Friday, February 14, 2020

Alternate Alignments: Down with the Law/Chaos!

In June of 2012, Michael Prescott wrote a little stub post over on his blog called, 'Alignment in Allegiance.' It was an off-the-cuff post pointing out that the traditional alignment axes really reflected the core themes of the game; in the earliest editions, Law vs Chaos, with Good vs Evil thrown in after.

He argued that in other settings with other themes, those axes just just as easily be replaced. In a game set in Revolutionary America, for example, you could replace one of the axes, say, law/chaos, with Royalist/Republican. So you'd have Republican Neutral, and Royalist Evil etc.

I've heard similar points made before, but this time it really clicked for me. I wonder if we haven't been going about it wrong all these years. The early D&D Law/Chaos dynamic was clearly inspired by appendix N literature (Elric being the chief culprit) and made sense when Law and Chaos are Capital-Letter forces of the universe.

But if you don't have those forces in your world, the whole dynamic falls flat. Then you get arguments about what it means to be Lawful or Chaotic or Neutral among the players, because there's no unifying understanding anymore.

The Law/Chaos axis is the most easily replaced, since Good/Evil is much less grounded in a particular setting, and players generally agree on what Good and Evil are. Still, it wouldn't be beyond the pale to exchange it, or exchange both.

Single or Double Axes

A question which pops into my mind, especially after rereading my previous post on alignment, is whether to use a single, thematic axis, or to use two, by default adding Good/Evil on top. The benefits of the former are to leave the field open; people are characterized by their place in a particular struggle/controversy/disagreement, and morality is incidental. Being good or evil is unrelated to alignment. The latter is more familiar to many people. I'm obviously not giving the two an equal representation, since I greatly prefer the single axis, but do let me know if you prefer the double axis and why.

Here are a few alternate Alignments you can use in various games:


Eugène Delacroix - Le 28 Juillet. La Liberté guidant le peuple.jpg

Royalist/Republican

Let's flesh out Prescott's original suggestion. We can use this axis, replacing Law/Chaos, in games set in historical moments of revolution against a monarchy, or in fictional settings patterned after them. Revolutionary America and France are obvious examples. Royalists are characterized by a desire to maintain the power of the crown, and are associated with tradition, a conservative ethos, etc. Republicans are characterized by a desire to get rid of monarchy, install a new form of government based on a humanistic ethos, etc.

There's room for disagreement within the alignments here. Republicans may be split on whether to use a violent overthrow or to use social and political pressure. Royalists may be split on how to deal with the would-be revolutionaries; try to maintain power here, or move to friendlier climes and maintain the aristocracy elsewhere? Likewise, there is room for good and evil people. It's a political and ideological divide, not a moral one.


Image result for morrowind tribunal art

Imperial/Tribunal

This one is from my Elder Scrolls Morrowind Campaign. The Septim Empire is a colonial force in Morrowind seeking to enforce its laws and customs on the native Dunmer and acquire the continent's immense natural resources. Imperials are associated with military occupation, evangelism of the Imperial Cult, the abolition of slavery and the exploitation of natural resources. The Tribunal is a trio of living gods whose Temple is the dominant form of worship in Morrowind, and around whom Morrowind's government has been organized for centuries. Tribunals are associated with traditional faith and culture, the promulgation of slavery, and Dunmer supremacy.

I'm considering dropping this into my current game once my players get to level 2 (should be quite soon, they've been patient) and letting them choose between Imperial, Neutral or Tribunal. I expect the choice to be interesting, since the party are escapees from an Imperial prison camp, they are being actively hunted by the Empire, and one of the characters has converted to one of the Tribunal saint cults. However, the party is vehemently opposed to slavery and Dunmer supremacy, and have tangled with slavers before (two players and one hireling are beast-people, looked down on in traditional Dunmer society).


Image result for west indies pirate art

Pirate/Naval

For games based on the 1700s West Indies. By which I mean pirate games. The Navy wants to keep the law and order of the sea, regardless of whether or not it is just, catch and punish pirates, and please the officials back home. Pirates want to carve out their own lives, acquire wealth and influence through whatever means available, and escape the navy.

This is very similar to Law/Chaos, but we define it more strongly by associating those forces with specific, grounded factions and interests. While pirate games tend to assume players will take the piratical route, I like the idea of letting them interact with both the pirates and the navy, giving them some incentives for both before they inevitably choose piracy. Because PIRATES.


Image result for lovecraft

Ignorant/Mad

The world is a placid isle of ignorance in the black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. In a world that totally defies comprehension, people tend to cluster in one of two camps. The Ignorant keep themselves at arm's length from the secrets of the universe, cast books of cosmic importance into bonfires, and would destroy all of modern science and return us to a new Dark Age given half a chance. The Mad dive headfirst into the unknowable, seek out mind-warping secrets, and deal with entities from beyond the veil. They are this close to just becoming cultists.

This alignment is, obviously, for cosmic horror games, and builds on the choice of 'go mad from the revelation for potentially cool shit' or 'play it safe and destroy anything supernatural with extreme prejudice.' The vast majority of people would be Unaligned in this case.


Image result for greek barbarian

Civilized/Barbarian

'But wait!' you cry. 'This is just Law/Chaos again, you utter hack!' Ah, dear reader, but it isn't. The distinction between civilization and barbarism isn't about one following rules, the other doing whatever they want. It's about the organization of society. Civilized people organize themselves into the polis, the state, and have a strong focus on agriculture, sedentary settlement and central authority. Barbarians organize themselves into smaller, decentralized structures, disdain sedentary agriculture in favor of a ranging, hunting, nomadic lifestyle. Barbarians may well have strong laws, traditions, and authority figures, but the structure they exist in is very different.

I would use this for a campaign set in ancient times; classical Mediterranean civilization, or earlier. If you dig into the history of early city states, especially those first in the Fertile Crescent, you find that the warring between them was in large part a bid to capture slaves for the city's workforce. This wasn't just to expand labor, but because lots of people, including full citizens, would often flee the city to join the barbarians. The walls of Uruk were as much for keeping people in as out, as early urban dwellers didn't especially like being forced to work the soil for others.


Alignment Languages

The big mechanical bit from my last post was reworking alignment languages to serve as a common culture or religion; not a different tongue only people of that alignment can use, but a set of assumptions, body language, in-group references and knowledge that lubricate social interactions between members of the same alignment, and make interactions between people from different alignments more difficult.

This translates over quite well from Law/Chaos to other domains. Royalists know how to properly genuflect, how to properly address a person from every class and rank, and how to make hierarchies work for them. A republican will reject that hierarchy, and will be right at home rabble-rousing, giving impassioned speeches on individual liberty, whether on a stool in a dingy bar or on the floor of Congress.

I've though more about the system since the last post, and I've settled on the second variation of the rule: you only add your positive Charisma modifier to morale and reaction rolls when dealing with members of the same alignment, and only subtract a negative modifier when dealing with members of the opposite alignment. Unaligned and Neutral parties attach their Charisma modifier regardless.

