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oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!






The Martyr

Another fairly self-explanatory Archetype. To follow the path of the Martyr you have to choose a cause. There's no real limit on what your cause can be: spiritual, philosophical, political, etc. are all fair game. It's noted that Martyrs are more commonly ignorant Avatars than not. There are few people willing to literally Martyr themselves for a cause they don't actually believe in and "true believers" rarely require knowledge of the occult to walk the path.

Taboo: The Taboo of the Martyr is very simple: you can't put your own well-being (or that of anyone else) over the good of your cause.

Suspected Avatars: Too many to count.

Channels:

1-50%: When working in support of your cause you may add your Avatar skill to Body skills related to enduring pain, resisting fatigue, etc.

51-70%: You can re-roll or flip-flop any failed skill roll in exchange for taking Wound points equal to the sum of the dice if the roll then succeeds. The action also has to be in the name of the Martyr's cause.

71-90%: With a Martyr check you make transfer an injury to yourself (remember, damage is tracked per wound), so long as the person injured was acting in support (or was important to) your cause. You can even use this to retroactively undo a killing blow (so long as you can see the victim and you activate the ability immediately)...this rewrites reality to cause you to leap in front of the blow or otherwise "take the hit".

91%+: So long as you die in the name of your cause you can give your death meaning. You can either inflict the same damage you suffered (flip-flopping if desired) to all foes present at the time or you can choose for your death to become known to other believers in your cause. It doesn't matter how well hidden or lonely your death is...knowledge will spread via some kind of coincidental record becoming publicly available, or even simply an oddly accurate urban legend.

Eh....functional but the Martyr doesn't exactly make for a flashy write-up, most of the abilities are more or less exactly what you think of the moment you hear the Avatar's name.

The Necessary Servant


"Very good, sir."

The Necessary Servant is the vizier, the loyal butler or indispensable secretary. There are two primary elements to the Necessary Servant Archetype. First, they must be relatively anonymous and lowly subordinates (it's not merely enough to be lower on the totem-pole than the big boss). Second, they must be essential to their superior(s)...the servant's master must need them more than the servant needs the master. This means they must be useful and dedicated, going above and beyond the call of duty and performing with exceptional ability.

Taboo: The servant can never take charge directly, they're a bit like the Executioner in that they must always act in the "boss". However, they don't have to slavishly obey their master...a Necessary Servant can act without orders and can even lie about their orders but these actions must still be in the name of another. You can't half-rear end things either...if you're given an order or a duty to perform then you must complete it to the best of your ability.

Suspected Avatars: Of course, the best Necessary Servants don't go down in history at all, but some suspected avatars have included Queen Elizabeth's spymaster Walsingham and Hitler's confidant Martin Bormann.

Channels:

1-50% The first channel is interesting, but potentially more of a disadvantage than an advantage. All Avatars of the Necessary Servant (knowing avatars or otherwise) automatically recognize one another, usually with a vaguely favorable impression. For one Avatar to directly act against another requires an Avatar roll that succeeds higher than the other Avatar's skill. This means it's impossible for one servant to directly act against another with a higher Avatar rating so it's unclear how you would unseat the Godwalker...better wait for them to screw up and violate taboo.

51-70% With an Avatar roll you can perform Exalted Bureaucracy Charms. Basically you can use your Avatar skill to intuit the clockwork of a organization, company, government agency, etc. This means that not only is it easy for them to cut through red tape since they can go straight to the person they most need to talk to (whether or not that person is "officially" the one who handles things), but they also know the weak points of any such group. They can tell who will take bribes, who doesn't work hard at their job and the workers whose loss would hurt the organization the most. Considering that this can also include things like cults, security teams, law enforcement, etc this is a really useful channel.

71-90% You are a perfect social chameleon can (with an Avatar roll) fit into any place and seem like you belong. So long as you don't take any action that directly draws attention to his out-of-placedness. For instance, you could walk into a high-society party in boxers and a tank top and everyone would think you're dressed perfectly...until you grab someone's butt or otherwise act out of place. Your features and details become non-memorable and vague and everyone simply overlooks you.

91+ You can imbue others in your organization or team with supernatural ability by giving advice and tips. So long as the subject accepts the support then you can add any amount up to your Avatar skill (presumably at least...no limits are ever actually stated) to a single appropriate skill of your choice for up to 24 hours. So a manservant could suggest and outfit and topics of polite conversation for their employer to boost their Charm skill for a date or an important meeting. Likewise, if you're a CEO's secretary and you know an attempt on his life is imminent you could give his bodyguard suggestions or support to boost his Notice skill.

The downside is you can only do this for a single person at a time and doing so hinders your own Avatar abilities...the bonus you grant becomes the minimum necessary roll for any Avatar abilities while the bonus is active (so giving someone a +50% bonus means that your Avatar skill rolls fail if they come out under 50). However, you can always rescind the bonus at any time and remove the penalty.

Since there's no reason that a Necessary Servant can't be "support" for a magickal Cabal it's easy to see some pretty impressive moves being pulled off with this Channel. Suggesting good vantage points to an assassin or packing your dipsomancer master's flask of his favorite whisky can be powerful boosters.



The Outsider

This is the Archetype that convinced me to write-up the Statosphere book, mostly due to the goofy third Channel. The Outsider's theme is a catch-all for any and all of those who don't "fit in". This could be due to ethnicity, gender, economic factors, etc. Generally speaking, the Outsider should also be "needed" by the community they operate in but also feared or mistrusted (the latino nanny for a rich white family, the affirmative action hire, the "token" whatever). However, this isn't really reflected in the taboo and many examples are more cases of basic prejudice than the "need/distate" dynamic.

Taboo: The Outsider must live among those who do not fully trust them. Total acceptance or total isolation both break taboo. This is, unfortunately, pretty vague and difficult to pin down mechanically. Especially problematic is tying down exactly how much "rejection" is necessary...does being a gay man in a "Red State" count or do they actually have to live above a conservative baptist church or something? Needless to say it's not a conversation I'd feel very comfortable having with many people ("No, you aren't being persecuted enough to qualify" is certainly not something you want to say to anyone). Overall, I'd say the Outsider is definitely not an Archetype suitable for a lot of groups.

Suspected Avatars: You'd think Pocahontas would be a strong contender. Other obvious examples are integration history-makers like Jesse Owens.

Channels

1-50%: You are both seductive and terrifying. You can flip-flop rolls dealing with either frightening or seducing those who are not of your persecuted group. A matched success leads to either obsessive passion or total fear (Rank-5 Helplessness check). I've got to say, I'm not really sold on this channel. While there's certainly some precedent for the flip-side of prejudice coin being "exotic appeal" it's certainly not a universal thing and the Outsider is already trying to cover so many different different marginalized groups that it just feels reductive to try and make the case that this is going to fit every "outsider" in some way.

51-70% Prejudice hardens you. When the Outsider fails a Madness check caused by the hardship they face from their community the Outsider can roll their Avatar skill to turn the Failed notch into a Hardened Notch. Not a very impressive ability for a second channel, especially since it mainly helps you when resisting the consequences of following the Outsider path to begin with. The description of prejudice turning you into a monster is also somewhat uncomfortable as well.

71-90% While the first two channels sit pretty firmly in "should I be offended by this?" territory, the third channel takes a turn to goofball island and the Outsider becomes downright comedic. With this Channel (and a successful Avatar roll) your Outsider status becomes infectious. Your bodily fluids can infect a target, transforming them into an example of your "outsider"-ness. Meaning that you can have sex with someone and turn them black or gay....you can spit in someone's coffee and they'll turn into a woman. Since saliva is a vector for the transformation you can even infect people zombie-style: bite someone and their foreskin will disappear (yes, transmitting circumcision is given as an example). The effect lasts for 24 hours.

Obviously, this can be fairly devastating without any "social" consequences, since most targets are likely going to be making hefty Self and Unnatural checks. Of course, with willing targets you could always help someone re-enact that "Loise Lane Turns Black" superman comic.



91+% This channel reinforces the "need" the community apparently has for the Outsider by preventing them from physically attacking you. Anyone who wants to attack you must make a Self-10 check. Magickal, emotional or social "damage" is fine however. This is one of those channels that's going to be extremely powerful (if for instance it means that you can't be harmed by basically anyone in the city you live in) or extremely weak, depending on how the Outsider "community" requirements are determined.


I've got to admit, I kind of hope that the Outsider godwalker's custom channel is a modification to the 3rd channel to go full-zombie. Those infected by you can then infect others just for the sheer lunacy of it.

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oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!




Night10194 posted:

The necessity and a clear-eyed theme is really important to pulling this off, as is making sure you don't deny the agency of the people involved in the event. I've often found if a game claims supernatural poo poo was behind everything ever but oh man Hitler is super special and the one actual human doing actual human things it's equally disgusting from another standpoint, because the only place the author is allowing agency is in tragedy and evil.

One of the things I quite appreciated about Dead Inside as an urban fantasy game was it basically stated that supernatural entities more or less hosed off from mundane matters and dealt with their own stuff. They weren't behind any major historical events...important historical figures weren't Mages fighting shadow wars, serial killers weren't all secretly Dead Inside, civil rights figureheads weren't all secretly Sensitives. Human history was the history of humans and supernatural forces generally were not involved.

The closest they ever really got was mentioning that many cryptid sightings were actually the result of a gang of playful Free Spirits playing pranks on humans.

It also, importantly, made the very clear point that although the Dead Inside were depressed and isolated that was because they were suffering from a fictional affliction that could not be treated through psychology or therapy. In the real world youshould darn well take your meds if you need them.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!




Nessus posted:

So how did the mana thing work in Technomancer, I missed that. I know the "official" GURPS rule is that normal Earth is a low-mana zone (-5 to zaubs) but in places like Stonehenge or something it might be "normal." This sounds more like "no mana before nukes".

That's actually one of the big questions in the setting. There's no certain evidence that magic existed in the past, but there's the possibility of it.

Magic (in the form of Oz particles) did predate the Trinity Event in space, they seem to be emitted by the sun but are blocked by earth's atmosphere or magnetic fields.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!






Statosphere, part 3

Last time I apparently skipped a couple of Avatars so we'll be backtracking a little bit.

The Hunter[



A guy who hunts.

Okay, it's a little more nuanced than that. Like the Warrior the Hunter has taken on a slightly less literal tone. Hunters are those who go out into the wild (whether literal or metaphorical) in search of something. Sort of a more aggressive version of the Pilgrim. In fact, those who hunt animals for food or sport would rarely qualify for the Hunter Avatar as modern life has rendered most hunting a matter of entertainment rather than a driving goal (of course, there are some parts of the world where this isn't the case). Most Hunter Avatars will pursue less meaty game: FBI agents hunting down criminals, bounty hunters, even collectors who search for a rare antiquity or painting. It even notes that very recently the previous Hunter was ousted by a bounty hunter who, in the process of chasing his quarry, found himself chasing (and catching) the Count De Saint Germain.

Taboo: Abandoning a hunt where there is still a chance of success. Having your prey completely escape or finding a dead end won't hurt, that's part of the hunt, but giving up when you could continue the hunt is a violation of taboo. Also, pursuing more than one "hunt" at a time.

Suspected Avatars: Mythological hunters like Nimrod or Orion are possibilities, as well as more modern hunters like Pat Garret who pursued Billy The Kid.

Channels

1-50%: Declare a quarry. The quarry must be an item, person or being, not merely an abstraction (no hunting for "love" or "happiness"). There's gray areas (for instance, information) but generally speaking the Pilgrim goes for abstract goals the Hunter goes for concrete ones. All rolls made to follow, find or pursue your prey are flip-flopped. You can't have more than one designated prey at a time and the effect ends once you catch it or lose the trail. For those hunting dangerous game, keep in mind that this means you get no bonus when it comes to actually killing or subduing your prey.

51-70%: All attempts to mislead, misdirect or lie to the Hunter regarding their designated prey fail automatically unless the deceiver's relevant skill is higher than the Hunter's Avatar skill. This doesn't reveal the truth, just the fact that lies or misdirection are being used.

71-90% The Hunter does not need to rest, sleep or eat while pursuing prey so long as they can make a successful Avatar roll each day. Even failure doesn't cause the missed food and rest to "catch up" (although a critical failure will).

91+% The hunter can get into the mind of their prey. When faced with a decision that their quarry would have made a successful Mind roll allows the Hunter to discover what choice was made. This doesn't grant 100% detailed information (it notes that it'll let you know that the quarry uses their birthday when choosing a password, but it won't tell you what their birthday is) and it doesn't allow you to account for events that occur later that might change things (for instance, you might know that your Quarry chose to stay at the Bergmont hotel, but it won't tell you that he was arrested for driving with a suspended license on the way to the hotel and is currently in jail). A very powerful ability, although the requirement to make a Mind roll is a bit of a bitch, considering pretty much no other Avatar channel works like that.

The Hunter is one of those characters that is only so-so for PCs due to its hyper-specialization but would be utterly horrifying to face as a well-built NPC gunning for one of the characters.


The Judge

The Judge is all about making big, important choices and their abilities center around giving them the knowledge and understanding to make the right choice (right to them at least). Beyond that, no specific role is implied, beyond the obvious, but really anyone who has been given at least some authority could be considered for Judge-ship.

Taboo: Indecision. When faced with a decision the judge must pronounce judgement. If the situation allows they may wait for more information or investigation, but when push comes to shove they have to make a choice. It doesn't specify, but I like to think that this manifests in being very definitive about meal planning...the biggest danger to a Judge's status is being asked "what do you want for dinner?"

Suspected Avatars: King Solomon may be the archetype (in both meanings of the word) of the Judge Avatar and of course most famous Supreme Court justices have the potential as well. It's implied that the O.J. Simpson trial may have been a Godwalker bid for Lance Ito. Maybe Simon Cowell is playing that game as well.

1-50% When trying to find information you can re-roll all failures that are lower than your Avatar skill (no iterative re-rolls, just the once).

51-70% with a successful Avatar roll the Judge can determine if a piece of information is relative to an issue they are considering. You only know how it's related with a matched success. A critical success provides a bit of related but unrevealed information.

71-90% With an Avatar roll the Judge can predict the consequences of his decision. The context must be fairly narrowly defined and do not provide specifics. For instance, the Judge could predict whether or not offering a 20 dollar bill to a bouncer will get him punched in the face, but it won't tell him that offering a hundred dollar bill would have worked (unless the Judge tries that next). Like all fortune telling nothing is set in stone and the actions of the Judge can influence things even if he goes ahead with one decision or the other.

91+% If the Judge is in a position of authority, they can make decisions that are mystically enforced. The authority can be official (being a literal judge or elected official) or based on the situation (being the only one in the room with a gun). They may make a decree (which must be an order or a statement of fact) and make an Avatar roll. If they succeed then all who heard them must accept the statement as correct or obey the order. Those with a Soul Stat higher than the roll the Judge made to activate this power may attempt to resist with a successful Soul roll (which can be repeated each round).

This can be used to order someone to die, so long as your Avatar skill roll was successful and higher than their Soul stat.

This fails automatically if your statement is flat out impossible ("I am declaring you exempt from the law of gravity") or in blatant contradiction of obvious truth. For instance, if asked to decided which of two men where the father of a baby the Judge could make all present accept their decision, but they could not declare that the father was George Washington or a potted plant. At least not without a good story behind it.


The Peacemaker


Ooops, wrong one

The Peacemaker is probably one of the closest to out and out "good" Avatars you get in UA. They are like a walking Disney movie, exuding niceness and fluffy-bunny-good-times.

Taboo: Peacemakers, obviously, cannot use physical violence. Physical is the keyword, they can still shout and argue all they want. Even carrying a weapon violates taboo. You are not penalized if others use violence, but you will be if you hang around persistently violent characters too long or help enable their violent impulses. Needless to say Peacemakers have kind of the "Paladin in the Party" problem.

Suspected Avatars MLK is presented as a Peacemaker and Neville Chamberlain's Nazi appeasement policy is suggested as the "dark side" of the Peacemaker Avatar.

1-50%: With an Avatar roll you can calm conflicts between groups of under a dozen people. This won't work in "to-the death" battles, but you can quiet an argument, stop a brawl or break a Mexican Standoff. This only works on those who can hear your unamplified voice and anyone affected who wishes to engage in violence finds it horrid and must make a Violence check at a rating equal to the 10's place in the Avatar's skill. Your spell breaks if anyone does attack anyone else and attempting to use this channel a second time on the same conflict suffers a -20% shift.

Once violence stops you can help everyone involved talk it out. A second successful Avatar roll gets them talking amongst each other and so long as there is an agreeable solution they'll probably come to it. If everyone's goals are completely at odds the best you can hope for is a brief truce.

51-70%: It's almost impossible for living beings to harm you. So long as you are not actually harming someone yourself (which negates this channel for a full day) then anyone attempting to hurt you must make a Violence check with a rating equal to the 10's place in your Avatar skill, on top of any Violence checks they already need to make.

71-90% A more powerful version of your first Channel. This works on any living being involved in a fight, with a successful Avatar roll and a command to stop fighting you can instantly stop all fighting while you are present. This works on conflicts of up to 50 people and so long as you can suggest a reasonable solution to the fighter's conflicts they will accept it.

91+%: You can stop any violence, both human and natural. Within the range of your unamplified voice you can speak to and calm any sort of conflict or violence with a successful Avatar roll. This can completely end small-scale violence such as a lynching, a killer automaton or a tornado, and assuming that there are intelligent participants they will immediately begin to resolve their conflict non-violently on their own. In cases where your range is not large enough to encapsulate the entire effect such as a war zone or a hurricane then you can only create a bubble of peace around you that moves with you so long as you keep speaking.



