Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Visitant: Ytaleh, those within


Ytaleh are a coiling mist of nervous tissue, beautiful and strange. Evolved to drift in the gelatinous depths of their world’s oceans, they are almost helpless on dry land. As they evolved, their species developed the ability to infiltrate another creature’s body, binding to its nervous system and guiding their actions. Now able to explore the world, build and experiment, the parasites developed an advanced society with galactic reach.

Modern ytaleh are no longer parasites but symbiotes, co-evolved with certain other species, neither able to survive without the other. Their host species develop only rudimentary brains and nervous systems, relying on the ytaleh to be their minds, while they are the hands. Scaled ytaleh-igophi dance in the oceans, great fins beating through the waters as they explore the depths. The ytaleh-horoth scamper through forests, and the ytaleh-affah lumber on the plains. Even the skies echo to the song of swooping ytaleh-barra. Each pairing-caste brings its own strengths and insights to the greater ytaleh civilisation.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Fun with unusual spells

So, I've moaned a bit about certain aspects of 5e, including sorcery. As I've been playing casters recently, and planning others, I've spent a lot of time thinking about spells. I just want to throw out some ideas I've had for spells.

Wacky hijinks

The Elemental Evil handbook offers a lovely fun selection of new spells. Some of them have unexpected potential.

I'm pretty sure mold earth was intended to be a digging tool, but what it gave us is an infallible pit trap. You can instantly move a 5' cube of earth away, and although the spell specifically says the movement doesn't cause damage, it says nothing about being unable to dig around creatures or any defences whatsoever. Dig a 5' cube away under a target and drop them into a hole with no saves or attack rolls. Sure, it's only 5', but that should inconvenience them quite a lot. At the very least this should force a Concentration roll for casters. For extra bonus lulz, have two people take this. The first one digs out a 5' cube under an enemy; the second one shovels that 5' of earth right back on top of them. Let's see you take a standard action now, boyo. See also: quicken spell. Depending how your DM interprets all this, it's quite possibly one of the most powerful things a sorcerer can do.

What do your elf eyes see?

I just stumbled across a new blog, Nerd-O-Mancer of Dork, and it seems intriguing so I'm looking through the archives. It's a broadly old-school gaming blog, is probably the simplest shorthand to describe it. One post I found is about some issues with the way darkvision (and its variants) work. Here's the key quote:

Darkvision takes away the suspense of being in a dark creepy location far underground and moreover destroy the suspense for the human players who have to struggle with torches and lanterns.

I do think there's a lot of truth in that. One thing I've noticed is that there's a strong tendency for people to pick non-human characters, particularly amongst my friends with less gaming experience.* A part of demihumans can be mostly unaffected by darkness, which seems like a non-trivial loss. It removes a useful tool for creating atmosphere, adding mysteries, shaping combat encounters, and just plain differentiating one slice of the adventure from another. If there's no apparent difference between being in a dark cavern and an open plain, that seems sad to me.

That's probably because these players aren't that familiar with the rules, and in many cases not that interested in them; they want to make a cool character and have fun adventures, and I absolutely endorse this. Most of the other races are significantly cooler (in various ways) than humans, because we're already all humans, and humans don't get any groovy abilities because, um, we don't have them.** Where humans tend to be particularly good is usually in making particular character concepts, because they're flexible and tend to get extra skills, feats, multiclassing potential or what have you. My experience so far is that newer players are less likely to approach things that way.

** Actually, humans have loads of cool abilities, but we don't notice them much, and then we assume that any vaguely humanoid creature would have all the same abilities we do, plus other ones, because they're just flat-out better. Colour Vision? Resist Lactic Acid? High density of sweat glands to disperse heat? And that's without getting into any cognitive stuff that other races might well be worse at.

Because I like playing with mechanics, I suggested taking Dawnrazor's idea further and devising some rules for how those various *visions actually work. With science, like. Here, I expand on those ideas a bit more than I wanted to as a first comment on someone else's blog.

Decide amongst yourself which kind of *vision a creature actually has. I'd tend to recommend that subterranean dwarves have infravision, for example, while elves might have ultravision for all that starlit dancing.

A guide to demihuman vision


Vision: it's the best! Normal vision in dim-to-bright light is the best model for most of your needs, guaranteed. Sensing shape, colour, movement, fine detail, texture and more, we recommend it for all but the stealthiest of situations.

