Saturday, 16 April 2022

The Empty Chair

I promised a short story as incentive for hitting £1,000 in donations to Azadi. This is that story.

The Empty Chair

I dunno if you ever went to Creggo’s? I mean, R. Cregeen’s Collectibles. It was down by the Ropewalks, off Back Roscoe, until they gutted that whole street after the fire a few years back. A grotty little shop that give off the impression it’d been squeezed like toothpaste between a tyre place and a builder’s merchant; thin shopfront, but it went far back and spilled out into a beautiful sprawling mess of shelves and cubby-holes.

If anybody ever knew what the R was they never told me. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d forgot it himself, except I don’t reckon he ever forgot nothing.

I went down there one day after I knocked off at lunchtime, just prowling about seeing what was new. Mazza was there and we got talking about all kinds; he’d picked up a set of antique programmes and theatrical posters I promised to go and see. Not really my thing, but he wanted my take on the design work. After a bit he asked if I’d heard any more about Lara Al-Yaqoobi.

I never had much to do with her; bit too intense for me, that woman. Brilliant though. I seen her at a poetry night down Bootle way about a year before, and she done a couple of readings that had everyone like rabbits in the headlights, really dug their fingers in your brain. Serious authority on esoterica too, especially Assyrian and Spanish works, which is how I’d come to talk to her a few times.

She kept some pretty screwy company, though, and the fringes she was hanging out on had seedy neighbours, like. There was this old Scottish couple, lived in that white corner house at Parkgate overlooking the marsh. Probably still do. They bought a book off me once; lovely 17th-century folio herbal-and-folklore from Andalucia, cash on delivery. I never had a more uncomfortable cuppa in my life, sat there and the pair of them gloating over the pages, giving me glances and saying the weirdest things, trying to draw me out. It was like having tea with someone’s maiden aunt, if she was also a used car dealer and a part-time witch.

Well, she’d dropped out of sight suddenly a few weeks before, and nobody knew where. Turned up missing at a few engagements, not a word said. Dutton tracked down an address in the end, but the place was pretty much cleaned out, and the landlord said he’d never actually met her.

I’d heard she caused a scene at Leung’s place a while back, and that raised a few eyebrows. Mazza said lately she’d been coming out with the kind of talk that makes you back off, straight-up paranoia. The Masons were watching her, apparently, looking for secrets smuggled out of Spain just ahead of the Inquisition. She’d been mixing with people what take what’s wrote down far too seriously, and a couple of manuscript dealers the likes of us wouldn’t touch. Five-finger imports, if you know what I mean. Maybe she got into trouble and had to light out fast. Or maybe she ended up in a mental ward. Cheerful stuff.

It makes you think a bit, cos in this business the distance between professional zeal and full-on psychotic obsession isn’t so very far. Nobody likes to talk about that. There was an awkward pause, and we moved onto other topics until he had to go and pick up the kids.

I wasn’t meaning to buy nothing, but I found myself a nice little watercolour landscape that I fancied, not too pricey, pre-war, so I wandered over to the till.

“Watercolours today, is it? I see you and Marron there were having a nice chat. Doing well, is he?”

“Not bad. He was just catching me up on that business with Al-Yaqoobi,” says I, passing him the picture. It occurred to me that she’d actually been a regular here, not surprising considering everything. You never knew what you might find at Creggo’s, but it was a treasure-trove. “You knew her, didn’t you?”

“That’ll be thirty quid. I did and all, clever lass that, good eye for unusual pieces. So what’s the news?”

“Nothing you could call news. Nobody’s got a clue. A load of nonsense about Triads mostly.”

Creggo licked his fingers and skinned one paper bag from the tight stack under the counter. The rumour of a knowing smirk slunk over his face and dove out of sight down the neck of his horrible jumper.

“Is that what they’re saying, now?” He made, to his credit, a half-arsed effort to instil the words with genuine curiosity, but it come out like a schoolkid winding up sir by asking questions of carefully-calibrated daftness.

I cocked an indulgent eyebrow at him. “Last I heard, yeah. Why, what d’you reckon?”

“Well, people have all kinds of theories, don’t they. I’m just running the shop here. You can’t go expecting miracles.”

He was maybe going for ‘inscrutable’, but pulling off inscrutability relies on beginning with at least the subtlety of the average bull walrus. The two cans of Hen he generally downs of a lunchtime weren’t exactly doing him no favours neither. If he’d opened the drawer and pulled out a placard with “ask me, ask me!” wrote on it in scarlet board marker, and then proceeded to do a tap routine while using it to sign “I know something you don’t’ know” in semaphore, that would’ve seemed comparatively deadpan, is what I’m saying.

I wasn’t exactly in the mood for playing games, to be honest. Creggo’s got a cryptic way with him at the best of times, like, and I half reckon he only ran the shop so’s he could play at being a knock-off Sphinx. He loves casting out these enigmatic phrases, and then if any poor sod bites he’ll wind them up and leave them hanging until he feels like he’s got his weekly dose of condescension in. Proper does my head in sometimes.

You might wonder why he gets any customers, but he knows his stock, and that goes a long way. To be fair, when he’s feeling helpful he can reel out this unbelievable stream of information. He’s been at six universities as far as I know, and I’ve heard him talking at least eight languages without batting an eyelid. It’s not like he’s not entitled to be a cocky git, which is more than most people can say. Annoying, yeah, but he always seemed a decent bloke otherwise, like.

I give him a broad shrug and said I understood he couldn’t go sharing no confidences. Privacy of the client, and all that, a businessman like him. A bit close to the bone, maybe; he flicked an eye and said as how she had been to see him not too long ago. After a spot more back-and-forth he cracks.

Apparently Al-Yaqoobi was hunting down a particular bit of info and she come to Creggo’s looking for it. There was a set of cellars downstairs where he kept a lot of the stock, and he let her rent one out while she worked on some of his books. Didn’t know what she’d been doing, and didn’t ask, cos he frankly didn’t care. I’m pretty sure he just seen it as another chance to play the big man doing a favour.

“Take a look if you want. You know the way.” He had a knowing look on him, like there’s a big secret joke lurking behind his eyes. “Room nine.”

I sort of weighed it up in my head. Most likely he’s just skitting somehow and there’s nothing to find. On the other, I know he’s been dangling bait at me but that doesn’t mean it’s not making me hungry, like. And who doesn’t love a mystery?

There was no door on the cellars, just a manky wooden bead curtain what was probably quite nice fifty years ago. It had a stylised pattern of an elephant on it – Thai work, I think – but the damp or mould or something got to it, so it looked like the elephant was slowly succumbing to leprosy. I glanced at it, and then back at him. He raised an eyebrow at me.

“Maybe she wrote herself into a corner,” I said, and give him a nod and strolled on through.

******************************************

Like he said, I’d already been down there once, about a year before, when he wanted a hand fetching up some books I’d ordered. The stairs are proper narrow, maybe eighteen inches, and there’s no handrail on the outside even though they go down at least ten foot; plus the ceiling slopes down low overhead, so descending is this calculated exercise in self-control. I’ve no idea how the old devil carted all his stock up and down there.

I flicked on the puny lights before I went down – cheapskate only had a few bare bulbs hanging up there to light the whole place. How Creggo ever found anything in there was another mystery, but if it turned out he was part mole on his mam’s side it wouldn’t especially surprise me, like. It was dead quiet, in both senses of the word, like the darkness just swallowed up any noise along with the light. I had trainers on, so I didn’t make a sound creeping down and holding onto the inside rail for dear life.

The cellar must have been the full length of the shop, and maybe a couple more too. It had red brick walls what I’d call probably late eighteenth century, given the height and brickwork; older than the shop, which meant it was probably left over from an old warehouse, and some enterprising landlord slapped a shop on top to make use of the place when they were redeveloping. There were dock-off heavy wooden shelves everywhere, right up to the ceiling, jam-packed with books and boxes, jutting up to the walls here and there so’s you couldn’t see right down the cellar.

Spaced evenly round the walls there were these arched doorways, although the doors can’t have been period. They had porthole windows in them, and by the look of it they’d been cannibalised off a ship in the late Victorian. Beautiful brasswork, though I didn’t recognise the mark. It might’ve been dark, but everything was clean; you don’t want any dust around, it rots the paper. Must’ve been handy with a brush, that man.

I waited a couple of minutes for my eyes to get used to the murk down here, then I started looking for room nine. As soon as I turned the corner, the shelves cut off sight to the stairs, and I might as well have been a mile underground for all I could tell. Although I’d been practically sent down there, I didn’t feel it was right to go snooping around too much, like. Saying that, I couldn’t help having a sly dekko at some of the stock he kept down here away from the casual punters. That time before, I never went past the first shelf.

Tell you what, there was some lovely items down there: I saw a Bardslay History of Music with all the gilt intact and hand-coloured plates, which I’ve got to admit I took down and spent a minute or two venerating; and a couple of Chinese paintings that must be worth a mint if they aren’t fakes. I took a glance through one of the portholes as I was passing, but it didn’t look like there was anything in there except an empty armchair in the corner. Considering how the rest of the place was stuffed, that was a bit strange, like. Maybe it was his smoking room or something, I thought.

There was a butterfly big as your two hands spread, pinned up in glass, midnight blue and almost glowing. A complete run of Great Houses of England and their Histories you could almost call mint. An absolutely stunning pocket poetry book from somewhere Slavic; I couldn’t read a word, but the binding was this exquisite silver-embossed rose suede, and there was the most delicate leaf tracery spreading from the gild edging to wrap around the verse.

