*[dice]', or perform other similar feats. While doing so, you gain [sum] AC. Gain movement speed equal to [templates]*5'.
  • Technique: Arm-Bar. If an opponent misses three attacks against you in a row or you win two opposed grappling rolls in a row, that opponent must Save or suffer a fractured arm (or whatever other limb they used to attack you).
  • Technique: Parry. You may use AD to reduce the damage of an attack that hits you by [dice], but those AD are automatically expended.
  • Signature Technique: Sandstorm. You can leap with full power from a single toe and always land precisely where you mean to. Attacks you make from the air have +1 to-hit and if you moved your maximum movement last round, you have [templates] extra AC.
 
Bialnidal:
Traditionally the martial art used in trials-by-combat before the Volcanic Altar of Ilmensaal, this style largely uses armor and weaponry rather than unarmed combat.
Skill: Bureaucracy
AD Sizes: Attack d6, Defense d2, Grappling d4.
Weapons: Mace, dagger.
Favored Moves: Trips, feints, dirt in the eyes, hair-pulling, dagger to the armpit.
  • Basic Technique: Armored Warfare. You don't lose an AD for wearing armor (but you still do for using a shield).
  • Technique: Feint. The first time you use AD for Attack in a given combat, they don't deplete.
  • Technique: Sweep. You may spend AD to give opponents a -[dice] penalty on rolls against being tripped or otherwise knocked over. This becomes a -[sum] penalty on armored opponents.
  • Signature Technique: Crush. When you hit an opponent with a mace, roll hit location as if it was an injury. Your opponent thereafter has -1 to all rolls using that body part (if it's the head, that's all rolls). This penalty is cumulative.
 
THE WORM:
The legendary art of the first inhabitants of the Seas, long since lost to time. Reputed to revolve around total domination of the combat on all levels.
Skill: Intimidation
AD Sizes: Attack d6, Defense d6, Grappling d6.
Weapons: Dart, dagger, javelin, greataxe.
Favored Moves: Heel kicks, open-hand strikes, pressure points, pushes and otherwise moving your opponent, mounts.
  • Basic Technique: The Maker. Every time you succeed an attack roll or win an opposed grappling roll, gain +1 to all future rolls you make in this combat. This bonus is cumulative. If an attack hits you or you lose an opposed grappling roll, lose this bonus.
  • Technique: G_d's Voice. You may use AD to issue an order, and everyone with fewer than [sum] HD who hears you must Save or obey for a few instants at least.
  • Technique: Old Man. Make an attack with a -5 penalty to hit a pressure point. If you hit, you may dictate what essential bodily function is disabled by hitting that spot.
  • Technique: Little Death. Once per day, you may choose to make an enemy you hit fall unconscious immediately.

Friday, May 20, 2022

The Highest Function of Ecology (GLOG Class: Wanderer)

The first backer PDFs of Seas of Sand by the illustrious SquigBoss is out, and it's awesome. I plan to run a game of it in the near future, so I'm adapting my Wanderer class to the setting, because it's really just a perfect fit.
 
Starting Equipment: A light helmet, any weapon (3 javelins count as one weapon, ranged weapons come with 20 ammunition), a dagger, a leather pouch of salt beef (⅓ slot, as a ration), and a staff.

Skills:
Any two skills of your choice.

Damage:
1d8

The Wanderer gains +1 Skill every template and +1 HP every second template.

A: Well-Traveled, Wanderer’s Trick
B: +1 Trick, +1 to-hit
C: Keen Linguist, +1 Trick
D: Constant Vigilance, +1 Trick

Well-Traveled: Roll 1d8 on the following table. If you visit another one of the locations listed in-game, you gain its benefit as well. Your DM may also grant you benefits from other significant locations you visit at their discretion.

1. The Volcanic Altar of Ilmensaal: You can cut through an hour of bureaucracy with 10 minutes of yelling at a functionary. When dueling a single foe with daggers or maces, you have +2 to-hit and +2 AC.
2. Shalmanesir's Oasis at Qilmqourab: Once per day, your soothing touch may grant someone an additional Save vs an ongoing disease or curse. Palm trees yield their sap to you freely with merely a word.
3. The House of G_d at Rahmanir: Once, ever, you may touch the sand and summon up a spouting well of pure, clean water, which will flow for as long as you live. The back of your hand bears a silver tattoo of the crescent moon.
4. Adan-Ayan, Rughtasum's Court of Mercy: You are dignified and imposing enough to enter into any sort of high society even if ill-dressed, dirty, and bleeding. Your arguments will always be listened to and given due consideration, even if the listener opposes them entirely.
5. The Labyrinth of Reach at Zeghzouyan: Wild beasts favor you and will not attack you without provocation. You are immune to the deleterious effects of drugs unless you wish to be so affected.
6. The Titanic Sarcophagi of Khousfalamin: As long as you avoid the touch and taste of animal products, you can see and speak with the spirits of the dead. If you violate your veganism, you must be ritually purified before you use this ability again.
7. Maryam's Beacon at Layoumlayla: You can always see the Beacon glimmering on the horizon, no matter how far or whatever intervening material lies between, and you are allowed to trade in that closed port.
8. The Court of the Psammeads: You have a fey air, granting you +1 on reaction rolls with prophets, madmen, and intelligent beings of the desert. When you meet a psammead, there is a 1-in-6 chance that it owes you a wish and a separate 1-in-6 chance that you owe it your youth.
 
Wanderer's Trick: Roll 1d12 on the following table. Roll again at Wanderer B, C, and D.

1. Camel's Endurance: You can go 3 days without food or water before suffering the effects of hunger and thirst.
2. Sailor's Nose: You can predict the next day's weather with 99% accuracy.
3. Merchant's Tongue: You have a 5-in-6 chance of knowing someone in every city who can find you a random good at a 70% discount. You have a 3-in-6 chance of knowing someone in a haven and a 1-in-6 chance of knowing someone in a village.
4. Canter's Secrets: You learn one Mage, Witch, or Xerimancer cantrip and spell of your choice and gain +1 MD.
5. Loremaster's Learning: You learn one Chanter spell and Epic of your choice and gain +1 MD.
6. Prophet's Eye: You may take damage equal to your maximum HP to reroll a Revelations roll.
7. Lawyer's Mind: For each day you study, there's a 1-in-6 chance you can find a convenient loophole in any law. You automatically know the cost to bribe anyone you meet.
8. Hero's Reputation: Scholars and fellow wanderers have a 4-in-6 chance of having heard of you, 3-in-6 for spellcasters or nobles, 2-in-6 for commoners. Roll 1d6 for what they've heard: 1. Bad things, 2-3. Neutral things, 4-5. Good things, 6. Fantastic things. These may be true or they may be rumors. Bad things give -1 on reaction rolls, good things give +1, and fantastic things give +2.
9. Raven's Voice: You can mimic any sound you've ever heard perfectly, and can do perfect impressions of anyone you've heard talk.
10. Scoundrel's Hands: You're very good at any small task requiring manual dexterity, such as picking locks or pockets.
11. Animal's Heart: You are friends with an animal not larger than a cat or smaller than a tree frog. It will follow you around and will understand and obey any order you give. If your familiar dies, you can gain a new one by befriending another appropriate animal.
12. Captain's Touch: Your retainers and crew gain +1 Morale; your allies gain +2 to Save vs Fear when you are present.

