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Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

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


Spire and Black Magic and Strata

Post 8: Folk magic, hot off the grill! (literally)

Black Magic is a small supplement for Spire, dealing with the dark magic of the Heart (a huge pulsating engine of chaotic magic at the center of Spire, nobody knows what it is, why it does what it does, and it warps space, time, and reality), some drow folk magic involving cooking and community, and adding playable demonologists and Blood Witches to the game. Also gentle cosmic harmony bees. I also don't find Black Magic very useful, but some of that is simply that I don't find the Heart very interesting. I've played a lot of Hams. I'm a little blase on insidious seeping chaotic magic that mutates and twists all the people who get too close to it, and that are oh so spooky and weird and undefined. Basically, I don't really give a poo poo about any of the cosmic horror elements in Spire and I think they're the most boring part of the setting, because I want to get back to the people and the politics and the rebellion. So the booklet entirely about the parts I don't personally care about isn't going to land that well for me; this isn't a statement about its quality, it's a matter of taste. I'm pretty sure even if you're really into those aspects this book still won't be the best thing in this line. The core book and Strata are both better.

The main event for Black Magic is the Blood Witch. Some people go to the Heart itself, journeying into the very heart of Spire through a nightmare realm of dark magic and strange echos, and eventually manage to come back with a really weird magical blood disease that gives them immense power. These are the legendary Blood Witches (mostly women; they survive the infection better, though men can be witches too). Spire has all kinds of legends about dealing with these weird and infectious creatures; their diseased blood can drag others into their covens, they run around looking for ancient lore and knowing the secrets of long dead civilizations from the echos of the Heart. They don't like to be interfered with, and they like cursing people or sending infected monsters to eat your children if you bother them. Similarly, they like to mess with people with deals that sound too good to be true or help that turns crazy if someone fails an inscrutable test of character; what's the use of having witch powers if you don't do that?

Naturally, the resistance is happy to recruit incredibly powerful, legendary, terrifying horror-witches. You'd just be leaving horror-witch powers on the table if you didn't. Would you rather have the terrifying woman who can turn into a hovering, writhing mass of hair, blood, shadows and maggots that moves like it was made of stop motion on your side, or angry at you?

Blood Witch actually has one of my favorite Refresh conditions: A Blood Witch Refreshes Stress when they share a moment of genuine intimacy with another person, as a person. No magical compulsion, no terror, no curses. Just actual, un-coerced, honest social interaction is the thing that helps them to heal themselves and keep going. Even if they don't realize it. It's probably the most intriguing and strongest bit of writing in their class. Their Core abilities let them declare an NPC is terrified of them for past dealings once per session, drink someone's blood (if it's still warm) to get visions about that person, and turn into their True Form. Any time a Blood Witch takes Moderate or Severe Fallout for any reason, they stop looking drow (or human, or aelfir, or gnoll; the Heart can take anyone but you're always playing drow) and turn into what the Heart made them. They begin to flicker from place to place in impossible ways. Their form becomes twisted, pulsing and writhing with magical energy and diseased blood. Every movement jerks and twitches like stop-motion (they like to use the word zoetropic for this, referring to an old style of early animation). As you might imagine, this isn't very subtle, but it scares the ever loving hell out of people. The Witch gains Compel and Pursue (you cannot escape a horror movie villain easily) when they look like this, and most people will run or try to kill them. They'll turn back at the end of the current situation, and can try to stop themselves from changing with Occult+Resist. They an also just mark d3 Stress on any gauge to change at any time.

Naturally, Blood Witches have the highest Blood resist in the game, coming at +3 (and +1 Shadow). This is important because instead of rolling to cast spells like most Occult classes, Witches mark Stress to Blood to use their hideous blood spells. The Blood Witch's abilities are powerful and mechanically useful, but they feel less interesting than most of the other classes. My hunch is that it's because they never really have a sense of escalation; you're a legendary horror monster from day 1, so your Low advances can feel a little undercooked since you still have to balance with other PCs and that doesn't quite fit your rep. The Mediums similarly just don't really feel like they fit the fluff; it isn't until the Highs that the Blood Witch is a legendary monster. The issue for me is that you start out with a Core that is 'I'm such a legendary monster that everyone is terrified of me' and the True Form sends everyone scurrying, even though you're not that powerful at the start. Also, the actual abilities themselves can sort of fall into a rut of 'and then you spray blood on it, and body horror happens!' combined with a middling mechanical effect.

They're good at Deceive and Resist, and start with Occult and Low Society.

Now, again: This is not to say they aren't powerful. And if you're into what this class is selling, I'd be willing to bet you'd have a great time playing a Blood Witch. They're not a bad class. Take their Familiar; you always have one as a Bond since you fed an animal your blood and made it a little horror. For a single Low advance, you can pick up the ability to both Fight and Sneak (or get +1 Blood or +1 Mind, or any combination of 2 of these) and give your Familiar some cool powers. Like using it as a surprising one-shot ranged weapon (Surprising gives you Mastery the first time you use a weapon in a fight). Or letting it deliver messages for you, or turn incorporeal, or change into other animals (with a weird tell that it's a familiar). Or Evil Eye Hex: You can take d6 damage to Blood to immediately lower the difficulty of acting against a specific foe (in any way, combat or out of combat) to 0 for the next 3 actions you or your allies attempt, and if you act, you have Mastery against them. It's crazy costly (d6 Blood is the same as getting shot, and even with high Blood it's not safe) but you can completely shut someone down and crush them with that hex, whether it's a combat situation or not. They can also spray AoE blood all over, but it's surprisingly weak, or steal faces.

In general, Blood Witches aren't as good at direct combat as they are at messing with and cursing people, despite their reputations. They're not bad at killing people, but most of their 'attack someone with magic' stuff isn't nearly as good as the curses or tricks. Take their Blood Torrent spell at Medium. They take d6 damage to Blood to gain a d6 Ranged Devastating (cannot be stopped by any armor, even reinforced armor) spell attack for the rest of the situation as they make people shoot blood everywhere. That's not bad exactly, but it's not that much better than shooting someone and it cost a lot of Blood to cast. Also, very few of their abilities actually raise Blood until they get to High advances. So while you start out high on Blood (an Enlisted, Laborer or Criminal Blood Witch would come with +2 Blood, plus their Familiar giving +1 they could have 6 starting Blood) you don't gain much more until the height of your power. Also, I want to play the crime Witch now. Doin' Witch crimes.

The real marquee abilities in Medium for the Witch are Wending Corridors and Lair. Wending Corridors lets the Witch automatically succeed all Pursue tests for an entire situation for d3 Stress. They can catch you or escape from you effectively at will, using their creepy horror villain teleport to follow you around so they're always behind you or ahead of you. Pretty nice when you need to escape the cops because of all your Witchery. The Lair transforms an area of the city into your Lair, giving you a Street level Bond with it. This Bond lets you trap people, watch people, find items, and know what transpires within your domain. This Bond also takes 1/2 Stress from any Stress marked to the Bond, and you can remove 2 Stress from it at any time by spending 1 Blood. This is excellent. Witches generally pick up a sphere of influence or place of power, and this can make a hell of a safe house or home base neighborhood for the PC cell. Having your resistance cell's safe house be the magically dominated domain of a powerful but on-your-side Witch who can curse the poo poo out of the people who live there if they inform on you or shift the geography to hide your guns from the cops is surprisingly practical.

Their Highs let them do stuff like move their Lair to wherever they are at will (at the cost of some Blood). Or become unable to die; if they have Unkillable, any Fallout that kills the Witch instead makes them respawn in their Lair the next day. Unless they don't have a Lair, in which case they return to the Heart and lose this ability entirely, which seems needlessly punishing for not having taken a specific Medium advance. Sure, Lair is awesome and you should take Lair, but rendering the ability less useful if you don't is a little odd. Unless the wording is simply unclear and you lose the ability either way after respawning once, but the way it's written makes it seem like it's definitely 'one shot if you have no Lair, unlimited if you do'. Every High advance also adds +2 Blood. A fully Blood specced Witch can hit 10 Blood if they somehow have all their High advances. That means they can get shot with a cannon and not even flinch. Don't gently caress around with legendary witches.

