Monday, 7 October 2019

New Class - The Visionary

Visionaries are odd people. Plagued by ill health and madness from birth, each is a frail, frightened, wide-eyed thing, overwhelmed by the signs and portents they see at every turn. Something in their mind processes the world differently to other people. They see things others don't, understand things in ways other's can't, draw bizarre connections between things. By all accounts, they're totally insane, tormented by hallucinations, delusions and paranoia.
Except, of course, that they're frequently entirely correct. Their insights have a habit of being correct, and their madness has an underlying method to it that might be obscured even from the visionary. 
Many such individuals find themselves locked away in sanatoriums and asylums, or kept behind closed doors by families ashamed of the lunatic in their midst. Others go out into the world, becoming vagrants, hermits, or social dropouts. A few manage to find themselves recognised as oracles, kept somewhere safe and consulted for prophecy. 
A significant number, however, are recruited as adventurers. Neither front-line combatants, nor skilled problem solvers, a Visionary contributes little directly to their party's success. Any party that can recruit one, however, knows the value of the wild-eyed, babbling prophet accompanying them. When things are about to turn nasty, the Visionary becomes the metaphorical canary in the coal mine, and when the party's course is in doubt, the Visionary's insight becomes invaluable.

HD: d4
Saves: As a Magic User
Attack: As a Magic User
Experience Costs: As a Magic User
Weapon & Armour Restrictions: If your system restricts gear by class, no armour or shields. Weapons limited to one handed weapons, spears, thrown weapons, and slings.
Madness: The Visionary is not even slightly sane, and is not very good at hiding it. The precise details are up to you to decide; they might hallucinate wildly, have weird obsessions, find themselves driven to constantly complete arbitrary rituals, talk to themselves (or to things nobody else perceives), believe things that seem nonsensical or baseless to others, or something else. The exact details will vary wildly from Visionary to Visionary, but all exist as a coping mechanism for the visions they are constantly beset with. While there are no hard-and-fast requirements for their actions, it will always be clear to anybody observing them that they're mad. They can suppress this for a time if they wish, doing their best to put on a facade of sanity, but while doing so all their other Visionary abilities cease functioning, and they cannot gain experience for anything they do or achieve while pretending not to be mad, even if they were only feigning sanity for a small portion of the venture. 
Uncanny Insight: A Visionary can, if they concentrate, find themselves knowing all sorts of things that they shouldn't have any way to find out. The information comes to them filtered through weird symbolism and hallucinations, but they can still glean a certain amount of truth from it. To use this ability, the Visionary must be able to concentrate for a few seconds (a full round in combat) to put all the signs together. Roll a d10. On a 1-9, the Visionary gets to ask the GM a single yes-or-no question on any topic, and get a truthful answer. On a 10, the Visionary's insight has run out; they cannot ask about that general topic again until they gain a level.
Foreboding: Visionaries also tend to have a sixth sense for danger, even if they're often unable to articulate exactly what the nature of the threat might be. Whenever the Visionary or their companions are about to do something truly foolish or dangerous, or whenever they face an oncoming threat that they have no knowledge of, the GM should give the visionary a warning that they're in danger (if they want to know what from, they can use Uncanny Insight to find out more). After receiving this foreboding. the Visionary has two options available to them. They can either tune out their danger-sense, losing access to Foreboding for the rest of the day, or concentrate on it, allowing them to benefit again the next time danger looms. Concentrating on their danger-sense is mentally taxing; each time they they do, the chance that their Uncanny Insight fails entirely increases by 1 for the rest of the day. (IE: if they want to keep their Foreboding active after the first time it goes off, they fail Uncanny Insight on 9-10. After a second warning, Uncanny Insight fails on 8-10, and so on).
Second Sight: Visionaries literally see things other people don't, and sometimes those things are really there. They permanently get the benefit of See Invisibility. However, anything they can see in this way is hard to distinguish from mere hallucinations and false-positives; the invisible things get the benefit of the spell Mirror Image, with 4 imaginary duplicates of themselves; when the Visionary targets an invisible thing they can see in this way, randomise whether they hit the real target, or just prove that one of it's imaginary duplicates isn't real (eliminating it), until either the real one is revealed, or else all the duplicates are proved to be imaginary.
Uncanny Reflexes: A visionary is often aware of threats a split second before they begin, and if they concentrate on this, they can be surprisingly hard to pin down in a fight. If they spend their entire action doing nothing but trying to avoid harm, they get +4 AC and +4 to their saving throws against any attacks directed against them; doing this doesn't prevent them from moving. 

(It should go without saying that this class models somebody driven mad by supernatural prophecies and visions, and in the real world this is not at all how mental illness works. Keep taking your meds.)

Thursday, 3 October 2019

OSR is Survival Horror

No, really. Hear me out on this.
I'm don't play many video games, but survival horror is something I find fascinating.


Generally accepted qualities of survival horror games:
  • The game isolates the player in an inherently hostile environment, in which everything is a potential threat.
  • The player avatar is somewhat dis-empowered, and cannot reliably defend themselves through brute force alone.
  • Survival instead requires alertness, careful resource-management, avoiding threats, and so on.
  • Exploration is often a focus; to succeed you must keep pushing forward into danger. Environments are set up to facilitate this.
  • Shit's creepy. The game's atmosphere is often oppressive, sureally disturbing or overtly threatening.
This is all stuff that a classic oldschool dungeon-crawl does well.
Your starting PCs find themselves in a dangerous environment (the dungeon) that's full of monsters that can absolutely kick their faces in, if it comes to a direct conflict. They're cut off from the support of civilisation and surrounded by threats. To succeed, the PCs have to move forward carefully, to budget resources such as HP, spells, light, etc, to avoid random encounters where possible.  The game's about negotiating a space that wants to kill you. 
If you run it right, a good dungeon crawl evokes similar tension and building nervousness that a game like Silent Hill does, you just need to hilight the overtly horrific elements of the monsters and space.

