Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Map Collection

I occasionally make small maps, so this post is set to collect some of them in one online place and not to flood the other posts.
This map is for the lands where north is a warm direction

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Ink

(continuing the idea of more frequent but shorter posts for January, to see if this is sustainable)

Ink is not-reality outside of a certain world. Its yawning hunger for being is subtle, it is seeping into the world in deep and cracked places, coming to light through the long roots of  plants, going behind our eyes as we sleep; it flows from pens of writers and brushes of artists, takes the sound of oracular rhythms, intertwines itself with the veins of stone hewed from deep quarries. One day Ink will extinguish the sun to add its amber husk to the necklace of devoured worlds but the pace of doom is slow and full of beauty.

Becoming. (1)
These are the things resonant to Ink or, as some may say, sacred to it: empty frames, locked doorways, mirrors when you seek the gaze of your own reflection in dim twilight, a single trail in pristine snowfield, broken oaths, a song nobody hears, being awake in the dead hour of night, misshaped keys, lenses of unclear glass, underground rivers, kept secrets, unintended passageways, silent rains, and plants that only bloom once in a century.

By the long chain of gradual becoming – through the cracks, through the waters, through the roots – Ink can be rendered from certain desert plants and obscured minerals into atrament of liquid, tangible not-reality. Without an intend it remains inert. But such intent is easy to find.
Becoming. (2)
Tattooed under skin, it slowly poisons the bone and blood of the wearer but grants them impossible powers over time, and silence, and space. Writers and artists with their souls burning out like a candle and ink-stained fingers create works of yearning, aching beauty which are worming their way into the minds of observers: the wonder incarnated, the seeds of future dreams. Scrimshaw the bones of light-bearing beasts with paths the dead worlds are making through the Ink, and trace these paths in atrament to create whispering charms; bear these charms close to your heart, or throat, or wrists to sing together of possible futures, possible pasts, the present changed by your very presence. Eventually your mind will be eroded but not before you'd be able to change the world.
Becoming. (3)
Except its own wearer Ink never harms directly, but with pathway wide enough the impossible beings can come into reality – beings of kind eyes, and graceful movements, and misshaped bodies, and insatiable hunger for being real even more. Banished back into Ink they dissipate but on rare occasion, when they acquired enough reality into themselves, parts of beings remain and can be eaten by the ignorant, the careless and the devoid to traverse Ink by becoming a part of it. Although so very often this travel is one-way, the outsiders said to be like gods in not-worlds, and many of adepts, already too stained, seek such apotheosis.
Becoming.(4)
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Once I played 'Dishonored', 'Mark of the Ninja' and 'Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing' in quick succession, and the concept of Ink gestalted out of them, despite all three games having only few elements in common. 'Van Helsing' contributed the name, the theme of creativity and the idea of beauty, 'Dishonored' the aspects of hunger, melody, dead worlds and light-bearing beasts, 'Mark of the Ninja' gave the ideas of toxicity to the user, turning into other kind of being, strictly no-direct-damage powers, of silence and of pathways into reality. 'Dishonored' and 'Mark' were both stealth/assassin games with tattoos on main protagonists, 'Dishonored' and 'Van Helsing' both were quasi-Victorian in their tech/fashion sense, had a sort of Outsider being, and had dark-blue voids full of scattered fragments of no-worlds, but the only connection between 'Mark' and 'Van Helsing' is that they are both in third-person perspective, have a female sidekick, and a madman or two.

Ink can serve as plane of shadows although the initial idea that this isn't a shadow of the world, like PoS is, but what the world isn't.

Another thing is that Ink is not supposed to be always available: in most of the magics, once the access is established (spells, MPs, etc), it is always here and regenerates automatically over time once rest conditions are made and unless in a specific dead magic zone. I see Ink in its initial form of atrament to be scarce in a way cochineal was initially scarce – it was taken a lot of effort and resources to produce a drop of paint, and once it was used it was gone. Tattoo and charms are workaround for such approach, but with the tradeout in faster erosion of self for the mage.

On another note I always wanted to have no-direct-damage magic, the magic that is tied to tangible things that are still easy enough to manage but not common and broad enough to be commodity, the magic that creates not only grotesque and dangerous but also beautiful things, the magic with limitations built into its nature/theme, the magic that comes with the cost to both the wielder and on the grander scheme to the world, but not as drastic and random cost as spell mutation and spell catastrophes – more like a gradual transformation/erosion proportional to mage's ambition, and overall sense of faraway but unavoidable doom. For this purpose alchemy never worked for me despite its tangible basis because the appearance/trope of alchemy in modern perception has no limitations (science+magic), is a step away from magitech, is detachable from the wielder without much trouble, and its material components are so broad and varied that they are very often either abstracted or handwaved; also alchemy has way too many explosions.