Keen Linguist: Whenever you encounter a language you don't already explicitly know, you have a 4-in-6 chance of being able to understand that particular phrase, inscription, or the like. You have a 2-in-6 chance of also being conversant, although not fluent, in that language.

Constant Vigilance: You can't be surprised, and you act in the initiative phase before you would otherwise act. 

Monday, March 14, 2022

Through the Black Amnesias of Heaven (GLOG Class: Space Witch)

I've mostly been writing short fiction recently rather than working on RPGs. I was trying (and failing) to write a story about a space witch when I realized that it would make an awesome GLOG class, so here we are. The implied setting is some sort of science fantasy thing with technology more advanced than ours in some ways, but not by that much, with the shortcomings being made up for with magic. I don't think there's any computers or any long-distance communications more advanced than radios either. Maybe I'll try to extrapolate this out into a full hack, but honestly I'm not sure what other classes would fit and not get totally overshadowed by this one. Without further ado!

Starting Equipment: An antiquated spacesuit, an aluminum staff (1d4), a snub-nosed revolver (1d8, -1 to-hit per 3 meters past the initial 6 meters) with 12 rounds, 3 sticks of incense, a stick of chalk, a lighter, and a random piece of space gear (at the end of the class).

Skills: Orbital Mechanics and 1d3: 1. 0g Movement, 2. Nuclear Physics, 3. Xenobiology
 
For every template you have in this class, gain +1 to Navigation rolls.
 
A: Magic, Rite of Propulsion
B: Augury, +1 MD
C: Transceiver, +1 MD
D: Void's Embrace, +1 MD

Magic: You know how MD work, probably. Deplete on 4-6, Mishap on doubles and Doom on triples, all the usual stuff. You know 2 spells from your list, rolled on a d6. Roll again with a d8 at B template, a d10 at C template, and a d12 at D template.

Rite of Propulsion: You can see the eldritch winds that flow from the sun and dance amidst the moons and rings. Given a lit stick of incense, an intricate chalk diagram, and a spaceship equipped with arcane sails and a well-maintained shrine to the Nameless Lady of the Void, you can cause the ship to accelerate at up to [templates] gs. This is subject to the vagaries of eldritch weather. The direction of the thrust is at your will, but it doesn't provide a great deal of maneuverability - Piloting checks for fancy flying roll with disadvantage while under this thrust.
 
Augury: You can cast bones, read tarot cards, or perform some other minor divination ritual about a course of action you plan to take soon. The DM will tell you their opinion of the plan with one word: good, bad, or unsure. There's a 1-in-6 chance the DM will instead answer randomly, and this chance increases by one each time you use this ability this day, resetting at the end of the day.
 
Transceiver: When touching a piece of metal suitable for use as an antenna (such as the staff in your starting equipment), you can transmit and receive audio transmissions as if you were a radio.

Void's Embrace: You can breathe in a vacuum and will suffer no deleterious effects from the pressure or temperature. In the absence of food and drink, spending at least 18 hours in every 24 in direct sunlight will sustain you. At any time, you can apply acceleration of up to 1g to yourself in a direction of your choice. This requires total concentration, and if used for flight in significant gravity (or an approximation of such with rotational acceleration), also requires an Int check to avoid losing control.

Spells:

  1. Find Familiar
    Casting Time: 8 hours
    Duration: Indefinite
    Range: -
    Summon a spirit in the form of an animal with no more than [dice] HD. It is intelligent, speaks the languages you do, and will do your bidding, but may have its own agenda as well. It can survive in vacuum and ambulate in 0g without any obvious means. Casting this spell requires [dice] bottles of alcohol and [dice] kg of enriched uranium, which are consumed.
  2. Arcane Spacesuit
    Casting Time: 1 action
    Duration: [dice]*2 hours
    Range: Touch
    The target of this spell is encased in a transparent and fully functional spacesuit for the duration. The suit cannot be depressurized by punctures, but will be destroyed when you take a total of 5 damage. 
  3. Catapult
    Casting Time: 1 action
    Duration: -
    Range: 100 m
    Fling an object of [dice] slots at a target within range. The target must Save or take [sum] damage. If in a 0g environment, you can instead move [sum] slots or [dice] creatures at a speed too low to cause any damage.
  4. Magic Missile
    Casting Time: 1 action
    Duration: [dice] hours
    Range: 30 m
    You create [dice] arrows of magical energy, which float around you for the duration. As an action, you may fire as many of these arrows as you wish at one or more targets in range, which take 1d4 damage per arrow with no Save or attack roll.
  5. Overheat
    Casting Time: 1 action
    Duration: [sum] rounds
    Range: 30 m
    You may target a metal object, mechanical device, or electrical system within range. This target overheats for the duration. Anyone touching it must Save or take [sum] damage every round they remain in contact. If it's a mechanical or electrical system, it shuts down for the duration, and there's a [dice]-in-6 chance it is permanently damaged or even destroyed. Large, complicated, or hardened systems may be less affected at the DM's discretion.
  6. Resist Gees
    Casting Time: 1 action
    Duration: [dice] hours
    Range: 10 m
    For the duration, [sum] targets within range have the effective g-force on them reduced by [sum] gs (to no less than 0g) for the purposes of deleterious effects stemming from that acceleration.
  7. Empower
    Casting Time: 1 action
    Duration: [dice]*10 minutes.
    Range: Touch
    The target is charged by a powerful electrical current. At 1 MD, this is equivalent to a car battery. At 2 MD, a 120V outlet. At 3 MD, a spaceship's power grid (aka a small nuclear reactor). At 4 MD, a space station's power grid. If the target isn't equipped to handle this sort of power (this includes all creatures), it takes [sum]+[dice] damage (Save for half, this just fries electrical systems and probably blows them up sometimes).
  8. Recycle
    Casting Time: 10 minutes
    Duration: -
    Range: Touch
    Transform [sum] slots of manufactured objects back into their constituent raw materials. Alternatively, purify [dice] cubic meters of fluid (turn the carbon dioxide in the air into oxygen gas and a tiny bit of carbon dust, remove the urea from urine to make fresh water, etc.)
  9. Speak With Machine Spirit
    Casting Time: 1 minute
    Duration: [dice] minutes
    Range: Touch
    You may speak with the resident spirit inside anything reasonably construed as a machine for the duration. At 1 MD, this machine may be no larger than a refrigerator. 2 MD, a nuclear reactor. 3 MD, a spacecraft. 4 MD, a space station.
  10. Commune With Void
    Casting Time: 10 minutes
    Duration: -
    Range: 10,000 km/100,000 km/1 AU/solar system
    Speak with the Nameless Lady herself and learn one of the following things about the area within range: 1. The orbits and local names of all of the celestial bodies, 2. The orbit and identity of the nearest spacecraft or artificial satellite, 3. The orbit and identity of the largest spacecraft or artificial satellite, 4. The orbit/location of a specific (by name) location, vessel, satellite, or person, 5. The orbit/location of the most powerful spellcaster, 6. The orbit/location of the most politically and socially influential creature, 7. The orbit/location of the largest concentration of sentient creatures.
  11. Translocate
    Casting Time: 1 action
    Duration: -
    Range: 10^[dice] m
    Move [sum] creatures (may Save to negate if unwilling) or 100^[dice] kg of matter that you can see to a location within range (you don't need to be able to see the destination, and if you're transporting a spacecraft or the like, this can contain the occupants). The transported objects maintain their velocity. You cannot purposefully translocate to a destination that is within solid matter, but if there's a chance you might do so accidentally, you must Save vs shit getting really messy.
  12. Fission/Fusion
    Casting Time: 1 action
    Duration: -
    Range: [dice]*100 m
    Induce fission in a concentration of fissile material no more than [sum] + [dice] kg in mass. If this mass is critical, it causes a criticality incident, and unless this is contained you just set off a nuke. Alternatively, induce fusion in a mass of fusable elemental matter within range. What counts as fusable matter varies depending on [dice]: 1. Hydrogen or helium, 2. Hydrogen through neon, 3. Hydrogen through argon, 4. Hydrogen through iron. Unless this reaction is contained, you just set off a fusion bomb.
Mishaps (d6):
  1. Take 1d6 damage.
  2. Take +1 damage from all sources for the next hour.
  3. Glow so brightly for the next hour that you become temporarily blind and anyone who looks at you must Save vs blindness for 1d6 rounds.
  4. Accelerate all loose objects in the vicinity in random directions - if it's not flung off into the void, anything breakable is broken, and everyone must Save vs [dice] damage.
  5. ~0g becomes 1g in the most sensible direction; if there is gravity, it becomes 0g. Fills the room or 50 m radius, lasts 2d6 rounds.
  6. A random nearby non-critical mechanical or electrical system malfunctions.
Dooms:
  1. Your left hand burns with glowing heat and your right with biting cold. Touching anything with them deals 1d6 damage.
  2. Whenever you cast a spell, you gain a local gravity field with a radius of 3 m and a magnitude of [dice]*0.25g. It lasts 1d6 rounds.
  3. Become a random celestial body (d10):
    1. Comet, 1d10 km radius, elliptical orbit of local star occasionally bringing you close to a planet of your choice.
    2. Asteroid, 1d100 km radius, orbit of your choice.
    3. Ring system around the planet of your choice.
    4. Moon, orbiting the planet of your choice.
    5. Dwarf planet, your choice of orbit radius around local star.
    6. Rocky planet, your choice of orbit radius around local star.
    7. Gas giant, your choice of orbit radius around local star.
    8. Dwarf star, your choice of location between 10 AU and 50 ly away (yes, 10 AU is very close).
    9. Main sequence star, your choice of location between 50 AU and 100 ly away (50 AU could totally destroy all life in your solar system, so make sure everyone is ok with this).
    10. Something weird (d4):
      1. A neutron star, 50 AU - 100 ly away.
      2. A quasar, 50 AU - 100 ly away.
      3. Star-mass black hole, 50 AU - 100 ly away.
      4. Supergiant star, 1-500 ly away.

