Friday, October 12, 2018

moving shop

I’ve decided to move my blog over to my own domain. The new blog is called hex culture.

As you might know, Google+ is being shut down within the year. I’ve been ramping down my social media use in general anyway, so I think this is an opportunity to cultivate a slower, kinder, and more thoughtful presence on the internet. I’m going to try to put my effort into more substantive blogging, instead of throwing out half-formed thoughts on G+ and then never developing them further. I’m also going to try to respond to comments more on the new blog–I would often fail to do so over here, due to a combination of blogger’s poor moderation tools and my own anxiety. Everyone who contacted me through gloomtrain has been very kind, and I appreciate it.

I will be closing comments on this blog soon, so it doesn't get overrun with astrology spam bots, but definitely feel free to get in touch on G+ while it lasts or over at hex culture. I'm figuring out social media presence beyond that as I go.

Anyway, back to writing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

katabatic age

Shin Megami Tensei/Annihilation/Stalker citycrawling mashup modeled after Pearce's Troll World.

In the depths of the environmental and resource crisis of 20XX, the discovery of a fifth esoteric phase of matter, upon which the laws of physics act weakly but the principles of perception and desire act strongly, promised a path to a better future. Wonderful machines and miraculous technologies, new cities clear of the rising water, humanity’s eyes once again turned to space, all with a price that did not reveal itself until too late. As esoteric substances filled the oceans and esoteric particles filled the atmosphere and esoteric fields tangled with the Earth’s own, all the shadows of the human mind, nightmares, rumors, figures from the old stories, took form and will and pried apart civilization. This new technology did not bring a Golden Age, or an Age of Humanity, but an age of dreaming deep without waking, an age of drowning in the collective unconscious, a Katabatic Age.

from Akira

The heart of the end of the world, where esoteric pollution is strongest. A mutating mirage-city build from the dreams and memories of its dead inhabitants, sometimes as clean and new as it was in its heyday, sometimes dilapidated and vine-chewed, its dimensions expanding and contracting so that circumnavigating it might take a week or a year or forever. It is occupied by dream-beings, eidola created by the city’s dead inhabitants: nightmares given flesh, heroes and monsters from the old stories, saints born from the prayers of the dying, archetypes aggregated from a billion human minds, kaleidoscopic psychic artifacts that corrode reality just with their presence. Rumor has it that in the deepest and strangest parts of the Katabatic Zone, there are eidola as intelligent and coherent as humans, who plot against each other and the humans who made them. The one certainty and constant of the Katabatic Zone is that a great deal of money can be made by conducting expeditions into its depths--information, instrument readings, and esoteric substances taken from the Zone are all extremely valuable on the black market. 

A small city living in the corpse of a big one. Bright paint on old plaster, new plaster on old cinder block, new cinderblock on tired foundations. Neighborhoods sprung up beneath orphaned overpasses, jury-rigged locomotives coughing diesel smoke as they follow routes that once belonged to electric monorails, pickup trucks and motorcycles blast down cracked highways that once carried thousands. And looming above it all, from the corners of the city, the four colossal namesakes of Cuatros Santos, skyscraping eikons forming an esoteric mechanism that just barely keeps the city from collapsing beneath the weight of so many human minds.
from Dorohedoro

 Step 1: Roll or choose your background and make note of your favored attribute and starting skills.

preferred attribute
starting skill
bullshit, linguistics
engineering, computers
athletics, streetwise
driving, larceny
mantia, science
firearms, first aid

Step 2: Roll 2d6+6 for your favored attribute. For everything else, roll 3d6 in order. Attributes are Appeal, Intellect, Physique, Speed, Psyche, and Combat.

Step 3: Max HP = 6. Make a Psyche/Mantia check. If you succeed, you have 1 Nous Die.

