Sunday, 27 September 2015

Random Encounter Tables: Walkways of the Cobweb

Probably the first in a series of random encounter tables, which I hope to use to help provide a bit more of a sense of the kind of random oddness that PCs might encounter while wandering the districts of the Wicked City. As I mentioned in its initial write-up, the Cobweb is a very different place depending on whether you wander its walkways by day or by night: by day it buzzes with activity, with servants and messengers hurrying back and forth from tower to tower, but by night it takes on a more sinister aspect. I'm thus writing a separate encounter table for each.

Random Encounters in the Cobweb: Day
  1. A group of stressed-out servants rushing from one tower to another, clutching hampers of food for an impromptu banquet that their master has just ordered on a whim. PCs who look low-status enough to be ordered around may find themselves drafted in as emergency auxiliary kitchen staff, potentially opening up a brilliant opportunity for theft, poisoning, or infiltration.
  2. A group of 2d4 aristocratic socialites, en route to a party in another tower, each attended by one bodyguard and 1-3 long-suffering manservants and/or maidservants. All fantastically dressed and gossiping about the latest scandals. PCs sneaky enough to get close while still staying hidden - pretty tricky on a walkway, but not quite impossible - could potentially learn something useful, here...
  3. A mechanic, herding his menagerie of clockwork animals from one tower to another. There are singing clockwork birds, leaping clockwork cats, climbing clockwork monkeys... even a dancing clockwork bear, which is also able to fight to protect him upon command. His previous patron has just tired of him, and he's on his way to his next engagement. There is a 30% chance that one of his clockwork animals has actually been reprogrammed, without his knowledge, to start acting as a thief / saboteur / assassin / courier (equal chance of each) once it reaches its destination.
  4. A serpent man doctor en route to pay an emergency visit to a very sick, very wealthy patient, carrying a black bag full of drugs, medicines, and poisons. For the right price, he could be persuaded to ensure that she doesn't recover.
  5. Squad of secret police in full uniform, investigating the family who lives in one of the nearby towers after hearing reports of 'ideological irregularity'. Servants, guards, and family members are all being exhaustively questioned, and everyone's obviously terrified that someone is going to say the wrong thing and get them all dragged off to the Ministry of Information. Random passers-by (the PCs, for example) will be stopped and searched as possible 'subversive agents' or spies.
  6. A Disciple of the Word, fallen on hard times, who now makes her living as a private tutor in languages and calligraphy to the spoiled and inattentive children of the Cobweb families. She's currently sitting on a high walkway, meditating on the sacred mantras and trying to work out where it all went wrong. She could potentially provide a lot of useful introductions for PCs who go to the trouble of befriending her.
  7. A bored heiress, accompanied by a gaggle of 2d6 guards and servants, out looking for something novel to amuse her. Has a very short attention span. May 'adopt' particularly interesting-seeming PCs as pets. 
  8. A scream from above, initially faint but rapidly increasing in volume, which is abruptly terminated by a man in a servant's uniform crashing down onto the iron walkway in front of the PCs and splattering into bloody ruin. A few minutes later he's followed by a second victim, and then a third. Someone up there is having a very bad day.
  9. A courier runs past at top speed, clutching a message for someone in another tower. About half-an-hour later, the same courier runs back in the opposite direction, clutching a new message; this continues for as long as the PCs bother to stay around, with the courier looking more and more exhausted each time. (After 2d6 hours another servant will take their place, but the messages keep coming.) If intercepted, roll 1d4 to see what these messages contain: 1 = completely frivolous gossip, 2 = quasi-pornographic love letters between two young aristocrats, both married (although not to each other), 3 = massively important negotiations about a secret alliance between two noble families who everyone else thinks are enemies, 4 = cute pictures of cats.
  10. A group of civil servants, the emissaries of one of the city's Lesser Ministries, moving doggedly from tower to tower, trying to gather the support of influential families for their master's latest initiative. So far it's not going well, but their leader - a harassed, middle-aged bureaucrat with a world-weary air about her - is determined not to return empty-handed. Well-connected PCs who are able to assist them can win themselves a valuable ally in the King's Tower.

A walkway in the Cobweb. Don't look down.