Space Gear (d20) (thanks to Archon and Squig):

  1. Space Pen: Writes in 0g!
  2. Space Ice Cream: Ice cream in 0g! Tastes terrible, 3 rations, 1 slot.
  3. Space Sword: Just a sword. 1d6 damage, 1 slot. 
  4. Space Recoilless Rifle: More of a rocket launcher than a rifle, really. 2d8 damage, disadvantage to hit anything smaller or more agile than a fridge, 3 slots. 1 round of ammo, 1 slot.
  5. Space FM Radio: You can strap it to your forearm and get all the freshest space beats. 1/3 slots. (Don't worry, your spacesuit already has short-range radio comms.)
  6. Space Battery: Useful for extra power. 1 slot.
  7. Space Jetpack: Allows you to maneuver in 0g, but requires a Dex check to control. 2 slots.
  8. Space Grappling Gun: 100 m of extruded carbon nanofiber cable, interchangeable magnetic and adhesive heads. 1d6 damage, -1 to-hit per 3 m past 9 m. 1 slot.
  9. Space Boots: Toggle-on magnets keep you rooted. 1 slot.
  10. Space Patch Kit: Seals leaks smaller than 1 m by 1 m. 10 patches, 1 slot.
  11. Space Tracking Device: Tiny and adhesive. Range of 100,000 km, transmits on FM frequencies.
  12. Space Absinthe: Weird alcohol. In space. 10 doses, 1/3 slots.
  13. Space Medkit: Bandages, painkillers, etc. 10 uses, 1 slot.
  14. Space Chalkboard: Has a static charge so that chalk dust doesn't get everywhere. 1 slot.
  15. Space Aloe: Alien plant that just so happens to be exactly like Aloe vera in every way. 10 doses of healing goop (1 hp each), which regrow at the rate of 1/day so long as there's at least one left. 2 slots, fragile.
  16. Space Wand: Laser pointer, also a laser gun. 3 charges in the capacitor, takes an hour to recharge (1d4 damage, -1 to-hit per 3 m past 20 m). 1 slot.
  17. Space Health Potion: A hypodermic needle full of morphine and magic (cocaine). Heals 1d6 hp, gets you really high and also probably addicted. 1/3 slots.
  18.  Space Love Potion: A ton of stimulants, hallucinogens, and barbiturates that really shouldn't be mixed; gets you incredibly fucked up. 3 doses, 1/3 slots.
  19. Space Cat: A horrible tentacley beaked thing with too many eyes, vaguely cat-sized. Loves you, hates everyone else.
  20. Space Oddities (d6):
    1.  Resilient Sphere: Crush this little glass capsule and a transparent bubble filled with breathable air springs up around you, but you can't break it with your own strength, even with tools.
    2. Ioun Asteroid: Fist-sized, orbits your head.
    3. Space Cauldron: Spins around to keep the contents under gravity. Terrible idea, works surprisingly well. 2 slots.
    4. Universal Wrench: Handle with a liquid metal head that shifts form to whatever shape you want it to be in. 1 slot.
    5. Heat Gradient Stick: About a foot long, one end is liquid nitrogen cold (~ -200°C), the other is about the melting point of copper (~1000°C). The middle is nice to hold. 1/3 slots.
    6. Brightburn Wand: If you tap yourself with it, you gain +3 MD and +2d6 max HP, but you die in 24 hours. Nothing can prevent your death. 1/3 slots.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Xeno Reviews Books

Entirely inspired by Throne of Salt's book reviews.

Here's what I think about some stuff I've read in the last year-ish.

Annals of the Western Shore: Gifts, Voices, and Powers by Ursula K. Le Guin

Published 2004, 2006, and 2007; 149, 188, and 280 pages.
 
