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Sunday, 29 March 2020

Game Concept: Scifi Television On A Budget

This one is a bit unusual and quite a bit of game gimmick that does not really rely on any system of choice or, indeed, even genre. However for the purpose of this idea I have chosen Science Fiction, as being locked down as made me binge back some old scifi ranging from Classic Doctor Who to Star Trek. Watching so much of it makes you see the idiosyncrasies and the silly elements born of budget constrains.

My Game Has Limited Budget

A mundane, wooden box is a lot cheaper on the budget
than a 'proper' space ship.
Its an odd restriction, when tabletop RPG allows one to use their imagination as much as they want. You don't need to bother about budget. Some people might, a bit, if they insist on using miniatures for Dungeons & Dragons but in my experience that rarely is enough of a limiting factor: people will repurpose a mini and go 'Okay I know its a bandit, but its a hobgoblin'. Most people who use mini and map nowadays use some mat where they can erase and draw at will. Only those gifted with time and skill usually bother to build elaborate sets, unless they are war gamer who can reuse terrain. As a result, the idea of 'budget' is a non-issue for tabletop. Even in an era of supplement creep, there are things like the SRD/OGL and Pathfinder has a wiki where all the info is available. There's no need to buy books.

Overall, anything can happen. A game can be set in any number of villages, cities, biomes or planets with only the GM's words to change the setting. Fantastical monsters can be dime a dozen, spaceships can show up as massive fleets and action scenes can be as overly detailed with flourish as much as one choose to elaborate upon. But what if it wasn't so?

Suppose my game was based off televised Science Fiction, from the sixties to the late nineties. This was the era of televised episodic budget science fiction: immensely popular, yet still not quite mainstream in the way they are now. These shows were often very ambitious but sadly lacking in budget. This is the era of Classic Doctor Who, of the original Battlestar Galactica, of Star Gate, of Babylon Five, of Star Trek from the Original Series to the end of Voyager. Television budget was often a mess. Computer generated images weren't a thing yet or, if they existed, were extremely primitive and limited until the tail end of the nineties. That's why aliens looked like 'men with weird foreheads in funny clothes'. There was no budget to allow twelve feet tall, four armed reptilian creatures or floating psychic amoeba, at least not in any form which would age well visually. Aliens were usually just people in funny clothes, maybe with some makeup or at best some 'rubber suit monster'.

Not only that but the action was limited by budget too, as was every aspect of world building. Most (in)famously is the example of the ubiquitous Transporter technology in the original Star Trek. It existed because some cheap sfx trick was much cheaper and easier to do than build the following: a shuttle's interior, a shuttle's exterior (with launch pad/hangar bay), a shuttle model for it flying in space and maybe oversized parts of the Enterprise's back showing said model landing or launching from the ship itself. It was just easier to add some bad sparkly after effect and make people vanish into thin air, the same way it was easier to make the Tardis magically look like a police box. Both elements would end up becoming so iconic to their respective universe its basically impossible to imagine the settings without them.

What Would It Affect?

