Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Reverse Engineering Random Tables - Campaign Events & Minor Magical Items

Two of my favorite random tables are Dreams in the Lich House's Campaign Events for the Black City and Dungeon of Signs' Starting Minor Magical Items for Darkly Haunted Noble Characters.

I like them so much, in fact, that I want to learn how to write my own tables like them. And the way to do that, I think, is to take them apart and see how they work. Having done that, I should be able to put my own lists together in the same way to achieve a similar effect.
 
 
Let's start with the campaign events. I've found that having something happen "in town" during the player characters' downtime expands the scope of the game a little bit and makes the campaign world feel "alive" - and by extension, when I've run ongoing campaigns without events, it can start to feel a bit too much like the characters are the only people in the world. (I mean, they sort of ARE, but you don't necessarily want it to FEEL like that. Suffocating claustrophobia is fine INSIDE the dungeon, but you want the outside world to feel more open.)

Lately I've come to appreciate that running a sandbox game requires giving players a surfeit of choice. If you want your players to choose their own goals and objectives, then you have to offer them a longer list of ideas to narrow down from. You need a map that shows them places they could go, you need a basic concept (at least!) of what each of those places is like, and you need to populate your world not just with monsters, but with people, with factions and NPCs who have names and personalities and agendas of their own.

And random events help with all that, because they mimic the unpredictability of a world where things happen because other people make them happen. I've used the Dreams in the Lich House random event list before, and liked it, so let's see what John Arendt is doing with this list:

1-2 Astral Conjunction
3-4 Bad Weather
5-6 Beached Whale
7-8 Bear Attack
9-11 Blood Feud *
12-14 Bragging Rights *
15-16 Dire Omens
17-18 Disappearance
19-20 Favor of the Gods
21-23 False Identity *
24-26 Fire *
27-28 Food Shortage
29-30 Foreigners!
31-32 Gold Rush
33-34 Great Weather
35-36 Herd of Caribou
37-39 Inflation *
40-41 It Came from the Ice
42-43 Long Live the King
44-46 Marvel Team-Up *
47-48 Massacre
49-50 Meteor
51-52 Missionary
53-54 New Sub Level
55-56 New Trade Route
57-58 New Trade Town
59-60 Pod of Whales
61-62 Population Change
63-64 Prize Fishing
65-66 Rampaging Monster Back Home
67-69 Rescue Mission *
70-71 Rival Wizard
72-74 Robbery *
75-76 Ship Lost at Sea
77-78 Sickness
79-80 Skilled Laborer
81-82 Stolen Map
83-84 Stormy Seas
85-86 Supply Problems
87-88 The Enemy Among Us
89-90 Vermin
91-92 Visiting Ship
93-94 Wandering Monster
95-96 Wars and Rumors of Wars
97-98 Where's the Wizard
99-100 Whirlpool

There are 46 events on there, most with a 2% chance of showing up, a couple with a 3% chance. I've marked the more-common events with stars. Reading through each entry, I tried to group them in a way that I think makes sense of what each event is doing for the game. With a very small amount of rounding, we get this:

10%  - positive event
10% - rival NPC interactions
20% - faction event
30% - sidequest opportunity
30%  - negative event


The specific events that make up those categories go a long way toward defining the environment. If you wanted to set your campaign somewhere that wasn't a Viking outpost beside an alien city, then you'd want to alter or reskin the individual entries. But the overall proportions are what interests me here.

About 10% of the time there's an event with a positive impact. Most of these are for one session only, a couple are ongoing. Notably a couple of these look like NPC events, but the effect is primarily an improvement of conditions, like when a skilled laborer opens a new shop in town, or when a new trade route adds a whole menu of foreign luxuries to the shopping list.

About 10% of the time, the player characters are forced into an interaction with some rival NPCs. These interactions can pose an immediate problem (like when the NPCs accuse the player characters of a crime and demand redress) or they can provide an opportunity for exploration (like when the NPCs offer to join the PCs on a joint mission, providing the personnel to do something more dangerous than usual) or they can just be a goad to spur the players to action (like when the NPCs are bragging about their own exploits). Regardless, this sets up a session where the players can do a bit more roleplaying. It also requires you to invent, or have on hand, some NPCs capable of serving as rival adventurers.

Roughly 20% of the time, there's a faction-level event happening. Unlike their rival NPCs, the player characters aren't necessarily forced into getting involved in whatever's happening - but it will change the social environment of the town going forward. Maybe one faction leaves town, maybe a new faction arrives (or a whole second town springs up!), or maybe there's conflict between two or more of the existing factions. The players could try to ignore that, offer to mediate it, or join one side against the other. For this to work, each faction needs a somewhat distinctive identity, and probably a couple representative NPC members. Because none of these events involve the player characters directly, they get more freedom to decide how to interact with what's going on. As Necropraxis suggests, let the players decide who their enemies are.

