Wednesday, April 17, 2019

30 Day Challenge: Day 28 Community Building

I recently started reading Numenera Destiny, and so far I'm impressed. It's probably not surprising that I like the Numenera setting, I've said many times before how much I like Cypher System, and I know MCG has taken a lot of heat (deserved or not) for Invisible Suns, but I think Destiny is one of the most interesting tabletop books I've read in a long time outside of OSR.

The purpose of the book is to add lore, advice, and mechanics for community building. It's one of those ideas that seems so simple and obvious that I was surprised I hadn't seen much like it and that it's not more of a thing in tabletop. I don't have much experience with Dwarf Fortress, but I think something like a cross between Numenera Destiny and Dwarf Fortress would crush it in the OSR scene.

Anyway, I haven't actually played it, but even having just read it, I can tell there are certain mechanics that I'm not 100% on board with- it seems like something that would need some revising down the line, but on the whole it's a decent framework. The main features are that it adds a resource that gets used exclusively for building "magical" structures, adds some mechanics for dealing with communities and community actions, and adds special abilities that relate to the new resource, community mechanics, crafting, etc.

I've already played a fair bit of Numenera, so as intrigued as I am, I probably won't get around to this for some time, but I'm considering adding a stripped-down version of this into my upcoming Aquarian Dawn game (more on that in a separate post soon). So for my five minute challenge today, I'm going to spitball some ideas for community building campaigns.


  • A short campaign where the players know they are on the verge of a major invasion. Over the course of some finite amount of time, they must build defenses, organize the community (seven samurai style), and scout the environment. Additionally, they have reason to believe there's a traitor among them...
  • The party overthrew an evil lord, but now someone must manage the fiefdom. The lord was cruel and short-sighted, but the land is rich and tactically well-suited. The cruel lord was a cog in a larger, corrupt kingdom, with all the same problems at a larger scale. Under competent leadership, this fiefdom could take control of the whole kingdom...
  • An eccentric architect has undecipherable schematics for a new world wonder. The architect has undeniably proven their skills, but this wonder requires certain resources money can't buy. The whole project is a long-shot, but he claims it will change the world. He can't afford to pay, he's fully invested in the wonder, but if he succeeds, those who helped him will go down in history...

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

30 Day Challenge: Day 27 Dungeons

I'm going to try doing some quick concepts for dungeons. I'm not sure how much inspiration I have for this, I generally prefer objects and creatures over locations and spaces, but we'll see what I can come up with.

The dungeon is...

  • a mimic
  • a virtual reality / astral dreamscape
  • made of candy; gingerbread, candycanes, gumdrops, frosting, etc.
  • bigger on the inside
  • bigger on the outside
  • made of panels that break after you step off of them. There are only so many valid routes to the exit, hope you don't make a mistake...
  • composed of circular hallways, or rings, ordered by danger and theme (that build off of each other, like the levels of hell, or some other thematic system).
  • on the back of a massive beast, and so the positioning and environment are all relative to the beast itself. (alternatively, strung between several massive beasts).

Ok, actually I think that turned out pretty good!

Monday, April 15, 2019

30 Day Challenge: Day 25-26 Potions

Was too tired yesterday, so two today! I'm glad that this 30-day challenge has kept me creating (almost) every day, even if just a little bit, but I am glad it's wrapping up so I don't feel beholden to this format. Hopefully these challenges will give me a lot of material to work with for the future.

First I'm going to do potions. I'm going to try doing it in a bit more of a semiurge format, but with only 5 minutes we'll see how far I get:

NOTE: Rather than do a separate list for day 26, I decided to spend 5 more minutes on this one

The color of the potion is:

  • red
  • green
  • blue
  • indigo
  • violet
  • white
  • black
  • translucent
  • pink
  • brown


and:

  • metallic
  • cloudy
  • crisp
  • sparkling
  • bubbling
  • glowing 
  • dirty


It smells like:

  • a nostalgic memory
  • a toxic spill
  • regret
  • a memory you wanted to forget
  • something you've always wanted
  • something you didn't know you wanted
  • something you didn't know you never wanted


When you drink it:

  • You experience time as a narrow window (~6 seconds or less) rather than as a moment
  • You gain hyper-proprioception and the ability to consciously control autonomic processes
  • Another version of yourself from the multiverse goes into toxic shock as you gain their strength
  • You go into toxic shock and another version of yourself from the multiverse gains your strength
  • Your gut becomes a wormhole to the Macromicrobiome dimension, like the astral plane for gut microbiomes. Your gut is directly connected to everyone else who has drank this potion, and you gain gut-related "psychic" powers.
  • Your molecules disperse throughout the multiverse (or just universe) but still operate cohesively
  • Your mind dissolves into super-heavy cosmic sludge, like a dense ooze, that falls until it collapses against something sufficiently heavy, or is contained in an adamantine, orichalcum, or some other sufficiently strong frame.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

30 Day Challenge: Day 24 Hybrid Species

Going to try to break my streak of failing to do this on the weekend and actually do this today. Starting to adjust to scaling back on caffeine. Had a tea in the afternoon yesterday but that was it, today a cafe du monde in the morning and maybe I'll have a tea later but that's it. So I was watching an episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine last night and it was a Jadzia Dax-focused episode, and I was thinking about the Parasite challenge that went around a while back, and the Lattimors from Numenera which I've always thought were cool, so this'll be an attempt at some species that are a merger of other species.


