Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Flashpoint: Squibbing & Interrogations

Captain Archer was back this session so he got brought up to speed with the two ships that were taken last session.  Lunjun also reported that he found mysterious water stains in the Chelish caravel's, Dowager's, log book.  Lunjun identified it as an alchemical invisible ink that likely holds some coded information.  He tried to bring it out with heat but that didn't work.  Odds are that there's some kind of alchemical key that will make it visible. 

Archer took the logbook outside and put a page to the sun.  Due to the shadowing he could make out a few symbols through the water stains that he jotted down though most of it was too difficult to truly see. To Lunjun's skilled eye those symbols drawn by Archer looked like some sort of arcane language with a Tienese-style of lettering.  Lunjun used Read Magic and could see an invisible symbol on one of the covers that was likely a cypher mark that would reveal to the trained eye what alchemical concoction and code book to use.  Unfortunately, that symbol's meaning would be known only by the people who invented it.

They could test the paper to figure out the right concoction but the tests would need to destroy some of the sample pages which would forever destroy part of the information.  They tried to learn more from the captain and head of the merchant ship's guard but neither of them knew anything about it.  Lhye used Suggestion to get the captain to relate a timeline of his logbook, where it's been and who might have had contact with it.  I thought that was very clever because it's rare for players to think in terms of 'timelines' and 'chains of evidence'.

The main clues their efforts have is that:

*  Bloodcove was the last place the 'Dowager' had been at port.
*  They were heading to the only open port in Nidal, followed by the Mordant Spire, and then on to Cheliax.
*  The captain dallied with a woman wearing a red dragon scale mask whom he thinks might have actually been several women who looked and sounded similarly, but not the same, yet who wore the same costume.
*  The logbook was taken by the port authorities at Bloodcove by the Aspis Consortium as it is assumed that Chelish merchants are used to high taxation and therefore won't put up as much of an argument as the Shackles locals.
*   They have a silk and gemstone shipment.

Having learned what they could, the crew then dropped off the Chelish merchantmen at a Chelish settlement before going to Rickety Squibs to re-fit the two stolen ships.  Proteus helped them go through the various procedures and they put the Chelish caravel up for the re-fit first.  Proteus managed to talk Rickety into throwing in a free secret compartment on the Exodus due to the fact that had two vessels to re-fit.

For the first five days, while all of this is going on, Lunjun used Water Breathing, several crewmembers, and a magical spell to copper plate the hull of the Egress and the Exodus to prevent fouling and increase the ship's speed.

After those five days, I went to the first encounter at Rickety Squibs' in the 'Raiders of the Fever Seas' campaign book in the Pathfinder series 'Skull & Shackles'.  I'm not running the Skull & Shackles campaign but I have found that book invaluable for Shackles adventures.  The encounter involved a young water naga who pulled a man into the river and attacked him.  Archer waded into the river mouth to have at it with the sword.  In the book it was meant to be 20 feet deep but as it was close to the land and in a drought I had it only four feet deep.  Deep enough for her to hide most of her length below the churning water, though they caught glimpses of her.  Lunjun shot her with magical bolts that did the most damage.  Lhye healed Archer with prehensile hair.  Proteus summoned an octopus and a swarm of piranha (same stats as swarm of bats but they have a swim speed rather than a fly speed). 

In the end, the assaulted man was drowned but not yet dead.  Lhye resuscitated him then turned to the naga.  Proteus explained that she was a sentient creature likely driven mad by the warming salt water laden river mouth that she would've been driven into by other Nagas as the water dried up.  Lhye cast a Sleep Hex and then a Cure Light Wounds spell on the dying Naga.  They took a barrel of cool water from the ship and filled a bathtub with it before placing her medium-sized young body inside it.  Now greatly cooled and in fresh water, she is likely to awaken refreshed and more sane ... for now.

If the drought doesn't break, however, it is only a matter of time.  While she can survive saltwater, ir will madden her as much as a muddy river did as she is of the freshwater variety.  We'll find out next session what the players intend to do to keep her sane.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Visiting Carcosa

I ran Carcosa pretty much as it appears in the Tatters of the King campaign.  I described the off-kilter changes to the world and kept James moving through it.  In the end, the group got divided because Charlie slipped off the narrow bridge into the water.  James followed her but couldn't find her until he came out of the water and saw her on the steps.  There was no sign of the other two (Peter Walsh and Joy's retainer, Juliette) as Carcosa had already spirited them away with its strange dream logic.  It was difficult to get them back together as James' suspicion towards the various Carcosan people meant that he rebuffed any of the NPC's attempts to help him.  So in the end I made him stew for a bit before he stumbled across the museum where he met with Alexander Roby and, later, the other two NPCs.

As he was all on his own, at the very end I gave him more time to plot out how he would react to the ceremony than I otherwise would.  He didn't have several minds to remember the bell, after all, so I thought it only fair to give him a chance.

When Hastur appeared, Yolanda ran away as James had been rather callous toward her (thinking her a figment of a dream world or some supernatural creature) so she took her chances on her own.  Unfortunately, she ended up having her throat slit outside the garden labyrinth but what can you do?  Easy come, easy go.

While the actual gameplay didn't look any different, I did have a different cosmology in mind which could have led to a few different changes that didn't end up coming up because of the player's choicse being pretty standard to the campaign.

The people in Carcosa are Changelings who have been delivered by other True Fae as according to ancient arrangements with the King in Yellow.  Over time, their masks become affixed to their faces, though none of them believe this is true until the Stranger arrives.  In which case, when he is due to remove his mask and can't, they each attempt to remove the mask and realise the same laws apply to them.

Yolanda is an exception to this as she hasn't been here for very long.  Neither has Noss.  These Changelings don't know of True Fae or their own status as kidnap victims.  No one else could give them that knowledge and they're minds have been freshly scrubbed.  Most of those taken to Carcosa were taken as small children and have no understanding of any other world so escapes are rare.  Time passes strangely on Carcosa too (when it's not cojoined with Earth) so most have been there so long that there is nothing left for them to come back to.  No anchors to their memories.  Although this is an Arcadian Realm, Carcosa itself will make the requisite agreements with the Wyrd on visitors' behalf to allow them to walk in the location.

