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1  Campaign Creation / Homebrews / Re: Q&D (Quick and Dirty) on: October 25, 2012, 10:33:41 AM
Not to mirror what other have said too closely, but I think this sounds like a fantastic system, especially for one-shot or xp-less games. The Awesome Points are definitely a nice touch, and they seem infinitely easier to use than a lot of similar mechanics (Cortex's Plot Points come to mind). Is there a way for players to earn APs other than getting an Awesomely Awesome result on a roll, or do you intend for the amount to be limited?
2  Campaign Creation / Homebrews / Re: The Occult Underground on: October 25, 2012, 10:19:37 AM

Out of Character

This is the first bit of my attempt at re-doing the Occult Underground to be something a little less mainstream urban fantasy and a lot more macabre and splatterpunk-y, which I'm tentatively calling 'The Underworld". Let me know what you think.

Fuck your “Occult Underground”. You think a bunch of wannabe Harry Potters with holes in their ears you could stick a dick through tonelessly fingerbanging their daddies’ old guitars and underhand-tossing watered-down hexes at each other in some shitty suburban basement is “underground”? Motherfucker, you don’t even know the meaning of the world. You people, you infernal fucking hipsters, you bandy around words like “chthonic” and “squamous” and “cyclopean” like they make you sound like any less of a pathetically self-indulgent little nerd now than they did eighty-six years ago, when you haven’t even seen the sort of cerebrum-searing shit that first put those words on a madman’s tongue and gouged out his eyes as royalties. Nerd culture and undersexed fangirls ate supernatural horror alive, like, two fucking decades ago, but you know it was all bullshit to begin with because it didn’t chew its way out of their fucking stomachs like it was one of H.R. Geiger’s homoerotic wet dreams. If there was even enough truth in the most ludicrous of the post-bath salts zombie conspiracy theories to bump off a Vegas showgirl’s tit, you quicks would be tying anyone who yawned too throatily to lampposts and pouring on the gasoline.

I’m not here to put this nicely, or politely, or in such a way as to ensure you don’t take your grandma’s .38 and aerate your own brainpan with it, because by all means, go ahead and bite the not-so-proverbial bullet: we’ll have a nice welcoming committee, just for you. I’m here to grab you by the hair and drag your ass out of the comforting light of your supposed reality and into the horrid actuality of a world you didn’t even know you didn’t know existed.

I hope your momma left you some pocket change, because we’re going to The Underworld, baby.

You got one thing right, at least: occult really did used to mean “knowledge of the hidden” or some crap like that, which makes it all the more mind-boggling that you people use it to describe the sort of shit you write fucking comic books about. And don’t give me that crap about “the meaning of words changing over time”: that shit only flies when you’re too short-lived to remember what they meant in the first place or too pants-on-head retarded to go look it up yourself. So no, the occult, the real, honest-to-squamous “occult”, does not include the likes of vampires, werewolves, witches, and faeires. Am I saying they don’t exist? No, but you better believe they stopped being allowed to eat lunch with the cool kids about the time the first picture of Lestat started to get a little bit crusty, and much like your beloved H.P. Lovecraft and literally any ethnicity in the whole fucking world, you wouldn’t know one if you saw one but you’d still probably shit all over yourselves anyway.

I stand corrected, two things: Aleister Crowley really was a limey fuck, wasn’t he? Great Beast, my wormy, fucking ass.

Actually, the more I look at it, there's a few bullet-points that don't totally suck dick, so I'll let them stay:

Queen of Quiet

It’s Not Business, It’s Personal: The Occult Underground might seem like a great big place where you can just slip under the radar, but believe me when I say it isn’t. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows everyone else and you better believe you are on one of those someone’s shit-lists because this place is too goddamn crowded to not step on a few toes. So when the gloves come off and the knives come out everyone goes at it with so much relish they wouldn’t spread it on a Coney Island hot dog.

Queen of Quiet

Real Punks In A –Punk World: All these genres chocking on their own post-modernism and jilling-off to Isambard Kingdom Brunel and William Gibson and you know what crucial element they’ve forgotten in their obsession with steam and cyber and a million other interchangeable aesthetics? The Punk. The anger and the disdain for any king you didn’t vote for and the refusal to obey any laws you didn’t write in your own goddamn blood and tears. Not us. The Occult Underground is all about that barely-contained anarchy, DIY attitude, and self-expression so radical Anton LaVey would tell you to back the fuck up and cool it.

Queen of Quiet

The First Rule Is Looking Cool: Call us a shallow bunch of motherfuckers, but we all knows the importance of weaponized fashion sense. Everyone’s got their own personal aesthetic and biting someone else’s shit is almost as bad as biting someone else’s throat. Bodies tattooed with alchemical formula from Paracelsus and Jabir. One-percenter colors with Solomonic pentacle-patches. Ear lobes pierced with coffin-nails. Denim jackets embroidered with grimoire-text. Go crazy.

The Obits: Unusual Suspects

There’re a few general rules to keep in mind when talking about the denizens of the Underworld. Actually, there’s, like, three, so you got no excuse if you can’t remember them.

First things first, we don’t stick out heads out from beneath the manhole covers during the day. For some of us, sunlight sears like an acetylene torch; for others, it just gives a nice tingling sensation a lot like getting dick-acupuncture inside of a light bulb. But it’s more than that. The sun is life and energy, hope and warmth. It’s a symbol of inspiration to the quick, and the blazing antithesis of everything we are. You want a good comparison, imagine waking up every morning with a fiery fucking skull staring down at you. Yeah, so you can probably see why we keep in on the subterranean until after dark.

Second thing, we’re not fucking sexy. I don’t know when vampires suddenly became crazy postmodern sex-symbols, but rest assured that shit doesn’t really fly. Would you think someone who wanted to fuck an ice-cold Victorian corpse is any less of a goddamn deviant just because said corpse could talk? Didn’t think so. Now, not all of us are monstrously-hideous, but even the ones who seem like they’d be pretty hot on paper have that particular sort of charnel aura that surrounds fresh roadkill: no matter how much you like venison, it’s still not some place you’d want to put your tongue.

