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Comrade Gorbash
Jul 12, 2011

My paper soldiers form a wall, five paces thick and twice as tall.


Nessus posted:

However, I don't think a bonobo protector would be chiller. Empathy cuts both ways: Jack Brennan was able to be tremendously manipulative due to his empathic experiences, in a way that probably no Pak could be. Is that better? Depends on who you ask.
I submit that being manipulated beats getting turned into expanding clouds of superheated gas by an angry monkey with no genitals.

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Simian_Prime
Nov 6, 2011

When they passed out body parts in the comics today, I got Cathy's nose and Dick Tracy's private parts.

Everything I read about Ringworld sounds like some Henry Darger Magical Realm nonsense. Guess I’ll skip Niven.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim

This will be better than Abandon All Hope, at least

I first got the idea to do this a couple months ago, when the original Abandon All Hope review was in progress and we were all following the wonderful (not in the least) adventures of G-Unit as they took advantage of broken stat-blocks and shotgunned and shived their way through nonsensical torture dungeons and weird nazi grindhouse dogshit. Warhams has its own big Campaign, the Paths of the Damned, told in 3 separate books. They're actually a fair bit better (on average) than the poor stand alone adventures, and even have a few clever or fun ideas in among all their flaws and troubles. To highlight those troubles, I thought, I'd randomly roll up a party of 5 adventurers, one from Bretonnia, one from Kislev, one Imperial, one Dwarf, and one Elf, and then use them as the personality and statistical baseline for showing off the big campaign. It's also important to note that the three books serve as a big part of the Empire's fluff. They cover Middenheim post-war, Altdorf and its wizarding colleges (along with Realm of Sorcery), and the major industrial city of Nuln. Stripping out all the detailed description of the major urban centers to put in campaign and adventure books is one of the reasons the Empire Setting Book can come off as so sparse.

That said, I'd like to begin by introducing our soon-to-be-intrepid heroes. All five were produced with a random spread of 3 careers and the normal '2d10, roll down the line, choose one low stat to raise to average' method. A few characters who were very, very below average were rerolled. I chose to do this rather than selecting, say, a Priest, a Wizard, a Fighter, a Rogue, and a Peasant because I wanted to show that you do actually get surprisingly viable parties by random generation, and the books are written with the assumption of a random PC party. The PCs are also assumed to have the EXP from going through the terrible Through the Drakwald starting adventure from the back of the book, meaning each PC has 2 advances purchased. The Bretonnian and Kislevite both used the 'you can spend 100 EXP to learn Reikspiel for a career in the Empire' optional rule so that they know the local language. Characters could also 'sell' their starting items that they didn't want for crowns to spend on starting equipment.

First up is Liniel of Caledor, Elven Noble.

quote:

Name: Liniel of Caledor
Gender: Female
Class: Noble
WS 34, +BS 53, S 31 (Shallyaed from 27), T 33, Agi 44, Int 35, WP 33, +Fel 35
Wounds: 11/11
Fate: 3/2
Money: 45 GC
Elf Picks: Coolheaded, Longbow
Skills:
Common Knowledge (Elves)
Speak Language (Elatharin+10, Reikspiel)
Charm
Command
Common Knowledge (The Empire)
Consume Alcohol
Gossip
Read/Write
Ride
Talents:
Etiquette
Excellent Vision
Night Vision
Luck
Savvy
Schemer
Special Weapons (Longbow)
Coolheaded
Trappings:
Hand Weapon (Elven Sword)

Foil (Sold for 18 GC)
Maine Gauche (Sold for 4 GC)
Riding Horse
Noble’s Garb
Dagger
5 Gold (70 spent on Elfbow)
Elfbow and 10 Arrows

Liniel is the daughter of a disgraced elven noble from Ulthuan, her father having been outed for Slaanesh worship and cast into the sea as is customary for those deemed not suited to live in Ulthuan. With the rest of the family social circle pondering calling in any markers and descending on her house's property, she instead declared she would take a long overseas vacation and grabbed her bow, whatever jewelry she could, and a decent horse to set off for the Empire. There, merely being an 'elven princess' is a status symbol, and she hopes to use what funds she has to lose herself in the post-war huff and maybe found her own mercenary company. Once she has a few heroic deeds against Chaos, that should clear up any lingering suspicions she was anything like her father. She finds herself in Middenland looking for freebooters and soldiers who might join her scheme, and opportunities to test her bow against the (smaller, more easily beaten) remnants of Archaon's horde.

Liniel is a very solid social character, as Noble tends to be, and has the hilarious option to become a Pistolier later to become a surprisingly good ranged fighter, especially coupled with her good elven BS and the fact that all elves have Longbow proficiency.

Next is Pierre Rohne, Bretonnian Tomb Robber ARCHEOLOGIST

quote:

Name: Pierre Rhone
Gender: Male
Tomb Robber
WS 31 (Shallyaed from 26), BS 35, S 32, T 30, Agi 40, Int 40, WP 28, Fel 33
Wounds: 11/11
Fate: 2/2
Human Abilities: Savvy, Lightning Reflexes
Skills:
Common Knowledge (Empire, Bretonnia)
Concealment
Evaluate
Speak Language (Classical, Elatharin, Bretonnian, Reikspiel)
Gossip
Perception
Pick Lock
Read/Write
Silent Move
Scale Sheer Surface
Search
Talents:
Luck
Tunnel Rat
Savvy
Lightning Reflexes
Trappings:
Leather Jack, Leggings (AV1 Arms, Body, Legs)
Crowbar (for archeology)
Lantern
10 yards of rope
2 sacks
Hand Weapon (Pick)
Dagger
Clothes
1 Gold (10 spent on Leather Leggings)

The son of a noted Grail Knight of Carcassone, Pierre was drilled in chivalry from the time he could first speak. The young man was always more at home wandering the mountains, looking for old barrows and hill-forts to explore, rather than practicing his swordplay. He told his father he wished to go to university in the Empire, rather than proceed to his normal Errantry, so that he could study history and how one explores the past. He found himself bundled in armor and cursed for his womanly cowardice, and lectured on why he should take after his sister (herself a highly successful, if well disguised knight of the realm), take his errantry, and like it. Instead, he sold his armor and horse, made his way to Nuln, and enrolled in enough university courses to pick up a few ancient languages, learn his letters, and learn a little about engineering and trap mechanisms. Now he seeks to adventure to finance the rest of his education, and to ensure the protection of fine antiquities in the hands of trusted private collectors.

