Thursday, February 22, 2024

Special Orders Preview: Amarna Boundary Stela C

POWER: Major

DESCRIPTION: Nestled in the Northern cliffs of the ancient Egyptian ritual city of Amarna, Stela C is unique among the Boundary Stelae of Akhenaten. Unlike the other Stelae, C was concealed from public view by its location in a gorge not easily visible from the city itself. Stela C is six meters tall and ten wide, carven from the native stone of the cliff. Most of the face is occupied by a bas relief depicting an androgynous human figure on their knees below the sun disc Aten. The figure is holding their stomach, intestines, lungs and liver in their open palms. The majority of the accompanying Hieroglyphic script is effaced, either by deliberate vandalism or weathering (though neither explain why the image is still visible). The only decipherable text reads “ATEN…HIS THRONE…GATHER POWER…VESSEL”.

Below the relief, at ground level, is an arched indentation in which rests a carven alabaster throne. Like the relief, the throne is suspiciously unweathered. The seat of the throne is stained with a black, pitch like substance and a dusting of unknown pinkish residue. On each side of the throne are two indentations sized for urns or jars, for a total of four.

EFFECT: Sit on the throne while the four indentations are occupied by canopic jars containing your preserved stomach, intestines, lungs, and liver. Recite the full text of the Stela (not just the surviving fragment). You can then combine ten minor charges you’re carrying into a significant charge, or ten sigs into a major.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Unknown Armies Artifact: The Panoply of Thug Babur

By "unknown Indian artist"

This suite of items is traditionally attributed to Thug Babur, a legendary cult leader and serial killer from the waning years of the Mughal Empire.

The Thuggee were a secret society or social movement that operated in the Indian subcontinent from the thirteenth to nineteenth centuries. They murdered travelers for personal gain and as a bloodrite to Kali, she who destroys evil to protect the innocent. The exact reach and prevalence of the Thuggee movement is debatable. The earliest textual references to Thug activity far predate European incursions into India, but The East India Company and later British Raj undoubtedly exaggerated the threat posed by the cult as an excuse to institute repressive social policies against the subcontinent’s poor and rural peoples.

Thug Babur himself first appears in 18th century sources, most of which are retellings of earlier stories. He is typically a boogeyman who induces potential recruits to join the Thugs by engineering great misfortune in their lives, appearing to them when they are at their weakest to offer a way out. He had the power to torment people in their dreams, destroying them psychologically before the final confrontation in the waking world.

The panoply of items are signature weapons of the Thuggee, who according to the various sources were required to kill without shedding blood, to kill with a ritual dagger, or to personally bury their victims.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Cyberpunk RED Easy Mode - Play Report

A trio of edgerunners drove their stolen van away from their latest act of super-crime, traveling at a speed slow enough not to be pulled over, but fast enough not to be immediately suspicious for obeying the speed limit. In the car:
  • Mover the Solo
  • Redtail the Medic
  • Torch the Tech
They had just dropped off the goods from their latest heist and were on the way to pick up their payout from the fixer. Said fixer, name of Lazlo, gave the Solo a call on his disposal burner phone - a violation of protocol that ran against the very purpose of a burner phone. The Solo, buffoon that he was, answered the call. Lazlo told him that the location of the pickup had changed - they'd be picking up their payout in the industrial side of Heywood. The group immediately suspected a double-cross, but wanted the money more than they wanted to spend the night in complete safety.
Large sections of the industrial district were still "under construction", caught between Night City's successive waves of deindustrialization and reclamation as the real estate keiretsu waited out a more favorable economic climate to rebuild. The pickup was set for an alleyway in the shadow of a skeletal building, whose rebar was laid so long ago it was already starting to rust. The group parked the van a block away and approached on foot. Mover peered into the alley with his cybernetic eye and spotted several armed figures waiting in ambush, one of whom wore a Night City Police badge under a hoodie. He casually strolled around the block and set up behind them without attracting their attention.

Redtail and Torch pretended they hadn't noticed anything amiss, and went down the alley to collect their paycheck. One of the goons came down the alley in response, clad in a hoodie and carrying a briefcase cuffed to his wrist. He stopped and fussed over the key, unlocking it and inadvertently dropping it on the ground after about half a minute of fiddling.

Torch took the case. Two more plainclothes cops stepped into the alley, blocking his egress.

"He's got a gun!" one of them shouted.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Maintenance and Preservation - Session Six

The earthquakes were getting worse. Something under Clearmountain was causing them. Central Services needed to pinpoint the source of the disturbance before they could do something about it.