Anyway, I pulled myself together to stop gawping so’s I wouldn’t get Creggo passive-aggressively asking me what I thought of the merchandise. It can’t have took more than a couple of minutes to get to the room, but it felt like about a hundred years. I’ve spent my share of time in library basements and titchy little alley bookshops whose owners are apparently allergic to windows and dusting, but there’s something about dark, quiet, old places what just slows everything down somehow. Like as though all that time what’s pent up in the bricks presses down on your body and on your mind. I never was much cop at physics, but it’s like a cousin of gravity, or you could even say it’s the other kind of gravity in the flesh. Obviously that’s daft, but you know that feeling you get sometimes in cathedrals or proper forests, where it’s like a sense you never knew you had suddenly sweeping in and nailing your tongue down?

Seeing as how Creggo taunted me into going down there, I reckoned he was up to something. He probably knew the atmosphere of the cellar was liable to weigh on people’s minds. So, given how much he likes talking down to people, it seemed like he’d probably rigged up something to make people jump, then he could skit at them for freaking out. I was half inclined to just chuck it in and head back upstairs, but on the other hand – sometimes he did know things, and if there was any clue down there what happened to Al-Yaqoobi I couldn’t stand to pass up the chance. Plus I didn’t want him calling me a wuss.

I walked slowly to the door with IX painted on it in fading white, and paused a minute to think. If Creggo was setting this up as a prank, he’d almost certainly have rigged things up so’s customers would press up against the porthole for a proper look, and then get a jump scare right in their face. So I narrowed my eyes and peered through from a couple of yards back.

Between the miserly lighting, the shelves and the titchy window, there wasn’t much light getting in there. It wasn’t much of a room, from what I could see. There was a desk in there right enough, over in the corner, with your classic cheap wooden chair. I seen a few books on top of the desk, and sheets of paper; someone had been taking notes, or maybe doing inventory, or even binding loose pages back in.

No sign of any mischief this side, so I wasn’t expecting a bucket on my head. Let’s get this over with, I thought, so I leaned forward and basically give the door a jerk like I was opening it.

It didn’t move. Instead, there was a flicker of movement, and something like a mannequin sprung up at the door, rattling around like it was on springs, even banging into the porthole a couple of times.

It’d have give me a shock right enough if I’d been pressing my face up against the glass, but since I was expecting it, it just looked ridiculous, a spindly sort of vague scarecrow thing. It was a clever trick, like; whatever gimmick he had to set it off, I couldn’t make it out. Didn’t really matter, though. Suspicions confirmed. Time to leave.

I was a bit surprised not to see Creggo peering round a corner somewhere gawping at me, but no sign of him. He’d probably be happy enough taking the mick out of anyone what actually went down there. No need to watch, he could imagine it all, way more humiliating that it’d ever be in real life. Although now that I looked, the closest door, room VIII, that was open now – maybe he’d ducked inside?

No sign of him, or anything much in there; just a funny smell, like old rotting metal, maybe. And yet.

There’s nothing inherently sinister, or even weird, about an open door. But now that I looked around, as far as I could see in the tobacco-yellow gloom, all of them doors were open now. They’d opened without a sign of anyone, without a sound. When I shoved that handle I’d been stretching every nerve for a sign of whatever trick Creggo was pulling; I’d have heard a mouse twitch a whisker.

My whole brain stopped, like I’d run into a patch of treacle. I’ve dealt with trouble before, I wasn’t scared exactly, just – none of my instincts had any idea how to react to a simple little inexplicable turn like that. It wasn’t fight-or-flight or anything; it was like how a crowd just stands there staring while something kicks off in front of them.

After probably a minute or two, I shook it off a bit and started back for the stairs, still not really thinking straight. There was that stink what I couldn’t quite put a name to, and that was bugging me like hell. Where did that come from anyway, unless it was out the rooms? And then I stopped for a sec when I seen them Chinese paintings again, not looking exactly, just pointing my eyes at them like when you wake up groggy and spend five minutes staring at a kettle before you remember how it works. Sort of turned my head that way, and I deffo heard something down the far end, like cloth dragging on the floor.

Well of course, I squinted a bit to try and make out what was going on, and I seen something moving, but it wasn’t Creggo.

There was this lumpy shape shuffling along, or waddling maybe, more like a heap than anything. It was slow and awkward, but there was something about it even just from a glimpse. I stopped dead and caught my breath just staring after it, willing it to disappear. Even my shadow tensed up. It took forever just to lumber off behind the next shelf.

When I finally felt safe enough to move, I started creeping forward again, looking for those stairs it felt like I hadn’t seen in a century. Then I saw movement again, up ahead. The first one was well off in the shadows, but this one was just passing under a bulb when I caught sight of it and it made my blood run cold, swear to God.

I don’t really know how to describe it. It was partly like a mass of twisted cloth, all tattered and manky, something you might find mouldering away backstage of a ruined theatre. Or, and I appreciate this sounds hilarious, like some kind of rotting armchair covered in stinking shrouds, heaving itself forward with just this sick damp grating sound where the trailing folds dragged along behind. And they might be lumbering and squat and mouldy, but there was something in there that just set my mind screaming hellfire.

I’d pulled back behind the nearest shelf before I realised. It was one of them moments where your brain locks out everything it doesn’t care about no more, because it knows you’re just a finger away from dead. I knew sure as I ever knew anything, nothing I done ever mattered more than not letting them notice me.

When the sound finally died out, I made myself peek round the corner and there wasn’t nothing there, so I dragged myself out and kept going. I had to walk past where it’d been, and there was these damp marks on the floor, and that rancid coppery stink that sent a shiver right through me. I was stalking along, trying not to tread in the marks, trying not to breathe, trying to look every direction at once, like. You wouldn’t believe some of what Creggo had down there in them back shelves, I couldn’t help running my eyes over it. Most of the stock was boxed up, but if even one of them labels was true… look, there’s people’d literally kill for some of them books. You ever see a first edition Zimmerman? Yeah, that one. And I swear to God one was labelled “Copeland, author’s copy, annotated”.

I was just creeping up past room II, nearly at the stairs. The way the shelves stuck out down there, I had to walk right by the doorway to get out. With the door flung back it felt like I was tiptoeing past a tomb, or a cave, and I could barely bring myself to move a muscle. I could practically feel death spilling out of it. I was stood there for a good while before I could get a hold of myself and start across, and it can’t have took more than three or four seconds but it felt like an hour, and the whole time this terrible sense of exposure and a tingle down my back and left side, just waiting for something unspeakable to touch me. I didn’t dare to look inside. Something might be looking back.

Then I heard a brushing sound from right inside. The only thing that stopped me from screaming out, or breaking for it, was pure instinct. I just had time to slide up between the door and the wall before something come slithering out the doorway like a caterpillar. It was like iron hands grabbed me all round so’s I couldn’t move an inch, not even to breathe, not even to blink or shut my eyes so I wouldn’t have to look at it. I seen it crawling past, and the clothy tatters was flapping gently, pulsing even – like a sea anemone, or maybe gills. It passed about a foot away, and paused for a minute, like it was sniffing around for something. Finally it lurched away, so slowly it hurt, and me still thinking it’d turn round any second and that’d be it.

After about a century, it rounded a corner, and I started breathing again and wished I never. The reek was like fire in my lungs. You can’t imagine it; this oily, salty, metallic stench just laced with that bitter stink of thick white mould – I don’t often see them in dreams now, thank Christ, but I do feel that stink in my throat, and I know they’re close, waiting for me to turn round.

When I could stand straight again, I crept weakly round the corner, towards that sliver of daylight from the top of the stairs, where it filtered through the curtain. I was shivering all over from fright and exhaustion and from fighting down the urge to vom. I seen the shape of the stairs ahead, with the light sharp on the corners of them, and then just before I could get my hopes up I seen something else.

There was someone else moving uncertainly towards the stairs as well; moving like I must’ve been, with knees bent and arms tensed, hunched over a bit, and head up to stare all around. Only they didn’t seem frightened, like. More like a cat somehow. Stalking around quietly so’s it wouldn’t be heard coming. And now it crept a bit closer to the stairs and some light fell on it, and I seen its body was too thin, and its face was the wrong shape. It looked like it might go up, and then it stared up at the curtain for a while and hunched, like a cat raising its tail.

It crouched for a moment down beside the stairs, and I realised it might just stay there and block me out. That moment I hated it more than I ever hated anything. Then it sort of shrugged and started turning back, and I was panicking instead.

Thank God, there was a sort of niche in the wall there, you know, the sort what gives access to a fusebox or some such, a few foot deep. With the shoddy lighting down there it was black as pitch and I slipped in right to the back, pressing up against the wall. There was something rammed up against my back that must’ve been the electrics but I didn’t care, because it was coming. I heard it pacing slowly towards me, and a sort of rasping noise that must’ve been breath, only dry as dust. More like sandpaper. And I seen it step across the front of the niche, with the light behind it, and it stopped and turned towards me.

I couldn’t see nothing but a black shape. It took one step into the shadow, like it wasn’t certain; I got the impression it might even be blind. I couldn’t even move, I was dead on my feet, too tired of it all to do anything by then. There was that kind of inevitability, like when you brake for the lights and in your rear view mirror you see the van behind you wasn’t paying attention and it’s just growing and there’s nothing you can do but wait for the crash. It slowly raised one of them hands towards my face, and I could see it was too long and too thin, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. The fingers passed maybe two inches from my mouth. The dry crackle of that breath was so close, I could feel it ever so faintly on my skin.

