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Vox Valentine
May 31, 2013

Solving all of life's problems through enhanced casting of Occam's Razor. Reward yourself with an imaginary chalice.

I like Monsterhearts and I'm never really able to parse the Serpentine's mechanics and style, so by all means keep going with the Skins. They're pretty great and you're doing a good job with them.

Vox Valentine fucked around with this message at 01:25 on Sep 16, 2014


Oct 9, 2012

And no one ate dinner that night.

pkfan2004 posted:

I like Monsterhearts and I'm never really able to parse the Serpentine's mechanics and style, so by all means keep going with the Skins. They're pretty great and you're doing a good job with them.

echopapa posted:

I’ve enjoyed hearing about the skins so far and would like to know about the limited edition skins.

Cythereal posted:

Agreed. My gaming group had a good amount of fun (and from the reactions of the AW thread, significantly more carnage than is typical of the game) running MH as a one-off for a lark, and we all felt the skins were interesting and well done. I'd enjoy hearing about more.

Alright, so I guess there's a clear consensus that once I'm done with the last of the official Skins I'll do the limited edition Skins before going into the MC section. Speaking of which...

It's time for the last of the official Skins, the Witch.

You know what Witches are: they're kids with magic powers who hex people. In terms of what the Witch is in the high school genre... I'm not really sure, to be honest. Going simply by its stats and moves, the Witch strikes me as a bit of an antisocial nerd who digs up dirt on those stupid jocks who bully them and then makes them suffer. The Witch's thing is sympathetic magic: they power their magic through stealing sympathetic tokens from others and then spending those tokens as part of their hexes. This also interacts interestingly with the game's String economy.

As far as Stats go, the Witch has the exact same spread as the Ghost: 1 in Cold and Dark, -1 in Volatile and Hot. This is actually where I draw the antisocial nerd analogue from: like the Ghost, the Witch is not about manipulating people through charm nor lashing out at them violently, but about being cold and distant and just having a degree of occult knowledge and know-how. However, whereas the Ghost is the isolated lonely kid, the Witch is more of a revenge of the nerds type.

Witches start with the following two moves:

Sympathetic Tokens allows the Witch to gather sympathetic tokens, or items with a significant emotional value to a person. While these are usually used to power their hexes, they also count as Strings held on that person. Basically, steal someone's diary and you can either use it to power a hex (losing it in the process) or use it for more traditional manipulation, giving it back in the process.

Hex-Casting is the real meat and bones move of the Witch though. It allows the Witch to cast hexes, starting with two, but with the Witch being allowed to learn the rest as an Advancement. To cast a hex the Witch must either expend a sympathetic token during a secret ritual or to meet the target's gaze and chant at them in tongues. To see if a hex works you roll with Dark. On a 10+ the hex works and can be easily reversed by the Witch, on a 7-9 it works but the Witch must choose one:
  • the casting does the Witch 1 harm
  • the hex has unexpected side-effects
  • the Witch triggers their Darkest Self
If you're wondering why these two are separate moves, it's basically so that other Skins can nab one or the other from the Witch through advancements but without immediately stealing the Witch's thing: if you take hex-casting, you'll be limited to casting spells through meeting peoples' eyes and chanting at them, as you won't be able to gather sympathetic tokens on them yet.

In addition to those two, the Witch gets to choose one of the following moves:

Transgressive Magic is a bit meh in my opinion. It allows you to add 1 to your hex-casting rolls when your ritual transgresses your community's moral and sexual standards. Since hex-casting ceremonies are already supposed to be secret, giving the player a +1 to that roll feels a bit unnecessary just for them describing your ritual in a very kinky way.

Bide My Time is interesting though: if you've got a sympathetic token on someone, you add 1 to your rolls to hold steady against their actions or run away from them. While the Witch can be played as a hex happy character, this move really encourages them to hold on to sympathetic tokens and play the long game.

Sanctuary is another pretty meh move. You have a secret place for casting your hexes and while in that place you add 1 to your hex-casting rolls. Okay, it does come with the potential story hook of other people finding the Witch's sanctuary and compromising it, but it's still a pretty boring +1.

Overall, while the core of the Witch (sympathetic tokens and hex-casting) is interesting, the remainder of their moves feel a bit bland to me.

Having said that, their Hexes are probably more important than their Moves.

Wither is the body horror hex: the target loses their hair, their teeth start rotting, or something equally disgusting. Whatever the exact effects, it's really bad.

Binding makes the person unable to harm others physically. Good for those times when there's a rampaging Werewolf running around.

Ring of Lies makes the target hear a ringing, piercing noise whenever they lie. Big lies will make their knees buckle and disorient them, while really severe lies might even cause brain damage. Given how important social manipulation is to Monsterhearts, this is a very powerful and thematically appropriate effect.

Watching allows the Witch to enter a deep sleep and see the world through the eyes of the hexed. They can feel their reactions to and impressions of things they are seeing.

Illusions lets you pick one of the following: snakes, bugs, demonic visages, false prophecies, non-existent subtext (the last one is my favorite). The hexed sees that thing everywhere. When I ran Monsterhearts with a Witch in the group, they loved making people see non-existent subtext everywhere. The way we described it, the hexed heard everything said to them with "If you know what I mean" appended to it.

The Witch is really, really powerful. The thing is, as written there are no ways for characters to shrug off or get rid of a Witch's hexes without the Witch deciding to reverse them. I actually think this is intentional: like the exact nature of the Vampire's and Werewolf's state and which myths of them are true, it's up to the group to decide the scope and mechanics of the Witch's hexes. I've usually ruled that the Witch can only have a single hex cast at a given time, and should a hexed character want to get rid of a hex we can usually agree on some means of getting rid of the hex (which the characters can find clues to through gazing into the abyss). Basically, if a Witch is going hex-happy, the hexed targets are given the opportunity to look for some manner of charm to protect them from the Witch's hexes, or even find another Witch who might be willing to undo the effects of the hex. Also, hexing the poo poo out of everyone is basically giving the MC licence to write in a town-wide witch-hunt as a Menace.

For the Witch's Backstory, you start the game with two sympathetic tokens and are asked to decide whose they are and what they are. However, one of the Witch's friends has caught them going through someone else's stuff, and they gain a String on the Witch.

The Witch's Gang is, obviously, a Coven.

Then there's the last bits:

Sex Move posted:

After sex, you can take a sympathetic token from them. They know about it, and it’s cool.

I don't really have anything to add to that. Their Darkest Self is pretty cool though, being all kinds of Carrie:

Darkest Self posted:

The time for subtlety and patience is over. You’re too powerful to put up with their garbage any longer. You hex anyone who slights you. All of your hexes have unexpected side effects, and are more effective than you are comfortable with. To escape your Darkest Self, you must offer peace to the one you have hurt the most.

Basically, when their Darkest Self triggers the Witch decides that they've had enough of all the idiots surrounding them and it's time for vengeance. Anyone who so much as tries to tell them "Dude, not cool" gets cursed with demon snakes shouting "THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID" in their head until they go completely catatonic from the visions. So, you know. Holy poo poo. Don't gently caress with the Witch.

Next time it's time for the "gently caress you dad God!" Skin, the Angel!

Aug 21, 2000

Not keen on keening.

Grimey Drawer
To me, from experience with self-styled witches in high school and moves like 'Transgressive magic' and 'Bide my time', the Witch looks like the (creepy) weirdo archetype. They're the ones who have gone goth, or turned their back on the Church, or the ones everyone expects to come in one day and shoot the school up. They're actively transgressing, though whether they're doing it to rebel or to honestly search for their own truth probably depends on whether or not they've made the 'grow the gently caress up' move.

Nov 8, 2009

I love the potoo,
and the potoo loves you.
The Witch also calls to mind, for me at least, the loners who think they're so much smarter than everyone else because they've learned about something few people do, at simultaneously smart from being loners and outcasts and think they're better than everyone else. I knew a few self-proclaimed witches like this in high school, but I also saw that attitude with early serious computer geeks and the like. Only Monsterhearts Witches have found actual power to back up their fantasies of revenge and self-superiority against those lessers, those mundanes who are so self-satisfied and don't recognize or appreciate their betters. Even their sex move is about gaining more power over others. Notice that none of the Witches' hexes are beneficial, except maybe Binding.

Edit: In particular, the dynamic the Witch calls to mind for me is that the Witch is both more and less powerful than he thinks he is. Suddenly this kid has power, power to act out his fantasies and avenge every humiliation, every perceived slight. But he almost certainly isn't thinking about the consequences of his newfound power and what he's doing. He doesn't appreciate, or perhaps care, that he now has the ability to seriously hurt people physically, mentally, and emotionally. It's every "prank" that's sent someone to the hospital.

And it doesn't take any imagination to have some dark power come calling to the Witch, plunging them into a world they never wanted or counted on.

Be careful what you wish for...

Cythereal fucked around with this message at 18:27 on Sep 16, 2014

Vox Valentine
May 31, 2013

Solving all of life's problems through enhanced casting of Occam's Razor. Reward yourself with an imaginary chalice.

Cythereal posted:

Edit: In particular, the dynamic the Witch calls to mind for me is that the Witch is both more and less powerful than he thinks he is. Suddenly this kid has power, power to act out his fantasies and avenge every humiliation, every perceived slight. But he almost certainly isn't thinking about the consequences of his newfound power and what he's doing. He doesn't appreciate, or perhaps care, that he now has the ability to seriously hurt people physically, mentally, and emotionally. It's every "prank" that's sent someone to the hospital.

The interesting thing about the Witch is that it's like a more specialized version of the Infernal. The Infernal really has power. It absolutely has power to call on, at the cost of said power taking a moral and ethical toll on everyone around them. The Infernal really has to consider if what they're about to do is worth moving a step closer to the edge.

Witches, on the other hand, get a hammer. The only downside of using a hammer is that something get bent or broken most of the time. You can use your hammer all day and all night if you want to, and spell-casting eye-to-eye with people is akin to beating them with the hammer in public. It's not subtle, it's completely obvious and everyone has just seen you hit the school bully with a hammer. And as cliche as it is, eventually everything starts looking like a nail to the Witch.

Nov 8, 2009

I love the potoo,
and the potoo loves you.

pkfan2004 posted:

The interesting thing about the Witch is that it's like a more specialized version of the Infernal. The Infernal really has power. It absolutely has power to call on, at the cost of said power taking a moral and ethical toll on everyone around them. The Infernal really has to consider if what they're about to do is worth moving a step closer to the edge.

Witches, on the other hand, get a hammer. The only downside of using a hammer is that something get bent or broken most of the time. You can use your hammer all day and all night if you want to, and spell-casting eye-to-eye with people is akin to beating them with the hammer in public. It's not subtle, it's completely obvious and everyone has just seen you hit the school bully with a hammer. And as cliche as it is, eventually everything starts looking like a nail to the Witch.

On the other hand, Witches aren't indebted to an external power like Infernals are. Infernals are addicts and tied up in powers beyond their understanding. They're the kid who signed the wrong contract.

Witches are that kinda creepy kid at the back of the classroom who just figured out how to spy on the head cheerleader when she's in the shower, make the captain of the football team's muscles start to wither, and the class goody-goody two-shoes go bugfuck insane.

Aug 21, 2000

Not keen on keening.

Grimey Drawer

Yes! That's much more elegant. I think I was too much the supercilious nerd in high school to fit them into that frame without prompting, but they really do.

Nov 6, 2011

When they passed out body parts in the comics today, I got Cathy's nose and Dick Tracy's private parts.
If The Chosen is Buffy and The Mortal is Bella, then The Witch is Fairuza Balk in "The Craft."

Aug 21, 2007

Neat. Sweet. Petite.

That was my thought, especially with the visions power.

Oct 10, 2012

We're your first, last, and only line of defense. We live in secret. We exist in shadow.

And we dress in black.
It's worth noting that Sanctuary gives +1 to all your rolls there, not just spell casting. This basically gives you the social advantage over someone whenever you let them into your private space.

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Chapter 7 Continuation: Spirits and Spirit-Beasts

I forgot one last table in the bestiary: generating stat blocks for spirits! It's a lot like the chapter's initial table of making new monsters, although the roles and abilities are slightly different. You've got sample stat blocks of Restless Ancestors who fight with a manufactured weapon, Raging Spirit-Beasts who have natural attacks, a Spirit of Dark Lore who can cast marabout spells, and the might False God with 12 Hit Dice and can attack twice in a round!

Humanoid and Spirit-Beast traits are divided into 2 separate tables and include things like being invisible save in reflections, possessing bronze talons or obsidian claws and the like, covered in a cloud of miasma or flames, etc. Qualities include things like being able to teleport between plants, can raise the dead as Walking Corpses, can discern someone's worst crimes by scent, breath weapons, and other cool stuff. It's a great way to show off the sheer variety of spirits.

Chapter 8: Treasures and Their Uses

This chapter mainly describes magic items, but it also discusses other things such as buying land and building houses, hiring minions, and types of treasure troves. As Spears of the Dawn does not abide by a wealth-by-level or "treasure by CR" format, types of treasure to be found in dungeons, monster hordes, and the personal possessions of NPCs is determined by a general guideline chart.

A peasant family's saving might include a mere 1d6 x 10 silver ingots plus some spare clothes and cheap jewelry as a wedding dowry, while a powerful bandit leader would have 1d6 x 1,000 silver ingots, some expensive gems and percentage chances for magic items. The trove types are very all-encompassing, covering everything from a village tax treasury to a Giant's ruined palace. We then have some tables for generating plunder, or the value and qualities of clothing, gems, furniture and the like. And of course a table for determining what magic items adventuring Spears might find!

Magical Item Descriptions

Now this is what I'm talking about! Like many other things, Spears of the Dawn's magic item system is a feature apart from the other retro-clones on the market. Basically, magic items are split into two categories: greater and lesser.

Lesser items are minor trinkets crafted by nganga, potions brewed by herbalists, and other objects of minor power. Even then such items are quite expensive for the average commoner, but even an occult scholar or village shaman might possess the means to fashion an amulet of warding against curses or a healing potion. In game terms, they're limited-use items.

Greater items are objects of legend. They are fashioned by mighty sorcerers and marabouts, infused with power after some mighty deed, and other powerful objects of lasting utility. The bound spirits of the items are semi-aware and take great offense when people try to trade them for mere gold or other banal favors, refusing to function for those who disrespected them. Greater items still have a cost, but this is only for the purposes of crafting. In game mechanics, they include weapons, armor, and other permanent items.

There are rules for crafting magic items. Basically the creator needs to pay the cost and labor for 1 day per 500 gold pieces. I think that this might be an error, as silver ingots are the universal standard elsewhere in the book. Generally speaking the crafter must be of a minimum listed level and a nganga, but it is possible for other people to craft items if they possess knowledge of an appropriate spell or possess certain skill levels (experience levels are still universal). For example, anybody of at least 2nd level and 1 rank in Occult and Healing can craft a healing potion, whereas someone of at least 4th level and a Blacksmithing level of 3 can craft a +1 weapon or armor. Overall I like this: it's a great thematic way for things like legendary artisans crafting fabled blades, or a skilled hunter concocting a potent brew with rainforest plants.

Potions are single-use lesser magic items which are typically stored in a calabash gourd stopped with clay or a glass vial. Brewers in cities must buy ingredients, but those in rural regions and the wilderness can once per year gather 1,000 silver ingots worth of material product; this is because many small villages rely upon local flora which blooms at the right time to craft their goods. There are 12 potions listed, which include classic staples such as healing injuries and sickness, shapechanging into an animal for limited periods, breathe underwater, make someone fall in love with you, and even ones which can allow you to fly (as spirits carry you) or turn invisible!

Spirit Tokens lesser magic items, usually taking the form of small amulets of inked leather or bundles of ingredients. They can be crafted by only nganga and marabout, and either represent a special appeal to patron spirits or concentrated ashe. They contain one use of a stored spell which can be released on command by a proper trigger command determined by the crafter (which can be determined by those who don't know with a successful Occult roll). Nganga and marabout can only imbue spells they have access to in spirit tokens.

Scrolls, basically.