Roughly 30% of the random events are opportunities to go on a sidequest. (The default main quest being looting the megadungeon ruins of the alien city.) Most of these involve the temporary appearance of a new adventuring site or a new quest activity - check out that meteor crater! or catch that whale! Some of these seem like negative events, but the effect of them turns out to be a chance at redress, rather than a reduction in the living standard. You might try to investigate what happened to someone who's lost (and rescue them, if possible) or make a plan to kill a monster who's built a nearby lair. What defines these events is the opportunity to go on a mission that varies your routine, whereas the negative events generally don't open up new venues for play.

The final 30% of events impose some kind of negative impact. Again, most of these are single-session events, but a few present an ongoing problem that doesn't necessarily have a solution. Some of the negative events target the player characters directly (like if their campsite is robbed or catches fire), while others are of a more general nature. The key here is variety. I love that good weather provides the opportunity to narratively describe the setting a little differently - and makes travel and digging harder because of the mud. Some problems, like pests or disease, help contribute to the hardscrabble feeling of the environment. Others - like price increases, goods shortages, or offshore weather that makes leaving the island impossible - emphasize the isolation from society. A couple problems are magical, but most of them are mundane, quotidian. They're the kind of problems that remind the players why their characters took up the adventuring lifestyle in the first place - to get away from the poverty and filth of a mundane world that dirty and broken.

I don't know if I ever would have hit on this 10-10-20-30-30 distribution of events if I were making my own list, (I'm certain that I WOULDN'T have attempted a 3-to-1 ratio of negative events to positive, left to my own devices), but I've used this one, and it seems to work well in practice. It requires pretty minimal bookkeeping to run, and still allows the players to impact the game world, by deciding how their characters will react to events not of their own making. More complicated, and deserving of a post of its own sometime, would be the task having dynamic lists so that the frequency and severity of negative events responds to character actions. But as I said, that's for another time, so for now let's turn our sights to something else, instead.
 
 
Specifically, let's refocus our attention on the enjoyable task of handing out treasure to the player characters. What Gus L has written is a table of treasures. He intends to give them to starting characters from aristocratic families, to give those characters a sense of inheriting heirlooms from their noble house. I really like this idea, and it certainly fits with Metal Earth's advice to make starting characters special right out the gate. You could also use a table like this to award treasure during play.

There are a couple reasons to use treasure tables instead of inventing what kind of treasure is found on the spot. The first to maintain a sense of fairness and to avoid the appearance of favoritism when handing out treasure. You, the referee, aren't letting your personal feelings about the players determine what treasure they get, you're letting the dice decide, and your campaign is better for it. The second reason, though, is that it can be difficult to imagine treasures, especially new magic items, right there on the spot. A key reason to plan anything in advance is to end up with something better than you'd get from inventing it in the moment at the table.

Anyway, as with Dreams in the Lich House's random events, my sense is that Dungeon of Signs's starting treasures offer a nice mix in a good balance, and that I could learn something by looking closer at it. So let's do that:

1 Jewel Moth Robe
2 Distilled Chanteuse
3 Dueling Cane
4 Butler's Fork
5 House Sword
6 Healthful Wand
7 Fanged Idol
8 Masquerade Helmet
9 Simian Automaton
10 Vestarch's Crest
11 Remonstrator
12 Ring of Hate
13 True Liturgy
14 Uhlan's Armor
15 Sack of Coinage
16 Seraphim's Pinion
17 Revivifying Tipple
18 Parfume d'Maudlum
19 Porcelain Steed
20 Magister's Snuff Box

Again, it's worth noting that the treasure table, like the random event table, is a good place to do some worldbuilding for your campaign. The names, the style of language, the imagery all help to establish what sort of place these treasures come from, and I think just looking at both lists, you can see how different the two campaigns are from one another. The baroque, decadent flavor is obvious from the names alone. As before, I'd like to try putting these into categories:

20% weapon
15% combat trick
25% armor
25% tool
10% retainer
5% cash

4-in-20 of the treasures here are weapons. We get a good variety - a sword, a club, a wand, and a point for a spear.

Another 3-in-20 are combat tricks that provide some kind of advantage. Again, we get a good variety - one facilitates escape, one temporarily incapacitates your enemies, one reduces their initiative and gives a penalty to their attacks.

5-in-20 of the treasures are armors or protective items. We get a robe, a ring, a helmet, a suit of plate armor, and a talisman. Some improve AC, one improves saving throws, a couple offer protection against specific types of damage. One of the items also grants an additional benefit besides protection, and another imposes a penalty.