Last and certainly not least, there is absolutely no Grand Unified Fucking Field Theory of Undeath, no easy answer why we haven’t shuffled off this mortal coil like so many other billions. For some, it’s because of a curse, or a taint, or a pathogen, a mutation, possession, a parasite, a fungus, or just an inhuman act of will.

Now then, on to the juicy bits! Or the bony bits. Or whatever.

The Undead are your run-of-the-mill (and not-so-run-of-the-mill) walking corpses, bodies possessed of consciousness and animation but severely lacking that essential spark of life that makes the quick so, well, quick.

The Spectral have the opposite problem: they’re nothing but spirits, nice and incorporeal. Sure, most can manifest enough to move objects or possess a body that may or may not already be occupied, but that’s a lot of work.

The Twisted are what happens when a normal human gets exposed to the eldritch radiation that bubbles up from the bowels of the Hateful Earth. Ever wonder why subhuman mutants always seem to live in caves? It’s not just because they’ve been shunned by the mortal world: living in a cave actually turns you into a subhuman mutant, at least some of the time.

The Outsiders come from realities outside our own, the kind of places the more pretentious of fucks like to call “dark anthropic zones”: realms where life exists, but a kind of life that’s wholly incompatible and quite often hostile to what we call life. Of course, because of the shape and constraints of our world, they get forced into boring three-dimensional bodies. Or at least, part of them does: like a circle talking to a sphere, only a cross-section of their entire being exists at any one time, the greater whole lurking in a space their new brains can’t even comprehend anymore.

The Ancient are the last remnants of the antediluvian races that once ruled the earth in eons before humans even discovered fire, only to have fallen into centuries of degeneration and inbreeding. What few remain may or may not remember their past glories, which would only make the sting of having to cower in the shadows of the upstart apes burn all that much more.

Out of Character

I still don't have a system totally nailed down, but my intention is for each of the five groups to have a handful of intrinsic attributes, with the players further selecting their own optional traits and abilities to better define their own breed of Underworlder a la Nightlife.
3  Campaign Creation / Campaign Elements and Design / Re: The Hegemony (Slightly More Than a Teaser) on: October 08, 2012, 05:31:40 PM
The askaji evolved from pack-based predators and traces of their heritage can still be seen in their hyper-social behavior, as well as their lean, wiry musculatures and semi-digitigrade legs. They require constant interpersonal interaction, and an askaje denied that sort of stimulation will quickly spiral into self-destructive depression. Physically, they are slightly shorter than humans, with large eyes and sharp, angular teeth designed for tearing apart meat. Their skin is typically red or pink and broken up by streaks and speckles of white or black, now-vestigial traces of their evolutionary camouflage. By far their most distinctive feature is the crown of twisting, curling horns they grow in adulthood, the shapes and patterns unique to the individual. All askaji exhibit an almost-preternatural awareness of body language and non-verbal cues, making them extraordinarily difficult to deceive.

Strictly-speaking, the haran don’t have a single bone in their bodies. In lieu of a proper skeleton, their bodies are supported by cartilage and a series of fluid-filled bladders, giving them unparalleled flexibility. A naturally arboreal race with an innate sense of balance, their limbs are disproportionately long, though the typical haran habit of crouching rather than standing upright means that the different in height is rarely noticed.

The isliklidae earned the none-too-endearing moniker of ‘squid-faces’ thanks to the long, fleshy tendrils that hang down over their fang-filled mouths and extend past their chins. Fully opposable, these tendrils play a role in both feeding and communication. On average slightly taller than humans, their clawed, four-fingered hands are strong, but also surprisingly-dexterous. Isliklid skin comes in a variety of tones, ranging from purplish-black to pale blue-grey. Theirs is an extremely militant culture, exalting the warrior-scholar archetype above all others. Virtually all isliklid children are raised in crèches that resemble barracks as much as school and few choose not to enlist in the military for at least one tour. They define themselves largely by this cultural martial prowess, forming the backbone of the Hegemony’s military strength and providing a disproportionate number of soldiers for the Phalanx.

Rana are biologically-hardwired with the sort of self-centrism, manipulativeness, lack of empathy, and tendency towards risk-taking behavior that would characterize psychopathy in a human. Indeed, rana consider the lack of these traits to be a mental disease. Of all the races in the Hegemony, they are the most human-looking, albeit hairless and green-skinned. A monogendered species, they reproduce through a form of parthenogenesis; while they are typically described as female, they do not nurse their young and so lack breasts, giving them a weirdly-androgynous look. Because of their natural sociopathy, rana almost never willingly cooperate for their mutual benefit. They are constantly angling to advance their own agendas at the expense of others and will only ever submit to another’s authority in the face of demonstrable evidence that doing so is crucial to their own survival.

By far the least humanoid race in the Hegemony, the ranoch resemble nothing so much as a huge, radial mass of tentacles best described as a cross between an octopus and a sea star, with twelve main limbs for movement and manipulation and many smaller ones tipped in photoreceptors. They are both a cephalopod and a fungus, their bodies covered in colorful, bioluminescent patterns. Ranoch also have the distinction of being the most naturally-intelligent species known, on average possessing intellects well within the range of human genius and multi-lobed brains capable of conducting multiple, distinct thought-processes simultaneously.

Also called ‘ant-taurs’, the trithlili or trill are arthropods roughly the size of a horse or lion. They have three pairs of main limbs, all of which end in opposable claws, and half a dozen smaller pairs used mainly for basic manipulation. Their bodies are arranged in such a way that they can transition from loping along the ground on all six legs to a semi-upright gait almost instantaneously, hence the nickname. Their heads are broad, with two pairs of wide insectoid eyes and mouthparts that fold inwards. They do not use their mouths for speaking: instead, they communicate by piping air through holes in their horny, chitinous exoskeleton, their language distinctly musical in nature.