Fetish Sticks are lesser items which are rods as long as an adult's forearm. They are usually decorated with carvings, feathers, woven cords or bones in rural regions, and wrought bronze, gems, and precious metals in urban areas. Fetish sticks each have a singular power, but can use it as many as 50 times before it crumbles away to dust. The more charges which are expended, the more battered and decayed the fetish stick becomes. The powers of a fetish stick can be activated by a command word chosen by the creator (who can only be ngangas). There are eight fetish sticks and none of them are keyed off of existing spells: they include powers such as the ability to mentally command a flock of birds, forcing a target to experience the pain of driven nails into their flesh like the ones adorning the stick, forcing a shapeshifter to return to their normal form, and even shooting out a beam of fire!

And that's it for lesser items.

It's getting late now, so I'm going to cover the rest of Chapter Eight tomorrow.

Next time, Greater Magic Items, the Converting and Spending of Treasure, and more!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 22:44 on Sep 16, 2014

Oct 9, 2012

And no one ate dinner that night.

GodFish posted:

It's worth noting that Sanctuary gives +1 to all your rolls there, not just spell casting. This basically gives you the social advantage over someone whenever you let them into your private space.

You know what, you're absolutely right! It's been a while since I looked at the Witch, so when I was reading it again for this writeup my eyes sort of glazed over that move. That not only makes it more useful but also more interesting!

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 5, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!

inklesspen posted:

Maybe we can make it more of a self-service deal?

I'm already doin' it for myself, if others want to do that, they can too!

Don't let your F&F writeup fall into faded memory! Sign up for a wiki account today! :ssh:

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Chapter 8 Continuation

Now we're getting to the meat of Greater Items.

Normal masks are components of many rituals, imbuing wearers with the depicted qualities and the strength of the spirits and ancestors. Masks of Power are greater items a league above, carrying such power that even folk ignorant of the subtler rituals can use them. Nganga expecially prize such treasures, making it easier for them to wield ashe. Anybody may make use of a mask, although some of their powers are useless to some classes. Masks of power are limited in that a wearer must either consecutively wear it for several hours to make use of its powers, or can only be worn a few hours per day due to the stress of the wearer's body supporting two spirits at once. Only nganga can craft masks of power, and they must be at least seventh level to do so. Sample masks include the ability to perceive magical items, effects, and curses; the ability to tell if a statement is deliberately false; the ability to prepare additional spells per day; the ability to harm, speak, and see spirits; and the ability to impersonate a single human.

Magical Arms and Armor are greater items imbued with powerful spirits. They are honored objects who take offense to disrespect and can cease to function until appeased by a nganga's arts. Using them as workman's tools, trading it for gold or land, or even complaining of its inferiority to another weapon or armor can earn the spirit's wrath. All magic weapons and armor have a bonus ranging from +1 to +3; weapons' enhancement bonus adds to attack and damage rolls (thrown weapons automatically return to the wielder's hand), while armor subtracts from the wearer's armor class (lower is good); there are no magic shields in existence.

Some weapons and armor have special properties in addition to enhancement bonuses, which is dependent upon the connection to a certain greater spirit dedicated to a particularly mighty god. In short, there are 6 qualities for every major spirit-deity, 3 intended for armor and 3 intended for weapons. For example, arms and armor of Aganyu (spirit-deity of fire and wrath) include properties such as fire immunity, inflicting fire damage on enemies, extinguishing fires, and the like. A lot of these qualities have some interesting out-of-combat applications as well; for instance, the Raining property of Olakun (spirit-deity of water, rivers, and wisdom) can pour out 20 gallons of fresh water per day, while the Slowfalling property of Oya (spirit-deity of storms, winds, and travelers) grants immunity to falling damage.

Finally we end this section with Miscellaneous Magic Items, all the items which do not fit into any earlier categories. As usual, permanent or continuous use items are greater, single-use are lesser. They include such things as the Golden Fruit which releases flesh-eating swarms of insects onto enemies; the Igbako of Plenty, a food scoop which can create enough food for 12 people daily, but food created must be provided freely or its powers cease to function; a Plot-Revealing Whistle which can create copies of verbal schemes uttered against the wielder by others when blown; a Serpent-Warding Ring which grants immunity to the venom of reptiles; a Talisman of Virtue etched with text and pictures of a particular good deed/taboo (chastity, pacifism, etc) which grants a bonus to one's Charisma modifer if they adhere to said virtue; and other interesting items.

The section ends with advice on designing new magic items, specifically common guidelines to ensure that such things are not unbalanced. Basically, armor class bonuses should be unlimited to prevent PCs from becoming unhittable in combat; damage bonuses should range no more than 1d6 or 1d10 (the latter which can affect only a very limited set of enemies); skill bonuses should be capped at +1, +2 for the mightiest artifacts; and those which replicate the effects of spells should be no more than a 1/day power. Additionally, the GM must consider if the item's power can trivialize too many common encounters or challenges, or can break the premise of the game.

At times the PCs might want to create a magic item which can add to the splendor of the world or help people, but is generally not useful for adventuring. They might want to fashion a magic well to sustain a desert village, a bridle which allows a horse to travel from one point of a nation to another in a day's time. The author says to go along with it, in that it can be a good way to encourage PCs to act selflessly, find good ways to spend their treasure and money, and it's balanced by forcing them to spend one of their five lifetime uses of greater item creation.

I like this compromise regarding magic items and the economy: instead of low-magic campaigns where healing potions are the stuff of legends, there are minor charms and trinkets for sale but quite out of range of most people. And the five-per-person cap of greater magic items and their spirits' unwillingness to be treated like common trade goods (rewards for great quests and acts of heroism are okay) provide in-setting reasons for why spellcasters haven't revolutionized the world.

Converting and Spending Treasure

This section talks about what happens once the PCs haul their plundered treasure back to civilization. As is to be expected, it's a lot more common than heading to the nearest marketplace and simply selling everything. Generally speaking, small villages can buy up to 500 silver ingots' worth of goods before they run out of liquidity. Market towns and major cities can buy up to 10,000 and 100,000 silver ingots worth of stuff respectively before the laws of supply and demand kick in and render the rest of the PCs' valuables cheap. The settlements of Sokone can handle double these values, while the nomadic Meru have little need to coins and gems which are 90% less. There are no banks in the Three Lands, and goldsmiths and moneylenders can be persuaded to hold onto the PCs' treasure for a time with a 1% of the loot per week (although they might not have the facilities to keep them truly safe and might be tempted to skim off the top).

Adventurers find it wise to make friendships and ties to the local communities, who will be more trustworthy to guard their valuables in exchange for their good deeds. Or invest it in building strongholds and buying land, which are harder for thieves to steal. As the book says, "golden ingots can be stolen and gems can
be squandered, but land and stout walls are harder to lose. Wealth put into the bellies of hungry peasants can buy the kind of service that market-hired minions would never give."

The Hiring of Magical Aid

There comes a time in an adventurer's life where they might need the services of a spellcaster; perhaps they lack the knowledge required to exorcise a vengeful spirit from a house, or maybe the dropped ceremonial knife at the murder scene can be divined to gain insight to the killer's whereabouts. Generally speaking, minor practitioners can be found in villages and towns, although simply walking up to them and forking over some coin is rarely so convenient. Truly powerful marabouts and ngangas are rarely, if ever, present in cities amid the teeming masses; they usually live deep in the wilderness, presiding among ancient temples of great spiritual significance or plumbing the ruins for occult lore. In the case of Lokossa, the greatest spellcasters are too busy running the government with tight-fisted cruelty to bother with the immediate concerns of adventurers.

Spellcasters who are part of a community and exchange their magical talent for goods are generally 1st to 5th level, and can be approached by adventurers amid a long waiting queue of commoners beseeching them for their individual needs and woes. Such spellcasters expect to be rewarded with "gifts" and "tokens of respect," usually amounting to 50 silver ingots for a 1st level spell, 250 for a 2nd-level spell, or 1,000 for a 3rd-level spell. Others will be eager to utilize the services of a skilled band of adventurers and ask them to perform minor quests and favors in addition to or in lieu or hard coin and trade goods.

Spellcasters of 6th and 7th level in civilization are renowned for their power, and can afford only to listen to chiefs, obas, and other leaders, their eyes on the big picture for tasks best solved by adventurers. 4th level spells can cost as much as 4,000 silver ingots and leaving behind occult connections with the caster to help ensure that they don't go back on their pledges.

Hirelings and Servants

Adventurers can hire people, whether to accompany them on adventures or to help perform some task. They include such common roles as artisans, guardsmen (who have Commoner stats but have leather armor and hand weapons), guides, porters, priests (no spellcasting), sages, and other occupations. Their cost is calculated based on a per-day basis or "permanent hire" with is a single flat cost to represent hiring them indefinitely. Hirelings are assume to have Level 1 in related skill of their profession, while Level 2 costs ten times as much. Those with Level 3 in a skill are the best in the kingdom, and their services are rarely bought with mere silver.

Guards and soldiers can be expected to tolerate ordinary dangers, but will blanch at going into Eternal tombhouses or fighting particularly vicious and powerful monsters. In that case, a PC with a good Leadership and Charisma might be necessary to ensure the loyalty of minions.

Henchmen and Retainers

There are times when mere hirelings and servants are not enough. The PCs need assistance beyond their immediate numbers and find some talented help to fight a mighty beast or thwart an evil mastermind. In this case, there are Henchmen and Retainers.

The PCs must spend several days searching the local community of the best candidates, and even a single village might house 1d6 such souls after the rest are winnowed out. Henchmen are NPCs who have levels in classes; the majority of them are 1st level Warriors, but a certain result on a 2d6 roll might produce a griot (4), a marabout (11), or nganga (12). Henchmen require a specific employer, and might expected to be paid in advance with surety money to go to their family in case they never return (some of which might be given back to the PCs upon their safe return). Players can be in direct control of one henchman and control their actions much like their own PC, but they don't have the steel-hard resolve and courage Spears have, and if they face a near-death experience the PC must succeed on a Leadership roll to convince them to keep adventuring with the PCs. One too many close shaves will eventually result in automatic failure, as they'll come to the conclusion that the adventuring life isn't for them.

Retainers, on the other hand, are different. They are NPCs whose respect and loyalty has been earned for past favors and shared dangers. They include villagers whose people have been saved from monsters, whose family was saved from a sorcerer's curse, and other such things. It is up to the GM when an NPC becomes potential retainer material, but can generally be expected to perform more dangerous and responsible tasks than even henchmen. They are not necessarily servants for life, and gifts of 100 to 1,000 silver ingots would not be inappropriate for particularly important favors for an old friend. For those whose services are called on only occasionally, a lot will be willing to perform work out of gratitude for such great heroes.

Buildings and Real Estate

The most successful adventures soon find that a life on the road is no longer practical. They are too exposed and too well-known to the enemies they have made. Acquiring land for permanent dwellings and fortresses is how the ancestors of great heroes and nobles established themselves, after all.

Acquiring property in villages is more complicated than just buying it. Villages are a tight-knit collection of mutual aid; people must be able to trust their neighbors and rely upon them to set aside personal quarrels in the face of external danger. Those wishing to settle down on a long-term basis must prove that their addition to society will be a positive one. Newcomers are expected to participate in village rituals, share tribute and service dues, and respect local customs. The financial aspects are trivial enough that they're not worth recording for PCs.

Town life is simpler in that there are enough landowners and mercantile clans to sell space within the walls at a premium price, and new owners are expected to do nothing but pay taxes and avoid the oba's displeasure. Although they can be finer than a humble village dwelling, they are less secure in some ways. A band of foreign assassins can pass through a metropolis amid the throng of travelers, but in a remote rural setting they'll stick out like a sore thumb.

Building costs are abstracted in that the PC draws a rough outline of the kind of structure they want, and pays a price related to the size of the structure and the materials (per 10' cube). A simple ten foot hut of unadorned wood and thatch would cost 50 silver ingots, while a 100 foot square stone build with three floors would cost an expensive 30,000. Building material which is scarce in the region (such as wood in the savannah or stone in the rainforest) can double or even triple the base price. Buildings with ornate designs, statues, and the trappings of wealth cost twice as much as plainer, more practical structures. The interior of the building can be arranged as the PC wants.

Additionally there are some sample buildings listed along with price, so that the GM can abstract for similar structures. A village compound is 500 silver and 30 square feet, usually a main house and home to the richer and more important family clans. Town compounds are 7,000 silver, 50 square feet with a surrounding stone wall. Country estates and border forts are 30,000 silver, while an urban palace (built and renovated over generations and home to great obas and merchant-princes) are 75,000.

The way the building costs are set up is that the PCs might not expect to have huge, sprawling buildings, but an expensive source to spend money on and typically only feasible at higher levels. Interestingly, the sample house prices are in line, and cheaper than, the costs of crafting some of the most powerful greater magic items. I like this touch. Finally we have a table with rules for breaking down walls and doors; basically such structures have a hit point value, and the attacking weapon must be suitable for dealing damage or else nothing's accomplished (spears won't break a stone wall, no matter no many times you hit them). Magical weapons take great offense at being used this way (unless they have the Shattering property), and attacking structures is very noisy when performed in enclosed spaces and dungeons.

And so ends the chapter.

Libertad's Notes: This is another strong chapter. I like how Crawford handles the magic item economy by making such things rare and mysterious, but still allowing PCs of a certain skill level able to craft them. I do like how in comparison to traditional D&D the PCs aren't expected to save up money for essential magic items while living like vagabonds. The use of reaction and loyalty checks regarding minions and hired help makes Charisma a particularly useful stat.

Next time, Chapter 9: Gamemaster Resources (also the final chapter)!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 22:43 on Sep 16, 2014

Nov 8, 2009

I love the potoo,
and the potoo loves you.

Bieeardo posted:

Yes! That's much more elegant. I think I was too much the supercilious nerd in high school to fit them into that frame without prompting, but they really do.

Thinking about the Witch's hexes and moves for a bit, the more hosed-up this skin becomes if you roll with the general image that they're a loner/outcast type of high schooler who's suddenly found some real power.

Sympathetic Tokens is a big warning sign from the word go. You can't just have anything that belongs to the other person, it needs to be something that matters to them emotionally. They'll miss this thing, or if they willingly give it to you it's a major gesture of friendship and trust. A diary? They're opening their innermost thoughts to you. A high school athlete's letter jacket? At my high school those were a huge thing. But it can be anything that holds emotional value to the person - a photograph of a cousin who died in a car crash, a stuffed animal that they've had since childhood, a beloved pet... think back to things like that, that you cared about at that age. A favorite book. A musical instrument from a girl in the marching band. A car.

To make things that much worse, when you use it to cast a hex the token is destroyed in the process. Think about that for a minute. You're destroying something important to another person in order to cast a spell on them, being a dick if you stole the token or betraying their trust if they gave it to you. You're throwing their diary into the sewer when you cast a hex. You're burning their letter jacket. You're putting their photograph in the shredder, ripping apart their teddybear, killing their pet...

Transgressive Magic plays off this angle nicely. Now you're not just destroying something important to them, you're desecrating and perverting it - and not necessarily in a sexual way. You're endlessly writing "n***er" in a black girl's diary. You're masturbating on their jacket and soaking it in your mess. You're photoshopping the photograph and uploading it to a porn site. You're turning a puritanical Christian guy's teddy bear into a voodoo doll. Hexes use sympathetic tokens to use the symbolism of destroying something important someone to punch them in the gut. Now you're defiling that something important to give your spell extra power.

Bide My Time is a variation on the same theme. You're emotionally blackmailing the person, whether they know it or not. You have something important of theirs, and that gives you an edge over them.

Sanctuary might be a genuine sanctuary if you're playing the Witch nicely, but it might be the Witch's lair where they do awful things. It might be that finally letting someone into your private space really does make you more personable and genuine. Or it might be that they're in your domain now and are freaking the gently caress out, consciously or otherwise.

The sex move is also really creepy. You can take a free Sympathetic Token from someone you've boinked. In a moment of intimacy, someone gives the Witch something that they care about. As I've previously noted, this can be a very bad idea.

On the whole, the Witch strikes me as having one of the most interesting interactions with a core mechanic and theme of the game: emotional connections. That's essentially what strings are, as I understand it. The Witch weaponizes the "strings" between people and objects by destroying the object to hurt the person it's connected to.

Cythereal fucked around with this message at 02:33 on Sep 17, 2014

Oct 9, 2012

And no one ate dinner that night.