Humans who wear the masks given by Noss will slowly find it attaching to them over the process of several months as the Wyrd adapts the mask to become their face.
All humans who enter this realm and wear masks or eat and drink while here become Fae-touched mortals, a lesser supernatural template that can be replaced by ghouling, or more permanent transformations such as vampirism of the First Change.  Remaining here for much of a week will also become Fae-touched.  This could have happened to Charlotte and Juliette, but it didn't, because James was suspicious of the masks and they were suspicious of the food and drink.  James did end up drinking Changeling blood in a frenzy but he can hardly take on a lesser supernatural template.  Normally the player can be quite quick to identify what he bit but my solo player makes no such assumptions when he's in a Call of Cthulhu game.  It's interesting, because he knows it's all been converted to World of Darkness logic, yet still he makes no assumptions.  I find it adds to the horror.

Anyway, if your World of Darkness character is human and arrives in Carcosa, you could grant any who eat, drink, or wear a mask the Ensorcelled Mortal merit at two dots as Fae-touched individuals are permanently ensorcelled.  However, I recommend re-naming the merit to 'Touched by Carcosa' so the players don't know quite what is happening.  They might then assume that Changelings they see are just strange 'hallucinations'.  So long as they don't meet the same 'hallucination' twice and work out that it's oddly consistent, they probably won't figure it out as a Changeling.

In this campaign, it's unlikely that any of the player characters will become Changelings here.  Perhaps if one were abandoned in Carcosa, then perhaps, but such an event would render that character unplayable so the players would never know.  In the latter half of the campaign, the player character who led the King in Yellow astray to Carcosa and became the new 'Stranger' will become a Changeling.  As they can escape after a year, the player might then pick up a rather low Clarity Changeling. 

Since Changelings don't necessarily know that there are more of them nor about the details of other True Fae, both the player controlling the Changeling and the others might not even figure out their friend's true nature for quite some time.  One thing I would suggest, though, is to give that character a working knowledge of pledges alongside their own Contracts as that's pretty innate to anything partially of the Wyrd.

If you'd like to read more articles about the Tatters of the King conversion to the World of Darkness and the campaign that has sprung up around it, have a look over here.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

American Horror Story

Wow.  That's all I can say about this television series.  Wow.  I have just finished watching the second season of American Horror Story which is set in an asylum and I'm rearing to watch Season 1 and Season 2 all over again.  There is something deeply disturbing about the show.  It's hard to predict.  It connects storylines in very twisted way.  It plays with the horror tropes, mixing things that you don't expect to see mixed, and it isn't afraid to do terrible things to its characters.  Not at all.

I'm still reeling from the amazing television marathon I got to enjoy this weekend and I'm overjoyed at the news that there will be a third one.

One of the most amazing parts of it is how it can take characters who would otherwise be deeply unlikeable (i.e. Sister Jude) and make you really feel for them by the end of it.  All of the characters feel fully realised even when they're villains.  The actors are exceptionally good, switching between emotions in a realistic and sometimes quite sudden manner.  The cinematography has a number of gosh-wow moments.  The sets are fantastic.

I think this is what the World of Darkness was meant to be.  This is what the core books have suggested.  Hell, it might even be a bit Kult.  Reality is screwed.  So many people have been screwed up, their minds twisted, their consciences askew, so that even escape isn't what you think it is.  Salvation can be close at hand yet so far away.  People are pulled by urges, temptations, and it's a rare soul who manages to rise above it and do what's right for the right reasons.  Yet still the characters grow, and unlike in the Walking Dead where they tend to grow worse for wear, here they often grow into better people.  Which might not save them, but still, it keeps you caring and caring is hooked.

In truth, I have played in one game like this and it was pretty hard-core.  The Storyteller was prone to switching games, though, so we never got through more than a few sessions.  It was a shame because even though it was hard, it was compelling.

So yeah, if you like horror, go and watch these two television seasons: Murder House and Asylum.  Later there'll be one called Coven.  They're each entirely different storylines and seem to delve into different sorts of mythologies.  It's very good, though.  I can't recommend it highly enough.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Snow Princess Summary

This NPC is a True Fae from the Changeling: the Lost setting that was made for use in my Tatters of the King World of Darkness conversion.  I'm still wondering how I will integrate her but, at the very least, she'll make some cool backstory.  Its always a good idea to have some fairy tales available for your Changeling NPCs to impart as it's a pretty big part of their lives.  If you do end up using this True Fae or taking inspiration from her, let me know in the comments box below.

Titles (3): The Silence of a Snowbound Heart (Actor), The Icebound Rose (Prop), Palace of the Rose-Encrusted Mirror (Locale)  

The Tell:

The tell for this Fae is a heart literally encrused with snow that might appear either as a physical heart, an image, or even as a colour scheme of a blue so pale it's nearly white and the vivid red of a heart muscle.

Storytelling Hints:

The Snow Princess is a True Fae that does not attempt to mimic human behaviour and is instead a rather callous and alien entity who quite obviously is only going through the motions of humanity (or more to the point, merely observing it) when she deals with humans at the Red Gala or on her occasionaly forays into the real world.  She has an almost insectile manner, with awkward gestures that aren't quite the same as what humans use, and she moves with a jerky gait as though her limbs don't quite work.
Favored Changeling Creations:

She may be an ex-Keeper for all forms of changeling kiths due to the Night of the Red Gala where she selects several Taken to be her presents.  However, she always alters those she doesn't kill as the part of herself that is her Arcadian Realm is hostile to life.  She is a good justification for the Dual Kith merit although sometimes her alterations are enough to change a Taken's kith entirely (though not its Seeming).  She therefore generally creates Changelings to guard her realm which include cannibalistic corpse-like Taken whose feelings are removed by shards of ice within their hearts implanted by the Icebound Rose.  These Taken become ogres such as Cyclopeans (with one eye frozen or otherwise destroyed), Farwalkers, Corpsegrinders and Gristlegrinders or Darklings like Leechfingers.  Those who are Taken and then left to survive on their own become akin to the few animals of her realm - Roteaters, Runnerswifts and Skitterskulks generally.  Razorhands and Snowskins are also quite common - the former arm themselves with shards of ice that embed into their hands and the latter change to survive the cold.  When she takes them herself, she rarely leaves a Fetch behind and those Fetches she leaves are always corpses encrusted with rime.  You can find a neat link to all of the kiths and their book locations over here if you want to track down a kith name that you don't recognise.


