Friday 17 November 2023

Gackling Moon fanart

In the light of Gackling Moon getting ready for the book release  I found some of the fanart I did for the inspirational moons of that strange land.


Wasp Moon

Sorrowful Moon

Ruinous Moon

Painted Moon

New Moon

Goblin Moon

Forgotten Moon

Fine Gackling Moon

 (to specify the obvious, I am not in any way affiliated with the project; these pictures were just for my own practice; they were supposed to be a colouring page kind of illustration.)

Sunday 15 October 2023

Some generators from "Was it Likely?" blog

 "Was it Likely?" is a blog with very inspirational generators. I suggest to go and read the original posts, there are some amazing examples there made from the generators below and many others.

With permission of the author I've made HTML generators for a few of them (specifically, "The Laws of All", "Laws of the Land"/"Indoor Terrain/Laws of Places", with ever-useful Paper Elemental's "List to HTML" generator.

"Shipbreaking #13" by Edward Burtynski


(the latter generator is modified slightly, with the author's permission, to create somewhat more surreal connection and situations)

I found that the inverse of forbidden actions (i.e. when one is compelled to do something) is also very interesting, hence for last two generators I worded it as "has to/must not", so people are free to use the restrictions as they seem fit. 

Obviously, it is possible to generate duplicate features or restrictions, but I think the initial generators are so good they are not diminished by that.

Tuesday 3 October 2023

On Planescape

"Planescape" is going to be relaunched soon: tomorrow for those who pay for the privilege of DnD Beyond, in a week or two for the rest. Before it happens, and "Planeverse" replaces ADnD sourcebooks as a New and Shiny Thing in a common perception, I want to memorize my own understanding of the setting. 

So in a sense this article is somewhat of a personal memory knot.  

To me "Planescape" as a setting and Sigil as a city-state is explicitly anti-establishment, "punk" in the most direct and sincere sense, and it is not only so because of the spiked collars and mohawks painted by DiTerlizzi but because of how it portrays those who have ultimate power, those who hold on the whatever power they can get and whose who are powerless. Unlike many modern/indie settings that over-boldly present their main message or the mainstream settings which are similarly very straightforward even if they are too cautious to have any message whatsoever, Planescape, in my opinion is a little more subtle, its themes a little more hidden than proclaimed in neat big statements. Yes, you can play it just as funny romp across the fabulously exotic planes disregarding the underlying themes entirely without changing a thing, yet I am still sometimes amazed how much of that was published in this officially-done-by-the-corporation setting, and I am still wondering how little of this attitude is going to see the light of the day tomorrow. 

Why "The Athar"?

When I started DMing not everybody in my group could fluently read English so I started to translate "Planescape" in order to give people some material to read on their own and to avoid explaining the same things again and again. And one of the very first questions that lodged in my mind when I started to translate Factions, was "Why did they use this strange word for Defiers? Why 'The Athar' (the word that my then-paper dictionary didn't even know), why not 'The Lost'? Every other faction is using an understandably English or English-like word, even Xaositecs, so why Defiers are specifically so differently named?"

I cannot read developers' mind, of course, but much later, when I studied graphic design and marketing, there was a rule of thumb taught to us that in any given list you want to put your most important points first, as the first positions on the list are going to have the biggest impact and are going to be the most retained in memory. If so, it might be that Defiers were called The Athar to place them in a top of alphabetical list of the factions. Because what Athar as a faction says is: "See those beings that in any world are holding the ultimate power? The ones who potentially control your whole life and, most importantly, almost always control your afterlife? The ones who call themselves gods but as fallible as any berk? We don't think them important enough to worship and fear, despite their power."

In many settings the gods are the ultimate beings of power. God-murder became somewhat passé in recent years, especially among OSR settings and micro-settings which are littered with god-corpses, but in times of ADnD, I believe, it was still a rather rare and unique event when a party could actually challenge a god even through their killable avatar, and many gods were not even statted. And here "Planescape" proclaims, through the alphabetically-placed-first The Athar, from the very first paragraph on major philosophies of Sigil, that ultimate powers who control vast swathes of the universe are not really any different from you or me except the scale of their powers, and you can easily regard all of them as frauds and bullies lacking of anything truly divine, if you wish so. 

Was this trick of naming true or not, to me reading about The Athar the first from all the factions remains a powerful moment that sets the tone for the big portion of the setting. Punk attitude is a full contempt to any power structure and who is more powerful across the universe than gods? Yet, the disregard for them is positioned front and centre. 

The underlay of Sigil

These are the tidbits about the Sigil that are stuck in my head the most. Obviously the Sigil is much bigger and more vibrant than this, but these moments are to me the anchors that hold my understanding of the city together, a canvas with everything else painted on the top.