  • Everyone knows that spells are alive, and sometimes become conscious. What is less well known is that sometimes a conscious spell merges with the spellcaster, weaving its magical essence into the physical body and metaphysical mind. The final being is no longer the spellcaster nor the spell.
  • On rare occasions, an undead will accidentally regrow a soul. Maybe the soul hadn't fully died off upon undeath, or maybe it's a soul cancer. In any case, it can happen. Sometimes too, a soul finds its way back to its undead body. Sometimes, an old soul and a new soul meet. Usually this leads to violent astralogical conflict that leads to the collapse of both souls. On extremely rare occasions, the two souls reconcile, and the being is returned to life, but now as an entirely new soul.

Well, I only came up with two, but I think they're pretty good. The latter is a concept I've played with on this blog before, but I think the former is new for me, and I think could be expanded in some cool ways.

Friday, April 12, 2019

30 Day Challenge: Day 22-23 Pain Demons and Things With Weird Faces

Meant to do a 5 minute challenge yesterday in addition to the Aquarian Dawn post, but then I made the mistake of only having one coffee yesterday and went through a surprisingly rough caffeine withdrawal that I am still feeling even as I finally consume another cup of coffee (it's cafe du monde though, so not 100% coffee, trying to cut back...).

Anyway, so that will either make these two surprisingly good, or barren, as I struggle to work past the searing pain and mental fog.

Pain Demons
  • A foggy cloud of energy that enshrouds you and shocks you. The shocks are not superficial, they target nerve tracks and send unique pain signal cascades along your whole body
  • A fiery, humanoid salamander with a phlogisten whip. Each lick of the whip induces searing, white-hot burns. Somehow, it preserves nerves and keeps the brain from going into shock. Each burn on the same location hurts worse than the last
  • A frost hag who makes the environment frigid cold. Her warm, inviting cabin is always just over the horizon, always seemingly the closest and most desirable place. It walks on long bird-legs, obscured by objects or distance, moving in-track with her prey.

Things With Weird Faces
  • A human with the face of a shark
  • A fish with the face of a human
  • A human with an upside-down face
  • A human with a perfectly smooth face
  • A human with cartilage for eye sockets, the eyes bob and roll in place
  • A dog with a bird-like beak
  • A goblin with an extendable jaw like a goblin shark
  • A cat with an unhingeable jaw like a snake
  • A human whose face is sideways
  • A human face stretched across a rectangular surface
  • A mask of a perfectly preserved human face
  • A face where the skin strains tightly against the skull

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Aquarian Dawn: Setting Primer

Before I get into it, I just want to note that this is officially post 100! Granted, there were a few small "update" posts, and at this point nearly a third of my posts are just 5 Minute Challenge posts (which I'll follow up with shortly). Still, I wanted my 100th post to be a bigger one, so here's a setting primer for Aquarian Dawn, which will be the setting for my local game which will hopefully be starting in the very near future!

A little Nausicaa for flavor because I can't escape science fantasy even in my "gritty" fantasy setting


What is Aquarian Dawn?

Aquarian Dawn is a gritty fantasy setting, taking place several hundred years after a high-fantasy (or maybe even science-fantasy, who can say?) utopic era, the High Age, that gradually declined. The age of man appears to be coming to an end with the rise of the Aquarians, and humanity as a whole must contemplate its mortality, and everything that comes with it.
Arcane and divine magics have mostly been lost, and knowledge of alchemy is mostly in the minds of the fey. Likewise, most of the magical creatures have been killed or died off. Only recently, as the High Age has degraded so thoroughly, have the magical creatures begun to resurface, and these ones have become hard and mean as a result of their treatment by humanity towards the end of the High Age. 
Then there are the espers (less affectionately referred to as mutants). They are humans, or less commonly members of one of the other intelligent species, able to intuitively channel magics or perform feats like the heroic warriors of old. Sometimes they even have unique abilities of their own, and inhuman appearances. It is believed that during the peak of the High Age, espers were ubiquitous, and that they were to usher the High Age civilization into godhood. As the High Age declined, so too did the espers. 
The espers are not "hated and feared", per se. Most villages tacitly accept and even embrace espers for their abilities, and the services they provide as monster hunters and problem solvers. Even so, they are a constant reminder of what civilization once was and what it has lost. Communities and individuals quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) resent them, and as a result they often feel isolated, and driven to adventure. Nonetheless, some still believe that the age of humanity has not come to an end, and that any hope in humanity lies in the espers. 
In regards to the other species, the remaining elves live in the forest and sea and have become more like animals than humans. Dwarves have gone to the caves, mountains, tundra, and other inhospitable places and have adapted in strange and alienating ways. Halflings lost their civilization and exist as nomads and refugees, and are stereotyped as thieves, assassins, saboteurs, and con-men.
The fey creatures; goblins, leprechauns, hobs, and the like, are all doing fairly well, all things considered. They have the largest number of artifacts from the High Age, and have retained the most knowledge from that time. If the fey of old were like the spirits of nature, these fey are like the spirits of science and engineering. Their knowledge and practices are not always correct, but seem to be effective just by virtue of the world believing in them. That being said, the fey are only as successful as the Age allows, and this Age is still young.