Low-Light Vision

It’s like vision, only you need less light.


Darkvision is definitionally working without light. You’re seeing some other way. And it’s not a magical ability. It's apparently not sonar, because that's blindsight usually. I’m going to suggest treating this as ‘shape vision’, and assuming it works on some very specific wavelength that's essentially omnipresent. That’s mostly for contrast with the other types below.

Darkvision lets you see shapes and movement, and that’s it. No colour at all for you, and very little detail. You can find the walls of the dungeon and the furniture, but you can’t read this parchment, or even tell whether there's writing on it. It's good for moving around safely, and lets you defend yourself, though you can’t always tell who’s the bandit and who’s your ally without all that facial detail and colour information.


So I'm ruling that it’s actual infrared you’re seeing here, so what this fundamentally gets you is heat. When there’s no normal light to overwhelm it, you can make out sources of heat and cold, but very little else.

This lets you see many creatures quite easily, though not most undead or constructs. You can make out surroundings to a limited extent because different substances react differently to heat – a wooden table and a stone wall will look a little different. Very hot objects seem so bright that it’s difficult to see anything else nearby. A major benefit is you have a chance to see creatures that are lightly hidden, say behind a cloth or leaves. Heat sources leave traces - you may be able to track the heatprints left (very recently) by a creature, and if a room was warm recently it'll still seem light to you.


Suggested by commenter Umbriel on Nerd-O-Mancer of Dork.

This requires a source of ultraviolet light, typically faint starlight or moonlight. The character can see most objects dimly in shades of grey, while many plants and animals (especially insects) have rich ultraviolet patterning. Some mineral substances, including many poisons, are visible to ultraviolet. Some creatures, particularly magical or unnatural entities, may glow with ultraviolet light, making them visible and acting as a dim light source. Undersea or subterranean creatures may have evolved similar capabilities to allow vision, attract mates or find prey.

This was all primarily intended just to make things richer and a bit more interesting. It should also mean that demihumans don't leave humans completely in the dust when it comes to exploring in the dark, which is a large part of most games. Under the standard rules, there are quite strong arguments for never using light sources: if you can see perfectly well with minimal or no light, carrying a lantern primarily serves to attract attention and make you visible to enemies. In many ways a human can just be a hindrance to a party of adventurers who could otherwise run around in the dark.

I’d also tend to rule that it generally takes a few seconds at least for eyes to switch between *visions, in the same way we have to adjust to dark rooms and bright sunny days. So when the lantern goes out, the elf and dwarf aren’t just completely unaffected – they get to spend a round blinking and cursing too.

Using these or similar rules would tend to open up some new kinds of puzzles or confusion for players trying to work out how to interpret colourless shapes or heat signals.

Don't forget, this would apply to enemies too. Players and characters could take advantage of the properties of each monster's vision to distract, confuse or thwart them. New options is generally good.

Of course, it does add complexity, and that's not necessarily what you want. A major advantage of simple darkvision or infravision is that they just let you see in the dark and move on with your life.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Out of the frying pan

With the howl of a wounded daemon, the drop pod plummeted towards the Imperial lines, slowing barely in time to turn a fatal impact into a merely agonizing one.

The doors hissed open.

Vast power-armoured figures strode out, their equipment glittering in the weird green light of Drachtos. All around them, Imperial troopers worked and scurried. Here ammo containers were carried from dropship to Chimera; there a platoon were busily reinforcing the new trenches. Thousands upon thousands of warriors, the backbone of the Emperor's armies, toiling to serve His will. Every one of them tough, loyal, and above all - hungry.

"There." One of the figures pointed towards a low concrete building. "The facility is complete, it appears."

They strode purposefully towards their target, and troopers hurried out of their way even as they stared upon the white-armoured demigods. Rameses led the way inside, flicking open the massive doors with one hand. The occupants looked up, and sprang to attention.

"My lord Astartes! Welcome to our humble facility. I hope it meets with your approval. I must apologise, it was built in haste..."

"You are?"

"Adept Arcturis, my lord. I and Lieutenant Brador" - he indicated a guardswoman to his left - "are responsible for this facility."

Rameses nodded approvingly, his mighty brow creasing. "We will see."