• The Hive takes almost full quarter of the map; and if you add The Lower Ward to it, it is good 1/3 to 1/2 of the terrain given to the desperate people and unsafe living conditions.

• Hive slowly but surely grows all the time; there was an attempt to wall off the Hive away from the eyes of the proper folk but no wall could contain the spreading despair. There is a serial killer in the Hive, but nobody cares enough or is powerful enough to stop him.

• From 'Planescape The Torment' game there was this one clerk, from arguably middle-class and relatively well off, who was hiding on Great Bazaar for a nap because his boss was overworking him. 

• People can hold portals for air and drinkable water hostage with a right key.

• Hall of Records was a former college which The Taken foreclosed on a technicality because they wanted the place and could do that. 

• The Lady's Ward, the seat of most of city powers, is cold and sterile place.


Those who are in power

The most prominent anti-establishment aspect in Sigil to me is how the city structures of power – those who hold, use and abuse the power over the city as long as they don't cross The Lady – are portrayed.

• Judges who enforce the laws are Fraternity of Order; the best thing that can be said about them that they do sincerely adhere to laws (with an eye always open to spot a caveat not covered by them), but their rule is always shown as cold and distant, playing no heed to anything but the law itself.

• Cops/Guards are Harmonium: a faction that sees itself as righteous enforcers of good and order, but in fact are militant enforcers for homogeneity, rigid social order and complacency under their banner, allowing no free thought or having any acceptance of other ideas. There is a hidden faction within this faction that beats and kills 'troublemakers' such as Indeps when they can get away with it.

• Enforcers and executors are Mercikillers, a terrible mess of a faction with a zealous belief in absolute and ultimate justice and their right to enforce it by any means possible while themselves suffering no consequences for their actions as they claim to answer to 'the higher law'. 

These three together with the Takers below create major governing structure which is cold, merciless, pushing for complacency and acting by the force.

• Arsenal with all its weapons is held by what is, basically, the doomsday cult.

• Hall of the Speakers, where laws are made, is run (rather ineffectually, IMHO) by The Sign of One people literally believing themselves to the be center of the universe. Some factions don't even have opportunity to present their cases, and at the best Hall of the Speakers serves as a release valve to divert some potential violence into shouting at each other from the podiums.

• And taxes are collected by The Takers, 'the might makes right' faction which is probably more hated than Red Death and Harmonium combined. To note, the maintenance of the city is provided by dabus courtesy to The Lady, so to me it always looks like The Takers decided to collect the taxes simply because it ingrains them to the other existing power structures such as Fraternity and Harmonium but mostly because they simply can take such things from the others and nobody can stop them. 

None of these factions are portrayed sympathetically in their role as city-runners. I don't expect to read minutes from the meeting where Bleak Cabal asks for soup kitchen budget but I always got an impression that none of the factions in a position of power do anything for the benefit of anybody else but themselves, and while they run Sigil in a shaky alliance of mutual benefits and counterweights there is nothing glorious or worth of respect for any of them, just as it is with gods.

On the opposite end we have:

• Athar, who are portrayed as mostly powerless and/or harmless, preferring to fight their ideological fight with rhetorics and pamphlets.

• Indeps, reasonably anarchic faction who were decimated about 600 years ago by a plague which  targeted specifically their faction (as it became too big) and are currently hunted by Harmonium, with their Ward slowly shrinking.

• Bleak Cabal, the nihilistic faction who is the most kind to the poor and forsaken of the city.

• Dustmen, a death cult who is probably the second-most charitable faction of the city, even if it is a long step away from The Bleak Cabal.

• Revolutionary League (rather cowardly, IMHO, renamed Hands of Havoc in re-launch) who are so deeply encrypted even against themselves that their fight is never-ending and rarely effective to enforce any major change (if it wasn't so The Takers wouldn't be where they are now.)

• Xaositecs, who are more flash-mob than a faction; while they represent an important aspect of the Planescape, they rarely affect the life of the Sigil in any significant way.



Looking at those vibrant recruitment posters, MtG-like example illustrations and much softer DiTerlizzi's art I am expecting the grim and gritty aspects of the setting to be glossed over or downplayed in favour of 'Into the Spiderverse'-like appearances and mood. While previously Planescape could have been played this way but more grounded approach was just as valid, I am expecting vibrant and bright to be the only available approach for re-launch.

I am expecting the factions in a position of power (if any are to be in a position of power) to be portrayed much more softly, and the whole governance of Sigil mostly devoid of hopelessness and despair it had in the first Planescape.  

I expect The Hive to be barely mentioned and/or being much smaller. 

I expect Blood War (which is sometimes derided, but to me is an absolutely essential part of the Planescape) to be glossed over, be miraculously over, given just a lip service or never happen in a first place.