Vasquez's Rocks aka 'Kirk's Rocks' aka 'every single
rocky alien planet ever'.
So if a game was ran to emulate this era of television, what would it be like? How much would it change? Would it fundamentally alter tabletop RPG? No, not at all the core elements are still there. This is more of a 'cosmetic' thing and a set of restrictions on the Game Master's part. It would be best suited to episodic games (granted, given my pacing, something closer to a classic Doctor Who serial) to fit the style of the era.
  • All aliens would either be humanoids or rubber suit monsters. The former would range from the obvious cop out of 'human aliens' to 'rubber forehead aliens' while the latter would be better suited to something that's less of a person and more some monster, as it would not be able to convey emotions properly due to the bulky suit.
  • There would be very little, any animals shown especially not alien wildlife. This is too costly. Any set in the wilderness would be some quarry or random forest which just so happen to look very conveniently like Earth. There would be very little exotic environments without straining an episode's budget or trying to get creative.
  • Sets would be quite limited and reused as lot, so if the game is focused on a ship (the Enterprise and the Tardis are good examples) or space station (like DS9 and Babylon Five) it would make heavy use of the same major reused locales as much as it can. When a new set need to be used, the descriptions would try to mention as many reused elements as possible to show its the same old sets with a few pieces added/removed and maybe a coat of paint.
  • There would be a very commonly recurring caves, a bunch of desert rocks and/or a quarry set for any kind of mine shaft, alien tunnels and long lost civilization ruins. That they all look the same would just be a happy coincidence. These desolate locations would be heavily abused as any kind of evil lair or dangerous location.
  • Props face a similar situation. If an adventure showcase some ancient alien artifact which take the form of bronze colored geometric foam and cardboard shapes topped by a crystal, then a later adventure might conveniently happen to have an alien ship control's be a stack of geometric shapes, but in green and grey.
  • Many minor NPC would be recurring actors in different makeup, so some element of their physical descriptions and mannerism would be repeated as the same guy in one episode plays an asshole security guard who gets murdered by an alien and 3-4 episodes later plays an alien trader in makeup.
  • Spaceship action would be kept to a bare minimum, as the budget cannot sustain massive space battles, those requiring too many models and/or CGI. If the game is text-based then as many 'shots' of recurring spaceships would be reused as stock footage. Heavy kitbashing of ships may occur if the game use space ships a lot.
  • Finally, action scenes would be somewhat limited to basic action stuff with some added 'pew pew' laser effects for the guns. This is not the kind of setting where advanced weapons, power armor and complex shields effects can be used. This will result in the characters being a lot more 'grounded' with little to no display of any kind of superpowers, with even supposedly fearsome warrior races displaying little super strength beyond tossing someone to the ground. Psychic powers, likewise, will be mostly effects-less. They just happen without any description of glowy lights and sounds and tend to be abstract. In other words, it isn't Warhammer 40 000 , Mass Effect or Halo, with big spectacle of military scifi and/or space magic.
  • This would also mean monster's abilities would need to be abstract, such as mind control or death rays as graphic things like acid or melting people is not only out of the budget but also not allowed on television.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Grimdark Future/Warhammer 40k: Planning A Multi-Edition/Game Space Wolf Army

"For Russ and the All father!"
Originally I wasn't going to ever paint a second army, having planned to move to paper miniatures. However being locked into my home and finishing what minis I've got left to do has really made me interested in doing more of it and so, should this mess-that-shall-not-be-named ever resolve itself (and if I have a job after it all) my survival celebration goal is to build a Space Wolf army Specifically an army that, like my Death Guards, are playable in multiple editions of the game and most importantly in Grimdark Future, The primary editions of focus are:

As such I'm writing down my notes for how to assemble the army, models and units to be legal (via WYSIWYG) for these three specific editions. Third Edition because it was my first edition and pretty much the 'definitive' 40k (or at least the Warhammer 40k I first knew) 8th because its the current and Grimdark Future because its overall better and easier to play.

Grey Hunters

Troop Choice (1+ in 3rd edition)
In the older Space Wolf codices, you had to take at least one squad of Grey Hunters per army. As the default troop choice forming the book of the chapter, it make sense from a fluff standpoint as most Space Wolves packs would be of this type.
  • Main Weapon Loadout: In trying to make these guys fit all three edition I run into a problem. Their 3rd edition weapon choices don't fully match the more modern Space Wolves or Grimdark Future's Wolf Brothers at the same time. In order to keep it more simple and focus on my two favorite versions of the game (3rd and GF), my Grey Hunters will exclusively be using Bolters. This will tie them closer to their original role and show the Space Wolf progression from hot blooded close quarter Blood Claws to heavy weapon-wielding Long Fangs. As such, in Grimdark Future these will be Battle Brothers upgraded with the Wolf Brother's mechanic, rather than Wolf Brother squads.
  • Weapon Options: To keep it compliant with 3rd edition, only the Sergeant will be outfitted with some mixture of melee weapon+pistol (Upgrade A in GF). A single Grey Hunter will replace its Bolter with either a Flamer/Meltagun/Plasma Gun (Upgrade E in GF)
  • Modelling: I'd build these guys fairly close to (and partially from) Tactical Squads but would take care to make them more suitably Space Wolf-esque with the addition of choice bitz. Being the bulk of the army and given I hate painting flesh and face, these guys would be mostly helmeted. Given they are more experienced and older than the Blood Claws they would need some slightly more ornate armor. As such they would primarily be Tactical Marines with added Space Wolf-themed helmets, backpacks and shoulder pads. There isn't much of a need to use the Space Wolf-specific chest plate because the Bolter will cover it.
  • Overall status of squad weapon loadout: 100% legal in all three editions! Maybe not optimal, but usable.

