Sunday, 1 August 2021

Statting a God: Death

This post follows up my earlier post on Aziza, Queen of Dawn, wherein I tried to turn an encounter with a goddess into a different kind of mini-game rather than a combat encounter. Using this as a template for each of the "ruling spirits" of the the other realms of Pariah, I set to work on Death...

Nergal: a Sumerian death god

Note: I almost immediately reneged on my original brief and ended providing options for turning this into a combat encounter... if only because the death of death is a fun and familiar trope.

Friday, 30 July 2021

Adventure Seed Generator: Spears of the Dawn (Sine Nomine)

 A few months ago I was flicking back through my old PDF of Spears of the Dawn by Kevin Crawford (currently available from Drive Thru RPG I believe) and came across a neat table for generating adventure seeds.


The set up is simple: 5 1d20 tables which together imply a story: 

  1. 20 patrons who approach the party
  2. 20 antagonists in conflict with the patron
  3. 20 causes of the conflict
  4. 20 MacGuffins that are central to the conflict
  5. A location where the MacGuffin is found.
I put the 100 entries into a simple generator using perchance:




Obviously there's go t to be some degree of interpretation on the GM's part, but that's the point: it's a seed. How the adventure grows out of this sentence is down to you. You'll also notice that there are buttons for "Old school Fantasy" and "Pariah", the additional lists for which you will find below:

Sunday, 25 July 2021

Artefacts of the Others

As explained in my last a recent post I think I'm nearly done with hand-wringing and "anxietising" over my post frequency (or lack thereof). Life is complex at the moment and I will just have to deal with it, hoping that the future will provide more opportunities to play and to create.

That said, I have plenty of drafts sat on the ol' slush-pile awaiting a cursory polish, and I will attempt to drip feed these out to you as the weeks and months go by. This is one such slush-post: the Artefacts of the Others...

Greyscale iamge dominated by swirling, worm-type creature emerging from the ground and sucking the a figure towards its gaping mouth, causing the figure to drop their assault rifle. In the distance, a similar figure appears to be strolling away, oblivious or unconcerned.
Roadside Picnic concept art by Alex Andreev https://www.behance.net/gallery/19310523/ZONA 

This post is at least partly inspired by the novel Roadside Picnic, though the contents were originally designed for use in burgeoning Pariah adventure/sandbox City of Ghosts. Another inspiration—the great Semiurge of Archons March On—I shall pace the generator proper at the top of the pile:


The form, materiality and the effect these artefacts produce may not make any real sense: this is not a bug, it's a feature. A Neolithic person would have no idea what to do with a Marshall combi amp, but taking it apart they'd gain multiple capacitors capable of delivering powerful shocks, lots of shiny copper and a fuck-off big magnet. Similarly, artefacts are fragments of larger wholes, beyond the ken of the average pariah, but still capable of producing incredible supernatural effects.

Read on to find out how the generator slots together (1d20 tables listed below)

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Genius Loci — Linking Encounters, Hazards and Reaction Rolls

This post is a sketch or a collection of notes... or maybe a starting-off point. It is an attempt at addressing a self-imposed problem: that of making an environment that is also a character, not just a spirit of the place, but a spirit-as-the-place.

Photograph of a Roman Fresco depicting 3 figures, the central one being the spirit of the place. There is a snake at the bottom of the picture.

The Genius Loci

The words are latin: "genius" = spirit (hence genie, which was also used to translate the Arabic word jinn) and "Loci" = [of the] place (locus).

I never came across it until I was studying landscape architecture, when we were introduced to the English landscape garden, the picturesque and cultural appropriation ("chinoiserie" and "orientalism") in our singular design theory module in the first year. This introduction came via Pope, who was a garden designer as well as a poet:

Consult the genius of the place in all;
That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
Or helps th’ ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
Now breaks, or now directs, th’ intending lines;
Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.

...and through an unnecessarily complex process of backwards and forwards engineering, learned that the term originally meant a Roman guardian spirt but has come to mean the ambience/character/"personality" of a space in contemporary architectural discourse.

