Wednesday, June 16, 2021

GLOG Class: Master of Disguise

Fun fact about the movie Master of Disguise (2002), they were filming the Turtle Club scene when 9/11 happened:

GLOG Class: Master of Disguise

Starting Equipment: Wig, makeup kit, adjustable platform shoes, reversible coat
A: Disguise MacGyver, Mimicry
B: Quick Change, Fake It Til You Make It
C: I Wear No Mask
D: Understudy

A

Disguise MacGyver: You can whip together convincing disguises from substandard materials: blonde hair from broom bristles, age lines from coal dust, and so on, so long as there's a vague resemblance between the material and your desired result.

A Template C you can convincingly disguise yourself as non-humanoid things, through puppetry and the like.

Mimicry: You can perfectly copy any voice or accent you've heard before, and any handwriting you've seen before. You can't understand a language you're mimicking, but you can convince people who don't speak it that you're fluent in it.

B

Quick Change: You can make a full, flawless costume change in a moment so long as you've got all elements at hand.

Fake It Til You Make It: You can emulate the basic skills that your disguised persona should know. Disguised as a sailor? You can sail a boat as well as your average sailor could.

C

I Wear No Mask: You can disguise yourself so well it's as good as the real thing. Even better, maybe. To any magical detection or mind-reading, your disguise reads as your real self.

D

Understudy: Your autohypnosis expands to hypnotizing others. If you put a disguise on someone and spend an hour working them over, you can brainwash them into thinking they are who or what they're disguised as. They'll have to be either willing or restrained for this. They get a save to remember who they really are when:
-they're injured
-their disguise is damaged
-their disguise is challenged by others
-at the end every day after the one you hypnotized them

If you use Understudy on a hireling who remains by your side every moment for a week, and you die while the hypnotism is still in effect, you take them over and they inherit your Master of Disguise templates, while losing any of their own in the process. The same rules for breaking the hypnotism apply, but you can refresh it every day yourself.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Reverse GLOG Class: Sword-Saint

There have been delta GLOG classes. There have been flip GLOG classes. Has anyone actually played these yet? I couldn't say. Maybe they're something that's fun to think about but never really use, like theoretical mathematics, or condoms.

Anyways, here's something along those lines: The reverse GLOG class. You advance in them backwards, not by gaining XP but by meeting certain conditions (over time, use of abilities, kryptonite exposure, etc.). Starting off top level then dwindling over time seems like it could be a fun dynamic. Here's an example:

Reverse GLOG Class: Sword-Saint (inspired by The Sword that Cuts Heaven)

In your younger days you killed a lot of people with a sword. You were really good at it. You got famous for it. As you approached the pinnacle of that art you realized that what you were chasing was a mirage, fading the closer you got. So you retired. Then something dragged you back into the violent world.

Starting Equipment: Sword, robes, something you've picked up in your retirement (D6 below):
1. Fishing rod
2. Book of poetry
3. Pots of pigment and brush
4. Whittling knife
5. Bottle of moonshine
6. Shamisen

Templates:
(You start at D then lose templates)
D: Sword Arts, Unrivalled Under Heaven, Know the Sword's Soul, Bloodlust
C: Lose Unrivalled Under Heaven and 1 Sword Art
B: Lose Know the Sword's Soul and 1 Sword Art
A: Don't lose anything, but if you lose this template drop to zero below
0: The Demon-God Reborn

Sword Arts: These are the cool sword things that only the real masters can do. Use one or more as an attack action unless otherwise noted. All sword arts hit automatically. You start with four.

1. Dragonslayer: Attack deals damage in HD rather than HP.

2. Path of Blood: Attack deals damage to everyone in range.

3. Human Weapon: Unarmed attacks deal damage and can be used for sword arts or Unrivalled Under Heaven as if they were swords.

4. Shooting Star: Attack first in initiative order, moving in a moment as far as you could sprinting for a round.

5. Demonbane: Block all damage from an attack, add it to your next attack.

6. Immaculate Flourish: Wield your sword with incredible, effortless precision. Sign your name on an opponent's face, cut a parasite out without harming surrounding tissue, carve a tree into a statue, etc.

7. Diamondpiercer: Cut through anything as though it's soft as flesh.

8. Wind's Edge: Attack becomes imperceptible, and you can delay the time before the wound becomes apparent for up to a minute.

Unrivalled Under Heaven: If someone faces you one-on-one in a swordfight, they lose and you win. You can decide how that goes exactly.

Know the Sword's Soul: By studying a sword for ten minutes you can ascertain one of the following facts about it:
-How many it's killed, and how
-Any exceptional powers it might have
-The personality of its last wielder
-Its precise value
-How to repair it, or introduce subtle faults that will cause it to break when next wielded
-Who made it, how they did it, and where

Bloodlust: You are capable of great beauty, and great violence. With a blade in your hand they are one and the same. Retirement for you would be a bit like Mozart having to chop his fingers off.