5-in-20 treasures are what I'm calling "tools" - they're all items that mimic the effect of a specific spell and provide a utilitarian benefit. We get a lockpick, a divination device, a healing potion, a scroll to turn undead, and a blood-drinking idol that lets you re-cast an already-used-up spell. Like the combat tricks, the healing potion has a limited number of uses; the scroll, I think, can only be used once; and the lockpick, like one of the weapons, has a chance to become useless until next session. The idol can be used freely, but imposes a price in hit-points for each use. A variety of restrictions, alongside a variety of functions, makes each item feel distinct from the others.

2-in-10 of the items are retainers. One is a monkey butler that can't be used for combat, the other is a magical horse (also blood drinking, a repetition that contributes to a sense that these items come from similar sources).

And finally 1-in-20 treasures are just cash money. The amount is enough to buy a magic item if a market were available, so presumably you could substitute another "magic currency", like Eberron's dragonshard crystals or Black Powder Black Magic's demon ore, to achieve a similar effect.

With both the lists here, the point is not necessarily to become beholden to someone else's design decisions, but rather to better understand what those design decisions actually were so that you can make better-informed decisions of your own. As I said, it wouldn't have occurred to me to make so many campaign events negative, but looking at the list, I can see the logic. I also don't know if I'd have thought to make so many tools, and I know I wouldn't have thought about combat tricks, if I hadn't been looking at this treasure table.

A huge percentage of the events on Dreams in the Lich House's list are goads to spur the players to leave town and go explore, whether it's something negative that pushes them out or something positive that pulls them. These aren't just random events with no impact on play, they're events that make one session feel different from the rest, and continuously open up new possibilities for adventure. Even if you don't want the "dung ages" feel of rats and pestilence in your setting, it's good to think of ways to remind your players that their characters aren't homebodies, they're meant to get out there and do things.

Another sizable portion of the events entangle the player characters in the affairs of NPCs. Populating your game world with other people and giving your players reasons to interact with them prevents their dungeoneering from feeling like a totally solipsistic activity.

The entries on Dungeon of Signs's treasure list are all quite different from each other. There's no "ho hum, just another magic sword" or "great, another unidentified mystery potion" here.

They're also all items that are meant to be used during play. There's no incentive to hoard these items, you'll want to use them, even if it means using them up. Half the items have some impact on combat, where you'll be willing to use them just to stay alive. Most of the others have an obvious use in a common situation where using the item prevents hitting a frustrating dead-end. Others are "always on" or have more open-ended applications.

The fact that many of the items do have limitations also helps prevent a handful of early treasures from totally dominating the rest of the campaign. You're not going to stop adventuring because you've already found as much as you could ever carry, and you're not going to turn up your nose at later treasures because they're inferior to what you already own. If you really like an item, even finding another that has the same effect with a different restriction would be a boon. At the same time, only one item is a "one and done" so you do get some sense that your character is defined by the things they've found so far, just not to the extent that you are only defined by what you've already found.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

5e Characters I Want to Play - School of Red Magic Wizard Archetype

SCHOOL OF RED MAGIC

Red Mages are polymaths and dilettantes. They try to bridge the divides between martial prowess and magical insight, between the "white magic" of healing and the "black magic" of war. They study widely and attempt to unify separated schools of thought into a monist personal philosophy. 


They reject boundaries and borders and often violate laws and prohibitions meant to enforce separations or prevent the "mixing" of unlike peoples and things. They are fiercely loyal comrades, striving for oneness with their friends and unity within any group they join.

Red Mages' understanding of magic tends to be more lyrical and mystical than other wizards'. They see occult symbolism in colors and forms, write their own spells in allegory and verse, and embellish their spellbooks with calligraphy, marginalia, and iconography.

Red Mages are often drawn from the ranks of acolytes and hermits, folk heroes and soldiers. Because they strive to balance the competing influences of white and black magic, red mages are often neutral in alignment.
 
Red Mage from Final Fantasy XI

READ FROM THE RED LEDGER
Beginning at 2nd level, you begin blending white and black magic in your casting. Your training makes you much more versatile than those who specialize in a single domain of white magic or a single school of black magic.

You gain proficiency with all simple weapons.

Immediately replace one of the wizard cantrips you know with a cantrip from the cleric spell list. Then erase one 1st level wizard spell from your spellbook and replace it with a 1st level spell from the cleric spell list.

From now on, whenever you prepare the list of spells that is available for you to cast after you finish a long rest, you must prepare at least one wizard spell and at least one cleric spell for each spell level on your list.


DRAW FORTH THE DIAPHANOUS VEIL OF DIVINE PROTECTION
Starting at 6th level, your study of white magic teaches you to better protect yourself and others.

You gain proficiency with light armor.