I preferred the original definition, but also didn't really see much of a distinction.

Before we brush this aside, I just want to add a nice design quote form a former teacher of mine:

"The genius loci must be consulted... but it does not have to be obeyed..."
- Tom Turner

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Let's Play - 4 Vignettes and a bad poem

This is an informal essay — more a collection of notes, really — which represents an attempt to jot down some thoughts I've had since listening to (and occasionally participating in) discussions on discord, anchor and twitter about general RPG "theory" (scare quotes mine).

Apologies for those, by the way. The scare quotes. I can get defensive when I see attempts to intellectualise the hobby, mostly due to my an ambiguous relationship with design theory. This isn't a boast, it's a confession: part of me is and always will be passive-aggressively anti-intellectual, while another part craves the validation of the labyrinths of Hod. Both these aspects of myself shame me, or I shame myself by outing them in public...

But look. We're here now, you're reading, I'm writing and we both may as well persevere. GNS still gets touted around and we really have to move on....

How? 

Well, there aren't really any answers here, but I hope the anecdotal vignettes that follow might provide some further thoughts and discussion.  It's also likely to be in two parts: both are inspired by childhood play, but the second part is perhaps more relevant within the context of street culture and children's folklore and I'm more likely to post it at my other blog psychocartography, as I've neglected it for nearly two years now and I think I'd like to resurrect it.

Here's some half-formed thoughts. Bon appétit.

Sunday, 11 July 2021

Ancient One — derivative Isopod Monster

It used to be that I'd look back on a forgotten /abandoned piece of writing and be pleasantly surprised by its quality... or maybe (should it have been below par) there'd have been some nugget or turn of phrase which caught my attention. The older I get (and, dear readers, I'm barely into my forties) the less this occurs and the more I'm struck be the weird spelling mistakes ("no" and "know"?), missed typos, odd grammar and sentences trailing off into the void. Not sure if I have a degenerative brain disease nor if this is the platform upon which to talk about such things... but maybe I should speak to someone.

All that neurotic hypochondria aside, nothing really prepared me for picking up the Bestiary the other week in an attempt to turn it into something at least partially table-worthy and realising the first entry was a complete rip-off of the isopods in lair of the lamb. This was disconcerting: I'd read the adventure at some point in the summer of last year, then within a few months I'd added a very similar (albeit somehow more aboleth like version) to my bestiary without really acknowledging or realising that I had stolen the core idea  (metal eating woodlice) from another source. 

It's not so much the plagiarism (I've ripped off loads of stuff, but I always try to cite my sources)  but the worrying fact I hadn't realised I'd done it. It's such a specific thing. What made it worse was the fact that I read the adventure through AGAIN around December  and STILL didn't twig the connection (I had somehow forgotten about my rip-off monster). The 3 sessions I ran never made it to the Isopods but I had read ahead and was eagerly awaiting the party running into them.

There's something weird going on and I don't like it: being a pitiful human, I believe that my actions are somehow powerful enough to mould this universe back to a state that I am more comfortable with, and I offer up this post as an act of sympathetic magic: take this derivative shit away from me, with apologies to Arnold K.

A macro lens photograph of a pill woodlouse, a land-dwelling crustacean with a segmented body that can roll into a ball. The creature's body is segmented, and is pictured against a backdrop of various granular minerals.
Common pill woodlouse via wikimedia

Friday, 9 July 2021

How much PRIMAL is there in PARIAH?

A great deal of time has passed since Jim Parkin (https://d66kobolds.blogspot.com/) first suggested I watch  Primal... but now the dust has settled, those 10 episodes are safely beneath my belt and my belly is full I can finally answer the question: how much PRIMAL is there in PARIAH? How much PARIAH is in PRIMAL?

A red-eyed tyrannosaurus roars in the centre of the image. Atop its back sits a bare-chested, long-haired man holding a spear, who looks up towards a yellow sun in a pink sky. the scene is obfuscated by a thin mist, but we can see a tropical palm on the far right and the suggestion of other such trees in hte background.

