Monday, October 30, 2023

A/B/C (Shotgun Scenario)

A man is dead. Twice.

The police found body "Alpha" under an overpass, beaten and covered in garbage bags. No identification, no clothes, no importance; the police decided he was homeless and deprioritized the investigation.

At 8:04 AM the next day, "Beta" was shot in the throat from a third-story window. He looks identical to "Alpha", down to fingerprints and scars; 5'10", 130 pounds, black hair, thin face. By the time the police arrived, the shooter was gone.

The police have been delayed. Their investigation has been stopped, and Beta's possessions have been preserved.

This is now your problem. Catch the killer, and identify the copies, if any more exist.

 GM Information

The Doppelgangers

There are, or were, a total of 6 copies. Alpha and Beta are both dead; "Gamma", "Delta", "Epsilon", and "Zeta" still live. Only Zeta was meant to be released. He plans to kill the rest, and has persuaded Beta and Gamma to help him. The rest of the doppelgangers are going to ground, trying to build identities and relationships - making sure someone would notice if they disappeared, and hoping that will protect them from Zeta.

Alpha was desperate to find a cover as a human. He knew Zeta was after him and he was running out of time, so he tried to kill Epsilon and replace him. He got himself killed instead.

Beta was one of Zeta's agents. He avoided working - hoping that as long as there were others to kill, Zeta would leave him alone. He was wrong. Zeta got tired of his unreliability, and sent Gamma to put a bullet in him.

Gamma is Zeta's more active agent. He killed Beta with his own rifle, and now he's working down the rest of the list. He is unsubtle, and not above public violence. He always carries a pistol. He knows Zeta plans to betray him when the job is done.

Delta is a hermit - he's known someone's after him ever since Beta took a shot and missed, but he doesn't know who. His implanted memories are strong - he is entirely under the impression he is a real person, and has no idea there are any others.

Epsilon is hiding in plain sight. He lives in a perfectly normal house, with a perfectly normal girlfriend who thinks he's a perfectly normal human being. He killed Alpha in self-defense, and he'll kill again if he has to. He is also injured - nobody gets out of a knife fight clean.

Zeta is the first of the doppelgangers, the only one meant to exist. Everyone else is an error, not meant to be released. He's coerced Gamma (and, previously, Beta) to kill the rest. Then he'll kill Gamma himself, and vanish, secure in the knowledge he is the only one.

They were released in inverse order - Zeta first, then Epsilon, and so on, with Alpha the most recent. Except for Delta, all of their memories start with them waking up out in a forest. None of them know where this is. None of them know why.

Each and every one of them is a fake. Under layers of false skin and flesh, they are filled with wet gravel and foam insulation.


- "Day -1", Alpha is killed by Epsilon. Beta attempts to kill Delta, and fails.

- "Day 0", Beta is killed by Gamma. Gamma is reassigned onto Beta.

- "Day 1", October 12th, the players are brought onto the investigation.

- "Day 2", Gamma kills Delta.

- "Day 3", Gamma and Zeta meet at the diner.

- "Day 4", Gamma takes a shot at Epsilon while he's at home, and fails. The police are called. Gamma runs.

- "Day 5", Gamma tries again and succeeds. No survivors.

- "Day 6", Gamma and Zeta meet. Gamma is killed. Zeta vanishes.


Alpha's Murder Scene

Among the trash and ignored by the first round of crime scene investigators is a bloodied metal pipe, covered in wads of foam insulation. The fingerprints on it match any one of the doppelgangers. 

There are also Alpha's clothes and a journal - Alpha's information on Epsilon. Pictures of his house, pictures of his family, scripts recording the way he talks and the things he wants, all so Alpha can replace him.

There's also still a trail of blood leading away - the murderer must not have gotten away unharmed. It leads to a drug store where the workers will readily admit someone matching the description of a doppelganger came in, bleeding, and then took a taxi out east. This was Epsilon, returning to his house.

Beta's Body

Beta is shabbily dressed, and uninjured except for a bullet hole through the throat. His pockets contain the keys to his apartment, a pocket knife, and a wallet with $12.03, a driver's license under the name Johan Reading, and a picture of Delta's windowless basement apartment. On the back of the picture is "Amnesiac. By the the 28th. 610 East 35th St." - that date is two weeks ago. Beta was meant to kill Delta by now, but simply hasn't.

Beta's Apartment

Gamma shot Beta from their own apartment, after getting an extra key from Beta's landlord (who will say that "Johan" was in his apartment at the time Beta was shot). The day of the shooting, Gamma arrived in his van (bright yellow, license plate COE-3881 - tenants and the landlord can give a decent description).

The apartment itself is a wreck, trampled over by a crowd of tenants and cops. There are no signs of forced entry (Gamma used the key). A telescope tripod still stands by the single window.

On the desk is a letter. You didn't show last week. I'm tired of this. Do your fucking job.

Next to it is a map with three spots marked and dated - one last month, one last week, and a diner in two days.

At the bottom of a bathroom trash can are a set of notes on Beta, made by Gamma - his routines (home, then work at a local car wash, then home, shopping once a week), his acquaintances (none), his equipment (an AR-15 in .308 - the gun that killed him).

Gamma's Van

A boxy panel van in aggressive bright yellow. Through Day 1 and Day 2, it is parked with a clean line of sight to Delta's apartment, waiting. All the doors are locked.

There are a few holes in the walls for him to fire his new rifle through. He will take this opportunity.

Inside is a checklist: Latecomer (how?). Brother. Amnesiac. Family Man. Management. (this is every other doppelganger in alphabetical order - Gamma's kill list),  

- Beta's rifle

- another copy of the meeting-map in Beta's apartment, 

- a sleeping bag, and a few newspapers. And, of course, Gamma.

There's a camera pointing through one of the holes at Delta's apartment door. He will see the players if they go there.

On Day 3, it goes to the diner. Then, to Epsilon's house on Day 4, an alleyway after the attack fails, and back to Epsilon's house on Day 5. Finally, on Day 6, it sits in front of the diner, where it will stay. Permanently.

Delta's Bolthole 

A basement apartment, accessed from a staircase outside. The door is barred and locked. There are no windows. Delta hasn't left since Beta tried to kill him, but now he's starting to run out of food.

He has no idea what's going on. To his memory, he is David Gardner, who had a nice responsible banking job until someone tried to shoot him. These memories are false.