The Rebel

Not quite the Martyr, not quite the Warrior, the Rebel is the rabble-rouser and poo poo-stirrer of the Invisible Clergy. Specifically the current Archetype of the Rebel is envisioned as someone who opposes oppression and abuse of authority. The Rebel also focuses on inspiring and leading others to battle oppression alongside them.

All Rebels must have a Cause, an agenda with a clear opponent. You can't fight "for women" you must fight "against patriarchy", so to speak. You cannot change your Cause without violating taboo, unless your opponent (or a representative of it) makes some kind of significant concession and you are recognized as the reason for this change. At this point you can declare victory (regardless of any other existing problems). For instance, if you are fighting the good fight against nuclear power and you manage to get a power plant shut down or a new regulation passed you can end that fight (regardless of how prevalent nuclear power is) and start the fight against seatbelt laws.

Taboo: As noted abandoning your cause breaks taboo, as does a public failure in the fight (don't pick fights you can't win). And of course selling out or taking bribes from the foes of your cause are all violations as well.

Suspected Archetypes: Gandhi is considered a Rebel, and Che Guivera is the current Archetype of the Rebel, replacing the historical Robin Hood.

1-50% You can issue a believable warning that temporarily converts others to your cause with a successful Avatar roll. This lasts for a week, during which the target will support your cause publicly (coming to protests, signing petitions or volunteering their spare time) at the end of which the compulsion ends but those who'd already be prone to support you may continue to do so. You can only do this once per day and you can target a particular individual only once per month.

51-70% With at least 30 minutes of ranting and a successful Avatar roll you can rouse others to immediate action, essentially stirring up a mob. Those listening cannot be compelled if they are strongly opposed to your cause or are being coerced or compelled into listening to you and you cannot affect more than your Avatar skill in targets. This causes all targets to share your Rage or Noble (your choice) Passions and you can "steer" the crowd so long as they can hear you and you have to make a successful roll every half hour or the mob dissolves. The crowd isn't a very good lynch mob, engaging in violence only if provoked by violence from opposition (of course, with some planning its easy enough to fake such provocation). The actions of the crowd are closely associated with you and everyone involved will know who started it and all credit and blame will fall to you (and remember, public failure breaks taboo, so be careful with this channel).

71-90% You can recruit fanatical followers to your cause. With a successful Avatar roll you can recruit zealots to serve your cause, pick one of the two dice to represent the number of followers recruited and the other to represent the number of days they'll serve. Followers recruited this way will follow any non-suicidal orders (although of course they may be subjected to Madness checks depending on what you're asking of them). Breaking the compulsion inflicts an Unnatural check equal to the 10's digit of your Rebel skill.

91+% You won't die quietly. Anyone attacking you due to your Cause cannot harm you if no one supporting your Cause witnesses the attack. This includes both literal damage and attempts to weaken or hinder the Rebel in pursuit of their cause. This won't work if the Rebel is the one who started the fight. On the whole, the thing is basically like the Martyr's final Channel but not as good since any allied witnesses ruin the power (and there's nothing stopping your enemies from killing them afterwards).



oriongates fucked around with this message at 10:35 on Jan 28, 2016

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!




Indeed, in many ways they are the ultimate enemy of the Rebel. In UA there's nothing so incorruptible that there isn't a dark side.

That said, thankfully they can't force settlements, they can make you start talking but they can't force you to accept unacceptable terms (but if all they need to do is stall for reinforcements you're in trouble).

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!




Simian_Prime posted:

Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks always struck me as a good model for a Hunter Avatar.

Indeed. Hunter is one of those archetypes that's really cool but kind of only works (for a PC) if you've got a whole campaign structured around a particular Hunt. Twin Peaks is a good example of that sort of thing where the overarching goal of Dale and his allies is finding the killer of Laura Palmer and the truth is threaded so deeply through the town that it'll be coming up constantly here and there to make the Hunter feel useful, no matter which subplot you're pursuing at the moment.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!






The Statosphere part 4: The Scholar, Trickster and Two-Faced Man

We'll be finishing off with the Avatars here, next I should be able to put together something interesting with their expanded take on the Rooms of Renunciation.


The Scholar

The Statosphere has a fair amount of Avatars that follow the "Like the [Other Avatar] but...". The Confessor is like the Healer but for the mind instead of the body, the Rebel is like the Martyr but focused more on leadership than sacrifice. The Hunter is like the Executioner but doesn't need orders. That's probably why only 3 of the 15 Avatars show up in the 2nd edition of UA. It's not that there aren't valid distinctions between these Archetypes, it's just that a lot of them are standing fairly close together so some toes get trodden on thematically speaking.

Well, here we have the Scholar who is like the Chronicler but...

Specifically, the Chronicler represents a journalist or researcher, someone who goes out and digs up information and is obligated to add to humanity's collective knowledge. The Scholar is just in it for themselves and they are not, generally speaking, interested in new knowledge. All of their abilities focus on allowing themselves to more easily get information from the work of others or recover information that has been lost. Academics, historians and bibliophiles are good examples of Scholars. It does mention that scholars make excellent analysts, being able to intuit connections between apparently unrelated information but this ability doesn't actually come into play until their final Channel.

Taboo: Turning down any kind of new knowledge is Taboo and even more so if you destroy any unique source of knowledge. One big problem: Knowledge is not defined or quantified at all. That means that anyone who knows that you are a Scholar (and knows enough to know what that means) has incredible leverage over you. Although the penalties for minor breaks of taboo are small, 1% in a skill is still 1% in a skill. It'd be even worse for the Godwalker, since that 1% completely negates their Godwalker status and even for lesser Avatars "Tell me what I want to know or I won't tell you my favorite color!"

Suspected Avatars: Jean Francios Champollion, who deciphered the Rossetta Stone and Marsilio Ficino who translated the Hermetic Corpus is another.

Channels

1-50%: The first channel is pretty lame. You can flip-flop a failed Academics-based skill roll if the result is under your Avatar skill. Normally this is about par for the course for a 1st Avatar Channel...it's not a dramatic power certainly but usually is useful. Except in this case it specifically excludes practical skills that would normally fall under the academic umbrella such as Medicine or Law (and not mentioned but presumably including potentially useful scientific skills such as Chemistry or Engineering). Skills mentioned as being available for this bonus are Research, Academic Learning, History and General Education.

It's not crippling for a first channel (Research and General Education at least will be useful) but it is on the weak side and as you'll see it's the start of a pattern.

51-70% The 2nd Channel is when most Avatars get their defining ability, which often becomes their "thing". Which makes sense, getting a skill above 50% is a heft investment in UA. The Chronicler can sift the future for useful information, the Confessor can heal damaged sanity, the Necessary Servant can find the cracks in any organization and the Merchant can make his Faustian bargains.

The Scholar can recall any information they've read with a successful Avatar skill roll. Even on the surface this is pretty lame but there's two big things:

First, it only applies to reading. You can recall only texts, charts or diagrams (by a literal reading this means you can't even absolutely recall the things that would be really useful like maps).

Second, each successful Avatar check only recalls one or two pages worth of text or gives you a general gist of the whole book (which is pretty much what normal memory does already). As far as I can tell there's no reason you can't just keep rolling over and over again but I can't understand why they felt the need to include this limitation.

And frankly isn't this the sort of thing that should just be handled by a Mind roll? The only real use is allowing you to "store" information you've got only a brief amount of time to skim or speed-read such as memorizing what someone scrawled on a note that you were only able to catch a brief glimpse of before you were hauled away...but that's also just a thing people do, that's not magic. And as far as recalling entire tomes of information, that's really not useful unless you know every single book you've ever read, otherwise you're just better off making an appropriate normal skill roll.

71-90%: With a successful Avatar roll you can read in any language. Reading only. You couldn't speak it to someone else or understand it if it was spoken out loud. You can't even write it yourself. Only reading. And remember, UA is not like Call of Cthulhu where everything useful and powerful is written in some ancient heathen greek dialect or ancient arabic or whatever...in UA the really important magical stuff is being written and worked on right now, it's postmodern, not ancient. Also, it doesn't "stick". You've got to roll again for every document and you only retain the raw information, not the language itself.

The third channel does have one significant use: you can use it to read codes and ciphers (it won't work on computer codes, punch-cards or similar encoding, only things intended for communication between sentient beings). Depending on your reading of that the existence of things like the old Enigma Machines and their modern-day descendants may be a significant hitch.

91+% You can now read between the lines with a successful Avatar roll. This means that you not only understand what you're reading in literal terms but you can analyze it thoroughly enough to understand the intent behind it: you know exactly what's going on in House of Leaves and reading a newspaper headline will tell you if the author is really attempting to sow economic disorder (and fears for their life if they don't) and you know if that response to your OKCupid profile is actually a lure set by a hired killer. You can even tell when someone using sarcasm on the internet.

You can also correlate information with anything else you've ever read...just remember that this is purely a matter of sorting information, not leaps of magickal intuition. You may be able to tell at a glance that the assassin was hired exactly 7 days after you started that forum thread about the suspicious headline, which is also the number of books published by Mark Z. Danielewski. And that the stocks which rose after the panic caused by the article would funnel a lot of wealth towards the Bilderberg group. This does necessarily mean that MZD is an unwilling pawn and newspaper ghost-writer for the Bilderberg Group...maybe its all just a big coincidence.

And here's my problem with the Scholar...that last channel is really good. It's not only a great representation of the Scholar's focus but it also goes deeper with its ability to determine and make connections in the conspiracy-horror world of UA. A high level Scholar can know which bloggers are being threatened to force them to writ clickbait and that this number is growing daily, and they can decipher the hidden meaning behind a message intended to signal a meeting of high level conspirators. It's great...if only you didn't have to go through 3 extremely bland and weak Channels to get to it on top of being saddled with a crippling taboo.


The Trickster


Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd play out the secret hatreds of the Trickster and Hunter

The flip-side of the Fool, who bumbles blissfully through life while those around him are caught up in the chaos he creates, is the Trickster who actively seeks to tweak noses or scam others (whether maliciously or not). They're clever and cunning and usually care more about being funny or witty than being successful. This is one of those Archetypes that doesn't need much explanation. Basically, you're channeling Bugs Bunny.

Taboo: Tricksters must always take the deceitful or sneaky path and can never do things in the most straightforward and honest manner when there's an opportunity to do otherwise. It notes that you don't have to be successful, getting caught or getting egg on your face is fine, you just have to try.

This truly wins the reward for the most annoying and crippling taboo of any Avatar. Sure, the Peacemaker can't join in on the shootout and the Healer has to patch up the wounded guy begging for help...but the Trickster can't buy gum. So long as there's even the possibility of getting what you want through normal honest means you can't take it. You've got to try and steal it, or convince the cashier to give you a discount because your dying dad wanted this flavor of gum and you don't have the extra nickel. This is going to come up constantly and it's going to be an immense pain in the rear end for you and the rest of your group.

Obviously it's completely appropriate behavior for a Trickster archetype...but that doesn't make it any less of a pain and it compares especially badly with the relatively lenient taboos other Avatars face. This is more like the poo poo Adepts have to deal with, but without their bigger bag of tricks to compensate. Adding to the problem is this sidebar:



Now, it's not clear if this is actually mandatory or not...but it's a pretty drat awful thing to do to an Avatar that's already got way more on his plate than any other.

Suspected Avatars: Mythical Tricksters such as Coyote, Hermes, etc all get a mention. Andy Kaufman is suspected to be the current Archetype for the Trickster.

Channels:

1-50%: If a person's Soul score is lower than your Avatar skill then they will respond positively to you despite any past behavior or anything they know about your future plans. A cop may know that you're The Skinner serial killer who cuts up prostitutes and then posts Youtube videos with little sock puppets made from their faces and that you escaped from jail by butchering 12 people with the shinbones of your cellmate...but shucks you're a swell guy. He knows you did all those things (and that your latest video is a teaser for something you call Skinpocolypse 2016) and even that he's expected to arrest you, but there's no reason to be rough about it and sure if you need to nip off to the bathroom or you two could grab a cup of coffee before you go to the station. They get a Soul check to break free of the power if you ask them to do anything blatantly against their own interest (such as letting you go free or "see there gun for just a second"), but there's a lot of wiggle room. The power also only works in your presence...once you pop into the bathroom the cop will suddenly remember that you're a murderous psychopath and he'll pull his gun out and rush after you.

This Channel is a little weird, because for the first half or so of a Trickster's career it's practically worthless. Average Soul score is 50 and by way of comparison there isn't a single person in the UA sourcebook with a Soul score lower than 30. So for a good while your fancy trick is totally useless, but once you exceed 50% in Trickster it becomes possibly the best channel out there, other than the Merchant's second Channel. The Trickster Godwalker would wrap practically everyone except other Godwalkers around their finger without any effort at all.

51-70% You can, with an Avatar roll, tell a Perfect Lie which the subject will believe no matter how ridiculous or outlandish it is, until it is proven to be false. Some lies ("there's no gravity" or "your hands are made of spiders") are verifiable within an instant simply by the target's own senses.

Okay, now I may have to revise my previous statement. I don't know if the first channel or the second channel is "the best" channel, but I will say that in conjunction the two are amazing. Once your Trickster level is high enough to reliably make Avatar checks you are practically unstoppable. This is some loving Exalted-level mental manipulation, except without any of the "outs" Exalted tends to give. Does the Count De Saint Germain just have to constantly personally assassinate every Trickster Godwalker to avoid them ruling the world atop a golden throne? Because that might explain why he's so busy.

I hereby revise my estimate of the Merchant as "most absurdly powerful" Avatar...a powerful Trickster could eat Merchant's for breakfast. They could con the Merchant into selling them every single buff they've ever bought, but can crash the Merchant's Avatar skill in the process by getting him to take one terrible deal after another.

71-90%: You are exceptionally good at understanding others and how to deceive others, flip-flopping any skill roll to fast-talk, trick or deceive. And yes, that's any skill, not just Lying or Charm. That includes your Avatar skill for the purposes of the Perfect Lie. There aren't even words.

91+%: Your Perfect Lie ability expands to allow you to turn even the flimsiest of disguises into a perfect impersonation. Talk in a growly voice and puff up your chest and you're Arnold Schwarzenegger, put on a plastic presidential party mask and people will see and hear you as Barack Obama. And yes, this is deceit so in the rare event that your 91+ skill roll fails you can flip flop it through the third channel. This even includes magickal detection and (while not mentioned specifically) presumably includes being seen on camera (although recordings after the fact might show the truth). So yes, you could (with ease) disguise yourself as the president of the United States, walk up to the secret service at the white house and tell them the man in the oval office is an imposter and then watch them mow him down.


Wow...

I write these kind of "stream of consciousness" and while I skim a bit I tend not to read the whole entry ahead of time. I just provide my first impressions as I go on and occasionally go back and revise things as new information comes up. So, when I started this I was (as you can see around the Taboo section) convinced the Trickster was probably one of the worst Avatars because of its crippling Taboo. Little did I realize that the Taboo was just the writers desperately trying to reign in the monster they had created with the Trickster's channels. The Trickster's power increases exponentially with each new channel and by the time you hit the second Channel the Trickster's greatest enemy really is just themselves as their taboo compels them to "double down" constantly with more and more lies until, inevitably, they blow a Perfect Lie roll and/or run into someone whose Soul stat is just a tad too high...something that becomes increasingly less likely the more your Avatar skill grows.

I will say this about the Trickster it is extremely...unbalanced. I don't mean in the sense of game mechanics (because in that sense they're balanced like neutron star on a see-saw), but in terms of play style. Assuming you don't start right out of the gate at Cosmic level with a Trickster skill of 60+% but instead start with a more reasonable 20-40%. A low-level trickster can pull of almost nothing...practically no one is weak enough for your first channel at this point and you're actively discouraged from investing much in Lying or Charm because as you gain Power your Trickster skill dominates those into nothing, meaning that while your Taboo compels you to try and scam or flim-flam people constantly you can't pull it off without a bunch of luck. You're even discouraged from making your Avatar, Lying or Charm skills your obsession since the 3rd channel would make them redundant. Then you hit 51%.

At 51% your first channel works on more people than it doesn't and you can basically "win" any situation where you're allowed to talk (and most people think you're great so why not talk to you?) about 50% of the time with the Perfect Lie. Then once you hit 71% even a good deal of Avatars and Adepts are your friend the moment they meet you and your ability to Flip-Flop the perfect lie means that your success rate is now closer to 90%. Once you actually hit 91% you never fail any Avatar roll on anything but a 99 or 00 and you have the ability to shape not just the Underground but the world in ways that are limited only be your imagination, it'd be like the Invention of Lying but without the religious allegory.

I would hate being a part of a group with a Trickster. Like a black hole they warp all of the game around themselves: at low levels their constantly failed cons get them and you into "hilarious" screwups and at higher levels whatever they say almost literally goes and you are forced to pal around with someone who can wreck conspiracies and whole governments like matchsticks.

However, I would want to play the Trickster in that game.


The Two Faced Man

I'm not sure how anything is going to compare after the Trickster write-up. Even more so because first impressions of the Two-Faced Man are "like the Trickster but..." and after reading through the last Avatar I don't think anyone else will come off looking impressive. But we shall see.

So, basically the Two-Faced Man is the "Traitor" Archetype, the wicked Judas to the Trickster's omnipotent Bugs Bunny. They pretend to be the thing that hate and work against and win the trust of others in order to betray them.