This is a short post [edit: it was supposed to be a short post] taking a summary overview of Genndy Tartakovsky's animated series PRIMAL, through the lens of my own proto-neolithic psychedelic animist old school RPG, PARIAH. Spoilers abound, you have been warned... scroll down for TL/DR

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

How to Stat a Goddess

It's been a while. I'll leave it at that, and also pledge to post with greater regularity.

Image copyright Games Workshop, in case their lawyers track this blog down through reverse image search and threaten to have me kneecaped. 

In stolen moments (between work, childcare and attempts at eradicating my lockdown pounds) I've been diligently chipping away at the coalface of the PARIAH bestiary. It's still very much a w-i-p, but there's  a link to the free PDF at the end. Expect updates each week for the next month or so. Don't expect Fire on the Velvet Horizon, or the excellent monster-manualling of D4 Caltrops or Coins & Scrolls; do expect , however, sufficient tools to populate a proto-neolithic psychedelic animist sandbox.

Anyway, I digress: the purpose of this preamble is to set the scene. Like probably everyone before me I soon found that writing stat  locks gets old very quickly (even if you're just ripping off the Rules Cyclopedia...), and that in some instances I was skipping the block entirely or throwing in placeholders. After all, how does one stat a goddess?

I Punch Cthulhu on the Nose

Providing a stat block suggests that at the very least the creature can be harmed, if not outright destroyed. Some of the figures I was describing weren't just overviews, they were forces of nature: life and death itself. If met on their own terms, on their own turf, I didn't want PCs to rule initiative and declare actions.

Samurai Jack in action... a good chance to bring up Primal... it's pretty good...

This is not to say that one can never punch Cthulhu on the nose, or decapitate death... just that when that moment comes, will a stat block really be that useful?

Aziza in her Own Domain

Aziza is Queen of Dawn, the realm of nature's wyrd and fecund side where there is no death... just endless florescence and reformation, something like the feywilde meeting the novel Annihilation. Indeed, the shimmer from the movie adaptation of that novel is part of the recipe that makes up Azia, who otherwise is equal parts Titania, Slaanesh, Queen Mab and Aaliyah as Queen of the Damned.

What the elders can tell you:

  1. She is a giant eel/peacock/mushroom/flower (partially true)
  2. Aziza can bring back the dead (partially true)
  3. Only those deemed worthy my gaze upon her (false)
  4. Music is her weakness: bring her a truly beautiful song and she will grant your heart's desire (partially true)
  5. Answer her questions truthfully or she will twist reality to contradict your lies (partially true)
  6. The Others are her children, born from her union with the Beyond (unknown).
  7. It is said the only way to contact her is combine the rituals of the shaman shroom with that of the cactus flower (false: this is the gateway to the Beyond Realm of the plague swarm).
  8. Aziza is in love with the Moon, and a token from the silver lake will win her favour (true).
  9. Those who have lost their true name can retrieve it from Aziza (true).
  10. Aziza is the mother of the Sun (unknown)
  11. She can grant your wildest wish, but you might never be given the chance to say what the wish is (true, sort of)
  12. She despises Death, and carries a spear that can slay Him (true)
PCs are likely to encounter her as part of a careful and planned process of petitioning... or else through irresponsible use of entheogens: in other words, this is a situation where the normal game rules do not apply. Take us, then, to the Queen Aziza mini-game:

How Aziza Manifests

Roll the shaman’s entheogen skill dies (1d6 if unskilled): this is how she manifests...

1: Eel-in-the-cave-of-bile  

 
The ground rises up around the pariah(s) and forms a rocky chamber about them. A pool of black bile forms at their feet. The pariah collapses to the ground, swallowing some of the acrid liquid (randomly select if more than one pariah is present).  The individual begins to convulse and wretch, before finally vomiting forth a slimy black eel with a vaguely human face. It is a painful labour that seems to last several minutes, inflicting 1d4 perm con or wis damage. 

Aziza as the eel-in-the-cave of bile entwines the pariahs and begins to question them.  All present are nauseated. This angers Aziza. -2 to all subsequent rolls.