On Day 2 he runs out of food, and opens the door. Gamma is waiting for him. He'll see the players if they appear, too.

Epsilon's House

Epsilon (under the name Herb Olsen) lives in a one-story house in the suburbs with his girlfriend, Jane Danner. He will not react well to the PCs appearing and asking questions, assuming they've found out he killed Alpha. Jane knows absolutely nothing - she's been in a relationship with Epsilon for six months and hasn't noticed anything about killer doppelgangers.

On day 4, Gamma will park his van atop a nearby hill and then start shooting through the windows, wounding Jane. When the police are called, he flees. The next day Gamma returns and kills them both.

The Diner

Gamma and Zeta meet here twice. It is wide open, surrounded by windows, and brightly lit.

The first meeting is in the afternoon of Day 3, when the diner is crammed. They talk (about music, mourning Beta [who they each call "our brother"], about Delta [who they just call "him"]) for 14 minutes over coffee, then split up - Gamma returns to his van and drives out into an alley to wait, while Zeta ambles to a car and drives out to a completely empty hotel room. There isn't even any furniture. He just sits on the floor for a day.

The second meeting is late at night on day 6. Zeta arrives first, and when Gamma sits down, Zeta immediately shoots him, then runs. He doesn't stop driving until the sun rises.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Isotelus Complex (Mothership? Eclipse Phase?)

Isotelus Complex is an in-progress bipartite colony on/over the Jovian moon Callisto, under the purview of the "Regional Authority" (RA), manager/holders of a variety of habitats in the area. Isotelus is largely paid for by a public/private partnership with the Yosef Industrial Concern, who offered startup capital in exchange for a substantial cut of the expected mining profits.

The Complex comprises a orbital habitat, a space elevator, and a groundside colony, currently in progress. The majority of the population lives on the orbital habitat and the surface colony. Simultaneously.

After a 6/5 vote by RA/determination (and months of discussion between RA/consensus and RA/dissent), it was decided that all working citizens of Isotelus would be uploaded and forked. Most work both in orbit (operating their baseline bodies for maintenance, shipping, loading, and administrative tasks) and groundside, loaded into chitinous, bear-sized labor forms.

These labor forms are built to survive the hostile conditions of the Callisto surface; defense against radiation, a hardened exoskeleton to maintain internal pressure, and a set of grown or implanted tools and communication devices. In optimal conditions, a labor form breathes exactly once every 29 hours.

Wide, low homes of labor forms line the northern edge of the planned colony, where construction efforts are at their peak. This subcommunity ("the Bucket", either in reference to its various craters or because "that's where you put crabs") also maintains a minor population of baselines, for supporting tasks - a variety of derogatory terms exist for this population among those in orbit.

Once a year, the orbital habitat doubles in population as the groundsiders are given their vacation hours. Office workers ride to parties on the back of themselves, play a variety of asymmetrical sports, and try not to think about what it means if your counterpart doesn't show up.

Crime, and the Other Thing

Nothing should go up or down the space elevator except for workers and parts for the surface. Of course, there is a booming trade in smuggling absolutely anything else - people creep up or down in boxes to meet their counterpart outside the allotted vacation, send (deeply confused) doctors, (barely helpful) medicine, and (stolen) organs down to provide illicit healthcare to labor bodies, hide illegal drugs in the walls of boxes, and all the other things you'd expect them to do.

Mismanagement of company-provided infrastructure, attempted escape from contracted work, assault, and all other crimes are handled not by the Regional Authority, but directly by ComSec (a franchise of a subsidiary of a subsidiary of the Yosef Industrial Concern), who are free from the upload requirements, and thus nearly all baseline and nearly all wandering the halls of the orbital station in their yellow raincoats.

They are explicitly, entirely, focused on the success of the Concern's investment, and nothing else.

The Ways This Will Go Wrong

Officially, the Regional Authority's 33-person administrative body is entirely in control of the Complex, ensuring measured, representative governance with quotaed sortition and adversarial decisionmaking. In practice, the Concern owns the police, owns the labor bodies, owns the materials used to build the station, and is starting to get nervous about exceeding the budget.

So, despite their required placement in administration, the place of the labor bodies on an inhabited Callisto is, to put it lightly, in flux. It is a common refrain in the literature of dissident groups that every single one of them is certain to have a captive bolt pistol pressed to the back of their shelled heads when the job is done.

That might not be true; it's inefficient, after all. It's more likely that the Concern will treat them like anyone else unemployed - a simple choice of "leave now, or sign another contract". The fact the labor forms couldn't fit on any ship out, don't know anyone who isn't working onboard Isotelus, and have only now paid off their fees for upload is not the Concern's problem. Sign, or leave.

The first wave of groundside colonists is coming soon. Positions from doctrinaire Marxism-Palladeism to leaving the surface purely for labor bodies are sprouting in orbit. The space elevator is hitting its maximum safe stress level with every launch. Six ComSec men spaced a dock worker. The impression contracts are ending soon and not a single person knows how the Concern plans to keep the station staffed.

And it's only going to get worse.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

All Roads Lead to Molont (Encounter Tables)

While my Lanthanide Horizon campaign grinds up to speed, I am haunted by entirely unrelated things - in particular, Skerples's Bosola, a 14th-century near-Italy that is certainly having... a time of it. The Archpriest Simon II rules from the city of Molont, while the other Archpriest, Ignatius I, is hosted by the wealthy nation of Pellamy.

To the surprise of no one, they do not like each other very much.

While Bosola is, in theory, united by their support for Simon II, the peninsula's many cities are too busy knifing each other to... do anything for him. The Church's funds, split between the warring Archpriests, are used to bid for the same foreign mercenaries that the cities seek.

Everything is on fire. Cities are spasming in revolution, or up for sale, or besieged. Mercenary companies (such as the PCs'!) march from town to town, working for Simon II one day, the city of Arda the next, and the nearly powerless Emperor of Grept (technically, legally, owner of all the parts of Bosola that aren't personal property of the Archpriest) on the third.

Skerples's wonderful pointcrawl map

This is, secretly, a GLOGtober post; random encounters on ancient roads - older than the Archpriests, they say. 1d6 for encounter type, 1d6 for encounter.