The average xoth stands at least seven feet tall, their bodies seemingly built from nothing but solid muscle, with squashed, reptilian faces and thick, leathery skin. Just one of their three-fingered hands could encircle a human head almost completely, and despite their considerable bulk, they move with impressive grace and agility. Xoth are biologically-predisposed to violence and aggression, both physically and mentally. Their bones are next to impossible to shatter and their hides provide a measure of protection against even modern ballistics, so a blow that would literally stove-in the ribcage of a human would hardly stop a xoth. It takes very little coaxing to elicit a territorial response from them, and once enraged, their hardwire imperative is to lash out at the perceived rival with the maximum amount of force.
4  Campaign Creation / Campaign Elements and Design / Re: The Hegemony: Teaser on: October 02, 2012, 10:26:12 AM
A full fucking century later, humanity’s still suffering from a nasty little case of the future shocks. No big surprise there, really, not after we were presented with what the late, great Ian M. Banks would describe as an “Outside Context Problem.” We were sitting-pretty, thinking we were the kings and queens of our own little corner of the Orion-Cygnus Arm and that we were going to go and spread ourselves across the stars when really, we were just a bunch of fucking bushmen making bamboo canoes with no idea our little island had just been annexed by an empire of strangely-colored people we couldn’t even fucking conceive of existing.

To say that the Hegemony “uplifted” the human race is like saying that the Romans “uplifted” the Gauls. Actually, you know what, it’s exactly like that. In Hegemony-jargon, it’s what’s known as a “hard integration”, which is weird, because I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a “soft integration.” As you may have gathered, the Hegemony is not some lovey-dovey liberal-ass United Federation of Planets with some Prime-fucking-Directive not to screw around with unenlightened savages who haven’t even worked out faster-than-light travel. It’s not a perfect translation, but the core philosophy of the Hegemony is something along the lines of “It is the necessity of the strong to dominate the weak, and the privilege of the weak to be dominated by the strong.”

Cheerful.

The Hegemony’s not, as we’d first theorized while they were barbecuing our capital cities, a single race. In fact, it’s a quasi-empire made up of roughly a dozen separate species:

The horned, predatory, hyper-social Askaji
The boneless, arboreal Haran
The militant, octopus-faced Isliklidae
The multi-eyed, chitin-covered Phoros
The monogendered, biologically-sociopathic Rana
The brilliant, amphibious, fungal-cephalopod Ranoch
The fluid, poly-sentient Samuac
The ophidian, near-human Silonim
The many-limbed, arthropodal Trithlili, though we usually just call them the Trill
The hulking, aggressive, ape-like Xoth


Running the show is the Hegemon Council. This is, while the Council members claim to rule in the benevolent interests of all peoples within their borders, only the five most powerful species actually get a seat on the Council and the voice in galactic politics that goes with it: the Isliklidae, the Rana, the Ranoch, the Trill, and the Xoth: the so-called 'Founding Races'. Everyone else, which you better believe includes humans, just has to put up with having a few petty ambassadors who get the privilege of groveling at the Hegemons’ feet, because the Hegemon Council absolutely does not fuck around when it comes to their subjects (ahem, citizens) disregarding their unquestionable authority. No, it doesn't matter that your race didn't ask to be uplifted, because it was for your own good and if you want it to continue being in your own good, you'll sit down, shut the hell up, and not make trouble for the Council.

Phalanx enforces the order of this authoritarian regime. Otherwise known as HegSec, they’re both the police and the military and they enforce the law like they’re in a fucking DMZ. Sure, there’s a whole convoluted legal system, trial by a jury of your peers and all that shit, but you fuck up any worse than a misdemeanor and you’re basically handing the Phalanx troopers who come calling license to shoot your ass in the street, if they’ve got a mind to. Membership is open to humans, but not a lot end up enlisting: unless you’ve got the brains to hack it as an officer or are just one hell of a fighter, the leadership more inclined to use you as an assault-drone they don’t have to pay for.
5  Campaign Creation / Campaign Elements and Design / The Hegemony (Slightly More Than a Teaser) on: October 01, 2012, 03:41:12 AM

Out of Character

This is the opening bit for a sci-fi setting that's been rattling around in my head longer than anything else. It's something of a mash-up of Mass Effect, Firefly, Samurai Jack, and Dr. Who: ultra-dystopian future where humanity's been forcibly integrated into an authoritarian version of the Federation. Hope this whets your appetites!

2033 must’ve been a good fucking year to be human.

The economy was improving, most of the major wars were winding down, we’d finally started to get climate change under control, and we were starting to make our first steps out into the cosmos. There was a colony on the moon, countless thousands living in Lagrange habitats, mining-probes scouting out the asteroid belt, and supposedly even talk of setting up shop on Mars for good this time. Oh, it must’ve been glorious.

It started with the long-range probes.

The next say, the Mars rovers stopped transmitting.

The day after that, Luna went silent.

And then geo-satellites began to go down. The whole telecommunications grid went dark. We panicked. But not as much as we should’ve.

Because that was the day the sky caught fire.

They say it was a show of force, meant to cow us into submission by showing that they were willing to slaughter a few thousand to accomplish their goals. The largest orbital habitats, blazing with nuclear fire. Then came the broadcast: unconditional surrender of every head of state, the complete demobilization of Earth’s military. Maybe they were too proud or too scared or just too fucking stupid to realize how pathetically outmatched we were as a species, but the leaders of the world decided to stand and fight. You want to know how it went?

Well, they don’t call it the Two-Day War for nothing.