 

2: Resonance 

The environment about the pariahs begins to melt into viscous strings of colour; even sapient creatures with whom they may have been conversing are absorbed into this new landscape. The pariahs feel themselves stretching: limbs elongating, entwining around their bodies. Efforts to speak or cry out instead manifest as bodies vibrating, music issuing forth from within. This is visible: appearing as colourful waves rippling through the fabric of a new reality, causing other strings to vibrate as it makes contact with them.

Aziza is the music that slowly comes to dominate this strange world of iridescent strings, communicating through a harmonious resonance the pariahs feel deep within their very souls.

 

3: Rising Sun 

A brilliant flash of white light temporarily blinds the shaman. Recovering their vision, they find themselves in a freezing cold desert of grey ash bathed in a dim blue glue. Shivering, they are relieved when a brilliant red sun breaks on the horizon, bathing all in not just light but life. 

This rising sun is the queen of dawn as progenitor of life. She communicates with the pariahs through the plants and animals that spontaneously manifest in this once barren landscape, either directly (talking birds) or indirectly (the course of a new river forming in a lush valley).

 

4: Pea-hen-cock

The glowing orange orb of the dawn sun rises, slowly taken on its yellow hue, before settling into the form of a great golden eye. The eye is the feather of a great peacock at the centre of a forest glade. It’s slender neck and head shift in colour and shape, appearing at times to resemble an elegant man or woman emerging form the great bird’s torso. Its voice is a piercing screech that somehow communicates complex sentences.

 

5: Primordial Fungus

In the shade of a great tree grows an enormous, tentacled mushroom. It writhes elegantly, and begins to issue questions in the form of vibrations, spreading up from the ground beneath the pariahs’ feet.

Aziza as the primordial fungus is forgiving and kind. Add +1 to all subsequent rolls during this encounter.

 

6 or more: Queen of Dawn

Aziza, Queen of Dawn, appears as a terrifyingly beautiful man or woman with entirely black eyes and bat, butterfly or bird wings. Endlessly changing, her skin shimmers and bursts, sprouting new limbs and appendages, ultimately subsuming her entire form.

Around her the forest is perpetually unfolding and revealing new life, as a beautiful chorus harmonises with each word she utters. The pariahs feel a deep state of content. +2 all subsequent rolls.

Aziza's Curiosity

Upon manifestation the Queen of Dawn asks her supplicants: the nature and number of those questions depends entirely on how well the "shaman" knows their mushrooms: roll the shaman’s entheogen skill die (1d6 if unskilled)and add it to their con (or wis) score (the whole thing, not the modifier). There is a twist to these innocent questions which shall yet be revealed. Questions are shared equally among pariahs:

2-12 1d10 questions about the world in which the pariahs live: "what do you hunt?" "Which is the strongest animal in the grasslands?" "What is the tallest mountain?" "Who is the ruler of the forest?"


13-19 1d8 personal questions, ranging from the obvious to the obscure: "what colour are your eyes?" "Who do you love most?" "Why were you exiled from your tribe?" "What is your greatest talent?"


20-24 1d6 questions about plans and ambitions: "where are you going?" "What do you really want?"


25-27 1d4 questions about personal effects "what weapon do you favour?" "What instrument do you play?" "What is in your pocket?"


28-29 She smiles. No questions.


30  No questions and add 2 to all further rolls in Aziza's presence (accumulates with other modifiers)


The pariahs are compelled to answer truthfully: if they lie or refuse to answer, they suffer 1d6 WIS damage.  The question is then asked of the next pariah. 

After each question, those interrogated need to make a save vs spells (TN 19) or Aziza  contradicts that statement. 

Reality  alters to fit her version of events; Aziza  asks if the pariah accepts this new narrative: 

  • If they do, reality is forever altered and she moves to the next question.
  • If they do NOT accept, she asks if they are  willing to change themselves to prevent this new situation...
    • If Yes, roll for a mutation. Reality reverts to however it was before Aziza's question.
    • If they are unwilling to change, the pariah can take 1d4 wis damage to stop her from altering the truth. 
Once all questions are asked, Aziza explains what she wants. If Aziza manages to alter everyone's truths OR the entire party is mutated, add 2 to the next roll. 