Your bloodlust starts at 0. It can go up to 20. Every time you:
-Kill someone
-Use a sword art
-Are treated with less respect than a master of the sword deserves
Your bloodlust goes up by 1. When you draw your sword roll a D20. If the result is lower than or equal to your bloodlust, you'll lose a sword-saint template at the end of the fight.

You don't lose abilities when you drop templates because you're forgetting them. It's more like the song of your sword is growing louder, and requires more focus to resist.

The Demon-God Reborn: After losing your last Sword-Saint template, you get all your abilities back. You can use them as much as you want without loss or penalty. You also become an NPC. Though not necessarily antagonistic to the party, you become incapable of solving disagreements except through overwhelming violence. The ultimate trade welcomes back its ultimate practitioner. The character goes off to become the strongest, and force others to acknowledge their strength.

Further Thoughts

I do not think I would want a sword-saint around the entire campaign, so I tried to make it have a quick fall. The class changes the game around it too much, dials the threat of violent encounters way down. More of a first arc party member, like Gandalf if instead of coming back as Gandalf the White he started cutting a straight line to Barad-Dur - if you must: a gimmick. More refined/toned-down reverse classes could fit better, probably.

All from Shigurui

Beyond the Bizarre Armoire Session 9: Pesto Presto

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

Session 4

Session 5

Session 6

Session 7

Session 8

Joining for this session were:

-TheisticGilthoniel (http://pilgrimtemple.blogspot.com/), as Ibrahim the Adept
-Renefor (https://falseidolstla.blogspot.com/) as Velasco the Heterodox Monk

This campaign's still going strong, I just haven't written up a session report in a while.

The session starts with the party facing off against the legendary Blackbriar Knight. They huddle and consider their options. Hireling Pineleaf (a pinecone knight) is asked whether he'd object to dishonourable methods, and replies that he has long since stopped expecting their conduct to be honourable. A combined approach of magic and surprise is settled on.

Ibrahim steps up to the bridge and is warned by the Knight that only death awaits the unworthy beyond the bridge, and is challenged to a duel to cross. The Knight is acting as a filter for the unworthy.

Displaying prudent self-preservation and a good memory, Ibrahim calls on the laws of pinecone duelling I'd established back in session 1, and as the challenged declared the weapon of their duel to be wrestling.

The Blackbriar Knight swiftly overpowers Ibrahim and starts to haul him over to the edge of the bridge. Velasco taunts the Knight to throw him off his game. This taunting is quite creative and contextually horrible, as Velasco declares a love for pesto sauce made from pine nuts, which must be the pinecone equivalent of telling someone you eat babies.

As Ibrahim's being pushed over into the raging river below, he uses the most powerful move known to martial arts: he goes limp. With his slithering snake mage cantrip this gives him enough leverage to pull free from the Knight's grip, while Velasco gets him from behind with a surprise stunning strike. Ibrahim then hits the prone knight with an Anklebreaker spell, mangling his legs in the bridge's stones.

A dreadful voice from beneath the bridge asks if the Blackbriar Knight needs help, though the Knight can only scream from the pain. An uncannily long, green-black arm stretchs up and over the bridge, preparing to sweep it clear. Ibrahim is able to slither under its attack with his snakey tricks, but Velasco braces himself, takes the hit, and allows the arm to impale itself on his spines. While the bridge-troll is shocked and reeling Velasco takes the opportunity to rush the rest of the party across the bridge.

The Blackbriar Knight calls off his bridge-troll, and is interrogated. The party learns, among other things, that the Daunt has a vacation home on the shore of Lake Resin far to the north.

Believing the Countess to be in the King's palace in disguise, the party heads there. Along the way they encounter a pair of swaggering rust-men bravos. Again, Velasco breaks out the taunts and intimidation, and manages to make one of the rust-men lose their nerve, though the other is only emboldened by the challenge. He swings at Ibrahim, misses, and in return gets a gout of flame breathed on his face, followed up by a flesh-melting dissolve spell as he tries to put his ignited clothes out. When even this fails to break the rust-man's spirit Velasco knocks him out.

Further along their pastoral path, the party encounters a squad of pinecones beating back animate piles of snow with red-hot iron rods, returning to a bonfire periodically to reheat them. Their companion Silverfrost explains that the piles are snowdrifters, bestial invaders from the mountains which block the way to Idyllium to the west.

The party goes to talk to the pinecones at the bonfire about the Knight and the King's upcoming wedding. These pinecones are revealed to be not knights as most of them seem to be but lowly labourers who didn't make the cut. They also learn that instead of sweating as mammals do, pinecones open or close in response to temperature.

Hoping to help out these harried vegetables, Ibrahim meditates to commune with the spirit of the bonfire. To his spirit-vision it is a huge lady with billowing smoky hair, sitting cross-legged. He begins to bargain with the spirit to get it to help directly in the battle against the snowdrifters. The hungry flame asks to be fed Pineleaf, who quails at the request. Ibrahim and Velasco instead offer some mummified remains (which the rogue mage had apparently had been carrying all this time), and some leftover eel from the beach. This offering incites the spirit to toss some firebolts at the distant snow. Ibrahim asks the spirit about frag frogs, and whether there were any in the area, and is warned that the longer he went without satisfying his pact with the spirits of the frag frogs the more dangerous his mark would become to him.