Random Encounters in the Cobweb: Night
  1. A distraught, aristocratic young man sitting on the edge of a very high walkway, clearly wondering whether or not to jump. He's currently suicidally miserable after being betrayed by the woman whom he had rather naively believed to be the love of their life, who will be marrying another (much richer) man tomorrow morning. If the PCs can talk him down and cheer him up he can potentially be quite a useful ally to them, albeit rather prone to histrionics. He will never stop plotting vengeance against his ex-lover and her new husband. None of his plots will ever be remotely practical.
  2. A distinguished Murder Harlot (level 1d4+3) and her 2d4 apprentices (half male and half female, all level 1) are strolling along the walkway, dressed to kill, en route to an important engagement in the next tower. Roll 1d6 to see what they've been hired for: a party (1-3), an orgy (4-5) or a murder (6). The apprentices are cheerful nihilists who will pick fights with the PCs just for the hell of it, especially if it means they get to push people off very high catwalks; their mistress will indulge them to a certain extent, but will step in to enforce order at the point of a bladed fan if things seem to be getting out of hand (or if there's a danger that they might be late for their engagement). Particularly funny, sexy, or well-dressed PCs might earn an invitation to call on them another time at their HQ near the Grand Bazaar.
  3. A hired spy has concealed himself amongst a mass of ropes and pulleys between two walkways, from which he is spying on his targets - the family of one of his employer's rivals - through the windows of their tower with a high-powered telescope, looking for blackmail material. Observant PCs might spot flashes of light reflected from the telescope lens as he redirects it from one window to the next.
  4. The PCs glimpse a masked woman climbing out of the window of a nearby tower, trailing what looks like an awfully long fuse behind her. She's a saboteur, who has just planted a half-dozen bombs all through the beloved art collection of her target, as part of a complicated feud between his family and the family that employs her. (She works as maid most days, but her mistress is happy to make use of her other talents from time to time...) If nothing is done to stop her, she'll climb out onto a nearby catwalk and then light the fuse, destroying enormous quantities of priceless artworks and starting an interminable series of tit-for-tat revenge attacks between the two clans.
  5. A messenger comes rushing out of a tower, clutching a sealed letter in one hand; a moment later a gunshot is heard and he drops, soundlessly, off the walkway, only for his body to be caught in a tangle of ropes below, the letter still caught in his grip. PCs who try to climb down and retrieve it will be shot at by the sniper who killed him, who has strapped himself to a diagonal beam fifty feet above and is firing downwards with a rifled jezail. The letter contains an urgent (coded) warning for the recipient to call off a theft mission planned for later that night: it's a trap, and the object that they're looking forward to acquiring is actually horribly cursed...
  6. 1d6 aristocratic young rakehells, out of their heads on drink and drugs, escorted by 3d6 exhausted-looking guards and servants whose job it is to keep them safe until they finally collapse and can be dragged home to bed. They will demand that the PCs amuse them, and may become violent if refused. Good performers will be rewarded with drink, gold, and/or drugs; especially amusing ones may be dragged along with them for the rest of their night out.
  7. 2d6 guards from a nearby tower, combing the walkways for a thief who has just stolen something very valuable from their master. The thief himself is lurking nearby, hiding in a large delivery basket hanging from an inter-tower zipwire. If the guards spot him, he'll launch himself down the wire to get a headstart, and the PCs may find themselves drafted into the pursuit.
  8. A Child of the Pines, very lonely and very far from home, who is climbing through the Cobweb scavenging for food, Summoned to the Wicked City by dreams of his ancestress imprisoned atop the King's Tower, he has made his way into the Cobweb, but has yet to work out a way of reaching and ascending the King's Tower that wouldn't involve his certain death. For now he's living on the (otherwise inaccessible) roof of a nearby tower, using his incredible climbing abilities to get around and stay out of sight. He would be very, very happy to have some allies, but he cannot be persuaded to give up his quest.
  9. 2d6 cultists of the Wicked King, out looking for a sacrificial victim. (They're actually guards from a nearby tower, but the robes, hoods, and masks make this difficult to discern.) They're convinced that if they offer enough sacrifices to the Wicked King, he will grant them the power to destroy their employers and rule in their stead. There's a 50% chance that they're actually the unwitting stooges of another family, who are manipulating them for cruel purposes of their own. 
  10. 3d6 masked revellers, on their way to a masquerade ball at a nearby tower. One of them (pick at random) has secretly been replaced by a hired assassin, who is using his / her costume and invitation as way to get close enough to their target to complete their mission. The assassin is a skilled mimic, but nonetheless they're staying as quiet as possible, in the hope that their 'friends' don't notice that anything is wrong before it's too late...

Friday, 25 September 2015

Shamanic Healing (AKA: 'So, where is this guy's soul, anyway?')

I have been reading a lot about Central Asian shamanism, recently. One of the key tasks of the shaman is to heal the gravely sick, and/or revive the recently dead (the line between the two is pretty blurry): different shamanic traditions have a whole range of different methods for doing this, but they all have in common the idea that sickness can cause (or be caused by) the separation of the soul from the body, meaning that if the shaman can get the soul back them the person should recover. In ATWC, if a character is on the verge of death (dying of injury or poisons, seriously ill, in a coma, etc), a shaman may be able to heal them by finding their soul. Roll 1d10 to see what the problem is:


  1. The patient's soul is fed up with this life and has decided it would be better off in the underworld. (Who knows why a soul would decide this? Souls are weird.) The shaman must arrange for the patient to be surrounded with delicious food, beautiful objects, and strong drink, before going into a trance, intercepting the soul en route to the underworld, and trying to tempt it back into its body, pointing out how much good stuff it has waiting for it in this life and warning it that the food in the underworld is awful. Make a Charisma roll to persuade the soul to return, with a bonus or penalty based on how impressive a feast is laid out around the patient.
  2. Dislodged from the body, the patient's soul has fallen in a river and sunk down to the bottom. The shaman needs to fish it out, using special nets or rods. For each day spent fishing, the shaman should make a Wisdom roll to catch it, applying their Dexterity modifier as a bonus or penalty to the roll. For each day that passes without the soul's return the patient will get worse.
  3. A wicked spirit has stolen the soul and run off with it. The shaman must track the spirit down in the spirit world and bargain for the soul's release. (Rules as per normal spirit bargaining; how big a favour the spirit considers releasing the soul to be depends on the importance of the soul which has been stolen.)
  4. The spirit world requires a death for enigmatic reasons of its own, and has picked the patient's soul as an appropriate victim. The shaman must offer up a sacrifice, and persuade the spirits to accept its life instead: this requires a Charisma roll. (-5 penalty if a small animal is sacrificed, such as a dog or a sheep; +5 bonus if a human is sacrificed; +5 bonus if the sacrifice is an unusually perfect specimen of its species.) If the roll fails, the spirit world is still not appeased and another sacrifice must be offered.
  5. The patient's soul has become entangled with the soul of a wild animal which has been imprisoned somewhere nearby; the shaman must find this animal and free it, and the soul will return to its body. If the animal dies before the soul is returned, the patient will die, too.
  6. The spirit of a recently-killed bear has grabbed the soul in revenge for its own death, and is slowly crushing the life out of it. The shaman must talk to the bear-spirit, placate it with offerings, and persuade it that the victim's clan wasn't responsible for killing it. (This may be tricky if they actually were responsible for killing it, though...)
  7. A host of petty, spiteful spirits have seized the soul. The shaman must scare them off by threatening them and making loud noises, preferably with the help of as many other people as possible. Make a charisma roll, with a bonus or penalty based on just how much of a din you're able to produce; if you passes, the spirits will drop the soul and run.
  8. The soul has passed into another animal. The shaman must track it in the spirit world to find the animal which the soul is currently inhabiting, and then return in the real world, track that animal down, kill it, and smear the patient with its blood, at which point they will recover. Forever afterwards, the patient will feel a special affinity with that type of animal.
  9. The patient's soul has become lost and needs to find its way back to its body. The shaman must track down the wandering soul in the spirit world, and then arrange for the body to be brought to its location and a rope stretched out between the two, allowing the soul to climb back into its body,
  10. The soul is already in the underworld, guarded by the Men of Iron and Bone. Only an epic vision-quest into the lands of the dead can recover it now.
(All of these come from historical shamanic traditions, by the way, although some have been adapted for gameplay purposes!)

Sunday, 20 September 2015

'Try to find the graves of our fathers, the only things for which we are prepared to fight'

Sometimes you need to comb through historical sources to find gameable material. And sometimes it's just sitting there, staring you right in the face.

From Julian Baldick's Animal and Shaman: Ancient Religions of Central Asia:

'As for Darius' invasion itself, Herodotus relates that the Scythians responded to it with a strategic retreat and a mocking message to Darius to try and find the graves of their fathers, the only things for which they would be prepared to fight.' (p. 21)

All the peoples of ancient Central Asia buried their royal dead in secret. Some kings went to extraordinary lengths to ensure this secrecy: killing the workmen who built the tombs, for example, or having the burial party kill everyone they met along the way to the grave site in order to ensure that no-one was left alive who could describe the route they'd taken. (Both of these also had the useful side effect of providing a whole bunch of human sacrifices for the new ancestor spirit that the recently-deceased king was assumed to have become.) The grave has to be secret, because if it's not secret then your enemies can come and defile it, which means that you have to commit your forces to hanging around guarding a bloody tomb in order to avoid the permanent disgrace of allowing the bones of your ancestors to be desecrated. For a nomadic people which lived or died by their mobility in war, this was a serious liability.

And we're not just talking about holes in the ground, here. Some of these tombs were massive:
'A Khazar king would be buried near a river, which was diverted to flow over the mausoleum. This mausoleum was in the form of a house with 20 rooms, each containing a tomb. The men who had buried the king were beheaded afterwards so that no-one would know which room contained the body.' (pp. 29-30)
You can see where I'm going with this, I'm sure. This is a dungeon complex. Twenty rooms, containing twenty identical flooded tombs, one of which contains an ancient king and the other nineteen contain... what? Traps? Monsters? Undead guardians? The idea that people killed by (or killed for) a king or warrior had to serve him after death was a common one: in a fantasy setting, it might be very literally true, with a king's tomb crawling with the imprisoned ghosts and/or reanimated corpses of all the people killed by him in life and sacrificed to him in death. This kind of spirit-binding was actually attempted historically:
'[T]he inscriptions tell us of a specifically Altaic practise, that of dedicating an enemy (or one of his various souls) to a T├╝rk in the hereafter, in order to serve him. In this connection a special word, balbal, is used to designate both the slain enemy (or a soul of his) and a stone monument which is set up to represent him. Thus the enemy is turned into a balbal: he becomes the stone monument.' (p. 41)
The souls of your dead enemies. Bound into stone statues. Placed all around your giant, secret tomb in order to serve you in the afterlife and defend you against intruders. Seldom has real-world history sounded quite so much like a D&D adventure module.

Balbals look like this, by the way.