Taboo: Working towards anything you believe in publicly. You can work towards your personal goals but you can't allow your true agenda to become public knowledge outside of your allies or allow your deception to be recorded in any way without breaking taboo. You can't work as a cop unless you secretly want to undermine law and order, you can't work for a bank unless you hate the financial system or are plotting to steal from them, etc. Well, it's not as bad as the Trickster's but this is a pretty tough Taboo, especially considering it's very broadly defined, words like "Openly" or "publicly" or "might have access to" are thrown around with very little definition.

It also does something that I find personally wrong and that is it makes the Avatar's personal belief's and feelings a part of the Taboo. One of the major things that separate Avatars and Adepts is that Avatars are playing a role and don't have to commit to it deep down. That's practically the point of the Ascension struggle going on...how would a Two-Faced Man Godwalker even try and oust the Archetype, what counts as "public" or "open" when dealing with a semi-omnipresent cosmic force?

Suspected Avatars: Somehow neither Judas nor Benedict Arnold get a mention but Loki and Boris Yeltsin do. Even Iago (from Othello) despite being fictional.

Channels:

1-50%: You can appear to fit in to any group other than those that you would "naturally" fit in with. To use this ability pick a social stereotype that you don't match ("rich new yorker", "down to earth everyman" "put upon drone") and make an Avatar roll. A success means that you "emit" the right vibes to fulfill that stereotype and any inappropriate elements such as clothing, accent, odor, etc are ignored. This lasts until you pick a new stereotype. If you fail your roll you remain in your current stereotype and can't change it for a week.

Suspicious observers can attempt to roll something (no skill is given, presumably Notice) which must be higher than your Avatar skill to succeed. They get a +30% shift if you do something that blatantly clashes with your current stereotype.

One big thing...you can't "drop" the power. Once it's activated you can only change to a new stereotype and never to one that you are naturally fit for.

51-70%: You can "fake it" better. If something comes up where you don't have the knowledge or skill to fit the role you're playing you can make an Avatar roll and some vague assurances or claims and everyone will accept it as though you said something correct and relevant to the situation. This won't give you the keycode to a bank vault or actually let you use a skill, you can just give everyone else the vague impression you know what you're doing.

71-90%: With a successful Avatar roll you can make any suspicious activity seem reasonable with the slightest reason ("I wasn't about to throw a brick through your car window, it's a new form of aerobic stretching. Brickersize"). However, extremely weak or out-of-character explanations require a successful Lie roll as well (which seems odd, we wouldn't need the Avatar channel if the explanation weren't weak or out of character). Biggest problem is that this doesn't address how blame-shifting is handled ("I'm not trying to sleep with your wife, she drugged me and took my clothes off!") and that the Trickster is laughing so loud it's giving me a headache.

91+% You can feed anyone a lie so long as no immediate proof that you're lying is available and so long as it isn't blatantly self destructive. So the Two-Faced Man's final channel is the Trickster's second channel...just not quite as good.

So yeah, not a bad Avatar or anything, if you don't mind that literally every power you have is something the Trickster can do, but an order of magnitude weaker.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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Count Chocula posted:

Well... yeah, he is. Even Wil E Coyote got the Jesus treatment in the Animal Man issue The Coyote Gospels. The modern Trickster - Bugs Bunny, The Mask, your average comedy hero - is that powerful since most stories about them have them constantly winning. Which is fine and awesome in media centered around them, but when you put them in a shared RPG universe you get... Kobal, or FishMalks. I feel like the Trickster both needs to exist by UA's internal logic - it's one of the most obvious Archtypes - and should be kept at arm's length from the setting. Unless you've got Bill Murray or somebody that good in your group, make it NPC only... hell even then use it sparingly, if it all. If you really, truly need to shake up a campaign toss a Trickster in. Otherwise, nobody knows who they are or if they even exist. Maybe they're the Comte or something.

In Nomine... man, I want to make a DJ Khalid joke but going from Demonic Media Mogul to bad views on Islam is such whiplash. Khalid has a point that every angel has supported dodgy things, but the game doesn't seem to view it that way.

I actually quite like the idea now that the Comte just spends his time offing high-level Trickster Avatars so they don't make everything fall apart. If he didn't already have a set role in UA cosmology he'd certainly be a shoe-in as the Trickster Godwalker himself.

I think part of the problem with the Trickster is that the Archetype is too "old school". Several old gods or mythological entities can be seen as reflections or masks or conglomerations of the Archetypes: Hermes as the Messenger, Yama is the Judge, Thoth is a combination of Scholar and Chronicler, etc. But these are more like echoes...a high level Avatar of the Trickster practically is a trickster-god, they are Loki or Anansi.

We're told that in the early days of humanity you start with the primal, raw Archetypes: Mother, Warrior, Hunter, etc. Then as humanity, globally and as individuals, evolves the more complex archetypes start to show up and the older Archetypes become more nuanced. Mother stops being just "good warmth food feeling" and starts to incorporate more modern ideas and accept the idea that the bond can transcend blood relatives and can exist between adults and not just children. As the Archetypes change they also fragment a bit, new Archetypes get split off and you get something similar but not quite the same, that's why you have both the Warrior and the Executioner.

But the Trickster still feels like one of those old, primal archetypes that hasn't been shaken up or diluted since the dawn of time and by becoming one you are quite literally stepping into the shoes of a demi-god.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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In Deadlands there is at least one reason for the Confederacy (although it requires a significant amount whitewashing, blissful ignorance and make-believe), it helps keep the Wild West "wild" a bit longer.

By keeping the Union and the Confederacy locked in a stalemate you keep the western region mostly free from either influence, because they're too busy fighting each other. In Deadlands that allows you to have the weird independent territories like the Sioux Nations or Deseret which would otherwise be steamrolled by the unified eastern US in 1879, which is the time when the game is set.

Of course, there's other ways to accomplish this, a more lethal Civil War could have ended and left the unified East without the resources or manpower to tame the west or a USA with a greater internal conflict or an external threat from another source (say renewed hostilities with europe) could also have worked out.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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Dark Sun is definitely my favorite as well. Once I finally finish with UA I may do a Fatal and Friends for some of the crazier stuff, like the Book of Artifacts and the Halfling bio-engineers.


Just because you love something doesn't mean you can't point out its utterly ludicrous elements as well.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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I loved Shattered Lands and Wake of the Ravager. I also played them before I started playing tabletop D&D, which makes it surprising that I could actually manage...those older games did not try and and "hide" the D&D mechanics well and I had no idea what "1d8" was compared to "2d4" or what a THACO was.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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jadarx posted:

Hey kid, do you like 90's metaplot characters?
Do you like them showing up in 2015!
No, TOO BAD!





Stone is basically the Saint Of Killers written less well and sicced on the players for far lesser reasons.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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I always like Qlippoth, but that's mostly because I was introduced to the concept from GURPS Cabal and in a setting where you were expected to barter with demons and sneak through Hade's backyard on your way to rob a bank the Qlippoth were the stuff that freaked everyone out. They weren't necessarily the most powerful and they certainly weren't cunning, but they were wrong on a cosmic level that no other entity could be.

Just throwing the name out there as another of 12 species of demons is doing a disservice to a great concept.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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I'd say its a solid mixture of both. I'm almost certain I've seen that "tentacle coming out of a backpack" picture somewhere else.

Also, clearly a lot of the background and "special effects" are just photo-images or screenshots awkwardly copy-pasted and covered in several layers of filters.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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being fair "too much treasure" is a mistake that new GMs can make in the sense that they end up giving players things "because it seems cool" (especially if they just got a new book with neath new items) and find out that creative players are now using those items to breeze through encounters or loophole a lot of their adventures with unexpected abilities. It's especially an issue if the GM has not gotten the hang of adjusting adventures on the fly.

Of course, the proper response to that problem is "let everyone have fun and just consider this a lesson learned for the future" and not "ALL THE RUST MONSTERS"

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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The whole "adamantine door" thing actually worked out great for one of my groups.

After lugging the doors back the PCs were flush with cash and one of them, an Artificer decides he wants to craft a suit of enchanted adamantium full plate armor for the dwarf warrior by melting down the doors and forging it himself. Well, after doing the math he figured that actually making the plate armor would be quite the project on its own (never mind enchanting it) due to the crafting rules. However, if he hired forge assistants in large quantities the team-work bonus would allow a project that would normally take months to be finished in a matter of weeks.

We were playing in eberron and the artificer was a warforged, which came with a problem: he could work almost round the clock but his assistants couldn't, so he decides he'll hire warforged assistants...the skills required were minimal and even paying warforged for working twice as long plus overtime bonus the time saved on the project would easily offset the cost compared to paying regular joes.

Well, they're renting a smithy down in the lower levels of sharn (where its cheap) and word gets out among the community that they're hiring only warforged and paying them more on top of that. This sets of a series of anti-warforged protests outside the smithy. In order to chase them off they hire some cheap hobgoblin mercs to stand guard but one day things get particularly rowdy, the mercs get jumpy and the artificer gives them the extremely poorly thought out order to "get rid of them". This leads to bloodshed, dispersing the crowd but bringing in the guards, requiring some significant bluff/diplomacy rolls (something the dwarf and the warforged were exceptionally bad at) and finally a significant bribe to cover up. This increases tensions and even violence between the organic inhabitants of sharn and the warforged.

But by golly they got their armor.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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Crasical posted:

Tucker's Kobolds is such a pet peeve of mine just because it's been carried into Gamer Lore from the 80s and it... just largely doesn't work anymore, at least not nearly as well as it did back in AD&D.

Sure, you can have your monsters fight intelligently, prepare their lairs to counter intruders, and fight dirty, but a 4 HP kobold's ability to punch outside of it's weight class is severely limited.

With the right meta-game thinking there are a few tricks that even kobolds can pull that are downright deadly. Obviously they stop working eventually, but it takes a while.

I actually ran across this when I was doing my own review of the World's Largest Dungeon because they included a "goblin empire" which featured the exact inverse of the Tucker Kobolds. Basically the writers had no drat idea how to write proper strategy at all and so their suggestion consisted of two basic formula:

1) First, give the 1st level Goblin fighters the worst feat selection ever: Power Attack (because when your attack bonus is only +3 its worth a -1 to hit to inflict 1d4+2 damage instead of 1d4+1) and even worse Improved Sunder (even power attacking they couldn't do enough damage to break their own spears, let alone an opponent's sword). Then of all things have them "form up" into ranks 4 goblins wide. Meaning that they couldn't flank or team up and are sitting ducks for AOE spells.

2) Give them random stat boosts, permanent spell effects or special items that fall apart if the PCs try and use it.


To counter this I tried to think of some actually effective tactics and I ran across one that is just downright unfair to pull against most low-to-mid-level parties: nets.

A net is a touch attack (ranged, so it ignores the low strength of your average goblinoid) that lets you attack from outside of the reach of their opponents and even without proficiency its likely to hit most opponents thanks to the touch attack. They have a crazy high burst DC (even a fire giant needs a 13 or higher to break free with brute strength) and interferes with spellcasting on top of that. What's more, as far as I can tell from the stacking rules, multiple nets inflict increasing penalties which'll lower most victims DEX to an effective 0 pretty quickly.

It's not an instant win, but used properly (especially in combination with ranged support or other traps) they're definitely a nasty surprise.

oriongates fucked around with this message at 07:33 on Feb 23, 2016

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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potatocubed posted:



Chapter 6 - Paradigms
So, in Chapter 1 (2?) Paradigms were described as universal knowledges locked into Cornerstones. Five chapters later they're revealed to be... something else.

Paradigms are new rules for the game.

They are things like 'Critical Successes and Failures', or 'Use Dice Instead of the Balance'.

Wow, I actually just love that idea, but I have almost no idea how it could be implemented effectively or making sense in character. It reminds me a bit of the idea behind Evoland, an unfortunately disappointing JRPG-esque game with an interesting premise.

But the idea of just fundamentally altering the way the game itself works as a form of in-game progress is oddly appealing. Not just bigger numbers or new toys, but entire new styles of play.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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So, been a bit too busy and a little unmotivated to finish up the Statosphere book. Debated just dropping it and moving on but in the end I figured I should finish what I started, especially since there's basically only one long post's worth of content left. With that said, lets finish this!

The House of Renunciation

You may recall the House of Renunciation from the main Unknown Armies book, but Statosphere gives us a bit more detail. For those who don't remember: The House of Renunciation is a thing/place/force/entity/??? which consists of Otherspaces where humans are mentally broken down and transformed in ways unique to each of its potentially infinite Rooms. Each Room has a specific method and preferred "target" and they seem to recruit human agents who serve the Room (or vice versa, or neither) in unclear ways.

In the main UA book the Rooms of Renunciation where largely a mystery. You could see what they did but no one really knew the why of it. In the Statosphere book they're a bit more clearly defined. The House of Renunciation is there to drive the evolution of human beings. Not in the physical sense, but the philosophical, mental and cultural sense. It's there to screw with people's core beliefs and forcibly inject new ideas into you whether you like it or not.

The Rooms of Renunciation are sort of an inversion of the Archetypes. While Archetypes are formed by the conglomeration of human consciousness coming together and creating a unifying idea, the Rooms are created by the "friction" of human conflict and differing points of view. The way hundreds of people can follow the same God or philosophy but act in entirely different ways. The way one man's trash is another's treasure and one's war crime is another's Tuesday.

The Rooms are given power and purpose by the cognitive dissonance of the collective unconsciousness. The Rooms serve to enhance these differences, fracturing ideas and philosophies and forcing them compete with one another, the same way you'd break up a company that has become too large.

The Agents of the rooms are also given more explanation here. Each room naturally draws humans to serve it with each new Agent chosen by the previous Agent (or a fellow Agent, Rooms can be served by multiple Agents at once). The Room cannot choose new Agents on its own but it can guide its current Agents to seek out the right sort of people needed for an individual Room's purposes. All Agents are "processed" by the Room, much like its "victims", although in some cases the Agents may undergo an even more harrowing or strenuous trial. Often an Agent seeks out a replacement when the stress of working for one of the Rooms becomes too much and after successfully Renouncing the new Agent they simply leave, maybe taking the time to explain things to the new Agent before they go.

Agents can be drawn from any "level" of the Occult Underground: some were entirely ignorant of magick before they became an Agent and often remain ignorant of anything other than the Room itself. Others were Dukes or Lords of the Underground, including Adepts and Avatars and use the power of the Room to keep playing the secret games of the Occult Underground on an even higher level.

Renunciation
So what do the Rooms do? Well, the details vary from Room to Room but basically they force you into an existential crisis, forcing you to question your beliefs, values and the purpose of your life. This is called Renunciation. Mechanically, the Room changes your Obsession, many "reversing" or "inverting" it, but not always. But no matter what your new Obsession is it must conflict with the previous one in some way (for instance, someone obsessed with fighting might not become a pacifist but might realize that physical conflict is meaningless and become obsessed with philosophical or intellectual debate). This may end up changing your Obsession skill as well.

No matter what, Renunciation is a Rank-5 Stress check with the type of Stress varying depending on the type of pressure the Room puts on you (self is probably the most common obviously).

The Rooms:

four example Rooms are presented:

The Room of Cold Reflection targets the ruthlessly ambitious, those who are willing to "do what it takes" to accomplish their goals. When the ends justify the means, this is where the means come back to haunt you. That doesn't mean the Room is noble: the righteous are often just as driven as the ruthless. A crusader for a good cause may be brought here to see just what suffering their dedication has brought to family and friends or see those who've fought and maybe even died for what they believed was right.

The room tends to manifest at the top of a flight of stairs, and its door leads to a broad courtyard garden covered in snow. Around the garden are four walls with covered walkways and a hedge maze occupies the center. Snow falls from a starless black sky and a sourceless white light provides dim illumination. The walkway's roof is supported by columns in the vague shape of people and they can be barely heard to whisper unintelligibly.

There are six entrances to the hedge maze and the maze itself seems to change as you walk through it, opening new paths and closing others and seeming far larger inside than it seems to be from the length of the walkway. Footprints in the snow fade almost instantly once they're out of sight, making backtracking difficult. As the visitor walks through the maze they'll catch glimpses of a figure ahead of them: someone just turning a corner or barely seen through a gap in the hedges. This becomes more frequent the longer a visitor is lost in the maze. Eventually the maze will allow you entry to the Frost Garden at the center: a wide clearing of barren fruit trees and frozen fountains. Statues carved of ice and snow are positioned around the garden.

The statues are tableaux showing the weakest and most callow moments in the visitors life (or the futures they are creating for others with their actions). The frozen pools show similar shameful memories, where they pushed others aside or "did what they had to do" to succeed. In the center is a single, unfrozen pool: The Pool of Renunciation. It is unfrozen and does not show any kind of distorted reflection or shameful scene. But anyone looking at it knows one thing with absolute surety...drinking from the pool is a surrender. To drink means that you admit you were wrong, that you give up your goals...that the sacrifices you've made weren't worth it. They also know that drinking will set them free from the room.

No one is compelled to drink. They can wait as long as they want in the maze, in the garden or in the path around it. Although cold no visitors will ever freeze to death and there's plenty of snow to melt and drink to stave off dehydration. Of course, there's no food but you can last a long time without food, desperately alone in the cold garden of regrets and shame. But some are dedicated enough: the room may kill them but it doesn't break them and they die cold and alone clinging to their ideals. But most will drink in the end and they will come out with their passion and obsession quenched.

