Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Speculative Evolution: Teegarden's Star B - Part I: Deathly Light & Wine-Dark Seas

The variety of forms life has taken past and present, and the processes that gave rise to those forms, are really fucking cool. I had a DM try to explain to me what a red panda was the other week. I know what a red panda is. I've been to a zoo.

A natural extension of my interest in real forms of life then is speculative evolution, using what we know about biochemistry, evolutionary pressures, and the like to better imagine how life might develop on other planets (or alternate branches of our own planet's history) in a more-or-less plausible fashion. Here's some links to some of my favourite speculative evolution projects:

The Future is Wild: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rbi8Jgx1CNE

Snaiad: http://www.cmkosemen.com/snaiad_web/snduterus.html

Biblaridion's Alien Biospheres series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egzZv8tqT_k&list=PL6xPxnYMQpquNuaEffJzjGjMsr6VktCYl

The Epona newsletter: http://worldbuilders.info/epona/

The world of Serina: https://sites.google.com/site/worldofserina/home

The Planet Furaha blog: http://planetfuraha.blogspot.com

The Ilion blog: https://sunriseonilion.wordpress.com/ilion/

This post is intended to be the first in a series of a speculative evolution project of my own. This project will be loosely based on the planet Teegarden's Star B, a recently discovered exoplanet with one of the highest Earth Similarity Index Scores of any known exoplanet thus far.

What we know about the planet is: that it's located about 12 light years from Earth, it orbits a red dwarf, it's got an orbital period of 4.91 days, its mass is possibly 1.05 times Earth's, its insolation is about 1.15x times Earth's, and its temperature would enable liquid water to exist on its surface. Everything else from here on out is my own invention.

There's some issues with the development of life around a red dwarf. Firstly, given how close the Goldilocks's Zone would have to be to such a star, it's possible that any planet in the Zone would be tidally locked to the star. This would mean a constant heat on one side, and utter cold and dark on the other, potentially freezing any atmosphere that develops. Secondly, red dwarf stars tend to output a lot of solar flares. Teegarden's Star B is distinct in that it appears to be relatively calm.

Perhaps in defiance of God and astrophysics, I'm going to say that my TSB is not tidally locked. It has a smaller axial tilt than Earth (leading to less differentiated seasons) and rotates in such a way that gives it a 40-hour day/night cycle. That makes its year a bit shy of 3 TSB days, which is sure to frustrate some calendar-makers, and make some French philosophers very happy.

To add some spice to our primordial soup I'll suppose that some billions of years past Teegarden's Star was feistier, giving off the solar flares and bursts of ultraviolet radiation of most red dwarfs. This will tail off with time but during the period this post is looking at life will largely be constrained to several meters below the ocean surface, deep enough to be shielded from the worst of the star's wrath. In this submarine shelter the living kingdoms which will share the world to follow have formed:

(If you know any Latin or Greek please correct my naming in the comments, I'm just using google translate)

Thermidoria

Living fossils even here at the harsh dawn. Once the predominant form of life on the plant, now reduced by the evolution of multicellularity and predation to mere bit players.

Thermidoria is distinguished by two main attributes: thermosynthesis, and multiple nucleui.

Most thermidorian lifeforms are capable of deriving energy from thermal gradients (though this energy is minuscule compared to photosynthesis). Despite being at a severe disadvantage with energy production you can find them pretty much everywhere. The aphotic ocean depths are often a wasteland on Earth, but on TSB they abound (relatively speaking) with slow jungles of thermidorians.

All thermidorians are unicellular. Many are also visible to the naked eye. Among their adaptions that make them capable of achieving this is that their cell has multiple nuclei, as well as internal partitions, often made from incorporated inorganic matter, and the thinness of their body structure.

Notable clades of Thermidoria in this era include:

Nimates: Primitive even among the primitive kingdom, nimates are pure thermosynthetes, resembling long plastic strands hanging in the water. They lack the metabolic capacity for self-driven movement, relying on concentrating inedible and toxic materials in their cell walls and sheer ubiquity for survival.

Anoterosia: A planktonic group which hosts much smaller symbiotic algae in their cell walls and partitions. Of all life on TSB they are the clade which lives closest to the surface, having a number of adaptions including nucleic redundancy to resist the high level of ultraviolet radiation. In the billions of years to come the descendants of the anoterosians will form the basis of perhaps the most un-Earthly of all TSB's biomes.

Koubanites: One of the truly rare heterotrophic thermidorian clades, containing both mobile and sessile predatory and filter-feeding species. Most resemble gelatinous bells lined with cilia, with a frontal orifice that can cinch shut.

Diaphania

Descended from a species of multicellular phytoplankton with silicate shells, similar to Earth's diatoms. The kingdom Diaphania contains two branches, one of plant-like phototrophs and one of animal-like heterotrophs that lost their chloroplast-analogues. Both branches share the characteristic support/protective organ "siliceous laminate", layers of cartilaginous membranes impregnated with silicon in various formations and concentrations. This creates an effect akin to pattern welding, allowing siliceous laminate tissue to achieve the ideal mix of flexibility and hardness for a given use.

Rather than both sexes producing gametes, only one diaphanian sex does. The other grows haploid buds which if not fertilized may still grow into adult pseudo-clones of the budding parent.

Diaphanian phototrophs utilize several pigments to wring the most out of their red and blotted sun, some provided by symbiotic microorganisms, all much darker than the chlorophyll we're used to. The mixture of near-black purples, yellows, reds, and greens makes them appear like necrotic tissue to our eyes.

Notable clades of Diaphania in this era include:

Alexiophylls: Also called parasol kelp. They resemble seaweed, even growing in underwater forests that home entire ecosystems, except for two features that would stand out to even the untrained observer. The first is their namesake: a cluster of lenses that float above their main body, shielding it from the worst radiation, allowing them to grow above their competitors and closer to the light. The second is a "reel" which anchors them in the seabed. When the organism detects a dangerous increase in temperature or radiation, the reel pulls it down deeper beneath the water's protection.

Kastrophylls: Also called coral-moss. The very first pioneer of TSB's land. Without water to rely on for protection, coral-moss instead grows a translucent crust to filter out the most harmful rays. Over many generations this can create glassy mounds filled with pseudo-vascular tubes that draw water up to the living coral-moss. These mounds will shelter the terrestrial animals to follow.