Tomb Robber is a surprisingly awesome starting class. They're educated, they can do roguish stuff, they can pick locks quietly (a very rare skill), they're lucky, and they're not that bad in a fight. There's even an actual tomb to explore in Chapter 1 of the campaign. Pierre will be very helpful and can become an educated gentleman-thief over time. He's clever and quick on his feet, exactly as a Tomb Robber needs to be.

Next is Katiya Ivanovna Demechev, Kislevite Peasant.

quote:

Name: Katiya Ivanovna Demechev
Class: Peasant
WS 35, BS 28, S 35, T 28, Agi 41, Int 30, WP 31 (Shallya from 23), Fel 40
Wounds: 13/13
Fate: 3/3
Human Traits: Fleet of Foot, Lightning Reflexes
Skills:
Gossip
Speak Language (Reikspiel, Kislevite)
Common Knowledge (Kislev)
Charm
Swim
Trade (Cook)
Concealment
Trade (Bowyer)
Gamble
Outdoor Survival
Set Trap
Silent Move
Talents:
Lightning Reflexes
Fleet Footed
Rover
Flee!
Special Weapons (Sling)
Trappings:
Hand Weapon (Kislevite Sword)
Sling
Leather Flask
Dagger
Clothes
Shield (Spent 10 starting gold)

Katiya expected to spend her entire life farming in southern Kislev, near the great river. Instead, she decided to flee her home ahead of the massive Spring Driving that came with Archaon's host, becoming one of the many displaced refugees streaming into the northern Empire. She got as far as Middenheim before deciding she could run no further, and found herself given a sword and pressed into defending the walls as the siege got desperate. After killing a beastman and two mutants during the fighting, she's convinced that maybe she could become a great swordswoman and mercenary after all. She's taken the sword and her old hunting sling and set off looking for any groups of freebooters who are hiring, happy to tell them she's already a veteran of the Siege of Middenheim. Maybe some day she can join the great Gryphon Legion and become a famed warrior against the powers that drove her from her home. Whatever's the case, one day, people will know Katiya's name.

Katiya is a Peasant. You'd expect this to suck, but look at her skills. She can deal with people, she can do stealth, she's quick on her feet (with Flee!, which gives +1 Movement when you're trying to escape danger, and the rolled Fleet of Foot, she can actually outrun a vampire in a foot chase), and she's not a bad woodswoman, either. As should be obvious from her backstory, she's headed right for Winged Lancer after Peasant. Also note her exceptional Fellowship. Katiya stands out.

Next is Otto Blucher, Imperial Protagonist (person who picks fights/duelist, not Main Character)

quote:

Name: Otto Blucher
Gender: Male
Class: Protagonist
WS 36, BS 31 (Shallyaed from 23), +S 40, T 31, Agi 30, Int 35, WP 38, Fel 35
+Attacks: 2
Wounds: 11/11
Fate: 2/2
Human Traits: Excellent Vision, Mimic
Skills:
Gossip
Common Knowledge (Empire)
Speak Language (Reikspiel)
Dodge Blow
Haggle
Intimidate
Ride
Talents:
Excellent Vision
Mimic
Quick Draw
Suave
Street Fighter
Strike Mighty Blow
Strike to Injure
Strike to Stun
Trappings:
Full Leather and Mail Shirt (AV 3 Body, 1 elsewhere)
Shield
Horse
Hand Weapon (Broadsword)
Dagger
Clothes
3 Gold (13 spent on Skullcap and Leggings)

A young man from Carroburg in Middenland, Otto was supposed to be a university student. However, he quickly got involved in Affairs Of Honor and found himself expelled from school for seriously injuring another boy in a duel before he could even acquire literacy. He is very, very handy with a broadsword, though, and in these times that's a more marketable skill than his university education would've been. He's been successful as a minor mercenary and second in various noble duels, successful enough to acquire himself a horse and some other kit, but he seeks to do more. Otto wants to be known as a great warrior, and that doesn't come from escorting coaches or trying to teach other young men to fence. Thus, he's set out to find rumors of some elven princess starting up a mercenary company, in hopes of getting in on the ground floor of a grant venture. Maybe one day he'll be known as a hero, not just a protagonist.

Otto is the only 'primary' fighter in the team, and Protagonist is a real winner of a starting fighting career. He comes with 2 attacks, all three of the Strike talents, a shield to go with his sword, some mail to cover his leathers, and his own horse. He knows how to haggle, how to fight, and how to scare people. He's also quite brave, with a 38 base WP. The party will be leaning on Otto's sword arm a lot in the early advantages, and he should be more than a match for the average beastman or bandit.