The current Agent of the Room of Cold Reflection is Cesar Castillo, a former plutomancer who ruined his life in the pursuit of money and magic (in general the Room of Cold Reflect is a great "remedy" for Adepts in particular). After being sent through the room he found his ex-wife and apologized and paid back everything he borrowed or stole from her. He's returned to his old job and (on the side) has teamed up with the Sleepers (although they don't know hes an Agent). After a long stay in the Room Cesar is actually quite reluctant to throw anyone else in and is more likely to try and appeal to targets in more gentle ways...but if nothing else works they get the full Christmas Carol treatment.

The Room of Heart's Burden Lifted is a place for those who have been beaten down by life too many times for them to get back up again. It offers a chance to exchange your life for someone else's. It especially goes for those who have been victimized by others (or feel like they have been).

There are three choices to those who enter the room: Travel somewhere new and start entirely fresh, let the room remake them into a whole new person, or die. Each choice is, as far as the Room and its Agent is concerned, a valid and respectable option: change your circumstances, change yourself or leave both behind and see what's behind door number 3.

The Agent of the Room, Dawn Miller, is a psychologist (who poses as a social worker when seeking out canditates and offers them "free counseling", providing the address of the room's current location. Before offering them "the choice" she does give them very thorough counseling, trying to remove as many Failed and Hardened Notches as she feels that they won't be able to make a valid choice until relieved of their emotional trauma. Once she feels the subject is ready they are offered the choice and once they choose they're given a few days to prepare and then are instructed to return to the Room at a later date and are granted their choice. Those who pick the first choice step out of the office in a whole new city or even country with only what they brought with them to start a new life. It's as simple as that.

For those who pick the second option there is the Rebirth Ritual. Dawn performs hypnotic regression (the subject must be willing) and makes a roll (which she can flip-flop). The subjected is transformed, with a better roll indicating a greater change: appearance, gender, age, ethnicity, etc. A failure means more counseling is required. Those who are successfully transformed are given a briefing on their new "life" and backstory and left to find their way in the world.

Those who make the third and final choice are taken to the Misericord Chamber. This is a simple room with a bed, decorated in whatever way the patient would find relaxing or pleasing. Once the patient is completely relaxed they die. Painlessly and easily. The body is transported elsewhere to be disposed of in whatever way the patient would have desired (including payment to a funeral home if need be).

In a lot of ways the Room of Heart's Burdens Lifted seems like it's purely benevolent and kind. However, one of the greatest cruelties of the room is that it only offers itself to those who don't need it. The Room seeks those who already have a way out but don't take it: victims who choose to stay with their abusers and those who tie themselves to misery out of a sense of obligation or fear. And of course, while the Room offers them options, it does not promise these will lead to a better life. Your new life (or lack thereof) will be different but it may not be better, especially if you lack the will and ability to better it yourself. Nor can you pick and choose what to leave behind...fleeing from an abusive spouse through the power of the room may mean leaving your children behind, an accomplished author crippled by addiction might be freed but doesn't get to keep his fame or fortune.


The Room of Ignorance is the room of the luddite and exists to remove a person's connections with (and dependence on) technology and science. In inspires self-sufficiency but also contempt for humanity's accomplishments and a desire to return to the state of nature, with all that entails. In particular it targets the shut-ins, the MMO addicts, the NEETs and anyone eager to replace a "natural" experience with a virtual or artificial one.

The "Room" is actually a forest glade, full of animals and pleasant sunshine. It is filled with calm and has the temperature of a warm spring day. Anyone coming inside can't help but feel that this is how things should be and that their "civilized" lives suffer in comparison to this eden. On all sides are overgrown, crumbling ruins and wilderness stretches beyond. All of the plants defy normal scientific identification, often bearing multiple different fruits on the same branch and with leaves and bark that match none of them. Compasses and any other navigational aids don't work here and the stars never match any normal configuration when night falls. The entrance to the room is an iron gate set in a cave and around it the ground is dead and barren. Animals refuse to approach the gate and die if brought too close against their will.

The Room of Ignorance is a bit more straightforward than some of the others and has three servants who are functionally a part of the Room: The Man, The Woman and the Father. If you think the Genesis metaphor is unsubtle now, just wait.

The Man and Woman both serve as a means to get people into the Room. The Man operates subtly with brute strength: he finds whoever the Room wants, grabs them and drags them inside then tosses them into the forest beyond the ruins. He viciously hates technology and lacks the ability to speak and hates even the complexity of communicating via gestures. He's got great physical stats and high combat skills and he's perfectly fine with killing those who block his way to his target or even the target themselves if they are too difficult to get into the Room. He also has a magic rock that makes anyone he hits with it a bit stupider (-1% to a random Mind skill).

While the Man is all about brute strength the Woman focuses on sex appeal and trickery. Unlike the Man she'll tolerate things like soap and clothing to help her ensnare a target. She'll usually play the role of Manic Pixie Dream Girl, suddenly pushing herself into her target's life and leading them into a wilder and wilder night until she finally lures them into the wilderness of the Room and leaves them stranded there. One of her most powerful tools is the Fruit of Sustenance: when she takes a fruit from any of the room's trees outside the room anyone else who tastes it finds it incredibly addictive and will do about anything to get another piece of fruit. This lasts for a month or until they enter the Room.

The Father guides both of them in their missions. He's a middle aged man with no teeth and a knee-length white beard. His mission is the eradication of all technological development and indeed all abstract thought of all kinds. If it was successful his plans would likely eliminate the Invisible Clergy, the Rooms of Renunciation and possibly magick itself as humanity would cease to be anything other than just another animal. Fortunately, his schemes are unlikely to ever bear fruit (something he realizes on some level) and in the meantime he does his duty of stunting technological advancements wherever he can. He has an artifact (a giant eyeball) that allows him to see through the eyes of anyone who has taken a bite out of it (such pieces regenerate). He uses this to keep tabs on the Man and Woman when they're out of the Room, which he never leaves. He also has a skill called The Voice of Ignorance, it can be used to force the Man and Woman to obey him (which is rarely necessary might happen if an Adept or Avatar hits them with some kind of whammy) and disables any tools or machine brought into his sight. Finally, if the Man or Woman dies he can call out to anyone previously Renounced by the Room and convert them into a new Man or Woman (erasing any previous memories or skills and simply remaking them into perfect copies of the previous Man or or Woman).

Those brought to the room become lost in the wilderness beyond the ruins and the Room warps space and time to ensure that they will never get back on their own and will never meet the Man, Woman or Father during their stay in the Room. Any tools (even something as simple as a chipped rock) fall apart and decay when they're used and so those trapped in the Room must survive completely on their own: no tools, no help, no guidance. They may spend years or even decades until the room breaks them but no matter how long it takes within the Room they will not age and will emerge a week after they entered. They will retain any parasites, malnutrition or similar problems they developed during their stay in the room however. Once they've been Renounced, victims of the room will eschew technology and any dependence on civilization. They may not go full "savage" but they'll invariably insist on living a self-sufficient lifestyle as a recluse or with others of a similar mindset.

Notably the Room is also a bit of a super-charger for Avatars of the Savage. Needless to say such Avatars would likely never be sought out as victims by the Room, but if they come across it the fruit of the room feeds them for a full day per piece, just like the Room's three Agents, and the spring near the entrance enhances their Avatar skill by 1d10% for a week. The water also can be taken out and causes any technological items it touches to malfunction or break down (it retains this power for 48 hours outside the Room).

The Room of Rusted Things targets the indifferent. Those who don't care enough to do anything, good or bad, of importance with their life. They're cosmic parasites, keeping reality from working as it should by consuming resources but contributing nothing to the Cosmic progress of the Invisible Clergy or the march towards the world's rebirth.

The Room is a junkyard under a brown sky. Some of the items in the junkyard are bits and pieces of the target's past (especially those symbolic of times that they chose inaction over action) while others simply represent the general apathy of modern life. The most striking thing is the money. Money is everywhere in the room, from every country or time period but the faces on the bills or coins aren't leaders but the faces of those the victim has pushed aside out of apathy or disgust. Anyone who enters instinctively realizes that this room represents the waste of their lives and serves as a hollow reflection of themselves. The doorway out rusts shut the moment you enter, with the handle crumbling if touched.

The victim is drawn to items they've left behind, forced against their will, and upon contact they relive the moments these items represent but from the point of view of those who were hurt or neglected by their inaction. The items can show visions of the past where the subject has neglected others, but they see things through the eyes of their "victims". It can also show exaggerated, horrific visions of the future that will be brought on by a subject's inaction, especially if the subject is party (via indifference) to things that will change the world for the worse.

After the subject has wandered through and been granted a vision by each and every item they're simply left alone in the room. They feel no hunger or cold and there's simply nothing to do. Nothing but sleep when you're tired. However, every time the subject sleeps something of "theirs" in the room vanishes. Some symbolic item or figure just isn't there when they wake up. This happens over and over until none of their icons are left and they're just alone in the room. Then when they wake up again the room itself is gone and they're in an empty plain. Then the ground vanishes, and then the sky.

The next time the subject sleeps their eyes vanish, followed by their fingers. Bit by bit with each night's sleep they disappear. Once they have completely vanished (which may take a very long time) they wake up in their home with only about ten minutes of "real" time having passed. Most take the event as a horrific nightmare or forget it completely, but it changes them. They become terrified of disappearing, becoming a non-entity with no influence on the world around them. For good or ill they want to do something with their life.

Those whose lives are too empty for the room to fill with passion become Agents of the room, capable of "reading" the junk in the room to find their next victims.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

The First and Last Man

Statosphere doesn't just give the Rooms a bigger role, it also delves into the Count De Saint Germain himself. The First and Last Man. Of course, he's too complex a character to be boiled down to a static role, so instead it provides three interpretations of the Count. These might all be true at different times or versions of reality (or even simultaneously) or only one might be the "true" nature of the Count.

The Universal Superintendent

This version of the Count is a cosmic repairman. This version's age is tied to the invisible Clergy, with each Ascension aging him about a season. At the start of a new universe the first sentient beings gives birth to the Count and Ascends as the Mother and Father. The Count will appear to be in his 20s by the time society has started to form and the Archetypes are approaching the triple digits. By the time the penultimate space is filled he'll appear to be in his eighties.

Other than his age his appearance will "fit in" anywhere, looking like whatever ethnicity and appearance draws the least attention. He can choose not to transform if he prefers and even if he allows it the process is gradual. Sometimes he is a woman, but his appearance is universally average.

This version of the Count looks for the problems in the universal machine and patches them up. He occasionally does things "for humanity" but largely his purpose is to keep the cosmos ticking along and anything short of total extinction isn't that big a deal to him.

There's one thing that he can't do and that's be two places at once. Hence he is often willing to use normal humans as tools and pawns (usually unwittingly) when situations come up that must be addressed but can't be handled directly right now.

Notably, he's got a few enemies among the invisible clergy, although of course they'd never go so far as to try and kill him there's still plenty they can do out of spite. The Count knows a lot, but not everything. He's just as ignorant of what lies beyond the veil as any living person and he has no clue who or what the Cruel Ones are either. He knows all the members of the current Invisible Clergy. Since he cannot be everywhere at once he's unlikely to have a front row seat at most major historical events. He was in China when Jesus showed up and for most of human history he still only knows what other people have told him or what he's personally seen (which is a lot, but still only a fraction of the whole).

He's got Body 50, Speed and Mind at 60 and Soul at 70, which isn't too impressive but he can use every mundane skill at a rank equal to his stat. He also has a few special tricks. First, he's invulnerable. Nothing ever hurts him at all. He's not superman: he can't kick through steel or anything and he can be chained up but when an earthquake or one of his agents frees him he'll be just fine. He also knows pretty much every single ritual (and by extension has built up effectively infinite charges to use them). There's only a few things his rituals can't do: no ritual Blasts (that's adepts only), he still can't be in more than one place at once, he can't get a Major charge, he can't affect the Invisible Clergy directly and he can't kill himself.

He also an extreme polyglot and understands language well enough that he can learn any new language in about a month. He can also make very high-risk rolls: the GM rolls a single d10 and treats it as both the ones and tens place, meaning the result is a matched success or a matched failure. He can also pull a Ford Prefect and with eye contact hit them with the sheer scale of his existence. Effectively he can hit someone with a stress test on any gauge at any level he wants.


The Stormy Petrel of Apocalypse

This version of St. Germain fits right in with the "Cosmic Bumfights" theme of Unknown Armies. He's worn out, worn down, worn inside and worn up. He's just plain tired and doesn't really expect that there's much of anything anyone can do to save humanity (and thus reality) from itself anymore. He certainly doesn't think he can do it, but one thing he hasn't let go of is his sense of duty and so he keeps his face pressed firmly to the grindstone as it turns on and on.

Of course, one of the worst things you can do is inspire a bit of hope or optimism in him again, because if you manage to convince him that maybe something can be done to keep things running just a bit longer then you've just enlisted yourself. An inspired St. Germain will go to great lengths to try and save humanity from itself and unfortunately his allies don't last as long.

It's like the new Doctor Who, but instead of long-term companions he just has those characters he promises to save about midway through and episode and die about 10 minutes before the end.

At this point in his life the Count is mostly an observer. He keeps track of things in the patterns of highway debris, bus schedules and similar apparently meaningless information. He will, on occasion, intervene. This is largely minor...saying the right word to the right person about what's going on and where. Maybe he'll slash someone's tires, delay a bus, or call in a bomb threat or otherwise take a minor action to throw things just far enough out of sync. Only for the highest stakes will he ever actually tell those he's working with (most of) what's going on.

This Count is a student of human nature. At its best and its worst he knows people the way no other individual could. He knows the Clergy because they are/were human too. He used to think that the Cruel Ones were angels...now he has no real idea. Maybe angels are very different from what he expected, maybe they're some kind of byproduct of the Clergy. But he'll feed anyone any supernatural BS he thinks will convince them to do what needs to be done.

He has three main skills: Music, Maps and watching people die.

Okay, that's all putting it very loosely. "Music" in this case means that he's a gifted musician but what it really means is that he can talk just about anyone into anything. With a successful Soul roll (90%) he can convince anyone do to anything remotely reasonable or convince anyone to tell him anything they know. He can also speak and read all human languages

He's great with maps, but doesn't use them much because his sense of direction is perfect. What it really means is he can read the patterns and signs in anything. The swirl in his cup of coffee will tell him that a young girl in a small town is going to be murdered, stuffed with seeds and crucified in the woods. He knows just which 4 people in Florida need to die in order for Trump to be the next president of the United States. On a more mundane scale, this allows him to make a Mind roll (80%) to perfectly know the "lay of the land" (socially, magically, physically, or otherwise) and so long as there is a way forward he can take it. He knows the back entrance or the loose chainlink fence or the exact moment when the guy in the surveillance van is taking a leak.

Watching people die is perhaps his most accurately described skill. First, of course, he's immortal. Not in the invulnerable man of iron sense of the first Count, but in the sense that nothing lethal will ever happen to him. The bullet that kills him will miss, the killing curse is mispronounced, the car crash leaves him miraculously unscathed. It also means he's hardened enough (9 Violence, 9 Self) to do whatever needs to be done to get the job done. Sometimes he'll try and soften a blow or take a slightly more moral path...but most of the time its all about expedience.

He also can ride horses, tame dogs and keep bees.


The Diplomat

The final version of the Count is a politician. Appearing currently as "The Diplomat from Magonia" a country which won't appear on any maps but everyone is too embarrassed at not remembering it to check, or ask. He's everywhere at events of state and even those who never met him will claim to know him because it seems like it would be embarrassing not to recall this man. He's an older gentlemen and extremely dapper but no one would be able to agree on his exact ethnicity, of course no one would be so rude to speculate.

This version has the greatest resemblance to the historical/mythical Count De Saint Germain. He's the center of hundreds of rumors and wild speculation, he associates freely with the rich, noble and politically powerful and everyone listens closely to his advice.

Although the Count isn't purely a political animal (recognizing that the forces of magick and the Invisible Clergy are more important in the long run) he also recognizes just how delicate the forces of power are, especially between the Underground and the Sleeping Tiger. By keeping his fingers closely on the pulse of the leaders of the world he can not only keep tabs on major Cosmic or Global events (after all, if the Warrior Godwalker is bucking for ascension you can bet it'll cause ripples in international relations. The sort of ripples that leave smoking craters) but also to keep an out on whether or not the Trickster currently pretending to be the POTUS has been ousted by a Personamancer this month.

His personas change with the times (the Count De Saint Germain was a previous one, since discarded) and his current role as the Ambassador from Magonia is simply one in a long line of personas which he creates. Most of the rumors and stories about him are entirely fabricated.

He has a near-total grasp of current events, worlds leaders, military matters, demographics, etc and is well educated on world history and cultures and can fit into pretty much any society as a consummate gentleman of class.

He is capable of gaining access to more or less any social function without an invitation and is treated as a friend and confidante by all rulers and leaders of any nation in the world. He can spread rumors in much the same way as a Cliomancer, but with greater subtlety and control. He will not (although apparently he can) use magick on world leaders to compel obedience, apparently finding regular old social pressure or intelligence manipulation a more reliable tool.



And that's it, Statosphere is done and with that I have exhausted my supply of Unknown Armies books! In the interest of spreading more interesting and weird RPG stuff, what would people like to see next: The Whispering Vault or should I delve into weird 2nd edition Dark Sun stuff, I've had my eye on the Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs or the Psionic Artifacts of Athas for a while.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!




Overall I definitely prefer the vaguer Rooms from the UA core book. In the core they were more like places that developed unexplained symbosis with their Agents but at that point it was up to the agent to figure out how they worked (if they could) and what to use them for.