The adventure writes itself. Step one: find the damn mausoleum. Step two: fight your way past the animated stone guardians. Step three: enter the haunted tomb-complex and try to figure out which of the twenty tombs inside actually contains the corpse you're looking for. Maybe you're hoping to loot his grave goods. Maybe you need to talk to his ghost. Whatever it is, it had better be really important - so important as to be worth all the trouble you'll need to go through to get it. Because when it came to supernatural tomb security, the peoples of ancient Central Asia did not fuck around.

And best of all, it'll all be completely historically accurate!

Sort of.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Armies of the Wicked City

The tyranny of the Wicked City is not maintained through overwhelming force of arms: like many real-world dictatorships, past and present, it endures not because it is invincible, but because it's just strong enough that none of its neighbours want to go to the trouble of toppling it. The inhabitants of the surrounding nations view it with superstitious dread, and want as little to do with the place as possible; and the aura of hopelessness that hangs over it like a cloud eats into the morale of any army that does get too close to it, encouraging commanders to rethink their plans and soldiers to start pondering the merits of desertion. Its walls are full of holes, and one real, modern army, with well-drilled musketmen and a decent amount of artillery support, could probably seize the whole place in a week if they really wanted to. But it would be ugly, dangerous work; and as the long, long shadow of the King's Tower falls across them, would-be liberators have a habit of deciding that they don't really have the guts for it after all.

The primary armed force of the Wicked City itself is the King's Men, who defend its walls, patrol its streets, and enforce its unjust laws upon anyone who hasn't paid them a big enough bribe. They are about ten thousand strong, and they're decently trained and equipped (most are first-level fighters), but their morale is terrible: the vast majority of them join up because they enjoy the bribes and the power-trips, not because they actually have any intention of dying for their city. Faced with any real opposition, they will usually retreat and call for backup - lots of backup. Most of them are cheerfully corrupt, and will happily accept bribes in exchange for neglecting their duties, but they are terrified of the Wicked King himself and would never do anything that might be construed as acting directly against his government.

Kazakh warrior:
One of the King's Men. He probably blew a whole month's worth of bribes on those trousers.

  • The King's Men (F1): AC 15 (breastplate), HD 1 (5 hp), +1 to-hit, musket (1d10 damage, 3 rounds to reload) or club (1d6 damage), FORT 14, REF 14, WILL 14, morale 6.
  • King's Men Officer (F2): AC 15 (breastplate), HD 2 (9 hp), +2 to-hit, two pistols (1d8 damage, 3 rounds to reload) or sword (1d8 damage), FORT 13, REF 13, WILL 13, morale 5.

Most of the King's Men are perfectly suitable for street-level legbreaking, but they're not much use against determined enemies. Those of them who exhibit a real flare for violence, however, are transferred to the First Brigade, whose members are the shock troops of the Wicked City. The five-hundred-strong Brigade is primarily made up of Blood Men, but its officers are mostly human; it's a bit of a blunt instrument, but when the city's government want to make sure that something ends up really, properly dead, it's usually the First Brigade that gets sent in. Their barracks are just outside the King's Tower.

Chinese Qing Dynasty officer, circa 1900.  The soldiers dressed in traditional Chinese uniforms, carried an assortment of weapons . Many carried old Austrian muskets, Martinis ,Mausers and Enfields rifles but often with incorrect ammunition. Others were armed with ancient weapons, mainly bows and arrows and long spears The morale of the Chinese armies was generally very low due to lack of pay and prestige, use of opium, and poor leadership .:
An officer of the First Brigade.

  • First Brigade Trooper (level 1 Blood Man): AC 15 (breastplate), HD 1+1 (6 hp), +2 to-hit, blunderbuss (1d12 damage, 3 rounds to reload, point-blank only) or huge sword (1d12+1 damage), FORT 13, REF 14, WILL 14, morale 9. Gain +1 damage in melee once they smell blood. 
  • First Brigade Officer (F3): AC 15 (breastplate), HD 3 (14 hp), +3 to-hit, two pistols (1d8 damage, 3 rounds to reload) or sword (1d8 damage), FORT 12, REF 12, WILL 12, morale 9.

The lords of the Wicked City have also been swift to take military advantage of the fact that it houses the single greatest concentration of clockworking expertise in the known world. The city's armies are supported by clockwork war machines to a far greater extent than those of most other nations, and it even boasts an innovation entirely unknown elsewhere: the world's first mechanised infantry regiment. The King's Own Armoured Brigade (better known as 'the clankers') consists of a three-hundred-strong fighting force, mostly Brass Men and Steel Aspirants, who deploy into battle in tanks, mecha, and Steam Knight armour, supported by another three hundred human mechanics whose job it is to keep all the machinery running. The Clankers are also in charge of maintaining the army of clockwork soldiers that the city's government holds in reserve, in enormous fortified warehouses near the Grand Bazaar, although these would only be deployed if the city itself was threatened. The biggest of them, an immense clockwork dragon known as The Earthshaker, requires such an enormous quantity of coal just to get it started that its use is reserved for the direst of emergencies.

Card Game Illustration by Yu Cheng Hong, via Behance:
A Brass Man in the service of the Clankers. Illustration by Yu Cheng Hong.