The basic set-up of an OSR game (particularly at low levels) supports this. Exploration turns (and their associated mechanics such as light management, random encounter checks, etc) push the game towards being about exploration, and the combat mechanics are pretty fucking unforgiving if the enemy land a hit. 
I genuinely think that if you wanted to run a Silent Hill style game, or a zombie survival game, or whatever, then an OSR-style framework could work very well. You'd want to swap out gold-for-xp for something else to motivate your PCs, but that's not too hard if you understand what's driving your protagonists forward. An 'XP for uncovering horrible secrets' mechanic could work fine to mimic the 'I shouldn't want to see more but I can't resist the curiosity' drive you often see; your PCs then have a nice tension between wanting to witness the horror and needing to survive it. Once you've got that down, it's largely cosmetic design to actually produce the adventure.

Anyway, this isn't a big post but it's a thought that's been knocking about inside my head for a while.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Some Monsters From Esoteric Enterprises

Here's some stat-blocks I've been putting together. The final book is coming very soon, I'm finishing the layout but the text is 99% done save for indexing. Anyway, monsters:

Fleshcrafter
A delver into forbidden science. A grafter of limbs and organs, sculptor of flesh, puppeteer of neurones. A transhumanist whose experiments have pushed them far beyond the limits of the fragile human frame. Multi-limbed, some arms ending in delicate fingers, some in scalpel-like claws, slithering forward on improved appendages that emerge from the bottom of a white lab-coat. 
Desires further materials for experimentation; either perfect, unharmed human specimens, or else the strangest beasts to be found within the undercity.
Fleshcrafter: 5 flesh (1 dice), 12 grit (4 dice). AC 10. Saves 14+. Syringe (+4, d4 damage, and poison) or 4 claws (+0, d4 damage) . +4 bonus to saves vs poison & sickness. Dexterity, Constitution, & Intelligence all 18. Medicine & Technology 6-in-6. 
When using a syringe attack, can choose one of the following poisons if the victim fails their save:

  • Complete paralysis 2d4 rounds.
  • Lethargy (skip every other round’s action to rest) for the next turn.
  • Begin Bleeding Out from the lungs.
  • D12 toxin damage to flesh.
  • Counteract the effects of all drugs and poisons affecting the victim.
  • D12 damage to Dexterity, Intelligence and Wisdom.



Murder-children
These are children, that commit murders. Utterly feral, lacking morals. They kill because it's fun, laughing and chattering as they do it. They don’t understand why what they do is wrong. They aren’t stupid, though; you can reason with them, so long as your reasoning doesn’t rely on appeals to their conscience.
Murder Child: 1 flesh (1 dice), 4 grit (2 dice). AC 13 (small and nimble). Saves 16+. Stealth 4/6. Stolen knives (+3, d6 damage). When attacks ignore grit, +3 damage and the victim starts bleeding out. Dexterity 16.

Wendigo
A feaster on human flesh, gaining strange power from it but sacrificing a sliver of their humanity with each meal. Wiry, crouched forward, feral, yet somehow compelling. When they’ve fed recently,  healthy looking, becoming progressively more gaunt the longer it’s been since they last ate human meat. Gluttonous. Love the hunt.
Capable of blending into normal society just fine so long as they eat regularly. When they hunt, they coordinate with other killers; vampires, murder children, slashers, death-cult assassins, lycanthropes, each other. Move in loose packs, utilise traps and ambushes.
Wendigo: 5 flesh (1 dice), 10 grit (2 dice). AC 13 (naturally tough). Saves 16+. Stealth 4/6. Butcher’s knife (+3, d6+1 damage) and Bite (+3, d4+1 damage). 

On a bite that does damage to flesh, heal that many lost HP. Can track by scent.  Charisma, Strength and Dexterity 13. Carries 5 bear-traps (Save vs Machines or d10 damage) and can set snares, pit-traps etc.

Promethean
The winner of a genetic lottery, a whole host of recessive traits and divergent bloodlines coming together into an individual of  tremendous supernatural power. 
This is what humanity could be if they cast off the shackles of mundanity and mortality. A few such beings achieve great things, revolutionising entire fields of art or science, or pursuing temporal power so that they can bend the world to their will. Others descend into the occult underworld, burning the candle at both ends as they pursue supernatural power in all its forms, before dying in a storm of bullets or a flurry of unnatural claws. 
Most, though, are taken by the Men in Black. And, for the most part, they go willingly. Popular wisdom in the underground holds that this is the last that’s seen of them.  Sometimes, though, they resurface. Perhaps they’re highly placed in government, enacting the sorts of policies that keep the occult thoroughly underground. Or their name is connected to multinational organisations of staggering reach and influence.
Sometimes, they’re seen in neat black suits, with porcelain masks and insignia that makes your eyes hurt to look at.
Promethean: 7 flesh (1 dice), 25 grit (5 dice). AC 13 (agility). Saves 10+. Pistol(+9, d8 damage) or duelling sword (+9, d8+3). All stats 18. Have perhaps one to three powers from this list:

  • Create fireballs at will: all in the blast radius must Save vs Hazards or take d6 damage.
  • Total immunity to mind-control.
  • See through illusions, invisibility, disguises etc automatically.  
  • Mastery of how gravity affects them: they can levitate, walk up walls, over ceilings, fall without injury etc.
  • Flesh that can be re-shaped and altered at will. Appearance is whatever they want it to be, when they form natural weapons they attack 3 times at +9 for d4+3 damage each time (two bites and a claw), can re-create serious injuries.
  • Ability to read the surface thoughts, emotions, etc of everybody nearby.
  • Those they address by name must make a Save vs Stunning or obey any direct order made that names them.
  • Immunity to fire, electricity, acid, cold and other ‘energy’ attacks.
  • Tue ability to drain blood with a touch; +9 to hit, d4 damage to flesh and heals the Promethean that much.
  • The ability to dispel any magical effect they spend a minute interacting with or studying. 