Finally, we have Fearghus Grimminson, Dwarf Apprentice Runesmith

quote:

Name: Fearghus Grimminson
Race: Dwarf
Class: Apprentice Runesmith
WS 48, BS 31, S 35, T 43, Agi 20, Int 36, WP 32, Fel 21 (Shallyaed from 12)
Attacks: 1
+Mag: 1
Wounds: 12/12
Fate: 3/3
Skills:
Academic Knowledge (Runes)
Common Knowledge (Dwarfs)
Evaluate
Perception
Read/Write
Runecraft
Speak Language (Khazalid, Reikspiel, Arcane Khazalid)
Trade (Smith)+10
Trade (Weaponsmith)
Trade (Armorsmith)
Talents:
Dwarfcraft
Sturdy
Grudge-Born Fury
Night Vision
Stout Heart
Resistant to Magic
Rune of Striking
Rune of Stone
Trappings:
Leather Jack, Skullcap and Mail Shirt (AV1 Arms, AV1 Head, AV3 Body)
Trade Tools (Runesmith)
Hand Weapon (Hammer)
Dagger
Clothes
3 Gold (3 spent on Skullcap)

A young Runesmith who should still be back in the shop, learning his trade for another decade or four, Fearghus had the bad luck to lose his master marching with the Throng of High King Thorgrimm Grudgebearer, in support of the siege at Middenheim. His dying master bequeathed his notes and work to his most promising apprentice, telling Fearghus to travel and learn for a decade or two before returning to the mountainhomes. Unwilling to fail his master's last wishes, even if he questions their wisdom, Fearghus is seeking a company of good, solid companions to sell his services while he studies. The young smith may be a little soft and a little more used to gem-work and delicate inscription than weapon forging, but he's got a natural hand with a hammer and a dexterous, deft quality to him that should stand him in good stead as a craftsman and a warrior. Whatever happens, he won't let his dead master down; he'll hone his craft, and defend the lands of his peoples' human allies in the process.

Fearghus is really unusual; a Runesmith. He can make permanent magic items...with a huge amount of time and effort. More likely, he's going to spend a lot of time making temporary items in crazy forging montages just before major campaign battles. His natural WS means he'll never be useless in a fight, though, and he's quite clever, not to mention having solid Strength and Toughness. Runesmiths eventually become pretty good fighters, too, and he's also a good academic. He and Pierre should be able to puzzle out a lot as learned characters.

Next: The city these people will be saving.

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 4, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!




Starfinger Alien Archive Part 17: "As might be expected, reptoids are secretive about the end goals of their infiltrations, and when under extreme duress, they choose to die rather than reveal information about their home world or race."


Time for monsters that start with R!
  • Reptoid
  • Robot, Security
  • Ryphorian
No space pirates, tho.




Reptoid (CR 1) and Reptoid Master (CR 6)

Hoo boy. Wish I could get through a Paizo book without throwing them some powerful side-eye, but here we have it. Reptoids. We'll get to the why of the side-eye in a moment, so let's give them some plain coverage.

These are reptilian shapechangers that have psychic powers, making them pro infiltrators. Their ability is limited, though, so they often focus on one long-term role and are masterminds plotting... something? They're plotting an enigma wrapped in a mystery pocketed in a riddle and eaten by a deception and buried in a puzzle and- ugh, yeah, make up any relevant plot points yourself, GMs. They die rather than give up their secrets!... which would make a lot of sense in a world where healing magic wasn't a deal.

"Tell us what your plans are!"

"You'll never match our mental three-dimensional chess. Our way is much colder than yours. Much safer. I'll never tell you a thing." *bites down on cyanide tooth*

"Triune, not again." *casts mystic cure*

"... poo poo, I only had the one tooth. You're going to read my mind?"

"Well, it was that or cast speak with dead. This is more humane."

"So the cyanide tooth..."

"Yeah, I'd ask for your money back."


Also since they're cold-blooded technically you could detect them thermally, so much for masters of infiltration.

So, reptoids are your normal shadowchanging humanoids, with some minor mind-control spells once a day and change shape. The reptoid master gets better numbers, some of the social abilities from the Envoy and more powerful mind control spells. Like the grays, despite their text just going on and on about how mysterious they are, they get a playable statblock for PCs. The PC version gets change shape, but only for (10 + level) minutes, and only into one for unless they spend a week mastering a new form. That's... a little too harsh. They also get a dime bonus against poisons and mind-altering effects, low-light vision, and near-unusable claws.

Okay. If all that wasn't misconceived enough, the reptoids are obviously borrowed from the writings of new age conspiracy theorist David Icke - down to having one of the names he uses for them. If for some reason you're not familiar, he has a the real-life conspiracy "theory" that certain powerful individuals are actually malevolent reptilian shapechangers from the 4th dimension. Also, according to Icke, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is based on the plans of the reptilians, just cutting and pasting out jews for reptoids. Icke swears he isn't an anti-semite, but has gained some traction amongst the crazier parts of the racism spectrum. In addition, their associations with all of Icke's other garbage ideas and his connection with Alex Jones and his ilk makes them a somewhat unsavory.

Now, I think Starfinger's authors are just trying to glom onto the pop culture awareness of Icke's ideas, particularly in "UFOology", one of the least reliable -ologies. However, they probably should have at least given them a new name instead of just copy-pasting Icke's ideas into a RPG book, particularly given his associations with a lot of toxic notions and general exploitation of the vulnerable or gullible.




Robot, Observer-Class Security (CR 1) and Robot, Patrol-Class Security (CR 4)

So, these are robots mainly meant for peacekeeping and watchdog duties. The observers are just flying cameras that come in a variety of models and forms. Patrol-class robots are armor and nonlethally armed, despite the two pieces of art of one with a minigun on its shoulder. However, they can be hacked and used by gangs or criminals, and on rare occasions they can have glitches that cause them to become violent, typically after taking damage or due to a virus. Like the Living Brain. Remember that classic Spider-Man villain? Maybe it's just me.

The observer-class are small flyers that can shoot electrical for minimal nonlethal damage, fire a glue bomb, or punch for surprisingly decent damage. Lastly, once per day it can add +10 to a reflex save. The patrol-class can also shoot electricity, and every few rounds it can do a low-damage chain lightning effect. It can also repair itself once a day as a full action, and is vulnerable to crits and electricity. They're robots; not many surprises here.