I expect the gods to be put back on their pedestals despite Athar still being present.

I expect infinite planes of New Planescape to be even more milquetoast and boring than the infinite planes of old Planescape; I think that human mind cannot truly embrace the infinity, but as planes have to be infinite for the sake of unbound fantastic universe, the farther we go from Sigil the less meaning all other places have, and I would be very surprised if any of the new or relaunched locations are any more interesting than the old ones.

Tuesday 12 September 2023

Sanity sliding list

(this post is mostly a quote)

Saw Socially Appropriate Noesis post by Liche's Libram and couldn't help but think that the list of things we consider "sane" that they present as an example of sanity, to quote in full:

"• the world makes sense;
• everything will work out in the end
• bad people will be punished and the good will be rewarded
• but if good people suffer there’s an unknown good reason for it
• I am one of the good people
• causality flows from past to future
• the adults know what they’re doing
• I can trust my senses most of the time
• my emotions are mostly appropriate responses to my situation
• people have meaningful subjective experiences and laundry machines don’t."

would work as cross-out list to represent the eroding sanity quite well in a games where it is important. 

What I mean is that instead of forcing poorly implemented parallels for real mental health issues into the game once the SAN-related numbers say so, it might work to let the player have a list like that – maybe ordered top down from most crucial to less crucial – and then upon encounter with the eldritch and unknown the player has to cross one of the lines out of list and adjust their character's belief / personality accordingly. Crossing out "People have meaningful subjective experiences and laundry machines don’t" will create an eccentric but mostly harmless quirk but eventually the player will run out of these small beliefs and will have to move on 'causality flows from past to future' and then eventually cross out 'the world makes sense.'

(The list can be adjusted depending on the setting/nature of the game, and maybe include things personally related to each character, such as their believes and/or bonds)

Again, even if all stuff is crossed out it won't automatically mean that the character has something from DSM but it would be increasingly difficult to keep such character any way functional, although I would like to see the player trying to work around such eroded sanity to create a cohesive/functional, even if probably highly unusual, personality.

Tuesday 25 July 2023

A few miscellaneous notes

(All this might be related to the same world)

1) Instead of level(s) being drained from a person, the drained level coalescence in a bubble creature who clumsily tries to run/fly away (how well maybe depending on how many levels got drained at once); if a drained person catches and eats it before 24h / next sunset had passed, they get their levels back.

I imagine some adventuring anxiously asking a passerby 'Have you seen where my levels went? They are round, and about as big as that."

Technically possible but a rather cruel thing would be to allow monsters to benefit from eating the level-bubble creature as well, either as denial of the adventurers or just straight up  getting levels; it would probably lead to wrights 'farming' the adventurers for level boosts.

2) Some herbs and grasses are magical, but not all of them, why?

Because the dragons were the magic, and after all of them died, their magic remained in their bones, slowly seeping into the soil and waters through the centuries, then millenia as the bones lied forgotten. By the deep roots and a movement of soils some plants imbibed this magic into their being, and later their seeds spread with insects, birds or winds, just like any flowers would spread. Which is why in this particular region we have only one or two magical plants but not more of them.

It might be impossible to find dragon bones after all those millenia. For some high-tech-magic future it might be the somebody's 'Aha!' moment and then a giant undertaking to track all these vectors backward to find the source. Somebody's PhD thesis, for sure.

To extrapolate the naturalistic chain of magic, some animals might get magical powers / become monsters because their ancestors ate a lot of magical herbs in places where such plants were plentiful (sort of like mercury bio-agglomerates in a body, but possibly less cruel). This isn't supposed to be a quick process (as the power of magic would half on each transfer, i.e. rodents or herbivores eating plants/seeds would only give half the magic to foxes or wolves that hunt them) but more like at least some decent amount of generations change, so what we have now is a result of uncounted aeons. 

Maybe there was only one dragon, who was all the magic, and all magical plants take origin in a soil above their bones, only to later widely disperse all over the continent(s)?

3) On the same note, instead of scrolls and wands, let it be plants to have magic, and nothing else.Words of scrolls might carry magic but not because of the words themselves (they are meaningless) but because of the inks. The best scroll would be just a bunch of Rorschach splatter on a page, a bulky amount of ink. 

Hence, magic can also be food, perfume, oils, paper, wood or fiber.
(But then somebody could just find the bones of that dragon.)

For sui generia hexcrawl I am somehow still making, word for magic would be 'sapor' in this case.

4) Thinking about some 'Fromsoftware' games, it is possible for a situation when something like Waters of Rejuvenation flow from the divine mountain, then for them to be filtering through the places similar to Doors of Pharros to eventually become waterfalls near something like Catacombs, to be the reason as to why buried dead there don't stay dead – they are just improperly rejuvenated by the extremely diluted waters.

