Saturday, 13 April 2019

Playing Chess With Death

A set of rules I'm considering for what happens when a PC actually dies.

When you would die, Death comes to claim you. Time freezes, everything but Death and yourself become somehow less than real. You die automatically and are led away, unless you can do one of the following:

Gambling with Death
You can offer to play against Death in a game of skill or chance. You and the other PCs actually play a game against the GM (who represents Death), perhaps liars dice, a hand of poker, a riddle contest. Death gets to choose the game (GMs, pick one you're confident you can win). If you lose, death gets to take one of your companions as well as you. You only get one shot at this each time death comes for you.

Bribing Death
You offer Death a substitute soul in your possession, to take instead of yourself.  Spells to claim people's souls, such as Magic Jar, are useful here. Alternatively, if somebody has signed a contract saying you own their soul, you can sell that contract to Death in exchange for your own life. The soul should be at least as valuable as your own, but Death might be willing to haggle. Might.

Bargaining with Death
You promise Death something he wants. You might finally kill somebody who’s frustratingly evaded him (such as a lich). You might allow him to possess your body for a time. You might be set a  quest of cosmic importance. It’s up to Death to decide if he accepts, and if he feels you’re trying to renege, he can snap his fingers and have you die whenever he wants. If you do this, even though you get to live, your life just got a lot more complicated, and if you die while completing Death's task things will only get worse.

Fighting Death
If you insist. Death has 20 HD, passes all saves on a 2+, kills you on a successful hit rather than dealing damage, and is immune to fire, drowning, poison, mind-control, etc. He is a divine being and can, basically, create whichever supernatural effects he wants. You won't win this unless you have an especially clever plan, and even then it will only work once.

If you successfully wriggle out of dying, Death leaves, and you snap back to reality on 1 HP.

Where Does Death Lead You?
The GM makes a judgement call as to where your soul goes after death, based on the  virtue of your deeds, any pacts made with supernatural beings, and so on. This will affect your next PC.
If you go somewhere good, treat all 1s when rolling for attributes as 6s.
If you go somewhere bad, treat all 6s when rolling for attributes as 1s.
If your soul is claimed by a supernatural being, as well as this then your new PC is tainted by that being and may have an appropriate weakness (such as double damage from Holy things) and a tell such as an extra finger or birthmark.
If your soul is totally destroyed, you roll up your stats normally. However, your next PC is soulless, and dies automatically when they hit 0HP: no saves, no injury tables, no bargaining with death. Find a way to gain a soul before this happens in order to avoid this.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Harry Clarke Project - Accusatory Hands

Armour class: As unarmoured
Hit dice: 1
Move: As a human (levitating)
Attacks: Poke (1 damage) or Grab (see below)
No. Appearing: d8+1
Morale: 6
Treasure: 50% chance of d8 rings, each worth 100 GP, and perhaps any Evidence they bring with them.
Alignment: Lawful

The Accusatory Hand is a minor tulpa, a thought-form created when suspicions, resentments and grudges bud off from the psyche to form an independent sentience of their own in the shape of floating disembodied hands, each sprouting misplaced eyes from their skin.

Their personalities are not complete, being only fragments of a human psyche. They flock to human sinners, attempting to draw forth confessions and enact punishments much like seagulls trailing behind a fishing-boat.

While somewhat spectral, they're still semi-physical beings that take damage normally. They do not, however, need to breath and can tolerate extreme heat and cold (even up to the fires of hell and the icy wastes of purgatory). 
Due to their nature as thought-forms unprotected by proper biology, they automatically fail saves vs mind-control or against abjurations and wards. 

If a Grab attack hits, the Hand has latched onto its victim. Each round thereafter, they must make a Save vs Magic, and if they fail spend their action confessing to the sin they feel most guilty for (what this is, is up to the player to decide). The hand will then detach and find a new victim.
Those taking damage from a hand's Poke must Save vs Magic. If they fail, they spend their next action punishing whoever they consider the worst present. Who this is and how they should be punished is up to the player to decide. At first, this will probably be the various Accusatory Hands harassing them, but as various confessions come to light, this might well change.

The hands seem to instinctively know the the crimes of their targets, and their gestures seem designed to taunt and harangue. In extreme cases, the Hands might even bring props along with them, to better make their case. A floating hand might bare aloft the corpse of a murderer's most shocking victim, or proffer coins a thief once stole. It's not clear where they get these from.