You have a limited well of white magical energy you can draw on heal injuries. On your turn, you can use a bonus action to regain hit points equal to 1d6 + ½ your wizard level; or you can use a bonus action to touch another willing character to heal hit points equal to 1d6 + ½ your wizard level. Once a character has benefited from this feature, they must finish a short or long rest before they can be healed by it again.


ASSAIL THE UNWORTHY WITH ARCANE ALACRITY
Beginning at 10th level, your study of the principles of black magic trains you to fight more dangerously and opens new avenues of attack.

You gain proficiency with all martial weapons.

On your turn, you can take one additional action on top of your regular action and a possible bonus action. You can use this additional action to attack after casting a spell, or to cast a spell after attacking, but you cannot make two attacks or cast two spells using this feature. Once you use this feature, you must finish a short or long rest before you can use it again.


BRAID TOGETHER THE BIFURCATED THREADS 
Starting at 14th level, you perfect the ultimate blending of white and black magic, allowing you to release both arcane and divine energy with each spell you cast.

You gain proficiency with medium armor and with shields.

Whenever you cast a spell from the cleric spell list, as a bonus action, you may make a melee or missile attack to strike a creature within 30 feet with pure necrotic energy. This attack deals damage equal to the spell level.

Whenever you cast a spell from the wizard spell list, as a bonus action, you may choose a willing character within 30 feet to infuse with pure radiant energy. This infusion heals hit points equal to the spell level.

 
Red Mage from Final Fantasy XIV

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Book Cover Trends - The Occupationist's Female Relative

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The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Arielle North Olson, 1970
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Ronia, The Robber's Daughter by Astrid Lindgren, 1985
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The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan, 1991
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The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich, 1998
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The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan, 2001
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The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, 2003
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The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards, 2005
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The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham, 2005
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The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea, 2006
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The Zookeeper's Wife by Daine Ackerman, 2007
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The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent, 2008
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The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Lenore Skomal, 2010
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The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch, 2010
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The Witch's Daughter by Paula Brackston, 2011
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The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht, 2011
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The Traitor's Wife by Kathleen Kent, 2011
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The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson, 2012
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The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki, 2014
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The Liar's Wife by Mary Gordon, 2015
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The Stargazer's Sister by Carrie Brown, 2016
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The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse, 2016
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The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown, 2017
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The Light-Keeper's Daughter by Jean E Pendziwol, 2017
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The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton, 2018
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The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor, 2018
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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Ballet Idea - Neko Nabe

So I had this idea for a slice-of-life ballet set in a restaurant where a human waitstaff serves cat customers. All the romance and visual euphemism and innuendo of traditional ballet is converted to the romance between the cats and their meals. I call it Neko Nabe.
 
Nabeneko San from Neko Atsume
 
Act 1

1st dance (solo) - The curtain opens on a darkened restaurant. The backdrop is a city scene viewed through the restaurant's windows. The Host enters and dances while setting up the restaurant for the day - turning on the lights, sweeping, taking the chairs off the tables, etc. The stage lights create a sunrise in the background.

 2nd dance (group) - One by one, three Waiters arrive and get ready for work - neatening their uniforms, tying on aprons, putting out glasses and silverware, etc. They dance solo, in duets with the Host, and with each other. This dance emphasizes the camaraderie of the staff and the easygoing environment of their workplace. of A bell rings every time someone opens the door.

3rd dance (group) - The Postmaster Cat arrives to deliver the mail to to dance with each of the Waiters and the Host. This is a quick piece, and demonstrates the familiarity the staff has with their regular visitors.
 
Ekicho San from Neko Atsume
 
4th dance (solo) - The first Cat Customer (a human in a cat costume) arrives and orders a meal. This is a dance of hunger and longing, as the customer communicates its desire for food.

5th dance (group) - One by one, the three Waiters bring out Fish (either humans in fish costumes or 5' tall cutouts of fish) and present them to the Cat Customer. Each waiter tries to convince the customer to select this fish, then the three dance together to conclude the presentation. The dance concludes as the customer selects a fish, and the other two are returned to the kitchen. One waiter seems disappointed their dish wasn't chosen. The waiters and host sit to watch the next dance.

6th dance (duet) - The Cat Customer dances with the chosen Fish. This is a very romantic dance, incorporating all the tropes of courtship and consummation. At the end of the dance, the fish disappears offstage, and the customer takes a seat near the kitchen.
 
Kafe San from Neko Atsume
 
7th dance (group) - A second Cat Customer arrives. This customer is a realistic cat puppet that immediately hops up on a table. The three Waiters bring out dishes on large silver trays covered with cloches. Again, each waiter competes with the other two to give the most tempting and hospitable presentation to the customer. This is really the waiters' time to shine, and ideally includes some tap dancing along with the traditional ballet. The customer appears thoughtful, then selects a dish. The frustrated waiter is again disappointed not to be chosen, this time in a more exaggerated and comical way. Again, the waiters retreat to watch alongside the host and first customer.