Cythereal posted:

On the other hand, Witches aren't indebted to an external power like Infernals are. Infernals are addicts and tied up in powers beyond their understanding. They're the kid who signed the wrong contract.

Witches are that kinda creepy kid at the back of the classroom who just figured out how to spy on the head cheerleader when she's in the shower, make the captain of the football team's muscles start to wither, and the class goody-goody two-shoes go bugfuck insane.

I think a lot of what makes the Witch and the Infernal different also comes through in their stats: they both have high Dark, meaning that they're both in touch with the occult, but the Witch has a high Cold and the Infernal has a high Volatile.

Since Cold is the stat you roll to keep your cool and stay in control of a situation, it means that whatever power the Witch has, they're mostly on control of it. The Infernal has a high Volatile, which is also the stat for describing how unpredictable you are. The Infernal has power, but they're very emphatically not in control of it.

So, the Witch gets absolute control over absolute power, and absolute power corrupts. That's their thing: when they snap they still retain that power, but they just use it with no care about the consequences. The Infernal does not control their power, and the lack of control and the potential of losing that power on the whim of some big bad are what drives that Skin.

Anyway, I'm probably going to be doing the Angel tonight once I finish work.

Apr 28, 2008
As someone who's never really examined more narrative-driven games before, Monsterhearts is fascinating. I've already bought a copy and am slowly looking into convincing some IRC friends into trying to run a few sessions of it. I'm not entirely sure they'd be up to it - they play several tabletop RPGs online but they all skew towards more heavy rulesets (M&M, Pathfinder, some mumblings about Shadowrun 4th), but I think the general idea of Monsterhearts will be intriguing enough for them to give it a go.

Now, the biggest stumbling block I have is that I've never looked at Apocalypse World or anything PbtA-related - I think I understand how rolls work, but is there anything else ruleset-wise that isn't explained by the Monsterhearts book that I might want to know?

Aug 6, 2009

S.D. posted:

Now, the biggest stumbling block I have is that I've never looked at Apocalypse World or anything PbtA-related - I think I understand how rolls work, but is there anything else ruleset-wise that isn't explained by the Monsterhearts book that I might want to know?

I'd recommend you read Apocalypse World and Dungeon World's DMing sections just for some more context on how the action is run, and maybe Scrape/EM's Dungeon World guide (linked to in the OP of the DW thread) although that only really applies to DW.

Apr 22, 2013

Pew Pew Pew!
Typed out a great post about some of the stuff I actually like about Spycraft, on my phone no less, and loving lost it. :negative:

After character creation is the Skills chapter.

Like in standard D20, skill checks are made as a roll of a d20 plus modifier, skills are bought in ranks and add ability modifiers to their rolls.

Spycraft defines three types of skill check. Active checks are ones that the player rolls and has full knowledge of. Secret checks are rolled by the GC and have their results hidden until they become obvious but characters can still take 10/20 on them, boost them with action dice, get synergy bonuses etc. Passive checks are even more restricted, disallowing all of these.

Spycraft has a list of 30 skills: Acrobatics, Analysis, Athletics, Blend, Bluff, Bureaucracy, Computers, Cultures, Drive, Electronics, Falsify, Impress, Intimidate, Investigation, Manipulate, Mechanics, Medicine, Networking, Notice, Profession, Resolve, Science, Search, Security, Sense Motive, Sleight of Hand, Sneak, Streetwise, Survival, Tactics.

You know how some games have kind of vague descriptions for skills, where all the ‘rules’ for some can be summed up as “use this skill to do some stuff!”? Spycraft is not that kind of game. Those 30 skills have between them 86 different skill checks with specific mechanics for using them. The skill descriptions go for nearly 70 pages. There’s also a table spanning three pages that describes which skills give synergy bonus to which skill checks.

Some of these skills are way to broad for proper :spergin:, like Security and Drive, so they have Focuses, which is a narrower subset of the skill the character is actually competent at. Luckily, they aren't tracked separately so you're as good at Science(Math) as with Science(Genetics). You can also have Fortes, which are focuses you're especially good at and gain a small bonus with.

There are some special rules with skills in general as well:
Skill checks have result caps determined by their rank in the skill used. This means that to be good at a skill means getting ranks to actually be good at the skill, no crazy stacking bonuses here. Rolling a Threat removes the cap, and spending an action die increases the cap by the amount rolled on it.

If a skill check result is 75+, it is a “Triumph”, a display of mastery equivalent to an Olympic record or historic speech. This grants 10% bonus XP to the character and their teammates, and improves the disposition of all the NPCs that witnessed it because it is just that incredible.

There are no “knowledge” skills in Spycraft. Instead, characters have a Knowledge check modifier equal to their Intelligence + total level they use for the same purpose.

Almost every character showing any cleavage looks like they're wearing a very hardcore pushup bra

Long term skill uses are called Complex Tasks and require 2 to 10 separate checks to complete.

The game provides a long list of "skill tags", generic common effects that modify a check. They are:
Armor Check Penalty (ACP)- Suffer a penalty based on the armor you wear.
Bribe (BRB)- You can replace this check with a special Bribe check for the same result.
Complex Task (CMT)- This check is a complex task, requiring a series of rolls.
Concentration (CNC)- The check requires absolute attention, preventing taking 10/20, rendering you flat-footed, fails if you take damage and requires 8+ hours of work per day if it takes more than 8 hours to perform.
Cross-Check (XCK)- This check is a secret check normally, but can be made active by taking x3 as long.
Crowd (CWD)- Can target 10+ regular NPCs as a crowd, with roll bonus, error range modifier and bribe cost based on the size of the crowd..
Disposition (DSP)- Modified by the disposition of the target towards you.
Flat-Footed (FLT)- You're flat-footed if you fail or get an Error when using this skill.
Gear (GER)- You need certain gear to use this check, and suffer penalties without it.
Gear Only (GRO)- As above, except that without the gear the check is flat out impossible.
Grasp (GSP)- You need to handle an object to use this skill. Seriously, they wrote rules for this.
Hands-On (HDO)- Gotta use both hands.
Hearing (HER)- This check requires listening. We'll go more over that later.
Language (LNG)- This check is more difficult if you and the target don't share a common language.
Project Investment (PJI)- Requires an amount of time and money based on the difficulty.
Remote (RMT)- This check can affect targets indirectly, ie. through media, intermediares, etc. but has a penalty to do so.
Vision (VIS)- As hearing, except using the gooey round see-ears in the front of the head.

I was going to list them all out but gently caress it; screens instead:

I intended to complain about how ridiculous having so many skills is but I looked up the Pathfinder SRD and realized that it actually has more skills, counting the knowledge skills (and also that just shy of 1/3 of the Pathfinder skill list is knowledge skills). The Spycraft rules are definitely much more comprehensive.

Actually, I can still complain about it (there are too many skills).

Some standout skill uses:
Athletics check to move faster.
While 3.5 divided stealth into "be unseen" and "be quiet", Spycraft has "passive" Blend and "active" Sneak. I don't know why they're different.
To look for stuff there's "large scale" Investigation and "small scale" search. :suicide:
Lots of checks involving the manipulation of the opinion of some characters towards others.
Medicine can be used to give a character therapy, removing stress damage.
Science can be used for everything from writing computer software to creating diseases, with the right focus.

Oct 9, 2012

ThisIsNoZaku posted:

While 3.5 divided stealth into "be unseen" and "be quiet", Spycraft has "passive" Blend and "active" Sneak. I don't know why they're different.

I was under the impression that Blend was the skill that let you melt into a crowd and/or not look out of place -- the skill that you'd use if you wanted to walk through Dr. Badguy's poison gas factory with a clipboard and lab coat, acting like you were late for a meeting. Sneak was the traditional move silently and/or hide in shadows stuff. I haven't looked at my Spycraft book for a while, so I could be wrong.

Big Mad Drongo
Nov 10, 2006

This is a really great analysis, and gives the Witch a serious Unknown Armies vibe, at least to me. Considering Dukes are supposed to be pretty messed up people, it seems fitting.

Fossilized Rappy
Dec 26, 2012

Chapter 1 Continued
Yes, the first chapter takes up so much of this book it continues into the second half of the review.

Government Projects
Where would conspiracies be without Big Government poking its head up? Unsurprisingly given the timeline stuff from earlier, the first (and, in fact, only) government institution discussed is Majestic 12. All extraterrestrial-related US government business immediately bypasses other government institutions and goes straight to these guys. On top of having moles inside of all government institutions from the CIA to the FDA, M-12 has four of its own special divisions. Pounce Division retrieves UFOs and handles coverups, ]Redlight Division reverse engineers alien technology, Delta Division (AKA the Men in Black) do the dirty work of dealing with people who Know Too Much and guarding top secret facilities, and Aquarius Division are the nerds who obsessively catalog all of the information about extraterrestrials. And how is all of this funded? Not by taxpayer dollars, but through :420:

“Alien Invasion” posted:

This special fund is directly financed by the world’s illegal drug trade, actively encouraged and generated by Majestic agents who net millions (if not billions) each year from the flow of drugs in and out of the U.S. There is nothing Majestic-12 agents can’t have, including alien technology, if Majestic-12 feels the need is sufficiently warranted.

Where exactly the War on Drugs comes into this is unexplained. False flag? Do the confiscated drugs just go back into the system, even though it seems like a waste? I'm probably overthinking this crazy conspiracy theory plot.

The usual MO for dealing with people who Know Too Much is either browbeating them into silence, psychologically torturing them until they commit suicide, or skipping straight to the killin' time. Particularly persistent cases, however, are dealt with in more “creative' ways, such as using psychic powers to transform them into a meat puppet called a horlock or “recruiting” them into M-12 specifically to put them on the front lines of a mission that is 99% likely to fail.

There are also some convenient stats for generic members of M-12. The Pounce agent (Tough Hero 2/Smart Hero 2/Dedicated Hero 2) is a somewhat tanky skill monkey with an emphasis on Spot and Computer Use, the Redlight engineer (Smart Hero 6) pumps all of their talents and feats into boosting most types of Craft skill to bonuses that you'd usually see on a 10th level or higher character, Aquarius scientists (Smart Hero 3/Dedicated Hero 3) boost both Craft and Knowledge skills equally, Delta security guards (Tough Hero 3/Strong Hero 3) are tanky fight-guys who have Damage Reduction and Ignore Hardness to hammer in damage while taking less of it themselves, and the Aquarius medics (Dedicated Hero 3/Strong Hero 3) are really strange in that they have Ignore Hardness as a talent on top of their myriad healing buffs in spite of the fact that they use no weapons.

If there are any organizations in other countries similar to M-12, which presumably there are, they aren't given any of the spotlight here. The contents of this section after the low-down on the organization and its members are purely a list of US extraterrestrial-related projects, from the real and rather unimpressive Blue Book to the crazy Excalibur, wherein the ingenius conspiracy guys' plan is “strap x-ray laser beams to a nuke and see what happens when it goes off”. I don't know about anyone else, but x-ray laser beams seem like overkill when you are already nuking ET.

Government Installations
As part of the “Black World” project, M-12 has made a bunch of underground cities that they utilize in their quest for supremacy. Black World cities are made using a nuclear-powered laser drill that melts through the ground quietly and without creating any tremors, allowing them to be made without any fuss, and are populated with both human and alien occupants. The largest bases are New Berlin, a pair of massive cities beneath Antarctica that are run by a human-Reptoid coalition. There are also eighteen bases scattered across Canada and Scandinavia, five bases in Australia, and forty-five small bases in Mexico. The number of bases in the United States itself? Forty-five, spread over twenty-one states. There are nearly as many bases in Mexico alone as there are in the United States, for this United States government operation. I can only assume that America is literally the World Police for alien life, and that's why there was never any mention of other conspiracy organizations outside of the Soviets in the Cold War and no other conspiracy organizations object to bases being built all over the place.

Fringe Elements
If you aren't an alien or a fed, you're here. There are four fringe elements listed, each with its own generic NPC stat block. Believers are the hoi polloi who believe in aliens but don't delve much further, represented by a lowly Dedicated Ordinary 1 who is completely unremarkable and shoved most of their skill points into Knowledge (Popular Culture). Fans are more actively involved in the community but aren't exactly amazing either, being Dedicated Ordinary 3 NPCs with most of their ranks pumped into Computer Use, Knowledge (Popular Culture), and Knowledge (Arcane Lore). UFOlogists are the chronicles of “credible accounts” and “scientific” in their methods – Dedicated Ordinary 6 for them, again with a heavy focus on Knowledge (Popular Culture). Finally, you have the exoscientists, the people who in real life are not insane and include SETI researchers. The Exoscientist, fittingly, is a Smart Ordinary 3/Dedicated Ordinary 3 rather than straight Dedicated Ordinary, and focuses on Knowledge (Earth and Life Sciences) and Knowledge (Physical Sciences) over pop culture.

Ground Zero Radio
This the last portion of chapter 1. The least, though? Hell no. This is the part where we get to see how real conspiracy theorists who had a hand in the project chose to let themselves be represented. The entirety of the book is Open Game Content, too, including this section, which means this may be the only d20 book anywhere that has OGC stats for still living people.

“Alien Invasion” posted:

Ground Zero is broadcasted to over 200 low-power FM radio stations, short-wave stations and worldwide thanks to Omnisound Streaming Media in Miami, Florida. Ground Zero Radio is heard all over the world and is recognized as one of the most entertaining talk shows by industry magazines like Radio & Records and Rolling.


Through its news arm, News at Ground Zero, Ground Zero Radio continues to have an important presence in alternative news today. News at Ground Zero radically overturns much of the accepted paradigm within the current news media. From parapolitical affairs, to science and pseudo-science, to paranormal activity, to religious and spiritual matters, money, entertainment, health and well-being.
...And that, presumably, is why most RPG's don't have stats for still living people.

Clyde Lewis, he of the amazing Wikipedia page, is up first. Clyde was an actor in Citizen Toxie: the Toxic Avenger Part IV according to his intro paragraph, but that's far less relevant than the fact that he apparently has Raelian-bought clones of himself for when the Reptoids attempt to assassinate him. He's mainly “the man against The Man”, though, using Ground Zero Radio as a platform to reveal the horrible secrets of M12, who are apparently incapable of dealing with the problem of a man who they can't kill. He's a Charismatic Hero 3/Personality 3, meaning he's got plenty of ways to emotionally manipulate people. He also has a whopping 20 Charisma – yes, he has literally inhuman levels of Charisma – to fuel those abilities. Both of the other members of GZR don't have any ability scores that pass 16, so congrats on the honor, Clyde.

Second in command is Aaron Duran. Unlike Clyde Lewis, Duran seems to only be a colossal dork in real life as opposed to a man who believes in Men in Black, crisis actors, and Birther poo poo. Here in fiction land, however, he is the “bulwark against the vagaries of the web”, defending GZR from cyber-attacks and uniting bloggers against the conspiracy. He's a Dedicated Hero 3/Charismatic Hero 3, but the writer apparently forgot to give him any talents as if he had Ordinary rather than Hero levels. Whoopsie!

Sadie Gregg (no Wikipedia page) is the last part of the trifecta, being the “smart, honest, and sexy reporter” who can “disarm anyone with her sense of humor and charm”. In game-terms, this translates to being a complete class-dipping clusterfuck of Charismatic Hero 2/Dedicated Hero 2/Smart Hero 2 to get skill emphasis on Investigate and Gather Information plus the Fast-Talk talent for that whole humor-disarming thing. Oh, and she has Wild Talent, giving her the psionic powers missive and far hand. A telepathic, telekinetic reporter is certainly useful to have around!

Chapter 2: Character Creation
Two new occupations introduce us to chapter 2, the character rules chapter. The first of these is the Abductee. As you could probably ascertain, the Abductee occupation reflects someone who defines a lot of themselves by the fact that aliens abducted them. The occupation grants two permanent class skills out of Autohypnosis, Concentration, Decipher Script, Knowledge (Arcane Lore), Knowledge (Popular Culture), and Psicraft, a free cybernetic implant, and a +1 Wealth bonus increase. How being abducted by aliens makes you wealthier is beyond me, but whatever.

Conspiracy Theorist is the other new occupation, and it's just as obvious as the first. Its boons are two permanent class skills out of Computer Use, Decipher Script, Forgery, Gather Information, Computer Use, Knowledge (Arcane Lore), Knowledge (Popular Culture), Knowledge (Technology), Research, and Spot, one free skill out of Gearhead, Low Profile, Meticulous, and Studious, and that strange +1 Wealth bonus increase again.