Step 4: Determine starting gear. You start with five items a competent shoplifter could get out of a Walmart and a random weapon. Italicized weapons can be hidden, bolded weapons require two hands. You can find armor and more gear on your misadventures. Guns are available, but illegal and hard to find.

machete [d6/d6]
sword [d8/d6]
baseball bat [d4/d8]
switchblade [d4/d8]
hairpin [d4/d6]
chef knife [d6/d6]
mall sword [d4/d6]
crowbar [d6/d6]
signpost [d8/d6]
bicycle chain [d6/d6]

from Michiko and Hatchin

Mantia is the shadow-science manipulating esoteric phenomena and entities. If you have a Nous Die, you can roll to start with one random Mantic trick. Mantia is extremely illegal in Cuatros Santos, but you can learn Mantic tricks from samizdat manuals and cooperative eidola. If you don't have any Nous, imbibing (and surviving) esoteric substances, surviving eidolon attacks, spending time in esoteric fields all might give you some.

from Toujin Kit of Genius Party anthology

1. Summon
Instantiates an eidolon of [dice] levels or fewer you have made a contract with. You can dismiss it at will unless it has failed a Morale check since you last summoned it.

2. Apotropaic Tone
Sing a low note note bearing a repulsive polarity, requiring eidola to make an Aptitude check to get within [dice] yards of you. Lasts for as long as your voice lasts. Eidola that succeed their check can ignore the tone until the next time you use this ability.

3. Beckoning Tone
Sing a low note that bears a compelling polarity, requiring eidola within [dice] yards of you make an Aptitude check or reveal themselves and approach you in their true form. Lasts for as long as your voice lasts. Eidola that succeed their check can ignore the tone until the next time you use this ability.

4. Esoteric Lens
Form a simple loupe in the form of a translucent stone in your clenched fist. If gazed through, reveals eidola and esoteric fields within [dice] yards. Lasts for [dice] turns.

Roll Disposition Die + Faction Die on below table to determine encountered NPC's reaction. Disposition Die is how the NPC views the party/leader/interlocutor personally, so stuff like high Appeal or cool clothes help. Faction Die is the party's credibility with the encountered NPC's organization or alignment. Both start at d6 and raise or lower based on various factors. 

hostile - attack
unfriendly - attack in 1 round without a good reason
uninterested - ignore the party without a good reason
talkative - will help the party for a good reason
amused - will help in the party for a decent reason

Human hirelings and contracted eidola are a key component in surviving in the Katabatic Zone. PCs can't have more allies (whether they are humans or contracted eidola) than 1/3 their Appeal score, rounded down. If an ally is endangered, compromised, or insulted, their employer may be required to make an Appeal check to not lose their loyalty.
from Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse

Notice how each weapon in the list had two dice? The first is the Damage Die. If an attack lands, roll it and subtract the value from the target's HP like normal. Easy. Being reduced to 0 HP means you have to make a Physique check or die, and are incapacitated still on a success.

The second is the Location Die which determines where the attack lands. Some weapons are more deadly/lends themselves well to clonking people on the head, and so have a better Location Die.
  • A location that's been hit has a minor wound. Until it's patched up with a turn of effort, any action that requires using that body part has disadvantage.
  • A location that has an untreated minor wound that gets hit again has a major wound, which means it any action that requires using that body part has disadvantage until you spend time laid up to heal.
  • Further injury to a location with an unhealed major wound renders it useless. If it's your head or torso, you'll also need to make a Physique check to see if you die, and are still incapacitated on a success. If you're alive when the smoke clears, you may have permanent consequences.


Armor is per hit location and reduces all incoming damage by its Armor Score. An attacked reduced to 0 damage does not injure its hit location. A turn's rest in a safe place restores 1d6 HP, as does resting in a dangerous place and eating a snack.