The sky was full of attack-ships and landing craft, alien soldiers in powered armor ripping apart the defenders of every capitol city with weapons we had no defense against. Tehran self-destructed. The Old Russian Bastard ate his own gun before he let them take him. They executed the POTUS on the Capitol lawn. And then they looked at us, huddled and cowering before them, and welcomed us into the Hegemony.

And then came the ships. Ships so massive, so unimaginably-fucking-vast, their hulls blotted out the sun and their engines boiled away the clouds. Those who can remember say the Hegemony soldiers smiled as they rounded us up and herded us, all ten billion of us, into the cavernous holds of the Diaspora Ships, to be taken and repopulated across every corner of Hegemony space.

That was 100 years ago.
6  Campaign Creation / Campaign Elements and Design / Re: The Peerage on: September 26, 2012, 01:09:24 PM
sparkletwist: Yeah, I probably over-emphasized the oppressiveness of the Peerage and under-emphasized that while the Peers pretty much exclusively authoritarian in how they run their estates, they're not all "a boot stamping on a human face -- forever"-level totalitarian dictators. To a large degree, the setting's a willfully-anachronistic mashup of various historical tropes; so while the look and feel is broadly Regency/Victorian/Edwardian, the whole social system has a definite touch of Medieval feudalism. But, like I hinted at and really should have clarified better, plenty of Peers inhabit the area of "enlightened despots"  who don't necessarily see their tenants as disposable sources of income, but who also aren't particularly enthralled with the idea of free democracy and are still willing to use force to maintain their authority. For the good of the estate, of course. And just because peasants have the legal standing of cows or trees doesn't mean that Peers don't become attached to any of their servants.

Sorry if that's a very rushed, cursory response; I'm utterly swamped today, but still wanted to let you know I looked at your comments. I'll definitely be taking everything you said into account as I expand the setting further. Don't feel bad for giving me harsh constructive criticism. Like you said, it's one of the best ways to know what works and what doesn't.
7  Campaign Creation / Campaign Elements and Design / Re: The Peerage on: September 26, 2012, 10:25:17 AM

Exegesis

Is a ghost's mask a better reflection of the person than the ghost itself? What is beneath the mask?

The mask worn by a ghost embodies (if such a term should be applied to the incorporeal) the person they once were. The longer the shade has been dead, the more complex and exaggerated the features of this façade becomes, gradually taking a shape that is less and less recognizable as human as the spectre forgets what it was like to exist as one of the quick.  Those Peers who excel at necromancy suggest that it is possible to divine the nature of a ghost through careful examination of even minor details: the circumference of the eyes or the precise angle at which the corners of the mouth curve up or down, for instance.

Exegesis

Can the mask be separated?

To remove the mask from a ghost is to obliterate utterly their personalities and consign them to oblivion; such a feat requires powerful necromantic magics. When a spirit is ‘unmasked’, their remnants calcify in the form of a literal, tangible mask. Such ‘death-masks’ are considered the part of a talented, if ruthless, necromancer and make for much conversation at masquerades.

Exegesis

Do Peers feel love? Do they practice charity? Do they wear their corruptions like garments, or is the taint more subtle? Is it shameful?

Though they bear an infernal patina, the Peers are still very much human, the taint offering no protection against the vagaries of the heart. They experience the entire spectrum of emotion and feeling every bit as intensely as any peasant, perhaps even more so. The culture of the Peerage reveres that which sets them apart and above the untainted peasantry: the popular nickname “Great Beast” is one ostensibly born of respect and admiration. Though they may be celebrated for behaving as monsters, they are expected to be rational, dignified monsters.

Despite this, not every Peer thinks the lives of their tenants have no worth beyond the tribute they provide, or cares nothing of taking the life of their lessers, or feels comfortable trafficking with the more malign of demons. Such opinions, however, rarely survive the ‘enlightened awfulness’ of the Peerage unblemished and uncompromised.

Exegesis

Are the Seven Inescapable Faults components of sorcery? Is each one tied to an element?

The Seven Inescapable Faults are less of absolute metaphysical truths and more of a broad philosophy seeking to explain why men and women act as they do, even when such actions will inevitably end with their downfall. They are simultaneously reviled and exalted, but more than anything, they are seen as just that: inescapable. The Peers consider it a simple fact of their condition that they feel the influence of the Faults more acutely than the lower class, so productively or artistically embracing them is a proper, even enlightening, thing to do…so long as one avoids the doom that often accompanies them. Consciously avoiding them altogether is seen as noble, in a naïve, humorous so of way, but ultimately shortsighted.

Important to remember is that they are the Seven Inescapable Faults, not Flaws: when you cut an unremarkable stone into a glittering diamond, you strike along the faults.

Exegesis

How does each flaw uniquely contribute to Peer society?

Hm. I honestly don’t know; I’ll get back to you on that. Any suggestions of your own?

As an existential threat: The Courts of the Fey dwell in the strange realm on the other side of the Border Marches, the path to which can only be found in wild, arcadian reaches. Goblin merchants emerge bearing fantastic wares to trade with members of the Peerage: strange fruits and spices, exotic brews, faespun textiles, enchanted spears and mirrors, and all manner of petty trinkets only they can produce. Some Peers also endeavor to make Contracts with them, for the oath of a Fey is of irreproachable worth and great power. In return for such boons, they often demand grim compensation: humans, infants most of all, are the preferred payment, though the traders can occasionally be convinced to accept something less macabre, but often immensely rarer.

But the Fey do not always cross the threshold with intentions of peace. Sometimes, they ride out from the Border Marches in force, on monstrous steeds, wielding their own strange magics, changeling footmen and hobgoblin war-beasts marching beside them. There are few, Peer or peasant, who do not fear the awful ring of the Wild Hunt, for it comes to kill and plunder and ravage without rhyme or reason, dragging the shrieking survivors back to their own lands in fetters. It is one of the reasons so many tenants willingly accept subjugation by the Peerage, for their infernal spells and familiars are far more effective against the otherworldly invaders than mortal arms. Indeed, doing battle against an incursion of the Wild Hunt is an easy way for a Peer to earn a reputation for military prowess, for the battles are deemed much more ‘legitimate’ than the half-ritualized skirmishes between rivals.