  • Clanker Steam Knight (Steel Aspirant 2): AC 20 (steam knight armour), HD 2+2 (11 hp), huge mace (+1 to-hit, 1d8+5 damage) or swivel gun (-4 to-hit, 2d8 damage, ignores 4 points of physical AC, 8 rounds to reload), FORT 12, REF 13, WILL 13, morale 7, tech rating 3.
  • Clanker Tank Gunner (Brass Man 1): AC 15 (Brass skin, though usually protected by the armour of the tank itself), HD 1+2 (7 hp), +0 to-hit, tank mounted swivel gun (2d8 damage, ignores 4 points of physical AC, 4 rounds to reload), FORT 13, REF 16, WILL 14, morale 7, tech rating 1.
  • Clanker Mech Pilot in One-Man Mech (Steel Aspirant 3): AC 20 (mech armour), HD 3+3 (17 hp), +2 to-hit, giant sword (1d12+6 damage), FORT 11, REF 12, WILL 12, morale 8, tech rating 4. (The mech itself has 40 HP and is immune to missile weapons smaller than a swivel gun.) 

Another area in which the technological superiority of the Wicked City has permitted it to gain a military advantage is in the establishment of an air corps. The large colony of serpent folk within its walls manufacture enough lighter-than-air gas to keep a small fleet of airships afloat, supported by gyrocopters built by the Steel Aspirants; this rudimentary air force is based on the floating cloud castle that the Wicked King stole from the Blue Folk, which is usually to be found hovering high above the city. They are mostly used as scouts, spies, and messengers, although if war came to the city they could also be used to drop bombs from an enormous height.

An off-duty gyrocopter pilot with her vehicle.


  • Air Corps Airship Crewman (Traveller 2): AC 10, HD 2 (9 hp), +1 to-hit, musket (1d10 damage, 3 rounds to reload) or sword (1d8 damage), FORT 11, REF 13, WILL 13, tech rating 1.
  • Air Corps Artificer / Gyrocopter Pilot (Scholar 3): AC 10, HD 3-3 (11 hp), +1 to-hit, pistol (1d8 damage, 3 rounds to reload), FORT 12, REF 12, WILL 10, morale 7, tech rating 4.

Finally, the most feared warriors of the Wicked City are not part of its army at all. They are the the agents of its omnipresent Secret Police, whose organisation is completely opaque, and who answer to no-one except themselves (and maybe Head Office, whatever the hell that actually is). At any given time, many of its agents will be living in deep cover, posing as ordinary citizens, bureaucrats, or soldiers for months or years at a time while secretly reporting back to their masters in the Ministry of Information; their pervasive presence fills the Wicked City with fear and mistrust, as its inhabitants are painfully aware that even the people they believe to be their closest friends may in fact be reporting everything they say or do to the authorities. Those who are not undercover travel in squadrons of at least six, masked and silent and armed to the teeth, and people give them as wide a berth as possible. No-one's quite sure how they recruit new members; and when a once-trusted colleague suddenly pulls on a death-mask and executes three of his co-workers in the name of the Wicked King, it's not at all clear whether that's because he's been recently initiated into the Secret Police, or whether he's been one of them for years or decades and they've only now decided to pull the trigger on his operation.

spring collection, diving bell whole-face balaclava teamed with double-breasted Bavarian cavalry jacket and black marigolds:
Secret Police agent in full uniform. (Obviously, when they're undercover they look like everyone else.)
The King's Men are easily bribed or intimidated; but the Secret Police are another matter entirely. They are all initiates of the cult of the Wicked King, and revere him as a deity, regarding the destruction of his enemies as a sacred duty which he has entrusted to them, his mortal representatives. Their officers (whoever they are - they wear no distinguishing markings) are the priests of his cult, and command the absolute loyalty of their subordinates. Most dangerous of all are their notorious death squads, seven-man kill teams in full combat gear who occasionally come stalking out of the King's Tower to track down and execute some luckless enemy of the state. Even seeing a Secret Police death squad is regarded as an omen of extreme bad luck by the citizens of the Wicked City, who have long since learned that when such people are involved, the less you see and hear, the better.

A Secret Police death squad in action.

  • Secret Police Agent (Fighter 4): AC 14 (chain shirt), HD 4 (18 hp), +4 to-hit, sword (1d8 damage) or 2 pistols (1d8 damage, 3 rounds to reload), FORT 11, REF 11, WILL 10, morale 9. 
  • Secret Police Death Squad Commando (Renunciate 5): AC 15 (breastplate), HD 5+10 (33 hp), +4 to-hit, musket (1d10 damage, 3 rounds to reload) or crazy ninja weapons (1d10 damage), FORT 8, REF 10, WILL 8, morale 10.
Secret police agents carry suicide pills, and will use them if they are in danger of being captured. If one is about to be taken prisoner, make a morale roll for them; if they pass, they will try to swallow a suicide tablet instead.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Denizens of the Wicked City 8: The Mindblade Orders (psychic warrior character class)

Naturally enough, after the rise of the Diamond Mind order, there were plenty of kings and generals who speculated whether the astonishing abilities developed by its members might be turned to military purposes. The Diamond Mind Adepts themselves had their uses, of course, but their whole training was devoted to suppressing the kind of destructive psychic outbursts which made the Blighted so dangerous. But what if complete suppression and total lack of control were not the only options? What if a variation on the Diamond Mind method could be developed, one which, rather than shutting down all access to the chaotic and destructive psychic potential of the individual, instead permitted them to use it in a controlled and deliberate fashion?

