Friday, 7 June 2019

Guess what's in print?

Wolf-packs & Winter Snow Revise Edition is in print! It's 300ish pages of palaeolithic weird-fantasy and I finally fixed the horrible print errors that made it illegible. So have at it.

That is all. Still osr high priestess.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

On the Place Of Grim Subject Matter

Warning: this is gonna have some bleak stuff, and some stuff relating to sexual violence. In it, I talk about being the edgiest of edgelords, and also delve into some very personal stuff. This may sound worryingly close to storygames. Feel free to skip this one if it's not your cup of tea.

There was a broohaha lately involving a convention rpg one-shot which apparently involved all the PCs getting raped, which is perhaps not the most sensitive way to game with total strangers. 
That's what prompted this post, but the ideas had been milling around in my head for a while.

* * * * *

So. First up, let me tell you about Dr Choi, the pro-life campaigner's worst nightmare.
Dr Choi was a character I ran in a mixed-splat World of Darkness game a few years back. We were all servants of the Wyrm in some capacity; I played a Wyrm-tainted Changeling who worked for Pentex.
Pentex are (in the setting) a spiritually corrupt medical research company, known for their (deliberately) poor ethics and the spiritual taint their products spread, as well as their various bio-weapon related side-projects. Specifically, she worked in Embryology - the study of how embryos develop. Stem cells and all that jazz.

A few months into the game, the Black-spiral-dancer pack I was working with captured a pair (one male, one female) of enemy werewolves. My PC lobotomised them both with silver spikes (to keep them docile) and set about breeding my new test subjects.
This was the beginning of Dr Choi's descent into utter, unrepentant atrocity. All that horrible stuff you're imagining my PC did? I did that. I did worse

People say that playing truly evil characters is dull because doing atrocities gets boring after the first time. Those people lack imagination. 
(It remains a point of pride that the most fucked up PC I've ever played was for Changeling the fucking Dreaming, and that she managed to put the antics of the Tzimisce and BSDs to shame).

Dr Choi is perhaps the most extreme example of this sort of thing, and also somewhat atypical in that she was deliberately as grotesque and horrible as I could possibly make her. Everybody in that game was on-board with going full-throttle horrible and seeing just how dark we could take the world-of-darkness setting.
There are other examples, though, most of them rather more tasteful.

I play in a regular Vampire the Masquerade Larp where - among other things - rape, incest, psychological torture, child trafficking and other nastiness are explicitly on the cards. The game uses pretty careful tools to ensure that players are opting into the darkest stuff, and players who don't want to deal with it don't have to. But. I've dealt with some of the nasty shit in the game, and had a lot of... I wouldn't say fun, for all of it. But they've been experiences I'm glad I had. The game is dark and gothic and atmospheric and genuinely the best larp I've ever been to. It gets under your skin. It's fucking great.
Like, I cannot hype this game up enough. If Bex & Delia (or people who know them) read this, fuck, I can't thank them enough for the work they put in.

Shortly after I lost my Grandmother (who had been there for me in some really difficult times, gave me a place to stay when things were rough at home - of all my family, she was probably the one I was closest to) to Alzheimer's I played in a Changeling the Dreaming game. 
Changeling deals strongly with loss of self; if your memories of your life as a changeling fade into the mundanity of mortal life, how do you respond? How do those watching it respond? How do you face forgetting with dignity?  I'd just watched my closest family member forget who she was and die from it. And then I'm playing a character who's in that situation herself, feeling herself slipping away, watching her reality recede bit by bit to be replaced by something far emptier, knowing that in a few months time she'd have people around her, and she'd not recognise them, and that would break her former friends' and lovers' hearts. So she said her goodbyes and killed herself while she was still herself.
I mean, it was super sad. I cried a bit after the game. But it was also really fucking cathartic. It let me work through a bunch of difficult complicated feelings I'd been trying to ignore. 
Shit like this is why we, as a species, tell stories. 

I'm about to start a VtM 5th Edition game. I'm not a fan of everything that system does, but the way it focuses on feeding and touchstones really zeroes in on the very personal aspects of the game. With the characters we've got set up, it's looking like domestic abuse is gonna be a thing that comes up. And I've got some history with that, that's left me with some emotional issues to work through, but the group are all people I trust and am comfortable with. I'm expecting it to get dark and intense and I'm really looking forward to it.