Advanced Classes
As the designers apparently hold fast to the philosophy that good things come in pairs, there are two new advanced classes here.

Aetherian: The advanced class for the Aetherius Society. With d6 HD, average Base Attack Bonus, Will and Reflex save, Defense, and Reputation progression plus a good Fortitude save progression, the Aetherian effectively looks like the Acolyte from d20 Modern core with its bad Reflex and good Will progressions evened out to both average. The comparison isn't hurt when you notice that the first ability other than spellcasting, Eternal Flame of the Logos, is turning but with creatures of the Alien subtype rather than the undead. This is upgraded at level 8 of the class to Turn Black Magician, allowing the Aetherian to use turning on arcane spellcasters.

After getting the standard d20 Modern core rulebook caster standby of Combat Casting at level 4, the Aetherian gets the feature Prayer Battery at level 5. This allows the Aetherian to create what is effectively a magical mine filled with one person-targeting spell the Aetherian knows, expending a day of focus, lots of money (purchase DC 20 plus both the Aetherian's caster level and the spell's spell level), an experience point cost equal to the purchase DC paid multiplied by the spell level and caster level, and a Craft (Electronic check) that is 15 plus the spell level and caster level. This may seem like a lot of work, and it is, but the payoff is a magic item that gets fifty charges of whatever was put into it. That many free uses of something like raise dead wouldn't be something to sneeze at.

The two remaining levels that aren't the bonus feats that get granted at levels 3, 6, and 9 by almost every d20 Modern advanced class ever are, alas, both pretty boring. Level 7 nets the Aetherian Discern Lie, which is a Sense Motive check against a Bluff check. No bonuses or anything, just literally something anyone with Sense Motive can already do. And level 10? Empower Spell, another generic thing d20 Modern core caster classes both got.

Raelian: The other cult-specific advanced class. It has d6 HD, good Base Attack Bonus and Will save progression, average Defense and Reputation bonus progression, and lovely Fortitude and Reflex save progression. Mostly normal for a non-combatant class, save for that unexpectedly strong BAB. Also rather strange is that the Raelian's bonus feats are at levels 2, 5, and 8, breaking the aforementioned mold of nearly every other advanced class.

Class feature-wise, expect a lot of skill checks. Open Arms at level 1 grants the Raelian a bonus to Diplomacy checks equal to half their levels in this advanced class, Information Access at level 3 lets the Raelian make Gather Information checks without spending money if they are gathering info from a non-hostile organization, and Restricted Access at level 6 grants a flat +5 bonus to Computer Use checks made to bypass computer security and to Research checks.

Fame grants a +4 bonus to Reputation at levels 4 and 7, which is useful given that the big skill-related class feature the Raelian gets at level 9 is Select Consuls. This lets the Raelian select a number of people equal to their Reputation bonus to become "Raelian consuls", which in game terms means they gain the benefits of the Information Access and Restricted Access class features even if they don't have the Raelian advanced class. And, of course, Raelians wouldn't be Raelians without that cloning angle, and the level 10 class feature is indeed just that. As soon as the Raelian dies, their consciousness goes into a clone body and awakens 24 hours later. The only time this fails is if the character does something suspicious, such as die too many times in quick succession, at which point the Elohim say “stop being a fuckup” and cut off the psychic brain transfer.

Reprints of the Alien Weapons Proficiency, Planetary Adaptation, Starship Operation, and Xenomedic feats from d20 Future. Since d20 Future is part of the Modern SRD, I'm not sure why these are reprinted without alteration, so let's quickly move on.

As the text of the book says itself, aliens are often associated with psychic powers, so it's not surprising to get new psionics out of Alien Invasion. All of them except one (remote viewing, specifically) are explicitly stated to be for alien or NPC use rather than human player character use. There are few enough that I can do a full rundown without going on for multiple paragraphs, so let's get right to it.
  • Activate Organic Portal (Telepath 3) An organic portal is activated. What is an organic portal? Well, you'll need to wait a little longer for that.
  • Aura Sight (Telepath 3): Basically a psionic version of the detect magical aura spell. The main difference is that it is keyed in on specific types of character. Humans, organic portals, horlocks, and extarterrestrials all have different auras that can be picked up by the power.
  • Cloud Mind (Telepath 1): The target becomes blind to the manifester's presence, effectively rendering the manifester invisible unless they actively engage in a threatening act or alter the environment around the target in a very noticeable way.
  • Cloud Mind, Mass (Telepath 5: The above, but with as many people as the manifester has caster levels rather than a single target.
  • Correspond (Telepath 3): AKA extreme telepathy. Correspond has no range limit at all, but instead has the caveat that it can only be used on a target that the manifester has actively had mental or physical contact with in person before.
  • Create Horlock (Telepath 5): As with activate organic portal, this one does exactly what its name says. Also in common with that power is that the horlock is a template we'll get into soon rather than right now.
  • Demoralize (Telepath 0): The manifester imbues the target(s) with crippling self-doubt, leaving them shaken. This is stated to be used by hostile aliens to make abductions easier, but I can just as well see psychic M-12 members utilizing it to deal with those who Know Too Much.
  • Detect Hostile Intent (Telepath 1): Actively hostile individuals within a 30 foot radius are identified and cannot surprise the manifester or catch them flat-footed for the duration of the power.
  • Disable (Telepath 0): Any living thing (undead and constructs are exempt) with 4 or less HD are given the false sensation that they were just dropped to 0 HP, and fall unconscious accordingly.
  • Empathy (Telepath 0): Thanks to sensing the emotions around a 30 foot radius, the manifester gets a +2 bonus to Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, and Sense Motive checks on the round after they stop concentrating to keep the power up.
  • Mental Disruption (Telepath 1): Will save or the target is dazed for a round.
  • Mind Probe (Telepath 4): Psychic interoggation. The manifester gets to ask one question per round (the power lasting for a number of rounds equal to their manifester level), and the target must make a Will save or answer truthfully. If the power is manifested on a sleeping character, their privacy is immediately violated and the truthful answer is attained immediately, with the Will save instead being to wake up from the sudden intrusion upon the target's slumber.
  • Psychic Vampire (Telepath 3): This power's main ability is to siphon away power points from a psionic foe, but it has a creepier secondary use. If used on a target that has no power points (be the all expended or simply not psionic), the power drains 2 points of an ability score depending on what the manifester is doing with the target at the time – Constitution damage if just in the target's proximity, Intelligence if intimidating or seducing the target, and Wisdom if having sex with the target. This can only end in amazing places.
  • Read Thoughts (Telepath 1): Congratulations, you are capable of picking up basic surface thoughts.
  • Remote Viewing (Telepath 3): A spell that lets you view things...remotely! :v: You have to have at least some passing knowledge of what you are looking for, but otherwise the spell has no effective limit, being capable of viewing even across dimensions.
  • Tongues (Telepath 1): The same thing as the spell of the same name.

Spells far a lot less better than psionics. There are six new spells, but five of them are literally just Aetherian-themed versions of the cure light wounds through cure critical wounds spells – renamed “light radionic healing” through “critical radionic healing” – each being one spell level higher than it would take for an Acolyte to cast the same cure spell. The only purely new spell is operation sunbeam, which bathes an area in holy light that gives a +3 bonus to the Aetherian's Eternal Flame of the Logos class feature and induces a -1 penalty to attack and damage rolls as well as saves for any creature of the Alien subtype in the 20 foot radius blessed by the spell. The bonuses for operation sunbeam are doubled if they are cast on one of the “holy mountains” of the Aetherians – Holdstone Down, Brown Willy, Ben Hope, Creag-an-Leth-Chain, Old Man, Pen-y-Fan, Carnedd Llywelyn, Kinderscout, and Yes Tor in the UK, Mount Baldy, Mount Adams, and Castle Peak in the USA, and Mount Cosciusko, Mount Ramshead, Mount Wakefield, Mount Madrigerfluh, Le Nid d'Aigle, and Mount Kilimanjaro for the rest of the world.

Racial Templates
The final part of chapter 2 is a collection of new templates. This sort of baffles me, as the playable alien species and monsters are both in chapter 4, so you'd think these would be there as well.

Hybrid (+1 CR Template): A human-extraterrestrial hybrid, refered to as “Homo noeticus” or “star children”. Even the arguably kind aliens that participate in this practice use pretty horrific methods. While the alien hybrid baby starts out in an artificial gestation bag to make sure its genetic aberrations don't go too out of control, it is then forcibly inserted into a non-pregnant woman's uterus after she is abducted and experimented on. The foster mother has to carry the baby, go through labor, and then usually gets abducted again so that the aliens can take the baby back. It's not explained exactly why the artificial gestation bag can't be used for the whole pregnancy, so this ends up coming off as another reason why Majestic 12 are probably right in their eventual plan to backstab the ETs. Stats-wise, the hybrid gets a +2 to Wisdom and Intelligence, as well as one mutant power. This is selected between either Adrenaline Jolt (the hybrid can temporarily boost their Strength or Dexterity by 1d4+1 points once per day), Force Barrier (a telekinetic field that provides damage reduction 3/- but shorts out any worn electronic devices), Pheromone Attraction (+4 to Bluff, Diplomacy, Handle Animal, and Intimidate checks as long as the target is within a 30 foot radius), Telekinetic Mind (unlimited mage hand that requires focus to maintain), Telepathy (pretty self-explanatory, range of 100 feet), or Ultra Immune System (+2 to saves against disease, poison, and radiation that presumably stacks with the feat of the same name, as it's not stated to be a bonus feat).

Activated Organic Portal (+1 CR Template): Organic portals are literally soulless sheeple, and make up over half of the human populace. Because they had the misfortune to not get a soul from the Elohim's Soul Matrix at birth, organic portals think of nothing more than food, sex, and the corporate machine. Their lack of a soul also results in a lack of empathy that is stated to be the cause of all “mob mentality” issues that have ever plagued humanity. Once the psychic power activate organic portal has been used on one of these beings, however, they gain this template and the status of Activated Organic Portal (AOP), effectively becoming traitors to their own species as they seek to manipulate others and perpetuate the status quo. The template confers +2 to Charisma but -2 to Wisdom, a hive mind with all other AOPs within a 50 mile radius that prevents them from being flanked or caught flat-footed, the ability to manifest the psychic vampire power once per day, and a further +4 bonus to Charisma-based skill checks due to their manipulative and flattering natures.

Horlock (+0 CR Template): While AOPs are designed to eschew the paranormal, the Horlock template is an active player in the conspiracy. The horlock is effectively an extraterrestrial zombie, its original psyche ripped away in place of a psychically implanted consciousness mirroring the alien (almost always a Reptoid) that created it. Its actions are that of its master, effectively puppeted by the faux consciousness implanted within it, and is used as an extension of that alien's agenda. The template induces a -2 penalty to Charisma, but grants at-will aura sight, a +2 to Will saves, and a +2 bonus to damage rolls against creatures with souls that increases by a further +2 for every 5 class levels the horlock has.

Grisi (+1 CR template): More or less rage zombies. Those with this template are afflicted with grisi siknis, space-rabies that came to Earth with infected chupacabras. This happens to be the only of these templates that can be applied to non-humanoids, though said creature must have the Alien subtype to be afflicted nonetheless. A grisi has its natural HD boosted to d12 in size, +4 to Constitution and Strength, a +2 bonus to Fortitude saves, a further +5 to Fortitude saves specifically made to resist massive damage, a strong slam attack if the base creature didn't already have natural attacks, damage reduction 5/-, an immunity to mind-affecting effects, and three bonus feats (Improved Damage Threshold, Blind-Fight, and Toughness). A grisi also, of course, carries grisi siknis. The Fortitude save against it is DC 16, and those who are infected sufer 1d6 and 1d6 Charisma damage on failed saves, as well as getting the grisi template if it's applicable of course. This ability damage means that if the disease ever bypasses their boosted Constitution, a grisi will eventually end up going into a coma and dying even if some plucky band of heroes doesn't kill it.

Chapter 3: Alien Technology
Confidentiality and Weapons
Standard d20 Modern has five ranks of item restriction: None (+0), Licensed (+1), Restricted (+2), Military (+3), and Illegal (+4). Alien Invasion decides to take that up a notch, however, turning it up to 11. +11, specifically, as that is now the maximum the scale goes with the new levels to it that have been added. Confidential (+5), Secret (+6), and Top Secret (+7) are real world classification, but beyond that you go into the above Top Secret ranks. Sensitive Compartmented Information (+8) is clearance for top secret projects worked on by only a few individuals, Special Access Program (+9) is for alien technology that is eventually planned to be leaked down to the military and then the civilian populace, Unacknowledged Special Access Program (+10) is for technology that is known only to the knowledgeable inner circle of the political elite, and Black Project (+11) reflects stuff that even the elite don't know the conspiracies are working on. Hilariously, even black projects can be bought on the black market, just with a long waiting period and expensive price tag.

To show these new restriction ranks off, there are three new weapons. The particle beam pistol and particle beam rifle are both Special Access Program projects that deal fire damage (2d10 for the pistol, 3d10 for the rifle) through unspecified atomic particles launched at an enemy, their technology gleaned from the Roswell crash. The other device, the Joshua beam, is a Black Project pistol that deals only 2d6 damage – comparable to that of an average modern pistol, just in sonic rather than ballistic damage – but also forces a DC 15 Fortitude save to prevent the target from becoming deaf and shaken for 1d4 rounds.

The aliens have to get here somehow, and the stats are indeed provided for a number of their craft. Before any actual ships stats are given, though, there is a list of completely new engines to power them. The electrogravitic (electricity based anti-gravity), magnetogravitic (same, but with magnets instead of electricity), ununpentium (the enigmatic “element 115”, which conspiracy theorist Robert Lazar claims was used to power the Roswell craft), and quantum (space is folded because quantum happens) engines are all a bit more esoteric than the more or less hard sci-fi engines such as ion and induction engines found in d20 Future. As for the ships themselves, there are few enough of them that, like the psionic powers, I can cover them all in brief list form.
  • Alien Saucer: The classic large (250 feet wide) flying saucer. It is lightly armored and weaponless abduction ship, and has been appropriated by M-12. The human version is called the TR3-A Pumpkinseed due to the fact that it glows orange for some reason.
  • Alien Fuselage: Immense “cigar” motherships, 2,000 feet in length. It has no weapons of it own, but that doesn't matter because it has ridiculous defensive measures and an armada of ships to defend it. They are unsurprisingly extremely rare to see.
  • Alien Ovoid: 40 foot long egg-shaped one-man craft. Like the saucers, they have no weaponry, and are presumably meant to be utilized as scout vessels.
  • Alien Airfoil: The triangular UFOs that began to displace saucers in pop culture and UFOlogy around the 70s. It is the first ship on the list that is actively armed, having a pair of fusion beams and a pair of CHE (conventional high explosive) missile launchers.
  • Aurora SR-33A: M-12's very own brand of terrifying, this recon fighter is designed to drop nukes wherever it feels like, since it can fly through space.
  • Lockheed X-22A: A smaller type of saucer than the alien variety, designed as a fighter that carries double particle beams.
  • Nautilus: A super-juiced version of a standard NASA orbital shuttle, designed to quickly whisk M-12 agents to the super secret international space station farther out in space than the actual International Space Station.
  • Northrop Quantum Teleportation Disc: Effectively a better version of the alien saucer, with quantum engines supplementing magnetogravitic ones.
  • TAW-50: Imagine a Blackbird that can go into space and has both heavy laser weapons and a MIRV missile launcher. That's effectively the TAW-50 in a nutshell.
  • XH-75D “Shark”: In a book that already has “Enola Gay but in space”, the XH-75D somehow still takes the cake as the strangest space ship. This thing is a space flight-capable helicopter, using electrogravitic engines to covertly whisk Pounce teams to UFO crash sites.

For no really apparent reason, this section also reprints another piece of material from the Modern SRD without any alterations – in this case, the alien probe (CR 5 Small Construct), renamed the Airborne Remotely Operated Device. Long story short is that the alien probe/AROD is effectively a smarter version of an Earth drone, capable of teleportation, psionic powers, electrical blasts, and creating a sickening aura. I kind of planned on doing the d20 Modern Menace Manual in the future, which is the part of the Modern SRD that ended up getting noted here, but I guess it doesn't hurt to note it early.