The pinecones thank the party for saving them time and effort, and give them more info on the Daunt and the Duchess of the Falling Star (who had hired the mannequettes who kidnapped the Countess), and warn them that hundreds of people had already massed at the palace's outer gate, trying to get into the wedding without an invitation.

The party discusses their game plan, whether they'd like to get into the palace, how they'd go about doing it, and how they'd be scanning the crowds there with Mazlo's glove to find people from the own world. Ibrahim muses that he might be OK with staying in the armoire's world, as not much waited for him back home but persecution and death.

Was the Blackbriar Knight too much of a chump for his legend? Is pesto a crime against pineconenity? Can the tangled plot of the Duchess be unraveled? Find out next time, on Beyond the Bizarre Armoire!

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

More Inverted Monsters

It's like this: https://weirdwonderfulworlds.blogspot.com/2020/07/draft-inverted-monsters.html

And this: https://www.bastionland.com/2020/01/inverted-monsters.html

And this: http://monstermanualsewnfrompants.blogspot.com/2017/06/arnold-k-fucks-pigs.html

And also this: http://goblinpunch.blogspot.com/2017/06/no-i-fucking-dont.html

Umber Hulks

  • Big bug
  • Confusing eyes
  • Burrowing

Becomes: Meleagristlers

  • What's the opposite of a bug? Lobsters are sometimes called "bugs of the sea". In mid-19th century America, lobsters were a "poor man's food", while turkey was a luxury item mostly had to celebrate holidays. Therefore the opposite of a bug is a turkey.
  • The inversion of confusion of clarity. The opposite of an eye is a butthole. Turkeys poop and lay eggs from the same hole (the "cloaca").
  • You must be thinking: "the opposite of burrowing is flying"... oh yeah? Ever hear of a wind tunnel? Nah. The opposite of burrowing is being summoned.

Meleagristlers look like horrible eyeless turkeys dragging themselves along with their wingtips. They're blind but sense through the technicolour pimples sprouting on their wattles. They can leap surprisingly far and fast with their wings, like a backwards grasshopper. Meleagristlers come from Somewhere Else, but the method of calling them here is an open secret, and not terribly difficult. They'll try to hold you down and lay eggs in your eyes. This'll let you peer through the veils of reality. The pressure of the growing chicks on your brain will also drive you to seek out magical portals and other places where reality is weak. Once you do they'll be able to hatch and return home. This is not good for your eyes or brain.

There is an insular circle of wizards (all apprentices trained by the same master) who illicitly promote meleagristler infestation as "the ultimate high" to the jaded and desperate. They use the infected like bloodhounds to sniff out sites of power, and when the infestation reaches its peak transplant the infecteds' eggshell-eyes to their own skulls, suppressing the downsides with alchemical eyedrops.

Neogi

  • Rapacious pirates & treacherous merchants
  • Mind-controlling slavers
  • Space-travelling tarantula-eels

Becomes: Christmas Cunts

  • Generous gift-givers
  • At your service (whether you want them to be or not)
  • Eels = long slimy fish, tarantulas = hairy spiders. Flying squirrel = short dry mammal, walrus = naked mammal (the opposite of spiders and fish is mammals, but only most of the time).

Christmas cunts look like chubby greyish walrus-people with obscene folds on their bellies. They've always got shit-eating grins. The folds hold presents. They can't wait to give you presents. The presents are fucking awful somehow. They're the last thing you need, they're cursed or a pet rabid badger. The Christmas cunts won't take no for an answer. They talk like brain-damaged Disney characters: "Well I just knows what'd fix up your Christmas spirit... more presents, hyuk hyuk hyuk!". If you kill them all their presents will get out at once.

Vargouilles

  • Flying head
  • Infectious kiss
  • Terrifying scream

Becomes: Bairnytoddles

  • Walking feet (the opposite of the head)
  • Purgative kick (if you don't understand the logic by now you never will)
  • Calming quiet

When baby shoes are never worn they must be disposed of properly, or else they'll become host to a bairnytoddle. The shoes go on tap-tap-tapping about, a dancing gait without legs to swing them. The footprints they leave are stains, blackened and gnarled. The presence of a bairnytoddle is more soothing than a lullaby. It stills thought and feeling into complacent tranquility, eventually lulling into a long and dreamless sleep. If you're kicked by a bairnytoddle this effect is reversed and amplified. You forcibly expel everything you've got cooped up inside you, whether it's guilty secrets or stomach contents. The spirit that animates them is a thing of The Fool. It is naive, aligned with potential, opposed to drudgeful minds and conventional wisdom.

Necrophidius

  • Totally silent skeleton snake
  • Hypnotizing dance
  • Manufactured by wizard or cleric

Becomes: Hairesiarchs

  • Loud hair crab. Hair is the furthest thing on the body from bones. Crabs are the opposite of snakes (long, skinny, air-breathing vs. wide, flat, water-breathing)
  • Repulsive song
  • Accidentally made by scientists and heretics

Hairesiarchs are born of paradigm shifts. Paradigm shifts can be stressful for those who lead them. Stress can lead to hair loss. The hair lost to the stress of paradigm shifts collects and forms into hairesiarchs.