I gotta say, writing them up kind of talked me into the Blood Witch. I can see a lot of application for their abilities, and that Refresh condition really does a lot of work in making them better. It could have easily been 'terrify someone' or 'exert your will with curses and power', but instead it's 'actually have an unguarded moment with another person, treating them like a person and receiving the same'. Add to that the way the Witch bears the cost of their spells, not someone else, and there's a lot you could do with a Blood Witch PC. Plus the idea of the resistance recruiting a horror Witch because she's lonely and willing to listen to them (after maybe giving them several inscrutable tests of character), then using her weird magic hut to hide guns from the cops is pretty on point for Spire's tone. Colonialist death squad comes in to gently caress with refugees and drow Baba Yaga horror movie happens to them is also good.

Most of the rest of Black Magic is other 'extra advance' classes, which were covered in some detail in the last review; I wanted to go in more on the Blood Witch since they're the big marquee addition that sells this book. The Grangrou is a mixture of folk magic and excellent cooking that can draw a community together in power and resilience. Goat stew, therapy, and holy spice magic so good it can literally bring a person back from the dead at High levels. Though I think my favorite of their abilities is just 'your cooking is so good that when you have a meal with people, any social tests made against them gain Mastery because they're in awe of your cooking'. No magic at all, just good food. The Deep Apiarist is awesome; they have magic harmony bees that live in their bodies and they fight to contain the Heart and prevent occult chaos from happening throughout Spire. With their gentle cosmic bees. One of their abilities is 'once per session the bees tell you it will be okay, healing d6 Mind Stress' :3:. They can also flood the area with bees. Naturally. And eventually the bees can sting all the chaos out of a person, turning them into a crystal statue. Oh no perhaps the bees have given that person too much cosmic harmony.

Finally, the other key bit of Black Magic is the demons, and this is the part I find mostly useless. You see, demons are mostly just weapons of mass, indiscriminate destruction in Spire. A demonic incursion is an altered space where things fundamentally hostile to reality can exist, and try to kill or drive mad everything normal that exists in that space. Eidolons and demons can be a little more subtle than a simple mass incursion, and function as a Bond that has some crazy powers but its own style of Fallout that can really hurt you. 'Demonology is almost always a terrible idea', the book says. This is pretty much true from the demonologist advance scheme and the rules for demonic Bonds. Demonological Fallout can range from 'you suffer 3 Moderate Fallouts on other gauges at once' to 'you can never again use demonology' to (and note this is a Minor one) 'an ally immediately suffers a Medium Fallout, or a non-Bonded NPC you care about dies' or (for Severe demon Fallout) 'you and everyone within a set distance of you, likely hundreds to thousands of people, die as reality rends apart and cackling horrors shred everyone'.

What do you get in return for all this? Not much, really. The demon can potentially do powerful stuff through its Bond, but for once, the GM rolls for all its checks and doesn't tell you the result, just what the demon reports (and demons lie, a lot). You also need a Low Advance from Demonologist to even make requests of the demon, and it requires a separate test before then testing the demon's action in secret. So you have two potential points of mechanical failure, plus if the demon fucks up and gets Stressed the Demonic Fallout table is the harshest in the game, as above. The main Advances they gain of any note (most just deal with making Occult magic a little easier) are effectively nuclear suicide vests, the ability to summon an Incursion in an area the size of a house (at Medium) or an entire city district (at High). Both Advances will kill your PC to use, and the High Advance kills thousands, maybe millions of people. In short, the Demonologist is an NPC class in a system that doesn't really have any need for NPC classes; their abilities are all terrible ideas that aren't worth it and you should never use them. It's the good old 'no mechanical reason to engage with Chaos' issue from Hams.

Finally, Black Magic rounds out with a set of extra Fallout you can inflict on people who suffer their Fallout from Stress gained from attempting Occult magic, but I don't really find that useful or necessary. I prefer to focus on the Stress and Fallout results that already exist, especially as these Occult ones are generally harsher to the point that it feels like an option for punishing players for playing Occult PCs. It can also happen to PCs who suffer Stress when they're dealing with The Forces of Chaos sorry, the Heart and the Vermissian (failed public transit system gone occult) and other Occult stuff. It just doesn't feel particularly necessary and takes the focus more off the normal consequences of Stress to introduce some more body horror and cosmic magic. I'd rather deal with shot reputations, blown covers, etc than introduce 'now touching Cold Iron does d3 Stress to you!' or 'a Blood Witch keeps sitting on your chest when you sleep until you agree to become a Blood Witch' (nice nod to traditional maleficium, though).

On the whole, Black Magic isn't exactly bad, just it's the weakest of the publications for Spire. Part of that's my own taste; I'm just not into the part of the setting it's focused on. Part of that's that it's a 30 page booklet that mostly consists of new advance tables and one new class. Part of that is that demonology falls flat in the usual 'no reason to ever actually engage with this unless you're an idiot who wants to suffer for pretty much no gain' way that dark magic tends to in RPGs. The bigger part is probably just how little actual flavor writing there is in Black Magic. It's almost entirely new mechanics rather than fluff. Still, the Blood Witch isn't a bad addition to the game, and gentle cosmic harmony bees are good. Still, Strata is a much better expansion and if you're only buying one expansion, I'd go with Strata.

Next Time: GMing advice and Spire's revolution

Night10194 fucked around with this message at 16:29 on Nov 22, 2019

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Moldless Bread
Jul 10, 2019


The Dark Eye 4.0

Religion
Let's talk religion. The most widespread creation myth is that Sumu, the earth mother and Los, the Sky father met in the swirling nonexistance of chaos and fought each other, Los dealing a killing blow. Sumus dead body became the world and the flowing blood from her wounds created titans. Los, meanwhile, wept over his actions before going to sleep for eons, and his tears became the gods.
The gods and titans wage war on each other, with the fallen titans becoming mountain ranges.
The six last remaining Gods and the six last remaining titans finally make a truce, retreat to the divine Castle Alveran and start shaping the world and creating its Inhabitants, producing the world we are playing in.

The last gods and titans became the Twelve Gods, which is the most widespread religion on the continent. Not only is the religion accepted by all goldenlanders and (with variations) the tulamidians, but many of the other religions turn out to pray to one or more of the Twelve in disguise or their children.
But for the followers of the Twelve, they are the greatest and mightiest anyway.
(That is supported by the mechanics. The priests of the Twelve wield greater power than the priests of any other god)
The twelve are generally seen as benevolent, and the usual Dogma of the religion is and all or nothing deal (with "nothing" being heresy). Every faithful usually has a main god, but believes in and respects the others and may pray or sacrifice to them if he needs help in their speciality.

Most of the things we "know" about the gods are mortal interpretations of the divine powers, by the way. They vary rarely interact with humans in a comprehensible manner, the miracles of the priests being fueled by the divine power but shaped by the priests belief.

The twelve gods are:
Praios, god of light, of order and of the law (but not necessarily justice) and the prince of the twelve. He is the the sun and hates all magic. His church keeps up the "natural" order (feudalism, for example) demands discipline and obedience from the common people and is in general an approptiate stand-in when an author wants to criticize the Catholic Church. The also act as impartial judges and legal advisors, and the more sympathetic priests don't shy away from calling bullshit on authorities abusing their power.
Given the anti-magic bent of the religion, the church houses not one, but two Inquisitions. One, considering dark magicks and demon cultists are real, is portrayed as a necessary if flawed institution, the other goes "burn the witch" 24/7.

Rondra ist the goddess of thunderstorms, of chivalry and honorable combat. That specifically does not include war, but the lack of a more fitting god (and the necessity of divine support in recent years) sees them pushed in that situation regardless. How to arrange a belief in fair Duels and honest Challenges with the realities of war is a source of lots of headscratching, teeth grinding and cursing both in the church and around the gaming table.
The ideal follower and priests of Rondra is supposed to protect the weak and helpless, either as a Guard integrated in the community, or a wandering knight errant, honing his weaponskills and solving every problem that can be solved via sword with honorable fights between equals and referring to the laws of the land when it can't. Or maybe they just want to be immortalized in legends about their heroic deeds. That's cool too.

