Monthly Archives: March 2013

Worldbreaker: Hynd, the Hideous Truth

Worldbreaker: Hynd, the Hideous Truth

A giant from the land of fey, Hynd’s blue skin is covered in sores and blisters. He uses a large staff to balance himself with his hunched back as he travels.
He once kept watch over the Well of Secrets, but decided that those secrets should be his, and immersed himself in the well. The result was his destroyed, terrifying visage, and his banishment from the realms of his people.
He still holds the universe’s truth in his body, and seeks to reveal it to the mortals he meets. He wants to be worshipped as an oracle but the truths he holds are too terrifying. So it is he must fight, and so it is that he must build his cult by force and power.

Large Level 8 Worldbreaker
Initiative +8

Burnt ash staff +13 vs AC (2 attacks) — 35 damage
Natural even hit: the target takes 10 ongoing psychic damage.

Mind blast +13 vs MD (targets 1d6 nearby foes) — 30 damage and the target is dazed (save ends)
 Overwhelm: once per fight Hynd can use Mind blast as a quick action.

Worldbreaker. Hynd is a Worldbreaker. He has several powers that trigger when the escalation die hits a certain number. Each ability stays into play unless dispelled. If the number on the escalation die comes back to a certain number, abilities are not used again.
Each Worldbreaker ability can be dispelled or weakened by making a hard DC skill check of the appropriate type (as determined by the GM and hinted at in the description).
Worldbreaker: Hynd’s Sight. When the Escalation die is 1, Hynd’s sores and blisters reveal what they really are: eyes. They open all at once, sharing their visions of the world’s unflinching truth with Hynd’s foes. Whenever anyone makes rolls a D20 to hit, they roll two dice and choose one. Any creature who is not Hynd may take the higher of the two dice in exchange for taking 25 psychic damage. Hynd may take the higher of his two dice with no penalty.
Dispel: Hynd’s Sight can only be dispelled when Hynd is defeated or flees.
Weaken: Steer your mind towards more palatable truths (DC 35) as a quick action to reduce the penalty for taking the higher die to 10 psychic damage.

Worldbreaker: Unbearable Truth. When the Escalation die is 2, you must learn the world’s secrets and you must bear their terrible weight. At the beginning of each player’s turn, he must ask a question (types of question listed below) or take 50 damage and be weakened (save ends). The GM must answer the these questions truthfully, but the truth is a terrible thing. Every truth revealed should be as brutal and painful as possible. You can even replace former truths with the new, real truth; what a character thought he knew is not the real truth after all. A player may accept or reject the new truth. Accepting or rejecting the truth does not affect the revelation’s veracity, but details how well your character can cope.
Accept: Accept this horrible truth and take 30 psychic damage.
Reject: Refuse to contemplate this truth right now (DC 35) or take 40 psychic damage and ongoing 10 psychic damage (save ends).
Unbearable Truth Questions:
Escalation Die 2: Ask a question about another character in your party.
Escalation Die 4: Ask a question about something in your past or future.
Escalation Die 6: Ask a question about anything on your world, and brace for the results.

AC 24
PD 22
MD 18
HP 288

Man, Mythos, Meta: Re-imagining Cthulhu, Part 2

Man, Mythos, Meta: Re-imagining Cthulhu, Part 2

So I gave my point of view last time.  From there I’m establishing frames that I can use to build different adventures and games. I could do a pulp 1920s investigation, but I can’t build something attractive to me in that world without breaking the reality of the times.  There was a great amount of segregation and racism in the times a lot of pulp fiction is set.  It’s ok to ignore that if you want, but that’s not something I feel comfortable doing. I don’t even want that in the back of my head.

My “mythos” is going to veer towards the modern age.  I’m not saying everything is perfect in the now, but there’s no denying I have more opportunity today than there would be in the typical Lovecraftian setting.  Building in a modern setting lets me use history but not be oppressed or limited by living it.  It might be realistic to drink from separate fountains, but that’s not my idea of a good time.