  • The Red Queen must host the night of the Red Gala on a particular night every 10 years and at least a dozen Changelings must be arrayed as potential 'suitors' for the Snow Princess.  If she fails in this, she forfeits a title to the Snow Princess.  If the Snow Princess falls 'in love' (a mimicked affair) with one such Changeling, then the Red Queen wins one of the Snow Princess' titles unless the Red Queen kills that suitor within a month, in which case she must return the title.  If she doesn't kill that suitor within a month, the Red Queen forfeits a title to the Seamstress.  If the Snow Princess ever falls in love with a Seasonal King, then the Red Queen and the Snow Princess must battle for his hand.  The woman he chooses earns a title and the stale male is broken.  If neither woman is chosen (an unlikely proposition considering their powers), then the Feud is simply over.
  • If Jack Frost can successfully disrupt the Red Queen's Night of the Red Gala so that no Changeling 'suitor' is present and prevent the Snow Princess from arriving, both of them will forfeit a title to him. If he fails to do so after three sincere attempts, he must provide a title to the first one who can catch him.
  • The Snow Princess must never happen upon the Pied Piper or she will forfeit a title to him.  She also may never speak while he plays his pipes.  She may not ask anyone, in writing, or through any other means, to find out when he is doing either of those things.  The Pied Piper, in his turn, must cause her to do one of these things - though he may never visit her locale - within one thousand Arcadian years, or else she will gain his pipes.
Story Seeds:

There have been a number of frozen bodies found in their homes over the past few months.  Has the Snow Princess started leaving her realm for some reason, but if so, why leave simply to slay a few random humans?  Or has Jack Frost's games taken a decidedly crueler twist?
A Changeling has found himself watched at a distance by the Snow Princess and doesn't know what to do.  So far she hasn't done anything to him but he has a sense of inevitability that always occurs to him shortly before he looks up and sees her.  She always stands at least twenty feet away at each point and simply stops and stares at him until he looks away.  At that point, she is gone.  Though whether she has left him alone or simply hidden herself from view is a matter of debate.  The Changeling has found himself abandoned by the Freehold as people try to avoid the attention of the True Fae.  He is desperate for assistance and will give anything for assistance.
A small clutch of ex-captives from the Snow Princess' realms are ravaging the Hedge.  This group of high Wyrd ogres were only a hair's thread away from forgeting everything about themselves and being incapable of ever leaving Arcadia, but alas, somehow they made their way across.  They can be recognised by their pale skin with its icy touches and their bright blue eyes.  Each has a shard of ice still lodged in their hearts, though it would take a good Occult roll for someone well-versed in Faerie lore or an autopsy of their bodies to realise this.  If the icy shards were removed, they would be free from the curse and would cease their cannibalistic depradations.
Title Information:

You can find more in-depth information on the various titles below:

Story of the Red Queen and the Snow Princess
Actor: The Silence of a Snowbound Heart
Prop: The Icebound Rose
Locale: Palace of the Rose-Encrusted Mirror
Back To The Start:

Or you could just take a look at the main article from which all of this has sprung.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Vampire Superheroes or Noir Vampire?

The World of Darkness is an interesting world to run a game in.  It's a darker, creepier, and grittier version of our world where the shadows are longer, the days are bleaker, the gaps between the haves and the have-nots larger.  It is also a place where reasonably large numbers of people go missing every day of the week and no one really notices outside of their immediate friends, families and co-workers.  A place where monsters can lurk and hide because corruption ensures that tapes disappear and certain crimes are ignored.  Just how grim-dark it is depends on the Storyteller, ranging from Sin City's plethora of bad guys and hopelessness to Supernatural's "God couldn't care less but it's all fine unless you brush up against the supernatural" variety.

I tend to run my games more like Supernatural (complete with ever increasing epic plots) as I prefer the contrast between hope and horror rather than pure futility.  If everyone you ever meet holds a dark secret and a cruel heart, then there are no victims to pity and no one matters.  While there is a certain nihilistic horror inherent in that bleak perspective, it's not the type of horror I like to play around with.

My favourite forms of horror involves tragedy and for tragedy to work you need to care about the people that are suffering.  They need to matter.  They are complex beings, capable of cruelty and kindness, with histories and self-justifications and confusions that lead them to do what they do.  There are some who are irredeemable, sure, but it's up to the players to figure that out.  Most people are just doing what makes sense to them.  Often they are even trying to do the 'right' thing though sometimes their definitions of what is 'right' has been skewed by upbringing or experiences.

Some don't care so long as it feels good.  Some are sociopathic.  Some are just plain monsters.

So where do the supernatural creatures sit in all this?  Or at least the near-human supernaturals that form societies (werewolves, vampires, mages, geists, changelings) rather than the monsters of the week (spirits, hobgoblins, idigam, etc.)?

Just like with human beings, they can be good but it's harder.  Not only does great power breed greater temptation, but they have additional urges to wrestle with, additional traumas to cope with, additional paradoxes to reconcile.  This leads many of them in a downward spiral but only a few of them truly succumb to the worst depths.

After all, there is a difference between a Mafioso who extorts money for a living and kills people who get in the way of their lush lifestyle and a slasher who sets fire to homeless men in alleyways to get a thrill.

The Mafioso justifies what they do as necessary.  They take on values that help them do that.  Once they're on that path, it's dangerous (even deadly) for them to step off that path so they have to reconcile themselves with the things they do.  Some become power mad monsters who will cripple or kill anyone who gets in their way.  Others maintain a deft hand and try to navigate dangerous paths with minimal casualties.  Others balance their cruelties with community efforts.  Of course, all three sorts of Mafiosos may even be in the same group.  (This may or may not be reality.  I don't know.  I'm not a Mafioso.  It is the reality of them in my gameworld, however.)