Kolliofacia: Worm-like burrowing creatures with a U-shaped digestive tract passing around their hemocoel, mouth and cloaca ending up much too close for most Earthlings' liking. Beneath this they've got a muscular digging "foot" lined with lateral spines or bristles, and their "head" bears jointed opercula and a bouquet of feeding/sensory tendrils.

Dontiderms: A group which branched off from the kolliofacia as that clade adapted more to filter-feeding. They resemble flattened lancelets, only rather than cirri they possess a mouthful of grinding and scraping teeth, some of which have migrated or been replicated elsewhere on their body, forming armour much like osteoderms. Dontiderms can be further subdivided into those species which evert their mouths and teeth into something like an external gizzard to feed, and those with muscular lips to pluck food or create suction. The clade was the first to develop genuine eyes, though given the long night sight tends to be underdeveloped as a sense compared to Earth.

Tomatrichia

Like Diaphania, the kingdom Tomatrichia contains branches that on Earth would be distinct as Animalia, Plantae, and Fungi.

The basal ancestor of Tomatrichia is a creature somewhere between fungus, slime mold, and biofilm: a zoogleal mass of microorganisms that cooperate to construct mycelia-like structures with keratinous cell walls, sometimes dismantling each other and merging for the raw materials. These mycelia in turn grow spawning bodies that produce more of the mass. From this base the kingdom has diversified into two animal-like branches, one similar to sponges, and the other similar to echinoderms, various saprophytic and parasitic forms, and a photosynthetic form which absorbed chloroplast-analogues from a diaphanian host.

Most trichian species have mating types rather than sexes as we'd recognize them, up to thousands of different types in some. More mobile species tend to have fewer mating types.

Notable clades of Tomatrichia in this era include:

Laspikoroids: Parasites on the anchors of parasol kelp. Laspikoroids don't deviate much from the tomatrichian basal form, except that their zoogleal form can produce a potent toxin similar to botulinum. They also entrap and digest other creatures which would nibble on those anchors.

Nychaspidoids: A group that looks like something between sea stars and chitons, a radially symmetric set of feet with segmented keratin armour on top. Nychaspidoids feed by vomiting a zoogleal mass onto their prey, which externally digests it and is then slurped back up into the main body. They do something similar to breed. Some species within the clade undergo a process of "enfolding" as they mature, their armour bending and fusing to encompass an entire limb.

Nouvatoids: A group resembling fuzzy sea urchins. Unlike sea urchins they lack tube feet and an Aristotle's lantern, while their spines are articulated and can be bent to serve as legs. Like the nychaspidoids their zoogleal form has been reduced to specialized internal nodes that perform neuronal, digestive, and stem cell-like functions. Under certain conditions, mostly related to high population density, nouvatoids will overgrow their fuzz and roll around to disperse like underwater tumbleweeds. Nouvatoid young perform a similar behaviour, only with a single overlong thread.

Ziztrypoids: A highly-derived clade that began from a species of tomatrichian that produced a mushroom-like fruiting body. The fruiting body was porous to allow spores within it to catch a current, but the current also brought in microorganisms which were sometimes consumed. Eventually the fruiting body was adapted from a temporary reproductive measure into the main body of the creature, with the mycelium serving only to stick it in place.

There's analogues to viruses and bacteria and all that too, but I'd find coming up with that stuff boring. Assume that sort of thing exists outside of this project's spotlight, which I'll tend to focus on charismatic fauna & flora. Next time there might even be pictures.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

[INDEX INCOMPLETE]

I've been here way too long for my own good. It's been two long years now. If only I never knew that there were people like this, I wouldn't have become such a half-assed piece of shit.

It's too late now. I don't know what's right anymore. The only choice left for me is to face the consequences of my actions, and as a blogger, fulfill my duty to the bitter end.

Anyways, two years & two hundred posts, here's an index:

Monsters

D6x6 Wrathful Wraiths

5 Monsters Inspired by Old-Timey Halloween Costumes

Horn Beetles (scroll down)

5 Monsters

Virtuesome Lilies & Lily Maidens

Five Monsters in the Style of Throne of Salt

Grugach & Cooshee

D6x6 Hydrated Hydras

D6x6 Wily Will-o-Wisps

D20x5 Spooky Scary Skeletons

BIRDS!

ORCNEAS!

D6x6 Wanton Wyverns

D20x5 Demons to Summon for Fun & Profit

D20x5 Wizardly Abominations

D20x5 Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers

D20x5 Eccentric Elves

D20x5 Genial Genies

D6x6 Evil Trees

D20x5 Rash Rakshasas

D6x6 Gloomful Ghouls 

Cloynes

D50 Necromantic Nasties & D50 Goofy Golems

D6x7 Brownies, Domovoi, & Other Domestic Spirits 

D20x5(xA Lot) Lovecraftian Servitors to Summon for ????? and !!!!!

D20x5 Hungry Ghosts & Unclean Spirits

D20x??? Hideous Hags

D10x10 Deadly Dragons 

D6x7 Saucy Sphinxes

D20 More Soulslike Bosses  

D6x6 Ornery Owlbears

D12x??? Onerous Oni

D20x5 Elf-Knights 

D50x3(x20x8) Fairy Nobility

D20x5 Trendy Trolls 

D20x5 Ready Reapers

D20x5 Horrible Homunculi 

D6x6 Pithy Pixies

D6x6 Killing Spirits 

D20x8(+9) Lovecraftian Entities that Didn't Make the Cut

D20x5 Chanceful Changelings 

D20x5 Assorted Slimes

D20x5 Odd Orcs 

D20x5 Accursed Ones

D20x5 Angels to Summon for Chastity and Humility 

D20x5 Baleful Bogeymen

D20x5 Ghastly Ghosts  

Some Non-Threatening Cosmic Monsters

D20x5 Variant Vampires

People

D6x6 Amazing Amazons

D6x6 Gnomic Gnomes

D20x5 Mercurial Merfolk

D20x5 Hellacious Halflings

Characters

D20x5 Truculent Time Travellers

D20x5 Horses (& Some Not-Quite Horses)

