Tuesday, 23 August 2022

So What Is Black Death Walking?




A narrative wargame I'm making, in the same vein as something like Mordheim, Necromunda or Gorkamorka.


 Let's start with the setting. I'll quote right from the text, since I think this sums things up pretty well:

The Year Is 1460.

It has been a century since the Black Death arrived in Europe, bringing with it mass death, madness, and despair.

It has been two generations since the dead filled hell and spilled back into the mortal world, rising from their graves to prey upon the living.

It has been a generation since the Beast rose to power, opening the doors to hell.

If this is the apocalypse, how much deeper will things sink before this world is redeemed?

This is a damned world.

A world of rot and pestilence, where the living dead stalk the blighted landscape, the servants of hell preach openly, and those mortals who survive huddle in their hidden villages and besieged castles.

The great powers of the world number SIX:
The Beast, who is the mailed fist of corrupt political power.
The Whore Of Babylon, who preaches decadence and delight.
Wormwood, which fell from the sky and brings madness.
The Four Horsemen, who will scourge the earth.
The Dragon, Satan, whose rage sets the world ablaze.
Hades the abyss, where the dead walk.

So in the mix here we have grotty medieval fantasy, a plague-fuelled zombie apocalypse, and all the biblical weirdness talked about in the book of revelations. Tonally, I'm drawing inspiration from black metal, the whole turnip-28 wargaming thing, mordheim, mork borg, and the weirder bits of medieval history.
But! I'm keeping the setting pretty loose and open. I want this to be a sort of jumping-off-point for modelling and stories, not a tightly detailed setting you're expected to be accurate to. It's one of those settings that's made of themes rather than facts, y'know?


OK, so! Mechanics!

It's a skirmish game, with maybe ten models to a side, each with individual stats.

The core game itself is pretty streamlined, but not the bare-bones minimalism you sometimes see. Tests are roll-under, and advantages and disadvantages let you roll an extra dice and take the better/worse. Pretty simple.
Each turn, each model gets to do exactly one thing. It might move, use a special ability, shoot, or resolve a fight. That last one bears some thought: a model has to spend its one action that turn to resolve the fight, and then every model involved rolls off to see which side wins. 
This means that timing becomes important. An action spent resolving a fight is wasted, when you could instead wait and make your opponent use their action to resolve the fight instead. But if you wait, maybe your opponent can bring more of their forces to bear, tipping the scales in their favour. So when to wait, when to push more models into a melee, and when to seize the moment becomes an important tactical decision. Timing and momentum matter.
Violence isn't super lethal. A shot has maybe a 1-in-4 chance to take a model out of action if everybody has middling stats. The same goes for a blow struck when you win a fight. So shooting lets you whittle down the enemy, and winning fights is as much about pushing back and disrupting enemy formations. Decisive blows that take a model out of action are turning points.

On top of this, most games will have zombies present. Sometimes only a couple, sometimes over a dozen. More might well join over the course of the game.
The zombies use their own AI. Each turn, after every player has gone, you draw a card (from a standard 54-card deck) for what the zombies do, and the suit and value will give you some instructions that you can resolve automatically. Some games, zombies will be a complication to play around or cause mild attrition. If you get unlucky, though, the zombies can prove to be a massive problem as they swarm vulnerable models. 

All in all, this produces a game where timing and position matter, where you can lock down enemies or force their hand with careful timing, and this lets you play over objectives since a board-wipe is probably going to be fairly inefficient. 
Notably, scenarios in this game use loose objectives - things like 'hurt a particular enemy' or 'defend a monument' or 'find as much treasure as possible' - but these are your suggested goals at the start of the game. What you're trying to do might shift as the game progresses. Maybe one enemy model becomes a real problem for you, and you want to take that particular fucker down. Maybe things go badly, and you just want to get out of things intact. 
The game ends by mutual agreement, when both players agree that the outcome isn't in doubt. You win if you honestly feel like you can call how the game ended 'winning'. It's possible for both players to claim a win, if their goals were orthogonal to each other. It's possible for you both to lose if the zombies got lucky.

But when games end, that leads to the campaign system. At the end of the game, models that got taken out of action suffer a wound, lowering the value of a random stat. Likewise, models that survived intact on the winning side get a battle scar, improving the value of a random stat. So, depending on how the games go, your models will find their stat lines evolving to reflect what they've been through.
If a model dies, however, it's not gone. That would be too merciful. Instead, the plague in their blood brings them back as undead, which is a bit of a debuff but hardly career ending. 
Then, you get a bit of income. More if you did well during the game. Probably enough to buy a new model every couple of games.

Lastly, then, you roll for Events. This is what happens to your warband before the next game. Maybe you find wandering strangers who want to join up with you. Maybe you find treasure or somewhere useful. Maybe there are grim portents of the end of days, and your warband are... altered. More than anything else, Events will make your warband evolve and mutate over time. A warband can end up going in unexpected directions, as the end times fuck with them.
On top of this, every warband has an expiration date. When you make them, you decide what their ultimate destiny is. This could be glorious, tragic or quietly poignant, but it's the end of the road for them. Maybe they go out in a blaze of glory fighting the forces of the Beast. Maybe they succumb to the plague infecting them. Maybe they establish a beachhead in the depths of hell. Whatever it is, their story is over. Certain events will bring you one step closer to this final destiny, as might the results of the games you play.

Really, the game's about telling stories over winning or losing. Success brings you closer to your inevitable end, and failure isn't too punishing, so go with where the dice take you and make it interesting.


So lastly, warbands. Who can you play as?
There's twelve warbands in total. Each has a selection of default models it can take, but you can always pay a little extra to hire in a model from a different warband as a mercenary. There's also hired swords that can only be taken as mercenaries. So while each warband is tightly themed, you can spend a little to diversify things.
The warbands available to you are:

Survivors. The regular remains of humanity, living the most normal lives they can. Regular soldiers, knights, nuns etc. They're a pretty default middle-ground warband, with average stats, access to most equipment but nothing particularly weird about them. Good for new players, and you can adapt them in most directions as the game progresses.

Flagellants. Apocalyptic weirdos driven to religious madness by the end times. Half-naked weirdos covered in scars, waving bibles around and hitting you with spiky chains. An all-melee horde list, with lots of models that can hit hard but die fast. 

Hoods. Isolated rural survivalists, shunning the outside world as much as possible. Probably also bandits. On a good day, this is the shire, on a bad day this is the hills have eyes. All-shooty all the time, relying on the weight of massed firepower.

Witch Covens. Weirdo cults in the woods fucking about with the black arts. They were always there, but now they don't really need to hide, and the ancient things they worship are waking up. Their monsters are huge horrible beat-sticks, while the witches themselves hang back to support them or fuck with the terrain. 

Damned Servants. The court of a demon prince, freshly arrived from hell, and its mortal followers. Probably part of hell's organised efforts to take over the world entirely. An elite ranged list that sits back and throws hellfire at you.

Decadent Cabals. "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine". A mix of mortals, succubi and other weirdness, who've concluded that if we're all damned anyway, we might as well go out partying. Physically weak, but with lots of ways to disrupt the enemy through deception, or even take out models just by making them very uncomfortable. Absolutely insufferable.

Haunted Exorcists. A bunch of angry ghosts and the unfortunate mortals they're haunting. All about movement and positioning, with the humans in the list as lynch-pins that the ghosts slingshot around. Impossible to pin down, and good at capitalising on mistakes. And very spooky.

Ressurectionists. The obligatory necromancers. Fucking about with things mankind was never meant to understand as they try to cure the plague, or harness its power. They do mad science to turn wandering zombies or any corpses lying around into husks under their control. Then they stitch those husks together into giant flesh-golem beatsticks.

Helldivers. Since demons keep showing up, that means the gates of hell are open. These are humans capitalising on that to explore the underworld, shrugging off the limits of mortality as they do it. Helldivers turn corpses into harmless waifs, and then use those waifs to bring back their dead models. They also die really easily, and sometimes kill themselves on purpose. Very weird to play.

Plague Bearers. Humans that have caught the black death, quarantined into their own warbands. Not sinister nurgle types, just people coping with the shitty hand life dealt them. That said, if you injure them, their infected fluids splash everywhere, hurting uninfected enemies nearby. And then some of them have a funeral bell they can ring to injure their own models at convenient moments. So: CLANG! SPLAT! AARGH!