Stubborn Foetus
An embryo, maybe four or five months old. Stubby limbs, current eyes, bulbous head. Wet, sticky, red. Crawls blindly. Dead, but doesn’t realise it. Craves warmth, life, vitality. 
Foetus: 1 flesh (1 dice), 0 grit (no dice). AC 12 Saves 16+. Gentle Bump (+0, 1 damage). Immune to all the stuff the undead are immune to. All stats are 3.

Plague Zombie
A corpse host to a horrible infection, bacterial engines stirring dead flesh into unwilling motion. Beginning putrification, infectious matter dribbling from its mouth, eye-sockets, orifices. Skin pocked and swollen with boils. Thinks only dimly, decaying neurones slaved to bacterial desires. Just being near it is a health-hazard.
Plague Zombie: 10 flesh (2 dice), 0 grit (0 dice). AC 10 Saves 14+. Claw (+2, d4+2 and infection) and Bite (+2, d4+2 and infection). Immune to poison, cold, sickness, and everything else the undead are immune to. Double damage from Holy things. 
On a successful claw or bite attack, victim must Save vs Poison or contract some disease (p. xx). 
Those killed by a Plague Zombie, or a disease contracted from it, reanimate immediately as more Plague Zombies.

Angry Fossil
A long dead monster of the primordial past. Its body skeletonized, its bones mineralized. Excavated, reconstructed, put on display. Reanimated. Acts like it did when it was a still-living dinosaur, prowling, hunting, giving rise to the deep rumbling calls of its kind from a throat long-rotted away. In its primitive saurian mind, it is alive and thrust into a strange cold world it cannot understand.
(Insert your own joke about ‘angry fossils' and OSR games here).
Angry Fossil: 10 flesh (2 dice), 15 grit (0 dice). AC 17 (made of stone, and agility). Saves 10+. 2 claws (+5, d8+1) and/or bite (+5, d12+1) and/or 1-3 horns (+0, d4+1) and/or stomp (+0, d8+1) and/or thagomizer (+0, d12+1). Immune to poison, cold, sickness, and everything else the undead are immune to. Double damage from Holy things. Which attacks it makes depends on what sort of dinosaur it was. 

Prismatic Child of Vor Glaurung
Life from the other side of the wave-particle duality. Stable self-reinforcing patterns of light, constructive interference producing a field of colour that interacts with itself. Perceive physical things only dimly. Fascinated by things that glow or give off radiation. Has a mastery of light and darkness, shadow and colour; can shift its form to produce holograms.  Enjoys petty deceptions.
Prismatic Child: 3 flesh (1 dice), 7 grit (2 dice). AC 12 (weird anatomy). Saves 12+. Dazzling Light (Blind 1 round & 1 damage, Save vs Stunning resists). Immune to physical damage, cannot be physically touched, totally immaterial. Covers an area roughly 20 ft across, in which it can produce any visual image it wants; not an illusion (no saves to ‘see through’ it), just a mass-less hologram. Bright light does 1 damage per round of exposure, spells such as Darkness do d4 per round. 

Ghost Train
The echo of a subway train, now cancelled following some horrible accident. Or maybe it was a bombing or a suicide or a hijacking that did it in, or it was just the victim of budget cuts. It hardly matters anymore, it was decades ago and even the elderly and nostalgic hardly remember riding that route. 
It appears like a subway train, but one from the past. Old and obsolete, crusted with graffiti and mildew and neglect. Belching diesel fumes, grinding endlessly into the night. Stopping at buried stations whose entrances are blocked from the surface. Taking on only the restless dead and the morbid explorers of the underworld. 
It’s almost alive and aware, sharing a gestalt of the frustrations and worries of those who rode it. Behaves like a squirming serpent of steel and glass. Those who get in its way it barrels into, grinding them down beneath its churning wheels. 
Riding the ghost train is easy. Find a station it stops at, pay two coins to the conductors (stats as Petty Spirits) and it will let you ride it. Its route winds across the subway tracks of the undercity, and beyond. Ride for too long and you might find yourself in other cities, or even other worlds; Stygia, Dis, and the Earth’s Veins all receive the ghost train at times.
Ghost Train: 18 flesh (6 dice), 6 grit (2 dice). AC 16 (metal). Saves 7+. Crash (+0, 3d10). Immune to Physical damage. Those boarding the train treat it as physical, those on the tracks treat it as immaterial. Crash attack affects the material world, but does as much damage to the train as well. Regenerates 5 hp a round.
This default ghost train has three carriages. For each extra carriage, add 2 flesh dice and 6 flesh points. Passengers on the train are mostly ghosts and undead, but all are equally tangible to each other while they ride it.