Efferd is the god of the sea, of storms, and the associated elements of water and air. He has a temperamental streak, creating all those storms in the first place. The church then, is mostly present on the coast and around big rivers, guiding the sailors and placating their god.

Travia is the goddess the family, the hearth and hospitality. They are the usual go-to place to get married (technically every church can marry people, but marriage is commonly known as Travias Bond). The church as a bit of a conservative streak, but supports anything to keep homes safe and comfortable, both for ones family and for travelers seeking shelter. They are also usually the ones running orphanages and poorhouses.

Boron is the god of death, of dreams and of letting go. The church mostly offers funeral services, their priests preparing the dead for burials and holding (mostly silent) masses to guide the souls to the realm of the dead, but also take on more mundane jobs like maintaining the cemeteries and helping the family deal with grief. They also try to give people restful sleep and help the faithful to interpret dreams or visions.
They specifically hate the undead, having a military arm to fight them. They also maintain an order that runs sanitariums, where they try to heal mental trauma and madness.

The other Boron is – of course - the same god, but the church of Boron had a major schism. While the northern church is satisfied caring for their flock in times of need and hunting undead, the southern is a bit more ambitious. They have declared Boron to be the chief of the gods, running off the logic that eventually, Boron rules over everybody.
The church is therefore politically active, has a bit of an darker bent (requiring human sacrifice once a year) and is a bit more ... proactive in inducing visions, but still takes up the other jobs.

Hesinde is the goddess of knowledge, sciences and magic. Their traveling priests try to learn as much of the world as possible, contributing their journals to the great library after their deaths. The local churches, when not engaged in philosophical discussions, also put great effort in educating the populace, both in general and by supporting universities and scholars, especially the magical ones.
While not a clear mandate of their goddesses aspects, the church also feels responsible for rooting out tainted magic.

Firun is the god of nature, winter and the hunt. Firun personifies the harsh, uncaring side of nature, where everything follows its natural order, even if that order results in death. Aside from propagating the good hunt (putting emphasis on the active competition between the hunter and their prey, shirking traps and hunting partys) his most human-facing aspect is that of self-reliance, steeling yourself to deal with the harshness of the world.
Firun is, therefore, not the most popular god to pray to. If you kept his tenets, after all, you wouldn't need his help, now would you?
Southern priests often act as gamewardens, but most priests of the north are solitary mystics, vanishing into the forests and steppes for months to test their mettle against the uncaring wilderness and getting closer to Firun (and maybe killing a bear with nothing but knife along the way).

Tsa is the goddess of youth, fertiliy and renewal. The church has a very flat hierarchy without a proper high priest and very few actual temples, so most of of the strictly pacifistic and perpetually cheerful priests do their own thing, caring to shrines and traveling around to act as midwives and healers, both learning new things and trying to expand the horizons of the people they meet.
They strongly reject tradition, some even flirting with dangerous and forbidden concepts like *hushed whisper* democracy or treating all peoples as equals.

Phex is the trickster-god of thieves, merchants and adventurers. "Help yourself, then Phex will help" is the battle-cry of his priests, encouraging the dispossessed to fight the injustice they suffered, preferably with some daring heist or other audacity. Some skip the middle man and perform these coups themselves to get closer to their god. The cleverness of these tasks and readiness to take risks is more important that the actual winnings. Stabbing a sleeping merchant and taking his chest wins you no points.
Generally chill people, until you remember they consider it a sin to help someone without demanding compensation...
The hierarchy of the church is pretty muddled, with most priests hiding their ordination. Sometimes hidden temples in the same city don't know about each other. In fact, nobody knows the identity of the churches high-priest, The Moon.
(Yes, the pope of the trickster god can introduce himself with the words "I am the Moon." I'm fairly certain that precedes the meme, but I just thought you wanted to know.)

Peraine is the goddess of agriculture, healing and shutting-up-and-getting-poo poo-done. The church is mostly there for the common people, using their knowledge and divine powers to protect the crops, tending to cattle and dealing with common and not-so-common diseases of the people.
The church doesn't give much about their status and joins the people when another pair of hands is needed. Be it harvesting a field before the storm ruins the crop, tending to the victims of a contagious disease or treating the wounded while the battle is still raging on around them, priests of Peraine are right in the thick of it.

Ingerimm is the god of fire, of craftsmanship in general and smithing in particular. The church is a rather political one, organizing guilds and securing the livelihood of the artisans. The interests of individual priests veer toward a mystic interest in fire and mastering their craft. Therefore they are able to produce amazing weapons and armor (as well as beautiful glass baubles, really sturdy clothes and amazingly detailed frescoes, but let's face it, those don't come up that often)

Rahja is the goddess of joy, of love, of beauty. The church is naturally very popular with people across all ways of life, helping everybody to find (or create) happiness in their lives, navigating the complicated paths of love and, of course, organizing holy feasts (and supplying holy wine).
The church supplies all kinds of pleasure to the people, but on an individual level priests endeavour to turn whole lives around. Their priests provide the muse to an artist, help star-crossed lovers elope and free unhappy people from their chains, whether those are fear, shyness or literal ones from iron.
As long as you are free and open to happiness and feel love for other people, you are doing Rahjas work.
Aside from that, they have some more practical responsibilities, like horse breeding and growing wine.
(And yes, every kind of love mentioned includes the physical kind. I'm sure we can all be grown up about that.)

The Nameless One is the thirteenth god and technically no longer part of the pantheon. Unlike his brothers and sisters, he is clearly painted as an evil god (both ingame and outgame), lording over domains like power, cruelty and betrayal. According to the legends, the other twelve overpowered him and bound him to the breach between the stars of Ethra and the Netherhells beyond. Since then he is ranting and smoldering with rage, tearing pieces of his body and throwing them down to Ethra, to become his agents and work towards his freedom. The last part is not merely a legend, several people called Eyes of the nameless, Hand of the nameless, Tongue of the nameless etc. Have influenced Aventurian history at some points.
Small note about the calender at this point: The year is divided into twelve months, one for each god, 30 days long. The remaining 5 days are attributed to the nameless one. Those days are considered cursed, with disease and demons running rampant. And indeed, this has effects on some rules.

Despite both being evil, The Nameless One is still an enemy of the twelve Archdemons. Each of the gods has a counterpart residing in the swirling chaos of the Netherhells, each representing a twisted version of the gods domains. Praios counterpart stands for tyranny and revenge, Rondras for bloody massacres and wanton cruelty etc...
Most summonable demons are attributed to one of the Archdemons, and their powers always have different interactions with their respective Gods power.
And yes, the irony of having beings of pure chaos fit neatly into the same categories as the gods is acknowledged and sometimes questioned, but the rules are clear...

Other gods and religions
Other Gods that pop up now and then:

The Demigods count as children of the twelve serve as minor deities in that religion, although they, too, moonlight as Gods in other pantheons now and then.

Kor is the son of Rondra and a dragon and stands for the Lust for battle and is the patron of Mercenaries. Aves is the son of Phex and Rahja and presides over travel and exploration.

Ifirn is Firuns daughter and represents the milder, forgiving parts of Nature. She's the one you're actually praying to if you get stranded in a middle of a blizzard.

Swafnir is technically a Demigod as well (Efferd and Rondra), but the Divine Whale is mostly worshipped by the Thorwalians, where he lords even over the other Gods the Thorwalians accept.

Angrosch is the main God of the Dwarves and is essentially Ingerimm with the aspect of Dorfiness tacked on. Some Dwarves attribute one or more of the Twelve Godesses as his wives.

Brazoragh and Tairach, the son-and-father duo stand for strength and death, respectively and are the Gods of the Orcs. They are the ones who supposedly sent Brazoraghs avatar to unite the orcs.
The orcs that are more willing to coexist with the humans pray to thinly veiled variants of Peraine and Ingerimm

Druids pray to the Earth Mother Sumu herself and believe she is dying, but still alive, while witches worship her daughter Saturia as the surviving representative of femininity.

