28 June 2013

Earthdawn: Part 26 - Lightbearers

This is the twenty-sixth part in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

As presented, Lightbearers are not one of my favorite elements in the Earthdawn setting - this should come as little surprise. There are a few reasons for this. First, with little exception they represent an unambiguous force of good standing against the darkness. This undercuts the horror elements of the setting too much for my taste. Second, their abilities are extremely powerful, varied and with minimal cost. Third, those abilities tread significantly on what the Horror Stalker already offers. Granted, Lightbearers were introduced into the setting first, but the Horror Stalker fits my interpretation of the setting much better. Fourth... I could go on, but I think the picture I'm trying to paint is clear: as presented, I do not like them.

That being said, it doesn't mean everyone has to agree with me. Nor does it mean that I don't think they have a place in the setting; I think they do, though it is an ugly role. To be up front, none of this is canon to the setting, though it does build significantly on the various metaphysical elements already in place and could easily be inserted into a game (including an ongoing one). It will rebuild the various abilities granted Lightbearer Ranks to be in-line with Third Edition and the ideas presented here.


The Lightbearers are a secret society founded prior to the Scourge ostensibly to learn about the Horrors: how to fight them, erase their effects on the world, catalog this knowledge for future generations, and ultimately preparing for the next Scourge. There is a story about a dwarf named Nicolez Trund that formed the organization with these lofty and noble intentions. How he used his connections around Barsaive to gather information and gathered like-minded individuals around himself. About the lengths they went to maintaining their secrecy so that the Horrors could never strike at which they did not realize existed.

They are wonderful stories and still shared by Lightbearers, but they are not true, not entirely. Like all great lies, they are built with some truth. There most likely was a Nicolez Trund, and he was well connected, using that reach to gather others around him with this tale. Considerable lengths were gone to, and still are, to maintain the secrecy of the organization from Horrors and other Namegivers alike. The reasons as to why this was done is considerably more sinister.

From the very beginning, the Lightbearers were not what they seemed. While arguments could be made that the founding was conceived with the purest of intentions, it is impossible to know - that history has been long buried along with everyone who may know the details. What matters is that the Lightbearers have always been a conspiracy bent on influencing Barsaive. Powerful adepts are recruited in secret to their cause and directed to often mysterious ends by the leadership of the Lightbearers, the Swords of Light. Most of the time these actions lead to the discovery and defeat of Horrors, but other times the ends are not clear.

At the heart of the Lightbearers, what binds them together and grants their power, is what they refer to as the Great Pattern. All Lightbearers are bound to this Pattern by a Thread they Weave upon joining the organization. During their gatherings, conducted in secrecy, the Lightbearers theorize of the nature of the Great Pattern. The most popular theory is that it is the very Pattern of the world they have bound themselves to, that it seeks to rid itself of the unnatural pollution of the Horrors. A lesser theory, though still popular, is that it is the gestalt Pattern of the Passions of Barsaive, even the mad Passions banding together out of a desire to free themselves from their torture.

None of those are the truth. The Great Pattern is actually an extremely large and powerful variant of a Group Pattern. As new Lightbearers initiate into the organization, they select an emblem to represent their commitment to the organization and it is emblazoned with the symbol of the Lightbearers, which becomes a Pattern Item and their connection to the Great Pattern. They take an Oath to serve and maintain the secrecy of the Lightbearers at all costs. Even a new name is taken, though it does not yet replace their true Name. Even those that accompany the newly inducted Lightbearer swear an Oath to this organization (known as Oathtakers). While only the inductee is joining the Group, all are swearing a Blood Oath to them. This is powerful blood magic beyond what is commonly used - there is no duration associated with this Oath. It is forever.

All of this circles around a single question: to what end? As stated previously, every good lie is built on a foundation of truth. There are many goals that the Lightbearers further, but the most important is cataloging their knowledge for those that follow them, preserving it, preparing for the next Scourge. The Horror (perhaps Horrors?) that crafted the Great Pattern have a vested interest in ensuring that they way is paved for their return. There is nothing more they would like than to see the Lightbearers rise again when they can cross over once more.

In a more immediate sense, they feed from the Great Pattern on the Lightbearers, directly and indirectly. As a Lightbearer reaches to the Great Pattern to help them executing their duties, all of that pain, fear and blood is transferred to the Horror, who grows fat and powerful. Their very presence unwittingly sows those same seeds in the populace just as it eliminates competition. Over time, as the adept draws more and more upon the Great Pattern, their Name will change to that which they chose during their initiation. At that time, whoever they once were is lost - there is still a facade, but that is all it is. Upon the death of any Lightbearer, their very essence is drawn into the Great Pattern; all of their power and memories, their Pattern and all that they are.

The reasons this conspiracy have never been revealed are two-fold. First, virtually no Lightbearers know the truth. They believe that these secrets must be kept to protect their organization from potential attack from Horrors were they to find out. It is their own secrecy that works against them. Second, even if they were to find out, they would have to break their Oath to reveal anything. Who would trust an Oathbreaker? It's the whole point of being marked an Oathbreaker. Even if they were believed, wouldn't they be among the first struck down, clearly under the influence of an insidious Horror-driven plot? Even given all of these things, there are still their very comrades in arms that can be turned against them.


Presented here are the abilities taken from the Earthdawn Companion (First Edition), updated to work with the Third Edition rules and the ideas presented above. Only mechanics that have been updated or changed are being presented, along with a brief description of the Knack. 

The only function that the basic Lightbearer Talent provides is Shimmer, which serves to conceal the Lightbearer's identity. The rest of the abilities are Knacks for the Lightbearer Talent, which is a Novice tier Talent. Lightbearer has no default action type and each Knack has it's own action type.

Light Symbol (Rank: 1)
Step: N/A
Action: Standard
Strain: 1
Effect: The Lightbearer's emblem glows as bright as a torch for Rank x 10 minutes.