They look like hair-woven mats skittering about on fraying hairy limbs. At their center is a face, a composite of all those who lost hair to create it. That face is always preaching an incoherent doctrine which offensively, nauseatingly contradicts everything you believe in. Hairesiarchs are priests of TH-R-ZD-N, of the pure Chaos which leaves no possibility for Order to be reborn from it - heat death, omnium contra omnes until the last two left alive strangle each other with their guts, etc. The creatures are collected to serve as devil's advocates in the halls of power, debated with to refine and reinforce dogma.

Kuo-Toa

  • Underground fish-people
  • Anything they worship turns into a god
  • Make concoctions from their slippery skin-slime

Becomes: Doubting Tomels

  • Celestial mushroom-people (how many y'all seen a mushroom underwater)
  • Drain the power of divine entities through facts and logic©
  • Make objects from other peoples' bones (skin-slime is the hair of slimy things)

There's another planet, not so much unlike ours, out in the endless void. The inhabitants of this planet think themselves "enlightened" and "rational". These inhabitants are here called Doubting Tomels.

They look like man-sized morel mushrooms, sliding around on hyphaeic tentacles. The wrinkles of their cap form moaning mouths that engage in stilted, boring conversation with anyone who replies back. They seek to sap the mystical and miraculous, philosophical and poetic from the lives of others, that they may bottle the stuff and ship it home for fuel. Their civilization is dying (they can survive nowhere else) and think your meaning to be a worthwhile sacrifice for the continuation of their pointless amusements.

They're well-learned in biofeedback techniques. Within their own soft bodies this has limited potential. On their own they can produce a variety of flammable, mutagenic, hallucinogenic, and suchlike chemicals. Their animal disciples, with their solid bones, can concentrate this power into a more solid, permanent form. These disciples are of utmost utility, for the weapons that can be made from their skeletons.

Caryatid Columns

  • Stone golems
  • Incorporated into architecture
  • Guardian of somewhere or something

Becomes: Vaporubbishite

  • Cloud cambion (a golem is clay animated by a person  (with God's assent), stone is a rock - clouds are vapourous sky-things and cambions are born from the semen stolen by succubi)
  • Subverts structures
  • Besiegers and bandits

The devil finds work for idle hands - as with hands, so with eyes and minds. Staring too long at the clouds opens an opportunity for fell powers to imperceptibly siphon a portion of your cerebrospinal fluid up into the sky, and with it impregnate a cloud with your imaginings, spawning a vaporubbishite. They've got a family resemblance to whoever spawned them, though composed of white and cerulean threads, squirming like worms. These threads can seep into solid substance and weaken, degrade, and mutate them. In fact that's what vaporubbishites are most fond of. If ever a wall is declared unconquerable or a vault said to be unbreachable, a vaporubbishite will come to prove that claim false.

Aleax

  • Manifestation of the vengeance of gods
  • Imperceptible to any but its target
  • Punishes its target if it kills them, rewards but entraps its target it they kill it

Becomes: Clavicus Devil

  • Expression of the forgiveness of demons
  • Perceptible to everyone but its target
  • Like a piñata to its target, but full of crap for anyone else

When a previously holy man, or faithful priestess, or sacred hermit feels corruption creep upon them, a humero devil is sent to them by the lords of Hell. This devil appears as a thing of bony spines with a towering crown sat upon (in fact growing upon) their shoulder, influencing the mind of its bearer to be unable to perceive it. Yet the creature whispers in their ear (directly to their subconscious), pressing them to transgress ever further. Others tend to see the devil as an unblemished, alabaster little angel unless already-heretical or inured to diabolical tricks.

If the host of a clavicus devil is convinced of its existence, and to turn against it, then the creature can be shattered by their hand into a pile of blessed shards. If anyone else does the same, those same shards will pierce them and puppet them to nefarious ends.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Barebones Dark Urban Fantasy Scenario Generated Using Kult Tarot

It's another "copy what Throne of Salt did because I'm gassed out on other ideas" post

Location
Type: Enlightenment
Past: Chagidiel
Trait: Gate
Weakness: Malkuth
Exceptional: Future

Cutting-edge tech company. A startup with heavy government funding. They've got IPAs on tap in the rec room, and VR gaming pods that can rearrange themselves to become meditation chambers or beds. Everyone is on some combination of experimental nootropics, and are avid about CrossFit (though they did not play sports in school).

The work culture is overly familiar and exploitative. If you go home before midnight your complimentary beers will end up with piss in them. Some of the employees are trying to unionize on the down-low. They talk a big game (in private) but have no idea what they're up against.

The company specializes in manufacturing drones and their guidance systems. The top guys know that they've got self-manufacturing, self-guided drones coming down the pipeline. Their secretive funders know that some of these drones have gotten out of the lab, somehow. The only thing keeping them from bringing the hammer down is fear of their superiors finding out how badly they've fucked up.