1. Mercenary Encounters

  1. Six soldiers from the Sable Company trudge down roads and through fields, dragging a cannon behind them. They are terribly lost, and there's a decent chance they'll get their cannon stuck in a ditch before they find their way back.
  2. The foreign Company of Saint Beria, hired by Pellamy and the Archpriest Ignatius I. Only around two hundred of them are left - and nobody's paying them to kill you.
  3. An exceptionally foreign mercenary company of unknown name and unknown tactics, five dozen strong.
  4. Two dozen more members of the Sable Company, who haven't been paid in months. They aren't "sliding into" brigandage, they're reveling in brigandage.
  5. The core one hundred soldiers of the Company of Sunrise, along with their leader Azzone of Verrino, heading to a city to camp. It is said that Azzone has the patronage of a demon, who predicts the future for him - but only on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays (Saturday and Sunday are the days of the Saints and the Authority, respectively, so no demon could issue predictions related to them. The lack of Friday, however, has no precedent.)
  6. The entire 1000 man Peerless Company, along with a village worth of camp followers. May as well be a town on the move. Last hired by the Archpriest Simon II, and now returning to Molont.

2. Papal Encounters

  1. A bishop rides down the road in a large carriage, surrounded by servants and guards. Get out of the way.
  2. A papal messenger, running their horses ragged. They will pay you handsomely for yours (if you have any), and then return to their frantic sprint. Their letter concerns the current and future positions of the Peerless Company - and would be worth so, so much money to the forces of Ignatius I.
  3. A menagerie of lions, leopards, elephants, peacocks, falcons, and some kind of terribly tall, long-necked camel, herded down the road to be given to the Archpriest.
  4. A crowd of runaway monks, who have no idea what to do now. Attaching themselves to a mercenary company wouldn't be so bad...
  5. Fifty members of the Archpriest's (50/50 chance which) personal soldiers. Impeccable, imperious, impervious. They're even taller than you.
  6. An absurd spectacle. A twelve-wheeled, two-story carriage, flanked by hundreds of mounted people. The Archpriest Simon II, out of Molont and on the road... or so it seems. In truth, this is a body double, sent on some kind of convoluted mission. On the other hand, a copy of the Archpriest may be worth just as much as the real thing.

3. Civilian Encounters

  1. A merchant caravan, loaded with grain, gold, and armed guards.
  2. A small hunting party from a local village.
  3. A princeling of some city or another, blessed with a complete lack of self-preservation and, to balance it out, an immense sense of self-importance.
  4. Four pilgrims, headed to some tiny shrine nestled in the absolute middle of nowhere.
  5. A gang of bandits, who only realize how large a group the PCs travel with after jumping out at them.
  6. A crowd of refugees - their town has just been sacked by mercenaries. They don't know why. They don't know who.

18th century engraving of mercenary company leader Luchino Visconti, by, as far as I know, an anonymous artist

4. Villages & Buildings

  1. A small village, currently in the midst of their spring festival. They absolutely do not, even slightly, want a mercenary company rolling into town, but they can't do much of anything about it.
  2. A looming castle-tower on a rock outcropping. Still occupied, and subservient to the nearest city on the point map.
  3. A looming castle-tower on a rock outcropping. Still occupied - the home of a cackling, theatrical Sorcerer. Powerful, independent, and unpredictable. If you're lucky, they'll think you're amusing.
  4. A very, very old church, now in ruins. There is a relic inside, of some near-forgotten saint. Unfortunately, you'll be struck by lightning if you steal it.
  5. A town with a large portion of the underfunded, poorly-managed, and generally kind of incompetent Sable Company parked in front of the gate. They would, of course, like to come in. The town would, of course, prefer if they did not.
  6. An orchard!

5. Wild Things

  1. A swarm of some kind of small songbird blots out the sun - then descends to steal food, hide in places, peck ineffectually at people, and carry off anything they can use for nests.
  2. Someone, somewhere, lost track of a flock of sheep. Now they're yours.
  3. Back away slowly - your horse, or your foot, just about trod on a snake.
  4. A tree, bearing golden fruit. Each and every fruit is electrified at all times.
  5. A herd of wild boars. Probably not the best thing to interact with.
  6. Some kind of awful chimera - the head of a bull, the legs of an ant, the arms of a man.

6. Encounters with the Supernatural

  1. A demon, sent from below to tempt the souls of humankind. Do you want gold? Health? To know the secret language of the birds? All is yours - just sign here.
  2. A walking dead man, an agent of the terrible Necromancer, about whom little is known. The dead man cannot be killed again, but he can be dismantled.
  3. A Sorcerer, riding a mount of blown glass they projected from their mind.
  4. Ghostly fires and the sound of distant music. The lights are coming over the hill - they are getting closer.
  5. A circle of standing stones, crackling with static at all times of day and night. Step through and find yourself in the same place, but a distant time.
  6. A crowd of runaway monks - secretly scholars of occult forces. Might be able to lay down curses with a set of secret hand-signs, or might not; but I wouldn't risk it, personally.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Lanthanide Horizon Vignetteposting

In the style of Knot//Braid//Line - a war, a harvest, a crash, a christening, a telegram, and a fable.

On the first day of the first year of his travels, the wanderer Ozgur carried a walking stick, three weeks of dried, salted vegetables, a block of graphite wrapped in copper wire to cook with, a map on sedge paper, a hat, a second hat in case of emergency, and a ridged meditation charm to rub between thumb and forefinger, to feel the heartbeat of the sleepers he is leaving.

The workers have just finished the telegraph line to the forward operations tent of Ratan, head of a two-hundred man operation to map the Lacework Tunnel.

It would be better if they hadn't.


On the first day of the sixth year of his travels, the wanderer Ozgur saw one of those few, fabled immortals. She knelt, holding up the weight of the ceiling - and across her arms were dozens of chains in the shape of letters.

Ozgur took one in his hand to read - "You are the wanderer Ozgur. I have seen your face in the eyes of the world. There is a great hall, plated in silver. You will find nothing there."

The immortal looked down at him, and let one of her hands drop from the roof above. Ozgur climbed up through the ceiling, into a great hall, plated in silver.

Argider Maitagarri of 4 watches the harvest come in. The tower overflows with grey fruits, the sea overflows with fish. His sister drowned, six months before - but he found the fish she became, and now it hangs above the door of his room in the tower Maitagarri. A seventh name is all but guaranteed to him.