Then it slowly turned away, and slunk back out into the cellar, and I heard the brush of it against one of the shelves growing fainter.

There was no way to know when it was safe to move, if it ever would be. I could always hear movements somewhere nearby. But eventually I needed to move more than I wanted to hide, and slipped out. There was nothing in sight then, and no sign of anything lurking by the stairs. I took my chance and scurried up like a little rat, and I was never gladder of anything than passing back out through that old bead curtain.

Creggo wasn’t at his desk no more. I looked around, and I seen him down one of the rows, holding a couple of books ready to reshelve. He was stood there staring at me with a look I never could place, and we just stood for a minute without saying a word. Then I walked out, with the bell tinkling behind me.

I never went back there. I didn’t go home neither. I got the train out of town and stayed with a couple of old friends, and once I was feeling strong enough I took myself off to Aberystwyth and did a bit of reading. Whatever happened with Al-Yaqoobi, I don’t think anyone’ll be hearing from her – at least I hope not. As for Cregeen, well, who knows whether he picked the shop or it picked him. After the fire they bulldozed the whole street, and I went past and seen for myself they’d dug it out nice and deep to lay foundations for some office blocks.

I never could bring myself to check round the salvage yards, and ask if anyone happened to reclaim them doors.

Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Questionable styles for GURPS

Through relentless questioning and furtive research, I have unearthed the secrets of two heretofore obscure martial arts and brought them, quivering, into the light. These rare traditions are presented below in the GURPS format for the interest of hoplologists.

If you'll excuse me, I need to phone up and find out why my life insurance policy has been abruptly cancelled.

Bibliokration

6 points

This style claims to have originated in the Great Library of Alexandria, where weapons were forbidden. It was first documented in Byzantium in the 9th century, and slowly spread across Christendom as literary culture did. The books of the period were both immensely valuable and often heavily bound, making them effective improvised weapons and even shields for monks who rarely carried weaponry. It has persisted in academic institutions, benefiting from the secrecy and heavy traditionalism that lingers in library circles. Tight-lipped librarians don't discuss the style with outsiders, and usually profess ignorance.

In other worlds, Bibliokration is one secret style amongst many. The stern librarians of arcane universities or secretive institutes may use this style to defend their collection from thieves, black-ops assault teams, and brawling students. Proprietors of occult bookshops meld it with psychic talent and magical defences.

Because the style revolves around wielding books, practitioners may learn the Improvised Weapons (Books) perk as soon as they have a point in Brawling (instead of the usual 10 points in skills and techniques).

Skills: Brawling; Intimidation; Professional Skill (Librarianship); Stealth; Throwing. At appropriate TLs, add Computer Operation/TL.

Techniques: Disarming; Ear Clap; Fighting While Seated; Hammer Fist; Kicking; Papercut; Two-Handed Punch; Uppercut.

Cinematic Skills: Invisibility Art; Kiai; Light Walk; Mental Strength.

Cinematic Techniques: Focus Kiai; Hand-Clap Parry (Only with an open book); Shush.

Perks: Extra Option (Rapid Fire with thrown weapons, Only with books); Fearsome Stare; Grip Mastery (Books); Form Mastery (Books); Hefty Tomes; Improvised Weapons (Books); One-Task Wonder (Spot book theft); Professional Quiet; Sure-Footed (Ladders and kickstools); Unusual Training (Hand-Clap Parry, Only with an open book); Unusual Training (Invisibility Art, Only in libraries); Unusual Training (Kiai, Only against noisy targets); Unusual Training (Light Walk, Only in libraries); Weapon Adaptation (Melee weapons to Brawling, Only with books).

Optional Traits

Secondary Characteristics: Improved Perception.

Advantages: Contact Group (librarians); Eidetic Memory (Only book details, -80%); Higher Purpose (Curate knowledge); Language (any); Rank (Academic or Company); Silence; Single-Minded; Trained By A Master.

Disadvantages: Callous; Focused or Single-Minded; Odious Personal Habit (Pedantry); Phobia (Fire); Vow (Silence, Only in libraries); Workaholic.

Skills: Detect Lies; Fast-Draw (Book); Lip Reading; Speed-Reading; Research; Shield; Teaching; any appropriate subject-matter skill.

Techniques: Attack from Above; Low Fighting; Memory Palace.

White Hall

6 points

This style arose amidst the brutal wrangling of parliamentary lobbies. It is a patchwork style above all else, shamelessly stealing from other traditions without heed for anything other than brutal effectiveness.

The style’s distinctive feature is its seamless fusion of self-defence and self-aggrandisement, blending one-to-one brawling with mass media offensives. Few White Hall practitioners survive long without acquiring an array of scars, though they are typically ethical rather than physical. No known schools exist for White Hall, and even the style’s name is more a matter of popular association than a formal title. It’s perpetuated through exposure and apprenticeship.

Skills: Brawling; Carousing; Fast-Talk; Savoir-Faire (Parliament); Sleight of Hand (Rhetorical).

Techniques: Coordinated Attack; Counterattack; Evade; Pig in a Poke; Reverse-Sacrificial Block; Short Change; Spinning Attack; Targeted Attack.

Perks: Dirty Fighting; Drunken Fighting; Technique Adaptation (Coordinated Attack defaults to Propaganda); Technique Adaptation (Evade defaults to Fast-Talk); Technique Adaptation (Feint defaults to Makeup, Only during interviews); Technique Adaptation (Projection defaults to own guilt, Only when lacking moral high ground); Technique Adaptation (Short Change defaults to Public Speaking, Only against the general public); Technique Adaptation (Spinning Attack defaults to Propaganda); Technique Adaptation (Staying Seated defaults to Propaganda); Technique Adaptation (Strangle Hold defaults to Propaganda, Only against the Overton Window).

Optional Traits

Advantages: Administrative Rank; Contact Group (Media Proprietors); Contact Group (CEOs); Contact Group (Disgraced Millionaires); Political Rank; Status; Wealth.

Disadvantages: Alcoholism; Bully; Callous; Compulsive Liar; Cowardice; Greed; Lecherousness; Low Empathy; Megalomania; Obnoxious Personal Habit (Braying Laughter); Selfish.

Skills: Connoisseur (Wine); Current Affairs (Business); Diplomacy; Finance; Law; Makeup; Politics; Propaganda; Public Speaking; Savoir-Faire (High Society); Scrounging; Shadowing (Only when “in the wilderness”).

Techniques

Bookmark Face*

Hard

Default: Prerequisite skill-3.

Prerequisite: Brawling or Judo, the Improvised Weapons (Books) perk, and Trained By A Master; can't exceed prerequisite skill.

You can snap an open book closed around an opponent’s face. You must first take a Ready action to open the book; a successful Fast-Draw (Book) roll can negate this.

While their face is trapped, your victim can’t use bites and similar attacks (except to attack your weapon) and is blinded. Targets with unusual anatomy may be affected differently.

You suffer a -5 penalty on Quick Contests when your target tries to break free, or if you attempt a takedown (+0 if you are using both hands).

This technique may be used defensively to parry a bite, headbutt or similar attack; base it on the prerequisite skill’s Parry.

Focus Kiai*

Average

Default: Kiai-2.

Prerequisite: Kiai.

You can channel your chi more tightly, preventing anyone other than the victim from hearing it.

Papercut*

Average

Default: Brawling-3.

Prerequisite: Brawling and the Improvised Weapons perk; cannot exceed Brawling.

You deftly rake the edge of a document across an opponent’s skin, creating a shallow – but painful – cut. Roll Papercut and note the margin of success, minus any DR. Instead of injury, your victim suffers moderate pain (p. B428) for a number of seconds equal to this total. On a critical success, your victim suffers severe pain instead!

Shush*

Average

Default: Prerequisite skill-1.

Prerequisite: Intimidate or Kiai.

Instead of inflicting mental stun, this technique renders a target temporarily speechless, preventing them from talking or even crying out.

Under-Bus Block*

Hard

Default: Politics-8.

Prerequisite: Politics and appropriate Rank; cannot exceed Politics-3.

This technique allows you to interpose a subordinate between yourself and physical or professional danger. To use it, a subordinate must be within stepping distance of you. This is a type of Block; roll this technique instead of your normal Block. On a success, your subordinate becomes the target instead of you; he can defend himself as normal. You can attempt this technique even with a superior, but any failure is treated as a critical failure!

Modifiers: A modifier equal to the difference between your own relevant Rank and your proxy's; this is a bonus if you have higher Rank, and a penalty if you have lower Rank.

Perks

Hefty Tomes*

This perk combines the benefits of Huge Weapons (SM) and Huge Weapons (ST), but only for using books as improvised weapons.

Professional Quiet

You can use a specific Professional skill instead of Stealth to move quietly and avoid drawing attention. Typical examples are servants, waiting staff, librarians, and duty nurses. This only applies in the course of your duties or in similar circumstances, e.g. eavesdropping on customers’ conversations, or exploring a library without being noticed.

It’s not appropriate for professions that revolve around stealth, or for sneaking up on people; assassins, snipers, and the like must raise Stealth instead.

Thursday, 7 April 2022

Azadi: rescue targeted Afghans

You may recall that I ran a charity TTRPG bundle to support vulnerable Afghans last year. Azadi are the charity who I supported, and they are once again desperately in need of funds. The situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, but media and official attention has increasingly turned elsewhere.