What Aziza Wants

Again, roll the shaman's entheogen skill die (1d6 if unskilled)and add it to their con (or wis) score. Add any bonuses from the previous round if applicable.


2-12 Something nearly impossible, the sound of a cat's footstep, the breath of a fish, the soul of death...


13-19 A truly beautiful piece of music, art or crafted item. Alternatively, an incredibly delicious piece of food. This should be of supernatural quality.


20-24 As above but "the best you can provide" I.e. not necessarily of supernatural quality..it's the thought that counts.


25-27 To walk as a human in the here and now: she will return with the pariahs for 24 hours.


28-29 Aziza wants nothing but is happy to give to her disciples. Add 1 to any subsequent rolls (bonuses accumulate)


30 As above but she is so impressed by the shaman she whispers her true name. They may utter this once per day to summon her to the Here and Now.

When does She Want it?

Results 2-24 above all entail presenting Aziza with some tribute, or going on a quest on her behalf. Roll the entheogen die and consult below to find out when she wants it.

1: within the duration of this trip. It .must be found in the realm of dawn

2-7: before the next rising of the Sun Aziza will come and visit the pariahs for her gift.

8: or more: within one lunar month.

What will happen if she doesn't get it?

Roll 1d6 and check below:

  1. Reabsorption into the dawn. The pariah's spirit is lost forever. It's a reincarnation of sorts…
  2. Pariahs transform into invisible, non corporeal ghosts doomed to wander the Here and Now for eternity, with no way of interacting with it.
  3. Nameless: CHA drops to 0, pariahs become Nameless Ones.
  4. Multiple mutations. Roll 2d4, 4s explode. Each pariah receives this many mutations.
  5. Shunned by plants and animals, roll reaction rolls at disadvantage.
  6. Banes: Roll 2d4: each pariah receives this many banes of Dawn (PARIAH VOL I page 47).

What She will Give If She Gets it


2-12 Nothing. However, the pariahs will be well received if they return the following moon (or later).


13-19 Aziza offers those present the chance to improve storytelling, musical instrument, drinking OR craft (by one die) AND become more confident, alluring and assertive (1d4 CHA nonus, maximum 20). If they politely decline she might consider their REAL request.


20-24 As above but her offer also includes one item becoming enchanted, one pariah gaining a spell-spirit, one creature/pet becoming sapient and one pariah gaining a random ritual. Only if all decline (politely) will they be given the chance to explain the purpose of their visit.


25-27 Aziza asks politely why the pariahs came to her in the first place. Without answering the request, she offers all of the above to one pariah, and some other more personal desire. If they refuse she grants the original request, assuming it is within her power.

28-29 The Queen of Dawn ziza offers all of the above alongside their wish, if it is possible. If she is unable to grant the wish she does all in her power to assist them in finding a solution. The pariahs have a goddess as an ally.


30. Their wish, if it is possible. But that’s a side issue. Aziza is so impressed by the shaman 
she whispers her true name to them. Tey may 
utter this once per day to summon her to the Here and Now

If this has already occurred, the shaman is offered Dawn immortality as bride/groom of Aziza. The details of this are up to the GM and group, but it should involve retiring of that character  and something pretty spectacular for the remaining band.

What Wishes are Within Her Power

  • Heal injuries, including permanent attribute damage.
  • Increase con, str, dex or cha score to 20.
  • Restore lost limbs/sight/hearing/the power of speech.
  • Remove curses, banes and unwanted mutations.
  • Grant mutations and abilities
  • Rid malevolent spirits (except those of the Beyond, which she refuses to acknowledge)
  • Locate any living person and bring them to the supplicant.
  • She cannot force anyone to fall in love with the supplicant: she can compel the chosen individual to believe they are in love, but with several conditions needing to be met to preseve the spell. When it is broken the victim will be aware of the horrendous violation and possibly begin plotting revenge.
  • Aziza can restore a person's  true name, healing any damage and restoring their character in the process. Note this is unlike the ritual of naming, which effectively creates a new person sharing the originals memories.
  • ...she cannot, however, truly restore the dead to life: she can create a simulacrum of flesh and bone, with all their memories, but they will slowly realise they are not who they thought they were and yearn to return to the realm of Dawn.
  • Aziza cannot grant wealth as she doesn't understand the concept: land, titles, deeds are meaningless, and gold and other metals are the domain of the spirits of the deep earth and the Beyond.