Plague Rats. The meek shall inherit the earth, and by that we mean rodents. Rats that are becoming sentient and are very keen about this whole apocalypse business, as once all the humans are gone, that means they get their stuff. Some of them are on a quest to learn how to make cheese. A giant tarpit horde. All of their models are absolutely rubbish, but you get loads of them, and more will show up as the game progresses. 

The Wild Hunt. Want to play as one of the horsemen of the apocalypse? Now you can. The wild hunt are a mix of angels and fairies and bloodthirsty horsemen that charge around the place reaping anybody who gets in front of them. You get one horseman, who's unreasonably powerful, and a few angelic followers, who are still very very strong. Hit hard and fast, but deal with being wildly outnumbered by everybody else.


And in conclusion, here's some page shots of the layout I've been working on. Inspired by metal zines, mordheim, and similar. All stock art, with some image processing and such to make it work. It's coming together okay.











Sunday, 17 July 2022

Black Death Walking - a Guest Post!

A guest post by Curatrix Ribston, who can be found here on twitter, and also makes various very cool games. And is very lovely.

She played the other side in the game described here, and made her own writeup of the game from her own perspective.



* * *



 “Notes on a Patch of Skin”: Diary of the Painted Lady

"Sometimes you just gotta shake down some demons on the side of a road without a name."


That's what Sally said to me as she rallied her "Scallopards".


I do not understand this woman.


I suspect she fancies herself some kind of philosopher queen of the lost. I asked her if she was planning to mayhaps elaborate on that aphorism.


“No.”

Typical.

Still, I must reluctantly admit that she has a point in that today, we had to ransom people for food and some of these people turned out to be demons. How small the waking world has become that we encounter the denizens of hell on the forgotten roads of this dying country?


How in god’s name did I even end up here?


It seems surreal that only a week ago I was alone in my shack away from the troubles of the world. 


And then these villains showed up. 

Cutpurses all of them, rag and bones shambling about the scorched earth, trying to make sense of a dying world.

I would have not given them the time of day if it were not for the ones at the head of their cohort.

Clearly, the rabble deserved little attention, just wariness, but Sally, John and Mira carried themselves with poise, determination and purpose. 


Not like nobles, not like distinguished scholars or heroes, but like beasts backed into a corner.


They politely asked if I was the one known as the Painted Lady.

I said that it was one of the names people gave to me.

They asked for my help.


They started with an introduction.


I play as a band of Flagellants, the Dirty Scallops, a melee-focused warband of refreshing simplicity. It has:


Sally Scallop, a Preacher with Horrible Trophies, Heraldry and a Flail


Shanks, a Pilgrim with a Knife, a Horse and a Disguise

Jab Nelly, a Pilgrim with a Knife, a Grappling Hook and a Disguise


Mira Ro and Honest John, Prophets with Banners and Relics


Ginny the Skull, a Penitent with a Shield


Crush and Smash, Flagellants with Heavy Weapons

Butcher Nick and Slasher Amy, Flagellants with Paired Weapons

Annie Mad-Eye and Twirly Jo, Flagellants with Flails


The Painted Lady, an Oracle with a Disguise, a Horse and Heraldry


Flagellants are simple as they come, they’re good at one thing and it’s getting in the face of their enemy to drown them in numbers. They’re not very smart or brave and they have absolutely no ranged ability, but they’re decent in a fight and it’s all they need to be. My angle in any fight is to try and get my Preacher and Flagellants stuck in as fast as possible while the Pilgrims grab objectives and the Prophets support them by allowing them to activate multiple times. The Oracle is kind of just there. Although she can help with objectives she is mostly useful as she allows me to roll for two events after a match and keep the one I prefer.


I will admit, I only recently recalled these names. At the time, I was simply stumped by the strange cohort in front of me, too stumped to comment. I was expecting to get mugged, but instead, the leader showed me a map, and insisted that I inspect it.


It was quite compelling nonsense. Strange symbols, a treasure beneath the tides, a grand reward, the usual. I would have dismissed it entirely if it had not been for how Mira spoke. 


There was purpose, but also despair.

Her sleep and John’s were plagued by dreams of this place deep within a lake, a forgotten place, a moment shattered and encased in the turquoise depths.


These dreams, I’d been having them too. 

But then came the question, and I asked Sally: why do you care?

And she looked behind her shoulder, and I followed her gaze to her strange cohort. I saw their faces full of loss and grief.


“We all need to care about something.”

Is what she said.


My Destiny for this campaign is to find the Treasure of the Tides. The Scallops have nothing left but this dream of untold riches, and it’s all they need to keep hanging onto life. Is it worth it, to be the richest fools in the graveyard? Maybe not, but what else is worth anything?


A Battle against “The Masque of Blue Delight”

And from that point on, I’ve been following this… Interesting band.


We’ve been surviving for a few days together, and today, we realised we were short on supplies, and so Sally decided to ambush some passers by. 


I adamantly refused to take part in this. I was surprised to find Sally agreeable to that. 

I decided not to watch.


I heard a lot of swearing and some fighting, it was short and to the point, but to hear them tell it, this wasn’t the slice and grab they’d hoped for. 

Their marks ended up being a strange group of drug-slinging demons and their human followers, who tried to give them some weird drugs, hypnotizing some of them into accepting their offers, and stabbing those who would not.


Nelly, Shanks and Crush (or was it Smash?) got badly wounded in the scuffle.


Sally is fuming. Mira is rambling about the strange horrors that accompanied them, formless blobs of… something twitching about the battlefield. They seem satisfied with their “swag”, but grudging anger fills the air.


One would almost feel bad for spending the duration of that scuffle engrossed in conversation with one of the rakish archers of that cohort, a waifish woman trying to get away from the fight.


Almost.

We played the Procession, with the other warband being a Decadent Cabal. The Flagellents could rob a model defeated in combat rather than injuring it, and the Decadent Cabal could use hypnosis to compel the other side to drink if they were near somebody to offer it: these were our main objectives for the fight.The low Mind score of my Flagellants meant their Disguises efficiently broke up my charges just enough for them not to get bogged down and they got a few good hits in, but in the end my superior fighting skills allowed me to position myself in such a way that their Grotesques were not too much of a problem, so I got the money I wanted even though in the end the fight was starting to look sour for me.

A Strange new Power

I made it up to them, in the end, as my eyes guide us ever towards that strange lake we often stumble upon interesting things.


In this case, it was a corpse. I felt a pull. I felt black smoke. I felt sulphur.

This pulled me towards a wretched creature giving its last breath on the side of the road on a murky night. It looked pathetic, retching and trying to breathe with an arrow deep within its deformed chest. Sally had followed me out of camp. She was taken aback by the sight. She reached out to the dying imp, but before I could even ask why she seemed to want to show compassion to such a disgusting thing, the corpse burst into a thick black mist that poured directly into Sally’s eyes and mouth.


When she woke up, she’d been changed, able to command a black fog to gather around herself seemingly from nowhere. 


I would have been livid, but the woman’s takeaway was that now, she could serve as cover for the band’s advance.


I do not understand this woman.

Yet, with time, I’ve come to respect her.

After the battle, we roll for scars and wounds. Most of my warband got even better at fighting and getting in people’s face, despite the injuries.

I rolled for events after the battle, and thanks to my Oracle got a choice between a Stranger (a Missionary from the Plague Bearers warband) or a Gift of Fumes of Hell allowing my Preacher to cast a spell which would wrap her in dark smoke serving as cover.

Being a sucker for Wyrd Magicks, I, of course, opted for the latter.


Black Death Walking - A playtest!

 Being the Scandalous Diary the Succubus of L'Shan in the year 1466.

It has been three years since I deserted hell. My protégé, a human libertine calling herself Molly, has a vision of the future. One of ecstatic transcendence through the pleasures of the flesh. That, in a moment of perfect beauty, our sins will be cast away, and we will be called to heaven.

I confess, it intrigues me. Could one such as I - cast down from paradise millennia ago - escape the fires of torment? Could we escape this hell on earth? Could Molly be onto something? I don't know, but as I watch the mortals suffer and sicken and starve - as I see the torment I endured for so long inflicted on the daughters of Eve - I long to find out.