Azadi are running a 72-hour donation drive and I've signed up to solicit donations.

Click on the link to donate: https://charidy.com/azadi/222

To offer some extra incentive:

  • For every £100, I will invent a system-neutral monster.
  • If we reach £500, I'll release a 1-page RPG.
  • If we reach £1000, I'll release a weird short story
  • If we reach £1500, I'll release a reasonably system-neutral 1-page scenario
  • If we reach £2000, I'll release a second mini-RPG
  • If you donate £100 (all at once or in bits), I'll do you a favour! Examples:
    • Roleplaying: design a spell, monster or magic item based on your suggestion (within reason!)
    • Roleplaying: draw a simple piece of line art which you can use however you want (I make no claims about my artistic ability)
    • Writing and stuff: give your work a "Brit authenticity check", handy if you are writing something set in Britain and want to avoid sheriffs reading people their Miranda rights, and suchlike. If it's super long, you should donate more.

Happy to consider other incentives! You're welcome to suggest (legal!) things. If it's something like "record a reading of my erotic fanfic" it'll cost you but feel free to ask.

(I do currently have Covid, so please bear with me if I don't get things done immediately)

Friday, 1 April 2022

Building a Lawful Good kingdom in Pathfinder, part 1

Politics Note: I will assume throughout this series that the government providing public goods, infrastructure and essential services to the citizens, in exchange for taxes, is broadly a good thing. You don’t have to agree, but don’t waste your time posting any disagreements here, a blogpost about imaginary kings on an irrelevant website.

Quite some time ago now, I hassled the lovely people at Improvised Radio Theatre with Dice about what a Lawful Good kingdom could look like in practice. Could you have something that at least superficially felt like a standard fantasy kingdom, while justifying the designation of Good (Lawful is at least a bit easier)?

"Basically, can it actually be both good - however you want to define that; greatest good for the greatest number is probably a working starting point - and feudal. Can you have castles and banquets and things, and subsistence level farming peasants outside to supply the tassels and banquets and things, and still be good?"

Having looked at the Profession rules in Pathfinder again, I think it might support something approaching a Lawful Good kingdom; at least, a kingdom where ordinary people earn enough to be comfortable and can take pride in their work and contribution to society, and where the nobility do have a distinct and worthwhile role.

"You can earn half your Profession check result in gold pieces per week of dedicated work."

A typical NPC has ability scores of 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8. Specifics will vary by occupation, but it's reasonable to assume a 10 or 11 in Wisdom, giving a +0 modifier. It's also fair to assume that for an NPC who primarily works in a profession, they'll have at least one skill point, gaining the class skill bonus as well for a total +4. On average, our NPC will earn 7.25gp per week. There are various ways to bolster those earnings, though.

To begin with, our NPC (let's call them Jay) can do the sensible thing and take a Skill Focus (Profession) feat. This will land Jay a nice +3 bonus for another 1.5gp per week. We're on 8.75gp per week at this point.

Jay can also take one of various traits that grant a +1 bonus to particular Profession checks. These represent family influence, growing up in particular conditions, minor blessings, and so on. A few grant +2, but let's stick with our +1, as we're trying to see what a typical person earns, not edge cases. That's 9.25gp each week.

Masterwork tools are another simple option that's likely to be widespread. Yes, they cost 50gp, but that +2 bonus means you'll earn an extra gp per week on average, so they'll pay for themselves within a year. It's a worthwhile investment. Now we have 10.25gp per week.

Even better, you can learn the Craft skill to make your own masterwork tools - yes, it needs you to hit a DC20 skill check, but you'll save a lot in the long run, so get a group of friends together and take turns aiding another.

What about the benefits of teamwork? There's nothing (that I can see) stopping people from aiding another on those weekly Profession checks. While a GM could rule that doing your own Profession check stops you from helping someone else, it's not built in. A trained hireling costs 3sp per day, so whether that's worthwhile depends whether the assumed working week is 7 days (2.1gp for a +2 bonus equivalent to +1gp, net -1.1gp) or less. It's only worthwhile if the hireling works for 3 days or less, so probably not.

Luxurious Living

Now we get into the costs side of the equation. According to the rules, the average standard of living is:

"10 gp/month: The character lives in his own apartment, small house, or similar location—this is the lifestyle of most trained or skilled experts or warriors. He can secure any nonmagical item worth 1 gp or less from his home in 1d10 minutes, and need not track purchases of common meals or taxes that cost 1 gp or less."

Well, would you look at that. Our humble professional - a 1st-level commoner with no exceptional features - is earning 10gp per week. Certainly, Jay can afford to live comfortably, save for a rainy day, hire assistants, and have masterwork tools for their key tasks.

Levelling Up

A related but tangential issue is how to realistically represent the level of NPCs. Level fundamentally represents combat prowess, no matter how hard the game tries to pretend otherwise; XP comes from fighting and completing quests that mostly revolve around fighting. Getting better at your job through experience simply isn't a factor (perhaps because PCs tend to go from 1-20 in the space of a few weeks).

If we addressed this, most professional NPCs would realistically have at least a few levels, and correspondingly higher skills. Since skill ranks and feats are capped by level, that makes a big difference. At 3rd level, Jay can drop another couple of points into Profession and earn another gp per week. At 4th level, if Jay had a Wisdom of 11, they can bump it up to 12 for another +1.

If the GM is allowing the Signature Skill feat, things change dramatically at 5th level. Jay can now pick up the feat, gaining the 5-rank benefit of earning gp equal to your full Profession check results each week, not half your result. Very nice. This is very much an 'if', though.

We could certainly refine Jay more if we weren't trying for an average character. The Patient Calm trait lets you treat 'taking 10' as 'taking 12', and this does stack with a trait bonus. The Brevoy Bandit regional trait lets you add another ability score to Profession checks as well as your Wisdom, for another +1, and this also stacks. By taking a Drawback, Jay can take both of these, plus one of the traits that grants a +2.

There's even a trait that halves the time needed to take 20, which would strengthen any case for allowing 'taking 20' on Profession rolls for income.*

*It's not at all clear whether you can do this normally; nothing says you can't, but equally nothing says you can. That's being said, since a Profession check for income is meant to represent a week of work, taking 20 should require 20 weeks of work.

Jay has a +4 bonus from various traits, a Wisdom of 12 (+1), a skill point that also nets a class skill bonus (+4), and Skill Focus (+3), plus masterwork tools (+2). Taking 10 gives Jay a roll of 24 for 12gp per week at 1st level. We could probably get better, especially looking at racial options for bonuses, but it'll do for now.

Back to the Kingdom

So how does this relate to the thorny question of the Lawful Good Kingdom? Well, we can see here that Jay is earning a comfortable living from the fruits of their labour. Reasonable taxes have been paid, and Jay still has money and to spare.

That certainly doesn't need to be where things stop, though. A benevolent government can do a lot to make life more comfortable. Considering Jay's disposable income is approaching 75% of their income, there's definitely room for higher taxes to fund investment and social infrastructure. But we'll look at that in another post.

Sunday, 27 February 2022

Hell's Rebels, episode 26: I promise it's not cursed

"For a gunslinger sitting in a tank of water might not be optimal." - sage advice from Zimgallar, there.

Pathfinder Adventure Path: Hell's Rebels Part 1 - In Hell's Bright ...

Features spiders.

With courage in our hearts, we delve further into enemy territory - which is to say, we move into the second room. Caution proves to be more difficult that you might think. We discover the lack of Pathfinder rules for handling critters that are actually just on you.

Part 26 of the campaign is now up on Archive.org at Episode 026: I promise it's not cursed

Direct Links

  1. RSS feed for all episodes
  2. Episode 001: Number My Thugs
  3. Episode 002: Technically She's Goop
  4. Episode 003: The Mediaeval Equivalent of a Zimmer Frame
  5. Episode 004: Personal Snot Monster
  6. Episode 005: By our powers combined
  7. Episode 006: There is honour amongst, ah... normal civilians
  8. Episode 007: You have it on good medical advice not to lick the ground
  9. Episode 008: Mmm, blobs of quivering flesh - my favourite
  10. Episode 009: A lot of papier-mâché
  11. Episode 010: Kamikaze ferrets and commando weasels
  12. Episode 011: It's such a horrible coincidence
  13. Episode 012: I think we found our bass player
  14. Episode 013: Ego Shattered!
  15. Episode 014: Whipping up an alligator stew
  16. Episode 015: Sewer brings back bad memories
  17. Episode 016: Chaos is one way of describing it
  18. Episode 017: NOW she's a ghost
  19. Episode 018: A lot of f*cking birdseed
  20. Episode 019: Real things said by real people
  21. Episode 020: It's like Casper the Friendly Ghost
  22. Episode 021: Hit points is a state of mind
  23. Episode 022: Is this going to be another Mal versus Door?
  24. Episode 023: Faceful of zombie crotch
  25. Episode 024: Woo! Capitalism!
  26. Episode 025: What kind of tricks do you have up your sleeve? A gun.
  27. Episode 026: I promise it's not cursed

Friday, 25 February 2022

Hell's Rebels, episode 25: What kind of tricks?

Update: fixed some audio issues where parts of Nathan's track were stripped out.

It's too long since we did any impersonation.

Pathfinder Adventure Path: Hell's Rebels Part 1 - In Hell's Bright ...