This trilogy deserves to be ranked among the greatest young-adult series of all time, up there with the Earthsea Cycle and His Dark Materials, and I'm not sure why it isn't better known. All three are coming of age stories, and very good ones, but they're so much more than that. They're about books, about poetry, about stories, about violence, about freedom, about finding one's place in the world. One of Le Guin's consistent virtues is her conciseness, and these don't disappoint, with the first two clocking in at less than 200 pages. Not a word is wasted, the stories are tight and contained, and yet they still drip with more and better flavor than a dozen lesser fantasy novels. You aren't left in question as to how people live because every moment is deeply immersed in everyday life. The series as a whole has an interesting and unorthodox structure; Gry and Orrec, the protagonists of Gifts, play a major role in Voices but aren't the main characters by any means, and they and Memer of Voices show up in the end of Powers as well, though their role is fairly minor. This leaves it feeling cohesive without being tied to any one location in the world or continuing the stories of someone whose story is done, who has completed their arc.

There is one rather large problem I do have with the Annals of the Western Shore, and specifically with Gifts and Powers. Violence against women is a major theme throughout the series, but the main protagonists of the first and third book are both male. Women are hurt and die to further the stories of men. It's done better than most other occurrences of this shitty trope, they're fully developed characters and exist as more than shadows and cheap shots, but it's still there. There's one incident in Powers in particular that, while reinforcing the themes of the book and being a genuinely heart-wrenching moment, is still particularly egregious. You'll know it when you get to it.

Conclusion: Fantastic books slightly hamstrung by one issue that doesn't get anywhere close to ruining them. Read them.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Published 2014, 333 pages.
 
This is the sort of book where someone takes the tropes of a genre that's derided as immature and not really literature (in this case, post-apocalypse), does them up in a way slightly more palatable to the literary establishment, and then gets praised for how creative and novel it is and ends up as a National Book Award finalist despite the fact that it's all been done before. Nonetheless, it's not a bad book, and I did enjoy it. It's very character-focused and small-scale, jumping in time between various intersections of a web of a dozen characters who touch each other's lives despite having, in many cases, never met or met for but a moment. The problem that arises is that it's a very "tell don't show" book, which does mostly work, keeping things moving and reasonably fast-paced in a complex, tight narrative, but it unfortunately extends to the emotional state of the characters too. It spells things out way too much, which ends up depriving the characters of interiority and making them feel like cardboard cutouts dangling from strings. This is, as you can imagine, a really big problem for a book that is trying very, very hard to be introspective and relying on the characters to carry it.

Conclusion: Trying to be a Le Guin novel and getting like 80% of the way there, which really isn't all that bad of a score. It's worth a read, but don't expect it to be mind-blowing unless you've never engaged with any sort of post-apocalyptic media in your life.

A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

Published 2019 and 2021, 426 and 496 pages.
 
A Memory Called Empire might be the best science fiction novel to come out since Ancillary Justice. It's fast-paced and exciting while still being very deliberate in everything it does. I normally am not a huge fan of political thrillers, but this is a total exception. It manages to capture that Kim Stanley Robinson feeling where everyone is sleep-deprived and doesn't really know what to do but things are going horribly wrong and someone has to do something about it. I absolutely adore the down-to-earth worldbuilding of both Lsel Station and the Teixcalaani Empire, and the book just oozes with love for poetry, for writing, for words. The central mystery of "what the hell did Yskandr do?" is compelling, while Mahit is a perfect reader stand-in, knowing enough to exposit sufficiently and being confused and out of her depth enough to be relatable and to not throw you right in the thick of things immediately without a period of adjustment. All of the characters are generally excellent, especially Three Seagrass. To borrow a quote from Jane Austen, she is "As delightful a character as ever appeared in print," and yes, I do think she manages to measure up to Lizzy Bennet in that respect.

The sequel, A Desolation Called Peace, is a very different book from the first. No longer a political thriller, it's a first contact drama. Lots of very good interpersonal drama, lots of aliens who actually feel properly alien. It is missing some of the driving energy that makes the first so very compelling, but it has other things going on to compensate. A worthy successor, although I don't think it's quite as good.

In conclusion: Both truly excellent books; the second isn't quite as good and it is rather different but if you liked the first, you'll still like it.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Max Gladstone and Amal el-Mohtar

Published 2019, 198 pages.
 
I'd describe this book as high-concept transhumanist time-traveling epistolary lesbian romance. That's quite the tagline, and I imagine already very interesting to many of the people who read this blog, but the thing that really surprised me about it is how amazing the prose is. If you inserted a bunch of arbitrary line breaks I'd absolutely believe it was written as poetry. Lush, indulgent, sensual, gorgeous sentences just pile up and do not stop coming. I was sad when it ended, even though the story concluded precisely at its due time, just because I wanted to keep reading more of those lovely words. The wordplay makes you feel smart for reading and understanding it. There's not that much more to say. It's really good.

Conclusion: Wholeheartedly recommended, but be warned that it is rather abstract in broad strokes, though not in the little details, if that's not your thing.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2020 ed. Diana Gabaldon

Published 2020, 388 pages.
 