This version makes it clear that the Rooms are the ones with the agenda and the drive and the Agents are at best partners. At worst they're nothing but extensions of the Room (like the Man, Woman and Father)

The effects are also a lot more absolute. In these Rooms (except the Room of Hearts Burden Lifted) the choice is pretty much change your belief to match the Room's or die (not even that in the case of the Room of Rusted Things, apparently there is no choice there).

The Otherside Room from the corebook showed you the worst of what your belief's had to offer but the experience could leave you completely bereft of any belief, believing the opposite of your original stance or make you even more hardline than before. The results were less predictable and left more room for free will.

oriongates fucked around with this message at 04:25 on Mar 6, 2016

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!




TheTatteredKing posted:

I love the description of the worn down Saint Germain in the book. From the ill fitting suit that looks like he wore it to his father's funeral, which happened a long time, to the dangerous glint in his eye when someone looks like they could do some good.

Yeah, out of the three Count's he's the one with the most character. The sort of guy who might make a great protagonist in a novel or a weird movie. The other two fit the Count's role as "mysterious GM Ex Machina", but the hobo-Count is my favorite.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!




Hypocrisy posted:

Wait...who are the Cruel Ones?

You're right. That's exactly the question.


Serious answer, they're something that came up in the core book and are one of the big mysteries of the setting. The one thing no one knows for sure is what awaits us in the afterlife. We know that souls exist after death because there are demons and ghosts and whatnot which are the souls of the once living who can't let go of the world and pass beyond the Veil. We don't know what happens to any of the other souls who do pass beyond. Demons also talk about "The Cruel Ones" as entities that they fear...but that's pretty much all the book will tell us. It's theorized they might be angels or archangels or the only truly non-anthrocentric beings of the universe...but no one knows.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!




TheTatteredKing posted:

I'm more worried about them "not getting" the tone of the setting. The fun is found in the wealth of detail. And I'm not selling my friends on a game by handing them the book and asking them to read everything.
Well that and I've heard running at Street level isn't a great idea, if only to start out. There's a lot to introduce.

UA is definitely like that. It's one of those games that is hard to "get" without reading the book fully and completely...but at the same time that removes some (but not all of course) of the weird mystery elements and the quality of the writing is high enough that it can feel intimidating for a GM who isn't sure how they're going to create the same level of intrigue, bizareness and wonder in their game. We're not all a bunch of Neil Gaimens god-dammit!

However, from my reading for F&F and my limited experience with the game in play here's some suggestions to keep in mind.

First, although its not explicitly spelled out, you should not look at the "levels" (Street, Global, Cosmic) as a progression. They work best if they are entirely separate games that happen to take place in the same world.

So, if you play a Street-level game, you shouldn't be thinking about how this is going to move eventually to Global games or and finally to Cosmic, you should probably just keep playing it at Street level for a full campaign. Street-level games are about relatively normal people who find themselves on the edge of the abyss. Their goals should usually be to fight to keep from slipping into that abyss, not seeking to gaze into it. Your ordinary dude is probably never going to get "upgraded" to a Dipsomancer or Avatar and although they might fight them they'll never really understand them. A good example of something at Street level is something like Twin Peaks, the characters are involved in the machinations of greater forces, but ultimately their understanding of them is shallow and learning more about them just makes them more mysterious.

Second, and most important players must have an agenda. UA is a terrible "sandbox" or "mission of the week" style game, especially at Global or Cosmic level. You NEED to have a driving force, characters in UA are almost all inherently self-destructive and do not play well together and if they aren't unified by a overriding goal then a group will simply fall apart. You can't just say "lets make characters and you all meet in a nightclub." (well, at least not if you are planning on a long-term game). One thing UA is really missing is a FATE-style collaborative background and goal building session for Global or Cosmic games (in Street level games the agenda is usually some dominating mystery or danger that the players must investigate or fight against).

Third, don't use everything. This is especially true for Street or Global level games. Don't feel like you've got to shoehorn every element of the UA cosmology or supernatural system into a game. Think of UA's cosmology as a toolbox and only use the bits that are interesting and relevant. You don't have to make sure that your game includes Adepts, Avatars, artifacts, authentic thaumaturges, rooms of renunciation, archetypes, unnatural beings, the Sleepers, etc. etc. This is especially true for Street level games. Pick and choose what is relevant and interesting for your game.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!




Like any sane person I love the Dark Sun setting, it's awesome, creative and weird. Past Fatal and Friends have largely covered the really cool parts of the setting, so I figured I'd shoulder the burden of point out some of the wackier and weirder bits of the setting. Starting with...



Dark Sun: Wind Riders of the Jagged Cliffs
Part 1: Ancient Hobbit Overlords


You may know Dark Sun as possible the most badass and Dungeons and Dragons setting ever. You may even know that it's awesomeness got a little derailed by some questionable metaplot and you might pick up a new book only to find out that some novel had killed off half of the sorcerer-kings!

Well, do you know just how freaking weird Dark Sun got before the end of second edition? Very. The answer is very. Wind Riders of the Jagged Cliffs is perhaps the best representation of the weird direction the setting took before the end.

Introduction
------------------------

The Jagged Cliffs are part of the "expanded" Dark Sun setting where we move beyond the Tablelands, the area where the Sorcerer Kings founded their cities and the heart of most human and demihuman civilization. In the Tablelands halflings are uncommon, known only as savage jungle-dwelling cannibals (I told you Dark Sun was badass) who inhabit the small rainforest nestled in the mountain range that marks the Western border of the Tablelands.

Well, apparently not all halflings are awesome, murderous mini-tarzans. Far, far to the west beyond the Tablelands is the Jagged Cliffs, home of the last "civilized" halflings in Athas. The Jagged Cliffs are a nearly sheer mountain range, as tall as two miles in places and stretching hundreds of miles in either direction. At the base of the cliffs is a fog shrouded, mutant-filled swamp.

If you're wondering what I mean by the "last civilized halflings", then get ready for some of Dark Sun's wackier bits of history.

Way back in prehistory was Atha's Blue Age, when the planet was covered in water. Yes, Athas used to be Waterworld. There were only a few island chains and two races. The primitive insect-men who would one day evolve into the Thri Kreen and the halflings. Psionics didn't exist and arcane magic wasn't even a theory yet. Back then the halflings developed a bizarre and mostly unexplained technology of "life shaping" to create living technology that they used to develop vast civilizations over much of the earth.

The halflings of the Jagged Cliffs (who call themselves the rhul-thaun) are the last remnant of that age and they still retain some of the bizarre halfling bio-tech secrets of old.



The Rhul-thaun

Stat-wise, Rhul-Thaun halflings aren't really that much different from ordinary athasian halflings (although their ability score mods aren't as extreme, +1 Dex and Wis, -1 Strength). They start with amazing climbing abilities (80% on rocky surfaces and don't suffer the -15% racial penalty to wall climbing normal halflings thieves do). Otherwise they're pretty much identical. They live longer than most any other race, around 150 years, largely because they just have a better standard of living. Their relatively high levels of medical and biological knowledge means that more of them survive childbirth as well. It's a surprise they aren't scurrying all over the place!

One notable difference in living along the Jagged Cliffs is called Rajaat's Curse (those who know Dark Sun's weird metaplot know Rajaat as the "father" of arcane magic in general and defiling in particular. His involvement will be explained later). This is a general term used for deformities or any other disease without a known cause. Living above the swamps has given the rhul-thaun halflings an unfortunate tendency to develop mutations which range from minor changes in skin color or relatively normal birth defects all the way up to fully functional extra limbs, gills, tough skin, and bonuses to stats. Being a mutant would be kind of rad if it weren't for the fact that it gets you shunned.

Of course, it's all the Rhul-Thaun's own fault. Living above a massive magical toxic waste dump isn't good for you in the first place, and millenia ago the halfling's ancestors intentionally made their DNA more "flexible" in order to allow for easier life-shaping, so the rhul-thaun are extra susceptible to mutation (1% have minor mutations, and .1% have major ones). But, as you'll see, the Rhul-Thaun are pretty much in the habit of screwing themselves over.

One of the biggest cultural elements of Rhul-thaun life is ritual. Everything is ritualized and performed in very specific, often very intricate patterns. They have formal ceremonies for greetings, eating, dressing, selling, buying, fighting, dancing and just about everything else. Despite this there is no real religion to speak of among the cliff-halflings. Of course, there are no gods in Dark Sun to begin with, but unlike most other cultures they don't have cults or false dieties (like the sorcerer-kings). They have a generalized reverence for the power and strength of nature and life, but they don't usually worship the elements directly...they're seen as important but not usually worthy of veneration. Those Rhul-thaun who do decide to become elemental clerics are tolerated, except those who choose the element of fire which is seen purely as a source of death and destruction and is completely outlawed.

There is a minor "cult of personality" around the promise made by the High Lord Rhan Thes-onel, who left the Cliffs, promising to return some day to give his people a new purpose. Of course, most accept that he's long dead by now but some insist he might return in the form of a spirit or some other mystical sign.

The Rhul-thaun (like all halflings back in 2nd edition) cannot practice arcane magic and are in fact completely ignorant of it. However, exposure to arcane magic (even the relatively mild preserver magic) would be horrifying to a Rhul-thaun and an absolute abomination. They develop psionics and wild talents like everyone else on Athas but they generally see it as an unsavory ability (somewhat akin to deformity and mutation) and most will avoid using any psionic abilities they possess, thus there are no known rhul-thaun psionicists, although they have the same potential to learn it as any other race.

There's a quick section on creating a Rhul-thaun character, mostly pointing out what classes are or are not suitable for a cliff-dweller. However, there are some new Non-Weapon Proficiencies:

*Cliff Fighting: Cliff Fighting is a skill exclusive to the rhul-thaun due to their vertically oriented lifestyle. It removes any penalties for fighting while climbing and gives you a +1 to hit and +2 to damage against any opponents who are also climbing, on a ledge, etc.

*Life Shaping: The halfling bio-engineering skill. Exclusive to members of the Life Shapers guild and grants the knowledge to create life-shaped creatures and repair them.

*Ritual Knowledge: Knowing the right way to spin your fork when eating or which foot to balance on when apologizing to a merchant for soiling yourself in his store. Pretty much essential for living a normal life in rhul-thaun society.

*Tending: Apparently not included in Life-Shaping, this is the skill of actually caring for life-shaped objects, things like what to feed them, how they should be stored, etc.

*Windancing: Basically a combination of dancing and parkour. Not much detail is provided beyond this other than to say its quite pretty.

*Windriding: The thing the book is named. This is riding but with flying mounts, namely (but not necessarily) life-shaped mounts and is specific to the hazards and environments of the jagged cliffs.


Finally, if you're creating a rhul-thaun you have to roll 1d8+1d12 to determine your social status...I'm no probability wiz, does that actually produce a distribution any different from 2d10? Just curious.

Anyway, status ranges from Very Low (hobo), Low (poor), Average (working class), High (well off) and very high (totally rich). The table is weighted heavily towards Average and High status characters, so its good to see that the rhul-thaun have a thriving middle class.

--------------------------------------

Finally, we have Kits (2nd edition's class variations which range from minimal to drastic). All are warrior or rogue kits and oddly none focus on life-shaping.

Chahn Terrorist (warrior kit)
Apparently the rhul-thaun have terrorists. Honestly, from the sound of it these are the guys with the most common sense in the halfling community. They want to ditch the pointless rituals and stop living exclusively on a 2 mile-tall drop into a toxic swamp. Maybe get out there and see what the rest of the world has been up to (okay, that part's a bad idea given the general state of Athas, but you can't blame them for being curious).

Despite stating multiple times that not all Chahn terrorists are interested in violence and are often just guilty by association with more radical members, apparently all Chahn must have proficiency in the dagger and the garrote. I'm beginning to think that the chahn doth protest too much...

The Chahn get a +1 bonus to pretty much any roll they think will help overthrow the status quo, plus the benefits of being a member of an underground group of like-minded individuals.

Climber (Rogue/Warrior kit)
Only for multiclassed halfling rogue/warriors, this kit is for...people good at climbing. Climbers are also kind of the rhul-thaun equivalent of truckers or bikers: they like to hang out with one another, there are "climber only" bars, etc.

climbers can "run" while climbing and know special packing techniques which increase their encumbrance by 50%. But they spend so much time on the cliffs that they can't really handle horizontal distances too well, reducing the range of all missile weapons by 25% (which kind of sucks if you're going to be fighting flying enemies while stuck to a cliff).

Windancer (Rogue)

Just a side note, do you ever notice weird compound words, Windancer, in this case where the the first letter of the second word is deleted if it matches the last letter of the first? The sort of thing that you don't notice for the longest time but then you can't unsee it and it starts to bug you? Well, if you do then I just ruined the word Windancer for you.

As mentioned before Windancing is basically halfling parkour crossbred with dancing. They're largely performance artists in halfling cities but some of them are willing to use those skills for other purposes.

Oddly enough although windancing is listed as a Non-weapon Proficiency, it does not appear on the Windancer's list of bonus, required or even recommended proficiencies.

They can climb walls and "dance over bridges" (why only bridges?) at triple normal speed for 2 minutes per point of constitution. They also, for some reason, get a +10% to move silently and +5% to hide in shadows...but no bonus to climb walls.

Downside is their encumbrance is cut by 50% and they lose all of their bonuses outside of urban environments (so no super-fast climbing on cliffs or parkouring through a forest).

Windrider (rogue)
Not sure why this one is rogue exclusive, really seems like more of a warrior thing.

The windriders are essential to rhul-thaun civilization, serving as a combination of hunter/gatherers, scouts and postal workers. They've got kind of a "flying ace" vibe and tend to be seen as daring and flamboyant.

They get no penalty for acting while on an airborne mount and they're considered holy by the relatively small number of Air clerics in halfling society so they can pretty much always find food, shelter and help at an air temple. However, for some reason they are absolutely forbidden from developing proficiencies in riding land animals. Since they're usually sponsored by wealthy patrons they get a good chunk of starting cash.

-------------------------------------------

For some reason at the end of this chapter there's a brief section on the penalties for operating within The Misty Border (something that hasn't actually been explained yet). This boils down to A) its hard to see in lots of fog, and B) those from arid climates (i.e. everywhere else) may develop respiratory problems. Because nothing says awesome sword and sorcery adventure like pneumonia

There's also some notes on climbing. It points out that most rhul-thaun are already excellent natural climbers (80%) on rocky cliffs and most have the Mountaineering skill granting an additional 10%. On top of that there are vertical "roads" along the cliffs where exceptionally good climbing paths have been clearly marked, granting an additional +40%. But 90% of the time the mists are heavy and this makes things slick (-25% to climb chance). There's a table for "what if you fail a climbing roll" which mostly consists of a bit of a fright and maybe falling 10 feet before grabbing a new hold and taking 1d6 damage. The really unlucky could fall farther (up to 1d100x100 feet for a roll of 98-100).

Finally, we get a bit of commentary on how weird the halfling cities look to outsiders, tiny scale, organic styles of architecture and a tendency to think vertically rather than horizontally.


The next entry will be on Athas' psychedelic history.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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Alien Rope Burn posted:

Is this one of those things where they add the skill to the game, then slap at the hands of any PC trying to take it? It seems like a very '90s thing to do.

Oh absolutely. The game is very clear that unless you're playing a Rhul-Thaun in the Life Shaping guild then you aren't getting this skill. And given the level of ritual, time and effort involved in the day to day life of a lifeshaper there's pretty much no reason one would be an adventurer.

And even if they did it wouldn't really matter because all of the remaining life-shaping techniques involve mysterious, elaborate rituals which can't be performed "in the field" so to speak.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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Asimo posted:

Oh lord.

Pretty much all the "revised dark sun" supplements were horrible. I'm not sure if it was due to editorial direction, change in writing staff, or both, but it was probably the most visible sign of late-era TSR's decline. I mean it was obvious from just looking at the books themselves! Most people call out the horrible art instead of the original Dark Sun's Brom and Baxa stuff, but the bigger thing was the enormous goddamn margins in the books, at least like an inch and a half of empty space, clearly put there to make them look bigger than they were. You literally got like two thirds the text of an equivalent early Dark Sun book in the same page count.

Yeah and they didn't even use those margins in a functional way like FATE Core does. They were mostly used for stuff that could have been easily just put in the main text and sometimes didn't even relate to the current material.

I first got into Dark Sun in this era sadly, but fortunately the sheer coolness of the setting was still strong enough for me to fall in love despite the wackiness. It helps that I was already a fan of the setting through the Shattered Lands and Wake of the Ravager video games.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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Here, the very first actual page:



And if it's too small to read it starts with an italicized "in character" segment, followed by a second italicized IC segment, referring to the first. Neither of which have enough information to make any sense whatsoever at this point in the book. Then, awkwardly filling the left hand margin is a third italicized IC entry.

This one is even better at showing off the utterly terrible layout on some pages. I'm fairly sure the pdf is missing some transparency with those sun decals, but other than that it's all bad decisions.




As far as why Dark Sun never got a 3e entry, it's probably mainly because they were avoiding too many campaign settings, but I'd also guess that part of it was 3e's attempts at balance (yes, yes caster supremacy all that, yadda yadda. I said attempts). 3e tried to generally give off the look of being more stably put together than 2e was and Dark Sun was not about being stable. Dark Sun was balls to the wall insane. Halflings with the strength of hill giants, starting characters throwing around Disentigration or teleportation as a wild talent. The thri-kreen. It was awesome but utterly nuts at the same time.

oriongates fucked around with this message at 03:13 on Mar 13, 2016

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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Kumaton posted:

I really want to know who approved this, just so I can ask them why they thought it was okay.