5) It is just something that bugs me: I saw a few tables for weird weathers, and while they are interesting as adventure obstacles or complications or even exploits, thinking about such weather a little more it is very likely that if such weathers happen even once a week it would be very difficult to have any stable agriculture in a such world. Rain of oil or nails or boulders and fields of grains don't mix well (giving that even one hailstorm can kill a harvest in a real world), and it would require extreme coordinated effort, a lot of special materials and probably some milestone magi/tech achievements to be able to secure natural food productions in such place.

Tuesday 9 May 2023

Different DnD editions as ages of the world

(post for my own amusement)

To me different DnD editions are also different ages of "typical fantasy world" relatively mapped on the traditionally-viewed historical development of what is considered to be / possible to be for Western civilization; this progression is considering both how different editions implemented certain rules and sub-systems, and on meta-level, with how general process around "Dungeons and Dragons" developed. It is also a perspective that views everything through very narrow scope, and if I was to do a detailed scholarly comparison it probably won't hold any water, but, as I said, it is a personal amusement of the thought.

I always imagined "Dndworld" as having dark (pre-)medieval times with 0Ed in all its first iterations: times where the previous, ancient world of big armies and known histories (wargames) collapsed and was transforming into much smaller world of much more personal scope (of tabletop RPGs), with the world itself largely unknown (no official settings yet but Blackmoor/Mystara as the first Known World, eventually), magic is underdeveloped and rare (only a few levels of spells in initial DnD, very limited casting abilities), focus is on survival (count your torches), and death comes quickly (death at 0HP); industry, especially metallurgy are rudimentary (short equipment lists). Civilization sort of exists in small oases (various DnD enthusiasts creating their own campaign worlds and starting to connect).

By the time of 1st-2nd Ed ADnD it is Renaissance going eventually into so-called Age of Discovery. There are noticeable improvements in medicine (Death Gates HP safety) although the novelties of such achievements are still not widely know or stable (Death Gates is still optional rule). Magic is much more common, although not systematized in any meaningful way and treated, including magical items, more like commission of luxury artwork (number of magic-related classes and kits jumped up significantly, but there is no rhyme or systemic reason to all these powers yet and there are no official magical shopping); new lands are discovered at mass (official DnD settings – Planescape, Dark Sun, Greyhawk, etc – released) and civilization is vastly interconnected (first really big cons); royal crowns are suppressing lower classes, and former collaborators of regime become fierce privateers under the pressure (TSR anti-fan policy, Mayfair case) but it doesn't really stop much anybody from brewing their own revolutions (big names alternative to DnD RPG systems, in my perceptions, really had their bloom around this time); first guns (and settings with some guns). Even prejudices of the time can be mapped at the exclusion of orcs and barbarians out of all core DnD supplements. Later supplements of Player's Option, such as "Skills and Powers", are more systematic and can be likened to natural sciences emerging in about Enlightenment-time to pave the way to future changes and new edition.

3rd Ed DnD is clearly sort of Industrial Revolution going into about early 20s century. Magic items are not art anymore and can be done by exact formulas, bought and sold freely to the point people can learn operate such things even without any magical talent whatsoever (Use Magic Device skill). Magic itself is widespread to the point it becomes an innate talent to some (first official spontaneous and infinite casting), mass entrepreneurship everywhere (SRD and OGL, with WotC sort of just observing for that era), everything is much systematized, standardized and efficient (1d20 overhaul system, CR), even guns are more acceptable (1d20 Modern official). People die much less thanks for more advances in medicine and the improved level of living (max HPs on start, Death Gates is a official rule instead of optional) while survival is rarely as difficult as it was in previous era (CR and balanced encounters, de-emphasis on exploration/survival). In the contrast much fewer new lands are discovered at this era (very few new official settings in 3rd ed. – I think only Eberron was something new) and mostly it is just exploitation of what was discovered before (first re-issue of settings). First mass pollution through the sheer glut of 3rd party 1d20 supplements, and many other systems making themselves 1d20 (even if they didn't need to and this was a bad fit, such as Fading Suns 1d20).

4th Ed is high-tech, iPhone future, going into pre-apocalypse ('points of light' assumed setting as archologies with unlivable land around them), magic and magic-like abilities are ubiquitous and commonplace, food/torches/base survival is no longer a concern whatsoever, everybody can heal (healing surges), and everything is extremely streamlined and also developed to the point that the difference in magic and non-magic abilities is rather nominal. The world is fully explored (no new settings, except again, maybe counting Eberron) and only gets re-visited (often badly). First exodus into space colonies after ruling classes tighten the screws way too much to bear (first OGL licensing fiasco and Pathfinder as a result, OSR / DIY movement – at least personally for me it started about here).