  1. Shady Dr. Sepulveda has a standing offer for esoteric substances and artifacts extracted from the Katabatic Zone. The Administration that runs Cuatro Santos certainly frowns/prosecutes such exercises, but she pays pretty well.
  2. Sepulveda's bitter rival Dr. Jimenez wants eikonometry readings from the Seventh Heaven, a particularly rarefied region of the Katabatic Zone ruled by eidola born from a desire for order. He's willing to pay quite a bit for your trouble.
  3. Word on the street is that a commando expedition armed with exoskeletal Frames never came back from their mission into the Katabatic Zone. Whatever got them is probably still lurking, but it sure would be sweet to have a mech or two.
  4. Somebody's been constructing eidolon familiars from dream-stuff and selling them to gangs inside Cuatro Santos as obedient heavy muscle. Old Man Ramiro will pay good money to anyone who can shut down his rival's suppliers, especially since the Bureau of Affairs has started sniffing around.
  5. The Bureau of Affairs is keeping something really tasty in one of their labs not far from the edge of the city. Nobody knows what it is, but everyone knows it's valuable. Up for a heist?

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

watched by the waters, watched by the sky

Been playing around with Mageblade, and I quite like it. Working on more monsters for that community-building game, and the system has been a good fit. 

I made these with their relationship with a community of people in mind--the kingfisher spirits might steal fish from the players and their village, but they could also be bribed into helping them sail, for example. The monsters are also the source of potential local taboos--ringing bells in the woods might attract moon beasts, for example, or gutting fish might lead to the local deities noticing and stealing them. I also designed them so that they could be plugged into the magic system, Pokemon-style, but that's another post.

Major inspirations are Mushishi, Shin Megami Tensei and Bloodborne.

from shin megami tensei IV apocalypse

 Two house rules to keep in mind:
  • If a monster does something they're good at, roll under their Aptitude. If they do something they’re bad at, roll under half their Aptitude. Use the tags in their stat blocks to help you decide what they're good and bad at. Unless otherwise stated, monsters are always good at fighting.
  • Spirits appear as a mirage-shimmer to people with +1 Wisdom modifier and can be fully observed by people with +2 Wisdom modifier or more.
Wind Spirits
Wind spirits can raise, banish, strengthen, weaken, or redirect wind in line of sight. The maximum strength of the wind they can control depends on their level.

spirit | small | graceful | fast | perceptive | weak | foolish
Level 1 (4 hits), Defense 0, Aptitude 10, Damage 1d4
Ability Magnitude Gentle breezes
Young wind gods, cat-sized and blue-green, singing with a voice like a panpipe. They are like the glimpse of a kingfisher out of the corner of your eye, even when you manage to look at it directly. They love gifts of ribbons and fresh fish--they congregate in a great viridian haze when the scent of fish blood is strong in the air.

spirit | graceful | fast | perceptive | violent | foolish
Level 3 (12 hits), Defense 1, Aptitude 12, Damage 1d6
Ability Magnitude Stiff breezes and lesser winds.
Minor wind gods, hound sized, a confusion of emerald-blue wings, calling out in a clear contralto. They are like the reflection of a great kingfisher in troubled water, an elfin face peering out of its mouth, sometimes walking like a bird, sometimes walking like a human. They love rare flowers, jewelry of any sort, and the flesh of fish from the deepest sea. They can be seen whirling around leviathans that have risen to the surface, looking for a chance to eat.

greater sylphs
spirit | graceful | fast | perceptive | cunning | beautiful | hungry
Level 5 (20 hits), Defense 2, Aptitude 14, Damage 1d8
Ability Magnitude Powerful gusts and lesser winds
True wind gods, human sized, wings unfolding like petals on a blooming flower, watchful eyes peering from the center. They can take the shape of a beautiful human of indeterminate gender, or else a tempest of cerulean and green wings and flashing beak and claws. They desire the true names of islands, exquisite treasures, and the flesh and blood of sacred fish. They appear singly when artifacts are excavated or when sea-gods make themselves known, looking for a chance to steal or feast.

high sylphs
spirit | large | graceful | fast | perceptive | cunning | beautiful | hungry
Level 7 (28 hits), Defense 3, Aptitude 16, Damage 1d10
Ability Gales and lesser winds.
Elder wind gods, bigger than a draft horse, like a dream of a kingfisher in flight, a corona of wings and feathers that recalls the motion of waves and the arc of sea-spray. In human shape, they are gorgeous giants, but they can also take the form of a flock of brilliant kingfishers or an enormous kingfisher crowned and jeweled.