On the margin of the second page it's so narrow in places they can't even fit in two whole words at a time.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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Preservers and Defilers was probably one of the worst offenders because unlike Windriders it wasn't as easy to ignore, since it was all about wizardry in general. Some of the wizard kits were pretty bad/crazy. I think the Cerulean wizard may have been one of the worst...but that was also because the Cerulean storm in general was dumb.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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Wind Riders Of The Jagged Cliffs
Part 2: A Brief History of Athas

This was touched on in the last Fatal and Friends entry for Dark Sun but for those who don't know (and just to torment those who do know all over again), the Revised edition of Dark Sun came with a whole new and much longer history of the planet.

Originally Athas was basically just the post-apocalyptic version of a more normal fantasy world. One with less magic and metal, but still pretty normal. Then wizards in general, and the Sorcerer Kings in particular, got so pissy with each other that the drained the life from the entire planet in wars of domination, leaving it the empty burning husk it is now.

Well, in Revised it turns out that Athas is actually post-post-apocalyptic. This "true" history of Athas is deeply tied in with the halflings, because they are actually the precursor to most other intelligent species.


First there was the Blue Age, when Athas was covered by water. The name isn't just about the water either, because back then the sun of Athas was an adorable little blue dwarf star. Except for a few islands (now mountain ranges) the entire planet was one big ocean. There were two dominant species at the time: the primitive ancestors of the Thri-Kreen and the halflings. The thri-kreen of the time were barely sentient and were mostly just seen as dangerous predators. The halflings on the other hand were in the midst of a golden age.

Back then there was no magic, no psionics. Elemental clerics may have existed but it seems unlikely (or if they did they were few and far between). Instead, halfling civilization was based on life-shaping. This vaguely defined technology began with the discovery of a type of coral that could be manipulated to grow into desired shapes. From there they advanced more and more in the art of manipulating and breeding living things into full-blown genetic manipulation.

The ancient halflings learned that they could transform living things into tools, servants, and even buildings and vehicles. Of course it notes that they respected life (they totally didn't) and refused to think of the organisms they created as mere tools (they totally did) and would never take their power for granted or abuse it (they totally would).

For centuries the ancient halflings lived the high life in their bio-tech waterworld. Two of their greatest centers of civilization were the city of Tyr'agi (which would be based around the Tyr region near the Ringing Mountains, islands at the time) and the island chain that stands where the Jagged Cliffs are now located.

Of course then things went to poo poo. The halflings were trying to work on a way to make the sea a better source of food to expand their civilization further, but accidentally created a brown algae which killed natural and life-shaped organisms in the water (i.e. pretty much everything). The ancient life shapers were apparently completely unable to stop this and the only solution they could come up with was the Pristine Tower (heloooo metaplot). The Pristine Tower is a huge...thing. It's presumably life-shaped but its abilities and function doesn't really jive with lifeshaping in any sensible way.

The Pristine Tower could take power from the sun. Not in the sense of a giant solar power plant (or a literal plant), but in the sense of actually draining energy directly from the sun itself. Don't ask how bio-engineering made this possible. Anyway, the halfling elite lifeshapers triggered and harnessed a small nova event in their sun, transforming it from a blue dwarf to a yellow sun. They successfully destroyed the Brown Tide but the increased temperature (and presumably the energy unleashed by the Tower itself) caused most of the seas to evaporate, effectively destroying halfling civilization as none of their cities depended on the sea (not just for food, but literally since their buildings were actual living creatures).

Thus began the Green Age. The two major halfling states were now separated by miles and miles of dry land and whole new geography. The halflings to the East (in the Tyr region) basically decided that halflings screwed up the world so badly that they shouldn't exist anymore so they initiated what they called the "Rebirth", triggering a massive evolutionary surge and effectively transforming all but a handful of halflings into whole new races: the demihuman and humaniod species.

Meanwhile, the Halflings of the jagged cliffs were pretty confused by what was going on (the whole business with the Pristine Tower was far away from them) and they struggled to preserve their technology and history. They were largely entirely ignorant of the Rebirth movement from the other halflings and have no idea that humans and other species are actually descendants of the original ancient halflings. They stuck so fiercely to their homes that they still had no idea why any of these dramatic changes occurred.

Isolated on the cliffs they eventually learned to adapt to the world (which during the Green Age was still quite nice. Prime real estate). In the early days of their rebuilding process they were led by High Lord Rhan Thes-onel. He is the only high lord anyone still remembers and is (by default) considered the greatest. After keeping his people safe and secure during the chaos following the end of the Blue Age the High Lord left the Jagged Cliffs with an expeditionary force to figure out what the hell was going on. He told his people to wait for his return.

They may have taken that order a bit too seriously. They've been waiting 14,000 years

The power of the Pristine Tower had one other really big effect that it took a little while for everyone to notice, it's vast warping of global life was responsible for the creation of psionics. In the rest of the world this led to the creation of advanced psionic mastery and entire civilizations (like Saragar) flurished by harnessing psionic powers. Even animals and plants started to develop them, and so did the halflings of the jagged cliffs...

..but since it wasn't life-shaping they decided to say "screw this" and ignored them. Other than wild talents, psionics was never really recognized in the Jagged Cliffs.

Unknown to the Halflings the end of the Green Age would start right under their feet. You see, one of the new races were beings called Pyreen, a kind of perfect fusion of all the other races who possessed both exceptional psionic power and natural attunement with nature (in the form of clerical or druidic powers). They're awesome like that. Well one Pyreen, named Rajaat was born deformed. And the Pyreen being the nature-loving, enlightened psi-hippies that they were shunned the hell out of him. So he became bitter and generally pissed off. However, he was exceptionally intelligent and psionically gifted. He fled to the forests that ran along the base of the Jagged Cliffs and performed experiments there, eventually uncovering the secrets of arcane magic. His education in defiling magic is what destroyed the ecosystem of the forest and created the huge swamp that runs all along the base of the cliffs.

Even worse, Rajaat found out about the history of the halflings and the blue age. Convinced that the Green Age and everything it spawned were aberrations he decided to dedicate himself to returning the world to the halflings. Teaming up with a small number of halflings from outside the Jagged Cliffs who still knew the ancient secrets he developed a plan. First, he spread knowledge of magic, specifically so he could recruit his Champions, powerful psionicists who also showed exceptional talent for magic and a tendency towards racism. Since humans were the most adept magic-users he recruited only Human champions and told them he wanted to lead them on a xenocidal war to wipe out the other races. He then found and used the Pristine Tower again to empower his champions further, turning them into "elemental conduits" which allows them to grant spells to their followers (i.e. the Templars).

Of course, the use of the Pristine tower damaged the sun further (turning it dark) and the ensuing war of extermination used so much defiling magic that it killed most of Atha's remaining ecosystem. How any of this was supposed to help return the world to the blue age is unknown because eventually the Champions turned on Rajaat and stuck him in a pocket dimension.

This all still pretty much went over the halflings heads as they weren't even aware the other races existed let alone that they were killing one another. Rajaat intended to return the world to the halflings after the wars ended so he forbade his champions from traveling to the jagged cliffs and none of them bothered to do so after they turned on him. So once again huge global changes occured and still the halflings just stuck to their cliffs...but now its much hotter and drier.

Oh, and worse life-shaping is dying out. You see, few of the Life Shaping masters survived the Blue Age and they were too careful with their knowledge to teach it effectively so bit by bit it began to die out. The modern halflings have life-shaped constructs and can still perform life-shaping...but they don't know how it actually works. They can only perform it through rote ritual without any knowledge of the underlying science and they're too scared of screwing up to experiment with it. So bit by bit the art is dying and the ancient and powerful life-shaped wonders are slowly dying off in a more literal sense.

Even worse, to the West of the cliffs is the empire of the Thri-Kreen, a militaristic army of bug-men who are (ironically) kind of better at life-shaping than the halflings by now and are eager to sweep East to conquer new lands. The Jagged Cliffs are all that stands in their way.

Oh, and there's lots of earthquakes now, which isn't great news when you life on a cliff.

Next, halfling society!

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs
Part 3: Halfling Life


We open with another wonderful bit of formatting:



You may notice that the text on the sidebar is so tight that they sometimes manage only a single word per line. You may also notice from the interaction presented at the start of the chapter that life in Rhul-Thaun civilization would be brutally annoying to roleplay.

The rhul-thaun use ritualized ceremonies and practices for every sort of interaction. major events such as weddings, legal disputes or political activities can take ages just from the layers of formality involved. Even minor interactions involve extremely specific protocols.

Life-shaped creations especially involve rituals, not just making or caring for them, but every aspect of using them as well. Some of these rituals are half-forgotten techniques for the proper care and maintenance of a particular life-shaped creature...but many are pure nonsense (or even worse might shorten the lifespan of a life-shaped creature).

Other than ritual the main thing that separates rhul-thaun life from other cultures in Athas is the vertical orientation of their life and architecture. Since they insist on clinging to the cliff-sides horizontal space is at a premium so most Rhul-thaun cities are built largely vertically on giant ledges or along the rim of the cliffs. Climbing is an essential skill and professional climbers and windriders fill the role of cowboys in rhul-thaun culture: exploring unknown areas, hunting dangerous prey or gathering essential resources from remote areas of the cliffs.

Like a cyberpunk dystopia "height" in a city is also associated with wealth and value. The elite and wealthy live higher up in the city with the lower classes living near the base. The combination of vertical orientation and heavy fogs that rise up from the base of the cliffs means that the halflings are used to dealing with things at relatively short distances and to them they consider things to be farther away than most other species (much like normal humans consider a 20 foot walk a trivial distance but 20 feet in the air quite high).


Life Sciences

The halflings have a life philosophy similar to Athasian dwarves (although less specific and obsessive), believing that life is pointless without a purpose. Just as an ecosystem is formed of many creatures who take specific roles: the plants gather energy and water from the sun and soil, the insect helps the plants to breed, the herbivores eat the plant and in turn serve as food for the carnivores, who then die and serve as fertilizer for plants. Of course, on Athas plants, insects and animals all pretty much life by killing and eating one another.

But to the rhul-thaun society is like an ecosystem and its important for each person to know their place in it. Without a role, or a purpose there is no point in living. Each individual seeks to understand what they contribute to their city and each city has a method by which it contributes to halfling society as a whole.


Be a Shoe

This is one of the reasons they're still clinging to the return of the High Lord. With the end of the Blue Age the rhul-thaun no longer knew what their purpose as a people was in the new world and when the High Lord left he promised that he would return with information on the changed world and would give his people their new purpose. Without him they are left adrift with no larger role in the world.

Finally, the last important element of rhul-thaun philosophy is respect for life. Although they'll eat meat, shape living things for tools and homes they still see themselves as caretakers of life rather than masters. They believe that life should never be ended without purpose and so things like hunting for pleasure or using animals for entertainment such as pit-fights would be abhorrent to them. Even killing "vermin" like insects or rats are done only if absolutely necessary and special "life-taking" rituals must be performed before and after killing a living thing.

This respect for life is one of the reasons that the rhul-thaun don't have much respect for psionics or elemental magic: they consider the forces of life the most powerful things in the world and thus life-shaped technology must be the highest achievement (ignoring of course that magic and psionics are actually quite a bit stronger in most cases).

More on halfling life coming later.

oriongates fucked around with this message at 23:35 on Mar 13, 2016

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

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Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs
Part 4: Halfling Government


So, want to hear about awesome heroes fighting psionic sand-sharks and chopping evil sorcerers in half with jawbone axes while wearing armor made from a giant bug's face? No?

What about moderately cool ancient bio-engineering? Not yet?

I know what you want!! You want to hear minutiae about halfling government!

Well, you're in luck.


Rhul-Thaun Clans and Leadership

Jagged Cliff society is divided into extended families or clans. Marriage is common within clans (being large enough that you're usually just hooking up with a 3rd great nephew or something) and they're more political groups than anything else.

Then we're told that apparently Clans are a fading notion anyway and most people care more about the community and city they live in than the clan they belong to. Despite this, the book will continue to harp on about Clan structure and leadership for quite a while.

Each Clan is led by a leader or a group of leaders called a Har-Etuil who operate out of a central base of operations called a clanhouse. Don't you love it when books switch pointlessly between unpronouncable gibberish and "ordinary word + other ordinary word" naming formats. Quick, take the Dhak-Ma-Koth-Ma to the "housetree"!!

Immediate family members are close and usually will share similar occupations (families of herders, herbalists, etc). In other words pretty much the same as families in most any other culture. Ah, but don't get too complacent: elder family members are honored and given positions of respect! Younger family members love to hear stories told by older family members! Did you know that marriages are formal events, filled with long rituals!? CAN YOU FEEL THE CULTURE COMING ALIVE AROUND YOU!?

It also notes that male and female rhul-thaun are treated with absolute equality as halflings have relatively minimal physical differences between genders (beyond the obvious).

The next section (about 5 paragraphs after the word is first used) is about the Har-Etuil which apparently means "Judgement Makers". Apparently they hold meetings with each other twice a year in the halfling capital of Thamasku. however, their primary day-to-day work is as a judge or arbitrator. Halfling society has no capital punishment but does banish murderers (which they consider the most serious crime) to the swamp at the base of the cliffs...which is basically the same thing. They never use imprisonment as a punishment, apparently punishing only with things like labor or forced restitution.

Also rhul-thaun police look goddamn ridiculous:


God I miss Brom

After the dry description of halfling government, let's have some fun:

Economics!

Not being a part of either the current era where metal is scarce or the Green Age when it was plentiful halflings do not use metal coins or ceramic bits. Instead their money literally grows on trees!

Well, it used to. Unfortunately no one knows how to cultivate the coin-trees anymore and thus there are a shortage of halfling coins (called ghav-egoths), which are a kind of scale-like or shell-like disc. Because of the critical shortage of ghav-egoth (shortened to "ge") coinage most trade works on the barter system. They perceive little value in gems or "precious" metals like gold and silver, although they might appreciate the aesthetic value of a piece of jewelry enough to value it. The rhul-thaun in general do not mine or work with metal at all and while they do not use stone or obsidian tools they do have life-shaped products that fill the same niche.

Want to know how much a government clerk makes in ghav-egoths every month? Well then have I got the chart for you:



Note that only two of the entries on the chart (windancers and windriders) are likely to be the professions of player characters...and their entries aren't exactly helpful. But hey, did you know that taxes are collected bi-monthly and typically amount to between .5 to 3 ge a month!


Have I mentioned how much I miss Brom?

Occupations

Next we'll take a look at the different occupations in halfling society:

*Climbers: Hey, you remember how Climbers were prominently mentioned in the first chapter? Then mentioned again in the kit for Climbers called "Climber"? Well, here we've got 7 more paragraphs about god-drat climbers! We get it!! THERE'S A LOT OF CLIMBING GOING ON!

The only notable bit in this half-page long entry is that it mentions that climber hunters and gatherers are a relatively new thing in Rhul-Thaun society as only in the last generation or so have they started to have too many mouths to feed to satisfy their needs with life-shaping.


I miss Br...okay I admit this image is pretty cool

*Healers Given how rare priests are in rhul-thaun society they mainly rely on non-magical healing. Generally speaking the healers of the rhul-thaun are much more educated about health and well being than those in the rest of Athas, and so despite the lack of magical healing the halflings generally live much healthier lives.

*Lifeshapers: Life shaping is the most revered and honored profession in halfling society because so much depends on the mastery of the life-shapers. Which is why it sucks that none of them actually know what they're doing anymore. Oh, they still can grow the meat-bushes and tend the glow-sphincters just fine...but that's just because they saw their master do it who say his master do it who saw her master do it and so on and so on. The art of life-shaping is over 10 thousand years old and the actual principles and theory behind it have been lost for most of that time. With each passing generation someone didn't get quite enough lessons on how to gargle the flargle on the screaming eyes and now no one knows why they aren't screaming quite as loudly as they used to.

Of course, the Lifeshapers will never let the rest of halfling society know that. They operate somewhere between a cult and a secret society. Their treatment as the elite and the very real dependence the rhul-thaun have on them means that most lifeshapers are arrogant asshats (at least they have been since the haberdashery womb started pumping out nothing but asses and no one knows how to make it stop). They have the ability to more or less dictate policy to the clan heads (although the average hobbit on the street doesn't know this) and since they have a monopoly on essential goods they can charge whatever they like for them, manipulating the economic side of halfling culture as well. Despite that they're keenly aware of just how much knowledge has been lost and desperately guard what remains. Even the possibility of finding lost life-shaping techniques would be a priceless treasure.

A Lifeshaper must also be "accepted by the fundamental forces of life". An apprentice lifeshaper is placed in a "womb" and if they are accepted then the womb nurtures and sustains them until they are removed...if the womb rejects them then they are spat back out and ejected from the order. Once accepted lifeshapers live practically monastic lives away from the rest of the rhulthaun...and visually they're distinct because they're covered in life-shaped grafts and symbiotes.

This is also where we're given our first glimpse into how life-shapers shape-life. The process largely involves a substance called "pith" which is carefully mixed with other raw, primordial ingredients according to ritual traditions which usually take 3-10 weeks (or longer for bigger organisms).

*Scholars and Teachers; Those who can't life-shape, teach. Although as a general rule the rhul-thaun are better educated than your average Athasian they still aren't that great about academics. Most rhul-thaun can sign their name and read shop signs but that's about it. They don't have books, writing only on scrolls made from extruded worm-silk and even then actual literature is practically unknown. There's a few journals, a lot of historical records and maybe a bit of science (although texts on lifeshaping are never available for the public). Teachers are more caretakers for the very young, bringing them into their homes and teaching them the basics of things like simple reading and math, how to climb and how to interact with common life-shaped animals or products.