Then there is an apocalypse somewhere and 5th Ed is (post-)post-apocalypse pastoral: back to simpler, more rustic times, where some achievements of past are here, such as medicine and standards of living (such as healing surges and elevated HP rolls, rather easy survival rules) and magic is more understood and integrated (many non-magic classes have magic-related subclasses), but in general magic is back to sort of unknown and rare (no official magical shopping or formulas), and lands (=official settings) are rediscovered and re-exploited (re-issued, rebooted). It all "back to simpler" times look and attempted wholeheartedness, but just dig a little and you'd find a working 3D printer somewhere (all businesses feeding from 5th Ed. popularity), and oh yes, these immortal royals are back and as immoral as ever under slogans for the better future (second OGL fiasco).

And all such and so on. 

So if I would be doing time travel in some 'typical DnD' land which has its history mappable to that of history of one corner of Earth, I'd probably be switching the systems in this approximate way.

Thursday 27 April 2023

Negative status effects and alternative resolution to such.

Once upon a time playing a high-level fighter class in Pathfinder 1st edition, my character got paralysed for about 12 rounds. The party had two other damage dealers (a paladin and a rogue) so they handled the situation rather well but it meant that the cleric was busy enough not to have a round to spare to cast "Remove Paralysis" and I was stuck in that state until the end of the fight. In Pathfinder 1st Edition combat rounds were resolved not too quickly by default, and in case of high-level party against multiple opponents each round took even longer; thus this fight went for a lot of rounds and IIRC, for about three real-time hours of the game I didn't have anything to do at the table but listen to music. I found such situation frustrating, even if it didn't happen often.

Usually the solution to such is to hoist a secondary character (a summon, a underlying, even a minor enemy) onto a player so they had something to do, but it is sometimes not possible.

I wish to broadly divide all source of negative statuses into following six categories; each of them isn't supposed to represent a particular mechanical implementation (Bleed in "Elden Ring" is more like nihil and Slumber is more like vulnerability, while in DnD 3rd edition first is more like drain, and second more like cancel respectively). Borders of definitions are somewhat soft too: is sleep a cancel or loss of control? Blindness could be viewed as vulnerability, or distortion, or both.

Cancel: such statuses as paralysis, stasis, stop, sleep, petrification, amber, banishment. Partial status could be forced etherealness (if pure mental actions allowed), memory loss preventing actions as the expertise is forgotten, silence or impediments, such as entangle or prison.
Cessation of action, falling out of time, removal.

Decay: poison, scarlet rot, level and ability drain, bleed but also persistent hunting or haunting making one to continuously resist/hide and be worn down by that.
Gradual loss of that is important until nothing left.

Loss of control: charm, traitor, berserk, ardent, fear, possession, puppet.
Subversion of one's own active volition. 

Vulnerability: all the wide range of elementary debuffs, frostbite, blindness, vulnerability to criticals; also here are malevolent transformations such as Pig, Mini, Toad, Morph Ovum from 'Heretic' and such.
Made lesser. 

Distortions: illusions, confusion, sensory overload, possibly few kinds of geas.
False inputs, inability to assess truthful information to make right decision.
(while it is probably a smallest category, I want to distinguish it from loss of control, because one's will is not subverted here, but remains active, but the decisions it can make can be meaningless.)

Nihil: doom, deathblight, suicide, titular nihil of one's named Mohg, bomb, classical geas ("don't refuse hospitality, don't eat dog's meat"). Any status which quickly ticks or is switch on toward death but otherwise doesn't impede too much.
Annihilation/self-annihilation. It is usually given some kind of clock or condition because this is usually the status with the most rapid and severe consequences. 

I was thinking that alternative way to resolve one type of negative status in case of failed saving throw would be to voluntarily incur a slightly lesser negative status of another group. In case of the system that doesn't involve saving throws at all and where statuses always land until prevented it can be alternative to a failure to cast a specific protective magic.

For example, one can stop or break petrification if they surrender most of their important memories (or contacts/bonds in the systems where such things are part of mechanics); one can break out of charm if they cause self-harm down to 10% of their HP (classically dramatic 'I'd rather hurt myself than my friends'), one can break out of distortions by losing control to go berserk ('If you are in mirror maze – break through mirrors'). For example, one can get out of Fever state by burning down something of personal importance, basically trading off Fever (decay) for pyromania (loss of control) for some time.

