This won't make it into the first MRD book, but I've discussed this with my players in my MRD Campaign, that they would like to have some guide for how to create their own Poltergeist Forms. To be honest, in a mechanical sense, it's all pretty fast and loose, but nonetheless, I can see how it would be helpful to have a guide because I was implicitly following a kind of formula.
Fortunately, for the very same campaign, I'm working on an NPC who is a Recurser, who has a prior history with one of the players. Fiona's character Dori, who has the Poltergeist Form Crashing Rocket Nixie, used her Recursion Ritual to escape an assault from Redlight / Greenlight, SWAT, and Wire Mother (see PR 9 in the linked post above). In doing so, she returned to a Court of Hell from her past as a criminal in Denver. She had been tricked into stealing an important object from a powerful gangster, but her partner set her up and ran off with the object. After fleeing to New York she thought she was safe, but by returning to the Court, she has now been put back on their radar.
I could have used one of the other Poltergeist Forms not currently in use in the campaign or kept it loose and generic, but I have always liked the idea of duality between Pixies and Nixies, and then after my usual free association borderline psychedelia manic creative process, this idea for Glass Maiden Pixie came to me. This is as much a review of the creative process for a Poltergeist Form as it is a mechanical guide for hacking MRD.
This example Poltergeist Form will probably not be as refined, and definitely not as well tested, as the official ones. NPCs don't need to have full character sheets, so I could have just statted this NPC up like any other, but I figured it would make a good blog post and could add value to the game even if it isn't in the first book.
Oh also I remembered that this post was somewhat inspired by this particular KS Update for Dungeon Bitches, a game I am very much looking forward to and that resonated with me on a deep level even though I am not necessarily what the subtext is pointing towards, and I think if you like MRD you will probably like Dungeon Bitches and hopefully the reverse is also true. DB is probably way more high profile than MRD anyway, but ya, probably the game I'm most excited for right now besides finishing MRD.
The Subtext / Flavor Text
Every Poltergeist Form should have a subtextual throughline, where the flavor text and mechanics reflect behaviors evoking those themes, rather than being stated explicitly. Crashing Rocket Nixie is always moving, has neurotic manic energy, and starts lots of projects but rarely finishes them. I'll leave the rest of the subtext and particulars to interpretation, but this is the basis from which I wanted Gass Maiden Pixie to be a counterpoint. Pixie is more so somebody who thrives in the world, but they feel constrained by the world as well. They can see beyond the limits, but there's a glass ceiling, and pushing against it is painful or aversive. They are uncomfortable with themselves, their body, and the world. They feel detached from reality, or more so they feel hyperreal, like reality itself isn't real. The name is a reference to an Iron Maiden. I guess there's an implied gender to the Form by virtue of "Maiden", but I don't see that as requisite (in fact, the NPC I conceived of this form for identifies as Male), and in fact, I think the implied gender of the name of the Poltergeist Form can itself be part of the subtext, although I'll leave the particulars of that also open to interpretation.
Your Poltergeist Form is a simulacrum of a being from a higher plane. The material world is stifling, disgusting, and it presses against you uncomfortably. Nonetheless, you push against the limits. Your Karmic power comes from your unwillingness to accept your limits or those of the false world around you.
There's no explicit mechanical implication for quirks, it's more just about evoking particular sensibilities. There should be some mix of quirks that are more weird and fantastical, and others that are more subtle and could be nearly non-supernatural. Even if they aren't explicitly supernatural, they should be heightened to some unreal extreme.
- You sometimes appear to clip through geometry like a buggy videogame.
- Your eyes have a glassy shimmer like you're always on the verge of tears.
- You have discrete but noticeable scars.
- Others unconsciously perceive you as though behind a barrier.
- In your presence the world appears less real; gilded, smaller, or lower resolution.
- You have six fingers, or six toes, or another unusual bodily feature.
Starting Karmic Attachments
There's a lot of wiggle room here. They definitely need to be evocative of the poltergeist form. They should be concrete enough for players and GMs to have some idea of what they can do with them, but loose enough that they can be interpreted in many ways and can be flexible with each other. What I've found is that when players roll or choose their starting karmic attachments, the combinations often lend themselves very well to a particular story for that character, which is exactly what I was hoping for. That being said, several of the poltergeist forms have been playtested several times, and while the overarching themes remain the same, I'm glad to say that the characters themselves have not felt identical.
