Tuesday, August 22, 2017

CaBH Magic + 4 Magical Kingdoms

Related image

Using Magic in Feng Shui involves having a Sorcery value (or Creature value) for your primary or secondary attack. It is also rolled like a traditional Action Value in order to use it to make the equivalent to Arcana checks, or to turn up a magical contact, or similar things. Where most characters have a place on their sheet reading Fortune or Chi or whatever yours says Magic, and is used as both a pool of points to spend to activate magic effects and points to be spent on more standard Fortune dice.  If a Fortune check is prompted against you and you succeed you can easily get away with describing yourself succeeding with some supernatural flair, even if you don't have a relevant schtick.

Schticks are great but the hardest thing to break people of when they're new to the game is thinking with their schticks. Tony Jaa probably doesn't have a specific schtick to do a somersault axe kick off the back of an elephant into the back of some dude's head in Ong Bak II but he sure fucking did it. There's nothing stopping a zen Buddhist monk from also being a high flying stunt driver and there's nothing keeping IMPEEERATOHH FURIOSHAAAAA from trying to use a magic amulet if she finds one. Your starting AV might be less than great (defaults to 7) or the difficulty might change but you still have a shot. True for action movies and for the kinds of children's fiction informing this game. The lifeblood of most Feng Shui games' sorcery is a plain old magic missile style Chi Blast, just a good old zap. That's fine for a lot of stand-up fights and will even be quite helpful during racing legs but the other shticks available to magic peoples are going to be more effective here, especially the ones that let you do well during Pit Stops (and therefore build Teamwork points).

Only a handful of Types have magic baked in or have the opportunity to learn it as they advance. In theory anyone could seek our some witch and learn a few tricks with enough practice but we will not really afford time for such.

Most of these Types will come from kingdoms rife with magic, where their power is stronger, but not always. Maybe your racer comes from a more mundane nation where your special powers make you a true standout. Maybe you're from somewhere magic isn't even supposed to be possible, like one of the steaming smoking machine kingdoms. Maybe you're just a ghost, ghosts come from anywhere. That's fine, just be aware that your powers will be affected by the region you're in.

It also shouldn't need pointing out that other Types can come from the more magical kingdoms. Camelot had Big Bruisers too. Sigil still has street sweepers. If you want to show all those fancy wizards that some punk kid can become more famous than any of them then by all means, go at it.

Once you run out of Magic points you're out of juice unless you find some kind of potion or geomantic nucleus to let you top off. Normally they all come back at the top of the next session but there's lots of reasons that might not happen.


Serapter is ruled over by the Marquis DuPont, a man at once like an old tree and the shadow of that tree. He has borders within his borders, the Circles of Hell, concentric rings featuring differing degrees of penetration by supernatural planes of existence. There is the Demon Ring, the Spirit Ring, the Nightmare Ring, the Midnight Ring, the Goblin Ring, the Bone Ring, and the Crimson Ring where stands All's Hallow Hall, a castle as big as a city and residence to the Marquis' enormous and ever-growing family. The Marquis is definitely NOT a vampire, why would you even ask?

Wigviauln is a place where the practice of magic is so common it is used for daily tasks. Small elemental creatures and magically animated constructs are found here but that's about it. Wigviauln citizens do every job under the sun but with a bit of magical flair. Then there are the spellcasters. Druids, maguses, priestesses, warlocks, witches, sorceresses, mediums, wizards, any kind of magical practicioner, specialization, or tool you can name: all of these are found here, in the world's top center for magical research and understanding. The government of Wigviauln is somewhat corrupt, based on an enormous academic committee honoring truly arcane seniority and tenure traditions. The young Librarian, Sheila Lala, sits at the top.