Blood Claws

Troop/Fast Attack Choice (Depending on equipment)
Blood Claws are the newbs of the Space Wolves. The Space Wolves find them to be way too hyped and hot blooded to be of any worth as Scouts and, as such, stuff them in their Power Armor as soon as possible and throws them into battle so they can vent that 'youthful energy'. Usually by ripping and tearing into the enemy with a level of brutality on par with Khorne Berserkers.
  • Main Weapon Loadout: These guys have Bolt Pistols and CCW, which the Space Wolf pack seems to come fully equipped with. This is easily compliant with the 3rd, 8th and GF versions and such pose no problem. Obviously in Grimdark Future these would be Wolf Rookies.
  • Weapon Options: One model per squad would be equipped with a Power Sword/Power Fist and a plasma pistol (which would be the Pack Leader in 8th edition and is upgrade C in GF). In addition one model would be equipped with an option of Flamer/Meltagun/Plasma Gun (also upgrade C).
  • Modelling: These guys would probably keep the Space Wolf bitz to a minimum (on the armor itself, anyway), as to make them appear cleaner and more pristine rather than having ornate armor. However the main difference from the Grey Hunters would be the heads. All those Space Wolf heads with the 'crazy hair' and mohawks would be used to represent the Blood Claws. The 'Skyclaws' are pretty easy to model as Assault Marines with the same head type as Blood Claws as are the biker versions. However it is worth noting that 3rd edition Space Wolves lacked Jump Pack units so them appearing in the army is unlikely.
  • Overall status of squad weapon loadout: 100% legal in all three editions! However, in GF the Wolf Rookies squads cannot exceed a ten model size.

Long Fangs

Heavy Support
The Long Fangs are old foogey of the Space Wolves. Their hair has become grey (or even white) and their fangs have kept growing all their lives, hence the name. More importantly than just being old, however, is that they alone have the level of discipline to make good use of heavy weapons, making them the equivalent of Devastator Marines in other Chapters.
  • Main Weapon Loadout: While nowadays they have more variety, to me the Long Fangs will always be the 'heavy weapon guys' of the Space Wolves. This is especially true because in 3rd edition you had to replace their boltgun with some heavy weapon. As such these guys are upgraded Support Brothers in Grimdark Future.
  • Weapon Options: When it come to heavy weapons in 3rd edition, the Long Fangs are limited to a choice between Heavy Bolters, Missile Launchers, Lascannons, Multi-Meltas and Plasma Cannons. This leave out the Grav Weapons, but Space Wolves don't use those anyway!
  • Modelling: The key detail for Long Fangs would be bare heads, albeit of a different type than the Blood Claws. These would be heads with big beards and/or baldness, with their hair obviously grey or white which would mark them as being very old. The main model to base Long Fangs off are obviously Devastator Marines, as their main body, arms and backpack form the core of any heavy weapon-wielding Space Marine. Because so many parts would need to be taken from the Devastator kit, this basically mean that shoulder pads is where these guys need to be 'wolfed up' as well as adding any bitz of wolf pelt and battle trophies their models can support. The Spellcrow shoulder pads look suitably ornate and different. In addition I'd probably paint a bit more 'bling' and metallic trim on the Long Fangs, about to the same level as the Wolf Guards.
  • As a nod to their small squad size, in Grimdark Future I will always field the Long Fangs in squads of five.
  • Overall status of squad weapon loadout: 100% legal in all three editions!

Wolf Guards

Elite (and sometimes Squad Leader?)
Wolf Guards are weird. How they work between 3rd and 8th edition has changed a bit and, to make matters worse, they don't really have an equivalent in Grimdark Future at the moment. The Wolf Guards are kind of the 'Veterans' of the Space Wolf armies but this isn't completely accurate. They don't work the same as 1st company Veteran squads of other Space Marine chapters.
  • Modelling: 'Anything goes' for these guys as long as it looks cool. The Wolf Guards are the heroes of the chapter, raised above their peers by the respect of their Wolf Lord. As such these guys can look like a slightly more blinged out version of the Blood Claws, Grey Hunters or Long Fangs depending how appropriate to the model. They would definitely be heavy on the Space Wolf pack bitz or some cool third party parts to make some of them stand out. Beyond that the only thing which would mark a unit as a Wolf Guard would be its yellow and black markings. Their loadout of weapon, likewise, would be varied and down to the individual.
  • Wolf Guard Squads: These would be squad formed fully of Wolf Guards, which can be fielded in 8th edition as a squad of their own. In Grimdark Future these could be simply Wolf Brothers with appropriate weapons but then they would be mechanically no different from their lesser kindred beyond weapon loadout. Another option would be to make them Assault Brothers with Veteran status. These units would then receive a +1 to hit in melee and at range, capping them at an impressive (but costly) 2+ and enabling the Jump Pack version of 8th edition to be fielded.
  • Wolf Guard Squad Leaders: Another weird thing Space Wolves can do is assign Wolf Guards as pack leaders. In Grimdark Future this would mean assigning a hero unit to the squad, namely either a Champion or Captain. Note that these hero units would definitely be 'reluffed', since Wolf Guards lack such a rank. The Captain version would be assigned to Long Fang squads (equipped with a deadly combi bolter for good measure) as to make it Relentless too, a mechanic which the Long Fangs would have.
  • Overall status of squad: Really subjective and down to a case by case basis.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Monster: Putrid Blightkings