Rastullah might be the Skyfather Los stirring in his sleep, the first signs of a Titan/mountain range awakening, the prank of an Illusionist gone out of control or none of the above. The Novadi try to live by the 99 laws dictated during his revelation, but going by the mechanics, he has no influence on the world.

Magic and its Traditions
Magic in Aventuria cannot be learned by everyone, Casters needs to be born with the Astral spark to feel and direct the magic energies. The birth rate of magically gifted children is pretty low, hovering around *looks it up* 1 in a 100 Births? That actually seems like a lot. I guess most Children don't get discovered and have their Talent wither to keep the low Fantasy feel?
Children between two Gifted have a higher chance of creating a gifted sucessor, but it's still far from guaranteed.
Depending on who trains the child, the magic takes on the structure of the teachers Tradition, putting limitations and certain idiosyncrasies on the Casters magic that are hard to shake.

The biggest and most visible of these traditions is the humble (hah!) Wizard. Wizards take a scientific approach to magic, quantifying and analysing the strands of magic, creating complex formulas and multi-dimensional matrices to be filled with Astral power to channel spells or perform rituals.
Wizards are organized into Guilds that provide their members with supplies and legal help, create and maintain Wizard Academies to train new talent and conduct research, and hunt down rogue Wizards before the Inquisition gets too trigger-happy.
Wizards are required by law to wear robes and silly hats.

The League of the white Pentagram sees themselves as stalwart defenders against all kinds of dark magic. Being faithful to the Twelve Gods is just as important as following the dressing and weapon regulations, and the thought of even researching demonology or necromancy at one of their academies is unthinkable.

The Great Grey Guild of the Mind (the alliteration is complete in German) cares more about research than about politics (on paper, at least) and accepts any academy that doesn't ping as obviously evil. The goddess Hesinde is still considered the patron of all magic, but members of other religions are still welcome in their ranks.
Dark Magics get researched and occasionally taught, mostly to prepare their students to defend against it.

The Brotherhood of Knowing Ones (AKA the black guild, NOT gender-restricted despite the name) sees it as their highest goal to enable free and unhindered research for all their members. Nearly all academies that concentrate on demonology, necromancy and other unsavory magics have moved here, but the both the Guild leader and his strongest Rival agree that Wizards that sell their souls to demons and sympathize with Borbarad and his heirs have no place in their Guild, hunting them down with their private armies.
People are free to believe in the Twelve and other religions, of course, but most black wizards are actually proponents of the Wizards Philosophy ("No gods, no masters!").

Wizards are the only Tradition that is officially accepted by the authorities, enabling them to actually earn money with their spells. All others live at the edge of legality, but at least an old decree prevents them from being prosecuted just for being unregistered Mages.

Elves all have the astral spark when born, and all their Elf-specific professions are fully trained wizards with magic that supports their specific niche, be it fighting or shaping the environment.
An elf that loses access to their song-based magic also loses access to the supernatural connection to their community and can only be pitied by the rest of their tribe while they wither away from their broken heart...
(We haven't yet begun to probe the depths of drama Aventurian elves are capable of.)

The druids try to preserve the nature to save the dying Earth Mother. They shun all kinds of processed metal and draw their magic from nature itself and the elements to protect sacred groves and other places of power. Aside from the circles forming around those places, most druids are solitary hermits.

Witches used to be the most persecuted Tradition in earlier times, so their emotion-fueled magic focuses on being subtle. Even their covens only meet in secluded places, only reachable by the flying brooms, barrels or rocking chairs the witches use.
The game flip-flops a bit about the question if they are supposed to be unfairly hated by the common folk and have to fear the inquisition despite being innocent or if the adversity is justified by them being both capable and mechanically likely to destroy a hamlets crops and kill all their cattle because the innkeeper wasn't polite enough...

Demi-casters actually encompass very different Traditions – Shamans, Spelldancers and flunked out Wizards - but they all share a lack of widespread organization and strongly limited access to magic, being only able to perform rituals or using strongly pared down Spell-lists.

Minor casters are gifted that either never had that much magical juice to begin with, or had their talent wither due to lack of training.
There are some actual Traditions in this category (alchemists and totem-warriors), but the majority are everyday people, often not even aware of their powers themselves. The still have access to a few spells and can get supernaturally good at skills.


The Dark Eyes
So, what is a dark eye and why is the game named after it?
Dark Eyes are are magical Artifacts, black orbs used for divination, allowing to user to look at far away places and enabling limited communication. In short, they are Palantir.
There are only a few Dark Eyes in the game (I want to say two or three dozen) and are most likely used as a plot point.
Seems weird to name your game after that, right? Legend has it, Kiesow actually named the game "Aventuria" but the publishers thought the name sounded too silly. So pressed for time, he said the first fantasy-ish thing that popped into his head, and wrote the artifacts later into the game when that name was accepted.
The literal translation is "The Black Eye", by the way, but I think we can all see why that was changed.

With just a short overview already becoming longer than I planned, we stop relying on my memory and actually look at the books next time. Also, the updates will probably get shorter.
---

Culture Corner

The Middle Realm should – again – be called Rural places from the Middle realm and represents exactly that. You're a peasant or from a place with less than 1.000 people from about any knights and kings setting you've ever seen. Most of what was said about Garetia can be applied here too (aside from hating strangers and having a much narrower selection of temples), but the book points out unless you're a minor noble earned your freedom in army or church, you probably shouldn't be adventuring. Go back to your field and farm that poo poo, peasant.
The culture costs 3 GP and has a very basic skill array (but broader than Garetians) with a focus on nature and crafting.
Variants are Coastal Areas, Along Trade route, Weiden and Griffinsford Provinces, Northern Settlements, Mountains, Deep Wilderness or rural noble. Notable are – again – the noble that gives you a useful advantage (this time without the discount, but with lots of useful skillpoints as a bonus) and the deep wilderness, which denies you the skill points from the Social category (both of them) and gives you some wilderness-focused skills and a survival feat for an environment of your choice.

Profession Parade

The Gladiator comes before the Ensign, which isn't correct in German either. Huh.
Anyway, they are exactly what you’re thinking of: Someone who doesn’t fight just to win, but also to entertain the crowd, mostly from southern Aventuria, since the northern countries don’t have Arenas. Unlike most other classes, who get a general chassis and then several variants on top, the gladiator presents its variants as fully independent classes.
Also the first part of the text tells us Gladiators like to fight flashy and show off in all fights, the second part tells us they are embittered and fight as efficient as possible. Which is it, Book?

The first variant is the Gladiator from Fasar. Those are the Gladiators from the town of Fasar, where the crowd is more interested in seeing people die gorily than seeing an exciting duel. The gladiators from these places are usually slaves or criminals and are forced to fight wild animals or each other to the death.
Mechanically, they are amazingly cheap (2 GP!) and get some basic skills in weapons (two out of a large list), unarmed and physical skills and not much else skillwise. They get a free unarmed fighting style, a good assortment of discounts for basic combat feats and decent, if unexciting equipment ( severely lacking proper armor). They also get the ‘Must-have-for-warriors’ advantage Iron Skin for free.
They also count as starter professions, which becomes important for the Widespread Education advantage (Multiclassing, for a lack of better explanation). The Fasarian gladiator specifically has a reputation for enabling some ridiciously cost-efficient shenanigans.

Gladiators from Mengbilla, Chorhop and Brabak get shoved under the same header, where we are advised to look at the gladiator from Fasar for inspiration and stats. Smooth editing, that.
Gladiators from Al’anfa still fight for life and death, but aren’t slaughtered like the other gladiators thanks to Priests of Kor presiding over the arena and enforcing ‘Good fights’. The successful can becomes celebrities popular with the upper crust.

They pay a reasonable price (12 GP) for Iron Skin advantage, a slightly better but similar skill spread,and some of the discounted feats of the Fasarian Gladiator get upgraded for free.
I’m not entirely sure that’s a fair trade for the price hike.

There are more Gladiator(-ish) professions next time.

Spell Selection

Eagles Eye and Lynxes Ear is a classical buff spell, enhancing perception checks for all five senses. Can't be all positive, of course (that wouldn't be verisimilitudous), so the user can be stunned by bright light, sudden loud sounds, hot chili etc...