Spells as spiritual beings that live in the mage's brain idea comes with the cost to the wielder and skulls of mages that are carved by such spells into the 'spellbooks' or charms, which is great, but otherwise it has no innate theme, and from what I've seen spells as beings have little weight or character on its own. Of course, Ink can also be stretched to have-everything-all-the-time type of magic, with inkblast, ink black tentacles and inkbombs, making it into uniform characterless magic just like everything else, but at least for myself I envision its 'step-by-step gradual becoming into reality through intention of real people' origin as preventing this. The bottle of ink can stain like any physical object but without intention of the wielder using it to draw or write it won't become anything more substantial or meaningful.

No-direct-damage idea also stems from the games (even rats and bees in 'Dishonored', which come closest to be the direct attack, are technically summons), and to distinguish the caster more from a warrior; I was also bored by 5ed spells, I think, and wanted the mage to rely more on indirect or subtle means of dealing with problems.

Idea of Ink creatures being beautiful is like idea of sky: it is a natural phenomenon that is perceived as beautiful by us despite its many appearances but is indifferent to our understanding/need for beauty. Unlike fae, angels and demons, kind-eyed are beautiful not to entice, seduce, intimidate or awe us, and it is more of coincidence that they are perceived as such.

And Ink also easily bridges with Colour, the parallel and opposite principle, if needed.
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(1) via pods5.com
(2) via netluxury.com
(3) by visothkakvei
(4) via Rainbow Six Siege

Friday, 3 January 2020

Notes on "Biomega" setting

(some spoilers for 'Biomega' manga)

'Biomega' is relatively short manga made by Tsutomu Nihei, the same guy who made 'Blame!' It uses many of the same elements 'Blame!' used (synthetic humans, long journeys, messed up world, general rapid incomprehension of the story), and many characters look so similar to 'Blame!' that 'Biomega' could be a part of something like Nihei's own Eternal Champion-like multiverse.

I won't talk about manga itself, but there are some notes about the setting in the second part of it.

1) The world is distorted and impossible.
The view from very high above; the messy parts are landmasses

According to manga the world is 100 km in diameter but 4.8 billion km long – impossibly long thread of the world, curling through the universe, although in terms of the universe it isn't that big (about the distance from Sun to Neptune). Manga assumes that it was created from Earth after mystical reformation, but if my math is even half-correct, its surface alone (not counting the mass and volume) about 5500 more than Earth surface, so it is another of impossible cosmic structures like in "Blame!" where in the endless city there is at least one empty space the size of Jupiter.

This place cannot scientifically exist the way it is described. How does it get sunlight, atmosphere, magnetic field, gravity, energy? How can it exist without breaking apart? How the underlying entirely artificial structure (mentioned to be polymer with big 'P') can even support life?

But considering that this world was made by magical wish of/and/or/by entirely impossible technology, this isn't any more strange than cubes of Acheron or infinite Abyss.

The billion kilometers of length are interesting in the way it immediately changes the relations with the distance, especially in the context of familiarity – people could be anything from either really close and familiar or impossibly far, and this 'far' quality increases in much rapid pace than on Earth or any other equidirectional plane while 'familiar' is in much shorter supply. Given that a motorcycle doing 200 km/h non-stop needs about 2700 earth years to travel from one side of the world to another and in (almost full) absence of teleportation the regular people of the world cannot know their own world fully – to them it is, effectively, endless in one direction, and people from very far away, while technically people of the same world, could be as alien as demons.

2) The world has long and irregular strips of what is called Insanity Lenses.
The wild fields where Insanity Lenses grow

They grow from the world as a biome but their function is to protect the world from meteorites, laser-incinerating everything that comes from above into their field of view. Lenses are big enough and spaced far away enough that human-sized creature can carefully navigate between them, but it makes some places even more disconnected from each other. In the manga there is an example of a kingdom which is pretty much isolated by lenses from everywhere else much to the kingdom determent.

I just really like the idea of laser-blasting biome which is not simply impenetrable obstacle.

3) This world is inhabited by humans.
Biomega humans
To the eyes of the protagonist who saw actual Earth and actual humans they are heavily modified bio-androids. One of scans shows that they have at least some subdermal plating, reinforced joints and modified eyes; they can regenerate and are capable of mind-link with fully synthetic android. Nevertheless, in all other respects they are humans: they are born (with all their modifications) from mothers just as humans would, eat food, cry tears, go shopping, grow up and grow old, bleed when wounded, their thoughts, emotions and culture are human, they can mutate and zombify into drones, and in this world reinforced subdermal plating and regeneration don't make them any less fragile than actual humans would be in ours. 

It is interesting thing to me, because their inhumanity is only obvious from the outside. They call themselves humans and because Earth at the very best is a myth, they presume that humans always were like that. It is similar in a way to Zelda and Hylian people who look a lot like elves to us but they don't consider themselves anything unusual. I really want to make my own or repurpose somebody's character generator for these humans, to highlight strange and wondrous shapes they can take.

As a result of their diversity through the manga they exhibit less xenophobia when encounter an unusual person. The aforementioned isolated kingdom has a case of frequent mutations, but it is regarded as a disease, not as an innate difference or damnation.