Where they pass, lynchings and mob-violence spread in their wake.

Community Project - The Harry Clarke Bestiary

So a while back, Eric Nieudan used the art of Henry Justice Ford as inspiration for a community project. People wrote up a monster description based on one of his illustrations, and they all went into a PDF (and later a print book). You can get it here, and I highly recomend it, as there's some great stuff in there.
It was a cool idea. So I'm gonna do it again, this time with a different illustrator, and see what various people in the post g+ blogosphere come up with.

So, the artist. If you hadn't realised yet, I fucking love the work of Harry Clarke. His art is a sort of dark, surreal Art Nouveau, with intricately detailed linework contrasting against solid black and white blocks. His specific designs feature lots of grotesque monsters, body horror, boobs, weird androgynous people, bizarre imagery. It's amazingly evocative.

(Clarke's life has an air of tragedy to it. He's widely recognised as one of the greatest modern artists in the field of stained glass, as well as being ahead of his time with his book illustrations. On the other hand, his life was plagued by ill-health, and he died of tuberculosis at the age of 41. Not long before his death, it seems he converted to Catholicism and denounced much of his earlier work (due to its frequently dark or erotic nature), going so far as to request his publisher to burn his drawings.)

So, how will this work?
Simple. If you're interested, you can produce as many entries as you want. Pick one of his illustrations and write up a monster for it. Obviously, include the picture you're writing for in the blog post. Say it's for the Harry Clarke project and make it (for IP reasons), and it'll go in the book.
I'll be putting up a reddit post here. If you've made something for the project, link it on there, or on this blogpost. (Or, I guess, throw it at me over discord). Once we've got a big pile of entries written in a few month's time, I'll put them in a PDF, and put it up for free on DTRPG. As with Ford's Fairies, a print version might happen, and if it does I'll put it up for sale at printing-cost.
Since the intention is to put all of this in a book, some restrictions are in place for consistency:
-Entries will get a 2-page spread each, image on the left, text on the right. To fit it all on the page, entries should be 400 words or less.
-The project is intended for OSR games, so should be written with those systems in mind. Assume B/X as standard, but keep things in 'compatibility mode'; IE, express AC as 'like Plate armour' rather than 'AC 4'.
-You can produce as many entries as you want.
In addition, my own guidelines here:
-It's fine to write a description of the same illustration somebody else has done, but discouraged.
-Referring to other entries (yours or other people's) so that the entries link together into the bones of a setting is highly encouraged.
-Given the nature of the art, entries with dark, bizarre or sexy themes are 100% OK. Knock yourself out. 
-Entries don't need to be monsters. Spells, magic items, terrain features etc are all fine.
-Monster stats should be expressed as: 

Armour class: compared to armour types, IE 'as chainmail'.Hit dice: a number of hitdice.Move: compared to a human, IE 'double human' etcAttacks: Attack type, #of attacks, and damage, IE 2 claws (d6)No. Appearing: A number, or dice roll.Morale: a number between 2-12Treasure: Whatever fits.Alignment: Law-neutrality-chaos. And then the actual description and special abilities.

Other than that, knock yourselves out. Once there's plenty together, I'll contact people, stick the entries in a PDF etc. 

Class: The Spider-Woman

The Jorogumo, a fey race of spider-women. Possessing many gifts of their arachnid nature as well as an uncanny ability to disguise their true nature. Deceivers and predators who use their innocuous appearance to lure in husbands, food, or both. 
The Jorogumo are naturally attracted to particularly glamorous, exciting humans and enjoy using their particular gifts to gain the trust and affection of these humans. As such, it is not uncommon for one of these strange spider-women to accompany a party of adventurers, using her arachnid abilities to aid the group. Normally, her aim in such an endeavour, beyond the fun of adventuring and the chance to refine her skills, is to slowly groom one of her companions to become her husband.
Since there are no male Jorogumo, they rely on human men for husbands; the children of such a pairing are human (with perhaps a slight spidery hint to them, and a touch of the strange) if male, and another Jorogumo if female. Sometimes, the Jorogumo will feel genuine affection for this human husband, and potentially settle down with him for a heart-warming retirement. Where this affection is lacking, however, she probably feels little guilt about eating him once the honeymoon is over, to better keep her secret.