Light Sprite (Rank: 2)
Step: N/A
Action: Standard
Strain: 2
Effect: A small, intelligent spirit is conjured to deliver a message. It lasts for Rank days and the Strain cannot be healed until the spirit dissipates.

Radiant Circle (Rank: 3)
Step: N/A
Action: Simple
Strain: 1
Effect: A glowing white circle 4 yards in diameter is created that protects the Lightbearer and all Oathtakers within from Horrors and Horror constructs as long as the the Lightbearer remains within the Radiant Circle. The Circle lasts for Rank minutes and may be automatically renewed upon expiry. Protection is only provided against Named Horrors if the Lightbearer knows their Name and whispers it as they use this Knack. There are some Horrors and their constructs that this Knack inexplicably does not work against.

Heal Believer (Rank: 4)
Step: N/A
Action: Standard
Strain: 1
Effect: This Knack allows the Lightbearer to channel the Great Pattern to heal Lightbearers and Oathtakers. Unknown to the Lightbearer, there is always a cost to the Knack paid by someone else their Pattern has touched, it may take time for the debt to accumulate, but it is always paid in full.

Karma Transfer (Rank: 5)
Step: N/A
Action: Standard
Strain: 2 per Karma
Effect: In times of need, a Lightbearer may draw Karma directly from the Great Pattern (and the dead Lightbearers that have joined it), up to their Rank. This Knack may only be used once per day. As the Karma is drawn into their body, they are wracked with pain from the memories of those before them invading their mind and glow with a terrifying light from within. After the pain quickly fades, the feeling is addictive as the power of the Great Pattern courses through their veins. This Knack often causes ripples in their Threads and Patterns, particularly through continual usage, and the Lightbearer will tend to think in terms of their name within the organization or the memories they absorbed, rather than their Name.

Ease Wounds (Rank: 6)
Step: Rank
Action: Standard
Strain: 1
Effect: Penalties from healing due to Wounds are reduced, though with the same cost as Heal Believer.
Edge of Light (Rank: 7)
Step: N/A
Action: Simple
Strain: 1
Effect: The Lightbearer's attack glows with a blazing light, increasing the damage against Horror's and Horror constructs by the Rank. Damage against Namegivers is increased by 3 and causes terrible pain as they briefly relive other moments of terror and pain they have suffered. Use of this Knack must be declared prior to an attack roll. This Knack will only work against Named Horrors if the Lightbearer whispers that Name as they use this Knack. There are some Horrors and their constructs that this Knack inexplicably does not work against.

Refuse Horror (Rank: 8)
Step: Rank + Charisma
Action: Free
Strain: 1
Effect: Resist the effects of an attack against Social Defense from a Horror or Horror Construct. This Knack will only work against Named Horrors if the Lightbearer whispers that Name as they use this Knack. There are some Horrors and their constructs that this Knack inexplicably does not work against.

Lesser Incarnation (Rank: 9)
Step: N/A
Action: N/A
Strain: 0
Effect: Bestow Talent Ranks to a lucky recipient upon Lightbringer's death. The recipient must them join the Lightbearers or lose these Talent Ranks.

Avoid Horror Magic (Rank: 10)
Step: Rank + Willpower
Action: Free
Strain: 1
Effect: Resist the effects of an attack against Spell Defense from a Horror or Horror Construct. This Knack will only work against Named Horrors if the Lightbearer whispers that Name as they use this Knack. There are some Horrors and their constructs that this Knack inexplicably does not work against.

Armor of Light (Rank: 11)
Step: N/A
Action: Simple
Strain: 1
Effect: The Physical and Mystic Armor Ratings of the Lightbearer are increased against attacks from Horrors and Horror constructs by Rank for one round. This may be renewed for 1 Strain. This Knack will only work against Named Horrors if the Lightbearer whispers that Name as they use this Knack. There are some Horrors and their constructs that this Knack inexplicably does not work against.

Heal Any (Rank: 12)
Step: Rank + Charisma
Action: Standard
Strain: 1
Effect: Similar to Heal Believer (with all of the same downsides), but will work on any Namegiver. In the long run, it rarely turns out well for the Namegiver as they will often end up with a Horror Mark.

Karma Increase (Rank: 13)
Step: N/A
Action: N/A
Strain: 0
Effect: All Karma gained through Karma Transfer has it's Step increased by 1. This Knack may be repurchased at Rank 14 and Rank 15, each time increasing the Step by 1 more. Possessing this Knack makes the effects of Karma Transfer significantly greater, for better or worse (mostly worse).

Greater Incarnation (Rank: 14)
Step: N/A
Action: N/A
Strain: 0
Effect: Similar to Lesser Incarnation, only more so.

Astral Shift (Rank: 15)
Step: N/A
Action: Standard
Strain: 3
Effect: The Lightbearer may move into or out of Astral Space (each counts as a separate use of the Knack), taking additional Lightbearers or Oathtakers up to their Rank. Each additional Namegiver costs another 3 Strain and all Strain is take at once (this may result in a Wound).

25 June 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 07 - Es'Caliban Part 2

This is the seventh Anatomy of a Thread Item in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

Part One of this series.

Previously the skeleton of a Thread Item along with some vague ideas was written. This is going to expand significantly only those ideas and put down some mechanics to go with them. Nothing yet is written in stone and there is always tweaks to balance the Thread Item when all of the major Effects have been developed.

There is a back story which will require elaboration along with the Key Knowledge and Deeds, but that will mostly be saved until the mechanics are complete. In the interest of disclosing all elements of this process, I'm keeping that until the end because I already have a foundation for the back story. That basis will serve to guide the mechanics, but unnecessary detail at this stage may simply distract me and the mechanics may very well end up informing some of that story. Also, I tend to re-write it a lot and no one needs to see every single change I make there.