4) Somehow this world grows its own nature.

Biomega environments
Considering that the world has no sun, no reasons to have any atmosphere, no reason to exist in one piece, and that underlying megastructure of the world is a uber-polymer lined with grid-chasms of unknown depth above which landmasses seem to grow organically and haphazardly, it is pure post-singularity magic at this point. What I am finding interesting is that, given that everything on this world is very probably bio-cybernetical in nature, its wilderness could be seen as 100% urban wilderness, natural biomes with interactivity of abandoned urban/factory environment of regular Earth. I wrote a while ago on why I think urban wilderness gives players more nudges to interact with the environment in creative ways than with just pure nature, and here such environments are  world-wide and default. Imagine not simply a forest but a forest that grows vertically like a hive city, a forest than walks or a forest that can give electric sap. In manga the humans don't seem to interface with the world on level of directly commanding it, but it is plausable that with some training and sensitivity they could.

The miners mine organic machinery instead of ore. Nomadic villages follow giant wandering supply pipes as if such pipes were meandering rivers or herds. An equivalent of railroad is, basically, a giant vein.

It has animals and plants too, things that remind both a machine and an actual animal/plant. The local mount is called horse but looks a lot like a tachikoma tank or a giant spider with bone carapace; cultivated vegetables look like mutated octopi mixed with fractals. Given that technology often imitates the nature and there are actual plants – such as fiddleheads, Romaneque cauliflower, bitter melon or lotus roots – that look quite strange as they are, it isn't that much of the stretch to imagine plants and animals of this world to be barely recognizable but called familiar names, as a legacy of their long-forgotten roots.

However much I like 'Blame!', in terms of playable setting bio-cyber beats just cyber to me, both in aesthetics and usability; at least aesthetically I like this kind of bio-cyber more than pure fleshscapes.

5) The world is psycho-active and some people have special powers.
Biomega powers
The source of these powers is never explained but some people can do interesting things above what the regular world has, having an equivalent to magic. The main villain of the story was esper and/or mind-controlling psyker even in the times of the original Earth, and after the world was reformed she and her disciples are in sort of connection with the whole world (all 4.8 billion km of it), can create constituent manifestation (proxy bodies) regardless of the distance, which additionally serves as an equivalent of world-wide teleport, as well as communicate telepathically, change their actual bodies, create zombie drones and with said drone 'blooming' terraform the lands, heal very fast, live practically forever and utilize the world in defense. In the manga itself there isn't much of such powers, but extending the idea of bio-cybernetic world with bio-cybernetic people from above, it isn't difficult to say that some humans just have entra-interfacing capabilities with the world and themselves. In a way of Clarke's Third Law, the universal bio-cybernetic origin of everything becomes life force of the world, similar to Force or (in approximation) to chi.

(On a side note, one of the weapons there is a brain wave rifle where projectiles are propelled with terrible force by combined brain power of regular people, like a psychic Gauss rifle. It was dangerous rarity in times of Earth, but in this world it seems somewhat more common)

One of the more interesting legacies of Earth is that in times just before apocalypse-singularity some companies created things which are virtually eternal, as some of their remaining synthetic people and AIs as well as their equipment are able to exist for centuries if not thousand years without degradation, using all changed materials of the new world for self-repair regardless of how odd they are and be incapable of and somewhat immune to psycho-powers.

6) This is not really cyberpunk.
After writing all of that I realized it is quite close to UVG but with less caravans

There are kingdoms, princesses, knights, immortal sorcerer-tyrants, oracles in towers, overreaching empires, tarrasque-sized beasts, zombies, swords (and guns), an equivalent of magic, isolated villages with problems caused and/or solved by various drifters. Maybe which is why it is so appealing – to have all interesting bio-cyber things and yet, not in a cyberpunk. There is a dearth of fantasy cyberpunk settings (as these two genres are almost incomparable with each other) and I think 'Biomega' could be an interesting alternative to ever-present 'Shadowrun' in this respect.

There is no need for hacking mechanic either, which is always a plus.
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On a different note more-frequent-more frivolous-and-shorter-posts experiment for December is coming to the end. While posting twice a week as per initial intention didn't work, the goal did make me post in one month more than in four previous ones and made me think more about finishing thoughts and breaking down the bigger ones to more manageable chunks ('Whisperer' was one of such big posts). I would like to continue this experiment for January to see how sustainable it is on a longer run and I'd be very grateful if people can share any feedback about December part of it (for example, if the posts became less/more interesting to read, remained the same, etc.)

Saturday, 28 December 2019

House of Violence

It sits on the high cliff with a good view of Maelstrom, on the line between wind-whipped crags and dark indigo turmoil of the waves below. House is of dark green stone, of carved ornaments and of wrong sense to it – the lines, the shapes, and the volumes it defines are just out of proportion with regular human use of space: the corridors are too narrow, the terraces too curved, the rooms are too wide and low or soaring in high and narrow wells. It is big enough to host a village but mostly empty, although signs of previous occupation – trophies, censers, training idols, old weapons – pop in many abandoned rooms.