Miscellaneous Devices
Just what it says. There's an add-on to armor that laces it with stealth camo nanomachines, another add-on to give armor a personal antigravity field, a neural computer interface that lets you do Computer Use checks in half the usual time, an aircraft trait that increases its speed by making it pliable and aerodynamic to a supernatural extent, a Tricorder with the serial numbers filed off, and super healing gel in a can.

From left to right: Ataien with an incorrect number of arms, Dwarf, Elohim, Gray, and Reptoid
Chapter 4: The Alien Agenda
Alien Species
The “playable” species of Alien Invasion are finally here. I emphasize those scare quotes because the idea, of course, is that you're supposed to be a crew of conspiracy theorists rather than aliens if you are playing the campaign setting "correctly". Indeed, this chapter is intended to be cordoned off as a Game Master-only zone, which even the stuff on Majestic-12 wasn't. Either way, we have seven new species to get acquainted with. All of them, of course, have the Alien subtype.

Ataien (LA +0 Medium-size Humanoid): Human-sized grasshopper men from space. If you think these guys were put in just to take up some extra space, you're actually dead wrong. While some aliens, such as the Grays and the Reptoids, have had true cultural staying power, it is best not to forget that there have been many "waves" of specific trends in supposed alien encounters. From floating brains to space mummies, there have been a lot of weird things said to come from space. The aliens referred to as Grasshoppers, Mantises, or Insectoids are one such strange trend that quickly came and went in the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps directly as a result of how little they were ever discussed, the Ataiens here are not given much backstory at all: they sometimes abduct people, but beyond that they are inscrutable. An Ataien character gets a +2 to Intelligence and Wisdom but -4 to Charisma, +3 natural armor bonus to Defense, the typical bonuses associated with having four arms (+4 to Climb and grapple checks, extra hands to hold stuff with), and the same hive mind trait that AOPs have.

Dwarf (LA +0 Medium-size Humanoid): The Dwarves, sometimes more specifically referred to as Hairy Dwarves, were almost entirely limited to the start of the Cold War as far as purported sightings go. Their appearance is that of a short, squat, and hairy humanoid figure with bulging eyes and wide mouths. Reports of these aliens always described them as effectively being the unstoppable labor force for some other alien species, mining out ore and shrugging off any attempts to harm them. Sadly, while the flavor has been changed, the playable species stats here are just a reprint of the standard D&D/d20 Urban Arcana fantasy dwarves, just with the Alien subtype tacked on.

Elohim (LA +1 Medium-size Humanoid): The Elohim are the representatives of one of the longest lasting archetypes of alien, the "Nord". These blond-haired, blue-eyed space brethren have been floating around since the 19th Century, though their biggest popularity boom was in the 1950s. They Elohim are protective of humanity and are afraid of the coming interstellar war, and have attempted to use the Raelians to prepare the best of mankind for what's ahead. Stats-wise, Elohim are pretty drat impressive: +2 to Strength and Constitution and +4 to Charisma without any ability score penalties, as well as access to the psionic powers dimension door and mass cloud minds three times per day.

Gray (LA +0 Small Humanoid): One of the most famous aliens from the '50s onwards. You know these guys – gray skin, short, big heads, big eyes, tiny nose and mouth. In the world of Alien Invasion, Grays are not actually their own faction. They were actually engineered by the Reptoids as a slave race, incapable of breeding or feeding on their own. With +4 to Intelligence and Wisdom but -4 to Strength and Constitution and -2 to Charisma, the Grays are basically tailor-made to take levels in Telepath and spam psionics. They even have some natural psionics right off the bat, being able to manifest lesser mindlink at will and suggestion once per day

Man in Black (LA +1 Medium-size Humanoid): On top of the Majestic-12 agents referred to as Men and Black, there is also this entire species of aliens referred to by that monicker, which I'm sure won't get confusing at all. MIBs all resemble adult male humans with angular facial features, all of them drive all-black vehicles, and they all have monotone voices. They have no particular allegiance to any other alien species but nonetheless have a driving obsession with keeping the Conspiracy upheld. Stats-wise, the MIBs have +2 to Strength but -2 to Charisma and a potent set of psionic powers – lesser mindlink at will and demoralize, false sensory input, and tailor memory three times per day.

Reptoid (LA +1 Medium-size Humanoid): Popular since the 1980s and the go-to guys for conspiracy theorists such as David Icke, the lizard-like Reptoids of Alien Invasion take the role of head honcho. The horlocks and Grays are their slaves, they hire mercenaries from the dwarves and the ataiens, and they have been manipulating Earth governments to move toward a one government New World Order that they plan to rule. Humans are seen as potential slaves and food sources, nothing more, and all alien negotiations Majestic-12 has undergone have been plots engineered by the Reptoids to steer humans away from the benevolent extraterrestrial species and into their waiting claws. Reptoid characters get +4 to Strength but -4 to Charisma, darkvision at an above average range of 120 feet, and psionic powers (lesser mindlink at will, false sensory input and mass cloud minds thrice per day). A larger winged subspecies of Reptoids known as the Dracos have a fly speed of 20 feet with poor maneuverability and +6 rather than +4 Strength.

Ultron (LA +4 Elemental [Fire]): These fellows are the radiant beings that oversee the Aetherius Society. They're a ridiculously powerful species, to the point that the “average” Ultron hero is a Dedicated Hero 3/Acolyte 10, but somehow haven't succeeded in just wiping out the Reptoids in the wars between them. Even at level 1, though, an Ultron would be pretty imposing. They get +4 to Wisdom and Charisma, a void Strength score with Dexterity score filling in for melee attacks as if they were incorporeal (they're not, just gaseous), 60 feet of blindsight, damage reduction 10/+1, and immunity to electricity and fire damage.

Anomalous Biological Entities
The less advanced extraterrestrial species. As with the player species, all ABEs have the Alien subtype, naturally.

Chupacabra (CR 3 Small Humanoid): You know these guys. While they are referred to as looking like a cross between a Gray and a Reptoid, it's unknown whether this is literally what they are or whether they have some other origin. Regardless of their murky origin, chupacabras on Earth are a dangerous invasive predator. With the ability to camouflage themselves in any environment, glide, leap long distances and pounce atop prey, sprint at cheetah speeds for limited durations of time, rake with vicious claws, expel quills that do as much damage as a knife blade, or straight up go for their namesake blood-sucking attack, these reptilian monstrosities have a rather wide arsenal of tools to use against foes.

Goblin (CR 3 Small Humanoid): These guys are based on the famous Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter, an incident that ended up being popular enough that it was the inspiration for the Spielberg movie that would eventually heavily mutate into ET. Alien Invasion flavors them as being space hitchhikers that stow away on ships and float down into Earth's atmosphere to cause mayhem. They aren't really dangerous so much as inquisitive, and find scaring people to be an amusing game. They have damage reduction 10/blugeoning thanks to their metallic skin, as well as an eerie glow that illuminates their bodies.

Iken (CR 3 Small Humanoid): A hardier, hairier version of the goblin, with a high Strength score to back up powerful claw attacks. These guys are actually more in line with the Hairy Dwarf aliens in UFO lore than the actual Dwarf stats earlier, right down to having that damage reduction 10/bludgeoning, and I wonder whether or not that might have been the intention.

Sasquatch (CR 3 Large Humanoid): The big guy with the big feet. Shy and unwilling to engage in combat, sasquatch prefer to live peaceful existences in caves deep in the wilderness. To help them with that end, they are capable of manifesting the detect hostile intent and mass cloud minds psionic powers. I'm also fairly sure this is the only time I've ever seen d20 Bigfoot stats that didn't have the Giant creature type.

Final Thoughts
Few times do I have so many “it's good, but...” moments as when I look over roleplaying game books I like – Alien Invasion isn't really an exception. Its greatest sin is in its organization, which is kind of a mess. Chapter headers and section headers within a chapter have the same font size and color, and multiple points exist where I do a double-take as to why something is in one section over another that seems to make more sense. The bestiary is also really poor. Only four monsters, but all have the same Challenge Rating and creature type? Not exactly a great idea. It would have been nice to have some more of the really out there and different monstrosities of UFO lore like the Flatwoods Monster or the radioactive giants of Imjarvi. It also would have been nicer to have more character options than just the two cultist advanced classes. There was technically an Alien Hunter advanced class released as a one-off cheapie PDF supplement for the book, but I cant' rightfully count that as a pint toward the book if it's not in it.

The flipside of this is the wealth of weird that comes from having an actual conspiracy theorist as your creative consultant. Not only do you get to see the sense of what it means to be the hero of your own narrative, but there is also the surreal feeling of seemingly contradictory plot points weaving together. The alien player species are also very useful. In Wizards of the Coast's Menace Manual, almost all of the extraterrestrials were adaptations of the species from Alternity's Star*Drive setting, including the Grays Fraal, so seeing some Open Game Content stats of purported UFO occupants is nice. And best of all, the only one that doesn't really work (in my opinion, at least) are the Dwarves due to their whole reprint nature. The spaceships are also really nice, even if they aren't my “thing” personally. Short of having an official conversion of something like Conspiracy X, I can't imagine a much better extraterrestrial intrigue sourcebook for d20 Modern to have.

Fossilized Rappy fucked around with this message at 20:40 on Sep 17, 2014

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 5, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!
It's interesting to see things like the Raëlian and Aetherius Society adapted for an actual game. Of course, the flip side is that both organizations - along with David "Just because I believe in the Protocols doesn't make me anti-semitic" Icke - carry some pretty problematic baggage, like the Raëlians' attempt to "reform the swastika" and the accusations of pedophiles in their ranks. I imagine the book just glosses them over, but I'd get pretty squinty to be playing a game that took Raël's cult dogma seriously, as a guy who's done some real harm in the real world. (The Aetherius Society, on the other hand, is actually delightfully kooky and doesn't seem particularly harmful save as a general attack on reasoned thought.)

Apr 30, 2007

Don't worry, it's a very heavy feather.
I finally got to the end of this thread! I've been reading it (and the last two) on and off for over a month. I just want to say thanks to everyone who's doing a write up. I know you guys put a lot of hard work into these for not a lot of pay off, but your effort is appreciated! Thanks guys! :glomp:

Aug 21, 2007

Neat. Sweet. Petite.

Fossilized Rappy posted:

Where exactly the War on Drugs comes into this is unexplained. False flag? Do the confiscated drugs just go back into the system, even though it seems like a waste? I'm probably overthinking this crazy conspiracy theory plot.

That's the thing about most conspiracy theories, they hate Occam's Razor. Think of the "Moon Landing is Faked" and Any number of False Flag conspiracies, they're needlessly convoluted, and require impossibly precise circumstances in order for it to work, and often times defies logic.

I had a classmate who was a former methhead that turned Fundamentalist Christian AND Conspiracy Theorist - before he got kicked out for harassing Catholics, it was amazing to hear these kinds of things coming out of his mouth when it wasn't loving infuriating.

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Gamemaster Resources

This chapter is mostly filled with miscellaneous stuff intended to help GMs plan for and set up games. Although quite a bit of them are charts and tables, there's maps, sample NPC statistics, and more!

Quick Adventure Elements is a D20 table where you roll 5 times and put the results together. We have a MacGuffin, a Location, a Patron, an Antagonist, and Fighting Over column. It's not enough to make a detailed plot, but it combines some primary elements to turn into something greater. The following page has a table of Conflict Elements, which works similar but you roll for the type (Social/Military/Economic/Religious), what one side of the conflict wants/does, and things important to the conflict.

Quick Names is a series of five tables for common personal names and surnames for each culture (with the Deshurite and Meru people sharing the same one). It's a particularly great resource for new players who will be unfamiliar with African names. Crawford has some useful advice for ensuring that names are easily remembered:


The people of the Three Lands often add additional names in acknowledgement of important events or notable deeds. As Afia grows, she might distinguish herself as Afia Goodluck Mafi after surviving a dangerous childbed fever, or Afia Breaks Them All after she manages to kill a trio of night-time robbers with her father’s hammer. A person may adopt a new name at any time, but it is its use by the community that confers legitimacy on it.

When creating NPCs for a new campaign, a GM is well-advised to use names with epithets. Many of the names of the Three Lands are novel to players, and they can have a hard time pronouncing them or making them “stick” in memory without some familiar anchor as a mnemonic. “General Mantled-In-Glory” and “Lord Abazu the Unsmiling” are both much easier for them to remember than “General Mitri Menkare” or “Lord Abazu Ezekuna”. In the same fashion, new players might be hesitant or confused about giving names to their PCs that they have a hard time pronouncing. You can refer to the pronunciation guide in the foreword of the book, or just let them pick suitable epithets.

Quick Culture Generation is intended to be used for minor states and remote tribes, with tables to generate cultural qualities (culture might love to build great edifices or admire truthfulness in all things), sources of wealth, potential societal ills and curses (like a wrathful spirit plaguing the land or a large segment of society is banned from learning), and jobs they might have for adventurers.

Quick NPC Stats provides sample statistics for NPCs with class levels, separated into odd-numbered levels. The Level 1s serve well as hand-outs for new players. Quick NPC Generation is intended for personality and miscellaneous traits, such as the role they have in their family to their greatest ambitions and problems.

Quick Nganga Magic is a 1-page list of all the spells and rituals for the nganga class, as well as spells per day by level. It is useful due to the sheer size of spells available to this versatile class (the marabout and griot are more limited and thus easier to manage).

Quick Cult Flavor provides hooks and traits of secret organizations dedicated to evil entities. It includes cool stuff like a table for their secret lair (crumbled estate, slum compound, grove in the wilderness, etc), their strongest asset (strong warriors, a powerful magic item, popular support), why they are awful (enslaved by evil spirits, plotting schemes of tyrannical theocracy, desire genocide, etc).

Quick Bestiary Reference compiles the stat blocks of all the bestiary entries into one page! I can't overstate how useful and convenient this is. By looking at it I notice some peculiar things: 1, only 4 monsters total are immune to non-magic weapons. 2, there's not too much overlap in special abilities (only snakes are poisonous, only the Sasabonsam can fly, only Eternal and Walking Corpses take minimum damage from piercing weapons, etc). 3, a lot of Armor Class values range from 4 to 7. Only 3 monsters have an AC of 3, the lowest one there is (dire lion and rhinocerous and the ghost). This is interesting in that a heavily-armored PC or one with the Blessed and Graced Warrior Idahun can match them, and that magic weapons while cool are not a necessity at higher levels.

The final entry includes several pages of Quick Location Maps with a fast resource for floorplans and maps. They are sparse in detail so that GMs can scrawl in their own details. I'll show off a few of them:

Then we have a two-page printable character sheet to end things off.

Libertad's Thoughts: Although many charts and tables can often become extraneous, the resources provided here are all very useful and relevant. My favorite is the one-page bestiary reprint of stat blocks. I don't think that you can say that for any other retroclones on the market!

Adventure: The Lost Mastaba of Khamose

The adventure provided is a short dungeon crawl for 1st level adventurers. The backstory is that a hundred years ago a troubled village was ruled by the tyrannical Lord Khamose, whose forces paid tribute to the Eternal King. He forced the people to build a tomb-house befitting his stature as an Eternal noble. In time the advancing armies of the Five Nations slew his legions and forced him into his buried mastaba. For forty years the villagers stayed away from this dungeon, but in recent days their shepherds and cattle have suffered mysterious disappearances in the western hills, and they suspect the mastaba. Adventuring Spears will be rewarded by the village if they investigate and take care of any horrors within.

In truth, a group of bandits have been using the mastaba as a headquarters for cattle-rustling. Unfortunately they dug too deep and released the Eternal into the rest of the complex, killing all but a few of them and their leader Gwoza. The survivors are trapped in a barricaded room.

The dungeon has 13 rooms, the entrance containing bloodstains of the eaten bandits. The atrium has been redesigned to resemble and outdoor garden, with clay sculpture plants and a fountain that recycles a fine silvery sand, and a silver circular ceiling painting resembling the moon. Five eternal Dreamers are feasting on bandit corpses in the dining hall, and four bandits are hiding under their beds in the sleeping chamber waiting for the next opportunity to escape (they'll attack the PCs in a mad frenzy for one round and then try to flee).