No, there's no prices for them if you want to buy and field one. They are, presumably for balance purposes, NPC-only, which should lead to some interesting IC conversations about the PCs looking too shifty all over again.




Ryphorian Technician (CR 1) and Ryphorian Skyfire Pilot (CR 5)

The natives of Triaxus (which is the world with extra-long seasons), those born in summer are dark and hairless, and those in winter have short fur. There are some rare ones "inbetween" with a mix of traits. However, medical treatments can help them adjust their "season" in the modern age. Otherwise, they have pointy ears and a powerful nosebrow. Culturally those from the winter are seen as conservative and pragmatic, while those born in summer are seen as liberal and flighty. A lot of them belong to the Skyfire Legion, which is super-awesome and has dragonkin friends and they're the best pilots and yay yay go Skyfire Legion (again).

They're mainly built as a PC race, and like humans they get a bonus feat, making them one of the more potent and boring races as a result. They also get a dime bonus on perception checks, low-light vision, and minor resistance to the elements based on their type (summerborn get fire, winterborn get cold, and "transitional" get a tiny bit of each). The technician is lightly armed with some mechanic abilities, and the the skyfire pilot is built as an operator.

They're alright.


Next: S is for Mothmen!

Alien Rope Burn fucked around with this message at 22:25 on Nov 20, 2017

The Lord of Hats
Aug 22, 2010



Night10194 posted:

Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim

Aw, no Bear Tamer?

Anyways, despite missing the Best Class, I'm definitely looking forward to this.

Miltith75
Oct 29, 2011


Night10194 posted:

Warhammer Fantasy: Paths of the Damned Part 1: Ashes of Middenheim

I'm also looking forward to this. I played in a campaign that got to part of the way through part 3 so I'm looking forward to seeing what would have happened and seeing another take on the campaign.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


Miltith75 posted:

I'm also looking forward to this. I played in a campaign that got to part of the way through part 3 so I'm looking forward to seeing what would have happened and seeing another take on the campaign.

I'm trying it for my own group (albeit very heavily altering the whole thing since it's for play rather than review) and I'm basically going to drop book 3 for that group, since it includes a no-poo poo Sierra Unwinnable State and that is sort of unforgivable to me.

Miltith75
Oct 29, 2011


Night10194 posted:

I'm trying it for my own group (albeit very heavily altering the whole thing since it's for play rather than review) and I'm basically going to drop book 3 for that group, since it includes a no-poo poo Sierra Unwinnable State and that is sort of unforgivable to me.

I don't think my group got to that part or if we did we didn't make it unwinnable. So now I'm looking forward to seeing what part that is and what can make it unwinnable.

Miltith75 fucked around with this message at 22:47 on Nov 20, 2017

Hostile V
May 30, 2013

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



Interesting spread of protagonists, I'm really looking forward to how they tackle the adventure. All I know is what you've said about its pitfalls so I'm interested in the execution.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


Hostile V posted:

Interesting spread of protagonists, I'm really looking forward to how they tackle the adventure. All I know is what you've said about its pitfalls so I'm interested in the execution.

They'll (probably) be fine until the final combat. Then I start the TPK counter, just to show how batshit insanely bad of an idea parts of it are.

Hostile V
May 30, 2013

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



Ohhh dear.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


In fairness the entire conclusion of Ashes of Middenheim is like, the only time that happens in the whole series and stands out for it. It's also one of the most easily houseruled-into-being-an-okay-conclusion fights of that type I've seen, so it's not quite as terrible. There's just aspects of it that make it absolutely hilarious.

Freaking Crumbum
Apr 17, 2003

Too fuck to drunk






Chapter 6: The Illuminati




In the Dark*Matter setting, the term illuminati applies as a general label for secret societies. Each different group of illuminati believe themselves to be enlightened on some level, possessing some amount of secret knowledge, and hoping to leverage those secrets to control future events. Although each conspiracy is collectively working towards some larger hidden agenda, illuminati groups are often separated into different cells, degrees, orders and etc. and these sub-groups may have additional goals aside from their parent conspiracy (and sometimes even goals so different that they may work at cross purpose); further, the methods of any given conspiracy are rarely uniform or predictable, so it's not impossible that two different groups within the same conspiracy might attempt to accomplish the same result using wildly different, or completely opposite means. Dark*Matter is actually surprising transparent about these groups working in unpredictable ways: this way, if your GM says that the Rosicrucians are in league with the Kinori, and a later published adventure has the Rosicrucians being hostile to the Kinori, now your GM has a means of squaring the situation.

Ex: Well, the Rosicrucians in this adventure are part of an older part of the sect that didn't agree with joining forces with the Kinori, so they're taking this chance to try and cause them some grief.

Each entry on the illuminati groups is broken down into the following self-explained sub-sections: HQ & Branches, Power & Resources, Followers, Secret Knowledge, Primary Goal and Common Missions. Out of everything, I think the inclusion of Common Missions is the most valuable information, because it at least gives the GM some idea of what these inscrutable conspiracies are supposed to actually be doing within the context of a Dark*Matter campaign.

The book includes roughly 20 different illuminati groups (the U.S. govt. itself is like 6 separate groups), plus there's another 11 smaller conspiracies that get quick blurbs at the end of the chapter. My plan is to cover several per update rather than trying to mash them all together into one eye-glazing wall of text. Up first is the main antagonist group for the Dark*Matter setting!



Thirty-Three Degrees: Freemasonry - That's right, the motherfucking Freemasons are the big, bad omni-present antagonists that it's always okay to kill. Who are these mysterious villains that will attempt to thwart your intrepid heroes at every turn?