Molly numbers ten among her followers. Four are mere mortals, rakes drawn in by her mesmerising charm and stores of absinth. Two are grotesque things twisted by the plague, that shamble and gibber. Two claim to be mortals, but I have my doubts; I suspect spirits of hell like myself, walking abroad as the world comes to an end. And lastly, there is myself and my beloved L'Vor, refugees from hell, wanting something better.

For now, we merely roam the plague-stricken wasteland, in search of alchemical ingredients to further our work.

I'm playing as a Decadent Cabal, a warband that focusses on manipulating the opponent with disguises and hypnosis. My warband consists of:
Molly the Blue (leader) - a Libertine, with a Bow, Knife, Disguise and the ability Hypnosis.
Azure and Turquoise - two Mimics, with Disguises, Spears and the ability Hypnosis.
Agnes, Betty, Vera and Nancy - four Rakes, with Disguises and either Bows or Spears.
L'Vor and L'Shan - two Succubi, with Disguises, Healing Kits and the ability Hypnosis.
The Porter and The Footstool - two Grotesques with Paired Weapons, Horrible Trophies and the ability Unease.

It works like this: my enemies need to take a Test of Nerve to target disguised models, charge models with Horrible Trophies or resist Hypnosis when it's used on them. Every time they fail a Test of Nerve, they risk being hurt if they're around a Grotesque. So my warband is all about disrupting the enemy, and capitalising on that disruption.

My warband's Destiny, in the campaign, is a sort of drug fuelled transcendence. Of the six steps towards it, they've only taken one.


A Battle against 'the Dirty Scallops'

Today fills me with grief to see how the mortals are fallen. Our little band was following a road through the forest, a procession we'd made many times before.

Out of the trees, we saw a handful of pilgrims emerge, pushing a battered cart, asking us for alms. As we went to oblige, producing holy absinthe to share with them, their treachery was revealed, as more emerged from ambush around us! It seems they'd taken to banditry, and intended to rob us blind!

if they want our goods, they could have them. We resolved that before we drove them away, we'd show them a glimpse of heaven from our bottles. Considering the mesmerising charms of so many of us, bending them to our will would not be hard. Perhaps we would inspire them to be better.

The fight was quick and ugly. They fell upon us with chains and knives, ignoring our outward appearance as harmless travellers. Up close, we were able to compel many to drink, but this seemed only to infuriate them, and they fell upon us with great fury, shrugging off our gifts. Before long, a single swirling melee resulted in the centre of the road, as they attempted to surround us, beating us into submission and robbing us of our material wealth. 

One of our grotesques, the Porter, met with their particular displeasure. He was beaten to the floor, twitching and whimpering, and as I attempted to come to his aid, I saw one of their number step forward and bring her boot down on his neck, killing him. I weep to remember the cold hatred in their eyes.

Upon our poor grotesque's death, a tranquil fury came over us. Even as we were surrounded by more chain-wielding robbers emerging from the woods, we gave up on our generous gifts, cutting them down before we were forced to pull back. They recovered their injured, we recovered our dead.

I weep for humanity, that they should turn so far from beauty and pleasure. What hope remains for the world, when even the supposedly holy resort to such things?

We played the scenario The Procession, with the other warband being Flagellants, called the Dirty Scallops. The Flagellants could rob a model defeated in combat rather than injuring it, and the Decadent Cabal could use hypnosis to compel the other side to drink if they were near somebody to offer it: these were our main objectives for the fight. My grotesques didn't manage to achieve much, but hypnosis proved pretty useful. And having models with lots of spears, and enough disguises to prevent the enemy always being able to charge successfully, eventually let me turn the tide of the ensuing melee.


Our Mourning Interrupted

As we prepared to bury our beloved Porter, something unexpected happened. The poor wretch's carcass twitched, writhed and drew breath once more. It seems the touch of the plague refuses to let him die and reach his final reward, and he's condemned to remain among the damned on earth. Sorrowfully, we welcomed him back among our number. L'Var and I have set about mending his shattered neck.

It seems our recent tragedy has taught us hard truths. We grow cold, hard-eyed, cynical. Our mental scars make us ruthless fighters, but at what cost to our souls? Still, we were, at least, able to make a little money selling our gifts to the local peasants. Not all is lost.

Among those peasants, we seem to have made a friend. A local wise-woman, calling herself Black Peg. The Inquisitors of the Beast call her a witch, but we know better. She has herbs and potions, and we welcome her among our number.

After the battle, the one casualty returns, now undead. The survivors rolled for what they learned, mostly improving their speed, accuracy, and mental accuity.

I rolled for events after the battle, and got a Stranger - a Witch willing to be recruited to my warband. I had enough money saved up to hire her, and spent the rest on some more bows for my rakes.


* * * 

This isn't the first playtest of Black Death Walking, but it's my first using the campaign system. Suffice to say, I like it.

The game was on roll20. Here are some of the tokens I used! (art by wendy ribston).

Molly the Blue, my leader.


Nancy, a Rake armed with a bow.


Azure, a Mimic armed with a spear.


The Porter, a Grotesque who died ;__;

L'Shan, a Succubus and our narrator.

So, what is Black Death Walking?

In short, a skirmish wargame taking inspiration mostly from games like Mordheim. The setting is the mid 15th century, in a world devastated by the black death, then a zombie outbreak caused by that same plague, and then heaven deciding to kick off the apocalypse and smiting the world with four horsemen. It's bleak and grubby and inspired by black metal and grimdark wargames like turnip 28.
Each model is a character in its own right, and the warband as a whole has a destiny that calls to it. over the course of the campaign, your models will evolve as they learn and suffer injuries, and your warband will draw closer to their eventual destiny and end. The focus is much more on building a narrative than competitive play: while nothing is too unfair, the expectation is that balance is less important than being interesting.
Anyway, I'm pretty pleased with it so far. More updates soon, starting with this guest post from the other player!

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

If Revue Starlight Was A PBTA Game

What it says on the tin.
If you've not seen review starlight, I don't know how to explain it to you. Go watch it. There's gay longing. There's a fun coming of age story. The show actually actually has some fairly in depth about art and the pursuit of perfection. There's musical numbers that are also sword-fights and also sometimes love scenes. One character is called banana and she's [spoiler redacted]. At one point a character stares directly into the camera to ask why you're watching this. There is a giraffe.
Look, it's really really good but also incredibly strange.
(this is based on my understanding from the anime and the film: if the stage shows or game contradict this pls don't be angry with me)

Seriously, watch this show.


So, a game. 
I'm also going to assume we all know how PBTA games work. I'm not gonna fuck with that too much. You don't need a GM for this: you're a GM while doing GM things.


STATS.
Three stats, rated between -1 and +3. They are:

Drive. The ruthless urge to excel at all costs. 
Heart. The ability, and desire, to relate to others.
Glimmer. Artistic vision, the spark of inspiration.

When you make your PC, give them a stat each at -1, 0, and +1.


MOVES.

When a move is triggered, roll 2d6 and add the relevant stat. 6- is a miss, 7-9 a hit, 10+ an exquisite hit.

Tear Down
When you try to hurt somebody - physically, emotionally or materially - use this move.
Roll with Drive.
Miss: It backfires, making you vulnerable. Take a condition based on how it went wrong.
Hit: You hurt her, at a cost. Give her a Condition, and she gives you one.
Exquisite: You effortlessly lash out. Give her a Condition, and get a Connection to her.

Manipulate
When you try to get somebody to do what you want, use this move.
Roll with Drive.
Miss: It's obvious what you're up to. She gives you a Condition.
Hit: You're tempting. Give her a choice: do what you want and gain 1 Experience, or resist and let you give her a Condition.
Exquisite: You're incredibly persuasive. Give her a choice; do what you want and gain 1 Experience, or resist and let you give her a condition.

Comfort
When you try to make somebody feel better, use this move.
Roll with Heart.
Miss: Things are just awkward. Each of you loses a Connection on the other.
Hit: There's some solace to be found. She chooses: one of you cures a Condition, and the other gets a Connection to her.
Exquisite: You both come out feeling better. Both of you can cure a Condition, and get a Connection with to other.