Much Ado About Neutrality

Given all the above, it's worth revisiting Neutrality. In my previous post on alignment, I distinguished Neutral from Unaligned: The former refers to people who consciously choose a sort of moderation or 'middle path,' while the latter includes entities that exist outside of alignment on this issue; animals and non-thinking monsters, but also druids and others that deliberately reject society.

How do we reinterpret Neutrality in terms of these new conflicts? There are obviously people who are neutral in a struggle, but what role do they play? Does it take a Neutral party to serve as negotiator between the two sides? Does it take a Neutral shopkeeper to hold together a community racked by division? The Neutral position is potentially interesting, but not well fleshed out at his time.

Still, there's a small issue there. If the player has a negative score, they'll want to associate with one alignment and stick with them, to dull the disadvantages. But if they have a positive score, they'll want to remain Neutral to use it as much as possible. So what are the benefits to keeping an alignment?

Certainly, being Neutral can be safer, but there's a whole lot less opportunity. Neutral factions don't really hold much water; most factions, at least those with substantial power and reason to join, are going to align with one side or the other.

Choosing an Alignment

Depending on the exact setup, the PCs need not choose their alignment at character creation (and I don't just say that because I'm making up the system two months into a campaign). If the PCs are natives of the area/culture that the alignments are built around, then they should have opinions and standings from the beginning. But if they're travelers, or rubes, or otherwise not involved, learning about the conflict along with the players, then they should spend some time Unaligned before choosing their alignment.

Maybe when they first level up (which my players should do quite soon), or after they've gotten to know each side (probably from tangling with them), the players look back on how their character has interacted with the world around them, how the character is informed by it, and what they pledge their allegiance to.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

OSR Rules for Underwater Play: Light and Pressure

Pkdragon of the Wyvern Moon blog has made noises in the Discord about an undersea hexcrawl. I found myself excited by the idea, but I couldn't find much support for it online. So I decided to do some research of my own, and figure out some quick rules for light and pressure underwater.

These rules assume Earth-similar undersea conditions (the marine world is strange enough before adding magic and monsters) and can accommodate a variety of settings, magic and technology levels. They assume readily accessed, but limited, water breathing; magic pills, Diver's Gas tanks, symbiotes and mutated gills are all fair game.

Further, these rules assume PCs spending long periods of time underwater. Less like diving to the bottom of a pool, more like a multi-hour scuba expedition. In the kind of undersea crawl I'm imagining, returning to the surface will be rare. Learning to operate for extended periods of time underwater, acquiring equipment suited to marine use, creating a base of operations hospitable for air-breathers at the sea bottom and exploring diplomatic relations with the strange sapiences of the ocean is what I'm imagining. You could run a whole campaign without seeing dry land.

I don't assume PCs will be of races automatically suited to living underwater, as it renders many of the challenges toothless. However, the players may seek out magic items, ancient technology, or use forbidden alchemy to modify their own bodies for that purpose.

The rules below are based on real world physics and scuba research, though some figures have been fudged for convenience, and there's not too much granularity. Unless you're playing with a table of oceanographers and scuba divers, their verisimilitude holds up.

The rules below are stripped down for use at the table. I explain my reasoning in the section below.

Image result for fantasy diver
Pictured: a high-level PC

Rules

Zones

There are four zones: daylight, evening, dusk and midnight. These have effects both on available natural light and pressure.

Daylight (0-600'): Long-term freediving with the right equipment is possible.
Evening (600'-1500'): Diving is possible for several days with specialized equipment.
Dusk (1500'-3000'): Short-term diving is possible with the right equipment. Extended exposure leads to insomnia, fatigue and hallucinations.
Midnight(3000'-???): Utterly hostile. Pressurized suits or vessels are necessary for survival.


Measuring Depth

Just as keeping time is necessary in a dungeon, and keeping track of light and food is necessary in the Veins, keeping track of depth is necessary for an underwater adventure. For the sake of simplicity, measurements of 300' are ideal. That's the maximum amount you can ascend in a ten-minute turn without substantial risk of the bends. It's about ten rounds, or one minute of movement.


Light and Visibility

Water quality: Dependent on the properties of surrounding water.

Extremely Clear (super-pure water): 150'
Clear (no particulates, open ocean): 100'
Moderate (some particulates, near seafloor): 60'
Poor (algae bloom, murk, salinity changes): 30'
Very Poor (recent storm, fine sand): 10'
Nonexistent (dense particulates, clay deposit): <5'

Natural light visibility: Values below reflect visibility in various water qualities in the daylight zone in full sunlight. As the surface light fades, reduce visibility appropriately. In the daylight zone, visibility in the evening is 2/3, and 1/3 around dusk, and near nonexistent (moon and starlight) at night. Visibility in the evening zone in the evening is 1/3. Around dusk in the Dusk zone, it's effectively pitch black, etc.

Base(Daylight): As above

Evening: Reduce to 2/3 of base value.

Dusk: Reduce to 1/3 base value.

Midnight: Base visibility is 0. All light comes from artificial sources or creatures.

Artificial light: Bioluminescence, specialized lamps, rare crystals, etc. These have their own values for light distance, and are applied regardless of depth. It is still affected by poor water quality, however.

US Navy Air Dive Table 7”x9” sold by LeisurePro
Real world dive tables give AD&D a run for its money

Depth Pressure

Gas Narcosis: Occurs when divers descend too deep without the right equipment or adaptations. Can be cured quickly by returning to a lower-pressure area. If breathing compressed air, moderate symptoms kick in around 100', and by 300' progress to hallucinations, terror and death. Breathing Diver's Gas, using gills or other methods allow for deeper diving. With those methods, progress a stage along the below scale for every 300' below their listed depth.
No effect > Mild impairment > Delayed responses and overconfidence > Hysteria and hallucinations > Confusion and terror > Blackout, death

The Bends: Occurs when divers ascend too quickly. If you're not careful, trying to cure your narcosis will lead to this. After ascending more than 300' in 10 minutes, you will contract the bends. The symptoms will manifest in 1d6 hours. Roll 2d6 for the severity of the effect. For each additional 300' ascended, add +1 to the roll and subtract -1 from the time. Mild cases can be treated by returning to depth, more serious cases will require high-tech or magical cures.

2-3: Discomfort and pain, without long-term effects. 4-8: -1d4 HP and +2 fatigue. 8-10: -2d4 HP, +4 Fatigue and disorientation. 10-12: -3d4 HP, +6 Fatigue, Save vs Paralysis. 12+:  As previous, plus lung decompression, Save vs Death every minute until treated.

Fatigue: In the dusk zone and below, the effects of gas narcosis become apparent regardless of what equipment you have. Every 6 hours spent below the dusk zone without pressure suits, add 1 point of Fatigue. For every additional 300' of depth, add an additional point of fatigue each time. Spending a period below 1500' adds 1 fatigue. Descending to 1800' and spending 6 hours there adds two more, etc.