Eagles Wings and Wolvish shape is another classic, turning the caster into an animal the size between a rat and a horse while keeping sapience. It only polymorphs the caster, not his equipment, so you have to strip before using it. You aquire "the physical attributes" of the animal, but the book offers a lot of haggling and bullshitting the GM to let you do stuff instead of offering concrete rules. It does note your attributes are capped by the doubled Skill-rank, though. You do get the animals hitpoints, but carry over injuries proportionally ( both human-to-animal and animal-to-human), so you better have a calculator ready.
Elves (more specifically, characters with the "Elvish worldview" drawback) can only turn into their spirit animal and then tend to get carried away by the animals instinctive behavior, being forced to hunt a rabbit instead of being useful. No mention of when this happens or how you can avoid that. They also get charged Astral points per hour instead of 5-minute-interval and can gently caress off and truly embrace their animal for an entire day to buff their spellcasting.
If you're really good at this spell, you can break the size limitations. Which animals you choose specifically "has to be agreed upon with the GM".

PurpleXVI
Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?
ALL PART OF MY BRILLIANT STRATEGY!


The pantheon makes me think of WFRP a bit, as it sounds like the churches are actually part of the local society, have schisms and conflicts and political goals as well as religious and everyday objectives.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

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


PurpleXVI posted:

The pantheon makes me think of WFRP a bit, as it sounds like the churches are actually part of the local society, have schisms and conflicts and political goals as well as religious and everyday objectives.

A fair number of the Gods are even similar. Though note the huge gaping hole in WHFRP's pantheon: No God or Goddess of happiness like Rahja in WHFRP. Not since the Sigmarites murdered that cult centuries ago because they mistook 'reasonable party god' for 'Slaanesh'.

I'm also glad they do the proper polytheism thing with 'everyone believes in The Gods, even if they are more faithful to the cult of one God or another'.

PurpleXVI
Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?
ALL PART OF MY BRILLIANT STRATEGY!


Night10194 posted:

A fair number of the Gods are even similar. Though note the huge gaping hole in WHFRP's pantheon: No God or Goddess of happiness like Rahja in WHFRP. Not since the Sigmarites murdered that cult centuries ago because they mistook 'reasonable party god' for 'Slaanesh'.

"a couple of balloons and a cake is just a gateway drug to thousand-man orgies and mountains of warpstone cocaine"

The Lone Badger
Sep 24, 2007



Night10194 posted:

Oh, it gets even better: Not only will aelfir try to become immortal through the Undying process (you get your heart ritualistically removed so it can be treated regularly, which makes you undead but still conscious but cools your passions for life),

So I assume we're stealing a dude's heart from a secure medical facility (via a combination of skulduggery, a mountain of forged paperwork and several discreet murders) and using it to try and blackmail him into being an asset?

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

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


The Lone Badger posted:

So I assume we're stealing a dude's heart from a secure medical facility (via a combination of skulduggery, a mountain of forged paperwork and several discreet murders) and using it to try and blackmail him into being an asset?

Very much. One of the general themes in Spire is that you shoot someone in the head if you have to, but having their heart in a jar on your desk so they do what you say is usually better if you can get it.

a computing pun
Jan 1, 2013


As far as I can tell, Demonologist is in the book almost entirely because Spire (at least when my group played it) is often a game about the PCs willingly doing Extremely Dumb poo poo when presented with the opportunity to because they're in over their head /ambitious / have deep-seated issues. One of the Spire published adventures that lots of groups will start with, Eidolon Sky, features eidolons and demonology (as should be obvious from the name) in a fairly prominent role and it's pretty likely that PCs will end up getting their hands on the opportunity to become demonologists. And if you plop a group of Spire PCs down in front of a discordant voice emanating from a sphere of twisted metal that says it will grant them POWER beyond imagining at least one of them will be saying yes before the GM can blink.

And so it's nice to have some sort of rules for it, optimally ones that remain faithful to the fact that getting into Demonology is a really dumb idea and causes more problems than it solves because it solves 0 problems that aren't "I need to do a suicide bombing"

Given all of that, the rules are pretty good for their purpose because unlike Chaos, you can still walk away at basically any stage. taking demonologist advances never forces you to do demonology, it's not a poison pill corruption mechanic where once you take it it will slowly drag your character further in, it's just access to a catalogue of bad deals. And it's pretty black and white that doing it is a lovely idea, but... well, you knew that out of character when you said yes, you're here because you wanted your character to be unable to resist poking the bear.

a computing pun fucked around with this message at 00:23 on Nov 23, 2019

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

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


It is still nothing but bad ideas that won't get you anything you want, mind.

Unless you wanted a really big, smoking crater, the thing the game tends to tell you you should be trying to avoid.

Though the point is well taken that you can just stop at any point. It's just that you don't get very much actual reason to start, either. There are a lot of other, better dubious sources of power that aren't quite as completely 'lol gently caress you'. Such as blood magic.

Night10194 fucked around with this message at 00:40 on Nov 23, 2019

wiegieman
Apr 22, 2010

Royalty is a continuous cutting motion




Healthy people do not join the Ministry. Shrines to Our Hidden Mistress are red string murderboards. You're going to die, badly, because of this organization.

Just Dan Again
Dec 16, 2012

Adventure!


wiegieman posted:

Healthy people do not join the Ministry. Shrines to Our Hidden Mistress are red string murderboards. You're going to die, badly, because of this organization.

Honestly it's that last sentence that almost soured me on Spire before I got into the good bits. For me it pushes the bleak and hopeless parts of the setting just a bit too far. I probably won't run any campaigns that end with "And then Spire was saved! Good job!" but at the same time I'd like the possibility that PCs will leave the game world a better place than they found it.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

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


Just Dan Again posted:

Honestly it's that last sentence that almost soured me on Spire before I got into the good bits. For me it pushes the bleak and hopeless parts of the setting just a bit too far. I probably won't run any campaigns that end with "And then Spire was saved! Good job!" but at the same time I'd like the possibility that PCs will leave the game world a better place than they found it.

Agreed, I tend to find the Dark Heresy inspired parts the parts I'm just not all that interested in. But one of the strengths of Spire is it's big enough and has enough going on that there's tons of ways to do slightly less grimdark (but still generally pretty dark) games with it.

Night10194 fucked around with this message at 02:12 on Nov 23, 2019

wiegieman
Apr 22, 2010

Royalty is a continuous cutting motion




You're definitely fighting the good fight, it's just that you're doing it against very rough odds. People really only do that when they're been pushed out of the realm of the civilian with their head down. The Aelfir have maintained their hegemony for a reason; they are bad news people who are not just willing but eager to see how much you can be hurt before you die. They have to take drugs in order to be able to feel sad.

And it's not like you're completely doomed, a player class can become so good looking that bad things just don't happen to them and another can die over and over for The Revolution, because They Are the Revolution.

wiegieman fucked around with this message at 02:23 on Nov 23, 2019

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

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


Yeah, but that's what I mean. They push 'you're going to die screaming' really hard. Except that if you survive, you go from huddled resistance fighters plotting how to bring down a single police captain to 'drow BJ Blaskowitz, but part spider'. Which isn't quite 'you will all die screaming and alone'.

The Lone Badger
Sep 24, 2007



Night10194 posted:

Yeah, but that's what I mean. They push 'you're going to die screaming' really hard. Except that if you survive, you go from huddled resistance fighters plotting how to bring down a single police captain to 'drow BJ Blaskowitz, but part spider'. Which isn't quite 'you will all die screaming and alone'.

"You will die screaming, surrounded by lots of other people who are also screaming (and dieing)" ?

Nessus
Dec 22, 2003

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





Night10194 posted:

Yeah, but that's what I mean. They push 'you're going to die screaming' really hard. Except that if you survive, you go from huddled resistance fighters plotting how to bring down a single police captain to 'drow BJ Blaskowitz, but part spider'. Which isn't quite 'you will all die screaming and alone'.
This reminds me of the one game of Cthulhutech I played.

We were the Tagers, basically bio-armor people, right. Since the GM very strongly told us that if we got made we would end up being chased by something or other - basically the AD Police from Bubblegum Crisis - and that we would eventually lose that fight...