Well, might as well go with some black comedy at this point. And what better combination between sickness and laughter than Nurgle?

Who need beauty when one is strong and content?
This is a conversion of the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar unit, the Putrid Blightkings, to a variety of RPG system. At a glance, the Putrid Blightkings don't appear to be much, being hulking, corpulent and disgustingly mutated warriors who are clearly rotting alive. Pretty much what you'd expect from Nurgle's elite. What makes them interesting to me is the additional tidbits of lore found in the Maggotkin of Nurgle book, which described them as: "Putrid Blightkings are drawn not only from the ranks of warriors and soldiers, but also scholars, surgeons, apothecaries, poets and countless other walks of life. The Blightkings' disgusting appearance is thus counterpointed by a surreal conviviality."

These once-human monsters are more than just decaying, hulking warriors. Each of them might have a rather intricate and interesting backstory and a matching skill set. These may appear to be bulky zombies but they are very much alive and very much intelligent. They have a cool, interesting concept and since gods and demons of plagues are dime a dozen there is a pretty neat core idea which could be slotted into another game. These are not mere monsters. Well, yes they are very much monsters but they are not completely interchangeable. These are the heroes and champions of the festering hordes. They are the warriors who the hordes of cultist cheer upon. Each is a chosen of some evil god of plague and disease, infused with new festering life.

Each interpretation is more or less me exploring a different side or way to stat these out rather than applying the exact same steps in converting the concept. The actual 'power level' of these Putrid Blightkings will likewise vary depending on the game of choice.

Basic Fantasy

Armor Class: 15
Hit Dice: 4+3
No. Of Attacks: 1 weapon
Damage: 1d8+1 or by weapon +1 (inflict Disease)
Movement: 30'
No. Appearing: Court (1d4 Blightkings) or Warband (1 Blightking and 2d4 minions)
Save As: Fighter 4 
Morale: 11
Treasure Type: D
The Putrid Blightkings are the accursed champions of a demon lord of plagues: they take the form of large, misshapen and bloated warriors deformed by diseases and rot, wearing decaying armor and wielding foul and rusty weapons. Putrid Blightkings are either encountered in a small group, called a court or leading some cult or maybe a war band of monsters. Suitable minions for them include orcs, bandits, zombies or ghouls.

Each Putrid Blightking (or each court, if encountered in a group) carries around a disease which they transmit with their weapons. Anyone fighting a Putrid Blightking risk being exposed to their sickness, which the Blightkings will attempt to transmit to as many individuals. Any minion encountered with a Blightking will also carry the disease.

Pathfinder (1st Edition)

"Putrid Blightking" is an acquired template that can be added to any humanoid. This creature is referred to hereafter as the base creature.
CR: Same as the base creature +2.
Alignment: Always Chaotic Evil.
Type: The base creature type change to Outsider (Native) as it become utterly infused with the powers of the abyss.
Armor Class: The base creature increase its natural armor by 2 as its disgusting hide thickens, warp or become covered in all manners of pustules and parasites.
Defensive Abilities: A Putrid Blightking gains immunity to poison, diseases, acid and a spell resistance equal to 11+its total CR.
Special Attacks: A Putrid Blightking retains all of the base creature’s special attacks and gains the following special attack:
  • Diseases (Su): Demonic Blight—injury; save Fortitude DC 10 + 1/2 HD + Cha modifier; onset 1 day; effect 1d6 Con and 1d6 Cha damage; cure 2 consecutive saves. Any weapon wielded by a Putrid Blightking carries this disease.
Abilities: Strength +4, Constitution +4
Feats: A Putrid Blightking gain Diehard, Endurance, Great Fortitude and Toughness as bonus feats.

Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition)

This version of the Putrid Blightking was based off the app and calculations of the Giffyglyph Monster Maker.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

The Importance of understanding the past

This post will certainly skirt my 'no politics on the blog' rule a bit.