8th dance (solo) - The Cat Customer puppet performs a solo dance with a plush toy of a fish as a prop. The puppet imitates traditional ballet moves. Some are very impressive (and would be physically impossible for someone who isn't a puppet, such as jumps with incredible air time), others include humorous slips and pratfalls. The waiters, host, and other customer all clap and act very impressed, but this should be played for comedy for the real audience.

That seems like a showstopper, so let's go ahead and stop the show and have an INTERMISSION after that!

Bisutoro San from Neko Atsume
 
Act 2

9th dance (group) - The curtain reopens, and a new customer comes in, a Cat Parent (a human dancer in a cat costume) and numerous Cat Children (child dancers in costume). The puppet customer remains seated on a table near the kitchen. The parent dances with the children, and the children dance around the stage, exploring the restaurant.

10th dance (group) - The Waiters hand out fish to the Cat Children (some are simple paper cutouts, at least one fish pinwheel and one fish kite). The children dance with their fish while their parent takes a seat, but eventually, the kids entice the Cat Parent to stand up and dance with them and their fish.

11th dance (duet) - The Postmaster Cat returns after work, dances around the children, and dances a duet with the Cat Parent. They are a couple, but theirs is an established, familiar relationship, and they are both tired after a long day. They dance support and reassurance to each other, with each taking a turn to do more of the work. The Cat Children sit to watch their two parents dance. Halfway through, the Waiters serve two fish (large paper cutouts) to the parents, and they continue their duet with the fish props. At the end of the dance, the children stand up and join the postmaster, while their original parent takes a seat near the kitchen.
 
Sebasu San from Neko Atsume
 
12th dance (duet) - An elderly Cat Couple enters the restaurant and dances a duet with each other. They have been in love a long time, and although they are not as athletic as they used to be, they have a tender, romantic duet.

13th dance (group) - The three Waiters present the Cat Couple with dessert options. This dance has the feeling of a contest between the waiters, and the frustrated waiter has a brief solo after each of the other two. After pulling out all the stops, the couple selects the frustrated waiter's desert, and the waiter is comically triumphant.

14th dance (group) - The Cat Couple begins to repeat their romantic duet. They are joined by a personification of their Dessert (a human dancer in a costume). Over the course of the dance, we see the couple remembering their life together. At one point they are joined by two Cat Children playing tag. Later we see a younger version of the Cat Couple dancing a courtship. Later we see a Cat Couple in wedding clothes. Costume details (including both the cat coloration and the color and style of their clothes) help establish continuity. The elderly couple continues dancing alone, and are joined by the other two desserts, the three Waiters, and the Owner.

Again, that seems like a showstopper, so let's go ahead and stop the show right there and let all the dancers take their bows. The three Waiters and the Owner tidy up the restaurant while everyone else is bowing, reversing what the owner did to open the shop at the beginning of the show.
 
Manzoku from Neko Atsume
 
The music should be light and happy. I don't know enough about the classical canon to pick a good soundtrack. The idea came to me while listening to the instrumental dance break in the song "King of New York" in the Newsies musical, which sounds to me like very good music for presenting cats with silver cloches of food.

As a concluding thought though, here's "Kuroneko No Tango" as performed by Pink Martini & the Von Trapps.
 
   

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Links to Occupations

Below is a list of occupation lists I might use in my own DCC games.

I like occupation lists, both for the way they paint an immediate picture of the game world, and also for the way they provide an instant prompt for playing the role of a new character.

The Medievalists:

from Coins & Scrolls:
Actual medieval occupations

from Ten Foot Polemic:
Failed Medieval occupations

from Zenopus Archives:
OD&D NPC occupations

The Dickensians:

from Into the Odd:
Failed occupations (for the Bastionland city setting)

from Zero Level Blog:
Our World occupations (for the Our World / Lost World setting)
Lost World occupations (for the Our World / Lost World setting)

from Roles, Rules, and Rolls:
Baroque occupations

from Iron & Ink:
Yellow City races, castes, and backgrounds (for the Yoon-Suin setting)

from Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque:
Dark Secrets (and a pdf of the same)

The Weirdos:

from What Would Conan Do?:
Planar backgrounds (for the Troika! setting)
Bonus planar backgrounds (for the Troika! setting)

from Living 4 Crits:
Mouse Guard occupations and character creation
Disney occupations (and a pdf of the same)
Revolutionary War occupations (and a pdf of the same)
Numenera occupations
JRPG occupations
Star Wars occupations

from Giblet Blizzard:
Weird Urban occupations

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Invaders - Invid, Inheritors, Dreamers, Ividia

The Invid were one of the first monsters I ever wanted to fight. The Invid are the villains of season 3 of Robotech.