Below are the current Effects that have been developed along with commentary specifically for Ranks that have changed in some way. Again, italics note Effects that are still being considered (which is nearly everything).

Maximum Threads: 3
Spell Defense: 19
Legend Point Cost: Warden

Thread Rank One
Key Knowledge: The wielder must learn the sword’s Name.
Effect: The sword is now Damage Step 8.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: The sword is now Damage Step 9.

Thread Rank Three
Key Knowledge: The wielder must learn the Name of who created the sword.
Effect: The wielder gains a +1 Rank bonus to Inspire Others.This Talent may be used simply by brandishing the weapon.

Inspire Others is going to be the linchpin of this Thread Item. It is going to provide the Talent and expand on it quite a bit. Since not all characters will have this Talent, bonuses need to be provided to it early on to make it possible to use. The damage bonus here was eliminated because Inspire Others is a fairly powerful Talent and this Thread Item will build on it.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: The sword is now Damage Step 10? Additionally, the wielder gains a +2 Rank bonus to Inspire Others.

This Rank maintains the Damage bonus and includes another Inspire Others bonus to keep the fact this is also a weapon front and center. Bonuses to miscellaneous Talents like Inspire Others are fun, but aren't terribly sexy in the same way that damage is. This is a balancing act to keep it interesting, but not overpowered.

Thread Rank Five
Key Knowledge: ???
Deed: ???
Effect: Brilliant Edge: For 2 Strain, Inspire Others may be used as a Simple Action instead of a Standard Action. Additionally, the wielder gains a +3 Rank bonus to Inspire Others.

Rank Five is powerful, there is no doubt about that. There are some other considerations going into this. Specifically, the economy of actions. If a dedicated fighter (e.g. CavalrymanSwordmaster, Warrior, etc.) has this weapon, their action is likely better spent on actually attacking. The significant Strain should make it somewhat of a decision (though it may need to be increased). Also, I like to give my Effects like this names so that it's easier to call them out at the table and fun.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: The sword is now Damage Step 11. Additionally, the wielder gains a +4 Rank bonus to Inspire Others.

Some useful bonuses after a big Effect. Nothing special, though I will be keeping an eye on this Rank for replacement if something neat occurs to me (or opening up some Legendary Ranks).

Thread Rank Seven
Key Knowledge: ???
Deed: ???
Effect: For 2 Strain, Brilliant Edge may also cause fear in the wielder's enemies. This is resolved using the same Inspire Others Test Result and functions as Battle Bellow. Additionally, the wielder gains a +1 Rank bonus to Lion Heart.

Another big Effect that builds on Inspire Others. The Strain cost to pull this off is considerable (4), but it can be a devastating buff/debuff combo - or fail horrifically with a bad roll. Using a single roll encourages loading up modifiers on that one roll, but will also save table time and maintain a more consistent narrative: if it is great, it's great all around, if it's unimpressive, then no one is impressed.

The bonus to Lion Heart is simply because I wanted to include it in this Thread Item and this was the perfect place. It's a fun, but not terribly powerful Talent.

Thread Rank Eight
Effect: The sword is now Damage Step 12. Additionally, the wielder gains a +5 Rank bonus to Inspire Others.

Nothing special to note here, just incremental improvements. It is a little drab for the final Rank before Legendary Ranks. Some sprucing could be useful around here, though I am reluctant to make the Thread Item too powerful.

Thread Rank Nine
Key Knowledge: ???
Deed: ???
Effect: W
hen using Brilliant Edge, Difficulty Number increases by +1 for every two additional targets (round up) and the range extends to Rank x 6 yards. Additionally, the wielder gains a +2 Rank bonus to Lion Heart

I decided to start in on the Legendary Ranks; these are from Deeds performed after the creation of the Thread Item. The details of what that is are gestating still, but it is likely going to be a battle against overwhelming odds in some way.

The Effect at this Rank makes it much more effective against larger crowds. The average Group isn't likely to get much mileage from the additional range (which is only relevant for the fear Effect), but reduced difficulty is always good, even if only a little.

Thread Rank Ten
Effect: The wielder gains +1 to Physical Defense and Social Defense. Additionally, the wielder gains a +3 Rank bonus to Lion Heart.

Going along with the Legendary Rank, I thought that some defensive bonuses would be good and show that it has grown in new ways.

21 June 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 07 - Es'Caliban Part 1

This is the seventh Anatomy of a Thread Item in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

Part 2 of this series

This marks the beginning of an experiment of sorts. I've shown some Thread Items that I have created for my home game in varying degrees of detail. Often going into detail about the choices that I made to get to the finished product. What I haven't done is actually show that process as it occurs.

A significant reason for all of these articles on Earthdawn is to give others some tools to make getting into the game easier. Given that, the goal of this article (and the subsequent parts) is to make the process of creating a Thread Item more transparent and approachable. To help this process, I would like it to be more interactive and I will be paying particular attention to the comments for suggestions and questions.

For the final entry, I will go into the mechanics of how the Thread Item could actually be created with the system. This will just be an extended example of someone starting from scratch and actually creating the Thread Item with a particular technique. Hopefully all of the different options will be explored at some point.

The first Thread Item that is going to be created will be one from my game that I never particularly intended for a PC to get (or be used against them, for that matter). Which means I have done virtually no development on it, thus making it perfect. Later entries into this particular series will (hopefully) include requests from readers. Do you have a Thread Item you would like to see developed?


A brief trip into the back story of this Thread Item as it currently exists in my game. It is worth mentioning that this is not canon. If you like it, feel free to use whatever suits you.

Es'Caliban is the ancestral weapon of lost human kingdom of Landis. The heartblade was crafted by an obsidiman Named Uthar the Dragon long before the ScourgeIt is the symbol of leadership, of the true ruler of Landis more than any crown could ever be.

