Saturday, 17 August 2019

Hollow Men

Actually, you know what? Here's a write-up of the Hollow Men.
This is not sympathetic at all. You don't get to play these. They don't get stats. But they're a counterpoint to the previous post.
This is not a fair portrayal. I'm biased and scarred and angry, and as a result I can't give them a proper write-up. All you get is the perspective of somebody who's only ever experienced them as total monsters.


So, what does it look like when Thanatos, the instinct towards death and entropy, goes out of control?

You know how the planet is dying and society is going insane because a few obscenely rich sociopaths control like 80% of the world's resources, and that's just the price to pay for their hunger for more? You know those old white men in suits who own everything, and don't think about you at all? Those men who always need more, who's sense of greed and entitlement poisons everything, who consider women, poor people, minorities etc to be on the same level as mere possessions? Things to own and abuse and discard without thinking?
You know when you hear that the UK's prime minister used to burn money in front of the homeless for laughs, committed weird sexual perversities with dead animals, and considers that perfectly acceptable? Or when the president boasts about assaulting women because 'when you're rich and famous they can't stop you'? Or when it turns out wealthy men have been abusing women and children for fun, because they can, so why not? Or when it turns out they knew that cigarettes were killing people for decades before it became public knowledge, and they covered it up to preserve their profits?
You know when you look at some rich, privileged suit-wearing motherfucker and wonder why they don't do some fucking good in the world? And they look back, and their eyes are empty, and there's no inner humanity there to connect with? 

And then, you see that same emptiness everywhere. The petty tyrant of a boss. The man who beats his wife to vent his frustrations. The guy in the club who won't shut the fuck up and leave you alone. The bitter young man who spews venom at anybody female or non-white or queer online, who dreams of taking his gun to school. The father who will never be satisfied with you, but uses pain and neglect to try to mould you into something that can make him feel less empty. The cop who just likes using his badge and power to make a victim out of anybody he feels like?
The constant poison of men who will never be satisfied, no matter how much they consume and hurt and control. Once you know what you're looking for, it's everywhere.

You know that guy who lives on a trust fund with a silver spoon in his mouth, and slowly poisons the community around him in his constant need for power, leaving a trail of broken and traumatised victims behind him that he's harassed and targetted and dehumanized until they're driven away. And when they flee from him, he gloats about it, and finds his next target. 
And he has a disabled partner, and abuses her horribly for years, and then when she goes public with it he sues her in Canada - not to prove his innocence - but because he knows that the stress of a court case will damage her health, and he wants to keep hurting her? And you look at that guy and think how can you do this? And he looks back at you, and thinks nothing at all. 

They're not even evil, I suppose. No more than cancer or rising sea levels or parasitic wasps or lead poisoning from traffic fumes are evil, they're just a sickness that won't ever really go away. They don't seem to feel, to understand that others have any importance except as things to grind down for their own satisfaction. Always needing more, trying to fill this yawning void inside them through greed and cruelty. But really, inside, there's just nothing. No empathy, no calling, no warmth. No soul.

Those are the Hollow Men.
They don't need cool powers. Fuck it, they don't get to have cool powers, because I'm writing this and it's my blog and they always get whatever they want, but right here I get to decide and I am incandescently angry at this shit. So this time they don't get shit.
Anyway, they don't need magic or powers or anything. Society is on their side, and will always protect them and side against their victims, and they're winning.
1-4 HP. Saves, AC, attacks, etc as normal men. AL: LE. Morale 10. # appearing: 1, with an entire community's worth of level 0 humans backing them up. Unreasonable amounts of treasure. 
Don't put them in your games unless you want to take things to a really dark place.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Wounded Daughters

“-and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. 
But first they must catch you-” 


So here's a thing I've been thinking about lately. It's another of my sideways advancement thingies. Like this one but from a different source and with different effects. A way to advance your character without needing to gain XP.