The villains of season 2 of Robotech, the Robotech Masters, spend about half the season worrying that the Invid are coming. While the human heroes of the story are all going crazy wondering whether they can beat the Robotech Masters and their seemingly invincible army of clone pilots and bioroid mechas, the Masters themselves are going crazy because they're certain they CAN'T beat the Invid, and their only hope is to hurry up and finish things on Earth so they can run away before the Invid get here. In other words, the Invid are introduced by reputation as the REALLY BAD GUYS that even the regular bad guys are scared of. I have to tell you, as a suspense-building device, kid me found it pretty successful.
 
The evolution of the Invid from the Legends of Zor comic
 
Season 3 of Robotech opens with the Invid coming to Earth and completely wrecking up the place, so that the rest of the season is set in a ravaged, post-apocalyptic wasteland where humans are barely eking out subsistence. Which is to say, from the moment of their arrival, they absolutely lived up to their reputation.

The Invid we see appear to be crab-like crustaceans with partially mechanical/electronic components. On the show, it's ambiguous if what we're seeing are the Invid themselves, form-fitting suits of battle armor the Invid wear, oversized mecha with the same body-plan as their human-sized pilots, or mecha with entirely different looking aliens inside. (It's possible, for example, that the blue-green ooze that bleeds out when the armor is pierced IS the pilot, not the pilot's blood.)
 
Invid Scouts
This and subsequent images from the Robotech Picture Archive
 
Invid Armored Souts
 
Invid Trooper
 
Invid Shock Trooper
 
The Invid come to Earth seeking the Flower of Life. In season 1 of Robotech, a battle fortress crashes into the Earth, and the alien Zentradi come to seize it. Humans eventually repel the Zentradi  invasion. The battle fortress is so desirable in part because it's fueled by a large supply of a power source called Protoculture. In season 2, the Robotech Masters come to Earth to try to retrieve the Protoculture for themselves. Unfortunately, over the course of the season, the Flower of Life starts growing in the Protoculture, which makes it both useless to the Masters, and irresistible to the Invid, who can sense its presence from across the galaxy.

There are some interesting anti-colonial themes and themes of decadence at work in all this. The Robotech Masters enslaved the Zentradi, turned them into giants, and gave them their fleet of warships, but by the start of season 1, the Zentradi have escaped from the Masters' control, and are just a roaming army. They know how to pilot their warships, but not how to repair them or build more, and everything looks pretty heavily worn, even broken. They're hoping the battle fortress that crash-landed on Earth will include schematics that will let them make things and not just use them.

The Robotech Masters have also forgotten some of their technology. They can use Protoculture to grow clones, build bioroid mecha, and fuel their whole civilization, but they no longer remember how to make more Protoculture. They want the battle fortress basically just to buy time. The entire season, we see them fighting at far less than full strength because they're almost out of fuel. They want to seize the Protoculture in the fortress to replenish their supply, and it's pretty heavily implied that if they fail, they'll go extinct. They might be doomed even if they seize it though, since they have no particular plan to relearn how to synthesize the stuff for themselves, and the fortress might be the last great untapped supply anywhere in the galaxy. What they need is renewable energy, and instead, they're going absolutely all-in on using up the last bit of irreplaceable fuel.

Meanwhile, the Flower of Life itself is like a prion or a parasite, at least from the Robotech Masters' perspective. They describe it as both a pest that grows in Protoculture and as a mutation of Protoculture itself. Regardless, the Flower of Life contains all the energy of Protoculture, but in a form that's unusable to the Zentradi or the Masters. The Invid, we're told, were once either non-sentient, or at least a non-technological species from the same planet where Protoculture originated. The Masters' uplifted the Invid and enslaved them to either grow Protoculture, or to grow the Flower of Life and convert it into Protoculture. By the time of the show, the Invid have also escaped the Masters' control, and now outnumber and overpower them. All the old Protoculture farms are controlled by Invid who use them to grow the Flower of Life for themselves, and when they come to Earth, it's to enslave humans to farm and harvest the Flower of Life for them.
 
The Invid Flower of Life
 
The Invid use bio-technological Genesis Pits to experiment with ways to better adapt the Earth to their own purposes. They also use the Pits to transform a few of themselves into human-like bodies.

So to summarize, the Invid are simultaneously the sympathetic victims of a colonialist empire, and a terrifying unstoppable invasion force. They come to Earth to transform it into a slave-tended garden for growing their sole food-source, the Flower of Life. And they control their own biology to such an extent that we see them as both giant crab-robots and as humanoid spies.
 