He turned and led the way into the main chambers. Chromesteel glistened everywhere, vast metal benches stretching between whitewashed walls. Arclights beamed down so that no corner of the chamber was in shadow. Pipes wove their way around the room like gigantic iron pythons, skull-topped taps and valves jutting from them. Crates and storage units were everywhere.

The commander grinned, running armoured fingers through his rust-coloured hair. All was as promised. He walked to his appointed place in the centre of the room, a gleaming pedestal with many shelves. Two eagle-tipped banner poles hung above him. Mounting the stairs, Rameses slowly drew a gigantic blade from his belt. Brador tried not to gawp; Arcturis had no such self-control. Rameses ignored them.

"Brother-Entremetier Olivier, to your station. Brother-Rotisseur Cradox, kindle the promethium. Brother-Patissier Kipling, at the ready. Commis-Scouts, bring forth the ingredients. I will lead us in the sacrifice to ensure the Emperor's favour."

"Ave, Brother-Cuisinier!" they shouted, as one. Armoured fists pounded on armoured chests like the resounding of great bells.

"Very good. Begin!" Brother-Cuisinier Rameses turned the gleaming cleaver in his hand, and looked around at the staring humans. "And one of you serfs bring me the thrice-accursed ham."

Thus was the coming of the Iron Chefs to Drachtos.

In the grim darkness of the far future there is only brunch.

Ogham Cthulhu

A while ago, I had an idea for an ogham stone featuring the Mythos. This is the sort of thing that happens in my life.

I sort of left it fallow for months, well over a year probably. I picked up a couple of stones that looked vaguely appropriate just on spec, and kept them in a box. I played around with various ogham permutations of Mythosy phrases, struggling (unsurprisingly) to find a way to express Lovecraftian phrases written down with English spelling using an alphabet designed for the phonetics of Old Irish.

Due to being very unemployed right now, I have time. And it's nice weather for sitting outside with a rock and a file. And I just learned that Paul of Cthulhu has RSI, which is no fun at all. He's an archaeologist Lovecraftiana collector. Hmm...

Some thoughts on tweaking warlocks

I've been chatting to friends about warlocks, and had some more thoughts I want to share. Not all are my own.

One thing worth saying is that while it's easy to bundle it in with other spellcasters, I think the warlock is a very special case. To recall themes from my own stuff, it's a bit of a White Wolf case. The class has a quite generic and recognisable name that draws on some real-world tropes; it has a skin that looks familiar and tropey, in the form of "you made a pact with a terrible occult being for Great Magical Power"; but when you get down to it, it's actually a very specific concept that doesn't necessarily relate strongly to either name or skin.

This makes it quite different from the other 5e classes we've seen. Most classes can take in a range of archetypes. The paladin is explicitly a very narrow concept that's arguably one fighter archetype under a magnifying glass - but it acknowledges and owns that specificity.

In many ways the warlock is actually most similar to the rogue, of all things.

  • Both seem superficially like broad concepts, but are pointed very firmly in one direction by non-optional mechanics.
  • Both have a mechanic that grants bonus damage in certain situations, creating obviously optimal and non-optimal tactics.
  • Both are lightly-armoured classes able to deal large amounts of damage to single targets.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Visitant: Shekt, the multitude

Shekt, the multitude

The shekt are a race of collective selves, each discrete entity composed of myriad sub-intelligences. In their ordinary form, shekts are a swarm of irridescent segmented discs, each resembling a nautilus. They unify their nervous systems via bioelectrical induction, producing a highly advanced composite being.

Shekts are renowned for their diplomatic and commercial ventures, perhaps granted insight by their own communal nature. A less flattering explanation is their widespread use of psychological manipulation. Amongst themselves they communicate by vibrating their crystalline shells, but they are also known to harness this ability as a tool and a weapon. The subsonic and ultrasonic vibrations of a shekt sonic adept can influence mood, cause pain, and even shatter stone.

Being composed of many tiny creatures, shekt have a high energy requirement. They typically consume very large quantities of sugar, as much as five pounds per day. Their skinsuits are capable of consuming normal human food and digesting this into usable components, but shekt normally favour a diet rich in sweets, cakes and fruits, as well as sugary drinks. In some cases they will simply consume raw sugar or syrup.

