Friday, 17 January 2020

Hacking EE Campaigns

So. Esoteric Enterprises is out and seems to be quite popular. I've seen a few different people discussing ways they'd run the game that isn't the 'you're a gang of criminals and meddling idiots' default, and this is very cool.
Anyway, I am 100% in favour of hacking games to make them your own, so here's a few ideas for games I might run.

For more heroic, bloodthirsty or exploration-based games, here are some XP hacks that should work quite well.

By and large, you can make a game that focusses on a particular style of monster (the same way - for example - various WoD games do) by simply tacking on the perks and drawbacks of an appropriate Spook Origin and any Monstrous Powers onto all PCs. Spook PCs are just those monsters that choose to focus on developing their inner power, rather than learning more general skills or pursuing unrelated magical power.
Some example monsters:
  • Werewolves: Living origin. Achilles Heel (silver). Animal Shape, War Form, Animal Speech, Bite.
  • Standard Vampires: Undead origin (or living, perhaps). Blood Drinking. Creature of the Night. Bite Attack.
  • Clan Tzimisce: Undead origin. Achilles Heel (sunlight). Blood Drinking. Pick three from: Flesh Sculptor, Animal Speech, See the Unseen, War Form, Hypnotic, Intoxicating Blood.. Metamorphosists use the Spook class. Fleshcrafting weirdos use the doctor class. Kolduns use the Mystic class (with Kupala as their patron). Old Clan are mostly mercenaries or explorers.
  • Ghosts: the Ghostly origin (obviously) and maybe ALSO the undead origin. Everybody gets 1 spook power to let them touch physical objects (shadow tentacles, invisible hand or poltergeist, probably). 
  • Cute Zombies: Undead origin. Detach Body Parts, Achilles Heel (headshots), Painless.
  • The Lithic Courts: Mineral Origin. Everybody starts at level six, and gets: Immune to Fire. Huge Size. Whichever one gives you bonus AC I forget the name. Unnatural Strength. Painless. Tremorsense. The Lithics are fucking hardcore
  • Morlocks: Living origin. Darkvision, and pick two from Smell Magic, Magical Prodigy, Spell Warper, Spider Climbing. Can take spells tattooed into their skin at character gen (treat them like a magician buying starting grimoires) that they can then make scrolls of. Normal morlocks must be mundane classes (bodyguards, criminals, explorers, mercenaries) while Eloi are instead Undead, and must be Occultists.
  • Innesmouth People: Living origin. Aquatic. All in the cult of the Leviathan. 
Obviously, if you're doing this, all the PCs need to be the same sort of monster, or else any semblance of balance goes straight out of the window.

Monster Hunters
The world is full of inhuman predators, infiltrating society and feeding on normal humans. Like you. Your friends. Your co-workers. Your family. You've seen them. You went to the police, and they told you not to push things further, and made it very clear that doing so would attract the wrong sort of attention to you. The establishment is riddled with things that look like people, manipulate people, but aren't people - not really. The only people you can trust are those who, like you, have seen the rot lurking within society and survived.
Inspiration: Hunter the Vigil, Call of Cthulhu, Buffy.
Classes: Mundane classes only (Bodyguard, Criminal, Explorer, Mercenary and maybe Doctor).
XP: Half XP for treasure, and only when it's liberated from supernatural monsters. Killing a supernatural monster is worth 100 XP per HD, plus 100 XP more for each victim you know (or are pretty sure) it's killed.
Rules variations: You start out at -10 reputation for every faction. 
Enemies: Monsters such as vampires, fairies, werewolves, the living dead. Worse things. Things that prey on humans. Make it graphic. Make it nasty.

Supernatural Revolutionaries
Magic is the true legacy of humanity. The world has been taken over by a sinister cabal, the Men in Black, who seek to snuff out this transcendent destiny, to keep us living like beasts in the dirt. They control everything, infiltrate all levels of power. They must be overthrown. The uprising begins at home, with you. Grab a molotov and make a difference.
Inspiration: The French resistance, Mage the Ascension, Black Crusade
Classes: Any, but supernatural classes (spooks, mystics and occultists) are particularly favoured.
XP: XP only for damage to the Men in Black and their operations. Every Man In Black you kill is worth 1,000 XP. Every £ of damage you deal to Men-in-Black facilities is worth that many XP (IE, blow up a MiB laboratory that will cost them £50,000 to replace, and that's worth 50,000 XP. Every supernatural being or aware human you rescue from MiB custody is worth 1,000 XP.
Rules variations: None. 
Enemies: The Men in Black, and mundane law enforcement. The weight of societal conformity. 