Prior to the Scourge as twilight set on Landis, the last king in a fit of madness or tragic wisdom sent Es'Caliban back to Ayodhya. His fear was that it would not survive the coming of the Horrors in Landis and would be lost forever, but if it remained safe, Landis would return. Some say that this act doomed Landis.

Nonetheless, it has remained within Ayodhya waiting for the true heir to return and claim their birthright. They must prove they are worthy of the legacy to the Shivalahala V'strimon at Lake Ban.

That background can be expanded on, but that much cannot be changed because it has been introduced already.

Es'Caliban is a broad sword. Since it was crafted by an obsidiman, it should be elegant, but simple and functional. Not overly ornate. It should also look particularly bright and shining. Not only is that appropriate for what it represents, but there will be at least one Effect around that.

Using the guidelines from the Third Edition Gamemaster's Companion, since this Thread Item was crafted it tops out as Rare General Treasure. I'm going to be honest, I don't necessarily understand why the particular terms were selected, nor why Rare Thread Items and Typical General Treasure are their own categories. Regardless, we forge ahead.

Rare General Treasure has a limit of 8 Thread Ranks, a Spell Defense of 16-20 and a Legend Point Cost of Warden. The biggest influence Spell Defense has is how difficult you want Item History to be. Weaving the Thread is done in downtime generally, so given enough of it hitting ridiculous numbers isn't that much of a problem (if time isn't of the essence, I don't make players roll to Weave a Thread).

For somewhat arbitrary reasons having to due to prime numbers, I choose 19 as the Spell Defense. The other piece is the Maximum Threads. 2 is the standard number, but since this Thread Item is more than just a weapon, it's a symbol of legitimacy and heredity, there may be a need for multiple generations to have Threads attached at the same time. So I set it at 3. Here is the current stat block:

Maximum Threads: 3
Spell Defense: 19
Legend Point Cost: Warden

Now comes the difficult part: Thread Rank Effects. There will be at least eight Thread Ranks, with a Key Knowledge and/or Deed at each odd Thread Rank. I'm just going to start listing places to start at each Rank as place holders for the most part. Have to begin somewhere.

Thread Rank One
Key Knowledge: The wielder must learn the sword’s Name.
Effect: The sword is now Damage Step 8.

This Rank is very standard - learn the Name, damage is as though it is fully Forged.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: The sword is now Damage Step 9?

I'm using italic text for things that are currently under consideration. This is a standard and useful, if boring, bonus. Probably appropriate here. I generally like to bring out the interesting Effects at Rank Five (but not always).

This through Rank Four could easily have some other kind of bonus if the prevailing opinion is that it is more interesting and/or appropriate. The best options would likely be a Defense (Physical or Social, most likely) or Talent (Inspire Others, Leadership, Tactics, something social, maybe Lion Heart?).

Thread Rank Three
Key Knowledge: The wielder must learn the Name of who created the sword.
Effect: The sword is now Damage Step 10?

Thread Rank Four
Effect: The sword is now Damage Step 11?

Thread Rank Five
Key Knowledge: ???
Deed: ???
Effect: ???

Yeah, not helpful. What I want here is an Effect that works off of the sword being drawn and emitting a bright light. This can be expanded on at the later Ranks. This effect should inspire comrades (buff) and/or blind, cause fear, or something bad to enemies (debuff).

If this interacts with a particular Talent, one of the earlier Ranks (2 - 4) needs to provide that Talent.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: ???

This Effect should to build on Rank Five somehow. Obviously Rank Five needs to be written first, this just means that it should be developed with the idea it can do more things, or be improved in some way. These kind of things will often undergo significant tweaking as the whole Thread Item comes together.

It also may not be a bad idea to give a minor (+1) bonus to something here, depending on how powerful the Effect is. Since Warden is fairly pricey, I tend to start giving some extra bonuses a little earlier than is suggested. As a curious aside, the only Thread Items I have introduced that have adversely affected game balance are ones largely unchanged from how they were originally presented. Go figure.

Thread Rank Seven
Key Knowledge: ???
Deed: ???
Effect: ??? + Damage +1

It is always my preference to have cool Effects that get cooler as you increase the Thread Ranks. That being said, the basic functionality of the Thread Item shouldn't entirely suffer because of that. This means the damage should probably increase. If not the damage, then likely something related to the options introduced in Rank 2.

Thread Rank Eight
Effect: ??? + Damage +1

This is more of the same from Rank Seven. The earlier Thread Ranks will shape the later ones considerably, so I'm not terribly concerned about this right now. Since this Thread Item has considerable history and has done some stuff, it isn't out of the question for it to have additional Thread Ranks that grew from those legendary deeds.

If those are added, their Effects should build on the general themes of the Thread Item, but have more latitude in what they can be. They were generated from a specific event, which should be indicated from the Key Knowledge and/or Deed associated with the Thread Rank. That legendary event will also shape the Effect to a significant degree.

18 June 2013

Kickstarter: Part 13 - New Projects!

This is the thirteenth part in an ongoing series about crowdfunding. Overview and Index.

After the Kobe Red scam, there is likely to be more scrutiny involved in Kickstarter projects in general. Most gamers are probably familiar with the story of Tropes vs. Men in Videogames, so are already at least somewhat wary. It was inevitable, but still sad to see more instances of fraud. I know of other projects that have been poorly mismanaged and may never deliver, but there is still hope and many of them do find their way into the hands of someone that actually cares.

New Projects

Mekton Zero

Closes: 22Jun2013
Funded: Yes!

While not the first mecha game I encountered in my youth (Robotech, Rifts, Battletech, Macross II), Mekton II was the first that I adored. It did everything that I actually wanted a mecha game to do. The system was relatively simple, but had some depth. Most notably, the mecha creation system was amazing. Mekton Zeta and Zeta Plus upped the ante considerably, but also the complexity.