Crushing: The human body can withstand substantial atmospheric pressure. The possibility of being physically squeezed or crushed only appears well below the midnight zone. Fatigue, insomnia and fatal narcosis will occur far before physical injury from pressure becomes a real risk.


Light

Light is a substantial concern at depth. The 'Sunlight' or euphotic zone, where light penetrates easily during the day, goes down to approximately 200m, or ~600'. The 'Twilight' or dysphotic zone, where sunlight decreases rapidly with depth and photosynthesis is not possible, goes from 200-1000 meters, ~600'-3000'. Below 1000m, ~3000', you enter the 'Midnight' or aphotic zone, where no sunlight penetrates and the only sources of light are those generated by the local fauna and flora.

illustration of how far light travels in the ocean.

For our purposes as game/adventure designers, this provides quite a neat structure. The deeper = more dangerous assumption is already built into dungeoneering and popular consciousness. But now, depth isn't just for dungeon anymore; it's both dungeon and wilderness.

The daylight zone might be the top levels of the dungeon, where the threats are minimal and are easier to spot, but it's also like the area near a town. Underwater settlements, especially those of air-breathers accustomed to a circadian cycle, will be built here. Extended freediving is possible, and with special gas mixtures/magic humans can survive here almost indefinitely, assuming their other needs are met.

In the twilight zone (laugh it up...) sunlight becomes scarcer, visibility lowers, pressure concerns become serious, and more dangerous, alien creatures are encountered. The most experienced human freedivers can dive into the dysphotic zone, but only just. To explore this place fully, you need special equipment to combat gas narcosis. At the lower depths of this zone, the human body reaches its natural limits. Not only does gas narcosis become severe, exposure to these depths for more than a few hours produce fatigue, insomnia and hallucinations.

I split the twilight zone into the evening and dusk zones, to distinguish between the pressure effects across the zone.

In the midnight zone, there's no sunlight anymore, just whatever you or the monsters can make. Humans can't even get to the border on their own power. To breach the barrier of darkness, you need pressurized suits or submarines. The nastiest, most alien of creatures live down here. There may be uncounted treasures, or there might be nothing. It's Veins of the Earth, except a wrong move will suffocate you. The environment is utterly hostile.

Visibility

Under clear conditions, visibility underwater should be approximately 100'. In extremely clear areas near the surface, effective visibility may extend to about 150'. These figures assume both full daylight and lack of particles/pollutants. Visibility in the daylight and twilight zones takes a sharp dive at night. You can get around this with your own light sources, but particles are more challenging. Some areas are choked with algae at all times. Others are periodically blocked by sand, whipped up by currents or incautious divers. Clay is the worst. Sand will settle back down in a few minutes undisturbed, but loose clay will jump at a moment's notice, and can choke an area for hours.


Depth Pressure

Under Earth-similar conditions, you gain an additional atmosphere of pressure for every ~10m (~30'). This figure is already familiar to RPG aficionados.

How much pressure (critically, how far down) can humans survive? Surprisingly, quite a lot. The limit for recreational diving is 40m, ~120', well shy of the dysphotic zone. Between 40m and 60m is the domain of technical, non-recreational divers. Anything greater than 60m is commonly termed a deep dive. But the actual limit for human freediving goes much deeper.

The current world record holder for freediving is an Egyptian man named Ahmed Gabr, who used a scuba system to dive to a depth of 332 meters, or ~1090'. Still well shy of the aphotic zone, but getting closer. Notably, the greatest obstacle to deep diving is not pressure on the human body, crushing ribs and muscles, but the effects of pressure on internal gas exchange.

Two effects; decompression sickness, also known as the bends, and gas narcosis. Gabr's record dive took only twelve minutes to make, but he took 13 and a half hours to return to the surface. If he had risen quicker, the change in internal pressure of gases in his body would have resulted in hallucinations and drunkenness at best, death at worst.

Gas Narcosis: Occurs when divers descend too deep without the right equipment or adaptations. Can be cured quickly by returning to a lower-pressure area. The effects are similar to drunkenness. In the early stages, the diver feels empowered, masterful, euphoric, while losing minor motor and sensory function. As the narcosis progresses, the diver is subject to impaired judgment, mood swings and loss of coordination. In extreme cases, paranoia and hallucinations set in. A diver may be taken with the 'rapture of the deep' a narcotic self-confidence that drives them deeper and deeper, until they finally die.

The Bends: Occurs when divers ascend too quickly. If you're not careful, trying to cure your narcosis will lead to this. As you dive deeper, the nitrogen in your blood is absorbed into your tissues. In itself, this isn't dangerous, and when you decrease pressure, the gas is released again. But if you decrease pressure too quickly, the nitrogen will form bubbles. Your blood will literally fizz like a soda. Symptoms include joint pain, exhaustion, phantom itching and, in extreme cases, difficulty breathing, quickly leading to shock. There is no way around the bends; you have to slow your ascent, or go deeper if you already have it.

Image result for fantasy diver

Even so, if we can get past the issues of breathing and internal gas transfer, we can go a lot deeper. While Gabr's 332 meter dive is the world record, subjecting him to over thirty atmospheres of pressure, humans have survived much more. In a simulated dive inside a barometric chamber, breathing hydreliox, a mix of hydrogen, helium and less than 1% oxygen, Theo Mavrostomos survived 2 hours under seventy atmospheres of pressure, equivalent to being 701 meters or 2100' down. Much closer to the aphotic zone. This is the world record for human high-pressure survival, and this upper bound seemingly isn't related to the durability of the human body, just gas exchange.

But even though the human body isn't physically crushed at those depths, consistent fatigue and insomnia render long-term operation at those depths difficult, and likely damaging in the long run. Still, we've shown humans can at survive brief periods quite close to the aphotic zone, when narcosis and oxygen toxicity was taken care of.

I would go as far as to say that gilled humans, whether native or mutants, would be capable of diving to these depths without worrying about narcosis or DCS, but likely couldn't operate for extended periods of time without insomnia, fatigue and long term damage.

So how to we get to the aphotic zone, where all is eternal night and the greatest horrors may be found?

First off, pressurized suits. This is a fairly high-tech solution that gets around several of our depth problems, allowing humanoids to extend their operating capacity. They act effectively as heavy armor, but can be compromised. A suit losing pressure over a very short period of time is not fun. These might be magical in nature, the rare remaining construct of an advanced lost civilization, or most likely, a bit of both. Still, like heavy armor, these suits are bulky and slow.

Second, submarines. Because what's an underwater campaign without submarines? Most of the rules above assume players are moving about underwater on their own power, or possibly on a mount. PCs are exposed to depth pressure at most times, unless in a special suit or in a pressurized location. But in a fully pressurized closed vessel, there's none of that. It's like being back on land for a time. Functioning submarines exist as relics of the above long-lost civilizations. They're rare and valuable, and great loot at the end of a dungeon, if they can be fixed up.