So what about the topic of this post?  Vampire Superheroes of Noir Vampire?

Well, while I do enjoy the dark tales of a vampire's slow descent into cruel apathy as everything that once made them human is whittled away, I do enjoy also playing in other sorts of stories.  Ones where the characters aren't just motivated by survival, politics, and an overall willingness to betray the unnecessary for the next step forward.  Game of Thrones is fun and all, but sometimes you want to keep the fantasy and do something different with it without going all the way to Embodied Good versus Embodied Evil.

And this is where I play around with the Noir Vampire.  To distinguish this character from the more monstrous ones, I even created the Coil of the Core to justify it's existence, though you could always go easy on the sociopathy canon and simply allow some degree of true emotion to your kindred.  Most people play them like that anyway.

The Noir Vampire may do many of the same actions that a superhero might but everything else is different.  They may save a child from a burning building, but they have to batter down doors with supernatural strength while wrestling against a Beast that might tear them from that house and leave the child to die.  Or worse, if they already have the child in hand than the Beast might fling them into the fire or tear them apart in its haste toward the exit.  Will this happen?  No.  It's not a game of futility.  The demands on the dice will be stacked so that they will probably make enough successes but there is always the risk that they won't.

Even if they make it out, even if they save the child, they now return to a world that does not, and cannot, care about them.  They must find enough blood to heal aggravated damage from wounds heroically taken ... but they must get that blood from either the unwilling or the seedy.  The former has its own dangers.  The latter suggests either Masquerade breaches or perplexed blood dolls.

If they are heroic, they must do it from the shadows because City Hall will not thank them (vampires there will see to that) and the media must not run articles about them (so hard to get a good picture).  If they have humans assist them, someone to admit their deeds to, then they must blood bond them and watch that friendship erode or take their risks with the court and breach the Masquerade.

The Noir Vampire, however, might well brood in their drink but a good one isn't too introspective (get enough dark brooding heroes in the world).  A good one falls into his cups at the pub (washed down with blood that must be replaced), then picks himself up and does it again. 

A Noir game is a game of vice and virtue.  While today's Noir movies show downward spirals of futility and madness and terrible worlds like Sin City, most of the Noir movies of the past weren't nearly as bleak.  They were simply darker, grimmer, and more difficult worlds where corruption was an issue that faced everyone and you couldn't rely on authority figures to save you.  It was more depressing, more cheap, and people more easily tempted, but it wasn't a world of monsters but a monster's playground.

Gluttony is a good vice for a Noir vampire.  Or Lust.  Wrath can lead to problems as vengeance is taken too far but problems are the source of conflict and conflict is good for plot.  Sloth requires a lot of external force to motivate and wouldn't work so well.

A good example of a show that evokes this Noir mood is the Arrow television series (Noir superhero in that one, really).  Or you could watch some of the older Noir films that hadn't fallen too far into extreme nihilism - not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just not what I'm talking about here.  The Fall Out universe is a good example in a videogame as most people are just trying to do what they thing is 'right' but sometimes that leads to good people getting hurt.  Or even the Tex Murphy series where most people are just trying to get by but some are trying to do big, bad things.

That's about all I've got room for in this article, but if you have any questions than please mention them in the comments box below and I'll see about writing a whole new article about that.  You'll be able to find an index of articles related to my Noir-tinted vampire chronicle over here.

So what do you think of vampire superheroes and Noir vampires?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Flashpoint Quest Recap

So last night didn't happen because two of us were sick, but that just means I should get around to doing the game preparation that I've been meaning to do but haven't because, well, I prepare for each campaign in fits and spurts.  Sometimes I sink weeks worth of work into a campaign ... other times I wing it and do it all on the fly.  I normally hope that the frenzy of preparation might see me through the droughts but that generally doesn't happen.

In Flashpoint we have four main quests:

Refit The Stolen Ships:  This is more so that they can thumb their noses at the Chelish by giving their vessel to the natives.  They need to make sure, though, that they don't just bring Chelish wrath on the natives' heads so they've decided to refit it.  It gives me a handy way to lead them into a few encounters from Raiders of the Fever Seas.  Other than a few adaptations to seed in clues to the other quests, I can largely leave this one as is.  It might be interesting to see how Archer responds to the unexpected guest, however.  And no, Frank, you won't be able to guess who.

Tracking Alyssa's Adoptive Child: The tiefling, Alyssa, is certain that a boy whom she rescued from Lastwall as a baby.  He is now a fourteen-year-old midshipman and inquisitor of Shelyn.  The PCs largely assume he must be innocent because they can't see how a fourteen-year-old could have enough power on his own to brutally massacre an entire crew. 

Kitrina's Cause: The poor girl has been practically shanghaied as she's been stuck with them for over a year since signing on to go to the Shackles to track down her ex-boyfriend and get her revenge.  Since the crew's memories have been wiped for the past year, they're not too sure why they didn't get cracking on this mission as her ex-boyfriend has some important papers on the Chelish Navy that Andoren wants to get their hands on.

Infiltrate The Pirates: The Andoren Navy really needs an insider's perspective into the Shackles pirates as they've been doing some very strange things.  There's been a number of them sighted at Nidal's main docks, for one thing.  What else?  The Andoren Navy haven't specifically said but it's been declared important enough for Archer to take his motley crew all the way down there.