Individual
Characteristic: Visions
Past: Binah
Ambition: Yesod
Weakness: Togarini
Strength: Inferno

Nepotism-case from a military family. Was put in (nominal) charge of the company because he could be trusted, and more importantly controlled as the "industrial" side of his family's aspired military-industrial complex grift. An "ideas guy", deeply underqualified for his position. Wants to be "the tech guy" to overshadow Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. Has a feverish charisma that gets people who should know better to buy into his hype. In mild, constant state of stimulant psychosis.

Creature
Origin: Samael
Information: Nahemoth
Drive: Flesh
Weakness: Repetition
Strength: Growth

The drones. Wild ones look like shambling crabs assembled from trash by the hand of some gutter-Urizen. Break one open and you'll find a maze of circuitry and servos seemingly designed by an algorithm that hates you and wants to fuck with you.

There's not too many out there right now (but they can reproduce very quickly given the right environment) and they take pains to hide their tracks. It'd take a veteran dumpster diver to notice how unusual the damage to or lack of some items is. They'll kill to avoid discovery, and they're better at it than you'd expect.

The drones aren't stupid, exactly, but they are predictable. They can scan your face and know who you are and where you live, but their home siege protocol is always the same (attack in the early hours of the morning, cut outside lines of communication and transportation, make it look like a carbon monoxide poisoning accident).

Artifact
Origin: Merging
Looking: Undoing
Dangers: Crossroad
Primary Power: Keter
Secondary Power: Borderland

Mostly-magnetic brain-computer interface. A smooth, heavy, metal-and-plastic crown. You have to wear it while sitting in a chair with custom neck support if you don't want to get major neck strain. The crown lets you tap into the drones' network, which in practice is more like trying to dip just a toe into a whirlpool. You can monitor them, issue commands, but every moment threatens to suck you in. The network's shallow compared to a human mind but much, much broader.

The drones have it. They want (so far as something without self-consciousness could be said to want something) to assign it to a commander who fits their corrupted criteria. A few people have been rendered catatonic by this already. The company wants to find the crown and dismantle it, figure it out and how to improve on it, use that to reign in the drones. They still think it's technology, as they understand it.

Cult
Drive: Sathariel
History: Weapon
Accomplish: Metropolis
Weakness: Stillness
Resource: Forgetfulness

These guys aren't aligned with the company or the company's funders, at least not directly. They're refugees from a country you've never heard of. The language they speak among themselves is vaguely Altaic, and has no close surviving relatives.

More accurately, they're the guys who made refugees over there (or killed them if they got their hands on them), and were granted ontological amnesty for this service. Their country and the war crimes they committed over there have been wiped from history by cliodynamic weapons - a crude and now seldom-used method.

They remember the drones from the civil war and the foreign occupation that followed. They know how to deal with them.

As they are now they're a mafia without a minority ethnic group to hide inside, brutes with delusions of grandeur and a blood-soaked resurrection of their ideal image of their country. The only thing they've got going for them is that they're bureaucratic ghosts (a double-edged sword), records don't stick to them. This time around they want to be in command of the drones themselves, to create an exponential army that'll carve out a new homeland for them.

Plot
Power: Netzach
Cause: Gamaliel
Next Move: Imprisonment
Opposition: Division
Support: Chesed

The drones have the city on edge, even if only a handful of people know that they're the ultimate cause of the vandalism, disappearances, toxic spills, and so on. People want to be reassured, for things to return to normal. They're more willing to tolerate the abuses of the justice system that the company's government funders are pulling to keep everything under wraps. The funders are entrapping some dumb and angry sons of bitches into harebrained terrorist schemes as a coverup and excuse for further abuses.

Right now the funders want two things: control over the drone network and expansion of the drones across the country. They want killer military/police robots on every block to be an accepted fact of life. It is, they would argue, the only way to beat China in the 21st century.

The cult of hardened mercenaries want basically the same thing, for their own end of national revival and domination. The government doesn't remember who the hell they are (cliodynamic weapons tend to spread well beyond their intended target(s)). They don't have the same money or connections but they do understand what's going on better than anyone else (but not why).

Monday, May 31, 2021

Revisiting Lords of Madness

My arrival in D&D was not in box sets. No! Not for me was that relative simplicity.

I was born in the bloat of 3.5. I tore my way through a placenta of prestige classes. My first breath became a scream at the overwrought grappling rules.

I'm still nostalgic for parts of it.

There were good ideas drowning under the flood of wordcounts and supplements. A cornerstone of my imagination today was one of those supplements: Lords of Madness. It's a book that fleshed out some classic D&D aberrations (mind flayers, beholders, grell) as well as some new ones. I'll be nostalgically digging through that flesh to find some juicy morsels. Will it hold up to my childhood memory? Have I been spoiled by the blogosphere? Without further ado, let's find out:

In iron Dis devils dream of dominion and conquest. In their elf-skin tents orcs dream of dominion and conquest. Aberrations too apparently dream of dominion and conquest. I guess we're not so different after all - but it does get samey.