Image result for underwater adventure

Final Comments

The gameplay potential of several of these mechanics is apparent. The Bends discourages going up, that is, to safety, too quickly. This strongly encourages planning ahead, and means the party can't just ascend to escape a nasty encounter. The four zones create clear demarcations for adventuring environments, and the players' latitude to explore them. There are no shortage of environmental obstacles in our real world oceans that can fuck up the PCs day, before factoring in any kind of combat.

The kind of game these rules create is gritty, dark, survival and logistics focused. It's Veins of the Earth underwater. The environment is hostile and strange and god knows what's down there. Survival is not at all guaranteed.

If you want an underwater adventure without those elements, where the party can explore as they please, these rules won't do that for you. For me, the main attraction of this kind of adventure is the alienness and danger. Getting around the restrictions of a place that absolutely does not want you there is the big challenge, and it means that a party that has learned to conquer the deep has truly engaged with the environment, instead of just passing through.

Note: OF COURSE I find a post on the OSR subreddit made just hours before I post this. Though it doesn't quite cover the same things. Go and check it out on Malcon's blog.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

OSR Discussion: Not Everything Needs Big, Sharp Teeth

I had the occasion to make and stat a monster last week. More specifically, a centipede-ized beholder for the upcoming centipede zine by Chuffed Chuffer, of the blog that must not be named in front of the squeamish.

I was giving it a physical description, and was about to write, 'with big sharp teeth,' when I stopped myself. Why did it have big sharp teeth? Why did it need to? Could I get a better effect with a more detailed description? Or with something less typical?

Image result for big sharp teeth fantasy"
WHAT did I just say!

I settled on instead writing, 'a great gummy, toothless mouth.' I preferred the image. Instead of coming at you with big teeth, the standard predator fear, its lack of teeth implies another modus operandi. It stays back, speaking to you through a lisping maw, saliva gushing over its gums. If it were to attack you, you would not be sliced and torn, but crushed between moist, soft gums, suffocating you as your lungs fill with sickeningly hot fluid.

Disgusting? I hope so. I don't know what else you expect from an STC reader. But it got me thinking on another tangent.

If you take a moment to really, really think about creatures with big teeth, they're absolutely terrifying. It's a deeply embedded primal fear. Being stuck alone, in the dark with a pack of wolves silently stalking you, unable to see or hear them except for the snap of an odd twig, until they jump on you. If you're lucky, they clamp their mouths around your throat, tear it out with a strong neck motion, and your brain loses all sensation before they start to eat you. If not, they'll cripple you, pin you down and cut through the skin of your belly and eat your intestines, pulling them physically out like sausage links.

Again, that's terrifying. But do you anticipate that when your party is faced down by a pack of wolves in a game? Probably not. The visceral image and the terror is distant from most of us. Part of that is because, thankfully, most of us have no firsthand experience of being hunted and eaten. But it's also because the level of description in a standard monster in a combat goes no further than, 'and it has big sharp teeth.'

There's nothing visceral there. More importantly, it's done to death. It's an assumption. Why is this monster scary? Ehh, it has big sharp teeth. That works with folklore monsters because ancestral people lived in close proximity to creatures that could kill and eat them, and the threat was close to their minds. Not so today.

When that description, that fearful attribute becomes, first, banal, and second, an assumption, it loses all power. That can be circumvented by going into detail, as above. Instead of just 'big sharp teeth', they're needle-like, crushing chompers, or row on row. It can also be circumvented by changing the description to something less typical, something not already included in the listener's brain cache.

'Great gummy toothless mouth' is one option, though not an especially original or distinct thought. I've been working on an Elder Scrolls Bestiary as of late, and one of the weirder, iconic Morrowind monsters is the nix-hound. Imagine a locust, blown up to the size and body plan of a wolf. Then replace its head with the proboscis of a butterfly. It hunts in packs, and instead of tearing you apart with teeth, it mauls you to death and uses its proboscis to drink your moisture. That's a distinct, strange image.

Other go-to options far enough from sharp teeth to be affecting, but close enough to not be incomprehensible, are sucking lampreys, centipedes crawling up your nose and licking your brains, crocodiles clamping down on your body and entering a death roll, parasites being intentionally eaten then poking through your stomach line, and so on.

It only takes a few of the above, interspersed among more typical threats, to create a sense of body horror, fear or disgust.

If I've done anything of value here, it should be clear that this issue goes far beyond the subject of teeth or the lack thereof. It goes beyond making something horrific or scary. Another major example of this is with room keying and description. All Dead Generations' discussion of Descent into Avernus brings up a room dominated by an open sarcophagus filled with blood, in which cultists bathe, and one hides behind it, literally blood-soaked, when the party enters.

If you take a step back, it's a pretty evocative, horrible image. But it's paired with so much 'generic black-robed death cultists' and the relevant elements of the room are so under-emphasized that my immediate reaction isn't, 'Gods above, the horror!' but instead, 'Sounds about right.'

Another example from the same post, regarding Arneson's classic Temple of the Frog. The description here is on the minimal side, and largely predictable at that, in particular the giant stone frog statue on a pedestal.

Again, stepping back, a bunch of frog-worshiping cultists and their frog idols should be weird and evocative. And it certainly was when it came out in 1975. But today, the idea of a stone statue on a pedestal is pedestrian. I'm pretty certain you can short-circuit that reaction with fairly minimal changes. Say, maybe it's a mosaic made from small colored rocks on the floor instead. Maybe they're gems. Maybe it's a crude wooden effigy the cultists periodically burn in rituals. Maybe the statue appears to just be well-painted stone, but at a touch is slimy, and slowly breathes.

This post continues a line of thought that I pull from Fighting Goblins in a Creative Wasteland and Conceptual Density. The first because cliche descriptions take away player curiosity, as well as a real sense of danger and the unknown. In Gus L's words, "the wonder and potential terror that is implicit in a small horrible person/not-person thing trying to kill you with a rusty knife in a dark cave."

The second because these descriptions take up space, sometimes a lot of space, to tell you something you either already knew or could have made up with zero effort. If you have a frog-god shrine with a stone statue of a frog on a pedestal, it's going to feel less wondrous and terrible, and more tongue in cheek at best, or lazy at worst. Whenever any significant element of an encounter, location or character is exactly what any of your players would have made up on autopilot, you lose some sense of a complex world beyond your ken.

So, should we replace everything familiar in our games with gonzo and totally original parts? No, not in the least because that would be exhausting. Instead, a general principle. If you spend more than a sentence on any description, give it some little twist. Add an extra, unorthodox descriptor. Replace it with something adjacent, but less expected.