I don't really buy recent books (that aren't RPG books, obviously) anymore, there's not really appealing to it. Science fiction, fantasy and horror seems to suffer from a pretty bad exhaustion lately which, combined with the obsession with major intellectual properties which are then destroyed by inept writers (or perhaps on purpose, if you're feeling like being called nuts by people with their heads in the sand) just doesn't really make me want to buy scifi or fantasy novels. The other issue, which I've come to realize following my massive 'born again grognard' phase when I got really invested in the OSR is that fundamentally we (and by extension, most writers) are less and less able to grasp what makes a genre tick.

All we experience in pop culture are copies of copies. Like a telephone game, it increasingly lose its meaning. Ideas. Memes. Tropes. Call them what you want but they exist. Unfortunately people have lost much of their understanding and, when they do spot them, they often generate a sense of hatred for the past followed by a smug satisfaction of pseudo intellect nonsense. The 'trope has been subverted'. Your 'expectations have been subverted'. In actuality it just mean someone wrote crap and felt good about it. No, worse: they felt morally superior.

My most recent purchases in the last few years have been the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft,  Robert E. Howard's Conan stories, an English edition of Tolkien's work (I previous had it as a French translation). More recently (last Monday) I got my hands on Bulfinch's Mythology. Is that book perfect? Hardly, as it is well known that Bulfinch definitely loved to edit out things as to not 'offend' the delicate sensibilities of the Victorian, including young girls. Does that all sound familiar? We should not fear the past and we shouldn't shun it either. If I can keep being pretentious for a moment, I genuinely think anyone out there who is running a Tabletop RPG campaign of any type, but especially fantasy and/or scifi should go out there and read some old mythology. Not the modern takes, not the comic books and Hollywood version where Thor is an alien. These books are, for the most part, either readily available or in the public domain. There is no excuse.

Read some mythology and read some Conan and other pulp works. For science fiction, read the War of the Worlds and other works. You don't even have to like it. I'm not the thought police, you're allowed to dislike it or even think its abhorrent for all I care. Who am I anyway? A nobody. The important point is to at least understand the how and the why of these genres, how they evolved and what form their basis. You can't tinker around with concepts and ideas if there's no grasp of the basics and the core elements. This is how you end with a generation that felt so disconnected from the root elements and the myths that they don't even understand how to play Dungeons & Dragons. Hell, I sure at one point realized that I didn't 'really get it' and then this spiraled in a nearly ten year pretentious-as-fuck phase where I loved to use the term 'deconstruction' as if it meant something. Then one day you get tired of huffing your own farts. You crave the simple, the coherent. Are Conan stories 'deep'? Fuck no. It's pulp, man. However it definitely has lesson to teach on the simple basics of dropping characters in an adventure. The focus isn't on some deeper world building. Its not on some deeper meaning. It's about the how and the why and what adventures this bring.

You have to understand the rules before you bend them.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Warstuff: Pre-Made Units From Popular Miniature Ranges

Warstuff is a pretty bare bones (in a good way!) game by One Page Rules, meant to allow you to take whatever kind of miniatures one fancies, allowing one to mix and match fantasy, science fiction, massive games played with armies or simple skirmish-scale war games.

New Special Rules:
  • Warrior (15pts): This unit get +2 to wound rolls. However, it cannot use the Shooting action. Cannot stack with Fire/Poison.
  • Gunner (15pts): This unit get +2 to wound rolls. However, it cannot use the Melee action. Cannot stack with Fire/Poison.
These abilities are quite powerful and should be limited to hulking monsters/mechs or, for Gunner, to tanks carrying powerful weaponry at the cost of being unable to fight back in melee.

Warhammer 40 000: Space Marines

Anyone who plays Warhammer 40 000 knows Space Marines. Hell, odds are they might even have a few Space Marines miniatures. They're found in quite a few starter set, as well as available as 'easy to build' miniatures, Space Marines are an elitist army, meaning they have a high cost per model.
  • Battle line: Quality 3+, Armored (35pts)
  • Assault: Quality 3+, Armored, Flying (45pts)
  • Heavy: Quality 3+, Armored, Deadly (45pts)
  • Commander: Quality 3+, Armored, Leader (65pts)
  • Psychic: Quality 3+, Armored, Wizard (50pts)
  • Medic: Quality 3+, Armored, Healer (45pts)
  • Scout: Quality 4+, Armored, Stealthy (35pts)
  • Terminator: Quality 3+, Armored, Regeneration, Stealthy (60pts)
Generally, for deciding what type of Marine a mini represent don't place too much focus on the marine weapons, just the general loadout and how it best map up to. Battle-Line Marines are any marine with a bolter weapon (be it Tactical Marines, Veterans or Intercessor), Assault Marines are those with Jump Packs and Heavy Marines is anything with a special or heavy weapon like a Plasma Gun or Heavy Bolter. Specialists such as Apothecaries and the like are the associated type of unit. Their central mechanic is Armored, representing the enhanced armor and physiology of Astartes.