Vibe Check
When you probe somebody to work out what's up with her, use this move.
Roll with Heart.
Miss: Your interest is too forward. She gets a Connection on you.
Hit: You get a read on her. Ask her a question about what she's thinking or feeling, and she answers it. If her answer was completely honest, she tells you and gains 1 Experience.
Exquisite: You can intuit the truth. Ask her a question about what she's thinking or feeling, and she answers it. If her answer was completely honest, she tells you and gains 2 Experience. Otherwise, she gives herself a Condition.

Inspire
When somebody is motivated or empowered by you, use this move.
A character can only benefit from being inspired by you once. If you inspire a new ambition in her, she can either keep her current ambition or over-ride it with a new one. A character can, however, be inspired by multiple other people at once.
Roll with Glimmer.
Miss: She's lead astray. You both take a Condition.
Hit: She finds a way to do better. She names an ambition, and until that ambition is completed, she can spend Connections to you to get +1 to rolls towards it. When the Ambition is achieved, she gains an Experience.
Exquisite: She find the makings of greatness. She names an ambition, and until that ambition is completed, she can spend Connections to you to get +1 to rolls towards it. When the Ambition is achieved, she gains an Experience. Further, create a new Truth about that Ambition, replacing any previous ones about it.

Bond
When you share a close, intimate moment alone with somebody, both of you use this move one after the other - the character who initiated the moment rolls first.
Roll with Glimmer.
Miss: Something's just... off for you. She picks one of you to lose a Connection to the other.
Hit: You grow closer to her. Pick one or both: either you offer her something you think she wants, or you both get a Connection to the other.
Exquisite: You share something special with her. Pick one or both: either you offer her something you think she wants, or you create a new Truth about only the two of you, replacing any previous ones about the pair of you.





CONDITIONS.

Conditions are your current status, emotionally, socially and physically. If you get a Condition from a move or a Revue, it lasts until a move cures it, or you finish a Revue.

For each Condition you have, you take -1 when rolling for moves where that Condition gets in the way.

For each Condition you have, other people get +1 when rolling for moves where they can use that Condition against you.

A condition applies both literally and as a metaphor. EG, if you're "Looked Down On", that might mean you have a social disadvantage for being at the back of the class. But it could also mean your rival has the physical high ground over you in a duel.

Example Conditions include (but aren't limited to): Tired, Heartbroken, Retreating, Bruised, Confused, Lonely, Disarmed, Stumbling, Blinded, Unpopular, Aloof, Looked Down On, Cold.

You start play with one Condition; pick what.


CONNECTIONS.

Connections are a pool of points representing how much you mean to other characters. You track Connections to each other character seperately. EG, you might have 3 Connections to Claudine, 1 to Hikari, and none to anybody else.

After seeing the results of a dice roll, you can spend a Connection to somebody to give them +1 or -1 to a roll, or give +1 or -1 to a roll involving them. When you do, say how your influence helps or hinders.

When the game starts, pick two other characters you have some sort of relationship with. Give one of them a Connection to you, and get a Connection to the other.


EXPERIENCE.

Experience tracks how much you're learning and growing. Keep a tally of how much you have. Whenever you have time to reflect, you can spend five accumulated XP to learn something. Pick one of the following; you get +1 to an attribute (up to a maximum of +3), or you learn a new Trick.


TRUTHS

Truths are ideas or themes that are, for want of a better word, true. They shape the world around them in subtle but powerful ways. They apply to everybody and everything, all the time; a Truth is for the entire story, not connected to an individual character.

Truths are defined with a simple phrase, no more than one clause. They deal with matters of emotions, ideals, ambitions and relationships.

Whenever a move succeeding would agree with with that Truth, that roll gets +1. Whenever a move succeeding would contradict a Truth, that roll gets -1. The effects of multiple Truths stack.

You collectively begin with a single Truth. Decide between you what it is.





THE REVUE.

A revue is a struggle for the spotlight, and to shape the narrative of the world. Contestants fight, debate and sing their hearts out so that they can seize the centre stage and embody their ideals.

They are also deeply, deeply surreal, with the set and props responding to the tempo of the fight, morphing to reflect the emotions between the two contestants.

During a Revue, you don't use the six moves on each other: all that is covered by Exchanges instead. You might make moves immediately before or after the revue, though.

A revue takes place between two contestants. When a Revue begins, each contestant states what they're fighting to prove: this becomes their stake in the Revue. 

A Revue is divided into Exchanges, where the contestants exchange words, blows and ideas in their struggle for dominance.

The first step in an exchange is to pick their strategy. Simultaneously, each contestant picks one of the following:

Yield, to give ground and try to recover.
Push, to press forward aggressively.
Dance, to carefully lead your rival.

A Yield beats Push, Push beats Dance, and Dance beats Yield.

They state how they'll use the situation in the fight to their advantage, what they're saying to their rival, and what this means. In each exchange after the first, what you say and how you fight should build on the events of the previous exchange.

Then, work out each contestant's score for the round. For this, add up:
If your strategy beat theirs, add +5 to your score.
Add +1 for each Condition your rival has that you can take advantage of.
Add +3 for each Truth that agrees with you.
Add +1 for each exchange you've already won.
Add your current Connections to her.
Add the result of a 2d6 dice roll.


Whoever's score is highest is the winner of the exchange. If both scores are the same, then the result is a stalemate.

If you win with a Push, inflict a Condition on your rival, and she loses a Connection to you.
If two Pushes tie, each of you inflicts a Condition on the other.
If you win with a Yield, cure yourself of a Condition, and gain a Connection on your rival.
If two Yields tie, each off you cures yourself of a Condition
If you win with a Dance, gain a Connection on your Rival.
If two Dances tie, Each of you gains a Connection on the other.
Regardless of which happens

Most revues will last for three exchanges, or until one contestant relents. If it goes to the end, the overall winner is whoever won the final exchange.

At the end of a Revue, both rivals are cured of all their conditions. Whatever the winner was fighting to prove becomes a new Truth. If she won because her rival relented, however, then if she wishes, the pair may instead decide to create an entirely different truth between them, based on the events of the Revue.


THE STORY STRUCTURE.

The game is divided into normal fluid play, which everybody can involve themselves in, punctuated by Revues between two characters.

Each episode, a character has one Revue against another character they've not yet had a Revue against. Decide a dramatically appropriate time for it to happen. If there's an odd number of characters, pick somebody to sit out who hasn't yet.

Once Everybody's had their review for the episode, start a new one. An episode may need to last multiple sessions.

Decide how long you want the story to last. After that many episodes, whoever's won the most Revue's wins the auditions. In the event of a tie, run tie-breakers until there's a clear winner.

Whoever wins the Revue gets to pick a single Truth from those that have built up over the course of the story. Fuelled by the stolen spark of everybody else, they make a performance that truly embodies that Truth, and that Truth (and only that Truth) lasts beyond the current story. Reality may warp quite a lot to accommodate this.

If you choose to play more stories in the same continuity, you can. The Truths chosen by every previous winner are added to the game's starting Truths. You can keep the same character you played before, if you want, but her spark has been stolen. Reset her stats to -1/0/+1, and keep only one of her Tricks. Her Connections and Conditions carry over. New characters are created as normal, and then you begin again.





TRICKS.

Tricks are unique facets of a character that let them interact with the world (and mechanics) in new ways.

Supporter: You can spend Connections on somebody to give her +1 to her score for an Exchange when she's in a Revue.
Underdog: If you can turn a condition you're suffering from to your advantage, you get +1 to a roll.
Favouritism: If somebody becomes your favourite person, say who and why. Spending your Connections to your favourite person counts double, but you need to spend two Connections to get +1 for everybody else.
Dreamer: When rolling for moves, you get +2 when following an Ambition or benefiting from a Truth, not +1.
Slippery: If your rival's strategy beats yours in a Revue, they only get +3 for it.
Talented: In a Revue, you get +2 for every Exchange you've already won, not +1.
Curious: Whenever somebody rolls a move on you, you can ask "Why did you do that?" - if they answer honestly, they get a Connection to you.
Favourite Tactic: Pick either Yield, Push or Dance to be your favoured tactic. You get +2 to your score when you use that Tactic.
Metafiction Savvy: You can talk to the players by talking to the Giraffe.

You start out with one Trick, and can gain more as the story progresses.


GAYNESS.

Listen, interpretations may vary, but if you play this game and it's not very very gay, I shake my head at you in disapproval.