'We'll round up a bunch of mentally unstable teenagers with uncontrollable psychic powers, put them all in the same place, and then give them all swords! What could possibly go wrong?'

This line of thinking led to many disastrous experiments, most of which ended with the deaths of everyone involved; but in one nation, the already highly militaristic Grand Duchy of Yun, they led to something more. Long after everyone else had given up on the idea of weaponising the Blighted, the Grand Duchy persevered in secret, until finally its work bore fruit in the form of the Mindblade Order: psychically gifted individuals who, rather than suppressing all their emotions like the Disciples of the Diamond Mind, instead cultivated the art of the tightly-controlled emotional outburst, blasting their victims with the kind of psychic whirlwinds which had previously been seen only in the uncontrolled mental flailings of the Blighted. When the graduates of this secret Mindblade Programme were unleashed upon the world, the results were staggering: one enemy after another was routed, and the Grand Duchy soon found itself ruling over an empire several times its previous size.

At first, the Grand Duke was jubilant at his success. But he soon found that his position was weaker than it seemed: Yun was not a large or populous land, and the threat of the Mindblades was the only thing which held his new empire together. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it rapidly became clear that Mindblade training did not make for stable long-term mental health: the strain of simultaneously cultivating their passions and holding them tightly in check took a heavy psychic toll, and the Mindblades proved quite astonishingly prone to a whole range of mental dysfunctions, including paranoid delusions, psychotic berserker rages, and sudden, overpowering suicidal urges. For thirty years, the Grand Duchy of Yun tottered on, giving the Mindblade elders everything they demanded despite their increasingly obvious insanity, aware that their power was the only thing which kept the empire afloat: and while, from the outside, the empire seemed as invincible as ever, internally it was coming apart at the seams, its whole administration disintegrating under the strain of being used as a battlefield for rival cliques of half-mad warrior-psychics. Finally, in desperation, the Grand Duke called a grand meeting of the Mindblade Order, insisting that they remain in session until they had settled their factional differences and agreed to work together for the good of the nation. Unfortunately, by this stage all the senior Mindblades were far too mad to compromise on anything: so what happened instead was a horror-show of psychic tornadoes, nightmare epidemics, large-scale poltergeist activity, and exploding heads. The Mindblade elders who survived the initial carnage called in their loyalists and private armies, and Yun collapsed into a civil war from which it has never really recovered.

Generic Sci-Fi: The Pilot by jeffsimpsonkh
You seeee me now, the veteran of a thousand psychic waaaaars... (Image by Jeff Simpson)

The Mindblade Order did not quite die out, although it did splinter: and today there are many different Mindblade Orders, each tracing themselves back to one of the adepts who managed to escape Yun's meltdown with mind and body more-or-less intact. These days, their training places much more emphasis on staying sane, and much less on large-scale psychic carnage; some Mindblades serve in armies, although they are never trusted with leadership positions, while others sell their skills to the highest bidder. The rate of mental instability amongst them remains extremely high. 

The Wicked City is the one place where someone manifesting Blighted traits is much more likely to end up being trained as a Mindblade than a Diamond Mind Adept. The Mindblade schools recruit aggressively, there, feeding off the weirdly high rate at which the Blighted manifest amongst the city's population, and Mindblades make up a notable element of the city's armed forces. Of course, they still go crazy all the time; but really... this is the Wicked City. How many people are going to notice the difference?



I Shall Not Cease From Mental Fight: Playing a Mindblade requires Intelligence 12 and Wisdom 10; their discipline is just as mentally demanding as that of the Diamond Mind, but doesn't require quite as much self-control. Game information is as follows:

  • You can use simple weapons and light shields. You cannot use heavy shields, or any armour heavier than a chain shirt (AC +4).
  • You get 1d6 HP per level.
  • You gain a to-hit bonus to melee and ranged attack rolls equal to one-half of your level, rounded down. You gain a to-hit bonus to psychic attacks equal to your level. 
  • You must keep your emotions ruthlessly restrained at all times. If you ever allow yourself to behave in an emotional or impassioned manner, you must immediately make a WILL save. If you fail, roll on the Psychic Outburst table as though you had a Psychic Instability of 3. (Exception: see the Controlled Outburst ability, below.)
  • At will, you can perform feats of telekinesis on nearby objects (maximum range 10' + 5' per level.) For as long as you stand still and devote your entire concentration to moving the object with your mind, it moves around as though it was being lifted by someone whose Strength and Dexterity were equal to your Wisdom and Intelligence, respectively. This movement is slow, and cannot usually be used to make attacks. You can move a number of objects equal to your level, but you must divide your total psychic ‘strength’ amongst them: so a third-level Mindblade with Wisdom 12 could move two objects as though each was being moved by someone with Strength 6, or three as though each was being moved by someone with Strength 4.
  • At will, you can launch a psychic attack on a nearby target by directly striking at their mind, inflicting 1d6 damage. Subtract their WILL save number from 25: this is their effective AC against this attack. You may apply your Wisdom modifier as a bonus to both the attack roll and damage roll.
  • In moments of extreme emotional stress, rather than keeping your emotions tightly under control as usual, you may attempt to make a controlled psychic outburst. Roll on the Psychic Outburst table as though you had a Psychic Instability of (8 + Mindblade level), and make a Wisdom roll. If you pass, you may control who, if anyone, is affected by the Psychic Outburst you have just caused: single-target effects hit a single target of your choice within range, while area-effect results only hit whichever sections of the specified area you actually choose to target. If you fail your Wisdom roll, however, the effect is uncontrolled as normal. 
  • By looking directly at someone and concentrating, you may attempt to discern their current emotional state. (If they are thinking ONE BIG THOUGHT at the time, you might also be able to detect it, but otherwise you can only read emotions.) They will be subconsciously aware that you are doing this, and may resist it by making a WILL save; if they pass, you take 1 damage from psychic feedback and cannot attempt to read their mind again that day. Otherwise, you are aware of their emotional state for as long as you maintain concentration and they remain in your visual range.
  • Every time you go up a level, you run the risk of suffering mental deterioration as the strain of keeping your powers in check gnaws away at your psyche. Make a Wisdom roll; if you fail, roll 1d6 and gain the first trait listed. (If you already had that trait, you gain the second listed trait, and so on; so a Mindblade who rolls a 3 while she's already Melancholic becomes Depressive, instead.) It is possible to heal these afflictions, but this usually requires the aid of shamanic vision-questing, Diamond Mind mental surgery, and/or a positive, loving relationship with a really supportive partner who's prepared to keep talking you down from your craziness every night for years on end. 

Mindblade Instability Table (roll 1d6)
Roll
Result
1
Suspicious. Very wary of everything they're not already convinced is safe.
Paranoid. Thinks everything is a sign of people plotting against them.
Acutely paranoid. Convinced they're surrounded by conspiracies. Barely functional.
2
Bad tempered. Reacts badly when challenged.
Rages. Suffers uncontrollable rages when under stress.
Psychotic. A danger to everyone nearby.
3
Melancholic. Gets really miserable all the time.
Depressive. Setbacks can trigger spiralling feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.
Suicidal. Needs constant emotional support to prevent self-harm or suicide.
4
Impulsive. Often acts recklessly, without really thinking things through.
Manic. When stressed or excited, behaves in a manic, hyperactive fashion, often making poor decisions in the process.
Uncontrollable. Usually does the first thing that comes into their head, regardless of the consequences.
5
Focussed. Tends to ignore everything except the thing they're currently working on.
Obsessive. Has mental tunnel vision. Won't eat or sleep properly while in pursuit of their goal.
Monomanaical. Has one thing which they pursue to the exception of everything else. Cannot be persuaded to devote any time or attention to anything else.
6
Fantasist. Lies a lot, and has trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality.
Delusional. Convinced that certain delusional beliefs are actually true. Cannot be persuaded otherwise.
Hallucinations. Suffers full-blown audio-visual hallucinations in support of their delusions, which for them are indistinguishable from reality.


Mindblade Summary Table

Level
Hit Points
To Hit Bonus
Fortitude save (FORT)
Reflex save (REF)
Willpower save (WILL)
Psychic attacks
All other attacks
1
1d6
+1
+0
14
14
14
2
2d6
+2
+1
13
13
13
3
3d6
+3
+1
12
12
12
4
4d6
+4
+2
11
11
11
5
5d6
+5
+2
10
10
10
6
6d6
+6
+3
9
9
9
7
7d6
+7
+3
8
8
8
8
8d6
+8
+4
7
7
7
9
9d6
+9
+4
6
6
6
10
10d6
+10
+5
5
5
5

Starting equipment: Chain shirt (+4 AC), light shield (+1 AC), musket (1d10 damage, 3 rounds to reload), slightly feverish air of forced tranquillity, 2d6x10 sp. 

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Foes of the Wicked City 6: The Blue Folk

This is what the sky looks like over the Mongolian steppe.

Image by Skittledip.
It's enormous. There are no trees. There are no mountains. There's nothing to stand between you and this infinity of blue air and clouds above your head. Unsurprisingly, the greatest of god of the Turkic pantheon was the sky god, Tengri, and the steppe tribes peopled the regions of the sky with spirits of the wind and air. In ATWC, these are represented by the Blue Folk.

They look kinda like this. 
The Blue Folk are the children of the sky. They live far above the world, in fantastical cities built on the backs of clouds; they are born out of the clouds by a process of spontaneous generation, and their own bodies are a kind of cloudstuff, only a little heavier than air. Sustained by air and moisture, they have no need of agriculture, and pass carefree existences in which they scarcely notice the passage of time; their days are spent in singing and dancing, weaving clouds into patterns, and peering dreamily down at the world below. Most of them, if asked, couldn't begin to guess whether they were ten, one hundred, or one thousand years old. Time is all one to them.

From time to time, one of the Blue Folk will fall to earth.