And an unofficial quest:

What happened last year? Everyone who was there when that artefact was struck has lost all memories of the year and two weeks that followed.  Why?  What happened?  What have they been doing?  Why didn't they have more awesome loot and even more spells?  Why did Proteus learn religion?  So many questions.  Will they ever get to the bottom of it?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Call of Cthulhu Spell Conversion: Free Hastur

For those attempting to run Tatters of the King using World of Darkness rules like I did, or who would simply like to add Hastur or a Hastur-like figure into their World of Darkness mythology, you can find the 'Free Hastur' spell below.  It has been designed using similar rules to what you will find in the Second Sight book.  If you would like to read other articles like this one, you can take a look over here.
Free Hastur

Prerequisites: Occult **
Effect: This chant draws the Hastur to Earth and binds it into an area bounded by the nine stone monoliths used for Call Hastur.  Once freed, Hastur imbues the soil within those nine stones and is treated as a powerful Earthbound from Demon: the Fallen.  Multiple participants may be involved and each one can make a sacrifice to gain a roll and add their successes to the total pool.  Approximately 35 participants are required to complete the ritual if performed in Carcosa after summoning each Spawn of Hastur.
Dice Pool: Presence + Occult.
Minimum Successes Required: 350 (Hastur) or 180 (Spawn of Hastur).
Ritual Length: 10 minutes per roll.
Duration: A year and a day unless recast.
Cost: 1 permanent Faith OR Willpower dot per roll.  If you aren't using the Demon: the Fallen cosmology, only Willpower may be sacrificed.
Suggested Equipment: Each Spawn of Hastur present within the ritual area provides 50 successes to each subsequent casting of Free Hastur.  Casting this spell within a space where the barriers between the Arcadian Realm of Carcosa and Earth are weakened provides an additional 100 successes to the casting of this spell.
Suggested Penalties: Attempting to cast this twice in one night levies a -5 penalty to each roll.
Ritual Details: This chant draws the Hastur to Earth and binds it into an area bounded by the nine stone monoliths used for Call Hastur.  This spell can only be cast at night with Aldebaran visible.  Unless cast in Carcosa with four Spawn of Hastur present, Hastur's arrival will last for only one hour.  If this spell is disrupted, Hastur will nonetheless appear for only a single minute before being torn back to the Abyss.
Drawback: Hastur may be present but he is under no compulsion to avoid injuring, slaying, or devouring the summoners.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Changeling Autumn Court Festivals

The festival days listed below are for the Changeling: the Lost genre set in London.  You can read more about the overall campaign (which ironically enough is from a campaign involving a vampire) over here.  Beneath the entry for each festival are some superstitions associated with these dates as, after all, deal with the Wyrd long enough and you start to realise that superstitions can be more real than you would like.  The Autumn Court are more aware of this than most and don't actively destroy superstitions unless they are known to be both blatantly untrue and harmful to follow.  At the very end of this article, I include links to other people's festivals and ceremonies for this genre.

Autumn Equniox (varies between the 21st - 23rd September)
This is the big festival of the year held by the London Autumn Court and is the day when the different Autumn courts around London and the Greater Metropolitan area hold a massive gathering where occult truths and myths are mixed upon the stage in specially decorated theatres with an impressive number of performances designed to frighten and inform.  There are also a number of static art shows, such as wax figures, and demonstrations of new tokens and hedgespun equipment and automata.  There are also often informative presentations on subjects as diverse as hedge fruit farming techniques and foreign cultures.  Changelings of all courts who belong to established Freeholds and ensorcelled humans attached to known Changelings are invited.  Each Autumn Court monarch may invite an additional three individuals to the festivities who do not fit these parameters.  No Changeling may leave the Autumn Festival Grounds directly into the Hedge nor range within 500 yards of it for fear of drawing hobgobling or Fae attention.

Superstitions: To mention individual Gentry at all, even through metaphor, will call them to the event as large gatherings of Changelings are noticeable enough without such comments.  The Autumn Equinox festival must be held in part on Earth with the majority of the Lost at any one time being in the Earth portion as to do otherwise will court attention.  Seven saucers of milk must be left about the Hedge and replaced daily for three days before the festival lest mischief makers crash the festivities.  If one breaks glass within a room, it must be immediately vacated and sealed for the rest of the festival.  If one breaks a mirror, the festival must end and all must leave.

Samhain (31st October)
Samhain has been seen as a time when the "door" to the Underworld opened enough for the souls of the dead, and other beings, to come into our world.  In its early years, this was a day of  myth making about foreign monsters, placating the dead, feasting, and making votive offerings for those left behind in Arcadia.  Since the 1880s it was co-opted as the night when the Autumn Court renewed its vows with the Ordo Dracul coterie detailed here and where business deals would be made with such Kindred.  The Kindred are invited into a particular Hollow called the Sepulchral Amphipheatre through a particular door and are ushered through a long corridor by an Autumn Court knight.  The deals made here with the Kindred aren't backed by pledges as the Kindred already have their maximum number of three pledges laid upon them.  There is an official statement from Joy Tyler and a representative of the Autumn Monarch (who never attends this event in person).  There are certain chambers in the Sepulchral Amphitheatre where Changelings kneel singly, in pairs, or in motleys, to light a candle or some incense to lost lives of all sorts.  The Kindred are not welcome in this.

Superstitions: It is a time when pledges can be accidentally made so one must use inconclusive language when bartering for goods or services until the deal is struck or else the Wyrd might make your comments binding.  One must avoid entering the Hedge on this day unless passing directly into a Hollow as the Hedge is said to thin and the True Fae are thought to hunt and weave their stories on this day.  If it is necessary to venture into the Hedge, one must carry a flaming torch or else will-o-the-wisps will arrive to lead you astray and onto the path of a Keeper.  While it is safer to walk upon the Earth, if leaving your home at night, keep to the light and make it quick.  If forced to walk in the darkness, turn your clothing inside-out and carry salt to keep the fairies at bay (few believe it works, yet most still follow it just in case).

Day of the Innocents (1st November)
This day, to the Mexicans, had as its focus the honoring of children and infants but in its transfer to the London changelings it came to mean the profound loss of innocence felt by changelings.  The Winter Court collude with the Autumn Court to set up reminders of all that has been lost and the Changelings of the Azure Freehold visit symbolic altars that match what they have personally lost and make an offering or other sign of acknowledgement to them.  For those who wish to maintain their privacy in loss, they will visit each altar in turn but their heart will only be sincere at the ones that matter.  Such altars might be to lost friends, lost youth, lost love, lost homes, lost safety, lost warmth, and lost ability to trust, among other things.  That night the Kindred will be allowed to visit the Sepulchral Amphipheatre for two hours to conclude any deals made the night before.  During this time, select myth making performances from the Autumn Equinox will be performed to impress the Kindred.  A feast is provided with the assistance of the Spring Court, with ample alcohol, and the night swiftly moves into a raucuous wake for what has been lost.  This is also the day of telling scary stories of loss and devastation as warnings of what might happen.  The celebrations end at dawn.