... we dealt with the inaugural challenge by having the three Tagers with natural stealth powers find the mcguffin while the other three went to the dock bar and ate synthetic chicken wings waiting for them to do it. It meant that what was supposed to be the first fight was really rough because it expected six people, not three, but beyond that we had clearly just completely derailed the game by taking what the GM told us seriously. We didn't flinch from the conflict, we just made a specialized plan!

The romance of the doomed battle is a strong allure, I guess. Go Wolverines.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

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


The Lone Badger posted:

"You will die screaming, surrounded by lots of other people who are also screaming (and dieing)" ?

The Midwife's 'turn into a drider/avatar of Ishkrah' ability gives her every single one of the various spider physical enhancements, and gives her 6 dice if she's acting to defend the unborn or the future of the drow as a people.

It is the only way to get more than 4 dice in the entire game. The way the difficulty system works, she's effectively fighting a Paladin or Warrior Poet or whatever other Difficulty 2 super-badass you're up against like they were a common beat cop and she had all the cards.

If that gal is dying, she's not dying alone, no.

And that's just the most obvious 'straight fighter' type of High Advance. Everyone is that crazy at that level, as long as they have one. Like the Sage can just make someone unable to perceive or even conceive of the concept of crime (or any other concept of their choosing). A Knight can become an immortal dragonslayer (literally: Can't die is right in the description). And the aforementioned Idol can become so perfect that bad things simply don't happen to them because they're so great at art. High Advances are nuts.

Night10194 fucked around with this message at 05:22 on Nov 23, 2019

Loxbourne
Apr 6, 2011

Tomorrow, doom!
But now, tea.

My favourite Spire High Advance is the one for the Drow private eye - taking it doesn't give you a mechanical benefit, but within a week the triple Goddess will manifest as a dame who walks into your office with the Big Case Of A Lifetime.

EDIT: Also that class refreshed by being roughed up. You want your powers back, go ask unwanted questions at some waterfront dives.

Loxbourne fucked around with this message at 11:29 on Nov 23, 2019

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

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


Which is kind of the other issue with Demonology. Even if you need a nuclear suicide vest for some reason, you'd have to spend the resource that gets you powers that might obviate the need for the nuclear suicide vest because they make you a legendary hero or the Damnou walks into your office and you needed the dough so you took the case. If it was actually a super fast route to power that tempted players with something outside their normal advance scheme (power NOW! No need to change the city or gain Advances!) I could see it having far more of a lure.

E: Also as a note: Greymanor Investigator can get you a good noir detective, but it's also perfect for Disco Elysium But It's Got Welkin Elfs In.

Night10194 fucked around with this message at 14:04 on Nov 23, 2019

HerraS
Apr 15, 2012

Looking professional when committing genocide is essential. This is mostly achieved by using a beret.

Olive drab colour ensures the genocider will remain hidden from his prey until it's too late for them to do anything.







Part 1: Arise, ye workers, from your slumber

One morning I awakened,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao!
One morning I awakened
And I found the invader.
- Bella Ciao


Succesfully Kickstarted in March 2019 and written by W.M. Akers (author of Deadball, a dice-rolling baseball game, and Westside, an urban fantasy novel), Comrades is a game in which the players take up arms against an oppressive government in a country on the verge of revolution. It is a game about life in the revolutionary underground, about sacrifice, about bravery, and about risking your life for your ideals. I love this game and want more people to know about it, to buy it and to introduce it to their gaming friends.

Comrades uses the Powered by the Apocalypse game engine and doesn’t do any drastic changes to it. If you’ve ever played or read a PbtA game before, all of the mechanics presented in the book will be familiar to you. Gameplay is narrative and a game session is constructed as a conversation: the gm and the players will talk through a jointly-imagined story, rolling dice when the players attempt something that contains an element of chance. I won’t spend much time dwelling on the basic mechanics of the game in this writeup. If you’ve never read or even heard of the Apocalypse engine, Evil Mastermind’s Fatal & Friends review of Apocalypse World (or a writeup of other Apocalypse World engine games) can help you get started.

Comrades is a slim book, just barely getting past 160 pages, split into nine chapters:

In Getting Started we will be told the inspiration behind Comrades, learn what the game is all about and how it works.
In The Game we will learn the core concepts of the game and the mechanics.
In The Comrades we will meet the members of our revolution.
In The GM we will be told the role of the GM and their principles.
In The First Session we will go through the first session of the game and what that entails.
In More Trouble we will talk about filling the world, creating it’s NPCs and about making obstacles for our comrades to overcome.
In Khresht: 1915 we will be introduced to an example setting, an empire on the verge of collapse during the horrors of the Great War.
In Two Examples we are given two short ideas for campaign settings, one taking place in real world history and the other in the far future.
In Make it Yours we will be told how to change the game to suit our needs and how to make a revolution all our own.

Getting Started, Part One

Before we get to the game itself, the book has an important question to ask of us:

When did the left forget how to fight?

Before he has even mentioned the words role, playing, or game, Akers first tells us why he wrote Comrades:

W.M. Akers posted:

In a historical moment when the right is on the ascendant, when nativists and conservatives and outright fascists have seized power, the left sleeps. This game was built to wake them up.

Comrades is inspired by the left-wing revolutionaries and resistance movements of the 20th century. Events like the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, the Prague Spring of ’68 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, where people were willing to fight and die for something they believed in against a corrupt and reactionary government. Movies like Z and The Battle of Algiers, books like Homage to Catalonia and Ten Days that Shook the World. But most importantly it was inspired by the world of today.

Akers blames the left of today of doing nothing while fascism is reborn and hate is normalized. His viewpoint is that of someone living in the United States under the Trump presidency, where children are held in concentration camps while the opposition spends it’s time ”whining, squabbling, repackaging the same tired ideas and begging us to believe that they are new.” Comrades was written to remind the leftists of today how the left used to fight for their ideals and for a better world.

W.M. Akers posted:

I hope that a few hours on the front lines of an imaginary revolution will steel you for the unromantic reality of fighting for change: calling your representatives, working for charity, running for office, and speaking out, not just against what we hate, but in favor of what we love.

This game asks you to throw cynicism and pragmatism aside and fight for a dream. When reality grinds you down, remember that within your chest beats the heart of a comrade. With a roll of the dice, you can change the world.

Next time I will go though the rest of the introductory chapter, which gives us the basics of the game, how it works and tries to answer the most important question: why play Comrades?

You can buy Comrades from DriveThruRPG.

Meinberg
Oct 9, 2011


Comrades is definitely an interesting game! While I have some critiques about it, overall I think it’s a very interesting piece and am looking forward to this F&F of it!

Loxbourne
Apr 6, 2011

Tomorrow, doom!
But now, tea.

Hmm. After some very painful previous examples of games that got revolutions horribly wrong (or were all about the poor oppressed facists beneath the SJW jackboot, in some cases without even noticing) it would be refreshing to see someone get it right.

Let's cross our fingers!

Joe Slowboat
Nov 9, 2016

Higgledy-Piggledy Whale Statements





Well, there’s also Spire, which is good.

Meinberg
Oct 9, 2011


Joe Slowboat posted:

Well, there’s also Spire, which is good.

The main point of ideological difference between Spire and Comrades is that Spire lacks a campaign framework for a successful revolution. Spire doesn’t imagine what the setting would look like if the drow actually pushed back against the aelfir, but Comrades does imagine what it’d look like if the eponymous group achieved victories.

Ronwayne
Nov 20, 2007

That warm and fuzzy feeling.


I really really like the idea behind Comrades, and I wish that Spire had room for both non-ministry groups and for outsiders and for something like The Professional. I think its one of the things the humans could fit in best is some kind of internationalist professional revolutionary.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

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


Ronwayne posted:

I really really like the idea behind Comrades, and I wish that Spire had room for both non-ministry groups and for outsiders and for something like The Professional. I think its one of the things the humans could fit in best is some kind of internationalist professional revolutionary.

Like I said in the review, my greatest issue with the Ministry is them being the only game in town and taking the oxygen away from having other resistance groups. I would adore and immediately buy a Spire expansion about other possible resistance factions, ideologies manifesting in the Spire, and revolutionary end-games.