The  next decision to make regards my relationship with the material.  I’m by no means a H.P. Lovecraft scholar, for reasons we’ve discussed. But let’s get into it.  The first frame is what I think of as “Mythopoeic Mythos”, and it’s meta as hell.  Lovecraft is problematic, right?  Lots of weird isms and resultant problems, right? So, let’s make him the center of the our game.

The monsters that Lovecraft describes are actually real things in our modern setting, but…they are not exactly as he described. But he’s the only reference point that serious investigators of the Mythos have.  H.P. tapped into something real, but in expressing it, it got all tangled up in his poor expressions.  Some of the info we can use, some we have to change, some of it is just incredibly misguided and wrong. And let’s say that H.P. Lovecraft himself is available, trapped away in some spirit realm, to occasionally be “consulted”.  What till he sees who will be asking him questions!

In this frrame, we keep H.P. Lovecraft’s work as a focal point, but we take it out of it’s times and we put the problematic elements into the context of a metafictional reference.  We can use this work or not, but we can also confront some of H.P. Lovecraft’s nastiness head-on if we choose.

The downside of course is that it means reading more of his work then you might want if you have problems with him.  Could be less of a problem if you have a person who is already a mythos buff in your crew. This frame could be a short mini-campaign, a really awesome 1-shot, or a neat diversion in another horror-based game.



Man, Mythos, Meta: Re-imagining Cthulhu, Part 1.

Man, Mythos, Meta: Re-imagining Cthulhu, Part 1.

The conversation I don’t want to have is the one  where you think that the problem I have with the bigotry in much Mythos -related literature and particularly Lovecraft himself isn’t a problem; I’m not here to prove that problem is any more or less legitimate than any other problem one can have with a genre.  If you don’t see the problem I see, proceed to enjoy the genre much as you are probably doing already. But please be aware before you complain about PC behavior –in saner times called polite behavior and decency– ruining things that you love that I’ve called no boycotts, or threatened what you love in anyway.  I’m not trying to change you, I’m trying to re-purpose something troublesome for my own ends. I’ll get into the why of that later.

For now, I want to talk about how difficult it is for me to engage anything Cthulhu-related. When I first played Call of Cthulhu the game I was hooked.  My friends and I had a lot of fun playing out these crazy tales of madness and horror.  We naturally avoided the more problematic parts of the mythos, and it wasn’t until a bit later when trying to get into source material from H.P. Lovecraft himself that I began to feel uncomfortable. Honestly, I’m not sure why I have to explain to anyone why discovering a person hates anyone who looks like you is a turnoff, but here we are. When the whole of Lovecraft’s racism became apparent to me, I just stopped playing Call of Cthulhu. The value it offered paled in comparison to having to think about the racism of the source material or the times (which was a little easier to navigate).

Now a lot of people will say that H.P.Lovecraft was a product of his times….great!  But let’s also acknowledge that his times possessed many messed up thoughts and philosophies.  Being a paragon of his time’s screwed up philosophies is not endearing me to his work.  Also, when you say “everyone” was racist in his times…are you saying black people were that racist, or do they not count?  Saying essentially that “all white people were racist during this time period” is completely unpersuasive.

The problem that I have with the Mythos is not only Lovecraft and the  “White Man’s Burden” assumption of the setting, but with the culture of  gaming itself. Every time I try to discuss this, there is always at least one person who seems to want me to accept everything around the Mythos as uncritically as he does.  If I don’t I am some sort of liberal monstrosity who hates fun. I hate the notion that I am not allowed to have an opinion about the culture surrounding games without being ostracized, hated, or trolled.  Somewhere in our game culture we have to re-discover the middle ground between utter contempt and uncritical acceptance.  Maybe we can discover what is wrong with the culture of our games and improve them.

It’s in this spirit that I am revisiting the worlds of Lovecraft.  His work has spawned many imitators and variants, and is a deep influence on modern gaming culture.  Before you refute I would love if you’d reconsider the profound amount of Cthulhu games, products, and fiction that currently exist and have been made.