In the library is Gwoza the leader, and an Eternal who looks like a living human's posing as a nonexistant wife (Senti) who befriended the bandits before they dug down. Gwoza knows that going back to civilization means the death penalty, so he'll attack the PCs believing them to have come for him, while Senti will pretend to be a damsel in distress while waiting for the perfect opportunity to establish an Eternal cult in the next town or city.

The bandit storehouses and the storeroom contain the majority of treasure (silver Deshirite jewelry, trade ingots, and semiprecious jewels), and the nearby bathing chamber's full of fetid mold which can leave the PCs dizzy. Khamose's Chamber is way in the back, and his chamberlain Ushab is now an Eternal noble who's taken over the quarters. He's quite powerful but has reduced hit points than others of his kind and stature (due to wounds suffered slaughtering the bandits). In a chest is more treasure of trade ingots, and he wields serpent-headed staff as a +1 runku (war-staff).

Libertad's Thoughts: The dungeon can be quite lethal if the PCs go through it too fast. There's 11 Eternal Dreamers, one Walking Corpse, four bandits and their two guard dogs, and the aforementioned named NPCs. Given that Eternal take minimum possible damage from edged weapons (this is common knowledge to Spears), a party with warriors decked out in swords and bows will have a very bad time. If you're introducing newcomers to the game or players of less lethal RPGs, I'd recommend toning down the number of opponents if that might turn them off the game.


Aside from the Index, this is the last entry before we end our read of Spears in the Dawn. During the creation process Kevin Crawford spent two months brushing up on African history, folklore, and mythology. Even though this RPG is a pastiche of Africa rather than being historical, these materials (which are include fictional material) provided great inspiration to him. He hopes that the rest of us might find it useful, both for searching for things to add to home games as well as entertaining reads in and of themselves.



“Sword & Soul” is a touchstone for Spears of the Dawn, taking many of the familiar tropes of sword and sorcery fiction and placing them within the setting of historical or fantastical Africa. The present dean of the genre is Charles Saunders, whose Imaro practically defined the type. The following list is simply a starting point into the genre, one chosen for the breadth of authors rather than a deep focus on any particular series. Several of the books below are parts of a longer series, most of them well worth following.

Changa’s Safari, by Milton J. Davis
Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology, edited by Milton J. Davis and
Charles R. Saunders
Wind Follower, by Carole MacDonnell
Timbuktu Chronicles: Aida and the Chosen Soldier, by Anthony
Nana Kwamu
Chaka: An Historical Romance, by Thomas Mofolo
Once Upon A Time in Afrika, by Balogun Ojetade
Imaro, by Charles R. Saunders

History and Culture

A quick dip into these books can provide a vast trove of NPCs, places, and conflicts to translate into your own game. Particularly with older texts, the observations should sometimes be taken cum grano salis, but even wild fancies can provoke your imagination.

The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay: Life in Medieval
Africa, by Patricia and Frederick McKissack.
While very much a popular book in writing style, it contains maps and a clear, crisp overview of medieval Africa. Particularly useful for its description of the sometimes-ambiguous sources and pointers to other books.

The history and description of Africa and of the notable things therein contained, by Leo Africanus. Born in 1494 as al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi, Leo Africanus provides a firsthand description of northern Africa in the sixteenth century. Not all of his observations were his own, but his visit to Timbuktu helps to detail the vibrant life of a fabulously prosperous African trade city.

‘The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself ’ and Other Writings, by Agyeman Prempeh. Begun in 1907 by the Asantehene Prempeh I, the essays in the front of this book are of less interest than the history itself, which is told from the perspective of the exiled king who prepared it.

Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, by Henry John Drewal and Enid Schildkrout. This book is useful in providing examples of sophisticated, beautiful artwork in metal, terra-cotta, and other materials. You can use the descriptions to flesh out palaces and come up with characteristic art treasures for your PCs to plunder, as well as get a hint of the subtle religious and aesthetic values that underlay the creation of such works.

Mythology and Legends

A GM can take their pick of myths and legends. Gruesome beasts and quarrelsome spirits make good monsters for your PCs to
face, and the marvelous artifacts and tokens of the myth make for handy magic item templates that your players are unlikely to have found a dozen times before.

A Dictionary of African Mythology: The Mythmaker as Storyteller, by Harold Scheub. Fairly popular in character, this book is full of short myth and legend synopses that often feature religious or mythological figures. If you can’t get the other books on this list, this one provides a great deal of grist and a useful bibliography.

African Folklore: An Encyclopedia, edited by Philip M. Peek and Kwesi Yankah. A magisterial volume, you can flip this one open and find something interesting on almost every page. The brief treatments are ample for most game uses.


The warning made earlier about not taking a part for the whole applies particularly to matters of religion. Different regions and cultures can hold drastically different cosmologies and religious practices. Disputes over the “real meaning” of rites or customs are common, and you can expect to find as much disagreement over subtleties and particulars as you would find in any other living religious tradition. Finding good books in this field is difficult- many of them on the market are popular works intended to provide religious guidance to believers rather than the raw grist most useful to a GM. Those books that take a more scholarly perspective can be hard to find without recourse to a university library.

Encyclopedia of African Religion, edited by Molefi Kete Asante and Ama Mazama. Check for this in a good academic library if you have access to one, as the price tends to be prohibitive to casual users. If you can get access to it, however, you’ll have the use of a volume that is remarkably exhaustive on the details and specifics of African traditional religion.

Religions in West Africa and Ancient Egypt, by Jonathan Olumide Lucas. A very hard book to acquire, but the author’s eagerness to show derivation between ancient Egyptian and precolonial traditional religion is useful to a GM, as he provides many examples of rites and customs by which to bolster his argument. Whether or not you find it persuasive, you can use the ritual material.

West African Religion: A study of the beliefs and practices of Akan, Ewe, Yoruba, Ibo, and Kindred Peoples, by Edward Geoffrey Parrinder. While first published in 1949, with all the baggage that implies, Parrinder provides the kind of direct observation that is sometimes harder to find in more modern texts. Details on specific practices are particularly useful for GMs who want flavor and detail for religious rituals and marabout customs.

West African Traditional Religion, by J. Omosade Awolalu. Not an easy book to get, but it provides a useful and necessary perspective from a scholar with intimate cultural familiarity with the region.

Visual Resources

One particularly useful resource is the International Mission Photography Archive curated by the University of Southern California. This is an enormous collection of missionary photography largely from the late eighteenth and early twentieth century, and a good deal of it is pertinent to Africa. While many of the photographs and postcards depict the rapid cultural and technological change that was in effect at the time, others show details of dress, traditional buildings, important local officials, and other visual details that are hard to find elsewhere. Browsing through the collection can give a GM a great many ideas about NPCs and places of interest for their campaign. It can presently be found at http://digitallibrary.

And this concludes our reading of Spears in the Dawn! What a wonderful book! It's clear throughout that this is a work of love, fashioned by one dedicated not only to making an engaging respectful treatment of fantasy Africa, but a good concise game unafraid to toss out staple rules and tropes prevalent in other D&D games to make a better experience. I hope that my review has brought new-found attention and interest to what is easily my favorite OSR game by far. My final verdict on this product is a Must Buy. Even if you're not a fan of OSR games, it contains enough working parts and cool things that players of "New School" games can appreciate!

I plan on giving an in-depth review of Dreamscarred Press' Path of War next, a chapter-by-chapter analysis like I did this book. I'm eager to see you all again soon!

Oct 9, 2012

And no one ate dinner that night.
gently caress, double posted

Ratpick fucked around with this message at 16:43 on Sep 18, 2014

Oct 9, 2012

And no one ate dinner that night.
I was supposed to do this last night, but I was very tired so I played some Crusader Kings 2 instead. My Empire of Italia is doing very nicely, though.


This time we'll be moving on to the limited edition Skins, and progressing in alphabetical order we've got the Angel first.

The Angel is really interesting in terms of the sort of baggage it brings with it: the other Skins are very neutral or at least coy about their mythological inspirations, what with the Infernal not actually discussing the nature of its demonic dark powers, the Vampire and Werewolf being very silent on which popular myths actually apply to them in play, and while the Witch mentions Wicca and Vodun as possible origins for the Witch it's entirely silent on the subject of whether these religions are literally magic. The Angel's mechanics and description come with the lord. Not capital L Lord though, but you know the lord it's talking about.

So, what does the Angel actually have to say about the lord? Not much, really. The Angel doesn't actually take any stance on whether the lord is good or not, and the main conflict of the Angel is about either submitting to the authoritarian will of the lord or rebelling against it and being a free agent. As with the other Skins, I think it having been left open to interpretation is intentional: some players might wish to play the lord straight as the capital G God of Abrahamic tradition, which will cast the Angel in a very dark light since they'll be rebelling against the will of a good god (at least according to a majority of religious people in the World). Interpreting the lord as the Gnostic Demiurge is also equally valid, because while the Demiurge was pretty powerful he was also believed to be pretty much an evil guy keeping mankind in submission, which would give the Angel's rebellion a little more bite and cast them more clearly as someone rebelling against an unjust authority.

But really, whatever angle you and your group decide on for the lord (and it might actually be best left open at the start and let it emerge through play, as with many things in Monsterhearts) the key of the Angel is rebellion and submission: you've been kicked out of your old house by an authoritarian figure, and now you have to choose between humility and submission (representing your old upbringing) or agency and rebellion. So, as was already pointed out by Gazetteer:

Gazetteer posted:

The Angel is a kid who has been kicked out of or run away from their strict and probably religious home. They are struggling with whether to fall back into what their upbringing taught them, or to try and deliberately deviate from it half out of spite. The default assumption is that it's literally heaven they fell from, but the struggle is more like... conformity versus defiance, rather than heaven versus hell.

Anyway, the Angel has one very interesting mechanic which relates to its Stats. The Angel starts with Volatile at 1, Hot at -1, and Cold at 0, which is an odd spread for Monsterhearts. Also, the Angel doesn't have a Dark stat: instead it has a sliding scale called Trespass and Forgiveness, representing your current standing with the lord. You start with a 0 in the stat, and it maxes out at 3 on both ends of the scale. Whenever you would roll Dark, you roll with Trespass instead. A positive score in Trespass counts as a negative score in Forgiveness and vice versa, so if you were at Forgiveness 1 and rolled to gaze into the abyss, you'd roll with -1.

The Angel gets the following Move:

Cast From Heaven is the Move that determines how your Trespass and Forgiveness scale changes. Basically, whenever you subjugate yourself to another's will, you move the marker towards Forgiveness. Whenever you judge or punish others without the lord's permission, you move the marker towards Trespass.

As with other characters, you start with two of your stats highlighted. If you have Trespass highlighted, you mark experience whenever you roll with Trespass or when the marker moves towards Trespass, and the same with Forgiveness. However, the singleton rule still applies, so you can only gain experience for a highlighted stat once per scene, and as far as the Angel is concerned it's further mentioned that you can only move the marker in one direction once per scene. A crafty group might choose to highlight both an Angel's Trespass and Forgiveness if they really want the Angel's story to focus on their conflicted nature.

The Angel also chooses two more Moves from the following list:

Better And More Deserving gives you a String on someone whenever they get the praise that you deserve. Bitterness is a big part of the Angel's theme, not only bitterness at the lord but also bitterness towards those the lord deems more worthy than you, and this Move encourages you to get into situations where others are going to be patted on the back when you did all the heavy lifting.

Smiting lets you add 1 to your rolls to lash out violently and add 1 harm to your rolls when you do so. This move works both for the rogue angel with a cause of their own and the angel that seeks the lord's forgiveness (provided you ask the lord first whether they'd like you to smite the wicked).

Halo allows you to roll with Forgiveness instead of Hot when turning someone on. Basically, when you find yourself in the lord's favor the lord rewards you with a magical aura to help you get into other people's pants.

Profane Powers comes to play when you hit 3 Trespass: once you hit 3 Trespass you can perform miracles, like flight, teleportation, returning to life and so on. However, after any scene when you've used it your Trespass resets to 0 and you are drained.

Grace And Brilliance is profane powers' good twin: when you hit 3 Forgiveness you can call upon blessing and divine might. When you do so, you add 7 to your next roll, basically guaranteeing a success. However, after you've done so your Forgiveness goes back to 0 and you are drained.

Resetting the Trespass/Forgiveness scale as well as the drained Condition in the above moves represents how tiring, both emotionally and physically, using these powers is. After you use grace and brilliance your body is sore, but you also realize that you've been trying to get into the lord's favor and this is what you get rewarded with. Similarly, when you've used profane powers to basically give the lord a middle finger while going "gently caress your rules, man!" you not only feel tired but you might come to a realization that maybe you've been rebelling for nothing after all.

Finally, there's Gaze Into Heaven, or the best move ever. When you gaze into heaven as a servant of the lord, you roll with Forgiveness. On a 10+ you are filled with his voice and may ask him for guidance and command, and carry one forward to doing whatever you like. On a 7-9 you are contacted by one of the lord's emissaries who give you a mission, and you take one forward to completing that mission. Basically, the implication of the 10+ result is that whatever you use the forward on was the thing that the lord told you to do. It's a perfect example of giving the player some agency towards determining the nature of the lord.

On the flip side, the Move also allows you to gaze into heaven as a spurious and hateful child, in which case you treat it as gazing into the abyss (which you roll with Trespass, because you use Trespass whenever you'd use Dark). On a 10+ you add the following option to the list: the visions show you what the lord fears the most from you, and you carry 1 forward to realizing that fear. On a 7-9 you add this option to the list: the visions show you how you have upset and bewildered the lord.

So, that's the Moves. Now onto the rest.

The Gang that the Angel can pick up as an Advancement is, obviously, a Rogue Choir.

The Angel's Backstory: the lord loves you someone more than you, and a rivalry has sprung up: you gain two Strings on them, and they gain one on you. Also, someone reminds you of heaven. They gain a String on you.

The Angel's Sex Move allows you to do an interesting Move switcheroo:

Sex Move posted:

When you have sex, you are reminded of your purpose here on earth. Lose one of your Skin moves and gain a different one.

And finally, there's the Angel's Darkest Self:

Darkest Self posted:

You've fought so hard to distance yourself from the lord, to establish autonomy and independence. In doing so, you've unwittingly stumbled into the service of another power greater than yourself. You will carry out their will as if it were your own. Whenever possible, you'll convince yourself that you're doing this of your own volition. You escape your Darkest Self when you realize who's been tempting you down this dark path, and beg others to save you.

Basically, the Angel's thing is that in rebelling against the lord they actually bring themselves to the attention of another greater, darker power. The Angel is basically the kid who rebels against their religious upbringing only to find themselves blindly adhering to some other authority, be it an ideological, political or a different favor of religious authority.

For reasons that might be obvious from the Angel's Darkest Self, I think the Angel meshes really well thematically with the Infernal. If you take the interpretation that the Angel's lord is literally capital G God and the Infernal's dark power is a literal demon from Hell, you've got an interesting dynamic where the Infernal is mechanically rewarded for luring the rogue Angel towards the service of their dark power, and when poo poo hits the fan the rogue Angel (who might've even been smiting the dark power's servants of their own accord all the way until now) might realize that in their rebellion against the lord they've actually played right into the dark power's hands.

Next time, the second of the limited edition Skins, the Hollow, or the monstrous teenager with an identity crisis.

Ratpick fucked around with this message at 13:27 on Sep 20, 2014

Apr 22, 2013

Pew Pew Pew!

Selachian posted:

I was under the impression that Blend was the skill that let you melt into a crowd and/or not look out of place -- the skill that you'd use if you wanted to walk through Dr. Badguy's poison gas factory with a clipboard and lab coat, acting like you were late for a meeting. Sneak was the traditional move silently and/or hide in shadows stuff. I haven't looked at my Spycraft book for a while, so I could be wrong.