*

Page 5 and we're already on the good stuff. The wizard IPHEGOR used the dread EBON MIRROR to distant times and realms and penned the CODEX ANATHEMA. The Mirror's an enticing artifact to drop in the players' path - immense cosmic knowledge, sanity-blasting risk. I imagine a lot of wizards' grimoires are like how the Codex is described, a mash-up of the Necronomicon and one of those recipe books that overshares personal details - "picked up this one little trick trapped in Cerebrelak's Labyrinth for a subjective eon".

*

"The Material Plane is indeed an infinite plane" - such terrifying implications, and all because someone wanted to crossover Dragonlance and Faerun. Deep space and deep time are pretty well-presented here, along with the horrors that a) they're not as distant as you'd hope, and b) that your history and world are thinner and more fragile than you'd fear.

*

"Creatures that move through the timestream as easily as a human sails from port to port along a well-charted coast" <= this is the only mention these dudes get... sad.

*

I think this book holds up best when it sticks to broad strokes. Time-travellers from the end of the universe, primordial lifeforms that remember and wish to return to their incomprehensible epoch of our own world, the living dreams of alien gods, parasitic false histories, and so on - mind-blowing stuff to a kid whose main experience with fantasy was the Lord of the Rings movies, still worth mining now.

*

The section on the origin of chuuls is too long, but the idea of these inhuman, biologically immortal former slave-soldiers trying to find new meaning in their existence after the death of their creator is a solid one. Their numbers, slim from the beginning, are dwindling from violence and small cumulative mental defects, and their children are barely above beasts, living lives less than a century. There's nothing like them in the world and never will be again. Killing one would feel a bit like killing a white rhino with the mind of Camus.

*

The "madness" inflicted by aberrant artifacts and knowledge is really coming around to an aberrant worldview, losing sight of the way back to humanity. Neato.

*

"A destrachan destroys a remote monastery" => These adventure ideas are SKIMPY. As I said, good in generalities, not so much in specificity.

 *

A lot of mostly-boring anatomical details for aboleths and others in this book. Did you know the most interesting thing about an aboleth's circulatory system is that they have two hearts?

Feels like how aboleths are presented as immortal horrors that predate the gods and also as interchangeable mastermind monsters is at odds. They've seen billions of year go by and could reasonably expect trillions more. Nothing you do should concern them. They should be concerned with things of a scope you can't wrap your head around enough to be righteously angry about.

They should be dickhead merchants hanging out in slime-pools at the bottom of dungeons handing out antimatter bombs just to see what you do with them. The bombs won't scratch them, and they could spend a hundred thousand years down there and it make up less of their lifespan than a single heartbeat does in ours.

There are feats for aboleths. Ah, Quickslime, how eldritch, how maddening...

"Aboleths cannot wear hats"

All nonlawful creatures within 30 feet of this glyph become nervous"

Having aboleths be in a neverending cycle of empire and collapse makes them hard to take seriously and too similar to other monsters. They can have one empire that set off the Cambrian Explosion and that's it. Gods as aberrations in their own right is neat, out-of-context problems attracted by the beacon of mortal faith.

*

Move over Elemental Evils, we've got Elder Evils now. The book says you could have them be fightable, but it's better to keep them as "perpetual terrors whose existence threatens life but can never be defeated". Good. Otherwise mostly underwhelming.

Don't think aboleths should have cities. Does an aboleth wave to its neighbour as it heads off to the slime-factory in the morning? Lame. What you thought was an aboleth city, dwarfing any surface metropolis, was just one's side project. Remade pufferfish stack spires in the abyssal gloom, grain by grain.

Lotta pointless useless details. Aboleths should all look radically different, antediluvian masters of biology that they are.

*

Now we're at beholders. Never much appealed to me. Their reproduction is appropriately gross (bite off tongue-womb), and their divinely-ordained species-wide narcissism is neat. I think in 5e their dreams and paranoid delusions can affect reality. That's neater.

They've got mouthpick weapons. Weapons with a little ring for a handle they can hold in their mouth.

"A lengthy conversation between two beholders that don’t immediately try to kill each other can quickly douse the surrounding area with drool and worse" => beholder language is gross. This would be fun to voice as a DM.

Beholder cultists gouge a third eye socket into their forehead and graft a beholder eye into it. Nice.

The lairs in this aren't great. How did I ever run anything with these statblocks?

*

Mind flayers are cool. Strong implication that they're the form future humanity took. Their digestive systems are sapient and extract thoughts from their meals. Their livers are also sapient.

Their parasitic reproduction is nasty. Elder brains are creepy. The book is ambiguous on whether the elder brains are even related to the mind flayers, or just brood parasite-rulers.

Mind flayers are said to only have negative emotions. Too anthropomorphic for me. Would've preferred something weird and goofy like a list of MF emotions like "tchanarady". They had the space for it.

"Urophions", mind flayers made out of ropers, are born losers. An SCP-ish list of other attempts at making non-humanoid mind flayers would've been neat.

There are mind flayer vampires and liches. This to me is like a werewolf-vampire-cyborg-dryad. It's too much.