Statted for LotFP, but other systems can probably use this too.

Basics of the class:
Hit Dice: D4 (IE as a Magician)
Attacks: No progression (IE, as a Magician)
Saves: As a Magician
XP to level up: As a Magician (2,250 to reach level 2 in LotFP)
Other details: If your system restricts weapons and armour by class, the Jorogumo suffers the same restrictions as a Magician would. If your system limits certain classes to particular alignments, Jorogumo must be Chaotic. If your system uses Prime Requisites, the Jorogumo's prime requisite is Charisma.

Special Abilities:
True Form: A Jorogumo appears as a five-foot-tall humanoid with arachnid features in her true form. Her head likely possesses the circular eyes and Chelicerae of a spider, and perhaps pedipalps as well. She may have additional limbs, a bulbous thorax, a chitinous exoskeleton, and so forth. This appearance, while off-putting, is purely cosmetic, and she functions like any other humanoid being save for the abilities listed below.
Human Disguise: A Jorogumo can disguise her appearance to look like a human woman. The appearance assumed is distinctive to each individual Jorogumo, but always young, attractive and slightly vulnerable-looking. This is essentially an illusion, the Jorogumo using mimicry and subtle camouflage to pass herself off as human, although a trained observer can often spot subtle tells. She can assume human appearance in a matter of moments as often as she wishes, but must be totally unobserved to do so. Likewise, abandoning her disguise happens immediately as soon as she stops making the active effort to maintain it, including while she sleeps, or uses any of her specifically arachnid abilities. Other tasks such as feeding, dressing and so on will require her to clever in order to avoid breaking her disguise or arousing suspicion. While disguised as a human, she gets +1 to her Charisma modifier, but cannot use any abilities that rely on her arachnid nature such as spider climbing, webs, and so forth. 
Arachnid Anatomy: A Jorogumo must consume appropriate food for an arachnid in order to avoid starving; she can only gain nutrition from draining the fluids from living prey, as her digestion is not able to handle solid matter or plants. Furthermore, the nature of her exoskeleton means she takes double damage from crushing, smashing, or squashing damage (such as hammers, things falling on her, and other blunt trauma). These weaknesses apply in both her true form and her human disguise.
Spider Climbing: While in her true form, a Jorogumo can climb like a spider, essentially being able to cast Spider Climb at will. Doing this requires that she make use of her skittering limbs and weird locomotion, so attempting it while disguised as human breaks the disguise and so reveals her true form.
Spider Fangs: A Jorogumo's fangs can be used to attack, dealing d8 damage when she bites. Biting in this way, obviously, will reveal her true form if attempted while disguised.
Speak with Spiders: While in her true form, a Jorogumo can speak with spiders, indluding natural small spiders, giant monstrous spiders, and monsters with arachnid properties such as Ettercaps, in their native tongue. Doing this requires her to use the rattles of her spider-fangs and to gesture with her extra limbs and pedipalps, so attempting it while disguised as a human breaks the disguise.
Webs: While in her true form, a Jorogumo can create silk from her spinnerets, essentially allowing her to cast Web once per turn. This web can have all the various properties of normal spider silk (varying strength, thickness, stickiness and so on) as well as the effects of the spell. Obviously, doing so requires that she use her spinarettes, and so will break her disguise if she attempts it in human form.
Living By Her Wits: A Jorogumo is not part of human society, and doesn't have access to the same resources that humans do. She begins play with only 3d6 silver to spend on equipment. 

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Decoupling XP and Treasure

What your game gives you XP for says something about the game world and the PCs. For most OSR, the treasure you get directly results in XP; as such, your PCs are ruthlessly materialistic, in it for quick wealth. This gives them a sort of roguish charm, which works quite well with the sort of games I enjoy. But what if you got XP for other in-game achievements instead of loot? This will, of course, change the tone of the game dramatically. 
Here are some options for that. For these, I'm assuming LotFP as my baseline game. So, it costs a fighter 2,000 XP to level up, which doubles at each level up to 9th. Other classes require more or less depending on their potency, but 2k is roughly in the middle. 

These all replace the XP granted for treasure. The XP for killing stuff remains in place, or can be removed if it doesn't fit the tone you want - realistically it's such a small source of XP as to make little difference most of the time. And in these methods, treasure is still worth getting, because money lets you buy better equipment, hire followers, etc etc.