Age of Sigmar: Maggotkin of Nurgle

Jovial, yet ugly.
Its a good time to be a fan of Nurgle, as they have gotten some pretty good models in both Warhammer: Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40 000 and each of these incarnations of Nurgle armies have received special rules to be much more than just a color or flavor of Chaos. The key to Nurgle-aligned armies are notoriously tough, nearly unkillable.
  • Warrior: Quality 4+, Regeneration (35pts)
  • Plague King: Quality 3+, Regeneration (40pts)
  • Plague Lord: Quality 3+, Regeneration, Leader (70pts)
  • Plague Sorcerer: Quality 4+, Regeneration, Wizard (50pts)
  • Drone Riders: Quality 3+, Regeneration, Flying, Mounted (55pts)
  • Plaguebearer: Quality 4+, Regeneration, Stealthy (40pts)
  • Great Unclean One: Quality 3+, Regeneration, Tough, Wizard (85pts)
  • Nurglings: Quality 5+, Regeneration, Death Blow (35pts)
Most units in the Maggotkin line are either Warriors (Warriors of Chaos of some stripe) or the Putrid Blightkings, which are assumed to have bows or sling or whatever else to attack at range. Plague Lords is any kind of hero of Nurgle that's on foot (add Mounted or something else if its mounted on something). Drone Riders is anything on those flying Nurgle fly daemon. The Daemon units obviously map up fairly easily in terms of abilities. Their central mechanic is Regeneration which allows them to avoid death.

Warmachine & Horde: Basic Conversions

Aka 'Warmahorde' for short.
I admit, I've never got the chance to play Warmachine or Horde. It also plays quite differently from Warhammer (any version). This is a fairly crude conversion but it should get the work done. Being unfamiliar with the various factions I don't know enough to fully translate their specific mechanics.
  • Warcaster/Warlock: Quality 4+, Leader, Wizard (60pts)
  • Warjack/Warbeast: Quality 3+, Armored, Large (35pts)
  • Melee Warjack/Warbeast: Quality 3+, Armored, Large, Warrior (50pts)
The key features of these armies (that aren't the more basic infantry units and heroes) are the massive Warjack/Warbeast, which boast a high quality and are Large, allowing them to dominate close combat by sheer might of their size alone. If a Warjack/Warbeast is not equipped with any type of ranged weapon then it has the Warrior Special Rule, making it even more fearsome in melee at the cost of being unable to attack at range.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Urban Fantasy: The Ancient Folks/The Fey, Part 2

Last time I wrote about the basic concepts of my take on the 'fey' of my Urban Fantasy setting, giving them the somewhat paradoxical name of 'mortal demi-gods'. Their concept requires even more fleshing out to further understand them and their game use, as well as offering some core stat blocks to build them.

Statting the Ancient Folks

Forest Hag by Ilya Emelyanov
As creatures so manifold (and contradictory) in their nature, statting these creatures is not exactly an easy task at a glance. These beings are extremely mutable in form, function and abilities, ranging from the greatest of their kind being almost god-like beings, only 'mortal' in the sense their physical form being destroyed ending their lives, to mostly-human mongrels and changelings. For simplicity, these stats are split both in general power level and concept or archetypes found among these creatures. The 'true' Fey consist primarily of:
  • Lesser Folks are the mostly-human creatures loosely related to the true Ancient Folks and are mechanically mostly just a supernatural human with possibly a few gimmicks.
  • Ogres are those of the Ancient Folks who are of larger stature and physical prowess. These creatures are the Trolls and Oni of myth and folklore. Some are dumb brutes but others are simply just very large and strong lads whose nature has no effect on their intellect.
  • Nymphs are land spirits bound to their physical location and have power over this landscape. Some are beautiful maiden but some may be portly Yaksha. The archetype is not limited by appearance.
  • Elves is a bit of a dirty word that evoke certain ideas, but here it is used to refer to a greater Folk gifted with both grace and magical power. These are not the Elves of D&D and fantasy, however and are closer to some of the Sidhe or even the Djinn.
  • Fey Spirits are the greatest of their kind and are almost True Spirit, being able to shift between material and spiritual form at will.
There are other types of Fey and not all fey are 'true fey', as they can create minions or raise beasts born of other dimension, of dreams and nightmares. These are creatures which form the 'ecological' niche of familiar and pets.