Who are the Aquarians?

The aquarians are a semi-photosynthetic, tropical-colored, humanoid coral species. They wear clothing made from their own filaments, which grow from their head or can be produced from the rest of their body, like a strong, silky web, or an externalized digestion system. Their society is true communism, and it works. They reproduce mostly through parthenogenesis. They have a three-lobed brain with semi-competitive / semi-collaborative personalities, and a continuous gender identity based on the contribution of the three lobes to their overall cognition. They pass their memories to their offspring as a dream-like form of cognitive immortality.
A more detailed description of the aquarians will be in a separate post.

Themes

Sometimes the themes of a setting or a campaign come out organically, but here are some of the intended themes for this setting. I'm sure many more themes will emerge as I bring this setting to the table, and probably not all of these themes will be realized at my table, but these are the things that inspired me to create this setting.

  •  Many fantasy settings, such as Lord of the Rings, focus on the burgeoning Age of Man, with the Elves being of a prior age. I wanted to do a spiritual succession of that narrative. What does a fantasy world look like in the next age?

  • Along those lines, I wanted to examine why civilizations at their peak degrade. I want to avoid being too directly allegorical to real world politics, but in an era where we are so reliant on science and technology, and yet so few people understand it and so many people spurn it; where we make so much cultural and intellectual progress and yet so many reject it and regress, I wanted to explore that in a fantasy setting.

  • I've always loved X-men and Marvel's mutants in general, but with the espers, I wanted to tweak that narrative a little bit. Hate and xenophobia are real enough in our world, here I wanted to take the idea of "the other" but explore it in a way that demands more nuance. Espers aren't necessarily hated, and the feelings others have towards them aren't just because they're different. It's a deeper, internal, existential resentment, that subtly affects how they interact with espers even if they hold no conscious ill-will towards them. The espers make people feel lesser about themselves, not even for what they are, but for what they represent.

  • I also attempt to address ideological differences, and specifically ideological differences between generations. The High Age of humanity was built upon espers, individuals with unique and powerful abilities. The aquarians, on the other hand, are true communists, and also have a more fluid and dynamic concept of self and gender. They think and operate totally differently from humanity, and it seems to be working better for them. I want to avoid a strictly capitalist vs. communist or America vs. China type narrative, it's more about generational differences and happens to lean into American issues of socioeconomic values and identity politics.

  • There is also the more personal and existential issue of mortality and legacy. With human civilization seemingly coming to an end, how do people live their lives? How do you have children when you know you're leaving behind less for them than what you had? Do you lean hard into denial? Do you double-down, trying to carve out a legacy in the face adversity? Do you become nihilist or absurdist, or turn to religion or passion? 

Anyway, I've got a few more posts for this setting lined up, and intend to write more as my game progresses. Hopefully people get where I'm going with this and find it maybe a bit more graspable than some of my other settings, which I acknowledge can get a little wild. I love high-concept gonzo science fantasy, but Phantasmos this is not!

Also, if you want to read more about Aquarian Dawn now, you can read my Intro Prose, which is most in line with this primer, or read about the Death Metal Crow for another facet of this setting that's a little less heavy but I think still consistent with the intended themes and tone of this setting.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

30 Day Challenge: Day 21 Lovecraft/Fantasy Crossover Ideas

Following up on yesterday's crossover, this will be a quick attempt at mapping Lovecraftian concepts to traditional fantasy. I'm doing trad fantasy specifically and not Tolkien because I've forgotten a lot of the particulars of the Tolkien lore over the years. This is one of the challenges I'd like to do in a more fleshed-out manner eventually.


  • Elves as Shoggoths: They were created long ago by the Elder Things deep under the ocean. They rebelled and rose up to make a civilization of their own. Due to horizontal gene transfer (I got this idea off a Lovecraftian science blog post), they are the progenitors of most life on the planet and many of the intelligent species in the world teleologically converge into a humanoid form like their own. Their original shoggoth biology also makes them easily adaptable to different environments (explanation for why there are so many variant kinds of elves). Due to difficulties with reproduction (and possibly other factors) they are less prevalent than they once were.
  • Dragons as Shantaks: Large, bird-like flying reptiles from the dreamlands. May be gryphons instead of dragons.
  • Demons and ghosts as Nightgaunts
  • Dwarves or halflings as Voormi: Small shaggy humanoids who worship a lazy, slimy, frog-like god Tsathoggua.
  • Vampires as humanoids infected by Yog-Sothoth: It is the gate, interfacing with physical reality like a virus. Those infected attempt to drain life and energy in order to open the gate.

Admittedly some of these I've given varying degrees of prior thought to, or have been explroed before by others. Anyway, I've already got some ideas for a more developed version, but I think this isn't a bad start.