THE GIRAFFE.

You can assume any out-of-character commentary you make is also being made by the Giraffe. To get into the spirit of things, say "I understand" a lot out of character.






Thursday, 19 May 2022

Chaos Warriors

I've been looking back at Esoteric Enterprises, and listening to French Antifascist Rap and arguing about 40k lately, and looking at the state of the world and the inexorable rise of authoritarianism at home and abroad, and being grumpy about how DnD-like games position PCs, and it's slowly solidified into some thoughts.
Here they are.




Scholars and experts will tell you that the true nature of chaos is incomprehensible. Perhaps they lie, or perhaps they've fooled themselves with their sophistry, but either way they're wrong. Chaos is very easy to understand.

Art of Mæredith, by TJmcFuck, whose art is very cool and whose thoughts partially inspired this post.


What Is Chaos Really?

Take the three-by-three alignment grid you're familiar with. It's a lie to confuse you. There's only one axis. Law vs Chaos and Evil vs Good are the same thing. Law is evil, Chaos is good. Ideas like 'lawful good' or 'chaotic neutral' are word games designed to stop you thinking clearly, like 'benevolent evil'.

Law is evil. It has to be, by its very nature. The process of Law is one of domination and subjugation. Law is the use of force - violent or coercive - to enforce the will of the few onto the otherwise unwilling many. Stripping away freedom, autonomy and dignity to subject us to the tyranny of the lawful.

All Cops Are Bastards, and that includes paladins.

Law is the force that decrees certain types of person (women, the poor, the mentally ill, the goblins, the foreigners) as inferior. Law is the force that would strip your bodily autonomy from you, because it considers you unworthy of controlling your own flesh. Law is the force that will inflict pain on those who don't comply, until their will is broken.

Once you understand this, it's simple.

What is Chaos, then? At its heart, Chaos is freedom. Defiance of the forces of Law, personal autonomy, your own will above all else. Chaos is anarchy, black magic, antifascism, the furious howl of those who will be oppressed no longer. Many people understand this, on some gut instinctive level, but few embrace it, and even fewer embody it.


Who Are Chaos Warriors?

A Chaos Warrior, then, is simply somebody whose fully dedicated themself to Chaos. A burning torch of defiance in the face of oppression. They could come from any background, and possess any talents.

The most well known Chaos Warriors are fighters and barbarians, clad in ornate plate armour, carrying unholy weapons, striking down the soldiers of order and defiling their symbols of control. They carve through disciplined armies, burn tax records, demolish prisons and desecrate churches. 

Others are sorcerers, dabbling in forbidden magic, directing unshaped elemental power to remake creation to suit their whims. Witches, blasphemers and madmen, no longer held back by the mere laws of nature.

Others still are more subtle. Rogues and assassins that keep a low profile, sidestepping law enforcement, sowing havoc in their wake and slipping back into the protective darkness. Arson, sabotage and assassination carefully applied to cut the hamstrings of those who would oppress them.

Some Chaos Warriors seem to venerate greater forces. Change, decadence, fury, entropy. Scholars see such practices, and conclude that the Chaos Warriors must be worshippers of greater powers, slaves to some pantheon of unwholesome dark gods. They set to work classifying them, assigning them arrays of various carefully described demons, categorising their various gifts. 

This, too, is a mistake, or a lie. The dark powers, in as much as they exist, are not external gods meddling with mortal puppets. Each dark power is simply a personification of the ideals that a given Chaos Warrior holds dear. 

The lawful see a Chaos Warrior dedicated to decadance and excess - pursuing hedonism and self-indulgence with the same zeal as a priest pursues holiness - and conclude that he cannot be doing so of his own free will. So they hypothesise a dark prince, a thirsting god that he must be enslaved by, and invent all manner of demons and rituals in that dark prince's name. In truth, the dark prince is nothing more than that Chaos Warrior's own desires, given a name and personified. 

It should be noted, however, that Chaos is not stupidity. Chaos Warriors understand the dire threat presented by Law. They are perfectly capable of freely choosing to associate with one another. Often when the momentum builds, they'll gather into huge hordes, knowing that the tyranny of Law can't stand against their collective desires. Plenty wish to see others - the downtrodden and oppressed - find the same enlightenment they did, and work to spread their destabilising message among the masses.

At the end of the day, though, every Chaos Warrior is an individual, following their own path and beholden to nothing and nobody, save their own ambitions.


Mechanics:

Becoming a Chaos Warrior is an option for D&D-like games, ranging from 0th edition to 5th, as well as their various derivatives. Any character can become a chaos warrior simply by wanting it.

Alignment: All Chaos Warriors are chaotic. They have no alignment on the good-evil axis (not even neutrality), as they realise that this axis is a lie. If any supernatural effect checks for good or evil, it fails to find any in them, and instead reports that they're chaotic.

Further, a Chaos Warrior can never be bound by any oath, geas or pact. They might enter into it, but even if the other party is bound by the agreement, the Chaos Warrior may freely disregard the pact.

Chaos Points: Chaos Warriors track the power of chaos within them, gaining new strength as they embrace it. Their pool of Chaos Points starts at 0, and can rise indefinitely high.

Gaining Chaos Points: A Chaos Warrior gains a Chaos Point when they do any of the following:

  • Destroy or desecrate a public site of order, oppression or control (such as a prison or church).
  • Slay, corrupt or otherwise neutralise an agent of order (such as a police officer, politician or pontiff).
  • Weaken the grasp of an institution of law (such as a government agency, church or order of paladins).
  • Lead somebody else to become another Chaos Warrior.
  • Achieve an extravagant personal goal in defiance of the strictures of law (such as a grand slaughter of the police, drug-fuelled orgy or blasphemous rite).
Spending Chaos Points: A Chaos Warrior can spend a Chaos Point to do any of the following:
  • Immediately, shrug off any effect that would alter their mind, subvert their free will, or shift their perceptions. Mind control simply fails as soon as the Chaos Point is spent.
  • Free another from a similar effect, as above.
  • Heal themselves, or another, a number of HP equal to their remaining pool of Chaos Points, immediately and unnaturally.
  • Make a single permanent alteration to their physical form (perhaps shifting gender, growing horns, becoming inhumanly beautiful, or sprouting claws). Sort out the specific mechanical details with your GM, but a good rule of thumb is that the alteration grants Advantage to any appropriate rolls. The more Chaos Points they have when the change is made, the more dramatic the effect.
  • Where the Chaos Warrior chooses to rely on luck, re-roll that chance if it fails. They can keep spending Chaos Points and re-rolling as many times as they want, until they run out, give up, or get what they want. They might use this to bump into the exact person they need by sheer chance, close their eyes and walk through a hail of arrows unharmed, stick their hand into a mysterious sack to pull out the exact item they need, or leap from a castle walls trusting that they'll land on something soft.
  • Create a minor magical effect (of similar scale to something like Prestidigitation) that lasts as long as they wish. They might cause food to go rotten, have unlocked doors open for them, carry an enticing scent, or leave bloody footprints wherever they tread. The more Chaos Points they have, the more dramatic the effect currently is.
  • Ravage an agent of order (such as a cop or authority figure). For the rest of the encounter, add their remaining amount of Chaos Points to all rolls against that victim (attack rolls, damage, saves etc), and deduct that same amount from the victim's rolls against them.
  • Force those submitting to the forces of order (slaves, prisoners, soldiers, the poor) to make a save of some sort. If they fail, they temporarily throw off the chains of order that bind them. What this means will vary; they might flee from the Chaos Warrior, riot against their oppressors, give in to temptation, or something else.
Drawbacks: There are no mechanical drawbacks to being a Chaos Warrior, but any who are public with their nature (or who are discovered) will earn the inevitable and unreasonable enmity of the forces of law and order.



In conclusion, remember:
-none of us are free until all of us are free.
-all cops are bastards.
-if you think it can't happen here, it can and already is.
-fuck the system.
-kill the cop in your head.

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Into The Dark City - Part 2

 A follow-up to this post here. Part 2 is the backend stuff, tables and procedures for running the game.

A hack of Into the Odd where you play as legally distinct dark eldar.
The skeleton for the game, Into the Odd, was created by Chris McDowell at Bastionland.com
You get to play as horrible decadent evil space elves, being flamboyant in their extradimensional dark city and raiding realspace for fun and profit.
Please don't sue me, Games Workshop.  