The Heroic Option: XP for Rescuing People
A single person rescued is worth 100 XP. They're worth +100 XP for each of the following:
-They are truly innocent (such as children, saints, etc).
-They are of critical importance to a wider community (the only doctor in town, for example).
-They have a personal connection to one of the PCs rescuing them (lovers, relatives, mentors, etc).
-They are being rescued from a fate that is worse than death and unusually horrible (think tzimisce shit).
To count as being rescued, the person must be facing death, indefinite imprisonment, or the sort of long-term consequences that has a good chance to thoroughly fuck up their life. This last one might be things like being blinded, turned into a frog, traumatised to the point where they can't function by themselves, infected with some horrible disease... that sort of thing.
Rescuing people in bulk, perhaps saving a village from disaster, works a little differently. The rule of thumb for 'in bulk' is that if you don't know the names of the people you're saving, then they count. In these cases, then a person is worth only 10xp and you don't care about things like innocence, fates worse than death, etc. Simply multiply the number of anonymous people saved by 10, and that's how much XP they're worth.

So, at most a single person being rescued is worth 500xp. Most, though, are gonna be worth 100xp.
So, you might be able to get to level 2 with a mere 4 rescues if the perfect rescuing-victims present themselves, realistically you're probably looking at 20 or so people rescued. This is a couple of families, perhaps. Not too hard.
To reach level 5, you'll need 16,000 XP. This means rescuing around 160 individuals, which is perhaps impractical. To reach these lofty heights, it becomes more practical to concentrate on saving great numbers of people. 16,000 XP is 1,600 anonymous individuals. This is a small town, or several villages. 

The Exploration Option: XP for Mapping
This is split into two parts; in the dungeon and in the wilderness. Include one or both depending on what you want your PCs exploring a megadungeon or hexcrawling or both. In both cases, the PCs get XP for putting things they find on a map that they then return to civilisation with. Also in both cases, things only count if they're untamed or unexplored by the PC's own culture. It doesn't matter how many Forest Goblins live in the Foggy Forest and know it well, if the PCs are humans exploring on behalf of human civilisations. On the other hand, running around 'exploring' perfectly safe farmland that's already mapped out and under control by local nobles isn't worth XP. 

In the dungeon:
Each room you put correctly on the map is worth 100xp. They're worth another 100 xp for each useful feature in the room that you accurately mark on the map, such as the presence of a trap, a secret door, treasure, a monster that inhabits that particular chamber, supernatural properties, etc.
In order to be able to be count for this sort of thing, the PCs need to be reasonably familiar with what they're putting down; enough that their description is going to be useful to somebody using their map to navigate can do so safely and reliably. To really be a fair judge of this, you should get your PCs to physically map this shit at the table with a pencil and paper, and look over it yourself. Any particular feature that catches your eye as useful information is another 100 xp.
At later levels, you will probably want to be adding rooms to the map in bulk, without having to physically visit them one-by-one. Here, things like finding the records previous explorers took can let you fit stuff onto the map, as can asking the dungeon's residents. Of course, these might not be accurate; if the PCs just put stuff on the map willy-nilly that isn't actually there, or is marked down wrong, they don't get the XP; tell them there's a mistake and that they'll need better information to get the xp.
Here, you're probably getting 200xp per room, assuming each room has on average one interesting thing about it (some have more, some are empty entirely). So a small 10-room dungeon, mapped out properly, is enough to reach level 2. To get the 16000xp for level 5, you're looking at perhaps 8 of those little dungeons, or fully mapping an 80-room complex. 

In the wilderness:
This works basically the same, substituting 'hex' for 'room'. I'm assuming spaces roughly 6 miles across here, so roughly 32 square miles of territory. Each new hex* put on the map is worth 100 XP. You get 100 xp more for each landmark, site of interest, peculiarity of the terrain, safe trail through the hex or other feature marked onto the map. Sites of particular interest, such as old ruins etc, can be investigated in more detail, and if a detailed map of them is taken then treat them just like the dungeons up above, with xp per room.
Again, if you find other people's maps, ask the locals, etc, you can add large swathes to your map in one go. Likewise, if you go to high ground, you can spot landmarks, trails and so on in your current space and potentially several neighbouring ones quite quickly. 
Realistically, for each hex, you're looking at probably 400 xp for putting it on the map; the hex itself is worth 100, and then if you find a couple of landmarks or sites of interest, and a path leading through or out of it, then that's 400 right there. This is, admittedly, a reasonably thorough exploration, probably a few days investigating the surroundings at least. This means that 5 hexes is enough to reach level 2, which is probably a few weeks exploring new territory. To reach level 5, you're looking at 40 hexes explored in reasonable depth, an area around 1200 square miles; to put this into perspective, the entire area of London is around half this. To explore this much, you're probably either relying on high ground to sketch out very broad-strokes maps, or talking to the locals. This sounds about right to me.