- Knowing that nothing is real, you are quick to take big risks and not pay regard to others. Nonetheless, you are here, and the destruction and consequences left in your wake follow closely behind you.
- You find success, despite yourself. However, in striving towards some goals, you have had to forego the pursuit of others, and you will not feel whole until you've come to terms with these other goals.
- You feel physically unwell, or incomplete, like hypochondria or body dysmorphia.
- You perceive a barrier between yourself and the rest of the world, including other people.
- Your existence is suffering, and you cannot help but be disgusted by yourself or the world around you, and these feelings color your perceptions of everything else.
- You have or perceive yourself to have (or are perceived by others to have) a disorder, disablement, or some other dysfunction or flaw which affects you physically or how you think about your physical self.
There's a middle ground to strike with these. On the one hand, they should be evocative of the Poltergeist Form, and kind of unsettling (they are, in essence, ritual suicide), but they need to be practical as well since they do have mechanical implications. Admittedly I would like to have tested and refined these even more than I have for the Poltergeist Forms in the book, but I think I've made it work. Originally I had designed them more so with high constraints or requiring a certain amount of time, but in retrospect, the better way to design them is to be broadly applicable, but at some cost. Granted, there is already a cost associated with the Recursion Attachment, but a good reincarnation ritual can feed into that as well.
- Lock yourself inside the Glass Maiden and eviscerate.
- Place the Flying Guillotine over your head.
- Shatter the Glass Maiden and make use of the shards.
- While within the Glass Maiden, allow yourself to be destroyed by external forces.
Even though I've tried to make MRD a rolls-light game, I want to make sure that every character has at least one Damage Die for Conflicts. Every Poltergeist Form's 0th Poltergeist Feature has some Combat Die attached to it, starting at d6, but possibly increased or decreased if there are any additional mechanical effects or limitations.
Other than the 0th, there aren't any hard rules necessarily. I try to have one or two other kinds of Damage Dice features, but more importantly than that, the other features should open up interesting options. I'm thinking about features like Mirror Mirror for Ghost in the Mirror or Pirate of the PRO-Plane for Jumping from the Planck Jiangshi. They aren't even necessarily mechanical, but they provide information, or access to certain things or places, that would otherwise not be possible.
- Glass Maiden and Flying Guillotine: The Glass Maiden compresses into a sharp disk disguised as a mundane object like a hat. It can be thrown like a boomerang, slicing off heads but only metaphorically, dealing Wd8 in existential trauma. All other Poltergeist Features require the Pixie to be inside the Glass Maiden and take WIS Damage.
- Obliteration: None of this is real. Every point of WIS sacrificed within the Glass Maiden may be used to obliterate the existence of something else on a 1-1 basis.
- Metamorphosis: Within the Glass Maiden, sculpt yourself into your ideal form. For every 3 WIS sacrificed, gain pixie wings, a bright aura, or other representations of your higher self, and +3 on Saves related to the metamorphosis, for one hour.
- Vision: From within the uncomfortable spacetime of the Glass Maiden, one may see from beyond the material world all the disgusting particles and organisms, like one sees floating underwater. The aversive visions cause 3 WIS Damage but reveal unknowns and provide +3 on WIS Saves for investigations or drawing insights.
- Transposition: The Glass Maiden serves as a screen into the source code of the material world. Sacrifice 1 WIS to swap a mundane object with one of a like-kind or alter an environment in some slight way.
- Simulation: If you fail a Save roll, you may retroactively say it was a simulation, sacrifice the difference between the roll and the threshold in WIS, and consider it a success. This does not apply to the Karma roll.
- Proprioception: From within the Glass Maiden you can acutely perceive your function within society as if it were an organ. You may sacrifice 1 WIS to use WIS in place of PRO for PRO Saves, or sacrifice 1.5x PRO in place of WIS on other Glass Maiden Poltergeist Features, or sacrifice 3 WIS to change the Flying Guillotine to Pd8 for the next hour.