The Rebellion continues to gather steam, by which I mean, we maintain our proud record of appalling dice rolls and bare survival. We go for a nice walk that isn't any kind of casing of joints, no sir. Subterfuge ensues as Cassia infiltrates a museum, for a further attempt at conquering the damned thing. Hellknights discover the consequences of f*cking around with hulking semi-demonic chefs. We finally, finally take control of... part of the ground floor of the building. Woo!

Part 25 of the campaign is now up on Archive.org at Episode 025: What kind of tricks do you have up your sleeve? A gun.

Direct Links

  1. RSS feed for all episodes
  2. Episode 001: Number My Thugs
  3. Episode 002: Technically She's Goop
  4. Episode 003: The Mediaeval Equivalent of a Zimmer Frame
  5. Episode 004: Personal Snot Monster
  6. Episode 005: By our powers combined
  7. Episode 006: There is honour amongst, ah... normal civilians
  8. Episode 007: You have it on good medical advice not to lick the ground
  9. Episode 008: Mmm, blobs of quivering flesh - my favourite
  10. Episode 009: A lot of papier-mâché
  11. Episode 010: Kamikaze ferrets and commando weasels
  12. Episode 011: It's such a horrible coincidence
  13. Episode 012: I think we found our bass player
  14. Episode 013: Ego Shattered!
  15. Episode 014: Whipping up an alligator stew
  16. Episode 015: Sewer brings back bad memories
  17. Episode 016: Chaos is one way of describing it
  18. Episode 017: NOW she's a ghost
  19. Episode 018: A lot of f*cking birdseed
  20. Episode 019: Real things said by real people
  21. Episode 020: It's like Casper the Friendly Ghost
  22. Episode 021: Hit points is a state of mind
  23. Episode 022: Is this going to be another Mal versus Door?
  24. Episode 023: Faceful of zombie crotch
  25. Episode 024: Woo! Capitalism!
  26. Episode 025: What kind of tricks do you have up your sleeve? A gun.

Sunday, 16 January 2022

31 days of chargen, day 16: solar investigator (Champions)

It's that time again...

Today I'm looking at Champions for the Hero System. Our "solar-themed investigator who brings light into dark places" will be rather more outwardly 'heroic' than previous incarnations.

I'm not doing anything fancy here - just a straight-up classic superhero with a secret identity, a costume, and an alliterative name. Mild-mannered schoolteacher Ardent Adams is secretly Daylight, who draws power from the rays of the sun and can unleash them in turn. I'm sticking with the low-powered superhero guidelines; Daylight isn't going to be beating up demigods and destroying the city in the process.

To play a little more strongly into the theme, I've decided Daylight's part of the world is plagued by shadow-monsters and vampires of various kinds. They certainly won't be the only challenge he faces, but they're a recurring theme. This makes it natural that he'd be drawn into superheroing. Maybe the critters are minions of a cabal of shadow-sorcerers, who knows?

Attributes

I don't see Adams as a particularly tough hero, just someone with some unusual powers. Drawing on the guidance from the Champions Guidelines Table, I boost his combat prowess and defences a little, and buy up all his attributes to 15 for a good all-round competence. Presence seems appropriate to a sun-themed character so that goes up to 25. This will also allow him to make effective Presence-based attacks to overawe, terrify or calm people (and therefore less need for violence).

Powers

Building powers is fiddly, but luckily I can draw on the big book of Champions Powers. I choose a selection from across the Light and Solar/Celestial groups. Eyes of Light makes him hard to dazzle or blind, and Summer's Warmth creates a stable warm environment around him. I also add 20 points of Power Defence against darkness, cold and shadow-based powers.

Time for something more active. Create Light is obviously required. I don't really want to go into the generic energy blaster line with this character though; something a bit more offbeat seems more interesting. So I do give him the ability to dazzle with a Flash cone of noonday sunlight, but also a Sunlit Step that allows him to step through patches of direct sunlight as a short-ranged teleport.

Since many of Daylight's adversaries will be shadowy or vampiric, I add a Dispel Darkness ability, as well as a Hand-To-Hand boost that deals 2d6 additional energy damage (-1/2, only against creatures vulnerable to sunlight) as Touch of the Sun. I decide to add a weak version of the Solar Storage power - Adams absorbs energy from the sun to power his flashier abilities, so he's dependent on being able to spend plenty of time in the sun, but can still go heroing underground or at night.

I'm not sure the Solar Storage is actually great value - it costs a fair bit and he could almost certainly just rely on his own endurance to do things. But it feels thematic and that's really more important here. Comments welcome!

Talents

These abilities give you minor advantages that aren't really powers. I decide Absolute Time Sense makes sense for a hero based on the sun.

Skills

Adams is a schoolteacher (specifically a high-school science teacher), so he doesn't need huge amounts of unusual skills. The Everyman skills that he gets by default cover most things. I decide to buy up his Professional Skill: Teacher a bit, and give him some other relevant skills like Bureaucracy, Oratory and Persuasion. He needs some actual Science Skills too, but not a huge amount. Also, a Fringe Benefit in the form of his Qualified Teacher Status.

This also seems like a place to play up the solar theme again, so I give him Knowledge Skills in "the Sun", "renewable energy" and "vampires". Adams didn't take the "straight to teaching" route, but spent some time working in the renewable energy field before changing career. A few points of social skills to use that striking Presence he has, some Mechanic to represent tinkering with scientific kit and suchlike in his professional life, and we're done.

Complications

As an inspirational teacher, naturally Adams' life has to be complicated by dealing with the personal issues of various students. They come to him after class, they turn up to watch their hero Daylight rescuing someone, he notices them getting into trouble somewhere when he needs to be chasing a fleeing baddie, and so on. This is a Floating Dependent Group (2 students, incompetent, frequently, unaware of adventuring). It's not always the same students, but there's always at least a couple of people he needs to watch out for.

Naturally, he's also got a Secret Identity like any self-respecting hero.

I decided not to give him an immediate family - he'll have relatives and friends who occasionally turn up, but nobody he's responsible for (i.e. no Dependents). This also helps with storylines: our charismatic, inspirational teacher can become entangled in any number of potential romantic incidents as the plot demands. Some of them, naturally, will turn out to be villains.

Future development

If I were playing with more points (I stuck to a basic 300), I'd aim to round Daylight out with more niche abilities: disinfecting through pulses of UV radiation, maybe making plants grow, and probably at some point an actual sunlight attack (Ultra Sunburn Attaaaaack!). Some kind of mirage or heat haze ability might make sense.

Thursday, 13 January 2022

Trail of Cthulhu: The Dance in the Blood

A very belated recording from YSDC's Convocation in Leeds last autumn. This is a Trail of Cthulhu game, The Dance in the Blood, from Pelgrane Press, run by Freddie Foulds. Keen listeners might recognise some familiar Wharty voices.

Intro: There are monsters beneath the earth. You cannot fight them. You cannot run from them. And they are closer than you think.

In a forgotten corner of Northern England, between the rolling hills and tranquil dales nestles a village plagued by terrible secrets and subterranean horrors.

Every 119 years the village of Manesty is torn apart, its inhabitants massacred. It happened in 1697. It happened in 1816. Now it’s 1935 and horrific events have been set in motion. Swimming through the soil beneath the village are loathsome creatures waiting, impatiently, to rise above the earth and reclaim the land they believe is theirs and kill anyone who stands in their way, including the Investigators.

However, as with all the best Mythos adventures, not all is as it seems. The Investigators must uncover the mystery that has killed many and doomed others in the tiny village while struggling to keep their lives and the last vestiges of their sanity intact.

  1. The Dance in the Blood, Part 1
  2. The Dance in the Blood, Part 2

Friday, 7 January 2022

31 days of chargen: day 5, solar investigator (Pathfinder)

Late? I'm not, uh, late. But I'm going into Pathfinder for reasons that have nothing to do with it being 5 to 11 on day seven of this thing, honest. And so it's time for Arden Suncrowned to take the field.

Okay, for a solar-themed character, I'm going right for an Aasimar (human with vaguely celestial ancestry), which makes me Wise and Charismatic. I'll take the alternate racial trait that grants me a halo, because, you know, light. Once per day I can also use daylight as a spell-like ability.

After a ridiculous amount of faffing and changing my mind about fifteen times, I decide to make him an oracle (a kind of divine spellcaster, similar to a cleric, defined by a powerful curse and insight into a particular 'mystery'). He takes the Tongues curse, restricting him to babbling in Celestial at times of stress, and the Solar mystery (of course).

I go for a fairly boring set of stats, with a little Strength to fight with, enough Constitution to survive OK, and lots of Charisma.

Spells are next, so he takes a mixture of light-themed spells, plus some to encourage and protect his allies. Healing spells come automatically, thank goodness.

To round him out, it's feat time. I pick Solar Spell; this lets me spend a higher-level spell slot to bolster a light-themed spell (see?), making it dazzle enemies and significantly hamper creatures of darkness. I can slap this on a 0th-level light spell, letting me cause significant problems with a mere 1st-level spell slot.

At 3rd level I take Amplified Radiance, so if I stand near another aasimar our auras produce an emanation of daylight; creatures that take penalties in bright light take double those penalties instead. At 5th level, I grab Heavenly Radiance, giving me another daily use of my Daylight ability, and allowing me to expend either use to unleash a bolt of Searing Light instead.

Now let's pop back to that spell list and grab fear the sun, which lets me afflict enemies with light blindness, making them sensitive to bright light...

At this point I should be delving into weapons, armour, magic items and so on... but honestly, I can't be bothered. Sorry.