This is the most recent edition of a series of short story collections that's been assembled each year since 2015, although I've only read the 2020 and 2019. I don't always agree with the editors' taste, but that's inevitable, and it's a nice round-up. I'm going to give these number scores, even though I'm not doing it with the novels, because there's a lot of these and I want to keep them all pretty brief without waffling on too much.
  1. "Life Sentence" by Matthew Baker. A fairly by the numbers dystopian story in the well-trodden "what if the punishment for crimes was getting your brain fucked with" category. In this case, the punishment is getting your memory selectively erased. Good treatment, none too inspired. 6/10.
  2. "Another Avatar" by S.P. Somtow. To be honest, this one confused the hell out of me. A Thai orphan finds out that he's the next Chosen One, selected to avert climate change. It really feels like there's something here, but I couldn't tell you what it is. ???/10.
  3. "Between the Dark and the Dark" by Deji Bryce Olukotun. A very creative story about politicians back on Earth trying to police the emerging culture on board a generation ship growing farther and farther away. The parts back on Earth are, to be honest, rather boring, and really mess with the pace of the story, but the concept carries it. 8/10.
  4. "Thirty-Three Wicked Daughters" by Kelly Barnhill. A rather trite moral parable about the thirty-three daughters of a king, who are demonized and attacked for making things better for women and the poor, then eventually come up with a clever plan to murder their opposition, enact all of their improvements that were prevented earlier, and then leave for a place they'll be appreciated. Not bad per se, but it doesn't really have anything interesting to say. 4/10.
  5. "Bullet Point" by Elizabeth Bear. The last woman left on Earth in Las Vegas meets the last man, and shocker, he's a terrible person. Short, effective, and to the point. 8/10.
  6. "The Eight People Who Murdered Me" by Gwendolyn Kiste. An attempt to give Lucy Westenra, a character from the original 1897 Dracula, a rather fairer shake than the novel does, and I think it succeeds quite admirably. Would probably be more effective if I'd actually read Dracula. 7/10.
  7. "The Archronology of Love" by Caroline M. Yoachim. An archive of all which is, has been, and will be - but it's irretrievably erased by viewing it. A collapsed extraterrestrial colony where the families of many on the newly arrived colony ship were already living, with no signs remaining of the cause. Good setup, good payoff. 9/10.
  8. "Shape-ups at Delilah's" by Rion Amilcar Scott. All the men in a Black community mysteriously lose the power to give good masculine haircuts, but the women retain it. I'm definitely missing out on some cultural context, but it was a really interesting read. 8/10.
  9. "The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex" by Tobias S. Bucknell. The Earth is turned into an interstellar tourist trap. A tourist commits suicide out of the back of a gig driver's flying car. Things escalate from there. Very much a satire of tourism, the gig economy, and capitalism in general. 7/10.
  10. "The Bookstore at the End of America" by Charlie Jane Anders. The US has split into two nations, one of which is conservative and "traditional" while the other is progressive and technological, and there's a bookstore spanning the border. There's some real potential here, but sadly, it's incredibly "enlightened centrist" both-sidesy. The transhumanist/gender non-conforming leftists (it's unclear what their actual economic system is) are equated to the intolerant fascists way too often for my tastes. 3/10.
  11. "Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island" by Nibedita Sen. A meditation on the fetishization of racialized people, but you're left to tease out the occurrences being discussed and the subject of the paper it's ostensibly the bibliography of yourself. Saved from tedium by being very concise. 8/10.
  12. "The Freedom of the Shifting Sea" by Jaymee Goh. Man-eating lesbian bobbit worm mermaids. That's all the description you need, it's really really fucking good, go read it. 11/10.
  13. "Sacrid's Pod" by Adam-Troy Castro. A young woman is imprisoned in an impenetrable prison by her fundamentalist family, but it may be less of a punishment than intended. Good concept, goes on for way too long. Apparently it's part of a loose series (which I have no further interest in reading from this example). 5/10.
  14. "Canst Thou Draw Out the Leviathan" by Christopher Caldwell. An escaped slave discovers his lost traditions (and a boyfriend) aboard a doomed whaling ship. I don't have much more to say about it. 7/10.
  15. "Thoughts and Prayers" by Ken Liu. Another take on the ubiquitous cautionary tale of "social media bad" with the particular flavor of deep faking is scary, but it's redeemed by being particularly awful and written with an understanding of how trolls operate. Still, it doesn't go much beyond "wouldn't it be fucked up if...?" 7/10.
  16. "The Time Invariance of Snow" by E. Lily Yu. A thoroughly confusing... parable? fairy tale? about a mirror the devil made and a woman who reassembles it after it shatters. Very enjoyable and somehow poignant even though I'm still not really sure what's going on after reading it something like five times. 8/10.
  17. "The Robots of Eden" by Anil Menon. A Brave New World-style dystopia by way of chemically induced happiness, but it avoids tiredness and cliche by remaining very human and small. Some interesting digression into the meaning of books and stories. 7/10.
  18. "Erase, Erase, Erase" by Elizabeth Bear. It's got the classic sci-fi thing where you're really, really confused at the start and things come together quite nicely as you go. It's not too neat, which I appreciate. A woman finds herself insubstantial and disappearing as she tries to forget her past, and saves herself by writing. 8/10.
  19. "A Brief Lesson on Native American Astronomy" by Rebecca Roanhorse. The traditional Tewa folktale of "Deer Hunter and White Corn Woman" adapted into a near-future tale set in Hollywood. Apparently Roanhorse is quite controversial in both Ohkay Owingeh pueblo, where this story is from, and the Navajo Nation, which she is also a member of, for her use of traditional stories. As I'm entirely unqualified to comment on this, I'll just say that I enjoyed it a lot and it lead me to read the original folktale, which is also excellent. 8/10.
  20. "Up From Slavery" by Victor LaValle. A fascinating re-examination of Lovecraft's shoggoths from the perspective of race and slavery. I won't say much more, because you should just read it. I should also really get around to reading At the Mountains of Madness one of these days. 10/10. 
Conclusion: This is a generally pretty darn good short story collection overall, much better than the previous year's selections. Definitely worth picking up, or just look up the highlights online. You can almost always find any short story for free on some website or blog.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss

Published 2017, 402 pages.
 
It's a bit of an odd one. A mystery set in London in the 1890s, the main characters are an array of the daughters and female creations of various villainous mad scientists from the horror stories of the era - Dr. Hyde, Dr. Moreau, Dr. Frankenstein, and such. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are also major characters. I don't have a great deal of knowledge of those tales, so I had to look a fair few things up to get the full context. The book is definitely a younger teenager sort of YA, which isn't bad by any means but wasn't exactly what I was expecting. It's got a very basic girl-power theme and tone to it, which feels a little bit trite, but is totally acceptable given the target audience. I do think it could do a little more examination of its ideas of womanhood, but maybe that's just me as a transfeminine person. Maybe I'll get around to reading the sequel, but I'm not going to go out of my way for it.

Conclusion: Well-paced and fun, but very little depth, which is a shame given the potential in the premise. I wouldn't really recommend it to adult readers, but it'd make a good present for a younger relative.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Poison Fire and Thirty Feet of Snow (a post-apocalyptic setting/game)

Radiation concentrations in New Mexico in the year 2047 or so.

 
Once upon a time I was thinking about making a Stand Still, Stay Silent RPG, but then it got really boring and the author became a bit of a crazy, so that's not happening. Fast forwards to now, I just read Station 11. It's pretty good. Gave me some ideas.
 
I'm not going to write a timeline of the apocalypse or anything, just suffice it to say that climate change really fucked things up for a lot of people, and then the nukes started flying, and a really big volcano blew up somewhere, and then things got really cold for a while and a lot of people starved or got sick and died. This took about 25 years or so, 20 of which were fucking freezing, and it's still pretty damn cold now but not as bad as it was. And man-made climate change is gone! Gotta look at the positives. Anyways, there's like 100 million people left on the Earth now, which isn't really very many.

So you live in a little village somewhere in the upper reaches of the Rio Grande Valley, north of the clouds of radiation that still fester over Santa Fe and Los Alamos. Peñasco, maybe, or Ojo Caliente. Who knows how the hell you ended up here, in the middle of nowhere, but a lot of people went a lot of places in the past generation of unceasing chaos, and some of them even had children along the way, so you could really be from anywhere. In all likelihood, your old family is dead, if you ever had one, unless you managed to stick together the whole time or your ancestors have been living here for ten (or a hundred) generations, but at least you know every single person who lives within 50 miles of you, and probably like at least one or two of them. It's not an easy life up herethe winters are cold and long at the best of times, which these are decidedly notbut it's better than most ended up with.
   
The actual game, then, is managing your little village and trying to keep everyone in it from starving to death or otherwise dying unpleasantly. You might also be a traveling caravan, traders or other itinerants, but your goal remains the same. You'll have to venture into the irradiated ruins of cities to scavenge for what few supplies haven't been scrounged up yet and deal with all the various asshole cultists and bandits running around making life hard for everyone, in addition to the constant dangers of the cold, the heat, food, water, disease, wild animals, and everything else that could possibly rear its nasty head up to fuck over not only you but also everyone you care about.
 