Goroshi is rich in mystical presence if you know where to look, or how. Attend the right shrine, bathe in the right spring, knock on the right log, and you might summon a spirit - perhaps the spirit of that log, or of the forest, or the spirit of trees. You are always watched but rarely interfered with. Obviously-supernatural things do happen but they are accepted as a common thing to plan around, like a thunderstorm or like harvest time. There is a very respectful, congenial relationship between the people here and the many spirits of nature, machine, and emotion. When a spirit gets out of line, though, humans are expected to handle it themselves. Almost every top exorcist from SEDAN comes from Goroshi, and the Goroshi government (headed by President Iku, though he prefers "Mr. President") even has its own department to head up human and spirit world affairs. It's anyone's guess how many people on that department are spirits in disguise.

Hobbits As Consolation Class

Image result for rankin bass hobbit
Inspired by this and this and I guess this and this.
 HD, Saves, Attack as Thief. Requires 2 Ability Scores of 6 or less. You may use no armor but leather and may use one-handed weapons/small weapons/d6 weapons, but nothing that needs two hands apart from a shortbow. You may use a shield with a melee weapon but if you do then your weapons only do 1d4 damage. The shield grants you an extra point of AC bonus from what normal folk get. No speed penalty but you can carry a quarter of what a normal human can.

Instead of tying your bonuses to which specific values took the hit when you rolled up your pawn I'm just going to give you a list. You have up to 6 pts to spend, 1 for each shitty ability score. None of these effects improve as you level and you can't choose any of them more than once. If your scores are reduced below 6 later in game you do not get new abilities, but neither do you lose these abilities should your scores later improve.

Speaking of leveling: if you are part of any successful adventure or perilous scrape that results in a member of your party leveling up then you level up. You don't track XP and certainly not gold for XP because. Your fortune is the fortune of others. You may still only advance to 8th level.

At 8th level you gain any Hobbit powers you don't already have, are free to establish your own private Estate and attract a bunch of distant relatives to live on your lands, are considered fluent in the language of any creature you met in your journeys, and may choose to Retire. Retirement is important because you can come out of retirement ONCE and be treated like a level 16 Fighter by those around you, also gaining equivalent to-hit and save benefits.

The effects you get to choose from are:

Charming Manner: +3 Reaction roll
Escapist: Like "shields shall be splintered" without the shield; if you can explain how being little, thinking carefully, or leaps of faith might have spared you from what might have been a disastrous magical effect, hazard, or killing blow, then congratulations - you made it. Usable once per day. You can expend your use for the day to conveniently be able to wriggle out of bonds or through bars or whatever and get away, so long as there is the narrative possibility.
Barrel Rider: You gain a swim speed equal to the fastest land speed in the party, can hold your breath for at least 2 minutes, and do not suffer check/attack roll penalties associated with being underwater.
Forager: You have a 3/6 chance of finding enough food to feed the party in wilderness or grasslang, 2/6 in a city, 1/6 in a dungeon.
Bravery: Whenever a fight breaks out you may elect to suffer from Fear, as the spell, and immediately make a saving throw, making a save at the top of each round. If you save against this effect then you may consider enemies you engage this round to be under the effects of Fear for a number of rounds equal to what you experienced, minimum 1, no save.
Christina Ricci: If you wander away from the party for one Exploration Round and are not immediately accosted or killed then you may rejoin the party at any point by declaring yourself to be inside something nearby, like a chest or barrel or cabinet or monster corpse. You do not have to explain how you got there, it just has to be barely big enough for you to fit into; rooms, closets, wagons, etc are not a suitable use for this.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Prayer

Grass underfoot crisp black, dandelion strong.

Drink of green, burning and festered, belly boiling vision eating. Wound in the earth.

An arm not honed but strong. Too many heats red. Death rattle nails.

Steel blood cold, grass black. March on

I forget what it looks like...

Banner billowing licking gold with crimson before column of only one. There is no surrender. There will not be none: there was surrender.

Song out of step, thunder dust rolling advance. Fire drinking, vision eating. Night walk, this scream dance. Forward laughing.

The laugh is an important detail.

SEE: men not men onrushing slowly in avalanche patience. Awful things leagues astride, upon awesome animals, boulder flesh bearing mistake people toward new ruins.