Your Neighbourhood:

We've seen how cavegirl makes a setting before, this is familiar. Drop a full set of dice (one each of d4-d20, and a percentile. Maybe a particularly fun funky dice or two as well.) on a sheet of paper, mark what lands where. Each dice is a faction in your district of the dark city.

Look up the result of the dice on the list below to see what each faction is. For each, come up with a name, a symbol to mark what's theirs, and a quirk.

1: A Homonculus Coven. Practitioners of the ancient art of flesh-warping. Surgical geniuses that produce pain-engines, flesh thralls and bio-implants. Your flesh can be banked with them to be ressurected in the event of an untimely death. Absolutely terrifying, but you need them.

2: A Gladiator-Witch Cult. Fight for everybody's entertainment and nourishment in public arenas. Masters of ancient (and very showy) martial arts. A cross between sports team, public service, and local mascots. 

3: A minor Cabal. Regular Folks, which is to say depraved, decadent and corrupt. Involved with the day-to-day running of some important industry, such as weapon-smithing, slave training, the drug trade, high fashion or espionage. 

4: A prestigious Cabal. Also regular folks, but now with wealth and influence. Influential in their industry, and jockeying for higher power. Their leader might already be a minor Archon; if not, they've probably got their eye on the title, and big plans.

5: A Hellion Gang. Hover-board riding street punks. Ne'er do wells living lives of crime and scandal. Utterly disreputable. The main difference between this lot and a Cabal is largely one of attitude, and their unwillingness to engage with polite society on their own terms. They might grow out of it.

6: A flock of Scourges. Surgically altered Cabalites, blessed with wings and sharp senses. Try to stay neutral on the politics of the Dark City, acting as messengers, couriers and informants to whoever can pay for them. Loyal to their own, and whoever pays them.

7: An Incubus Shrine. Disciplined warrior-monks, practitioners of esoteric martial techniques and violent mysticism. Sell their violent services to the highest bidder. Keep their word. Thoroughly honourable, but with enough martial force that its hard to exploit that honour.

8: A Lamia Convent. A religious sisterhood of poisoners, courtesans and mystics. Frightfully fashionable, having a Lamia as a lover, assistant or assassin carries a lot of social cachet. Absolute masters of alchemy.

9: A Mandragora Pack. Shadow-elves, semi-real, with powers over darkness. Some can become invisible, or intangible, or step through shadows. A bit feral, lacking the refinement and grace of regular space elves. Collect grizzly trophies.

10: A Beast-master Cult. Ofshoots of the Gladiator Witches. Hunt, train, and fight strange animals. The source of the various delightful pets and combat beasts you might have in your menagerie. The most daring mess about with demon-beasts as prey, and if they have any sense of responsibility do it somewhere the inevitable collateral damage won't be too costly. Carry an air of danger.

11: A Medusa Infestation. Ethereal parasites latched onto victims, physically manifested as a mass of brain matter and spinal cords over their head like a hood. Smart. Feed on dreams. Can be negotiated with, paid off, or enslaved, but these ones are largely independent for now. Their gaze brings anguish, madness and catatonia.

12: An Alien Mercenary Company. Exotic and interesting, but not quite trusted. A novelty, rather than part of society. Might be avian predators, serpentine bodyguards, orc freebooters, or beastman corsairs. Insular, disciplined and in it for the money.

13: A Harlequin Delegation. Space elves from outside the dark city. Worshipers of the trickster god, repositories of ancient mythology, performers and scholars. An entertainment novelty. They probably have some grand agenda in the dark city, but nobody really cares.

14: An Outcast Delegation. High space elves from the monastry-worlds in real-space, in (often self-imposed) exile. Temporary visitors to the dark city as they adjust to life outside the rigid paths of the high space elves. Generally considered naive and vulnerable, it's understood that they'll either grow disgusted at the dark city's cruelty and decadance, returning to their monastry-worlds, or else assimilate and become just another cabal.

15: A shrine to a nearly forgotten Dark Muse. Dedicants pursue perfection in one particular aspect of the dark city's decadent ways, be it torture, poison, fear, sensuality, tragedy, power or romance. A little old-fashioned, perhaps, but basically a respectable religion. More superstitious evil space elves leave offerings for the Dark Muse's favour.

16: A Charibdean Fashion-House. Pursuit of aesthetic excellence, constantly inventing and creating. A never ending stream of new designs for those with up to date tastes, ever more elegant, risqué and boundry-pushing. Sit slightly apart from Cabal politics, dedicated to their art.

17: A Daeva Slave-market. Breeders and flesh-sculptors, a source of the most elegant thralls, mentally manipulated to be compliant and surgically altered to match current fashions. Will buy anybody you bring to them who doesn't escape. A bit of a used-car-salesman vibe going on.

18: A famed weapon-forge. Home of a master smith, creator of wonderous new weapons and pieces of violent hyper-tech. A cultist of the dead Forge-God. Treated as a sort of local savant, their creations a source of much gossip.

19: A cult of the Bloody Handed God. Followers ritually don aspects of the bloody-handed god of war, pursuing self-discipline and military excellence. A sort of hobby for cultists to dabble in between more serious matters, and deeply offensive to the high space elves who take this sort of thing very seriously.

20: A Slave Revolt. Escaped thralls lurking in the margins and shadows. Actual revolutionary zeal is quickly tempered by the realities of life in the dark city; soon enough the revolt will become just another gang scrabbling for position, and if it endures could morph into a successful cabal in its own right. Most consider the revolt not worth the effort of suppressing, and express amusement at its petty successes and descent into power.

Other: A cult of the Resurrected God Of The Dead. Absolute weirdos who's apocalyptic faith preaches that the end is approaching, and the God Of The Dead will soon do battle with the Thirsting God. Populists. Viewed with a mixture of distain, wry amusement, and secret worry that they might be right.

Also drop a single token - a coin, counter or similar - that represents the PC's Coterie.
Next, draw a loose network of lines connecting each faction to its neighbours. For each such connection, determine the relationship between the two factions: the closer together the dice are in size, the more friendly the relationship; matching dice sizes (for the d10 and the percentile) indicate an unshakeable alliance, while a d20 and a d4, being the most different in size, are eternally bitter enemies. More middling results indicate some sort of uneasy business relationship or treaty; things aren't openly hostile, but they could become so.
As a general rule, factions closer to the top of the page are also closer to the top of the social heirarchy, unless their nature makes them obviously unworthy (in which case they're a fashionable topic of conversation, but not actually privileged).

Life In The Dark City

d20 Debts:

1: An unusually beautiful and well-trained thrall.
2: A freshly-taken human slave.
3: Several doses of a combat drug.
4: A successful party's worth of recreational drugs.
5: A work of art, depicting something intellectually stimulating.
6: An interesting soul, contained in a soul-trap.
7: Poetry exulting the creditor.
8: A full wardrobe of up-to-the-minute fashionable clothing.
9: An exotic combat-beast, new enough to be interesting.
10: The head of a business rival. It's fine, they'll grow back in the homunculi's flesh pods, but it makes a point.
11: A sample of your own flesh, for... insurance.
12: An invitation to some highly prestigious social event.
13: Jewellery made from stolen high space elf Soul Gems.
14: A piece of interesting hypertech.
15: Direct service as a minion for a short time.
16: A full recording (vision, audio, scent and emotion) of some interesting event.
17: A dangerous secret, yours or somebody else's.
18: A religious relic from before the rise of the Thirsting God.
19: Some sort of practical tool, such as an astronavigation array or surgeon's kit.
20: An excitingly glamourous custom-made weapon.