On the tenth day of the ninth year of his travels, the wanderer Ozgur met the immortal again. The ceiling still pressed down upon her, and still she was silent. The wanderer reached into her chains, peered into the tangle, and read - "I remember you."

The immortal looked down at him, and let one of her hands drop from the roof above. Ozgur climbed up through the ceiling, into a great hall, plated with silver. He saw his own footprints in the dust. And then he started on the long path home.

The city Drinking Water sat above the city of Wheat Fields. Through the hole in the ceiling, Drinking Water sent its aqueducts and extracted its tribute. One day, the patron of Wheat Fields climbed up the fifty thousand stairs between the two, attended by her guards and guarded by her attendants. 

She spoke to the patron of Drinking Water for two weeks and three days (a lucky number for her temperament), and changed nothing.

When the tall men from outside came to Wheat Fields, they offered her weapons - guns, and bombs, and machines powered by burning the blood of the walls. 

The patron of Wheat Fields was killed soon after, as Drinking Water dropped stones and burning oils and killing cables from their aqueducts. That same day, the patron of Drinking Water was shot dead in the street.

A month later, the tall men from outside called the cities new names.

The good ship Certifier is setting sail. The hydrogen tanks are filled, the shipwright has said his two blessings (traditionally, "Come home safe" and "Come home joyous", though this time he fumbled and said "cheerful"), a relic (three bolts from the Together, ship of the heroic Selectwoman Dyann) has been set into the hold, and the voyage's Selectman, Leander, has been mocked vigorously.

A man on the docks releases the clamp, and the Certifier drifts out, spotlights on the world below.

A city stumbles. One foot cracks through the floor and lands in a pool of water - a second is overstressed, and its knee joint cracks. The people awake to a hammering alarm, but the city has already sent a team for the repair, and a second team to prepare to decontaminate the first.

They light cones of wax around their homes anyway. You can never be too careful.

The first team welds the cracked joint - it will not last, but it will hold for now. Then they spot for the city as it carefully lifts the first leg, and spit in the hole to punish it. When they return they are coated in grainy paste and kept in a room full of burning incense, talking the whole time - hoping any words they caught will make themselves known.

On the hundredth day of the eleventh year of his travels, the wanderer Ozgur returned home. His walking stick had snapped, his vegetables were long eaten, his graphite block was gone, traded to a Navigator for a gun, the gun was lost in a tunnel underneath a electrical substation, the map was drenched in greasy water on an open plain, the hat got caught on a spike, and the emergency hat blew away at the top of the tallest pillar he had ever seen.

But he still held the charm between his forefinger and thumb, and felt the ridge and the hole. One-two, one-two, one-two.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Go Away Play Reports

     Go Away was a short cyberpunk/super"hero" campaign, set in the technocratic city of I Re. In 5 weeks, the last ship offworld is leaving. A ticket for 6 people is $100,000,000. Get one.

 You can read the actual play here.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

How to Fight Ghosts, and Yourself, and Everyone Else (GLOG Duelist Subclasses)

    Like every glog-type individual, I can't stop myself from making a new fighter every few months. Also like every glog-type individual, I can't stop myself from immediately doing anything a blog post tells me to - so when Locheil's fighter Legally Required anyone reading it to make more subclass variations for it, I did, dooming it to an eternity shackled to me.


Ψ - Assured

A method developed by, and for, Clockwork Men. It expects that your skin is proof against blades, but even tiny weak flesh-creatures may find it of some use.

You may have learned it from a retired Clockwork Man, or from a recovered punchcard.

1. Technique: Splintering

    When you could riposte, you can instead catch the attacking weapon between two fingers and snap it like a twig. Assuming you remain adjacent to humanity, you take 1d4 damage.

2. Stance: Sunderer

    Swords you hold count as sledgehammers when used against inanimate objects.

3. Stance: Pristine

    As long as you are at full HP, your attacks deal +2 damage.

4. Technique: Caught in the Gears

    When you make two successful attacks on the same target, you may immediately grapple them. According to doctrine, you should then crush their head like a grape in your huge metal hands, but I expect you don't have huge metal hands. Pathetic.

Ψ - Zoanthropy

A "style" of screaming, biting, and bleeding. 

You may have learned it from observing one of its practitioners, or by spending days in a strobe-lit room while being beaten with sticks.

1. Technique: Frenzy

    You may make as many bonus melee attacks as you want, but your target gets to make just as many against you.

2. Stance: No Idle Hands

    Weapons you have built yourself, from scratch ("I mined this iron ore and smelted it in a furnace I built myself" scratch) have their damage die increased by one step. (Bone, stone, and wooden weapons shatter into splinters when they roll their maximum damage.)

3. Technique: Taste of the Blood

    You may replace one of your melee attacks each round with a 1 damage bite. If this kills the target (and unlike other Duelist abilities, this kills the target, no question) you regain all your spent attacks.

4. Stance: Deadened Nerves

    For every point of damage you take, your attacks do +1 damage until the end of your next round. 

Ψ - Carceral

Developed and maintained by the ranks of the Knight-Exorcists in the eight cities of the dead.

You may have learned it as an initiate in their order, or through messages in your dreams.


1. Stance: Open Eye

   A careful pattern of acupuncture needles seats your soul strongly in your body, and sets your eyes firmly on the material world. You can parry spiritual attacks, mental intrusions, and heretical speeches.

2. Stance: Closed Eye

    Your attacks and your body count as magic for the purposes of attacking gargoyles, ghosts, and other such things. Your vision becomes blurry and grey, but with ten minutes of focus you can look into someone, at the shape and movement of the soul through their body.

3. Technique: Expose

    You may replace one of your melee attacks with a deeply uncomfortable poke directly at the target's spirit. Most people must Save or be knocked prone - those who are possessed must Save or fall unconscious as the possessor is flung from the body. Of course, many possessive spirits survive perfectly well in the open air...

4. Technique: Ingrained Response

    Some tricks meant to disperse the holy dead work just as well on tomb-robbers and vagabonds. If you miss with a melee attack, you may immediately throw an item held in your off-hand: piles of salt and iron nails are stereotypical, but sometimes a grenade works even better.

Ψ - Solipsism

A method developed by you.

You always knew it.

1. Technique: You Are Me

    When someone you can see makes an attack, you can decide they will roll with your current attack bonus and deal damage based on what you are holding.