Not everything needs big, sharp teeth.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Elder Scrolls GLOG Report 3: Of Orcs and Opera

The Discord #to-morrowind campaign is chugging along, and I'm bringing you the fortnightly report. When last we left off, the players got a cover as traveling merchants, and brought an illicit shipment of whiskey to the big city of Balmora. After learning they had bounties on their heads and getting involved in a spy-thriller conspiracy, they've agreed to become spies for House Hlaalu in exchange for protection. Their next stop is the corrupt mining town of Caldera, where the governor is embezzling massive amounts of ebony, Morrowind's most precious export.

To recap, our cast

Vilamon Hawker, Redguard Destruction Wizard - kahva

Gwynabyth Muriel Ysciele, Breton Conjurer - retrograde tardigrade xenograft

Riadell Fernhollow, Bosmer (Wood Elf) Knight - mtb-za

Verdgrss-Wears-Copper, Argonian Hunter - grimlucis

Hama'ak, Khajiit Thief - Walfalcon

The Game

After spending a week in Balmora resting, getting covers, making friends and joining cults, the party joins a caravan to Caldera. They already have a friend among the new miners; a Khajiit named Mahmoud and his crew. The journey there is largely peaceful, with the exception of a singularly bizarre encounter.

While riding through the West Gash, the caravan hears a piercingly loud, supernaturally powerful shout. A Nord warrior bursts from the bushes and rushes them, yelling, "WHERE IN ARKAY'S BOUNTIFUL ARMPIT ARE MY FUCKING CLOTHES!?" Did I mention he was naked as the day he was born?

In the face of a giant screaming barbarian, Verdgrss' quick thinking saves their skins. He points in a random direction and tells him 'Yarub has them!' One heavily penalized Charisma check later, the barbarian is utterly convinced someone named Yarub is in league with the witch who stole his clothes, and runs off in that direction, leaving a trail of dust in his wake.

While they recover their wits, a pile of fine Nord clothes land in Verdgrss' lap. A witch appears from under an invisibility spell and congratulates the caravan on their fast thinking. She then disappears again and cackles.

Verdgrss: "I don't understand this island."
Gwynabyth: "I don't think anyone does, sweetie."
Verdgrss: "These are some good shoes, shame I don't have the feet for them."

Image result for fantasy mining"
Ah, shit. Here we go again.

After a week of travel, the party finally arrives in Caldera. They distribute their contracts. Between the five of them and J'Hanir, they've got two guard contracts and four laborer contracts. They decide to give the guard positions to J'Hanir, who has some experience with the gig, and Vilamon, who is the beefiest among them. The rest will have to do with hard labor again.

They get acquainted with the town. It's dead silent in the afternoon, when most of the population is off at the mine. The governor's manor, a great stone castle in the north, looms over the other buildings, and the trail leading up to the mine snakes away to the west. The party gets to know the local pawnbroker, and their attention turns to the abandoned mansion in the center of town, which the locals avoid and from which strange music can be heard. Standing at the front door, a smell like a boys' locker room wafts out.

They open up the front door, disarming a crude alarm system. They find a guardian inside, however; an orc named Gulfim. She demands to know who enters the domain of Ghorak. Riadell's customary flattery gets her to open up about the nature of the house. It's the refuge of Ghorak and his followers, orcs who exist outside the Imperial capitalist machine, and focus their art instead. Joining the house requires defeating a current member in single combat and taking their place, to keep the strength of the tribe high. Yeah, they're anarcho-syndicalist hippy orcs, sue me.

It just so happens that Gwynabyth (through player knowledge of Hegel) is very knowledgeable about the philosophical doctrines of the orc philosopher Gorg With-Helm Haggle. Gulfim is impressed, and allows the party upstairs. It smells worse than they expected, and the orcs within seem to all be focused on their chosen art; music, sculpture, poetry, painting. Gulfim shows them her collection of books, such as The Edge of Thaumaturgy, by Yoks the Derider, Self and Duration, by Martus High-Legger and Sexuality in Cyrodillic Theater, by Mai-Shel Fu-Ko.

The orc philosopher Gorg With-Helm Haggle, best known for
his book Phenomenology of the Magna-Ge

At that moment, a tall, bearded orc comes down the stairs, clutching his side. The whole floor starts playing instruments as this orc, clearly their leader Ghorak, begins to sing in a rumbling basso. One theatrical stage death later, the party talks to him directly, getting to know more about what the orcs are doing there, and the potential perks of joining. Having secured friendly terms with the orcs and explored the town as they liked, the party gets down to the hard work of mining and guarding, while being spies for a rival faction.

The next week passes quickly, with small moments of drama risking their cover. In addition to the paid miners, the mine is also operated by Khajiit and Argonian slaves. During one of his night patrols, Vilamon encounters an escaped Khajiit. Convincing him that he wants to help, Vilamon supplies him with fishing gear and rations and frustrates the other guards' efforts to track him down. He suffers a dock in pay for his failure, but regrets nothing.

Verdgrss investigates the disappearance of Tuvese, one of Mahmoud's mining crew, who was known to remain in the mine longer than normal, and made her own wooden Tribunal shrine. Even with Vilamon asking the guards, they fail to figure out her location, and she remains missing.

Hama'ak spotts burglars breaking into the governor's manor late at night, and offers his own services to them. He helps them infiltrate the mansion via a window, and gets to the governor's office. The thieves are clearly looking for a special item, and begin to pull the room apart, shattering an inkwell on the floor. Hama'ak hides behind the door when an elderly Dunmer man walks in, spots one of the thieves and takes him to task.

Image result for od&d thief illustration"
Just thief things

Hama'ak sneaks into the governor's bedroom and quickly burgles a handful of jewelry. Meanwhile, the old man is beating up the thieves in the next room and casting spells. Hama'ak makes a quick escape through the window, returning to town with pocketfuls of valuables undetected, and his woud-be partners probably captured.

While leaving the mines one day, the workers in the party realize that the children of Stlennius Vibato (the mine overseer) have gone missing in the mines, and their governess is giving the guards hell. They risk their own necks going back inside. The young boy is balancing on a weak beam over a mineshaft when the party finds him. Hama'ak ends up diving into the chasm after him with a rope attached to his waist, saving the kid's life but injuring him in the process.

The elder girl is atop rotten scaffolding in an abandoned tunnel, abandoned due to the prevalence of dead air, reading a book full of letters. She falls unconscious, so Vergrss and Riadell get her out and into fresh air as the tunnel collapses.

The in-game week ends with Vilamon suffering docked pay, and the rest of the party getting on the bad side of some poor-tempered children. The players express they would much rather get paid if they're going to risk life and limb.

And that is where the game left off as of writing. For the moment, these poor characters get to rest. They may find themselves in quite a pickle when they next wake up.

Takeaways

These couple weeks were full of lessons in GMing for me. I've also dropped in-person games due to midterms. This online game style fits my schedule much better.

The orc manor encounter was fun, and sounds good when written here, but I didn't handle it very well in play. I intended it as a little side-spectacle to add some wackiness and flavor, but when you're running a PbP game, you need to include frequent decision points. Most of the encounter, especially after they were allowed upstairs was just a scene playing out in front of them with little interactivity and nothing much to be gained. It's a standard failure mode for social encounters, and I fell right into it.