Ora Marin, the Kingfisher God
spirit | huge | graceful | fast | perceptive | cunning | beautiful | hungry
Level 10 (40 hits), Defense 4, Aptitude 18, Damage 1d12
Ability Whirlwinds and any lesser wind.
The God of Wind-Over-Water. His wings are beyond counting. He moves like a stormcloud of azure feathers or a wave of green iridescence through the sea or a golden-crowned kingfisher with wings to block the Sun. As a human, he is a crowned  dancer, raising fair winds with his fan of blue feathers and sea-oat, whipping up foul winds with his fan of green feathers and palmetto frond.

Moon Spirits
Moon spirits can shed soft white light or summon a pall of darkness. The intensity of the brightness or darkness depends on their level.

spirit | tiny | slow | wise | hungry | gullible
Level 1 (4 hits), Defense 0, Aptitude 10, Damage 1d4
Ability Range As far as light shed by a candle
Larval moon gods, small enough to fit in your cupped hands. They are something like a white-furred moth and something like a flower blossom, always reduced to a milky silhouette as if occluded by mist. They are delighted by the ringing of bells, the scent of burning incense, and warm spilt blood.

spirit | small | graceful | wise | hungry | gullible
Level 3 (12 hits), Defense 1, Aptitude 12, Damage 1d6
Ability Range As far as light shed by a torch
Moon god nymphs, the size of a small dog. They are gracile, fronded, petaled, and winged, with wet human eyes concealed in their folds like pearls in a mound of silk, everything blurred as if by a haze of water. They adore the pealing of bells, the scent of burning sacrifice, and spilt lifeblood, which they lick with deep red tongues.

spirit | small | graceful | wise | hungry | cunning | gullible
Level 5 (20 hits), Defense 2, Aptitude 14, Damage 1d8
Ability Range As far as light shed by a campfire
Imago moon gods, the size of a child. They are thin, pale, sharp-toothed, four-armed, moving as easily on all limbs as their hind legs, and human-like when standing, with a ruff of white hyphae on their heads and necks, a cape of flower petal wings that unfold from their backs, revealing wet raw flesh like the meat beneath a fish’s gill. They are attracted to the tolling of great bells, the burning of the living, and those near death, who they kill and drain of blood if they are able.

from bloodborne
spirit | large | graceful | wise | hungry | cunning
Level 7 (28 hits), Defense 3, Aptitude 16, Damage 1d10
Ability Range As far as light shed by a bonfire
Elder moon gods, the size of a stag. They are pale creatures of gossamer and bone, their many thin limbs concealed behind luxurious effusions of white hyphae, their fronded flower wings trailing like a veil, concealing the gills-slits on their back. They swim as swiftly as they fly and run, but wherever they are, the sounding of old ritual bells, the sudden deaths of many, and living sacrifices prepared in accordance with the ancient agreements draw their attention without fail.

Moon Orphan, the Abandoned God
spirit | huge | graceful | wise
Level 10 (40 hits), Defense 4, Aptitude 18, Damage 1d12
Ability Range A light like the full moon or a darkness like the new, as far as the eye can see
The terrible God of Moonlight, luminous, fronded, billowing. It drives its immense and delicate body through the deepest waters or celestial heights with uncountable limbs, shedding gently glowing clouds through its blue-lipped sporangia, singing lunar hymns through uncountable mouths in communion with the Moon, guiding it through its course in the sky and the cycle of its phases.