D20x5 Worrying Warriors

Miss Mulberry - Build a Witch Challenge

D12 Castaways, Maroons, & Shipwrecked Souls

D20 Other Kinds of Peasant Than “Farmer”, D20 Other Kinds of Noble Than “Rich Asshole”

D20x5 Weird Wizards

D20x5 Wicked Witches

D20x5 Pitiable Orphans/Cheap & Disposable Hirelings

D20x5 Scattered Scholars

D66x6 Speedy Superheroes/Villains

D20x5 Rival Adventurers

D100+ Busy Bureaucrats

D100+ Supervillains

D100+ Superhero Names

D20x5 Uplifted Animals

D6x6 Regretful Fausts

D20x5 Hedge-Knights

D100,000 (Approximately) Goblin Churls

D20x6 Dwarven Exiles 

D20x5 Calibans, Igors, Renfields, & Other Wretched Servants 

D20x5 Quixotic Questers

D20x5 Men With Guns To Come In Through A Door 

D20x5 Marvellous Merchants

D20x5 Gratuitous Gladiators 

D20x5 Dastardly Dandies, Ponces, And Rakes/More Expensive But Ethically Sourced Underlings 

D20x5 Fearsome Fighters

D20x5 Ignoble Nobles  

D20x5 Strange Sailors

D20x5 Humble Hedge-Mages

Treasure, Loot, & Various Objects

D10 Magic Maps

D10 Culinary Curios

D10 Goblin Goodies

D50 Shitty Potions from Hack Alchemists

D100 Answers to the Question: What’s In This Dude’s Car/Couch/Carrying Case? Or: Some Minor Modern Fantasy Loot

D12 Flaming Swords

D20x5 Grimoires of Forbidden Lore

D100 Things for this Weird Egg You Found to Hatch Into

D20 Magic Rings

D20x5 Headstrong Helmets

D20 Extraneous Miscellaneous Magic Items

D100+ Winsome Wines

Objects from Bebahidari

D20x5 Magic Weapons That Aren't Swords

D20x5 Wacky Wands

D20x5 Dubious Drugs

D66(xD10xD10) Fantastical Fires

D20x5 Illustrious Intelligent Swords

D20 Miscellaneous Magic Items

D20x5 Comely Coinage

D20x5 Freaky Fungi

The Bestiarum Phantasmaticus

D6x6 Heady Healing Potions

D20x5 Jangly Jewelry 

D20x5 Potent Poisons

D20x5 Eldritch Idols  

D100 Irregular Rations

Classes

Ascended Baneposter

Lich Aspirant

Monster Binder

Factions

D100+ Noble Houses 

D100+ Company Names

D20x5 Impractical Priesthoods

D20x5 Barefaced Banks

D100+ Idolatrous Cults & The Idols They Adulate

D20x5 Kooky Cults

D20x5 Bizarre Barbarian Bands

D100+ Factious Faction Names

D20x5 Grotty Goblin Groups

D6x6 Feral Tribes

D20x5 Non-Standard Knightly Orders

D20x5 Gonzo Gangs

Events

D20x5 Abhorrent Apocalypses

D20x5 Alien Invasions

D100+ Wars

D100 Encounters Along A Beach

D100 Encounters Along A Lonesome Road

D100 Morbid Miscasts  

D100 "I Search The Body" Complications

Races

GLOG-Style Dwarf Fortress Races

Slush Piles

Slush Pile 1

Slush Pile 2

Slush Pile 3

Zine(s)

EL ZINE

Odds & Ends

D20 Mooncalves & The Dooms They Foretell

D20 Additional Anomalous Media

What Is The Outrageous Deformity Of This Fashionable Lapdog? & Related Miscellanea

D100+ Mutations

D6x6 Podcasts

D1,000,000 Answers to the Question: What do this wizard's magic missiles look like?

D6x6 Capricious Conspiracies

D8x2xD20x6 Cryptic Prophecies 

Weddingcrashing & Random Tables for the Royal Wedding

D100 Tricky Traps That Might Not Even Technically Be Traps 

D50 Dire Diseases & D50 Curious Cures

Places

D20 Cozy Cottages

Curdle - The City of Cheese

Thaw - Another New Crobuzon

Itaban's Verge - F-122 Challenge

D20x5 Dwarven Mountain Halls

D6x6 Suspiciously Spacious Sewers

The Republic of Beards

The Silvertine Coast

D20x5 Schools of Sorcery

D20x5 Darkling Dungeons

D20x5 Atypical Taverns

Psychomatic Mini-Dungeons - Secret Santicorn

D100 Answers to the Question: What's the Deal with this Town? 

More Lands

D20x5 Forlorn Outposts

D20x5 Dungeon Markets

D6x6 Empty Shrines  

D20x5 Passages to the Underworld

D20x5 Wondrous Wizard Towers

This House Has Many Walls 

How to Make a Magic Sword

D20x5 Tantalizing Trade Routes

D20x5 Terrible Towns

Lore

YOUR SOUL HAS CANCER

Eleleleu

The Dreams of Trees are Awful Things

All Thrones Were Trees And Stones

'Round These Here Parts

A Post Written Entirely With My Phone’s Suggested Words (Except For This Title); Or, The Most Impressive Thing In A World Of Human Flesh

Beware the Werewolf

Architectural Parasitism 

D10x10 Canty Cosmologies

Picture Pong

The Rememberdismove Strain

Swift & Silent as Lightning Before the Thunder

Things Have Learnt to Ping that Ought to Pong

Donkey Pong

The Endinning of the Begend

Mechanics

D20 Fates Other Than Just Dying When You Reach <0 HP

Knowledge is Power; or: Magic Without Spells

Movie Reviews

The first movie review post

The second movie review post

Bits & Bobs

Lessons in Running Horror from Six Idiots in a Dental Office

They Are Hungry We Are Fat

D20x5 Radical Religions

Break Jesus Out of Babylon

D20 Random Sex

D50x2 + D20 Conditional Invulnerabilities

Monster Blender Part I

Monster Blender Part II

What Does This Goblin Smell Like?  

D6x6 Murky Miasmas

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[SCENE]

D20 Mooncalves & The Dooms They Foretell

There's an itch.io "jam" based on "rural horror" going on right now. AAH!!! FARMERS!!!