 

A Sketch of the System

 
Your character's got... call it 5 ability scores? Strength, Coordination, Endurance, Intelligence, Charisma, maybe. Intelligence might just be used for languages, Charisma for reaction rolls and such. Combat is Boot Hill-like, probably (of course it is, it's me), with wounds instead of hitpoints, but maybe a little more nasty, a little more impactful. You really don't want to get hurt. Maybe a chance of infection for every wound? Might be a bit harsh. Otherwise everything is skill-based. Something like:
  • Agriculture
  • Animals
  • Bows
  • Brawling
  • Brewing
  • Carpentry
  • Chemistry
  • Fishing
  • Firearms 
  • Foraging
  • Instrument 
  • Machines
  • Medicine (Herbal)
  • Medicine (Modern)
  • Memorization
  • Old-World Knowledge
  • Singing 
  • Stealth
  • Throwing
  • Tinkering
  • Tracking
  • Woodcraft
  • Anything else you can think of
I think the main wilderness travel mechanic will be ability score damage. Spend a day tramping through waist-deep snow? Lose a point of Strength and Endurance. No gloves while you do it? Coordination too. Get surprise-attacked by someone you thought was friendly? Lose a point of Charisma, as you're not going to be too friendly to strangers for a bit. Diseases and radiation sickness will affect ability scores as well. Recover by resting in comfortable and safe places, or as close as you can manage.

As for the village management, let's say you've got a number of supplies and attributes: Population, Food, Medicine, Water, Cloth, Tools, and Morale. These will fluctuate randomly as time passes, lots of random tables and such, and they'll determine what you need to scavenge for and deal with. I think I want lots of specificity with this, so you can come up with creative solutions. It's not necessarily, "We're low on Medicine, go find us any medicine at all and that will be fine," but perhaps more like "We're low on Medicine, so Joanna needs you to get some amoxicillin to cure Ángel's infection. It can't be penicillin or sulfa, he's allergic to those." Population and Morale are probably mostly dependent on the rest of the attributes, with Food and Water being the most important. This might be too fiddly but maybe tracking every single member of the village individually would be good, so you can really dig your teeth into the social situations and individual issues which will arise.

Starting Equipment: a blanket, 2 liters of water storage, 3 dried rations, and:
 
d10 weapons:
1. Spear
2. 3 javelins 
3. Club
4-5. Tool (hammer, machete, crowbar, hatchet, etc)
6. 3 daggers
7. Bow and 20 arrows
8. Crossbow and 20 bolts
9. Improvised gun and 1d6+3 rounds
10. Pre-collapse gun and 1d6+1 rounds
 
d8 cartridges:
1. 9mm Parabellum
2. .45 ACP
3. .223 Remington
4. .30-06 Springfield
5. 7.62x39mm
6. 7.62mm NATO
7. 12 gauge buckshot
8. Something weirder

d20 pre-collapse miscellanea, roll twice:
1. 200 feet of dynamic nylon climbing rope
2. 100 feet of steel baling wire
3. Folding knife with liner lock
4. Needle-nose pliers
5. Hand saw
6. Copy of your current favorite book (you, the player)
7. Sewing needle and roll of thread
8. Portable solar charger, 5V (for charging mobile devices)
9. iPod Shuffle previously owned by someone with terrible taste, 47% battery
10. An instrument, miraculously well-maintained
11. 2d6 alcohol wipes
12. Half-filled notebook and 2-inch long #2 pencil with no eraser
13. 1d8 pills, 80 mg oxycodone
14. 2-person ultralight tent
15. Tarp and 30 feet of paracord
16. Child's school backpack
17. 65L hiking backpack
18. Umbrella
19. Compass
20. 2d10 hurricane matches
 
d20 other miscellanea, roll twice:
1. 100 feet of hemp rope
2. 3 tallow candles
3. Brick of oil-soaked kindling
4. 5 clean cotton bandages
5. Plastic soda bottle filled with raspberry wine
6. 3 blunts of shitty marijuana cut with sage
7. Bow drill
8. Bar of homemade lye soap
9. Mortar and pestle
10. Knife crudely made from a truck spring
11. Handwritten copy of your current favorite book (you, the player)
12. Jury-rigged hand-cranked flashlight
13. Wooden whistle
14. Little whittled statue of your favorite animal
15. 3 charcoal writing sticks
16. Stack of poorly made parchment
17. Case of herbal makeup: eyeliner, eye shadow, blush, and lip paint, all natural.
18. Very grumpy mule and saddlebags
19. Handcart
20. Loyal canine (the lines between dog, coyote, and wolf are rather blurred nowadays)

d6 footwear:
1. Handmade moccasins
2. Socks and birkenstocks
3. Fashionable boots with a 3-inch heel
4. Rubber snow boots
5. Running shoes
6. Leather hiking boots

d6 tops:
1. Sundress
2. T-shirt
3. Tank top
4. Flannel shirt
5. Button-down shirt
6. Blouse
 
d6 bottoms:
1. Torn nylon leggings
2. Long skirt
3. Rain pants
4. Jeans
5. Cargo shorts
6. Short shorts and fishnets

d6 outerwear:
1. Woolen peacoat
2. Leather jacket
3. Raincoat
4. Down coat
5. Poorly made bearskin coat
6. Fleece and fleece pants

d6 headwear:
1. Beanie
2. Baseball cap
3. Straw hat
4. Kevlar helmet
5. Bandana
6. Fedora

d6 ornaments:
1. Gilded locket engraved with a name that isn't yours
2. Braided friendship bracelet
3. Silver ring set with a gem
4. Spiked black choker
5. 1d8 tattoos, roll again
6. 1d4 piercings, roll again

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Try a Shift at the Dead Letters Office (GLOG Class: Postal Worker)

In which you run around the world delivering important things to dangerous people. This class wouldn't work very well for a normal game; it's not super friendly to regular adventurer shenanigans. Since it's basically just a quest generator, you could probably run a single-class party of these going around and making deliveries, or one Postal Worker and their companions doing the same.
 
Starting Equipment: A fancy uniform, a mailbag, a heavy club, a bottle of port wine, an unerring sense of direction, and three deliveries to make (roll on tables at end of class).

Skills: Navigation and 1d3: 1. Carriage-Driving, 2. Sailing, 3. Friendly Banter

For every template of Postal Worker you possess, gain 5' of movement per round and +1 inventory slot.

A: At Any Cost, Dead Letters
B: To Whom It May Concern, +1 Save
C: Epistolary Immunity, +1 Stealth
D: Untiring Devotion, Walking Map

At Any Cost:
You gain +1 HP for every piece of significant mail you're carrying. If any of your mail would be damaged, you can instead take the damage or other consequence on yourself. Significant mail means something that has some level of difficulty involved in the delivery; it can't just be a letter between two towns 20 flat and civilized miles apart.
 