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

31 days of chargen: day 4, solar investigator (Modern Age)

Today's themes: Modern AGE and "A brave sun-themed investigator who brings light into dark places."

First, stats! I roll 3d6 for each of the nine stats, getting 12, 10, 11, 6, 15, 10, 15, 9, 14. Not bad! Nothing spectacularly good, but equally there are three solid stats and only one weakness. A 6 isn't even low enough to impose a penalty!

As it's a modern game, I think a crusading journalist would be a good fit for the theme. Ardent Sunning sheds light on current events, reveals dark secrets, and brings neglected issues to the attention of the public. This regularly gets him in trouble...

I'm going to use the option to swap numbers round, letting me shift good numbers into my Communications and Intelligence stats rather than fighting skills.

Next, background! Modern Age has you roll for social class (Middle Class) and lifestyle (Suburban). This gives me a roll on a table, plus the following:
Ability: +1 Communication
Focus: Communication (Etiquette) or Intelligence (Current Affairs)
Talent: Affluent or Contacts

I roll an Intelligence focus. Altogether, I end up with the Contacts talent (for knowing people who can do favours), Intelligence (Current Affairs), and Intelligence (Research). A focus gives +2 when rolling to do that subset of tasks, so I'll have a mighty +5 on a lot of journalistic work!

Next, Profession. The Middle-Class ones don't seem appropriate - but I can also pick from a lower social class, which contains Investigator, the one for journalists. Perfect. This gets me:
Focus: Communication (Investigation) or Perception (choose one)
Talent: Intrigue or Observation
Health: 15 + Con (26)
Resources: 4 (boosted to 5 because I'm picking from a lower social class list)

Well, definitely Communication (Investigation) for me, though Perception (Search) would be handy too. I'll take Observation to be better at ferreting out secrets, gaining the Perception (Empathy) focus.

Now a Drive to establish what motivates me. After much havering I pick Judge, playing off the 'objective observation and learning stuff' angle. This nets me Knowledge, so I'm better at recalling information. It also gives me one of various rewards that depend on the setting - reputations, connections and so on - which I'll skip over.

To round things out, let's set up some background. Ardent has a degree in Environmental Science, and came into journalism gradually during 10 years working for sustainable energy firms. He retains a very strong interest in renewables, and tends to carry around solar chargers for his various devices. His work evolved into a broader interest in sustainability, communities, and inequality - as well as the corruption and entrenched interests that hinder progress, and public outreach. Occasional popular science columns and a couple of books grew into a career change.

Monday, 3 January 2022

31 days of chargen: day 3, Solar Investigator (GURPS)

At Whartson Hall's suggestion, I'm doing something a little different today - making the same character in different systems. Now, to be clear, I'm not trying to make exactly the same person with the same abilities. Rather, I want to make a character with the same themes, outlook and broad skillsets.

Since there's a LOT of variation in what different games permit, I want something that's generic enough to be very flexible. However, I also want something specific enough to make this a meaningful exercise! I decided to plump for this:

"A brave sun-themed investigator who brings light into dark places."

Those features might vary from being a solar-powered superhero to a priest of Ra to an explorer with a sun aesthetic who literally wanders around with a torch.

I'm starting with GURPS because I had it open at the time, okay?

GURPS: Ardent Helion

In a near-future setting, Ardent Helion is an agent of the Extrajudiciary, who travel between the worlds to deal with cold cases, legal mysteries and tricky situations.

This is a sci-fi setting, so I'm deliberately excluding magic.

Ardent begins with Expert Skill (Heliology), being deeply knowledgeable about suns: physics, mythology, roles in popular culture, he knows it all.

Let's throw in a bunch of investigative skills. He'll want high Perception for those, plus a little IQ. I'm also allocating some Strength, since sometimes he needs to roll up his sleeves to get the job done.

Most of those skills handily come under the Natural Copper talent, which I'll give him a couple of levels in.

Annoyingly, Ardent's Heliology is going to be expensive. I'd like him to have it at a good level, but don't want him to have particularly high IQ - he gets there by sharp eyes, guts and grit, not genius. There's probably a way to boost it, but I can't immediately think of one.

Disadvantages seem appropriate now as I'm starting to run low on points (I opted for the default GURPS Character Assistant values of 150pts, max 75pts of disadvantages). He needs a Duty (almost always), plus a Code of Honour (I used the Private Investigator one), and some Workaholic to fit the zealous detective mould. Let's also make him Overconfident, because those genre investigators are always getting into trouble, and he's always sure that justice and the Extrajudiciary will prevail. Since he's a law-upholding type, and importantly also not American, he's taking Pacifism (Cannot Kill). Finally, throw in some Flashbacks (Mild) for a bit of extra characterisation and to leaven his determination a little.

Now for some more skills. An investigator will definitely get into some brawls. Let's make Ardent a student of Space Jujutsu. He learns a reasonable amount of Judo, plus some Boxing, and refines his skills in tripping and arm-locking suspects. Uppercuts are necessary too, for the 'clean blow to the jaw' beloved of Dick Barton.

Perks time! I'm giving him an Accessory (Nanite Torch); he has 'solar nanites' in his body that he can activate to produce some light. Next, a custom variant: Sure-Footed (Low Gravity) for brawling on spacecraft and the like. This is just equivalent to the existing Naval Training perk, only for spaceships instead of ships. I'll follow that with Acceleration Tolerance for dealing with space travel, and Standard Operating Procedure (Sleeps With One Eye Open) so he's alert to possible danger.

I decide to boost his solar credentials by adding a blinding flash ability to his nanites. Once per hour, he can overcharge it to dazzle anyone nearby, though it's a big drain on his energy. I'd have liked a less drastic alternative than inflicting Blindness, but while there's probably something complicated I could have done with Obscure or penalties to Per, I can't be bothered...

OK, maybe I can. I steal the Flash power from Psionic Powers, removing the Environmental limitation and turning it into an Emanation (centred on him) with Dissipation (it's less overwhelming the further away you are). I also end up adding some Obscure Vision as an alternative ability, when he just wants to dazzle people without actually blinding them, perhaps as an intimidation tactic.

I like the idea of 'the cleaning power of daylight', so I'll throw in some Resistance against Disease and Poison, plus Healing (Disease and Afflictions, Contact Agent) - though the nanites require at least a minute to work, so it's not useful in combat. The healing ability is another Alternative Ability, but not the resistances - even if he's sending his nanites out to treat someone, he retains enough to protect himself.

I'd probably round him out with some actual Rank in an appropriate organization, a couple of hobby skills and another disadvantage, but I think I'm done for today.


Name: Ardent Helion

Race: Human

 

Attributes [70]

ST 12 [20]
DX 10
IQ 11 [20]
HT 10
 
HP 12
Will 14 [15]
Per 14 [15]
FP 10
 
Basic Lift 29
Damage 1d-1/1d+2
 
Basic Speed 5
Basic Move 5
 
Ground Move 5
Water Move 1

Advantages [49]

Natural Copper (2) [20]
Solar Nanites [29], which consists of:
--Affliction (Blinding) (1) (Area Effect (4 yd); Based On ST (Own Roll); Costs FP (+4); Blindness (+50) (Secondary, Variable); Dissipation; Emanation; Malediction (Receives -1/yd range); Nanotech; Reduced Duration (1/60 duration); Vision-Based (with Malediction) (One sense)) [17]
--Healing (Alternative Ability; Contact Agent; Cure Affliction; Disease Only; Nanotech; Takes Extra Time (x64)) [2]
--Obscure (Vision) (3) (Alternative Ability; Nanotech) [2]
--Resistant to Disease (+3 to resist) [3]
--Resistant to Poison (+3 to resist) [5]

Perks [4]

Acceleration Tolerance [1]
Sol Tattoo (Lantern) [1]
Standard Operating Procedure (One Eye Open) [1]
Sure-Footed (Low Gravity) [1]
 

Disadvantages [-60]

Code of Honor (Private Investigator) [-10]
Duty (Extrajudiciary Agent) (15 or less (almost always)) [-15]
Flashbacks (Mild) [-5]
Overconfidence (6 or less) [-10]
Pacifism (Cannot Kill) [-15]
Workaholic [-5]

Quirks [-2]

Delusion (I'm a Great Singer) [-1]
Responsive [-1]

Skills [86]

Arm Lock (Judo) Tech/A -  13 [2]
Body Language (Human) Per/A - Per+3 17 [4]
---includes: +2 from 'Natural Copper'
Boxing DX/A - DX+0 10 [2]
Breakfall (Judo) Tech/A -  13 [2]
Criminology/TL9 IQ/A - IQ+3 14 [4]
---includes: +2 from 'Natural Copper'
Detect Lies Per/H - Per+2 16 [4]
---includes: +2 from 'Natural Copper'
Diplomacy IQ/H - IQ+0 11 [4]
Escape DX/H - DX-2 8 [1]
Expert Skill (Heliology) IQ/H - IQ+4 15 [20]
Forced Entry DX/E - DX+0 10 [1]
Free Fall DX/A - DX+2 12 [8]
Holdout IQ/A - IQ-1 10 [1]
Interrogation IQ/A - IQ+3 14 [4]
---includes: +2 from 'Natural Copper'
Judo DX/H - DX+1 11 [8]
Judo Throw (Judo) Tech/H -  11 [2]
Law (Galactic) IQ/H - IQ-2 9 [1]
Lip Reading (Human) Per/A - Per+0 14 [2]
Observation Per/A - Per+2 16 [2]
---includes: +2 from 'Natural Copper'
Research/TL9 IQ/A - IQ-1 10 [1]
Search Per/A - Per+3 17 [4]
---includes: +2 from 'Natural Copper'
Shadowing IQ/A - IQ+2 13 [2]
---includes: +2 from 'Natural Copper'
Sweeping Kick (Judo) Tech/H -  11 [4]
Trip (Judo) Tech/H -  8 [2]
Uppercut (Boxing) Tech/A -  10 [1]

Stats [70]
Ads [49]
Disads [-60]
Quirks [-2]
Skills [86]
= Total [147]

Sunday, 2 January 2022

31 Days of Chargen: day 2, Traveller

Today's themes are... Traveller and... well, you can't really have a theme in Traveller. Life just comes at you, fast. Although this is the Mongoose version, so at least death isn't coming at you during chargen any more.