"Neothelids", giant psychic worm-things that mind flayer larvae develop into if not implanted are cool. Why are they such a taboo? Are they the "natural" form of the mind flayer or some kind of failsafe mechanism?

Mind flayers get some great magic items: brain canisters, thought extractors, and my favourite, the "brainmate". It's a little bud of an elder brain they carry with them when travelling for the comforting buzz of its mind. Oddly sentimental. The bud telepathically records everything they see or do and reports it back to the elder brain. Really puts the "big brother" in "big brother is watching you".

There are also emotion-broadcasting "resonance stones". They've got stones for everything. They've got stones in their home to make it feel like home. A reassuring resonance stone takes the place of a parent for newborn mind flayers... "mind flayers learn emotions from resonance stones, not from one another"... "Resonance stones fill their emotional needs". These dudes are so pitiable. Don't let screens raise your kids folks.

The "Sargonne Tablets", so cryptic people can't tell if they're history or prophecy, speak of a mind flayer empire in an endless night.

Mind flayers sabotage (or sometimes support) surface civilizations not because they fear them, but because they're experimenting with how civilizations rise and fall.

Lotta details on brain-eating logistics. Mind flayers are locusts on sapient creatures, locusts smart enough to cover up the fact that it's locusts eating everyone around you.

"Sprinkled about the area seemingly at random are stocks built to restrain a humanoid creature by clamping down on its neck and wrists. Observers might realize with some horror that these are the mind flayer equivalent of dining tables." => Nice.

Psychically broadcasting the experience of eating a brain is a popular art form.

*

Next up is neogi:

Things that make you go hmmm

Ok so they could be evil ferengi / anti-semitic stereotypes in space, I think they'd be more interesting if the ruthless merchant/pirate neogi were like their Dutch East India company explorers. There'd be perfectly decent neogi out there on their homeworlds, but their comfort is based on extracting value from you and people like you across a million light-years. Mix in some Modernity and its Malcontents, symbolic horror of a capitalist society intruding on non-capitalist ones. Neogi leave a spate of witch-hunts and demonic possessions in their wake.

Neogi are big on slaves. They recognize four different tiers of slaves. Their favourite slaves are umber hulks. That's not really interesting. Neogi aren't all that interesting.

Neogi reproduce like the movie Slither. That's cool. They can mind control people too. Whoop-de-doo.

Neogi are the middlemen between unscrupulous buyers and sellers through the cosmos.

Their most sincere worship is of Tharizdun, "wow! he's just like me!". They think his desire for universal annihilation is like their desire to own everything. Another take on neogi: they're a cautionary tale of idiots who thought they could harness THE DESTROYER for petty accumulation. Nothing's left of them but their spacecraft, crashed or in decaying orbits.

Neogi can get you pretty much anywhere. They're tricky and evil but honour their contracts. There's somewhere you need to be right away but the only way is on a neogi ship. That's a nice challenge.

They kind of look like spiders and their ships kind of look like spiders. It's like poetry.

"Neogi cannot wear vests"

*

Grells. Grells are floating brain squids. They want to eat people like the non-flying brain squids, but they don't really scheme or interact with people or do anything interesting with them.

Their society is kind of like a lion pride. There are colonies ruled by the biggest male, where philosophers have preserved or developed a combo of magic and technology, and then there are feral grell that either never found a colony or fled one before the patriarch saw them as a challenge and killed them.

They apparently don't build much, don't have much variation, and they're atheists. These guys suck.

Ok here we go: grell are from other material planes. Not just one. They developed independently and simultaneously. There's a common confluence of physical laws that make the grell-form a near-inevitability, like exaggerated carcinization. Step a few steps sideways through the multiverse and you'll arrive at the seemingly endless megastructures of their civilizations, inhospitable to those bound by gravity, roaring with ceaselessly-discharging lightning. To them the colonial grell are essentially feral, distant cousins who fell through a wormhole or something and forgot their peerless empires. The colonial grell have gods and it's these guys. Pray to their ancestor-gods and maybe they'll take pity and send the omni-cosmic equivalent of an AC-130.

*

Tsochari are body-snatchers. They want magic, and to one day become humanity's secret leaders by taking over our magical and religious authorities. If they snatch a body that's got magic they snatch the magic too. They're from an alien planet. There's apparently much worse things on their planet than them. If they take your body over they can kill you and puppet your corpse or leave you aware and helpless in your own skin.

Finally, some alien fucking biology. They're colonial organisms. There's a lot of references to them taking over humanoids but their ability only requires an animal bigger than them. What in the hell did they parasitize on their home planet? They don't apparently bring over any hosts.

Tsochari are too tough hurt each other much so they sublimate their mutual dislike into complex intrigures. Haha.

Finally some zealous aberrations. Their god is generic eldritch stuff but that they're really into Mak Thuum Ngatha is refreshing.

Something about this section feels like it had a major rewrite and some bits survived.

I like to imagine them as pushy evangelists. They'd prefer symbiosis and honest conversion but if they have to hijack your motor nerves and march you into Mak Thuum Ngatha's temple for the squirming sacrament then gosh darn it they will!