Here's the descriptions for the two skills:

Blend posted:

The Blend skill is used to avoid being noticed. Unlike Sneak (which
is an active skill requiring you to dedicate time to avoiding detec-
tion), Blend is passive and therefore used by default unless specified
otherwise. Blend’s only check is a free action, making this the default
skill of choice for those who want to be sneaky without trying.
Characters with a high Blend rank tend to fade into crowds,
unconsciously concealing traces of their presence and otherwise
consistently avoiding attention. This skill is common to spies, who
often spend long periods quietly collecting information in a region
before their latest mission launches. It’s also common to socially
unobtrusive sorts, such as quiet diplomats and con artists

Sneak posted:

The Sneak skill is used to avoid being seen or heard, and to
hide objects in the surrounding scenery. Unlike Blend (which is a
passive skill requiring no time to use), Sneak offers more control
at the expense of a time investment. Sneak’s primary check is a
full action, but pays off with all the benefits of active skill use
(see page 89).
This skill is common to assassins, who practice a variety of
techniques for lingering just out of sight until they can bring their
lethal talents into play. It is also common among Special Forces
troops, whose strategic attacks are legendarily silent.
Special Note: Unless you spend 1 full action actively using this
skill’s Hide check, you must use the Blend/Stealth check when
determining whether someone or something detects you

You use Blend for Stealth checks and Sneak for Hide checks (and the rules descriptions for each are almost exactly the same, except that Sneak checks require Full Round actions and lets you try to hide again once you've been spotted). Both can be used to hide in crowds. So Blend is an entire extra skill for "passive" Sneaking. Like the Hide + Move Silently skill tax for Rogues in 3.5.

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 5, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!
The weird side effect of this in Fantasy Craft is with the Assassin class, where it's actually a class that's functionally really bad at conventional sneaking and hiding, but instead are good at Blending and disguises. It's a functional class, but doesn't resemble D&D assassins in functionality, using social skills to get foes into compromised positions rather than just being Knifeking O'Stabby. In my experience, it really throws off players who are expecting the class to just be a precision fighter or a more murderous thief.

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Back in the halcyon days of 2006, when the 3rd Edition line-up was coming to an end, the game designers were coming up with new subsystems to interact with the base D20 game. One of them was a new martial system which operated off of a per-encounter format, where characters could execute attacks and actions known as "maneuvers" a limited number of times much like Vancian casting. A lot of these ideas would later be adopted into 4th Edition, but the core system was first brought to the public as the Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords.

This sourcebook was divisive, to say the least. People who cared about game balance and loved martial archetypes saw it as the best thing to happen to noncasting fighters in what was probably the most unbalanced Edition so far. People who hated it viewed it either as an unwelcome intrusion of "Asian tropes" into D&D (which had the Monk class since the late 70s) or horribly overpowered drek. The truth of the matter is that the classes and maneuver system made for competent, versatile, and fun to play martial characters who did more than charge or full attack. Aside from a few problematic maneuvers such as White Raven Tactics or the infamous Ironheart Surge, Tome of Battle succeeded where so many other 3rd Edition Fighter fixes failed. It didn't bridge the gap between casters and noncasters completely, but it did make noticeable progress.

Among the GiantITP and Min-Max community, Tome of Battle homebrew was a common sight, and Chris Bennett (known by the username of ErrantX) devoted a lot of time and effort to making cool material online for others to use in their games. Eventually he was contacted by Dreamscarred Press, a 3rd Party Publisher famous for updating the Psionics Handbook to the Pathfinder Role-Playing Game. They wanted him to help them make their very own Tome of Battle for Pathfinder. As the original Wizards of the Coast book had no Open Game Content, they needed to start from scratch, but over the course of a year and a subscription service they persevered and brought the Path of War into the world.

You can see their design decisions and descriptions in the Introduction, which I'll repost here:


A Note From the Author

First off, I want to say: Wow! Second, I want to say: Thank you! Third, I want another resounding: Wow! This past year has been exciting. When Andreas reached out to me last year I thought it was a joke, like, this couldn’t possibly be real. My head was spinning! I started this on a dare from a friend over four years ago, and the Libram of Battle was born. This was a dream of mine since I was a young boy reading the original run of AD&D books my friend’s older brother had stashed in his closet. Since then, gaming has been a part of my life in a major way. I’ve always been writing new and different content, altering rules to better suit my style or the style of my group. Writing and designing game content has always been a thing in my life, and getting someone I respected for writing what I felt was the definitive rewrite of the psionics rules (they even made me like Wilder, something I never cared for!) to notice me? Too much!

But here we are. Through all the drama and ups and downs the last year has given me, the Path of War has marched on. I couldn’t do it alone. First and foremost, my wife Sabrina and family/friends were supportive beyond words. Then the amazing support of the folks on the Paizo forums, the GitP forums, and of course the Dreamscarred Press forums. My good friend Jade Ripley, and last but certainly not least Andreas and Jeremy themselves. I’ve made a lot of friends this last year, and I couldn’t have gotten here without the support of my people, online or here in person. You all mean the world to me, and I’m glad we’ve been able to get the Path of War out there. There’s more on the horizon, and the Path of War marches ever onward! Hope to see you all there!

Chris “ErrantX” Bennett

Lead Designer for the Path of War
Dreamscarred Press



If you’ve played one of the martial classes, you might wonder why spellcasters get all the cool new toys. Sure, playing a fighter or rogue or monk can be fun, but they pretty much always have the same options - melee attack, ranged attack, full attack. There are occasionally things to make those interesting, such as cleave or grapple, but those options aren’t always the best option.

So why should spellcasters and manifesters get all the fun abilities? Path of War is here to give fun, but balanced, options to the martial classes so that roleplaying interactions aren’t the only time you get to do cool things with your character!

What is the Path of War?

To put it simply, the Path of War is a new way to look at martial combat in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. At its basic roots, the Path of War allows for martially-inclined characters to harness new abilities to aid them in combat. These new abilities are known as maneuvers, a specific technique that allows a martial disciple to enact a powerful attack, erect a defense against an attack, or improve his overall fighting ability or the abilities of others. By initiating these in combat, the martial disciple has a powerful edge that can even rival the powers of the spellcasters of the world.

Maneuvers are grouped into disciplines, with each discipline having a group of associated weapons that fit the use of that discipline. In addition, disciplines have an associated skill that is often used with many of the maneuvers themselves.

Once used, a maneuver is considered expended, not unlike a prepared spell for spellcasters. But where the difference between a spell and a martial maneuver lies is the martial disciple’s ability to recover that expended maneuver for use again and again over the course of the day.

All characters have the potential to learn these maneuvers, either by being a martial disciple or by being someone who has taken up martial training in addition to their class’ normal training. Martial disciples are those who have taken the stalker, warder, or warlord classes, and all others must learn martial maneuvers through training (such as by taking feats) or through specific training in their class (by taking up an archetype). Once learned, a character is forever a martial initiator, a warrior with skills beyond the abilities of most others of his kind, and the potential to master these arts lies before him along the Path of War.

A New Method Of Battle

So, there is a question that begs to be asked: Why make a new book of martial maneuvers? Well, from the days of 3.5, there was a certain book that did drive a wedge into many gaming tables as it challenged the philosophies of many who sat around it. “Was it okay to give fighters spells?” they’d say. Some would say yes, some would say no. Almost everyone had an opinion on the matter. Since the inception of the maneuver system in 2006, many people still use the parent book that inspired this work in the every day games and with good reason to; it was a great new set of options. Some didn’t like it, and as those who would agree with the utility of this book would say it’s because “they don’t want fighter to have nice things.” The Path of War is designed to give nice things to everyone and to bring a ton of new options to every class that relies on their strength of arms to survive an adventure.

The Path of War offers a number of new things that could fit into any campaign setting, from classes and archetypes, feats, items and monsters, to organizations that are fundamentally connected to cultures of martial disciples that have learned, developed, and spread disciplines of maneuvers to their members for mutual benefit. By adding the Path of War to your campaign, you’re adding an exciting wealth of new opportunities and options to the Pathfinder game system, breathing new life in to combat as well as into classic monsters that will suddenly have new tricks that veteran players will enjoy as much as new players. Martial disciples are here at last for the Pathfinder game system, and they’re determined to change the face of combat forever.

These folks are speaking my language.

Now, the Path of War does draw a lot of influence from Tome of Battle, but unlike the Psionics' Handbook it's not just a simple reprint. The classes, feats, and maneuvers are entirely new. And best of all, the game mechanics are entirely Open Game Content, meaning that they can be imported wholesale into other 3rd Party Products (and even Paizo, if they so desired). There's a list of all of them on the Pathfinder SRD already. If you like what you see and make extensive use of it in your games, be a nice person and toss Dreamscarred Press some money once you're financially able to do so; they're one of the few 3PP publishers out there who care about game balance and the quality of their work.

Maneuver Basics

If I just jump right into the classes, readers unfamiliar with the original Tome of Battle might be confused about certain things referenced. To that end, I'll be briefly going over Path of War's new martial mechanics. Basically it's like a "martial spellcasting" system: maneuvers are actions and attacks that can be used in combat a limited number of times before being replenished either via spending an action in combat (specifics depend upon class or feats) or until the encounter ends (in which case all of them are regained). A character's maneuver load-out can be changed through 10 minutes of activity like prayers, meditation, weapon drills or the like.

Stances, meanwhile, are always-active effects which grant benefits to the user, but only one can be maintained at a time. Maneuvers are further divided by what they do in combat (strikes are direct attacks, boosts are buff effects, and counters are triggered by an enemy action). Every maneuver and stance belongs to a martial discipline, a fighting school style whose abilities are thematically linked based upon common effects, philosophies, weapon groups and the like.

Those trained as martial disciples can pick and choose which ones to learn upon leveling up or gaining the right feats. A character can only "ready" a limited number of maneuvers they know to use in battles, and cannot use unreadied maneuvers in combat except under special circumstances granted by certain feats or class abilities. Each class in this book uses a specific mental ability score known as an initiation modifier, which help enhance the power of many maneuvers and stances.* Finally, Initiator Level represents general knowledge and experience of the art of war and determines the most powerful maneuvers and stances they can learn. A person's initiator level equals their character's level in a Path of War class + 1/2 levels or Hit Dice in any other class.

*I like this touch; it encourages the cerebral warrior as a valid and mechanically useful character concept.


There are three new 20-level base classes, all of which make use of the maneuver system outlined in this book. In addition to being skilled combatants, they all make use mental ability scores and have diverse skill lists to make them able to contribute to out of combat encounters as well (although not to the same extent as a dedicated caster). One thing to keep in mind here is that judging by this chapter alone the classes might not sound so stellar. Much like how the Druid and Sorcerer cannot be wholly analyzed by their class features alone, so too is the same for the Path of War classes. We'll be covering the maneuvers in their own chapter.

The Stalker is a mobile warrior who fights with a mixture of finesse, stealth, and mystic arts to bring low their foes. Ranging from slum-born rogues to members of esoteric orders of assassins, the stalker's art is a versatile one seen among all walks of life.

Stalkers are the weakest class in terms of hit dice and base attack (d8 and 3/4 level), but they have a versatile assortment of rogue-like skills and can learn and ready the largest amount of maneuvers of all the classes. They can learn maneuvers from the Broken Blade (unarmed combat), Solar Wind (missile and throwing combat), Steel Serpent (poison and pain-based anatomical attacks), Thrashing Dragon (daredevil acrobatic fighting), and Veiled Moon (mystical otherworldly trance state) disciplines. Their initiator modifier is Wisdom, and when they recover maneuvers in combat they gain a +4 armor class bonus as their ki defends their form as they re-center themselves.

A stalker's class features include a Ki Pool, a limited resource value which spent allow the stalker to gain insight into their opponent. At first grants bonus on Perception and Sense Motive, but can eventually allow the Stalker to apply a bonus to saving throws as an immediate action, apply their Deadly Strike damage on all strikes made against a single opponent, and even the ability to trade readied maneuvers around!

The Stalker also gains Deadly Strike, which is a lot like Sneak Attack except that it activates for a number of rounds equal to their Wisdom modifier after they score a critical hit against a target. I sort of have mixed feelings on this: on the one hand, it pretty much requires any Stalker build to become a crit-focused combatant with certain weapons. On the other hand, the Stalker doesn't need to be hiding in order to use it and it can work by spending Ki.

Other class features include Combat Insight, which over a period of levels allows the Stalker to add their Wisdom to armor class and rolls to confirm critical hits, as well as blindsight and uncanny dodge among other things; a Dodge bonus to armor class; Blending which grants a bonus to stealthy skill as the stalker hones their ki; Dual Strike at 10th level which allows them to use two strikes at once as a full-round action; and Retributive Ki as the capstone 20th level class feature, which allows him to initiate a martial strike whenever they're targeted by an enemy's spell, attack, or harmful ability. What's coolest about this last one is that it has the same range as the enemy ability, meaning that an echo version of the Stalker rushes forth to deliver the attack if they're well out of reach!

But the real meat of the class features are Stalker Arts. Stalker Arts are cool things a Stalker can learn at 1st, 3rd, and every 4 class levels thereafter which represent learned talents, fighting arts, and near-supernatural abilities. There's 19 in all and I won't list them all, but a few of the cooler ones include Concealed Recovery (the stalker's form becomes shimmering and gains concealment while recovering maneuvers), Deadly Ambush (may now apply Deadly Strike against flat-footed opponents), Ki Vampirism (gain 1 ki point when you knock an opponent to 0 hit points), Murderous Insight (spend a ki point as a swift action to roll twice and take the better roll for a single attack), Phantom Reach (spend 1 ki point to turn a melee attack into a ranged attack by manifesting it as a phantom echo). Some pretty cool stuff here!

Libertad's Thoughts: The Stalker class can just as easily serve as a replacement for the monk or rogue in terms of both game mechanics and flavor. In spite of their lightly-armored mobile nature, the multiple ways of gaining armor class and concealment in combat does a fine job of turning away attacks.

Part tank, part genius tactician, the Warder uses their mental acumen to defend others and foil enemy maneuvers. They're d12 hit dice and heavy armor and shield proficiency makes them tough as nails, and their skill list includes several social and knowledge-based skills to better cement the concept of "leader of men" and "master strategist." They range from chivalrous knights to holy warriors, and make for natural champions of nations and causes.

Their initiation modifier is Intelligence, and when she recovers her maneuvers in combat as a full-round action she sets up a defensive perimeter around herself which make it hard for enemies to get past them. This class feature is known as Defensive Focus and does a number of things, such as granting them a greater reach for provoking attacks of opportunity (5 foot increase per 5 levels!), turns threatened squares into difficult terrain, and adds her Intelligence bonus to her Combat Maneuver Defense. This is really great because it creates a semi-large radius around the warder which allows them to attack passing opponents. Give a warder a polearm and a size enlargement spell, and you'll be hitting foes as far away as 20, even 35 feet!

Warders gain access to the Broken Blade, Golden Lion (leadership teamwork tactics), Iron Tortoise (shield and phalanx fighting), and Primal Fury (animalistic, hunter-like natural attacks) disciplines. In addition to Defensive Focus, their class features include Combat Reflexes as a bonus feat which uses Intelligence instead of Dexterity; Aegis, which grants bonuses on Armor Class and Will saves to nearby allies (inspiring presence);

Armiger's Mark brings to mind the 4th Edition Fighter, where the enemy must direct hostilities to the Warder or else bad things happen to them. The Armiger's Mark is a limited use-per-day well-placed attack or taunt which forces the enemy to directly engage her or suffer a massive penalty to attack rolls (-4 to -8 based upon Warder's level) and Arcane Spell Failure. At higher levels she can affect multiple opponents at once with an Armiger's Mark as an area attack.

Tactical Acumen, which represents scholarly knowledge of historic battles and quick wits which add her Intelligence modifier to Reflex saves and initiative (replacing Dexterity in the latter case); Extended Defense which allows the Warder to initiate a counter maneuver as a free action.

Adaptive Tactics, which allows the Warder to spend one use of Armiger's Mark to switch out up to her Intelligence modifier in readied maneuvers during combat.

A lot of the later class features are defensive abilities such as Stalwart (which allow her to reduce the effects of a harmful effect which targets Fortitude or Will to no effect at all) and Steel Defense (which redirects a killing blow to target a held shield or armor instead). The 20th level captsone ability is Deathless Defense, which is activated by expending 2 uses of Armiger's Mark. Once activated, the Warder enters a resolute juggernaut-like state of iron will: they can maintain Defense Focus as a move action, gain the benefit of her own aegis, is unable to die due to hit point damage, and is immune to mind-affecting effects (their devotion's so strong). Deathless Defense's duration is one round plus one per additional use of Armiger's Mark, and once ended the Warder's exhausted and must rest for 8 hours before being able to use it again.