The House of Violence was built by a demon, once drawn from Maelstrom itself. As it was assembling its identity it created this place as external evidence parallel to what it was tasked to do – with faces of demon's long forgotten targets are still strewed into walls, and each little piece of the place is said to reflect the flow of its movement as it approached said targets. Once fully finished, the demon came to its house to meditate on a nature of violence and came to conclusion that it is good and blessful thing. Once fully free, she gave her house to all who would think the same.

House of Violence was destroyed many times – by philosophy, by righteous strength, by infighting, by peaceful neglect –  but as the demon still exists safe in Maelstrom, the house continues to exist forever looking into it, and sooner or later a mercenary in a search of shelter from a rain, or a serial killer running from justice, or a youth, seeking strength from old myths to exact vengeance come here, and the House comes back as it was never gone.

In times past it was everything from refined school to a prison to the center of nation-spanning religion as baroque as it was bloodthirsty, but nations come and go and House remains as it is, here to host adherents of violence regardless of all other things. Currently it is mostly forgotten after it was destroyed in a holy crusade, and with the earth salted and cursed around it, it is serving as an obscure inn to those few who know the way.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

City Dark, the Whisperer

(shortpost for December)
When old magic died at the end on 1917 it took some time for the new magic to enter human practice, and it still creeps in, it still looks for points of new entry.

Whispers come when one is seeking the power but doesn't want to pay the price and wants to keep their hands clean from alternative solutions. Whispers come and they offer a power as painless as it can be – everything else is a matter of mage's own talent, their own dedication, their own hunger, but whatever the mage chooses to do and wherever they choose to go there will be no more personal pain than from a bruise. What else in the world can offer anything better, anything so low of the cost, anything as generous in maintenance? For such service, the mage only have to bear a child dedicated to Whisperer once every ten years, and the Whisperer doesn't dismiss the agreement if the child turns out to be stillborn, as they always are. Three such children – and the mage can keep the Whisperer service forever. What not to like in this agreement?
The Whisperer prefer to be just a voice in your ear, thin-winded and reedy, but on rare occasions it manifested themselves; it seems to prefer the human form. Here are all known appearances (1d12):
01. Open grave with corpses from a recent war; smell of tar and rain. Corpses are silent, the grave itself is the one talking.
02. Multitude of blank human bodies, conjoined at stem as a sprout of mushrooms; their skin is luminescent and all their eyes are kind.
03. Asphalt cracks in a loop of the month – you can keep walking as you converse, it will follow through the city, breaking through cement, metal and plastic.
04. Crude golem, made of urban trash.
05. Skinless, slobbering goblin-like creature, crawling with half of its limbs missing, speaking in broken contralto.
06. A couch of pale, delicate skin.
07. Fingernail-size human embryo, climbing your shoulder and hair with it tiny proto-arms, reaching into cochlea as it speaks.
08. Graffiti, bursting in cold neon flames; it uses words and voices from public announcements, siren howls and beggar pleas, like a soundtrack badly edited from badly combined pieces.
09. Like a person from an advertisement photo: shiny hair, wide smile, flawless clothes, limbs and body cut precisely as if by the invisible frame.
10. Clearly a dead human; their face was recently on 'Missing person' posters. Relaxed pose, pale from livor mortis, limbs tinted magnificent burgundy.
11. Simplified, bland, deformed proportions, unmistakably female shape of sex-doll, given actual flesh; it tries to walk but it can't.
12. Androgynous figure in a tailored suit, slight paunch, always slightly familiar in its face and manners, briefcase full of nonsensical charts.
Whisperchild happens regardless of gender, age or capability, and the pregnancy goes as usual. The Whisperer is always present at labour but loses interest as soon as stillborn child is born. The body in all respects is a regular human infant.
To create a living whisperchild the mage has to permanently sacrifice ten points of their own Phantasm, but as The Whisperer continues to support a mage regardless of the result, nobody yet decided to waste their gift out of sheer curiosity.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Map for the dreaming world

I want(ed) to post short (and potentially frivolous) articles more often in December to get rid myself of longpost paralysis.

Here is a small map I made a little while ago - it is somewhat inspired by Vine Servant idea and RoseHammer (roses spreading over the world in catastrophic manner) as well as Dreaming Mars idea.