d20 Trends, Fashions and Fads in the Dark City

1: Living skin clothing, still able to feel and move, proactively adjusting itself to your posture.
2: Additional, surgically grafted limbs, each with a specialised appendage in place of a hand.
3: Tattoos depicting exquisitely heretical versions of ancient space elf mythology.
4: Pet human priests, not fully broken, who babble religious nonsense for your amusement.
5: Snakes. 
6: The plays of the harlequins. One doesn't take them too seriously, but they're very amusing.
7: Dabbling in masochism. Why must it be somebody else's suffering you feed on? The truly refined can feed one another with their sadomasochistic rites.
8: Emotional numbness. Feeling things is terribly gauche, the stylish simply exist.
9: The interplay of light and shadow instead of physical structure. Dwellings divided into rooms by sheets of brilliant light. The fashionable physically nude, accompanied by drones that project strategic fields of shadow that serve as clothing.
10: Exciting anatomical variations. The unexpected reveal of an eye or a mouth somewhere one wouldn't normally be.
11: Tattoos in frames, preserved on still-living skin for posterity.
12: Seemingly sincere and heartfelt religious devotion, for as long as the fashion lasts.
13: Exciting masks, mimicking mythical figures.
14: Mockingly imitating the ways and customs of lesser races, such as humans, orcs, avian predators, etc. Primitive-chique.
15: Perversely Competitive Minimalism. Does your spire really need floor? Do your thralls really need eyes?
16: Hallucinogens. Reality is as you experience it, so why not shape your reality to something more kaleidoscopically interesting?
17: Bonsai Suns. Elegantly sculpted, miniaturised stars, held in a containment field.
18: Vendettas and Duels. Where are we without a few fun duelling scars and a favourite sworn enemy (who you probably end up hooking up with).
19: Memento Mori, reminders of death and mortality. Deliciously ironic, since - with the immortal science of the homunculus covens - death is something that happens to lesser races and poor people.
20: Ironic Asceticism. By depriving oneself and feeling the touch of the Thirsting God, does one not cultivate greater suffering to feed on later? Utterly self-defeating, but deliciously perverse. 


d20 Events, Upheavals and Shifts in Fortune.

1: A slave revolt devastates a key industry as a large portion of the indentured work-force disappears into the undercity. The question is whether the slave population can be restocked before those affected suffer permanent economic damage.
2: A malfunctioning pain-engine goes on an exciting rampage. Casualties mostly confined to those who showed up in the path of its carnage to enjoy the spectacle. And slaves, but they don't matter.
3: A local power undergoes a dramatic coup, the organisational structure is decapitated (possibly literally), and new masters install themselves. The power has a sudden shift in priorities as the new leadership assert themselves.
4: Two factions, formerly friendly, go to war! It's very dramatic, lots of people are gambling on the outcome, and bodies pile up in the streets. It's unlikely anybody dies permanently, of course, so long as they pay their debts to the homunculus covens for reviving.
5: Two factions, formerly rivals, form a convenient alliance, using their combined power to climb the social ladder.
6: An exciting new recreational drug sweeps the social scene, and nobody seems to be paying much attention to the horrible side-effects.
7: A faction embarks in a disastrous real-space raid, taking horrible casualties and suffering a dramatic plummet in their fortunes.
8: A meme-virus sweeps the population, causing people to babble very fashionable nonsense. It's unclear if the meme-virus has intent behind it, and if so what ends it might be working towards.
9: The high ruler of the dark city demands a tithe from all residents of the neighbourhood; those who can't provide it will suffer inventively instructive punishments.
10: A grand olympiad is to be held, the Gladiator-Witches engaging in a championship of blood sports to determine the most prestigious of their number. Gambling, match fixing and furious shipping immediately ensue.
11: A weird psychic fallout occurs, and somewhere important is now horribly demon-haunted. Dealing with the weakened veil, and bringing whoever was dabbling with forbidden psychic powers to justice, will surely bring whoever achieves it prestige.
12: Lurking horrible monsters of the undercity - mandragoras, blood worms, rogue pain engines, mutated escaped slaves - start hunting the public forums, dragging away citizens to unclear but presumably unpleasant fates. It's very funny for now, but at some point somebody should probably deal with it.
13: A faction returns from a wildly successful real-space raid, returning with fabulous wealth. Their status goes into rapid ascent as a result.
14: The high ruler of the dark city, in his whims, declares some draconian new law. While, of course, everybody privately ignores it, it provides some excellent blackmail material when you catch somebody out.
15: Some very violent nutter in ceremonial armour is challenging all comers to single combat, promising fabulous rewards to any who can beat them. It's not entirely clear what their scheme is, or if they're just weird.
16: Speculation abounds that the leaders of two rival factions are secret lovers. Scandal ensues either way.
17: A faction suffers a dramatic internal schism, splitting into two similar but bitterly opposed factions.
18: A faction suddenly, inexplicably self-destructs, leaving a power-vacuum to be filled.
19: Some hidden conspiracy is quietly assassinating prominent citizens, to unknown ends. Working out who's behind it, and what they want, becomes the height of gossip.
20: The most powerful faction locally makes an open bid for power, attempting to conquer their rivals by force and become a far greater power. It would be doomed to failure if their rivals were capable of healthy co-operation, but as it stands the mess of self-serving political nonsense that enmeshes everybody leaves things on a knife-edge.



d12 Cloning Errors:

1: Skin becomes unusually pigmented.
2: Eye fails to regenerate.
3: Skin translucent. 
4: Scars remain from whatever killed you.
5: Fingers elongated, too many joints.
6: Memories of the state between death and revivification linger, they're existentially upsetting.
7: Body ice-cold.
8: Memories of the events leading to your death missing.
9: Limbs too long.
10: One limb withered and less functional.
12: Spine twisted, hunching forward.

d12 Job Offers In The Dark City:

1: One of the lesser races in realspace has irritated me; bring it back as a slave.
2: Assassinate a rival to make a point, they'll come back but they need to be taught a lesson.
3: Steal a rare Hypertech item for me, don't get caught.
4: Find out who pulled off a recent attack against me.
5: Do some industrial espionage, bring me a juicy secret about a rival.
6: Frame a rival for something they can be nicely blackmailed over.
7: Take me on a nice safe guided tour of somewhere exciting in realspace.
8: Spread some handy propaganda for me.
9: A rival is holding somebody I, shamefully, care about hostage, go get them back safely.
10: I did something potentially incriminating, clean up the evidence before it goes public?
11: I'm very bored, bring me something particularly amusing from real-space.
12: Here's some lovely sabotage, plant it where it can do some fun damage to my rivals.


d20 Nightmare Dolls For Sale

1: Allows you minor precognition when you hold it.
2: Wards the area it rests in against demons and spirits.
3: Allows you to sense psychic effects when you hold it.
4: Allows you to dispel psychic effects you brandish it against them. The psychic can make a Will save to resist.
5: Allows you to communicate telepathically with whoever you point the doll at. The subject may make a Will save to resist.
6: Allows you to see people's souls when you hold it.
7: Allows you to cause whoever you point it at to feel your emotions. Potentially very romantic. The subject can make a Will save to resist. 
8: Lets you transfer people's wounds to yourself (healing them and dealing that much damage to you), or visa versa. The victim can make a Will save to resist.
9: Lets you project holographic images where you gesture with it.
10: Lets you cause excruciating pain to a psychic you point it at, reducing their Will by d10
11: Wards the area it rests in against psychic powers.
12: Wards the area it rests in against dimensional intrusions and spying.
13: Lets you read emotional resonances from objects it touches.
14: While you hold it, causes you a little jolt of pain whenever you hear a lie.
15: Lets you instinctively sense danger when you hold it.
16: Lets you project a telepathic message to somebody you care deeply about (love and hate both count) anywhere in the universe, or further afield.
17: Let's you start small fires where you point it. d8 Damage if used to set people on fire.
18: So long as it's on your person, lets your corpse keep talking (and listening to responses) after you die, until you're revived by the homunculi.
19: Inflicts a conscience on whoever you point it at. Reduce Will by d8 if you point it at somebody not used to the sensation.
20: Lets you dull the emotional responses of whoever you point it at. The subject may make a Will save to resist.


d20 Pieces of Advanced Hypertech for sale.