Soon ruins.

There is no love nor rage nor hate nor fear, no not really fear. It increases, though, burning the rope of the world. Stronger we are pulled. Our blood is left only iron. Hope only hunger. Need only take. Never keep, only continue.

I need blood.

Horns are worn, not blown, but now it sounds - a refrain stilling all bone in anticipation of crescendo upon us then

Who killed the soil? Who burned the sea? Who cut the sky? Who corrupted hell? WHAT mutilated the church? WHAT broke our very souls? WHAT laughs in the night?

It is not night.
I have forgotten it.

Share me the blood for blood is life. Give me some life for life might end. Sell me an end for ends are mercies. Show me some mercy for mercy is a blessing. Bless me now in the sight of god. No, not mine. I have forgotten it.

Hurry now, while my throat still cracks, listen! I name Him! I call it Forthcoming. He is Horizon Darker. King of Ghosts. Rider in All Lights. Ash in the cry of orphans, He, usurper of shadows, an demon angel, Father -- Father to Monsters! Whet of tooth, wet of blade, forge-breathed, lion-ready.

Who has come?
I have forgotten the sun.

WHAT killed the sun?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Requirement Roll

Emily Carroll
Thinking about changing things up with my (I am tired of saying old schoolish, DIY, dndish, etc, and I don't really find the term OSR useful, so how about) Basic Red classes. In the process I think I'm going to reassess the ability score requirements of so many old games and exotic classes. I like the idea of people being to play a really shitty dwarf in the same way someone can play a really shitty thief. But I like the idea of requirements as gatekeepers from everybody just playing nine elves in a row. So how about a d12 roll? You roll 1d12 and then you can be anything equal to or less than the value rolled.

This is what I'm thinking about for thresholds and classes, and what comic book artists I'd associate with each class (you don't have to look like that but you get 5% bonus XP if you do; that's right, I'm decoupling bonus XP too):

1 Thieves work weird now also working on that. They are from Mike Mignola.
2 Fighters work like LotFP and can make death saves to not die at 0HP like everyone else does. John Buscema.
3 Priests work like Prophets and follow Magic-User rules for armor and weapons. They all have strange faiths and new gods. Charles Vess.
4 Dwarfs are much the same but instead of deep dwellers they're just nocturnal and make homes deep inside pretty much anything (this is why they are always so grouchy during daytime). Mark Buckingham.
5 Magic-Users work like Wonder & Wickedness/VAM! and they all look like they came from almost any Doom Patrol comic except for the ones John Byrne made.
6 Judges are straight about healing and smiting and get the good armor and weapons. They serve The Church, whatever church that is. Brian Bolland or Kevin O'Neill.
7 Druids work like These Druids and Emily Carroll draws them
8 Elfs all work like BX Halflings. Wendy Pini, or maybe Jill Thompson, or Moebius.
9 Monks can be random or strange but they are all specifically Fat Cobra.
10 Weird FLAILSNAILS races/classes always look like Scrap Princess designed them.
11 Barbarians, Rangers, Assassins, or any other AD&D style class that we just kitbash until it fits. Yoshitaka Amano, which I think is cheating.
12 Some manner of absolutely unique thing. I will extend the offer, whether it be allowing a good orc, a talking lion, weirder spellcasting, or giving you a gun. Something I would normally use an NPC for, now you can be that thing and get levels. If you don't like what I offer then fine, you get your pick of the other classes, go nuts.

If you have 2 or more ability scores 6 and under you may also be a Hobbit regardless of roll. Hobbits are a consolation class where each ability score 6 and lower unlocks bonus abilities, I will update this part when I finish that article. They are little Jack Davis people.

Those who suffer sanity-crumbling effects can become Crazy Boys. Crazy Boys all slowly start to look like silent film characters.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Action Philosophers for TSR


If you don't want to skip to the bottom just remember that TSR's Marvel Super-Heroes is a great fucking game. This kind of thing isn't something I love writing and posting here for a few reasons but it has been on my mind and I need to get it out so better things can come through the tunnel.