Angler-turtle
A huge snapping turtle, it’s shell covered in rough detritus that blends into the muck where it hides. From its jaw extends a long appendage with a fleshy bait on the end that the turtle wiggles hypnotically, drawing prey in range of its bite. In some cases, even otherwise intelligent prey can become mesmerised by the gently undulating lure. 
Angler turtle: 4 flesh (1 dice), 8 grit (2 dice). AC 16 (shell). Saves 16+. Stealth 5/6. Bite (+3, d8 damage). Animal intelligence (int 3).
Can cause the hypnotic waggling of its lure to resemble something desirable to its prey (easy food, a big pile of money); it has no conscious control over what, instead each victim sees whatever their mind thinks makes most sense as ‘something I want’ in their current situation. A save vs stunning sees through the illusion but can only be attempted after an interaction with the turtle or its bait.
Attacking its lure has AC 10, but gives the turtle a free bite attack immediately, at +4. 

Black Goat
A bestial avatar of the Black Goat Of The Woods With A Thousand Young. Shaggy body, weird octopoid eyes, head crowned with curling horns. Subtly deformed and asymmetric, off-putting to look at. It staggers and scrambles, voice rasping. It carries the blessings of a divinity that’s old and savage and inhuman, a force of dark fecundity.
Black Goat: 4 flesh (1 dice), 2 grit (1 dice). AC 12 (agile).  Athletics 4/6. Saves 17+. 2 horns (+1, d4). 3/6 chance to cast  one of the following spells if it spends its action twitching and confulsing: bleeding curse, darkness, spider climb, parasitic infestation. Animal Intelligence (int 3)

Cave Bear
Once, these creatures were apex predators in an ice-age world. Revered by some of the earliest cultures as semi-divine in their own right, existing at the heart of widespread bear-cults. Those times are long past. Humanity has prospered, spread across the globe in a position of total dominance. The once-revered bears have been driven underground, taking refuge in subterranean lairs.
The bears have not forgotten that they used to be worshipped. Like the cat and the crocodile and the serpent, every troglodytic bear knows, deep in its sinewy heart, that it was once a divinity, and it might be once more.
Cave Bear: 8 flesh (2 dice), 16 grit (4 dice). AC 13 (agility and thick hides). Athletics 3/6, Saves 13+. Bite (+6, d8) and two claws (+6, d6). If both claws hit, draws the victim in for a ‘hug’; next round, does d12 damage to that victim automatically instead of claw attacks. Unusual animal Intelligence (int 5). Memories of divinity give it a 7+ save against divine magic (such as from mystics). 

Collector of Eyeballs
A dweller in the undercity, a bizarre blend of human, bald flightless bird, and naked mole-rat. It’s body has the pink, saggy wrinkled skin of an elderly human, hanging loose over a gangly emaciated frame. Torso squat and drooping, its arms and legs extend out seven feet, have an additional joint that allows them to bend oddly. Each limb ends in a set of talons like chicken-claws. Its head is bald, almost featureless. A narrow slit of a mouth with rodent-incisors, and empty skin-lined eyesockets. Like looking at a horrible naked old man whose limbs unfold further than they should.
It hunts eyeballs. Not to eat them, just to treasure. Its kind trade notable eyeballs like children trade pokemon cards, and have all manner of cunning methods to keep them preserved.
Collector of Eyeballs: 4 flesh (2 dice), 6 grit (2 dice). AC 12 (nimble). Saves 15+. 2 Claws (+5, d6 and pluck eyes) Stealth & Sleight of Hand 4-in-6. Dexterity 16, Constitution 5. Can ‘see’ perfectly well in the dark despite lacking eyes. 
Claw attacks have 10 foot range. Any claw attack that deals damage to flesh also results in the Collector plucking out one of its victim’s eyes, unless protective goggles etc are worn. Once it’s plucked out a pair of eyeballs, it pops them in its eye-sockets and heals fully.

Radioactive Vampire
A creature of the deep lithosphere. Composed of dense meat and sinew, like layers of translucent leather over luminous blue-green uranium skeleton. 
Four long spider-limbs emerge from a squat flat central thorax. Between its shoulder-blades, a face. Vaguely human, but withered and desiccated, as if mummified by the dull alpha-particle radiation it exudes. Sunken eye-sockets, lips pulled back from shark-tooth studded gums. 
It skitters like a monkey-centipede hybrid. Squeezes through gaps no human could fit into. Glows in the dark. Out of the shadowy recesses of a crack in the wall, a ten foot, luminous arm gropes out to clutch at prey, dragging it back to the things ragged mouth.
Radioactive Vampire: 7 flesh (2 dice), 7 grit (2 dice). AC 16 (nimble and made of uranium). Saves 15+. 2 Claws (+5, d6) or Bite (+0, d10 and blood draining). Athletics 4-in-6.
If both Claw attacks hit the same target successfully, can make a free Bite attack that hits automatically. 
If a Bite deals damage to flesh, it drains vital fluids and heals as much as the damage dealt.
After a turn of proximity, or on a successful Bite attack, Save vs Poison to avoid contracting Radiation Sickness. Immune to radiation. Half damage from heat and electricity. 

Neural Slime
A mass of protoplasmic grey matter, an amorphous squirming conglomeration of neurones. Absorb and incorporate the neural data of its victims, engulfing their heads to draw out the electro-chemical data trapped in their brain matter. Dimly intelligent, a gestalt of all the minds already absorbed.
Neural Slime: ?? flesh (1-10 dice), 0 grit (0 dice). AC 11. Saves 14+. Extrusion (+0, d12 damage to intelligence and mind absorption). +7 to saves against mind-affecting stuff. Intelligence 15, Charisma 5, Wisdom 5. 5 HP per HD.
They sense vibrations and heat, allowing them to detect living beings even in total darkness and silence. 
Whenever it deals damage to Intelligence, heals that much damage that it’s suffered. If this would bring it above it’s starting HP value, it instead heals to full, and gains an additional HD with 5 HP.