Like him or hate him, Lovecraft’s work is a big part of gaming culture. As a designer of color, I like having options.  Sometimes I just ignore bigotry, starving it with silence and moving on.  If that is my only response to bigotry though, it means I have to pass on opportunities I might otherwise miss. Sometimes I can do that by making peace with it. I can be “OK” with certain things to get by.

(When you ask your black friend about something and they are “OK with it”, please consider that “OK” might not be a full approval but rather a way of keeping their options open and saying that whatever you’re asking them about is not bad enough to keep them away from what they truly want. Or maybe they are truly fine! Viva la difference.)

Sometimes making peace is too hard.  At that point you ned to re-imagine and revise. I like options, but I don’t like the options provided me.  My creativity demands I create work with not only different protagonists, but different assumptions as well.  Maybe the end result doesn’t resemble the Mythos at all. I’m fine with that. What I want is a version of Cthulhu that I can live with. I’ll present some ideas I have for doing so, some work that I’ve found, and later I will write an adventure using the the models and formats I’ve established.

Curses & Broken Bones: Negative Backgrounds in 13th Age

Curses & Broken Bones: Negative Backgrounds in 13th Age

Appreciation of 13th Age’s features comes in waves.  Icons smack in you the face.  They’re brilliant.  They make your setting more about characters and less about a wall of setting elements. Icons make the game personal as well as epic.

Next, you get to groove on the class design, a gridless, 4e/3.5 mashup that retains only some of the negatives (I still hate to-hit rolls but that’s another post).

Let me tell you what I think the underappreciated superstar in 13th Age is: Backgrounds. What’s so great about backgrounds?  Well, backgrounds “thingify” experience, replacing the big skill list of other games with a mapping of  your character’s experience to what they do now.

I know it doesn’t seem all that special or all that great, but to me Backgrounds tell you so much.  having intimidate at +4 tells you something but not that much.  It’s a measure of effectiveness, but it doesn’t describe mannerism or development.  Red Sea Pirate +4 on the other hand, can tell you quite a bit when you use it for intimidation.  In fact, it has to tell you something to even be used. What about being a Red Sea Pirate allows you to intimidate someone effectively.  Is it a general skill, or do you know this person in particular will be  terrified by your affiliation?  Mapping your Background to your skill check in this way reinforces your fiction.  In essence it makes each skill check a mini-flashback to show what you’ve learned. If you’re ever confused with how to use Backgrounds, just ask yourself (or better yet, share out loud): when did I do this before in my Background?

A Background sits somewhere between a skill and an Aspect (for you FATE junkies ) and/or a distinction (for the Cortex+ faithful).  Because of what Backgrounds describe and do, I started contemplating how a Background can describe negative experience.

Say you anger a powerful sorceror. Before you leave, he places a curse on you for your insolence, a spell that makes you talk with snake like speech. You’re intelligible but you sound pretty weird to anyone listening. There are a few ways to express such a curse, but I really like just making it a Background.  “Simon’s Slithering Speech -2” just fits.  Now, rather than describing the list of ways and circumstances in which the spell operates, whenever the curse would affect you, the GM (por you, be honest!) can bring that into the roll.  Negative Backgrounds should always be used on top of normal Backgrounds because there is a conflict of experience potentially that exists.  Having the Slithering Speech would be counteracted by Entrovian Diplomat, so just combine the two and take the net bonus or minus to the check.

You can also use negative backgrounds for injuries. A few different ways to implement this (if you want something more in-depth, holler and I’ll write it up!), but I’ll go with one.

Before making your first death save, you can accept a minor or major injury for a bonus to your death save rolls.  If you accept a minor injury you get a +2 to your roll and if you accept a major injury you get a +4 to the roll.  If you make your death save, you take an injury background, chosen by the GM, as a -2 (minor injury) or -4 (major injury).  The GM can put on something like Concussion -2 or Lame leg -4.  Injuries can be recovered by making an injury save, which is a hard save.  A minor injury can be made at the first rest, but a major injury can only make saves after at least two rest periods have passed.

This is just a start to how to use negative Backgrounds in your game.  Tell us what you think! Have you already tried using negative Backgrounds in your 13th Age games?