Superstitions: If you see your face reflected, you must spit over your shoulder, lest you lose something else into the mirror.  Avoid the laughter of innocent children for the comparison between their purity and your miserable losses will mark you and the child out to the Gentry.  Other than that, general laughter and loud noises are good because it will confuse the Others and keep you safe.  Being drunk on this night, or even high on life, will bring you good luck for the following year.  Feeling fear touch your heart this night will bring you omens when danger approaches and thus help you get out of the way.

Day of the Dead (2nd November)
The celebrations begin at dusk, allowing the Changelings to sleep away the day.  This day has as its focus the gathering of family and friends to pray for and remember deceased or Taken friends and family members.  Again, the Winter Court collude with the Autumn Court but on this day it is the Icebound Lake (a hollow) which houses the occasion.  One can whisper the names of those Take or dead into the well in the middle of the lake and it will cause those names to etch onto the walls themselves.  No distinction is made between the Taken and the dead.  Some will use metaphors or nicknames rather than true names, though this isn't as common as one might think as there are thousands of names etched upon the icy walls and thus anonymity.  Besides, the Changelings find some comfort in knowing that their loved ones have achieved some form of immortality, if only in name.  This is a quiet and sedate day with voices barely raised above a whisper.  It is customary to sit and contemplate the icy wall of names and confront your own fears or death and loss, allowing yourself to soak in the fear.  Food is provided but it is all quite bland and ordinary.  At midnight, the Changelings leave in silence to their own homes and often private parties hosted by the Spring Court to cheer people up after such a morose session.  Some will hold meals, or even banquets, for the dearly departed at this time.

Superstitions: You won't be haunted by the dead if their true name is etched onto the wall.  Do not touch another Changeling lest you lose what they have lost.  Hugging a mortal human is good luck.  Feeding a child is good luck.

Changeling Ceremonies
This article over on the Age of Ravens blog goes over several different ceremonies that might be in place in a given Changeling society.  It's well worth a look.

If you liked this article and would like to track down more, it comes from a post gathering up all articles inspired by a particular campaign.  See the index over here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Trouble With Being Too Clever

I read an interesting blog article and decide to put forward a positive comment about the blog article.  I don't name drop this blog or anything like that.  But when I click to submit, it takes me straight to a blank page with a little square that says: "Bye bye Spambot".  I was queerly offended by that.  My comment is gone, naturally, unlike if it asked for another word verification or something similar to test that I was real.  I click 'back' and naturally it takes me back to the home page - likely to reduce the powers of a Spambot to simply try again on that same article. 

So I get a queerly snarky comment (which I would have thought funny if I hadn't been on the receiving end) that a Spambot couldn't read (but which a live person can), as well as lose my comment and the right page all in the bargain (which are the more annoying elements).  It's enough to make me grumpy.  More to the point, it's incredibly frustrating and means I won't be trying to comment again anytime soon since I don't know if the web-site would allow me if I tried again.  Seems too difficult and I am, as I've admitted, curiously miffed by the whole thing.

I know I'm being silly but I thought I'd post my little issue as I know I have a few bloggers who read this and they might run into it as well.  Odds are that web-site just glitched or is suffering from one error or another but it's annoying enough to provide a hurdle and in a world where there's a hundred blogs and web-sites competing for your attention, it's too easy to move on.

I may well go back to that site but it focused on general geekery and I prefer my web content more specialised so I may not.  Who knows?

So what about you guys?  Ever came across a blog that did something that left you queerly miffed?  Or any issues that made you give up and move to the next blog?

Vampire's Pseudo Sire: Peter Walsh (Custom Creature)

“I don’t know who, or what, I'm not lying when I tell you a different name.  In the end, I’m trying to help.  I'm your pal.  Your buddy.  That's all that should matter.  I lie because it's easier.  I lie sometimes because I can't remember what the truth is anymore.  Memories bubble to the surface and sometimes truths become lies.  Sometimes I know I'm lying but I do it anyway because I don’t know how you’ll react and I ... I can't lose anyone else.”

This character is a rather complex one borne from a different campaign, a Live Action Roleplay, and then honed through a game set in an alternate reality where this at-the-time-male shapeshifter and his pseudo-childe went to America soon after James’ Embrace rather than remaining in Australia.  Peter’s history is a complex one.  It seems to have sprung into being several hundred years ago in South America where it was a quadruped protecting a few tribes in South America from the Aztecs but that all changed when the Spanish conquistadors arrived.

Lost and alone it played doppelganger to a little British girl in the 1550s, luring her out into the jungle and then looking after her, learning all the while.  Through this it gained the power of speech and some more humanoid aspects (especially appearance) before being adopted as a wild child by the girl’s father.  She was brought to England (well, at the time, he was a she) where a few eminent individuals attempted to tame her and teach her how to behave properly.  She took to it a lot more easily than most wild children although she appeared to stop aging in her mid-twenties.

Realising how most people reacted to her timeless youthfulness but at the time unable to control this, she disappeared into the streets of London.  She met with a group of changelings while lost and alone, as she could see them for what they were, and they assumed she must have been one like them although more subtly marked by her Durance.  The motley quickly figured out this wasn’t the case but by that time they had become friends.

From that point on, the Songbird travelled extensively under different names although she never forgot her time as Songbird.  She befriended different supernaturals (well, using the word 'friend' was more often than not a strong word as there were frequent betrayals, misunderstandings and other issues), destroying those who were evil or cruel as though instinctively hearkening back to her time as a tribal guardian.  While the Songbird learned a great deal, she couldn’t seem to improve much in one skill or attribute without accidentally devolving another.  She also found himself more comfortable when maintaining a single identity but that shocks and disruptions to that identity (such as being ‘killed’) would allow her greater mutability to her form but at the cost of discomfort to her psyche – greater anguish, rage, and a sense of being split in twain.