The shekt tend to be patient and contemplative; though its drones may die and be replaced, an individual shekt is virtually immortal. Their own psychology spurs them to seek resolution through harmony and unification, even if this means manipulating others to bring this about. Not all shekt take this view; it’s as easy to divide the galaxy into shekt and non-shekt, with the latter group fundamentally different and irreconcilable. Shekt individualists also exist, led by their own longevity and self-contained nature to scorn even other shekt.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Multi-layered stamina

Another day, another quick mechanics idea.

Hit Points (and all other injury models, to be fair) sometimes produce results that seem awkward or unconvincing. You get particular issues when it comes to description - either you describe all fights as a lengthy series of deflections and dodges until someone goes down, or everyone ends up taking gaping chest wounds that heal up in a few minutes. People are basically completely unhurt until they die. And it can be remarkably hard to actually kill someone who's largely defenceless, just because they have loads of HP and magically absorb the damage.

I can't remember what the exact chain of logic was that produced this idea, but I had an idea for a three-level injury system that would result in (let's be honest) a slightly different set of head-scratching. Partly it's because I do exercise myself, and I'm aware of the interplay between immediate energy level, ability to recharge, and actual exhaustion. Anyway, I had the idea, so I'm posting it.

The three levels here I'm going to call Stamina, Endurance and Reserves.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

You don't have to be evil to work here: not a D&D warlock

So, making random characters is a thing I like to do sometimes. A while ago, back during the days of 4E, I had quite a few character concepts knocking around. This was true even though I never got to play in a single game, as I was DMing.

One of these was a fiendish warlock idea. The 4E warlock, for those who don't know, had its own array of class-specific powers like all the other classes, and this meant the different warlock pacts could really go to town with thematic abilities. All of them were interesting, but the fiend stuck with me. It had powers like summoning demonic claws to rend people, drain their life to heal yourself, curse them and wreck their mind with terrible illusions until they carve themselves up, feed (bits of) your own soul to a demon to harm an enemy... Good stuff.

The idea that particularly appealed to me was someone who completely accidentally ended up in a fiendish pact. It's just nicely different. Specifically, I had this idea for a servant in a rich household, who stumbles across a diabolical ritual and ends up receiving the fiend's gifts in place of her master - because of course, fiends love to twist the rules. Naturally, she's then left fleeing from a sinister devil cult whose members could be lurking anywhere. I liked the idea of someone left to defend herself reluctantly with unwanted evil powers, and probably ending up in a destructive spiral.

Since 5e features the warlock too, and equivalent pacts, I thought I'd try building her here. Our current campaign is about 5th level, so I decided to go for a 5th-level character. Also, this tends to be quite enlightening about your capabilities, whereas 1st level can be somewhat uninformative.

After a while bashing stats around, I realised that it's actually quite difficult to build this warlock. There are two problems here.

Warlocked in

The first and primary problem is that essentially, the point of being a warlock is that you cast hex on people and maintain it more or less permanently to boost your damage, and then use eldritch blast to deal said damage. Eldritch blast allows you to hit multiple targets as you level up, rather than increasing damage for one target; the warlock also has a choice of beneficial upgrades that affect only eldritch blast, not any other cantrips. In particular, you can take an option that adds your Charisma bonus to each hit, which together with its long range quickly makes eldritch blast the deadliest cantrip out there - you can very quickly be dealing 1d10+3+1d6 (as good as a 1st-level spell), and this increases rapidly, hitting 2d10+2d6+6 at 5th level (average 24). Another option adds pushback, although there are fewer upgrades in 5e than the 3rd edition warlock. Warlocks are really good at this.

However, the flipside is that the warlock has very few other options, and most are flat-out worse from a mechanical perspective.

Hex can be maintained more or less forever, barring a failed concentration check. It transfers between targets on death, unlike any other spell except the similarly-intended hunter's mark, and it can lie fallow between combats only to be resumed as needed. Of the warlock's handful of other spells, nothing else comes close to being this all-round useful. Don't get me wrong, there are good spells in there, but the trade-off against hex's always-on damage boost is a heavy one. It seems pretty clear that the core warlock design, where spells are regained on a short rest but you have very few, is intended to ensure that warlocks can always have hex available, with other spells being a handy extra, a niche effect or a utility slot.