Doing maps made me think recently that more often maps seem to be drawn first with clear idea where everything is and coloured later, while, even if I know the layout beforehand, I prefer to get colours first and then discern out the landscape details out of them. First method had benefit in much more distinguished features (as it is difficult to paint ivory city over green plains post fact) but I view watercolours as a creative collaborator and often the unburdened flow of colour brings good surprises.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Stats as mini-powers

There is something I only recall seeing in AD&D 2nd Edition (revised) and not repeated since*: high stats that are giving sort of mini-powers, such as high enough Intelligence allowing the see through 1st- and 2nd levels illusions automatically or high enough Constitution giving an actual regeneration. Even without mini-powers in a strict sense, this edition handled high stats as special cases even for more mundane derivatives, such as ability to 100% survive system shock or learn all spells per level instead of progressively bigger chance/amount of them. This kind of treatment gave stats something more than just being a number, a sort of threshold after which stats switched from just quantity to a new quality.
(*) within my limited amount of system known

High stats in 2nd Ed gave those mini-powers because they were supposed to be rarity; in this sense 2nd Ed inherited non-linear stat adjustments from earlier editions. Today starting with 20 in one stat in PF, 4th and 5th is nothing unusual, and is more often a given than not. In 2nd ed, however, there were very few ways to increase stats through few magical items (which you couldn't buy or craft), and no spells or class abilities, AFAIR, allowed for such boost. Numerically, mini-abilities sat exactly on tantalizing line of 'maybe-possible even during the character generation if one is lucky' and 'I just need one more point to get it' – within the reach but not easy to obtain.

Second Edition in general has a curious place in my perception: much heavier and much more cumbersome than OSR-preferred, lighter systems of earlier editions but also not as powers-abundant and (for the lack of the better world) comfortable/convenient as 3rd, 4th and 5th. If it was anything, it was a chaos: a overflowing, convoluted, shaky mess, with what felt as arbitrary limits, arbitrary elements, arbitrary connections within its arbitrary limits and elements and exceptions on top of exceptions. Out of all editions, to me 2nd Ed is the one that is like a soil – dark, crumbling and full of strange worms. Maybe stats as mini-powers didn't work and this was why they weren't repeated later. Maybe in both aims for the balance (which became a prominent for the 3rd, 4th and 5th Editions) and for lighter, less-powerful-characters systems (which is common in OSR) this idea was too much of a mess.

But I am wondering, what if to try to combine this idea with more streamlined stats of nowadays. What if until certain number – say, 18 or 20 or even 30 if you aim for PF-like numbers, – stats give linear beneficial modifiers and after that the stats no longer give a better bonus, but instead a few gradations of mini-abilities useful for pretty much anybody.

For example:
Superior strength would give an ability to dual-wield increasingly heavier weapons
Superior reflexes would give some bullet time
Superior fortitude would give regenerating health
Superior insight would allow to bypass some illusions automatically and/or give some occult awareness.
Superior willpower would allow to bypass or offer advantage against some charms/fear/compulsion effects automatically
Superior charisma will allow to weaponize one-liners.
[these examples are partially taken from AD&D 2nd Edition and partially from videogames (thanks to Realms Of Gibbitude for the idea)]

The main idea here that mastery through the class or spells can allow for the same things and maybe even faster (such as when fighter can learn to wield two weapons easier than their natural strength would allow them to do) but these mini-abilities can still be useful for those who want to play non-standard archetypes of two-weapons wielding mages or occult investigating fighters and by change or effort got these stats high enough.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

I found a key on a road.

I found a key on a road, it's crooked and golden. It lies in my palm - what does it open? (1d20)

01. warlock's black heart, bound in ice;
02. a small silver door, fit for knight-mice;
03. a ray of bright light in halls still and dark;
04. singer's sweet voice (who was cursed with bark);
05. old copper chest, in seaweeds hidden deep;
06. rusty wind-up toy, makes tyrant to weep;
07. manacles chaining a ghost to gaol;
08. a splendid treasure trove, to bounty of all;
09. any one door, for the deeds done discreet;
10. stigmata in your palm, for sacred blood to bleed;
11. poisoner's tongue, to confess their crimes;
12. cogs of glass machine to start all of its chimes;
13. obscured tomb in a graveyard to visit Hades;
14. a puzzle in ruins, for moon-mind to obsess;
15. azure door under stairs to lands of a dream;
16. graffitied portal to vanish at whim;
17. demon's barbed cage, setting them free;
18. a crack in a bark to step into a tree;
19. a calmness of heaven to turn storm to breeze;
20. the door to my house, as I just lost my keys.

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Blogposts have this underlying expectation of long text. I have some posts in drafts that are ten pages long and which paralyze me as I must polish them to suitably reading state; some are in making since May, and probably will never be finished.
 
Instead here is the post I wrote as I was waiting for somebody to arrive with a spare key. It was very liberating to write, and also fun.
So for December I'll try to post twice a week but strictly something small and more or less frivolous.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

City Dark proto-system

(a lot of words about vague/possible game mechanics)
Interesting thing happens when something – a game, a book, a comic, occasionally a song or a movie – leaves a sharp impression: for some time it acts as a layer upon perception, a tinted lenses through which all other things are interpreted. A while ago I played 'Tokyo Dark' (a point-and-click/visual novel video game about which I wrote here in too many words), and, despite all its underwhelming aspects, it left an impression.