Out of Character

The rest to follow later, along with some new material. Thank you so much for these questions, Exegesis; you're really giving me the impetus to think about my setting a lot more intensely and critically instead of just dumping setting details onto a page. Keep it up! And definitely don't feel like you can't grab a lance and stab the setting full of bloody holes...though I honestly doubt you do.
8  Campaign Creation / Campaign Elements and Design / Re: The Peerage on: September 26, 2012, 01:18:13 AM

Exegesis

"A wife for a wife" suggests patrilineality. Are there female Peers? Are they held in the same esteem?

I'll answer this right away, if only because I totally sent the wrong message with that. I originally wrote it as "a husband for a husband", but that felt way too clunky and I never much liked the word spouse to begin with. The Peerage is near-perfectly egalitarian, in terms of gender. Women are accorded the exact same levels of status and esteem as men. They dress in the same livery and ride out to battle wielding gleaming lance and terrible hex. In a society where sexual characteristics have no bearing on whether or not a Peer can literally draw the soul from your body, gender roles among the elite are more or less nonexistent. I guess I'll also mention here that homosexuality is viewed as, at worst, an amusing eccentricity, with copulation between partners of the same sex serving no reproductive function. Usually.

Yeah, let that sink in for a moment.

And I've written no less than three PMs to Steerpike apologizing for plagiarizing, possibly plagiarizing, or thinking about possibly plagiarizing his work. Please don't make me write more. 
9  Campaign Creation / Campaign Elements and Design / Re: The Peerage on: September 26, 2012, 12:02:43 AM
I guess I'm next, then. And I was totally prepared to let this topic sink to the bottom of the forum and die a quiet, entropic death.

Well, here you are.

Exegesis

Did the first sorcerers acquire their tainted blood by accident or design? Are any of the Peers' demonic ancestors "alive" today? Do the Peers feel any sense of kinship with demons?

The narcissism of the Peerage is truly impressive; as an institution, it displays an almost contemptuous attitude towards histories that date before the individuals’ lifetimes. As such, there are no complete records or accounts of how the infernal taint first entered into the bloodlines. The various dynasties each hold to their own, often-contradictory traditions, some of which state that their ancestors intermingled with demons intentionally, others claiming that they were instead the victims of rapacious predation. Some refuse to dwell on such hypotheses altogether. The legendary demons who supposedly sired the Peers may well yet exist in the deepest bowels of their wretched dimension, the greatest of sacrifices made by the shadow and mystery cults made in their awful names.

Exegesis

Do their tenants know the source of sorcerous power? If so, what do they think of it?

The peasants who dwell on the Peer’s estates are acutely, horribly aware of where their powers come from. While this cowering terror is entirely justified by the empirical evidence of just how hideously a demon can mangle or kill an upstart tenant, it often blossoms into exaggerated superstition. Most of the lower class is not, for instance, aware that the Peers’ magic is almost entirely dependent on their familiars: the common assumption is that their inherent abilities are far more potent than they actually are. In the face of such power, some among the peasantry rage and plot, but in doing so risk terrible punishment. Most tenants simply endure their trembling, paranoid existence and seek to avoid the attentions of their landlords whenever possible.

Exegesis

Does the right of pits and gallows extend to a sorcerer's own children?

One of the petty curses of the Peer’s blood is that it is incredibly difficult for them to conceive children, with many different herbal potions and treatments required simply for the seed to take root. Even then, the fruit that develops is often morbidly tainted. It is because this unfortunate fact that Ladies traditionally give birth blindfolded, so as not to have to look up a twisted, hideous stillbirth…or worse.

But when the child is healthy and viable, they are, from the moment their cord is cut and they are severed from their mother, one of the Peerage. They are expected to be treated as such, though they are equally duty-bound to show deference to their elder family until they come of age.

Far easier is it for Peers to sire children with peasants. Such bastards rarely express any inkling of sorcerous power; those that do may be accepted into the Peerage, while those who do not are treated as any other tenant, which includes sharing their status under the right of pits and gallows. Several Peers have exercised such rights to keep their indiscretions from becoming known.

Exegesis

Can Peers become "unblooded", either literally or symbolically, and thereby subject to the perils of mundane existence?

Exegesis

Do the Peers have a moral code? Is there any principle or power to which sorcerers are accountable?

If there is a central tenet to which all Peers hold themselves, it is this: do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Everyone is responsible for his or her own actions, permitted to do whatever they desire but expected to accept the consequences of their actions. An addendum to this broad code would be the principle of talionis: blood for blood, bone for bone, an heir for an heir, a wife for a wife.

Exegesis

Given the Peers' arcane insights, why is it only "common wisdom" that spilled blood keeps fields fertile, rather than an acknowledged truth of the setting's metaphysics?

While the elder demons in the bowels of the Nameless Spheres shriek and chatter with delight at the bloody sacrifices offered down to them by the mystery cults, it does not keep the land fertile. No, Peers to not assemble bands of men-at-arms and invade each other’s borders, hungry spirits beside them like baying hounds, to slay a handful of their rival’s tenants and usurp their lands as part of some arcane fertility ritual. They do it to expand their own estates, to increase their own reputation as a sorcerer to be feared, and to invigorate themselves and escape the entropic lure of absolute power. All other reasons are merely florid justifications concealing base motivations.

Exegesis

What do familiars think of their masters? How free are they to act in their own interest, if at all?