Conclusion 

None of this has been playtested, it is bit a sketchy and (as mentioned) forms one of the (many) entries in the Pariah  bestiary. They aren't all like that, there's  bears there too...

Have a look:


Links






Friday, 30 April 2021

April: What a Shower of— (plus Brù-Gar Campaign report!)

 Work sucks - I know.

Roman mosaic image depicting to figures surrounded by geometric/floral motifs and the wordand the word "Apries".
April panel from a Roman mosaic of the months (from El Djem, Tunisia, first half of 3rd century AD)

Life continues to be a struggle, yet still I manage to deliver! The first is this twenty minute rambly podcast by yours truly where I talk about all the things I would be doing if I had time:


The second is an ACTUAL PLAY REPORT by Louis/Gen2K whose name I mention 4 billion times in the podcast above. It's a first for me as I was not participating in this game in any way: I think you'll agree the outcome was no worse for my absence (indeed, possibly improved?): read on!

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

I Promise I have Nothing Against March (or Mars)

 Honestly, I don't know what it is. I just don't seem to be able to write anything in March. Nothing against the month, nor indeed this poor unfortunate:

Image of Invincible's Martian Man, his mouth agape.
A man from Mars, aka. "Martian man". Absolutely nothing to do with Martian Manhunter.

At the turn of the century, when blogging was still sort-of fashionable, there would be a million blog posts that would begin "wow, sorry for not posting in so long!". Not going to do one of those, nor make any promises to commit to posting frequently again. I'm also sorry to report that the long-running PARIAH campaign concerning the trials and tribulations of the Unlucky Ones is on temporary hiatus. However, there is still at least one active PARIAH campaign ongoing at present, run by Louis of So Much Game. I've shared an update from his game (in which I play) which I will share below:

It is backdated to 1st April for personal reasons.

https://aloneinthelabyrinth.blogspot.com/2021/04/bru-gar-sandbox-session.html

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Brù-Gar Sandbox Session

This session took place on 3rd March 2003.

Players:

Slayer of the Father (Nye) https://twitter.com/ersatzexpert?lang=en

Chasing Ape (TinheadNed) https://www.stdin.co.uk/blog2/

Timidly Hindered Dwelling (Sofinho)

Louis Gen2K of https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1l359KSJetX0WTiE0AnWbw is the gamemaster.

Lions at Chauvet cave.

Season:

Early to middle spring

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

THE UNLUCKY ONES: PARIAH CAMPAIGN, WEEK 31 & 32

This is the summary of the 31st week of the PARIAH campaign, covering 14th-20th February.

The previous session report is available at this link:
https://aloneinthelabyrinth.blogspot.com/2021/02/the-unlucky-ones-pariah-campaign-week-30.html

You can catch up on all the session reports via this link here (all posts tagged "unluckyones"):
https://aloneinthelabyrinth.blogspot.com/search/label/unluckyones

I've decided to lump these updates together as there were only 3 sessions played in that period. Incidentally, this brings the total number of PARIAH sessions (in this campaign) to 35, not including 3 sessions of "hudless" Pariah in a modified Lair of the Lamb and  2 sessions GMed by Louis in his Brù-Gar campaign setting (there will be further posts about this shortly). 

Given that the first (post-Kickstarter) session was played on 6th June, that's 40 sessions over nearly 38 weeks!

As the sandbox continues to evolve and develop I'm hoping some of the players will be happy to step-up and take on GM duties so we can start to flesh out this burgeoning world even more.

Visible/experienced world, end of most recent session.