In Elden Ring "Flame, Cleanse me" spell cures scarlet rot
and poison but deals fire damage to user

Obviously such thing should be appropriately costly/risky tradeoffs so they won't become get-out-of-failed-saving-throw card to make statuses toothless, and be more like a tempting alternative when stakes are just that high – it will mean little if PC gets out of every charmed state by trying to down an enemy, or trying to subvert nihil effect through self-damage if they have rapid regeneration. If I was building a system from the scratch I would include alternative resolution into each status / spell description, to both diminish the time of on-table negotiation and make alternative resolution clear from the start for it to become a temptation in desperate enough situations.

Maybe it will make sitting out combat for three real hours less boring next time.

Saturday 22 April 2023

Dead Silver

1) Thumb-sized heavy coin of light-grey metal with a rather lackluster sheen. Usually caged in a secondary ring of gold, steel or lead to make it safer to handle. Do not touch with bare skin. Do not ingest. Do not inhale. 

Stored in air-tight glass container when not in immediate use but might be found freely among other treasures, a mere oddity if its value is not suspected. One side of the coin bears two crossed hooks over an unfamiliar crest. The second bears the likeness of a person currently touching the coin.

Push it through a pavement crack, into a door gap, into a mouth of a corpse, toss into an opening of a well, into a crevice at mountainside, into a bark fissure, into a wall fracture – any still object opening into darkness, be it a part of a building, or a piece of nature wide enough to let a body through will let the darkness widen and become fluid to let the body through. Just after the body goes through the darkness is gone, withering back to what it was faster than a heartbeat.

Dead Silvers are popular with criminals, drifters, occultists, revolutionaries, thrill-seekers, the desperate, the lost, the prosecuted, the exiles, the opportunists, the harried, those who cannot afford teleport or don't live in the places such magic exists. Each coin lets through a single person, unless more follow them immediately, tightly bound by a foot and hand or conjoined (surgically or otherwise) enough to be considered a single body.

2) The city behind the door of darkness. World closed off like an eggshell, horizon curving up, surrounded by nothing, white flame dancing on horizon under the darkest indigo skies. Layers upon layers of buildings, vast areas of twilight shapes dotted only by a few residential lights – emerald, sapphire, amber and ruby, a rare amethyst – and by the glow from ceaseless fires of Flutes, and, highest above all, by white lines criss-crossing the bricked up Tyrant's Palace, the thin shadowless net of pale flame netted over the dark bulbous mass. 


art by Jorge Jacinto

The crest of a coin indicates the district where in the city the traveller lands. Don't forget to pick up a coin from the pavement. 

Cross the city from one end to the opposite end, from Arsenal to Golden Gates, from Academia to River Pier, from Drowned Gardens to Hungry Bay, from Ossia to Holy Larva. Appear anywhere back in the world, no matter how far, with the only requirement the exit point to be a place not touched by the light for the last year: somebody's basement, somebody's closet, dark alley forgotten by sun, the sewer, the cave, the shadowed forest; there are more of such places than one might think. It doesn't matter how long the travel through the Dead Silver takes in the traveller's own heartbeat, it doesn't matter how far in the world distance they wish to travel – as they cross the city they cross the single night. Even if the traveller rest for a month, even if they stay in Dead Silver for a life.

Many do stay in Dead Silver: while it won't make one immortal by default to some it is the second closest, and the suspension of hunger, and breath, and thirst, and dreams to some is still better than a destitute starving life they had outside. The Tyrant's Palace said to hold the secret of true immortality, (and many try for it, but glowing barbed linelight so far bars any entrance). 

The Tyrants are absent-present rulers of the city: they don't speak or issue edicts and for all purposes are personally absent, yet their presence is ever-felt, deep to the marrow of the bones. The Tyrants are the weather, and the law system, and the divine light of the absurd zodiac. They rise one after another, their respective constellation lights the darkest indigo skies, and they impose their presence over the city, and fade only to reappear again, one after another, one after another again. Their courts fill the city like a rain, tall figures of Courtiers appear and vanish to be replaced with a different Courtiers just as their Tyrants are.

Calendar is measured in Tyrants, even if it has no meaningful years, only 'month' after a 'month'. The gradient of their rule replaces usual notches of the clocks, even if each lasts a different amount of heartbeats. As the Tyrant comes to the throne of the Palace the whole city shifts, the streets reconfigure, the reality somewhat changes: beauty of body is exalted and heightened along the certain lines once Bleak-of-Face is in zenith just as colours shift to blue, mental acuity unfocuses and no truth can be said about anything in the past; each of the Tyrants has a certain pull over Dead Silver, each is their own overlay. This is only dangerous to unwary newcomers, those unlucky to be caught in Ascendant Dancer apex or those caught in the area with Courtiers without proper safety measures. 

There are some that grow used to Dead Silver and stay there until the end of their days, but there isn't much to be said about them, except that they existed and then they existed no longer. 