We begin by rolling stats - six sets of 2d6. This turns out to be possibly the best set of stats I have ever rolled: 8, 11, 11, 7, 7, 5. Normally I'd be hard-pressed to match that on 3d6, quite honestly. What a time to squander rolls! But shimmey yn tonn eddyr y lhong as y çheer, after all, and especially in Traveller chargen...

Character generation doesn't ask you to invent a homeworld, but that seems absolutely basic to me. I roll up the following anomaly:

My Homeworld

Size 6 : smaller than Earth
Atmosphere 9+6-7=8 : dense atmosphere – only highlands inhabited, no filters required
Hydrographics 10-7+8=11 : almost entirely water
Temperature 5 : temperate
Population 3-2 = 1 : a tiny farmstead or family
Government : there are 3 factions! Strengths 5, 3, 9
First faction 8-7+1 = 2 : democracy
Second faction 6-7+1 = 0: none
Third faction 7-1+1 = 1: corporation

My homeworld is just a little larger than Mars, with an atmosphere so dense that only the high ground is inhabitable; and in any case, virtually the entire the planet is submerged! To make matters weirder, the only inhabitants are a single tiny group, which is nevertheless splintered into rival political factions; the strongest is corporate loyalty, but popular vote and personal ties also play a major part.

I think I'm going to put this down as an actual family with maybe a few associates. Given the corporate ties and largely uninhabitable world, it makes sense to me that this is an outpost of sorts. It might be a research centre, a land-banking effort, or perhaps it's simply convenient to have a small admin team in this part of the sector for some reason. Either way, that's where I was born.

Technically I can move my stats around. But honestly? It makes sense that I wouldn't have much social standing, given the absolutely nowhereness of the world I come from. Meanwhile, the planet's harsh atmosphere, total lack of playmates, and 99.9% wilderness nature makes it natural that I'd grow up physically fit. My background nets me skills in Seafarer, Athletics and Animals.

It makes sense that my parents would want me to go into the company, so let's see how I do as a Citizen... well, I qualify spectacularly! Looks like they had earned some favours. I cruise through my first stint, gaining some extra Engineering training, but don't impress anyone. Well... this is boring, but Mum and Dad are persuasive... let's keep going.

I make it through another 4 years, but during this time political upheaval strikes my homeworld, and I'm caught up in the revolution! Erm... okay. Presented with a variety of skills to learn that might represent my involvement, I gain Advocate. My legal prowess defuses the situation (it's probably the biscuit rota, isn't it?) and I'm promoted for my trouble.

Sick of this nonsense, I decide to strike out for the wide open spaces. Or rather, Space. I wanna be a free trader! Mustering out lands me +1 Intelligence, and three ship shares (boring).

Easily convincing them to let me onto a free trader crew, I learn to use a Vacc-Suit (vital) and make some good deals, earning a promotion and some Persuasion. In my fourth term, all that cargo hauling has boosted my already-bulging muscles, getting me a net Str bonus! I run into legal trouble but gain Diplomat in the process of resolving it, and am promoted again - they finally let me Pilot (spacecraft)!

Now it's time for aging... but I remain unscathed (alas, that it were so easy in real life).

My fifth term I squander much of my profits on some bad deals, losing 2 Benefit rolls. Ah well. I get some Broker out of the deal. I also learn to use those guns, gaining a level of Gunner - and increase my reputation further, becoming an Experienced Free Trader with the prized Jack of All Trades 1! Aging finally catches up with me though, and I become a little less hardy, a little slower on the draw.

Nevertheless, I embark on a sixth term, learning to take care of passengers, taking some advanced classes in Electronics and getting promoted again. All that fiddling helps to restore my lost Dexterity, too! This is immediately lost again as I fail another aging roll, along with a point in my other physical stats.

Term seven. I have to fix my spaceship a few times, learning Mechanic. Further legal trouble is a minor obstacle, which a bit of Investigation easily resolved. I gain another 'promotion' and learn a language in the process. At this point I decide it's finally time to hang up the old hat and retire...

While I gambled away two Benefit rolls, I have six left (one per term, plus three bonus rolls for my rank, minus the two I lost) and a +1 on my rolls! Lovely jubbly. I end up with slightly more education, a Free Trader with 75% of the mortgage paid off, a gun, and a little cash.

Finally, we'd normally split a Skills Package between us. To represent this, I take two skills from the list: Gun Combat (so I can actually use that weapon) and Deception.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

31 Days of Chargen: day 1, GURPS and bees

Kaye recently posted a character creation challenge thing, so I'm going to give that a go.

Today's themes are... GURPS and 'bees'.

Let's start with the fundamentals - no, not stats. We're going to want the Good With Bees perk, as well as an Immunity to Specific Poison (Bee and Wasp Stings). Arguably that's two poisons, but I think it's justifiable. If the setting features giant and monstrous bees and wasps, some negotiation with the GM would be appropriate.

Next, the Speak With Animals (Bees only) advantage, of course.

I'm deliberately not going the route of becoming a swarm, but I will adopt some bee-like traits. Those include Magnetic Field Sense from Powers: Enhanced Senses, and both Discriminatory Scent and Acute Taste and Smell, because bees have incredible olfactory abilities (they have been used to detect mines).

Skillswise, I'll start off with Profession (Beekeeper) and Veterinary (Bees). I also want Gardening, to keep my bees well-fed

I'm envisioning this as a sort of folklore-powered bee-master, so I'm going to take the Green Thumb* talent as well as Cunning Folk. This hints at other skills I should take: Animal Handling, Fortune-Telling, Herb Lore, Naturalist, Occultism, Poisons, and Weather Sense. As Poisons is an IQ-based skill, I opt for an optional specialty in 'Garden poisons' - the idea being to cover things plants that grow in gardens, poisons used by gardeners, and of course, bee venom.

*Green Fingers, for those of us in the UK...

Now it's time to gain some abilities. Let's have our beekeeper able to call up a cloud of buzzing, distracting bees. This seems like Obscure (Vision and Hearing), with Defensive and Ranged. I'm not entirely happy with that - Obscure has a special expensive version of Ranged:

Unlike the usual Ranged enhancement (p. 107), this modifier lets you use your ability again before its duration has expired (e.g., to simulate multiple smoke grenades); thus, it is more expensive.

Looking at the rules in the normal Ranged enhancement:

Duration is 10 seconds, unless the ability lists another duration (like Neutralize or Possession) or is instantaneous (like Healing), and you cannot use the ability again until all existing effects have worn off.

Yeah, that's much more appropriate - I've only got one cloud of bees, after all! So I'll make the GM call here and allow the normal version of Ranged. I'm also going to add the limitation Environmental (Not in strong wind), and the Homing enhancement, since my bees can zero in on their target.

Let's throw in a couple of disadvantages. Odious Personal Habit (attracts bees) seems right, and let's add Absent-Mindedness - our hero tends to drift off into musings. Since they're just a regular beekeeper, let's also include Pacifism (Self-Defence Only).

Throw in a few 'everyman' skills for being part of the community - talking to neighbours, selling honey and flowers, and so forth - and we're about done.


Name: Beemaster
Race: Human

Attributes [60]

ST 10
DX 10
IQ 12 [40]
HT 11 [10]
HP 10
Will 12
Per 14 [10]
FP 11

Basic Lift 20
Damage 1d-2/1d

Basic Speed 5.25
Basic Move 5
Ground Move 5
Water Move 1

TL: 7 [0]

Advantages [95]

Acute Taste and Smell (3) [6]
Cunning Folk (3) [30]
Detect (Magnetic Fields) (Occasional) (Biological (Passive); Reflexive) [14]
Discriminatory Smell (Biological (Passive)) [15]
Green Thumb (2) [10]
Obscure Vision (3) (Defensive; Environmental (Not in strong wind) (Occasional); Extended (Hearing) (+1); Homing (+1); Ranged) [15]
Speak With Bees (Specialized: one species) [5]

Perks [2]

Good with (Bees) [1]
Immunity to Bee and wasp stings [1]

Disadvantages [-40]

Absent-Mindedness [-15]
Code of Honor (Beekeeper's) [-5]
Odious Personal Habit (Attracts bees) (-1) [-5]
Pacifism (Self-Defense Only) [-15]

Quirks [-1]

Humble [-1]

Skills [33]