She also discovered that she was immortal, although she would often forget this as the memory itself troubled her.  She could heal from practically any sort of injury (though she hasn’t tried immersion in lava or acid, so perhaps her body does have its limits) though she certainly doesn’t like pain and whinges quite a bit when hurt.  She didn’t age.  She could appear to be older or younger but it never really affected her abilities.  She could tear pieces off a vampire’s Beast and wear it to mark himself as kindred.  She could feign undeath to those who weren’t looking too closely by thickening her skin and burying the veins lower down to provide the pallor and becoming cold-blooded so she didn't release quite so much heat.  She was predominately a carnivore and had cat-like taste buds.  She didn’t care for property like most people did.  If she wanted / needed it, and the person could live well enough without it then it wasn’t ‘bad’ to take it.  In short, she was different. 

And she was alone.  There was nothing else like her in all the world that she could find.

There’s a lot more to her past.  Five hundred years of it, in fact, but suffice to say she helped forge the unusual coterie that will be described in the next article, set up a treaty between that coterie and the Autumn Court that helped repel a Fae incursion, and later feigned being James’ sire (Peter Walsh a.k.a. Jack Tyler) so that he (at the time a ‘he’) could guide the kindred to safety.  Now he’s back in England, back in his old persona of Dr. Kellis, a blonde female Ordo Dracul Mekhet, lured by a plan she can hardly remember which seems to lurk in her subconscious awaiting the right moment to spring to fruition.  Of course, he's sick of the Dr. Kellis person already so who knows how Walsh will end up.

Age: Unknown
Species: Unknown
Gender: Currently female

Virtue: Hope
Vice: Gluttony

Intelligence: 5
Wits: 3
Resolve: 3

Strength: 3
Dexterity: 3
Stamina: 2

Presence: 2
Manipulation: 3
Composure: 2

Academic: 3 (Research)
Computer: 0
Crafts: 1
Investigation: 2
Medicine: 3
Occult: 4 (Sacred Geometry) (Underworld Lore) (Rituals)
Politics: 0
Science: 2

Athletics: 3 (Climb)
Brawl: 1
Drive: 1
Firearms: 1
Larceny: 2
Stealth: 3 (Shadows, Quiet Movement)
Survival: 3
Weaponry: 1

Animal Ken: 2
Empathy: 2
Expression: 1
Intimidation: 0
Persuasion: 2
Socialise: 2
Subterfuge: 3

Power Stat: Equal to 10 – Unity (currently 5)
Unity (Akin to Morality / Synergy): 5
Willpower: 5
Health: 7
Experience Points: 350 exp (never more, rarely less)

In this game, I use the LARP rules for merits whereby simple merits cost Total Dots x 2 while complex merits must have each level bought separately.

Le Parkeur ****
Archery ****
Striking Looks **
Architectural Attunement ****
Combat Awareness **
Encyclopedia Knowledge ****
Languages (Spanish, Italian, German, French, English, Mayan, Aztec, Arabic, Indian, Persian, Latin, Spirit Tongue, Celestial (Fallen language, root language of Atlantean in my game)
Mythologist ***
Supernatural Lore (Vampires) *****
Supernatural Lore (Changelings) ***
Supernatural Lore (Werewolves) **
Supernatural Lore (Spirits) **
Supernatural Lore (Fallen, namely Earthbound) *
Supernatural Lore (Mages) *
Trained Memory *
Trained Observer ***
Well-Travelled *
Outdoorsman **
Ingratiating Wanderer **
Relic Analyst *

Innate Abilities
These abilities are ones that I have found easiest to simply describe using regular merits granted for free, much as a vampire might take bashing from bullets.

Quick Healer ****
Iron Stamina ***
Toxin Resistance **
Sin-Eater *** (Different method, same outcome)
Fast Reflexes **
Fleet of Foot ***
Strong Lungs ***
Natural Immunity *
Ambidextrous ***
Direction Sense *
Lucid Dreamer *

Unity-Dependent Abilities
Just to be difficult, I made this creature act according to some complex rules.  She becomes more powerful the lower her Morality stat gets.  Now, in truth, if you take a look at the list of ‘sins’ in the section further down, it’s not so much about morality as it is about how well she is a blended entity rather than competing elements.  There are more rules that constrain some of her abilities but that would be a whole chapter in and of itself, so here are the cliff notes.

At Unity 9 or above:

·         She will age as though human and appear to suffer age-related degeneration but she will not die which will eventually erode her Unity and cause her to shapeshift and take on a new identity.
At Unity 8 or above:

·         She is essentially human in her abilities though she does not appear to age.

At Unity 7 or below:

·         She may spend willpower to heal lethal damage on a one for one basis or regenerate bashing on a two bashing for one willpower basis.
·         She may make minor changes to her body largely in keeping with the feigned identity (i.e. grow fangs or shed them and swallow them, grow nails into claws that deal 1 lethal damage). 
·         With a willpower point, she may choose to effectively ‘hide’ a wound by breaking down healthy skin elsewhere to heal that area.  This allows her to appear as though she has supernatural healing, although in truth it just moves the wound elsewhere.

At Unity 6 or below:

·         She may change her appearance using a rather organic process of shedding skin and shifting bones and organs with successful Intelligence + Science rolls, once per minute, successes required varies on the changes. 
·         She may choose to effectively ‘hide’ a wound by breaking down healthy skin elsewhere to heal that area.  This costs nothing at this level.  It also provides no benefit other than allowing her to feign supernatural healing.

She also gains the below merit:

·         Unseen Sense (All – does not discriminate)

At Unity 5 or below:

·         She may spend willpower to gain werewolf-like regeneration that heals one health level of bashing damage per round for a scene.  During this scene, a lethal point of damage heals once every fifteen minutes.  This regeneration can be triggered by falling unconscious. 
·         She may use a rather organic process of shifting bones and organs with successful Intelligence + Science rolls, once per round, successes required varies on the changes.  Any discarded elements, such as teeth, bone, hair and skin are reabsorbed through a metabolic process. 
·         Non-human changes are limited to fangs, claws, and slight adjustments, i.e. pointed ears, wolf eyes, etc. that may provide some slight advantages. 
·         She is immune to natural diseases.