* * * * *

So, why am I talking about this?
Well. The old staple conversation of Rape In Tabletop RPGs has reared it's head.
On the one side, we have people arguing that you should always be able to rape to your heart's content in RPGs because, uh, free speech? And if a player can't hack that, they shouldn't be playing RPGs. Because, you know... on a certain political wing, Trigger Warnings (and their cousins in RPGs: lines and veils, etc) are a tool of the SJWs that threaten our precious western civilisation.
On the other side, we have people arguing that rape is never OK to put in your games. That old James Desborough article, tastefully named "In Defence Of Rape" gets trotted out and mocked, as does much of the LotFP back catalogue where things get unusually edgy.

Here's the thing: the games listed above - which are, really, only the tip of the iceberg - are some of the best, most intense, most rewarding experiences I've had with RPGs.
There absolutely is a space for this sort of thing in roleplaying, and attempts to erase it leave the artistic and emotional potential of the medium lessened and hollow. 
Indeed, one of my favourite RPGs of all time - Monsterhearts by Avery Alder - is explicitly about messy teenage sexuality, and it can (if the relevant characters are in play and the relevant mechanics get triggered) get real bleak real fast. Its a game where sexuality can be predatory and weaponized and abusive. And, I mean, I've had some (minor) experiences with this sort of thing, but that doesn't get in the way; it gives me that much more context and emotional resonance to draw on.
There have been larp games which have brought me to floods of tears. There have been games where the NPC I played - bleeding and broken, lying twitching and whimpering and screaming - made the players feel ill. This shit can be powerful. The interactivity of the medium, the viscerality of it (particularly in larp, but also in ttrpgs) can make you feel things in ways that other mediums just can't.
I mean, fuck, I talk about WoD a lot in this post, but Death Love Doom is, imho, a fucking masterpiece for how it can get under your skin and really produce an uncomfortable horror experience in a genre (D&D) where that sort of thing doesn't normally go so well.

But, there's a flip side to this. Would I use a Changeling the Dreaming character to work through my grief with a bunch of strangers or casual acquaintances? Of course not. This stuff makes you emotionally vulnerable. It can be too much all in one go. I've had games where we go "ok, that scene was hardcore, let's pause, get some food, and step back from the game to chill" because that level of intensity's unsustainable in more than short bursts.
You gotta use safety mechanics. I'm not a huge fan of the x-card as the main solution to this stuff (I've said so at length here) but other ideas, such as Lines and Veils, and regular check-ins, and so on are vital if you're gonna create an atmosphere where people feel safe and comfortable delving into this stuff. And, indeed, if it all gets too much, you gotta stop the game, because people's emotions take priority over the game unless you're a fucking sociopath.
((Admitedly, I am perhaps not great at calling time-out for my own good sometimes. Like, physically, I've got injured in larp fights by not making the 'pause the game for health and safety' call when somebody was about to stand on my head. I've been hit in the face with the butt of a weapon, spat out a tooth, and kept on playing. I'm not great at self care. But fuck it, I'm having fun and I'm not dead yet.))
And, like, not everybody's gonna be up for this sort of thing all the time. I'm not! A lot of the time I just wanna be chill, throw some dice around, fight some skeletons. Some people are fragile, or don't have the same experiences to draw on, or are uncomfortable exposing themselves like that, or have really nasty memories or phobias, or just don't enjoy horror. That's cool.
I wouldn't have played most of the stuff listed above with total strangers, or with people I didn't trust to handle it well. Even among my IRL friends, there's plenty I wouldn't be happy playing a game like Monster-hearts with.