Fey Type
Lesser Folk
+1/2 HD
1d6 or Wep
Fey Spirit*

*Fey Spirits are mechanically akin to True Spirits with Materialize at Rank B or A.

In terms of general abilities, the Folks are rather elusive and hard to hit but suffer from a somewhat lacking morale. This isn't necessarily cowardice so much as a mercurial temperament. If a fight takes too long, gets boring, is a stalemate or something else then odds are the Folk will make a Morale check and might very well decide to just book it, possibly using its powers to confuse a foe and run away (even if they don't call it that).

Abilities of the Folks

The core statblock are only the basic framework, as these are creatures which can be heavily reliant on their often oddly specific abilities. By itself, one of the Ancient Folks is 'just a monster' with HD and everything and that can be a tad boring. The devil, however, is in the details and the bizarre abilities they posses. Unless a game is some high level murder-romp, odds are that most Ancient Folks encountered a Nemesis: an NPC with full HP and multiple actions, able to challenge Heroic Characters (which is the default power level of my game).

A good source of combat-related effects for the Ancient Folks would be in Godbound, specifically the monster section. Specifically the Impairing Powers found on page 169. Generally these would require the Ancient Folk to commit Effort for the scene or day, depending on the power or creature.
  • Ogres are generally somewhat lacking in more advanced abilities. However because they are tough creatures, they tend to have the Hardy Nemesis trait, which grants them +3 HP by default and receive +1 additional HP every 3 other HD.
  • 'Elves' (as much as one may loathe to use the term) might possess the ability to Commit Effort to cast a spell. Alternatively, in the case of creatures such as Djinn, Peri or others they might possess an enhanced Fray Dice, representing a more direct and reliable access to elemental abilities.
  • Meanwhile, Fey Spirits are where a GM can just go nuts with ideas.
Generally speaking, each Ancient Folk encountered should be somewhat unique unless a game is specifically dealing with the Fey on a semi-regular basis, at which case creating some broad categories might be of use.

A common limitation of the abilities of the Ancient Folks requires them to target a mortal which offended them and their ancient taboos and/or someone who broke a bargain. This can include people who trespass on the invisible domain of the fey to doing certain actions on certain days, as well as those who do not respect the oddly specific rules a Fey might add to a bargain. NPC and the likes get no Saving Throws, obviously, it 'just happen' however a PC might find themselves making a Saving Throw with a penalty.

Idiosyncratic Weaknesses

The Ancient Folks are a loose conglomerate of strange beings from a bygone era, or perhaps of even stranger origin. For all their power, these creatures also often find themselves cursed with particularly unusual limitations, not unlike a Spirit, despite being (mostly) corporeal beings.
  • Most folks are weak to a specific substance. The most infamous is of course Iron, but in some cases it could be anything coated with a specific substance, such as wolfsbane, holy water or even the blood or ashes of a holy man or something equally unusual. Striking an Ancient Folk with a weapon coated with their specific weakness make their AC count as 10, irrelevant of its actual value. In some cases it might also cause damage to always read straight.
  • For other limitations, see previous posts on Spirits.
  • Finally, the Ancient Folks (even the Fey Spirits) are mortal, meaning being reduced to 0 HP and killed very much destroys them, unlike Spirits which might simply vanish or be banished for a while.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Urban Fantasy: The Mortal Demi-Gods of the Lands (The 'Fey')

They bear many names, have many guise and indeed their origins may very well be distinct. These are creatures only vaguely analogue to each others and yet somehow are often lumped together both by outsiders and themselves. They are the creatures which often dwell just beyond the horizon: in the wood, over and under the hills or which have adapted to the dark alleys. They are creatures of otherness, straddling a line between man, monster or spirit. European Folklore have named their to be the Fey or Fairies. Asian folklore has vague categories of creatures of ogres and demons, yet these creatures aren't True Demons while others are woodland spirits. The Middle East has the Djinns, Dev, Peri, Shedim and other creatures which are conflated with Demons and Angels. These creatures are nothing of the sort, however.