Added to this is the fact that hex takes your concentration slot, which means it's a pretty suboptimal decision to focus on any other spell that requires concentration. Charm person, hold person, fly, anything that enchants or boosts or does pretty much anything other than damage is unwise. Casting one of these will interrupt your hex, meaning you'll lose a long-term benefit for a short-term one that might not even work. After all, most of those require saving throws, and often allow multiple saves (as 5e has wisely tries to cut back on stunlocks), and only work on certain targets, whereas hex just flat-out works. Since you have very few spells known in the first place, choosing these is a big gamble or commits you to what's probably a suboptimal playstyle.

The scaling spellslots helps - casting hold person at 5th level is nice. But is the possibility of paralysing four humanoids (who get saving throws every round) worth the tradeoff of guaranteed extra damage against all creature types for basically every attack you make until your next short rest? Opportunity costs become a big concern for the warlock. Don't get me wrong, sometimes one of these spells will be exactly what you want. The difficulty is the combination of very limited spells known, the fact that casting any concentration spell means you lost a huge damage buff, and the way virtually any spell has a much more niche use than hex. There's a lot of reasons to favour simple, widely-applicable non-concentration spells.

The second factor is that the warlock's choice of spells is very limited, and specifically their cantrips. There's no solid alternative to taking eldritch blast. You can, of course, but you'll lose a lot of offensive capability without having much way of compensating. The fact that you can't use invocations to boost anything but eldritch blast particularly discourages any other approach. Your non-combat cantrips are minor buffs that don't offer much active capability, so there's not really any other obvious combination of abilities to build a playstyle around. If you aren't zapping things with eldritch blast, what exactly are you going to do? And if you are doing that, then taking hex is very much the optimal choice. And if you're using hex, then casting other concentration spells is nerfing yourself.

This is, I think, possibly a mistake? It seems to lock the warlock into a single niche far more firmly than any other class. The pacts offer a few more spell options, but don't fundamentally change the way warlocks work. Again, several are concentration spells that seem a poor choice given the fairly clear assumption that warlocks are running hex.

Dude, where's my curse?

So the other issue I ran into was that while I loved the flavour of a fiend-pacted warlock, the expected warlock mechanic of constantly hurling bolts of magical energy at people is very much not what I had in mind. Does that spell "sinister pact with a demon" to you? I mean, it can, there's plenty of basis for evil-powered superhumans, but that's not the image I get. I'm thinking darkness. I'm thinking lies. I'm thinking deception, and head games, and dread, and power over people, and blights and curses and afflictions. Sure, I'm also thinking fire and brimstone, but bolts of magic? Not really. Spooky young girl pactee does not hurl force lightning. She preys on your fears, or she conjures up claws of darkness to drag you into hell. Honestly, the bolt-hurling thing almost feels more like sorcery, all about inner reserves of raw magical power.

In all honesty, quite similar things apply to other pacts. If you've made a pact with things from beyond space and time, I expect you to warp reality and drive people insane, and conjure up monstrosities, rather than blast them with lasers. Fey, of course, are notorious for raining bolts of eldritch power down upon people - oh no, wait, they wrap people in illusions and transformations and enchantments, and turn the wild against them. The various pacts give you a slightly different group of spells to choose from, but don't seem to significantly change your capabilities.

In fairness, again, this is partly because warlocks depend on two different subclassing mechanics, the Patron and the Pact. Mostly the breakdown seems to be melee-based warlocks vs. zappy warlocks, with their patron-flavoured abilities mostly subsidiary.

It's possible to eventually burn an invocation slot to buy the ability to cast either bane (a level 1 spell) or bestow curse (a level 3 spell) once per day, using a spell slot in the process from your incredibly limited supply. That is a very expensive ability. It is, of course, getting auto-levelled to 5th level, which makes it quite good. Probably not good enough to be worth losing a spell slot and an invocation to gain a decent debuff on up to 4 enemies at the cost of (once again) dropping hex, though, to be honest. Bestow curse is a little better, but has similar issues - notably, one of its uses is to essentially duplicate hex on a single target.

Other invocation abilities include things like at-will illusion, seeing through even magical darkness, levitation, at-will armour. These don't burn any spell slots and can be used constantly. The bane spells are useful, no doubt about it, but it feels like an extremely begruding tradeoff that's strictly worse than these abilities.