So what's my point? My point is that this sort of thing is powerful and can lead to some amazing experienes if you go all-in on it. But for it to work, you need a level of trust between everybody involved. Everybody needs to feel safe and to be buying into where the game is going.
Obviously, that can't happen if you spring this stuff on somebody by surprise.
Like the proportion of women that have been raped, sexually assaulted, abused in relationships, etc is pretty fucking high, and this isn't news to anybody with half a brain. But, like, the proportion of men who've had this shit happen to them is surprisingly high as well, and nobody fucking talks about it, which is its own problem. Which means that the chances are, even if you don't know about it, somebody in your group has probably had to deal with this shit irl.
If - and it's a big if - you want to do this sort of thing, you wanna find a group of friends you're comfortable being emotionally open with, and then work out which themes you want to explore. It doesn't have to be rape! You can get really fucking dark with parental abandonment, Alzheimer's, war, all sorts of shit... pick a topic that works for your group.
You can make a joke of it and be grotesque and outlandish - see Dr Choi, above - but that robs the experience of some of its horror and catharsis. Leaning into it, taking it seriously and getting immersed can be really rewarding.
Its not for you, but if you've been considering this sort of game and aren't sure, it gets my seal of approval. But, in the words of an immortal scholar*: The Bleak Horror Of Man's Inhumanity To Man is a Sometimes Food. Maybe play some Paranoia or whatever after to cleanse your palette.
*cookie monster

* * * * *

Unrelatedly, I've declared myself Evil High Priestess of the OSR. I now have a fancy hat, ominous robes, and a wobbly-bladed knife made of obsidian, and am keen to start ripping out hearts and offering them to Ungoliant.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Stuff In Print and Other News

Just a quick one, I've finally got test prints back for The Stygian Library and The Dolorous Stroke back that don't have those weird transparency issues, which is nice!
(The solution turned out to be taking a really high-res screenshot of each page, and making a new pdf where each page is just that screenshot as a .png. It's not the most elegant method but it works; there's a slight affect on the crispness of the text but it's basically fine).
So now you can buy them! Here is The Stygian Library and here's The Dolorous Stroke.

There are probably typos, but fuck it they're done now.

Wolfpacks Deluxe will get sorted out and - hopefully - likewise be up for sale soon as well. It's a big chunky 300-page hardback, but I have hope. Likewise Esoteric Enterprises. 

I've revived my 'ship sailing into the west' module idea, and been hashing stuff out for it. That's probably my next project to come out. That or finally finishing the ref stuff for Esoteric Enterprises, but that's gonna be a long slog before it's done.

(There's also still a fundraiser going Mandy's stuff. Any help you can throw at her means a lot.)

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Go Buy DMT!

"Hello? Mission control? This is Agent McCormack reporting in. Location... deep dreamscape, second layer, reflection of East-London dockyards. Requesting urgent support. Entire team pinned in combat with unknown assailants." 
"At least [fragment missing] on our position. Seemingly human, emerging from the harbour, most with fish-like alterations, many armed. ...I don't know, give me a [speech inaudible, sounds of gunfire]. Good God, it's huge! Coming out of the water, slithering this way." 
"It's [fragment missing]." 
"Oh! I hear police sirens in- [wet ripping sounds] Jesus, it got Granger, his skin came right off... Mucus everywhere, guns don't do... oh Jesus Christ, it sees me! [inaudible, heavy breathing and footsteps] Get me out of here! I can't-" 
[Transmission ends in static]

So. Deep Morphean Transmissions is done. You can buy the referee book here, and the player-handouts here.

So now I'm gonna ramble about the project a bit. 
Structurally, the game comes in two parts that you need both of. First up, the player materials contain all the rules of the game. This is, I think, a big thing. All the rules you need in order to play are on your character sheet, fitting on two sides of A4. I stripped down the game mechanics a lot so that you only got the bare essentials left. These are:
  • Attributes (Charisma, Intelligence and Will), which you roll under to do most things.
  • Saving throws, which work like you'd expect in OSR.
  • Rolls to hit, and defence (the equivalent of AC). If you attack, roll greater than your to-hit value to do so successfully. However, if your roll is greater than your victim's defence value, the shot hits but is deflected. IE, if you have a to-hit of 11+ and your victim has defence of 18+, then a roll of 1-10 misses, 11-17 hits and does damage, and 18+ hits but is deflected harmlessly.
  • HP, which are reduced as you take damage, and on 0HP you leave the dreamscape.
  • Heart rate, to which you add all your dice rolls, representing the increasing stress you're under. If it gets high enough, you're in the zone and can be badass (rolling again if you fail), but if it gets too high, you have a heart attack, taking you out of action just like if you run out of HP.
  • Reckless rolls roll twice and take the higher result. Careful rolls roll twice and take the lower result.
  • A special Technique or two for each department:
    >Security Agents can intercept attacks, and attack again if they drop an enemy.
    >Surveillence Agents get thief-skill style abilities that always work but increase heartrate when used; one such ability per level.
    >Tech Support Agents get a limited number of support and recovery abilities, much like a cleric's limited pool of spells.
    >Logistics Agents get an unreliable ability to call Mission Control for help.
  • You get XP for learning secrets and completing mission objectives. Every 10XP levels you up, improving your saves, to-hit and an attribute of your choice by 1. Maybe it affects your department technique, too.
And that's fucking everything. Congratulations, you now know enough to play the game.
So yes. The player stuff is pretty minimalistic. But that's fine, complicated mechanics don't make the game good, they just slow stuff down. The bulk of the gameplay is in how these mechanics interact with the setting and the monsters, and the properties that emerge from that.
In this case, playtesting has been pretty encouraging. My players have thrown themselves face-first into experimenting and exploring, trying weird stuff I didn't think of (there's a section in the referee book called 'things the agents can do' which is, more accurately 'weird things my playtesters tried').
And this is where the referee book comes in. It's also small - 77 pages, of which 7 are bumf rather than content and another 15 or so are full-page illustrations by Scrap Princess -