*Tenders: The rhul-thaun equivalent of a farmer, this is the most common profession for the rhul-thaun. Their job is to make sure life-shaped creatures stay alive and healthy. They know nothing about actually making them but they know enough to feed, water and harvest from them. In addition to helping to produce basic goods like food, tools, leather, cloth, etc they also can be sort of construction workers: keeping life-shaped buildings alive to grow while the life-shapers themselves prune and direct their growth.

*Windancers: Part parkour artist, part busker. Imagine if that guy who painted himself silver in Times Square also cartwheeled across building roofs.

*Windriders: Cowboys with wings. Like Climbers and Windancers the book's already covered them fairly well...and frankly the concept doesn't need much elaboration. It is pointed out just how cool the rhul-thaun think the windriders are. The lifeshapers and haur-etil might be more important, but everyone wants to grow up to be a windrider when they were a kid.

Wind-riders carry out three main tasks: gathering medicines and food from the forests on the cliff faces, hunting (for food or safety) flying creatures of the cliffs or serving as couriers or escorts for those traveling between cities (this in particular often involves the largest wind-riding mount: the soar-whale).

*Criminals: Criminals do exist in halfling society: thieves, spies, blackmailers and even assassins. They've even got a criminal guild in Thamasku, just like a proper city. The most notable criminal element are the terrorists who call themselves the Chahn. The Chahn want to overthrow rhul-thaun society, seeing it as isolationist, hidebound, ignorant and more concerned with the status quo than the good of the people. Of course, they're absolutely right but sadly a lot of them also reject the value of halfling life and are quite willing to kill to try and make their voices heard. There's also a fair amount of "young rebels" who would prefer non-violent means to bring about change.

Architecture:

As you would expect rhul-thaun architecture has kind of a biological, Giger-esque element to it. Lots of curves and bulges rather than hard angles. There are two types of building: the first is a kind of coral-like building material called nen which grows into the desired shape and then, essentially, dies and solidifies into its new form. The second (and much more expensive and valuable) is rahn-rath. Rahn-rath buildings remain alive after being grown and thus can be altered later on with careful manipulation and maintenance and it can repair minor damage to itself. However, if a living building starves (or dies due to fire or disease) then it'll become brittle and crumble. You can't neglect a living house.

Language

This is one of those sections I find most annoying in old D&D books (and settings that aped D&D). I can understand throwing out some naming suggestions but do we really need to learn about how the rhul-thaun love to insert "h"s into their words or way clan names are passed down?

One thing it does provide is a short list of terms they've been using fairly shamelessly so far:



Next: living on the ledge!! (i.e. rhul-thaun cities).

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!






Windriders Of The Jagged Cliffs Part 5:
Little Towns On The Cliff


So, this section will be pretty quick, because I don't think anyone cares about halfling population statistics or GDP. This chapter deals with the vertical cities that dot the Jagged Cliffs.

Here's a vertical map, showing the relative elevation of the different cities (horizontally they're often quite far apart).




Thamasku

Thamasku has two notable features. First, it is the halfling capital and by far their largest city (12,000 people). Second, it has the distinction of actually being built on top of the cliffs rather than stuck on a ledge looming over a mile-long drop.



That's because Thamasku is actually the only remaining city from the Blue Age, being the remnants of an ancient Rhul-thaun metropolis built on the island chain that would eventually become the Jagged Cliffs. That means that the Rhul-Thuan took a look at Thamasku with it's flat ground, plenty of room to stretch your legs and minimal risk of falling to your death and decided..."naaaah". As you can see from the illustration there's actually a huge tract of arable land around Thamasku (according to the map scale its about 100 miles across) and with a population of only 12,000 people its hardly overcrowded up there...the entire halfling population of the Jagged Cliffs could pretty comfortably live in and around the borders of Thamasku.

But why do that when you can live right on the border of nothing at all.

Being in the center of a forest means that Thamasku actually uses lumber and so there are wooden buildings in addition to those made from life-shaped materials. The city is located on the borders of a lake which empties over the edge of the cliffs (because the authors don't really get geography sometimes) which the halflings sail on in wooden boats, as the means of creating life-shaped watercraft have been lost. Which is a shame, because apparently they looked pretty awesome.



Thamasku is, culturally, more conservative and clan-focused than other cities, probably because this is where the most clan politics happen and the law-making Conclaves gather. The whole place is the economic center of Rhul-thaun society, so much so that it even has its own thieves guild! Although the ancient life-shapers who built Thamasku were masters of the forces of life itself they knew poo poo about city planning. That's why this is what Thamasku looks like:



Beyond that, Thamasku has a few notable places. It features the largest Air elemental temple (and in fact, the largest temple at all) in rhul-thaun society. Despite this it still has less than 20 priests and its main function is as a resting place for windriders and their mounts. The air priests see windriding as a way of communing with the element and therefore consider all windriders "holy men" of a sort. The second largest temple is also here, a water temple located at the edge of the lake itself. Of course it also has the largest Life-shaper sanctuary, submerged underneath the lake and the entire structure is alive, its gills providing air for itself and the life-shapers who live there. In addition to Thamasku proper there's the tiny village of Sol-Fehn which is really just a remote section of Thamasku that serves as a transportation hub for those coming up from or going down below.


Pareth

The second largest halfling community is Pareth, home to about 3,500 people. The city is known as being particularly friendly to windriders and almost every business gives preferential treatment to them. It also has the second largest life-shaper sanctuary, bored into the side of the cliff by (now lost) life-shaping digging techniques, making it the only existing subterranean rhul-thaun structure (really...not only do halflings refuse to life on flat land, they won't maybe dig a bit inside the cliffs too?)

Glerran

While Pareth is the village for windriders, Glerran is the village for climbers (because apparently you've got to have a theme). The village is home to about 2,500 inhabitants. Beyond catering to climbers it really only has two notable features:

First, its home to the only full-fledged psionicists in rhul-thaun society: a pair of twins named Kal-Odot and Fren-Anan. In addition to being powerful psionicists, they have a special talent which allows them to communicate telepathically at all times and (by agreement) even swap minds. They are both self-taught and have used their psionic abilities and cunning to rise to great power in the city (one serves as the city administrator while the other serves as a false critic and opponent).

Second, it is home to a temple of elemental earth (the largest of its kind) where the priests engage in a ritual of "dancing earth" where the clerics use their powers to animate stones and knock them together, annoying all of their neighbors. The place was founded by an exiled air priest who rejected the air and began to worship earth. He was cast out into the deserts east of the jagged cliffs where he was eventually caught by a group of non-halfling bandits who began torturing him. A pyreen noticed and slew the bandits, saving the halflings life. Among the bandits equipment the earth priest found a wand of Animate Rock, which he took as a sign from his element. He returned to halfling society and founded the earth temple in glerran, using the wand for the rock-dance once every 10 years. Unfortunately, the priests of the temple are unaware that the wand has only two charges left. Apparently even the few clerics in halfling society don't actually know how to craft magic items.

Sahr-Tosh

Sahr-Tosh is kind of a terrible place to live, probably why its less than 2,000 people in all. The place is more exposed than most cliff communities and built in a particularly storm-prone location. The place is constantly battered by storms and no real explanation is provided as to why anyone would choose to live here...its not known for any kind of essential resources nor does it seem to sit on any vital trade or travel routes.

Oh, and pterrax riding pterrans live dangerously nearby and are quite happy to snag halfling climbers.

Why do we live here!?

In addition, the life-shapers of Sahr-tosh do not even keep up the pretense of political neutrality as the city administrator is also the head life-shaper. The life-shaping sanctuary is far larger, relative to the village's size, than any other and the life-shapers take the opportunity provided by being basically the rulers of the city to perform their most dangerous and morally questionable experiments here. They even have their own life-shaped assassins called the ghav-nosh (takers of life) that they use to eliminate their enemies.

In addition to the main shaper sanctuary there is the Stormtower, a kind of life-shaped prison. It holds 14 pods containing unknown, but apparently powerful, life shaped beings. No one knows anymore what is in the pods or how they could be opened safely (assuming thats even possible) and so they are kept here.

So yeah, Sahr-Tosh is a shithole.

Yihn-Tol

Before Glerran took over that role Yihn-Tol was the village that most suited climbers. Now its smaller (only 1,800 people) and no longer as important. It is the lowest halfling village and therefore the closest to the swamp and the effects of Rajaat's Curse, so mutations are especially common here. And of course the swamp is full of death-monsters who are quite happy to try and climb up the cliffs to eat some halfling faces. It is also the first target of the Reggilids (you'll find out about them later) and assaults by the thri-kreen empire to the west.

Basically, Yihn-Tol is the canary of the Jagged Cliffs, its there to hold the line against all the horrible stuff and once it finally gets torn off the cliff-face everyone else knows poo poo has gotten real bad.

The place is under such danger that there is no life-shaper sanctuary here. Life-shapers are flown in when needed to repair buildings (especially the city's walls, which are a unique feature among the halflings) and then flown out again once their done. Everything else must be imported.

Almost as bad as living in Sahr-Tosh.

Ter-Omak

The only notable feature of Ter-Omak is that it is home to a Hatfield/Mccoy style feud between two clans.

Vir-Rath

This village used to be supplied with water from huge, organic pumps...but of course the pool that they drew from has run dry, no one remembers how to repair them and its too costly to make new ones. So water has to be physically carried up from lower sources. At least its not Sahr-Tosh.

Sunnil

One of the smallest ledge-villages, only housing 1000 people. That's about all that's worth knowing.

Reg-Tol

The smallest full-fledged village (800 people), it used to be a luxury retreat for the rich and the traditional home of the High Lord. But since there are no more High Lords its now just a small, fairly nice little village.

Bav-Rem

A little village only notable for the fact that everyone is dead now. Although no one knows it yet, Bav-rem was the victim of a life-shaped experiment gone awry that produced a The Blob, which devoured everything organic and then retreated to a nearby cave to rest off its big meal. The place is basically a big plot hook as the creature will eventually emerge to feed, or maybe even reproduce.

Oh well, everyone may be dead...but at least its not Sahr-Tosh.



That's all the cities, next the low down on the life shapers.

oriongates fucked around with this message at 04:57 on Mar 23, 2016

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!




Zereth posted:


Is the moral of this book "halflings are really loving stupid"?

EDIT: And/or the book's author(s). They clearly decided "cliff-dwelling halflings!" and then failed to provide any reason they'd uh, have started doing that in the first place.

Yeah, pretty much. The history of halfling society seems to be one of truly bad decision-making.

"Hmm, our society is getting fairly big. We could try and expand...we do have an entire world to work with after all and only two major cities. Naaaw, we'll try and make a superfood. Oops, created a massive toxic algae bloom."

"Okay, massive toxic algae bloom. We're masters of the forces of life, we'll figure this out...or we could build something to drain life from the sun itself. No one really uses the sun right? Oops, literally destroyed most of the oceans."

"Despite our best efforts the new world is lush and full of beauty and life. Lets just stay here on the top of these giant cliffs. We also shouldn't worry too much about writing our life-shaping secrets down."

"You know, living in this nice sheltered forest is cool and all and there's plenty of flat, bountiful land at the bottom of the cliffs. But what if we cling awkwardly to the side of them instead?"

"Wow, all of a sudden everyone is developing odd mental powers and abilities. Lets just ignore those."

"Our greatest hero and leader has apparently figured out that just maybe we should be trying to figure out what's going on in the world, including what happened to all the other halflings out there. He left 10,000 years ago. I'm sure he'll be back soon."

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!




Maxwell Lord posted:

I can buy "cliff-dwelling halflings who have no real reason to live on the cliffs" on pure rule of cool, but maybe they should have made that oasis spot full of giant monsters or something.

Or at least make it smaller. The entire population of all the cliffside communities put together is only just a tad bigger than the current population of Thamasku. It'd be easy for literally everyone else to live in the little forest paradise up at the top and it would hardly made things more difficult for halflings.

And remember, the halflings don't engage in projects like mining, so its not like you can explain it by having communities scattered around to gather raw materials or anything...everything they need can be found in greater quantities at the top of the cliff. Heck, if they dammed the lake at the top of the cliff (a lake which is apparently an infinite source of water) they could probably fill that entire basin and just live on the rim with a quality of life easily comparable to the Last Sea.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!




Yeah, its weird that the descendents of ancient bio-tech masters are actually the lame halflings.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!






Windriders Of The Jagged Cliffs Part 6:
Bioengineering for fun and profit


So now we get to the part of the rhul-thaun that's actually a little bit interesting: life-shaping.

First thing we're told is that player characters should not be allowed to be life-shapers: the skills involved are too complex, lengthy and restricted to be available to adventurers. So that's at least a 50% reduction in interest right there. And admittedly, its not like Life-Shaping is all that impressive to begin with...once you get over the novelty of it its easy to realize that advanced psionics or arcane magic leaves it in the dust and even basic stuff like elemental clerics are going to be able to pull off much more impressive poo poo than your average life-shaper.


This is the life-shaped equivalent of this guy

Life Shapers in Society

The book can't really seem to decide whether or not life-shapers are assholes. On the one hand it stresses many, many times that lifeshapers absolutely respect all life and consider their skills an awesome gift and responsibility...but then we're basically told that almost all life-shapers are jerks pulling the strings of Rhul-Thaun society to suit themselves and are more or less a bunch of arrogant little bastards. The only life-shaping sanctuary represented as "good" are the shapers in Glerran who are on the verge of outright rebellion against the traditionalist shapers in Thamasku and are straight-up funding anti-shaper groups in Sar-Tosh.

Despite this, the shapers are granted a huge amount of reverence and respect among halfling society and it isn't hard to see why: they provide all the necessities that keep the cliff communities going like food, transportation and even buildings. Indeed, the entire cliff-dwelling schtick wouldn't work at all without the shapers to provide food that the halflings can't farm on cliffsides and flying creatures to allow the halflings to get from place to place.

A big deal is made of Gil-Ogres, the second-in-command of the lifeshapers of Thamasku (and thus the second in command of basically all lifeshapers), who has been pushing for more and more power for lifeshapers in order to "restore the glory of the past" and, of course, get power for himself. He fosters the belief that life-shapers are superior to other halflings and that the only way to try and regain some of their former abilities is to utterly dominate rhul-thaun society.

But here's the thing...don't they pretty much control everything already? Literally everything from clothing to buildings to food is produced by them and their creations, they have a monopoly on literally every important product and its already stated that the clan leaders will pretty much bend over and kiss their own asses if the life-shapers tell them to, because if they don't then the shapers could simply say "no more food for you until you agree."

So what exactly is it Gil-ogres and his cronies want? More paperwork? They can already pretty much make any demands they wish and its clear that this has been the status quo for centuries if not millennia. The only thing they aren't involved in is the day to day problems of running a city or clan and why would they want to bother with that? A big deal is made of all the scheming and planning going on for gil-ogres bid for power but its not really clear what more the life-shapers could do to dominate halfling society. Do they just want bigger hats?

It even notes that life-shapers have threatened clan leaders with the possibility that they possess a virus that would kill all life-shaped creations. Of course this is false, and ridiculous, considering that no one would have more to lose from that act than the life-shapers themselves.

The only thing that is mentioned as being forbidden to the lifeshapers is experimenting with incomplete or lost life-shaping rituals to try and recreate them...and of course they do that anyway.


I'm sure he knows what he's doing


How Does Life-Shaping Work

The ancient Blue Age halflings started their life-shaping with the discovery of a simple form of coral ("a porous rock-like plant"). It was easy to manipulate and very hardy and so with pruning or growing techniques they could shape it into tools or structures.

Step 2: ????

Then they could manipulate any organism into just about anything.

That's more or less as much detail as we get. The "building block" of life-shaping is a substance called Pith, a kind of primordial soup that contains the basic nutrients and substances common to all living things and takes the form of a clear, syrupy liquid. "various processes" stimulate Pith to produce specific organisms or creatures.

There are three types of life-shaped creations: Creatures, Products and a third type that isn't clearly classified (basically something that's alive but not capable of any kind of independent existence). Creatures are actual animals or beings that have been produced by lifeshaping, they're usually mobile and capable of at least some form of independent action or thought (although they're not sapient). Products are actually be byproducts of other life-shaped creatures (for instance arrowheads produced by a gecko whose scales have been specifically engineered to be hard and sharp and to shed). Products aren't alive and thus don't need to be fed or tended. The third category (things like their living buildings) lack any ability to move, act or think on their own but are still technically alive and so require nourishment and tending of some kind.

A common "subtype" are grafts which are symbiotic organisms designed to become a part of their hosts and draw nutrients from them, in exchange for performing some kind of useful function. Usually they fall into the third category, but some grafts count as separate creatures.

Because they are alive, creatures and (unnamed third category) have hit points and armor class, generally between 1-3 HD. They're not very tough as a rule. Weapons and armor are tougher and can be purchased at greater expense in exchange for more HD.

Here's the sucky bit: every blow (whether you're attacking or being attacked) inflicts 1 damage to your weapon! And you thought the breakage rules for bone or obsidian weapons were bad. Fortunately weapons can heal...but only at the rate of 1 hp per day, that means that you probably have to give your weapon a week off or so after every single fight to get back to full hp! Armor is both better and worse: any damage you take is divided evenly between you and your life-shaped armor. On the one hand this means your armor is going to die very quickly...on the other you're taking half damage. If you've got the cash life-shaped armor is one of the best defenses out there. Of course, if the armor dies then it stops providing any bonus at all.