Dead Silver was something I was very excited at one point to write about – my own everchanging city with fancy, somewhat sinister districts, and overlaying different layers of reality laws and weather and strange creatures that come and go on an exotic clock; city that shreds its tapping to reconfigure itself to each incoming Tyrant only to reconfigure itself again for the next one. I thought how players would learn about the places in the city, its ebbs and flow, and maybe come to like it.

But then I realized that for the purposes of the travelling through the night (providing that PCs even want to use the coins instead of much more faster and functional teleports), there is no need to learn anything about the city anything aside of the monsters, and it probably would be too much to ask players to do so, if everything that they look for is a quick trip.

Then I realized that its central premise 'to cross a world in a single night' also creates time paradoxes, so with that the city is completely unplayable as a gaming location, so the whole idea is kind of a failure. I leave it here as a tribute to now-discontinued subway tokens and the strange coins they once inspired.

Tuesday 7 February 2023

Currencies for the system behind the character sheet

These are the primary currencies in the Gheste, valued for their rarity and capability to affect the world.

Bones: the foundation, the armature, the framework, the simplest of basics, the reduction of complexity, stalwart and unmovable core on which every other excess is built upon, the first arrival and the last remainder of multitudes that come and vanish as mere moments. Keeper of the longest memory, earliest of strata, quiet, and stubborn, and self-sufficient in its ascetic existence.

Blood: the quickness, the flow, the passion that is fluent like a dream, and as potent as a poison, one which imbues and binds like a chain anything that it touches to drag along with its neckbreaking ride. Intricately connected to time, blood is the fuel for the most reliable clock and hoarder of legacies.

Flesh: the pleaser, the eternal self-adjusting solver of problems, malleable to whims, potentiate for change, caller of the future, connection between differentiated states, the bridge into unknown, chaos bound by its own limits. The witless, suffering fool, so very vulnerable yet so much enduring in the face of a danger, joyful in its blind idiotic optimism.

Reflection: the ending to ignorance, the careful precipice of truth and domain of lies, the backbone of comprehension, the wilderness of meanings, cold and merciless fracture in the world from which the abyss can be seen. Liar and prophet, all the same, and easily shattered. 

Shadow: the unwanted gift, one's duplicate devoid of the identity and filled with something else, useful slave who one day will take over and carry away that is to remain in the world after its master is gone.

Echo: imposer, imposter, forceful imprint of one's existence onto the world with the voice; a castoff of the birthing scream and the remnant of the dying breath; a claim to the being; the projection of one's self, the silence broken, inability to cease existing until the world makes it so and forces it to fade.

You can pray to your currencies as (if) they are deities.

There is seventh building block, that is the soul. But it is infinite and ever-present in everything in Gheste, suffusing even the tiniest particle with itself, and as such, absolutely worthless.


Those currencies are precious and everybody starts with 4d6-drop lowest amount of them.  


These are a flowery descriptions of stats in Gheste, for the system behind the character sheet. Each sort of, kind of correlates to the traditional stat (bones for strength, echo for charisma) but aside of that:

1) they are somewhat literally the most basic constituents of the being/entity, both in physical and, at least partially, in symbolic sense as well, but just like with "what are hit points in-world?" question, I don't know yet if abnormally high stat, say, in Flesh, means a literally huge body mass or not. Ghosts devoid of flesh, blood, bones, reflections and shadows have limited ability to affect the world, so on some level this does work literally, but I foresee a lot of places where it must be taken in more abstract sense just like hit points cannot be fully correlated to actual wounds. 

I don't think that this is different too much to high stats in DnD, because in recent editions having Intelligence 30 and Intelligence 50 goes beyond what is possible to compare in human terms and just affects the numerical bonus or some special gated tiers.

2) like the colours or the colours, such currencies are not merely some intrinsic, innate, forever-here part of a character, but something that can be spent, utilized and traded. Traditional DnD makes stats the foundation of the character, and only rarely affects them, either through rare attacks or even more rare levelups; in such situations spells and items can give some extra stat or curses can drain them but there is that unspoken perception, I think, that the core of the character as they were generated remains more or less the same. I wanted stats as rare currencies to be more actively involved.

Because of what they are, I don't think currencies are as detachable as cash, but more like colours that, once harvested and made into nerva or lympha, are not easily stolen (the way I think about currency heists now is 'identity dungeon', something similar to Persona games dungeons, not merely pickpocketing a mayor). Yet, I do like the idea that such things can be voluntarily traded for, bargained for, coerced away, used as a reward or a last-resort payment, or even stolen with effort, thus literally transforming a person who falls below certain thresholds or zeroes on some currency altogether into a different being.