*or square. Personally, I prefer marking my maps in squares since squared notepaper is easier to come by and the spaces correspond to the four directions on a compass/when navigating by the sun. To each their own, though.

The Cultists of Khorne Option: XP for killing things
Really? You really want to do this? You remember the bad old days of 3.5? Well OK then.
The sensible but boring way to do this is to use the xp rewards in the LotFP book as a baseline, and multiply them by 10. So a 1-hit-dice enemy is worth 100 XP, meaning you need to kill 20 orcs to reach level 2.  (Or a mere 2 wraiths with 5 HD each!). For these purposes, only count things you killed in direct combat. 
The totally insane version of this is to use the XP values as-is. So, a 1-hit-dice victim is worth 10 xp.  You need to kill 200 people to hit level 2. You need to kill 1,600 fucking people to hit level 5. (Or, of course, less victims if they have more HD). But here, you count everybody the pc's kill. Burn down a village and all 200 people in it? That's 2,000 XP right there! Same if you poison wells, incite riots, start wars... 
Obviously PCs in this sort of game are bloodthirsty lunatics and the game will rapidly descend onto total boggle-eyed over-the-top villainy, which strikes me as glorious fun so long as everybody is OK with being gratuitously evil. Which they probably are, since this is apparently the default method of getting XP from 3e to 5e.

But wait there's more!
Obviously, these methods are just the start of how you can fuck around with XP. Conquering territory  (in a megadungeon or the wilderness) for XP might use the same basic methods as mapping it, for example. You probably want to double or even triple the XP rewards in this case, though, because actually securing and protecting territory is much harder than merely writing down what's there.
Likewise, for an EVEN EVILLER campaign, you could combine the cultists of khorne option with the heroic option, so that every named NPC that the PCs go out of their way to ruin the lives of is worth 100xp, or more if they're innocent, important, get truly fucked up, etc. 

Other sources of XP that I considered but couldn't come up with simple mechanics for were:
-uncovering FORBIDDEN LORE
-becoming a living legend through fame and glory
-converting people to the cause of your GLORIOUS RELIGION for cleric-focussed games
etc etc.
But I'm lazy, so maybe they get handled in another post or maybe you have to make that shit up yourself.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

The Lithic Courts (for Esoteric Enterprises)

A page of earth-elemental monsters. Somewhat inspired by stuff from Veins of the Earth. Still WiP, but this is largely what they look like.

Envoy of the Lithic Courts
This is a being of the Lithic Courts deep in the earth, an elemental creature made of fine-veined crysteline conglomerates, lit from within by substratal fire. Appears like a mass of dull gems fused together in a shape like an elegant, upright-walking squid, the facets of crystal grinding over one another as it moves. Its voice is the shriek and shudder of stone moving tectonically against stone. It speaks slowly, deliberately and precisely. Its manners and movements are courtly and refined. It is a diplomat on important business, and has little time for creatures made of meat.
Lithic Envoy: 16 flesh (4 dice), 12 grit (2 dice). AC 16 (made of stone). Saves 9+.  2 slams (+3, d12 damage). Immune to cold, sickness, fire, poison, drowning and so on. Moves slowly. Double damage and auto-failed saves vs electricity.  Can ‘see’ perfectly by tremmorsense.
If in doubt, roll a d6 for the Envoy’s business. 1; declaration of war, 2; peace treaty, 3; ransom note, 4; offer of marriage, 5; invitation to court, 6; news of a great substratal disaster.