Life shaped objects have AC 8-10 for soft objects, 4-6 for tough ones and 0 for really tough stuff like armor or weapons. Generally attacking a life-shaped object on your person requires a called shot...but area of effect spells hit not only you but any life-shaped objects!

Oh, and because they're alive they also can suffer from diseases or poisons. In fact, there's a flat 1% chance per week that any life-shaped object you own comes down with some kind of infection, with a 10% chance that the condition is fatal to it! If non-fatal the disease cuts the object's bonuses in half for 1d10 days (-2 to attack for shaped weapons, and a 2 point AC penalty for armor).

Other Weapons and Armor

Not all weapons and armor of the Rhul-thaun are actually living. Most are just products of life shaped creations, for instance leather or chitin harvested from creatures bred to produce it, or creatures bred to produce horns that, when shed, make excellent spear-tips, plants that grow spiked-club branches, that sort of thing. These objects are treated as normal.

In addition they've got the weird stuff: life-shaped weapons and armor available only to halflings. Pictures are provided mainly from Psionic Artifacts of Athas which includes a lot of life-shaped gear...but oddly with very different stats or rules.


Better hope your sword doesn't have a cold

Shell Armor: The halfling equivalent of plate-mail (also comes in "half-shell" for those looking for ninja turtle references). This has 6 HD (5 for half shell) and provides AC 0 (2 for half shell). It's a living shell of hardened chitin supported and held together by fibrous tissues.

Hide Armor: This is a superior form of leather that's tougher, lighter and more durable. In addition to granting AC 7 it cuts the penalties for thief skills in half compared to normal leather. Despite being a "product" it has a listed HD of 3.

Sheath Armor This armor comes in a jar. It's a pot of paste that can be applied all over your body which will then harden in areas that you don't flex (so your joints remain free). It provides AC 4 and has 4 HD. A special version "Hidden Sheath" armor is actually a creature, reacting to blows by hardening but staying clear and flexible otherwise. It stays hard until 10 rounds have passed without an attack.

Climbers Shield This is a mushroom-looking creature whose stalk is a tentacle grafted to your back. The "cap" is chitinous and tough and it is capable of detecting attacks and moving itself to block it. Since it mounts to the back or shoulders it makes very good protection while climbing. It has 3 HD.

Spineshield: Also a creature whose limbs wrap around your arm like a normal shield but it is capable of launching the spikes on its back against your foes (but you sacrifice its shield use when firing it or smacking someone with it). It's got 2 HD.



Armblade: This is a 4 HD graft that is basically an organic sword attached to the back of your arm. It does more damage than a shortsword (1d8) and you can't be disarmed and your hand remains free to hold stuff. There's also the "armspike" which is less damaging (1d6) but slightly cheaper.



Clawgrafts: Tiny little sharp grafts which meld to your fingertips. They give you a claw attack depending on how many grafts you have on a hand: 1 claw is one point of damage, 2-3 inflicts 1d3 damage. 4-5 inflict 1d6. They have 4 HD, presumably that's per individual claw.

Deathspray: I'd just like to remind you that the halflings love and revere all life. The Deathspray is a poison squirt gun. Hitting someone with the spray of liquid requires an attack roll and it can only hit a target up to 15 feet away. The victim has to be sprayed in the eyes, nose or mouth (there's no specified penalty for this, presumably you just have to be able to target those parts of the body) and takes 1d6 damage from the caustic fluid. They are also exposed to type H poison...which is really weak. It does 20 damage (10 on a save) and has an onset time of 1d4 hours. 4 HD.

Flashlance: A spear which is actually a creature with a rapid-fire "headbutt". Essentially by squeezing the base the spear telescopes rapidly and then retracts to its normal size in a flash, inflicting 1d10 rather than 1d6 damage. It's not clear why it even has an entry for using it as a normal spear. 6 HD.

Grappler: This is sort of like the Deathspray except instead of shooting out bio-engineered pepper spray it fires a mass of tendrils which entangle and yank whatever it hits. The cords reach up to 30 feet and those entangled have a 50% chance to have their arms trapped, preventing any arm use and either way they lose Dex and shield bonuses and have a 25% chance to be pulled to the ground. Escaping requires a bend/bars lift gates roll (meaning, almost impossible for most people). The biggest disadvantage is that it takes 1d6 rounds for the tendrils to retract into the creature after the victim is freed. 6 HD.



Hurling Titan: Remember mercurial weapons from 3.5? Well this is their dad. The Hurling Titan is a huge (for a halfling) maul or mace with a liquid filled core, which means it does more damage than you would think (1d8). So not very impressive (and despite the name it can't be thrown).

Life Leech: The life leech is a 7 foot polearm with a 2 inch ball on the end. It isn't actually very tough at all (3 HD) but when tapped against a creature the ball absorbs nutrients and water from them, inflicting 1d12 damage...except it also apparently injects a sedative causing any future attacks with a life leech against the target in the next 24 hours to inflict only 1d6 damage. Seems kind of stupid, maybe it was originally designed as a piece of medical equipment and the halflings just lost the manual so they've been awkwardly using it as a crappy weapon. It's noted that it requires "special combat techniques" since its too delicate to be swung hard...but no mention as to what that actually means.

Mandibles: This is just a halfling sized mancatcher polearm, except if you don't want to catch someone you can just have the thing give them a nasty pinch for 1d6 damage. Considering its meant as a way to imprison someone its surprisingly flimsy: 3 HD.



Quickstrike: The shortsword to the armblade's longsword. The quickstrike works much like an armblade except its blade is retractable, allowing it to be concealed under long sleeves and making it much easier to handle day to day life. 4 HD.


Don't ask how that's supposed to fit in that critter

Shockstick: This is an oddly adorable little creature who folds up its hard shelled body into a ball and stiffens its long tail, turning itself into a mini-mace (1d6 damage) and the first blow and every 3 strikes afterwards it'll generate an electric shock for an additional 1d6 damage. 3 HD.


Spinethrower: The spinethrower is a kind of spiked mace which can be used as a melee weapon (1d6+1 damage) but is primarily used to launch spines as a ranged attack. Each attack launches 1d6 spines and each spine inflicts 1d3 damage and requires a separate attack roll. Spinethrowers have 1d4x10 spines and regrows its spines in 1d4 days. 4 HD

Spore Pods: Bio grenades! They look like tiny eggs and produce a 10 foot radius cloud of gas when thrown. They come in three varieties: irritating (one round stun, then -1 to hit and damage for 1d4 days), sleep (1d4+1 rounds of sleep) and Poison (2d6 minutes onset, 30/15 damage). Obviously the sleep grenade is by far the most effective.

Warstaff: The halfling answer to the gythka. The warstaff is the weapon you see in the picture of two fighting halflings above, a staff with bulbous heads that project bladed points. Inflicts 1d8+1 damage and has 4 HD.

Splitting this post in two. next one will handle life-shaped equipment and general use items.

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!




Not to mention that one thing Dark Sun does not need more of is weapon-degradation rules. Not only do you have to worry about killing your weapon by hitting someone too many times, some of these have to be fed and watered and even can get sick!

oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!






Windriders Of The Jagged Cliffs Part 7:
Don't Forget To Feed Your Backpack


Continuing the list of weird, life-shaped items. Moving on from weapons and armor to more general gear.

First it notes that the rhul-thaun can basically duplicate any regular item from the PHB in the form of life-shaped gear and products. They've got giant caterpillars that weave ropes, metal substitutes made from molded resin, plants whose outer casing sheds in the shape of belt pouches and eels that shed the belts. The vast majority of these substitutes and non-living organic products, not living creatures themselves. But there are plenty of new items that take the form of living tissues and creatures. Since they aren't designed for combat these typically only have between 4-10 hp, meaning that a single area of effect attack will pretty much kill any life-shaped items on your person.

Air Burster: A halfling t-shirt cannon. This creature stores air in a large sack and has a 6-inch pod at the other end that can hold a projectile. Usually used to launch grappling hooks, spore pods, nets, up to 100 yards. It can also be used to launch small sharp objects as a projectile weapon...although no rules are provided for this.

Air Filter: The halfling equivalent of an air purifier. It's a spongy globe that purifies air by breathing in carbon dioxide, bad smells, smoke, dust and so on and breaths out pure air. If you don't wash it every month it'll choke to death...which is kind of grim if you think about it.

Acidic Spawn: a small organic jug which, when squeezed, secretes digestive juices. The acid can only do 1 damage per round to flesh and can eventually eat its way through wood or leather but it won't dissolve stone or metal.

Bond: Organic superglue. This creature is a small tube which can secrete clear goop from what is totally not its butt. The goop is an effective organic glue that's used much like tar or similar sealants. It's organic nature also apparently makes it suitable for repairing damage to life shaped creatures, but no rules are provided for this.

Breathermask: Exactly what it sounds like. A creature that fits over your mouth and nose like a gas mask and filters air impurities and toxins (+4 to saves against gases, spore clouds, etc. It'll fit anyone smaller than a thri-kreen or halfgiant.



chameleon cloak: This garment is able to provide active cameo by changing its shape to match the background and light. It adds +10% to hide abilities or grants a 15% hide ability if you don't have it already. only fits halflings.



Climbing Boots: Living boots that grant +5% to climbing rolls by altering their soles to fit into footholds and cracks. It'll fit anyone below half-giants.

Climbing Gloves: Essentially identical to climbing boots, granting its own +5% to climbing rolls. It'll also fit anyone other than half-giants.

Clingbag: "leather" bags who have one side made of tissue that secretes adhesive that'll hold the bag and its contents in place (10 pounds for small bags, 40 for large). A firm pull will release the bag from the wall.

Clingpad: Double-sided organic tape. It's a strip of tissue that secretes adhesive on both sides to allow you to stick things to other things. often used to attach helpful items like glowpods.

Clingrope: Like a clingbag, but rope. Mainly it lets you just loop the rope around something and hold it in place without knots.

Coolcloak: These creatures function as a cloak which insulates the wearer from heat and directs heat from the inside of the cloak to the exterior. No actual rules are provided for what this means, which is kind of weird in Athas. They can be created to fit larger creatures but are not flexible enough fit multiple creatures after being made.

Directional Sensor: Tiny cone-shaped creatures which can sense North and whenever placed on a flat surface it'll orient itself to point its narrow end northwards.

Disposer: A combination trash-can and toilet, it takes the form of a large pod with a hole in the top. It dissolves all organic materials to both feed itself and create pith.

Dry Anchor: These blobs of living putty are good at clinging to wet surfaces and are used as handholds when attempting to climb wet cliffs. No rules are provided for how it could help you.

Drycloak: Another in the "cloak" series. Can you guess what it does? This one isn't a living creature, it's really just a naturally waterproof substance shaped into a cloak.

Gillmask Halfling scuba gear. It's a mask which has gills which provides oxygen to its wearer. It'll fit anything other than a half giant.

Glowpod: Tasteful organic lighting. These pods produce light equivalent to a heatless torch. They're the most common form of lighting in halfling villages and buildings.


Grasping Hook: An organic grappling hook that looks kind of like a bird foot, when the open claw strikes a surface it automatically clinches and holds on with a Strength of 20.

Grasping Rod: uh-huh-huhu, "grasping rod". Basically just a grasping hook on a 10 foot pole instead of a rope.

Lifechair: Not just chairs but also couches, sofas, etc. This living furniture can be designed to be cooling or warming and forms to match your body. Just hope you can get used to your bed having a heartbeat.

Organic Locks: Organic locks are living creatures that hold doors or gates in place (although at only 1 HD they aren't all that tough). Organic locks can be "hard" locks that are designed to accept a specifically shaped key (made of unliving organic material) which will trigger the lock's "release" reflex. Apparently its possible to pick them even without the appropriate key, probably by tickling the lock until you find the funny bone. "Soft" organic locks have no "keyhole" and instead can "read" living tissue pressed against the lock and will only open if it senses the appropriate tissue. This tissue can be the skin of a particular person, an individual life-shaped object or a pre-prepared "key" of symbiotic tissue. Soft locks are unpickable.

Lockpick: an organic lockpick that tries to fill in the appropriate spaces on a hard organic lock, granting +10% to lockpick attempts.

Malleable Tool: he-hehe-he-hehe-he "Malleable Tool". This creature's body can be shaped like clay using smooth, soft strokes but resists hard blows or firm pressure. That allows you to shape it into weapons or tools such as shovels, crowbars, etc. It weighs 10 pounds and can emulate most items of that size.

Poison Nodule: These bulbs can be stuck to surfaces much like a clingbag, but much smaller. They secrete Type B poison (20/1d3 damage, onset time 2d6 minutes...what is with halfling weapons and uselessly long onset times?). They're typically stuck on the blade of weapons to coat them automatically in toxins.


Scrubslug: This foot-long slug roams homes or businesses and eats dust, dirt, spilled food, etc and secrets a quick-drying waxy polish.

Sensor: This pair of pods that stick together but can easily be pulled apart. One is the "sensor" one is the "baffler". When separated the sensor will become alert and anything larger than an insect comes within 50 feet of the sensor it will begin to screech and cry. The sensor will deactivate if the baffler is brought within 50 feet. Since it uses non-visual means of tracking it can detect invisible creatures as well.

Shockwand: Kind of an electric eel crossed with a cattle prod. It only inflicts minimal (1d4) damage but it's often used to to stimulate the organic activity to create life-shaped objects or as a prod for bigger life-shaped creatures (remember, respect for all life). They also see some use in torture (looove all life).

Slicksuit: Full body organic suit that secretes a natural oil, making whoever wears it very slippery. It only secretes it on demand and the oil lasts for 4 hours at which point it takes 24 hours to restore its supply. While oily you can't be grappled, chained or tied up, etc.

Stealthboots: noise-reducing organic boots which add +10% to move silently attempts while non-thieves gain a 20% move silently chance.

Storage Pod: Basically the organic version of the standard chest.

Warmcloak: The inverse of the coolcloak. Obviously, there's not much demand for something to deal with cold weather except for climbers who have to brave night storms. The lifeshapers keep producing them despite the lack of demand simply so the techniques for doing so will not become lost.

Water Condenser: This creature looks like a bowl and can draw moisture from the air, collecting it inside of its bowl (its a big bowl, containing 50 gallons). It can cover itself with a flap of skin to prevent evaporation.

Watersponge: This is a sponge which can absorb up to five times its volume in liquid, releasing the liquid when squeezed.

--------------------------



Transports

Animals bred for transportation. Notably they lack any kind of natural fears or instincts and will act only based on training or their master's orders.

Ber-ethern: "breeze sprites". Big wasp-like bugs that can carry one rider and 25 lbs of cargo. They're quite fast, flying up to 75 mph. They're also very maneuverable, able to hover, turn in place or fly straight up and down. They have a small stinger (1d4) for self defense but it has no poison.

Yihn-eflan: "gust climber". Big bird/bats. They're not as fast or agile as breeze sprites but they've got the stamina and strength to carry up to 3 halflings or one rider and 200 lbs of gear. They're also more combat capable with more HD and a double talon attack (1d4+1/1d4+1)

Gon-Evauth: "soar-whale". Basically huge organic blimps (supposedly working just from self-warmed air. They can carry a bit over a ton of cargo and flies at 30 mph. The thing has no built in means of self defense and taking more than 1/4th their hp means they begin to deflate and have to descend. These are the most common windriding mounts since they're essential for transporting materials between villages.

Dhev-sahr: The only land-based mount that only sees action in the forests of Thamasku. Sort of weird camels, capable of carrying two halflings.



Guardians:

These life-shaped creatures are designed to help protect halflings, essentially their war beasts.

Climbdogs: The name pretty much says it all. Trained fighting dogs that have prehensile tails and flexible claws to help climbing. Their senses are twice as keen as an ordinary halfling. But you know...I think this is the first time "dogs" have been referenced in Dark Sun, Athas is kind of notable for not having ordinary domesticated animals like horses or dogs. It's also odd that all the guardians have translated names, unlike the transports.

Darkstrike: Snakelike things with large, bulbous nodules on their "face". These bulbs work like clingpads, allowing them to be stuck to walls or doors, making them kind of a living booby-trap (their dark skin makes them 90% invisible in dim lights). They can be trained to strike on preset conditions, sensing targets via sonar. Their attack does 1d8 damage and they're usually equipped with poison nodules as well.

Protector: Feline creatures who serve as guard animals and who can be trained to flawlessly distinguish between different individuals and can recognize threatening behavior towards those they are assigned to guard. At 3 HD they are the toughest guardian creature.

Shieldbug: Individually these bugs are worthless, but they can be used as a swarm (usually by windriders). The swarm surrounds their master, increasing their AC by 2 against melee attacks and when their master is targeted by a ranged attack there is a chance (% equal to the number of bugs in the swarm, between 50 to 100 usually) that a bug will intercept the attack and die (reducing the swarm by one). No rules are provided for how many bugs you get in a "fresh" swarm, but obviously shieldbugs are quite impressive...except against AoE attacks which the bugs can't defend against and will basically wipe the swarm out completely. They can also be used offensively, harassing a target inflicting 1 damage per round and forcing the victim to make a save to avoid being stunned for the round.

Watcher: A living alarm with no combat ability, it has 360 degree vision and when it observes anything it has been trained to react to it will begin keening. they don't move or attack.

Next we'll finish up the life-shaped bestiary/gear and cover a few of the weird natives of the swamps below.

oriongates fucked around with this message at 02:35 on Mar 29, 2016

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oriongates
Mar 14, 2013

Validate Me!




Doresh posted:



I have no idea what you're talking ab... *skims through own copy* ow.


Someone show us the picture!

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