Mekton Zero promises to return to the roots of the system and create something easier to approach. Since I will always have Zeta for all the depth I could ever want, this is intriguing. Anything that has katas for mecha already has my attention. This project is nearing a full color book in the next stretch goal, and hardcover after that. At $50 for a softcover (along with some other minor swag), it is steep. For Mekton, it's worth it. Higher rewards include minis, a map and a GM screen.


Closes: 24Jun2013
Funded: Yes!

By the author of Microscope, this is a cooperative storytelling game about exploring a particular group (from a colony ship, to the faculty at a private liberal arts college) over a period of time. The emphasis is on Crossroads, events that change the course for your collective entity depending on what choices are made. What is particularly notable about this game is the somewhat asymmetrical nature, which seems to be a largely unexplored design space in cooperative storytelling games. The players each have different roles, which give them unique ways that they can influence the story. It is really that element that intrigues me the most and that I would like to see explored more in future GMless games.

Closes: 28Jun2013
Funded: No

This is a directed and structured game around assassinating marks. Each scene is centered around that purpose, gaining an advantage over the mark until you can do the deed and get out. Towards that end, it has mechanics specifically for that premise that encourage high action, as well as keeping the violence contained to the mark - you're a professional, so act like it. There is a free preview of the mechanics, which is always nice. The downside is that the printed version is expensive at $50, though the pdf is completely reasonable at $10.


Closes: 01Jul2013
Funded: No

Normally I only do RPGs here, no matter how related to RPGs the project may be. For Greg Stolze, I make an exception. A completed novel about a awesome and snarky villain that calls it quits despite what seems like no reason to. I know that I want to know more.

Inscrutable Puzzlements

Closes: 12Jul2013
Funded: No

First off, this game doesn't describe itself as being steampunk, but as an alternate history Victorian era RPG. As a pendant for such things, that absolutely tickles me. It does say that it has Gothic horror, steampunk, mystery and fantasy elements, which is just icing on the cake. The system itself seems interesting, but not revolutionary from the previews available. I will admit a weakness for this genre and while there are many entries, none of them are quite right for me. Each does bring something new to the table, which is always appreciated. Such as equipment customization. I am such a sucker for that.

The Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine

Closes: 14Jul2013
Funded: Yes!

Okay, this game is by Jenna Moran. So it's weird. In a good way. This is a game about playing innocent characters in a very strange, perhaps even incomprehensible, world. The mechanics are designed to pose questions (and reward answering them) along with escalating events and providing a structure to the goals. If this sounds vague, it's because it is hard to put to words. Do yourself a favor and look into this game - it may not be for you, or it may be that thing you have always been looking for. It will almost certainly not be what you were expecting.

14 June 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Horror 01 - The Mother

This is the first Anatomy of a Horror in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

If you happen to be a player in this game, please do not read this series. There will be spoilers and some of this information is subject to change.

Almost exactly nine months ago (as an aside, it's hard to believe that I've been writing about Earthdawn like this for almost a year already), I did a post about Horrors that gave an overview of them from the perspective of both the PCs and the GM with the vague promise of revisiting the topic. This is officially revisiting the topic.

My goal here is to go through the process that I used to create this Horror, while not delving too much into the context of the campaign it has come from. One reason for that limitation is the amount of effort to relate and absorb that level of detail isn't likely to have enough payoff. That said, if you have questions, always feel free to let me know. Another reason is that without the direct elements that tie into my own game, it should be easier to borrow pieces or the whole thing for your own purposes, if you would like.

The initial questions for creating a Horror that I proposed were: What is the Horror supposed to do? What kind of story do you want to tell with the Horror? What powers does the Horror possess? How do the basic assumptions of the setting work? That was the order I posed them in, but won't necessarily be the order I address them.

How do the basic assumptions of the setting work? This is specifically related to the fallibility of the Greeting Ritual. This is a high-level, campaign-based decision that should really be made before it becomes a plot point. Failing that, when you decide, don't go back on it. Ever. This campaign is using the default assumption: The Ritual of Greeting is a custom based on superstition, but there is no power behind it.

What kind of story do you want to tell with the Horror? I wanted this Horror to tell a story of juxtaposition. While within my game it exists in contrast to another Horror, that isn't strictly necessary. It is meant to ask some difficult questions, about what it means to be loved and accepted. It exists in contrast with other Horrors, and in a strange way can provide hope and terror in equal measure, depending on how you look at it.

What is the Horror supposed to do? Building on the kind of story I want to tell, this Horror is obsessed with beauty and pain, seeing them as the essential parts of life. It is fascinated with life, flesh and spirit, having little use for inorganic things. It doesn't feed from the pain it inflicts on others, but from the pain they inflict on themselves. While it doesn't truly have a gender, it clearly identifies as a female and prefers to be addressed as such.

What powers does the Horror possess? Everything she can do is an extension of her concept for now. Flesh and bone crafting are certain. Her form is one of beauty and perfection (in her eyes), and it should be malleable, able to adapt to her needs and whims. Most of her powers are less about immediate gratification and more about the long term. She invests. Her Mark is subtle and different - instead of just feeding on the pain, she can take it and the memory of it. She can help those with her Mark work through their pain, driving them on, giving them the endurance they need to accomplish their goals no matter what. In her presence, she is beautiful in the way that everyone's mother is to them. She is calm, serene, eternally patient and wise, but above all, she is to be obeyed.

These are all of the pieces that I worked through to create this Horror. Most of the details are laid out above, but I will collect them here into something more coherent to convey the final product. What I'm not going to do are give stats here - they are arguably the easiest part and should be tailored to the game. For me, the concept is the most important element, and the most difficult to flesh out.

*      *     *

She prefers to be called The Mother, but that is not her Name. When it suits her, she may go by other monikers, but she guards her Name jealously. It is her view that her Name is what separates her from the rest of her kind, who she views with anything from disgust and pity, to and almost scientific curiosity. While she is certainly a Horror, she is unlike most other Horrors. 