I have a weird thing when I'm drunk where I end up sounding like I'm trying to make an opposite point to what I'm trying to do. This is bad with sensitive subjects. On a lighter note I recently took a big digression dump in some conversation of Zak's and made it sound like I think the best thing comics can be is Aesop's Fables, teaching morals and life lessons.

I won't bore you with the 3000 word preamble this could have been but by now I suspect my initial point doesn't need explaining to most folks: comics aren't superheroes. One's a medium and the other's a signal. And while I respect everyone who uses the medium to tell a story (especially a personal one that might be difficult to tell) or explore a theme (I can't imagine it's possible to run out of worthwhile ways to evidence the stupidity of racism) or serve a demand or need (sure my niece will buy anything with Disney characters on it, might as well give her some Frozen comics) the medium is, like film, a visual first medium. It's #1 job is to give people interesting things to see.

There's lots of reasons superheroes exploded in the States to the point of dominating our comics industry, a lot of reasons for their longevity, but Job One pretty much sums it up. It's a genre umbrella whose definition is pretty much "stuff interesting to look at," and developed to encompass crime stories, melodramas, O. Henry schtick, war comics, comedy, science fantasy, whatever meant there would be something cool to look at. Sometimes this can be facile - pretty naked people are great and well drawn naked people are great, sure, but so much of the Avengelyne era of hero was about some weird Tex-Avery-As-Envisioned-By-Larry-Flynt draftmanship focused solely on basically alien erotica at the expense of any other aspect of a composition. Sometimes it can be demanding - a lot of comic artists' real strength lies not in their gallery-level talent but in the way they use the medium, which forces you to kind of learn on the go and eschew medium shot gridlock comfort zones. But there's always something to see, and from characters who can punch somebody right through the panel barrier to books whose whole schtick relies on the fact that (unlike film) there are no depth of focus or depth of field issues, you could find 90% of comics pet-rock-boring and still keep finding showcases for Cool Stuff To See.

That's really all that's on the written test when you get your superhero comic license, which is why superhero comics have turned into Every Genre But More So over the years. Frankly HORROR is better at consistently passing the Cool Stuff To See test and really consumes and envelops genres faster and more smoothly than superheroes do. Horror just doesn't have the penetration with the markets for which superheroes are so eminently merchandisable. No, not even now in the post-Walking Dead gold rush for horror franchise properties. You can sell Batman to Methodists but not Babadook. Not a coincidence the spandex set had its renaissance after the horror market got its balls chopped off.

There's another thing superheroes have going for them that explains their longevity advantage over horror beyond the obvious (which is that horror loses its teeth when you try the same scare for too long, in the same way a joke becomes trite). It's their philosophical underpinnings. Not all heroes are specifically built around them but they inherit a lot implicitly from Superman, the ultimate fuck you from a couple Jewish guys to Nazi notions of Nietzsche, subverting or inverting their self-actualizing excuses for general fuckery. To be best is not to be better, to be best is to do better.

Some characters ARE built around a specific underpinning, or they come to be. Animal Man is a good example of the latter, Wonder Woman is something of an ur-example of the former. But from Peter Parker to Barda Free to Elektra to Punisher to Invincible to the modern day Carol Danvers everybody has a little bit of this in them, a positing of This Is What Good Is that is challenged by and proved by responding to different evils as a pretty explicit structure. Again, it can be facile, it can sure be repetitive, but it ultimately drives all the conflict in the way that a situation, location, context, or other characters might for other (and some better) stories.

This is good because while it can be as conservative and simplistic as any morality in a horror movie it gives superheroes an edge which is An Excuse For Things To Happen. Horror conveys temptation by the devil largely through tone and atmosphere. Superheroes do it with the protagonist strapped into a rocket train blasted into outer space filled with mind controlled POWs.

That's what I love about the best superhero comics and what I feel is missing from more modern day superbooks: even the most childlike view of good an evil can be used to drive the Make Stuff Happen boat and give us interesting things to see, which is what we're really here for.