E: That's actually the other weird thing about the Ministry, though again I'm certain this was omitted so you could fill it in yourself: They don't actually have an ideology. They have absolutely no plans for what Spire looks like afterwards or what they want to work towards besides 'no aelfir'. No aelfir is a pretty good place to start, but it makes it awkward when they later present scenarios like 'A drow Noble House has found a way back into power and is taking over Spire, now your brave ministers oppose them'! and it's like 'why would the Ministry oppose this, this is basically exactly what they want especially if those guys have a shot' even though said house is pretty awful people. It's no more dubious than a lot of their other allies.

Night10194 fucked around with this message at 21:55 on Nov 23, 2019

wiegieman
Apr 22, 2010

Royalty is a continuous cutting motion




There are other resistance groups, they're just going to get a lot of people killed for not much gain.

Nessus
Dec 22, 2003

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





Night10194 posted:

Like I said in the review, my greatest issue with the Ministry is them being the only game in town and taking the oxygen away from having other resistance groups. I would adore and immediately buy a Spire expansion about other possible resistance factions, ideologies manifesting in the Spire, and revolutionary end-games.

E: That's actually the other weird thing about the Ministry, though again I'm certain this was omitted so you could fill it in yourself: They don't actually have an ideology. They have absolutely no plans for what Spire looks like afterwards or what they want to work towards besides 'no aelfir'. No aelfir is a pretty good place to start, but it makes it awkward when they later present scenarios like 'A drow Noble House has found a way back into power and is taking over Spire, now your brave ministers oppose them'! and it's like 'why would the Ministry oppose this, this is basically exactly what they want especially if those guys have a shot' even though said house is pretty awful people. It's no more dubious than a lot of their other allies.
It seems as though Spire is matching a common element of the zeitgeist (everything loving sucks, literally anything outside of this finite space of dire poo poo would be better, I want to loving tear it down) which, in fact, does not seem to usually have much of a vision of what happens after, and in many cases seems to explicitly dive towards "it won't change anything but at least we'll go out fighting!" Which has its artistic freight, but is also, to a certain extent, already conceding the battle in favor of the aesthetic delight of being the Wolverines in Red Dawn. You may win but winning is where the story ends.

e: To be clear I am not criticizing that attitude so much as diagnosing it as an underlying aesthetic assumption that sounds like it got baked into Spire, and which seems rhetorically common.

Comrades! based entirely on that one page is about figuring out how to win what you're trying to win. Different focus, like how despite a lot of superficial overlap, Spider-man and Batman comics are incredibly different.

Bieeanshee
Aug 21, 2000

Not keen on keening.




Grimey Drawer

Well yeah. Batman is a 1%er, and Spider-Man lives with his aunt.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

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


I still believe a lot of it comes out of wanting to keep it open and just providing a starting point for the game; they only have so much space in the book to establish the whole setting. And that the rest comes from the fact that the writers really do seem to have enjoyed Dark Heresy and so having an Inquisition-esque group around and the players being Acolytes was probably a familiar starting point.

Ronwayne
Nov 20, 2007

That warm and fuzzy feeling.


What no-sells me, unless the GM was willing to hand waive it, was the thril-kill stupidity of the jumping in requirements for the ministry. I think it'd be a lot better if the new person had to do any two of those things. Spies are not the same as jason vorhees except with pointy ears and the horny teens are imperialists.

Ithle01
May 28, 2013


This review made me actually go out and buy Spire and after a cursory reading there is a lot going on here. I can see how the book is written to give conflicting points of view on things and that's great, but it does create some issues. If the Ministry or the Aelfir wants to say that Ministry initiation is some crazy murder trial then okay whatever, but like that's dumb if they say that's what actually happens. The book also says that Ministry agents are supposed to have about a once a year soul cleansing that makes them solely dedicated to it. There's a lot of interesting stuff going on here, but I think it works best if you never trust anything the book says.

I think one of my favorite examples of what I'm trying to say is when the book talks about the paladins and then you go down like one page and the book just off-handedly mentions that because of the Undying ritual taking over elf culture Brother Harvest's sects are being pushed to isolation and radicalism with no mention that, oh yeah, the Paladins are a sect of Brother Harvest and there's a pretty good chance the Paladins will either get wiped out by other elves or do your work for you.

As for the current topic my main prediction for the outcome of Spire if the Ministry wins probably involves a lot of ethnic cleansing. It's not too hard to see how the situation here will probably end with like at least half the people living in it dead if the Ministry actually wins.

My only complaint so far is that gnolls are apparently medieval Arabs who have mastered demon summoning without indiscriminate mass death, but that's not really addressed.

edit: actually, two complaints. Where is the cybertech section?

Ithle01 fucked around with this message at 22:55 on Nov 23, 2019

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

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


The books genuinely do a good job of showing you a whole bunch of places where the aelfir can actually get kicked in the dick and you can make real progress, both because of their own craziness and because they're sort of complacent from ruling the Spire completely for so long. The bit with how the Paladins hate the big life extending liche thing is one of many.

And the cyber-tech-ish section is in Strata; drow biotech is one of the new avenues for getting crazy powers. I also agree that I'd like more on the gnolls; you get enough on humans to work with them, but not really enough on the gnolls.

Ronwayne
Nov 20, 2007

That warm and fuzzy feeling.


Ithle01 posted:



I think one of my favorite examples of what I'm trying to say is when the book talks about the paladins and then you go down like one page and the book just off-handedly mentions that because of the Undying ritual taking over elf culture Brother Harvest's sects are being pushed to isolation and radicalism with no mention that, oh yeah, the Paladins are a sect of Brother Harvest and there's a pretty good chance the Paladins will either get wiped out by other elves or do your work for you.



Empires alienating their enforcer caste is one of the historical reasons empires fall, or at least change ownership rapidly.

Ithle01
May 28, 2013


Night10194 posted:

The books genuinely do a good job of showing you a whole bunch of places where the aelfir can actually get kicked in the dick and you can make real progress, both because of their own craziness and because they're sort of complacent from ruling the Spire completely for so long. The bit with how the Paladins hate the big life extending liche thing is one of many.

And the cyber-tech-ish section is in Strata; drow biotech is one of the new avenues for getting crazy powers. I also agree that I'd like more on the gnolls; you get enough on humans to work with them, but not really enough on the gnolls.

Cool, thanks. And yes, the book more or less has a shitload of areas where it seems that the Aelfir are really bad at keeping things under control because things have gone completely out of control. Like the acid-spewing cannibals or the bugs from another dimension. Or the other bugs from another dimension.

Ronwayne posted:


Yeah I'm aware, this is just what I mean about reading between the lines in what's presented in the book.

The other reason I would go in that direction, by which I mean, not trusting anything that's written here is because I have a strong feeling that the writers did a lot of work as they went, the density of information in Spire is crazy so I expect they were writing and revising simultaneously just hoping to fit as much as they could in the incredibly small page count. As someone who's slapped together game settings before (on a smaller magnitude) I think that stuff just falls through the cracks here and there. Which would explain the batshit Ministry initiation or the yearly soul-cleansing stuff.

Ithle01 fucked around with this message at 23:06 on Nov 23, 2019

Joe Slowboat
Nov 9, 2016

Higgledy-Piggledy Whale Statements





Gnolls rule, actually, and like the Aelfir have the actual infrastructure for intense high magic that doesn't immediately explode. It's demonological, but I think that's just to make it clear they have their own magical tradition which doesn't resemble the Spire's local magics much at all - they have safe demons, like, what is that.

As for the Ministry, it's really the case that Ministry-specific content more or less is pointless to the Spire writeups. The Ministry is the shadowy organization that arms you and sometimes burns you; they're the Elf ANC, with minor specificity like being a spy cult. All the specifics of 'they brianwash their high-value agents yearly' and 'just kill so many people' are generally dumb. They're in-setting attempts to explain a necessary out-of-setting conceit: You start off as loyal members of the fight to end aelfir rule. You are not traitors at the beginning of the game. You're not likely to become traitors, and traitors are not really playable.