She feeds from pain, but takes no pleasure in causing it. It is a contradiction for her kind, but the fragment of a story tells of a Horror that Marked a pregnant woman and through that link, came to understand a perfectly exquisite truth about Namegivers: they are more than willing to inflict pain on themselves. That pain was sweet and succulent, joined with the miracle of birth, of flesh and blood. Witnessing the act of giving a Name, perhaps inadvertently she was given one as well. It is as good a clue as any to what drives this Horror.

She is an artist. A seeker of beauty, but not necessarily in a conventional way. In all things, she sees an inner beauty of what can be, of how the flesh, blood, bone and spirit can be molded and sculpted into perfection. Many within Barsaive have been influenced by her works, directly or indirectly, as her knowledge of blood magic is incomparable. It is not uncommon for her to collaborate with an alchemist or Nethermancer treading new and dangerous territory in that field, acting as their inspiration and muse as the seek enlightenment. 

She protects the lost. There are many who have nowhere to go, perhaps that ravages of Horrors or other Namegivers have taken everything from them. It is not uncommon for these lost souls to find their way to her. With her they find comfort without judgment, and love without question. They find the serenity they have dreamed of and beauty they never knew existed, but not only that - they find that they too are beautiful on the inside. The Mother shapes their form until their external beauty matches their internal beauty. All of their pain, all of the fear - she takes them and guards her family. She is their mother.

She wants to be a creator. Just as she surrounds herself with the beauty of her creations, with those that have chosen to follow her, there is the understanding that they are not truly hers. They are the remnants that she has adopted and made her own. There is that sense of emptiness that while she can create creatures and constructs, she cannot create as a Namegiver does. The true gift of life and the ability to give Names eludes her. Above all, she wants to have a child.

While the Mother protects her own, she is not adverse to taking one of their lives if that will serve her ends of beauty and life. Her followers are more than willing to give themselves in her pursuit of beauty - she would never hurt them. There is no remorse as they are sacrificed, only the purity of the experience, of the blood, flesh, bone and spirit as a life comes to its inevitable conclusion. Better to have it end in an act of singular artistry, to have the blood well and splatter in pleasing ways, than to die withered and struggling as the bony claws of age wrench your spirit away.

Because of this, the Mother can not only feed from a blood elf, but is fascinated with them. Their constant self-inflicted pain that is so uninteresting to nearly all other Horrors is a sumptuous feast to her. It is a quiet theory, but not one without merit, that the unthinkable act the elves of Wyrm Wood engaged in was a quiet suggestion from her. There certainly are more than passing similarities between the ends they went to and much of her own work. Then again, it could simply be independent work that went in the same direction, or she could simply been inspired by their acts.

There is no one form that the Mother takes, her nature means that she can alter it nearly at will to suit her whims or needs. However, she does have some preferences and a distinct favorite. Tall, though an exact height is impossible to say, just that her height makes observers feel like a child in her presence. Her form is raw muscle, covered in parts with smooth, white bone, particularly her face. Emerging from the flesh of her torso are four arms, the lower set smaller than the upper. Both sets of arms have hands with seven digits - two thumbs and five fingers. On the occasions she adorns herself, it is always with simple, but elegant red and white silks.

Being in her presence is a calming experience. A sense of peace surrounds her and whenever she speaks, it sounds exactly like the listener's mother. Despite her appearance, which may be considered terrifying, there is something beautiful and compelling about it. It is the same kind of beauty that is associated with the viewers' mother - that there is more to the beauty than just the form. There is one exception to all of this: obsidimen. At the best of times, she has no use for them and at the worst of times, she has uses for them.

Beyond her tremendous talent with blood magic and manipulating living objects and spirits, she has some peculiar gifts to offer those that bear her Mark. It is her desire not to drive them insane, or to cause wanton fear and destruction through her suggestion. Instead, she drives them to their goals, pushing them to their limits. Giving them strength to go harder and longer, taking their pain and fear. It is that pain and fear that she feeds on - that which is inflicted willingly on the Namegiver. While she can certainly feed from what she causes, that feels very "base" to her; she is above such things.

Those under her influence are more inclined, in general, to employ blood charms. After a time, even undergoing extensive body modification. It could be simply that she is drawn to those who already engage in such activities. They are often very driven and prone to taking risks, going far beyond the point others would give up. As well, they tend to become fascinated with art, their tastes slowly changing and becoming stranger. An adept that practices embroidery may start making strange asymmetrical designs that, while attractive, are somewhat unnerving, or a dancer's motions may start incorporating awkward motions that give the performance a somewhat alien quality, or moves that would be excruciatingly painful and pushing well beyond their endurance.

13 June 2013

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 19 - Something Rotten in Scavia

This is the nineteenth Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

The region that includes Scavia, just north of the Scarlet Sea, near the Badlands, is a place that my games almost always include at some point. There isn't much official written about that area, which might be part of the appeal. What is known is that the human kingdom of Scavia was once seated at the edge of the Scarlet Sea, an off-shoot of Death's Sea, it was wealthy and was one of the first governments to accept the Theran Rites of Protection and Passage. Oh, and the kaer was built on top of lava and the civilization itself resided on the ruins of something ancient. Those last two might have something to do with it.

While it wasn't actually overrun during the Scourge, I'm not against saying that it was because the idea of an opulent kaer with fantastic and sweeping architecture, built in the Scarlet Sea, partially flooded with lava, infested with creatures from the area along with whatever Horrors call it home is freaking awesome. If you don't like the idea of that, I don't think that I want to know you. I'm serious. It's hardly a low Circle endeavor, but it is definitely a location where you can craft some amazing encounters that you will never get another shot at. And if an entire people has to be sacrificed to entities that feed on fear and pain from beyond our reality, them's the breaks.