Pepper and John Benson had a job to do: place three sensors in the southeast region of the underground. One in the old church crypt, one in the cult stronghold and one in a complex of buried ruins. With only two people to do the job, Pepper decided to call for backup. She called up the Explorers of the Furthest Realms and asked if anyone wanted to go on a delve into the undercity. 
The Explorer Gunnie met them at the central services building. She had the Death Knight Hildegrin's armor on, stripped of the gold damascening that adorned the matte black plates. She didn't make any clanking sounds stomping around, and the explorers noted a yellow scarf around her neck, the only adornment on the dark armor. Benson asked where she got the suit of plates, and she explained it came off a dead body in the underworld. She was excited to get into the undercity, and suggested the group use the entrance at the club downtown, under the old textile mill, which would put them within walking distance of their objectives.

Friday, February 9, 2024

A Bed of Roses - Favorite Foods

Bleeding Scorpion - Roast bicep w chilies
Jumping Spider - Turkey tamale
Stone Hammer - Tlaxcalli (tortilla) w guacamole
Two Legs - Snow w honey
Yellow Thorn - Quail egg
Consecrated to He Who Lowers His Head - Pozole w manflesh
Pepper Knight - Spicy chocolate
Pierced By Thorns - Roasted pumpkin seeds
Smoking Lilly - Fresh pineapple
Toppled Cactus - Stewed tomato

Monday, February 5, 2024

Unknown Armies: A Bed of Roses Playtest One

The year was 1521. The place was Tenochtitlan, head of the Triple Alliance of the Aztec Empire. The island-city had just been conquered following a ninety day siege by a coalition of Spanish Conquistadors and their Nahua-speaking allies from neighboring city-states. Weakened by starvation and smallpox, the surviving Mexica were at the mercy of their conquerors’ insatiable lust for gold. 
William de Leftwich Dodge
In a Pochteca Guild Hall, four Aztecs were confined to a storeroom amid sacks of cocoa beans and bolts of cotton cloth - the majority of the Guild’s liquid wealth, which the Spaniards have no interest in.
  • Consecrated to Father Death, Warrior and elderly Eagle Knight
  • Jumping Spider, Merchant and luxury goods trader
  • Pepper Knight, Capsaicinurge and mighty warrior prone to ignominious pratfalls
  • Toppled Cactus, Fool and sideshow dwarf from the city's menagerie

Their hands were tied and they only had a moment to contemplate what they would do next, before a group of hairy men from the other side of the world hustled them out into the banquet hall.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Maintenance and Preservation - Session Five

A surly middle aged man in a track suit stormed into the Clearmountain Central Services building. He cornered a pair of maintenance workers in the lobby and read them the riot act. His name was John "Johnny Boy" Benson, and they were responsible for the death of his nephew John Benson. Maintenance workers Pepper and Eddie patiently explained that Benson's soul was just fine in the jar where they stored it, and they had a plan to bring him back. Johnny Boy wasn't having it, but the one legged supervisor interrupted him before the situation turned violent.

Johnny Boy tried to flex his authority as a Costa Nostra hood, but Kurta wasn't intimidated. If John Benson was under the protection of a Sicilian family, it was that family's responsibility to protect him from the depredations of a rival crime syndicate. And Johnny Boy was far from home, if he wanted to cause trouble in Clearmountain then the Ponda Ray family would be happy to take care of him.
Fortunately cooler heads prevailed, and the maintenance workers explained their plan: they would take John Benson's body and the jar containing his soul down to the crypt beneath the Serpent Ruins and resurrect him. Johnny Boy insisted on coming with them, to make sure they didn't fuck it up.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Maintenance and Preservation - Session Four

The peg-legged maintenance superintendent of Clearmountain Central Services had a problem. The recent round of earthquakes was barely noticeable on the surface, but it had wreaked minor havoc on infrastructure in the undercity. Chemical sensors in an underground cistern showed contamination by an unknown and potentially dangerous source, presumably ruptured and leaking into the pond as a result of the seismic disturbance. Pollution of a subterranean graywater pond was not itself an issue, but if it were to flood and back up into the main stormwater system...

Pepper and John Benson were joined by new hires Eddie and Gary on their expedition to the undercity to fix the problem. The underworld map suggested two angles of attack to the previously unvisited node: entry through the defunct subway station below the railyard, or entry through the old bathhouse in the northeast of the city. They had heard rumors from the Exploration Project that the bathhouse entrance would take them to the cistern, though the exact route was obscure.

Peg Leg gave the team some useful tools before sending them out: a spray tank of sealing foam (somewhere between caulk and insulation) and a thermal lance (a cool and incredibly dangerous cutting torch that used pure oxygen and an acetylene torch to ignite a tube full of steel rods as fuel). Then they set off for the bathhouse, excited to scout a new dungeon entrance.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Maintenance and Preservation - Session Three

A warning light came on in an old control room at the Clearmountain Central Services headquarters. The one-legged boss didn't know what it meant, but he knew it signified something bad happening in the undercity. Someone needed to go down there and fix whatever was wrong. That someone was veteran maintenance men John Benson and Professor Ethan Boule, assisted by three new hires: Charlie, Pepper and Yana.