Anyways I'm not doing that but this is kind of like that.

D20 Mooncalves

1. Born as a fully-formed adult with an unblemished red hide. Seeks to slit its throat on the nearest blade.

2. If it would be clawed it has hooves, if it would have hooves it’s instead clawed. Its sole desire is to devour its mother and its father.

3. It’s got seven heads and seven crowns of teeth and horn. With a voice like trumpets it blares blasphemies and vicious lies.

4. Only half of it is present, split down the middle. The cleft is studded with weeping, bloodshot eyes. It acts as though nothing is amiss.

5. It bears a human face on its chest which rolls its eyes and lolls its tongue.

6. It has translucent flesh, and bones too large to fit within.

7. Born eviscerated, the organs throbbing and lively while the body lies dead.

8. It has a mane of centipedes that drip smoking venom from their forcipules. It also hates you, you personally, with an unnatural intelligence and subtlety.

9. It’s a bloody bunch of hair and grain husks tied into the shape of an animal.

10. Its head is a bare skull and its eye sockets smoulder with golden flames.

11. Born covered in boils filled with amniotic fluid and fetal copies of itself.

12. It has no eyes or nose, only a maw splitting its face that’s stuffed with teeth. It makes a deafening squall that sounds like a human child.

13. Its umbilical cord is as tough as steel wire, and it will unravel into yet more cord as it crawls away from its mother until nothing is left.

14. It tears its way out of the womb, formed without skin or fat, only mountains of misshapen muscle.

15. Born bloated with fragrant waxes that leak from its orifices. Those who smell it will be overcome with the desire to immolate the mooncalf to release more of its scent.

16. Born with eagles’ wings and turtles’ legs. Too many legs, far too many wings.

17. Grows before your eyes, bigger and bigger and bigger until it collapses in under its own weight.

18. It has no limbs, and crawls as if a serpent.

19. Its flesh is cold and hard and veined like black marble. It will writhe and cry and grind itself into dust by its convulsions.

20. Born without a head, and one of the many names of God written on the stump of its neck.

D20 Foretold Dooms

1. The spirit of a road will fall in love with a mortal. That love will be unrequited. In self-pitying despair the spirit will twist their road along unwholesome paths into perdition.

2. A righteous usurper will take the crown and be corrupted by its power into a worse tyrant than the one they deposed.

3. The eruption of a baleful star will bathe a night in rays that turn grass grey and brittle, and make all waters undrinkable.

4. The rivers will turn to curdled milk and attract an army of depraved cats.

5. New weapons will be made which generals have no understanding of, and they will marshal their troops into mass graves.

6. A preacher will come and rouse a great rabble, who will in turn drag all they can before them to be judged and scoured for every last little sin.

7. All livestock will be born as mooncalves. Dairy will become a thing of the past.

8. An erudite though short-sighted wizard will create an enchanted printing press. With it they'll mass-produce scrolls and distribute them at random. This will result in chaos, both because of the scrolls' powers and disastrous flaws in their production.

9. A new and potently addictive drug will rapidly rise in popularity, but the drug is actually the eggs of a parasitic fish which will incubate in their consumers, warping their minds and bodies.

10. Time will spread a freezing web. Remain in one place, and you'll start to move slower and slower until you become a living statue, locked in stasis.

11. A child will be born with incredible strength and an impervious body. Left to their own devices, the child's inability to suffer will prevent them from developing any empathy for their less gifted fellows, and they will gather equally hardened hearts under their banner as a disastrous warlord.

12. People will become haunted en-masse by their ancestors, who are displeased with the impertinent way things are done these days.

13. An echo of the judgement of Babel will make brothers strangers to each other by the splintering of their tongue.

14. The coming generation will exceed their parents in might and cruelty.

15. A storm of sulphurous fire will raze cities and fields to ashes.

16. A contagious and paranoid fear will sweep through the populace. People under its influence become convinced an invasion from an unspecified foreign power is imminent, and that the only survival will be found in the construction of an immense fortress. If not stopped then all the infected will work themselves to death stacking that fortress's stones.

17. Ships larger than any thought possible will appear sailing over the horizon. Their crews bear gifts and smiles, but they serve masters who desire to strip the land and its peoples into resources that can be carried back across the sea.

18. The moon will swell in its radiance, and strange, toxic foliage will flourish beneath its light.

19. Wolves great in size and number will venture out from the woods, their hunger slaked only by human meat.

20. A creeping frost will seize the earth and turn neighbours into killers for want of bread.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Lessons in Running Horror from Six Idiots in a Dental Office

The other day I had the pleasure of playing in a oneshot game run by deus ex parabola (blog: https://as-they-must.blogspot.com) from the OSR discord. We played as dumb-ass teenagers robbing a not-so-abandoned dentist's office. I brought out my best Italian-American accent to play the role of Jimmy Badacelli, guido superstar (and it's quite a good accent, I watched the Sopranos). This was the funniest session I've played in recent memory. It was also the scariest.

I picked up a thing or two from that game. A lot has been said about running horror in rpgs. I've probably read some of it, but by now have forgotten. Doesn't matter. This is the fresh hot beats, the real trap shit:

1. To Paraphrase the Late & Great Graf Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke: "No Plan Survives Contact with the Players"

Player freedom makes it nigh-impossible to construct the kind of horror narrative you'd get in a book or movie. They'll run roughshod over story beats and make mincemeat of dialogue. This should be embraced as the heart of the rpg medium, and harnessed for horror games by making players complicit in the fear-making process. Let them scare themselves, and let them disperse that fear.

I'm not a big believer in the fear of the unknown, but here ambiguity is key. Sensory details, artifacts, spatio-temporal anomalies, chatter over a radio, and the like can be put together to give the players bits of an incomplete skeleton. Let them piece it together, extrapolate, and act upon it. Where otherwise you might use an NPC to exposit, in horror games consider placing something in the environment to interpret, interact with, and contextualize. Also consider placing them like Reese's Pieces™ for ET to lure them into almost-certain doom.

Deus's game had a great example of this with the following image we found in a filing cabinet:


An x-ray of a ribcage with teeth. Simple, effective, works with the environment of the dentist's office, graffiti, and other hints to suggest something bigger, connected, and sinister. It spooks. In less blighted times you could even use physical props.