interjection: I fucking love Scrap's art in this book. Like so much. She's knocked it out of the park imho. Look at this brilliant madness!
interjection over.
so. Ignoring 15ish pages of art and seven of indexes and stuff, that leaves about 55 pages of content.
That's tight. It's the most concise I've ever released a full project. Which, to be honest, was tricky. I've been pretty ruthless in editing out things that seemed superfluous. Everything's been tightly trimmed. This is the bare minimum to run the game.
Incidentally, just like the Ref book not repeating the player-facing rules, it also doesn't include any of that 'how to be a good OSR referee' stuff. I can write for pages and pages about that, but here I didn't bother. If you're running it, you probably already know how to referee. So I cut it.


Inspiration-wise, it's both a weirdly mixed bag and very tightly-themed. The game's a dreamlike blend of espionage and noir and lovecraft and surrealism and body horror. It being written by me, there's plenty or parasites and transformations, ways to go mad and have your PC fucked with, and also an entire monster entry that's assembled from a big pile of random tables. 
Tonally, it's drawing on stuff like Paprika and Jacob's Ladder and Lacuna and Lovecraft's Dreamlands stories. Games in this setting will be excursions into paranoia and weirdness. The breaking down of reality is a big theme, unsurprisingly.

I even managed to get it to include the old standard of Law vs Chaos alignment, which is a first for me. Really though, Law vs Chaos just maps onto Reality vs Madness in this case.

Anyway, it's been a few months of furious work, and here it is. I hope you like it.
Thanks go to Scrap, my playtesters, and Chris (who ran the campaign back when I was a student that inspired this).

~ ~ ~

Also, while you've got your wallets out buying my stuff, there's a fundraiser going for Mandy Morbid's legal fees here. Mandy's a massive nerd and a real sweetie irl, and this has been a very shitty year for her for the sorts of reasons you can probably guess, so any help you can throw her way will be appreciated.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Visual Design Stuff for Deep Morphean Transmissions

So the dreamscape based game is nearing completion. It's acquired a title - Deep Morphean Transmissions (the acronym is DMT) - and most of the text is done, and the layout's largely there, too. So Imma talk about it a bit.

I've been working with Scrap Princess on the illustrations, it's been really interesting; I've never collaborated on visual stuff before. There's been some back-and-forth about the illustrations and the look of the thing. She had the idea of using analogue photocopy textures, which have become quite a prominent thing. Like a sketch would be drawn, photocopied, more drawing on the photocopy, and so on. You get layers of noise and grime building up there, it's super cool, I really like the direction she took.

You can see that in this image, the grimy textures in the drawing. The same photocopier texture from one of these images is what was used for the page header/footer.

I've been giving scrap's art a full A5 page per illustration, with the header/footer extending to the full page around it to tie things in. It's simple but I think it looks quite striking.

The book's divided into rough sections, with the header on each page saying which section it is and what the rough topic of the page is. I've tried to limit each topic to a two-page spread, although that's not always possible. Some topics get 2 or 3 two-page spreads if the subject matter is bigger, but that's still gonna be divided into 'chunks' of a two-page spread each. Where a topic is smaller, it gets a single page, and the facing page gets one of the full illustrations on it. Likewise, if a topic covers three pages, the fourth in the little four-page section gets an illustration.