Dead Letters: You don't level up the normal way. Instead, you level up when you've delivered a number of pieces of significant mail equal to your next level (2 pieces of mail for level 2, 3 for level 3, etc) to a maximum of 5. You get +1 on reaction rolls with those who recognize your uniform, and an additional +2 with the recipients of your deliveries. If you ever initiate violence against a recipient or open a package not your own, you lose all templates in this class.

To Whom It May Concern: You always know who a package or letter is intended to be delivered to and where they can be found, even if you can't read the address. You don't necessarily know how to get there.

Epistolary Immunity: If anyone who can understand the significance of your uniform attacks you while you're on a delivery, they become a pariah to anyone else who learns of it.

Untiring Devotion: You can walk, ride, and stay awake for thrice as long as an ordinary person without tiring, and can hold your breath for four times the usual duration. Whenever you are reduced to 0 HP or below, after you roll Death and Dismemberment (if necessary), roll a Constitution check. On a success, gain 1d6 HP. 
 
Walking Map: You know the fastest, most direct route to the location of your delivery. This route may be incredibly dangerous or extremely impractical. 

d12 Significant Mail:
  1. Letter of extreme urgency. Must be delivered in a week or less.
  2. Jingling bag of coins. Contains 300 sp if you succumb to temptation. 1 slot, loud.
  3. Box marked "Fragile". The contents shatter if you take 5 or more damage in one round. 50% chance it's something dangerous (bottles of acid, explosives, etc). 1 slot.
  4. Random magic item. You have permission to use it during the delivery.
  5. Random cursed magic item. Best not to touch it.
  6. A flame. Currently on a torch. Don't let it go out.
  7. Baby monster. Overly friendly, prone to getting into trouble, might try to bite your finger off. 3 slots if carried, can walk.
  8. Adult monster. Semi-tame, aggressive if scared, hungry, or just in a bad mood. Too big to carry, can walk.
  9. Actual baby. Dies at the slightest provocation, cries all the time for no evident reason. Probably the heir to a throne or something. 2 slots.
  10. Really, really big box. Not even that heavy, just awkward. 4 slots, must be carried in both arms.
  11. Marble statue. Gorgeous, quite fragile. 20 slots.
  12. Just a normal letter. Perfectly normal. Nothing weird here, nope. Ignore the weird sounds it makes. Eats your other mail if left unattended.
d12 Recipients:
  1. The nearest significant dignitary.
  2. The farthest significant dignitary still part of the same polity you're in.
  3. Someone really important: king, high priest, etc.
  4. The lich or dragon at the bottom of that one dungeon.
  5. The hermit on top of that one really tall mountain.
  6. The nearest mad wizard.
  7. The nearest coven of spooky witches.
  8. The teenaged true heir to the throne hidden away with a family of farmers, not yet aware of their heritage. 
  9. A completely normal farmer in the middle of nowhere.
  10. A completely normal whale.
  11. The person you, personally, hate most in the world.
  12. Someone who was human. A hundred years ago. They're a mindless zombie now. Good luck getting them to sign for it.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

A Soft Magical Campaign

 
Like many of my posts, just about everything here has been stolen directly or indirectly from the Annals of the Western Shore or the Earthsea Cycle. 

by Nimphradora

I've been thinking a lot about a specific sort of game that I want to run. The player characters are all sorcerers of some kind, and they travel around a region solving problems for people. These problems won't typically be solvable by violence, or if they are, that'll be discouraged. I'm sure it will remain an option, but hopefully it won't be the first and most convenient solution.

 

The Setting


First and foremost, I think I want the setting to generally be a nice place to live. I'm rather tired of miserable worlds where everything sucks all the time, although that can of course be plenty of fun. Let's say it's an agrarian and pastoralist society, with a very distributed populace, so there are very few cities and not many big towns either. Manufacturing is mostly small-scale and distributed as well, except for the goods which do really have to be made in towns. Long-distance trade is mostly distributing regional specialties. Polities are largely loosely organized and not governed autocratically, although the variety in such systems is wide. Religion and spirituality are polytheistic and somewhat animist, with local deities minor and major alike abounding. Magic is also widespread at a low level, with abilities natural, learned, and dealt for being not uncommon, if not too common either, and generally increasing quality of life in the world.
 

Some Places

Seian
 
The proud city of a thousand gods, where gulls wheel about red granite towers rising high above the bright river Sata wending down from the mountains and sunlight shatters to pieces on the waves of the shining harbor. The white peak of tall Mount Halden, cradle of the revolution, is visible on clear days, far across the bay. The salt-laden air of the docks is bursting with the sounds of a dozen languages, speakers borne there by ships from every known land, near and far, and any good one might desire can be purchased in the crowded markets. Seian had walls, once, and a king, but the walls were torn down to build houses and granaries and libraries, while the king fled rebellion to become a hermit in the wilderness. Since then the city has been ruled by a council of the chosen of the six great families and seven citizens chosen at random. Throughout the year there are festivals great and small for all of the thousand gods, some of whom are worshiped in many and broad lands, while others are only known by the family in whose home their shrine resides or the members of the tallow-renderer's guild. Commonly, these festivals feature intricate dances in the streets, songs and tales of yore, and special foods cooked for the occasion.

The Marshes
 
A vast expanse of wetlands at the junction of the rivers Slowcourse and Asjen, stretching fifty miles inland from the sea. Cranes soar over great mirrored lakes and stoop to land in shallow reed-choked marshes to partake of the bounty of fish, while canoes and brown-sailed catamarans slice the waters dragging their nets. Towards the sea the marshes turn brackish and estuarine, and the Slowcourse fractures into dozens of little winding passages. Even a small village might be distributed over several miles, as the folk tend to reclusiveness and quiet, their open-walled stilt-houses rising either from what passes for solid land or from the water itself. Most worship is directed to Ehai, the Cat Who Stalks Fate, who is said to take the form of a marsh lynx to help the lost, drowning, and unlucky.
 
by ErikTaberman

Vogurton
 
The jewel of the north, and the second of the two true cities of the land, Vogurton is a rustic and sedate yet prosperous and close-knit community, built of stone, pine, and spruce shipped down the river Anni-Fljot from the mountains. In the center of the city's main square there is a circle of thirty-seven huge statues carved from great spruces, each more than ten feet in diameter. These statues represent the legendary company that founded the city, with Queen Varde sitting at their head. The city is still nominally ruled by her descendant, but in truth the Queen has little to do with the regular doings of the city, only interfering in exceptional cases. Many gods are given great faith and ceremony, but the ones above them all are Aia, the Sun, Odial, the Moon, and Giset, the Stars.

Acoma Pueblo Sky City, credit Wikipedia

Heieth

Heieth is that land which lies in the Gap between Oldroot Peak and Norbils Peak, as well as the land to the east even past the great round mountain known as the Onion. As the Great Steppes lie to the south and it is bordered by mountains west and north, it is arid and watered mostly by snowmelt from the mountains, covered in firs and aspens in the mountains while the lower lands are dominated by juniper, pines, and scrubland. The austere communities are mostly clustered in the uplands or on the small rivers, and are primarily single large complexes built of mud brick. The spirits of the underworld are sacred and said to hold power over the rains, while most other common deities are anthropomorphized animals, such as Coyote the clever and Doe the fruitful.