2. Stance: You Are Not Real

    You are not affected by injuries of any kind until they kill you. Look down at your broken legs and declare that it is a trick - I feel nothing.

3. Technique: You Are Here

    Instantaneously switch places with anyone you can see - after all, they're just another piece of you.

4. Technique: You Are Not Safe

    You can make melee attacks against anyone you can see, at any distance. To onlookers, it seems as if you are hacking at yourself.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Ashes to Ashes Play Reports (#2)

The first part is here - 30 player PbP, bronze age fleshapocalypse, run by Locheil, who is great, I write play reports, etc.

ew ew ew ew ew, where a few domain lords descend into the meat-filled ruins of the Dusk Fort.

Past the Gate, adventures around a lake of burning poison. 

Above the Sky, an attempt to retake the lost city Eriqadaa, featuring living curses, tiny stars, and Old Age.

Dibs, where some criminal goons decide retaking lost cities can't be that hard.

Stolen Items Are Free, an undead swordfighter breaking into a tomb full of undead swordfighters.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Lanthanide Horizon - Tied in the Strings of Dream (Sustainer Cells)

    Within the megastructure, resources are scarce. Water must be tapped from lines, light and heat from stolen electricity, food slowly persuaded to grow in waste pits and cracked panels. So, if you have the tools, why not just wait it out?

    The Sustainer Cells keep the majority of their members in cryosleep, hidden away in tunnels and vaults below, above, and within their villages. The few still awake labor to keep themselves alive and the pods functional. These sleepers wait for the turning of the world, dreaming and speaking between themselves of things hidden from the eyes of the wakeful.

    People transition back and forth from sleep to labor, switching bodies in the untethered land of dreams. The bricklayer Ceyhun, struck dead in a fall, is pulled out of a chamber later that day - next month, they wish to retire, so the body is returned. A week after that, it is brought back with the weaver Binnur inside. Given this disconnection from the body, gender has no cultural relevance among the Sustainers - a person is a person, and the body has a sex in the same way it has an eye color.

    Children are born among the wakeful - raised in batches based on age, uploaded as part of their adulthood, and then sent out on their rites of passage, to meet distant folk and strange monuments. Upon their return, they are members of the community, and given their inheritance (since, hopefully, their parents will never truly die). Rarely, as an alternative to childrearing, bodies will be pulled from sleep with no known Sustainer mind within - these memoryless, confused inducted are sent through childhood like any other, learning the language and ways of the wakeful. However, once brought to adulthood, biological children follow in the caste of their parents, while the inducted are untethered.

    These four castes (those of the Farmer, the Artisan, the Scavenger, and the Diviner) are half of the social hierarchy in the Cells - in general, the Diviners command official social and political power, by reading and interpreting the dreams of the sleepers (to be clear - the Diviners do actually read signs according to a set of rules, and in general they don't just say everything means "give me all your stuff" - people generally believe in their own traditions and act accordingly). Within the castes are jobs themselves - a large landowner and the people working their land are both within the Farmer caste, and everyone from a machinist to a playwright is an Artisan. Under their heavy plastic-and-fur coats and their long, narrow hats, the wakeful wear face paint marking their caste and identity, applied to new bodies as part of the ceremonies of revival.

    The other half of social hierarchy is through goods - the wakeful operate on a barter and gift economy. Needed items are traded directly, or in some cases simply given. This giving is competitive - social norms reward lavish gifts and expect, eventually, an even greater return from the receiver. Winning these competitions of charity by giving the other person more than they could return improves and maintains your social reputation. The ability for a person to provide gifts is, in theory, a mirror of the respect granted their caste: a rich herder can hand out entire animals, a team of artisans clothes and tools, a scavenger brings devices from the megastructure, but the diviners produce nothing to give.

    When a Cell is threatened by war many of the sleepers will be pulled awake - even though they cannot be fed in the long term, and in the short time they cost the Cell greatly, having five, ten, a hundred times as many bodies to hold spears, to fix armor, to continue the harvest, and to read the signs lets them survive - hopefully.

    Similarly, if a Cell's home becomes uninhabitable, a body is conscripted for each of the community's sleepers in preparation for them all to flee - dragging as many chambers as they can keep online behind them as they search for a new home. These flights come with a loosening of social norms - unofficial "debts" of gifts are forgotten, names are changed, and in some cases a person can shift to a new caste before the boundaries solidify again.

    When near the Navigator Houses, Cells often begin to accommodate House ideas of reincarnation and an essential soul. The concept of the soul having a shape that fits with the body leads to an idea of a personal gender, and some of the wakeful believe that remnants of this soul can be contacted - that everyone contains sleepers of their own, who speak clearly.

    Influences from the Oasis Kingdoms and their extractive industries alter the way the Cells think of their economy - barter systems become standardized, then Kingdom coinage is introduced, both to aid in trade with the Kingdoms (and often avoided by all but the elite of the Cells). Less notable Artisans, now creators of trade goods, push for more prestige and power under the new economy.

    Next to the blighted waters and tall towers of the Gardener Clans, the Cells dissolve. With the ease of foraging in the swamp-hydroponics of the megastructure, many of the sleepers can be awoken, and the chambers of the few who cannot are spread across the dry islets. Instead of a single village built with its vault, the Cells live in dozens or hundreds of close-knit groups.

    In Cells that often trade with the Skinborne, reverence for the sleepers becomes more and more specific - the wakeful seek out the voices and the names of their ancestors inside the dream, and great families become a third path to social power.  

   Once met by the machines of the Walker Herds, the wakeful begin to associate the minds of the sleepers with the seed intelligences of the walking cities. They find the Herds' methods of teaching their nascent mind (where it is kept walled away from the world, spoken to only by the members of the royal families) misguided. In response to the Herds, these Cells become more open with access to the sleepers - they are paraded through the cities, instead of left to molder in their vaults. Equality spreads to much of the rest of their social life. Caste boundaries and hierarchies weaken as the Cells begin to view the Herds as an example of all that could be wrong.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Ashes To Ashes Play Reports (#1)

Ashes to Ashes is a 30-something player play-by-post domain game run by the Unequaled, Inimitable, Et Cetera, Locheil - set in the City Qal Ashen, city of the deathless and the dead, last city of mankind in a world consumed by unending life. 

the intended vibe (art by Locheil)

the real vibe (art by Chris M-S)

Since the game is split into some innumerable amount of hidden Interweb Locations, and people have this terrible habit of always doing things, I've ended up conscripted into keeping track of... well, not everything, but at least some.