Marlene was grown to be an Invid spy,
but her egg was damaged and she hatched with amnesia
 
Sera retained her memories,
but found that her human form gave her human emotions
 
Now these are absolutely some monsters I want to fight. BUT, they also remind me of some other monsters, and so rather than leave well enough alone, I want to put my own take on them for Gilded Age horror gaming. What shall we call these not-Invid? I think I would call them the Invidia, the Invaders.

In Joseph Conrad and Ford Maddox Ford's novel The Inheritors, the eponymous Inheritors are humanoid invaders from the Fourth Dimension who are endlessly fascinating to actual humans, and who are successfully able to exploit this fascination to ascend to fame, power, and prominence within British society. The book ends at about the point when they're about to move from acquiring power to using it to remake the world.

The Inheritors look basically human, but their presence is like a superstimulus that overwhelms most people's psychological defenses against being abused or manipulated. It's sort of not clear to me if Conrad and Ford intended these characters to be alien invaders, or just like a new "breed" of modern humans who are unbounded by tradition - but for the sake of gameability, let's go with aliens. Likewise, it's not clear if they intend the Fourth Dimension to be a literal place, or just a metaphor, and both interpretations of 4D were pretty popular at the time, but again, for the sake of gaming, let's assume it's a place. If the Inheritors are from another world, and take on human-like bodies when they come to ours, it's possible that they have another appearance entirely when they're at home.
 
The Inheritors: An Extravagant Story by Joseph Conrad and Ford Maddox Ford, 1901

In Samuel Delaney's short story "Aye, and Gomorrah", Spacers are essentially a third gender of humanity. Delany describes them as being agender and asexual. They live full-time in space stations that orbit the Earth, but can teleport down to the planet for recreation. When they come down, they're idolized, exoticized, and fetishized by "frelks" - people whose only sexual attraction is to Spacers. The story seems to imply that most people have a low opinion of both frelks and Spacers, and Spacers seem to see frelks' attraction to them as basically a joke. Throughout the story, frelks basically beg Spacers to exploit them, and Spacers are easily able to get cash, or a favor, or a laugh at a frelk's expense.

Although Delaney writes about a public that is distinctly un-sympathetic to his main characters, he seems to be pretty sympathetic to both the frelks and the Spacers, while showing that their relationships aren't healthy for either party. They kind of can't be, since they're fleeting, and so one-sided. But what if Spacers were more like Inheritors? What if almost everyone fell in one-sided love with them the way frelks do?
 
Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison, 1967
 
In James Tiptree's story "And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side", humans have encountered aliens, and have joined galactic civilization. We're the newest members, so we have the least technology, least political power, and are economically the poorest species in galactic civ. And a significant portion of humanity becomes sexually obsessed with aliens from the moment we first meet them.

Tiptree describes this almost exactly like superstimulus - whatever qualities we find attractive in other humans, aliens simply have MORE of those qualities, more than any human ever could, so much MORE that we become unable to feel attraction for other humans again. The humans who love aliens love them desperately and one-sidedly, and never seem to get more than a pity-fuck out of their pursuit. Tiptree never says if the aliens who go along with this exploit their human lovers, economically or in any other way. But the relationships are clearly unhealthy, both emotionally and physically, as every human who loves aliens is shown to have permanent injuries they sustained during sex.

The Invid spies with human bodies do elicit deep feelings of affection and attraction in season 3 of Robotech, but throughout the series, love between humans and aliens occurs over and over because both sides sometimes find one another alluring and irresistible. The difference is, in Robotech, this love is shown to be reciprocal and valuable. The xeno-philia or xeno-sexuality of humans and aliens alike proves again and again to be the first step toward greater mutual understanding and diplomacy. Robotech is a war story - three war stories, really - but in each season, it's people who feel inter-species attraction who make the first overtures to peace. Tiptree's vision is different, like Delaney, she imagines a lopsided attraction that leaves one side willing to sacrifice everything, and the other side only willing to condescend to interact at all for the sake of receiving their sacrifices.

(Quick thought that serves no purpose: what if there were a setting were "homosexual" referred to ANY humans who loved humans - who loved the SAME species as themselves, who loved other HOMO sapiens? What if "heterosexual" referred to humans who loved aliens - who loved DIFFERENT species? That has no real relevance to what I'm talking about here, but I would find that to be a fascinating linguistic drift.)
 
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1972
 
To take another tack, in D&D's Eberron setting, the Inspired are humanoid bodies inhabited by the minds of extra-dimensional aliens - the Quori from Dal Quor. The humanoids are explicitly described as being not quite human. Their species, when not combined with a Quori to become an Inspired, are simply called Empty Vessels. The art depicting the Inspired often shows a phantasmal Quori floating behind the Inspired body. Personally, I interpret this not just as a way of illustrating that we're looking at an Inspired rather than a human, but as an indication that the Inspired sometimes project psychic images of their Quori when they're being overt about their identities.
 