Not gonna lie, while the end result feels like grimdark fantasy, the initial thoughts for this came from something of a personal place. A common response to marginalisation - and one I exhibit - is to retreat into yourself, cut any losses, and concentrate on survival. 
Family disown you? Fuck 'em, cut all contact, move on, don't look back, you don't really need them. Big drunk man mouthing off at you? Keep your head down, hands in your pockets, don't make eye contact, scurry away. Evicted? Scrabble what you can together and find somewhere - anywhere - to live, doesn't matter how shitty it is, just keep yourself off the street. Cops hassling you? Say whatever you need to say, pick your stuff up, find somewhere else to sleep. Don't speak out, don't invite trouble, don't get a target painted on you. Life's hard enough just trying to get by.
You start to think that people like you don't get to have nice things. You accept being on the bottom rung of society, scrabbling just to keep your head above the water. One by one, you cut away bits of yourself that hold you back. Empathy, pride, ambition. Fuck that. Concentrate on the here and now. Live to see another day. 
Anyway. For most of my adult life, up until very recently, that was me. It still creeps into my thinking sometimes. That's what this homebrew's about.

Yes, it gives you superpowers, but it's probably not something you really want.
It's also probably not very balanced, but fuck it.



On the Wounded Mother
There are two fundamental forces in any living being. Perhaps they might be called Eros and Thanos; the instincts towards life and death. Both exist in a sort of tension, each tugging in opposite directions, and cancelling one another out until, eventually, the tension undoes them and the being dies.
When the death instinct becomes too strong, it overwhelms the life instinct. The being devours itself from within, becoming empty and soulless. Where once there was warmth and love and joy, now there's only a channel to the void between atoms and stars; a black hole that draws in and devours all it touches. A person so afflicted becomes infectious, drawing in all they touch to hollow them out too, until all is ashes and dust and only entropy remains. These hollow men stare at the external world with blank eyes, not even hating it, destroying it only because they lack the awareness not to do so.

This, though, is about the opposite problem. When the life instinct grows out of control, overwhelms the death instinct. Refuses to give in to ruin and extinction. 
Where the personification of the death instinct is the empty void, an unthinking hunger that infects all it touches, the life instinct is aware. It forms a sort of gestalt consciousness, dimly inhabiting living beings. It calls itself the Wounded Mother. 
The Wounded Mother is a squirming, writhing thing, struggling against entropy and decay. Furious with hope. For those in whom the life instinct stirs and flourishes, it has gifts. 
Oh, its gifts hurt, because pain is what defines and preserves life. Death is numbness, life is painful and horrible. But the pain of these gifts will keep you alive if you welcome it in. Those who embrace it become its champions - the Wounded Daughters.

The Wounded Mother teaches five principles:
  1. If you can't endure, flee
  2. If you can't flee, hide
  3. If you can't hide, yield
  4. If you can't yield, fight
  5. If you must fight, sacrifice anything to win.

Becoming a Wounded Daughter
There are four conditions that must be met in order to become a Wounded Daughter.
  1. You must know that such a thing is possible. This might mean reading about such things, or hearing rumours, but probably not. The only reliable way to learn is from another Daughter, as they don't tend to write things down, or have friends. 
  2. You must be female, unmarried, and owning no home. Becoming unmarried is simple - just murder your husband - and losing your home is likewise not too hard. Being female is harder; if you're not female initially you can become female but that might take some effort. I'm not gonna give a mechanical definition for femininity, you know it when you see it. 
  3. You must have just survived some danger that - by all rights - ought to have killed you. Sickness, war, lynchings, or the sort of dangers that adventurers face routinely.
  4. You must want to become a wounded daughter, knowing full well that it means sacrificing your humanity. The choice is deliberate and conscious; it happens because you invite the Wounded Mother into you and finally accept her gifts.

As soon as the conditions are met, the character dreams of the Wounded Mother when she next sleeps. The Wounded Mother's appearance varies. Maybe it's a rabbit. Maybe a human woman. Maybe a seagull. Maybe a child. Maybe a fox. Whatever the case, there's a huge gaping wound down its flank, oozing blood, viscera and muscles exposed. The potential daughter is invited to drink from the wound to accept its gifts.
If she does so, the daughter wakes up changed. She knows, instinctively, that she must survive at all costs, and how she must do so. Her mind is, forever, a constant barrage of fear and paranoia and underlying white-hot hope. Only survival matters, everything else exists for her only so long as it can serve that purpose.