In Dark*Matter, they originate with the Biblical Tower of Babel. The OG Masons were the men that were commissioned by King Nimrod of Babylon to build said tower. In addition to trolling the Lord of the Heavenly Host so bad that he cursed humanity with the concept of "different languages", this nascent conspiracy later went on to serve as the construction crew for the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, and at some point had a mixer with the Knights Templar to learn the secrets of Egyptian mysticism that the Templars had stolen from Ismaili Muslim assassins during the Crusades.

The Masons have always had political savvy as a driving force, and they don't forget when their friends do them a favor. One of the earliest records of Mason meddling in political affairs in the current era happens in 1381 with the Peasant's Rebellion. Supposedly the Masons used this uprising as a cover to wage a covert campaign of terror against the Knights of St. John, who were apparently ancient foes of the Templars. More recently, the Freemasons are literally responsible for the existence of the current U.S. federal government. In 1776, a Mason named Adam Weishaupt forms a Masonic lodge in Ingolstadt, Germany and uses their considerable wealth and influence to buy their way into the Constitutional Convention in the Colonies, further going on to persuade the Founding Fathers to create a government that would promote the Masonic ideal of a utopian community.

The Freemasons have a ton of irons in the fire. Their major strongholds include the P2 Lodge in Italy, the Grand Lodge of the Potomac in the U.S., the Scottish lodge of The 33 Degree Master Masons of the Ancient Rite, a the Grand Orient lodge in France. Their stated ultimate goal is "the perfection of creation" and although there's no way for non-members to learn what that means, it's speculated that three specific events of great portent have to take place in order for this goal to be accomplished. Dark*Matter posits that two of these prophecies may have already been fulfill with the splitting of the atom with the detonation of the first atomic bomb, and the assassination of JFK; both the bomb blast and the assassination occurred in geographic regions extremely close to 33 degrees North latitude, and as well all know the number 33 is the Freemasons' favorite number.

HQ & Branches: Although the Masons have an extensive network of highly visible lodges (as mentioned above), they don't have a declared location as their capital or headquarters. Dark*Matter implies that the most possible location of their HQ would be the Grand Lodge Alpina in Switzerland because it's the location from which all of the Masonic wealth flows, and like any good detective knows, if you want to solve a riddle, you always follow the money.

Power & Resources: The Freemasons are only limited by the cumbersome size of their organization, and the fact that only an extremely small percentage of the total membership is actively involved in illuminati conspiracies; the Freemasons at the top use the rest of the non-engaged members as a very effective screen that covers for their true desires and goals. Otherwise, the Freemasons have more money than God and enough political influence and sleeper agent plants to accomplish any kind of trivial task that the GM needs them to perform.

Followers: Millions. As before, if there's a problem that can be solved with brute manpower, the Freemasons can solve it.

Secret Knowledge: Arcane spellcasting, Psionics and mindwalking, cutting edge technology (but nothing futuristic or alien, just the highest quality stuff version of anything you could buy on the contemporary Earth of 199X).

Primary Goal: Craft a perfect universe from the current imperfect one.

Common Missions: Infiltrate prestigious organizations, solicit or steal objects of occult or psionic importance, secure contact with any of the established Stranger groups that are hiding out on Earth, reverse engineer Stranger tech.


Oh, and the Masons also have a very big ace up their sleeve. One of the most powerful and conspicuous GMPCs of the setting is a Freemason, and he's none other than:


The Comte Claude-Louis de Saint-Germain!

That's right, the fictional version of this motherfucker pops up in Dark*Matter like an unwanted herpes outbreak, because apparently it's illegal to write a game about occult conspiracies and not feature him. He's supposed to be this mysterious, suave, debonair operator that has lived countless lifetimes and he's so wise and cool and he knows all the magic and he's friends with all the cool demons. But come-the-gently caress-on, this guy shows up in every single TTRPG about the occult. There's nothing mysterious about him at this point, and if you introduce him into your campaign he's most likely to elicit an eye-roll from your players so large that it's visible from space.

I mean, look at his statblock:



It might as well just say "If your players think they can beat Comte St. Germain: They Lose". Fer gently caress's sake, he's a Level 36 Immortal Occultist - loving nobody plays a campaign long enough to reach level 20, let alone nearly double that. Even if your players manage to subvert some kind of murphy in the rules and snuff him out, it's only temporary, and he has way more patience and resources than your players and it's completely trivial for him to come back at any point and obliterate them. He's the Nyarlathotep of the setting, and it's really funny that a character which is supposed to be literally all-powerful is thus rendered as one of the least interesting parts.


NEXT TIME: The Rosicrucians and the Hidden Order of St. Gregory.

unseenlibrarian
Jun 4, 2012

There's only one thing in the mountains that leaves a track like this. The creature of legend that roams the Timberline. My people named him Sasquatch. You call him... Bigfoot.

Use less Saint-Germain, more Alessandro Cagliostro.

(I am biased because in couple 'modern games with supernatural stuff in' I ran or helped run I had an Italian crime syndicate called the Cagliostro family who were all minor-league psychics.)

Mr. Maltose
Feb 16, 2011

The Guffless Girlverine


Lmao at the idea of the Grand Orient working with the UGLE on anything.

Prism
Dec 22, 2007

yospos


Simian_Prime posted:

Everything I read about Ringworld sounds like some Henry Darger Magical Realm nonsense. Guess I’ll skip Niven.

Can you explain what that means?

(Real question, it's not a term I've seen - the only 'magical realm' reference I can think of related to gaming doesn't seem to apply.)

Rand Brittain
Mar 24, 2013

"Go on until you're stopped."

Prism posted:

Can you explain what that means?

(Real question, it's not a term I've seen - the only 'magical realm' reference I can think of related to gaming doesn't seem to apply.)

"It appears to be designed to cater to someone's fetishes."

Prism
Dec 22, 2007

yospos


Rand Brittain posted:

"It appears to be designed to cater to someone's fetishes."

See, that's the reference I was thinking of but not sure about.

Edit: vvv yeah, I know that one, but I don't know what a Henry Darger is so I got confused.