The ritual by which a spirit is bound as a familiar is a profoundly intimate one. The sorcerer slices off a miniscule sliver of their own soul and feeds it to the spirit, binding the two on an existential level. As such, no familiar ever holds a moderate opinion of their master. They are doggedly obsessed or fumingly embittered, slavishly devoted or furiously insubordinate. All, however, are obedient, though some may be more active in their attempts to subvert the spirit of their commands. Bound as they are to the sorcerer, familiars can be magically compelled to action they refuse to undertake willingly, but most retain their own distinctive personalities and are often very vocal in expressing their opinions, good or ill.

Exegesis

When familiars become corporeal, where do they get their substance from?

When a demon coalesces in the material realm, it adopts a form comprised of the Hateful Element, a substance native to the horrid realm from which they are spawned. Ghosts assume bodies of ectoplasm; eidolons, condensed psychic energy; and elementals are obviously composed of one of the seven natural elements: air, earth, water, fire, sulfur, salt, or mercury.

Exegesis

Is a demonic familiar safe to keep around the house?

The make life a living hell for the staff, if that’s what you’re asking.

Exegesis

Do demons have an antithesis?

It is a quiet fear amongst the Peerage that there exist higher realms every bit as alien as the Nameless Spheres below, home to entities hostiles to demons and by extension, the Peers themselves. As of yet, such paranoia has proven to be mercifully-unfounded.

Exegesis

Can ghosts become people again?

A ghost is but a hollow shell of what was once a living soul, their personality a distorted echo. When the body dies and putrefies, so too does the spirit it contained, all warmth and vibrancy sloughing off until all the remains is a spectre wearing the masque of the person it once was.

Exegesis

Do sorcerers ever travel to the Underworld, and if so, how dangerous is it? Do all souls end up in the Underworld, and if not, where do they go?

To drop the in-character tone, I’m actually considering doing away with the idea of the Underworld as a distinct realm altogether. I was inspired by a quote that supposedly originated from an actual exorcisms: “the living are surrounded by their dead.”

Exegesis

The Seven Inescapable Faults: are they faults in the human character or faults in the fabric of the world?

The Seven Inescapable Faults are the tragic flaws inherent in all people, but most of all in the greatest among them, the Peers. Hubris, Lust, Wrath, Avarice, Gluttony, Sloth, Envy: the meek revile them, for they can drive men and women to acts of unspeakable wretchedness, but they can also elevate them to works of unparalleled greatness. They are the seven dooms all Peers seek to avoid, but knowing they are powerless to do so, endeavor to face on their own terms.
10  Campaign Creation / Campaign Elements and Design / The Peerage on: September 20, 2012, 07:08:31 PM

Out of Character

More to come soon. Just wanted to know what you all thought of the writing style and general concept.

The Peerage

To say that the Sorcerer Lords and Ladies hold their titles and lands by right of breeding is no poetic flourish, for there is a power inherent in their blood, an infernal taint that elevates them to their noble position. That allows them to subtly pluck at the warp and weave of reality’s tapestry, to ensnare the hearts, minds, even souls of others, or to unfetter their own. That gives them the authority to conjure forth demons and spirits, to bind and subjugate them to their own wills, to banish them back to their own realms when their usefulness is at an end.

It is this arcane nobility that forms the Peerage, the ruling class. Every Peer who has come of age rules over an expansive estate, and within this domain their authority is absolute, each a sovereign beholden to no one but themselves. The tenants who live on their lands are as much a part of their property as the fields and hills, and every Peer has the right of “pits and gallows”: that is, the right to imprison or execute any of their subjects as they see fit. Some rule as enlightened despots with benevolent philosophies and codified laws, but just as many are tyrannical landlords governed by their most fleeting whims and moods. They also have the right to raise a personal guard to protect themselves and their lands, for the borders of their estates seldom go untested. If a Peer cannot stop a rival from seizing his land, then he was clearly not deserving of it, and it is common wisdom that spilled blood keep the fields fertile. Peers may not slay one another outside of a formal duel, for which the challenger is expected to provide significant evidence. However, should a Peer be murdered, their friends and kin are obligated to seek bloody revenge on their behalf. These tenants, and many lesser ones, form a Code which has never been put to paper, yet which every Peer observes.

The Familiar

Key to the power of the Sorcerer Lords and Ladies are their familiars. While they are capable of working spells on their own, they are limited to invisible, subtle magics. To affect more overt changes, they require the assistance of a familiar, a spirit, almost invariably a demon, bound to the Peer themself. The familiar does not suffer the same restrictions as the sorcerer and so are capable of far more vulgar magics: conjuring flames, granting invisibility, inflicting poxes, levitating objects or persons…there is very little limit to what they are capable of, given the right spirit.

Most familiars exist as incorporeal spirits, fetches, visible only to their summoner and those who have expanded their perception through spells. While normally incapable of physically affecting the world around them, they are capable of manifesting directly, if temporarily. Some familiars, otherwise called imps, do possess corporeal form, though they are never larger than a child.

Demons

Demons are spirits alien and utterly hostile to mortal reality, though they come in varying degrees of wickedness. Their forms, ephemeral and physical both, are always awful or grotesque in some way. Despite this, they are the favored familiars of sorcerers both because of the potency and versatility of their magics, and because those that cannot simply be dominated can be easily bargained with.

Ghosts

Imperfect echoes of the deceased, ghosts are the unquiet dead. The personalities they once had in life are inevitably warped and twisted, first by the trauma of death, then by the cold, grey stasis of the Underworld. When summoned, they invariably manifest bearing a mask, which supposed contains some cryptic symbolism. While their powers are often limited, they are often more useful sources of information than the capricious demons, even if their memories are tarnished.

Daimons

Daimons are conjured not from any otherworldly realm, but from the sorcerer’s own inner psyche. More often than not, they embody one of the Seven Inescapable Faults, resembling a warped, caricatured version of the summoner.

Out of Character

The world as a whole resembled a mashup of Regency, Victorian, and Edwardian-era culture, fashion, and architecture.