Resilience of a Wounded Daughter
A wounded daughter has only one gift initially.
If she would die, if she can justify a way she might remain barely alive to the GM, she survives. 
For example, if she's stabbed through the gut, runs out of HP, and would die, instead she's merely unconscious. Certainly, she's on the brink of death, severely wounded, and will need time to recover, but she's not quite dead yet. On the other hand, perhaps if she's burned to ashes, chewed up and swallowed, or squashed to a red smear, there's no coming back from that. 
If an enemy thinks to make absolutely sure she's dead, then sufficient hacking will prevent her coming back. Effects that don't kill her, but render her helpless or useless, take effect normally. Her will to live doesn't prevent her from living on as, for example, a tree or somebody's mind-slave.

Costs Paid by a Wounded Daughter
Every time the wounded daughter would die but survives, she sacrifices something. Like a trapped rabbit gnawing off its leg to escape, something that was burdening her is discarded. Each time she survives thanks to her resilience, she accrues an xp 'debt' of 2,000 xp that must be earned and wasted before she can continue gaining levels. Furthermore, roll a d20 on the list below for what she sacrificed in order to live. If it's something she's already sacrificed, then there's no additional effect. Whatever vestige of humanity she abandoned, she was far gone enough that she didn't notice or care.
  1. Memories of unimportant things. Childhood, first love, parents, mentors. The player and GM pick something. These trivialities no longer matter and are forgotten. 
  2. Empathy. She becomes cold, callous, unmoved by the plight of others.
  3. Youth. Age 3 years.
  4. Somebody she once cared about. GM picks an NPC that was once important to her (a lover, teacher, parent, priest, child, etc), who dies immediately of unrelated causes. When she finds out, the Wounded Daughter realises she doesn't care, and never did.
  5. A body part. She picks one: a finger, eye, ear, hand, tongue, foot. It's gone now. It won't come back short of divine intervention.
  6. Her ability to heal. Whatever nearly killed her, the wound doesn't quite close, and she carries a constant stigmata as a reminder of her near-death.
  7. The capacity to love anybody but other Wounded Daughters. 
  8. The ability to have children. Any descendants die of coincidental natural causes.
  9. The ability to read and write. 
  10. The ability to speak or understand any but her native language. If rolled again, she forgets even her native tongue. 
  11. Any comprehension of money. She can only gain XP from treasure that has some use to her beyond its value as precious metal or coinage. Art, magic items, rare trade goods etc are all fine, but a big sack of gold is totally meaningless to her. 
  12. The capacity to experience any pleasure from food, drink, and other material comforts. 
  13. Moral restraint. Matters of 'right and wrong' no longer matter to her in any way. Her alignment becomes neutral (or unaligned) but most observers will think her evil.
  14. The ability to use weapons. If you roll this again, next she loses the ability to wear armour. each time after that, and she looses the ability to use some other tool of civilisation (pick a broad type, such as matches, sewing needles, cooking gear, etc etc).
  15. Her human appearance. Her physique shifts to something slightly more primal, her eyes become feral, her hair matted and filthy. It is impossible to mistake her for something fully human anymore. 
  16. The capacity to be loved. Those who currently love her (parents, children, paramours, etc) find their feelings turning bitter and resentful in a matter of days.
  17. Comprehension of the law and authority as a meaningful concept. She is aware that civilised society might try to stop her doing sensible things (like taking things she needs by force, or killing people who threaten her) but isn't sure why; it seems totally unreasonable and rather irrational.
  18. Legal recognition. Any records of her existence, place in society, legal status etc are lost in coincidental accidents and clerical errors. As far as any legal body is concerned, she doesn't exist, has no citizenship or legal rights.
  19. Ambitions. Any goals or desires beyond survival are no longer meaningful. Of course, getting stronger and removing threats are sensible routes to survival, providing a justification to continue adventuring.
  20. Wealth. Any accumulated treasure without a practical use (IE gold etc, but not magic items, plate armour etc) is lost through some coincidental disaster.

Gifts Accepted by a Wounded Daughter

Every time the wounded daughter survives otherwise-certain death, she accepts another gift of the Wounded Mother. For what she gains, roll a d20. If you roll a result she's already gained, take the next one down (loop back round to 1 if you go past 20).