This approach works best in a setting that's grounded in players' knowledge. If a gnabbu of the Gloroltor Expanse is acting oddly it'll have less impact than if a telephone nibbles on your ear. To have something be uncanny requires knowing what's canny.

Laughter is medicine like oxycontin is medicine. It gives relief, but doesn't remove the underlying cause of discomfort. Player reactions, jokes, etc., (assuming good or even decent chemistry) will naturally lead, in tandem with the incomplete information given, to the peaks and valleys up the mountain of growing tension in a horror game. At that mountain's peak is the monster, which is point no. 2.

If I have any critique of deus's game, it's that frustration weakens the kind of tension we're looking for. Tedium ain't fun or the fun kind of scary. Common sense about puzzles, locked doors, and things like that standing in the way of meaty paths should be exercised.

2. A Good Monster is the Light at the End of the Tunnel

And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train. Over the course of a horror game you should be approaching the monster, and/or the monster should be approaching you. Keep in mind that the monster doesn't have to be some kind of beastie. It can be a revelation, a conspiracy finally acting in the open, a disease reaching its final phase, a plummet into a dreadful alternate reality, and so on and so on. The important factor is that it is the climactic and cathartic release of built-up tension, the rollercoaster's biggest drop, tacit permission to start screaming.

The bits of the skeleton under the previous point are the way to build up that tension. Mention its thumping in the ceiling, or the rats scurrying up from the basement to escape it, or the diary of the last person to go after it, or the corpse of one of its victims, stuff like that. Keep it out of clear sight yet in your players' minds and you'll reap a solid response when the big reveal arrives.

This position at the end however means that there probably should be other active "tentpole" threats to provide spikes in the action, ones which play second fiddle to the monster, and so are mundane or mostly so and affected by its influence. Feral dogs scavenging its kills, its Renfield, locals made hallucinatorily paranoid by the gunk it leaks into the water supply, whatever. Traps could fit too, and I'll touch on them more in the next section.

3. The Unexpected, & Unfairness

One of the few times I can remember being properly horrified by a horror movie was a moment in the otherwise unremarkable Pulse (the American remake of what I hear is the much better Japanese movie Kairo). People are being picked off one by one by ghosts coming through the internet, and when one character's time comes he's melted into a black stain on a wall. Looking back on it now, this was definitely a reference to kodokushi which survived from Kairo, but at the time I experienced a splinter of panic that slipped through my fictional distancing. That splinter could be described as:

What the fuck ghosts aren't supposed to do that???

Effective horror is built on the unexpected, particularly where it intrudes on the otherwise predictable and grounded. Even something as worn into genre as ghosts (sheets with holes poked in them!) can become scary again. This poses a problem with the typical OSR assumptions of play (e.g. the ability of players to gather information to make informed risk vs. reward decisions). I think that used sparingly this is an acceptable trade-off. Running a horror game, we want to maintain players' momentum through the in-game space, keep them touching potential landmines, and scheming their way right down to hell. If every object they pick up turns into a mouth that bites them in half that's not going to happen. If one object in the whole dungeon space does that's a hootin' and a hollerin'.

To a lesser extent this ties into desciption. Everyone's expecting a walking corpse to bite your skull open and eat your brains. Not so many are expecting it to tie you up like your bones are rubber and blow you full of rot-gas 'til you float up and freeze in the stratosphere.

If you can't trust something to be dangerous, you can't trust it at all.

4. Never Forget The Real Horror

The Gnostics were essentially correct, in that the world is ruled by idiot-god optimization algorithms and civilization is on track to be made up of a small class of oligarchs who own everything, the slightly larger class of their toadies who manage what the oligarchs own, the debt-slave masses deprived of freedom, dignity, and security, and then the people from whom no more value can be extracted, who will be left to die from despair, violence, and likely climate change-driven natural disasters. The Gnostics' mistake was in thinking there was any escape.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

They Are Hungry We Are Fat

Abundance above, deprivation below. Nature always balances these gradients, eventually.

A campaign seed for Veins of the Earth*.

How do they rise?
1. Black gates swing open in the depths of the darkest dungeons. This has happened before. This will happen again.
2. Carried in the bellies of behemoth-worms.
3. Marching in a thousand disparate trickles, ant-line vanguards for the hive further beneath.
4. Millenia of excavation, careful sapping, all for a moment of utter collapse.
5. Dragged by fateful chains forged by the words of oracles drunk on the chthonic vapours they sent up.
6. A prince of the molten earth ransomed, bargained, or tricked into making the outer crust shudder and crack just so.

What is the omen of their coming?
1. The value of currencies collapse as markets flood with precious metals.
2. Creatures like blind serpents with many-chambered stomachs glutting in the fields, whole flocks swallowed up at once.
3. Eruptions of dust into the atmosphere, the sun bloating to a fat, dull red. Green trees are overcome by towering mushrooms and new vegetation in necrotic hues.
4. Sorcerer-kings wearing occultum crowns enjoying meteoric ascendancy.
5. Clouds spread tendrils rather than gathering in clumps. Rain falls greasy and sulphurous. All this is the influence of stale gases released from far, far below.
6. Bats disappear from the starry skies. The night belongs to them now.

How do they fight?
1. Preceded by an ultimatum, with generous disinterest to those who surrender and annihilation to those who resist.
2. Like locusts, ravenous violence without hatred. A wavefront of ecological devastation.
3. On a vast and subtle scale with merchantilist fervor, addicting populations to the exports of the underworld.
4. Under the cover of breeds of darkness that thrive on light and life.
5. With the weapons of our own sunken civilizations. Ysian cannons kintsugi’d together with Atlantean orichalcum, among others.
6. Following a wave of ravening plagues glutting on the unadapted cornucopia of the upper world.