Technology is extremely idiosyncratic: most homes are lit by gaslight, there are few (if any) firearms, and advanced technologies like the telephone or automobile function by spirits bound within their mechanisms.

I know it's not much yet, but I'll keep updating as much as I can.
11  Campaign Creation / Homebrews / Re: The Occult Underground on: August 27, 2012, 10:37:32 AM
Added bits about Ghosts and The Ridden, fleshed-out Faeries, named the Power Sources and Magics for the different supernaturals.

Right now I'm working on an actual geographical write-up for Kentucky which, in addition to being my native state, never seems to be used as a setting for this (or really any other) type of horror. I'm juggling this with school starting, so it's going pretty slowly, but I hope to have something worth reading soon.
12  Campaign Creation / Homebrews / Re: The Occult Underground on: July 25, 2012, 11:03:09 PM
I'd heard bits and snippets about Nightlife before and always thought it sounded like a cool retro-RPG, but now that I've gone ahead and actually read the book, I've got a whole new appreciation for it. Mind you, it's 90s as fuck, incredibly on-the-nose, and leaves practically nothing up to the imagination, but I dig the heavy emphasis on splatterpunk (something that's definitely going to be a major theme in my setting). I also like their mix-and-match system for supernatural powers. I don't know if I'll necessarily go with that sort of system, a stripped-down version of Storyteller, or something completely different.

Anyway, I've narrowed down the list of supernaturals that will make up the majority of the Occult Underground. They are...

Vampires

AKA: Vampers, fangs, Counts, Orlocks, Draculas.

The perfect pale poster-children for the Occult Underground, the unliving embodiment of what happens when you mix the Victorian’s ridiculous sexual repression with an unhealthy obsession with death and a dash of paranoia about mysterious foreigners defiling their virginal women. One part necrophilia, one part cannibalism, one part sexual predation. Mix well and serve over ice.

Power source: Vitae

Magic: Disciplines


Shapeshifters

AKA: Weres, shifters, ferals, ‘thropes (from therianthropes).

Aristotle called man a “rational animal”. Well, as it turns out, some of us got a little less of the rational and a whole fuck of a lot more of the animal. People like to focus on werewolves because they’re a nice balance of sexy and terrifying, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Were-cats. Were-bears. Were-spiders. Were-falcons. Even fucking were-alligators.

Power source: Feral Heart

Magic: Aspects


Faeries

AKA:  Fey, the Fair Folk, Grimms, goblins, Morgan (as a name).

Even next to talking corpses sipping blood martinis and skin-changing beast-men, faeries are a bunch of weird little fuckers. Most of them look like they stepped from the pages of some Black Forest fable that would make the Brothers Grimm’s beards curl. Which of course leads to the annoying-ass chicken-egg about whether or not they inspired primitive folktales or just ripped them off, but that’s neither here nor fucking there. I’m not even going to begin to try and categorize them: it’s a madcap clusterfuck of sprites, elves, pixies, trolls, ogres, goblins, nymphs, both familiar and different enough to get their asses way the fuck down in the Uncanny Valley.

Power source: Glamour

Magic: Contracts


Ghouls

AKA: Zombies, Zeds, wights, Cannibal Corpses.

Ghouls are a lot like vampires, only cranked all the way up to eleven. They died (for realsies) and when they came back, they came back wrong. Really, really fucking wrong. Their emotions are so dull they’re basically fucking sociopaths. There’s only one passion in existence: the Hunger. It’s a constant buzzing, an inescapable ache, and they will do anything, ANYTHING, to try and satisfy it…however brief that satisfaction might be.

Power source: ?

Magic: ?


Ghosts

AKA: Caspers, sheets, haunts, phantoms.

As you may or may not have been able to deduce thus far, everybody dies but not everybody dies quietly or for very long. Ghosts were once mortals who shuffled off this mortal coil but got cold feet when they dipped their toes in the River Styx and came running right the fuck back to the land of the living. But just like your boyfriend after he found out what you pulled over Spring Break, it wouldn’t have them back. So they haunt their old stomping-grounds, incorporeal, invisible, untouchable.

Power source: Essence

Magic: Numina


The Ridden

AKA: Linda Blairs, horses, channellers, Voodoo Children.

It must really suck being human and having so many invisible horrors that just want to fuck you over in all sorts of creative ways. As frail as they are, mortal bodies look really, really good to all sorts of insidious little nasties that, if they can find a way in, make themselves real comfortable in some poor fucker’s grey matter. In a particularly-horrific team-building exercise, the two minds are smashed together and something loosely-resembling a whole personality sometimes crawls from the wreckage.

Power source: Synthesis

Magic: Mutilations
13  Campaign Creation / Homebrews / Titanomachy on: July 25, 2012, 08:45:42 PM

Out of Character

Something I put together a while ago that been gathering dust in my Documents folder. I figured I'd toss it up here and see what you all think.

It is a myth as old as human history.

The Enuma Elish. The Song of Kumarbi. Æsir-Vanir War. The Titanomachy. The New Gods make war upon the Old, casting them down and imprisoning them, before assuming their position lording over mankind.

Well, it’s true. Almost.

In the ancient times, the Old Gods really did walk the face of the earth, but they weren’t any sort of god you would recognize, much less worship. They were god-monsters of enormous power and terrifying inhumanity, for they existed long before the most distant ancestor of Man ever came down from the trees. They were part of the world itself, true elementals. They were the living earth, the endless sky, the crushing pressure of the deep. They were the grinding inexorability of plate tectonics and the screaming nuclear fire at the heart of the sun. They were the killing instinct, the survival of the fittest.

They were the Titans. They were the Jotunn. They were Tiamat. They were Leviathan and Behemoth.