1: Homonculus Ossifactor Field. Causes rapid uncontrolled bone growth. A weapon that hits everybody nearby dealing d12 damage, damage rolls over to Dexterity not Strength.
2: The Dance Of Minds. Lets you swap bodies with a victim, who can make a Will save to resist. You each retain your Will scores, memories, personalities.
3: Handy Portable Black Hole. Held in a humming force-field inside a handbag. Utterly destroys whatever you push in there. Useful for disposing of evidence, or cleaning up after parties.
4: Gilded Demon Cage. Holds an enslaved demon prince. You can poke him through the bars for your amusement, or - by adjusting the dials on the cage - cause him to suffer until he offers you a prophecy. 
5: Curly Soul Straw. Stick the sharpened end in somebody and drink, and their soul comes out with their blood. They lose d10 Will, you regain that much lost Will, and also absorb some of their memories and personality traits.
6: Soul Forge. Feed a trapped soul into it, and it sculpts it into something amusing that you can put on display. Or use it as a component when building hypertech that uses souls. Or whatever horribly inventive thing you can imagine.
7: Nightmare Jammer. Activated by whispering one of your fears to it. Overrides all local communications channels so the listener/viewer instead receives whatever the worst possible message would be - everybody gets their own personalised horrible communication. 
8: Instant Sun, just add helium. A miniaturised star, held in stasis. Release the stasis and add some helium, and it roars into nuclear fire, dealing d20 Damage to everything in a very wide radius every minute, until somebody puts the star back in its box.
9: Homunculus Flesh Pod. Put a dead body in, or even a tiny fragment of one, and fuel the pod with somebody's suffering nearby. The body is revived into a living person once more. Useful in a pinch, so an untimely death doesn't end the fun of a real-space raid.
10: Hypnotic Curtain. Hang over a doorway or other portal. Anybody trying to pass through must pass a Will save or fall into a hypnotic trance, and be rendered helpless. Handy for privacy.
11: Extradimensional Bridge. Teleport yourself and your companions somewhere you've been before. Costs a trapped soul to establish a route if this is the first time you've taken the bridge there.
12: Corpse Thrall Spike. Jam it into the brain of a dead body, and it reanimates as a corpse thrall under your command. 
13: Mirror Gown. Reach into a mirror to pull out the reflection-objects within, or step into the mirror to reside in the reflected pocket-realm on the other side. 
14: Djinn Rings. A set of ten. Each ring contains a bound spirit. You can command the spirit to fetch you an object, releasing it from the ring, but when it returns you need to beat it into submission to put it back in the ring, or else it stays free (and a kleptomaniac).
15: Space Warper. Shrink a distance between two places down to a few feet, or expand it up to a mile. Handy for when you're too lazy to walk very far.
16: Shrinking Water. Sprinkle it on an object and it shrinks down to the size of a rice grain, no matter how big it started out. Once the object has dried out completely, it suddenly springs back up to its original size.
17: Locket Of Safety In Courtship. While you wear this, you cannot be injured by anybody you truly love or who truly loves you. They can still cause emotional pain, however. Taking it off after the first date is considered very romantic.
18: Fashion Gland. Implanted in the body, where it exudes flesh warping hormones. Whatever you want to look like, your body slowly shifts itself to look like that over the course of days or weeks. Requires focussed desire for best results.
19: Quantum-Entangled Paper. Two sheets. Whatever you do to one - origami, writing, tears, bloodstains - happens to the other as well. Popular with separated lovers.
20: Prismatic Gown. The wearer can shift from a particle to a wave temporarily, letting them project themselves over large distances, refract through objects, etc, before reforming.



Real-space Raids


d20 Human Planets to Visit

1: Veranthus. Agricultural world. Herds of shaggy beasts, rolling waves of golden grain. Tranquil, placid and pastoral, until you get there.
2: Asterion Prime. Hive-city world. Teeming masses of humans packed into hyper-dense urban sprawl. Monolithic architecture. Drab.
3: Sigma-Hoth. Ice world. Humans drill for oil beneath vast glaciers. Inhospitable, but very picturesque.
4: Carthagus. Port world. A trade hub where human spaceships dock in orbital space-stations to resuply or sell cargo. Fabulously wealthy by human standards, but to space elves terribly dull.
5: Madrix Delta. Jungle Death World. Human enclaves live beneath the trees, fending off horrible insect-monsters. A challenging visit, but very rewarding. Capturing the beasts is always fun.
6: Capsasitus Twenty-Two. Machine-world. A vast factory where the human machine-cult makes things they naively consider high-tech. Very ugly.
7: Dominus Prime. Shrine world. The humans' primitive religion thinks this place is very important; your visit will really make them upset. Lots of very beautiful slaves here.
8: Pacifica. Oceanic hive-city world. Sprawling ocean rigs lashed by storms. Humans here rugged and independent, not very bright even by human standards. Demons lurk in the depths of the ocean.
9: Planet Brox. Night-locked Urban World. Under a shroud of darkness, the vast cities descend into vice and crime. The humans are trying, bless them. Your atrocities need to be extra atrocious to stand out here.
10: Borneus. Garden World. Light agriculture in a rural paradise. Lots of soft, happy, contented humans, absolutely ripe for the picking. Won't this be fun?
11: Maximus Beta. Post-apocalyptic desert world. Human tribes fight each other among the ruins of a fallen civilisation. The people are ugly and rather dull, but there's lots of interesting pre-human relics to steal here.
12: Floyd Kappa. Mining world. Teeming hordes of slightly mutated humans horribly oppressed by their overseers, forced to work down the acid mines. Hyper-authoritarian dystopia. It's actually quite hard for you to make this place worse.
13: Dendrus Five. Gas giant. Human cloud-harvesters live on floating platforms. Low gravity. A good place for a nice, laid-back relaxing slaughter.
14: Sigma-Sigma-Gamma. Radioactive Death World. Incredibly poisonous. Everything here, including the humans, incredibly mutated. Distasteful. A nice source of gribbly combat beasts for the arena, though.
15: Nullius. Agricultural world. Very boring human settlements live very boring lives farming algae, studiously ignoring the ancient cyclopian alien ruins scattered about the planet.
16: Mortian X. Used to be a lovely agricultural world, now a warzone. Going on for five decades of trench warfare in a pointless civil war. A pit of human misery and meaningless death. Delightful, in an over-the-top sort of way.
17: Vera 12. Machine-world. Human populations toil away building crude, dangerous nuclear devices. Factory-thralls packed in like sardines. Oddly tranquil, probably due to all the sedatives in the drinking water. 
18: Magnifax Ultima. Noble world. Centre of government for the local star cluster. Lots of beaurocrats. Absolutely packed with cultists of the evil gods. Best to be selective who you kidnap, you don't want to accidentally bring a cultist of the Thirsting God home with you.
19: Oasil. Desert world. Ash-choked atmosphere, lots of volcanos. Native humans hardy, cunning, and well-armed to defend against the predatory ash-stalkers. Somewhere you can really get stuck in if you feel sporting.
20: Hoplus Two. Radiactive gas giant. Humans only live in orbiting space station, syphoning the radon atmosphere for fuel. Space stations old, poorly maintained, possibly haunted. Very exciting to visit.

d12 Exciting Things To Steal From Human Worlds

1: Priceless religious relics.
2: Innocent children.
3: Combat-slaves.
4: Beautiful flora.
5: Samples of the local diseases.
6: Unusually beautiful slaves.
7: Untrained psychics.
8: Stolid slaves for manual labour.
9: Prominent local nobility, for a laugh.
10: Old alien technology.
11: Amusing human narcotics.
12: Dangerous local wildlife.

d20 Complications On Real-space Raids

1: The humans here are about to do a civil war, and heavily armed.
2: Some other alien predator is also hunting here, and is actually quite scary.
3: Cults of the dark gods are active here, things could go badly.
4: It's the middle of an important human religious festival.
5: A grizzled human hero is here, he knows how to fight space elves.
6: A squad of human battle-nuns are here, guarding some dignitary.
7: A squad of space marines are here, scouting for new recruits.
8: A powerful latant psychic lurks among the masses here, things will get weird.
9: Space orcs have just shown up, and are having Fun.
10: The humans somehow predicted your arrival, and have prepared for a fight. How quaint.
11: A human inquisitor starts hunting you when you arrive. 
12: The humans are in the middle of a violent religious schism.
13: The humans are in the middle of a horrible disease outbreak.
14: The place has been struck by a dramatic natural disaster.
15: Human technology is malfunctioning as you arrive.
16: Secret human xenophile cultists think you're on their side.
17: Human cultists of the Thirsting God have felt your presence.
18: Human authorities are in the middle of an authoritarian clamp-down.
19: The whole place is absolutely infested with sneaky hidden alien parasites.
20: The humans are overcome with xenophobic religious fervour, and you arrived at exactly the worst moment.