 
The Norrens
 
The Norrens are the broad land east of the Fjallai Mountains and north of Norbil Peak and the Langtaus Mountains. They are sparsely inhabited, being high and steep, covered in great spruce forests and high meadows and moors, which are themselves loosely dotted with stone and wood holds and compounds. The insular people stick mostly to their own families and clans, as each carries the gift of witchcraft in their blood and strives to maintain it purely. As a result, witches are much more common in the Norrens than elsewhere. Ancestor worship is the majority of the religious ceremony, but the spirits of the mountains and streams are quietly revered as the true sovereigns of the land.
 
The Great Steppes
 
Vast arid plains separated from the wet sea-winds by the mountains of their northern border, the Great Steppe is the home of a vast variety of nomadic pastoralists and semi-sedentary peoples. Their practices and traditions are far too numerous to enumerate here. The stereotype held of them by northerners and settled peoples characterizes them as violent and dissipated, but in reality, although low-mortality raiding to protect pastureland is common among some groups, they are no more commonly warlike than any of the other folk of the world.
 
Oldroot Peak 
 
The tallest mountain of all the lands enumerated herein, Oldroot Peak towers above the various ranges which combine to form its base. Oldroot is but a euphemism for the true name of the peak, which is sacred and not spoken openly. The eponymous deity associated with the peak, often called the Mother of Ice and Wind, is in many traditions held to be the progenitor of a    ll the deities, lands, and peoples of the world. Climbing the peak is an act of holy devotion, but it is not often attempted, as it is a perilously difficult journey and it is said that only the Wise will be granted passage to the upper reaches of the mountain by the winds and snows. Rumor holds that at the very top of Oldroot is a cave which holds a pool fed by the spring from which the world was born, but none who have gone so far and returned have spoken of what they found.

System and Magic


by ashpwright


My preference for systems is still light d20 systems, so that'll probably be the base. Roll vs DC 10, modifiers for ability scores (Strength, Coordination, Endurance, Willpower maybe?) and skills (freeform, of course). Probably no hitpoints or anything, and maybe not even a formalized combat system. I still do like levels/HD as a system for representing metaphysical power, so maybe that'll stick around. The real question is which magic system to use. I've got two in mind, and they both seem almost equally fun, so maybe (maybe) I'll write them both. 

by Mischievouslittleelf

Option A: Limited and Specific

 
With this option, every PC starts with one specific magical power. These would be in three broad types: the gifts of witchcraft, which are innate and heritable, the learned, being things such as brewing potions and having great knowledge of songs of lore (these powers are not necessarily things which would be considered magical in our world), and the dealt for, powers which are contingent on services rendered to or trades made with strange beings.

Some Gifts:
  • The Unmaking: Unmake structure and order, physical or otherwise, with a word and a gesture.
  • The Calling: Call beasts to you without a sound, quell their rages, understand their desires, and convey your own.
  • The Knife: Cut across distance with a gesture, more precisely and cleanly than any blade wielded by hand ever could.
  • The Changing: Change your form into a kestrel, a jackal, or a pike (the fish). If you stay transformed for too long, you may never change back.
Some Learned Powers:
  • Knowledge of how to brew a potion for any ailment, given the requisite materials.
  • Haruspicy, palm reading, dowsing, or other forms of divination.
  • Great knowledge of the tales, mythology, and history of your people, plus an excellent singing voice.
  • Knowledge of drawn wards and magical circles.
Some Deals:
  • The presence in the back of the cave gave you a book, in which you can write questions and answers will be written. In return, you must seek out new tales, truths, and secrets, and write them in the book.
  • The monolith high on the mountain gave you the ability to see moods and emotions, but every time you use this, you must make an offering of burning cinnamon and rabbit meat.
  • The lady made of bees gave you the ability to produce spreads of cream and honey, but you must collect every flower you've never seen the like of before and return them to her.
  • The boggart from your childhood home gave you the ability to pronounce blessings and protection on houses and boats. In return, you must paint his name in large lurid letters on the subject of the blessing.

Option B: Freeform and Wide


This option is inspired by the various iterations of WoD Mage games, which I find very inspiring but incredibly cumbersome, passed through the filter of GLOG-style Magic Dice. Basically, there's a list of various basic and specific magical types. You add a die, probably a d6, to your pool for each point you have in the relevant basic and specific types (and maybe another if you have a relevant mundane skill, are using a pre-defined spell, etc), and you probably start with one point in two of the base types and three to distribute as you will in the specific. The sum of the roll of all these dice informs the relative success of the spell. Using magic too overtly and rolling doubles or triples might add to your Imbalance, which can generally cause ill effects in the world at large, and the amount of Imbalance you can safely cause is reduced the more powerful you become.

Base Magical Types:
  • Changing
  • Channeling
  • Controlling
  • Creating
Specific Magical Types:
  • Brewing (Changing)
  • Healing (Changing)
  • Mending (Changing)
  • Shaping (Changing)
  • Illusion (Channeling)
  • Perceiving (Channeling)
  • Binding (Controlling)
  • Charmweaving (Controlling)
  • Summoning (Controlling)
  • Weatherworking (Controlling)
 

Gameplay Loop and Campaign Structure


by Mischievouslittleelf

The way I envision this campaign going is that the party simply wanders around, looking for interesting things, and solving problems for people along the way. They might have a destination or not, but it would probably be for the best if they did - a pilgrimage, maybe, or some other quest. Since I expect a lot of the problems will be domestic and fairly quickly dealt with, I think the key to success in this sort of game will be really lingering on the flavor and the texture of the world: beautiful natural and cultivated environments, comfy little villages, hospitality, casual spirituality and ubiquitous religion, weather, little pleasures. Of course, I've never actually run a game like this before, so take this all with a grain of salt.

Some Problems to Solve:
  • The spirits of the wood are angry because someone cut more wood than they should have
  • Several children have been struck low by a mysterious disease
  • There's a property dispute between two sisters and no one's been able to help them resolve it
  • The local chanter died unexpectedly without teaching anyone their songs and tales
  • Drought or too much rain
  • A leopard has caught a taste for human flesh
  • A peaceful giant has been trampling fields unknowingly
  • A shrine has fallen into disrepair and the villagers don't know the respectful ways to restore it

Home Bases
 
I expect that this is the sort of game where the party will eventually settle down in a place they particularly like, and they may well want to start with a home base to return to. This will especially make sense if one of the party has made a deal for their powers, as these will tend to be location-based. The emphasis for this sort of play should be community building and becoming respected and trusted authority figures, not any sort of dominance. 

Influences/Appendix N

Who, Whom, Why (As They Must) (I played in deus' playtest of this and it was both excellent and more in this vein than you might imagine)
Everything Ursula Le Guin ever wrote, but especially: the Earthsea Cycle, the Annals of the Western Shore, and Always Coming Home
Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
Mage: the Ascension 
Mage: the Awakening