  1. Immune to fear. More accurately, she's constantly paranoid, on the jittery edge of a fight-or-flight response, but controlling and channelling that fear. Any fear effects inflicted on her don't actually meaningfully change her emotional state.
  2. No longer sleeps. Constant amphetamine-buzz exhausted alertness. No penalties for lack of sleep, tiredness, etc. Immune to sleep spells etc. If she must sleep, perhaps in order to heal, the only real way is to drink herself into a stupor.
  3. Bites for d8 damage. Teeth become ragged, chipped to sharp edges. Smile off-putting.
  4. No penalties for eating raw food, carrion, etc. Cannot suffer food poisoning from improperly prepared food.
  5. Double move speed when she drops onto all fours to run or scramble.
  6. Can spit blood and teeth with violent force. She has 32 teeth, each one does d8 damage spat at an enemy (roll to hit normally). Once spat, the tooth's gone.
  7. Sweats venom. On skin-on-skin contact with her save vs Poison or suffer one damage. Other Wounded Daughters are immune.
  8. Can shed her skin. Below, the wet red mass of musculature and organs. Doing this deals enough damage to her that she only has 1 HP remaining. As her HP heal, her skin grows back, healing fully when all her HP have returned. Her new skin looks subtly different, enough that she won't be recognised as the same person from casual inspection. Any identifying tattoos, brands, scarification etc are likewise gone.
  9. Kiss is poison. On lip-on-lip contact, victim must save vs Poison or fall unconscious. Other Wounded Daughters are immune.
  10. Leave no tracks or scent when travelling. 
  11. Sixth sense for traps; if her action triggers a trap or similar hazard, she can immediately take 1 damage in order to retroactively not take that action.
  12. Can detach any body-part. Doing so deals 1 damage for every 10% of her bodymass detached (round up). Useful for getting out of restraints. The detached bodypart (and the HP sacrificed to detach it) grow back at a rate of 1 HP per night.
  13. Can hold her breath for as many 10-minute-turns as her constitution modifier.
  14. Can scream or sob horribly. Those hearing her lamentations must save vs Paralysis; on a failure they take 1 sympathetic damage and waste a round stunned. The Wounded Daughter must have a good reason to scream; pain, grief, rage, etc. Other Wounded Daughters are immune.
  15. Massive resistance to sickness. If she'd be infected by a disease (including on a failed save), make an additional Save vs Poison; if this extra save is passed, she suffers no ill effects from the sickness, and is not visibly affected. She's still infectious, though. Other Wounded Daughters cannot contract the disease from her.
  16. Sixth sense for ambushes. Can spend 1 HP in order to act when surprised, regardless of how badly off-guard she'd have been caught.
  17. Totally immune to any magic or effect that would compel love, lust, friendship or affection. Cannot be charmed. Love only by deliberate choice, and even then probably only other Wounded Daughters.
  18. On examining a corpse, know the exact circumstances of its death. What killed it and how.
  19. Can walk through any locked door as though it were unlocked, but only to leave a location, never to get in. 
  20. If an effect would knock her unconscious, stun her, or kill her, she can make one final action immediately before blacking out. Perhaps an attack, last words, swigging a potion, or whatever.
The Wounded Sisterhood

Wounded Daughters have no formal organisation, being both rare and generally antisocial and nomadic. None-the-less, they tend to cooperate, recognising shared ideals and obstacles, and are far more likely to seek each other's company out than the company of those outside their sisterhood.
A Wounded Daughter instinctively recognises any other Daughter she meets, as well as any women with the potential to become Daughters like her. They innately understand one another as sisters.
Wounded Daughters can speak and communicate with one another regardless of language barriers, even if they've otherwise sacrificed the ability to speak, and can likewise leave simple messages for one another as scratched glyphs. Their communication is unsophisticated; concentrating on the here-and-now, potential dangers, visceral emotions and potentially the bonds between them.
If a Wounded Daughter ever kills (or tries to kill) another Daughter, she loses all of the Wounded Mother's gifts, immediately and permanently. Not her sacrifices, though, those stay.


The Wounded Daughters as a PC Class


If you want to use this as a class, rather than a sideways upgrade, here's how you do it:
  • D6 HD
  • XP like a Magic User
  • Saves like a Magic User but 3 points better.
  • To-hit progression like a Magic User.
  • If your system restricts weapons & armour, can use any weapons and armour.
  • Have all of the abilities listed above.