3) stats or abilities in TTRPG on one hand are the most basic, primitive way the PCs are interacting with the world, and on another hand, the way the world measures and appraises a capability of each entity to interact with itself, the emphasis on what is important and what is not in such interaction; a way the world views the being, in a sense. If everybody in otherwise standard DnD setting had a seventh stat named, say, 'whiskey' or 'dogs' measured on the exactly the same scale as Strength or Wisdom it would say something about this otherwise standard world; if the system has five different basic stats related to firing weapon but not a single for social interactions, it also says something about the world the system is for. I want currencies to say something about Gheste in this manner, mostly that 1) even what a person is may be not be what they have / can maintain a firm grasp on, and 2) the world is rather utilitarian in how it views each such being in it. 

P.S. I am pretty sure that I borrowed some bits of flowery texts from somewhere (probably either or both of colours articles above) but this post was in drafts for last year and a half, and if it was to be there any longer for rewrites it would have never be finished. I'll track the sources for a proper attribution and/or fix the borrowed bits around March, but for now I am just glad for it to be out.

Friday 30 December 2022

D23: Changing horses in midstream

(small post about Dungeon 23 process)
((it doesn't have even a single table, it is just random personal thoughts))

After "aha" moment that was week #2 "Death" and sharp clarity that came with week #3 "Sunken", the word for week #4 was "Love" and, as predicted, it was so far the hardest. 

I think RPGs don't really parse love, in general(*). Either it is a part of some backstory/origin story, something that happened long long time ago and thus, as a fact of love, obscured by time and untouchable by adventurers; at best some kind of pure / tragic / farcical love serves as a basis for a This Place or This Thing, a piece of scenery, a part of description.

(*) some lyric games are probably specifically about love, as emotions and relationships seem to be the frequent subject of these games, but I don't know any specific ones.

Alternatively, it is a matter of control or threat – woefully available 'Charm Person', danger of succubus' appeal, loved ones so frequently murdered by DMs for deeply discounted drama it became a tattered cliche before I was even born, or sleazy bard / sorcerer PC, hitting on anything with legs that isn't a table. With passed time there is some distancing from these tired, worn-out templates, but to me the matter is that both OSR and traditional DnD rarely speak about love as multifaceted and ongoing process.

This long prelude aside, I started to do a location dedicated to some less common aspects of love: latria/agape, storge and philia. Couldn't decide which one to focus upon or how to make it relevant (and not simply a piece of backstory on a display), so it was the first week when I wrote 'shadows deepen' / 'empty room' as on both Tuesday and Wednesday I couldn't imagine anything that I was even briefly interesting in working with or had any solid inspiration for, or anything, really.

So I gessoed the whole weekly spread today.
(you don't have to use gesso, gluing paper over is also very satisfying)

Because what I love to do – at this point of time of my life, at the very least – is making maps. 

And instead of writing something, I am just making a map.

Making maps to me is a difficult, long, sometimes tedious process where everything can go wrong, and more than sometimes does. There are bad days, when nothing is created but the slightest layer of the abyss, there are good days, when elements and colours intertwine and take form, and new land emerges, and it teaches me something too, as it was today about making coastlines.

Six hours spent, and it was a work but it was also a joy. 

It was still better than spending miserable five minutes giving up and letting the shadows deepen again.

Why I am even writing this?

I see a lot of people just starting D23 or waiting for Sunday to start it. So many call it a challenge. So many go beyond the initial idea of just making '45 gp, three tax-collectors, there is a problem' room. This is good. It is honestly a relief to see in how many directions initial megadungeon idea went already: there are cities, bunches of small dungeons, modern esoterica settings, solar systems, cyberpunk and SF, and science fantasy, and forests, and hexes; it is a relief because people already don't treat the initial idea as a sacred cow (**), don't let it bind them into narrow confines of things they have no actual desire to do. But even with this adjustment, I think, there will be a moment when something in the writing process will become a restrain instead of help. The procedure might become stale, the theme no longer interesting, the format might run its course.

(**) although the amount of Hobonichi planners in preferences is still a bit baffling

There is a lot to admire in self-imposed challenges. But the idea for D23 – whatever form it takes – the main idea is to keep going, and probably what I want to say with this overlong note to myself the most is that changing exhausted or bored horses in midstream turned out to be a good thing to do.

Don't stick to the format if it is no longer works. Change it and keep going.

I tend(ed) to view each separate notebook as a holistic thing, and it took me some time to get rid of the mental trap that they shouldn't be changed.

Nothing in those planners is sacred. Other people might make their in cleaner, messier, stranger, duller way, with colour pencils, with fancy digital frames and hyperlinking. with tables or procedures prepared in December weeks. But what is important is that if something becomes an obligation instead of expression, is to grab some fresh free horses, gesso the page that no longer work and maybe write about horse heist in the middle of your megadungeon/city/forest/space station (bonus points if there is no logical explanation on how horses even got there).