Building a Servant of Darkness

I spent quite a while trying to knock my warlock into shape. I faffed about with the Arcane Initiate feat to obtain alternative cantrips. I played with multiclassing. And then I realised I was doing it wrong.

I want my warlock to whisper dark secrets that drive you mad, to bend people to her will, to hold them helpless, twist fate against them, blight them with afflictions. I don't want her walking around energetically hurling magic; I want a simple glance from her demon-lit eyes to send them fleeing.

You know who can do all that stuff? The bard.

I'm serious. Look at the bard spell lists. For a start, let's note that bards get far more spells because they're designed for a different niche. We begin with vicious mockery, rather weak (1d4) as cantrips go but with a reasonable rider of disadvantage for the target, and needing only verbal components. Very flavourful, just what I wanted. Minor illusion is a good extra here for those "Efficiunt Daemones, ut quae non sunt, sic tamen quasi sint, conspicienda hominibus exhibeant" moments. On the real spell front, we have bane, charm person, disguise self, dissonant whispers, faerie fire, feather fall, Tasha's hideous laughter, crown of madness, enthrall, heat metal (how daemonic is that? frying someone in their own armour?), hold person, suggestion, bestow curse, fear, speak with dead (being dead is no defence against a demon), animate objects, geas, eyebite...

Even most of the other bard abilities feel appropriate. Being surprisingly good at all skills? Drawing on diabolical knowledge. The bardic inspiration ability feels a little odd, until you get the College of Lore and use it exclusively to make your enemies fail at everything by mocking them, which fits perfectly. The only one that seems a little odd is the free healing for allies, and you can view even that as being just one of the many fringe benefits of association with diabolical power, call now to see how much you could gain, operators are standing by! Essentially it's the patron advertising to the character's social circle.

Annoyingly, there's still a few very evocative spells that aren't available to bards. Flesh to stone, create undead, any ability whatsoever to get an actual demon to help you. The fire end of things is very limited. Still, it seems a lot better than the warlock at portraying the classic servant of demonic powers. Ironic really.

My current inclination is actually to think that multiclassing is the way to get all the key spells, but that bard needs to be the basis. The Magic Initiate feat looks promising, as it would give access to produce flame (but none of the druid 1st-level abilities are very thematic) or to thaumaturgy and command from the cleric list, both of which are highly desirable. As usual, the best option for spell breadth is to multiclass into wizard and pick up those lovely fire spells. This would, amongst other things, help reduce your dependence on enchantments - I don't have the current monster manual, but in older editions a worryingly large number of things were immune to these spells. The light domain cleric is also potentially a very nice match, if you completely ignore all that fluff about deities.


So me and a friend are both great fans of Girl Genius by the Foglios, and last time I visited we were talking about this, and in particular enthusing about Jaegermonsters. Somehow, this ended up with me promising to write and run a game of Jaegers when I next visit.

Part of the reason I felt this was remotely feasible was that old friend-or-foe-undetermined, FATE. I remain troubled by how to actually run it, but pulpy action-adventure is what FATE is made for. I suppose I could have written a game from scratch, but let's be honest: I'm currently writing/wrote but haven't done anything with the following games:

  • Monitors (awaiting feedback)
  • Feckless Wastrels (awaiting playtesting)
  • Into Ploughshares
  • Friendly Neighbourhood Necromancers
  • Alpha Dregs
  • Jacobeans vs. Aliens (awaiting period research)
  • Beneath Dark Skies
  • In the Darkness Find Them (awaiting playtesting)
  • Vessel
  • Heartbreaker High (not previously mentioned on this blog)
  • A Band of Bunglers (awaiting playtesting)
  • Morris
  • De Jure (awaiting playtesting)
  • The Call of Cthulhu thing where you're all mutants
  • Almost certainly some others I've forgotten about

So I felt reskinning an existing game was an acceptable shortcut. And FATE is eminently reskinnable compared to most other games I know. And I've been wanting to try it out again.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Visitant: Mosa, the enduring

Mosa, the enduring

Mosas are an amphibious race from a highly unstable world, evolved to cope with dramatic environmental changes. They retain certain features developed for survival in water, including powerful lungs and a set of gill slits on their torso. Mosas arriving on Earth typically undergo superficial surgery, implanting artificial hair follicles and skilfully folding the residual webs of their hands and feet. Mineral supplements shift the rich blue-black of their skin to some manner of brown or beige.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Visitant: Ansad, those without form