The Cult
You know the truth. Below the city, there lurks a true divinity. You see it in your dreams. It speaks to you. Shows you the beautiful world it will create when it's free. Shows you your place in the world that is to come. You understand it, know that your fellow humans don't comprehend its full majesty. You must work in secret. Your master has tasks for you, so that it might be freed. The day of reckoning draws closer. Soon, all of this will have been worth it.
Inspiration: Call of Cthulhu, various sorts of religious horror, Black Crusade (again)
Classes: Any, but mystics are particularly favoured. All mystics must worship the same patron, and non-mystics will be of this patron's cult.
XP: XP for treasure replaced with XP for treasure if it's offered to the divinity as sacrifice. Completing a task set by your patron is worth XP: GM's discretion, but a task appropriate for the PCs level, taking about a month to complete, should be about enough to level up once. Less for easier tasks, more for harder ones.
Rules variations: The city's faction-map always includes a Sleeping Godling - the cult's patron - who the PCs start at +10 reputation with. All PCs get the ability to contact the divinity in their dreams: this is mostly religiously-affirming but not mechanically significant. However, they can ask the Divinity for instructions before sleeping, and if they do the divinity will communicate in pretty direct terms what it wants. The XP reward for this is a non-diegetic abstraction, but PCs get a sense of how much the deity wants this (IE, how much XP you'll get). 
Enemies: Rival cults (all heretics). Law enforcement. Anybody your god tells you is an enemy.

Vampire Broods
You woke up one night with the salt-iron taste of blood on your lips. The sun burns you now, food turns to ash in your mouth, your heart beats only reluctantly. And the thirst... it overwhelms you at times. There are others like you. Your paths cross as you search for prey, you decide to cooperate. You hold each other back from becoming truly monstrous. You avoid the attention of beings that long ago abandoned any semblance of moral restraint. You know, deep down inside, that a similar fate awaits you unless somebody puts a bullet in your head first.
Inspiration: 30 Days Of Night, Vampire the Masquerade, Let The Right One In.
Classes: Any except Spooks. All PCs gain the perks and drawbacks of being an Undead spook, as well as the following Monstrous Powers: Blood Drinker, Bite Attack, Achilles Heel (sunlight).
XP: XP for treasure at 1/10th the normal rate. Killing a mundane mortal by draining them of blood purely for the joy of feeding grants 1,000 XP. If it's somebody you have known by name for at least a year, you immediately gain a new monstrous power exactly like a spook who just levelled up.
Rules variations: Each PC must drink at least a mouthful of human blood each night, or else be Fatigued until they next drink. Each PC keeps a tally of the number of  mortals they've killed (whether or not they drunk from them, and count those they've known by name for at least a year as 5 such people). When it reaches 25, the PC only gains XP for killing mortals. When it reaches 50, they get a 'debt' of 100 XP each night they don't drink. When it reaches 75, they must Save vs Stunning to avoid drinking if they have a chance to do so without being caught. When it reaches 100, the character becomes overcome with bloodlust, and goes totally feral, becoming an NPC; their first action will be to try to devour their fellows.
Enemies: Mortal vampire-hunters. Victims, some of them not totally helpless. And, worse, the things that your kind become after too long.