In the surrounding region, there is substantial opportunity for adventure. While the kaer itself is generally only good for one amazing arc, the rest of the area should be good for a few stories. Since I take a darker look at Barsaive as a whole, my setting generally has that area spotted with smaller kaers from the people of Scavia that were taxed and enslaved to provide for the magnificent kaer of the capital. Many of their kaers were constructed from the strange ruins that their society was built on, since they were on a budget. Some of these were great, others not so much.

Nonetheless, it was weird. Things got strange and it may or may not be related to the Badlands to the southeast. The survivors tend to be poor and xenophobic. They don't care for outsiders and generally lead very suspicious lives. Their insular natures make this a good place to introduce creepy cults formed around the runs-cum-kaers. The general feel I go for in this region is similar to the Midwest during the Dust Bowl. With a healthy dose of the Appalachians or Ozarks, giving a feel that they haven't quite joined "modern" society in a lot of ways.

Adventure Log – 019 Something Rotten in Scavia

Written By: Honeysuckle Sunspray of Glenwood Deep

Date: 01 Celebration – 12 Raquas, 1507 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster
Jak’Tak the Weaponsmith
Sogun the Messenger
Ting the Swordmaster

Our latest adventure has taken us to Scavia and the settlements surround the area. This settlement still requires visitors to prove they aren’t Horror marked, how quaint(1). They are rather strange and won’t let Ting stay in the inn(2). The innkeeper talked of a stranger passing through and the effects look as if this stranger was peddling krokodil(3).

Jak confirmed the location of the shop where the tainted drugs are being distributed. The distributer, Bracha, used to be the leader of the town. The whole area seems to be affected by the drugs.

In the evening we decide to be champions of justice and Sogun breaks down the door to the shop and picks up Bracha to stop the process of making krokodil. Bracha described a dark looking elf Named Mestoph(4) that was the distributer of this drug.

I know we’ve followed the dark trail of Mestoph before, still not sure of the connection between Elmod and Mestoph, but I know there’s one(5).

Meanwhile… back at the alchemy shop, Jak and Ting managed to destroy the tools to make the drug and are going to bury the remaining supply.

In the process we see a person, obviously hooked on krokodil. After two straight days of travel following this guy, we knock him out and tie him up so we can get some sleep. The next morning we release him to continue following him. Towns that we pass through are filled with beggars that are heavily addicted(6).

Finally, we reach broken down ruin that seem dark and nefarious. The inscription is written in Sperethiel and it sounds like there is a Horror trapped inside. Despite the evidence of mindless souls entering, we head inside(7).

Broken down buildings are seen and crazed laughter can be heard with no identifiable source. Once we looked closer, the mindless shapes began coming toward us and block our path in all directions. We managed to fight our way out, but Ting was poisoned, so we decided to head back.

Heading back, we meet a traveler in a wagon, Morlan, who sells things to adventurers at a mark-up, of course. Morlan is a Merchant adept who travels to find interesting wares and sell them in remote locations.

After spending all of our money, we decide to head back to the tainted ruins, possibly against better judgment. Elmod, in a creepy sort of way, talks to a ghost outside the city who seems to be guarding the city as there is a Horror trapped inside. We venture inside as sneaky as possible, but jehuthras spot us anyway. In true hero/adventurer fashion (survival mode) we run away to the interior of the city where we see a robed figure sitting on a throne.

He is surrounded by cadavermen and jehuthras and seems happy to see Elmod. He is really creepy with black skin, white hair and bright red veins. His throne grows around him, creating some sort of super body structure with four arms and a spiky tail(8).

There must be some crazy Horror magic in this place to create something so hideous. Destroying this creature is the only option. The animated armor is not easy to damage, but we were able to find some weak points and chip away at it until we finally destroyed the Horror tainted creature that caused this mess.

Perhaps in destroying him, the krokodil will be less of an issue in the surrounding camp areas. After saving the world once again, it is time to head somewhere a little less exciting.(9)

*     *     *
(1) The Greeting Ritual is very common outside of the major cities in Barsaive.
(2) Sounds like Ting is a little rusty with her art.
(3) We had no idea this had spread so far...
(4) This needs to be verified immediately. If the Mestoph is behind this... I don't even know.
(5) Additional intelligence needs to be gathered here.
(6) Maybe it has spread here from the South? Perhaps Maester Bleys is good for something after all.
(7) Hah! I love these guys. "Sounds dangerous and stupid to enter... what are we waiting for?"
(8) I would love to know more details about this. If nothing else than to make Zamrica read it.
(9) Received and edited by Ela Pono

There were three things going on in this session. The first involved showing the extent of the krokodil problem, that it wasn't just localized to Bartertown, but throughout at least parts of Barsaive. While they had encountered the drug previously, the Group never got to see what some of the other effects are. Beyond the disease and rotting of the skin, that is. There were less answers than new questions, but it was fairly clear this problem is even worse than it initially appeared in Bartertown.

The next element to this session was exploring more of Elmod's mysterious background. He learned that someone who looks almost exactly like him (just with polarized colors) was going by the assumed Name Mestoph, who Initiated Elmod into his Discipline, is involved with the krokodil problem in someway, as well as some very dark blood magic that he used to create some sort of blood magic mecha, and is almost certainly dealing with Horrors in some fashion. Oh, and he definitely knows who Elmod is and is pretty jealous of him. Why? Who knows - it's not like Elmod had a blood mecha. 

Finally, danger. The encounters this session were pretty serious - there weren't any lucky rolls to skew the results and what started as overconfidence turned into cautious determination. Which is precisely where I wanted the tension at for the big boss fight - the aforementioned blood mecha.

This was the first fight of its kind and I wanted the encounter to be as awesome as the initial promise: that you will be fighting an "evil" (?) mirror-universe twin-thing Nethermancer who has constructed a mecha from the meat and bones of the drug users that have been summoned to his corrupted lair in the bowels of a broken kaer. The environment itself had pools of blood at one end of the room, where the throne-cum-mecha was, and an arc of standing stones at the other end, where the PCs entered from. While the blood was never used, the stones provided some important, though deteriorating, cover during the fight.