By now, you'll have seen that the text all has a watermark behind it, these are all public-domain images, often heavily processed. Each section gets a repeating watermark on each page, in washed-out blue & violet colours that tie in with scraps art. The idea here is that these images do the work of giving a page some visual interest, while fading into the background in a way that a foregrounded picture wouldn't. Plus, by repeating across multiple pages, each topic is tied together by the watermark, giving the sections more visual cohesion. Here's an example:

Other than that, in terms of design I've tried to keep things pretty clean and modernistic. Ariel's not a font I usually like, but it's got a sleekness to it that works well with the look I'm going for here. Likewise the tables being simple square black lines works alright here, I think. For the headings, meanwhile, I've gone with a typewriter font that I've found vaguely reminiscent of a nice 'mid 20th century' aesthetic that works for the subject matter.

So yeah, it's coming together. I'm pretty pleased with how it's looking.
Oh, as a final thing, the core mechanics of the game all go on the PC's character sheets, including how character gen works. So while the rulebook has commentary and advice on the rules, you need to read the handouts to know the basics. There's also gonna be a set of printouts to give players with plot-hooks and hints, that work as in-character documents that the PCs are given during their mission briefing. They're gonna have the scrap-princess art (because it would be a shame to waste it, she's turned out some really good stuff), as well as carefully edited public domain stuff, and bits of text.

Anyway, that's where things are. I'm probably got a few days before I release this thing - it needs indexing still - but it's well on its way. And I'm pretty pleased with it.


Oh, also, there's a fundraiser for Mandy Morbid's legal fees, because that whole situation continues to be dreadful. Here it is, maybe throw her a few bucks.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Something Rots Pt 1: The Fate of DeMontfort

So, I'm running a short Dolorous Stroke campaign at my local gaming club, for five players (each with one character and perhaps a sidekick) on one side, joining together on a Noble Quest.
Short pitch for the campaign is that there's an isolated valley, in which a huge battle was fought a few decades ago, and which now contains the mass grave of those who fell. The PCs are various nobles sent to make sure nothing bad is going down.

Since this session needed to function as an intro to the game (only one of the players had tried TDS before, and most were new to skirmish gaming) I set things up to form a neat intro to the game.

On the player's side, we had:
Sir Reynauld, a knight hospitalier with axe, shield and crossbow, and some faith powers. A generally competent all-rounder of a knight.
Sir Ector of Badenworth, an elderly knight, coming back from retirement for one last job. On horseback, with various melee weapons for different foes, a longbow, and all of the sensible adventuring gear.
Sir Ector's grandson, on foot with a bow and other gear. 
Sir Aedyn, a reclusive nobleman who doesn't deign to go outdoors much. Equipped for necromancy, with the ability to feed on other people's Virtue cards when he pulls their souls out. Lightly equipped, not really a front-line combatant.
A ghost Sir Aedyn can summon to fight on his behalf, a spooky skellington spearman.
Sir Barnebus the Shield, a foot knight with defensive focus, a big hammer, not much brain, and a fairy paramour who's placed him under an enchantment. Another solid melee beatstick like Reynauld.
Bill the Peasant, Sir Barnebus's hired man-at-arms, with shitty stats and a spear.
Lady Eleanor Blackwood, a minor noblewoman with various support spells and theurgical spells.
Nefta, an angel summoned by Lady Blackwood, a big looming thing that's very fast but not that good in a fight.
That's nine models on the player side, with a mixture of marksmen, spellcasters, summoned minions, support and front-line fighters.

The board was a rough blob, divided in two by a rusted fence diagonally. On one side, we set up the PCs, among marshes and stunted trees. On the other, a denser forest with a small chapel at the back. Here I set up the main opposition the PCs would encounter: Sir DeMontfort, an absolute beast of a knight with high stats and some weird corrupt biology, and his four retainers (two with spears and shields, two with bows). These five were all pretty simple, save for DeMontfort himself who had a couple of interesting tricks - a minion he could summon (by vomiting out his own skeleton to fight next to him) and some healing - alongside his fucking nasty high stats. A single knight, some supporters with spears, and some archers would give us a good overview of the basic dynamics of a fight, without anything too weird happening.
I also set up a little mandrake in the woods; it initially looked like just a cute lil' plant, but would prove important later in the fight, hopefully teaching the players to pay attention to their surroundings. Likewise, I lined up some scary looking models - skeletons, ghosts, tree-monsters and so on - next to the board to keep my players guessing what might go wrong.