What is among them?
1. Fungal networks the size of mountains, thinking slow thoughts so complex that reality bends in the pull of their informational density.
2. Generations of sequential undead, buried, eaten by vermin, the vermin dying, rising, and being eaten in turn and over again for countless inbred years.
3. Stone giants with molten blood. The blood is the life, the body their shell. They will flood our fortresses and take them for their new flesh.
4. Protean intermediate forms spawned from the muds of the Nightmare Sea, adapting to the sun and abundance as they once did to the barren dark.
5. Gap-gods that exist in absence rather than substance: in tunnels and cavities, between words, when you have nothing and no one else.
6. Amorphous, incendiary spirits of coal and oil, dryads compressed together and transmuted with their forests.

What do they carry?
1. Biological bells that ring with rasping tongues. Their tones slither over vast distances and issue orders to war-beasts.
2. Pale and bepincered centipedes in glass terrarium-bottles. The creatures' excrement is a spice as piquant as paprika.
3. Figurines like the negative space in a chunk of pumice, a map of their distant home.
4. Jars of mucal ointment worn as a body coating. Mingles into wounds to put the flesh into torpor, slowing bleeding and dulling pain.
5. Lick-salts borne reverently on golden paddles. A taste skews your sight sideways into a next-door universe.
6. Elaborate braids that encode a writing read by touch in their knots and patterns. Everyday stuff is recorded in strands woven from fungal hyphae, important orders in copper wires.

Why here, why now?
1. Life on the surface has only just proliferated and progressed enough to convince the powers of the greater world below that they might have something worth taking.
2. An adventurer from the sunlit realms, thought lost in the depths, leads their ascension with messianic fury.
3. Reliable confirmation of the existence of the surface is a recent development. For the longest time orthodox cosmological models had an endless continuation of more stone up above.
4. The heart of the world is dying, its heat no longer sufficient to sustain its veins.
5. Interference from the surface has since ancient times been the political scapegoat for domestic problems. A prolonged and exceptional period of deprivation has caused that prejudice to boil over.
6. There is something crawling through the veins. It leaves the dead to rot. It is known only by the carnage that follows behind. If you are close enough to hear it coming, it has already got you. Nothing has yet survived.

What can be done?
1. There are many among them, and the grievances between some are older than the blood feuds of any human clan. Perhaps a wedge could be driven in to divide and better defend against the conquest.
2. As below, so above. Invisible legions lie in the upper air and the void beyond. The trick is learning what you could possibly offer to win them, and whether it is an acceptable price.
3. Salt every inch of lost ground, make every one of their victories a narrow thing fought for tooth and nail. Withstand the attrition, and you might reach a stalemate appreciated by no side but tolerated by all.
4. An army without leadership becomes a directionless horde, unable to apply critical pressure on any particular point. Strike surgically, decapitate the invaders, and weather what follows.
5. Forgive old foes, call up ancient pacts, present a united front to meet the flood.
6. Adapt or die. This is no different from any other extinction. Become the progenitor of surviving surfacekind.

*I started this 4 years ago in January of 2019, and on reflection now it feels diametrically opposed to the themes of VotE. That's fine. If it were too close I'd essentially be stealing Patrick Stuart's work. A man's work is like his child. Who would I be if I stole a man's child? I would be many of the people listed in child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein's unredacted little black book.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

GLOG Class: Ascended Baneposter

Saw a man I respect as an artist posting about "based", "zoomer", "waifu", etc. If I even know what internet slang is in ten years you have permission to beat the shit out of me, I won't fight back.

GLOG Class: Ascended Baneposter
Starting Equipment: Windbreaker, collared shirt, khakis, brown leather belt, pistol
A: Roll two from CIA Ability table below, choose next highest ability on reroll
B: Roll two from CIA Ability table below, choose next highest ability on reroll
C: Roll two from CIA Ability table below, choose next highest ability on reroll
D: Roll two from CIA Ability table below, choose next highest ability on reroll

CIA Ability (D8):

1. I'm CIA: You are an operative of the intelligence agency of the nation of your choice, and can announce this to provoke appropriate reactions in enemies and allies alike. You can call in minor favours from the agency but must repay them with a task of equal or greater magnitude.

2. You Don't Get To Bring Friends: Enemies must succeed on a morale roll with a penalty equal to your number of Ascended Baneposter templates to attack or pursue you more than one at a time.

3. He Didn't Fly So Good: If something takes falling damage as a result of your actions, that damage is doubled. You also gain advantage on intimidation checks if you threaten to drop your target from a high height.

4. Lotta Loyalty For A Hired Gun: Hirelings employed by you personally get a +4 bonus to their morale.

5. If I Pull That Off Will You Die: You can attempt to seize even worn equipment with a contested strength check, and succeeding on such a seizure deals 1d6 damage.

6. You're A Big Guy: A number of times per day equal to your Ascended Baneposter templates you can halve the damage one of your allies will take in the next round, or give them advantage on a save.

7. Tell Me About Bane, Why Does He Wear The Mask: Once per round you can ask the DM about a piece of equipment held by an enemy to learn its function, powers, and content, if any.

8. Now What's The Next Step Of Your Master Plan: A number of times per day equal to your Ascended Baneposter templates you can ask an enemy what they intend to do next, and they must answer truthfully.


Monday, November 16, 2020

D20 Additional Anomalous Media

Getting on the ol' bandwagon: https://throneofsalt.blogspot.com/2020/11/d20-anomalous-media.html

1

Violin Concerto IX: Degraded magnetic tape recording of a four hour violin concerto. The concerto was composed by a child prodigy referred to in classified documents only as "Black Mozart" at the age of eight, shortly before he was taken into custody by a CIA agent.

The child was given to a team including ex-Nazi scientists brought over to America by Operation Paperclip in order to extract the secrets of musical genius, a process involving experiments which were deemed unethical to perform on whites. This was to be the masterstroke of a faction within the CIA's International Organizations Division that saw the Division's support of Abstract Expressionism over more traditional art as degenerate.

The child prodigy was killed by the experiments. All that remains of him and his tremendous body of work are some scraps of brain matter in formaldehyde jars and a poorly-preserved recording of Violin Concerto IX.

2

Concerned Mothers Against Satanic Abuse PSA: A short documentary which features the testimonies of several women, their children, and psychiatrists on the topic of occult child abuse conspiracies, as well as readings from the Malleus Maleficarum. The testimonies are separated by interludes of metal music playing backwards while pentagrams and crayon illustrations of demons flash. Aired for a period of three months on public-access television at the height of the Satanic Panic. Recordings can be found on most streaming sites.