At Unity 4 or below:

·         She may spend willpower to gain werewolf-like regeneration that heals one health level of bashing or lethal damage per round for a scene.  During this scene, an aggravated point of damage heals once every fifteen minutes.  This regeneration can be triggered by unconsciousness. 
·         She may shapechange smoothly and quickly with a single success on an Intelligence + Science roll.
·         She may change her size substantially and may shift into animal forms or do partial transformations to give herself goat legs.
·         She gains an extra three attribute points that can be spread across her attributes as she pleases, though once set these can’t be shifted again until her Unity rises and falls again (thus she loses them) or until ten years have passed, whichever is sooner.
·         She has the equivalent of the Arcanum Life 1, Spirit 1 and Fate 1.

She also gains the below merits:

·         Heavy Hands *
·         Demolisher **

At Unity 3 or below:

·         She may spend willpower to gain werewolf-like regeneration that heals one health level of bashing, lethal or aggravated damage per round for a scene. 
·         She also gains 2 / 1 armor. 
·         She may make such changes that she no longer looks like an earthly creature (such as to appear like a manticore).  These changes can involve supernatural attacks such as flinging barbs from a tail.
·         She gains an extra three attribute points on top of what she received at the last fall.  These can be spread across her attributes as she pleases, though once set these can’t be shifted again until her Unity rises and falls again (thus she loses them) or until ten years have passed, whichever is sooner.
·         She is immune to mundane poisons.
·         She has the equivalent of the Arcanum Life 2, Spirit 2 and Fate 2.

At Unity 2 or below:

·         She constantly has werewolf-like regeneration that heals one health level of bashing, lethal or aggravated damage per round. 
·         She also gains 3 / 2 armor.
·         She can shapeshift weapons that deal aggravated damage.
·         She may make a physical and a mental action each turn.
·         She has the equivalent of the Arcanum Life 3, Spirit 3 and Fate 3.

At Unity 1 or below:

·         She constantly has werewolf-like regeneration that heals two health levels of bashing, lethal or aggravated damage per round.
·         Her body can be shifted with a thought.
·         She can access a number of abilities from the Demon: the Fallen apocalyptic form chapter.
·         She has the equivalent of the Arcanum Life 5, Spirit 4 and Fate 3.

Unity Definitions
Unlike most supernaturals, Unity is a sliding scale and can be gained almost as readily as it can be lost.  It can be gained primarily through maintaining a coherent and solid identity with close friends who behave toward her in a consistent manner that helps maintain that identity.  This does make it a little complex to run Peter Walsh but it remains a lot of fun.

So what is the cost of low Unity?  Why not try to keep at low Unity as that’s largely the only way to gain power?  Otherwise he can swap his 350 experience points around but he can’t ever advance beyond this.  That doesn’t seem nearly as much fun as doing partial transformations, right?

Well, part of the answer is that he’s an NPC and not a PC and therefore far more unlikely to meta-game.  The other answer is that only at Unity 7 or higher does he feel particularly at peace with himself.  At Unity 6 there’s a slight low-level strain that is easy to cope with but any lower than that and there’s a growing dualistic mentality and a sense of being split apart.  By the time he reaches Unity 2, choking rage, boiling despair, utter terror, and malicious joy have well and truly reared their heads and it is difficult for him to pretend to feel anything else. 

If not for the fact that higher Unity feels so good, he would have devolved long ago but as it stands it remains the light at the end of the tunnel and as his Unity decreases, he surges towards finding ways to increase it.  Therefore, he will work his way back up to 7 constantly.  As most sustainable identities don’t come with a bag of uber-powers, Walsh will also downplay his abilities even when he does have them because being a ‘doppelganger’ is about as alien an identity as most people can accept.  It’s much easier to pretend to be a supernatural creature that has entire societies (i.e. vampires) or even pretending to be human.

It also makes for some interesting roleplay with James, the Player Character, as James is slowly starting to figure out just how alien Peter really is.  If I were to allow Walsh to linger at his more powerful levels without issue, then the PC couldn’t possibly compete and that would be dull.  It's one of the reasons why much of his experience pool is also skewed toward being the academic who can provide pieces of the puzzle, advice, and research information to James Tyler.  If you take a look at Walsh's combat stats, while he's pretty good at throwing knives and excels in shooting arrows, he's generally out of luck in a fight.  The Player Character is the protagonist.  James is the one who gets to be epic in a variety of combats as well as makes most of the decisions.

Unity Sins

Unity 10 Sin: Someone refers to him / her by a previous name.  Revelations of a supernatural nature (i.e. seeing a vampire unsheathe their fangs).

Unity 9 Sin: Reminders of previous lives that don’t fit the current identity.  Pretending to be someone they’re not (dressing up during Halloween doesn’t count as no one reasonably could believe it but pretending to be over the age of 21 to buy alcohol when in a teenaged identity in America does).

Unity 8 Sin: Behaviours that are out of character of the chosen identity (i.e. going out in the sunlight while current identity is that of a vampire).  

Unity 7 Sin: Being accused of lying / pretending to be someone she’s not by a close friend.

Unity 6 Sin: Maintaining multiple lasting identities (i.e. briefly impersonating an FBI agent doesn’t count but alternating between a human librarian and a vampire biker would).

Unity 5 Sin: Being revealed to be something she’s not to a close friend (i.e. revealing she isn’t a human to a friend who thought she was).  Losing a close friend who has been supportive of her.

Unity 4 Sin: Being ‘outed’ to a group of those who believed in an identity.  The death of a friend.

Unity 3 Sin: Death (or rather, injuries that should result in death).  Having no one to cement an identity for over a month, i.e. no one who knows her that can maintain a relationship.  

Unity 2 Sin: Anything that undermines one’s sense of self for a prolonged length of time, i.e. if people refusing to refer to her by name for a prolonged period of time and referred to her by a number instead.

Unity 1 Sin: Apparent Destruction (a death so immense that no one should be capable of surviving it).