Libertad's Thoughts: The concept of a brainy armor-clad tank is a novel one I honestly can't remember seeing elsewhere in D20 products. I like the battlefield control and debuff aspects of the class. The teamwork tactics of the Golden Lion can let her allies do cool stuff, and the charge-based maneuvers of Primal Fury can give them some much-needed mobility. I don't understand how the Primal Fury fits thematically, but I ain't complainin'.

The Warlord is a fight-loving daredevil who lives for the thrill of danger. Their recklessness makes them a sort of lovable scoundrel, and their presence on the battlefield can provide inspiration to others by lifting their spirits. With a d10 hit dice and proficiency in martial weapons and medium armor, they're fighters through and through. Their skill set is lackluster in comparison to his two class counterparts, but is still leagues above the Pathfinder Fighter by including things such as Acrobatics, some Knowledges, Perception, and Sense Motive among other things. If you read Order of the Stick or the Three Musketeers, then they're pretty much the Dashing Swordsman writ large.

A warlord's initiation modifier is Charisma, and their methods of recovering maneuvers is more restrictive: spend a standard action to regain a single readier maneuver, or perform a Gambit and recover a number of maneuvers equal to his Charisma modifier if said Gambit is successful. Warlords gain access to maneuvers from the Golden Lion, Primal Fury, Scarlet Throne (noble duelist), Solar Wind, and Thrashing Dragon (wild and reckless two-weapon fighting) disciplines.

The warlord's major class feature is the Warlord's Gambit. Warlords are at their best when they're daring, so they gain actual benefits when performing riskier-than-usual actions in combat. There are several Gambits a warlord can learn, learning more over the progression of levels. Each Gambit is activated as a swift action and requires a certain action in combat such as a trip, a charge, a ranged attack on a moving mount, etc, which is known as a Risk. If the warlord is successful, they gain benefits known as a Reward in addition to regained maneuvers. On a failure they suffer the penalties known as a Rake, which are universal as a -2 penalty on all d20 rolls for one round. However, a warlord regains one maneuver even on a Rake, so it's not all bad.

There are 15 gambits, and a lot of them grant some kind of bonus equal to the warlord's Charisma modifier, and quite a few benefit the warlord's allies in some way. A few of the more interesting gambits include Deadeye Gambit, activated by a successful called shot which grants temporary hit points to nearby allies as the attack fills them with renewed spirit; the Gatecrasher Gambit, activated by a successful bull rush which imposes a penalty on all 20 rolls equal to warlord's Charisma mod as they're so rattled by the attack; and Sweeping Gambit, activated by a successful trip attack which grants an immediate attack of opportunity against said foe with a Charisma bonus added to the damage roll.

I really like the Gambit system; it gives good in-game incentives in the form of bonuses for the party and debuffs on the enemy. Furthermore, it encourages the Warlord to perform unorthodox tactics in combat which are rarely if ever used by Pathfinder players (let's face it, nobody really uses overrun).

Tactical Presence is the warlord oozing raw Charisma, aiding himself and his allies on the battlefield in an effect which is a throwback to the Marshal Auras from 3.5's Miniatures Handbook. By activating a certain Presence, the warlord and allies within 30 feet may add his Charisma modifier to certain saves and even temporary hit points.

Warleader is a limited-use-per-day ability which allows the warlord to share the benefits of a Teamwork feat with all allies within 30 feet, even if they don't meet the prerequisites.

Force of Personality adds the warlord's Charisma modifier in addition to Wisdom on Will saving throws (doesn't stack with Paladin's Divine Grace). Tactical Flanker is another Charisma-based benefit, in that it allows the warlord and an ally to substitute his Charisma modifier for the +2 bonus on attack rolls for flanking an opponent. Tactical Assistance does the same thing, but for Aid Another actions instead and is gained at 12th level.

If Stalkers could activate two Strikes, and the Warder's the master of Counters, then the Warlord's game is Boost, where they can activate two of them at once with the Dual Boost class feature gained at 6th level.

The warlord's later class feature mainly involve enhancing existing class features. Dual Tactical Presence allows him to maintain two Presences at once; Warlord's Presence activates three at a time; Master Warleader allows him to activate Warleader as a swift action; and the capstone ability at 20th level is Dual Stance, which allows the Warlord to gain the benefits of two different stances simultaneously.

Libertad's Thoughts: Like the Stalker and Warder, the Warlord's mechanics are nifty and fun, and the overall flavor text of an arrogant yet personable warrior is great role-playing opportunity.

Thoughts So Far: Path of War is shaping up to a promising start. I like how Dreamscarred made each class reliant upon mental as well as physical acumen; their class features, combined with maneuvers and stances, provide no shortage of cool tricks for players to choose from in combat.

Next time, Chapter 2: Skills and Feats!

Edit: Important note I forgot to add: A Warlord may use a maneuver as part of a Gambit if doing so would help accomplish the action, but he can't recover the maneuver he just expended. This is important, because it potentially allows the warlord to do a damaging attack in addition to bull rush/trip/etc. It also prevents a "use maneuver, gain maneuver" loop by forcing the warlord to effectively cycle between different maneuvers.

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 07:50 on Sep 20, 2014

Oct 9, 2012

And no one ate dinner that night.
Path of War seems legit awesome. If I ever get press-ganged into a Patfhinder game again, I'll definitely ask the GM if I can roll up one of those classes.

Anyway, I had nothing better to do today, so I did a thing:

This time on Monsterhearts, we've got the Hollow.

The Hollow is an artificial person. Maybe they're a demon given human form, a dream made flesh, a dark gift given to an infertile couple, or a wrinkle in reality, but the thing is that they're not actually human. They look human, they act human, but inside there's something missing, the part that separates a pound of flesh evolved over millions of years from a real human. This gives the Hollow their main thing: they are trying to find an identity for themselves, since they lack one. This is represented in the mechanics by the Hollow being one of the most mutable Skins, as well as a number of their Moves allowing them to gain bonuses from Conditions. (Remember, in Monsterhearts Conditions are things that others can use against you, and you can't generally use them to gain benefits.)

Basically, they're Dawn Summers from Buffy.

The Hollow's Stats are as follows: Volatile and Dark at 1, Hot and Cold at -1. As I understand it, the high Volatile is supposed to represent the Hollow's unpredictable and mutable nature on account of it lacking a human frame of reference, whereas the high Dark represents some type of dark knowledge afforded by them not being entirely human. Like the Infernal, the Hollow is not Skin built for social interaction, being instead about taking what they want by force.

The Hollow starts with two Moves:

A Blank Canvas allows the Hollow to add 1 to their rolls when they take an action that embodies one of their Conditions and they allow that Condition to influence their sense of self. After rolling, they also remove that Condition. For an example, if you had the Condition psycho (Probably because someone called you that. Remember, Conditions are as much social constructs as they are literal effects on your character.) you could use this move to get a +1 to a roll to lash out violently when you let other people's perceptions of you as a psycho influence your behavior.

Better Than Nothing gives you a reward for getting Conditions, in the form of letting you mark experience whenever you gain a Condition. Again, since Conditions are as much about how people perceive you, the Hollow is rewarded for others building an identity for them.

This Body Has No Meaning allows you to reduce harm by 1 whenever someone deals harm to you without taking advantage of one of your Conditions. However, you must have at least one Condition to make use of this benefit. So, let's say you have the aforementioned psycho Condition and someone decides to stab you in the stomach. Their player can't find a rationale for you being psycho influencing their roll, so they roll, and deal 2 harm (for the sake of argument). You reduce that harm by 1, because even though they have stabbed you in the gut and damaged your body, they have not actually hurt your (completely artificial) self.

Flesh of My Flesh triggers when you lash out violently with your bare hands. Instead of dealing the usual one harm with your bare hands, you deal harm equal to one more than the amount of harm you've taken. If you yourself are at the brink of death (at three harm) you could potentially deal four harm by lashing out violently, potentially taking out someone in one punch. Holy poo poo.

Metamorphosis lets you add this option to the 10+ list when gazing into the abyss: the visions show you what you must become, and you can permanently switch two of your stats. So, if you don't want to play your Hollow as a psychotic kickpuncher, you could trade that high Volatile for a high Cold or Hot, for an example.

Inhuman Gaze lets you roll with Dark when you shut someone down. Yeah, it's a simple stat-switch move, but a really thematic one: there's just something eerie and unnatural about your gaze, which is enough to make most people back the gently caress off.

Finally, there's Mimicry. Whenever someone uses a Skin move on you, you roll with Dark. On a 7-9 you temporarily gain that move, losing it after the first time you use it. On a 10+ you may choose to replace one of your Skin moves with this new move.

I really like the Hollow's moves: a blank canvas is a simple move that lets you benefit from a usually negative effect (even though the social consequences of acting out one of your Conditions are still arguable), and it works perfectly with better than nothing and this body has no meaning. Metamorphosis and mimicry are another obvious pairing and have a clear theme of trying to find a new identity (and in the latter case, trying to find it through stealing it from others), whereas inhuman gaze is just nice and thematic.

The Hollow's Gang is their Hollow Siblings.

The Hollow's Backstory is as follows: they've been taking their social cues from someone, and in doing so have learned a lot about them. They take 2 Strings on that person. However, someone's seen through their invented past, and they gain 2 Strings on the Hollow.

Now to the good bits. The Sex Move:

Sex Move posted:

After having sex with someone, replace your current sex move with theirs, adding this sentence to the end of it.

Again, this nicely enforces the image of the Hollow not having a real identity of their own. Now, the Darkest Self:

Darkest Self posted:

Your body is a prison. You don’t belong inside of it. You need to put it in harm’s way, and make it suffer, just like it’s made you suffer. There’s got to be a way to cut yourself out of it. You need to meet your makers, and hold them accountable for what they’ve done to you. To escape your Darkest Self, you must come face to face with someone who feels more trapped than you do.]

So, what do I think of the Hollow? I like it, even though it doesn't jump out at me as one of my favorites. It is a great Skin and has a very clear theme to it (identity politics being such an important part of teenage life), but it just doesn't have as clear a minigame built in as my favorites the Infernal and the Werewolf.

Also, I only just realized that I forgot to do the Angel's backstory last time. I'm going to go and add it to the Angel post, so go check that out. Next time we'll be taking a look at the Serpentine, a snake-person with an old money family who don't want to let go of their past glory.

Nov 22, 2011

"You're talking to cats."
"And you eat ghosts, so shut the fuck up."
I've heard a lot of people say that certain skins feel a little too personal for them to want to play (usually the Mortal). For me that would have to be the Hollow. Its Darkest Self is literally "have a really bad dysphoria episode" with a side of self harm.

Ratpick posted:

Inhuman Gaze lets you roll with Dark when you shut someone down. Yeah, it's a simple stat-switch move, but a really thematic one: there's just something eerie and unnatural about your gaze, which is enough to make most people back the gently caress off.

Inhuman Gaze also has pretty great synergy with A Blank Canvas and Better Than Nothing. On a 7-9, Shutting Someone Down lets you force them to put a condition on you -- normally that's a drawback of getting a partial success. But if you have either of those two moves, you want people to put conditions on you, so being reliably able to do that is pretty helpful.

Oct 9, 2012

And no one ate dinner that night.

Gazetteer posted:

I've heard a lot of people say that certain skins feel a little too personal for them to want to play (usually the Mortal). For me that would have to be the Hollow. Its Darkest Self is literally "have a really bad dysphoria episode" with a side of self harm.

I personally don't have this experience with any of the Skins. All things considered, I was a pretty emotionally healthy as a teenager. However, if I had to choose, it'd definitely be the Ghost. Not having been the most popular kid in school, I can totally relate to the idea of people literally walking through you and being ignored. Also, it's just a really sad skin. :(

Gazetteer posted:

Inhuman Gaze also has pretty great synergy with A Blank Canvas and Better Than Nothing. On a 7-9, Shutting Someone Down lets you force them to put a condition on you -- normally that's a drawback of getting a partial success. But if you have either of those two moves, you want people to put conditions on you, so being reliably able to do that is pretty helpful.

I hadn't thought of that, but yes, it's a really good combo. Even though the 7-9 result gives others the power in determining what kind of Condition you get, having a way to get Conditions more easily is awesome for the Hollow.

Nov 8, 2009

I love the potoo,
and the potoo loves you.

Ratpick posted:

I personally don't have this experience with any of the Skins. All things considered, I was a pretty emotionally healthy as a teenager. However, if I had to choose, it'd definitely be the Ghost. Not having been the most popular kid in school, I can totally relate to the idea of people literally walking through you and being ignored. Also, it's just a really sad skin. :(

Minus the overtly supernatural bits, the Angel strikes closer to home than I'd be comfortable playing, having come from what I thought was a very religious and authoritarian home. I later grew up, of course, and understood it wasn't half as bad as I'd thought as a typical moody, rebellious teenager, and am still very close to my family, but that Skin reminds me too much of feelings and thoughts I try not to dwell on to be happy playing it.

May 20, 2005

The Ghoul is a psychotic ticking time bomb of rape and torture.

Oct 9, 2012

And no one ate dinner that night.

Really Pants posted:

The Ghoul is a psychotic ticking time bomb of rape and torture.

Yeah, as I pointed out while going through the Ghoul, if I had one in the group I'd have a really long and heartfelt chat about boundaries with the Ghoul, because as you said the Skin can get potentially rapey unless the group sets very firm boundaries. It's absolutely the most disturbing Skin thematically.

Nov 22, 2011

"You're talking to cats."
"And you eat ghosts, so shut the fuck up."

Really Pants posted:

The Ghoul is a psychotic ticking time bomb of rape and torture.

That's... probably the most boring way to play the Ghoul. It's also the most obvious -- just make them a remorseless monster who goes around tormenting or eating people. The thing is, though, the Ghoul is sort of a depression metaphor. It's not going to ring true for everyone's depression, mind you, but the Ghoul is someone who feels empty and emotionally dead, and is all morbid and pre-occupied with death 24/7. They spend all their time obsessing over the few things that can still make them feel anything at all anymore. The "literally a zombie" concept makes them veer toward violence and poo poo, but there's still more going on there than just roving psychopath, if you want to look for it. The potential for rapiness is just an unfortunate flaw in the wording and could definitely be a deal-breaker for some people. Like Ratpick said, it's something the group should talk about beforehand. And like basically everything in this game, it's super important to foster an atmosphere where players are comfortable saying "hold up, this is getting weird for me, I'm not comfortable with where things are going."

I think my favourite Ghoul ever out of what I've seen basically just acted a lot like an undead Daria Morgendorffer -- really sullen and deadpan all the time, rather than a cold blooded killer or whatever. Some people just like playing villains, but I feel like MH is at its most interesting when you don't have characters who are completely unsympathetic. Make them lovely people, but like... ideally it should be a relatable kind of lovely-person.

Gazetteer fucked around with this message at 18:51 on Sep 20, 2014

Oct 9, 2012

And no one ate dinner that night.

Gazetteer posted:

I think my favourite Ghoul ever out of what I've seen basically just acted a lot like an undead Daria Morgendorffer -- really sullen and deadpan all the time, rather than a cold blooded killer or whatever. Some people just like playing villains, but I feel like MH is at its most interesting when you don't have characters who are completely unsympathetic. Make them lovely people, but like... ideally it should be a relatable kind of lovely-person.

Yeah, if I were ever to bring a Ghoul to the table, I'd rather play a high Cold kind of Ghoul who tormented people they didn't like emotionally instead of being a merciless killer. That said, another angle I like for the Ghoul is the actually sympathetic guy or gal who just happens to be in the unfortunate situation of having an unnatural hunger they must sate. If you play it right you can make the Ghoul's drama about constantly fighting their hunger instead of relishing it.

Alternately I'd go with the Watchful Golem route of a character obsessed with another character (because that character reminds the Ghoul of the warmth of life and love and poo poo) in a really creepy fashion. Again, it's creepy and unsympathetic, but it's a relatable kind of unsympathetic, and one that lends itself to more nuanced drama than "My character is a murderous cannibal."


Nov 6, 2011

When they passed out body parts in the comics today, I got Cathy's nose and Dick Tracy's private parts.
Can the Hollow be used to play a Frankenstein monster, or is that more The Ghoul's territory?

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