So when a couple of days after playing that game back in May I also read "Beyond the Fence, Below the Grave" by T AKW (which is RPG about Scandinavian mages doing supernatural investigations in pre-Christian Scandinavia, very well-done for this purpose), it immediately overlapped with Tokyo Dark and its own Crisis Ritual, and I thought I can do something to those parts of SPIN system from 'Tokyo Dark' that I liked to make them more playable.

I don't know yet how to implement these mechanics well numerically, but the idea goes like that:
– There are three base stats (Professionalism, Phantasm and Shape) which you roll or assign normally; in the course of the game each of these stats might go up or down the way abilities go up or down in regular DnD (due to damage from hazards, spells or monsters, or through the actions/inactions of the character).
– Peak and near-peak values of each stat require some maintenance, usually done through downtime (attending conferences and qualification exams, working on your spirit, going to gym); it is impossible to maintain all three at peak values and still have a normal life. Negligence to maintain them diminishes peak and near-peak values, although not below 'it is still good' threshold.
– Each of basic three stats also has a connected Stress stat (Neurosis, Sin and Burnout respectively); each stress stat has sort of permanent accumulation level which is very difficult to erase but beyond than can also jump up and down more rapidly and healed (until it becomes permanent) more easily. This is a player choice if to start with no Stress or some Stress: if Stress stat overwhelms the Base stat, some kind of Bad Thing breakdown happens, but before that high levels of Stress do convey some benefits as well.

The guy with the glasses reported his scruffy partner to Internal Affairs | Sebastian and Joseph from 'Evil Within'

Three base stats are:
Professionalism: the measure of composure, detachment, patience, willingness to abide by governing laws, follow procedures or acceptable code of behaviour and not to upset the social order. Think of Professionalism in modern sense, as of quality we ascribe to layers, doctors, by-the-book police detectives, bureaucrats, customer support people or assassins with strict personal code. Low Professionalism favours immediate, impulsive, risky, direct, gratifying and less society-reliant approach such as doing break and entry instead of finding a proper key to abandoned building by going through research and acquisition. It kind of doubles as Order/Chaos alignment scale, at least on surface social level.
(note here that Professionalism in large degree is socially perceived stat; people could be utterly corrupt or law-breaking but as long as they manage to keep it well-hidden and maintain a acceptable profile, they still have their reputation intact)

Neurosis accumulates if the character acts erratically, tries the same actions repetitively or experiences social/mental/emotional stress conditions. High Neurosis eventually leads to breakdown, but before that it also helps to keep the character obsessively alert (adding to initiative), and difficult to sway socially or supernaturally.

It is friendly and helpful, I promise | Art by Jeremy Famir

Phantasm: the supernatural integrity, hidden reserves of psyche, protector spirit, the embodiment of personality, measure of supernatural power. To people with appropriate sight Phantasms look like grotesque and whimsical familiar spirits (as if patronus, persona and personal psychic pokemon) but on mundane level it is unseen. Powerful Phantasm not only protects against otherwordly influence, but also capable of bending reality to your favour, granting a strange kind of luck. Weak Phantasm makes the character less noticeable to the Dark or magic, allowing them to 'dissolve' in the human noise, or even disguise their Phantasm as somebody's else entirely, getting the assess to the personally attuned tools of other mages and places usually unwelcoming to outsiders.
 
Sin (or, how many modern occultists prefer to white-wash it, Stain) accumulates with exposure to supernatural, using magic and with cruelty done to other beings (such as murder, torture, rape, active malice or driving somebody to utter ruin). High Sin eventually makes the character consumed by otherworldly influences and turned into a monster under the drive of their now-distorted Phantasm (figuratively if not literally), but before this happens, the accumulation of Sin gives better awareness to supernatural, insight into its flows and smoother, more powerful use of magic.

Guess which one has better chances of jumping over fences | From movie 'Hot Fuzz'

Shape: the healthiness of the body, stamina, athleticism, regeneration and fitness. Higher Shape makes a character better at various physical activities, recuperate faster and have somewhat more attractive effect (in the reality of this setting, at least, however ugly the mug and abrasive of manners the person might be it is difficult for many people to fully ignore rocking 6-pack abs and movements of dancer). Low Shape means that the character's body is already under some kind of permanent duress or sickness, and various supernatural maladies (who act better from idealized human template) have a harder time to get a grasp on this deviating organism.

Burnout is a measure of active neglect or self-abuse such as fatigue, lack of nutrition, drinking or working in a crunch. Accumulated Burnout leads to hospitalization or death, but high Burnout also pushes the body to function on a resolve/adrenaline alone, and be less susceptible to fear and pain.


I don't yet know how to elegantly implement this system mechanically. Ideally: 
– it won't require to roll under and higher roll is always better;
– high base stats give better effects overall but low stats also give benefits for certain specific situations;
– peak and near peak values offer non-linear advantage over more average ones;
– stress stats have a sort of permanent and temporary parallel scores: permanent one accumulates slower and is very difficult to lower back down, while temporary might jump up and down more often and rapidly, and, with due care, healed before it becomes permanent. Hence Stress stats cannot require any complex calculations tied to them and should be used as close to their base value as possible.
– the high Stress stats should be able to offer some benefits as well (better initiative, more powerful magic, certain resistances)
– preferably as close to DnD/1d20 mechanics as possible;

Non-linear advantage and permanent/temporary Stress stats makes me think something close to Storyteller system but it isn't as straightforward approach as I would like it to be.