Agents of the Dero
You see them at every turn. Signs of their influence. It's all one big conspiracy. They're trying to control your mind. But, you can turn their tools against them! Manipulate the perception of reality, and reality shifts to match it! Warp reality to foil their schemes. You know others like you. Between you, you can put together the truth. (Words are tricky: does put together mean work it out? Or does it mean build your own truth from fragmentary parts?) 
Inspiration: Scanners, Jacob's Ladder, Lacuna, Don't Rest Your Head, the writings of Richard Sharpe Shaver.
Classes: Human agents can be any class except mystics or occultists (but Spooks must have the Human origin, and are basically latent psychics whose potential has been unlocked by the Dero's tools). Human agents get the Mad Insight or Slippery Mind monstrous power for free.
The Dero themselves must be Spooks with the Living origin. They start with three mostrous powers: Mad Insight, Slippery Mind, and a third power of the player's choice. Players of Dero PCs must pick a delusion or compulsion that their Dero is subject to; while there are no mechanical restrictions, they're expected to roleplay this strange perspective. When the Dero gains a level, they can switch to a new madness that reflects their experiences up to that point.
XP: XP for treasure at half the normal rate. 1,000 XP for each agent of them the PCs unmask and neutralise. Whether or not they actually were working for them; if the PCs can prove why they believe the NPC was an agent to the GM's satisfaction, they get the XP (the GM doesn't tell them if their assumption was correct.
Rules variations: At first level, each PC gets an alternate perspective on reality from this list. There's 12 of 'em, so roll a d12 for which they get. Whenever an XP reward is mentioned, count it as 1,000 XP. Whenever a PC levels up, they roll again, and can take the new result, keep their current perspective, or revert to a previously-held perspective.
Enemies: Memetic Infections, magicians that focus on mind-control, other Dero, the Men in Black. The inside of your own head.

Misunderstood Kids
Sex, drugs, blood, magic. This is the shit your mum warned you about. They don't get it. You get it. Why are you bothering with school, working for the same career that's killing your folks, fitting in to mainstream society? Fuck that! You've seen some real shit and you want more. 
Inspiration: Monsterhearts, Masks, Akira, basically all the best teen fiction.
Classes: Any, but Spooks should either have the Human origin, or else have once been human (undead teens, astral projections, etc). Every PC should be roughly the same age (between 14 and 17). PCs get -3 to their Resources level.
XP: XP for treasure at half the normal rate. Every one of the big landmarks of growing up is 1,000 XP. GM discretion. Examples might include: first time you try drugs, first kiss, first date, first time seeing a nasty horror film, first time you seriously hurt somebody in a fight, first time somebody properly rejects you for being who you really are, first time you come out of the closet to somebody, first job, first time you get arrested, first time sleeping rough, first time you're properly exposed to cold reality. First time you kill somebody. First time you wish you'd never gotten involved in all this black magic shit.
Rules variations: You're all fucking kids, so a bunch of stuff is gonna work differently.
Enemies: Monsters in the underworld. Society. Your parents. Assholes at school. Your own raging hormones.

None of these alternate lists deals with exploring the wilderness, or leading an organisation. That stuff' will need to be more in depth than I can fit in this blog-post, but I'm working on something for each. Watch this space.


  1. OH! Update! If you hadn't seen, there's a 2nd EE print run currently. It's in stock at the melsonian arts council, and should be in stock at exalted funeral soon.
    Shit sold out super fast last time, so... yeah.

    1. Awesome! Just ordered it and love reading your musings on things OSR. Now here's hoping it doesn't take forever and day to arrive in Wisconsin.

  2. This is dope. Thanks for posting these hacks.

    Still waiting for my physical copy to arrive before I run it, PDF is tiding me over until then.

  3. I just purchased pdf versions of Esoteric Enterprises and the Wolfpacks & Winter Snow, and I've been reading EE all evening. Really great and inspiring work ^_^

  4. My copy just arrived today. It is a beautiful book, can't wait to explore...

  5. Been reading through it. I really want to run a game where Veins of the Earth is below the undercity. Maybe throw in Gardens of Ynn, Fire on the Velvet Horizon, and some Unknown Armies for good measure.

    On the other hand I've been watching way too much Dark Shadows lately and the rules seem perfect for that sort of thing (I'm thinking of the Doctor and Spook class in particular).

    The book looks damn good. It's making me feel like I should finally finish writing my own RPG. Also, thank you for arranging the spells in level order! I started with 2nd edition d&d and having them alphabetical messes with my head. Looking forward to more EE stuff in the future! :)

  6. Is there any way to add other sources of XP to the base game without needing to completely ditch the resources mechanic, or at least de-link it from your level? I'd like to do XP for exploration and such, but it seems the resources mechanic requires the assumption that level strongly correlates to wealth.

    1. You would need to track the amount of loot the party brings back, and then increase their Resources when they hit 2k, then 4k, 8k, 16k etc. If you're tracking income like this, you can then decouple XP from wealth and use a different XP system for the game.

  7. I'm thinking about a Changeling Hack..