Root Dryad
As dryads inhabit the trunks of huge trees above the ground, so these strange, pale spirits inhabit and embody the vast networks of tree roots beneath the earth. Take the form of pallid, misshapen women, stretched out to seven feet tall then hunched over, trailing little white-rootlet hairs from their heads. Their eyes are faintly luminous green. Their voices soft, like crumbling loam.
They love the wonderlands beneath the earth. Tend to roots and fungi and mulch like a responsible park ranger. Sing to the stone and seeping water. 
Despite their malformed bodies, their voices are achingly beautiful. 
Root Dryad: 4 flesh (1 dice), 5 grit (1 dice). AC 12. Saves 14+. Root Lash (+2, d6 damage). Charisma & Dexterity 16.
Double damage from fire, cannot drown. Can swim through soil like it was water, see in the dark perfectly. Recovers 1 HP per round while resting in her particular root-mass, dies if the root-mass is dug up and destroyed. 
Can cast Awaken Plants at will, and Suggestion once per turn, singing to do so.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Terminology - Diegetic vs Non Diegetic

In this post, I'm going to clarify and explain some terminology I use when discussing RPGs. It's going to be wordy and pedantic. It's also getting posted up because I made a quick post on twitter, people got the wrong end of the stick, and now I want to explain what I mean in more than 240 characters.

So. 
Diegesis.


First, I'm going to give a definition of the term as it's used in film studies (which is where I'm stealing it from).
Diegetic (adjective): Actually taking place or existing in the fictional world depicted.

Non-diegetic (adjective): Not actually taking place or existing in the fictional world depicted, an external thing to the fictional world depicted that the audience percieves.
'Diegesis (noun)' has some accademic stuff attached to it, but I generally see it used to mean 'the concept of things being diegetic' or sometimes 'the fictional world that diegetic things take place in'.

So, for example. A scene's musical soundtrack is non-diegetic. John Williams wrote some music, an orchestra played it, and now that music is being played to the audience at the same time as we watch the scene. However: music coming from in the world is diagetic: a good example of this is when we see characters actually singing or playing instruments. Jessica Rabbit singing 'Why Don't You Do Right' in Who Framed Roger Rabbit is diagetic; in the fictional world she's literally singing that, whilst The Doors playing at the beginning of Apocalypse Now isn't: it's a soundtrack added for the audience.
Other stuff in films that's non-diegetic includes the credits, subtitles, voiceovers, slow-motion, all that stuff.

You can apply this to other mediums, too. In comics, the white boxes around panels are non-diegetic; the world doesn't exist enclosed in a little white square. In video games, your mini-map, control scheme, etc are all non-diegetic; they're contrivances to make the game work, not real things that exist in the fictional world depicted.
With me so far?


(As an aside, while this is technically academic language, I've seen it used plenty outside academia. I studied theoretical physics at university - until I ran out of money for tuition and got kicked out - so I never had any formal academic interaction with the terms. I picked them up from watching film & anime reviews on youtube. Anybody who pays much attention to film criticism and analysis has probably come across the terms.)


Anyway. This is an RPG blog, and I'm here to talk about RPGs. So, Diegesis in RPGs.

One thing I find attracts me to various games - notably Powered By The Apocalypse and OSR games - is that you first interact with things using the fictional actions of your PC to affect the fictional world. You treat the world as a real, consistent place, and the GM adjudicates what happens based off that. 

I find it useful to talk about 'things that exist in the fictional setting' versus 'things that only exist for the players'. So, it's useful to me to steal terminology from film studies and talk about diegetic and non-diegetic elements of games. Diegetic things are things which exist or happen or are observable in the fictional world, while non-diegetic things only exist to the players, on an out-of-character level.


Here's some things that are diegetic in RPGs:
  • A PC's equipment.
  • A character's height, weight, eye colour, etc.
  • Alignments, probably; if you can cast 'detect evil' to know that that monster over there is objectively evil, then alignments are concrete forces in the game world, and your paladin being Lawful Good is a diagetic fact.
  • A wizard's spell-slots in D&D; a wizard can meaningfully talk about 'I have two spells left today, and they are Sleep and Spider Climb' without breaking the fourth wall.
  • Blood Points in Vampire the Masquerade; it's an observable (and generally understood) fact of the setting that you need to drink about a pint of blood each night to make up for the blood used to wake up, and if you don't you'll start starving, likewise that using your powers probably needs about a pint of blood.
  • Getting Turned On in monsterhearts. While its expressed through a slightly simplified game mechanic, it is a fact of the setting that a PC has experienced a stirring of erotic or romantic desire. Their response to this varies, and might involve more game mechanics, but the state of being Turned On is a real thing in the fictional world.
  • That some PCs are stronger than other PCs. Gronk the Fighter can lift heavier weights, hit harder, break down doors better, arm-wrestle better etc than Elzebeth the Wizard.
  • Being injured: the victim has - in the fictional world - been hurt, and might be bleeding, have broken bones, etc. 



Here's some things that are non-diegetic in RPGs:
  • Dice rolls.
  • Numerical measures of things like HP, attributes, etc. Those are abstractions being used to quantify a more complex fictional thing for the purposes of game-play.
  • Experience points, inspiration, bennies, etc that give the player a resource to use on a meta-level that doesn't represent anything in-world.
  • Lines & veils over what content and themes will make it into the game.
  • Mechanics that allow a player to introduce content to the game, such as Stars Without Numbers's Connect skill, which gives a PC a chance to know an NPC they just met from before the game began, letting the player define what their relationship is like. There's a LOT of collaberative world building techniques and mechanics out there that do similar things.
  • Mechanics such as fate-points, 
  • References to other media. A lot of old Paranoia adventures had PCs whose names were puns, took the piss out of other RPGs, and so on: these jokes are on the meta-level, for the players: a paranoia called Hamburg-ELL-R was not named by Friend Computer to be a reference to old macdonalds adverts, and nobody in the setting will get the reference.
  • Metaphors and themes of the game. For example, I'm in a V5 game where we're explicitly exploring ideas around power, control, and moral judgement; these things are gonna come up and be relevant. Our PCs, however, aren't aware that they're being used to discuss these themes; they're just people.
  • Character 'theme songs' and other inspiration. 