But in time, the clever apes that became mankind arose and spread and began to settle the land. As they built cities and farms and palaces for themselves, they began to fear and hate the primal cruelty of the Old Gods. They wanted gods of their own, gods who resembled them and thought like them, gods for their young civilization to worship in temples and ziggurats. So they assembled these new gods, a great DIVINITY-MACHINE. And the DIVINITY-MACHINE and the ANGELS and the AVATARS made war upon the Old Gods, forcing them from reality and imprisoning them in the Spaces Beyond Space. In the limbo, slumbering, dead but not dying, they remain.

In truth, no barrier is impenetrable, no prison inescapable. Cripples and fettered though they be, the Old Gods are still beings of unimaginable potency. In their deathless dreaming, they can manifest the slimmest shards of their power, thin enough to slither through the cracks in mortal reality. The these tendrils have wrapped themselves around the bloodlines of humanity, tainting blood, warping DNA, passing down tiny fragments of the Old God’s power: a god-shard. Rarely, very rarely, this shard takes root in an unborn mortal. It transforms them, tainting their mind, body, and soul in a way unseen in nature.

Turning them into a godspawn.


What exactly is a godspawn, you might ask?

To be frank, they’re the distant, distant offspring of an Old God. They have a beating, throbbing shard of raw, inhuman power buried deep within their souls and potent ichor flowing through their veins. They’re an alien demigod, though nothing so neat and heroic as Hercules or Cuchulain.

There’s no telling how many fragments of Old God there are, drifting through the human gene pool, and it’s probably better that we don’t know. Be it genetics, environment, random chance, or the unknowable will of an Old God themselves, every so often a shard sticks to some lucky (or unlucky, you decide) unborn child.

It isn’t until puberty starts to set in that the changes really begin. There’s the prelude: several weeks, maybe even months, of bizarre nightmares, unexplainable aches and cramps, unintelligible voices no one else can hear. They might vomit up bile, leak blood or mucus from places they’re not supposed to, and it often feels like they have molten metal or liquid nitrogen running through their veins. It’s all leading up to something. Something important.

The Metamorphosis: it’s a horrifying, dramatic transformation, the point at which the unreality festering inside the young godspawn finally metastasizes. Flesh bubbles, ripples, and twists. Hair falls out; so do teeth. They sprout eyes, limbs, fangs, tendrils. Sometimes the pain is unbearable; sometimes, it’s the absence of any pain that’s the most disturbing.

And as they lie there, trashing, warping, they hear it. Whispering to them, in a language they have never heard but understand perfectly, is the voice of their progenitor. It is the first time, but never the last.

Like a butterfly gaining the power of flight as it emerges from its cocoon, the Metamorphosis grants the newly-ascended godspawn abilities commensurate with their divine heritage. While these may vary immensely, one universal to all godspawn is the power to summon up the unnatural taint written into their genetic code and assume a form befitting a descendant of an Old God. Popularly termed “the chrysalis”, the transformation is not a direct one: there are several distinct stages each bringing the godspawn closer to the ultimate expression of their otherworldly heritage. That final form, the “Apotheosis”, is invariably a terrible one. Well beyond the human scale and impossible to mistake for anything natural, its sheer monstrousness triggers a primal reaction in human witnesses, lizard brains shrieking in rejection of the thing that should not be. Even the most potent of godspawn cannot maintain this form forever, however: the pressures of reality eventually force them to assume a less-alien shape.

Related to the chrysalis is the ability to selectively transform individual body parts into inhuman appendages, one that virtually every godspawn cultivates at some point. These minor transmutations still trigger a reaction in humans who see them, albeit a much less severe one.

The majority of the godspawn’s powers, like those of their Old God progenitors, are tied directly to their physical forms and the ichor that flows through their veins. They can…

Increase their strength, stamina, and dexterity to superhuman levels.
Turn their flesh into a natural armor, rendering it all-but-impervious assault.
Produce natural weapons, from fang-filled maws to lashing tentacles to clusters of wickedly-sharp talons.
Grow to enormous size, anywhere from a large SUV to a blue whale.
Achieve flight with or without wings.
Move with inhuman grace and alacrity.
Imbue their physical form, whether a limb or their entire body, with elemental energy: fire, electricity, nuclear radiation, superheated flame, etc.
Telepathically dominate lesser minds.
Render themselves impossible to perceive.

Out of Character

To follow: the Old Gods and their get, the DIVINITY-MACHINE, Outer Demons, and sample characters.

Still no idea what system I'm going to use to run this.
14  Campaign Creation / Homebrews / Re: The Occult Underground on: July 21, 2012, 10:41:35 AM
Beautifully put DeeL, beautifully put. That really helped me crystallize the direction I want the setting to go in, so thank you very much for your input.

I'm thinking in the world of the Occult Underground, the supernatural's always been something that's lurked just beneath the surface, behind the absolute thinnest of veils. The only thing that ever kept it a secret was low population densities, limitations in information technology, and a general refusal of most mortals to accept the bloodsucking elephant in the room. It's only in the past couple of decades that things have begun to change, that the protective masquerade has begun to peel away, with the monsters finally "coming out of the coffin" within the past decade. Even now though, they're still not widely accepted, or even acknowledged at all. They may have a presence in pop culture, but they still have a world of their own that regular humans don't really understand and aren't all that welcome in. It's a bit like the Mafia or the Free Masons: it's not hard to find out who they are or even where they meet, but not a lot of outsiders have any idea what goes on with them.

How's that sound?

I'll post up my reworked list of supernatural categories. Right this instant, they're probably going to be Vampire, Shapeshifter, Faerie, Ghoul, Ghost, and Possessed, but that's subject to change.
15  Campaign Creation / Homebrews / Re: The Occult Underground on: July 21, 2012, 08:05:45 AM
Pending my fleshing-out of some new ideas of mine and posting them up here, I wanted to know if people thought a) that this was an idea worth continuing and b) whether I should go with a setting where the supernatural exists in it's own highly-secretive world (a la the World of Darkness or Underworld) or where it is public knowledge (more like True Blood or the Anita Blake series)?
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