I wanted to sell the idea of getting embedded in the society of Caldera in the course of spying, so I advanced the speed of play. Instead of playing through each day, characters were assumed to be working and ingratiating themselves to the locals. Then, when unusual or risky circumstances came up, I presented them to one or two players at a time, getting their own scenes to define their characters and take risks. The idea needs to be developed more, but I think it's a valuable one. I need to define the parameters for a good mini-encounter more clearly, and may write that up as a proper post.




Friday, January 31, 2020

GLOG Fighter Disciplines: Bravo, Legionnaire, Swashbuckler

Just a couple days ago, I wrote up some thoughts of mine about how structures help to lower the barrier to creating content and guide towards consistent design. I pointed out that GLOG Wizards were heavily varied and everybody had their own school precisely because the structure was simple and easy to build on. Meanwhile, fighter types were much less varied, and I hadn't even seen a rework of the thief.

I was quickly sent several rather interesting reworks of the thief, for which I am grateful. But this post apparently got gears a'turning in the head of Phlox over at Whose Measure, and they wrote up a whole guide for making GLOG Fighter disciplines, just like Wizard Schools. Consider my words eaten.

Image result for saracen warrior illustration"
Maybe easier to design than expected.

Of course, I am nothing if not an opportunist, so let's give the fighter a little love. First, let's look at Phlox's template.

Fighter Discipline Template 
Starting equipment: might be average, might define the discipline.
Starting skill: should be something weirder than the usual farmer/soldier/sailor
A: defensive ability, offensive ability
B: noncombat specialization and/or niche combat ability.
C: ability that widens options in combat
D: a “capstone”— this proves you are a master.

This is a clear generalization of the standard Many Rats GLOG Fighter. Their defensive ability is parry, their offensive ability is an unconditional extra attack. They get a sort-of niche combat in the form of Notches, that allows them to enhance their fighting abilities and personalize their fighting style over time. Their combat options widen at Template C, now becoming proficient with a new weapon much faster than other characters, on top of getting a flat bonus to attack. Finally they get their capstone, Impress, that lets them leverage their power in social situations, and Cleave, which turns them into a lawnmower against low-HP crowds.

Phlox's Disciplines are very specific, looking at fighters from a particular mystic sect, or with a particular weapon specialization. I'm looking for something just a hint more generic, which can be dropped into a variety of games without worrying too much about tone or lore.

Something else missing from Phlox's disciplines is the per-level gain. Most GLOG classes also get some small bonus each level, like a Stealth increase for Thieves and a bit more HP for Fighters. Phlox didn't make a replacement for this, so I assume their disciplines get the extra HP like a standard fighter. However, this need not be the case.

Multiclassing Fighter Disciplines

But first! What happens if you want to take multiple fighter disciplines? Is it even possible?

This is a bit tricky. It's easy to multiclass in Wizard, since every template in any school would grant you your next MD. The benefits of multiple schools are a wide range of possible spells, at the cost of less specialization. This doesn't work for fighter disciplines as written. So, unless another blogger comes around to make me eat my words (again!) I'll say that you can't take different fighter disciplines. These disciplines are general styles of fighting, influenced by where you grew up, how you trained and how you view fighting.


Discipline
Description

Starting equipment: [armor], [signature weapon], [small item]
Starting skill:
A: [defensive ability], [offensive ability]
B: [noncombat specialization] and/or [niche combat ability]
C: [ability that widens options in combat]
D: [a capstone]



Image result for bravi"
The priest sees that the men waiting for him on the bridge are bravos.
From Manzoni's The Betrothed

Bravo
Desperados, thugs, coarse soldiery and hired assassins. Bullies and blackmailers in the service of minor feudal lords, the bravo is that race of man of whom nothing is known but wounds, murders, robberies and every other crime. They reave about both countryside and city with knife and pistol, defying the law and scorning their own life at the hour of death.

You gain +1 HP for each Bravo template you possess.
Starting equipment: leather doublet, long knife, double pistols, 5*d6 GP in bounties on yourself.
Starting skill(1d3): 1. Disguise 2. Spy 3. Firearms
A: Pistolero, +1 attack per round
B: Bully
C: Bushwhacker
D: Scorn

Pistolero(A): You may reload a gun in 1 less round. You may also use one of your extra attacks as a reload.
Bully(B): People round these parts know the look of a bravo. You can intimidate peasants, priests and other unarmed folks with ease. You can do the same to armed opponents with a Charisma check. If this fails, expect them to escalate.
Bushwhacker(C): You know the signs of ambushes, and the look in the eyes of desperate men. You can always act in a surprise round.
Scorn(D): Did you really think we were friends? When you're about to die, you may sacrifice an adjacent ally to escape. This ally must Save vs Death.


A Roman Centurion in ceremonial dress.
Survive long enough and you'll be him.

Legionnaire
The greatest military force in the world was the Imperial Legion. The Empire is rotting and dead today, but you've not forgotten. Trained to march in lockstep, campaign for months, build your own fortifications and face down death with honor, the Legionnaire is a resourceful soldier on and off the battlefield.

You gain +1 HP and +1 Save vs Fear for each Legionnaire template you possess.
Starting equipment: ancestral chain armor, shovel, shield, javelin, dagger, bugle.
Starting skill(1d3): Medicine, Engineering, Foreign Parts
A: Formation, Close Quarters,
B: Combat Architecture, Marching Orders
C: Heave-Ho!
D: Centurion

Formation(A): You get +1 defense for each adjacent ally.
Close Quarters(A): An enemy who moves into melee range provokes a free attack.
Combat Architecture(B): You know how to build barricades, palisades, trenches and ramparts, even without specialized equipment. With the right materials, the party can build such structures quickly. Subject to GM negotiation.
Marching Orders(B): You are exceptionally well conditioned for marching in all sorts of terrain. Add fatigue for every two hexes traveled on foot, instead of each one.
Heave-Ho!(C): Your throwing hand is unmatched. You may hit any target in 30' with your javelin without a test.
Centurion(D): You've proven yourself on and off the field of battle, and you show it. You stand alone with the same dignity as if you had a legion behind you. Carve a staff on vinewood for yourself. It is your symbol of authority. Allies who can see and hear you can use your Save vs Fear instead of their own. This ability has no effect if you are currently afraid.


Image result for vikings beating their shields"

Swashbuckler
Far from its modern connotation of a lightly armored duelist, swashbuckler in old English meant to make a loud racket by beating on your shield. That's you. Boastful, loud, rash warriors for whom making as much noise as possible is both a battle tactic and a way of life. Whether raiding and pillaging or campaigning for a lord, you'll be heard before you're seen.