Too many modern superhero comics, and this is coming from someone who does still love the industry, come at it the other way: all the action is an excuse for superheroes to stand around or fly around shouting philosophy at each other. This is an approach that, say, a prose book handles well. One inciting incident and a few bursts of excitement can keep characters reassessing the proper course of action, reconsidering past actions, expose old tensions and new connections...I love reading this shit. I love a lot of movies that are like this, a lot of comics that are like this. Hell, most of Star Trek is like this. But for action movies or action comics the DO and the LOOK AT THAT are always going to be more important than the why. Having your fistfights drive philosophical discourse would be disaster in a Die Hard movie. I contend that it is the same for the Justice League.

I think it's an instinct for wanting the thing you loved when you were younger to grow up with you and become more like other, mature fiction, so you can still enjoy it. To that I say just enjoy the things you love, people, and enjoy them for what they are. Adventure Time will never be Lord of the Rings and that's fine. When it's just allowed to be the best version if itself, frankly it's better.

So RPGs...

I have not played all the superhero RPGs in the world. I don't know that I could, at the rate they pop up. But so many of them are very concerned with capturing the melodrama in superhero comics. Built in rewards for tension-ratcheting failure, stat blocks for Perry White so you can roll your Not Superman against his Newshound value, some weird moralist elements, advice on designing your world so you can have the Street Level or Cosmic campaign you desire, a Super Friends like balance emphasis to make sure Green Arrow is as useful at the table as Metamorpho or Sapphire Stagg.

I think that's effort out of proportion with necessity, an attempt to make playing an RPG feel like reading or writing a comic book. If you're looking for that then cool, let's get these dice out of the way and talk about this idea you have for a Saturn Girl detective series, I'd be interested in that. I'd love to get the cast-off Marvel Micronauts a gig myself...

Any comic nerd can have and has had conversations like these that run for hours. Many turn them into cool little fan fiction, and that's neat. Sure, I'll read that, even if it's more filled with sex and romance than I'm looking for. If you're a pal then I'm interested in your voice, your perspective, your ideas...You have an idea for a new superhero series that you don't think will ever get published? I'm your audience of one, and I'm sure in return you won't mind listening to my pitch for MANK, the half man half tank.

When it comes to a superhero RPG, though, what I look for at the table is something that feels like DRAWING a comic. Shit Is Happening, Look At That, What Other Interesting Thing Can We Cram In Here, Check Out That NPC's Shitty Beard Ha Ha, Oh Shit Space Bees, Deep Inky Shadows, Time Dilation, Hard Cuts, That Was Slowing Down So Now We Are Over Here With These People Where Something More Interesting Is Happening...

TSR's Marvel Super-Heroes has a philosophical underpinning that takes up maybe half a page and can be used to romp in the old 616 Sandbox or make your own whole thing. It's this: you can do awesome things better and easier if you Act Like A Superhero. The philosophy drives the action, gives us more Cool Shit To Look At. We can't see these illustrations this time but the point where this gets us fighting the Hand to protect a runaway mother and child, NOW we're playing a comic. It's small, simple, and largely invisible. Best of all if you object to the morality it espouses (or rightly point out that it's a morality not always even espoused by its source material, but a version made safe for mass marketing to 8 year olds in a bright yellow box) you can change the whole thing and therefore redirect the energies of the whole campaign in about fiiiiiiiiiive minutes.

Every aspect of those rules, even this, maybe especially this, is devoted to doing interesting or explosive things to keep things moving forward and ride a momentum of Something New Happened Now. It's not breaking things into separate rooms, considered discussions over HERE and giant Civil War clusterfucks to take nine sessions to adjudicate over HERE. It's just going "if this then that" in a very elegant way. In a lot of ways I think this system is even smoother than D&D.

That feels a lot more like a superhero comic to me: not going "I see what you did there, very clever," but "HOLY CRAP WHAT JUST HAPPENED?"