Watching the PSA in full inserts false memories of relatives, teachers, and other caregivers having abused the watcher in a ritualistic fashion when they were children.

3

eep.png: An image file containing a "basilisk" which is able to hack the human brain through its visual cortex. Viewers perceive the image as being something antithetical to their core political identity and beliefs. Viewers have reported seeing a slaughterhouse in operation, interracial pornography, a Russian flag flying over the White House, a former president defecating on the Bible, and a cartoon frog, among other things.

Besides its shifting appearance, eep.png is also able to affect the human brain by amplifying viewers' disgust, fear, and anger reactions when exposed to expressions of political beliefs they don't share. Exposure to eep.png has been connected to the Amphitheatre Parkway Shooting, the Tampa Iridium Bombing, the Metro Hakone Derailing, the Strasburg Stabbings, and the Moscow Maulings. While suspected, its connection to the disastrous Invasion of Iran is unconfirmed.

4

The Last Stand of a Weeping Man: A single act, single performer play about a man trying to drink himself to death in a motel room.

If performed accurate to the script and in an empty theatre then an audience will filter in over the course of the play. At the play's climax the actor asks three questions of the audience:

"Who is watching me?"

"Who is following me?"

and "Why must I die?"

Two of the three questions will be answered accurately with regard to the actor's own life by the audience. As the script requires imbibing a significant amount of liquor before the questions are asked most performers report difficulty remembering the answers in full.

When the play has been performed in front of a human audience it has been criticized as "gimmicky", "flat", and "navel-gazing".

5

Abel Ape Pamphlet: A pamphlet that saw limited circulation in PETA mailing lists in the early '90s. In dual columns of English and incompetently-translated Medan Malay the pamphlet lays out an alternate interpretation of the myth of Cain and Abel, wherein Abel is the peaceful orangutan, intended to inherit the Earth by God, while Cain is the violent and envious humanity who usurps their brother through murder and degradation.

As proof of this narrative the pamphlet claims that it is printed on paper made from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Fiber testing of the paper indicates bizarre differences to all known tree species.

6

Nevuh Fuggedaboutit: The surreal and apocryphal 87th episode of The Sopranos, which lacks an opening and credits. The episode follows an older A.J. Soprano (played by an as-yet unidentified actor), who has followed in his father's footsteps and become boss of the New Jersey mob, which now consists of only him, a decrepit Paulie, and an inexplicably unaged Furio. A.J. drives around New Jersey and repeats lines and actions which Tony performed in earlier episodes, often interacting with characters who are not actually present in the scene.

There is a B-plot which A.J.'s story does not cross over with at any point, which involves Carmela renovating the family home impossibly quickly, and Meadow struggling to find her within. All characters besides A.J. appear to be portrayed by their actual actors in the series, though when questioned about it at conventions all have denied involvement in or knowledge of the episode.

The fate of Tony Soprano is not mentioned.

7

Platypals:  A podcast hosted by two friends with the occasional guest (typically the second host's boyfriend) with a 121-episode run that has an average of 240 downloads per episode. It was self-described as "the one-stop shop for all things platypus".

The podcast documents the disintegration of the hosts' friendship as they run out of platypus facts in the first ten episodes, and sprawl into more tenuous content, such as a twenty five episode run of speculative evolution in a world where every vertebrate but the platypus is rendered extinct. Further strain is added by the first host spending thousands of dollars of their pooled savings on recording equipment, Platypals merchandise, renting convention space, and a trip to Australia.

At the twenty minute mark episode #113 records the first host bludgeoning the second host to death with the base of a stuffed platypus. The remaining eight episodes were recorded and released in rapid succession as the first host fled first from the second host's boyfriend and then the police. Over its entire run the podcast made a total of $250 on patreon, all donated ironically by a furry with a platypus fursona.

8

Anomorphosis.txt: A 98 page compilation of posts by the founding user Jasmine86 on the now-defunct pro-anorexia forum Anomorphosis. Jasmine86 became infamous on some corners of the internet for her mostly-misinformed rants on Sufi and Jain asceticism, as well as for posting thousands of nude pictures of herself. Egged on by trolls and a few sincere believers, Jasmine86's health reached its nadir when the skin over her right knee split open due to a combination of malnourishment and holding self-invented "yoga" positions for hours. Jasmine86's final post features a picture of the evidently infected wound, which she refers to as her "body flower", and a journal of a dream in which the "flower" is "viscerally pollinated" by "astral birds".

While initially put together to make fun of Jasmine86, Anomorphosis.txt has since inspired almost a dozen copycats and caused one death and three hospitalizations.

9

Gloria Sophia Digitalia: A vocaloid program created by a one man over the course of 18 years. GSD was built to be the "Earthly incarnation of the transcendent ideal of beauty", with code arranged according to principles of sacred geometry, among other painstaking features. English and French curse words, as well as various other words such as "circumcision", "Halloween", and "Mecca", are automatically censored when placed in GSD's vocal track.

The programmer behind GSD died seven days after its completion and release. He was shot in an armed robbery he perpetrated to support the amphetamine habit picked up during GSD's development.

Listening to songs made with Gloria Sophia Digitalia in accordance with its creator's instructions has been known to cause religiously-themed psychosis similar to Jerusalem syndrome.

10

CentaurThirdAttempt.mkv: A short video of a man with legs amputated midway down his thighs and a horse standing upright with most of its upper head and lower jaw missing in what looks to be a garage. The man uses a hand-operated crane to lift himself into a harness attached to the horse's neck and shoulders. By pulling some straps with his thighs he is somehow able to make the horse take a few steps forward, before it trips and knocks the recording camera over.

11

The Olfactorum: A device which resembles a high-tech bagpipe. It can be "played" to release a huge variety of scents in layered compositions. The olfactorum's creator claims to have woken up holding it after being abducted by aliens, and has maintained a marginal living by touring outsider art exhibitions with it.

12

Amazing Autumn Hedge Maze Adventure: A "walking simulator" game set in an endless hedge maze decorated with pumpkins. The game is able to calibrate itself in real time to the preferences of its player, turning itself into an inescapable Skinner box over the course of many hours of play. Fortunately the game starts off boring enough that relatively few people have become trapped for a lethal length of time.