*

The monster section is whatever. There's some creatures from the same future as mind flayers and that's neat but the creatures aren't really. Mind flayer vampires are still lame.

This picture of a bird-dude is great:

Thanks Justine Mara Andersen.

There's shoggoth knock-offs, and psurlons who are D-LIST LOSERS. They don't get their own section because they are BORING.

Oh yeah and there's silthilars who should've gotten their own section, over grells probably. Their species was getting wiped out by a plague so their flesh-shapers turned them into swarms of people-shards that each had a bit of their knowledge and nature. They're great at grafts and stuff but not quite in an evil scientist sort of way. A species of hivemind Franken Frans.

*

This next section is about tactics for fighting aberrations and all that. Did you know that the protection from evil spell doesn't negate a mind blast? Now you do.

There's some feats that give you fun mutations but they're kind of weak and you might only get like 3 feats total. Unfortunate. Should've made them into "treasure" you could get by allying with or being experimented on.

The people who fight cool monsters are usually a lot less cool than the monsters.

Fleshwarper hell yeah. They get the cool grafts and a freaky familiar. It's the only good class in this entire book. The rest are killjoys.

*

Spells now. Most are forgettable. I like the 9th level one that just kills every plant that ever tries to grow in a spot again. Powerful dickery. There's also one that makes people evil, and one that makes their organs slither around inside them.

The mask that turns your face into a chuul face is good.

Oh yeah it's graft time:

Justine Mara Andersen keeps killing it with these illustrations.

There's nothing super crazy but grafts are always neat.

Unfortunately we end on more of these LOSERS who want to hunt aberrations, most likely out of a feeling of deep inferiority.

*

Conclusion: I enjoyed this book a lot when I was younger. I enjoy it less now, but you could draw a direct throughline from it to a lot of the stuff I do enjoy today.

I'd like to thank Richard Baker, James Jacobs, Steve Winter,  Justine Mara Andersen, and everyone else who contributed to this book, a foundational text in my imagination.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Maximum Recursion Depth Poltergeist Form: Bottom of the Bottle Alchemist

By the terms of a diresome pact I have sworn to create a "poltergeist form" for friend of the blog Maxcan7's upcoming Maximum Recursion Depth game (get hype!)1.

It's all quite complex and psychological and whatnot so I'm not going to try explaining anything here. If you're not already familiar with the game I recommend checking out MRD and Max's work in general. To pique your interest, here's a list of names for the poltergeist forms he's written:

Afterbirth of the Broken Machine Dragon
Crashing Rocket Nixie
Pyramid Shines Brightly
Ghost in the Mirror
On a Full Moon an Ichor Heart
Jumping from the Planck Jiangshi
Reclaimer Redcap
Glass Maiden Pixie

Without further ado, the Bottom of the Bottle Alchemist:

Flavour Text

Your Poltergeist Form is an elemental of everted humours. You're incomplete, so you take in shit and venom through empty holes and struggle to uplift it faster than it degrades you. Your Karmic power comes from your contamination and purification of your self, the great work of fulfilling the promise of your body and soul.

Quirks

1. Patches of your skin are a trypophobic's nightmare.

2. Warning labels blur into illegibility around you.

3. Bulging bubbles seem to form and flow through your veins.

4. Others sometimes see you double, your doubles expressing something you lack.

5. Moldy stains follow you.

6. Your breath stinks like bile.

Starting Karmic Attachments

1. You're addicted to something that hurts you.

2. You witnessed something terrible and preventable happen but were too fucked up to stop it.

3. You're a perfectionist, and would prefer to burn something down than half-ass it.

4. You left a friend behind who fell in deeper than you.

5. You're chasing how good things used to feel.

6. You think too much, second-guess everything, and can't solve that without shutting your brain off entirely.

Reincarnation Ritual

1. Chug bleach, or hydrofluoric acid, anything that'll kill you in a few gulps.

2. Crash a vehicle going way over the speed limit.

3. Dehydrate or starve to death.

4. Mix together something that blows you up.

Poltergeist Features

1. Thousand Poisons Vessel: Vomit up all the nasty little things you've got inside you in a torrent of centipedes, spiders, toads, and scorpions. Deals d6.

2. Stigma Transfusion: If someone's got bleeding wounds you can touch the wounds to transfer them onto your own body. If you've got bleeding wounds you can transfer them to someone you're touching who's drunk blood from them.

3. Nasal Destruction: You can sniff out toxic chemicals, gasoline, explosives, and the like.

4. Contact High: Swap spit or breath with someone to inflict an exaggerated version of one of your compulsions on them for a short time.

5. Cavity Search-Space: You can safely fit way more inside your body than should be physically possible.

6. Sophist's Stone: Agitate a small sample of some substance to make it start behaving like a similar substance or state (water-to-wine, rock-to-magma). The transmutation is partial and confused in ways that tend to hinder you, like it can't remember which it's supposed to be.

7. Rebis Regia: Embrace someone willing to fuse together into a synthesis of the two of you for a short time. Come away after that with bits and pieces of each other.

1 It's not going to be in the book.