Prism fucked around with this message at 00:15 on Nov 21, 2017

Zereth
Jul 8, 2003




Prism posted:

Can you explain what that means?

(Real question, it's not a term I've seen - the only 'magical realm' reference I can think of related to gaming doesn't seem to apply.)

http://gunshowcomic.com/471
It's from this.

Feinne
Oct 9, 2007

When you fall, get right back up again.


I'm going to kind of disagree on the Comte St. Germain just in that realistically briefly killing him would be pretty easy. He's just as vulnerable to getting one-shot by a deerslug at close range as any other vaguely humanoid thing is, for example.

Oh and everyone get ready for a second huge eyeroll when we get to the aliens and learn what an ekimmu is, not because the ekimmu aren't actually a decent take on what they're supposed to be but because LOL of course this joker is one of them. I actually kinda like the idea of the ekimmu but it's best to just have the Comte St. Germain be sir-not-included-in-this-picture.

Nessus
Dec 22, 2003

To witness titanic events is always dangerous, usually painful, and often fatal.





Rand Brittain posted:

"It appears to be designed to cater to someone's fetishes."
We have kind of run through the main gauntlet on the topic here, I just put the Pak content front and center on popular request. I mean, probably, there's this entire page of lyrical dolphin talk that may have more sex in it than I thought.

Freaking Crumbum
Apr 17, 2003

Too fuck to drunk




Feinne posted:

I'm going to kind of disagree on the Comte St. Germain just in that realistically briefly killing him would be pretty easy. He's just as vulnerable to getting one-shot by a deerslug at close range as any other vaguely humanoid thing is, for example.

to me, it’s the old D&D “fight a dragon” problem, but in reverse. do you run the encounter with monsters stats as written, or do you run the encounter based on how they’re presented in the fiction?

assuming that your players set up some kind of sniper-nest ambush, sure, you can drill a .50 cal round into his skull no problem. his stats don’t confer any amount of magic invulnerability, so this plan should work in theory. but, in the fiction he’s a master manipulator and basically the Sorcer Supreme of the Earth-realm; there’s no way this dude would ever allow himself to be within 100 yards of a viable threat to his safety, or he’d have life-model occult decoys and the thing you just sniped was actually a Greater Demon in disguise and those can shrug off some damage and then turn around and gently caress you raw, or any of 1,000 other contingency plans.

if I was a PC and my assassination attempt against the Comte “worked” I’d become immediately paranoid about what awful poo poo was about to befall me.

Robindaybird
Aug 21, 2007

Neat. Sweet. Petite.



I admit, I have a great distaste for Niven due to that awful Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex essay, that a lot of comic writers seem to use to justify trashing the Clark-Lois relationship, and just being really kind of gross over all.

A friend's comment about the exerts he remembers from the books being sexist as all get out, and the pak talk makes me think I would not enjoy his works.

Simian_Prime
Nov 6, 2011

When they passed out body parts in the comics today, I got Cathy's nose and Dick Tracy's private parts.

Prism posted:

See, that's the reference I was thinking of but not sure about.

Edit: vvv yeah, I know that one, but I don't know what a Henry Darger is so I got confused.

Henry Darger

tl;dr - a reclusive janitor who wrote a 10,000+ page book and made multiple paintings about a bizarre fantasy world revolving around androgynous fairie children. Nobody even knew about his art until his apartment was cleaned out after he died

EDIT: Link fixed

Simian_Prime fucked around with this message at 02:42 on Nov 21, 2017

Young Freud
Nov 25, 2006



Simian_Prime posted:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Darger

tl;dr - a reclusive janitor who wrote a 10,000+ page book and made multiple paintings about a bizarre fantasy world revolving around androgynous fairie children. Nobody even knew about his art until his apartment was cleaned out after he died

I think it's it's telling that learned about Henry Darger from a reference that Sgt. Hatred makes on the Venture Bros.

Nessus
Dec 22, 2003

To witness titanic events is always dangerous, usually painful, and often fatal.





Simian_Prime posted:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Darger

tl;dr - a reclusive janitor who wrote a 10,000+ page book and made multiple paintings about a bizarre fantasy world revolving around androgynous fairie children. Nobody even knew about his art until his apartment was cleaned out after he died
Link's broke. Anyway, fair enough, although from here on out it's mostly aliens, gear, and cultural anthropology!

ZeroCount
Aug 12, 2013




'Magical realm' is more explicitly about a GM forcing their fetishes into a communal game though. It's often a pretty loving stupid way to judge a book or a show unless you're an absolute puritan.

Comrade Gorbash
Jul 12, 2011

My paper soldiers form a wall, five paces thick and twice as tall.


Robindaybird posted:

I admit, I have a great distaste for Niven due to that awful Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex essay, that a lot of comic writers seem to use to justify trashing the Clark-Lois relationship, and just being really kind of gross over all.

A friend's comment about the exerts he remembers from the books being sexist as all get out, and the pak talk makes me think I would not enjoy his works.
Most of the actual Niven short stories are free of it, though the Ringworld novels have it floating in the background.

In those it's that sort of 70s/early 80s weird gender hang ups that were considered more socially liberal at the time and now are correctly identified as shockingly open sexism. It's pretty much unconscious and completely lacking self awareness. That's still a decent reason to skip them entirely, but it's at least not someone making a specific commentary on gender roles, like Pournelle does.

If you've ever read a Jack McDevitt book, it's right on that wavelength.

Also as much as we've harped on about the Pak and protectors, it's worth noting they occupy the role of menace and villain when they show up in the books. They're critical to understand Ringworld itself, but even the "good" protectors are portrayed as a double edged sword and the kind of "necessary evil" that should be questioned closely. At no point are protectors held up as a positive example; they're supposed to scare the poo poo out of you.