The game started with Sir DeMontfort hailing the PCs, and telling them to leave this cursed place (they were about to enter the horrible vale itself, through a gate in the fence), lest he be forced to drive them away. 
As Sir Ector and DeMontfort negotiated, (both moving out of position to talk like gentlemen), some of the PCs tried to sneak towards the gate leading into the woods, not doing a particularly good job of escaping notice. Meanwhile, DeMontfort's men-at-arms took up defensive positions and took aim in case things kicked off.
After a little back-and-forth roleplayed between myself and the PCs, they got an idea of who DeMontfort was and what sort of curse he might be labouring under. It was at this point that they noticed the mass of leeches squirming under his skin and, concluding that something was badly wrong, decided to kick off a fight.
In the initial skirmish, DeMontfort belched forth his skeleton to hold the PCs at bay while he galloped back to the gate to set up a defensive position with his men. His skeleton was rapidly cut down, as was the ghost Sir Aedyn summoned to tie up the archers. After a brief flurry of exchanged shots, in which Aedyn got clipped by an arrow, losing blood but soldiering on, things devolved into a melee in the centre of the board.
As those on foot attempted to push into the woods, it devolved into a massive brawl with DeMontfort and his spearmen holding off Bill, Barnabus and Reynauld. This fight went as I'd hoped: it quickly became apparent to the PCs that they needed to control the tempo so fights would be resolved in their favour before DeMontfort could get involved and swing things with his frankly obscene 7 Prowess. Bill fought heroically (especially considering his shite stats) but had one leg sliced off by an attacker.
Finally, Sir Ector charged into the fray, catching DeMontfort from behind and smashing his head with a single sword-swipe. The leech-infested knight, gravely wounded, accepted the PCs offer of surrender. 

This seems good, right? Well, no. The little mandrake from earlier had been quietly ambling towards the fight, and - seeing blood spilled - gave a horrified scream that tore at the very souls of those present. Worse still, a group of huorns shuddered free of the trees hosting them and lurched angrily towards the fray!
This prompted a frantic re-negotiation as DeMontfort's men and the PCs took up defensive stances (and DeMontfort himself began crawling back to his skeleton to reclaim it). The huorns hit these lines in a horrible orgy of violence, smashing men-at-arms to the ground and ripping them apart. 
As the PCs fought a desperate defensive battle against the tree-monsters, Sir Barnabus sprinted up to the mandrake in question and promptly stomped all over it, taking it out of the fight. The huorns were driven off, and the fight itself ended. The fallen were patched up, and the PCs stuffed the dazed and unhappy mandrake into a sack for later use.

The whole fight was intended to teach a few lessons; in the first half giving the PCs an understanding of the importance of positioning and timing, which sunk in eventually after I made a point of screwing their plans over with cleverly-timed charges and fights. In the second half, the mandrake's shriek and emerging tree-monsters were intended to demonstrate the more narrative aspect of things, that your objectives would shift and the fight would often involve unforeseen complications. Dealing with the mandrake required the PCs to be clever and think in terms of the fictional world, which they got pretty quickly.

The whole thing had taken around two-and-a-half hours to resolve. We concluded with a thorough debriefing of DeMontfort, who informed the PCs that the water was tainted, and drinking it was what had infected him with the horrible parasites that drove the two sides to fight. He warned them that things would only get worse further into the valley, and drew them a little map with various points of interest on it. From this, the PCs decided that they would attempt to find the valley's main river and follow it upstream to it's source, to see what had corrupted the water.

Essentially, the map lets the PCs give a suggestion for what they want to do next: next weeks game will feature a fight on a river-bank against giant leeches and the cursed vampire-knight whose been training them.

Anyway, here's a picture one of the players took of the board. Having custom minis for everything and a lot of neat terrain seems to have really hooked my players, so I'm definitely glad I went all-in on the modelling for the game. None of it was super-exciting, but it all worked together nicely.

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.