13

Crushing Portraiture: A series of crush fetish videos and painting tutorials which were hosted first on an OnlyFans account and then an extreme Czech porn site once the account was banned. The videos feature a woman, of whom only her hands and legs are show, killing progressively larger animals by stepping on them with high heels, then using the resulting paste to paint a self portrait. The first animals to be crushed are mosquito larvae. The last is a donkey foal, which takes several hours.

The videos demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of archaic painting techniques paired with impressive if horrible personal innovations, deriving a range of shades and textures from organs and bodily fluids.

14

"The Absolute Rampage of Dairaijon": A VHS tape containing a low budget dubbed kaiju movie apparently filmed in the late '70s to early '80s. With the exception of a few lines (in particular any sentence in which the titular monster Dairaijon is mentioned by name) the dub is complete gibberish.

What can be gleaned of the movie's plot is that a bolt of lightning discharged from a nebula passing the Earth creates or awakens Dairaijon, who terrorizes a Japanese city until the protagonist, a housewife who loses her family to Dairaijon's attack, causes the ocean to animate and drag away the monster.

Compared to contemporary kaiju movies The Absolute Rampage of Dairaijon appears inexpertly made. The Dairaijon costume's paint fades over the course of the movie, and cracks form in the rubber. One of its dorsal eyestalks falls off midway through a scene and is not replaced in later scenes. The sets lack detail, and building models are full of raw beef.

When played on a cathode-ray tube screen the movie displays peculiar electromagnetic effects. It causes people nearby to experience feelings of dread and severe Alice in Wonderland syndrome, perceiving animals and structures in their surroundings to be much larger than they are. Electrical infrastructure the screen is plugged into suffers fires and blackouts.

15

Les Exécrables: A hand-drawn Quebecois children's cartoon that was cancelled after 8 episodes when it came out that its producers were embezzling Canada Media Fund grants.

Each episode revolves around the grotesque, Muppet-esque characters reenacting various events in Quebec's history, from the voyages of Jacques Cartier to the October Crisis. The writing is satirical and contains much innuendo that would go over the head of a young audience.

Les Exécrables attracted a cult following after its cancellation, with fans combing the show for Easter egg phrases encoded in song lyrics and diagrams that appeared in backgrounds. Due to the efforts of a small team of dedicated watchers it was pieced together that these assumed Easter eggs in fact composed a plan to assassinate then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This plan exposed security weakpoints that went unaddressed and were later exploited to kill several members of Parliament.

16

Ricardo de la Luna: Apparently what was intended to be a science fiction radio play, recorded on a stack of vinyls by a Spanish soldier fighting for an unknown side in the civil war. The radio play follows the moon-born heroic engineer Ricardo as he supports a war effort against invading aliens that have destroyed the Earth.

The radio play is intolerably dry, with atrociously long digressions into orbital equations, technical specs of spacecraft, and the like. These digressions also show the writer's incredible acumen with science and mathematics, such as an understanding of rocketry that wouldn't be matched until the Apollo missions, seemingly developed alone and ex nihilo. Among other implausible predictions the radio play also includes a sort of analogue blockchain currency.

Due to the loss of some of the vinyls the play ends on a cliffhanger as the aliens launch a missile containing an enhanced H1N1 influenza A virus towards the last bastion of humanity, forcing a crucified Ricardo to watch on.

17

Auntie Yonnie's Progressive Throat Songs: A self-published album of experimental throat singing, with each song on the album starting with clips of Auntie Yonnie walking the listener through the body modification surgery she'll undergo to perform the song, and audio from the surgeries themselves.

The album cover is a picture of Auntie Yonnie bleeding out from tubes in her neck after the final surgery.

18

NDAY.mp4d: A video shared on three content aggregation sites by a user under the name "John Titor", who based on comparison of IP addresses is unlikely to be the original John Titor. The video is grainy and shaky aerial footage taken by either a large drone or from some kind of VTOL aircraft. There is audio commentary over the footage, but it is difficult to make out over the sound of rotors. The footage shows a ruined city riddled with craters and debris, with crowds of people running around and colliding into, possibly attacking, each other. The video runs for 4 minutes and 49 seconds, ending with the aircraft being struck by an air-to-air projectile and spinning towards the ground.

Based on landmarks visible in the video, the city it depicts appears to change every 24 hours. The original version changed at 12:00 AM, GMT +9, while saved copies change 24 hours after they were created.

19

"God Help Me": A graffiti painting of a haggard man in a stained blue tracksuit and undershirt which appears in alleys and foreclosed homes in Manchester. The man is always painted with a speech bubble containing the words "God help me".

When the paintings show up in mainstream media they're typically attributed to an anonymous street artist, like a less political Banksy. Due to the fact that no more than one physical copy of the painting has existed at one time (with even copies enclosed in a mesh cage disappearing without a trace) there is an online conspiracy theory that the painting is itself a living creature. There have been several attempts to kill it with sledgehammers and explosives, but it's returned looking more worn down each time.

20

The Vanguard of Dreamless Sleep: A comic book set in a dystopian future where the Earth is on the verge of being taken over by a super/sub-human variant called the Tabulatarchs. Tabulatarchs are not another species, but rather ordinary people who through drugs and auto-hypnosis have "optimized away their animal minds", ridding themselves of "unsatisfiable desires" and "that glutton of sleep which is called dreaming".

The plot of the book follows a rebel against the Tabulatarchs who becomes disillusioned by the infighting, ineptitude, and laziness of her fellows. She eventually becomes a Tabulatarch herself and locks her former comrades in "tele-cells" where they're incapacitated by a constant stream of audiovisual stimulation.

The comic's manuscript was originally submitted to 2000 AD in the '70s, but it was rejected for the hostility of its application letter. Copies circulated in indie comic circles for decades, until a full printing was made in the early 2000s.

Readers of TVoDS often report a decrease in appetite, increase in attention span, numbness toward art which typically triggers feelings of the sublime, and lack of memory of their dreams. Addition of The Vanguard of Dreamless Sleep to primary school curricula has been added as a requirement for aid by the World Bank, a policy which has seen notable gig productivity growth in its initial application in the American Midwest.