In fact there is a bit of HFY in that it's heavily implied humans really don't need protectors, and if anything the actions of human protectors are long term a net negative.

All that being said, there's a lot of reflexive chauvinism underlying the Known Space world building, from the presentation of who the heroes are and the "I don't see color" racial politics. And especially with the two major races having non-intelligent females, even if its got a purpose. For the Kzinti, it shows they're really lovely people. For the Puppeteers, it shows they're weird and maybe not on the level, and also a bit of a surprisingly subtle take that on human sexism, though Niven isn't self aware enough to actually follow that thread to the point that would make him question his own assumptions.

Simian_Prime
Nov 6, 2011

When they passed out body parts in the comics today, I got Cathy's nose and Dick Tracy's private parts.

ZeroCount posted:

'Magical realm' is more explicitly about a GM forcing their fetishes into a communal game though. It's often a pretty loving stupid way to judge a book or a show unless you're an absolute puritan.

It’s not so much that the material is gross, it’s just tedious. After the 10th paragraph about how the Pak gender dynamic works and how Niven’s self-insertBrennan broke the system over his knee, you say, “OK, I GET IT, WRAP IT UP!”

Angry Salami
Jul 27, 2013

Don't trust the skull.


I'm not a big fan of Niven, but most of his stuff is just Asimov style puzzles; establish the rules of the setting, something weird happens, the protagonist works out how that's possible under the established rules. The aliens and weird sex stuff is generally just background details - the Pak are only in a couple of books, and aren't even mentioned in the original Ringworld.

(And reconning them in as the builders of the Ringworld never made much sense to me - why would the genocidally xenophobic Pak Protectors establish colonies of other species on the Ringworld?)

Feinne
Oct 9, 2007

When you fall, get right back up again.


Freaking Crumbum posted:

to me, it’s the old D&D “fight a dragon” problem, but in reverse. do you run the encounter with monsters stats as written, or do you run the encounter based on how they’re presented in the fiction?

assuming that your players set up some kind of sniper-nest ambush, sure, you can drill a .50 cal round into his skull no problem. his stats don’t confer any amount of magic invulnerability, so this plan should work in theory. but, in the fiction he’s a master manipulator and basically the Sorcer Supreme of the Earth-realm; there’s no way this dude would ever allow himself to be within 100 yards of a viable threat to his safety, or he’d have life-model occult decoys and the thing you just sniped was actually a Greater Demon in disguise and those can shrug off some damage and then turn around and gently caress you raw, or any of 1,000 other contingency plans.

if I was a PC and my assassination attempt against the Comte “worked” I’d become immediately paranoid about what awful poo poo was about to befall me.

Oh for sure. In practice you never even see the gently caress because he's 100% behind the scenes. One nice thing is that were you to want to use the setting there were never really enough 'things' done with it that you couldn't reasonably change him out for any other more interesting person who turns out to be an ekimmu connected with the masons. Or at least come up with some more interesting true identity that his pretension as the Comte St. Germain is a cover for.

EDIT: It feels silly to start before we get to the section of the setting with Strangers but I'd totally be down to do the Xenoforms book.

LOL or The Killing Jar, or both.

Feinne fucked around with this message at 03:13 on Nov 21, 2017

Tendales
Mar 9, 2012


The one thing I really remember about the Known Space books was the feud that Niven had with a slashfic writer that ended up creeping into the official stories. Not because Sternberg wrote kzinti porn, but because he wrote kzinti porn wrong and it was disrespectful to the rich sci-fi lore that Niven had created.

Daeren
Aug 17, 2009

YER MUSTACHE IS CROOKED


Tendales posted:

The one thing I really remember about the Known Space books was the feud that Niven had with a slashfic writer that ended up creeping into the official stories. Not because Sternberg wrote kzinti porn, but because he wrote kzinti porn wrong and it was disrespectful to the rich sci-fi lore that Niven had created.

Niven had strong enough feelings on alien-loving that that doesn't really surprise me. I've only read a few of his short stories, though, and they were pretty engaging, if not perfect for several of the above reasons.

Nessus
Dec 22, 2003

To witness titanic events is always dangerous, usually painful, and often fatal.





And now for something completely different.


We resume the Creatures book with ALIENS! Ones that, by and large, do not even have hands.

First up are Bandersnatchi.


what handsome fellows. also this guy is bigger than a tank

These massive creatures live as filter feeders in swamps on Jinx, and have been found in other habitats. They are technically massive single cell organisms, that single cell weighing over thirty tons. They were made as food animals by the Slavers and do not mutate, so they've been puttering around with oral cultures ever since then. They fully understand humans - the ones on Jinx get 80% of the proceeds from consensual tank-based hunts which the Bandersnatch win the majority of the time. They also work in the high-pressure areas of Jinx, using prosthetic manipulators bought from humans.

Bandersnatchi exist on the Ringworld - there's a "Map" of Jinx, and some seem to have gotten loose in the past.

They are of human-equivalent intelligence, but are the size of apatosaurus, so they are not really good explorer characters. Their special attack is to worgle over you and crush you beneath their massive frames.

Next up: Dolphins!


look out!



Yeah, it was the 1980s.

There is an entire page about how humans used to be really friendly with Dolphins, but then "the Man" got in the way and advanced an anti-dolphin agenda as wlel as encouraging people to eat dolphins and so on. The guy from "Day of the Dolphin" made a breakthrough in communication, and the UN banned all whaling in 2017 as well as extending legal protection to dolphins. Dolphins immediately sued Humanity for damages; the lawsuits have not concluded yet, and it is thought that the dolphins are, at this point, taking the piss.