Gain +1 HP for each Swashbuckler template and +1 Save for every 2 Swashbuckler templates you possess.
Starting equipment: leather armor, longsword, shield, precious drinking horn.
Starting skill(1d3): Sailor, Mountaineer, Poetry
A: Battle Cry, +1 attack per round
B: Boast
C: Shield Bash
D: War Chant

Battle Cry(A): You inspire allies or terrify enemies with a vigorous shout. Once per combat, reroll an enemy or ally morale check and take your choice of the result.
Boast(B): If they haven't heard of you already, they will soon. Your boasts and tales attract attention anywhere. Spread rumors and stories across a town/city with a successful CHA check.
Shield Bash(C): That shield ain't just for taking hits. A shield bash briefly knocks an enemy off balance, and they have -2 DEF until their next turn.
Song of Swords(D): You're loud, but you're not some ruffian anymore. Your speeches resound with the music of the skalds. Once per day, allies who can hear you heal 1d4 HP. If they were at full HP, they instead gain +2 to their next Attack roll.


Final Thoughts

Some final thoughts on designing disciplines.

Most of Phlox's disciplines don't get the extra attack each round, instead getting either a situational bonus attack, another form of attack etc. I generally want to make these variant fighters appealing, and that means making them roughly equal to the vanilla fighter. In a combat system where you're going to be hitting enemies 40-60% of the time, that extra attack is really big. It's better than rolling with advantage, since you get to attack twice if you succeed twice. It's equivalent to a really massive to-hit bonus, on top of doing more damage.

The variant offensive forms need to be really appealing, or offset by other cool abilities to not be left on the wayside. The Legionnaire only gets a situational bonus attack, but their strength in numbers and fortification gives them a way to interact with battle besides, 'I swing my axe.' I've tried to avoid just having buttons you press to win here.

Giving the fighter something to do outside of combat helps add flavor, especially if it sets up better odds in the next fight. Remember, preparation is half the battle, and any good fighter should pay as much attention to the moments leading up to combat as to the combat itself.

With all that said, go forth and make some fighters!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

OSR Discussion: Wizards and Barriers to Creativity

I recall reading once a good explanation for why the GLOG Wizard is so popular and riffed-on. I can't locate the original comment, but the gist was that making a GLOG Wizard has a very low barrier to creation. As somebody said, you just need a few good ideas to build a GLOG Wizard. A coherent theme, a couple of original on-theme spells, perks and drawbacks, some cantrips, some Mishaps and Dooms. You can fill out most of the spell list with standard, useful spells (nearly every GLOG Wizard has some variation on Magic Missile and Light), and the structure of Mishaps and Dooms guide you towards a consistent design.

Image result for glog wizard
Easy to design in various ways

You just need a few good ideas, and he structure helps you make the rest. The same is not true, say, for fighter-types. I've seen several variations on the Barbarian, and none of the rage substitutes or redos have spoken to me. The many kinds of Fighters have produced some great content, but the amount of good ideas needed to make one is much higher. The Zouave is excellent, but none of it (except maybe the extra attacks) comes from a common structure shared by fighter classes. It needs to be flavored and built from the ground.

Image result for zouave
Not easy to design

In warfare, it is the cheapest weapons which make it to the front line, not the most effective. Likewise in blogging, it is the most modular and simplest ideas which get riffed on, varied and experimented with. Eventually, everyone makes a GLOG Wizard just to say they've done it. I did it, and it was one of my first posts to get good traction. But how many people try their hands at making fighters, barbarians and knights? Besides the Zouave and Ten of Swords, none come to mind. And I can't think of any reinterpretations of the thief or specialist.

It's the forms that are easiest to tweak and work with that end up proliferating. That's what I'm trying to do with the Shrines system; a structure that guides you through the creation of a cult/shrine, propelled with just a few good ideas. The structure does the rest.

Even so, I sense that there are fewer GLOG classes published today than before, even as recently as last year. Is it because the community has largely settled on a set of canon classes? Is it all in my imagination? A quick perusal of the Discord blogroll seems to support this. There are some archivers and indexers in the community who could answer the question properly.

Structures such as the GLOG Wizard, promote the creation of new content by lowering the barrier to creativity. Additionally, the common structure makes that content easy to spread and convert to other systems, instead of learning each individual blogger's idiosyncratic class system.

So to tie this rambling post to a close, a general principle: assuming that the common goal of the blogosphere is to create content, the best way to do that is not just to create content, but to create structures for content which lower the barrier to creativity, in order to create more content.

Does that make sense? I think it makes sense. Further questions for discussion include, 'What is the role of high-concept blog posts about the nature of content creation in the act of content creation?'

Aaaaand publish

Saturday, January 25, 2020

OSR: Even More Saints and Shrines

The Shrines posts have been getting some great responses, so I've brought out some more, this time making shrines based on content by other bloggers, used with permission. I also got a pair of shrines made by Chuffer of the STC blog, whose zine project I have been involved with. Coincidentally, most of these shrines ended up being about hunger and consumption in one way or another.

I've been looking at some ways to expand and innovate on the basic system, in particular removing some of my base assumptions about how the blessings need to work. Chuffer did a lot of the heavy lifting in that regard.

Here's five more Shrines that you can put in your game.


Shrine of Ceaseless Hunger
(Created by Chuffer of the STC blog, posted with permission)

Image result for tapeworm horror

The Ceaseless Hunger is the patron saint of the voracious, those for which hunger is more curse than natural appetite - both literal and figurative.
Shrine: A masterwork marble statue of a terminally underweight naked man, bones peeking through the skin, his body pulled inward towards his belly. He holds a large bowl of polished quartz filled with an oily yellow liquid, 2d6 black and white ringed tapeworms wriggle within.
Cult: Divided between two kinds of hunger. For some cultists, hunger is a physical force they’re slave to such as vampires, gnolls, and victims of curses. Others are spiritually hungry such as politicians, young entrepreneurs, and serial killers, always chasing the next station, job, or kill. Induction into the cult requires the consumption of a tapeworm.

Blessing of the Worm
Satiation*
R: 0 T: Self D: [Dice] Days
Any member of the party can bless one tapeworm each day. Consuming it grants a reprieve from any physical or spiritual hunger, defined by that player. The physically hungry are fully sated, and the spiritually hungry experience brief enlightenment and non-attachment. In lieu of monetary sacrifices, it is also possible to gain an additional worm each day by force-feeding them to non believers, at a rate of 5gp per worm.

Strictures of Ceaseless Hunger
Never deny proffered food or drink.
If you encounter food or drink you’ve never tried, you must and before sunset.**
Pressure others to continue eating even if they’re full.

Mantra of the Ceaseless Hunger
“But, still I hunger.” Used in a self deprecating manner after a good meal or successful endeavor.

*This spell will require significant DM adjudication; it may act as a temporary Remove Curse, temporarily cure the target of addiction, stop the target from suffering penalties for not eating, allow endlessly tinkering Artificers to sit and relax and sleep peacefully without racing thoughts and anxious dreams, etc.

**For things formally regarded as food/drink that are formally identified as such when you see/discover them. Not eating roadkill doesn’t violate the stricture. Seeing a stranger eating roadkill they’ve cooked for themselves and not trying some does.