The group checked the approximate position of the problem sector against the underworld locations the veteran explorers had already visited. The zone in question was on level two of the undercity, which they knew how to get to through the geothermal caves. But one of the new hires heard there was also a hatch in the underground frontier which led further into the depths, which would shorten the journey significantly. The closest entrance to the frontier was the suburban house used by the mobsters. The boss told them it had been filled in. They suspected he might have been given some bad information, and decided to check it out. They got into the work truck and drove across town.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Maintenance and Preservation - Session Two

The Necropolis by Eric He
Three technicians met the one-legged boss on the roof of the Clearmountain Central Services building, under the arched glass that enclosed the grimy tiled roof.

  • Professor Ethan Boule, disgruntled lecturer at Clearmountain College
  • John Benso, experienced maintenance worker from a long line of cowardly adventurers
  • Kovie Fauxer, nonverbal engineering student at Clearmountain College
The mission was this: Tectonic activity in the tunnels beneath the university had severed a fiber optic cable. The maintenance crew had to find the damaged cable in the limestone caves, descend into the next level of the undercity and link it up to the other end of the cable.
Based on the zones Benson explored on the last job, the closest underworld entrance to the caves was the necropolis. There was a mausoleum with a staircase leading down into the tombs. They tossed their gear in the work truck and set off across town.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Unknown Armies: In Defense of Milestones

In Unknown Armies 3e, the players and GM create the characters and setting together at the beginning of the game, all pointed at a shared objective chosen by the group. The player created objective is supposed to have GM created "milestones" that grant percentage point increases to the score when accomplished during the course of play. 
The corkboarding rules in Book 2 say the GM and players should start thinking about milestones from the moment they choose their objective. Every group I have played with waited until the end to develop milestones There's a big advantage to waiting until the board is finished to choose milestones. It transforms the corkboard from a collection of random elements into gameplay. The players and GM are supposed to "relate" elements to each other during worldgen, explaining how everything is connected. Inevitably, you're going to have elements that nobody could think of a tie-in for. Asking the players to generate milestones is the best way to tie all the elements together. Most elements on the board are introduced by the players and that means you can ask them how the things they individually care about and want to be relevant in the story fit into the shared objective

...we don't have time?
Corkboarding with new players can take a long time. I've seen it run two sessions and if you've already sunk six or eight hours into "session zero" you might be losing your players. The big problem with milestones-at-the-end is that they happen at the end, and anything that happens at the end of an RPG session is the most likely to be truncated or forgotten outright.
We've done milestones through a backchannel between games when corkboarding ran over time. You can also ask everyone to throw out four or five ideas and then refine them yourself between games, presenting the finished list at the beginning of the next session.

I will use this segment to advocate for smaller corkboards. As the GM you've got a couple phases where you can choose to introduce stuff or connect things that are already there. When in doubt, connect elements that are already there. It's tempting to introduce a ton of stuff to "bring the world to life" but if you go too far it actually has the reverse effect - you've got so many factions bumping and grinding that it's impossible to incorporate all the NPC reactions to story events. You end up dropping plot elements and offscreening stuff, which is no fun when you're trying to honor the players' contributions to the board by making them central to the game.

...another route to the objective appears during the course of play?
I have seen people say they don't collaboratively generate milestones because they don't want to "predetermine the entire Path to the Objective." It's what prompted me to write this post in the first place, when I decided to address the issue constructively instead of picking a fight with one of the devs over a three year old discord post. 
Thankfully it's easy to fix. If the players do something that sidesteps one of the pre-listed milestones and accomplishes the same goal, just award them the points for the thing they did and add it to the list as completed.

...I want to have a secret milestone?
Then do that. Reveal it when the players accomplish it, or keep it hidden if they don't.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Fear & Hunger: Singing Sand Masterpost

David Roberts
In the year 1913, archaeologists, scholars and financiers from across the Old World descend on the Valley of the Gods in Songhai, Abyssonia, where scholars from the Temple of the Sun Amon have just unearthed the tomb of the legendary New God Djoser Parahu Daoud. 
An adventure in the style of The Mummy and Raiders of the Lost Ark, set in the world of Fear & Hunger. Contains the rules and mechanics necessary to play, along with the pregens, scenario documents and maps.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Maintenance and Preservation - Session One

In the basement of the Clearmountain Central Services building, the sweaty one-legged head of the Maintenance & Preservation laid out a job for his newest hire: a drain in the undercity had become clogged. The new guy needed to go down there and unblock the flooded chamber before the whole storm system backed up. He warned the new hire to be careful of deadly traps, wild animals and unfriendly underworld denizens - he wasn't a police officer or social worker, he had a job to do and an important part of that was not getting killed.

The closest entrance to the undercity was in the garbage dump in the northwest. The new hire locked and tagged out the trash mincer and climbed inside the machine, slithering down the handholds into the depths below.