And since I have the special set of brainworms that makes me want to read and write play reports no matter how much it tanks blog readership, it's now everyone else's problem. So, here are three that are Complete, Comprehensible(ish), and possibly even Good:

- Reckmore and the Egg, a thousand-year-old bureaucrat trying his hand at dungeon-crawling

Teeth that Scream, the two evictions of the feral wizard Colorless Agum 

The Get-Along Boat, where a pair of exiles don't learn their lesson

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

City of Cities Actual Play

    Locheil's City of Cities, Iskadar. Built of five lesser settlements bent and stacked atop each other. Temples built atop train tracks atop temples, the homes of the rich looming, bent, above fields of unused fortresses. And pinned under its immeasurable weight, the Guts, where the sun - and the law - barely reach. And inside the Guts, the Hawthorne Autocar Works, staffed now by the Red Tooth mob. And inside the Autocar Works, our PCs:
  • Serafim Victorovich, who definitely isn’t a ghoul, no matter what anyone says and how many of his parts fall off.
  • Gerome Castaigne, a bundle of star-stolen knowledge somewhere under a pile of matted hair and tacky robes.
  • Corvette, a gargoyle “paladin” whose constant meditations let her move things with her mind.
  • Ana, veteran of the wars of Hell. Don’t ask which side.
  • Zipporah Viterbo, a city-speaking harpy with a knack for doors.
  • An armored car, which may not be “alive”, or “a player character”, but really did more to help than anyone else, and deserves a place on the list.
  • And, unfortunately, “Pigshit”, some kind of goblin who lives in the vents no matter what anyone tries to do about it.
    This set of walking disasters is under contract to steal a box - though they don’t know what’s inside, the fact that the cops confiscated it when it was imported means it must be worth something, and they’re driving it through the Guts on their way to lock it up.

    The first session is, of course, spent plotting - the cops are taking their car through “Ropewalk Lane” - a winding, tight, generally horrid little road perfect for, as an example, blocking with an armored car on one side, a gargoyle on the other, and every other available goon shooting from the balconies.
    Zipporah’s in with the Dockworker’s Union gets them to happily say exactly what’s in that box (a probably Quite Cursed combination of tome, glass sphere, and golden death mask) and who it’s for - sent from the Duly Elected People’s Government (oligarchic dictatorship) of Haracaa to one “Ialanna Merce”. They also have a record of what the box looks like, so the PCs soon split up even further to go get a copy or twelve made.
    Corvette wanders around bars on the Lane, going on about the wonders of punching cops (which isn’t very hard to persuade people of, with the Great Strike only ending a couple years ago), as step one of inciting a riot when the time comes.
    And then the time comes.
    The van holding the box and its police car escort are blocked by the armored truck - and when the first cop gets out, complete pandemonium. They get Pigshit’s patented bag full of rats over their head as Ana starts shooting from the armored car’s window… once, before taking a round right through the seam and into her ribs.
    As Zipporah’s gun jams, and then jams again, Corvette tears open the back of the van to come face-to-face with a cop in powered armor, whose gun also jams, turning it into a fistfight that Corvette, backed up by a dozen rioters, slowly starts to win.
    Rain freezes on the barrel of Ana’s gun as the cops scatter into doorways and alleys - half of them carrying a surreptitiously tossed rat or two with them, thanks to Pigshit, who then crawls between the power armor’s legs to start searching the van.
    Soon, one cop makes their way to a third-floor balcony, giving Zipporah the chance to jam her gun again, then stumble through an attempted flying tackle, and then get hit on the head with a vase. Fortunately, just then Pigshit finds the box, and Corvette snaps one of the power armor’s legs - but as the players pile into the armored car, one of the cops peeks out of a doorway and asks them if they’re with the Pulps, a local wizard-gang.
    And Zipporah says yes, so the plant hops into the back seat of the armored car as it peels away - and is then, promptly, tied up. The police don’t follow, thanks to a set of spike strips, Corvette tossing the power armor in front of the van, and Ana taking a couple shots at the tires. Unfortunately, when the PCs creep into an alleyway to open up the box (in case it shoots poison darts or something - better to know before the boss gets his hands on it), they’re interrupted by the Pulps’ agent, in a giant kookaburra mask and filthy coat, falling directly onto the car’s roof and demanding his loot.
    Instead, Pigshit gives him a rat, and then a rat, and then when Kookaburra reaches down to grab what is, in fact, a third rat, Gerome tries to shoot him in the hand with a pocket crossbow. Kookaburra does some kind of Wizard Business to cover himself in acidic slime - which protects from the crossbow bolt, but very much does not save him from Ana driving the car under a low bridge and scraping him off.
    Unfortunately, the rest of the Pulps take this as their signal to start chasing with a car of their own, driven by a steel Daedalus war-construct (in a fetching scarf) and followed by a flying harpy, who tries to glue the armored car’s back wheels to the ground using magic before taking a crossbow bolt from Gerome right to the wing joint.
    And then, Corvette leaps from a rooftop to land right in front of the Pulps, takes the hit from the car with only a light… 10… damage, and completely totals it. Then, as the Daedalus and their passenger get out, Ana reverses the armored car right into them.
    Unfortunately, the Daedalus is completely immune to small arms fire - so Gerome ducks into an alleyway to use some Thief Metagame Story Altering Nonsense™: having “already” gotten a smuggler friend of his to hide him a little tool in a nearby alley, in case of some kind of car chase or giant robot - a hand grenade.
    A paper airplane drifts down into the alleyway as Corvette uses her telekinesis to hit the Daedalus with their own car, and then drop it right on top of them, pinning them to the road. Gerome stumbles out of the alleyway (thankful he can keep his grenade for something else) and, for just a moment, reaches out to the paper airplane before running over to steal the Daedalus’s scarf. Which is good, because after he turns to pull the scarf out of the pile of scrap car parts, the airplane unfolds, glows a bright red, and explodes - thankfully damaging no one.
    The second paper airplane, however, airbursts, blowing Corvette’s hand off. And that’s enough to convince the PCs that discretion is the better part of valor.
    Back at the Autocar Works, the PCs are patched up (with the wonderful medicine of “a bunch of old rags” and “grain alcohol”) just in time for the box’s buyer, Ialanna Merce herself, to arrive. Fortunately, she gladly pays extra hazard pay for injuries - and even better, since Gerome has his face covered with his new scarf, and hasn’t yet spoken to her, he can pry an extra 50 crowns from her by simply pretending his jaw’s broken.
    And with that, the job is complete.