While that is all well and good, the opponent is what really matters. It was well above anything they could have handled for a few more Circles. I'm pretty certain it would still be a challenge for them - but without that, there is no sense of accomplishment. No bones about it, this was a hell of a thing. It was just over 15 feet tall, a body somewhere between humanoid and beast. It had a massive bleached white skeleton that also acted as armor, with claws, a long, spiked tail, and a gaping maw. Underneath the skeleton was glistening muscle, sinew and tendons, with living crystal growing from that mass as additional armor and to serve other, unknown purposes. The Nethermancer himself was within the rib cage, nestled in the protective womb of bone, crystal and muscle where he controlled and powered the thing by binding it to most of his spell matrices, along with Thread Magic. 

Actually, here it is:

DEX: 8   STR: 18   TOU: 13   PER: 9   WIL: 9   CHA: 5

Initiative: 10
Actions:  4 + 1 (4 physical actions, one Spellcasting/Thread Weaving)
Attack (8): 16
Bite (7): 25
Claws x2 (2): 20
Tail (3): 21 ( Armor Defeating on a Good Result)

Physical Defense: 14
Spell Defense: 10
Social Defense: 12
Physical Armor: 20 (Armor Defeated on an Excellent Result)
Mystic Armor: 10 (Armor Defeated on an Excellent Result)

Death: 150
Unconsciousness: (I'm going to be honest, I didn't bother)
Wound Threshold: 15
Recovery Tests: 3
Knockdown: 19
Movement: 10

Karma Points: 10     Karma Step: 4

Powers: Astral Spear (7): 16, Battle Bellow (4): 9, Spellcasting (6): 15, Thread Weaving (6): 15, there are plenty more powers, but I just didn't feel like trotting them out since I wanted all of this to fix on an index card

How were they possibly supposed to defeat this monster? Teamwork. No, seriously, through teamwork. The first round on combat was the PCs attacking while it was "coming online", giving them a chance to figure out just how screwed they were unless something changed in their favor.

When I have something neat planned, I've learned the hard way that it's best to not hope the players are going to randomly stumble into it, unless you absolutely know they will. In this case, I didn't wait for anyone to ask, "Does it look like there are any weak points?" There is no way for me to know if they will (they never have before, but they have never had to) and it's not like Earthdawn has any support one way or the other, it's very much up to the GM. So, after they roll initiative for the next round, I ask who wants to make a Perception Test as a Simple action for 1 Strain. They could do it as a Standard action for no Strain as well. Suffice to say, they were curious.

At that point, I introduced the Weak Points (while prototypes are generally regarded as super awesome, they also have the super downside of falling apart). These were some index cards that had a particular maneuver on it (Cutting the Tendons), along with the requirements (Called Shot, Physical Defense 10, at least 12 damage) and the effects (reduce Physical Defense and Initiative by 2). There were a variety of them, each affecting some part of the nethermecha, with some crossover - physical attacks could affect mystic traits and vice versa. By finding these Weak Points, the players were able to work together to weaken it sufficiently that they could bring it down. It was pretty important to include ways for all of the characters to contribute, so some of the Weak Points were tailored for their particular strengths.

In all, it was wildly successful. The players had a blast working together, figuring out how best to approach taking it apart. It was by far one of the most exciting combats I've seen in a long time, with players actively involved, exploiting scenery (mostly standing stones, which were getting chewed up), and really role-playing the hell out of the moment. This isn't something that I would break out often, simply because it will end up feeling less special with each successive use. That being said, it is a great way to shake-up a very special combat and make it more than just causing a big pile of damage. It's still about causing a big pile of damage, just other stuff too.

Here's a list of all of the Weak Points that were used:

Blinding the Third Eye (Unlimited)
Requirements: Called Shot, Spell Defense 10, 10 damage
Effect: Prevent Spellcasting for one turn

Cleave the Shoulder
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 14, 18 damage
Effect: Reduce Attacks by 1 (claw)

Cracking the Shell
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 8, 12 damage
Effect: Reduce Physical Armor by 2 and increase Initiative by 1

Crush the Bones
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 10, 14 Damage
Effect: Reduce Physical Armor by 2 and Initiative by 1

Cutting the Tendons
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 10, 12 damage
Effect: Reduce Physical Defense and Initiative by 2

Destroy the Limb
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 12, 20 damage
Effect: Reduce Attacks by 1 (claw)

Flay the Flesh
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 12, 10 damage
Effect: Reduce Attack and Damage by 3 Steps

Fracture the Crystal
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 10, 8 damage
Effect: Reduce Spell Defense and Mystic Armor by 2

Go for the Eyes! (Unlimited)
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 16, 8 damage
Effect: Prevent one attack per Success Level for one turn

Mystic Ligatures
Requirements: Called Shot, Spell Defense 10, 12 damage
Effect: Reduce Physical Defense and Initiative by 2

Pry the Armor
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 8, 16 damage
Effect: Reduce Physical Armor by 4 and increase Initiative by 1

Right to the Face!
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 12, 20 damage
Effect: Reduce Attacks by 1 (bite)

Scour the Meat
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 8, 16 damage
Effect: Reduce Attack and Damage by 1 Step and Initiative by 2

Shattered Karma
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 12, 8 damage
Effect: Reduce Mystic Armor by 2 and Karma by 3

Shred the Muscles
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 10, 12 damage
Effect: Reduce Attack and Damage by 2 Steps and Initiative by 1

Tangle the Weave
Requirements: Called Shot, Spell Defense 8, 8 damage
Effect: Reduce Spellcasting, Thread Weaving and Astral Spear by 2

Tear Out the Root
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 16, 16 damage
Effect: Reduce Attacks by 1 (tail)