To clarify: this is not the same as the distinction between 'fluff' and 'crunch' (also expressed as flavour vs mechanics, lore vs rules, etc). 

To repeat.
The distinction between diegetic content and nondiegetic content is not the same as the distinction between flavour and mechanics.

Why is this? Something can be a game mechanic and also diegetic. (See: blood points are a real thing in VtM, and so 'spend a point of blood to rise each night' is just... what happens in the fiction). Something could also be non-mechanical and not diegetic (for example "Changeling the Dreaming explores themes around loss of innocence, growing old, dementia, etc" is not a mechanic but not a diegetic fact, neither is "This game will not include rape or sexual assault, or any mention of those").


So why am I explaining this?
I think it's useful to be able to discuss if a game element is diegetic or not when discussing game design, and I've not really seen useful terminology for. 
Mostly, these discussions use the terminology for fluff vs crunch, which leads to active confusion. 

This area of gameplay/game design is one where even subtle distinctions in phrasing can dramatically alter meaning. I think it's useful to have a precise term that means 'this thing and only this thing' with no room for confusion or other common usages. 

If you start thinking about things in terms of diegesis, you get the tools to explain and explore stuff nicely that you wouldn't otherwise. For example:
  • Are the powers a D&D 4th edition PC has diegetic or not? Do the different weapon strikes, moves, spells and so on represent distinct techniques a PC has been taught? Can a 4e fighter talk about the different techniques they use? Or are they a non-diegetic abstraction that simplifies the chaos of combat into maneagable gameplay? Or is it somewhere between the two?
  • Similarly, D&D 4e uses its 'bloodied' mechanic to take a previously non-diegetic mechanic (losing HP) and make it somewhat more diegetic; it's an in-fiction fact that when half of a monster's HP are gone, it's got visible injuries, blood everywhere, etc. It allows you to discuss a non-diegetic thing (how many HP has the monster lost?) in diegetic terms (is the monster bloodied yet?).
  • Is the symbolism in a game diegetic or not? As a audience, we know that a vampire feeding is a bit rapey. Could a toreador poet draw on that symbolism in their poetry, describing feeding using rape as a metaphor? Etc.
  • Can lines and veils be made diegetic? For example, there's a difference between 'this is a game where you won't encounter sexism' and 'this setting is completely gender-blind and no society sees any differentiation between genders; sexism is a meaningless concept in this setting'.
  • Can game mechanics be made diegetic? What happens if you take the idea of a 'class' in D&D and make it an obvoious measurable thing; so that you can cast 'detect barbarian' to tell if a PC is a barbarian, just like if you cast 'detect evil' to tell if they're evil.
This is something that I deal with a lot because a lot of my design goals centre around the boundries and blurry areas between diegetic and non-diegetic mechanics, ways to make a mechanic more diegetic, and ways to make non-diegetic mechanics at least parallel diegetic things (for example, gold-for-xp is non-diegetic, but it parallels a PCs diegetic desire to get rich because being rich is nice. Likewise most systems which reward XP for specific achievements). Discussion and design around 'can we make this mechanic more diagetic' and 'can we represent this diegetic phenomenon with an elegant abstraction' are some of the areas I'm most interested in. 
(as an example: whenever a Wounded Daughter ressurects, she's left robbed of some of her potential, a little more withdrawn and a little more bitter and resentful. She's somehow lesser, and although she can grow past that, it's a serious and unpleasant thing: representing this by a debt of XP that she won't benefit from expresses it in a neat, simple way; the XP is an abstraction for the more diegetic idea of the PCs rich inner life being eroded.) 
These are all conversations we can be having already, but the use of the terminology allows us to be more precise and better understand what's being said.


Lastly: is using academic terminology to discuss RPGs gatekeeping? I'm pretty sure it isn't. 
As I've said earlier, I have no academic background in this sort of thing, and picked the term up from youtube. This isn't something I'm familiar with because I've got the privilege of a liberal-arts education. I'm not even particularly posh or anything, I just watch too many youtube videos. 
On top of this, I do think that tabletop RPGs are kind of lagging behind other media in terms of analysis. Even in terms of interactive media, there's far more discussion for videogames and larps than there is ttrpgs. We basically have the Forge and that's it. Treating the subject matter as something that you can discuss in depth with technical language isn't necessarily a bad thing. If I'm having a deep technical discussion with another RPG writer about this stuff, having the precise language to describe what I mean is useful.
Hell, if somebody uses a term I don't recognise I can just ask them to define it. 
The expectation that all discussion around a medium should be accessible to new players without much grounding in the discussion is unreasonable; it keeps the discussion at a shallow level. Some discussions are gonna be in-depth and require a good understanding of the subject matter, and they're not gonna be easy to grock until you've been in the field for a while. Expecting discussions to dumb-down and avoid academic language so everybody knows what's going on will - in practice - just stifle more in-depth discussion.

Anyway, there you go:
Diegetic & Non-diegetic as terms for RPGs. Now go forth and use them in conversation, it will make you sound clever and help explain your thoughts better.



Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Disminster Town, a randomly-generated Occult Underground

So. I'm mostly done writing up the systems for generating a city for Esoteric Enterprises. The basic idea is that, before the game begins, you can drop a bunch of dice on a sheet of paper, and the numbers and position tell you what's there and how they interrelate. You do this twice; once to generate the physical layout of the undercity, and once to generate the various active factions and the political relations between them.
I'm gonna do this here. This isn't pre-planned or anything; consider it a sort of Actual Play for GM prep. Not everything is quite done, so if I roll something I haven't yet generated, I'll just have to make shit up to fill in the blanks, but that shouldn't happen toooo much.

So, to start, I'm gonna roll up the undercity itself: a mess of tunnels, caves, bunkers and ruins beneath the city, infested with supernatural weirdness. This is basically a small megadungeon that your PCs can drop in and out of as the campaign progresses.
The first step is to drop a bunch of dice onto a sheet of paper, and record what dice landed where (both the size of the dice and what it rolled). I don't have a camera, so I'll just draw the results in MS Paint. Here's what it looks like.
You roughly link up the map, joining each dice to a couple of neighbours with a line. Each dice is a complex in the undercity, and the lines represent the connecting tunnels between them. There's a bunch of tables for what these actually are. You can look up the number on the dice for what the complex is. For the connecting tunnels, look at the size of the dice at each end.
Applying this to our map, we get this: 

And then lastly, we just want to tidy this up. I'm gonna add another entrance from the surface, and tweak a couple of the connecting tunnels and complexes (since it makes sense to have two limestone cave complexes connected by a natural feature, and there's a derelict subway station that's away from the rest of the rail network that I'm gonna turn into something more fun).
I'm also gonna add a scale to the map, and colour-code some of the connections and complexes for easy reference.

This is pretty arbitrary, but I've divided the undercity into 5 rough types of area. Natural caves are blue, the subway system is yellow, the city's old mines are red, ancient ruins are green, and the city's infrastructure is purple.
Anyway, we'll be coming back to this. 

Next up, we want to see who our factions in the undercity are.
This uses the same method as before: drop a bunch of dice and see what you get. Here's where my dice landed for this:
Again, the result on the dice tells us who the faction are. Link the factions together like before, and the dice-size at each end tells us how the factions linked relate to one another. 
Doing this to our results, we get this rough network.
So far so good, right? But this is very bare bones, so I'm going to look up each of the factions, roll up the most relevant details, give them a name, etc. Let's see what we get.


Here's who these factions are:
O'Riley's Sausage Factory, an abotoire/butchers family business. Makes pork products. To give them an edge in the market, they employ a banshee, the ghost of a dead employee, and a cultist of Anassa the Spider Queen.

The Court of Grinding Hematite. A collection of chivalrous geological beings that have emerged from the depths of the earth. On a noble quest to smite and destroy the Children of Taash. Suffice to say, the conflict between an ancient vampire progenitor and the lordlings of the earth's core has not yet kicked off in ernest, but will be explosively disastrous when it does, with mere mortals caught between two titanic forces.
The Rosellini's. Standard Sicilian Mafia.
The White Eye Cartel. Smugglers from the European mainland. Specialise in counterfeit goods and bootleg alcohol, with a side-line in human organs and the memory-wiping drug Nepenthe.
The Puck Society, an occultist cabal. A variety of different fields of study, but their current research is largely into mind-affecting magic. 
Work closely with the Troy Town Gaming Club, a group pushing the possibilities of mind-shattering revelations as detailed in The Green Book (the diary of a teenage girl descending into witchcraft and madness in the early 19th century).
The Blake Street Lads. A collection of bored working-class kids from Blake-Street 6th Form College. Thoroughly infiltrated and controlled by members of the Puck Society and Troy Town Gaming Club; many of their college teachers are involved with the two cabals, and poor kids are excellent test-subjects. Suffice to say, being infiltrated by magicians working on mind-control and sanity-erosion is not great for the members' mental health.
The Carter Family. Local hard-man types. Care a lot about keeping up appearances, run protection rackets. Their conflict with the O'Rileys goes back generations.
Hillside Massive, another gang of angry kids. Mess around with various drugs, enjoy their cocaine. Also infiltrated by the Troy Town Gaming Club, which probably bodes poorly for them.
The Disciples of Pluto, Dis Pater. A cult worshipping the Roman lord of the underworld. See to it that the dead stay in their proper place, have a controlling interest in the city morgue. Led by Flavia Secondus; once, she was an oracle of Dis Pater, bringing His commandments to His followers in Roman-occupied Britain. She's a ghost now, but she still does the same thing. The cult are old.
The Usurian Society. A minor cult of Mammon, deity of obscene wealth. Basically a rich-kids club, where the unreasonably posh have decided that rubbing their money in the face of the poor is actually a holy calling. Date back to an 18th century Hellfire club that went weirdly spiritual.
The Crookeville-Marsh Family. Old, wealthy, and influential. Old money going back to the Renaissance, known for their trade interests in the south pacific. Have a distinct family 'look', with wide, round, pale eyes. The inner circle of the family, those of purest blood, have rubbery pale skin and luminous lamp-like eyes, and dwell in the permanently flooded basements of their ancestral home. The family patriarch is Ezekial Crookeville, a 15th century vivimancer who's still alive. The family matriarch is Volborolnos the Fecund, an ancient aboleth. It's best not to think about Ezekial and Volborolnos's love life, but they continue to produce descendants. 
The Dravinskis, a Ukrainian crime family. Heavily tattooed, involved in smuggling. Professional and courteous, but will fuck you up if you betray them. Have backing from abroad.
The 10-legged Spider. An occult research group. Possess the Eltdown Shards, detailing the culture of Triassic spider-people of supposedly magnificent power that they want. Looking to acquire Pnakotic Manuscripts that will allow them to reach into the past and contact these spiders. Most of their number are Arachnophile mages, with a few cultists of Anassa the Spider Queen in there too.
Greyguard Security. A mercenary company with dealings in the occult underworld. Saw some action in the middle-east, saw some nasty shit get dug up by archaeologists out there, and decided to limit their work to the British mainland. Thoroughly infiltrated by the Children of Taash.
Taash, an ancient vampiric progenitor from the biblical era. Dug up during the recent unpleasantness in Syria, and promptly used Greyguard Security to get themselves transported to the less war-torn UK. Taash himself is an 8-foot-tall, six-armed porcelain-skinned monstrosity of radiant beauty, claiming to a child of the goddess Tannit. In truth, Taash is a being of pale violet ichor that parasitically controls exsanguinated human corpses. His children retain some of their own blood and personality, but are likewise infested with Taash's ichor, which transforms them into marble-skinned Adonises. Taash and his children want to go back to the good old days of blood orgies and human sacrifices, and they're taking steps to get this done. Greyguard Security are merely the first front for their expanding infection.