Friday, June 9, 2023

No Other Options (Delta Green Play Reports + Reviews)

No Other Options was a short Delta Green campaign I ran earlier this year, when I was suddenly struck with the realization I had run nothing since Orbiters playtesting. And, with it done, I decided why not both write a play report (for fun) and reviews of the shotgun scenarios used (also for fun - that's my motivating force): STOP REPO, Cold Book/AGAINST ALL ODDS, and Withdrawals.

It is January 2006, in the purposeless town of Green River, Pennsylvania - and the local autonomous section of Delta Green, K-cell, is going through hard times. The prior K-cell has disappeared (and no one will say why), and the new team is made only out of two people - the field agent, Josephine Willow, and the intelligence source, Lucy Phillips.

With no information and no manpower, K-cell is tasked with the defusal and destruction of the neo-fascist Heralds of the Great Race, with their upcoming strike on Herald leadership (mission HYACINTH) coming in less than a month.

Fortunately, K-cell also has access to a set of “friendlies” - civilian getaway drivers and gravediggers, sent out to work days before or hours after the gunfights. And these friendlies are our PCs:

  • Helen Cross, a political journalist at the Green River Herald

  • Finnegan Morrison, a former nurse turned mortician

  • and Jethro Onassis, a veteran turned wastrel

STOP REPO Play Report

A month before HYACINTH, the friendlies are left $10,000, a handgun, two magazines, and a pair of messages in a post office box: instructions to obtain four cars abandoned by the last K-cell and now being auctioned off, and details on the cars themselves - a crashed vehicle with “GSA-4014” on its license plate, a red truck with a covered bed (the “highest priority” for K-cell), a green sedan, and a Dodge Caravan with “firestarting tools”.

The next morning they run off to the auction lot - three of their cars are already gone, but while Helen wins the auction for their sedan (while being spied on by a woman with a walking stick), Jethro and Finnegan manage to wheedle information out of the other auction inhabitants - the red truck was illegally (“no, it’s an accounting error, i promise”) sold before the players arrived, GSA-4014 would be in the city scrapyard, and the Caravan was confiscated for the police for unknown reasons.

one of the best parts of any modern-world game is everyone involved trying to remember how earth works
    On their drive out, they’re trailed by the other bidder, but Cruelly, Terribly prevent the operation of American commerce by leading her through a drive-thru, waiting for someone to block her from behind, and starting a deeply unhelpful phone conversation made entirely out of first lies, and then threats of “Sandoval” tossing grenades through the PCs’ windows while they sleep.


To throw her off, they hide the car with some of Jethro’s most questionable friends, and then stroll over to the address of the truck’s new owner. A convoluted plot including a Distraction Brick, rolled-up newspaper, and decorative frog sculpture gets them behind the wheel and, once they pick up the sedan, heading out of town.

They meet Josephine in Absolute Dead Nowhere 

Pictured: Absolute Dead Nowhere

to hand things over - a pair of 55-gallon drums marked PART A and PART B from the truck, and a bag of $2,000 in euros, another gun, three passports, a toolbox, two bulletproof vests, and a pair of grenades hidden in various places within the sedan. The toolbox, a grenade, and three passports (for a “Lukas Barnett”, “David Clements”, and “Rebecca Bowers”, none of which the PCs recognize) are given to the friendlies, and the rest is taken back to K-cell.

As Josephine leaves, she hands Helen a burner phone, and an odd statement about how “our forebears” in the last K-cell can rot, for all she cares.

STOP REPO Impressions

STOP REPO has a kind of inconvenient structure - a set of sample vehicles, contents, and locations meant to be shuffled around by the GM, along with other “sample” obstacles and benefits. This system means that the scenario is necessarily missing useful GM tools - a clock or schedule for the pursuers (“S-cell”, as written), locations for the vehicles, or even an actual amount of them. This leads to a conflict with the scenario’s own advice - while it recommends a progression through time, with artifacts being prodded and illegal items uncovered as the PCs race to find the cars, it not only doesn’t, but can’t provide any kind of timeline or schedule for its NPCs.

 This lack of information even makes the scenario longer - space that would fit a list of what items are in the cars is instead used to tell the GM of the kind of items that should be in the cars when they make them.

It also has some issues with its introduction - the PCs are said, no matter what, to arrive at least a day after the auction begins, by which time many of the cars have already been sold. It does not, however, provide anything that prevents them from arriving immediately on the first day with all their money, apart from not having been given the mission yet - the petty corruption of having some of the vehicles sold beforehand was an addition of mine, trying to patch this.

COLD BOOK / Against All Odds Play Report

Over two weeks, as the PCs spend long nights practicing with lockpicks and handguns, they notice a news report - a car plant has been bombed, and the security cameras caught a pair of indistinct figures placing a pair of 55-gallon drums inside.

Eventually, a new package appears - a demand to “clean up, and keep them quiet” attached to pictures of a motel room coated with blood, an abandoned house, and two matched pairs of person-and-building, labeled “Witness 1” and “Witness 2”.

They run off to grab all kinds of equipment - drywall paste, paint, bleach, lye, painter’s suits - then hurry over to the motel, which is already in a state of pandemonium, though fortunately the police haven’t yet arrived, though they’re already on the way.

Jethro shouting about being an EMT and commanding passersby to “help” by doing worthless tasks distracts everyone for long enough (and gets one of them to mention the blue truck K-cell tossed the bodies in and left with) for the other two to duck into the room’s back window, do some panic speed-cleaning, set their suits on fire in a garbage can, and run before the cops arrive.

The two witnesses are also easily persuaded to shut up - “1”, a worker in a gas station K-cell stopped at on their way to the motel, is handed Jethro’s girlfriend’s DEA business card then steamrolled into handing over the security camera tapes, and not talking to the local cops - it’s a corruption investigation, he says, you can’t trust them. “2”, a woman living in Green River’s suburbs, is equally receptive to Helen’s journalist-vibe and warnings about the kind of inconvenience that talking to the police brings you - long hearings, bail reports, an entire system rolling onwards and dragging you along with it for years.