You can learn more about how dolphins work from Wikipedia. Humans sold them prosthetics much as they did to the Bandersnatch, and later, also "aquasuits" - powered armor, essentially, letting dolphins come up on land. Friendship with dolphins revolutionized oceanography and aquaculture, which is probably part of why Earth can support 18 billion flatlanders. Dolphin Studies is a major in college. It is difficult for dolphins to speak easily with humans, but they give things a try. Dolphins are also present on most human colony words with quality ocean space. There are between 8 to 10 billion dolphins in Known Space, and most spaceports have at least basic dolphin accessibility.

Dolphins can be explorers but have obvious problems if you aren't based in water, which is why they aren't in the core book. They are basically the same as humans save for being bigger and stronger, if less so than Kzin. They also do not have boosterspice. But they're good at piloting!

Then! Grogs!

The only intelligent form of a Grog is a large sessile organism who feeds by using their powerful psionic domination abilities to tell food to come get eaten. (Other life stages of Grogs are much more mobile.) They contacted Humans on Down through the firm that produces hands for dolphins and bandersnatchi. Grogs can get around on automatic mobility chairs.

Grogs are mostly found on Down, although the "Map" of Down also hosts them on the Ringworld. A Kzinti exploratory party tried to reach that Map and was never heard from again. Probable outcome: Dinner.

And furthermore: Kdatlyno!


what's up

Kdatlyno are 3-4 meters tall, blind as bats, use ultrasonic signals and sensitive touch to perceive reality, and are fugly as hell. They have a sort of natural X-ray vision and are famous for touch-sculptures. They managed, despite being blind, to get into space, and sent out helpful signals on the 21-cm interstellar hydrogen band to try and contact friendly aliens.

Instead, they got the Kzin. The war was brutal, brutal enough that the Kzin gained a purported respect for the Kdatlyno, which seems to mostly mean that they were used as labor slaves rather than meat animals. They were liberated in the second Man-Kzin war. They are renowned for vengeance plots, and it is speculated that they are, on a species-wide level, planning some horrifying, Monte-Cristo-esque revenge upon the Kzin - but as far as anyone can tell, why, they're just folks, and they trade happily with the Kzin. No hard feelings, right?

Kdatlyno are bigger than humans but otherwise comparable, statistically, other than having 4 points of natural armor and being stone blind, even if their Daredevil senses can make up for it. They often need special equipment, but when they have that equipment, they're as able as humans.

Next time: Trinocs, Outsiders, and the City Builders.

Ghost Leviathan
Mar 2, 2017

Exploration is ill-advised




I was guessing that, given female Kzin are non-sentient and only a few Kzinti ever get to even meet them, the majority of romantic relationships between Kzinti are probably homosexual. Hey, space cats need love too.

Bandersnatchi must have an entertaining story behind their name. I'm guessing the human kids love them.

The Lone Badger
Sep 24, 2007



Comrade Gorbash posted:

In fact there is a bit of HFY in that it's heavily implied humans really don't need protectors, and if anything the actions of human protectors are long term a net negative.

Large portions of Pak are uninhabitably radioactive because Protectors are not good for a species-as-a-whole.
The way I see it, Protectors are tightly bound to the Nash Equilibrium. A Protector cooperating with another knows knows for an absolute fact that the other Protector will hit 'betray' the nanosecond it's advantageous to do so. In return they have no choice but to betray them first. Preferably in a sufficiently extreme way that prevents any chance of retaliation.
Humans are stupid enough to have the luxury of things like 'morality', allowing them to make choices that are sub-optimal for them as individuals but a pattern of which is greatly advantageous to the species-as-a-whole. Protectors are driven too harshly by logic and instinct to be able to deceive themselves like that.
And that's why humanity is better off without Protectors. And why Jack Brennan didn't bring the thallium and Tree-Of-Life to Earth - he calculated we're better off as we are.

marshmallow creep
Dec 10, 2008

I've been sitting here for 5 mins trying to think of a joke to make but I just realised the animators of Mass Effect already did it for me



Hostile V posted:

Interesting spread of protagonists

Spread? But there's only one. :downs:

Nessus
Dec 22, 2003

To witness titanic events is always dangerous, usually painful, and often fatal.





Inescapable Duck posted:

I was guessing that, given female Kzin are non-sentient and only a few Kzinti ever get to even meet them, the majority of romantic relationships between Kzinti are probably homosexual. Hey, space cats need love too.

Bandersnatchi must have an entertaining story behind their name. I'm guessing the human kids love them.
Putting the slash in slash fiction, yes.

I think the Bandersnatch got their name from the colonists of Jinx, who were already somewhat prone to eccentric naming. This is relatively common in a lot of the place names in Known Space, which I think was partly Niven taking the piss of everyone giving everything august dog-Latin names or naming every planet some confection of random syllables, and partly a reasonable reflection of the names people do give things. For instance, the ice-rich moon around We Made It got called "Desert Isle."

wiegieman
Apr 22, 2010

Royalty is a continuous cutting motion




Keep in mind that Bandersnatchi are basically superintelligent slugs the size of a bus.

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MadDogMike
Apr 9, 2008

Can I come out and play?

Inescapable Duck posted:

I was guessing that, given female Kzin are non-sentient and only a few Kzinti ever get to even meet them, the majority of romantic relationships between Kzinti are probably homosexual. Hey, space cats need love too.

Kzin don't really "do" romance in the majority of stories, not terribly surprising considering they've had very few sentient hetero partners for it. The only exceptions I can recall involved said rare sentient females and unusually open-minded males, and pretty sure none of them were written by Niven. Homosexuality doesn't really come up in the books (author issues probably plus being from the era where the sci-fi worldbuilding was the main draw and characters a distant second), but it's unclear if A. it's possible with kzin (alien race after all) and B most of their interactions with each other seem tense at best considering they can go from zero to death dueling in seconds, which would seem to limit romance options there. One of the things I like about a lot of Niven's aliens is that they tend to be quite alien in thought; kzin are not just humans in furry cat costumes. They may be aromantic even if they obviously get horny at times.

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