HP and wounds:

Humans don't really have hit points and thus die easily – if hit with a bullet and it is more than a glazing touch/isn't protected by bulletproof vest, it is very appropriate to go to the hospital with all haste so not to be dead. Mechanically, it will employ Horrible Wounds tables from Emmy Allen's Esoteric Enterprises with numbers slightly tweaked to allow for chances of lighter wounds. Armor is damage soaking/deflecting. Mastery over melee weapons works as an armour in melee fights. There are some basic powers that might prevent lethal injuries (one is called 'Bullet-eater' and it makes your Phantasm 'eat' a possible wound by the cost of one permanent point of the stat) but they are costly, and the most effective protection, beside military grade battle dresses, is supernatural in origin. Magic injuries to humans are also infectious on supernatural level.

Supernatural entities do have extra wounds/HP (and often invulnerable to some forms of normal-world damage), and in direct confrontation without knowing their weaknesses are exceptionally lethal. Getting into random fights is, generally, discouraged. Hostage situations are lethal. Getting into uneven fights is lethal.

Investigations:
Unlike in original SPIN system, not featured as a stat. I think it would be better for players to actually do investigations and come to conclusions themselves than for it to be some kind of numerical trigger.

Supernatural:
It always has consequences/price/effect, some are mitigatable with effort but there are no absolutely safe-and-free ways to interact with it. Low-power Phantasms could be as useful as stronger Phantasms for certain approaches. Successful serial killers and sadists become instinctively attuned to Dark. Occultists might become attuned with less moral degradation, although this is walking a thin line; they heavily rely on personalized, attuned tools to interact with Dark on less dangerous level and the access to such tools is exceptionally valuable.
Old magic died somewhere early 1917. All current magic, in one way or another, comes from Dark. Some occult philosophies/factions pretend this didn't happen.

Other stuff:
I wonder if I can go without relying on skills much, but vaguely, I imagine PC's parts coming from background, training, profession and hobby, which defines their areas of expertise and relaxation. I am inclined more to frame them as 'Things you can do for sure' than just 'Number that grows higher', or, at least one in conjunction with the other.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Some interesting things about Transformers.

(maybe not very interesting actually, but quite fascinating to me)

Never was a fan of toys or cartoons or other comics, but IDW 'More than Meets the Eye' and 'Lost Light' arcs were interesting readings, despite the universe and many story elements making little sense. One of the things that strikes me as very interesting, is Transformers themselves and their, for the lack of the better word, mecho-biology.

In DnD constructs are mostly understandable. Broadly they are either clockwork reminiscent of clockwork toys and mechanisms, golems close to elementals (solidly built in the single material, be it tar, or flesh, or stone, thanks to their origin in Golem of Prague as a pile of clay), or magical esoteric-circuits robots, close to what is possible near-now, with magic used to fill the gaps in not-yet-existing technology. Crystals often serve as their power sources but don't carry any other functions even in sapient constructs.

Transformers are mostly close to the third, but I think their initial out-of-universe nature of the toys serves like a coherence glue or a boundary in terms of what 'magic' is for them in-universe. What exactly are the possibilities and limitations will depend on writers for each universe, but within a single canon it can be made more or less consistent.

– Transformation cog, which is in this continuity, is the 'organ' responsible for transforming. The shape and capabilities of alt-modes themselves are more embedded in the actual body, but transformation cog is what makes the transformations possible. Every Cybertronian is forged or constructed with one: it takes intent, disease or accident to disable this ability, and often the rapid destruction of the cog is fatal. Imagine the whole sapient population of the planet be able to shift into something else, and this can be tangibly taken away and returned back. 

– The spark, which can be compared to combination of soul, heart and main engine; it is vague if the spark also  at least partially encodes personality but I am inclined to say yes. The origin of spark in incomprehensible super-computer inside of Cybertron makes it alike to soul, but, unlike intangible and vague soul, the spark is condensed, materially present and very obvious source of energy with a lot of known properties. In comics it usually takes a dedicated medic or a scientist (often unhinged one, such as Scorponok) to do truly unusual things with the spark, but all Transformers have some basic intuitive understanding and use of the spark as of energy source or/and are able to detect 'spark signature' from a distance. Imagine the whole sapient population have a instinctive basic understanding of soulcraft.

– Energon, the fuel, catch-all 'food' but also a 'blood' within transformers: they consume it as nourishment or for pleasure, and transport it as goods, but it also flows within them and splatters on drastic wounds, as the blood would. It is mined from the rocks, so it can be said that rocks on the planet bear raw coagulated blood-equivalent. Aesthetically, it is mostly portrayed as extremely bright magenta which makes me think that pink colour of Arcee and the deep purple of Decepticons in our terms would be bright scarlet of arterial blood and carmine of venous blood respectfully.