Animal Handling (Bees) IQ/A - IQ+2 14 [1]
---includes: +3 from 'Cunning Folk'
Area Knowledge (local) IQ/E - IQ+1 13 [2]
Astronomy/TL7 (Observational) IQ/A - IQ-1 11 [1]
Body Language (Human) Per/A - Per+0 14 [2]
Carousing HT/E - HT+0 11 [1]
Current Affairs/TL7 (local region) IQ/E - IQ+0 12 [1]
Current Affairs/TL7 (People) IQ/E - IQ+0 12 [1]
Detect Lies Per/H - Per-2 12 [1]
Diplomacy IQ/H - IQ-2 10 [1]
Farming/TL7 (Horticulture) IQ/E - IQ+2 14 [1]
---includes: +2 from 'Green Thumb'
Fortune-Telling (Augury) IQ/A - IQ+2 14 [1]
---includes: +3 from 'Cunning Folk'
Gardening IQ/E - IQ+3 15 [2]
---includes: +2 from 'Green Thumb'
Herb Lore/TL7 IQ/VH - IQ+2 14 [1]
---includes: +2 from 'Green Thumb', +3 from 'Cunning Folk'
Hiking HT/A - HT-1 10 [1]
Housekeeping IQ/E - IQ+0 12 [1]
Merchant (Honey and Flowers) IQ/E - IQ+0 12 [1]
Naturalist (Earth) IQ/H - IQ+3 15 [1]
---includes: +2 from 'Green Thumb', +3 from 'Cunning Folk'
Occultism IQ/A - IQ+3 15 [2]
---includes: +3 from 'Cunning Folk'
Pharmacy/TL7 (Herbal) IQ/H - IQ-2 10 [1]
Poisons/TL7 (Garden) IQ/A - IQ+3 15 [2]
---includes: +3 from 'Cunning Folk'
Professional Skill (Beekeeper) IQ/A - IQ+1 13 [4]
Public Speaking (Storytelling) IQ/E - IQ+0 12 [1]
Tracking Per/A - Per-1 13 [1]
Veterinary/TL7 (Bees) IQ/H - IQ+1 13 [1]
---includes: +3 from 'Cunning Folk'
Weather Sense IQ/A - IQ+2 14 [1]
---includes: +3 from 'Cunning Folk'

Costs Summary

Stats [60]
Ads [95]
Disads [-40]
Quirks [-1]
Skills [33]
= Total [149]

Sunday, 5 December 2021

GURPS perks for recognition

As I was wandering round the supermarket today, I was struck by the idea for this GURPS perk, so here we are.

We've all seen those films where someone can identify a gun from the sound of its shot, a car from its tracks, or an aircraft from its silhouette. Maybe we know someone who can do that. At least it's likely we know someone who's really good at knowing what bird they've seen or what car went past, even on a moment's glance. Armed forces famously released (maybe still do?) playing cards featuring the silhouettes of friendly and enemy ships or planes to train this very capability. There are still sets like this - I used to love the Heritage ones featuring the natural world.

I thought this very specific trick - knowing what something is, without necessarily having any further insight or any practical application of that knowledge - was a good shot for a perk.

Expert Identification

You've developed a knack for distinguishing a particular category of things, granting you a bonus on rolls to identify them accurately and with increasing specificity.

You can select a specific type of organism, object, substance, or a cultural marker. The bonus ranges from +2 to +4, depending on the scope of the category. Any category can be limited by type, region or era.

Examples: Pet cats, domestic sheep, American cars, early C21st cars, collectible card games, WW1 military aircraft, swords, Chinese architecture, cigarettes, mobile messaging app stickers, 1990s French slang, silent comedies, Japanese makeup patterns, seabirds, sharks, citrus plants, grain, synthetic fabrics, cheese, roses.

There is no prerequisite for this perk; your ability could come from rote memorisation or from a deep knowledge of the subject.

Expert Recognition

Prerequisite: Expert Identification with the chosen type of object or creature.

You're so familiar with your area of expertise that you can recognise individuals as readily as human faces. You can remember and distinguish individual objects or creatures in the same way as recognising a human. Anything that hampers your facial recognition impedes this capability in the same way.

This perk is most suited to categories with individuality, such as animals, castles, vintage cars or rare books. Objects that are mass-produced (like cars or guns) may need further examination and interaction to reveal their individual qualities. The GM determines whether this park is appropriate (or even logically possible).

Note:Even this second perk is a genuine phenomenon, with the brain's facial recognition capabilities expanding to include another category where we're exposed to countless variations on a theme. Farmers can recognise individual animals, and mechanics learn to identify specific vehicles from the details indistinguishable to non-experts.

Examples

Pigeon Fancier

You have an expert eye for the many varieties of doves and pigeons. You gain a +4 bonus on rolls to identify domestic and feral doves and pigeons of all kinds.

Dinosaurophile

You delight in dinosaurs of all kinds, and have spent hundreds of hours poring over illustrations. You gain a +4 bonus on rolls to identify dinosaurs, pteradons, and similar creatures that appear in dinosaur books.

(this is, as the text suggests, intended for a game NOT set in a dinosaur era! In a game where dinosaurs are ubiquitous, reduce the bonus or narrow the focus)

Shepherd's Eye

Extensive experience makes it trivial for you to recognise every member of your flocks. You gain a +4 bonus on rolls to distinguish breeds of domestic sheep, and you can identify individual sheep as easily as humans.

(this is just both perks combined because domestic sheep are a pretty niche group)

Firearm Connoisseur

You've seen countless firearms of all kinds, and understand their idiosyncrasies. You gain a +2 bonus on rolls to identify firearms. You can recognise an individual weapon if you've spent enough time using or observing it to gain familiarity (p. B169) - for example, a companion's trusty revolver, or your battered lasrifle from your days in the Corps - or have the Photographic Memory advantage.

Hun Spotter

All that time playing cards wasn't wasted; you've memorised the outlines of every plane you might encounter. You gain a +4 bonus on rolls to identify WW1 military aircraft.

Monday, 22 November 2021

Bookhounds of London: The Ghost and Schroedinger's Virgin

Back in October, it was time once again for the finest (and only) gaming convention I attend: the Yog-Sothoth.com games day, formerly YSDC Games Day, now going by the name of Convocation.

(I'm not really sold on the name change myself - I quite liked the simplicity of the old version! - but it's not really pertinent)

I managed to record a couple of games, once of them being the game that I landed in myself. This was Bookhounds of London; not the Trail of Cthulhu supplement, but a Fiasco playset based around it.

I've had one previous game of Fiasco and found myself less than impressed, but then having absolutely no concept of what a "Coen Brothers Movie"* should be like was bound to cause some hiccups.

(from everything I've heard since, I would immensely dislike a Coen Brothers Movie were I to encounter one, so that probably also doesn't help)

This time I enjoyed myself immensely. The fact that I have a much better idea what to do with an explicitly occult theme helped, and my group seemed to fit together really well. I've played with some of them before and it was great getting to know the new faces. Nellkyn did a great job facilitating the game, and my previous experience meant I could throw out a couple of helpful tips now and again.

As for the game itself, let's just say I started off dead and it got worse.

You can listen to it on Archive.org: here's Part One, and here's Part Two.

While the session was great fun, I still don't really get the point of the Fiasco dice system. Why do black and white dice mean one thing during the game (good vs. bad scene endings) and another in the aftermath (physical vs. mental trauma)? What's the point of getting you to pick dice in the first half and then assign them to other people arbitrarily, only to keep the dice you get in the second half? I can't help feeling you could strip out this mechanic entirely and there's bound to be a mechanic out there that handles resolving 'winning' scenes more elegantly.

On the other hand, it was fun using the dice as a framework for setting up the game, and I do think setup is something Fiasco handles in a pretty satisfactory way. To be honest, I'd probably be inclined to use the Fiasco setup rules and then run an actual game in a different system.

But that's just me. Hope you enjoy the recording.

Sunday, 31 October 2021

Hell's Rebels, episode 24: Woo! Capitalism!

Update: fixed some audio issues where parts of Nathan's track were stripped out.

Bridge taxes are up! Outrageous!

Pathfinder Adventure Path: Hell's Rebels Part 1 - In Hell's Bright ...

I don't honestly remember what happened in this episode, apart from lying to NPCs because gnome. We purchase huge numbers of scrolls (OK, within the limited budget of a low-level party). Shopping occurs. We examine the rules for crafting alchemical items. Not the most action-packed of episodes.

Part 24 of the campaign is now up on Archive.org at Episode 024: Woo! Capitalism!

Direct Links

  1. RSS feed for all episodes
  2. Episode 001: Number My Thugs
  3. Episode 002: Technically She's Goop
  4. Episode 003: The Mediaeval Equivalent of a Zimmer Frame
  5. Episode 004: Personal Snot Monster
  6. Episode 005: By our powers combined
  7. Episode 006: There is honour amongst, ah... normal civilians
  8. Episode 007: You have it on good medical advice not to lick the ground
  9. Episode 008: Mmm, blobs of quivering flesh - my favourite
  10. Episode 009: A lot of papier-mâché
  11. Episode 010: Kamikaze ferrets and commando weasels
  12. Episode 011: It's such a horrible coincidence
  13. Episode 012: I think we found our bass player
  14. Episode 013: Ego Shattered!
  15. Episode 014: Whipping up an alligator stew
  16. Episode 015: Sewer brings back bad memories
  17. Episode 016: Chaos is one way of describing it
  18. Episode 017: NOW she's a ghost
  19. Episode 018: A lot of f*cking birdseed
  20. Episode 019: Real things said by real people
  21. Episode 020: It's like Casper the Friendly Ghost
  22. Episode 021: Hit points is a state of mind
  23. Episode 022: Is this going to be another Mal versus Door?
  24. Episode 023: Faceful of zombie crotch
  25. Episode 024: Woo! Capitalism!