Ansad, those without form

Ansaid have no permanent form; their bodies are composed of mutable plasm, allowing them to shift into whatever form they need. Ansaid on Earth adopt a long-term disguise, appearing perfectly human to all but the deepest scrutiny. However, the focus on maintaining a single form makes it difficult for them to fully use their natural capabilities.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Visitant: Xenotypes


Though many alien species have left a footmark upon the Earth, there are a small number who are particularly common visitants, due to an ability to reliably assume human guise through natural or technological means. Only these species can attempt long-term expeditions to Earth without risking disaster. They are intelligent, technologically and culturally sophisticated, and considered relatively stable.

These xenotypes make up the playable species of Visitant. They have broadly equivalent mechanical capability, and are compatible with each other and with humanity.

Certain other species have the potential to become authorised visitants, but are currently barred from sending expeditions; political instability, a troubled history or biocompatability concerns mean it is unsafe for them to visit. Nevertheless, occasional individuals do find their way to Earth by accident or subterfuge. There are also many problematic species, such as vermin, parasites and predators, that occasionally turn up on Earth despite precautions.

These quarantined species may appear in the game as NPCs and plot elements. They are not considered suitable as player characters for various reasons: they are mindless, mechanically unbalanced, narratively unsuitable, or lacking in long-term interest.

The Visitant Races

The four common visitant species of Earth are ansad, mosa, shekt and ytaleh. These four very different species are capable of living amongst humans undetected, and cooperating in the exploration and study of an inhabited world. They have been authorised at the species level to enter the Earth - even if certain individuals have no such permission.

The mercurial ansaid have no true shape. They are peerless shapeshifters, able to restructure their body down to the cellular level to meet their current purpose. This flexibility has allowed them to spread across the galaxy, and makes them perfectly suited to the early stages of inter-species contact. An ansad visitant adopts a specific human guise for their stay on Earth. This consistency is highly unnatural to the species, and requires great self-control. Ansaid use their morphing abilities to infiltrate societies, social groups and secure facilities alike. In more dangerous circumstances, they may fall back on more primitive talents, forging raw protoplasm into whatever form is needed to survive. They are creatures of the moment, adapting to any company but shrinking from consistency.

Mosas are physically very similar to humans, barring a few cosmetic differences - webbed hands and feet, gill slits, and hairless blue-black skin. All are easily modified for a mission to Earth. Hailing from a highly unstable homeworld, mosas are evolved to cope with radically different environments, with extremely flexible metabolisms. Like the ansaid, mosas' favoured tools are their bodies; unlike the metamorphs, mosas change within, not without. The species are legendarily tough, shrugging off extreme temperatures, appalling wounds and deadly poisons. More than this, they use their bodies as a laboratory, synthesising a range of useful compounds to handle the challenges they face. Confident in their own capabilities, mosas are graceful and assured creatures.

Not even their own philosophers have settled on precisely what a shekt is - or even whether there such a thing as "a shekt". To casual eyes, however, shekts are formed from swarms of pearly insectoids only a few millimetres long, bound together by the resonance of their nervous systems into a large, sentient being. Though very far from human in appearance, the shekt race have amazing biotechnology, allowing them to craft skinsuits that flawlessly imitate many other races. Dressed in a skinsuit, shekt agents can easily pass undetected by primitive human technology. They are masters of psychology and manipulation, often serving as diplomats to improve harmony between species, but soemtimes working purely in their own interests. They possess remarkable psychosonic abilities produced by the vibration of their crystalline shells, and can use their manifold nature to their advantage.

The symbiotic ytaleh evolved as minds for a number of more physical species, and are little more than a tangle of neurons. They are primarily creatures of thought, with little care for material pleasures. Their ability to bind to nervous systems allows them to hide amongst any organic species, hijacking fresh corpses to provide a flawless cover identity. Intelligent and contemplative, ytaleh are excellent scouts and researchers, and quick to learn from the behaviour of their human neighbours. However, their dull senses can cause complications; the species can be unworldly and impractical, and they struggle to understand the concerns of species who experience the world more vibrantly. Ytaleh can harness their neuroelectrical fields to contact and manipulate other minds, detecting mental patterns or disrupting them.