Finally, the house, far out of town and behind a cover of trees - the truck K-cell used was abandoned here, and searching the house finds a trail of blood leading to a unpowered chest freezer, with a note atop it from K-cell, apologizing, warning that the bodies have to be destroyed, and promising $25,000. Inside are five bodies, absolutely mangled - missing corners of heads and shattered arms. And they’re still actively bleeding, and when Finnegan grabs the first one to drag it to the septic tank it’s feverish.

As is the second body, and the third, and the fourth. And the fifth, clearly dead of blood loss yet still bleeding, mumbles - “a quiet place to sleep, the day starts tomorrow”. By the time it’s dumped into the tank and the lye is prepared, all five corpses are standing there, perfectly still and murmuring. And when the lye hits them, they all scream as the tank is sealed above them.

COLD BOOK / Against All Odds Impressions

This scenario has the same basic idea as STOP REPO - a set of tasks that have to be done on a time limit in the form of a pursuing investigator (in this case, the police officer Boris Kelly), but that gives no schedule or behavior to this pursuer. As written, it even gives the PCs days to complete their goals, such as investigators not reaching the motel room until the second day of their work, meaning (as this group did) you can pretty easily just not interact with the police at all.

As-written, the scenario includes an extra objective - one of the mission’s targets, the sorcerer Joshua Kincaid, survived the attack and is now under police protection at the local hospital. This piece of the mission never appeared (around the end of COLD BOOK I dropped off of the face of the world for a month for accursed reasons, and afterwards moved directly to the third and final scenario) and for the purposes of this campaign, I’m kind of happy about that - preserving the quietness of the campaign here made the spike in the final scenario far more noticeable.

Withdrawals Play Report

A week later, Helen gets a call on her burner phone - Lucy says that “the work is done”, but that they need to come over to this safehouse now. When they arrive, she’s more or less consumed by stress, coming up to the door with a pistol in hand and not putting it down as she rambles about torching the last Herald headquarters in an abandoned warehouse, Josephine being shot, and mentions of “the defectors”. She’s planning to hold out here for a few days, until Josephine is conscious - she hopes to question her about what she saw inside, too. 

“The defectors” certainly piques the PCs’ interest, and at this point Lucy’s certain she won’t be around long enough to tell them later, so she does - that’s what happened to the last K-cell. A couple agents switched over to the Heralds, and killed the rest. Lucy and Josephine have barely rebuilt, with nothing but filing cabinets full of encoded documents and unlabeled boxes. They don’t even really know what the Heralds are - there’s no recovered scripture (if they even have scripture), no recovered internal communications, they don’t even call themselves Heralds.

Helen runs around the house boarding up windows and hiding her car while Finnegan settles in for a long day of medical care - since there’s already, clearly, something deeply wrong. Along with the gunshot wounds, Josephine’s skin are little cubes, silently spinning. And when roused from her painkiller sleep, she says her memory just cuts. There’s a room in the warehouse, with a shape, and when she saw the shape she saw a meadow, and the flowers all of hands, and when she walked through the meadow she woke up here, in this bed. She has no memory at all of the building burning down.

With her falling back unconscious, Finnegan grabs some tools and digs out one of the cubes, leaving it spinning in his hand. With the size it is, some of the other cubes would have to be scraping against, or even inside of, her bones. While he tests the cube, Helen drives out on Lucy’s directions to pick up some of K-cell’s abandoned HYACINTH documentation, and on her way back, catches sight of a van parked across the street, watching them. A passenger they do not recognize, and the woman who trailed them from the auction in the driver’s seat.

Now the PCs take turns; one person staring out the window at the observers, and the other tearing through the HYACINTH documentation, finding nothing useful. Just records of dead men and burnt-down houses. 

Eventually Finnegan gives up on finding anything about the cubes, and goes to take out a second, this one from Josephine’s hand. But while the hand seems unaffected while the cube is there, when it’s removed it leaves exactly what it “should” - a hole, surrounded by scraped bones and crushed muscles. And the cube is steaming, slightly, and her body is getting hotter, the familiar too-warm dampness of the Herald bodies. 

The van vanishes as the PCs toss Josephine into an ice bath and keep searching K-cell documents and peering out the window until 4 in the morning, when Helen sees the van coming back, with five armed Heralds inside. 

Suddenly, Josephine is moving - and as everyone piles themselves and their equipment into Helen’s van, she starts collecting electrical parts - a whole microwave, some pieces of wire, a metal pipe, a car battery. And while Helen smashes her van through the garage door, and turns away from the Heralds, she starts sticking them together, stabbing holes through them with the screwdriver as she mutters - “the hands know what to do with it, the shape”. 

Finnegan opens his window and drops his grenade out - and in the dark, the pursuing Heralds don’t notice it until it goes off. Then the PCs turn around, running over one Herald as the second raises a shotgun and shoots Helen through the windshield, knocking her unconscious. Between the bomb and the car crash, everyone involved is already half dead, and the gunfight soon dissolves into a mire of missed shots and cowering, until Josephine dismembers one of the Heralds with her device - a railgun.

Then, she turns in circles in the middle of the street - “I feel like I have something to do. I don’t know if I can go there.” Eventually, she settles on a direction, and walks away - and when Finnegan goes to follow, she doesn’t stop him.

Withdrawals Impressions

Withdrawals is the most difficult of these to say anything about, both because it’s the one I have the least problems with and because the way I feel about it is hugely warped by making it the conclusion of the campaign. I think it’s presented well - a time-based adventure being made almost entirely out of its timeline, that gives compact and usable stats for its NPCs, and that starts with an introduction for the GM that explains exactly what’s happening.

I would say that its timeline is overstretched - while in No Other Options everything happened over the course of something like 18 hours, the same sequence of interrogation and spying vans takes six days as-written, leaving many of these days almost completely empty of things to do, as the cultists break into different houses, creep around in a succession of different cars, and the unconscious Agent answers no questions.

In retrospect, I think that for the purposes of No Other Options and its tone, Josephine building a railgun is a pretty sharp turn into a much pulpier direction than much of the game. I probably should have come up with something more subdued, though my players were actually completely fine with it.

Sunless Horizon Beta 2.3 Release

Commissioned from Scrap Princess excited screeching I've been posting about  Sunless Horizon  for about a year, and after finally gettin...