Shrine of Ghoz Vahk, the Great Eater
(Based on a post by OrphRedHair. Used with permission)

https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/441805812797800448/669033693997694986/unknown.png

The white-and-black vulture dragon, cloaked in a flaming green aura. Ghoz Vahk is the god of a tribe of cannibal lizardmen, constantly hungry.
Shrine: A sculpture of various bones arranged like a ziggurat, topped with the skull of a vulture. Tallow candles burn beside, and if they burn green, it means Ghoz Vahk looks favorably on the place.
Cult: The lizardmen who worship Ghoz Vahk, reveling in the Great Eater's message of hedonistic consumption and the glorification of excess. They make heavy use of vulture iconography, form a strong extended family, and value their own desires and satisfaction over whatever it may cost.

Iron Stomach
R: touch T: creature D: 1 hour
For the duration of the spell, the eater can devour anything. Food that would normally make them sick, poison, bone, even wood and stone go down the gullet. Additionally, the eater gains [dice]x2 extra inventory slots in their stomach, though the items must be regurgitated at the spell's end. If 4 dice are invested, the eater can even consume magic. Any spell targeting them can be eaten with a successful CON check and later regurgitated at will, and they can suck the enchantment off an item. These too must be regurgitated at the spell's end, unless the eater is a high priest of Ghoz Vahk, in which case they can be stored.

Strictures of Ghoz Vahk
Provide food for thy god, who is ever ravenous.
Sate yourself with whatever means necessary; happiness is found in excess.
To devour is to dominate; to own. Ghoz Vahk owns all. All must return to Ghoz Vahk.

A favorite prayer of Ghoz Vahk
Hatchling in the straw, how perfect in ravenousness. What lazy dignity, that is fed but never hunts.
But soon it rises to chase prey, and makes its game of swallowing.
There is little time for rest! Hunt! Feast! Revel! For now and ever, for all eternity, by the grace of god.


Shrine of The Abattoir God
(Based on a post by B44L. Used with permission)

Image result for abattoir horror

The abstract deity of abattoirs, slaughterhouses, gristle and butchers. Periodically incarnated (very literally) in a humanoid who takes on the divine powers of Meat, before being ritually sacrificed and eaten by their own cult.
Shrine: Constructed from discarded bones, cartilage and gelatin, dried to form a square pen in which worshipers pray and preach on all fours.
Cult: The cult predominates in secret among butcher and rancher families, and explodes in popularity when the Abattoir God is reincarnated and comes to town. They are fanatically loyal and mad, and are paradoxically eager to slaughter and sacrifice the avatar of their god.

Calm
R: 50' T: [dice] creatures D: 1 hour
Target creatures loses the desire to fight or resist you for 1 hour, placid even as they are bled and butchered. Save negates.

Strictures of the Abattoir God
Waste not and want not; all parts of the cattle must be used.
When you swear an oath, you must cut off a part of yourself to seal it.
The God must be slaughtered to be born anew.

Sayings of the Abattoir Cult
Observe how we carry on like cattle.
Dining and bleating and fighting
As we see those in front of us all to the knife.
The knife has no mercy since the beginning of days,
Nor do the cattle cease their bleating and folly.
So let your devoted hand strike the blow.


Shrine of The Gods of the Copybook Headings

Image result for gods of the copybook headings meaning

The simple sayings everyone knows, and few believe. The ones so quickly forgotten in place of the wondrous promises of charlatans. They're asinine and dull. That doesn't mean they're not true.
Shrine: Hidden places where the sayings are written. Chiseled on moss-covered boulders, carved into the out-of-the-way shelves in a library, or engraved on a pious tombstone.
Cult: The very young, who have not yet scorned the sayings, and the very old, who now understand why they must be kept. Those in-between often scorn the cult as backward, old-fashioned or ignorant.

Moralize
R: earshot T: sapient creatures D: see below
Your words carry the spark of wisdom in them. When you describe heaven, people hear harps. When you describe hell, people can smell brimstone. You're either a prophet or a fool, and seem too crazy to be a fool. For as long as the spell holds, all sapient creatures in earshot are hypnotized by your moralizing. If you focus this effect on a single creature for the whole duration, they reroll their reaction rolls [dice] times and take the best result.
Duration [dice]: 1. a minute 2. an hour 3. a day 4. a week

Strictures of the Gods of the Copybook Headings
Stick to the Devil you know.
The Wages of Sin is Death.
If you don't work you'll die.

A favorite prayer of the Gods of the Copybook Headings
We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.


Shrine of Fowler the Filthy
(Created by Chuffer of the STC blog, posted with permission)

Image result for drowned child

The ghost of Fowler, a young boy averse to bathing who was drowned many years ago in this very river. The last thing he remembers is the pumice scraping off his skin, the burning in his lungs alleviated at last by freezing water. He became a folk legend, and the superstitious make shrines to him to ward off his spirit.
Shrine: Shrines to Fowler the Filthy can be found beneath the surface of shallow waters and in the dirty places of the world. Drowned shrines often depict a small pudgy boy reaching for the water's surface, body limp, eyes glassy, mouth open - too late to save. Fowler shrines found in the dirty places of the world have a far more intense sensory depiction. The same small, pudgy boy sits at the base of a small boulder, usually about twice his size and naturally shaped. The “boy” of the shrine is made of a wicker frame covered in rotting vegetation and liberally sprinkled with skunk oil. Insects and rodents nest inside his wicker body.
Cult: Fowler’s devotees come from the lower echelons of society; people who are all too often looked down on by others because of their own “dirtiness” whether it be figurative or literal. He has some well-to-do followers, devoted to him mostly out of compassion for children and the special needs community in general. The former tend to construct and worship at filth shrines, and the latter at drowned shrines.

Drowned Shrine
Drowned shrines - Fowler must be dragged from beneath the surface of the water and brought to shore. No sacrifices may be made to water shrines.
Water Breathing
R:Touch T: Living Creature D: [Dice] Minutes
This spell allows the target to breathe water as though it were air, giving the target the precious few extra moments that might have saved Fowler’s life.

Dirty Shrine
Dirty shrines - Fowler must be given a loving sponge bath with warm water. Sacrifices may be made in the form of perfumed oils being added to the water of the sponge bath on a 1 MD per oil basis.
Call Upon the Filth
R: 30’ T: A Person or Group You Can See D:[Dice] Minutes
Summon an infestation of filthy creatures; rodents, insects, arachnids, snakes, etc. One Swarm of [Sum] HD or [Sum] Swarms of 1 HD.

Strictures of Fowler the Filthy
If someone is drowning, save them or die by their side.
Do not allow cruelties to be visited on the weak and small, however necessary they may be.
Bathe the dirty, through coin or sponge.

A favorite prayer of Fowler the Filthy
“Sweet scents and fair skin mask filthy deeds and black hearts.” Said as a reprimand.