– Metal of the bodies is one thing that doesn't seem to be lacking in usual circumstances (an average Transformer is about 30 feet tall and 16 tons heavy of mostly metal), but in a pinch the population can be melted down and recycled to mass produce more of something else, be it mindless Legislators of Tyrell, or new soldier Cybertronians in a Functionist universe, or just more guns. It is barbaric, but not terribly difficult thing to do technically. Imagine the whole population that potentially could be dissolved and reformed into something else, sapient or not.

– Body modifications: it isn't too difficult in-universe to change their bodies, providing materials, tools and specialist's attention: Traincutter got guns into his legs, Perceptor upgraded himself as a sniper, and some Transformers rebuilt their whole form several times. Transformers are somewhat limited, in-universe, in how much of mass each can bear naturally but there are ways to bypass it with mass-displacement.

A lot of such modifications are also immediately obvious, so if Transformer has change in appearance it is most often means they also got the change in their capabilities. It makes me wonder why, in-universe, free of limitation of the toys, Transformers don't do it more often and seem to rely more on other Transformers who can help them (the portable telecom station you use to detect enemies is your buddy Radar, you shoot sniper rifle who is also Vox) than to add more gadgets to/into themselves. In some ways, their technology doesn't seem to think about minimization and optimization because there is probably a 'bot somewhere who already have this kind of talent. In human terms it can be imagined as if at least half of spells, feats and skills be immediately obvious on the character, leaving much less space for subtlety or disguise.

Additionally, careful removal of many secondary parts is not immediately life-threatening even if harmful on longer run; some medics or scientists can disassemble others almost entirely and reassemble them back without much problems. You can have a calm, not time-stressed conversation with somebody who is, basically, has your stomach in their hands, and it causes concern only if they won't give it back.

– Various bodyparts, which are simultaneously organs, tools and parts of appearance. Taking somebody's feet could be seen as taking somebody's boots, taking somebody's roller blades and taking somebody's actual feet to replace one's own. It is mostly tied to the body modifications above, but also to notice that Transformer's look clothed to us while they actually aren't, and they don't have a separation of body into basic and clothed forms, and have their more or less permanent looks as a part of their full identity.

Given what their bodies are, there are many more things possible to do with them than with biological bodies, and even Transformers who aren't specializing in medicine, mechanics or science can probably re-engineer a dead body or a bunch of organs into something else intuitively; medic or scientist with better understanding can do this on a go or more drastically, such as making a corpse without any weapons itself into a gun. Intact corpses can be used in their alt-modes as a strange form of mechanical necromancy by pretty much anybody on a go.

– The lack of separation between the body and appearance also creates this very unusual scarcity of personal belongings comparatively to humans and their need of many soft things. Occasionally there is a ceremonial cloak or a hat, but often tools or weapons are either the part of Transformer themselves, or directly attached to them. One of the most valuable personal-access things in-universe are good labs; on smaller scale personal unattached belongings often limited to datapads and various collectables. The dwellings of Transformers look very austere, and this detachment also makes Transformers look very mobile and non-possessive. It makes me wonder if they even have emotional understanding of 'home' as of place in the way we do. Transformers arts also seem to gravitate toward ones that don't need extra tools or materials: there are songs, poetry, performance, but little of painted pictures, sculptures or mosaics; Transformers seem to carry their art with them wherever they go.

– Transformers themselves vary drastically in the size, from somebody as small as Rewind to somebody as big as Ultra Magnus (and there are Omega Supreme and the Titans who are the size of the cities although not very personable). Appearance/looks alone seems to rarely matter to them: mouthplate or actual expressions, actual eyes or a visor, and whatever colours, are all treated more or less the same. In these particular comics there are themes of discrimination on other principles than appearance, and sometimes appearance is tied to one's capabilities (which could be disparaged) but I am finding it remarkable that the appearance itself is very rarely a problem.

– Age, which easily stretches for millions of years and only having an health-related or psychological effect when the plot (usually sickness) or characterization (usually gruffness) demands it. Otherwise Transformers don't seem to process the span of time, being functionally almost immortal, and stop changing psychologically once they establish their personality (which might be as soon as a two weeks from creation). They are not lethargic, they don't have 'the long view' and they live day-to-day as fast as a human would, but being aware of the full scope of time is an exception to them. To add, that their often-metal world, seems to be similarly unaffected by the time: ships and structures exist for millions of years without decay or rust.
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With all of this, I think the nearest fantasy equivalent of Transformers would be not constructs but Fair Folk, with their Seelie (nominally benevolent Autobots) and Unseelie (Decepticons) Courts, shapeshifting, eldritch blood, basic immortality, much better understanding of their own 'magic' and having some basic intuitive skills and senses beyond human ones, variable appearances, condensed tangible spark different from how humans understand soul, and bizarre but still recognizable and not fully alien forms.