The Ancient Folks

Are these all similar creatures or are they simply vaguely related by the artifice of the human mind and our need to categorize them? Most likely. And yet, some similarities emerge in all of them:
  • Within a single major geographical areas there are many type/breeds, often rather vaguely defined yet ostensibly part of the same pantheon 'ecology'.
  • They are neither true Spirits nor full mortal, with some individual or breeds leaning more toward one or the others. Their physical forms are quite varied but often mostly human-like safe for inhuman traits. They are either thin and 'fey'-like or large hulking brutes.
  • They have strong associations with their native lands and the wilder places of the world, where men feared to stray in ancient times.
  • They have powers over mortals yet, at the same time, mortal superstition seems to hold them at bay or at the very least placate them.
  • They freely intermingled with human in ancient times and are connected with the mystical.
  • They often have ties to the 'old gods' of antiquity.
These creatures are what we might indeed call the 'Fey' but this isn't quite an accurate term. They are supernatural beings, not quite mortal or spirit. Their lifespan are quite long, if not often endless, yet they are clearly mortal in the sense destroying their physical form end their lives unlike spirits which often require more complex ways to destroy.

Art by Amy Cornelson
For simplicity we will call them the Ancient Folks or the 'Folks', namely because most of these creatures often claim to predate modern human. How true this is unclear and given these fading beings do not fully recall their true ancient history they too subscribe to this theory. The Folks being neither Spirit nor mortal may be a state of being which predate mortal existence for humanity, a predecessor form or some more primal state with stronger ties to the spirit world when it held greater sway over the land. This concept is similar to the Pre-Adamite theories, if one was to hold 'Adam' (or a being analogous, disconnected from Judeo Christian myths) to be the first modern and mortal human.

Thus these ancient folks are a race of semi-mortals, which may have splintered from the true ancestors of humanity long before some fundamental change, at least the theory goes. Stronger, yet more tied to the primordial lands they existed as a bridge between Gods/Spirits and the mortal world, which was simpler and cruder. Slowly and inevitably they faded away. Of course, even if this theory is true there are still many missing links and 'holes' in it, yet it is a theory which some Mages hold to be at least partially true. Creatures which folklore recorded as Fey, Jinn, Div, Peri, Yaksha, (some forms of) Yokai and more may at least in part descend from the Ancient Folks. In turn these creatures did intermingle with ancient humans at some point. These beings may also have played a role in the stories of 'Ancient Aliens', too. It is worth noting that such beings are only considered a unified category by human attempts to make sense out of their existence and origins and each one may have a somewhat complex history and ancestry.

Are they enemies or allies of mankind? A good question with no clear answer because the folks are alien (and indeed may have inspired a few modern myths about aliens, as many works of fiction have made a connection between fairies and alien abductions). Long lived and insular in many cases or, at the very least secretive, they have their own codes and own ways of thinking. They are, in many ways a wild card. Some of them actively enjoy devouring human flesh while others are protectors of wild places. Sometimes both at the same time.

Powers of the Ancient Folks

The forms of the ancient Folks are myriad, as are their abilities. Attempting to catalog all of them in one place would be nearly impossible a task. They are incredibly diverse creatures both in term of appearances and abilities, ranging from almost spirit-like beings to creatures closer to a supernaturally powered mortal. This is but a mere sample of their incredibly varied powers and should be taken as a starting point and not an exhaustive list.
  • Glamour or Shapeshifting: Powers of illusion and disguise are common among these creatures, with the most basic taking the form of a passive ability to appear as a single human. There are being who can take this ability much further, however.
  • Enhanced Physical Abilities: Many of the Ancient Folks are innately stronger, faster and especially more agile and perceptive than ordinary mortals.
  • Elemental Abilities: Many of the Ancient Folks have some form of ability over the elements of the world, such as the association of Djinn with 'smokeless fire' or aquatic fey having some powers related to water. These can range from offensive (throwing fire) to something a bit subtle such as a 'blindsight' when in contact with their element. Many Yokai, for example, can take minor control over air to an absurd degree, coating blade or even bullets in 'razor wind', which is rather insane of an ability and guarantee to get people to scream about 'anime bullshit'.
  • Fate Alteration: Sometimes called 'probability alteration' by those who find the concept of fate to be silly. It isn't completely known how or why the Ancient Folks do this but they seem to possess some innate and often mysterious ability to increase or decrease odds of unlikely events. To some degree this can even seemingly cause small amount of reality warping, seemingly altering (very small) events. Another way this manifest is through bargains and pacts and breaking one made with the Ancient Folks or some other taboo can bring about misfortune.