It's always an accident: a dance on the edge of a cloud that got just a bit too reckless, an acrobatic leap that turned out to be just slightly misjudged. But once it happens, it's irrevocable: the Blue Folk are great acrobats, but they can't fly, and they can only watch as their companion drops down and down and down until they are lost from sight, dropping helplessly into the world below. They weigh almost nothing, so they always survive the fall; but once they are stranded on the ground, their chances of returning to the cloud-cities are slim. Very occasionally, a cloud-city will tether itself to the top of a mountain, or open its gates to some high-flying airship. But such moments of contact between the air and the earth are few and far between.

It is not in the nature of the Blue Folk to be downcast by anything for very long. Once on earth, they are usually swift to adapt; their playful natures mean that they are swift to make friends, although their changeable personalities and short attention spans tend to put a limit on how deep or serious their relationships can become. They are fascinated by life on the surface, even if most of them never really understand it; and many find work as travelling acrobats or airship crewmen, allowing them to indulge their instinctive wanderlust. After a few years (or decades, or centuries) they might turn their minds to the question of finding their way back up to the clouds - but what's the rush? No matter how long it takes them, their friends will still be up there when they return...

When the Wicked King raised his tower, a group of the Blue Folk sailed their cloud-castle down to investigate this strange new object in the sky. They found the Wicked King waiting for them with a battalion of Blood Men, who promptly overran the cloud-castle, butchered everyone on board, and seized it for use as an aerial observation platform: to this day it hovers over the Wicked City, used by the High Ministers to block out the sunlight over whichever district is currently annoying them the most. A handful of its residents escaped the massacre on cloud skiffs, and spread word to the other cloud-cities of what had befallen them; and while it would never occur to the chronically disorganised Blue Folk to assemble any kind of war effort against the Wicked City, they do thoroughly disapprove of the place, and would be happy to see its towers toppled to the earth. (They'd also quite like their cloud-castle back.) Those of them who live on the surface might even be persuaded to take part in some kind of expedition against it...



Children of the Clouds: You can play one of the Blue Folk, if you like. You must have Dexterity 13 or higher; most also have low Constitution and Wisdom scores, although this is not a requirement. Game information is as follows:
  • You are proficient with simple weapons, and with armour no heavier than buff jackets (+2 AC). You are not proficient with shields. 
  • You gain a bonus to all your to-hit rolls (melee and ranged) equal to your level.
  • You gain 1d6 HP per level.
  • You gain a +2 bonus to REF saves (included in the table below).
  • In battle, you move with such incredible agility that you are very, very hard to hit. As long as you are unencumbered and able to move freely, you gain a +4 AC bonus against all attacks. (When fighting in enclosed spaces, where you can't jump around all over the place, this bonus drops to +2 AC.)
  • Your body, while quite solid, is made of cloudstuff rather than flesh and blood. You weigh almost nothing, and bleed water vapour instead of blood. Being almost weightless, you can balance on surfaces which would never support a human, such as twigs or thin ice. Most forms of non-magical healing are ineffectual on you (although shamanic healing works just fine), and you can only carry half as much as a human with the same strength score.
  • You don't require food or drink; instead, you 'eat' fresh air and 'drink' water vapour, both of which you absorb through your skin. If you are trapped in arid or airless conditions for an extended period, you will become as weak as a human who has been deprived of food or drink for an equal length of time. Making your own water vapour (by boiling water and standing in the steam) is entirely possible. 
  • You can jump incredible distances. As long as you are unencumbered, you can leap a number of feet equal to your Strength score from a standing start, or three times that distance with a decent run-up. You can also leap a number of feet equal to your Strength score straight up.
  • You are immune to falling damage, regardless of the distance fallen.
  • You can perform amazing feats of agility and acrobatics. Anything a human acrobat could achieve, you can do without needing a dice roll, and low-end superhuman feats of agility (the sort of thing that people do in martial arts movies) can be accomplished with a successful Dexterity roll. 
  • If damaged, you can rebuild your body by immersing yourself in water vapour (by standing in mist or heavy rain, sitting in a hot spring or Turkish bath, etc). For each hour spent in this way, you regain 10% of your maximum HP, rounded up.
  • By tasting the air, you can predict the weather in the local area with perfect accuracy for a number of hours ahead equal to your Intelligence + Wisdom scores. (This gift alone means that one of the Blue Folk will be welcome on any airship.)
Blue Folk Summary Table


Level
Hit Points
To Hit Bonus
Fortitude save (FORT)
Reflex save (REF)
Willpower save (WILL)
1
1d6
+1
14
12
14
2
2d6
+2
13
11
13
3
3d6
+3
12
10
12
4
4d6
+4
11
9
11
5
5d6
+5
10
8
10
6
6d6
+6
9
7
9
7
7d6
+7
8
6
8
8
8d6
+8
7
5
7
9
9d6
+9
6
4
6
10
10d6
+10
5
3
5

Starting equipment: Light travelling clothes (+1 AC), short spear (1d6 damage, throwable), pistol (1d8 damage, 3 rounds to reload), dancing outfit decorated with long ribbons, woodwind instrument, big tin kettle (for making your own water vapour when you get thirsty), amazing knee-length blue hair (worn loose for maximum effect), carefree disposition, 2d6x10 sp.