The game doesn't really work if the PCs break ranks and start undermining each other, so the elaborate Hidden Ministry fluff all seems to be intended to reinforce that in an extremely grimdark, kind of unfocused way.
Just say 'some Ministry cells get super serious about the cult brainwashing stuff, some cells are at a number of degrees of remove and are revolutionary socialist drown nationalists that pay lip service to the Danmou but mostly care about the social conditions.' I mean, hell, it's a giant distributed spy network formed around a cult, of course every cell is going to be different and have slightly different ideas about what the point is. The Ministers must be constantly in the agonies of frustration because they're juggling a dozen kinds of freedom fighter.


e: I don't like the alternate dimension bugs either, it's too much China Mieville Is Writing This For The Monsters for me. Like, I get it, you like gribbly blood infections, but we already have blood witches and we super don't need another unless there's a really interesting twist going on.

Joe Slowboat fucked around with this message at 23:06 on Nov 23, 2019

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

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


Unless, of course, you roll the 'Becomes a Traitor' result on the Mind table, which is part of why I'm not fond of the Mind Fallout table.

Moonwolf
Jun 29, 2004

Flee from th' terrifyin' evil of "NHS"!




The loyalty spell is for Magisters, not Ministers, which makes it somewhat less bonkers, since they're the cell handlers rather than cell members, and much more of a turning hazard.

Ithle01
May 28, 2013


Moonwolf posted:

The loyalty spell is for Magisters, not Ministers, which makes it somewhat less bonkers, since they're the cell handlers rather than cell members, and much more of a turning hazard.

Ah, thanks, my mistake. This is what happens when you speed read a 200 page book in one night. And also when the Ministry details and the character stuff are like one hundred pages apart. Although, overall I think the book layout is actually pretty good and the character stuff up front is nice.

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HerraS
Apr 15, 2012

Looking professional when committing genocide is essential. This is mostly achieved by using a beret.

Olive drab colour ensures the genocider will remain hidden from his prey until it's too late for them to do anything.







Part 2: The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles

Then raise the scarlet standard high,
Within its shade we'll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.
- The Red Flag


Getting Started, Part Two

In the opening pages of the book W.M. Akers took his time to tell us why he decided to write up Comrades and what served as an inspiration for it. Normally in my experience you’d see something like this at the end of a roleplaying book, and I think having it be the first thing you read is a good choice here. It gives you the very foundation upon which everything else is built upon front and centre: the basic core of a band of left-wing resistance fighters struggling to overthrow a fascist regime. Though we later learn that a game of Comrades doesn’t have to slavishly follow that premise, having that simple idea in our minds as we read the rest of the book helps us understand it.

After the author has told us why Comrades exist we get a short explanation of what the game is and what you need to play, like almost every rpg rulebook in the history of man. Once again we are told that Comrades is a game of revolutionaries, taking place anywhere and anytime, real or fictional, fighting against a crumbling system on the brink of collapse. You’ve read this part if you’ve ever read another rpg book.

We then have a short section on ideology. While Comrades is inspired by real-life radical leftists of the 19th and 20th century and it’s assumed premise is of left-wing revolutionaries, Akers acknowledges that through history these people have described themselves with a myriad of different words like Marxist, trade unionist, anarchist and so on often with overlapping and contradicting meanings that have changed over time: therefore the group the player characters are a part of will be called either ”comrades” or ”revolutionaries” throughout the book. Players are encouraged to get specific about their character’s personal philosophies during play and the example campaign setting has an abundant list of examples that you can draw inspiration from.

We all know that the one thing the left loves to fight more than the fash is themselves, so using a generic umbrella term to refer to the player’s characters and their organization without getting into specifics is an understandable choice. It gives the group the opportunity to discuss among themselves what exactly they want their revolutionaries to be all about. They could all be followers of different, sometimes even hostile, ideologies brought together by the need to bash some fash, and this is something that the game encourages. After all, the revolution devours its children mercilessly.

The other reason, I assume, why the game avoids straigh-out calling the player’s group socialists or leftists or communists is that there are still a hell of a lot of people who think calling someone any of those is an insult - in fact when Comrades was first put up on DriveThruRpg, the comment section was filled with idiots asking if the game was meant to be satire or calling it ”RaHoWa: the other side.” Akers is an american, and there is still a large and vocal number of americans who think socialism comes from hell.

Right, next let’s talk about our Manifesto. To anyone who’s ever played a PbtA game before this is a familiar concept: a set of principles for the player’s that will help them steer their characters in what they say and do. Comrades have three points in their Manifesto that they all must seek to uphold:

Fight. When you see injustice being carried out, don’t stay silent or shake your head in disapproval while walking away. Take up your weapon, walk over to the fascist bastard and slug them right in their face. Your character’s are ordinary people willing to die for their ideals, so run into battle with your head held high without fear of death.

Refuse Compromise. This is not the US Democratic Party of today, filled with decorum elementals who are willing to give ground to the right in the name of bipartisanship. This is a revolution, and a fictional one at that. Being civilized is for those too weak-willed to fight for what is right. You know what you want and you won’t let anyone get in your way – not even your comrades, if need be.

Don’t let the bastards get away with it. In real life the bad guys – the greedy, incompetent, fascist, racist, misogynistic assholes who rule the world – usually win and get away scot-free. Not in Comrades. Identify your enemies, find out where they are, and give them a taste of people power.

Simple and to the point.

The next few pages in the book tell us the basics of how the Apocalypse system works. I won’t get into the details here: the game flows as a conversation between players and the GM, and every now and then the GM can ask one of the players to roll their dice according to one of the game’s Moves and see what happens. The result then moves the fiction forward, and so on. We are reminded that like in all PbtA games, the GM is not a dictator who holds all power – the narrative power is shared between everyone in the group. The GM’s role is to give structure to the story that everyone is telling together. There’s a few notes on how to conduct the first session, the sessions after that and how to frame scenes capped with a short example of play. Again, if you’ve ever read or played Apocalypse World or games using the system you already know everything you need to know about the mechanics. I’ll talk more about the things unique to Comrades once we get there in the later chapters. Comrades doesn’t do anything groundbreaking with the system, and I don't think it needs to.

After we get past the basics of the mechanics it’s time to talk about revolutions. Every revolution in history has been different: some have started in the streets, others in parliaments. Some end in widescale riots that drive the despot out of the country, while others end with a coup so well organized that most people don’t even know its happened. To help the group replicate the variety in revolutions, Comrades gives the players different Pathways to Revolution, letting them topple the oppressors in a way that suits them best. Some of them are legal and morally acceptable, others are not. It is up to the players and their actions during the game to decide which paths are open to them. We’ll get to read about the different ways you can achieve a revolution in the next chapter.

So, why make a system like this? Because all revolutions are made of different moments chained together, and the players will only be a part of the story. The Pathway system lets us turn what happens at the table into a larger movement and keep the comrades moving towards their inevitable victory. As they progress down one or more paths the world around them changes accordingly, and the opposition gets stronger. The Revolution itself will change as it progresses and gathers strength, maybe even becoming something none of the comrades asked for and spiraling out of control. The pathways are Comrades' biggest original mechanic, and I think they are simply wonderful. I'll talk about them more once we get to them.

The introductory chapter ends with Akers trying to answer the most important question: why would you want to play this game?

W. M. Akers posted:

Because Comrades tells great stories. Your players will create daring, beautiful, uncompromising characters. They will support each other, love each other, betray each other, and die in each other’s arms. These will be moments you and your friends will never forget.

Because in real life, you will probably never get to start a revolution. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, there have been times in your life that you’ve been angry at the way things are. Comrades will let you use that rage to remake a world.

Because fantasizing about fictional revolution will help you cope with a reality in which political change is not so exciting. My hope is that this game will give you the strength to be a little less compromising and free you to demand government live up to your beautiful ideals.

And, finally, because you want to know what happens next. When you set this story in motion, your players will bring it to life and take it places you never imagined. You are lucky to be along for the ride.

With that we conclude Getting Started, the first chapter of the book. Next time we will talk about The Game and how you play it.

You can buy Comrades from DriveThruRPG.

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