Anyway.
Let's go back to our map of the undercity.

We have four cult strongholds, but only two cults in the city. I'd say that two of these are in fact the various hidden grave-shrines of the cult of Dis Pater, each representing a different aspect of the worship of Pluto. We can also say that the Reliquary was built by them in the city's history.
We can stick the Cult of Mammon in another cult stronghold, but this leaves one empty. What to do with it?
I'm going to stick a reclusive cult into the fourth stronghold. Since two factions (O'Rileys and the 10-legged Spider) have Anassa cultists among them, I'll make it a stronghold for Anassa cultists who mostly don't interact with the rest of the occult underworld.

There's a mad-scientist's laboratory on the map. Again, without a faction of mad doctors, these people are probably recluses and politically neutral. Let's say that Dr Alice is more interested in her cloning experiments, doesn't take sides, but will patch you up if you pay her. 
There's likewise a Morlock Camp, which again has a minor tribe in it that don't really get involved with outsiders. Let's call them the Flint-Scent tribe. Since the Morlock Camp will have a route down to the deeper veins of the earth, it makes sense that this is where the Court of Grinding Hematite emerged from. In fact, to explain why these Morlocks aren't an active faction of their own, let's say that the Flint-scent are direct servants of the Grinding Hematite. 
We've got an Underground Club here. It makes sense initially to have it be controlled by a criminal group, and I'm gonna pick the Carter Family for this. However, we know that Taash's children are depraved hedonists (and vampires hunting in nightclubs is a fine old tradition), so I'm gonna say that Taash's children also have a strong presence here, probably aiming to take control soon. Let's give it a name: Azrael's Club seems pretentious and edgy enough.
It's worth noting that the Flint-scent's camp is right next to Azrael's Club, connected by a section of natural caves. This immediately puts the Grinding Hematite and Taash in contact with each other, so we can expect that conflict to kick off soon!
Lastly, there's a few gang strongholds down here, and plenty of gangs to assign them to. Let's put both of the infiltrated street-gangs in them, giving them, and the wider alliance of the street-gangs and occultist cabals, some healthy access to the undercity.
Here's how our map ends up looking:
Lastly, let's roll up a few events for what's going down directly as the PCs enter the equation. I rolled some dice and got the following results:
There's a mainstream religious revival going down, making life difficult for people on the fringes. Maybe fire-and-brimstone Baptists want to get all of the dodgy pagan cults in town.

There's a serial killer stalking the streets, which makes life hard for everybody.
A bomb just went of recently. I'm gonna say this was Greyguard Security's work (on behalf of Taash), attacking the holdings of the Crookeville-Marsh family, who Taash sees as a threat.
Lastly, there's a job for the PCs! Word gets to them that somebody's been targetting the families of the Disciples of Pluto with harassment and intimidation, attempting to psyche them out. The cult of Dis Pater don't know who's responsible, but want it fixed. In truth, it's just our angry fundamentalists being obnoxious.


So, that's our town.
Looking at everything here, it's got old mines, a lot of old roman influences, and is probably close to the see considering that the Crookeville-Marsh family are basically Innesmouth People. I think I'll put it in Cornwall, making it an old tin-mining town. I'll call it Disminster, and say it's a once-prosperous tin- and silver-mining town that's fallen on harder times since the mines shut down. Since then, it's still by the sea, and police presence is low, so the harbour makes sense as a place where various foreign criminal organisations (the White Eye Cartel, Rosellinis and Kravinskis) to make a beachhead in Britain. Clearly, there's a conflict between fairly modern bible-thumping protestant christians, and the older pagan cults in the town, as well as various well-embedded old-money families with links to the occult and/or crime. Everything's a bit run down, with lots of timber buildings slowly falling apart. Probably graveyards everywhere, too.
All things considered, although things are currently peaceful, there's some tension there ready to blow up, in multiple directions.

I'm quite pleased with how this process works. There's enough noise and random detail to make pulling out interesting threads easy, and things come together quite organically. I could have spent ages deliberating, but instead I got to roll and see, which is fun in its own right. Putting all this together has been a couple of hours of rolling, sketching and inventing details. I'll still need to roll up the layouts of individual complexes, each of which is (again) a handful of dice dropped on the paper and linked up, to give a network of tunnels and rooms. But that can wait, as I only need to roll up a complex when the PCs decide to explore there.

Anyway, here's some art from the book, to give you a feel for the tone.









Esoteric Enterprises - Complete Edition is nearing being done, and I for one am excited. You should be too, tbh, because it's gonna be great.

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.