Inspired and Quori
 
Inspired and Quori surrounding adventurers
 
In Jack Shear's Umberwell setting, he describes a species he calls Dreamers. Just describes Dreamers like this: "Dreamers are a rebirthed race; they are the souls of an insectoid species originating from a lost age of the city’s history reincarnated in bodies indistinguishable from the human form. If the theory that the city’s islands are the remains of a dead god is true, it may be the case that the insectoid souls of the dreamers achieved their initial sentience and innate psionic powers by feeding on a divine body as parasites. When they sleep they dream only of Scarabae - the precursor city that stood on the islands currently occupied by Umberwell."

You could imagine Dreamers as being like the Inheritors - human bodies with alien minds. You could imagine them like the Khepri from Perdido Street Station, as humanoids who simply followed a different evolutionary path to arrive at much the same place humans did. You could imagine them like the Insect-kinden from Empire in Black and Gold, as humans whose psychic powers and tribal identities draw on actual insects as a source of imagery and fictive-kinship. Or you could imagine them like the Inspired - humanoid bodies with phantasmal insects hovering behind them, like the totem animals that appear DC comics' Vixen or Mera use their superpowers.
 
Umberwell: Blackened be Thy Name by Jack Shear, 2018
 
Lin the Khepri by Justin Oaksford, 2011

In Greek myth, Invidia is the goddess of jealousy. Invasion, I think, could be imagined to be like jealousy. You want what someone else has, and you try to take it away from them.
 
Circe Invidiosa by John Williams Waterhouse, 1892
 
From there, it's a simple misspelling to arrive at Ividia, a genus within the family of pyramid-shelled snails. Is there any animal more D&D than a snail? It's almost too perfect to learn that Ividia snails are hermaphroditic, and usually parasites.
 
Turbonilla acutissima, not a member of the Ividia genus,
but still part of the Pyramidellidae family

And that, I think, is enough to start building our Invaders, our Invidia.

The Invaders come to us from somewhere beyond. Some of them claim to hail from the Crab Nebula, situated in the night sky between Aldebaran and the Pleiades. Others claim a kingdom within the Fourth Dimension, a realm but a sidestep away from our own reality.

The Invidia appear to us in humanoid guises. They are intoxicatingly beautiful, with flawless androgynous features. Some dress in men's clothes, others in women's, others in some mix. They claim no human gender, and each addresses itself like royalty, as "we" and "our". Those humans who have seen the Invidia without their clothes claim that all their bodies are alike, no matter what they wear, and that the resemblance to humanity only goes so far before giving way to impossible alien anatomy, unattainable foreign beauty. Those humans who have been trusted to see the Invidia like this are inevitably too far gone to really return to humanity. The rest of their lives will be spent as the Invidia's evangels.

Humans are like thrall before the Invidia. We lack the strength to refuse them, lack the will to oppose their desires. The first encounter with an Ividia is an unsettling, uncanny experience. They seem too good to be human, too perfect. Their strength of personality is overwhelming, their very presence, overaweing. Many who meet the Invidia fall instantly in love with them. They become suitors, followers, hangers on who accompany their beloveds everywhere they go. Others fall so deep in thrall that they become almost insensate. These "sleepwalkers" are uncanny in their own right, nearly mindless servants despite their human form.

It is as easy as breathing for the Invaders to enter the highest echelons of human society. They collect socialites and celebrities as their most valued sycophants. The Invaders' power over humans with worldly power makes their domination almost instant, almost complete.

The earth, to these Invaders, is like a garden, where they seek to grow Golden Lotus. This flower is life to the Invaders, it is the source of their abilities and their only food. It is also a powerful narcotic that affects them as opium affects humans. The effects of Gold Lotus on humans is even stronger. It can turn lotus-eaters into "sleepwalkers" or put them into a near-permanent twilight sleep. It can also imbue seemingly magical properties on the eater. The Invaders have come to earth to grow their garden, and though their vanity seems insatiable for our adoration and our praise, what they really want humanity for is to labor as their gardeners.

Though they usually appear in their humanoid form, the Invaders have other bodies as well, kept just a sidestep away in fourspace. When roused to anger, or high on Lotus, these ghostly golden bodies appear just behind the Invidia, always behind, no matter which angle they're viewed from. The translucent gold bodies of the Invidia are not human. They appear as the ghosts of giant, monstrous snails. A lesser caste of Invidia exists, who dwell on earth in their snail-bodies, and are summoned to act as soldiers when their leaders' charisma and diplomacy fails them. Sightings of the soldier caste are rare, for few can refuse the Invidia any request.
 
Should the Invidia be snails? or crabs, like the Invid?
Should they just have golden eyes? or entirely golden bodies like the Sovereign from Guardians of the Galaxy?
Consider this idea a work in progress.