Flint Songbirds
Little conglomerations of flint shards, all delicate angles and barbs. A Lithic Envoy carries them in gilded cages, and in the event of a fight will release them to fight for him.  Their voices are like glitchy, metallic recordings of extinct songbirds, their behaviour like angry little lapdogs.
Fling Songbirds: 6 flesh (2 dice), 0 grit (0 dice). AC 16 (made of stone). Saves 14+.  Each round, d4+1 flint shards (+2, d4 damage). Immune to cold, sickness, fire, poison, drowning and so on. Double damage and auto-failed saves vs electricity.  Can ‘see’ perfectly by tremmorsense.

Seismic Knight
A sworn soldier of the lithic courts. It’s body a multi-segmented worm stood on end, with long grasping tendrils surrounding a circular maw.  The whole thing a single mass of magma, a black crust of solid basalt over a core of burning orange-yellow molten stone. The glow of igneous fires seeps through cracks in its basalt hide that split open as it moves and then slowly seal shut as the magma sets. Its mouth opens directly into the furnace that is its core. The air blurs around it from the blinding heat-haze, its voice is the roar of super-heated gasses escaping, its gaze a volcanic blowtorch.
Proud, chivalrous, disciplined.  Fights honourably, serves its masters with vigour.
Igneous Peon: 12 flesh (3 dice), 12 grit (3 dice). AC 16 (made of stone). Saves 9+. Maw (+3, d8 damage and 2d8 fire). Immune to cold, sickness, fire, poison, drowning and so on. Moves slowly. Double damage and auto-failed saves vs electricity.  Can ‘see’ perfectly by tremmorsense. Those nearby suffer 1 damage a round just from the sheer heat.
Can declare a single enemy its chosen foe and engage them in single combat. This foe is immune to the Seismic Knight’s heat aura. While engaged in single combat in this way, the knight and its foe get +5 to hit each other.

Igneous Peon
A lesser servant of the lithic courts, a rough elemental being made of shards of basalt and obsidian jammed crudely together into a shape resembling a starfish.
Obsequious and servile. Not very intelligent. Insists on using formal terminology for everybody and everything. Unthinkingly obeys any order given by a being made of stone, metal or other mineral matter; still looks down on those made of meat much like a king’s slaves look down on humble peasants.
Igneous Peon: 8 flesh (2 dice), 4 grit (1 dice). AC 16 (made of stone). Saves 12+. Slam (+2, d12 damage). Immune to cold, sickness, fire, poison, drowning and so on. Moves slowly. Double damage and auto-failed saves vs electricity.  Can ‘see’ perfectly by tremmorsense.

Exalted Lithic Noble
This is one of the lesser nobility of the Lithic Courts, a being made to rule from stone, darkness and magma. Its form is crysteline, a complex mass of interlocking gems and stone extrusions, with the dull glow of magma emanating from some core deep within. The whole thing is shaped much like a jellyfish, with a single mass of subtly-shifting gems forming the mantle that gives way to countless crystalline filaments and tendrils that trail below it.  It glitters and shines in the darkness.
Its voice is an echoing rumble, the lights within it flickering and throbbing alongside its words. It gestures languidly, with the mannerisms of one who is used to being unflinchingly obeyed.
In the true hierarchy of the earth’s deepest veins, it is a trifling lordling, but this close to the surface it outranks most other courtiers that will be encountered.
Lithic Noble: 20 flesh (5 dice), 16 grit (3 dice). AC 16 (made of stone). Saves 7+.  3 slams (+5, d12 damage). Immune to cold, sickness, fire, poison, drowning and so on. Moves slowly. Double damage and auto-failed saves vs electricity.  Can ‘see’ perfectly by tremmorsense. +4 to saves vs mind-control.
Can cast Shape Stone at will  each round, rather than attacking.
Elemental beings of stone given a direct order by a Lithic Noble must Save vs Stunning or obey without question.

Demographics of a Lithic Court
A lithic court encountered within a mile of the earth’s surface is an insignificant outpost.  There will be d4 Exalted Lithic Nobles, and this many Seismic Knights, that form the core of the court. Accompanying them  are 2d6 Igneous Peons of various servile positions, d6 Lithic Envoys and a flock of 26 Flint Songbirds.
Deeper underground, where solid rock gives way to hypercompressed magma, there are far more and far stranger beings than these. The lithic courts themselves are ruled by the Mantled  Lords And Ladies, beings of immense slow power locked in eons-long continental struggles, whose schemes exist on geological time-scales and who could level cities with a mere gesture.